GENTING HK BUYS GERMANY’S LLOYD WERFT SHIPYARD

It’s now official; Genting HK, parent company of Crystal Cruises, has bought Germany’s hugely prolific Lloyd Werft shipyard in a 17.5 million Euro deal that gives the company something like fifty percent of the land area, and a full seventy per cent of any new  build business.

The deal is the precursor to the construction by Lloyd Werft of a trio of new, 100,000 ton ice strengthened cruise ships for Crystal itself.

In recent years, the yard has been instrumental in either building, refitting or lengthening some six cruise ships for Norwegian Cruise Line. Set up as far back as 1857, the yard has a whole slew of building and refitting work to its credit.

Among other things, Lloyd Werft carried out regular refits and periodic overhauls of both the QE2 and the SS. Canberra. And, over the winter of 1979-80, the yard also carried through the ground breaking conversion of the SS. France into the SS. Norway- the first true mega cruise ship.

The acquisition of Lloyd Werft allows obvious synergies in respect of constructing vessels for both Crystal and Norwegian Cruise Line, it’s part partner under the Genting banner.

As ever, stay tuned for updates.

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft's greatest achievements

The classic SS. Norway was one of Lloyd Werft’s greatest achievements

THE NORWEGIAN COASTAL VOYAGE- WHAT IT IS, AND WHAT IT ISN’T

There is a tendency in some quarters to think of the Norwegian coastal voyage these days as a cruise operation.

It isn’t.

What it is- and always has been- is the only practical way to provide a year round link to the scattered communities that cling to the long, rocky coastline of Norway on a regular, reliable schedule. The ships carry food, fuel, electrical goods, cars and even animals between ports ranging from Bergen in the south, to Kirkenes in the far north, day in and out. And, inevitably, they also carry a vast number of passengers travelling between these different, often isolated communities.

But the sheer romance and languid beauty of the voyage has long since attained a legendary status and, even before the Second World War, the stout, sturdy little vessels of the run- the Hurtigruten- had begun to attract a small but steadily growing tourist trade. Today, that trade has grown immensely, and persuasive marketing has enhanced the appeal of the adventure, especially in the freezing winter months.

And the new ships of the Hurtigruten have been subtly constructed to appeal to tourists, too. With beautiful and expansive panoramic lounges, hot tubs, and luxurious cabins that, in some cases even include balconies, they do indeed resemble small, beautifully decorated cruise ships. The exteriors, too, display something of a modern cruise sensibility these days.

But that is where it pretty much ends. Anyone expecting to find the glut of entertainment and facilities of the modern cruise industry is in for a disappointment. There are no elaborate, extra tariff restaurants, no rock climbing walls, and no huge, Vegas style show lounges. The Hurtigruten ships instead proffer up an environment where less is most definitely more.

There is usually one main restaurant that serves up simple, hearty local fare on a three meals a day basis; breakfast, dinner and lunch. While much of this is done in the form of an elaborate buffet, the main hot dishes revolve around fresh, local fare such as locally sourced meat and potatoes and, of course, some of the best salmon in the world. What it might lack in variety and perceived sophistication is more than made up for by the sheer freshness and good taste.

And the real entertainment is actually Norway herself at any time of year. From the shimmering, ethereal beauty of the winter time northern lights to the incomparable, majestic spectacle of the endless summer sun, Norway is a stunning, twelve thousand mile long visual smorgasbord at any time of the day and night, One without equal on this planet in my opinion.

So these ships do not constitute a ‘real’ cruise experience- whatever that is, anyway. What they do offer is a unique, far more ‘up close and personal’ way to see and savour many off the beaten track sights and sounds of Norway that many big ship passengers simply never, ever see. The very nature of the voyage- and it is a voyage rather than a cruise- allows passengers to interact with the daily comings and goings of Norwegian people in a setting devoid of kitsch or pretension. This is Norway in the raw; rich, deep and beautiful, but seen from the comfort of a safe, agreeable environment.

