REMEMBERING THE NORWEGIAN DREAM

Before Norwegian Cruise Line went on a mega ship building binge, there was a time in the early nineties when the company slowly began the transition from running smaller, sold out cruise ships such as the Starward, to a series of medium sized new builds that formed the mainstay of the company for the better part of a decade and a half.

The first of these new ships was the Seaward, which entered service in 1988. She was strictly a one off vessel, but she did pave the way for a new pair, to be built in the same French shipyard as the beloved company flagship, the ageing SS. Norway.

These twin sister ships would be called the Dreamward and the Windward. At around 42,000 tons each, they introduced some radical new concepts for NCL when they first debuted. Of the two, it was the Dreamward that arrived first, in November of 1992. She was showcased to the UK travel trade at Greenwich on a rainy winter Sunday but, even then, the new ship shone through.

The Dreamward featured a centrally located main pool, with the sun decks in front of it stacked up in a series of tiered steps. A modified version of this arrangement would later become a feature of the new Carnival Destiny class, the first cruise ships in the world to exceed the 100,000 ton mark.

Aft, a series of curved, window walled terraced restaurants formed a graceful cascade at the stern, offering stunning views out over the ship’s wake. A second, smaller plunge pool was located just behind them.

Inside, every cabin- both inside and outside- featured a small, dedicated sitting area that was separate to the bedroom. And, bowing to a rising tide of demand, the new ship also featured a handful of balcony cabins.

The Dreamward was formally christened by her godmother, Diana Ross, in December 1992. Almost immediately, she entered service on the popular, seven night eastern and western Caribbean cruise circuit out of Miami. For the 1993 summer season, she moved north to New York, from where she operated a series of seven night cruises to Bermuda.

The centre piece of these cruises was a full, three night stay alongside in Hamilton, and these proved to be immensely popular. By this time, sister ship Windward was also in service, sailing to Alaska in the summer, and then joining the Dreamward out of Miami in the winter months. With little real variation, it was a routine that the two sister ships would follow over several seasons.

In 1997, Norwegian Cruise Line decided to lengthen both ships. In January of 1998, the Dreamward was dispatched first to a German shipyard, and there cut in half to facilitate the insertion of a pre built new mid section, some forty metres long.

In addition to this, both the mast and the top of the funnel were fitted with special hinges that would allow them to be ‘flipped’ to one side, to facilitate passage under the lower bridges of the Kiel Canal. Once refurbished, NCL planned to use the ship on a series of first time, pioneering cruises out of the United Kingdom to the Baltic capitals. And, with her new look came a new name; the ship was restyled as the Norwegian Dream.

In this guise, her tonnage increased to around 50,000, and her passenger capacity was increased. from around 1,250 up to 1,750.

The first season of these twelve night Baltic sailings were well received. Each one featured an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, as the highlight of a circuit that typically included such ports of call as Warnemunde, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Tallinn, Helsinki, and sometimes Oslo as well. In this role, the Norwegian Dream became something of a trend setter; a role she would play out during the remainder of her service with NCL.

Then, in August of 1999, the Norwegian Dream collided with a container ship, the Ever Decent, in the middle of a thick English Channel fog. The bow of the cruise ship crumpled like rice paper, but she was never in any danger of sinking. Mercifully, there were no injuries on either ship.  Her mangled prow had to be rebuilt, at great expense, back in Germany. Following this, she re-entered service just in time for the winter time Caribbean peak season.

As newer, more amenity laden tonnage entered the NCL fleet, the Norwegian Dream was sent further afield during the winter season. She sailed a series of superb, round trip cruises in South America and to the Chilean fjords for several seasons, usually voyages of seventeen days’ duration. It was while she was on one of these that the Norwegian Dream was involved in a second collision, when she hit a barge while leaving the port of Montevideo in December of 2007. Fortunately, the damage to neither ship was serious.

The Norwegian Dream also started the tradition of winter cruising from New Orleans for NCL, running on seven night circuits to the western Caribbean. But, by 2008, it was clear that the ship no longer matched the new company profile. Her sale was expected imminently by many.

