While there are doubtless many people who have fond memories of Columbus in her previous lives (Ocean Village, Pacific Pearl, etc), I’m thinking that this article might have most resonance with previous CMV passengers that have travelled on, say, Marco Polo or Magellan. You may be contemplating ‘stepping up’ to the larger, more amenity laden Columbus. Or, on the other hand, you might be thinking that the ‘new’ ship is simply too big and busy for you?
While I have very fond memories of those other, earlier CMV ships, I have to say that the Columbus is a clear step forward for CMV on a number of levels. For a start, she has the most balcony rooms of any ship in the fleet. And most of the regular cabins, both inside and outside, come in at a generous 188 square feet. It has to be said that hanging room for clothes is not extensive but, as this is mainly a ship with a smart casual dress code, you should still do just fine in that respect.
The Columbus scores impressively in terms of outdoor deck space, with nice stretches of broad promenade areas outside on Deck Seven that lend themselves equally well to strolling and sunning. There’s a lovely, aft facing terrace at the back of Deck Eight complete with a bar, some comfy lounging furniture, and a brace of hot tubs looking out over the sea. I should imagine that this area would be quite popular in warmer climes, especially at around sunset.
Top prize, however, goes to the prime expanse of sunning space across Deck Twelve. It has a couple of decent sized pools for a ship, including one with an in pool, sit up bar. There’s a casual outdoor grill for lunchtime burgers and hot dogs, as well as the actual, extra charge Grill Restaurant and adjacent speciality coffee shop. Right aft is the main buffet restaurant-the Plantation Buffet-that offers up the usual breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and casual dinner options. Though the serving lines themselves are good, this still gets really busy when people are rushing out to, or coming back from, shore excursions. If time allows, take breakfast at a far more leisurely pace down at the main Waterfront Restaurant, at the very aft end of Deck Seven.
Dining is, as always, a two sitting affair at night. The food in general is well presented, sometimes pleasantly surprising in terms of content, but not too much of a challenge for the typically British, over fifties age passenger demographic that the line tends to target. Five courses typically offer two or three choices for each section. And the main restaurant, though large, has been cleverly scaled down with plant topped partitions to give it a more intimate, less open feel. On the whole, this works quite beautifully.
You can also take breakfast here, or a leisurely, three course lunch on sea days that feels pretty damned indulgent.
There’s a separate, extra charge, themed Indian dinner served each night in Fusion, a carefully partitioned upper deck enclave of the Plantation Buffet. It features authentically costumed serving staff, and a wealth of main courses running from Lamb Rogan Josh through to Grilled Prawns. It’s as much about theatre as taste and, for a special occasion, I definitely recommend trying it at least once.
We never got to try The Grill, a more intimate ‘Surf and Turf’ style extra charge venue, located right forward on Deck Twelve, but I got great feedback from those who did. It’s definitely on my ‘must do’ list for next time.
If, like me, you find it difficult to walk past a cake shop without at least window shopping, then the Hemmingways Bistro on Deck Five is somewhere that you should definitely check out. It has cookies, and cake wedges as large as door stops for sale all day long, and well into the evening. Cunningly displayed in large, well lit open cabinets, this is the sort of place that your nutritionist will have nightmares about. Fortunately, he/she is unlikely to be on board…..
Free tea and coffee is available at the Plantation Buffet all day and night, and many cabins come complete with tea and coffee making trays, too- a welcome treat after a bracing stroll around some chilly Northern European capital.
Naturally, the larger size of this ship allows for a bigger entertainment handle, with more-and larger-public rooms. The three story high, oval shaped Embarkation Lobby on Deck Five gives the ship a quite striking, mauve accented focal point, complete with comfy seating and a split level staircase that leads up to the next two levels. Only the staircase wall is a disappointment; it’s a bit stark for such a large, open space, and it would definitely benefit from some kind of decorative embellishment.
Raffles is a great people watching space up on Deck Six, with views out along the Atrium, and down along the shopping arcade that throngs the edges of the space. Though popular, it seemed to be more of thoroughfare- a kind of maritime crossroads, if you will-than a space where people genuinely lingered. That said, we were on a short, port intensive cruise, so maybe that came into play as well.
