Tag Archives: cruising

FRED GETS FESTIVE-SINGLE SUPPLEMENTS TORPEDOED ON 2019-20 SAILINGS

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The aft terrace decks on FOCL’s evergreen Boudicca. Photo copyright is that if the author

 

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines is gifting potential single passenger with some early festive treats, as it removes single supplements on a whole raft of sailings over 2019 and into 2020.

The itineraries include both ex-UK sailings, and a series of selected fly cruises right across the entire, four-ship Fred. Olsen fleet. The only real caveat is that all travel must be booked by February 28th, 2019.

Among the options on offer are an eight night round Britain cruise, sailing from Liverpool aboard Black Watch on June 20th, 2019, and a fourteen night fly cruise on sister ship, Boudicca. That one begins in the Cypriot port of Limassol on March 5th, 2020, and finishes in Dover.

Another tempting option-also aboard Boudicca-is a  fourteen night foray to the ‘Fortunate Isles’- Madeira, Tenerife and Gran Canaria-departing from Dover on March 9th, 2019. This one in particular is a nice option for anyone desperate to dodge the last, dying days of winter.

Always famous for the warm, gracious service that is the hallmark of their smaller, more intimate ships, Fred. Olsen continues to offer superb on board cuisine, as well as one of the most highly rated shore excursion programmes in the entire cruise industry. Collectively, the four ships- Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch- cover almost the entire globe on their yearly roster of sailings.

A great option for singles, to be sure.

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BOUDICCA REVISTED- ANOTHER DAY AT SEA

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Boudicca at sea, seen from the terrace of Deck Seven. Photo copyright is that of the author

After a brace of days in the spellbinding beauty that is Port Elizabeth,  the Boudicca swung out to sea again, en route for Durban. After the exhilaration of our first true South African landfall, a day at sea came as a bit of a welcome respite.

In point of fact, our next port of call was to have been Richards’ Bay, with Durban being put in a few days later. But circumstances in the ‘Rainbow Nation’ itself dictated a necessary change to our running order.

The political unrest surrounding the impending impeachment of President Jacob Zuma seemed as nought when compared to a crippling drought that has blighted swathes of the country. The long, hot summer had meant no significant rainfall of any kind for months on end, and the reservoirs are running dry.

The per person allowance of water was eighty seven litres per day on my arrival in Cape Town, but by the time we returned to Cape Town that had shrivelled to a mere fifty litres. By any measure, this was a desperate state of affairs.

Of course, we on board Boudicca had no shortage  of water for our own, personal use. But the local authorities did impose a hose pipe ban on board our ship, which meant that the normal, nightly cleaning of all exterior decks had to be put on hold. The ship’s substantial acreage of normally pristine teak decks would just have to make do as best as was possible.

Actually, the crew did a fantastic job under very difficult circumstances. Hotel manager Peter Reeves and his staff toiled manfully to keep the ship clean. Both on board and ashore, the use of hand sanitisers was promoted vigourously. And those of us sensitive to the local situation certainly did what we could to keep the water usage down whenever possible.

This, then, was the backdrop to our decision to go to Durban first. We spent an indolent, somewhat undemanding day romping through a sporadically turbulent sea,  flecked with a conga line of whitecaps that kept the good ship Boudicca rocking most of the day under a benign, sunny sky.

Some people seemed surprised at the motion of the ship, which in turn came as something of a surprise to me. We were essentially crossing from the South Atlantic into the Indian Ocean. Those waters can cut up fast and loose at any time of the year, let alone in summer.

Apart from this background, the day passed in a kind of sublime, peaceful whirl. Reading for a while was followed by an informative lecture on the delights that Durban would soon have to offer. There was a lunchtime quiz in the Lido Lounge, and then some cracking fish and chips for lunch at the outdoor Ocean Grill, complete with side orders of tartar sauce and bracing sea air.

