FLYING MALAYSIAN AIRLINES; WOULD YOU?

Soaring above the Alps

Soaring above the Alps

Today’s Daily Mirror has pondered the question of whether readers would fly on Malaysian Airlines.

Quite obviously, it’s a question that the paper is posing in light of the two terrible tragedies that the legacy Asian carrier has suffered since January this year. Both were heart breaking events for everybody concerned; passengers, crew and relatives of the victims, plus prospective travellers who have, in consequence, seemingly abandoned the airline in droves.

Indeed, all reports are that the airline is in deep financial trouble, with its finances in free fall. Massive, radical surgery seems necessary simply to give Malaysian Airlines even a fighting chance of staying aloft. Time alone will tell how successful- or otherwise- those efforts ultimately are.

But, to get back to the question posed by the Mirror, my simple answer is ‘yes’.

I would have no problem in flying Malaysian Airlines any time, anywhere.

Because the simple truth is that no international travel is ever one hundred per cent guaranteed safe. The world that we live in since the catastrophic events of 9/11 has altered the way that we travel forever. It has become a far more anxiety laden, hassle intensive experience than in the illusory, carefree days before those fanatical lunatics slammed into the Word Trade Centre.

Yet, for all the horror of those events, and the terrible events of this year, the fact remains that air travel as a whole is still the safest means of mass transportation across the globe. Indeed, it is the only one. There is no other game in town.

There is far more real chance of me being knocked down by a car outside my own front door than there is of me being a casualty of any plane accident, anywhere, ever. Fact.

And, on another level- a different plane, as it were- if you give up on doing what you want to do, give up traveling to see the things and the people that you really need to see- well, then, you die inside, anyway. Do that, and the bad guys win without expending any further effort. No thanks; I don’t think so.

So yes, if Malaysian Airlines was the carrier that best suited my flight plans, then for sure I would go. The airline has a stellar reputation for in flight hospitality and service that few, if any, of its western counterparts can quite match.

Yes, the recent disasters are disturbing and scary. Just like modern life in general as a whole. But that to me is no excuse to turn off the lights and pull up the drawbridge.

In the immortal words of the song; ‘Trains and boats and planes are passing by..’.

Don’t let life pass you by, though. Get out there.

 

 

TAKING A CRUISE FROM TILBURY? WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Marco Polo is Tilbury's 'year round' cruise ship

Marco Polo is Tilbury’s ‘year round’ cruise ship

In terms of actual cruise business, Tilbury certainly comes well down the listings from both Southampton and Dover, the unchallenged ‘big boys’ of the UK cruising market. Yet, slowly but steadily, the Essex port is gaining it’s own, distinctive niche as a place of embarkation.

And it is not as if the place lacks maritime history. It was at Tilbury that Elizabeth I made her magnificent, inspiring speech- one of the greatest orations in history- even as the Spanish Armada loomed in the English Channel.

The port has immediate, convenient access to central London, which we’ll look at shortly. That access made Tilbury a natural port of embarkation for the post war, P&O liners heading out to the Far East and Australia, with their huddled masses of ‘Ten Pound Poms’ looking for a new life down under.

And it was also Tilbury that saw the first, post war shipload of Caribbean emigrants arrive in the UK, disembarking from the Empire Windrush. It was a seminal step in making the capital the vast, amazingly multi- cultural environment that it is today.

The advent of cruising largely left the port behind, but in recent years that trend has been reversed. Part of the reason is, as stated above, the relative proximity to the capital. Leaving Fenchurch Street Station near Tower Hill, one of the many regular trains will deposit you smartly into Tilbury Town in around forty minutes.

From here, a taxi- they are lined up outside the station- will take you to the cruise terminal in just five minutes. It really is that easy.

Alternately, there is a dedicated National Express coach service that leaves London Victoria to connect directly with each sailing. If you are likely to be struggling with luggage, this is more likely to be an easier, more convenient option, though slightly longer a journey at around an hour each way.

So, who sails from Tilbury these days?

From the Tower to Tilbury is just forty minutes.....

From the Tower to Tilbury is just forty minutes…..