Deck Seven pretty much has it all in terms of venues. Connexions Lounge is a large, raffish space, done out in off white hues, with lots of big, stripey cushions scattered across the sofas that line it’s flanks. Stand up tables for two adjoin the sight lines along both port and starboard sides that lead out onto the open stretches of outdoor promenade decks. It has a kind of early, 20th century colonial vibe, and was very popular by both day and night. As a simple lounging venue, this room is hard to beat.
Just aft of this, the popular Taverner’s Pub makes a welcome reappearance. This one is bigger and more expansive than it’s counterpart on board the Magellan. with deep, rich wood panelling and leather accented chairs, grouped both on the floor, and around the more conventional sofa lounging areas. Particularly nice here is the faux fireplace and free video juke box. Nicest of all is a nest of tables for two that lines the windows along both sides of the room; these allow for a certain amount of privacy while, at the same time, still providing platinum chip space for people watching. A central, circular sit up bar is perfect for all the bar flies out there. This is one of the main, late night venues on board, though on our cruise it usually wound down at around midnight. From here, it was a simple walk to the main, aft facing Waterfront Restaurant each day.
Down on Deck Five, and almost tucked away, is a small Captain’s Club with an adjacent casino. The latter had a couple of roulette tables, and a smattering of one armed bandits. The room has obviously been scaled down since the days when this ship served the American and Australian markets. Truth be told, we never spent a lot of time in there, instead preferring the bars already mentioned on Deck Seven.
But the loftiest venue on the ship is The Dome, a plush, expansive 270 degree room with floor to ceiling windows all around the periphery, and comfortable lounging groups in shades of blue and grey that flank the entire edge of the room. It’s set high up, right forward on Deck Fourteen, and it’s also worth noting that only the forward of the ship’s three sets of elevator banks afford direct access to it. Use the other lifts, and you’ll need to cross the outdoor deck space to gain entry. A large bar off to starboard leads to a decent sized, recessed wooden dance floor. There are more seating areas set all around this room, which works perfectly for sunset and/or pre-dinner drinks. It’s also the late night disco, for those with stamina enough to roll on through until the early morning hours.
Entertainment wise, the Columbus is pretty much what you’d expect. Energetic, colourful but not stress inducing evening shows are held in the main, forward facing, two level Palladium Lounge. Typically, there is one nightly show for each of the two main dinner sittings, so there’s no need for anyone to miss out. There’s every kind of music you can imagine dotted around the ship, from classical to karaoke, via piano music and soft jazz. Quizzes sometimes fire up in the early evenings, and are also popular during day time at sea. There’s a dedicated lecture programme, too, usually tailored to the places that the ship happens to be sailing to, and the events that transpired there over time.
Columbus has several dedicated wi-fi zones, as well as a small computer room complete with terminals, located on Deck Eight. I never had the chance to properly check out the spa down on Deck Two, but it did look pretty expansive. There’s also a decent sized, upper deck gymnasium for those who must indulge in that form of self administered torture.
All things considered, Columbus is a nice brew of homely and expansive, warmth and diversity, with very good food and service laid across an expansive series of sunlit interior spaces. The ship feels deep, wide and welcoming; different to a degree, but not too far away from the normal Cruise and Maritime style so as to intimidate regular passengers. This is evolution, not revolution.
Scale is up, passenger flow is good. Columbus was not long out of a major refit for her previous owners when the decision was made to sell her. CMV has sensibly tried not to radically alter the mix and mood of a ship that was, after all, largely adapted to suit British styles and tastes in the first place.
Final analysis? Columbus is a well decorated, extremely comfortable ship that offers most of the signature CMV experiences in a larger, more refined environment that many assumed would be the case. Like the rest of the fleet, she is an adults-only ship for most of the year, but do be aware that some children are allowed on board for some multi-generational sailings, mainly over the course of the high summer. However, as these are clearly marked out in both the brochures and the on line travel literature, there’s no need to be caught out on one of these trips, unless of course you want to.
The only real caveat I would add is that our cruise took place over the course of a cool, late autumn period when the weather was not really conducive to lingering on deck for any serious amount of time. Put this ship in warmer, more welcoming climes, and the daily vibe on board-both inside and out- might very well be quite different.
I’ll just have to go and check for myself, I suppose……