The great thing about Hurtigruten is that it does not pretend to be something that it is not. It is a solid, reliable and extremely comfortable way to see the real Norway, at any season of the year, in very agreeable surroundings. It is not an all singing, all dancing, expertly choreographed floating theme park swishing lushly through the ‘greatest hits’ ports, but rather a long,meandering series of hopefully rewarding interactions with a matchless hinterland, and the proud people that cling to it’s harbours and valleys year round.

Worth a look? Over to you.

Norway is amazing at any time of the year

Norway is amazing at any time of the year

MAGELLAN TO NORWAY- AN OVERVIEW

If anyone had told me that I would one day cruise over to Norway on a former Carnival fun ship, I would have recommended that they seek serious mental help.

I mean no disrespect to the Carnival brand and product by saying that. But it was the sight of one of those boxy ships, still replete with the famous ‘whale tail’ funnel standing tall and proud, that really threw me a bit of a curve ball.

And yet, there we were, ghosting on a still, late summer dawn into the jagged fastness of Flam aboard the Magellan, the new flagship of Cruise and Maritime Voyages. And it was certainly a moment to savour.

Built originally as the Holiday for Carnival in 1985, she was the first of a trio that were, in effect, that company’s first real mega ships. In their original fun ship guises, these vessels were hugely successful in the Caribbean.

As times and tastes changed, Carnival brought newer, more expansive tonnage on line. Holiday was first hived off to Iberocruises, the Spanish subsidiary of Carnival, to sail Mediterranean cruises as the slightly restyled Grand Holiday.

Then. late last year, she became the latest, surprise acquisition for Cruise and Maritime Voyages, the adults’ only UK based cruise company. An extensive transformation from European styled party boat to something more matronly and elegant was clearly in the offing. And how.

Magellan now strikes me as a mature mix of the best of her original Carnival features- large cabins, broad open sun decks, and the famous, long interior boulevard-and some thoughtful new touches in the shape of her vastly remodelled interior décor, and the well thought out revamping of public spaces.

The result is a ship that nails it near perfectly for the UK market. At 46,052 tons and with a capacity for 1,250 passengers, Magellan retains the warmth and intimacy of the CMV brand, while paradoxically giving passengers half as much space again as aboard the venerable Marco Polo.

Of course, the real trick was whether or not the line could successfully revamp her interiors to suit the more subdued tastes of her new target audience. The answer is a pretty definite yes.

The original Carnival glitz and neon has disappeared like a line of dancing showgirls behind a final curtain. Instead, cool, rich creams and finely styled, Scandinavian pine tables form the hub of a long, linear procession along the boulevard. Understated, sunlit and quite casually spectacular, it is a truly wonderful people watching area in its own right.

Much kudos, too, for the smartly re-imagined area around the former children’s wading pool. This has now been turned into a water feature, surrounded by a lawn area sprinkled with comfy sofas and chairs. With a semi circular stretch of deck overhead and blankets available everywhere, this aft facing little eyrie is actually the most spectacular lounging area on the ship. In fact, it would not look at all out of place on the likes of Regent or even Crystal.

The two main dining rooms- Kensington and the Waldorf- span the full width of the ship, and offer dinners in a traditional, two sitting rota. Oddly, the opening times for the two rooms are staggered some fifteen minutes apart on most evenings.

Upstairs is an expansive lido, facing aft, which also serves casual fare all day, while offering many of the main restaurant dishes at night in a breezier setting. This also features a bar and pizza corner that seemed to operate almost 24/7.

During the day, an additional, centrally located grill area serves up burgers, chicken and wraps.

Our six day cruise took us over from London’s cruise terminal at Tilbury to three show stopping Norwegian classics; Eidfjord was an amazing natural confection of jagged mountains carpeted in deep ranks of pine forests, plunging waterfalls and still silent fjord waters where the silhouette of our ship was reflected to almost crystal perfect clarity.

