QE2- THE ENDURING EXILE.

Listening to some of the commentary regarding the end of the Second World War in Europe this coming week prompted a pretty unsettling realisation in me.

That being the deeply perturbing fact that QE2 has now spent longer laid up in Dubai than the entire duration of the mainland war in Europe and the Soviet Union. Stunning, but true.

In less time than she has slowly spent suffocating to death in the fly blown hell hole that is Dubai, Adolf Hitler conquered an empire that stretched from the North Cape to the African continent, and then lost it again.

So, should anybody ever again have the sheer, rank stupidity to complement the ridiculously fawned over sheiks of Dubai on their alacrity and business acumen, simply remind them of that slightly less than unfortunate truth.

There she lies, her fate in the hands of a shabby cabal of clueless, posturing fools who wanted her as a trophy, a status symbol. Now, they do not know what to do with her. Perhaps they never did in the first place.

Perhaps the robed mandarins of the desert kingdom simply over indulged themselves like the spoiled, pampered kids of unchallanged oligarchs to whom money is no object. A kind of bratterati if you will, spiritual paupers on an epic scale that can recognise a glittering trophy, purchase it, and suddenly not know what the hell to do with it.

So there they sit in their glitzy splendour, embarrassed and unsure what to do with what was once their most prized, heavily lauded prestige project. Fantastical, fulsome claims have given way to a veil of shameful silence that hangs over the suffocating Queen like a funeral pall.

There is no question that she deserves better; a ship that broke new ground as the first ocean liner cum floating resort. One that served her country in time of war and, most spectacularly, one that came to emphasise everything ‘great’ about Great Britain for three decades along with her true travel partner, the supersonic Concorde. This ship- breathtaking, elegant and groundbreaking- came to be adored and revered like none other, either before or since.

Sadly, what she deserves is most unlikely to be what she will get.

While she floats, there is always hope. But people need to get out there and ask awkward questions. The pompous, embarrassed burghers of Dubai need to be heckled, ridiculed, and held to account over their inept, ruinous, directionless and completely disastrous stewardship of one of the most singularly significant maritime icons ever to cut salt water.

How much time does she have? Who knows? Even the fickle, capricious clowns who hold ther life in their hands cannot say. Can not, or will not.

Let’s hope 2015 will provide smoother seas and kinder breezes for our loved, languishing lady. And yes, more than ever before, let’s pray the God does, indeed, save our gracious Queen.

Because the one thing you can bet on is that the cash sodden, status obessessed clowns in Dubai most certainly will not.

 

Advertisements

LITTLE GEMS; SHIPS I’M GLAD THAT I ENCOUNTERED…..

For someone like me, born and blessed with a deep and abiding love of the great ocean liners, it has been an incomparable thrill, privilege and pleasure to sail on many of my favourite ‘ladies’ over the years.

The likes of Norway, QE2, Canberra and Rotterdam were all wonders that did not disappoint. And yet, in so many ways, I am just as enriched by sailing on many of the smaller, more traditional ships that have now mostly sailed on beyond the breakers. Many of these ships were- or are- just as big on character as those grand dowagers that have now rang down ‘finised with engines’ for the last time.

There were the two wonderful, heavily rebuilt sister ships that sailed for Classic International Cruises; Princess Daphne and her near identical twin, Princess Danae. I sailed on the Danae twice, and her sister ship just the once.

They were long, low seaboats, with a hull that curved slightly upwards at both bow and stern like some kind of wry, supine smile. The aft lido decks were some of the biggest and most expansive of any ships afloat. Each boasted huge cabins with thick, chunky furniture, and a suite of public rooms that ran out to the hull along both sides, a window walled, heavily mirroed promenade that made strolling a true delight. And, despite being only around 17,000 tons each, they were both superb as sea boats, proper 1950’s paragons that were as elegant as they were warm and unassuming.

The Ocean Countess was definitely of the next generation. Sleek with her swept back, aerodynamic funnel, rakish bow and squared off stern, she was as ‘seventies modern’ as it was possible to get back in 1975. Her cabins were so small that they would have left the average pygmy in agonised contortions.

