MARCO POLO RETURNS TO MONTREAL FOR 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS

A very special welcome awaits CMV’s veteran Marco Polo when she arrives in Montreal next Thursday as the highlight of her 50th anniversary cruise.

The 22,000 ton, 1965 built vessel was a regular caller to the Canadian port during her days as the Alexander Pushkin, sailing for the Russian merchant marine. The ship sailed a frequent transatlantic service between Leningrad  (now Saint Petersburg once more) and Montreal from 1966 onwards.

However, this is the first time that the storied cruise liner has been back since her renaissance as the Marco Polo and, in honour of the occasion, the Canadian authorities are rolling out the red carpet for what promises to be a very special occasion.

The Marco Polo is expected to receive the full, ceremonial fire float and siren welcome when she makes her way up the Saint Lawrence into port on the morning of Thursday, August 13th. Once she has docked, the ship will then host a special, on board lunch for representatives from both Port of Montreal and Tourism Montreal, as well as some sixty local dignitaries and media people.

Following the lunch, a special film detailing the ship’s long and unique history will be screened on board.

For the 800 passengers already on board Marco Polo for the long since sold out sailing- around 500 of whom are members of CMV’s regular Compass Club repeat cruisers- the festivities will begin the night before, with a special Gala Dinner on board, prior to the spectacular fireboat serenade on arrival the next day.

So popular has this commemorative voyage proved that a second special, round trip sailing to Canada has been arranged for September. And the exercise will also be repeated during the 2016 season.

These nostalgic, round trip crossings offer almost the only opportunities anywhere to cross the Atlantic on a real, purpose built ocean liner. With a combination of long, lazy sea days and the sheer, stunning beauty of a voyage along the famous Saint Lawrence seaway, it is hardly surprising that they have sold so well.

And, in related news, CMV has also announced that their popular Astor will make a fourth, consecutive round trip liner voyage to and from in Australia in November 2016, after a trio of sell out sailings with the ship.

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

Marco Polo, still stylish at fifty, will receive a traditional fire float and siren welcome in Montreal next Thursday

MARCO POLO IN THE BALTIC; PASSING THROUGH THE KIEL CANAL

Lazy Sunday afternoon; I’ve got no time for worries. Close my eyes and drift away…”

Steve Marriott, Lazy Sunday by the Small Faces.

The words of that iconic song flitted through my mind like a butterfly surfing a gently rolling meadow as the Marco Polo made a sublime, sedate passage down past the tree lined banks of the Kiel Canal, bound for Warnemunde on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

It was as perfect a day as you can imagine; a brilliant summer sun shone benignly on the still, sparkling waters of the fabled waterway. Children were flying kites in rainbow hues, people walked their dogs, and lovers strolled arm in arm under the gently waving trees. Rustic waterside inns dotted the meandering waterway like random exclamation marks, their outdoor terraces full to overflowing with crowds that spilled out almost down to the edge of the canal itself. Many of these looked up and waved at the Marco Polo as our beautiful ship passed by in stately procession. From their vantage point, she must have been quite a sight.

From my own vantage point on the gracefully curved aft terrace decks, I took in this slowly unfolding panorama as it gradually unwound behind us, picking idly at chocolate cake and cookies as the sun beat down directly on us. From where I was, the scene below presented an intriguing contrast.

Because we were so close to the land, everything seemed almost close enough to touch; cows grazing in slow motion on a patchwork quilt of gently rolling fields, local ferries beetling across the waterway in our wakes. The odd cyclist went barrelling by, sometimes ringing a shrill, tinny sounding bell in salute. There were people enjoying picnics and small, dainty yachts that flitted like toy boats across our track. The slow, rolling pace at which all of this unwound gave it a kind of dreamy quality, a chocolate box pretty hinterland that our ship slipped through without leaving a trace behind her.

At the same time, there was a sense of utter, unreal detachment on board the Marco Polo. The view down below and our gentle pace gave the entire scene a sense of exaggerated height, it was an almost Olympian panorama that just unfurled behind us like a series of gently muffled drum rolls. We could just as easily have been on a magic carpet ride as anything else.