In lofty, rolling Flam, we rode the famous train up through a landscape of some twenty kilometres of thundering streams, vast, snow capped mountainous gorges, over and past sunlit valleys sprinkled with scores of silent, grass roofed houses, to the summit at Myrdal. Stopping en route at the vast, thunderous waterfall at Kjellfossen was a highlight never to be forgotten.

Our last port of call was cool, patrician Bergen, with its immaculate Bryggen area; a warren of old wooden Hanseatic houses, miraculously preserved and restored as a shopping centre that abuts a vibrant quayside. It dominates a waterfront cradled amid seven low, rolling hills, and the scenic panorama form atop Mount Floyen- accessed by a spectacularly crafted funicular train journey- is simply exhilarating. The whole of the great city sprawls out below you like some incredible, multi hued patchwork quilt.

Magellan spent six days threading her way deftly through this vibrant, soul stirring hinterland with almost effortless ease and poise. I have to say that the ship has space and grace by the bucket load; the conversion has been superbly carried through in the public areas and outdoor venues to create a uniquely welcoming ‘new’ ship.

A word about cabins; the insides and outsides are all of roughly similar dimensions, quite generous in size all round, and with beds that convert from twins to a double. Even better news is that CMV charge only a 25% single supplement for many of these.

In short, Magellan is soothing, comfortable and sybaritic, and she offers some seriously good food and service. At the prices she charges, this ship is an excellent choice, and a great addition to the UK cruise circuit. Very much recommended.

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

Flam; a real highlight of our Magellan cruise

FRED’S FAB FOUR- A BIG DAY OUT FOR FRED. OLSEN CRUISE LINES

Today’s first, historic rendezvous of all four Fred. Olsen cruise ships in Bergen is ample cause to celebrate the more intimate style of voyaging that the company is famous for. But, way beyond even that, it is the celebration of a Norwegian company, long imbued with deep and historic links to Great Britain, that enjoys a unique travelling relationship with the British public.

As such, I thought it might be worth a quick look back at each of the ‘Fab Four’ as they line up for their big day out in what remains one of the most beautiful and popular ports of call on the company’s cruising roster.

BLACK WATCH was originally built in 1972 as the Royal Viking Star, the first of three nearly identical new sister ships commissioned by the then fledgling Royal Viking Line. She sailed with that legendary company through until 1991, when she was transferred to Norwegian Cruise Line, sailing first as the Westward and then as the Star Odyssey.

She was bought by Fred Olsen, entering service for them in November, 1996 as the heavily refurbished Black Watch. Ever since, the ship has enjoyed consistent, popular success as an elegant, highly styled cruise ship, offering itineraries ranging from two night mini cruises, to full, three month round the world voyages. At a svelte 28,000 tons, the Black Watch carries some 820 passengers in total.

BRAEMAR was originally ordered as the Crown Dynasty for the now defunct Crown Cruise Lines, and entered service in 1993. After a long spell as the Norwegian Dynasty of NCL, the ship was laid up at Aruba, where she was purchased by Fred. Olsen, and then extensively updated in Germany.

She entered service for Fred. Olsen in August, 2001 as the Braemar, and she soon became very popular indeed with her yearly season of winter Caribbean fly cruises, based out of Barbados, for which her intimate size was perfect. In the autumn, she also cruises from the Canary Islands, sometimes as far south as West Africa, and the recent winter resumption of her Caribbean itineraries after an absence of a few years, has been very well received.

Coming in at around 24,000 tons, Braemar currently has a capacity of around 929 passengers.

BALMORAL is currently the company’s flagship, and the largest passenger vessel ever to fly the Fred. Olsen flag. The 43,000 ton Balmoral was originally built in Germany as the Crown Odyssey in 1988, for the now sadly vanished Royal Cruise Line. In the late nineties, one of her fleet mates was the Star Odyssey, now also sailing for Fred. Olsen as the Black Watch.

