DUBROVNIK SET FOR PLATINUM CHIP CRUISE DATE IN SEPTEMBER

With it’s amazingly intact medieval old town and imposing city walls, Dubrovnik is one of the absolute must see ports on the eastern Mediterranean cruise circuit throughout the summer months.

And, while the port is always busy from May through to October, this coming September 8th will witness a platinum chip convocation of cruise ships at the stellar Croatian port- not so much in terms of numbers, but more in standards of sheer, jaw dropping top end luxury vessels that will arrive over the course of the day.

In no particular order, Crystal Cruises’ sublime Crystal Serenity (with yours truly aboard), the sumptuous Silver Spirit of Silversea, Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ peerless Europa 2, Azamara Club Cruises’ immaculate Azamara Journey and the amazing, five mast Royal Clipper of Star Clippers, will all arrive at the port. Between them, these five superb ships are expected to deposit a total of around 2700 guests into the venerable old sea city on the Adriatic.

Of the five, Crystal Serenity will dock in the harbour at Gruz, just a short, two kilometre ride from the old town. The other four ships will lay offshore and tender passengers in to the dock at the bottom of the old town, literally at the foot of the main street of Stradun.

This is a quick and easy process- I arrived in Dubrovnik this way aboard Silver Spirit a few years ago- and, bearing in mind the relatively small numbers involved, it should be pretty much of a hassle free process.

Ease of access to the city itself is generally good, a fortunate fact when you consider that Dubrovnik is now attracting close to a million cruise visitors each year.

While five ships in Dubrovnik is nothing new, the arrival of this particular quintet will be quite something. Of the five, only the Azamara Journey remains on my ‘to do’ list, so this will be like a unique reunion of old friends.

Not to mention, of course, fantastic photo opportunities for all the ship spotters out there.

Stay tuned for a full report, with photos, after the event.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.

Silver Spirit is part of an extraordinary, five ship luxury flotilla due to call at Dubrovnik on September 8th, 2015.

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

SEADREAM IN THE SUMMERTIME MED; THE GOOD LIFE JUST GOT BETTER…..

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

Harbours full of idly bobbing yachts. Cobble stone streets and quaysides awash with waterfront bars and cafes, brimming with life well into the small hours. Porsches and Lamborghinis sitting idly under a canopy of gently waving oleander. People wearing sunglasses worth the entire national debt of a small third world country, discreetly checking out the milling throngs strolling past their lunch tables. For sure, it could only be the summertime Mediterranean.

If there is a region more dedicated to la dolce vita, or one more perfectly sculpted to deliver it in spades, then I have yet to find it. There is something so utterly seductive and compelling about those platinum chip, people watching playgrounds that sparkle along the summertime coasts of Italy, France and Spain. They draw people back year after year, like moths to a flame that bursts back into life again with the dawn of each new spring.

And, for sure, there are no shortage of huge, glitzy cruise ships that will show you the ‘greatest hits’ of the Mediterranean. Rome, Florence and Naples. Monaco and Barcelona. All places worthy of your attention and indulgence. All fabled and legendary. And, in summer, all crowded beyond all belief.

If you’ve ‘been there and done that’, then you don’t need to be told that these port intensive, week long ‘Meddy-Go-Rounds’ are great fun, yet anything but relaxing. Especially in the heat of mid summer, they can actually be damned hard work, as you try to absorb whirlwind encounters with a conga line of mind blowing cathedrals, castles, piazzas and shopping plazas. Fabulous and enjoyable it is, but relaxing it most certainly is not.

And that’s where Seadream Yacht Club comes in……

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening...

Top of the yacht. Top of the morning. Top of the evening…

Imagine a small, 4,200 tons, all inclusive yacht, carrying a maximum of 115 guests, served by a hand picked crew of 90. Now make that yacht all inclusive from dawn till dusk, with free flowing champagne and fabulous, round the clock food that truly is ‘gourmet’, and a casual dress code that is perfectly suited to those balmy Mediterranean climes.

