A NORWEGIAN ‘WHERE ARE THEY NOW’- SHIPS YOU LOVED AND THOUGHT YOU’D LOST (Updated)

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

Louis Aura is still instantly recognisable as the old Starward

In the legion of seemingly lost and vanished ships, few companies can equal the turnover of Norwegian Cruise Line. And yet, again, you would be surprised how many of their smaller, mid sized ships still survive to this day, and exactly what they are up to now.

So, here we go; a Norwegian edition of ‘where are they now’. If an old particular favourite isn’t listed, then apologies in advance, but the likelihood is that the ship in question has been scrapped. Sorry.

When Knut Kloster started his barnstorming, revolutionary Caribbean cruise line in 1968, it was known simply as Norwegian Caribbean Line, or NCL. Kloster fired the starting gun with a quartet of white hulled, racy little dream boats that were space age at the time. And, incredibly, some of these are still doing the rounds today.

His funky little Sunward II actually began life sailing for Cunard, as the Cunard Adventurer. Bought by Norwegian in 1977, the Sunward II spent many years on the short, three and four day cruise runs from Miami to Nassau, and the company’s private island of Great Stirrup Cay.

She’s still in service with Louis Cruises, as the Coral, but will be renamed as Louis Rhea next year for a full programme of Mediterranean cruises. Externally, she’s almost as she was in her Norwegian days.

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Several of her fleet mates have made the trek over to Louis Cruises, to such an extent that the Louis fleet is almost an NCL Part Two. The Starward, built in 1968, is still sailing as the Orient Queen. Shortly due to be renamed Louis Aura, the veteran ship is off to Brazil over the winter to operate a series of three to seven night cruises for a local tour operator.

Louis also has the Louis Cristal, at one time the Leeward. She was the successor to the Sunward II on the short cruises from Miami and now, by a supreme irony, she is part of the same fleet. This winter, she is off to operate a series of ground breaking Caribbean cruises from Havana, in Cuba, under charter to a Canadian tour operator.

Last for now in the Louis beauty pageant is the Thomson Majesty, chartered by the UK based Thomson Cruises, but still owned by Louis. The ship, fondly remembered by many as the Norwegian Majesty, sailed for many years on the Boston to Bermuda run, and she also offered winter cruises out of Charleston. Like her fleet mates, she is essentially unchanged from her Norwegian days.

The other great beneficiary of old Norwegian Cruise Line tonnage has been parent company, Star Cruises. Back in the early nineties, Norwegian built a pair of more or less identical sisters, the Dreamward and the Windward (they were nicknamed ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ by industry wags). Later, after being lengthened, these two ships were restyled as Norwegian Dream and Norwegian Wind, respectively.

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Thomson Majesty still betrays her Norwegian Cruise Line interiors

Norwegian Wind was transferred to Star Cruises and renamed Superstar Aquarius. Slated to go to Louis, Norwegian Dream was declined, and spent five years in warm lay up, before finally re-entering service for Star Cruises this year as the Superstar Gemini.

Another Norwegian stalwart found her way to an unlikely new life with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Their feisty little Braemar actually spent a long period as the Norwegian Dynasty, a ship that sailed summer itineraries in Alaska, and winter Caribbean cruises.

And the current flagship of the Fred. Olsen fleet is yet another ex-Norwegian stalwart. Although originally built in 1988 for Royal Cruise Line as the stunning Crown Odyssey, Balmoral spent two full decades as part of the extended Norwegian ‘family’, including two spells with the now defunct Orient Lines. Stretched during the course of her 2008 conversion, many of her interiors are still instantly recognisable from her early days.

So, there you go. And if some of your fondly remembered favourites are in this list, now you know where they are. And if you’re hankering to renew old acquaintances, now you have what amounts to an absolutely perfect excuse. Have fun, and happy sailing.

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.

WINTER BRAZIL SEASON- WHO’S SAILING THERE THIS YEAR?

