Category Archives: fly cruising

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?

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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….

LOUIS GROUP SELLS MAJESTY

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Going, going, gone…..

Louis Group, the parent company of Celestyal Cruises, has formally announced the sale of the Celestyal Majesty to an as yet undisclosed buyer.

The ship was built at Turku in Finland as the Royal Majesty back in 1992, for the start up Majesty Cruise Line. In 1997, she was sold to Norwegian Cruise Line and renamed Norwegian Majesty. In 1999 the ship went to a German shipyard to have a new mid section inserted, before resuming the popular, seven day Boston to Bermuda run each summer, with longer Caribbean cruises in the winter.

The ship sailed for NCL (as was) until 2008 when, in a joint deal with fleet mate Norwegian Dream, she was sold to the then Louis Cruise Lines. Though the purchase of the Norwegian Dream ultimately foundered, the Norwegian Majesty was restyled as the Louis Majesty. She sailed some Western Mediterranean itineraries for Louis Cruises (I did one of them), based out of Genoa, as well as some short cruises out of Piraeus to the Greek Islands.

In 2012 the ship was chartered by Thomson Cruises, and renamed as the Thomson Majesty. The new charterers added some balconies to upper deck suites and cabins- the first on the ship- and enclosed the aft facing, open air Piazza San Marco buffet to accommodate larger numbers of alfresco diners in greater comfort.

In service for Thomson, she usually sailed the Mediterranean in summer, on alternating eastern and western Mediterranean itineraries out of Palma de Mallorca and Corfu. In winter, the ship typically shifted to seven night, Canary Island runs, sailing out of both Tenerife and Gran Canaria. I caught up with her out there for a week back in 2014.

With new ships coming on line, Thomson Cruises rebranded itself; firstly as TUI Cruises, and then quickly again as Marella Cruises. And, with the new ships, it was a case of ‘out with the old’, and the subsequent return of the Thomson Majesty back to Celestyal in November of 2017.

Celestyal had initially hoped to charter her out again, but nothing transpired. In March and April of this year the ship, renamed as the Celestyal Majesty, operated a two month stint on the classic, three and four day Greek Isles and Turkey circuit out of Piraeus.

I joined her on her last, four day run, and she had never looked or felt better. But, after just one more cruise, she was again laid up in Greece at the height of the lucrative main season. Clearly, something was in the offing. And now we have at least half an idea of what that is.

As things stand, rumours are that the 40, 876 ton, 1460 passenger ship will be sold to the Chinese market although, as I stressed at the start of this blog, nothing has yet been formally announced.

Personally, I’m hoping that this svelte, pretty little ship can be kept in the European market but, alas, I’m none too optimistic.

WHAT NEXT FOR CELESTYAL CRUISES?

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The Celestyal Crystal has been operating seven day cruises from Piraeus since her return from Cuba this spring

The Greek specialist line’s current itineraries are sound, well thought out, and perennially popular. And Celestyal is cautiously expanding it’s Eastern Mediterranean programme, with a new, Egypt accented itinerary that will run through until November, with the short, three and four day Aegean cruises resuming as early as February. Both have the hallmarks of being a considerable success.

In terms of overall quality, the Celestyal product has improved, year on year. The choice of on board food, together with its variety and taste, has go markedly better. service, too, has improved to a good level of standard for a four star product. And, with the Cuba market now abandoned for the foreseeable future, both the Celestyal Crystal and the larger Celestyal Olympia have been refocused on the short, lucrative three, four and seven day cruise runs out of Piraeus. The use of nearby Lavrion as an embarkation port seems to have been abandoned, at least for the moment.

By all accounts, both ships are sailing at or very near full capacity on a weekly basis. The current brace of ships present an alluring, totally authentic, Greek accented experience for those who prefer not to sail those fabled waters on one of the larger mega ships, where the accent is on the on board attractions, and the gorgeous landscape sprinkled around them is so often an afterthought.

value, too, is a premium selling point. Each Celestyal sailing comes as an all inclusive package, with most drinks and some selected shore excursions folded into the fare. Coupled with the ease with which these ships can access sites that those other, larger ships must bypass, all of this combines to give Celestyal Cruises- always a destination oriented product-a distinct edge in terms of these short Aegean cruises.