Imagine voyaging along and to all the small, smart resort havens that the bigger ships have to sail past. Tying up literally in the middle of town, just steps from the action. And a schedule that allows for long, lingering stays in those same ports, often overnight.

Sounds dreamlike for sure. But Seadream II is no dream. She is very, very real.

Each summer, Seadream II meanders among those peachy little splashes of paradise along the length of the Riviera and the Adriatic on a series of indolent, hugely inclusive adventures. A small marina at the stern allows her to carry such ‘toys’ as kayaks, sail boats and jet skis. In the more enclosed harbours, these are available to all passengers free of charge. It adds a whole new dimension to your idea of personal indulgence.

A unique outdoor set up means that all guests can dine alfresco- at any time of the day or night- on extraordinary, elegant fare. Imagine breakfasting on lamb chops as you sail into the stunning bay of Dubrovnik, or savour a long, lazy dinner in the fantastic, floodlit bay of Portofino. Peachy, non?

The aft pool

The aft pool

Life on board is totally informal and unstructured. Evenings tend to revolve around cocktails at the sumptuous Top Of The Yacht bar, open to sea breezes on both sides. It’s a causally spectacular little enclave, perfectly proportioned, and just as perfectly served. You’ll find it hard to tear yourself away at any hour of the day or night.

The aft lido deck features a small pool, and a hot tub just perfect for midnight cocktails, after you wander back to the yacht after a few hours strolling the bar and restaurant scene in Saint Tropez. This is one of several ports where Seadream II offers a number of overnight stops and, unlike certain other ports, it really does live up to the hype; a fabulous, fun place just to ‘stroll and roll’ and take it all in.

While the staterooms do not have balconies, all are outside, and come with marvellous, mulit jet showers in a marble lined bathroom, together with top end toiletries by Bulgari. Panelled in gorgeous cherry wood, each one features a sublime double bed, mini bar, plasma screen TV, and a separate living area.

I thought at first that I would miss having my own balcony but, truth be told, Seadream II is so small, elegant and intimate that the entire yacht feels like your own private terrace. And a slew of Balinese Dream Beds on the upper deck can be reserved-again, free of charge- so that you can sleep outside, underneath the stars. in perfectly secluded privacy. At a time of your choosing, a Seadream steward will wake you with orange juice, coffee, champagne or, indeed, all three. It’s a perfect spot from which to catch the first tender, blush pink flush of an early Sorrento sunrise, and a simply wonderful experience in and of itself.

To sum it up, Seadream II is a small, perfectly formed lady, one every bit as elegant as an exquisite charm bracelet. Yet she is big on style, hospitality, and things to do- or indeed, not to do.

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera...

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera…

You can hang out in a hammock with a glass of ice cold champers, or tear up the sparkling briny on an exhilarating jet ski ride. Be as sociable or as reclusive as you wish, and when it suits you. The kind of people typically drawn to the Seadream experience tend to be affable, pretty easy going types that are very well travelled. For the most part, they share a common aversion to the crowds carried on the big ships.

Come the autumn, Seadream II crosses the Atlantic, and relocates to the balmier, more welcoming climes of the Caribbean. From here, she saunters around the smaller, more secluded yacht havens that were once the playgrounds of seventeenth century privateers such as Bluebeard and Ann Bonney.

Whatever, whenever, the same casual elegance is a constant. But I offer you one well meant word of warning; if you once get to savour the Seadream experience, it will quite likely spoil you for just about anything else.

Other than that, enjoy. It’s all good.