That year, the Norwegian Dream ran one final season of cruises to Bermuda from Boston, in a kind of valedictory farewell to her original role. Her sale to Louis Cruises had by then been announced and, at the end of that season, the ship sailed over to Greece, ready to begin a new life.

It never happened.

Though Louis did indeed take up the purchase of her fleet mate and fellow ‘Bermuda boat’, Norwegian Majesty, the Greek company declined to go ahead with also taking the Norwegian Dream. Louis Cruises cited ‘mechanical issues’ as a major hurdle. For a full three and a half years, the Norwegian Dream sat on life support in the Aegean, making occasional short runs between the islands to try and resolve the issues.

Finally, at the end of 2011, the ship got under way once more and headed for a dockyard in Singapore. Here, she would be transformed into the Superstar Gemini for NCL’s parent company, Star Cruises, to operate short, port intensive cruises in the Far East.

Heavily refurbished and in many ways re-invented, the Superstar Gemini enjoyed a happy reunion with her sister ship. The Norwegian Wind was by now sailing as the Superstar Aquarius for Star Cruises, and the two sister ships are now once more sailing in harmonious tandem service.

This $50 million renovation also brought her passenger capacity back down to around 1,532- a sensible decision. On a Bermuda cruise in June 2008 that I made aboard her, the Norwegian Dream– fully booked for the sailing- had seemed really crowded.

I was also lucky enough to sail on her in June of 2000, up to Scandinavia, after the repairs to her bow. In the opinion of many, the lengthening of the ship spoiled the formerly good passenger traffic flow through the ship but, having never sailed her as the Dreamward, I am not really in a position to comment.

This pioneering ship deserves more respect and appreciation than she often got back in her NCL days. The Norwegian Dream was a stylish, well thought out design that combined a wonderful external harmony with more than a dash of elegance. Like her sister ship, she served the company well during it’s ‘lost’ years of the late 1990’s. In fact, in many ways, she and her sister helped lay the foundations for the miraculous recovery that the current company enjoys to this day.

The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008

The Norwegian Dream docked in Hamilton, Bermuda, in June of 2008

THE BIG EASY; TRYING TO WOO NEW CRUISE BUSINESS

Holland America is one of the lines being courted by the port of New Orleans

Holland America is one of the lines being courted by the port of New Orleans

In a move to bolster its cruise business, the city of New Orleans has apparently been in talks with a number of mainstream cruise lines that have not hitherto home ported a ship there. Names in the frame include Celebrity, Disney, Holland America, MSC, and even Princess Cruises.

The move comes hard on the heels of a decision by Royal Caribbean International not to base a ship in the famed Louisiana port any time through 2015-16. Current regular New Orleans staple, Serenade Of The Seas is being redeployed in April of 2015, possibly out of Hong Kong.

That would leave the port with a brace of year round,  Carnival ships in residence; the Fantasy class Carnival Elation, which operates short, four and five night cruises to the highlights of the Yucatan, and the far larger, first of class Carnival Dream, which offers seven night sailings to such western Caribbean destinations as Cozumel, Grand Cayman and Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

In addition, Norwegian will send the 92,000 ton Norwegian Dawn round to New Orleans in November 2014. The ship will make some twenty one, seven night western Caribbean cruises through to April, 2015, when she relocates to Boston for her series of summer cruises to Bermuda.

While ideal as a cruise port for passengers on the American continent, New Orleans presents something of a logistical hurdle for UK and European fly cruise passengers, as there are no direct, point to point flights between the UK and New Orleans. On my last couple of cruises out of the city, I used scheduled services that necessitated flight changes in Atlanta and Washington DC, respectively.

The Louisiana port is also some way inland, a sixty mile sail to and from the Gulf Of Mexico. In the past, thick fog has delayed the passage of different ships along this waterway on several occasions; causing delays and sometimes even shortened sailings.

Still, it is to be hoped that the gap left by Royal Caribbean will indeed be filled. With Disney Cruise Line currently only fielding a four ship fleet, it seems more likely to me that any potential new ‘Big Easy’ resident will come from the fleets of the far larger Princess or Holland America stables.

This seems more likely, as the focus of both Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises seems to be on Asia.  As for MSC, that line will soon be withdrawing its only dedicated, USA based year round ship- MSC Divina- back to Europe next spring. So a new arrival in New Orleans would seem very unlikely.