But Celestyal is also currently sitting on another ship that really merits gainful employment soon-the Majesty. For want of either a charter or a dedicated itinerary, this beautiful ship is currently spending the summer in lay up. As situations go, it’s quite incredible.

The ship ran a programme of short, three and four day cruises from March through April. I was on the last, four night cruise in April, and the ship-and her crew- was performing beautifully. Yet now, in peak season, she sits wining at anchor, while her two siblings continue to garner big passenger loads on the lucrative Aegean circuit.

Next year, the line will also welcome the return of the Spirit, when that ship finishes her final charter to Marella Cruises this coming November. So, Celestyal has to find itineraries and/or charterers for both her and the Majesty for next year. What to do?

Obviously, markets have to be sourced and developed with care, and especially so when you are a smaller, more intimate, niche cruise line. So the time for planning and promoting these two welcome, potentially very profitable returnees to the Celestyal stable is clearly at hand.

Possibly, one of the ships could be based on Marseilles, where the ability to tap the potentially quite large French market is obvious. A new, port intensive seven night itinerary that parallels the current, seven night Celestyal Crystal sailings out of Piraeus could well be a potential winner.

Imagine being able to overnight in, say, Sorrento, Ajaccio, or even Ibiza? Tie in another couple of ports- maybe Villefranche and Cannes, for instance-and the appeal of a smaller, more intimate style of cruising (and cruise ship) becomes obvious.

The other ship could, perhaps, be home ported in Malaga, and offer a series of three and four night cruise departures that showcase such glorious regional locales as Cadiz, Valencia, Cartagena, and the seldom visited island of Menorca.

We’re not talking about filing 4000 passenger plus mega ships on a weekly basis here.; those Celestyal ships typically carry around 1400 passengers each at most. And, were the company to start offering complete fly/cruise packages, including transfers and even an overnight hotel stay where necessary, then the global reach of these short, totally alluring cruise options becomes readily apparent. It’s also an option that Celestyal cruises should consider for the Greek Islands and Turkey cruise options as well.

Food for thought? I certainly think so. What about you?

ALOHA TO HAWAII; HOLLAND AMERICA LINE GETS STEAMY IN POLYNESIA

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Holland America Line is getting well and truly into the ‘Aloha’ spirit with s raft of leisurely, languid sailings between California and the Hawaiian islands. Beginning this autumn, the two ship operation runs through until April of 2019, and offers a glut of truly spectacular options to choose from.

The line’s Amsterdam and Eurodam will make some nine cruises in all, ranging in length from sixteen to twenty days’ duration. As well as the customary departure point of Los Angeles, the two ships will also offer some sailings from San Diego, Seattle, and Vancouver.

As a standout point, each itinerary will offer an overnight stay in Honolulu, allowing passengers more than enough time to dine ashore, and of course, to see the ‘greatest hits’ tourist spots; Pearl Harbour, with the silent, deathly wreckage of the mostly sunken USS Arizona, and the massive bulk of the permanently moored USS Missouri.

There’s also Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head to contemplate in the roster of this Polynesian beauty pageant, but there are also two additional, stand out itineraries that really push the boundaries to the max in terms of sheer beauty and escapism.

First up is a sublime, twenty-eight day round trip from San Diego on the Eurodam, sailing on March 9th, 2019. As well as making calls at all the major Hawaiian hot spots, the gorgeous Eurodam surges a full thousand miles to the south to the stunning landscapes of French Polynesia, making landfall (and overnight stops) at both Tahiti and Bora Bora. This itinerary also includes a rare visit to Fanning Island, in the Republic of Kiribati.