Yet that same, sedate waterway has history in spades. It was originally built as the Kaiser Wilhelm Canal, solely in order to give the pre world war one German navy a way of passing from the Baltic through to the North Sea. Nowadays, this fantastic, beguiling stretch of water forms a perfect short cut; it slices right across the base of Northern Germany and Denmark. For those cruise ships small enough to use it- and there are not that many of them- the Kiel Canal saves many hours’ sailing time around the Jutland peninsula.

The Bismarck came this way, too. That vast, tiger shark of a battleship transited the Kiel Canal three times during her brief life; there are still photographs of her, passing under the Rendsburg Bridge, her phalanx of anti aircraft guns bristling like a host of drawn swords.

Any way you slice it, getting that huge ship- twice the size of the Marco Polo- through the relatively narrow canal was one fantastic feat of seamanship; and now, here we were on a perfect Sunday afternoon some seven decades later, ambling lethargically along in her wake. Our passage, it has to be said, was much more peaceful and enjoyable.

So, on we went. We meandered under vast, vaulting bridges that cast long, fleeting shadows across the sun splashed teak real estate on the aft decks of the Marco Polo, only to vanish again as we emerged back into the sunshine. Under my feet, the decks trembled slightly as the ship moved cautiously forward on her way. A good, ice cold German beer seemed an apt, poetic way to enhance the flavour of this fantastic scenic smorgasbord.

For those few, slowly unwinding hours, all seemed well with the world. A kind of surreal, dreamy calm suffused the Marco Polo like the aroma of freshly gathered hay. Only the odd, sporadic car horn briefly disturbed our gentle reverie. I hardly dared breathe, in case I unwittingly shattered the spell forever.

Up ahead lay the fairy tale cities and old world charm of the summer time Baltic; a string of compelling dream destinations with few equals. Soon, the Marco Polo would emerge from the Kiel Canal like the proverbial genie, freed from its bottle, intent on achieving this riot of riches in one stunning, spectacular sweep.

Yes, life looked pretty sweet on that balmy, benign, Sunday afternoon.

‘Close my eyes and drift away……’

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo

MARCO POLO TO THE BALTIC- DEPARTURE FROM NEWCASTLE

Sailing day; it still leaves me with that ‘kid-on-Christmas-Day’ feeling….

Add in the fact that I’m sailing on one of my favourite ships-the magnificent Marco Polo, celebrating her 50th anniversary this year-and you’ll perhaps understand why my adrenaline was running like tap water as we pulled up at the North Shields passenger terminal.

Originally designed to service the overnight ferries sailing to and from Amsterdam, the terminal- used for Newcastle/Port Of Tyne sailings- doubles up for cruise use on seasonal summer sailings from the Tyne. And, for someone used to making the long treks down to Southampton, Dover and Harwich to board a ship, the sheer ease and convenience of being able to rock up at my local home port never fails to amaze me.

Check in was arranged deck by deck and, though the ship had sold out (Capacity 800, adults only), the boarding process took exactly twenty five minutes. That’s from entering the terminal to walking into the warm, Balinese themed lobby of the Marco Polo. Pretty damned good, that.

Though she is as pretty as a postcard, the Marco Polo remains refreshingly intimate. More comfortable than luxurious, the feeling of boarding her is akin to sagging gratefully into a pair of favourite, comfortable slippers. There’s a feeling of gentle, contented ease that comes from being cocooned in something that is at once instantly welcoming, and yet wonderfully familiar. On both counts, the Marco Polo hits the bullseye.

A thorough but relatively short lifeboat drill follows, by which time my luggage is already outside my room. I have time enough to check out the daily programme, before being pathetically overcome by the need for that first, invariable ‘bon voyage’ drink.

Almost inevitably, I take this on the gorgeous, curved terrace that frames the outside of Scott’s Bar, overlooking the stern. Sat back on cafe chair, feet braced against the deck railings- the classic Marco Polo cruising stance- I tip my vodka and cranberry briefly in the direction of ‘Rudy’, the statue of Rudolf Nureyev that forms a focal point on the aft lido deck. Rudy and I have become well acquainted over the course of three decades.