She was an elegant and luxurious ship from the start, famed for her beautiful art deco interiors. After stints with both Orient Lines and NCL, for whom she sailed as the Norwegian Crown, she came over to Fred. Olsen in 2008.

After a thorough and very comprehensive refit, the ship entered service as Balmoral in 2008. Ever since, she has operated on longer, globe spanning voyages each January, and offered a full season of cruises to Norway, the Baltic, the Adriatic and Iberia during the rest of the season.

Updated for British tastes, this wonderful ship still has much of her original striking features and styling intact. She continues to be very popular with passengers wanting to cruise on an elegant, eminently seaworthy vessel that still offers an intimate, more personalised style of cruise experience. She has a passenger capacity of around 1,778 in total.

BOUDICCA is the near identical twin sister ship of the Black Watch. She, too, began life for Royal Viking Line as the Royal Viking Sky back in 1973, as one of the most exclusive and luxurious vessels anywhere at sea. She sailed with that company for eighteen full years, until 1991.

There was then a period where she was briefly used by Birka Line, NCL, Princess Cruises, Iberocruises, and even Star Cruises out in Asia. But this period of rapid change came to an end with her purchase by Fred. Olsen.

She entered service in February, 2006, after a massive refurbishment and with new engines, as the Boudicca, named for the legendary queen of the former Iceni tribe. In this new role, the ship has been very popular, offering itineraries as diverse as two night party cruises, right through to full, thirty two day round trips, out to the Caribbean and back.

Boudicca has also been something of a trail blazer for the fleet, sailing on cruises form ports as diverse as Belfast, Tilbury, Greenock, and Port of Tyne. With a tonnage of 28,000, the Boudicca can accommodate some 900 passengers in all.

DID YOU KNOW??

* All four of the ships in the current Fred. Olsen fleet have been cut in half and lengthened in the course of their careers.

* All four of them have sailed for Norwegian Cruise Line at some stage in their history.

* The entire number of berths offered across the entire fleet is still less than those aboard the monolithic Oasis of The Seas.

*  Next year, Balmoral will replace Boudicca on her summer season of cruises from Port of Tyne, the cruise port for Newcastle.

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

Art Deco lobby staircase on the Balmoral

FOUR FOR FRED; OLSEN ORGANISES HUGE FLEET DISPLAY IN BERGEN

In what amounts to a historic first, all four cruise ships in the current Fred. Olsen fleet will meet up in Bergen on Tuesday, July 28th.

Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca and Black Watch will all arrive in the Norwegian city at around 0800, and depart to a specially arranged fireboat salute at around 1800 that same evening. Between them, the popular quartet are expected to deposit around four thousand passengers ashore to enjoy highlights such as the Fish Market, Mount Floyen, and the historic harbour front warren of the Bryggen.

Clearly inspired by the huge publicity surrounding Cunard’s series of rendezvous featuring the ‘three Queens’, Fred. Olsen has chosen one of its most popular and perennial ports of call as the backdrop to the fleet gathering. The event is collectively being tagged as the ‘4B’s in Bergen’.

It will also mark the first time in many years that Boudicca and Black Watch- still fondly remembered as the Royal Viking Star and Royal Viking Sky respectively- have been seen together in what was once their traditional home waters.

At the end of what is sure to be a momentous and historic day for all concerned, the fleet will put to sea, one at a time, in the following order; Balmoral, Braemar, Boudicca, Black Watch.

Flagship Balmoral was originally built in 1988 as the Crown Odyssey for the now defunct Royal Cruise Line, while Braemar started life in 1993 as the Crown Dynasty of Crown Cruise Lines. She came to Fred. Olsen in 2001, after several years sailing for Norwegian Cruise Line as the Norwegian Dynasty.

Interestingly, all four ships have undergone ‘chop and stretch’ operations at some stage, each of which involved the cutting in half of each ship, and the addition of a prebuilt mid section. It’s a distinction that is unique to the Fred. Olsen fleet.