Early afternoon, and I sauntered up to the lofty, outdoor terrace at the rear of Seven Deck. A glass or two of gorgeous South African wine was mellowed by the equally splendid view of the ship’s stately wake, somehow managed to occupy a seemingly inordinate amount of my time.

There’s a kind of detached, almost Olympian feeling about lingering here- one also common to the same spot on board Black Watch-  especially with that marvellous panorama of petrol blue sky, and the majestic rise and fall of the stern in that following sea. It’s deliciously indulgent, and totally addictive.

Dinner seemed to come around at warp speed that night. A string trio swung lushly through a conga line of Cole Porter classics as passengers gathered to enjoy their pre-dinner cocktails. Early evening sunshine flooded the ship in a mellow glow, apt anticipation of the five course feast that lay ahead.

It was wonderful to find Rommel (a very fine Filipino gentleman, and not the ‘Desert Fox’ of old) acting as Maitre d’ for the Four Seasons restaurant. I knew him of old from many previous cruises aboard the Braemar, and he runs a very deft, welcoming operation over breakfast, lunch and dinner alike.

The same has to be said for the staff; dinner on any Fred. Olsen ship is a warm, intimate experience, where fine food and flawless services provides all the gimmickry that you will ever need. It’s at once both alluring and reassuring, and for many it is the highlight of the day. And little wonder, too.

Later, I sauntered up to the Lido Lounge to listen to Colin the piano player and the excellent Staple Hill duo as they serenaded us gently past the witching hour. And, with most passengers now retired for the night, there was time for one last nightcap, back out on the terrace.

And there it was again; the gentle heave of the ship and the sound of the rolling ocean, swishing by past her flanks. It came tonight with a side order of moonlight; a pale quarter strawberry moon shone fitfully from between passing banks of night time clouds. Ashore, the odd lighthouse beam shone fitfully out across the surging, pitch dark southern ocean. The air was as warm as toast.

By now, my bed was calling. The morning would see our arrival in Durban, and I had a busy day ahead…..

NORWEGIAN JADE MAKES INAUGURAL CALL TO PORT OF TYNE

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Norwegian Jade at the Port of Tyne on September 1st, 2017. Photo: Anthony Nicholas

September 1st marked the auspicious debut of the first Norwegian Cruise Line ship ever to visit Newcastle’s Port of Tyne. The 93,558 ton Norwegian Jade- originally built in 2006 as the Pride of Hawaii- arrived in port on the penultimate leg of a round Britain cruise. As her 2,400 passengers poured ashore to visit such stellar local attractions as Alnwick Castle and the historic city of Durham, the ship played host to a small number of media, there to witness the formal exchange of visiting plaques between ship and port authority.

As well as the welcome news that the Norwegian Jade will be making a return to the UK next year (including three calls at Port of Tyne), there was also the chance to tour the ship (though not the cabins, which were all occupied by fare paying passengers) and sample a fine, three course lunch pared with some fulsome red wine in the ship’s beautiful Grand Pacific main dining room.

In the course of a recent, extensive refurbishment, the Norwegian Jade shrugged off many of her original colourful, slightly frantic decor elements. Now the ship is suffused with an aura of muted greys enhanced by a wash of sunlight from rows of floor to ceiling windows. The older, more funky style of furniture that once exploded around the ship like multi coloured mushrooms has been largely eschewed. In it’s place there now exists a calmer, more restrained palette that still has warmth but, at the same time, does much more to emphasise the scale and sweep of the ship.

Gone, too, are the upper deck, multi coloured water slides that resembled so many hallucinogenic spaghetti strands. This really is going against all current mainstream trends, and seems part of a more obvious resolve to raise the tone of the overall product. Though I doubt that other lines will follow soon, it’s still a pretty bold statement of intent. It fits the whole ‘pared back’ vibe of the ship quite nicely.