As always- stay tuned.

AMTRAK ACROSS AMERICA- LETTING THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN

Comfort with a capital 'C' is standard on Amtrak

Comfort with a capital ‘C’ is standard on Amtrak

America is possibly the most scenically diverse country in the world. From the stunning national parks of Yosemite and the still, silent, pine clad fjords of Alaska, to the forest of steel and glass that is Manhattan, the landscape is as eclectic and engaging as it is magnificent and monumental.

Trying to see it all is about as practicaL as trying to stuff a cloud into a suitcase. But if you really do want to get up close and personal with this constantly unravelling landscape, then it makes sense to do it by train.

Amtrak is America’s national rail network and, like those of many other countries, it has its share of problems. Big investment is needed in the infrastructure- the rail tracks, bridges and stations- that are it’s backbone. And no, it’s record for punctuality is not the greatest. Key to enjoying the Amtrak experience is time and some flexibility.

But that same, extensive network permits the creation and completion of some truly epic itineraries. You could combine New York with Miami, via an overnight rail journey, or take the short, three hour Surfliner run from Los Angeles to San Diego (see previous blogs). You could enjoy an overnight run from Chicago to New York, or even swagger on into sultry New Orleans. 

So what is the Amtrak experience like, then?

The overnight trains are vast, double deck leviathans several carriages long; the first impression is of a gunmetal coloured conga line of ponderous rolling stock that seems to stretch into infinity. Once on board, you have two options in terms of accommodation.

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view...

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view…

Coach class seats are wide, roomy and come complete with leg rests. If you want more privacy and comfort, small and compact roomettes sleep up to two people each. These come complete with twin reclining seats that converts into a lower bed, with a second, pullman berth that pulls down at night. Showers and toilets are located in the same carriage, and the roomette option also includes all meals in the price.

Bigger still are the bedrooms, which also sleep two people. Two of these rooms can can interconnect to accommodate families of up to four. Each comes complete with a large picture window, armchair, and has its own shower and toilet. Again, all meals are included in the cost. If you can go to the expense of one of these, this is definitely the way to go.

Food wise, the dining cars serve breakfast between 6.30 and 10.00. Lunch (reservations required) runs from 11.30 to 15.00, and dinner (again, reservations required) is served up between 17.00- 21.30.  Long distance trains also usually have a lounge car that sells drinks, snacks, and offers panoramic windows for watching the scenery unfold all around you.

All things considered, Amtrak is a very comfortable and evocative way of letting America come to you through a series of amazing vistas. The coaches are also set up for wi-fi, and that naturally increases the options available for diversions on even the longest journeys.

It’s also a unique way to meet and interact with the locals in a relaxed, casual environment that no air travel could ever replicate. And the hassles of flying and airports in general are done away with in a single stroke.

But it’s the sheer, exalted notion of ‘rolling on the rails’ that really pushes all the buttons for anyone possessed of even an ounce of nostalgia. Consider crossing the entire continent. Los Angeles to New York. From sea to shining sea.  This is America, up close and personal, as generations of travellers once discovered her. Close enough to touch, and still vast enough to awe, amaze and enchant.

Nice, eh? Well, go on- get out there!

OVER THE NEXT FEW WEEKS- COMING UP IN THE CRUISE WORLD

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Carnival heading for New Orleans

Quite a few things worth noting here, actually, as we begin the long, slow slide into winter. A possible new build. maybe a new cruise line, a big refurb, and some big shifts in deployment are all here in the mix;

AIN’T NO SUNSHINE

After an initially troubled start up following her unprecedented, bow to stern refit, Carnival Sunshine (the former Carnival Destiny) will leave Barcelona on November 1st for a sixteen night transatlantic crossing to New Orleans. With her goes the last deployment of any of the ‘Fun Ships’ in any European cruising region until at least 2015.

Carnival Sunshine will operate seven night Western Caribbean itineraries from New Orleans through April 2014, when she comes around to Port Canaveral to offer six and eight night round trip Eastern Caribbean itineraries.

SERVING UP INDIAN…..