This contented little reverie is gently shaken by a muted trembling that passes through the deck rails; one that always sends a shiver of delight running up my spine. I glance to port and, to my sheer, infantile joy, the Port Of Tyne terminal is already falling away like a fading souffle. The gangway is gone, as are the ropes. Those last, little tenuous links with reality are no longer needed.

Poised and perfect as a swan, the Marco Polo gives a first, tentative surge forward. Her whistle roars out a stately triple salute to the Tyne as a squadron of gluttonous, over fed gulls shriek, scream and swoop in her wake like so many demented dive bombers. People on house balconies lining the stately, steel grey river look over and wave as this fantastic floating time machine surges majestically past them, almost close enough to touch. Another vodka and cranberry appears at my elbow. I can’t help but smile.

Now out, past Tyneside’s historic breakwater, following in the wakes of the Mauretania, the QE2, and many other famous legends of yesteryear. Out of the Tyne, on a ship still writing chapters in her own, imperishable legend. One we are sharing, even as we savour it.

The North Sea welcomes us with benign skies, and sparkling sunlight dancing on languid, lapping waves that seem to speed the lady on her way. A stately, gentle roll begins to assert itself; the immutable overture to our voyage up ahead. Feet back up on the railings, I sit staring at the clouds, drifting by in the sky like fleets of ghostly galleons.

A sense of freedom dances in the ether around me. It clinks the ice cubes together in my glass as if in celebration. At least, that’s how it seems right at that moment.

And so, we are off. It begins again….

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo- 'Rudy' is centre stage

Sunlit aft terraces on the Marco Polo- ‘Rudy’ is centre stage

UNDER NORTHERN SKIES- MARCO POLO IN THE BALTIC

Sharp as  a butter knife, the slender, raked prow of the Marco Polo cut an elegant swathe through the grey, rolling swells of the summertime Baltic. To port, the last, lingering remnants of the setting sun cast a surreal, golden slant across the top of the thin membrane that separated sky and sea. Inside, soft light glowed on beautiful marble and etched glass, bathing the entire ship in a warm, cosy glow. From somewhere up forward, the sound of a moody, throaty saxophone caught my ears for a moment.

We were less than two hundred miles from Saint Petersburg, and a million more from reality.

Celebrating her incredible, fiftieth anniversary in 2015, the Marco Polo- a ship that first set sail in the same year as the first keel plates of the QE2 were laid on Clydebank- was returning to the waters that had actually given birth to her. With a sell out capacity of just under eight hundred passengers, the adults only, awesomely anachronistic ship provided the perfect platform for the adventure of a lifetime.

And what an adventure it proved to be. A string of stunning sea cities throng the edges of this ancient, alluring sea like so many gems, danging from an ornate necklace. Taut, compelling Tallinn, that amazing medieval theme park; cool, classy Stockholm and bustling, beautiful Helsinki. Warnemunde, the gorgeous, stunningly vibrant German beach resort used as a jumping off point for Berlin….

As for Copenhagen, even Danny Kaye underestimated how ‘wonderful’ Copenhagen truly is. Day or night, this rollicking, largely pedestrian city is the fun capital of Scandinavia; a compact city of green copper spires, long, winding streets and vast, open squares. Canals full of fishing boats and one of the world’s most amazing theme parks are suffused by the warmest and most welcoming vibe anywhere in the region in this shimmering, ethereal summertime playground.

Saint Petersburg is, of course, different. More remote, a city with so many different facets. One part Faberge egg, one part Russian matroshka doll, this fabulous, turbulent city merited the two days we spent there, and would have merited many more as well.

Grand, imposing and full of almost relentlessly European architecture, the great city wears the scars of it’s turbulent, three hundred year plus past like a series of battle honors. Revolution and suppression; war and famine. siege and a seat of government; Saint Petersburg has seen it all. A city where Tsars, assassins and men like Rasuptin, Trotsky and Lenin once strolled, plotted, and set into motion the events that defined an entire new world order. As destinations go, it has compulsion and attraction on a scale perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll visit all of these amazing places in more depth. And, even more importantly, we’ll get under the skin of the relatively small, massively alluring ship that carried us to and from this amazing series of fairground rides.

