THE NOMADIC; WALKING AMONG GHOSTS

The Nomadic at Cherbourg. Now back in Belfast and completely restored, she is open daily to the public

The Nomadic at Cherbourg. Now back in Belfast and completely restored, she is open daily to the public

My first encounter with the Nomadic was as soulful as it was sobering. For any ship lover, she is nothing less than hallowed turf; a diminutive yet very tangible link to that most famous, feted, ill fated ocean liner of them all- Titanic.

I’ve been fortunate enough to sail on more than my fair share of storied, fabled legends; Norway, Canberra, Rotterdam, Queen Elizabeth 2. But this was something else, and it is not easy to really describe. That said, I am going to try and put the story into some kind of context.

When, in 1907, the White Star Line decided to shift its first line Atlantic express service from Liverpool to Southampton, they also made the very shrewd decision to start including outward calls at the French port of Cherbourg. With proximity to such must see European gems as Paris and the French Riviera, Cherbourg became a hugely popular embarkation port for wealthy Americans at the end of their European tours.  But operations at Cherbourg presented one huge logistical problem.

The port back then simply did not have a pier capable of accommodating the largest Atlantic liners. So the big ships had to anchor out in the bay, the Grande Rade, and embark passengers and mail via tender boats. It was a time consuming, awkward job but, without a pier, there was no other option but to carry on.

By this time, White Star had also committed to the building of the gargantuan Olympic and Titanic, by far the largest liners that the world had ever seen. For their intended visits to Cherbourg, White Star realised that a huge upgrade in the local tender service would be needed.

Nomadic saloon, May 31st, 2011

Nomadic saloon, May 31st, 2011

So, even as the two new giant liners began to rise like skeletal twin cathedrals against the Belfast skyline, Harland and Wolff simultaneously began construction of a pair of specially built tenders; the Nomadic and the Traffic.

As built, the Nomadic was intended to carry the first and second class passengers out to the Olympic and Titanic. So the owners created a kind of ‘mini me’ version of the two sisters, to give the passengers a kind of appetiser to the main course. At 1,200 tons and crowned with a single funnel, painted in the company colours of buff and black, the Nomadic had elegant interiors, including a saloon and a bar. She was a spiffy, sparky little creation; a workhorse with a veneer of polite aristocracy. She would continue serving liners arriving off Cherbourg right into the 1960’s.

She was handed over as completed in Belfast on that memorable May 31st, 1911, when the Titanic took to the water and the Olympic was officially handed over to the White Star Line. Together with the newly completed Traffic, she left Belfast for Cherbourg that same day, parting company with the Olympic as the huge liner headed for a courtesy call at Liverpool. They would not be separated for long.

The June, 1911 debut of the Olympic was a worldwide media sensation. She was the first of the great liners ever to sail from Southampton at the start of her career, and would remain a ‘Southampton ship’ throughout her near quarter century of service. And she would also inaugurate the new tender service at Cherbourg, where some very prominent and well heeled patrons were awaiting the arrival of the much touted new wunderschiff with more than a little anticipation.

They would have to wait a little longer.

The Nomadic in dry dock, May 31st 2011

The Nomadic in dry dock, May 31st 2011

The Olympic arrived in the bay of Cherbourg exactly on time on the evening of June 14th, 1911, and the doughty duo, Nomadic and Traffic, duly loaded up with passengers and cargo, and waddled proudly out to the breathtaking new liner. But there was some problem with getting gangways up between tenders and parent ship; a not totally surprising incident considering that cross decking onto a ship of this size had never been attempted before. It was eventually sorted out, but a number of the more forthright first class passengers were left cooling their heels- while not curbing their tongues- as the people on Nomadic and Olympic worked awkwardly to sort out the glitches.

But this was a one time fail; ever after, the tender service at Cherbourg worked like clockwork. For generations of Americans, the end of their European vacation would be confirmed by their first sight of the Nomadic alongside the quay, smoke curling from her funnel, as mountains of baggage and mail were hauled aboard. She was, quite literally, the portal to the New World.

On the evening of Wednesday, April 10th, 1912, the Nomadic got up steam and headed out into the bay for her first, and as it turned out last, appointment with the second of the giant sisters- the Titanic.

