Category Archives: deluxe boutique cruising

SAGA CRUISES TO JOIN THE ALL INCLUSIVE BANDWAGON IN 2020

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Artist’s rendering of Saga Cruises’ elegant new Spirit of Discovery, slated for delivery from Germany in 2020

Saga Cruises has formally announced what some of us have been expecting for some time. Namely, that the line will go all-inclusive following the introduction of it’s brace of bespoke new builds in January and August of 2020, respectively.

The two ships- Spirit of Discovery and Spirit of Adventure- will showcase the already included, hugely popular Saga USPs, including free door-to-door transfers, free insurance, and no extra charge on board restaurant reservations. But the addition of an all inclusive package on the drinks front will raise the appeal of the line to something possibly quite beyond it’s current, mandatory ‘fifty plus’ passenger demographic.

While this is undoubtedly a smart move on the part of Saga Cruises, it is also one that is gathering pace across the cruise industry as a whole. Remember that the British accented Marella Cruises is also going all inclusive effective from May, 2019.

Among the niche lines, ‘all inclusive’ has always been a tenet for the value and exclusive on board lifestyle that each offers. The likes of Crystal, Regent, Seabourn, Seadream Yacht Club and Silversea have offered just such inclusiveness for a decade and more now.

Coming just a small step down, Azamara Club Cruises went all inclusive some time ago, and it is surely only a matter of time before it’s main competitor, Oceania Cruises, does the same. Also, look out for the stylish, yacht like Windstar Cruises following along the same path in the not too distant future.

Potential passengers now want more inclusive fares more than ever. Even more traditional British lines such as Fred. Olsen and Cruise and Maritime Voyages are now adding very cost effective, per day drinks packages onto most of their cruises of more than five nights’ duration. On the USA oriented front, big lines such as Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean also offer all inclusive drinks packages for purchase, though these must be arranged by Day One, and all passengers in the same cabin must participate.

Several factors are driving this; firstly, the relative weakness of the UK Pound against both the Dollar and the Euro is has bled UK travellers of around twenty per cent on average of their normal holiday spend, with the inevitable result that most of us are now getting more than a bit canny about which particular cruises we decide to splurge on in future. The continuing uncertainty about Brexit certainly does not help, either. And there’s mounting evidence that European passengers are beginning to shy away from US-centric itineraries in the current political climate as well. That last one could turn out to be a potential double whammy. Let’s hope not, for the sake of all concerned.

Interesting times, one way and another. As ever, stay tuned.

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THE MARINA; DIGS AND DINNER IN DUBLIN

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The Green Hen on Wicklow Street in Dublin

Having survived the airborne adventure that is Stobart Air to Dublin, I transited the airport and was lucky enough to find my driver already waiting at the exit. Minutes later, and the black saloon car was swishing its way through the teeming, Saturday afternoon throng of the great city on the Liffey.

My overnight hotel was the Spencer, located literally on the banks of the Liffey, not a stone’s throw from the Town Hall, and all the buzz and bustle of O’Connell Street. Check in was fast, warm and courteous and, with my room being on the first floor, it took no time at all to get there.

The corridors en route are kind of grey and dimly lit; one part submarine, one part Sing Sing. But no complaints about the room at all; great bathroom, with fab toiletries, plus a bed big enough to lose myself in. All things considered, a comfortable, accommodating base that I’d be happy to go back to, as much for it’s convenience as for it’s conviviality.

Dublin’s streets are a happy, teeming mess of bars done out in every style, from baroque to gleaming chrome and glass. Regardless of style, they all have that earthy, irreverent feel that is still ever so slightly anarchic, even in a city that is as much in love with Gucci as it is with Guinness these days. Be advised; Dublin is not a cheap date these days, but there’s no denying the sheer quality of everything on offer here, from beer to freshly baked bread.

Cobbled streets bisect the main roads where traffic barrels through Dublin’s centre like swarms of maddened beetles. They are filled with the sound of everything from accordions to full symphony orchestras, via buskers, sax players and even some raw, raucous old skiffle. This is a city that rocks, rolls and swaggers- also sometimes staggers-through until the small hours. And she does so to a sublime, Celtic rhythm that is uniquely all her own.

For dinner, I went to a French-Irish bistro called the Green Hen on Wicklow Street. Set on two levels, the place has a long bar that sits to the right of the entrance, and all the dark wooden panelling that you could ever want. You can eat at the bar, or in the main dining area at the rear. A filigreed staircase leads to an upper level but, downstairs, it’s all deep red leather chairs and rose coloured lamps on the tables. In some ways, it’s a little too dim to read the menus properly, but then a side order of ‘quirky’ should be an essential element of any good bistro, wherever it is in the world.