She had a lofty oberyvation lounge with glass walls that afforded fabulous views out over the bow. To her last days, engraved Cunard ‘lions’ remained etched into the glass doors that led into this room.

There was a centrally sited pool and hot tub lounging area midships, perfectly shaded from the wind, and a fabulous indoor/outdoor night club that extended out over the stern. On warm summer nights in the Aegean, there were few more perfect places anywhere for watching a mellow sunset. She was a fine, funky little ship, one whose heart and character more than made up for her shoe box sized accommodations.

The Marco Polo, happily, remains with us. Now in her fiftieth year, she is literally unmistakable for any other ship, with her glorious, curved prow, stately single funnel and series of elegantly stepped terraces cascading down her stern in a veritable torrent of immaculate teak.

Inside, a run of perfectly proportioned Art Deco lounges and bars allow for a stately evening’s progress through a series of softly lit venues, suffused with wonderful live music. The trim blue hull and sparkling white superstructure truly mark her out as a thing apart. Whether stealing into a magnificent, mist shrouded Norwegian fjord at dawn or lounging off the hot spots of the French Riviera, the Marco Polo looks- and feels- utterly different to anything else out there today.

I remember the stately little Odysseus, too. Built in 1962, she endded her days with Epirotiki, which then became Royal Olympic Lines before it went bankrupt in the wake of 9/11.

She, too, had a long and low hull, swathed in shades of pristine royal blue. Her funnel- small, domed and slightly swept back- seemed out of all proportion to that seemingly endless, long hull.

Truth be told, she had quite a short superstructure and, like the CIC twins, she boasted an enormous, seemingly excessive amount of outdoor deck space aft, running all the way to the fantail. My most vivid impression of this quirky, quite intersting little ship was that she felt a hell of a lot bigger than her supposed 12,000 tons.

So, there we go- just a few of the ships that flit in and out of my memory like patches of Atlantic fog. If this article appeals, please let me know, and I’ll look at the possibility of a follow up piece in similar style.

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

MSC CRUISES; CHANGES AND AN ABOUT TURN

In a move intended to neatly side step areas of increasing potential conflict across the globe, MSC Cruises have announced a cessation of all calls to both the Ukraine and Egypt for the balance of the 2015 season.

Instead, the line will arrange a series of calls in destinations such as Rhodes, Cyprus, Crete and Israel. These will be on offer to passengers of the MSC Sinfonia, Opera, Fantasia and Musica, running through at least until the spring of 2016.

In addition, the heavily booked series of Canary Islands cruises operated by the MSC Opera will be extended, and all sailings will now include an overnight stay on Madeira, the only Portuguese island on the mainstream Canaries circuit. Also new next year is a quartet of calls to the Moroccan city of Casablanca.

In addition, the MSC Divina will return to year round Caribbean cruising from Miami once she returns to the Florida port this November. Benefitting from a newly refurbished terminal in the port, the MSC Divina will offer a series of alternating, seven night sailings to the highlights of the Eastern and Western Caribbean, mainly concentrating on the ‘greatest hits’ ports of call such as Grand Cayman, St. Maarten, and Puerto Rico.

Interesting times for the ambitious Italian juggernaut. As ever, stay tuned.

MSC is giving Egypt the swerve for the remainder of the 2015 cruise season

MSC is giving Egypt the swerve for the remainder of the 2015 cruise season

CHEERS! NORWEGIAN OFFERS FIRST ‘ALL INCLUSIVE’ SHIP FOR 2016

As of January 2016, Norwegian Cruise Line will be dipping a little toe in the all inclusive pool.

Year round, dedicated Bahamas mainstay, Norwegian Sky, will be going all inclusive on the drinks front at least. The 78,000 ton, 1999 built ship will now include unlimited premium spirits, cocktails, bottled or draft beer up to the value of $11, plus wine by the glass for guests aged 21 and upwards. Guests aged from 3 to 20 will be offered unlimited free sodas and soft drinks.