Upping the ante by several notches, the Amsterdam makes a truly mind blowing, fifty-one day circuit of the entire South Pacific region. Leaving San Diego on October 28th, 2019, the ship once again visits all of the famed Hawaiian hot spots, together with Tahiti and Bora Bora, before continuing on to Fiji, the Cook Island, Vanuatu, Tonga, and American Samoa.

These itineraries are quite simply sublime, especially when cossetted in the plus, luxurious ambience that is the hallmark of the Holland-America brand. With lots of lazy, languid days at sea in between visits to some of the most visually alluring places anywhere on earth, this programme has all the hallmarks of being a winner.

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN; GETTING OUT THERE…

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Flying over the ice floes of Eastern Canada on Air Tahiti Nui. Photo copyright is that of the author

Whatever anybody tells you, the most awesome psychological hurdle to doing a cruise around Tahiti and her islands is the actual journey to get there in the first place. From anywhere on mainland Europe, you’re looking at a journey time of around thirty hours in all, and perhaps even longer. And, when you finally do arrive in Tahiti you’ll find yourself a full, eleven hours behind UK standard time.

My route involved flying from Paris to Tahiti, via Los Angeles on the scheduled services of Air Tahiti Nui. As there are no departure airports in the UK that ATN flies from, you first have to make your way to Paris CDG International Airport, and then take it from there.

And, with yours truly hailing from near Newcastle, England, that meant once more submitting myself to the tender mercies of Air France for the short flight to Paris. Still, it was less than two hours’ flying time. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, just about everything, as it turned out. After all, it was Air France…..

Around sixteen hours before I was due to fly, Air France contacted me to tell me that my flight to Paris had been cancelled. There was not another flight from Newcastle to Paris that day that allowed me to connect with my onward flight to Tahiti at CDG. My blood pressure went through the roof like a 747 cleared for take off.

After some much heated debate, and a vicious flurry of angry tweets and messages on social media from yours truly, the protocol droids at Air France relented. What followed was a mad, post midnight, two hundred mile taxi dash (which they paid for in advance) from my home to Edinburgh airport.

Now that flight from Edinburgh worked just fine, depositing me into Paris CDG’s Terminal 2E more or less exactly on time and, most obviously, hugely relieved. Here, despite the fact that Air France and Air Tahiti Nui have a code share arrangement, I still had to retrieve my bags and make another mad, cardiac inducing dash to Terminal 2A, where I would check in yet again.

The Air Tahiti Nui check in was relatively easy, once achieved through the mad bedlam that is Paris CDG. Some well meant advice; if you’re going to make this trip, then fly to Paris the day before, and save yourself a great deal of needless hassle.

Air Tahiti Nui flies big, four engine A340 jets on the twenty-two hour long haul out to Tahiti. The stretch from Paris to Los Angeles occupies a full twelve hours. Once in California, you need to undergo a full, potentially bewildering customs and immigration procedure, for which you must take all of your hand luggage with you. No exceptions.

Once that is done, you get back onto the same plane (and into the same seat) for the final, eight hour leg out to Tahiti. By now, the plane has been completely cleaned, reprovisioned, and furnished with a new crew. Once all that has been achieved, then it’s off you go again.

Now, the seats on Air Tahiti Nui’s flights are configured in a 2-4-2 arrangement in economy. The actual cabin is light and airy, with almost everything in shades of soft, light blue. Some find the seats hard and uncomfortable, but I was quite fine with them to be honest. Disclaimer: I’m 5′ 6″, and found the leg room to be quite good, also. The fine white national flower of Tahiti- the Tiare- given to each passenger before take off is a truly nice, authentic touch.

Each seat had a comfort kit that contained socks, an eye mask and some rudimentary headphones. On each seat back was a small, nine inch screen with an entertainment system that was pretty limited on options compared to those on, say, Emirates or even Delta. Certainly, for such a long, potentially bone numbing journey, they could do with being massively updated. Perhaps this might happen when the airline takes delivery of the first of it’s new, Boeing 787 Dreamliners next year.