There’s no edge or attitude here, but there is excellent food and service proffered up in an informal, expansive setting. I had a carrot and rose soup that was almost spine tingling, and a fillet steak so tender that it crumbled at the touch of a knife. It came with a side order of asparagus the size of a Kansas wheat field.

Dessert- I just managed it- was a comely creme brulee washed down with a feisty cappuccino. Wine wise, I went with the recommendations of a very savvy, and extreme;y busy waiter that clearly knew his field. All things considered, the Green Hen was a game old bird of a venue, pun wholly intentional.

Later, it was back to the Mercantile Hotel, where a cracking live band had been kicking up a storm outside for most of the night. Drinking, dancing Dublin is a soundtrack all her own, and she’ll twirl you around into the small hours of the morning if you let her. I did.

I hit my hotel bed like a felled tree at some scant remembered small hour of the morning. And, even as I lumbered toward my slumber, a small flotilla of cruise ships was converging on Dublin, intent on an early Sunday morning arrival.

There was the spiffy little Variety Voyager and the vast, looming Mein Schiff 3. The main port also had the pretty little Pacific Princess, the last of the eight, original ‘R’ Class ships now not in service with either Azamara Club Cruises or Oceania. There was also an old friend of mine; the sublime little Silver Wind, so fondly remembered from a cruise around the Mediterranean a few years ago.

And-unmistakable in the slowly rising Sunday morning sun- there was my ship, the magnificent Marina in the outer harbour.I would be joining her later that day and that, as I knew from a previous trip on her, was something else entirely worth salivating over.

THE MARINA; A DAY IN COBH

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Cobh Harbour, with St. Colman’s at centre

It was a bright, sunny morning when the Marina arrived in the small Irish port of Ringaskiddy, just a few miles away from Cobh. Seabirds soared and dived into a sparkling blue sea crowned by sporadically rolling whitecaps. A warm wind whipped across the aft terrace, a gentle reminder that, while this was still high summer, autumn’s chill was not too far off over the horizon, either.

None of which was going to deter me from making the relatively short journey to Cobh. In fact, we could see the place from the edge of the shore. The tall, slender spire of St. Colman’s cathedral resembled some celestial finger, pointing straight up at the heavens. At the main town dock there sat the unmistakable shape of Princess Cruises’ gargantuan Royal Princess. Ironically, that same ship had sat docked ahead of us in Mykonos back in April. A small world, indeed.

Cobh itself is a pretty little town, with pastel coloured houses in shades of red, ochre and blue, crouching along a waterfront packed with small, idly bobbing fishing boats and small tourist craft. Set against a backdrop of gently rolling hills and vast, sun splashed meadows, Cobh has charm and intimacy in spades.

And it has history, too.

Beginning in the late 1800’s, hundreds of thousands of desperate, impoverished Irish people poured through the town-known back then as Queenstown- in a human tidal wave, bound for the promise of a hopefully better life in the New World. For many, the port was the last ever sight of their old lives, and marked for most of them a final, poignant parting from parents, siblings and lifelong friends. Back then, the town had a patina of overwhelming pathos, one kept barely in check by a rising tide of hope for a better life, somewhere just over the horizon. If ever one place was a bittersweet symphony wrought in stone, steam, tears and tide, this was surely it.

During the 20th century, it became customary for those departing hordes to leave from the pier at the back of the local post office. Two tenders- the Ireland and the America- would then take them out to where some huge liner lay waiting for them out in the bay, usually off Roches’ Point. Symbolically and actually, the casting off of their lines to the shore meant, for many, the severing of the last links to their old lives. In so many ways, Queenstown back then was the open wound from which Ireland was bled dry of her best, her brightest and her bravest. It was a blood letting that would take literally decades to staunch.

Queenstown in those days ran to a regular schedule; the great Cunard liners would leave Liverpool on a Saturday each week, embarking at Queenstown on the Sunday. Each Wednesday, one of the crack ships of the rival White Star Line would leave Southampton, and embark from Queenstown on the Thursday. It was a well oiled machine, but it ran in one direction only for the most part. Neither Cunard or White Star were in the habit of calling at Queenstown on the return crossing from New York.