Word is circulating about the likely start up of a new, Indian based cruise line, aimed at tapping the potentially huge local domestic market. Royal Asian Cruise Lines is said to have already bought the laid up Gemini, last used as an accommodation ship at the 2012 London Olympics. The line is also said to be in the market for up to four more, second hand ships of a similar size and vintage.

Final financing arrangements were due to take place in Barcelona this month. The cruise line will initially operate in the Indian Ocean, including the waters around Sri Lanka.

SEABOURN’S FAB FOUR?

Ultra luxury Seabourn Cruise Line is said to be on the cusp of ordering a fourth vessel in the highly successful, 32,000 ton Sojourn class. If so, it will give the line a consistency across the fleet, and a potential depth of world wide deployment that is going to be hard to match. Meanwhile, first of the initial trio, Seabourn Pride, will leave the fleet to join new owners, Windstar, in April next year, with the other two smaller sisters completing the transition in 2015.

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

Midships pool on the Louis Aura

LOUIS SWINGS SOUTH

With the season for short Aegean and Greek Islands cruises coming rapidly to a close (the last few sailings are in early November)  Louis Cruises is sending two of its ships across the Atlantic on full winter charters.

Louis Aura, currently sailing as the Orient Queen, will be heading for Brazil, to operate a series of itineraries varying in range from between three to seven nights, concentrating mainly on the north east coast of Brazil.

Louis Cristal (familiar to many as Norwegian Cruise Lines’ former Leeward) is off to begin a series of pioneering, seven night fly cruises from Havana, Cuba to the Caribbean. The Louis Cristal is under charter to a Canadian tour operator. Embarkation is also going to be possible for these cruises in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

NOW, VOYAGER

Regent Seven Seas’ Seven Seas Voyager will enter dry dock in Marseille on October 14th  for an eight day refit that will see full refurbishment of the Horizon and Observation lounges with new carpetings, furnishings, and a new bar in each. All penthouse suites will also get a comprehensive makeover.

In addition, all balconies will receive new teak decking, and outdoor relaxation areas will be enhanced with new deck furniture. The Constellation theatre and the atrium will be refurbished with new soft fittings, and marble enhancements.

Carpeting throughout the 708 guest all balcony, all inclusive Voyager will be replaced, and new art works added right throughout the ship.

Seven Seas Voyager is due to resume service on October 23rd, with a ten night sailing from Rome to Venice.

I’ll be on board for that, so expect a more comprehensive appraisal soon after. Stay tuned.

FIVE GREAT TRAIN JOURNEYS WORTH CONSIDERING…

Scenery en route is something else....

Scenery en route is something else….

Tired of flying? If the thought of one more airport experience makes you start losing the will to live, that’s the time to start considering alternatives.

Rail journeys can be a truly epic adventure, especially so if it’s an itinerary you’ve always longed to go with. You’ll need more time to play with, as well as a willingness to see the journey itself as a huge part of the adventure, and not merely just as a means of getting from A to B.

With those thoughts in mind, here’s a few rail journeys that I hope might just fire the imagination…..

TRAVELLING TO THE SOUTH OF FRANCE

This is an absolute beauty. Start at London’s ornate St. Pancras station with a glass of champagne, before boarding one of the sleek, highly styled Eurostar expresses for a two hour journey through the Channel Tunnel, and straight into the heart of Paris.

If time allows, grab another glass of bubbly and some fine food at Le Train Bleu; it’s an atmospheric, belle epoque restaurant in the Gare du Lyon station that definitely enhances the experience. From here, you can board the TGV that will whisk you through the heart of France, before rolling slowly towards the coast, and eventual landfall in cosmopolitan Marseilles or beautiful, balmy Nice. Altogether a great way to arrive in a quite magical setting.

TORONTO TO NEW YORK

A thirteen hour transit starts at Toronto’s Union Station. Stock up with food and goodies for your journey before you go; the catering on the cross border trains is pretty rudimentary.

The route runs via the border crossing at Niagara, where everyone has to do customs and immigration, down on through the rural heartlands of New York State; Albany and Buffalo are just a couple of the famous names en route.