Interestingly, the offer also applies to all drinks consumed on Great Stirrup Cay as well. The port of call is offered on both weekly itineraries offered by the ship.

Norwegian Sky was the first, purpose built mega ship for the company back in 1999. Originally ordered for Costa Cruises, she was purchased on the slipways and completed for Norwegian. A near sister, the 2001 built Norwegian Sun, spends summers in Alaska, and winters in Mexico and around South America.

At present, the ship sails a well practised routine of three and four night cruises, round trip from Miami, each week. Three night cruises sail each Friday, and call in at both Nassau and the ‘private’ island of Great Stirrup Cay. The four night sailings on Monday add Freeport on Grand Bahama Island to the three night roster.

Norwegian Sky offers the most comprehensive range of dining options of any ship sailing on the short Bahamas circuit out of Miami- she was, in fact, the first to introduce the popular Freestyle Dining  concept- and she also offers the largest number of standard balcony cabins of any ship sailing from Miami.

This looks very much like a test pad for the potential launch of ‘all inclusive’ drinks across the Norwegian fleet. No doubt, the company will be carefully monitoring the reactions to this new venture, perhaps the biggest thus far of the post-Sheehan era at the company.

Interesting times, indeed. As ever, stay tuned.

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

The Norwegian Sky off Great Stirrup Cay

ET VOILA! CMV ENTERS THE FRENCH CRUISE MARKET IN 2016

With just a month to go before it’s 2016 summer season goes on sale, Cruise and Maritime Voyages has announced that it will be entering the French cruise market for the summer months next year.

The French company, Rivages du Monde, will be chartering the 16,000 ton Azores from CMV for a series of sailings as far afield as Greenland and the Adriatic. The famous ship- well known to many as the former Stockholm of 1948- will sail from a variety of ports on the French mainland, including Bordeaux, Dunkirk, Le Havre and Marseilles, as well as the Belgian port of Ostend.

Prior to the lucrative French charter, the 550 passenger ship will be renamed as Astoria, after which she will embark on a two month series of cruises from the United Kingdom.

The renamed Astoria will make her initial sailing for Rivages du Monde on May 11th. The company is a Paris-based operator specialising in cruising and in depth touring adventures.

This announcement is certainly good news to anyone that appreciates the concept of classic cruising on an intimate, laid back style of ship where personalised service is complemented by the ability to sail into smaller, more exclusive harbours that are too logistically challenging for the newer, larger vessels now in service.

As ever, stay tuned.

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

MV Azores, seen in her Athena livery in 2010, is going French in 2016

GOING, GOING, GONE.. TITANIC STEAMER CHAIR SELLS FOR £85,000 AT AUCTION

The only surviving, authenticated first class steamer chair to be recovered from the wreckage of RMS Titanic was sold at auction on Saturday for some £85,000.

The chair was auctioned off by the same man- Andrew Aldridge of Devizes, Wiltshire- who recently oversaw the sale of Wallace Hartley’s violin for almost a million pounds.

The new owner is described as a ‘UK based collector of iconic pieces of history’. In other words, the buyer’s actual nationality remains undisclosed.

The chair is understood to be one of seven originally fished out of the Atlantic by crewmen aboard the Mackay-Bennett, the first of three vessels sent out from Nova Scotia to recover the bodies of the 1500 victims of the sinking in April, 1912. Once she returned to port, it came into the possession of the ship’s French captain, Julien Lemarteleur.

The most recent owner of the deckchair is understood to be an English Titanic enthusiast, who had kept the steamer chair for around a decade and a half.

While £85,000 is an astronomical sum, it just goes to show how buoyant the level of interest in anything even remotely connected to the Titanic remains worldwide. There is no doubt that the lost liner remains a powerful, totemic talisman of recent history. In fact, no artefacts from any other ship command anything like prices for Titanic memorabilia.