A DAY IN DUBROVNIK

Arriving at the old town by tender

Arriving at the old town by tender

The familiar old port is still busy in summertime
The familiar old port is still busy in summertime

The old city walls have been bleached white by centuries of red hot summers

The old city walls have been bleached white by centuries of red hot summers

Dubrovnik is almost completely intact, a medieval time capsule in stone and marble

Dubrovnik is almost completely intact, a medieval time capsule in stone and marble

Stradun, the ancient main thoroughfare of the city

Stradun, the ancient main thoroughfare of the city

Stradun's pavements are marble, and hellish deadly when wet

Stradun’s pavements are marble, and hellish deadly when wet

Fortunately, they don't get wet too often in summer

Fortunately, they don’t get wet too often in summer

The Pile Gate dates from the fourteenth century

The Pile Gate dates from the fourteenth century

The ramparts of the city make for an amazing contrast with that petrol blue sky

The ramparts of the city make for an amazing contrast with that petrol blue sky

Onofrio fountain traces it's storied history back to the 1300's

Onofrio fountain traces it’s storied history back to the 1300’s

The Venetian influence on the city is obvious here

The Venetian influence on the city is obvious here

The tales those stones could tell...

The tales those stones could tell…

Even the carvings on these corniches is amazing

Even the carvings on these corniches is amazing

And it's back to the old port

And it’s back to the old port

Taking in the coastline from the deck of the Silver Spirit- sheer bliss

Taking in the coastline from the deck of the Silver Spirit- sheer bliss

 

DISNEY DELIGHTS- MEDITERRANEAN CRUISES IN 2014

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

The Disney Magic at Port Canaveral, Florida.

After a very successful 2013 run, the Disney Magic will return to the Mediterranean next year. The ship, recently extensively refurbished in Cadiz, Spain, will offer a series of four, five, seven, nine and twelve night cruises running from May to September, before making a fourteen night transatlantic crossing back to America.

Disney Magic will offer twelve cruises in all, book ended by a twelve night eastbound crossing in May from Port Canaveral to Barcelona, and the aforementioned, fourteen night westbound voyage in September. Almost all twelve of these cruises sail round trip from Barcelona.

Here’s how the cruises in between break down in terms of length, ports and dates:

FOUR NIGHT CRUISES:

A one off departure on August 7th. Ports of call are Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca. One sea day.

FIVE NIGHT CRUISES:

Another one off departure on August 11th, calling at La Spezia, Civitavecchia for Rome, and Villefranche, One sea day.

SEVEN NIGHT CRUISES: 

Five sailings, calling at Villefranche, Naples, Civitavecchia and La Spezia, These cruises depart on May 31st, June 7th, and August 16th, 23rd, and 30th. Two sea days.

NINE NIGHT CRUISES:

Two cruises, this time to the Eastern Mediterranean. Embarkation here is in Venice. Ports of call are Katakolon, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Mykonos and Venice (overnight stay). This one sails on June 26th and July 5th. Two sea days.

TWELVE NIGHT CRUISES: 

First itinerary is from Venice, and sails to Piraeus, Kusadasi, Rhodes, Heraklion, Mykonos, Santorini and Valletta, Malta. A one off sailing on July 14th. Four sea days

Second itinerary from Barcelona. Ports of call are Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Piraeus, Kusadasi, Mykonos and Valletta. Another one off, sailing on July 26th.  Four sea days.

Third itinerary is also from Barcelona, with calls at Villefranche, La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Catania, Naples, Corfu, Dubrovnik, Venice. Sails on June 14th. Note that this cruise ends in Venice. Three sea days.

THE CROSSINGS:

May 19th, Port Canaveral to Barcelona, with calls at Castaway Cay (Disney’s private island experience), Funchal, and Malaga, Twelve nights.

September 6th, Barcelona to San Juan, Puerto Rico, calling at Malaga, Tenerife, Antigua, St, Maarten, St, Kitts, San Juan, Fourteen nights.

This is a really good programme of cruises, with something for everyone. A couple of short breaks to allow first timers to decide if the Disney style of cruising is for them without breaking the bank, some excellent seven nighters that include the rare treat of two full sea days, and a trio of cracking twelve nighters that are more or less a complete sweep of the ‘greatest hits ‘of the region. Again, there are enough sea days on these- between three and four- to allow time to recover from ‘cathedral fatigue’.

