Tag Archives: cruise

SILVER WHISPER- LIVE

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Silver Whisper. Photo credit: Silversea Cruises

So here we are, settled back in aboard the Silver Whisper, making our stately progress along the River Elbe, and out towards the open waters of the North Sea and the Baltic.

Our departure from Hamburg this morning was subtle, splendid stuff. The morning sun had just heaved itself above the city’s web of ancient. slender spires as we cast off. There was no fanfare or ceremony; the sight of 28,000 tons of gleaming white cruise ship, pirouetting gracefully mid stream into the River Elbe, was ceremony enough in it’s own right.

We are moving through a slowly unwinding hinterland that unfurls like a series of drum rolls along both banks of this ancient waterway. Ferries and tugs sprint across our path like so many maddened water beetles. Container ships surge past us, painted in shades of drab red, green and blue. Along the serpentine banks of the Elbe itself, a host of rolling greenery is studded with small villas, hotels and caravan parks. Wind turbines spin lazily in a warm breeze that drifts across the decks of the ship as we surge forward on the steel grey river. It’s like being awake in some particularly vivid dream.

Broad, dusky sand beaches spill out to kiss the water’s edge. Early morning walkers with their dogs gaze up at the awe inspiring bulk of the Silver Whisper as she ghosts past them on what looks like a perfect summer’s day. From over the rim of my coffee cup, it all looks like something from a series of still life paintings.

And we are sailing in the wake of history as well. The Bismarck came this same way back in 1940. Built in Hamburg, and still regarded by the locals as a ‘Hamburg ship’, that tiger shark of a battleship was manned by a crew of mainly local men, all of whom would have known the waters we are sailing through very well indeed. It’s hard to shake the image of that squat, solid grey ghost, with her phalanx of guns looking like so many drawn swords. But here and now, on the Silver Whisper, we are confronted with nothing more aggressive than some particularly feisty- and very welcome- early morning coffee.

There’s a strange dichotomy involved in sailing such inland waterways. Everything looks close enough to touch, from washing flapping idly in the breeze to the trees, rustling ashore in a kind of indolent rhythm that’s all their own. And yet, we are detached from it all by a million miles, cocooned in what I can only describe as a kind of pampered stupor aboard this beautiful ship.

Of course, it’s a panorama s old as time itself; ship, sky and sea creating a stunning, multi colour audio visual playback that unfolds like a series of slowly waving flags. But it’s no less bewitching for all that. Timeless as it is, this stuff never gets old.

It all adds to the mood of surreal calm that permeates this ship. There are no screaming loudspeaker announcements selling everything from T-shirts to costume jewels, no lines for food or drinks. No feeling of pressure of any kind, in fact.

So what is there, then? That’s easy- a sense of contentment and familiarity, and a shared kinship of sailing these waters with the kind of people that appreciate a ship like the Silver Whisper. A sense that nothing is too much trouble, and that everything is within easy reach.

Speaking of which, it’s time for my lunchtime Margarita. More dispatches from the front to come soon…..

COMING NEXT; SILVER WHISPER

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Silver Whisper. Photo credit: Silversea cruises

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.

PULLMANTUR CONFIRMS DEPLOYMENT OF SOVEREIGN TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR WINTER 2017-18

SOVEREIGN
The Sovereign. Photo credit: Daniel Capella

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.

ALL CHANGE FOR CELESTYAL; MAJESTY IN THE AEGEAN FOR THE SUMMER OF 2018

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Majesty at San Sebastian, La Gomera. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

After her return from Thomson Cruises this coming November of 2017, it had been intended to send the 40,000 ton, 1400 passenger Celestyal Majesty (currently still sailing as the Thomson Majesty) to Cuba after a short refit. That plan has now been sunk.

Instead, it seems that the ship will lay up for the first two months of the year, before entering service on the three and four day run out of Athens to the Greek Islands and Turkey in late March.

Three day cruises will sail from Piraeus each Friday, offering a call in Mykonos that same evening. Next morning, passengers can choose between an early morning visit to Samos, or a shorter call into Kusadasi, before an early evening visit to Patmos.

Next day finds the ship at Heraklion in the morning, with an early evening visit to Santorini, before arriving back into Piraeus on the following Monday.

The four day, Monday sailings follow an identical route, except for an added, full day call into Rhodes after the Patmos call. In this guise, the Celestyal Majesty is offering the pretty much tried and tested ‘short run’ options that have proved so popular for several years now.

But it’s the following, seven day Idyllic Aegean itineraries that are really making waves. Beginning on April 30th, the Celestyal Majesty will offer a seven night cruise running through to October that offers no less than three overnight stays in two of Greece’s most compelling high spots.