The only year round sailings are made by Cruise and Maritime Voyages. The intimate, classically styled Marco Polo operates from the Essex port on a year round basis, offering everything from overnight cruises to a marathon, forty- two day Amazon odyssey.

Next year, she will be joined for a series of first ever sailings by the veteran Azores, which will also be sailing from the port over the summer.

Some summer and autumn sailings are also being offered by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, with the ever popular Black Watch.

With its smaller, more intimate set up and ease of access from London, Tilbury has a lot going for it as an embarkation port. The larger ships are unable to come this far upstream, and that helps to keep the scale more human, less hassled. On embarkation day, that can count for quite a lot.

I’ll be keeping an eye on any future developments in Tilbury, passenger wise.

As always, stay tuned.

CRYSTAL CRUISES FOOD PICTORIAL FEST

If you knew sushi like Crystal does

If you knew sushi like Crystal does

Ever since it fist set sail with the much missed Crystal Harmony back in 1990, Crystal Cruises has established an elegant, pre- eminent reputation for the fine, unhurried finesse that it exudes at every turn. The two current vessels, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity, continue to garner truck loads of awards for the superlative standards of food and fine service that both maintain on board, year in and out. To be sure, they are quite a pair.

And while attention to detail, unobtrusive elegance and ample space to indulge, relax and experience the best of everything are all vital ingredients in the subtle brew of what makes any Crystal Cruises adventure so utterly compelling, perhaps nothing so marks the Crystal experience as a thing apart as much as the dining.

Whether you are feasting on genuine Kobe Beef or sumptuous Wagyu in the on board Nobu, or lingering over sumptuous, exotic fresh fruit and piping hot coffee alfresco for breakfast, both the Crystal ships offer a magnificent series of feasts, from early morning till past midnight. The sheer scale and quality can be overwhelming to the novice.

Picking at cold crab and succulent shrimp on your balcony as you enjoy a late afternoon Cape Cod, or a delicious custard tart and cappuccino in the bistro as you peruse the morning paper? Crystal has you covered, and then some. From the simple to the sublime, it’s all good.

But the highlight for many is, undoubtedly, the stunning display of gluttony inducing goodness that washes across the Crystal Atrium once on each trip. With chilled champagne on tap and cool jazz to tap your foot to, a conga line of classic, beautifully presented appetisers, soups, meats, seafood, breads and beguiling desserts virtually surrounds you.

The only rule here is to indulge in as much- or as little- as you wish. This is more than just a buffet; this is a feast for the eyes and the senses at the same time. True soul food, and then some.

So, without further ado, here’s a selection of platinum chip Crystal dining treats to feast your eyes on. Feel free to enjoy,,,,,

Cold crab and Cape Cods....

Cold crab and Cape Cods….

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Trident Grill on Crystal Serenity

Trident Grill on Crystal Serenity

Crystal Cove food extravaganza

Crystal Cove food extravaganza

Sheer aesthetic perfection

Sheer aesthetic perfection

Too good to resist

Too good to resist

Simply, sublimely gorgeous..

Simply, sublimely gorgeous..

Fresh and fantastic presentation

Fresh and fantastic presentation

The crowd speaks for itself

The crowd speaks for itself

CRUISE SHIP FOOD; A PICTORIAL MENU….

Your table awaits....

Your table awaits….

Ah, cruise ship food. Still the number one topic of discussion, dissection and, indeed, digestion, on any vessel at sea. Whether we’re talking about the three star ships or the sublime, six star exclusive resorts, the on board obsession with food- from dawn till dusk and beyond- continues to dominate our voyages.

Of course, it’s never simply about actual taste. Presentation, service and room ambiance are just as much ingredients of any shipboard meal as the food itself. Each is an ingredient in what is- hopefully- a series of elegant repasts on an ocean, where sea air naturally sharpens the appetite to perfection.

Bountiful breakfasts. Languid lunches. Delicious dinners, even mouth watering midnight snacks. All are potential high points in cruising’s global pantheon of taste.  But it is always that sensational first sight of your meal order that really sets the anticipation running like tap water.

With that in mind, here’s some foodie photographs from on board different ships. Stuff that looked so good, it begged to be immortalised in film. Stuff that looked too good to be eaten until it had been snapped.

