Tag Archives: cruise and maritime voyages

CHANGING THE PLOT; WINTER CRUISING’S SHAKE UP

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CMV’s popular Marco Polo is a veteran of the winter cruise circuit

Cruise ships and sunshine; the two go almost hand in hand in popular perception, just as they always have. Broad, sun splashed lido decks full of people soaking up the indolent seagoing lifestyle, has been at the heart of cruising’s grand, global pitch since the early 1920’s.

But that is now starting to change over the winter months…..

These days, many people are simply put off by the perennially overcrowded winter Caribbean cruise circuit, with it’s flotillas of vast, floating leviathans routinely descending on the same, cowed, cluster of islands. And the idea of flying long haul in advance certainly puts off many other people these days, too.

The result is that many cruise lines are now getting really creative with winter itineraries. And warm weather cruising-even in the depths of a European winter-is by no means the Holy Grail that it once was.

The Mediterranean is now a full on, year round cruising destination. Both MSC Cruises and Costa have a robust, year round presence in the seven to twelve day cruise markets in the region, with cruises that sail from Barcelona, Genoa and Venice, among others. Short flight times, together with much less crowded tourist sites, both make for quite impressive plus points. And, while the cooler temperatures may not fire everybody’s enthusiasm, the region in winter is still generally sunny, with clear visibility to boot.

Of course, the true, die hard sun worshippers can still set sail for the Canary Islands. You can neatly avoid the joys of a winter time Bay of Biscay buffeting by flying to join your ship at any one of a whole raft of Italian and Spanish embarkation ports, and then sailing from there. And many of those same ports also benefit from having frequent, good priced air lift from the UK and mainland Europe via a string of no frills, budget airlines.

Most unexpected, however, has been the slow but steady growth in winter cruising to the Baltic, North West Europe, and even Northern Norway. Round trip sailings from the UK on lines such as Cruise and Maritime Voyages, Fred. Olsen, P&O and even Cunard, can take you to some amazing, pre-Christmas market cities such as Copenhagen, Hamburg and Oslo. You can count on bitingly cold days that are still quite often blessed with amazing clear visibility. Crowds are much thinner, and you also get a much different, calmer take on cities than the crowds which flock to those same streets and squares in the long, light summer nights.

Another growth area is in cruises to witness the bone chilling, ethereal flourish of the Northern Lights, the spectacular natural panorama that quite literally lights up the skies of North West Norway during the long winter months. Both Fred. Olsen Cruises and Cruise and Maritime Voyages have found these cruises to be slow but consistent growers over the winter season.

Growing numbers of people each year are now more willing than ever to eschew that once mandatory winter sun tan for a raft of more eclectic, arcane adventures at sea. The convenience of home port departures, coupled with good pricing and fuelled by simple, neatly tailored marketing, has created a series of natty, nicely packaged travel options for the winter that are guaranteed to pique the curiosity of today’s most avid cruising fans.

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THE BEST SHIPS FOR REPOSITIONING CRUISES

CRYSTAL SERENITY
Crystal Serenity

By their very nature, repositioning cruises represent some of the best value travel options in the entire cruising firmament. As cruise lines confront the inevitable fact that they must move ships from one part of the world to another once, and sometimes twice a year, the question of how to fill them becomes paramount.

The lines, from deluxe to mass market, are all hampered in their efforts by several factors. One is the odd length that such a trip usually entails-often in excess of two full weeks. That alone can play havoc with the holiday entitlement of many potential travellers.

Another handicap is the inescapable fact that there will be several days spent at sea- typically between four and eight, but sometimes more-without any landfall whatsoever. For many prospective passengers, that’s the kiss of death, right there.

Then you have to consider that passengers fly into, and then home from, different airports that are located on two different continents. The air fare alone on such trips can easily be between two and three times the cost of the actual cruise itself. And the singular act of having to fly anywhere-anywhere at all-is a potential turn off for many travellers these days.

Small wonder, then, that many of these trips sail at nowhere near full capacity, and quite often are only around half full. Prices are, therefore, pitched at relatively low rates to reflect this. Imagine trying to fill some 4,000 passenger mega ship on a westbound crossing in November. It would hardly be the first choice for many leisure travellers, and quite understandably so.

