Up, up and away with Eddie…..

I really enjoyed my recent short cruise on Oceania’s opulent, upscale Marina, but it was a trip that came with a few little quirks that are worthy of flagging up. I don’t mean for these to be interpreted in any negative sense; most actually added a degree of charm to a very pleasant few days spent cruising around waters quite close to home.

Firstly, I had to get to Dublin to board the ship, which was by then two-thirds of the way through a British isles cruise that had embarked in Amsterdam, some seven days earlier. Flying from Newcastle, I had two options; Aer Lingus or Ryanair.

Unwilling to trust myself to the tender mercies of Ryanair on such a tight schedule (a wise decision, as things were to prove) I decided to go a day early, and spend a night in Dublin itself. So I opted for the flight with Aer Lingus.

On this short, one hour twenty minute long flight, the Irish flag carrier uses the services of it’s UK subsidy, Stobart Air. It operates twin engine, turbo prop flights on this route and yes, the absence of those all too familiar jet engines was just a tad disconcerting.

But it was more the actual, vintage appearance of the plane itself that really threw me a curve. No swept back wings situated low on the hull here; instead, a pair of straight edged contraptions were attached to the top of the fuselage itself. One prop was mounted on each, with a set of eight blades that resembled nothing so much as drooping flower petals. I half expected Dick Dastardly to climb out of the pilot’s seat at any minute.

We boarded through one of those neat little door and stepladder contraptions that fold back into the hull for take off. Inside a central aisle bisected two rows of twin seats that were just about spacious enough for a short flight, but nothing more. Those props spluttered and whirled into giddy motion and, before I knew it, we were lumbering down the runway and our strange little bird was clawing at the sky.

Sat squarely in mid plane on the right hand side, I found myself mere metres from the frantically whirling blades of the starboard engine. Boy, is it weird to see the engines actually sitting at a level somewhere above your heard, and going like the clappers. The motion generated a kind of strange little vibration that was not unpleasant, but certainly not the normal routine on a short ‘puddle jumper’ flight. And, though the experience of that flight was a little different (and quite interesting) I was still relived when our wheels clumped down onto the ground at Dublin International Airport. Tyres yelped on tarmac, and we came shuddering to a halt.

Just an hour or so later and I’m in my hotel room, nursing a coffee as I gaze out over the sinuous, winding sprawl of the River Liffey. Dublin will be the subject of another blog or two later in this series so, for now, I’ll content myself by saying that I had a cracking night out in one of the most cosmopolitan, but expensive, capital cities in Europe. Be advised; Dublin is no cheap date. She’s as much about Gucci as Guinness these days.

Next day, and I’m on the free shuttle bus to where the Marina sits, awaiting her returning passengers. Many of them are off on shore excursions, in and around Dublin, others are just exploring the city on foot. It’s a glorious day for doing so; the temperature is up in the mid-eighties, and Dublin today feels fresh, vibrant and alluring. A sound city on a sunny day.

And Marina? She’s cool, captivating, and as perfectly poised as any supermodel. That hull, spotless and immaculate. gleams in the afternoon sun. On board, the air conditioning is like healing balm. Her interiors are as plush, understated and alluring as ever. They are truly ravishing, but right now my appetite craves something more substantial.

So it’s straight up to Waves Bar and Grill for the first Kobe burger of the trip. Ever since arranging this voyage, I had been mentally salivating over the prospect of getting reacquainted with the finest burgers anywhere at sea. And oh, my, I would not be disappointed.

Those burgers come with a sublime black truffle sauce, and all the sides that you could possibly want; in this case, fries and mushrooms. Just the sound of that burger sizzling slowly to completion was more seductive than anything in the entire Barry White songbook. I devoured it with a relish that is impossible to truly relate.

I have a problem with chocolate milk shakes. Just the thought of them makes my arteries whimper like a violated virgin. But the ones on Marina were too good to resist, as well I knew. I folded like so much wet cardboard, and went dark side for one of the damned, delicious things. I regret nothing.

Boarding a ship that is two thirds of the way through a voyage throws up a kind of curious dynamic; the other passengers have been on board for several days, have settled into their own rhythms, habits and friendships. They have coalesced into a shipload of happy fellow travellers. I, the late arrival, have parachuted into the midst of all this like some kind of gilded gatecrasher.

I ponder this idly over the rim of my champagne glass later that same afternoon. Showered, unpacked and now swathed in a bathrobe, I’m lounging on my balcony in full Bubbles De Vere mode. Some tired looking souls pour out of a tour bus to troop gratefully up the gangway, several decks below. Somewhere, the deep growl of a freighter’s siren roars out across the River Liffey. Seabirds wheel and screech in the humid Dublin hugger mugger. They remind me of dive bombers, and strike me as being every bit as unsettling.

I’m swilling my champagne for some reason that totally eludes me, before I indulge in the bubbles again. It’s a lazy Sunday in the summertime, I’m back aboard Marina and, right at that moment, life as a whole feels pretty damned fine.



Happy days; the dainty little Deutschland is off to Poenix Seereisen

Happy days; the dainty little Deutschland is off to Poenix Seereisen

While I was enjoying myself swanning around the Caribbean the other week, several quiet but subtle developments were going on behind the scenes in the cruise and ocean liner industry. Here’s my take on some of them.

First up, a big, heartfelt ‘well done’ to all at the SS. United States Conservancy for managing to secure another lifeline for this valiant, fabled ship. The story of their struggle would make for a wonderful movie script, even if we know that the final chapter has yet to be written. Hopefully, it will prove to still have a happy ending.

On the Dubai front, I’ll have something to say about the latest QE2 developments in a separate, upcoming blog. Stay tuned for that one.

Truly wonderful is the news that Phoenix Seereisen will take on the troubled, unsettled Deutschland. Not only does this put this gorgeous little jewel box back under German ownership, but it will also see her welcome return to the German cruising market. And, as an added bonus, this lovely little ship will finally be refitted with the ‘Juliet’ balconies that were bruited for her back in the last days of Peter Deilmann ownership. These should help to give this lovely little ship some kind of competitive edge, and ensure she remains a viable cruise option for a good few more years.

Sadly, almost inevitably, the end has come for the former Kungsholm of 1966. I suspect that politics played a part in the ship not being able to find a permanent future berth in either Stockholm or Gothenburg, and now the venerable, 28,000 ton paragon has left on a final, one way voyage to the scrapyard.

In any event, she was a ship with a hugely storied career. Many in the UK in particular will remember her as the Sea Princess, a long standing and popular member of the UK cruising market. Even with the unsightly truncation of her original forward funnel, she was a fine, stately, beautifully crafted paragon of an ocean liner that made a successful transformation into a long serving, hugely popular cruise ship.

But, on a final optimistic note, it was heartening, indeed, to hear that Viking Ocean Cruises has ordered another pair of vessels in its hugely anticipated ocean going fleet. Lead ship. Viking Star, has thus far cut an enviable swathe through the cruise industry, and continues to garner huge praise. And, as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke- don’t fix it.

As ever, stay tuned.