Next week brings an all too brief reunion with an old, fondly remembered friend when I rejoin the gorgeous Silver Whisper for a short jaunt around the top of Denmark from Hamburg to Copenhagen.
Last time I was aboard the ship was on a Baltic cruise some four years ago; it was a mellow, memorable experience that left me stirred rather than shaken, and definitely keen for more. But, since then, Silversea the company has moved on.
With the development and gestation of a four ship fleet of truly wonderful, individual expedition ships, and then the introduction this year of the stunning, first of class new Silver Muse, the Monaco based company served firm notice of intent that it was not simply prepared to merely sit on its considerably gilded laurels. Silversea is more about innovation than institution; times change, and so do the expectations and anticipation of future guests.
But I have to confess to a kind of vague unease; would this obvious concentration on new ideas and ships mean an inevitable dilution of the ‘old guard’ luxury aboard the rest of the fleet? And, with Silver Cloud going to the expedition fleet in November also, another watershed in the line’s history is reached as it’s pioneering ship crosses a bar of sorts.
But it seems that Silversea have anticipated this; along with the new ships came a series of sympathetic enhancements and upgrades for Silver Wind, Silver Shadow and Silver Whisper; part of a $150 million plan to update all three ships to keep them smart, crisp, contemporary and alluring. And, from initial reports, the results are very pleasing indeed. I’m looking forward to seeing for myself.
Plans are also apparently afoot for some major rebuilding of the one-off Silver Spirit, though details are as yet thin on the ground. In the case of all four refurbishments, the core aim seems to have been to introduce some of the styling nuances that have made the new Silver Muse such an appealing choice.
So yes, I’m looking forward to renewing my acquaintance with what i think will be an artfully renewed ship. Silversea remember your details- they have even given me exactly the same suite that I had last time I was on board the Silver Whisper. None too shabby, as I recall.
I’m looking forward to long, lazy breakfasts out on the Terrace, with fresh, piping hot coffee on tap and the sight of our wake stretching lazily behind us. I’m anticipating fine food and finely styled, flawless service.
There’s the delicious prospect of long, lazy summer afternoons in the hot tub, and chocolate martinis on deck at sunset, with a side order of cool jazz. And there’s also the beautiful, bewitching way that the light plays on the water in those long, almost permanently light latitudes.
There’s rollicking, gregarious Hamburg and wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen as stellar start and finish points, of course. But the real deal will be the sheer, indolent sense of joy and ease that you only really get on a ship like the Silver Whisper.
Full report to follow, of course. As ever, stay tuned.
Though actual itineraries have yet to be finalised, Spanish cruise operator Pullmantur has confirmed that the 74,000 ton Sovereign will be deployed on a series of mainly four night cruises along the coast of South America over the winter of 2017-18.
The 1988 built ship– formerly Royal Caribbean’s highly acclaimed Sovereign of the Seas– is currently operating a series of seven night Mediterranean cruises, embarking in both Barcelona and Rome. She is scheduled for an annual dry docking, most likely in Cadiz, at the end of the season in early November.
On conclusion of this, the ship is due to sail on a twelve night transatlantic crossing in late November from Cadiz to Recife, Brazil. The ship will sail via Lisbon (where embarkation is also available), Gran Canaria and Lanzarote, to the port of Recife on Brazil’s east coast, where she is scheduled to arrive on December 9th.
From here, the Sovereign will sail on a series of winter long, four night cruises that allow passengers to embark both in Santos, the port for Sao Paolo, and Rio De Janeiro. Typically, these round trip cruises have also called at the beach resort of Ilhabella in the past.
In addition, the ship will also sail a trio of special, seven night cruises that will cover Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and the famous Rio Carnival respectively. The ship is then due to recross the Atlantic to Europe, commencing her 2018 European season with a first sailing from Barcelona on March 26th.
In the UK, Fred. Holidays typically operates as sales agents for Pullmantur. The Spanish accented cruise operator offers an all inclusive on board product and, though Spanish is the primary language used on board, English is also widely spoken. The company can package these cruises with flights, hotels and transfers to create a completely all inclusive package, or you can of course make your own arrangements separately.
Stay tuned for further details as and when they become available.
In a move that has come as a further sign in the revival of the Mexican Riviera market, Holland America Line has announced that the 1,920 passenger Oosterdam will join her sister ship, Westerdam, on cruises to the region this coming autumn.
Both of the ships- members of Holland America’s Vista class ships- will sail from the port of San Diego on a series of seven night, round trip cruises to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan, and Puerto Vallarta. Oosterdam will undertake her first cruise on September 30th, with Westerdam joining her in service from the California port on November 24th.
San Diego offers the easiest city to port access of any west coast American port in the region and, with direct flights now available on British Airways from Heathrow, the cultured, sophisticated city on the bay makes for a wonderful pre or post departure stay in it’s own right.
The arrival of Oosterdam marks an act of faith on the part of Holland America in the steadily resurgent Mexican Riviera market. For years, the trade was decimated because of adverse press reports on the levels of crime in Mexican ports, and at Mazatlan in particular. But in the last few years, local authorities have gone to great lengths to restore a sense of safety and security in all of the ports.