And yet… for those who do enjoy sea days, with their endless scope for relaxation, pampering and serial self indulgence, a ‘repo’ trip can seem like the very antechamber to Heaven itself. At once evocative of the classy old days of true, ocean liner travel, they have space for everyone, and a complete lack of pace that is truly cathartic. Despite the potential pitfalls of a long ocean crossing as outlined above, this writer in particular remains an avowed fan of just such crossings. I make just such voyages at every single opportunity that arises. Up to now, I have made well over a dozen.

With that in mind, here are some of my very favourite ships on which to make an ocean crossing. Please note that this list does not include the year round sailings of the Queen Mary 2 on her regular, scheduled services to and from New York.

MARCO POLO; CRUISE AND MARITIME VOYAGES

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Marco Polo

Imagine a cruise shop as a Faberge Egg, or a small, beautifully crafted jewel box, and you’ve got the Marco Polo in one. Built in 1965 with an ice strengthened hull, her sharp, raked bow and relatively broad waist make her an ideal, inherently stable ship on which to cross large tracts of ocean. At 22,000 tons and carrying just 800 passengers, the ship is intimate, and her carefully preserved Art Deco interiors give her that true, authentic ‘ocean liner’ feel and vibe. There are no balcony cabins, but you’re unlikely to miss them on the often changeable Atlantic, in any event.

CRYSTAL SERENITY: CRYSTAL CRUISES

CRYSTAL SERENITY
Crystal Serenity

70,000 tons of artfully crafted, deliciously deluxe indulgence, with a maximum capacity of just 1,000 guests, this beautiful ship boasts a stellar entertainment handle- a huge boon on long sea crossings. Themed crossings, including Big Band, Film, and Food Festivals are a staple feature of Crystal’s typical ‘repo’ voyages. Spectacular amounts of private space-both in cabins and public areas- is allied to outstanding, open sitting cuisine in all dining venues. Exemplary on board service sets the tone for the rest of the deluxe cruise industry. A crossing spent cosseted aboard this ship somehow never seems long enough.

SOVEREIGN; PULLMANTUR CRUISES

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Pullmantur’s Sovereign, the former 1988-built Sovereign of the Seas

This 78,000 ton, 2,250 passenger ship is far more likely to be filled with Spanish and Brazilian passengers as she sails to and from Brazil each autumn and spring. Outstanding, all inclusive value becomes even more so when you consider that these crossings do not always sell out. With passenger accommodation located mostly forward and the public rooms stacked up in the aft half of the vessel. this big ship is surprisingly easy to navigate, and the central, five story Atrium Lobby- the first of it’s kind ever to be installed on any large cruise ship- is still one of the finest people watching spots on any ship afloat today. And, her original role as the world’s first, purpose built mega cruise ship- the Sovereign of The Seas- still gifts her a sassy, retrospective kind of cachet that makes her a true delight to sail.

BLACK WATCH;FRED. OLSEN CRUISE LINES

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Fred. Olsen’s Black Watch

With a sharply raked prow and a deep hull, this 28,000 ton, 800 passenger ship is elegant, intimate, and eminently seaworthy. A series of broad, aft facing terrace decks are sublime lounging spots for lazy, languid crossings on the famous ‘Sunny Southern’ route, and there are nice terrace balcony cabins down on Seven Deck that offer the best of all worlds. Excellent food and inspired, unobtrusive service raises making a crossing on this ship to the level of an art form. And the ship also has a large number of cabins dedicated to single passengers, too. A true seagoing treat.

COLUMBUS; SOME THOUGHTS ON THE SHIP…..

COLUMBUS
The Columbus at Antwerp. Photo courtesy of Robert Graves

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 than 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……

COLUMBUS: ANTWERP LANDFALL

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Antwerp Cathedral at twilight. photo copyright is that of the author

Sixty miles inland from the estuary of the River Scheldt on the North Sea coast, the great port city of Antwerp crouches along the river bank like some giant, medieval theme park; a city so perfectly compact and awash with gingerbread charm that you would think that it was invented by the makers of Kodak film.

Yes, I know that camera film is old hat, but so too is Antwerp in a great many ways. I don;t mean that in any kind of derogatory sense- far from it- but this city really is so olde worlde pretty in places that it looks like something from straight out of a Disney film backdrop. Set to music, Antwerp would be a cross between a Strauss waltz and some piece of soft, sultry samba. It really is that good.