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

Disney Magic is mostly homeported in Barcelona for her 2014 programme

But the daddy of them all for me is the sailing on July 26th, that includes both Villefranche and Mykonos on the same itinerary. Probably the two most beautiful ports in the entire region, it is very rare indeed to see them both featured on the same itinerary.

Freshly upgraded, distinctive, and graced with a stance that is instantly nostalgic, the Disney Magic has more than enough areas for the whole family to eat, rest and play through the pleasure spots of the balmy summertime Med. And the ship is not short of adults only enclaves for when you need a little kiddie-lite time. And some shore excursions are even tailored for adults only in certain ports of call.

It’s also worth noting that the standard cabins on this ship are some of the largest in the industry. That gives you somewhere cool and air conditioned to really chill out when you return from a day spent exploring the hot spots waiting for you ashore.

Altogether well thought out as a programme, and definitely worthy of your consideration.

CRUISING CROATIA- A MODERN CLASSIC…

ImageWhen it comes to sheer, rugged beauty, Croatia is probably second only to Norway in the platinum chip premier league of scenic stunners. A serpentine mass of bays, inlets and vast, pine carpeted hills and valleys, the country is blessed with a fantastic summer climate that has been luring yachtsmen and back packers for years.

ImageNow the cruise industry has discovered the place, and a conga line of incredible floating theme parks make landfall on the magnificent coast of Dubrovnik each season. But there is far more to Croatia than simply its fabled former Venetian stronghold.

ImageMost cruises combine Dubrovnik with a string of calls in Greece and Turkey, but I was lucky enough to do a one off cruise a couple of years ago, that concentrated almost entirely on Croatia and, to a lesser extent, Montenegro and even Albania. The photos you see here are just a few of the snap shots of one of the most scenically incredible cruises that I have ever done, or probably ever will.

ImageThe sheer glut of medieval architecture and paraphernalia-much of it amazingly intact- would require the talents of a far more erudite historian than I to adequately describe. But oh boy, those amazing, vaulting walls, turrets and towers are every bit as awe inspiring now as they must have been back in the fifteenth century, when this whole region stood on the fault line between the Venetian and Ottoman empires.

ImageThe stark, petrified fortifications that litter this extraordinary landscape were nothing less than the outer defences of Venice herself; a vast buffer zone made up of conquered vassal states designed to cushion any assault on Venice itself.

ImageMany of these buildings loom above brooding, rocky outcrops that jut out into the Aegean as aggressively as a boxer’s jaw. Look closely, and you will see that many of them are branded with the symbol of Venice- the famous winged lion.

ImageThough each town is truly individual, there is a common thread that runs like a fine line through many of them. Winding, cobbled lanes climb at almost impossible angles up into a seemingly arid hinterland of rugged, rolling hills. Old women clad in black shawls, carrying their wicker shopping baskets full of fresh bread, gossiping about their neighbours as they studiously ignore the more ignorant and ill mannered tourists. Lines of languidly waving washing, hanging above the streets as children pass underneath on their way to and from school.

Image

ImageThat, essentially, is the beauty of this country. The scale is human, manageable. Almost everywhere is easily walkable around the waterfront areas. Your nostrils will pick up the smell of freshly grilled fish at a string of seafront tavernas, freshly offloaded that same morning from the stout, doughty fishing boats that are shackled to the quayside across the pavement.

ImageThere are huge, imposing squares, with marble paved floors and sprawling, Palladian style buildings, where the early afternoon shadows fall across streets once walked by the great and powerful of another era. Vast, vaulting bell towers loom over narrow lanes full of fruit stalls, flower markets, wandering dogs and mooching motor scooters. Past and present in a permanent meld, just as it has always been here.