Well, thanks to that wonderful invention called the digital camera, now you can have your cake and eat it, too.

Bon Apetit!

Ice cream treat, Regent style

Ice cream treat, Regent style

Dessert, Carnival steak house style

Dessert, Carnival steak house style

Snacking on Regent

Snacking on Regent

How about a little dessert? Or a lot...

How about a little dessert? Or a lot…

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

Piggy was appreciated by all.

Piggy was appreciated by all.

Silversea version of continental breakfast

Silversea version of continental breakfast

Breakfast starter. Lamb chops to follow

Breakfast starter. Lamb chops to follow

Fabulous Russian lunchtime feast

Fabulous Russian lunchtime feast

A=Rosa Flora lunch buffet

A=Rosa Flora lunch buffet

All the bread was fresh baked daily

All the bread was fresh baked daily

Yum-tastic buffet on the Rhine

Yum-tastic buffet on the Rhine

Outdoor lunch buffet goodies

Outdoor lunch buffet goodies

Crepes and cakes. Peachy, no?

Crepes and cakes. Peachy, no?

Exquisite presentation on Europa 2

Exquisite presentation on Europa 2

Caviar starter to a stunning alfresco dinner

Caviar starter to a stunning alfresco dinner

Oh chocolate, be my guiding star....

Oh chocolate, be my guiding star….

Kobe Beef nirvana on Regent

Kobe Beef nirvana on Regent

Flashing blades in Teppanyaki......

Flashing blades in Teppanyaki……

 

THE VIKINGS ARE COMING- NEW LIGHT ON VIKING STAR

Viking Star will expand the horizons of modern cruise travel

Viking Star will expand the horizons of modern cruise travel

As autumn approaches, attention begins to focus on the new ships scheduled to debut in 2015. And perhaps none of these are as anticipated as that of the new, ‘back to the future’ concept enshrined in the nascent Viking Star.

With her ocean going debut now less than a year away, a few more facts have begun to surface about the on board hardware and offerings. And it’s all looking rather special, in a very understated kind of way.

Viking Cruises is cross decking some of the more popular and inclusive features from its hugely successful river fleet to their first ocean going vessel, including free shore excursions in all ports of call, and inclusive lunch and wine served with dinner. This puts the line firmly on a competitive basis with rivals such as Voyages To Antiquity.

But Viking Star will also up the ante, by including free wi-fi right throughout the ship, plus complimentary- albeit self service- laundry facilities. There will also be no charge for room service.

Though the ship herself is understated and low key, there are elements of showmanship in her main dining room. Located on the promenade deck, this will feature floor to ceiling windows on both sides. Mounted on tracks, it will be possible to open these in fine weather. This should make for some side orders of stunning sunsets, especially when the ship is in summertime northern waters.

Every single cabin aboard the Viking Star will have a balcony. Even the smallest of these will measure a generous 270 square feet, while the fourteen penthouse suites will range from between 757 and 1,163 square feet. In line with the ships’ pared down, elegant simplicity, just five grades of accommodation will be offered on board.

While the ship- the first of a projected quartet- will be focused on destination intensive cruises with many overnight stays in port, the leisure side is certainly not being skimped on. A full service spa will feature it’s own sauna, complete with gently falling ‘snowflakes’, plus an infinity pool overlooking the stern and a second, more central pool that will come complete with its own sliding glass roof.

The company has clearly put its finger on a beating pulse with the conception and construction of Viking Star, and the on board ambiance and philosophy she intends to showcases. Due to launch early next spring, the entire first season of the 47,000 ton ship is completely sold out already.

2016 will see the arrival of a pair of similarly accented sister ships, named Viking Sea and Viking Sky. A fourth, as yet nameless sibling will round out this stunning quartet in early 2017.

As ever, stay tuned for further details.

FRENCH LINE CUISINE; THE FINEST AFLOAT

The France at speed. She guzzled fuel oil like cheap table wine

The France at speed. She guzzled fuel oil like cheap table wine

‘Bon voyage is always French’ was the motto of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique, better known as the French Line. The line asserted confidently that you were actually ‘in France’ the moment that you crossed the gangways of any of their fabled liners, no matter where in the world you actually happened to be.