Take the main square-the Grand Place- as your benchmark. Literally a five minute stroll from where we docked on the Columbus, it’s a stunning brew of gilt, leaded glass windows, and soaring, Gothic overkill that still manages to be almost perfectly proportioned. The inhabitants of Antwerp in the Middle Ages were absolutely hell bent on displaying their wealth in terms of buildings with grand facades and ornate, free flowing fountains, all set on a cobbled concourse that is now strewn with outdoor bars, cafes and eateries. Horse drawn public buses still clop across those cobbles to this day, their hooves clicking out a tempo that contains more than just an echo of that past. It’s magical, almost fairy tale, and it all feels so fragile that it might just collapse at any moment.

And that would be a shame, because even just the thought of burying all of those fantastic local chocolate shops under a layer of gilt is truly heartbreaking. The Belgians have an attitude to perfecting chocolate as a product that is almost religious. In terms of types, taste and sheer temptation, the choices on offer can be almost overwhelming. Your heart will sing even as your arteries whimper but, take it from me, resistance is pretty much futile.

That same, loving attitude applies to locally brewed beer. If the French revere wine like the Holy Grail (Holy Grape, anyone?) then the Belgians have a similar, intense sense of devotion to crafting beer. Beer sommeliers create and curate a stunning range of ales, everything from strawberry flavoured to borderline saccharine, with everything else in between. Some of these are potent enough to blow the tiles off nearby buildings so yes, do take care and indulge sensibly. But oh Lord, do indulge just a little.

This love of food and drink is typical of Belgium as a whole. It’s no accident that the rotund, always impeccably turned out Hercule Poirot was portrayed as a Belgian national. These people take their personal indulgences quite seriously (and quite rightly so) and the buildings that this grand, gregarious city flaunts like so many exclamation marks are perfectly primped pointers to an attitude where decadence is raised to the level of an art form.

Antwerp has art, too, of course. Lots of it. It’s as rich and varied as the chocolate; as sturdy and stout as the beer. You’ll find massively overblown pieces by Rubens, and the vast, vaulted Gothic/Romanesque cathedral that forms the city’s central focus is almost awash with fabulous frescoes and robust, ancient masterpieces on a scale that would have made the Mona Lisa herself gasp with envy. Antwerp is not a modest city in any sense of the word; it’s a sensuous, swaggering, fairground ride of a seaport. For some it can actually be overwhelming, but at least Antwerp is anything but bland.

Trams slither purposefully through those old, winding streets as the milling throngs make their way from restaurants to art gallery, offices to outdoor bars. Courtyards are almost awash with creeping plants and rickety wooden tables and chairs. Weak, early morning sunlight glimmers against glass in window frames that have been here for centuries. On the river, a gaggle of ducks passes in stately procession across the wake of some stubby, no nonsense coastal steamer, chugging gamely upstream into the embrace of the third largest port anywhere in Europe.

It was that same port which made Antwerp the focus of some of the most seminal events of World War Two. In early September of 1944, Field Marshal Montgomery took the city at the gallop as his army group scythed through the shattered remnants of the Wehrmacht in the aftermaths of Normandy and Falaise. But, flushed with victory, Montgomery failed to clear the river banks on both sides of the long approach from the open sea to the city. Thus gifted with a breathing space that they neither expected or deserved, the Germans were able to regroup. Digging in a large amount of heavy artillery, they were able to dominate the approaches to Antwerp without needing the city itself.

The result was that the vast port was useless to the Allies- who desperately needed it for landing supplies-for almost a full three months. Stung to fury at it’s loss, Hitler unleashed a screaming torrent of V1 and V2 flying bombs on the ancient Flemish city. In these last stages of the conflict, only London was more repeatedly hit by flying bombs than Antwerp.

The protracted fighting along the Scheldt estuary, combined with the bloody fiasco at Arnhem, allowed the battered German forces vital time to rest, regroup and re-arm. When the Wehrmacht came looming in sudden, surprising strength out of the snow bound forests of the Ardennes that same December, it’s ultimate objective was the recapture of Antwerp. This last, desperate lunge by Hitler’s army in the west would go down in history as the ‘Battle of The Bulge’. And, although elements of one German panzer division did get to within a few miles of the  vital crossings over the River Meuse, this last ditch offensive was a busted flush before it ever really began. There was simply neither the manpower or the resources to sustain it by this stage of the conflict.