The season typically operates between November and March, though Carnival does sail the same route year round from Long Beach, and Norwegian Cruise Line also has the Norwegian Jewel sailing to the Riviera through this coming winter, also from Los Angeles.
Interesting developments in this part of the world, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.
She seems like a living, breathing anachronism in an age of ever more gimmicky, sensational cruise ships. There is no rock climbing wall, no dodgems, floor shows or ice rinks. No raft of alternative restaurants or string of glittering gift shops. But sometimes, less truly is more.
‘She’ happens to be the Star Flyer, one of a trio of sailing ships run by the Monaco based Star Clippers. Though she has mechanical power, the bulk of her progress is achieved via the vast acreage of sails that drape each one of her quartet of towering masts.
Bathed in early spring sunshine as she lay snoozing in the afternoon sun at Piraeus, the Star Flyer was a stunning spectacle. With the sharp, needle point bowsprit and the long, languid sheer of her snow white hull, she is a renowned jaw dropper of epic proportions. But step aboard, and you enter what seems to be a kind of time warp.
On deck, ropes and rigging dominate the bone white wooden decks. Sure, there are sun loungers, and even a pair of plunge pools. But if ever a ship showed her sinews at every turn, it has to be the Star Flyer.
Inside, you are drawn deeper into the world of this awesome, seemingly anachronistic dream. A world of polished wood and brass, glittering glass and walls framed with paintings of long gone sailing ships. Carpets are dark blue, with old rope knots weaved into the pattern. The cabins are compact little bolt holes, with just about enough storage space. There’s a functional bathroom, beds with duvets, and a pair of gleaming, glass framed port holes that would soon be regularly assailed by sparkling blue Aegean salt water.
It’s all surreal, very ‘Alice through the Looking Glass’ stuff. But when the Star Flyer unfurled a series of vast sails like so many lowering theatre curtains, the silence could have been cut with a knife. Conversations stopped; jaws dropped. And, without even the suspicion of a shudder, this magnificent, sea going cathedral of a clipper ship ghosted out of a moonlit Piraeus harbour, and out on to Homer’s ancient, fabled ‘wine dark sea’ of history.
Only the barely audible strains of Vangelis’ ‘1492- Conquest of Paradise’ flooded the air as a milk warm breeze caught the sails of our ship. The Star Flyer seemed to give a delighted shudder, she heeled smartly in response and, without ceremony or frivolity, we began our week long dance with the wind, the waves, and a gathering sense of wonder that would carry us as if on some magical flying carpet…….
In what amounts to the most ambitious programme of regional cruises ever offered by a mainland British cruise operator, Cruise and Maritime Voyages will offer departures from no less than fourteen UK departure ports aboard five different ships for the 2018 season.
Line voyages to and from South Africa and Australia for the premium range Astor begin and end in Tilbury, as does the entire 2018 season of cruises offered by new flagship, Columbus, currently on line for a scheduled UK debut in June of 2017.
New to the 2018 programme is a series of seven cruises, departing from both Portsmouth and Poole aboard the retained Astoria. This series of cruises extends the programme for the former, 1948 built Stockholm right through until almost the end of 2018.
Meanwhile, fleet mainstays, Magellan and the veteran Marco Polo will offer a series of regional departures from around the UK on itineraries ranging from two to fifteen nights, plus the occasional overnight, repositioning mini cruise.
The full list of UK departure ports is: Belfast, Bristol (both from the port and Avonmouth), Cardiff, Dundee, Greenock for Glasgow, Harwich, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle Port of Tyne, Newport, Poole, Portsmouth, Rosyth for Edinburgh, and London Tilbury.
It is also worth noting that the company provides many coach links that coincide with sailings from their various ports around the United Kingdom, making for easy connections with all the different cruises on offer.
In the main, Cruise and Maritime Voyages sail to Norway, the Baltic, Greenland and Spitzbergen, plus the Canary Islands in peak season. Shoulder season sees some attractive, short European coastal and city cruises, with winter heralding a series of short Christmas market jaunts. There is also a handful of cruises that take in the stunning, winter time Norwegian Lights.
The CMV fleet is, for the most part intimate, adult’s only ships, though some high season sailings aboard the new flagship Columbus will offer some child friendly sailings for 2017.
Early year sailings now include a mammoth, round the world circuit from Tilbury, an exotic Caribbean round trip, and an extensive itinerary that embraces the highlights of the Amazon.
The purpose of this blog is not to provide readers with some glassy eyed, nostalgic trip back in time to recount how marvellous this first ever fly/cruise was. Yes, it was a life changing event, and it set my feet firmly on a path that they have never wavered from since, though that was far from being my intention at the time.
But what I want to revisit here are the actual logistics of that trip, and what was included in the fare. The time was October/November 1981 and, for those of you who do not know me personally, I live in the North East of England, several hundred miles north of London. So, without any further adieu, here we go….