Make no mistake; the Marco Polo is truly unique. And she gets more so as the years pass, because nothing like her will ever be built again. Part time capsule, part antidote to the fleets of mega ships breaking out across the world’s oceans like some vast, incurable rash, the Marco Polo is a voyage of discovery all by herself.

So, I’d like to cordially invite you on board. May I recommend that you check out the expansive, aft facing outdoor terrace of Scott’s Bar, and perhaps treat yourself to a cold Vodka and Cranberry? Grab a seat, kick off your shoes, and just breathe.

We have three thousand or so miles to go. The ropes are off, and a slowly widening gap is opening between the quayside and that gorgeous, flaring blue flank.

Let’s see what’s out there, eh?

Marco Polo, at fifty still sailing in style

Marco Polo, at fifty still sailing in style

CMV GOES WORLDWIDE; MAGELLAN TO MAKE LINE’S INAUGURAL WORLD CRUISE IN 2017

In something of a surprise move, Cruise and Maritime Voyages has laid out details for a first ever world cruise for 2017. Utilising the newly refurbished Magellan, the ambitious, four month long global odyssey will sail from Tilbury on January 5th, 2017, and return to the Essex port on the following May 5th.

In between, the 46,052 ton, 1,250 passenger Magellan- originally built as the Holiday for Carnival back in 1985- will cut an ambitious furrow through some of the most magnificent, remote and remarkable waters on earth, showcasing an entire conga line of must see highlights including the Azores, the Panama Canal, and the highlights of French Polynesia.

Then it’s on to Australasia, and the fantastic cultural melting pots of the Far East, followed by India and a Red Sea transit, before a final series of adventures around the Holy Land, and a last, languid sweep through the springtime Mediterranean, prior to returning to the UK.

In addition to the grand event itself, a series of no less than nine, separate fly cruise sectors have been provisionally pencilled in. These will allow passengers to board and leave the Magellan at a whole raft of signature ‘greatest hits’ ports including Auckland, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney, Australia.

Thus far, five of the ports en route are offered with an overnight stay on board. These are; Cairns, Hong Kong, Phu My for Ho Chi Minh city, Singapore, and Sydney.

For single passengers, this voyage represents an excellent bargain, with rates coming in at £13, 269. Twin saver rates come in from around £8,999- roughly equivalent to around £75 per day per person. This is on sale as of now.

Although Cruise and Maritime has run several longer cruises to both the Amazon and the Caribbean with both Magellan and Marco Polo- plus a series of ongoing, old style ‘liner’ voyages with the Astor- this first, world cruise is an enormously significant statement of intent from a company still not yet a decade old.

Magellan herself offers some 726 cabins, all of a good size, and a vast amount of open deck space, as well as an entire, interior, window walled boulevard of shops, bars and clubs. And, with a trio of dining venues on board, the ship- recently extensively renovated- could very well prove to be a formidable new competitor, especially for the no-fly types wanting to take a little ‘slice of home’ with them as they voyage around the globe.

Interesting development, for sure. As ever, pray stay tuned.

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan's stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

Visit vibrant Singapore on Magellan’s stunning, inaugural world cruise in 2017

BACK TO THE FUTURE; THE RETURN OF STOCKHOLM’S BELL

Fact, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. But this one really takes some beating….

After more than five decades of immersion some two hundred and fifty feet below the Atlantic ocean off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard, the original ship’s bell from the MV Stockholm has now been returned to the vessel, now trading as the Azores of Cruise and Maritime Voyages.

You literally could not make this one up….

The ship was originally built as the Stockholm, a small, 12,000 ton Swedish ocean liner that went into service in 1948. As was traditional back then, the brand new, bronze ship’s bell was duly installed on the liner’s forward bow.

Late on the foggy evening of July 26th, 1956, the ice stengthened bow of the Stockhom skewered into the forward, starboard side of the 29,000 ton Andrea Doria. The Italian liner was just hours from docking in Manhattan after a thus far routine crossing from Genoa.

The bow of the Stockholm acted like a dagger; crumpled and ruined, and with five dead crewmen trapped inside it, it still held and the smaller, Swedish ship was never in any real danger of sinking.