The scenery is highlighted by huge swathes of lush, rolling greenery, dotted with white clapboard villages that fly past in a dreamy blur. You rumble over vast, winding rivers and through long abandoned industrial heartlands, before a final, magical early evening arrival among the gleaming spires of midtown Manhattan.  Tip; pay a little extra and spring for one of the huge business class seats for extra comfort and personal space. It’s worth it.

Barcelona awaits at journey's end

Barcelona awaits at journey’s end

OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO BARCELONA

You can do this one from London, again taking the Eurostar through the Channel Tunnel to Paris Gare du Nord. Here, you’ll connect with the special sleeper trains that run overnight through to the Catalan gem of Barcelona.

The trains have couchette berths in a number of configurations, and these also include the cost of an evening meal with wine, as well as breakfast the following day. The journey routes through the heart of France, and then through the Pyrenees into Spain proper, before eventually making the grand entry into one of Europe’s most beautiful and swaggering cities. Quite a way to go, and quite a city to savour at journey’s end as well.

AMERICA COAST TO COAST

Either east or west, try rolling across an entire, unforgettable continent. From L.A. to New York, or vice versa. Take one of the spectacular Amtrak double decker trains, complete with dining cars and separate sleeping cabins, and savour the spectacular hinterlands of mainland America.

Pit stops en route could include a few days in sassy, bohemian New Orleans, cloud scraping Denver, and even Al Capone’s old stamping grounds in classy, cosmopolitan Chicago. Roll into proud, patrician Philadelphia before ending your adventure in the forest of glass, steel and sheer excitement that is New York. Or make up your own route, and just go with the flow.

Your American coast to coast journey can start- or finish- in iconic Los Angeles

Your American coast to coast journey can start- or finish- in iconic Los Angeles

NORTH YORKSHIRE MOORS RAILWAY, UNITED KINGDOM

Short by comparison with the other options here, but sweet in its own right. Eighteen miles of beautifully meandering scenery between the villages of Grosmont and Pickering, in North Yorkshire. A scenic smorgasbord par excellence, and all savoured from the nostalgic cocoon of a real steam hauled train, to boot.

You’ll see chocolate box pretty stations and bubbling, splashing streams that meander through lush, flower carpeted meadows dotted with idly grazing cows and sheep. Some of the runs even feature evocative old Pullman carriages, and offer some seriously indulgent at seat dining options. A lovely option for a celebration on a warm summer evening.

So; there you go. Five of the best. Or just make up your own railroad adventure, and get out there. Whatever- wherever- enjoy.

A HUNCH FOR SUNDAY BRUNCH? WHAT IT IS, AND WHEN TO HAVE IT….

Piggy isn't feeling very well, either...

Piggy isn’t feeling very well, either…

Today being a Sunday, it seemed as good  day as any to tackle that most tasteful and indulgent of all weekend options; the delightful, dainty, ditzy little confection known as Sunday Brunch.

The clue lies in the name; an amalgam of breakfast and lunch. Many of us are simply in no fit state to haul our serially over indulged carcasses out of bed at the crack of dawn after a seriously heavy Saturday night but, by the time we do rouse ourselves out of our self inflicted stupor, we suddenly find ourselves often hungry enough to gnaw the hind leg off a broken down old horse; dead or alive, it’s all the same when you’re hungry.

Hence, the happy little juxtaposition that we call Sunday Brunch.

How long should a brunch last? Hell, how long is a piece of string. As long as the mimosas hold out, then the world is your oyster. Or waffles. Pancakes. Whatever.

At it’s best, a Sunday Brunch shared with friends is a great excuse to catch up, or an equally good opportunity to perform a verbal autopsy of the previous evening’s shenanigans. Who did what with/to who, and all that kind of thing. A good brunch is not so much a mere gossip shop as it is an open-all-hours mall.

You really can say no, you know

You really can say no, you know

That said, any decent brunch should combine certain immutable elements. There should be a superb, live jazz combo as a backdrop. Nothing lifts a Sunday morning hangover as perfectly as hot coffee and cool, mellow jazz.

And, of course, you need mimosas.

The mimosa is to brunch as Tom is to Jerry, or Simon to Garfunkel; symbiotic and inseparable. Personally, I’ve always said that the orange juice is what really animates the inner man or woman. Others think the champagne helps. Whatever the case may be, mimosas certainly get the day flowing in a much more positive direction than any other hair of the dog known to mortal man.