All things considered, this should be quite a special event, and I’m sure it will attract a fair bit of coverage on the day. As always, stay tuned.

All four cruise ships in the FOCL fleet will meet in Bergen this coming July 28th

All four cruise ships in the FOCL fleet will meet in Bergen this coming July 28th

JOHN MAXTONE-GRAHAM; AN APPRECIATION

Like many, many others in the maritime community, I am incredibly saddened to hear of the death today of John Maxtone-Graham. My thoughts are with his wife, Mary, and his family at this time of great personal loss.

I personally owe John Maxtone-Graham an unfathomable debt; it was his taut, articulate prose, at once both factual and poetic, that served as an inspiration and a benchmark for me on so many levels. I did not read The Only Way To Cross and it’s subsequent pair of eloquently wrought follow ups, so much as devour them.

His books were crafted with the same loving care and exquisite attention to detail as the great ships that he wrote about with such verve, flair and authority. He wrote about the likes of Normandie, Titanic and Norway in such a vivid and compelling way that those grand, dramatic ships suddenly became very real once more, emerging bows on from the mists of time. The sounds, sights and smells of another era danced through my mind like wisps of Atlantic fog.

And the man was unfailingly courteous; immaculately attired, his shipboard lectures were always packed to the gills. We would sit there, spellbound, as he told us stuff that many of us already knew by heart. And often, his take on seminal maritime events just cut straight to the core of a story with effortless ease.

Consider this John Maxtone-Graham classic quote; ‘There will never be a coherent account of the last hours of RMS Titanic, because nothing coherent actually happened…..’  It’s a stark, simple statement that goes like a laser to the heart of that awful night in April, 1912; a surgical scalpel, simple, elegant and true. I was hooked on his work from the moment that I read that line.

And I was lucky enough to meet the great man; he signed a copy of one of his books for me and answered the questions of this awed, star struck young neophyte with the calm, polite patience of a man who has heard it all before. And he did it with breathtaking ease and matchless authority.

So, I bid John Maxtone-Graham a very thankful and heartfelt bon voyage as he no doubt continues on his own, very personal, fantastic voyage of discovery. It is my fervent hope that he now finds the answers to those compelling questions from maritime history that even he could not resolve in this world. No doubt he will find those answers to be fascinating. And I, for one, would give anything to read his take on those answers.

Good sir; I cannot thank you enough for the inspiration and education that you provided me with. Your prose remains as proud, sharp and magisterial as the prow of the great Normandie herself. And, like that incomparable French liner that he so adored and described so well, John Maxtone-Graham was, truly, a one off; a paradigm that defies replication. Merci.

DAY THREE ON THE MARCO POLO; FLAM, NORWAY

Good morning, Flam

Good morning, Flam

By now embraced amidst the stunning scenic sprawl of the Norwegian fjords, the Marco Polo sailed slowly through the night toward our next rendezvous with Mother Nature. Sometime in the early hours, while most of us were still sleeping, the anchor went down just off the small town of Flam, located deep in a branch of Aurlandfjord.

Brilliant sunshine greeted me as I padded up on deck for an alfresco breakfast with a side order of sublime visual splendour on all sides. Plump, fluffy clouds hung like becalmed, ghostly galleons in a powder blue sky. Ranks of pine tress marched down to the still, silent edge of the fjord like ranks of Grenadier guards. Ashore, coaches sat at the edge of a vast, rolling meadow carpeted with a riot of multi coloured fauna, waiting to take the passengers on their day’s adventure.

I have always considered Flam to be one of the true highlights of any Norway cruise. It has an air of surreal, unhurried calm that seems to affect everything and everyone around it; a Norwegian Brigadoon, writ large in glowering granite, gushing waterfalls, and a dozen different shades of dazzling greenery. It never fails to grab the heart like a vice.