Thanks to a near collision with the liner New York in Southampton, the Titanic was a full hour late arriving off Cherbourg, and the passengers already aboard Nomadic fumed quietly at the delay. Among them was the American multi millionaire, John Jacob Astor and his pregnant teenage bride, Madeline.

Porthole on the Nomadic, the 'mini-me' version of Olympic and Titanic

Porthole on the Nomadic, the ‘mini-me’ version of Olympic and Titanic

Millionaire and merchant seaman alike must have caught their collective breath at the awesome spectacle of the Titanic, floodlit from bow to stern as she loomed ever larger into their field of vision. For the embarking passengers, there would have been that time honoured sensation of leaving the biting cold for the warm, welcoming interiors of the sparkling new liner. Job done, the Nomadic backed away from her huge new client like a courtier bowing to a queen. As she bumbled back into safe harbour, all eyes on the tender were on the Titanic as the giant liner slowly gathered way. Ablaze with light, she slowly receded into the distance, bound for Queenstown and New York.

Of course, they never saw her again.

The rest of the story is well known. How the Nomadic fell into decades of neglect and near destruction. And how, incredibly, she came to be brought back home to her place of birth in Belfast. As the last surviving, intact ship of the White Star Line still in existence, the Nomadic was to be restored to her original. pristine appearance. Now lovingly maintained and open to visitors, the Nomadic provides the eternally curious with a spellbinding trip back in time. People flood aboard her today with as much palpable excitement as the hordes she once carried out to embark on the Olympic, the Majestic, or even the Queen Mary.

But my encounter with her had more than a little nostalgia.

Through one of those quirky fates of history, I toured the Nomadic in Belfast on May 31st, 2011. The ship was nowhere near ready to open to the public yet. More to the point, it was exactly a century to the day since she had been completed. Just a few yards away was the crowded former slipway from which Titanic herself had taken to the water on that same, memorable day.

These same bollards once tethered Nomadic to Titanic

These same bollards once tethered Nomadic to Titanic

The stone grey day gave way to pale blue sunny skies. Fleets of plump white clouds flitted across the skyline like so many ghostly galleons. Covered in a layer of grey primer paint, and without her funnel, the Nomadic crouched in her dry dock, shrouded by a massive, overhead tent. As this was  a working area, I had to put on a hard hat and hi-viz jacket before walking aboard her.

To call the mood ’emotional’ would be an epic understatement. The adrenaline was running like tap water. Inside, working lights reflected on the ghostly, newly uncovered wall sconces and decorations that had once made the Nomadic such a tempting advert for the Olympic. In the spartan, chaotic half light, the ghosts of earlier times seemed to wander through their own memories, looking for once familiar touchstones, or maybe a pre embarkation Martini.

There was the palpable feeling of having stepped back through a time portal. Outside, I touched the vast, cast iron bollards that had once tethered Nomadic to Titanic with as much reverence as a fragment of the ‘one true cross’. And my mind wandered back to that cold, starlit evening in Cherbourg, way back in April of 1912.

I wondered if Astor had admired those same elegant wall sconces just inside, musing idly that some might look good in one of his Newport mansions. Perhaps he asked for a blanket for the delicate, five months pregnant Madeline? On the fantail, I pondered whether old Isidor Strauss had maybe pulled a shawl tighter around the shoulders of his beloved wife of many years,  Ida, shielding her from the cold as they stared up at the awesome bulk of the floodlit Titanic, waiting for them out in the bay.

What of Molly Brown? Under the fulsome cover afforded by one of her huge, famous hats, had she discreetly scoped out the other first class passengers waiting to board Titanic, slowly working out who to cultivate on the crossing and, more to the point, who to avoid….

And, of course, there are the shades of many more famous people that walked these same, hallowed decks. Charlie Chaplin. Marie Curie. Even Burt Lancaster. The Nomadic is nothing less than living history, returned to the place of her birth in one of the most perfectly exquisite pieces of irony ever, in my humble opinion.

Nomadic. Compulsive, compelling time travel. A wondrous voyage. Enjoy.