South Beach in Miami is the perfect location for brunch, with it’s stunning Art Deco architecture and backdrop of subtle, slowly waving palms. Many places on ‘SoBe’- such as the legendary Clevelander- do a particularly good ‘all you can eat and drink’ set up for around thirty dollars. The one at the Tides, just along the street, used to be really good as well. Further down the strip, the News Cafe brunches are the stuff of legend, and rightly so.

The danger here is that you lose track of time and, before you know it, the outdoor drag acts are gearing up for the usual Sunday afternoon frolics at the Palace. A day that began with such good intentions has somehow smeared into a fuzzy, dreamy, purple flared twilight. And you love everybody. Oh well, just that one last mimosa then…

Miami. Give yourself to the Dark Side....

Miami. Give yourself to the Dark Side….

But nowhere- and I mean nowhere- does Sunday Brunch quite like New York City. I think it’s a combination of the city’s unique architecture and cafe society that really rolls the ball down the mountainside here; Manhattan is one of the most serially self indulgent places on the planet, with a bewildering diversity of dining choices to eat, drink and play in. Summertime sees these venues spill out onto the streets of the city. In all of my travels, there are few things I have discovered to match the delightful decadence of Sunday Brunch in New York.

So go give it a try; the only rules are that there are no rules in terms of choice. From eggs benedict to sumptuous, table side carved Chateaubriand, you’ll feed both the inner man and the inner soul.

And, of course, you get the jump at putting those awful rumours to bed. It wasn’t you at all, was it? Chandelier? Pah. Who hasn’t done THAT before?

Let he or she who is without guilt- or, indeed, glitter- cast the first bread roll. As they say in New Orleans- laissez le bon temps roulez….

THINGS FROM MY BUCKET LIST….

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view...

At the end of a cross USA train journey, to be greeted by this view…

Most people who know me would say that I’m well travelled. My general response to that is that I travel well. And, for sure, I do.

But looked at in either context, a simple fact remains the same; the more we experience of the world, the more we become painfully aware of how little we actually have seen. Travel is like peeling an onion; just when you think you’ve got down to the heart of it, you find another hundred layers, lying in wait to be unravelled.

And that is exactly as it should be, too.

To truly travel, the mind should always be constantly exploring new horizons and, at the very least, contemplating new stuff. Many of us have what we call a ‘bucket list’; a set of trophy things we want to do, sights we yet want to see,

Trust me, I’m no different in that regard. So, without further ado, here’s some of the adventures I still want to experience at least once in my lifetime. Hang on- this could get messy….

TRAVEL BY RAIL ACROSS THE USA

From sea to shining sea. West to East. Starting in Los Angeles with a stay on the dear old Queen Mary, and then making my way on those fabulous Amtrak double decker trains, all the way to New York.

I’d make a two night stop in certain cities along the way; New Orleans, Chicago, and Philadelphia come first to mind. There would be a final couple of nights in New York and then- as a truly grand finale- I’d sail back across the Atlantic to England on the Queen Mary 2. 

That’s living, all right.

THREE WEEKS IN THE GREEK ISLANDS

This would be the complete opposite to my normal, organised routine. Just an open return flight ticket to Athens, as little luggage as possible, and then just island hopping for three weeks, using the local ferries like buses.

Where to? Wherever the mood and the music takes me. A day here. Three days there. Two days anywhere. Repeat as necessary until you become so chilled out that you’re almost liquid.

So many choices, and all dependant on a mood, a whim, People watching and drinking wine in the sun. Repeat as necessary. Jacket and tie? I don’t think so. Not for this one, Colonel.

Rio bound??

Rio bound??

SAILING DOWN TO RIO

Anyone with even a hint of romance in their soul has a sacred duty to sail down to Rio; the most sultry and sensuous city south of the Equator. Why sail? Because tourists fly. And you are not a tourist; you’re a child that has to follow the sun. We don’t ‘do’ mundane, chico. That’s not what we’re about, is it? That’s not how we roll.