These steamer chairs, seen on the deck of the Deutschland, are very similar in design to the one from Titanic, just sold at auction for a staggering £85,000

These steamer chairs, seen on the deck of the Deutschland, are very similar in design to the one from Titanic, just sold at auction for a staggering £85,000

EASYJET’S NEW SUMMER 2015 ROUTES FROM NEWCASTLE

As part of a continual, rolling programme of summer flights from regional airports across the UK, Easyjet has announced a pair of enticing new destinations from Newcastle.

A new, weekly flight to Rhodes will take off effective from June 4th, with one way fares on offer from £30.99 one way.

Another new service to Corfu- again on a weekly basis- will commence effective of June 7th, with one way fares priced from £23.99.

Taking off at a slight tangent- quite literally- the airline will also offer summer services to the Croatian coastal city of Split, with flights on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This service commences from June 2nd, and offers one way fares from £26.99.

If something not quite so sizzling and more distinctly cooler is your choice, then Easyjet is now also adding a new, year round service to Geneva from £17.99 each way.

Easyjet these days now offers assigned seating on all flights, and these new short flights provide the possibility for an exhilarating short break in some of the most perennially alluring islands in the summertime Aegean, or even the possibility of a short, exhilarating weekend break along one of the greatest cities of the Croatian Riviera.

As for the Geneva flights, these should prove hugely popular with the ski-ing fraternity, or even those who just like the idea of buying a rail pass and travelling through the exhilarating Swiss landscape at a more sedate pace.

With matchless ease of convenient access by road, metro and air, Newcastle Airport is one of the most welcoming and hassle free airports anywhere in the mainland United Kingdom.

Exciting times for both Easyjet and Newcastle. As ever, stay tuned.

Newcastle is an increasingly important centre for Easyjet

Newcastle is an increasingly important centre for Easyjet

SMALL FIRE ABOARD ORIANA CAUSES MISSED PORT CALL

A small fire broke out in the engine room of the P&O Cruises Oriana on Saturday as the ship sailed from Miami, forcing her to return to the Florida port.

The fire, described as ‘minor’ and ‘localised’ by the company, resulted in an extensive inspection of the 69,000 ton ship by the US Coast Guard service before the Oriana was allowed to continue on her way. As a result, a scheduled call into Key West had to be abandoned, and the ship will now sail directly to her next listed port of call at New Orleans, where she is due to dock on Tuesday morning.

Since being named by the Queen in 1995, the twenty year old Oriana has been one of the major cornerstones of the P&O fleet. In her early years, she ran as a consort to the much lamented Canberra. However, in the last few years it is safe to say that she has carved out quite a niche reputation in her own right.

The ship has been sympathetically, but not dramatically upgraded and refurbished over the years, including the recent addition of a handful of single cabins. As of a few years ago, the 1800 passenger vessel is now marketed as an adults-only product.

As ever, stay tuned for any further news.

Oriana will be leaving Key West in her wake on this cruise

Oriana will be leaving Key West in her wake on this cruise

MY TRAVEL BUCKET LIST; PROBLEMS AND PANACEAS

I think most people consider the idea of a ‘bucket list’ of things they would like to do, experiences that they would like to try or, most often, places they would like to see as part of some kind of ‘greatest hits’ highlights of their lives. Once achieved and ‘ticked off’, these things mark our progress through life like so many emotional lightning rods. They connect us to those moments when we raised our game, rose above the everyday, and went for the things that really mattered on some deep, undeniable level to ourselves, rather than just being blindly channelled and herded in some direction by the people and events swirling around us.

Trust me, travel writers are no different. The more I see of the world, the more I realise how little that I have actually seen. It’s like peeling an onion; once you begin, you suddenly realise that you’ve embarked on a mission that’s going to take forever. And, in terms of travel, that’s a shockingly good analogy- though not one I can take credit for.

The one thing I have come to realise about my ‘bucket list’ is that I am going to need a bigger bucket. I had naively assumed that, by this phase of my life, I would have ticked all my main boxes, lived my dreams, done my share of smiling in the sunshine. And, up to a point, I have.

But by it’s very nature, travel is not about standing or sitting still, is it?