As always with Norwegian, a staple of in house, extra tariff dining venues take centre stage. Among them are the fabulous, French themed Le Bistro, the upper deck, American accented Cagney’s Steakhouse, and the Brazilian themed Moderno. Even the two main dining rooms continue to showcase the company’s signature ‘Freestyle Dining’; a concept that has more or less completely revolutionised the entire concept of cruise ship dining since it’s full scale introduction back in 2001.

But the Norwegian Jade is not some headlong rush into the future; parts of the ship showcase the Art Deco ocean liners of the past to near perfection. The Grand Pacific dining room is an out and out homage to the venerable old Queen Mary of 1936, with burled wood sheathing and evocative ceiling light fixtures. Meanwhile, the central, two storey ‘Bar Street’ has touches of Egyptian style lacquered panelling, and floor mounted ‘light fountains’ that are almost perfect copies of those once seen on the incomparable Normandie. And the large, upper deck SS. United States library pretty much speaks for itself.

Norwegian Jade left Port of Tyne for Southampton, there to embark on one last Scandinavia cruise before the ship returns to New York, sailing via Iceland. From there, the ship will showcase a brace of stunning fall cruises to Canada and New England, before redeploying to Miami to offer a full season of seven day Caribbean cruises from the Florida port.

With next year’s deployment of the Norwegian Jade aimed squarely at the British and German market, Norwegian Cruise Line will have a formidable competitor in place to fight for the best of the mainstream holiday family trade. And, with her on board prices now featuring all inclusive drinks as well, this stylish, thoughtfully redesigned ship offers a smart, elegant fun venue for all ages and tastes.

VILLEFRANCHE REVISITED- AN ONGOING LOVE AFFAIR

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The waterfront of Villefranche. Photo by Anthony Nicholas

Anyone who knows me even vaguely will tell you how much I love Villefranche Sur Mer. The small French fishing port is the pearl of the French Riviera; a jump off point for cruise passengers to visit the heady delights of Nice, Monaco, or even Cannes. As Villefranche has no pier, passengers come ashore via local tenders, and are then taken on tour by coach.

Their absence is fine by me; it leaves me free to just soak up the atmosphere and sheer, jaw dropping beauty of what is, quite simply, the most stunningly beautiful harbour in all of southern Europe. Villefranche, while not a cheap date, does not have the stratospheric prices and brittle glamour of nearby Monte Carlo. It’s always been about style here, rather than hype.

As our ship-Pullmantur’s stately, legendary Sovereign– hugged the coastline of the French Riviera, the expected springtime weather decided not to play ball. Presumably, it had not read the memo regarding blue skies and sunny weather.

Instead, a slate grey sea roiled and slammed against the sides of the ship. Grey clouds scudded like malign, ghostly galleons across a leaden sky that threatened rain at any moment. But none of that was going to dampen my enthusiasm; I was going back to Villefranche, setting foot once more on what, to me, amounts to hallowed ground.

I stood mesmerised on the windswept upper deck as the Sovereign loomed past Cap Ferrat. Before I knew it, the enormous ship swung to port, and came swaggering into the stunning bay of Villefranche. Jaws dropped by the dozen at that first view.

A vast, natural ampitheatre of low, rolling greenery is studded with hillside villas, peeping out from among the foliage. On the quay, a ring of beautiful Italianate architecture, clad in shades of ochre, terracotta and pale cream, crouched along the waterfront, their window shutters garbed in shades of electric green and petrol blue. A handful of unsteady fishing boats huddled against the quayside, as if seeking refuge from the rain clouds.

An hour later, I was on a tender to shore, bumbling across the slate grey briny. Whitecaps licked greedily at our flanks and, even as I watched, the gorgeous panorama of Villefranche opened like a flower, bursting into bloom. Oddly, I still felt the same sensations of awed reverence as when I first came here, way back in 1998.

