June 6th, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the massed, all out assault by American, British, Canadian, French and Polish troops on the outer bulwarks of Adolf Hitler’s much vaunted ‘Fortress Europe’. The D-Day landings were achieved in appalling weather conditions; they were quite simply the biggest combination of shipping and military might ever seen. And, though the fighting in and for Normandy that raged for weeks afterwards was savage, merciless and brutal, there is no question that the actions instigated in the early hours of June 6th, 1944, marked the beginning of the death throes of the Third Reich.
Next year, a quartet of interesting and quite diverse cruises will visit the sights and highlights of the D-Day anniversary celebrations. Some of them are quite different in emphasis than others, though all quite rightly put an emphasis on acknowledging the sacrifices made by those who never returned from the campaign. Here’s who goes there for those who might be interested, and just how those itineraries break down.
HOLLAND AMERICA LINE is offering a twelve night cruise aboard the large, luxurious Eurodam. To use a somewhat unfortunate phrase, this one jumps the gun a bit, sailing from Rome on April 29th. You’ll call in at Portland and Cherbourg, from where you’ll have an opportunity to see the landing beaches. Leaving Rome, the cruise also calls at Cartagena, Gibraltar, Cadiz, Lisbon and Vigo, as well as Zeebrugge, before finally ending in Copenhagen.
My verdict: Really nothing more than a repositioning cruise, albeit aboard a very luxurious and well run ship. Not really an in depth D-Day experience as such, but certainly a nice cruise in its own right. Fares from £1,348 based on an inside stateroom.
FRED.OLSEN CRUISE LINES are offering an excellent, seven night round UK cruise aboard the small, beautifully styled Braemar that takes in many of the most prominent D-Day sites, including Cherbourg and an overnight stay in Le Havre. This really allows you time to see the invasion beaches, plus the museums. It also features a call at Dunkirk, with its memories of the 1940 ‘miracle’, as well as Portsmouth, the nerve centre of the entire planning for the operation. There’s also a call at Zeebrugge on this cruise, too.
My verdict: Sailing on June 1st, this one puts you right in the centre of the commemorations and, just as importantly, in the proper time frame. The cruise sails round trip from Harwich. Prices for the sailing, based on an inside cabin, start from £699.
CRUISE AND MARITIME offers another seven night sailing from the UK, beginning in Bristol (Avonmouth) and finishing in Liverpool, aboard the elegant, intimate Discovery. This cruise also departs on June 1st, and offers calls to see the German fortifications on Guernsey- the only part of the UK to be occupied by the Nazis- as well as Honfleur, a perfect jumping off point to see the paratroop landing zones, including the recreated Pegasus Bridge.
There’s also a Cherbourg call, and the ship spends the actual anniversary cruising off the beaches themselves- a very different perspective indeed.
My verdict: A concise itinerary indeed over the course of a week. And with inside cabins from £649 per person, tremendous value as well.
SWAN HELLENIC is offering a superb, twelve night itinerary from Portsmouth aboard the intimate, highly styled Minerva.The cruise sails on June 4th. This one also overnights in Le Havre and visits Cherbourg, but there is also a call in at Caen, literally the crucible of the Normandy campaign. This literally puts you right in the middle of the entire combat zone, with the attractions all around you. Dunkirk is also on the agenda, as is the headquarters for the D-Day campaign at Portsmouth.
But Minerva also ventures to the French west coast for an overnight stay in L’Orient; the main U-boat base for the Kriegsmarine in France during most of World War Two. Many of the original, giant concrete submarine pens are still in existence, and can be seen to this day. The cruise also visits the island of Belle Ile,
Also on offer is a call at the Isles of Scilly, as well as one at Dartmouth.
This is the priciest option of the lot, with inside cabins going at £2,135 per person. However, Swan Hellenic also include all excursions in the fare, and these are of a genuinely high and personalised standard. The twelve night itinerary offers more of everything, albeit at a much higher price point.
All of these cruises are quite likely to sell out quite quickly. If doing one of these cruises is on your personal horizon, my advice is to get in there quite quickly.