Fifty six passengers and crew died in the gaping wound inflicted on the Andrea Doria. But the Italian liner’s brave, lonely struggle against the encroaching ocean bought enough time to evacuate more than 1600 passengers and crew to the rapidly gathering fleet of rescue ships.

The Andrea Doria, wounded beyond salvation, sagged unde the ocean some eleven hours later. And, with her went the bell from the Stockholm, somehow trapped in the gaping wound in the hull of the Italian beauty. No one ever thought to see it again.

As the years went by, the wreck of the Andrea Doria became one of the most appealing of all dive sites, as well as one of the most inherently dangerous. More than one life has been lost by overly careless divers, caught by vicious currents in and around the wreck.

But slowly, a conga line of mostly small, yet highly evocative artefacts of everday life aboard the legendary fifties liner began to see daylight once more, brought aloft by triumphant divers. But no one ever expected that one of them would be the actual bell from the Stockholm herself.

After it’s improbable recovery, the bell was passed around in the USA, in exchange for a series of different boat parts.

But when it went back on the market again recently, Cruise and Maritime Voyages got in first. And now, after all this time, the bell has been reunited with the ship that it left so abruptly on the night of July 26th, 1956.

Go see it aboard the Azores while you can; in due course it will leave the ship again, to go on display at the Swedish maritime museum in Gothenburg.

And, while no one can doubt that it is amazing that the bell has been rediscovered after all these years, what is truly astounding is that the ship originally built to carry it is still sailing, as well.

Worth a thought, no?

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

BALMORAL COMES TO THE TYNE FOR 2016

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has just announced that it’s flagship, the 1,350 passenger, 43,000 ton Balmoral, will come north to operate a series of eleven cruises from Newcastle between May and August of 2016.

The ship, originally built by Meyer Werft in Papenburg as the Crown Odyssey back in 1988, is the largest vessel in the current, four ship FOCL fleet, and will take the place currently occupied by fleet mate Boudicca, originally the fabled Royal Viking Sky.

The addition of the ship will increase the seasonal summer numbers sailing from Newcastle by an estimated forty five per cent. Ironically, it might also see Balmoral reunited from time to time with her former Orient Lines’ fleetmate, Marco Polo, which now sails for the rival Cruise And Maritime Voyages from the Tyne in summer.

The programme for Balmoral commences on May 21st, with a five night Norwegian fjords cruise. Standing out among the mostly Scandinavian itineraries is a rather attractive, eleven night cruise that showcases the best of Spain, Portugal and Guernsey.

Rightly famed for her beautiful, Art Deco styling and wide amount of open outdoor decks, Balmoral is an elegant, supremely comfortable vessel, decorated with great style, and features the excellent levels of service and cuisine for which the Fred. Olsen brand is well known in the cruising fraternity.

Her arrival in northern parts definintely ratchets up the increasing high profile of Newcastle/Port of Tyne as an ideal departure point, especially for the highlights of Scandinavia, Iceland and Greenland.

An interesting development, for sure. As ever, stay tuned.

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

Balmoral is Tyneside bound for summer 2016

TYNE AND TIDE; CMV’S MAGELLAN INAUGURATES PORT OF TYNE 2015 SEASON

Maiden calls always guarantee a bit of a media ‘splash’ for a new arrival, and this was definitely the case for the new Cruise and Maritime flagship, Magellan, when she inaugurated the cruising season from Port of Tyne on March 27th.

The 46,052 ton ship- built in 1985 as Carnival’s Holiday- arrived to embark some six hundred passengers for a Norwegian Fjords cruise after an overnight voyage from Tilbury.

While she was here, the company hosted a group of writers to a drinks reception and lunch. Boarding something like an hour earlier gave me time to wander round and run an eye over the ‘new’ flagship.

The first impression you get is of how much more spacious she is compared to, say, her fleet mate, the veteran Marco Polo. Magellan is wider by quite a way, and this allowed the creation of a string of open public spaces, both inside and out.

A long, finely styled interior boulevard with a Scandinavian accent contains many of the main public rooms. Lit by a long expanse of floor to ceiling windows, this space is a delight to stroll in it’s own right. Many of the main public rooms debouch from this walkway, and extend right out to the port side of the ship.