All that turbulent, tremendous history seems pretty abstract as you smother some freshly baked waffle under a sea of strawberry jam at an outdoor cafe, while street musicians thump lustily away at some gut wrenching slice of oompah music. Nothing evoked the true spirit of Halloween quite like that ghastly car crash of sound.

But hey, that’s Antwerp for you. History and hedonism. Beer. Chocolate. Poirot. Let’s not forget Tin Tin. A rich, sometimes ribald confection of a city wrapped up in gilt, and then tied with a pretty little bow. Proud, patrician and swaggering, Antwerp is quite the date.

Freed from her shackles, the Columbus slipped quietly clear of Antwerp’s well fed embrace. Darkness fell like a slowly lowering theatre curtain. Pools of light danced on the ink black water as random spatters of raindrops lashed at our windows like flies on a car windscreen. From somewhere high above us the deep throated boom of the ship’s siren roared out across the water. It reverberated across the gilt and gingerbread expanse of Antwerp’s rain lashed Grand Square, where flocks of suddenly startled pigeons flooded the sky in maddened droves.

I watched all of this from inside the Taverner’s Bar, cradling a perfectly chilled glass of wine as we stole out into the slipstream, and Antwerp faded from our grasp like a slowly falling souffle. And, as she did, a sense of sublime, detached contentment mugged me with a smile. I folded like so much wet cardboard.

Truly, resistance is sometimes futile.

 

 

COLUMBUS; CRUISING THE EUROPEAN CLASSICS

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The Columbus docked at Antwerp on November 1st. Photo courtesy of Robert Graves

It’s a little after lunchtime out here on the North Sea, and the Columbus is cruising sedately along the Dutch coast, en route to Antwerp. There’s a slowly rolling gunmetal swell outside, and the occasional faint glimmer of sunlight that teases across the horizon. And although it is a Wednesday in the real world, today out here has the mellow vibe of a lazy summertime Sunday.

A string of highlights have come and gone like so many muffled drum rolls since we slipped away from Tilbury, just three days ago. We spent a lazy Monday morning on a canal cruise through the spiders’ web of waterways that is the lifeblood of old Amsterdam, beetling past serried tiers of brownstone houses that frowned down on us from under a cloudy sky. Fleets of bikes and bustling, snail like trams scurried through the city like swarms of maddened ants. As ever, this grand, glamorous sea city was buzzing with its own unique, earthy vibe.

Hamburg came up almost without warning; a cluster of ancient, spindly church and cathedral spires splintered a slate grey horizon as the Columbus nudged gently upstream towards her berth. Hamburg- the city of beer, The Beatles and the Bismarck-is a colossal brew of glass, steel, and red brick warehouses that loom out above canals whipped by autumn winds, and piles of scattered leaves that flew in all directions as we strolled its ancient, Hanseatic streets.

The city brims with modern masterpieces like the Elbphilharmonie, a fabulous new waterfront opera venue. Here, modern literally tops classic; a vast, wave top crowned rectangular glass carapace has been grafted onto a soaring, spruced up old red brick warehouse to create a stunning new focal point for this hugely under rated sea city. It’s flashy and yet formidable, solid and stunning in the same breath.

Of course, the Reeperbahn is still there. Much of it still remains as The Beatles would have remembered it from their early, manic, bread and butter youth. A gaudy glut of seedy bars, shops and ‘cinemas’ stand decked in shades of garish, near bubonic neon. It forms the perfect stage for the nightly cast of pimps, female ‘entertainers’ and farmer’s sons that wander round, wide eyed and slack jawed, at all the platinum chip debauchery that beckons from nigh on every litter strewn doorway. The latter are prime fodder for the lurking pickpockets who play them like so many badly tuned pianos. Those windswept streets crackle and buzz with an energy that you’ll find nowhere else on earth. Hamburg is a hard working, hard partying city that wears the scars of it’s tormented past- from plague outbreaks to paralysing mass bombing- like so many rust streaked battle honours. You’ll find none of the faux flashiness of Monaco or Vegas here; Hamburg is far more grit than glitter, and it remains all the more appealing for it.

Those twin treasures are now literally in my wake as I write. The passengers on board the Columbus are taking their rest after gamely force marching (munching?) their way through a mountainous lunchtime buffet. Many are sagging comfortably into armchairs that look out over the glittering briny. Others stroll the shopping arcade while a battery of braver souls, bundled up in layers of clothing, meander along the bracing, breeze whipped outdoor decks.