I stepped ashore on the old stone quay, and took in that still peerless panorama. Truth be told, Villefranche seemed surprised to see us; some of the houses had paint peeling from their usually immaculate facades, and most of the cafes were still closed against the just gone winter weather. Rows of chairs and tables were stacked up against the front of these, as if seeking refuge from the elements. The normally pristine beauty resembled nothing so much as a drowsy supermodel, woken suddenly from her sleep, that had not yet had time to put on her make up properly.

There were very few people about on a waterfront that is normally sun splashed and awash with happy visitors in the long summer days and nights. The two small, perfectly formed beaches were empty, the twin bars that adjoined them still shuttered and silent. But the wisteria and the oleander were beginning to bloom again on the old stone parapets below the railway viaduct; a sure sign that much better weather was on the way. Alas, just not today.

Sovereign was the first cruise ship to arrive in Villefranche for the 2017 season, and she will be followed by literally hundreds more. In very short order indeed, Sleeping Beauty will awaken and greet these visitors with her usual flair and finesse.

Some of the old stalwarts were open, however. It was nice to enjoy a glass of wine and some sporadic people watching at Les Palmiers, a cafe bar set just back above the quay. I walked along the windswept beach and then came back for another glass of wine in the Wine Pier, the seaward facing conservatory of the waterfront Welcome Hotel, with its beautiful Art Deco interiors. Warm against the outside cold, that wine- a beautiful drop of Sancerre- was truly something to savour.

Later, as our tender purred back across the darkening sea towards the spectacularly floodlit Sovereign, I gazed longingly back at the waterfront of Villefranche. Pools of light danced and shimmered along the edge of the bay, casting a subtle, seductive glow on the water. I felt cheered, almost elated at the sight.

Spring might not yet truly have sprung on the pearl of the French Riviera, but I felt warmed, charmed and, once again, hopelessly in thrall to this singular piece of rare earth. Needless to say, a return visit is already in the planning.

THE BRITS AT SEA; A USER’S GUIDE

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Thomson Majesty is an enduring favourite of the British cruise passenger

For some people, there is nothing more appealing than the idea of setting sail on a ship surrounded by their fellow countrymen. And no other race seems as wedded to this idea than my own, British kin.

Lines such as P&O, Thomson, Cruise and Maritime and, of course, Fred. Olsen, have made their almost all British passenger sailings a cornerstone of their marketing efforts. And, while Cunard markets it’s ‘Britishness’ it has, in truth, always been more of an international product.

So, what is it actually like, setting sail with a shipload of Brits? With a certain amount of tongue in cheek latitude, here are some of my observations, based on over thirty years of making just such voyages.

Firstly, the British reputation for politeness and ‘waiting in line’ remains true. Often, they might be waiting in line to complain at the Purser’s desk, but the fact remains that we are, as a whole, true to our national trait of exercising patience, and not ‘cutting in line’ as so many of our more excitable neighbours might be prone to do.

In many ways, we are also predictable to a ‘T’, Nowhere more so than, as it happens, at afternoon tea. Whichever the ship, and wherever in the world it happens to be sailing, most Brits will partake of the whole ritual, many for every single day of the voyage, And they will be there from first to last as well.

Deck chair hogging, whereby passengers arise before the sun and place personal items on the best situated sun beds, blocking them for literally hours on end, is something most Brits sniffily like to think that they are above.

In my experience, the reverse is true. Brits are every bit as selfish, avaricious and possessive over such prime real estate as our famed Germanic cousins, the people we are so fond of lambasting for the same obsession. In an old English analogy, this really is a case of ‘pot calling kettle’ black.

Largely, the Brits still follow formal dress codes at sea, and probably do more so than any other single race. While certain standards have dropped through the floor in the sartorial stakes, the Brits do like to posh it up and put on the Ritz. The older generation, in particular, can be relied upon to do it, and God bless ’em for maintaining a proper standard.

On the other hand, there are some these days- a worryingly increasing number- that feel it is perfectly OK to come out of an evening, sporting a look best described as ‘dragged backwards through a hedge’. No. It isn’t.