Titanic porthole, salvaged from the wreck

Titanic porthole, salvaged from the wreck

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CIAO COSTA CONCORDIA; JULY 22nd UPDATE

The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

The sun is finally setting on the once proud Costa Concordia

Almost two and a half years after she hit rocks and capszied off the small Italian island of Giglio, the scarred, ghastly remains of the once proud Costa Concordia are finally ready to begin the final voyage to the scrapyard.

By one of those awful coincidences that seem to litter the pages of maritime history, the 114,000 ton Costa Concordia is going to be demolished in Genoa, Italy, where the ship was originally built back in 2006.

Numerous bids had been tendered to dispose of the partially refloated wreck, including one from Middlesbrough in the UK;  but the choice by Costa of the port of Genoa was made on grounds of proximity rather than cost. The tow from Giglio to Genoa is estimated to take five days. This is probably about as much exposure to open water as the fragile wreck can realistically sustain. As things stand, the tow is slated to begin on July 20th.

The immense salvage operation was the largest ever conducted on a partially sunken ship. Partially refloated by a method known as ‘parbuckling’, the wallowing hulk currently rests on a man made platform. Over the next few weeks, a series of man made sponsons will be attached to the hull, as a prelude to the tow.

The accident, which led to the deaths of thirty two passengers on board, occurred on January 13th, 2012, just hours after the Costa Concordia had left the port of Civitavecchia at the start of a seven night Mediterranean cruise. The story created world wide headlines at the time; a saga  fuelled by the actions of her captain, Francesco Schettino, who abandoned his command while thousands of his passengers were still stranded on board the listing ship.

A court of inquiry subsequently found five officers and crew members of the Costa Concordia guilty of negligence. The trial of Schettino himself is currently ongoing, though at a fairly desultory rate of knots.

Now, with the announcement of the imminent scrapping of the desolate hulk, Costa will no doubt be hoping to assume some forward momentum again. With the recent establishment of the ‘Neocollection’ of cruises being offered on smaller, more intimate ships, and the coming November launch of a new flagship, the even bigger Costa Diadema, the company is slowly gathering way once more.

No doubt the good people of Giglio will be glad to see the back of the grisly, hulking ruin that has blighted their horizon for two and a half years. Having lived through the disaster itself, the rescue, and then the media tsunami that followed, perhaps life there can once again assume a semblance of its former normality.

JUNE 11th UPDATE:

Word is being circulated via the GCaptain website (http://www.gcaptain.comthat the final timetable outlined above for removal of the Costa Concordia wreck may well be delayed.

A final green light for this was expected oh June 16th this year. However, Italy’s Department of Civil Protection, meeting in Rome to discuss the wreck disposal in greater detail, has asked for a nine day extension to look at the plans for salvage and ultimate disposal in greater detail. A decision is now expected on June 25th.

What effect- if any- these deliberations will have on the plans outlined above is as yet uncertain. As ever, stay tuned.

JULY 4TH UPDATE: 

Yesterday, the last of thirty sponsons was attached to the still half submerged hull of the Costa Concordia. The Italian government has now given final, formal consent for the demolition of the wreck to be carried out in Genoa.

Final preparations were expected to be completed by the middle of July, but with the last of the sponsons now in place, it is possible that she might reach her final port before the original target date, set for the end of this month.

As always, stay tuned.

JULY 22ND UPDATE:

As of today, the slowly surfacing wreckage has emerged some eleven metres in all, leaving another three metres to go before the long delayed tow to the scrapping berth at Genoa can finally begin.

This will be carried out by what amounts to a funeral cortege of some fourteen vessels; tug boats, oil spill recovery vessels, some multi purpose craft and, apparently, even a sailboat.

Delayed by high winds thus far, this final tow is currently due to start on Wednesday.

CRUISE SHIP CUISINE; SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT?

If you knew sushi....

If you knew sushi….

Among legions of voyagers since the dawn of time, perhaps nothing has raised the hackles of ocean travellers as much as the subject of food on board. Over the decades, dining at sea has gained a reputation as being somehow more enjoyable and inviting than anything offered on land. It is an assertion that no one has ever done much to demolish, pun wholly intentional.