Nicely done is Sinatras, an evocative jazz bar that forms an elegant, expansive focal point for after dinner mood music and cocktails. I should imagine it will prove very popular with regular passengers.

All of the public rooms have been toned down in terms of decor from the Carnival days, though the casino is still bigger than on any of the other ships in the fleet. Overall, this is a ship where strolling from bar to bar after dinner is an indulgent affair, with music to suit every mood and whim.

Outside, the Magellan benefits from having a central pool located in a vast, teak lined well deck, thus shading it from the wind all around. Another pool overlooking the stern has a pair of Jacuzzis just behind it, while another, oval shaped Jacuzzi is located right forward, on the highest deck.

The two main restaurants- Kensington and Waldorf- are both located on one of the lower decks. Each serves the same menu and spans the full width of the ship. They are done in a slighly more vibrant, but not over the top, shade of green that gives them a fresh, warm feeling when sunlight floods in through the big windows on either side.

It is worth noting that the Magellan is an adults-only ship. Twice the tonnage of Marco Polo, and with a maximum capacity of 1,250 passengers, she offers roughly half as much space again per person as the smaller ship. And, because of her later, mid eighties design, many cabins are of a uniform size and layout. In fact, they are the largest standard cabins on any ship of this size in the UK market.

CMV has been smart in selling quite a large number of these- both inside and outside- as dedicated singles, at a smile inducing 25 per cent supplement on the normal fares. They represent some of the best buys available anywhere in the UK cruisng scene today.

In short, Magellan looks like a smart acquisition. Sure, she is bigger than Marco Polo, but the level of intimacy is still there. There are more lifts, a good passenger flow, and more spaces in which to pause and play in. There’s an aft facing spa and wellness centre on this ship that looks particularly alluring as well.

The renovation of the ship has been quite sympathetic, keeping the open, breezy largesse of the former ‘Fun Ship’ while, at the same time, enhancing and expanding her appeal for the British cruising passenger. Offering everything from overnight cruises to grand, thirty plus day round trip sailings to the Caribbean, the Magellan will have some cruises on offer to suit eveybody’s budget and timescale.

Definitely an experience worthy of consideration. I hope to do a short cruise on her later this year, and I’ll have a fuller, more comprehensive report on the ship then.

As ever, stay tuned.

The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

The Norwegian Fjords will be a highlight of the 2015 Magellan season

CASUALTIES: SCHETTINO AND FUNCHAL

This week brought an endgame of sorts to a duo of needless, long drawn out, totally depressing events in the maritime community. And, worse still, one of these resulted in the irreplacable loss of thirty two innocent people. Both are salient events and, hopefuly, neither will bear repetition.

Firstly, an Italian court finally got round to sentencing the hapless Francesco Schettinio to sixteen years in jail for the catastrophic capsizing of the Costa Concordia in 2012, with the loss of thirty two lives. The sinking of the huge, state of the art cruise ship rocked the entire industry to its very foundations.

I’m not getting into assumptions about the length or suitability- or not- of the sentenece. I am not in possession of all the facts, and simply not in a position to make an emotionless, analytical judgement on said facts.

But what I do know is this; having driven his ship dangerously close inshore like some adolescent yuppie, showing off his brand new Maserati to his friends, Schettino wrecked his ship. Far worse, he then abandoned the hapless thousands entrusted to his care and concern, and fled the scene. This action brought on him the immediate ire and contempt of his opposite numbers of the Italian coast guard. Left to organise a spur of the moment rescue mission in the middle of the night, in freezing cold conditions, their courage, ingenuity and devotion to duty stands as a stark, undeniable contrast to the actions of a man who, once confronted with the enormity of his handiwork, cloaked himself in head to toe denial.

Of course, this availed him little. And, with the lengthy appeals process yet to come, we could be up to the centenary of the disaster before the hapless Schettino himself is steered into a jail cell.

But the man is walking wreckage; his career and future prospects are as bright as that of the ship he destroyed. And, while my sympathies remain totally with the victims of this ghastly tragedy, it is impossible for me not to feel a shred of sympathy for the man himself, while retaining absolute abhorrence at his performance as a so-called captain. Enough said.