Brits rightly show disapproval aboard foreign accented ships when people move around ash trays to designated, non smoking areas to suit their whims. But some of us are far from being above doing the same things themselves in certain situations. It is often done ever so surreptitiously, in the hope that us non smokers will either fail to notice, or simply accept it as a fait accompli.

We do notice, love. Cut it out. Nobody wants your second hand cigarette smoke as a post dinner culinary treat.

While Brits are fond of lambasting our American cousins for their often overly enthusiastic penchant for buffet food, the fact is that many Brits are just as bad. That sweet, little old lady who smiled as you held the door open for, will turn into a whirling dervish, her elbows sharper than a Sultan’s sabres when it comes to getting exactly what she wants from a food outlet. And all at a speed that would make a rampaging Panzer division seem as benign as  a Sunday school picnic.

And yes, we like our money’s worth. If we do not get what we perceive to be proper service, we will frown over our frappes, mutter darkly over the froth, and then make a point of thanking the server that delivered it as we leave, never to return..

So, there it is. Just some of my observations. Thoughts?

THE SS UNITED STATES- CRUISING OPTIONS

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The Lady in waiting….

I’m going to take a leap of faith here. That being that the SS United States does, indeed, pass her comprehensive, stem to stern, truck to keel evaluation, due to be under way by November 2016. The official go ahead is then given, and the ship proceeds, under tow, to a German shipyard for her stem to stern, projected $800 million regeneration.

The ship that re-emerges into commercial service combines many salient, lovingly restored features of the original construction; the great sampan funnels remain gloriously intact, as do the long, expansive indoor promenades. Even with the addition of two new decks, that sleek, beautifully raked bow and elegant counter stern stand out as proud testimonials to a unique, matchless maritime heritage.

Of course, the Crystal Cruises’ magic wand has also been waved over the now 60,000 ton ship. In place of 2.000 berths, there is now a capacity for just 800 guests maximum, housed in four hundred suites. Even the smallest of these romps in at an expansive 400 square feet.

And, with a crew imbued with Crystal’s sybaritic service and hospitality ethic, the United States is a clear winner in more than just speed terms. This marvellous marriage of old and new will be one of the biggest draws on the cruising circuit, and surely the most newsworthy.

But what then?

I would expect a sell out maiden voyage from Germany to New York, via Southampton and, perhaps, Cherbourg. And the sheer, emotional impact of being aboard the United States when she sails back into her former home port, under her own power, is something that you simply could not hang a price tag on.

Her future could be a mixture of the exotic and the truly dramatic. Crystal has already said that the United States will, indeed, make transatlantic crossings, along with coast to coast voyages that would take her from New York to Los Angeles, and back again. Within these two hugely diverse parameters, a whole host of other sailing options becomes apparent.

From New York, the ship could offer fast, five or six day round trips to Bermuda. She could sail down the historical eastern seaboard, calling in at evocative focal points such as Boston, Charleston and Philadelphia.

From Miami, the ship could offer a series of breezy, very destination inclusive Caribbean itineraries. Passing through the jungle shrouded magnificence of the Panama Canal, she could sail on to San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The ‘Big U’ could swing out from under the Golden Gate and set a course for the gorgeous Hawaiian islands. Her speed would make short work of the long haul out and back to those islands. From L.A, she could make a run for the dramatic, sun splashed hot spots of the Mexican Riviera.

The liner could run immersive ‘wine cruises’ up to Santa Barbara, and down to oft neglected Catalina Island. And all of these options- so numerous and diverse just in this listing- presuppose any potential European deployments, for which I think there will be a huge, ultimately irresistible demand.

A series of dream voyages on a ship that has yet to cut salt water again? For sure.

But, if ocean voyaging is anything at all, surely it is the sublime pleasure of savouring the often improbable. Not in some chilly, technicolor virtual reality scenario, but for real. Up close and personal.

I’ll leave you with that though, and let those voyages begin to take form in your heads.