Now, everyone has a different idea of what constitutes good food. Every single person’s palate is as individual as a human fingerprint. Even the idea of trying to produce enough tasty, appealing choices on one individual ship load of, say, 3,0000 passengers is a daunting thing to contemplate. Throw eight or nine different nationalities into the mix, and the equation multiplies massively.

So it follows that my opinions as expressed here are- indeed, can only be- based on my own observations and tastes. Yet I suspect that many people will find much in this article that, at the very least, resonates with them.

Firstly, the hacked to death phrase of ‘gourmet cuisine’, whatever the hell that means anyway. One man’s gourmet feast is another man’s gut wrenching ordeal. But on any mega ship- anything over 2000 passengers- it is simply impossible to create food that approaches any level of that nebulous notion of ‘gourmet’.

Why? Simply because a mega ship, by it’s very essence, is designed to operate on economies of scale. Bulk buying across the board, plus the embarkation of the smallest number of catering staff and stewards able to cater adequately to the numbers on board, is the maxim.

Crystal balcony snacking is sublime...

Crystal balcony snacking is sublime…

The raison d’etre for these amazing floating resorts is to make as much money as possible, and that does not equate to overly lavish mass provisioning of top quality ingredients. And, before anybody gets on my case about knocking big ships, please read on. Such is not my intention.

Within the parameters set by shore based accountants, these ships in general do a good to excellent job of providing a flood of tasty, often tremendously good food around the clock. It is fresh, plentiful and, thanks to advances in on board technology such as refrigeration and cooking facilities, heightened standards of storage, immensely better hygiene and stock rotation and-yes- some very imaginative sauces- it is probably more varied and enjoyable than in the heyday of the great ocean liners. Progress generally has improved product delivery.

And for those wallowing in the cozy glow of nostalgia for those older, more opulent ships, just remember that even the Titanic had rats. Though not on the menu in first class, naturally.

Of course, the French Line was a byword for the finest food and service. But part of the reason why the Ile De France, the Normandie and the France were so successful is that they were lavishly staffed, and provisioned on a scale that would cause most of today’s cost conscious shore side catering suppliers to spontaneously combust. For instance, the first class dinner menu on the Normandie listed no less than three hundred and twenty five different menu items each night. As with everything on that fabled operator, food on the French Line was gloriously over the top, sumptuous and special.

And yet, passengers being passengers, there were no doubt some strange souls that complained about it even back then. Such is human nature.

Ah food, glorious food...

Ah food, glorious food…

True, high quality cuisine can be produced consistently, as the likes of Crystal, Regent, Seadream and Silversea continue to prove, to the delight of their savvy, loyal regulars. But, with numbers to cater for limited to a few hundred at the most, a much higher staff to guest ratio and, crucially, a much higher per person spend- one reflected in the initial price- these ships have much more flexibility, scope for creativity and, generally, a much more obvious display of inventive flair than their more constrained cohorts on the mega ships.

Dining aboard these ships is truly delightful. And even something as simple as a bacon sandwich can be summoned up and delivered with as much flair, style and taste as the finest filet mignon if you are in the right frame of mind. It is, quite literally, a question of personal taste.

And I would also argue that the food itself is only one ingredient that goes into the mix for a great dining experience. A fine meal at sea is about so much more than that. Ambiance plays a huge part; perhaps the crucial one.

A perfect meal involves a beautifully set table, with fine flatware and glassware, an immaculate tablecloth and napkins, and plenty of elbow room. There is nothing worse than accidentally garnishing your shirt sleeve with the soup of the diner sitting next to you.

Deft, unobtrusive service is the key. Attentive without being overly familiar, and all under the watchful eye of a good maitre d’ who conducts the entire operation like an orchestra. And speaking of which…

Breakfast starter. Lamb chops to follow

Breakfast starter. Lamb chops to follow

A little bit of background music- for instance, a Baby Grand piano- can enhance the mood of a meal immensely. So, too, the lighting. Here, less is usually more, but please don’t turn the venue into a gloomy, Stygian crypt. Subtle is the key here.