Competition for the creme de la creme of the North Atlantic trade was always fierce, even at the height of the Depression. Steamship lines inherited and showcased all the values- both real and imagined- of their respective mother countries. Every transatlantic liner was an ambassador of sorts for the nation whose flag she flew, and all were sailed with a sense of fierce, patriotic pride.

But none quite reached the level of elegance, service and panache that typified the French Line; even today, most knowledgeable travellers regard it as the height of ocean liner style and glamour. And a huge amount of that appeal came from the almost relentlessly French ambiance created aboard those fabled liners.

For instance, announcements on board were only ever made in French, even though something like eighty per cent of the passengers on any given crossing would be American. Table wine on board was always free in all classes; the French believed that wine was an integral part of any meal. Even the bell boys had scarlet coloured jackets that matched the funnel colours to almost cosmetic perfection.

In first class especially, their ships were staffed- and ran- like the Paris Ritz, or the Negresco. But nowhere did the French sense of art de vivre resound so thoroughly as in the dining experience on board.

It is no exaggeration to say that the first class dining rooms were nothing less than sea going cathedrals, raised to the religion of haute cuisine. They were stunning, theatrical spaces at least two levels high; the idea that ‘low ceilings do not aid the appetite’ was a company mantra.

By 1974, the end was indeed in sight

By 1974, the end was indeed in sight

And the food was, naturally, prepared, served, and devoured with theatrical relish and attention to detail. For example, the ground breaking Ile De France of 1927 listed no less than two hundred and seventy five separate items on her first class dinner menu. Twenty two years later, when she emerged as a two stacker at the end of her post war rebuild, the Ile De France still offered French onion soup as an option on the breakfast menu, even in tourist class.

Of course, the Normandie raised things to another level again; that of the truly stratospheric.

Her wine cellar was loaded aboard a full nine months prior to her barnstorming maiden voyage in May of 1935, in order that it should settle properly. It was also placed in such a way that, should the ship ever roll, that the rolling would least upset the wine. Seasick passengers were an occupational hazard for the French Line on any trip, but the idea that the wine should be compromised was, naturally, unthinkable.

The Normandie routinely carried no less than ninety three different kinds of champagne. Her first class dining room was three decks high, more than a hundred yards long. and lined with floor to ceiling hammered glass, back lit by enormous, lalique light fountains that hugged the edges of the room. Above it all, a gigantic gold, gilt and coffered ceiling held a powerful, imperious sway.

With typical modesty, the French Line remarked that this astonishing chamber- still the most beautiful public room ever to go to sea on any ship- was ‘slightly longer’ than the famous Hall Of Mirrors in Versailles.  It was more than big enough to contain all three of Christopher Columbus’ ships at the same time.

Approached via a pair of enormous, bronze doors, this was the first air conditioned room on any ship. Some one hundred and fifty tables allowed every first class passenger on board to dine at the same time. By now, that same menu listed some three hundred and twenty five different items on every crossing.

Sea air always sharpened the appetite

Sea air always sharpened the appetite

But the Normandie also had the more informal Cafe Grill right aft, a kind of supper club with live dancing .With steel and leather chairs and tables, and walls of varnished pig skin, it never really got into its swing until after midnight. You could dance until daybreak, and still savour a perfectly prepared chilli con carne at two o’clock in the morning. Many did just that.

Post war saw the eventual creation of the France, the last true year round transatlantic liner built for the northern route. The French Line described her as ‘the last refuge of the good life’ after her 1962 maiden voyage. In her, all the cherished traditions enshrined on the Normandie, the Ile De France and the Liberte lived again in one final, fantastic display of bravado.

Awed by the France, the American food critic, Craig Clairborne, described her first class dining room as ‘the finest French restaurant anywhere in the world’, and with very good reason. The old standards were adhered to with an almost religious zeal; to the end of her days, the France remained the greatest and best fed of all the Atlantic liners.

For example, Camembert was only offered on the menu on the fourth day of a westbound crossing to New York, when it was considered to be at its absolute best. It was available to order off menu at any time, of course. But tradition demanded that it only be openly advertised when at its absolute best.