But if Flam has one highlight- quite literally- then it is unquestionably the amazing, twelve and a half mile scenic railway. Ironically, this was inaugurated by the occupying German army in 1940, after years of construction.

Twelve and a half miles of railway runs from the small station at Flam, up to the peak of Myrdal station, some 2,845 feet above the glassy expanse of the fjord. No less than twenty tunnels were hewn out of the unforgiving local granite for a full third of its length. The upward gradient climb ratio is one in eighteen.

The Flam railway. All aboard...

The Flam railway. All aboard…

Yet these statistics are mere drum rolls. The train journey you can embark on these days is one of the most enduring scenic rail journeys anywhere on earth, and little wonder. At the height of the tourist season, ten trains a day will make the journey in either direction between Flam and Myrdal. The track is only a single stretch for most of the ride, so the passage of north and southbound trains has to be carefully staggered.

Going upwards, the journey takes around forty minutes. Descending, you can add another ten or so minutes to that- the train needs to break at several places. But, statistics aside, the cumulative sights of the journey are, quite simply, magnificent.

The train- an immaculate, deep green conga line of steel carriages and polished wood interiors, rattles, groans and shudders through a hinterland of rolling meadows dotted with bales of harvested hay, before beginning the sharp, exhilarating haul up toward Myrdal.

Framed by huge picture windows, a vast, visual smorgasbord of gushing streams and vaulting bridges runs parallel to the track. Small houses by railway cuttings are flanked by vast, jagged pine forests that disappear in a flash as the train thunders through some darkened tunnel, only to emerge into a skittish rain squall that splatters the windows like shrapnel.

Low, rolling grey clouds hang literally at window level, almost close enough to touch. A vast granite edifice looms above you, bisected by streams that look like the strands of a spider’s web. Rain thumps in vengeful torrents on one of the platforms en route. A gaggle of commuters rush the train as it shudders to a brief halt. Seconds later, the sun comes out again.

The climb begins

The climb begins

From my seat, I can see the gravity defying series of twenty one hairpin bends of the road built back in 1896, with the sun casting long, spectral shadows across the hinterland beyond it. There is a a brief, photographic stop at the vast, thunderous Kjollfossen waterfall; a vista made even more improbable by the sudden appearance from behind a rock of a local singer, dressed as a legendary maiden, who then serenades the stunned passengers from behind the cover of a cluster of rain sodden rocks.

The run back down allows me to capture some- but by no means all- of the sights I have missed on that giddy, mercurial ascent. As the train shudders and slows to a halt back in the flower carpeted fastness of Flam valley, I scrape my jaw up from the top of my shoe. In a state of awed, stunned disbelief, I contemplate the sight of tiny, tidy Flam, and the rest of our day ahead.

By now the rain is back; splattering the platform and the pretty little railway museum that adjoins it. So the idea of a beer tasting in a local pub- a kind of disney-esque recreation of an ancient Norwegian dwelling- seems like a great idea. Wet outside, it is high time for the inner man to get wet as well.

The building is called the Aegir Brewery- it’s all reindeer rugs and carved, implausibly high wooden seats. It might not be original, but the six different beer samples, each served on a wooden platter, are wonderfully authentic stuff; fantastic micro brews, crafted on site. The provenance of each is explained to us in turn, allowing each to be sampled and enjoyed. And, make no mistake, enjoy them I most certainly did.

The might of Kjollfossen

The might of Kjollfossen

The outdoor drizzle did nothing to dampen my enthusiasm for Flam itself; small, and as perfectly crafted as a charm bracelet, it is almost chocolate box pretty. Even through a curtain of grey, misty drizzle, the whole place looks just too good to be true.

As our tender bumbled back across the inscrutable calm of the fjord, the rain stopped as abruptly as it started. A wave of sunlight bathed the whole, surreal spread of looming mountains and waterfront cafes in a clean, vibrant light. Ragged, black ranks of pine forests suddenly assumed a gorgeous, deep green patina as the sun flitted through the trees to glint on the cool blue surface of the fjord.