And, while many people consider assigned, two seating dining to be the first level of Hell, all I can say is that some of my best, most fun overall dining experiences have been in such situations. Some maitre d’s are expert at putting together tables of compatible people, and that makes a huge difference.  But if it goes the other way, the wrong table companions can make the last meal in the condemned cell a more appealing option.

But for real flexibility, it is once again the small ships that deliver the real flavour of tasty, tasteful repasts at sea. With generally open seating dining, where a table for two can become a table for ten at short notice, far smaller numbers of diners and a much calmer, unhurried ambiance, evening meals especially can scale almost Olympian heights in terms of enjoyment.

Sometimes, nothing beats dining alfresco, with a side order of moonlight and an exquisitely paired wine. A real treat for both the palate and the senses, and one that is hugely recommended by yours truly. And, of course, the pre dinner martini, garnished with a gorgeous, flaming sunset, is the perfect appetiser to any meal.

So, there we go. Just my thoughts, for what they are worth. Food for discussion, though? Bon Appetit!

Simple elegance is often key

Simple elegance is often key

 

SHORTER SILVERSEA VOYAGES FOR 2014

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Enjoy a Silversea champagne sunset

Acknowledging a rising demand for shorter, yet still quite destination intensive itineraries, Silversea has unveiled a series of eleven short cruise options, sailing between June and October of 2014. These cruises, mainly four and five night itineraries, are predominantly in the Aegean, with a one off Northern Europe option available as well.

The cruises are offered across two of the ultra luxury company’s five banner vessels; Silver Cloud and Silver Spirit. 

With the line celebrating it’s twentieth anniversary this year, these short, fully inclusive fares are the ideal opportunity for a real fix of luxury over the course of a few days of total self indulgence. Here’s the skinny on the options available as currently listed;

 

June 2014

SILVER CLOUD

Five nights Northern Europe, June 16th- 21st.  Helsinki, St. Petersburg (two night stay), Tallinn, Stockholm. Fares from £1,650.

July 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four nights Aegean Cruise, July 11th-15th. Venice, Ravenna, Hvar, Kotor, Corfu. Fares from £,1460

Six nights Aegean Cruises, July 15th-21st. Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Kusadasi, Myteline, Istanbul (overnight stay) Fares from £2,190

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

Culinary excellence is standard on Silversea

August 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four night Aegean Cruise, 11th- 15th August. Venice, Ravenna, Hvar, Kotor, Corfu. Fares from £1.400

Five night Aegean Cruise, 15th- 20th August. Corfu, Katakolon, Santorini, Kusadasi, Istanbul (overnight) Fares from £1,750.

Four night Aegean Cruise, 20th- 24th August. Istanbul, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Volos, Piraeus. Fares from £1,580.

Five night Aegean Cruise, 24th-29th August. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Costanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,970.

September 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Four night Aegean Cruise, 29th September- October 3rd. Istanbul, Myrina,Thessaloniki, Skiathos, Piraeus. Fares from £1,580.

October 2014

SILVER SPIRIT

Five night Aegean Cruise, 3rd-8th October. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Constanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,970.

SILVER CLOUD

Four night Aegean Cruise, 13th-17th October. Istanbul, Kavala, Thessaloniki, Volos, Piraeus. Fares from £1, 360.

Five night Aegean Cruise, 17th -22nd October. Piraeus, Izmir, Sea day, Constanta, Nessebur, Istanbul. Fares from £1,690.

 

Explore the highlights of the Greek Islands on a short Silversea cruise

Explore the highlights of the Greek Islands on a short Silversea cruise

All of these fares are cruise only, apply to entry level window suites, and offer accommodation in all outside luxury suites, some ninety per cent of which have private balconies, fully inclusive fares and gourmet dining (including in suite) at any time.

As the newest ship in the fleet, the 36,000 ton Silver Spirit is offering the great majority of these cruises. With a guest capacity of 540 and a crew of 376, she offers more dining venues than the rest of the fleet, including the hugely atmospheric Stars Supper Club. Her lead in veranda suites come in at a generous 376 square feet, inclusive of the balcony.