And, if you are going to arrive in Rio, you want to make that spectacular, dramatic entry from the sea. Sailing in past Corcovado and the statue of Christ the Redeemer. And do it in style; arrive on the biggest, most swaggering and spectacular ship you can find. You owe it to Rio. And you owe it to yourself. Don’t let me down.

PADDLE WHEELER ON THE MISSISSIPPI

In the immortal words of Churchill, D; Oh, yes…

I want to sit on a rocking chair on some huge, hulking great wedding cake of  a paddle steamer, and pretend I’m Huckleberry Finn while I sip on a mint julep. I want to swagger down one of those impossibly over fussed, Gone With The Wind style grand staircases. To roll on out of New Orleans, with the paddle wheel thrashing up the river behind us, and a dixieland jazz soundtrack ringing in my ears. I still want to be able to hear that music until my dying day. Yes sir, I’ll take some of that Mississippi mud pie, with a big slice of old style steamboating.

Is there more? Oh Lord, yes. Lots. But these are the brightest stars I’ll be aiming to reach for. Bucket list? The only thing that I’m sure of with any real certainty is that I’m going to be needing a bigger bucket.

How about you?

MESMERISING MYKONOS

ImageMykonos. Even saying it sounds good. As zesty as lemon splashed souvlaki, And every bit as irresistible.

ImageWhereas most of the Greek islands are archaeological theme parks, devoted to Zeus, Apollo and all the other ancient deities, Mykonos bows her sun-kissed head solely to the god of Hedonism.

ImageNo other island in this sparkling sea of gems quite outshines Mykonos in the twenty carat, indolent people watching stakes. It combines the ‘stroll and roll’ loucheness of sassy New Orleans with the laissez- faire lifestyle of the south of France to create a style all of it’s own.

ImageIt all comes together most perfectly at sunset. The Greek island sunsets are legendary, but those in Mykonos draw out the crowds like some kind of mellow, mystical bat signal. The mood and vibe is very similar to Key West, it’s freewheeling soul mate across the Atlantic.

ImageThese are best viewed from the patch of barren scrub in front of the famous windmills on the headland or, if you get there early enough, from one of the waterfront bars and restaurants that wind along the sinuous, spray kissed sprawl of Little Venice.

ImageIt is nothing less than Mother Nature staging full on theatre. A slow, subtle lowering of a spectacular, blood red curtain on a sea of polished glass. With friends, with wine, and always with a sense of wonder, the surreal, splendid spectacle will reduce even the most blase lotus eater to a jaw dropping jumble of awed, smiley silence.

ImageThe island is a famous party playground in the summer months; as indelibly identified with modern, cutting edge dance music and clubs as Ibiza or South Beach. But, if that’s not quite your thing, there’s a place I’d like to share with you…..

ImageJackie O’s is a bar that sits right at the end of the main drag on the waterfront. Walk all the way along the pavement- watch out for the vicious, snarky pelican and the stumbling, often sozzled local transvestite (the latter has a habit of falling into the water) and right on to the end, please.

ImageAvoid going up into those tempting, cobbled lanes with all those nice little shops. There will be time for all that tomorrow. Just keep walking and…..

ImageYou are here.

ImageJackie O’s was the place where Aristotle Onassis used to woo the widowed Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, back in the 1960’s. Even now, it seems frozen in that time period.

ImageInside the two level bar, plain white walls are adorned with pictures of the famously reclusive duo, taken back in the day. But the real magic happens outside.

ImageHere, you can slouch across cream coloured sofas that surround low slung tables. Flickering lamps glow against the fast, reddening sunset. The beer is ice cold; the breeze warm, almost silky.

ImageAnd the soundtrack…. melt into the velvet warmth of Dusty Springfield’s peerless version of The Look Of Love, or some deep, soul stirring Nina Simone track from way back in the day.

ImageMusic. A magical sunset. A matchless location. The whole potent cocktail comes together as perfectly as a Busby Berkeley dance routine. It stirs a quiet storm in the soul. A moment as ethereal as the flutter of a butterfly’s wings; one as precious as gold. A moment that you never, ever forget.

Somehow, only Mykonos seems to create this amazing, platinum chip vibe. It never fails. And, by the way, mine’s a Mythos. Cheers!