The saving grace on Air Tahiti Nui was, once again, the generally outstanding food and service. When was the last time that you were served an eminently palatable fish dinner in economy class? Desserts were tasty, too. And drinks, in the form of fine wines or 200 ml splits of sparkling wine, were available all flight. In addition, you could ‘raid’ the galleys any time for such treats as sandwiches, ice cream, or more drinks.

All things considered, the long journey to the west was not too bad, and surely about as good as anyone could realistically expect it to be in economy. Having done the self same trip a few years ago (and even on the same plane, as it happens; the evocatively named Moorea) I knew how to break the journey down with occasional power naps followed by drinks, some snacking, and the odd feature film. Among those was The Last Jedi, which left me more than a little perplexed, and Dunkirk, which I found to be pretty raw, gripping, no holds barred stuff.

We lifted off from Paris, and set course for somewhere just south of Iceland. I followed along on our on-screen route map as we flew over the Atlantic, and then on across the ice fields of Greenland and Nova Scotia. Then it was on to somewhere just south of Chicago, before we soared above the Prairies before beginning a gradual descent to our first landfall at Los Angeles.

LA was muggy and overcast; quite surprisingly so for the middle of June, for sure. Not all of our passengers made it through the entire, tortuous landfall side very quickly, and as a result we were a full hour late in taking off for the final, eight hour haul out to Tahiti.

Back on board the flight after the madness of customs and immigration, we lofted into a mist shrouded, searing, caramel tinted twilight. Soaring above Manhattan Beach we turned south west, and headed out over the vast expanse of the North and South Pacific.

Darkness, plus the mildly disturbing lack of mid ocean topography gnawed at me as I munched gamely away at some surprisingly tasty orange crepes, before kicking back with a bottle or two of sparkling wine. The darkened cabin was rent only by the cries of a pair of babies sequestered in bassinettes on the bulkhead row, just forward and to the left of me. Both had cried more or less on and off since we left Paris. And, while I genuinely felt for both the kids and their parents, my reservoir of goodwill was running on more or less empty by the time we finally came in to land.

When the door yawned open on the runway at Tahiti’s Faa’a International Airport, the late evening heat came pouring in like molten lava. It was 2330 at night, and we were a full hour late because of our delayed departure from Los Angeles.

But this was still Tahiti achieved, and anything less than a lei flower garland greeting on the tarmac would have been a real disappointment. There was even a live band, playing sensuous. local stuff as we trooped, tired but dutiful, toward passport control and a hopefully emotional reunion with the luggage I had last seen in Paris, some twenty-three hours ago now.

Now Faa’s International Airport is something that looks exactly- and I mean exactly- like something from a sixties episode of Thunderbirds. It’s all curved staircases and clusters of big, tubular neon lights that are suspended in clumps from the ceiling. But it is very easy to navigate- petite as it is-and my luggage was mercifully quick to arrive.

So, too, was my driver. He was already smiling a greeting as my luggage and I emerged into the steamy embrace of a first Tahitian midnight. He gave me a much appreciated bottle of water, before ushering me into the blissful, air conditioned calm of a limo that purred along darkened, palm studded roads until a familiar landmark entrance loomed up out of the night, almost right ahead of us.

It was just ten minutes since I had left the airport, and here I was back at Tahiti’s swish, apparently deserted Inter-Continental Hotel. Check in was fast, friendly, and as warm as the evening air.

Within an hour, I was one of a small handful of people. clustered around a nest of tables sprinkled across the floor of the open air lobby bar, nursing a cold beer as I gazed out over the darkened ocean to where the mighty, fondly remembered mountains of Moorea crouched under a canopy of shimmering, impassive starlight. At once both tired and exhilarated, it was the perfect end to a very long, long day.

Newcastle. Edinburgh. Paris. LA. Just dots on a map now. Like markers on a route map, laid out under all of those stars. God, that first beer was so, so good.