Silver Cloud was the original, pioneering start up ship for Silversea. Celebrating her 20th anniversary this year, the recently refurbished ship has become a byword for luxury, style and elegance. At just 16,800 tons, Silver Cloud can accommodate just 296 guests, cared for by a crew of 222. Lead in veranda suites are 295 square feet, inclusive of their balconies.

All things considered, these are indulgent, indolent little slices of glamour and luxury. The Aegean cruises in particular fall at a nice time of the year, when the crowds are largely gone, but the weather is still appealing enough to make alfresco dining hugely enjoyable. Coupled with the indulgent luxury and spatial largesse for which Silversea has always been known, they are ideal, whether as a ‘taster’ cruise for first time passengers, or as a pre winter fillip for regular Silversea devotees.

THE EVERGLADES; A PICTORIAL ESSAY…

If all the weapons grade fun and decadence of Miami and Fort Lauderdale wears a little thin, why not consider a few hours’ exploring the vast, freshwater sprawl of the world famous Everglades?

All manner of nasty stuff lurks in the crooks and crevices of these waters, often mistakenly described as a swamp. In fact, more than ninety per cent of the Everglades is composed of fresh water. It actually constitutes the aquatic ‘green lung’ of Florida.

Mind you, don’t be getting off that air boat anytime soon under your own steam in mid trip….

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AN AFTERNOON AT GREAT STIRRUP CAY, BAHAMAS

Great Stirrup Cay has been the ‘private island’ for passengers of Norwegian Cruise Line since 1977. A novel idea at the time, it allowed passengers to disembark at an exclusive little hideaway where they would be required to do nothing more strenuous than kick back and chill out for one glorious day.

I first went there in 1981, aboard the fabulous, unforgettable Norway, and fell in love with ‘GSC’ at once. I swore then to return.

It took me until 2010, but return I did. These photos, taken over the course of a great weekend cruise aboard the Norwegian Sky, showcase this still beautiful ‘Island of Dreams’. Enjoy!

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NORWEGIAN SKY; A SWEET LITTLE TREAT

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

When Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of the Norwegian Sky in 1999, it marked the beginning of a new dawn for that company. The ship represented the first of a new generation of mega ships which have come to be the mainstay of the line ever since. She was, in fact, the first ship in the fleet to exceed the veteran SS. Norway in tonnage, if not in length. After the stop and go doldrum years of the mid nineties, the ship was seen as the beginning of a whole new era in the storied history of the company.

In point of fact, the ship came to Norwegian by default. She had originally been ordered by Costa Cruises as the Costa Olympia, a sister ship for that company’s then new, and very popular, Costa Victoria. For reasons that have never been really disclosed, the Italian line cancelled the order; the option was, instead, picked up by Norwegian, no doubt much to the relief of the German shipyard.

As completed, the 77,000 ton ship featured a row of balcony cabins and several alternative restaurants. A 2001 built sister ship. Norwegian Sun, would have an extra deck of balcony rooms, and integrated restaurant set ups, designed to showcase the company’s new Freestyle Dining mantra. But initially, it was Norwegian Sky that truly took the nascent company into the 21st century.

Her first years were spent on the popular, seven night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruise circuits out of Miami. Then, in 2004, she was hurriedly redeployed to Hawaii to become part of the soon massively over subscribed NCL America. Renamed as the Pride Of Aloha and refurbished in a wash of Polynesian kitsch, she started seven night sailings from Honolulu, to mixed reviews.

A weekend pit stop for Norwegian Sky passengers

A weekend pit stop for Norwegian Sky passengers

New management at Norwegian presaged a period of retrenchment for the company, and nowhere more so than in Hawaii. One of the main decisions was the return to Miami of the Pride Of Aloha. The ship was given back her original name of Norwegian Sky but, other than that, she remained essentially unchanged from her Pacific days.

This proved to be an offbeat, quirky, yet welcome decision. While near sister, Norwegian Sun, is cool, elegant and classically European in decor, the Norwegian Sky is a gloriously kitsch, over the top melting pot of etched glass, polished brass, and multi-hued ‘Polynesian modern’. bright, but not quite as eye popping as you might imagine.