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Silversea will take you to Rio in sumptuous style

Now that autumn’s cold, clammy fingers are tickling our collective windpipe, many of us start to succumb to an almost pathetic sense of yearning for clear skies, sparkling seas and yes, good, warm sunshine. If the Marie Celeste had only been able to drift like our collective thoughts, then she would never have been becalmed in mid ocean…..

Assuming you’re ready to take the plunge (pun wholly intentional) then; where to? If the Caribbean seems overcrowded, or the Canaries too ‘same old’, then options look as if they are beginning to stretch thinner than the credibility of Donald Trump’s wig. The Far East too far out? The winter Mediterranean not warm enough? Dubai just ‘duh’?

So- how about Brazil in particular and, indeed, South America in general?

OK. Halt. Who goes there? Well, you might be surprised at just how many options you actually have, my friends…

Late each autumn, a conga line of cruise ships flee the leaden European winter and flock like so many exotic birds of passage to the warmer, far friendlier waters of South America. Every kind of ship and line, from budget to mass market, to deluxe, all inclusive icons of the cruise trade. And they do it for very good reasons.

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal...

..as, indeed, will classy Crystal…

For starters, there’s that sultry, samba fuelled fire cracker otherwise known as Rio De Janeiro. But Brazil is far more than just Rio. There are stunning beach resorts like Ilhabela, Paraty and cool, swaggering Recife. Argentina rolls out the red carpet in sultry, full blooded Buenos Aires, the tango capital of the world. An overnight stay here on most cruises is almost mandatory. Quite right, too.

Uruguay is often overlooked and forgotten in the South American beauty pageant, and yet Montevideo is one of the most stately, graceful monuments to sheer indolence and tropical cafe life that you’ll find anywhere south of the equator. In short, there are no shortage of places, parties and sheer pleasurable experiences to be had down under the balmy tropical Latin skies.

You just have to decide what ship and style is right for you.

Louis Cruise is operating the Louis Aura (ex-Orient Queen) in those waters over the winter. She’s small, intimate and unassuming, but well fed and chock full of charm and fun. Cruise lengths are everything from three days to a week. The ship is an absolutely great budget choice for the region.

Latin flavours are on offer from both Iberocruises and Pullmantur, The two Spanish operators both have a ship or two ‘down Rio way’ during the winter, offering predominantly seven day cruises. Of the two, Pullmantur has the advantage of being all inclusive, and generally offers bigger ships. Both products are great value for the fares charged.

MSC know how to get the samba started

MSC know how to get the samba started

Staying in that Latin groove, both Costa and rival MSC have big, amenity laden megaships aplenty down here for the season; a hangover from the days when Italian liners routinely made line voyages from Italy down to South America. The big draw with both lines is the vast number of available balcony cabins that they offer.  These are probably the best party boats in the region if you’re looking for some serious hedonism, but the lines to get off and on them at some ports might not be everybody’s cup of tea. Good prices, though, and again, itineraries are typically six and seven days, with a few shorter cruises in between.

Touch more international? Royal Caribbean usually has a pair of its gorgeous Vision class ships down here, with their updated eating areas and vast swathes of floor to ceiling glass windows. They, too, will offer six and seven night round trips- typically from Santos, the port for Sao Paolo- but they will also fold some shorter, three and four night jaunts into the mix as well. And, don’t forget that Royal Caribbean now offer a handful of single cabins on many of their ships as well.

Want luxury? Fine. Sassy Crystal, sophisticated, European accented Silversea and classy, all inclusive Regent Seven Seas all offer winter holidays on wonderful, expansively opulent ships, where tailored service, gourmet food and a classically styled cruise experience are all in the mix. Longer itineraries- typically in excess of ten days- allow for a far more immersive experience, but at a price.

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Costa has specialised in South America for decades

Most of these lines will offer you packages including airfare, hotels and transfers, but what if you want to book your own flights? Well, here’s a few ideas….

British Airways offers a string of flights from all over the UK through Heathrow, and many of these are often on a code share with it’s Spanish partner, Iberia, over Madrid.