Just after noon on Thursday, April 11th 1912, some 123 Irish migrants huddled together aboard the two tenders, boarding at the quay as usual. They gazed in awe at the shape of the vast, new leviathan waiting for them out in the bay. This was her first ever call into Queenstown and, as events were to prove, it would also be her last.

As the tenders bumbled out across the grey chop of a cold but sunny day, the new ship grew ever more massive and imposing. Seagulls wheeled and dived around her, foraging for scraps of garbage as they were spat out of the waste pipes near the waterline. Aboard the huge liner, idly promenading passengers stopped to study the tenders as they bucked the briny, gazing for a moment at the huddled masses clad in shawls and heavy suits. Those same people in the tenders could by now read the name of their ship, etched in three foot high golden letters on her bow.

TITANIC.

The rest, of course, is history. The brief, two hour stop at Queenstown would be the last land that most of those embarked on maritime history’s most infamous maiden voyage would ever see.

Like everywhere else that she touched during her brief but spectacular career, the Titanic left her mark on Queenstown. Today, Cobh’s Museum of Immigration (the town was renamed in 1922, after Southern Ireland gained it’s independence from the British Empire) tells the baleful story of the town’s past, with an obvious emphasis on the vast torrent of humanity that flooded out of it during those turbulent years.

Quite a sobering little stop, Cobh. Pretty for sure, but with undercurrents as deep as the Atlantic rollers that still flail at it’s shores to this day.

 

 

THE MARINA; TIME SPENT AT SEA

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Pool deck of the Marina at night. Photo copyright is that of the author

I am one of those psychopaths that actually enjoys spending time at sea. Days on end if need be, and weather be damned. If I’m on the right ship, I will always find places in which to righteously recline.

That was the one downside to my recent trip on Marina; a conspicuous absence of honest to goodness sea days. Don’t get me wrong; I understand that cruises in Europe are, by their very nature, destination intensive. And that’s fine because, let’s face it, culture fills cabins.

So, what little sea time there was, I utilised as best as possible. Some days, I just lingered aboard during the morning when most tours were away because- as I knew full well from my last time on board- this is one ship that truly cries out to be relaxed upon, and indulged in. Quite simply, the Marina is one of the most supremely comfortable ships afloat anywhere, both indoors and out. Not devoting time to those subtle, beguiling charms would be somewhat akin to walking through the Louvre, and somehow missing out on seeing the Mona Lisa.

If I could sum up the Marina on board experience with any accuracy, I would do so in two words. ‘Plush’ and ‘Peaceful’; padded beds and loungers abound across the acres of outdoor deck space. You never have to look for somewhere to just sag down and chill out. The hot tubs are always warm and welcoming. Food- hot and cold- is always within easy reach, and it’s always good. And, whether you crave some muesli, a muffin or a martini, there’s always somebody close at hand to anticipate your every whim.

So, no anxious strolling around, looking for somewhere to lay your weary head. And, lord knows, all of that relaxation is nothing if not exhausting, after all. There’s only so much drama that I need in my quality time.

I’ll take a piece of that peace as well, thanks very much. Aboard Marina, there are no constant, blaring loudspeaker announcements to tell you that the bingo is about to start, or inviting applicants for the 1430 hairy teeth competition, either. Sometimes, I do wish that they could find a ‘mute’ button for those damned sea birds that wheel and screech above us like dive bombers. Who knows-perhaps some very inventive soul will invent a remote control that allows us to mute any ambient sounds that we find annoying. Now that truly would be one hell of a USP.

Instead, I tune in to the sound of the sea, swishing past the ship’s hull as we surge toward our next pot of call. Bathrobe on, full bliss mode activated. Blinding sunshine or blustery breeze. Either or, indeed, both.

It’s like falling slowly, oh, so slowly, through the looking glass. You enter into a kind of smiley, pampered stupor, where everything looks somehow kinder, less contentious. That sense of contentment is so real that you could almost serve it up on a silver platter. But, at the same time, it’s so damned delicious that you really, really don’t want to share it with anybody else, either.

And no, I don’t need any flow riders, ice rinks or rock climbing walls to ‘divert’ me, thank you. Those things work very well indeed on certain kinds of ships for sure. But this is not one of them. On Marina, quality wins out over quantity at every turn. This is a charmed environment; one in which ‘less’ is very much ‘more’. Pared right back down to the classic elements of ship, sun, sea, and sublime comfort, this is a style of cruising where relaxation is elevated to the level of an art form.

