Gaze out to the English Channel from the southwest coast of the UK right now and you might see something unexpected – a series of gigantic cruise ships haunting the horizon.
Their passengers have vanished and they’re going nowhere.
While these ships, taken out of the service because of the coronavirus pandemic, are no longer carrying tourists, the eerie spectacle they’ve created has now generated its own mini tourism industry, thanks to an entrepreneurial local, Paul Derham.
Derham worked on cruise ships for 27 years, starting off as a cadet and later traveling the world as a deputy captain for P&O Cruises, but now runs two local ferries in Mudeford, a small beachside parish in England’s Dorset region.
Derham noticed that some of the world’s most famous cruise ships were being laid up near his ferry routes, as the cruise industry ground to a halt amid the pandemic.
Then he had an idea – using his ferries to offer tours of these hulking vessels that would get passengers as close as possible.
Advertising via the Mudeford Ferry Facebook page, he began running 2.5 hour “ghost ship” tours that sail within 50 meters of some of the vessels, while he uses his intimate knowledge of the cruise industry to entertain his customers.
It’s become an overnight success, and Derham has been inundated with interest from locals intrigued by the vessels they can spot from the nearby beaches and tourists traveling from elsewhere in the UK.
Meanwhile, cruise fanatics from across the world – mostly barred from joining in due to continuing travel restrictions – have also let Derham know how excited they are by the idea.
“I am completely overwhelmed with the attention,” Derham tells CNN Travel. “And a little bit proud, without being big-headed, that we managed to pull it off.”
Ships sometimes spotted off the coast of Mudeford include Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, Jewel of the Seas and Allure of the Seas – gigantic floating cities that normal carry thousands of people.
A little farther west, the Carnival Valor and Cunard ships including Queen Mary 2 can be found
The vessels don’t always stay moored in one place – but Derham uses his insider connections to help keep tabs on a couple of the ships.