Air France/KLM also offers good regional connections to both Brazil and Argentina over it’s main hubs at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport and Amsterdam Schipol.

You could also do worse than to take TAP Air Portugal. They fly from their main hubs in Lisbon and Porto, with connections from the UK available from Gatwick, Heathrow, and also a limited number from Manchester in the winter months.

So-food for thought? Throw off your winter woolies, put on your dancing shoes, slap on the factor thirty sun screen (lots of it) and- get out there!

BRAZILIAN CRUISES ON THE LOUIS AURA, WINTER 2013-14 (Updated)

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Louis Aura will sail from Brazil throughout the winter of 2013-14

Brazilian company, CVC, has released a series of winter itineraries for the specially chartered Louis Aura, currently sailing in the Greek Islands as the Orient Queen on a three and four night schedule from Piraeus. The deployment to Brazil is the first for Louis, although the ship herself did a season under charter in these waters a few years ago.

The 16,000 ton ship-fondly remembered by many as the pioneering Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line- will offer some sixty-three cruise options, commencing with a two night itinerary on November 28th 2103, and concluding with a final sailing on March 26th, 2014.

Itineraries will run from two to seven days in length, and concentrate mainly on the northern region of Brazil. Departures from Recife and Cabedelo feature ports of call such as Fortaleza, Natal, and the stunningly beautiful group of islands of Fernando de Noronha.

There is no attempt to compete with the series of hectic, seven days sailings usually undertaken by the mega ships. Also, by eschewing the ‘greatest hits’ ports such as Buzios and Rio De Janeiro, the charter company is offering a very different kind of experience to that served up on the mainstream ships.

A key factor here is the small size of the ship, which allows her to access smaller, more off the beaten track itineraries not open to the competition. Another is her maximum capacity of around eight hundred passengers, which should facilitate quicker embarkation and debarkation.

Louis Aura has one main dining room and an alfresco buffet that also has an indoor area, there are five bars, a two level casino, and two outdoor pools. One of these is partially shaded from the elements. None of the cabins have balconies, but even the smallest insides have private facilities. Pack lightly; the dress code is smart casual, and exactly right for these tropical waters.

There is a large show lounge at the forward end of the main deck. Most public rooms run along the length of deck number five, with the Mermaid Restaurant at the stern. This room has a wall of floor to ceiling glass windows that overlooks the ship’s wake.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Louis Aura also has a library, internet centre and small shopping area, as well as an upper deck, Balinese themed spa.

CVC celebrated its fortieth anniversary in 2012, and is well known as one of Brazil’s biggest tour providers.

No details of the transatlantic crossings have yet surfaced. It is not yet clear whether Louis Cruises will sell these voyages.

From mainland Europe, TAP Air Portugal operates services to Recife from it’s main hub at Lisbon’s Portela International Airport. The city is also served by a number of mainstream US carriers.

With very grateful thanks to Daniel Capella for his help in linking in to the CVC itineraries.

12/12: Daniel Capella has kindly informed me that these cruises are now being operated by the smaller Orient Queen II, better known to many as the former Spanish cruise ship, Vistamar.

LOUIS GOES SAMBA- LOUIS AURA TO SOUTH AMERICA FOR THE WINTER

Indoor promenade

Indoor promenade

In a move that has surprised many in the cruise industry, Louis Cruises has announced that it’s 1968-built Orient Queen, formerly the pioneering NCL Starward, will go on charter to South America this year. Itineraries have yet to be made public.

Like her Cuba bound fleet mate, Louis Cristal, the Orient Queen usually goes into warm lay up over the winter after her season of cruises around the Greek islands. The new South American charter marks the first winter deployment of the ship for several years. She will be renamed Louis Aura to coincide with it.

The renamed ship will be a welcome contrast to the mega ships of Costa and MSC which traditionally dominate the winter South America trade. At just under 16,000 tons, she has eight decks, with a lower capacity of 820 passengers accommodated in some 355 staterooms, and served by a crew of 337.