Consider this; each day spent at sea is like a blank canvas. One that is yours to embellish in any way that you wish. Want to get active? Sure, there’s the gym, the exercise classes, and all the other health kicks that you could possibly want, right here on board.

Eat what you want. When you want. Where you want. Sleep in. Read a book. Catch up on your social media. Enjoy a milk shake. Or a seaweed massage wrap. Both, even. Dance classes? Sure, why not.

So yes, I love my sea days. But some ships just raise the bar so much that each day spent at sea becomes a kind of liquid gold, pun wholly intentional. And, for sure, Marina is one such ship; a lounger’s delight, writ large in style and wrapped in fabulous, fun stuff. What’s not to like?

THE MARINA; A MORNING AT CAERNAFON CASTLE

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The magnificent Caernafon Castle. Photo credit: http://www.visitwales.com

Our lovely guide at the tour office aboard Marina asked me three times; “How do you pronounce this name, please?” Her Greek voice was simply incapable of forming the word ‘Caernafon’ but then, that’s hardly surprising. Many over the years have formed the opinion that the Welsh language as a whole is simply a subtle plot to subdue the rest of humanity into a stunned silence.

But Caernafon Castle itself is about as unambiguous as they come; a great honey coloured colossus, hewn from local stone, it was begun back in 1298 by King Edward I as one of a series of five ‘ring forts’ that was intended to secure his hegemony over North Wales. With it’s waterfront setting that overlooks a picturesque bay and it’s sublime, near perfect symmetry and stance, Caernafon is one of the greatest, grandest and most completely intact structures of it’s kind anywhere in the world today.

Nowadays, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre that draws thousands of awe struck visitors each year; Caernafon Castle has morphed into a kind of Arthurian theme park that is now a million miles removed from it’s original intent. Squat, hexagonal turrets loom large and gaunt against a backdrop of pale summer sky. The vast, crenellated ramparts range above a harbour where small sailing boats bask on a waterfront, where wheeling seabirds swoop and dive around the crowds seeking shelter in its shade. The whole, swaggering stance of the place is utterly magnificent.

And, like any great medieval bruiser, Caernafon wears the scars of it’s long history like so many tattered battle honours. During the English Civil War, the castle was the last of the Royalist strongholds to surrender to Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. Later, on July 1st 1969, it was the site for the investiture of Prince Charles in his current title of Prince of Wales, an archaic ritual witnessed worldwide by millions, and carried through just nineteen days before Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the surface of the moon.

We achieved Caernafon after about an hours’ drive from the pier where Marina lay docked. We travelled by coach through the lush, gorgeous hinterland of Snowdonia, regaled en route by a local guide who informed us that sheep in Wales outnumber the civil population by a ratio of four to one. Thus informed, we eventually rocked up at the pretty little market town that sprawls like some supine dog at the feet of the great, grizzled old brute that is Caernafon Castle.

Once inside, the sense of space is quite incredible. Vast amounts of low, rolling greenery are cradled within those ancient walls and, on such a spectacularly sunny day as this, the play of mid morning sunlight across those gnarled, stony old battlements was nothing short of eye popping. Whoever designed this massive, majestic old pile definitely had one eye firmly on his own place in posterity, that’s for sure.

But, up close and personal, perspective fades like winter snow. Small, stony turrets are accessed by tiny, winding staircases that allow only one person at a time to enter. Silent cloisters with flagstone floors echo to the footsteps of long gone inhabitants and retainers. Vast, vaulted wooden doors on huge iron hinges creak open like the very portals to the afterlife itself. Sunlight yields to shadow, and then sudden glimpses of rich, verdant greenery are revealed through a slit in the walls, cut for some ancient archer. The silence, stupendous and majestic, almost screams at you at times. It’s dazzling by day but, my word, there is no way that I would spend the night there alone.

I left Caernafon part exhilarated, partly stunned, and totally awed. Though the castle’s setting actually contributes hugely to it’s enduring lustre, it’s the ageless old brute itself that is actually at front and centre stage. It resembles some giant, sleeping dragon, just waiting for its cue to awaken and protect that ancient, medieval setting from a new generation of invaders once again. Go see it if you can.

It was time to head back, and our coach cantered at a gentle pace through the lush countryside once more. In the distance we glanced the arched, elegant grandeur of the Menai Bridge, towering proudly over the steel grey straits of the same name. Eventually, our own dream castle morphed gradually on the horizon, in the stately, graceful shape of the Marina herself.