It turned warm, too. The skies cleared completely as the late afternoon turned gloriously bright, showcasing the staggering natural beauty surrounding us to perfection. Back on the teak lined terrace of Scott’s, I nursed a tequila sunrise as the Marco Polo swung idly at anchor in this surreal summer playground. It was all nothing less than five star soul food.

What a place. What a day. What’s next?

Check in later to find out!

Awesome. Up close and personal

Awesome. Up close and personal

And calm is restored...

And calm is restored…

FARSUND; A NORWEGIAN IDYLL

Gorgeous Farsund waterfront

Gorgeous Farsund waterfront

I had never heard of Farsund before. It was an unknown port of call tacked on to the end of an eight day cruise. I wasn’t expecting much from it, to be honest.

It is a port that most cruise ships never visit. Low profile and obviously off the mainstream cruising radar. Hence my low expectations.

Boy, was I wrong.

Check out these pictures of this compact, beautiful little port of call. Farsund is chocolate box pretty, compact and uncrowded. In fact, I found it one of the highlights of the cruise. A rare, undiscovered gem, with all of the charm, but none of the crowds.

Of course, the fact that we had a picture perfect day weather wise did not exactly hurt, either. But, in any event, Farsund is worth a few hours of anybody’s life.

Cruise lines, please take note. It really is far out in Farsund.

 

The harbour is made for strolling

The harbour is made for strolling

Talk about a town on the water

Talk about a town on the water

Farsund town hall

Farsund town hall

Clapboard houses are typical of Norway

Clapboard houses are typical of Norway

Across the harbour panorama

Across the harbour panorama

Water and walkways

Water and walkways

Beautiful rolling greenery surrounds Farsund

Beautiful rolling greenery surrounds Farsund

Gabled houses on the waterfront

Gabled houses on the waterfront

Just outside the town

Just outside the town

The weather was perfect for strolling

The weather was perfect for strolling

Close up of the town hall

Close up of the town hall

Some people have cars to get around...

Some people have cars to get around…

Probably not so appealing in winter

Probably not so appealing in winter

Looking back at the Farsund marina

Looking back at the Farsund marina

SEADREAM I HEADS FOR GERMAN REFIT

After a few days being showcased to travel media and press alongside HMS Belfast in London, the ultra deluxe Seadream I has left London for Bremerhaven to undergo a seventeen day refit.

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

The six star luxury yacht will undergo a complete hull cleaning and repainting process, while some of the public rooms will benefit from new fabrics and carpeting. All suites and cabins will be enhanced with the addition of flat screen television sets, On the technical side, there will be an overhaul of some air conditioning units, as well as some gallery upgrades. The total projected cost of this overhaul is said to be between $4-5 million.

The yacht, originally built as the Seabourn Goddess I in 1984, has been sailing for Seadream since 2003, as one of a pair that have been consistently lauded as the highest rated vessels in the world. With all outside accommodation for 112 guests, both sisters are among the most sought after travel experiences afloat, as well as being very lucrative on the charter circuit.

Post refit, Seadream I will embark on a series of voyages in Scandinavia and the Norwegian Fjords, including a headline, first ever round trip voyage, beginning and ending in Dover this August.  Speaking on board Seadream I during the London stay over, recently returned CEO, Atle Brynestad, stressed that the company was in no hurry to expand, despite being financially buoyant; a surprising show of ‘steady as she goes’ in view of recent expansion by most other lines in the deluxe category.

Despite their age, both yachts are said to be as sound as the day they were built, regular, lavish and sympathetic refurbishments have helped to keep them at the apex of the luxury sector at sea. With an almost one to one crew ration, all inclusive pricing and exquisite food and service- think lamb chops for breakfast- the twin Seadream sisters offer a stylish,highly personalised  smart casual ambiance that is light years removed from the conventional cruise experience.