My flights were booked on British Airways, round trip from London Heathrow to Miami International. If an option existed for a regional connection flight from Newcastle back then, I was never offered it by my very good local travel agent, so I suspect it might not have been in with the price package. Mind you, back then the take up for people going on Caribbean fly cruises was just a sliver of the massive market we know today. Also, factor in that I was 22 years old, literally on my ‘maiden voyage’ and, in terms of travelling savvy, as green as grass. I had never even been on a plane before that day.
I remember travelling down to London overnight on a National Express coach. It was October 31st, the coach was a full hour late, and snow began to fall quite steadily. Ominous portents, all.
There was no sleep on the long haul down to London Victoria, nor on the 45 minute long underground journey to Heathrow Airport. But I quickly learned that lugging suitcases up and down train station steps and escalators, plus shoe horning myself in and out of crowded underground trains, was a form of urban guerilla warfare that I had no wish to repeat.
Even back in 1981, Heathrow was a train wreck; an airport with all the warmth and welcome of a Dalek’s convention. It was hate at first sight.
I was on a BA 747 to Miami and, viewed from the boarding gate windows, the plane seemed immense. Of that first flight, I recall the euphoria of take off, and the fact that drinks on board had to be paid for in cash. The rest of that just under ten hour transatlantic flight is long since forgotten, but I don’t think I slept. By this stage of the trip, I was running on a mixture of fumes and sheer adrenaline.
Once at Miami and through the even then tortuous immigration process, I was met on the land side by a private transfer to the Miami Marriott Airport hotel. This was smooth and easy and, within an hour or so, I was in my (seemingly) high rise hotel room. I recall showering, ordering some room service, and then watching Star Trek; The Motion Picture on the in room television. Then sleep stole up on me and slugged me like a burglar, and I slept like a log until early on the Sunday morning.
Sunday, November 1st, 1981; breakfast outside in the sunshine- and a huge American buffet spread at that- made me suddenly realise that I really was in a different universe. There was a shared limousine van at noon that picked the small UK contingent up from the hotel lobby, transferring us from the Marriott to Dodge island, where the Norway sat waiting; a proud, pristine colossus etched in blue and white, standing calm and poised against a duck egg blue sky.
We saw Royal Caribbean’s Sun Viking first, an exhilarating sight in the brilliant sunshine. But that proud ship literally disappeared in the shadow of the vast Norway.
I was aboard before I even knew it. In those days, the Norway was so huge that she occupied both Piers One and Two on Dodge Island. I have no recollection of lifeboat drill, but do remember the Sun Viking edging downstream past the Norway, her passengers waving and cheering at us- and vice versa. Then the ropes came off, and it was our turn…..
That week- wow. It simply changed everything. We visited only St. Thomas in the Caribbean, and Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas- this was before Nassau was added to the itinerary the next year. My cabin- A080- was an inside, only slightly bigger than the average pygmy’s postage stamp. It mattered not a jot. This was the Norway, up close and for real. It was like being awake in a stunning, vivid dream for a week.
At the inevitable journey’s end the following Sunday, there was another limo pick up waiting to take me to a nearby airport hotel. In those days, Norwegian Caribbean Line (as was) included the cost of a hotel day room in the fare, just prior to the evening overnight flight home. This was hugely welcome as it gave you the chance to freshen up, grab some food, and enjoy your own private space before the flight home.
Cruise lines mostly no longer offer this, knowing full well that they can now sell you day tours to the Everglades and/or Ocean Drive before dropping you and your luggage at MIA. It’s a double win for them revenue wise, of course. Otherwise, it now means that you could end up deposited at the airport many, many hours before your flight home.
I think they put me up in the Howard Johnson Airport hotel. It wasn’t exactly the Ritz, but it was clean, comfortable, and had a bed soft enough to give me a few hours’ sleep, before the last shuttle transfer arrived to take me to the airport at about 1800.
Another BA 747 flight- this time overnight- deposited me smartly into the warm, welcoming embrace of Deathrow- oops, I mean Heathrow- at some appallingly uncivilised hour of the day. Scratch that- it felt appallingly uncivilised. I had just come off the Norway after all. At Heathrow, my pretty balloon suddenly burst with one almighty bang.
There then followed more urban warfare, getting back across to King’s Cross to connect with a surprisingly pain free, cathartic journey on a British Rail 125 that whisked me back to Durham in around three hours. The first sight of that fabulous cathedral was more welcome than I can describe. It has dominated the city skyline since it’s completion in the late eleventh century. I felt that I had been away a lifetime, but those ancient stone ramparts just gave my naivety a kind of benign smile.
So- that’s how it was. Now things are different, less inclusive, and I’m older. Victor Meldrew syndrome has begun to kick in, I fear.
And, of course, we no longer have the Norway. She is long since gone though, of course, she will never be forgotten.
For those who sailed her, loved her and cherished her, the Norway remains a permanent, imperious vision. Lit up like a Christmas tree from stem to stern, those great, winged stacks standing like ramparts against the flaring purple Caribbean twilight, she stands out into a sea of memories that she will always dominate, come what may.
How young I was. How little I knew. How much I learned in a short space of time. And, of course, how far it all led me. This is the stuff of dreams, ones that came true, and do not disappoint. Rare magic, indeed.
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