The extent of this fierce dedication to the good life was pointed up in the early seventies. Cunard, wanting an impartial opinion on how the French ship compared to their brand new QE2, paid for Lord Linley to cross the Atlantic one way on each ship. On his return, this card carrying member of the British establishment shocked his Cunard hosts by telling them that the food and service on the France was superior in every respect to that of their new flagship.

With her withdrawal in 1974, one hundred and ten years of French Line excellence and urbanity was guillotined in a single stroke. Of course, the great France herself would be miraculously resurrected as the show stopping Norway, but the magic of the dining experience had gone. It was a different time, and a different world.

And, truth be told, there has never been anything like it since. Au Revior.

C’EST CELESTYAL- LOUIS AIMS FOR THE STARS

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

See gorgeous Santorini on a Louis cruise

Louis Cruises will expand its cultural and culinary horizons next month with the launch of a new brand called Celstyal Cruises. The new line will put the emphasis firmly on Greek culture and local cuisine, as well as local wine, history, and music. Full details are expected to be rolled out in September.

The core product will be built around the two ships currently sailing out of Piraeus and Lavrion respectively, namely the Louis Olympia and Louis Cristal. The two ships will lose the ‘Louis’ prefix from their name, sailing simply as Olympia and Cristal.

At present, Louis Olympia is sailing the line’s very popular programme of three and four night cruises from Piraeus, while the smaller Louis Cristal is sailing a more all embracing series of seven night, round trip cruises from Lavrion, just south of Athens near Cape Sounion. I’ll be on the Louis Cristal next month, and there will be a full report from on board posted here soon after.

There is no word yet how the smaller, veteran Louis Aura of 1968 will fit into the Louis schedule for 2015. The ship operated a successful French charter earlier this year, and is currently sailing short cruises out of Limassol. The French charter has apparently been renewed for next year.

In related news, Louis Cruises is also said to be close to completing a deal for another ship for it’s fleet. The line is said to be considering both the laid up Gemini and the slightly larger Aegean Paradise. The latter has a fair number of balcony cabins, which would be a first for the company if they do take that option.

The central fountain in Rhode old town

The central fountain in Rhode old town

For the 2014 season that runs through until November, Louis added a series of new destinations to the Aegean portfolio, including Bodrum and Cesme in Turkey, and smaller, less visited Greek islands such as Chios and tiny, picture perfect Symi.

For those travelling from the USA and perhaps further, it is worth knowing that Louis Cruises has a tie in with several luxury hotels across Greece and the islands, as part of the larger Louis Group portfolio.

Many will remember the Louis Olympia as the former Song Of America, the first mid sized new build for Royal Caribbean back in 1982. The Louis Cristal will be familiar to many as the angular, popular Leeward of Norwegian Cruise Line.

Over this winter, the Louis Cristal will head for a second season of popular, round Cuba sailings for a Canadian charter company. Embarkation is possible from both Havana and Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though primarily aimed at the Canadian market, the cruises are also on sail to Europeans, via Louis.

As ever, stay tuned.

MARCO POLO PICTORIAL

Leaving Tilbury astern

Leaving Tilbury astern

A few of you have asked if I took may pictures of the lovely Marco Polo on our recent Fjords cruise. As you’ll see from this album I’ve just assembled, the answer would be; yes. I hope you all enjoy these.

Columbus Club

Columbus Club

Curves of olden days...

Curves of olden days…

Eidfjord, Norway

Eidfjord, Norway

Looking up from the tender

Looking up from the tender

Marco Polo. Eidfjord

Marco Polo. Eidfjord

Three quarter stern shot

Three quarter stern shot

Water level....

Water level….

On board in Flam

On board in Flam

Curved terraces shown to perfection

Curved terraces shown to perfection

More curves

More curves

Pool's eye view

Pool’s eye view

Through the round 'window'

Through the round ‘window’

Looking forward from port

Looking forward from port

Shopping area

Shopping area

Boat deck. Fjaerland

Boat deck. Fjaerland

Superstructure and super scenery

Superstructure and super scenery

Looking over the bow

Looking over the bow

Port bridge wing

Port bridge wing

Sunlit aft terraces

Sunlit aft terraces

Steamer chairs on teak

Steamer chairs on teak

Picking up tenders, Flam

Picking up tenders, Flam

Top deck hot tubs

Top deck hot tubs

Marco Polo off Fjaerland

Marco Polo off Fjaerland

SILVER SPIRIT- THE RIVIERA AFLOAT

Lobby Bar

Lobby Bar

Silver Spirit. 36,000 tons of exquisite, perfectly crafted cruise ship. All inclusive, all outside suites.A place where the cuisine of the Ritz meets the raffish indolence of the Riviera afloat. Just 510 guests are cossetted at a time aboard this floating fantasy island.