So, I got to considering the things that I would still like to do and, purely in a spirit of fantastical conjecture, here are a couple of things that I’m flinging without either fear, shame, or the vaguest concept of when- or even if they might ever happen- into my bucket. Here we go….

SAILING DOWN TO RIO

Rio. Just say it. It rolls off your tongue like a Salsa parade, and tastes as damned fine as the most potent caipirinha. Sultry, alluring, sun kissed and stunning, Rio is one of the great, must see destinations of the world.

But flying there? Nah. Not for moi….

Such an epic destination should be the climax of an epic odyssey. And, of all the cities on the planet, the great sea-city that is Rio De Janeiro deserves to be approached in the most dramatic and apt way possible. From the sea….

Consider even the idea of sailing from Italy in late October, just as Europe begins to sag into yet another cold, melancholy, pre winter gloom. Take some big, spectacular Italian cruise ship and set out through the Mediterranean. Swing out west, through the Pillars of Hercules, and set course for the Canary Islands, the open Atlantic and, at the end of all that, landfall in South America.

Imagine the days getting longer, warmer and more welcoming as you unwind on board, surging south west over the Equator. And, at journey’s end, there is the hallowed, matchless approach to the great city itself. In, past the looming bulk of Corcovado, past Sugar Loaf Mountain, and into that stunning bay. An epic journey that cries out to be achieved in epic style. And, let’s face it- you can’t scrimp on something as sassy, sultry and downright dramatic as that.

ACROSS AMERICA BY RAIL

Now this one is arguably the daddy of them all…

I’d fly straight to Los Angeles, stay for a couple of nights on the venerable old Queen Mary, and take in a few days of the fresh, vital sunshine on Manhattan Beach, before boarding one of those fantastic, implausible, double decker Amtrak trains for the ultimate voyage; coast to coast, with a series of spectacular city stays en route.

Over a couple of weeks, I’d watch the vast, natural smorgasbord of North America unfold from my seat like a succession of spectacular drum rolls. Mountain ranges and rolling prairies, great gushing rivers and tracts of bone dry desert. Great, concrete forests of glass and steel…

We’ll roll across mighty bridges and into flaring purple and yellow sunsets. And, like fantastic exclamation marks, I’d take a couple of nights in, say, sultry, sassy New Orleans and cool, classy Chicago. Anyone detecting a bit of a jazzy vibe here?

There would be time in beautiful, patrician Philadelphia before the final arrival in the greatest city in the world- New York. And, as the train shuddered to a halt at Penn Station, there would surely be the feeling of having completed an epic adventure.

But that is not the end of it. Oh, no. My sense of wanderlust is a bit gilt edged these days. And, in one final flourish, I would take the Queen Mary 2 back to Southampton.

Think about that; seven lazy, languid, highly styled days on the last great Atlantic liner, making the most timeless and peerless of all voyages. Unburdened with ports of call or any other diversion, I would have seven full days to absorb the full, magnificent scale of the entire trip.

In the words of the great Al Green; simply beautiful.

So; what floats your boat, then?

QM2. Because second best is sometimes just not good enough.

QM2. Because second best is sometimes just not good enough.

HIGH OLD STYLE; CROSSING THE ATLANTIC IN THE THIRTIES

In the Jet Age, it seems unfathomable to remember that, only eight decades ago, commerical travel between Europe and North America was almost strictly a seagoing businees. Week in and out, over a dozen of the world’s largest liners would sail from ports like Southampton, Le Havre, Bremerhaven, Rotterdam and Genoa, bound west for a fast, four day crossing before the first sight of that fabulous New York skyline.

In the meantime, perhaps another dozen or so prestige liners would be heading in the other direction, laden with passengers bound for the hot spots of a continent already twitching more and more uneasily at the bellicose sabre rattling of the fascist dictators, Hitler, Mussolini and, from 1936, Francisco Franco as well. But, with the depression finally fading away, for the Atlantic liners it was more or less business as usual.