The aft pool

The aft pool

Following her sojourn in northern waters, Seadream I heads south to the Mediterranean to rejoin her identical sister ship, Seadream II. Both yachts will then redeploy to the Caribbean for their winter seasons, which sees them offering primarily seven night voyages around the smaller, more off the beaten track idylls that still echo the vibe and lifestyle of the ‘old’ Caribbean.

With an emphasis on water activities such as kayaking, windsurfing, and use of the jet skis carried on board, the Seadream experience is quite possibly the most up close and personally immersive on the entire Caribbean circuit. And with her refreshed new look and stance, Seadream I will be in pole position to showcase this market to the full over the coming winter.

SOMETHING REALLY DIFFERENT; CRUISING NORWAY

Flam, Norway

Flam, Norway

Something quite miraculous happened up near the Arctic Circle on the third week in January. For the first time in months, the tip of the sun peeped shyly once more over the line of the horizon. After a long and soul destroying winter, daylight is beginning to return to these fabled northern lands. From now on, the days will lengthen dramatically, and soon the nights will vanish altogether.

From the end of May onward, a sublime, permanent daylight will bathe those same waters for months on end. With it comes an explosion of flora and fauna that mushrooms across the quilted patchwork fields of Norway like some unstoppable, Technicolour stain. You might see butterflies flitting skittishly around, even as herds of reindeer thunder across the tundra in the distance, looking for scrub to feed on.

Draped in summertime finery, the twelve thousand miles of fjords that form the stunning Norwegian coastline take on a truly amazing stance. Jagged ranges of slate grey mountains, their peaks still dusted with snow, are reflected to absolute perfection in deep blue water so still and pure that it seems to resemble the surface of a mirror. Streams that look as fine as spider’s webs from a distance evolve into thunderous waterfalls that tumble and roar into the fjords.

Stave church, Olden, Norway,

Stave church, Olden, Norway,

Nearby, random groups of cattle graze among a backdrop of brightly painted clapboard houses with grass roofs, usually clustered around some doughty stave church many centuries old. On the water, swans and small boats glide and fuss upstream past a constant procession of local ferries and looming cruise ships, chock full of passengers in total thrall to the amazing panorama unfolding all around them.

Of course, the great unknown is always the weather. The locals joke that if you don’t like it, just wait ten minutes and it will change. There’s a lot of truth in this; sun can turn to fog in minutes, and vice versa.

Yet even through a veil of mist, Norway is a heart stopping experience. Wreathed in fog, this legendary land of ghosts, witches and trolls assumes a guise that even the Brothers Grimm would have been hard pressed to describe. And the sight of a pine shrouded mountainside, emerging from it’s misty shroud, is almost impossible to take in, still less to forget.

Of course, Norway is not a cheap date. Prices ashore are high, but the overall return on a visit to this stunning, natural scenic smorgasbord approaches the stratospheric. Norway truly is one of nature’s most priceless, peerless gifts to humanity. And all of this is before you start to factor in the almost chocolate box pretty cities such as Bergen and Oslo.

Stunning Norwegian scenery

Stunning Norwegian scenery

Brimming with life, fabulous seafood, bustling waterfront bars and fantastic, almost fairy tale Hanseatic architecture, these fabled cities dot that fantastic coastline like a series of random, eclectic exclamation marks. In fact, they are entire destinations in their own right, especially when seen against the matchless, almost endless glow of a languid Norwegian summer night.

And, of course, the best way to see the highlights of this Scandinavian show stopper is by sea. Only a ship allows you to meander in and out of the sweet spots, past and along the most dramatic scenery on earth, while enjoying the convenience of packing and unpacking only once.

Only a ship can shift so seamlessly through this vast, mesmeric panorama of light, beauty and sheer, heart stopping grandeur. And it should go without saying that no land based tour or hotel can offer anything like the inclusive food, accommodation and facilities of a cruise ship.

Norway. Awe all the way. Get out there and enjoy!