The daily, seagoing ballet of waiters delivering trays of drinks to people sitting around tables is now in full flow. There’s the occasional rattle of a cocktail shaker, and I can just vaguely hear some sublime old Aretha Franklin tunes flowing from the free jukebox in the Taverner’s Pub. Like good wine, great music simply gets better with time, methinks.

A kind of smiley, mid afternoon stupor is creeping up on me like slowly encroaching sea fog. Quite honestly, being this indolent and lazy takes a huge amount of planning and work. I doubt if Dwight Eisenhower’s staff did this much exhaustive pre-planning in the run up to the D-Day landings.

Still, one must soldier on (pun wholly intentional) without complaint, and with a steady step. OK, maybe not so much later when the wine kicks in which, being blessed with incredible powers of perception, I know that it surely will. Still, I guess that no-one ever said that this stuff would be easy.

So, that’s it for now, folks. Missing you already and-remember- it’s a jungle out there……

 

 

MARCO POLO TO SAIL EPIC SOUTH AFRICAN ADVENTURE IN 2020

MARCO POLO

Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) has just announced an epic, seventy-eight day African adventure aboard it’s legendary, 1965 built, 22,000 ton Marco Polo in January of 2020. The 800 guest ship will embark passengers at Bristol’s port of Avonmouth on January 6th, 2020.

What follows is a truly epic adventure. Leaving winter in her wake, the veteran liner-one of the last of her breed still in existence-shapes course for the warmer, more welcoming waters of Namibia and South Africa, where highlights include calls into Cape Town, Durban, and the beautiful Mossel Bay.

From there, the Marco Polo surges towards the Seychelles, going onward to the Maldives, Mauritius, Reunion, and Sri Lanka.

The voyages continues on to Goa, India, Oman and Egypt, before sailing to the Holy Land and on through the springtime Mediterranean, before finally arriving back into Bristol Avonmouth on March 24th- just in time for the start of the British spring.

It is heartening to see this much loved ship being sent on such an epic, alluring adventure. Some of the highlights en route include two crossings of the Equator, a transit of the Suez Canal, and calls at no less than thirty-one different ports, ranged across three different continents.

In all, the Marco Polo will log a staggering 21,296 sea miles during the course of this stunning ocean safari. When you consider combining such an epic adventure with the legendary status of the Marco Polo herself, I fully expect that this cruise will be a complete sell out.

Wonderful stuff.

 

 

PRINSENDAM GOING TO PHOENIX SEEREISEN?

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The Prinsendam is one of Holland America’s most enduring and popular vessels

Stories are circulating that Holland America Line’s Prinsendam, the company’s popular ‘Elegant Explorer’,  will be sold to the German cruise operator, Phoenix Seereisen.

If true, it would re-unite the 1989 built ship with her former RVL fleet mate, Albatross, ex Royal Viking Sea.

The Prinsendam, originally built as the Royal Viking Sun,  was the largest ship ever built for the Royal Viking Line from scratch, as well as the last. And she may well now be surplus to the Carnival Group’s overall portfolio. Carnival CEO, Arnold Donald, is on record as saying that any ship of less than 70,000 GRT is likely to be sold in the next few years and, at around 38,000 tons, the Prinsendam as is would certainly fit in that planning.

For sure, the Prinsendam was at one time highly coveted by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, and indeed she would still be a great fit with that company’s own duo of former RVL veterans, now sailing as Boudicca and Black Watch. but the smart money seems to be on the German operator, for now at least.

The Royal Viking Sun had a short stint at RVL, before that legendary company was wound up and the ship went firstly to Cunard, and then to Seabourn as the Seabourn Sun. Since her transfer to the Dutch brand in 2002, the restyled Prinsendam has offered longer, more destination intensive cruises, for which her intimate size and capacity-currently around 836 passengers-makes her a perfect choice.

Recently, Holland America Line sidelined two of its four, 50,000 ton Statendam class ships off to P&O Australia. In turn, one of these will now transition over to Cruise and Maritime Voyages next April. That leaves HAL as it currently stands with the two remaining ships in the class- Maasdam and Veendam-But this duo must surely also be on borrowed time as part of the HAL roster.

In any event, the move of Prinsendam to Phoenix Seereisen would make perfect sense if it does, indeed, come to pass.