Tahiti. So fondly remembered. So fervently desired. And so seemingly, impossibly far, far, away, had been achieved once again. And, with my blood pressure no longer pounding the ceiling, I began to truly relax.

Already, Polynesia had begun to work it’s subtle, seductive magic on me once again.

M/S PAUL GAUGUIN: MUSING ON CRUISING

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Pool deck in Paradise; on board the Paul Gauguin off Moorea. Photo copyright is that of the author

Well, today is our last full day here on board the Paul Gauguin. We’re still anchored in the gorgeous embrace of Moorea but, at around five o’clock this evening, we will weigh anchor to make the short, ten mile or so canter back to Papeete, where I’ll be spending the night on board before disembarking tomorrow.

I am going to miss these islands- and this ship- more than I can possibly describe. ‘Dream Trip’ is an over used cliche that I personally detest but, in this case, nothing else will do to describe the deep sense of peace that this part of the world engenders in you. That, combined with the ease of accessibility, the casual, spectacular luxury of the Paul Gauguin herself, and the attentiveness of one of the best crews that I have ever encountered on any ship, all makes this one a very hard act to follow.

Not that I won’t try, mind you. Yep, I’m looking at you, Bermuda….

Highlights of this trip have come and gone like so many muffled drum rolls. Last night’s Polynesian themed dinner in the L’Etoile Restaurant is simply one of the best meals that I have ever eaten anywhere. The lobster was out of this world, and don’t even get me started on how scrumptious Tahitian vanilla actually is.

Our tenders- my preppy little ‘Gauguin Water Beetles’-run with the smoothness and efficiency of a Swiss watch. To be fair, they have now had twenty years to get this right, but the organisation remains impressive for all that.

The Paul Gauguin herself is spotlessly clean, and I mean ‘immaculate’. No sooner does someone get up out of one of the rattan chairs, than a staff member appears to plump the cushions, perking it up ready for the next weary lotus eater to sag into like some broken puppet with it’s strings cut.

I suspect that the sound of a ukulele will haunt me for many a month to come, and at odd, random moments when I least expect it, too. Don’t get me wrong; that’s not a complaint of any sort. It’s just a way of explaining how the sound and the soul of French Polynesia have seeped so deeply into so many of us.

I’ll miss the sense of care and palpable concern that this crew has for the passengers in it’s charge. Like the receptionist who called me back the other day to advise me to take an umbrella ashore, as it looked like it might rain. None fell right then as it happened, but you get the picture. And I’ve seen so many examples of this kind of thing happening all over the ship.

I’ll sure as hell miss those magical evenings spent lounging on the terrace outside La Palette, with the stars twinkling over the darkened, dreamy peaks of Moorea as a brilliant half moon shines down on the waters below us. That warm breeze, the easy manner and sense of elegant fun of my fellow travellers, and their kindness and generosity of spirit. That last remark also applies unreservedly to this splendid, selfless crew.

Needless to say, there is always at least one unpleasant person aboard any cruise. In our case, it’s an irascible, addled ‘lady’ with a hefty sense of self entitlement. The poor dear seems possessed of the notion that the entire ship is her own, personal fiefdom.

To be fair to her, she may simply be in the last throes of Mad Cow disease, or something similar. In any event, she’s the one person on board that most definitely puts the ‘moo’ into Moorea. Most of us avoid her like the plague, but she has still contrived to make life hell for the crew who, unlike us, do not have that simple luxury of side stepping her.

Obviously, being the professionals that they are, they still treat her with unfailing courtesy. Personally, I’d tie a pork chop to each of her legs, and then tip her overboard for the sharks to play with.

Ah, but such things are like the rain clouds that glower over us for a few moments, only to be replaced by a rainbow. My own, personal rainbow awaits in the seductive little shape of the post breakfast Mimosa that I will shortly be taking on board. Because, while it is almost over for this trip, ‘almost’ is not quite ‘finished’, as it were.

And here, in the charmed universe that is the Paul Gauguin, many of us are still dreaming, wide awake……