That smaller size should allow the Louis Aura to provide a diverse range of itineraries to smaller ports. The downside for some might be the fact that the ship has no balcony cabins. Insides in particular are quite small, with little storage space but, as the ship is quite informal, dressing up is not a big thing, and packing fairly lightly is the order of the day.

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

Sitting area of one of two penthouses

Louis Aura offers passengers a main dining room that operates in two sittings for dinner, plus an aft facing outdoor buffet that serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Most of the public rooms are set along the length of one deck, from the forward facing show room to a couple of lounges, and the main restaurant at the stern. This has a lovely wall of glass windows looking out over the ship’s wake.

The Mermaid Restaurant

The Mermaid Restaurant

Side view of the solarium

Side view of the solarium

Main pool area

Main pool area

There are shopping facilities, plus hairdressing and styling services. Uniquely, she also features a windowless, two level casino, wrought out of the space that was once the original cinema. There is also a quartet of small elevators.

Solarium seating area

Solarium seating area

There are two pools, one partly covered by a triple-tiered, glass enclosed solarium that doubles up as a late night music venue and disco. An upper deck, Balinese themed spa has an indoor Jacuzzi, available at a small charge.

Pool area at night

Pool area at night

On the European cruises, cabin breakfast is available for a small surcharge. Whether the dining options might be tweaked to suit the tastes of a much more late night, predominantly Latin crowd remains to be seen.

The Louis Aura is scheduled to finish up her current series of Greek Island cruises the second week in November. No one has yet announced whether the transatlantic crossing from Athens to South America will be carrying passengers, but it would certainly make for a fascinating proposition.

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Small ship means ease of access to smaller places

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

Aft deck of the Orient Queen

This is definitely one to keep an eye on. I enjoyed a short cruise out of Limassol on the ship last year (see previous blogs), and I think she might be a feisty little contender for the South American trade. Stay tuned for itinerary updates as they become available.

LOUIS CRUISES- LOOKING AHEAD

CNV00158Louis Cruises has settled into 2013 with an upgraded programme of three, four and seven day cruises in their home waters around the Greek islands and Turkey. But it is the itineraries for next winter that really mark out a different strategy for the Hellenic mainstay line.

The main programme of three and four day cruises operates out of Athens until November, with the Louis Olympia and Orient Queen taking pride of place. Each Friday, both ships set out on a mid morning departure that takes them to Mykonos that same evening, before arriving in Kusadasi on Saturday. The next morning finds them in Heraklion, Crete, during the morning, with a late afternoon, five hour stay over in Santorini. Both ships return to Athens on the Monday morning,; for these cruises, embarkation is also possible in Kusadasi as well.

The four day cruises depart on Monday morning, and again call in at Mykonos that same evening. Tuesday morning is spent in Kusadasi, and the afternoon and early evening showcases a call at Patmos.

Wednesday allows for a full day in Rhodes, and Thursday once again features a morning in Heraklion, and the evening in Santorini, before returning to Athens early on Friday morning. Once again, embarkation is possible in Kusadasi, as well as in Rhodes.

CNV00018Louis is also offering a few seven night cruises on the Orient Queen next month, also from Athens. These basically extend the four night trip by adding a welcome overnight stay in Mykonos, and a call in to sultry Istanbul. These itineraries can also be booked as round trips  from Istanbul as well.

Orient Queen then moves over to Cyprus, from where she will operate a series of two to five day cruises around the Greek Islands from Limassol.

But the really big splash comes this winter when, in association with Canada-based Cuba Cruises, Louis will send the Louis Cristal out to Cuba, to begin a series of seven night, round trip Caribbean fly cruises from December through April. Embarkation will be possible both in Havana, and in Montego Bay, Jamaica. Though the cruises are chartered, and mainly for the Canadian market, Louis will also be selling cabin space on board.

Even more surprising is the news that Orient Queen- soon to be renamed Louis Aura- will be sent to South America over the winter, to operate a series of cruises there. This represents a welcome contrast in a cruising arena that has been the sole preserve of the mega ships up until now. Having sailed on the ship last year, I can vouch for the fact that she is a perfect size for getting into the smaller, more secluded ports that the big ‘floating resorts’ have to bypass because of their size.