 

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Mykonos at dusk. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Sailing in late afternoon, the Celestyal Majesty arrives at Mykonos just before midnight that same day, there to begin a two day and night stay in the platinum chip people watching capital of the Dodecanese. Passengers can come and go from the ship as and when they wish during this extended stay- the only one of its kind-at the Aegean’s most hedonistic hot spot.

The ship then sails on to further calls at Ios and Milos, before a third full overnight stay in Santorini. There is an afternoon call into Crete’s capital of Heraklion, before a final day that again offers the options of either an early start to Samos, or a longer day in Kusadasi, before the ship returns to Piraeus the next day.

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Aegean Islands sunset. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

These new cruises- similar to the ones being offered aboard the smaller Celestyal Nefeli this year- have really upped the ante in the Greek local market. While still very port intensive, the included possibility of three full nights ashore (though it’s not likely that the ship would run all night tender service into Santorini) on a larger ship, really marks a significant notch up in the local product offering.

Shore excursions in the ports, as well as an all inclusive drinks package, are offered to UK passengers as part of the overall cruise price. And, while Celestyal does not offer a fly cruise programme, flights and transfers to Athens are easily arranged independently.

From London, Manchester and Edinburgh, Easyjet has direct flights to Athens. Ryanair flies to Athens from Stansted. Air France and KLM serve Athens from twenty one UK airports via their respective hubs at Paris and Amsterdam.

Celestyal Majesty herself is the perfect size for cruising to the smaller, more secluded ports of the Greek Islands, as well as the ‘Greatest Hits’ ports such as Mykonos. While she does not have numerous balcony cabins or multiple restaurants, she is a pretty ship, both inside and out, that will offer her passengers an authentically intimate, local Greek style experience, with food and entertainment crafted to fit the environment through which the ship will be sailing.

Standard inside and outside cabins are of roughly the same size; not huge, but big and comfortable enough for a week where passengers will be spending much of their time ashore. And, while wardrobe space might be tight, you won’t need a huge amount of formal wear for what is a very footloose, free and easy kind of cruise experience.

Highly recommended for sure.

OOSTERDAM DOUBLES UP HOLLAND AMERICA’S MEXICO ROSTER

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Holland America Line’s Oosterdam

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.

STAR FLYER- THE WIND AND THE WAVES

 

STAR FLYER
The stately Star Flyer in her natural element

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…….

NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE ADDS JERSEY BOYS TO ON BOARD ENTERTAINMENT ROSTER

JERSEY BOYS

In line with it’s stated determination to continue offering the best entertainment afloat, Norwegian Cruise Line has announced that it will add Jersey Boys to it’s roster aboard the new Norwegian Bliss when she comes into service next year.

The new ship- part of the ‘Breakaway plus’ class- will offer a debut season in Alaska, before switching to Eastern Caribbean sailings for the winter of 2018-19.

The award winning Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and their rise from performing ‘doo wop’ standards in the back streets of New Jersey, to global super stardom in the 1960’s as one of the biggest selling acts in the world.

With most of their songs written or co- written by founder member, Bob Gaudio, the Four Seasons created a kind of sound that has been often imitated, but never equalled. From the low bass tones of original member Nick Massi, to Frankie Valli’s soaring falsetto range, the ‘Four Seasons sound’ became unmistakable.

Their first worldwide hit was Sherry, a rhythmic little thumper of a tune with a simple, irresistible hook that swept all before it. By December of 1962 it had become the first of three consecutive American number one records for the band.

Internal wrangles, run ins with the mafia, and the always present tensions within the music industry, all but sidelined the Four Seasons as a major chart act by the turn of the seventies. But a stunning return to form with a series of edgier, more relevant tunes saw them make a massive comeback in the mid seventies, both on the charts and as a live act.

Jersey Boys itself is an evocative retelling of the Four Seasons story, from the point of view of each of the original band members. It’s a bittersweet roller coaster through the hinterlands of triumph, tragedy, loss and betrayal, and the personal element really shines through.

But it’s that deathless roster of hit songs- Let’s Hang On, Rag Doll, December ’63, Who Loves You- that will really bring down the house aboard Norwegian Bliss. Each one of them is like a kind of emotional lightning rod that strikes an amazing connection with people of all kinds, right across the world. With the personal endorsements of both Frankie Valli and Bob Gaudio themselves, Jersey Boys took award after award on Broadway (including the Tony). Once it opened in the West End of the UK, it wowed crowds for years.

The unveiling of Jersey Boys aboard Norwegian Bliss is more evolution than revolution in truth; a continuation of mining the rich seam that Norwegian Cruise Line has tapped into in terms of musical entertainment. I expect it to be an enormously popular addition to the entertainment roster on board this fabulous new ship.