These were the days of the so called ‘Ships of State’, when almost every major nation had it’s own flag carriers on the Atlantic crossing. Each of these vessels was intended to embody all of the best characteristics- both real and fondly imagined- of the mother country. And, for many booking on the Atlantic crossing in the thirties, these traits often played a big part in their decision of which ship to book.

For instance, the great Italian sisters, Rex and Conte Di Savoia, sailed from Genoa to New York and back, via Cannes and Gibraltar. A large part of their voyages were spent in calm, sunny waters, and so the two ships sported vast, umbrella strewn outdoor lido decks, with swimming pools surrounded by real sand. They offered that quintessentially Italian ‘dolce vita’ lifestyle afloat. For many contemplating the voyage to or from Southern Europe, these two great Italian ocean goddesses were the natural choice.

From Germany, the marvellous twin miracles known as Bremen and Europa continued to make the crossing to and from North America with almost military precision. It was an Atlantic proverb that German liners always offered the best cabin service of any line. Crisp, modern, and suffused with almost brutally chic Bauhaus interiors, the Bremen and Europa first suffered from the effects of the depression. Later, when the market had recovered somewhat, they again suffered unfairly by their associations with the nascent Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. In an act of supreme irony, the bodies of the Hindenburg crash victims, bedecked in swastika flags, were returned to the fatherland on board the eastbound Europa in May of 1937.

Few ships were as true to their national traits as the 1938 built Nieuw Amsterdam. She was small by the standards of the day- only 38,000 tons- and had no intention of running for the Blue Riband. But she was immaculate both inside and out- a spotless, splendid high point of maritime styling and elegance. It was bruited by the great Basil Woon that ‘a speck of dirt on a Dutch ship would be enough to make the Chief Steward commit suicide’ and, while that might be slightly over the top, it certainly went a long way to describing the atmosphere that existed on this marvellous ship. Defying time, tide, and even war, the ‘Darling of the Dutch’ would sail on until the 1970’s; a quite incredible feat.

Of course, the two great ‘front runners’ of the 1930’s were the Queen Mary and the Normandie. They were of similar size- 80,000 tons- and speed. Both ships could cross the Atlantic in four days and, for four years, they played ping pong with the speed record, as it passed back and forth between the two. But, ultimately, there were only minutes’ difference in the crossing times each racked up in those heady days. Eventually, it came down more to the national characteristics that each ship was perceived to offer.

Second out of the blocks after her French rival, the Queen Mary was panelled in literally hundreds of different kinds of beautiful woods. She was all chunky armchairs, linoleum flooring and feverish lighting, with Odeon and Art Deco motifs and overlays. A direct, dignified yet obvious descendant of the Mauretania and Aquitania, she was at once both stately and familiar, but on a scale never seen before on a British passenger liner.

Beore the war, she was mainly the ship of choice for the right of centre crowd; the sort of people that were said to prefer to do business with Hitler rather than Stalin. In those days, she was never famed as a late night party ship.

The Normandie could not have been more different. Internally, she was an Art Deco temple on a lavish, unparalled scale. She was unrealistic, uneconomic, and utterly magnificent.

In first class, the evening dinner menu routinely listed some three hundred and twenty five separate items. Table wine was always free aboard the Normandie, where it was considered an important part of the meal. And, though the great bulk of her passengers were American, announcements on board were first made always in French.

The Normandie attracted a passenger load that was the polar opposite of her great rival. It was a mostly left wing crowd, leavened out with a regular, eminent roster of Hollywood movie stars. They could, and often did, party through until the early morning hours.

One passenger- English as it happened- summed up the two great ships with matchless brevity; “In my opinion, the Queen Mary is a grand Englishwoman in sportswear, and the Normandie is a very pretty French girl in an evening gown.”

These, then, were the great, palatial paragons that dominated the North Atlantic in those last, uneasy years of peace. The firestorm that would follow would put all but three of them to the sword. And the post war shape of ocean travel- glamorous as it was- would never be quite the same again.

The Atlantic crossing in the 1930's was the greatest commuter highway in the world

The Atlantic crossing in the 1930’s was the greatest commuter highway in the world