CNV00145Other welcome news is that next year will see the return of the popular Coral, under the new name of Louis Rhea. At present, she is expected to sail alongside the much larger Louis Olympia on the three and four day ‘greatest hits’ cruises of the Greek islands and Turkey.

I’ll be providing a more detailed look at the experience of cruising with Louis in the near future.

CRUISING THE GREEK ISLANDS ON THE ORIENT QUEEN

ImageThere are times in the world of cruising when ‘less’ can most definitely be ‘more’. While the big, brimming new ships can entertain you like never before, they are often pretty restricted when it comes to the places where they can actually dock, especially in a limited amount of time. This is not such a big deal if you are doing the ‘greatest hits’ of the region such as Barcelona, Florence and Rome. But if you are looking to see the smaller, more intimate yacht harbours that make the region so truly darned compelling, then the truth is that you have to go down several layers in terms of size.

That’s largely why I picked the venerable Orient Queen for my recent short cruise from Cyprus to Rhodes and Symi. At just over 15,000 tons, she is a baby beside the modern behemoths, at least in terms of size. Yet in terms of age, she is from an entirely different era completely.

She was originally built as the MS. Starward in 1968, the first brand new ship for the fledgling Norwegian Caribbean Lines (NCL). With her, the company pioneered the concept of the fly /cruise that we now take for granted. For almost three decades, she enjoyed remarkable success, cruising from Miami to the sun splashed Caribbean islands.

As times and tastes changed and ships grew bigger, NCL dispensed with the veteran trooper. She went to the now defunct Festival cruises as the Bolero, and spent a few years with them before going over to Louis Cruises in 2005 to operate short cruises in the Greek Islands, where she gained worldwide fame evacuating civilians from Beirut during the war of 2006.

Now, the Orient Queen cruises more peaceful waters, and a legion of former fans will recognise her instantly. The unchanged silhouette with the central glass dome and the twin, swept back funnels is like something from another age and time. The sharply raked bow and snow white hull are a complete anachronism in terms of modern cruise ship architecture.

Inside, there is one main deck full of public rooms, beginning with the Stars Lounge right forward, the cabaret venue on the ship. This leads aft into the Reflections Lounge, with it’s boulevard effect of floor to ceiling windows. Behind here, the two-sitting Mermaid Restaurant spans the full width of the ship, with a lovely sweep of glass windows overlooking the ship’s wake, an aquarium full of idle, moon eyed fish, and glass ports that look into the illuminated tank of a swimming pool.

Food has a Greek emphasis, and is generally very good for the size and star rating of the ship. Breads in particular were very good, as was fish and pork. The other dining option- at least for breakfast and lunch- is the Horizon Buffet, located one deck above. This indoor/outdoor venue opens out onto the stern deck, and is set around the aft pool.

There is no alternative evening buffet here, although fast food such as pizzas and BLTs can be ordered at extra cost, around the clock. Ditto for cabin service breakfast, a continental affair that comes in at around four euros.

Cabins are small and compact, with toilet and shower, a/c and limited storage space. That said, on destination oriented cruises like these, you’re unlikely to spend much time in them. None come with balconies, but the small and intimate nature of the Orient Queen means the entire ship is your own private balcony in effect. The dress code is pretty casual- you can safely leave the ballgowns and tuxedos at home.

There are good deals on inclusive drinks packages on board, but prices in general are not expensive.Tips run at about four euros a day for a crew composed largely of Filipino and Eastern European service staff. While there might be the odd communication problem, the crew as a whole is happy to help passengers in any way they can.

The whole ship is suffused with a happy, cheerful vibe. The Orient Queen has no pretensions to be a luxury ship. Instead, she is an honest, workmanlike lady that remains extremely comfortable and- just as important in these waters- nimble enough to scoot into the sweet little spots that the bigger vessels have to pass by at a distance.