ImageNights are mellow, subtle and quietly spectacular. Table lights flicker like fireflies across a score of dining venues flanking an ink black sea. Street lights and arc lamps shimmer on that same stretch of gently rippling water, the silence disturbed by the sporadic rumbling of a boat engine as the last excursion boats return at day’s end. Music fills the void between sea and sky as hundreds of people stroll the long expanses of ancient, weathered promenades.

ImageThe whole panorama is played out against a backdrop of thousands of chirping crickets. Yachts as large as small cities ghost in and out of these stunning little bays, many of them half hidden from view behind some seemingly implacable headland. Modern luxury nosing cautiously into a medieval theme park, where the turbulent, torrid past is seared into glowering stone ramparts that now house nothing more deadly than souvenir shops, or ice cream salesman.

ImageAll things considered, a magnificent way to spend a week, and one I cannot recommend enough. Enjoy!

SILVERSEA; SAILING TOWARDS THE SUBLIME…

ImageCNV00007It’s almost dusk on the outdoor terrace of the Silver Spirit as she threads her way nimbly between the vast, soaring rock formations that loom out of the sea like petrified, mythical monsters off the fabled Amalfi coastline.

ImagePassengers lounge on the sofas and circular pods, exchanging their days’ experiences over pre dinner martinis as the gentle lilt of a baby grand piano floods the warm evening sky with some almost ethereal melody. Waiters circulate discreetly, delivering champagne and delicious, hot and cold hors d’ouvres to passengers already feasting on the brilliance of a fiery, flaring sunset that turns a silent ocean into a canvas of liquid gold.

ImageIt is little snatches like this that are at the very heart of a Silversea cruise; moments of sudden, casual indolence and magic that come and go like a conga line of muffled drum rolls. These little slices of the sublime unfold so seamlessly, and with such regularity, that the full emotional impact does not become apparent until much later.

ImageCNV00049CNV00167A typical Silversea room is big enough to spend an entire fortnight in, and plush enough to make the idea an agreeable one. Ninety per cent come with private balconies. On warm summer nights, these are like little private viewing galleries. Champagne on ice, a sumptuous dinner for two, and maybe a side order of starlight as you cruise the Baltic. or perhaps the balmy Caribbean. Maybe even both…..

ImageEvery bathroom is marble lined, with both bath and separate shower, and sumptuous Bulgari toiletries. The bathrobes are big enough to lose yourself in, and soft enough to make the idea feel really appealing. Here, space meets grace and creates a surreal haven of calm, somehow effortlessly afloat on the ocean.

ImageAdd a wall mounted plasma TV with more than five hundred free, pre loaded movies, a fully stocked and replenished complimentary bar, an expansive, commodious separate sitting area, plus a bed comfortable enough to qualify as a dream destination in it’s own right, and you get an idea of why these Silversea suites are a genuine hazard to activity of any kind. But, with all that’s on offer outside, you really should take the effort to look beyond your comfortable cocoon.

ImageTake an hour or more over an amazing breakfast on the outdoor terrace as you cruise slowly around the headland, and into the heart stopping bay of Kotor. Maybe a glass of champagne to go with that multi -faceted feast? On Silversea, all drinks and speciality coffees are included in the fare, twenty four hours a day.

CNV00182Silversea ships deal with numbers in the low hundreds, rather than the mid thousands. The result is a vast amount of personal space, and lack of lines for anything. A world stripped of tannoy announcements, bingo marathons and rock climbing walls. Here, the accent is firmly on the understated, the standards never less than superlative.

ImageCuisine really is gourmet standard, and round the clock. Open seating dining- where a table for two can become one for ten if the whim suddenly takes you- is the norm. Where else could you have steak and Belgian waffles for breakfast as you sail into Saint Petersburg, or upstream on the fabled Saigon river?

ImageCNV00193These are only a few salient highlights of what makes any Silversea cruise such a deliciously addictive experience. There are, quite literally, many hundreds more. Those who have already made such a journey will understand. Those who wonder….maybe it’s time you embarked on your own, personal voyage of discovery?