Back on board, and a bountiful outdoor buffet lunch came with a side order of sharp Welsh sea breeze. It whispered in low and hard from the sea, causing many people to evacuate the Terrace with indecent haste.

I lingered under the shade, admiring the view and picking at some finely sliced fish. As I did, I mused idly that, while Edward I might well have had the castle of his dreams, I was the one that was actually feasting like a king.

Yes, old is bold, but sometimes there’s quite often a lot to be said for modern comfort and technology, too.

THE MARINA; MUSING ON MEMORIES

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Oceania Cruises’ stunning Marina

For once, I’m going to start as what was almost literally the end of this trip. But please bear with me, and I think that you’ll see where I’m coming from here.

It’s around 2030 on a picture perfect, late summer evening, and I’m having dinner at the open air Terrace Cafe aboard Oceania Cruises’ Marina. It’s the highest spot at the very stern of the ship and, in good weather, it allows for a fantastic panorama of the ship’s wake. And, in that respect, tonight is just about as good as it gets.

Behind us, the magnificent chalk cliffs that range along the coast of Dorset are falling in slow motion into a gently rolling, gunmetal tinted sea. It resembles a block of slowly melting ice cream as it sags and sighs almost reluctantly into the waters of the English Channel.

Above this, dark, gossamer bands of low grey and saffron clouds are pierced by shafts of brilliant, rosy sunset as the day slowly gives ground to the oncoming night. It all looks like a series of amazing celestial brush strokes, defining the textures and shades of the very universe itself. But even this is merely one detail in a much larger picture.

If light is one part of this fantastic natural smorgasbord, then you have to tip your hat to the soundtrack that comes as an appetiser. Though the terrace is busy, the tone is hushed, almost awed, even. As if there is a kind of symbiotic- and totally apt- natural reverence for the amazing visual display unfolding all around us.

There is the subtle murmur of tinkling glassware and polished cutlery, vibrating gently on tables sprinkled across the trim, tidy expanse of deck space. That, and the seductive swish of water boiling alongside the soaring flanks of our ship, gives the evening an air of detached, almost Olympian splendour that seemed to stand still in time and space. I hardly dared breathe, in case I shattered the spell forever.

There’s an ambient musical soundtrack, too. I can still hear Billie Holliday crooning wistfully through Good Morning Heartache, and the strident, soulful tones of Louis Armstrong’s trumpet as the first notes of La Vie En Rose rise up to kiss the warm evening breeze. There is just the faintest hint of a ghostly, glimmering star or two in the sky by now. It’s almost as if the heavens themselves have been stirred into casual curiosity by the sight of this beautiful ship so far below, cutting like an arrow across the darkening carpet of the ocean.

Waiters weave between the tables with the subtle, artistic elan of a ballet troupe, delivering food and drinks to the score of people lounging outside on the terrace. The aromas from that food hang in the air like fine perfume. The whole thing is like some beautifully orchestrated symphony that, by it’s very nature, can only ever be performed once. And here we sit, with the best seats in the house, watching it all unfold. Savouring it like fine wine.

And the food? ‘Sublime’ does not begin to cover it. A perfectly crafted sirloin yields without a fight, washed down with some gorgeous Woodbridge Zinfandel. At one stage, the setting sun glances like some fleeting lover’s kiss against the rim of my wine glass, turning it briefly into a shimmering little rose bowl that makes me smile like a kid on Christmas Day.

Now the theatre is emptying. People have to pack, and prepare for our inevitable Southampton landing in the morning. Like some tired, gently sighing swan, the Marina surges gamely towards the end of her journey.

But there is still time for a final few of those gorgeous ‘Big O’ martinis, time to enjoy some last conversations and laughter. To say ‘goodbye’ for now to new found friends and old ones alike, among both passengers and crew.

Yes, it is ending. But it is doing so just as it started; with style, grace and elegance. And, right at that soulful, mellow little interlude, I was truly grateful for that.

MARINA CRUISE OVERVIEW

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Oceania Cruises’ sleek, sophisticated Marina

It’s going to be a relatively short trip on the plush, upscale Marina next week. Just five nights in total, and the first of those spent in Dublin to boot. But there is still a tremendous wealth of wonderful sights and sounds on this Celtic accented jaunt, and now seems as good a time as any to look over some of them.