Since her return to Miami, the Norwegian Sky has been deployed on the twice weekly, three and four night round trip circuit to the Bahamas. Leaving Miami each Friday, she sails to Nassau and the company’s recently massively renovated ‘private island’ of Great Stirrup Cay.

The four night, Monday sailings call at the same two ports, adding another call at Freeport, Grand Bahama, into the mix. While the three nighters tend to attract more of an out and out party crowd, the four night cruises are a little more sedate. As sedate as any ship with more than 2200 revellers on board can be, in any event.

From ship to shore- the Bahamas lifestyle

From ship to shore- the Bahamas lifestyle

Norwegian Sky has been very popular since her return to Miami. Although many of the cabins are quite small, they are just about right for a long weekend break. The ship features more balcony cabins than any of her short cruise rivals and, with the addition of many signature Norwegian dining venues, such as Cagney’s Steakhouse and Le Bistro among others, she also offers by far the most comprehensive choice of food options on the short Bahamas circuit.

And she is a beautiful ship, too. With a sharply raked prow and a single, aft placed funnel, the Norwegian Sky is almost perfectly proportioned. Inside, there are more than enough bars, clubs and lounges to play and party in, as well as a huge casino and an expansive, upper deck spa and gym. The cruise experience aboard her is roughly comparable to taking a weekend break in a small resort town; one that moves the scenery each day.

Outdoors, there is a vast, expansive sun deck with two large pools, a quartet of hot tubs, two bars, and an indoor/outdoor buffet restaurant that is open virtually around the clock. With live music and party games prevalent through the day, this area can be pretty crowded, and it is never sedate for sure. The Norwegian Sky also hosts nightly discos out here, and these are tremendously popular.

While Nassau is great for shopping and sunbathing, I tend to skip going ashore here now. Because, with most of the passengers away from the ship, that vast, open sun deck becomes a sporadically populated, pristine swathe of paradise just perfect for lounging on. And this, for me, is when the Norwegian Sky really does become a platinum chip choice.

Outdoor deck party on the Norwegian Sky

Outdoor deck party on the Norwegian Sky

With the decibel level right down, and the pools and hot tubs practically bereft of human habitation, pure chill out is the order of the day. You can excel at leisure and ease. And, of course.the bars and buffet are still there for you to indulge in as the mood suits you. For me, this is the best day on the ship.

And the prices are incredible bargains, too. Especially when you factor in the avalanche of included food, entertainment, and of course, the accommodation. Try finding a similar quality hotel at the same price in either Miami or the islands- even room only- and you’ll try in vain. The value is unbeatable.

Yes, there is a lot on board that is programmed the same, cruise after cruise after cruise. But if all you really want is a quick little break from the endless, highly priced hugger mugger of South Beach, or even as a bit of an exotic add on to a stay at one of the myriad of Florida theme parks, then the Norwegian Sky will give you just what you want, when you want it.

Of course, these short, fun filled jaunts pass by at a  tremendous rate of knots. And no one in their right mind would call them a relaxing experience. But, short on time as they are, they are just as high on style.

And, in the final analysis, isn’t that the true return for your hard earned money? Enjoy.

Cocktail bar on the Norwegian Sky

Cocktail bar on the Norwegian Sky

THOMSON CELEBRATION: CRUISING FROM DUBROVNIK IN 2015

Thomson Celebration will be cruising from beautiful Dubrovnik in 2015

Thomson Celebration will be cruising from beautiful Dubrovnik in 2015

Historic, beautiful Dubrovnik gets it’s first home ported cruise ship in 2015, when the 33,930 ton, four star Thomson Celebration begins a series of seven night, summer long round trip cruises from the main port of Croatia. The ship, recently upgraded with a number of balcony cabins and suites, will offer a total of twenty four sailings in all, from May 7th to October 8th inclusive. All of these cruises are sold on an all inclusive basis, with drinks included in the lead in fare.

There are four different itineraries, as outlined below;

ADRIATIC AFFAIR has seven departures. Each cruise calls at Koper, Venice, Sibenik, Korcula and the little known, very beautiful Italian port of Bari, on the heel of Italy. Departures are on May 7, May 28, June 25, July 23, 20 August, 17 September and 15 October. These cruises each feature one full sea day.