Casualty number two appears to be the lovely, beautifuly restored MV Funchal, whose entire summer porgramme of chartered cruises was cancelled this week. This leaves the ship- and, by proxy, owners Portuscale Cruises- effectively shackled to a Lisbon pier for the duration of the year.

While the restoration of this 1961 built classic liner was a thing of beauty to behold, the attempt to charter out Funchal and her fleet mate, Porto, has been a disaster. Third in fleet, Lisboa remains half upgraded in Lisbon, and reportedly up for sale. Only the ongoing, successful charter of the veteran Azores to Cruise And Maritime Voyages seems to be keeping the Portuguese operator on life support. But for how much longer?

Words such as ‘blame’ and ‘responsibility’ are academic at the moment. Perhaps Portuscale should have concentrated on marketing and sailing the ships themselves, instead of placing them at the beck and call of a conga line of largely whimsical and capricious charterers.

But, whatever, the company has not been good at engaging and getting across the appeal of these unique, soulful quartet of ships. Despite being two years old, only in the last few months has the line opened a Twitter account, for instance. E-mails to their Portuguese offices have just gone unanaswered in the past- and I’m speaking from personakl experience here.

I think it is these two factors that have largely led to the present situation. Is it too late? I hope not. But a radically different course plainly needs to be set.

Otherwise, we are likely to lose one of the most beautifully original and appealing passenger ships still available to travel on today. Make no mistake; the loss of Funchal would be an act of vandalism on a par with taking a scalpel to the portrait of the Mona Lisa.

Let us all hope and pray that it does not come to that.

As ever, stay tuned.

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

A pair of less than perfect sunsets are in the offing, it seems

‘ALLO ‘ALLO! MIMI JOINS THE MARCO POLO……

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

The Marco Polo; soon to meet the pint sized hurricane, Mimi La Bonq

“Listen very carefully; I shall say this only once……”

Pint sized pocket firework and heroine of the ray-zis-tance, Mimi La Bonq, will be joining Cruise And Maritime’s venerable Marco Polo on a special, six night Great European Cities and Rivers Cruise, sailing from Tilbury on October the 24th.

The cruise is one of a number of special voyages lined up to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the Marco Polo, and is sure to be very popular.

In addition to being able to say ‘Gid Moaning’ to Mimi- real name Sue Hodge- you will also find on board both Boycey and his lovely wife Marlene, the Rhett and Scarlett of the hugely popular sitcom, Only Fools And Horses.

This cruise has a great itinerary in itself, calling at both Amsterdam and Antwerp, before making overnight stays in Rouen and Honfleur. This allows passengers to dine ashore in the evening if they wish, or perhaps to sample some of the local nightlife.

Although it is unlikely that they will find Mimi returning to her old profession of waitressing in the cafes of the French towns, it would be quite in character for the spiky blonde force of nature to cook up some intriguing adventures all by herself.

Famed for spending many years serving ‘under’ Rene Artois, ‘ero of the ray-zis-tance and late proprietor of the Café Rene in Nouvignon in the popular, long running BBC sitcom, Mimi became one of the heroines of the epic struggle against the ‘Cherman’ occupiers. In this role, she appeared as everything from a hunch backed monster in a haunted castle to a flying nun, a habit she never quite got over.

However, Cruise And Maritime have been able to provide assurances regarding certain other related characters…..

Lovers of a traditional Gin and Tonic tipple might be rather relieved to hear that Madame Fanny La Fan, the one time toast of the Follies Bergeres, will not be roused from her bed to join the cruise and potentially empty the ship’s entire supply of gin over her breakfast corn flakes each morning.

And, her lovely daughter- Madame Edith- will, alas, not be able to entertain passengers on board the Marco Polo with her various unique and wildly eclectic vocal stylings.

On the other hand, a report that General Von Klinkerhoffen will be boarding the Marco Polo at Honfleur to make a personal tour of inspection has yet to be denied.

And, should anyone feel the need for some in depth, local sightseeing, it is possible that Lieutenant Gruber could just take you for a spin in his little tank.