The signature venue on the Queen is the three level, steel and glass disco, the Venus Lounge, that opens out onto the centre pool. The centre level contains a rectangular, sit up bar surrounded by table groupings that flank the large, floor to ceiling windows. For the brave, a spiral staircase leads to a kind of VIP level that offers fabulous views down to the pool, as well as out over the bow. This almost unique little venue was the late night heart of the ship, and hugely popular with the mostly young local Cypriot crowd on board to enjoy a well known local rock band. Be aware that they smoke a lot, and everywhere at that.

There was also a small, bi level casino indoors, amidships, that did a good trade, and a small, charming little upper deck health spa that offered various treatments at extra cost. These include a sublime, Balinese themed indoor Jacuzzi area that feels like a different world entirely. It was pure bliss wallowing in the tub after a hard day drinking wine ashore, while the rest of the world outside got up to whatever craziness was currently taking its fancy.

The Orient Queen sauntered out into the late afternoon Limassol sunshine with around 680 passengers aboard, just over 100 short of a full load. Though the sun was fierce, a conga line of whitecaps soon began rocking and rolling us to such an extent that our call in Santorini was, wisely, abandoned. Putting tender boats into the sea in such conditions would have been rash indeed.

Now the nifty size of the ship really came into play. We were diverted instead to an early, overnight call in Rhodes, and a short but sweet visit to the delightful little idyll called Symi. As it turned out, this deftly amended short trip turned out to be a real winner.

We were the only cruise ship in Rhodes, with its massive, brooding turrets, towers and walls bleached almost blond by decades of exposure to a pitiless Aegean sun. Here, in the winding, cobbled streets where the Knights Templar once made their doomed last stand, modern tourists sit at over priced cafes that throng the central fountain. These days, their feet are surrounded by nothing more deadly than a rising tide of shopping bags ,their podgy fingers gingerly grasping glasses of the deadly, deceptive local ouzo.

Night time brought out the bright lights, the milling crowds, and the chance to sample some gorgeous local wine while savouring some platinum chip people watching, with just the ghost of a warm breeze rippling in from the ink black Aegean. The sounds of bouzouki and thumping base from nearby bars was overlaid with the constant, rhythmic chirruping of hundreds of tree frogs. The result was the most bizarre and delightful soundtrack I can ever remember. It was not a bad way to spend Saturday night at all.

Back aboard the relative calm of the Orient Queen, there was time to enjoy one last strawberry margarita in the VIP level of the Venus Lounge, looking back over the lights of old Rhodes Town. While I was calling it a night, the Orient Queen stole silently away into the darkness, destination Symi.

I woke in what I thought was the middle of an amazingly vivid dream. Serried tiers of whitewashed houses and restaurants stood almost close enough to touch from the deck, brilliant against an early morning, petrol blue sky studded with almost ethereal wisps of cloud. A gently curving stone pier lay below, with early morning wanderers sauntering in and out of a line of cafes that had been splashed across the quayside, with gently flapping umbrellas in reds, blues and vivid greens. From the windows above, coloured shutters were tethered to stone walls in shades of canary yellow, blue and rich terracotta. The whole place was like an incredible audio visual assault on the senses.

The hills surrounding the port were low, rolling and arid, scattered with random clusters of gaunt, spindly pine trees that stood out sharp against the blue sky. Yachts and trawlers bobbed lethargically at anchor, like an armada of snoozing swans. And yet this dream was very, very real.

Winding alleyways led to small tavernas, with checker cloth topped tables surrounded by rickety, electric blue wooden chairs, suffused with the smell and taste of melt-in-the mouth souvlaki, and fabulous, freshly pressed orange juice. A few hours here was more than enough to make me want to come back for much, much longer.

Back aboard the Queen, the memories of a glorious long weekend drifted idly through my mind as we cantered back to Limassol on a sea of liquid glass. There was fresh fruit and red wine on the table in front of me, shaded from the glare of the sun. Overhead, the famous, angled twin funnels stood like sentinels. I felt quite wonderfully free, totally chilled out. All things considered, it was not a bad way to spend a weekend.