CROATIAN CLASSICS offers six departures, and showcases the ports of Rovinj, Venice, Trieste, Zadar and Split, as well as featuring one sea day. These cruises depart from Dubrovnik on May 14, 11 June, 9 July, August 6, 3 September and 1 October.

GRECIAN LEGENDS also offers six round trip sailings from Dubrovnik, and calls at Katakolon, Corinth for Athens, Itea, Corfu Town and Kotor. Again, there is a full sea day on each cruise. Departure dates; May 21, June 18, July 16, August 13, September 10 and October 8. 

TASTE OF THE ADRIATIC has five departures, and serves up the ports of Valletta, Messina, Brindisi. Kotor and Hvar. Again, there is one fulld ay at sea to enjoy the ship’s recently revamped on board facilities. These sailings depart on June 4, July 2, July 30, August 27 and September 24.

Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik

Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik

This is a unique series of cruises, and should prove to be very popular. In addition, each one comes with the option of adding on a three or seven night hotel stay in Dubrovnik itself either pre or post cruise, making for one of the best cruise and stay options available anywhere in the Mediterranean for the 2015 season.

A great strength of the programme is the fact that it comes as a fully inclusive package, with all flights, transfers and accommodation, as well as the cruises themselves, offered as a one stop Thomson package. The programme features direct flights to Dubrovnik- flight time around two and a half hours in all- from the six airports of  London Gatwick, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle and Glasgow.

The Thomson Celebration herself is a comfortable ship, offering all cabins with flat screen televisions, plus tea and coffee makers. Twenty two suites and cabins have private balconies. The ship has two pools- one of them adults only- six bars, and three restaurants. She has a total passenger capacity of 1,264, based on double occupancy.

Thomson  Celebration is a perfect size for cruising the many deep, indented fjords and coastal highlights of the stunning Croatian landscape. A ship of these dimensions allows you to see this amazing visual smorgasbord in an ‘up close and personal’ style that no mega ship can truly match. And, with fewer people on board, you also neatly side step the crowds and hassle of getting on and off at each call. Plus, the all inclusive nature of the product makes it a really good value, too.

Worth knowing; Most cruise ships actually dock at the port of Gruz, a couple of kilometres from Dubrovnik itself. You can catch a local shuttle bus into the city for a nominal charge, or walk it in around an hour.

Cruise and stay; The cruise and stay programme offers a choice of twelve different properties, in and around the Dubrovnik area. If you’re looking to really splash out, the Hilton Imperial Dubrovnik has a fantastic location overlooking the bay, and is eminently swanky.

Venice is also on the agenda for Thomson Celebration

Venice is also on the agenda for Thomson Celebration

CRYSTAL SYMPHONY PHOTO ALBUM 2009

An on board set of photos, taken in 2009 aboard one of the finest and most legendary luxury ships built since the Second World War- the astounding, always exceptional Crystal Symphony….

Looking up from aft

Looking up from aft

Close up of the aft, tiered decks

Close up of the aft, tiered decks

Out on my suite balcony

Out on my suite balcony

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Terrace of the Lido Buffet

Crystal Cove lobby

Crystal Cove lobby

The Palm Court

The Palm Court

The Pool Deck

The Pool Deck

Pool Deck, looking aft

Pool Deck, looking aft

Under the Magrodome

Under the Magrodome

Looking down at the Lido Terrace

Looking down at the Lido Terrace

Name board on the port side

Name board on the port side

Beautifully sculptured aft terraces

Beautifully sculptured aft terraces

Another Pool Deck shot

Another Pool Deck shot

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

Upper level of Crystal Lobby

Sitting area of my penthouse

Sitting area of my penthouse

Crystal Symphony lunchtime buffet

Crystal Symphony lunchtime buffet

Magrodome pool, since replaced

Magrodome pool, since replaced

The best view of them all....

The best view of them all….

Inside the Palm Court

Inside the Palm Court

Palm Court piano

Palm Court piano

Corridor outside the cinema

Corridor outside the cinema

The elegance of Crystal Cove

The elegance of Crystal Cove