As mentioned, I’ll be staying overnight in Dublin on the day before the cruise, and I’m really looking forward to getting back under the skin of a city I last visited more than two decades ago. The ‘Legend on The Liffey’ (I’m copyrighting that, by the way) is a series of gorgeous, Georgian pieces of architecture, dotted around one of the most truly eclectic cities anywhere in Europe.

Think Trinity College, and the mad, bohemian ballyhoo of the Temple Bar district. The famous thoroughfares of O’Connell and Grafton Streets. There’s the serenity of Phoenix Park and the series of stunning, wrought iron bridges vaulting over the steel grey span of the Liffey itself. On a more sombre note, Dublin’s century old, troubled past is thrown into sharp perspective in the stark, cobbled courtyard of Kilmainham jail, where the ringleaders of the 1916 Easter Rising were executed by a firing squad.

Crossing the Irish Sea after a late evening departure from Dublin, the Marina comes breezing into the wildly rugged, pristine beauty of Holyhead, on Wales’ stunning Anglesey coastline. Famed for it’s fabulous blond beaches and wealth of hiking trails, it’s also an ideal starting point for tours to the great, brooding bulk of thirteenth century Caernafon Castle, a vast, weather beaten pile that dates back to the reign of Edward I. Used for many years as the site for royal investitures, the castle remains one of the most completely intact specimens of its kind anywhere in the world. I’ll be getting up close and personal to the stately old beast, and you’ll be able to read about that encounter right here.

We’re then off back to Southern Ireland, to make landfall at Cobh. Once known as Queenstown, it was the point of departure for hundreds of thousands of desperate young migrants during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In many ways, Cobh was the place from where Ireland was once bled dry of it’s youth and vigour.

As a result, Cobh has always felt suffused by an undercurrent of lingering, residual sadness. The coastline itself is magnificent in it’s range and sheer, stunning beauty. And, of course, those who feel the need to visit Cork Castle and kiss the legendary ‘Blarney Stone’ can certainly do so.

But it is Cobh’s unbreakable associations with two of maritime history’s most enduring dramas that mark it out as a place apart. On April 11th, 1912, Cobh was the last port of call for RMS Titanic. The ill-fated White Star liner anchored for a few hours off Roche’s Point to embark some one hundred and twenty three passengers, before she disappeared over the horizon forever. Only forty-four of those huddled aboard the two tenders that took them out to the Titanic would survive the sinking of the liner, just four nights later.

Three years later, on May 7th, 1915, the Cunard liner Lusitania was torpedoed off Queenstown while en route from New York to Liverpool. Some 1,201 passengers and crew were killed when the legendary liner foundered in just eighteen minutes. At the epicentre of the rescue mission, Queenstown coddled the 764 survivors and served as a burial site for most of the victims. Bodies were still being washed ashore a full three weeks later; the entire town was plunged into mourning on what remains the blackest day in it’s history. The wreck of the Lusitania lies just ten miles off the coast of Cobh to this day.

So there’s no shortage of maritime lore on display in Cobh these days, and I’ll be getting around as much of it as possible. And there will also be time for a beer or two in such evocatively named pubs as the Lusitania and, of course, the Mauretania, too.

Next day, the good ship Marina forsakes the Celtic culture in exchange for Thomas Hardy country in the shape of Portland, on Dorset’s channel coast. Famed for it’s prehistoric coastline and fine, flawless beaches, Portland is the gateway to the historic old market town of Dorchester, where I’ll be spending a couple of hours or so.

I’ll also be making for the famous tank museum at Bovington, with its matchless display of tracked military muscle spanning over a century of mechanised warfare. The museum features everything from the first, putative British Mark One tank of 1916, right through to the legendary Chieftain of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

In between, we’ll be getting up close and personal to a whole plethora of fearsome, petrifying brutes; from the ubiquitous American M4 Sherman to the massive, bristling King Tiger, a seventy ton beast that still remains the largest battle tank ever to go into mass production.

Next day will see me disembarking from the Marina in Southampton, at the end of a trip that will be long on memorable encounters and experiences, In between, there’s time for me to get re-acquainted with a ship that is a byword for style, elegance, and finely honed cuisine. A ship where calm comfort and casual, spectacular luxury complements all those fantastic sights and finery ashore to absolute perfection.

Tanks. Titanic. Swaggering, freewheeling Dublin, and the ancient, brooding battlements of a castle straight out of the pages of Macbeth, The stark, rustic beauty of Thomas Hardy country, and a beer or two in pretty, breezy Cobh. It’s all there.

Phew. I’m exhausted just thinking about it all….