Forget crowds, lines of any kind, and ceaseless loudspeaker announcements. Your hardest choice here is whether to have a steak and champagne breakfast on your private balcony, or a midnight cocktail in one of the hot tubs. The ship combines space and grace in sumptuous Art Deco surroundings. There is shining brass, rich, deep carpets and lavish Italian marble everywhere.

Food on board is as fabulous and satisfying as the service. With laid back indolence on the menu every day, the Silver Spirit is a voyage to total, chilled out indulgence, no matter where she happens to sail in the world.

Step aboard, and enjoy these photographs of one of the most luxurious ships that has ever cut through salt water- the show stopping Silver Spirit.

Sunset from my balcony

Sunset from my balcony

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Pool deck, looking aft

Pool deck, looking aft

Pool and upper level

Pool and upper level

Night time pool deck

Night time pool deck

Another angle

Another angle

The lido lifestyle. Peachy, no?

The lido lifestyle. Peachy, no?

Central corridor

Central corridor

Name of the game

Name of the game

One of several bars on board

One of several bars on board

Relaxation rules on this ship

Relaxation rules on this ship

Upper deck aft terrace

Upper deck aft terrace

Serious lounging indoors, too

Serious lounging indoors, too

Gorgeous interior staircases

Gorgeous interior staircases

Got food?

Got food?

None too shabby, is it?

None too shabby, is it?

Glistening table settings

Glistening table settings

Outdoor dining on La Terrazza

Outdoor dining on La Terrazza

Central lobby bar

Central lobby bar

And all inclusive means exactly that, 24/7

And all inclusive means exactly that, 24/7

Lose yourself in this..

Lose yourself in this..

La Dolce Vita never was sweeter

La Dolce Vita never was sweeter

DRINKS IN PARADISE- COCKTAILS AROUND THE WORLD

Nice. A cold beer on a warm beach, or chilled champagne on the Riviera. A Harvey Wallbanger in your favourite hot tub, or a frosty Margarita in Old Mexico. So- without further ado, ladies and gentlemen- it’s a world wide drink-a-thon. Come aboard and enjoy!

BBC. Balcony. Butler. Champagne

BBC. Balcony. Butler. Champagne

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Aft deck, nice place for a glass of wine

Regent balcony with champers

Regent balcony with champers

Lunchtime Margarita, Crystal style

Lunchtime Margarita, Crystal style

Cold crab and Cape Cods....

Cold crab and Cape Cods….

Galley lunch; Bloody Mary to start?

Galley lunch; Bloody Mary to start?

Champers on ice; side order of sunset

Champers on ice; side order of sunset

Silversea Martinis are art works in themselves

Silversea Martinis are art works in themselves

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Carnival do peachy sunset Margaritas

Carnival do peachy sunset Margaritas

Wine on the Rhine. Yes, honestly...

Wine on the Rhine. Yes, honestly…

Prost! On board the Deutschland in Amsterdam

Prost! On board the Deutschland in Amsterdam

Cuna Libres on the beach at Coco Cay

Cuba Libres on the beach at Coco Cay

Margaritas, Silversea style

Margaritas, Silversea style

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Mediterranean sunset Martini

Mediterranean sunset Martini

Cabo Margarita!

Cabo Margarita!

Swedish sunset cocktails

Swedish sunset cocktails

Santorini sojourn, fresh fruit and red wine

Santorini sojourn, fresh fruit and red wine

On the Orient Express

On the Orient Express

Observation Bar, RMS Queen Mary

Observation Bar, RMS Queen Mary

Bottoms up, Tallulah!

Bottoms up, Tallulah!