HAVE CRUISE SHIPS SIMPLY GOTTEN TOO LOUD?

It is time for me to confess.

There was a time, about a decade ago, when I said to anyone dumb enough to listen that the cruise lines simply did not make enough use of their outdoor decks as entertainment venues. I argued that the odd bit of live jazz outside- either by day or night- would be a real alternative from a night spent meandering around the bars and clubs down below.

And I was also all for the odd, open air disco out on deck, around the swimming pools. For a couple of hours on a balmy Caribbean or Mediterranean night, an outdoor disco could be a delightfully indulgent alternative.

Now, just a decade or so later, we have come to a time when our eardrums seem to be constantly under assault from a tidal wave of  brutal, massively over amplified inanity, even on sea days. ‘Games’ around the pool, hosted by cruise staff at a level of decibels that can shatter glass ten miles away, vary wildly in quality, from the mildly amusing to the massively moronic.

Let’s be clear here. I am not having a go at the cruise staff, DJ’s and musicians who, as I know damned well, work their socks off round the clock to entertain and amuse the passengers. What I’m railing against is a mind set whose ideas of ‘fun’ seem to be set in stone.

Has it, in fact, gone too far in the wrong direction? I am convinced that, in certain quarters, the powers that be have simply collated increased volume with amplified levels of ‘fun’.

Er, no. It’s not. Well, at least not for all of us.

Being force fed a glut of pseudo exuberant claptrap that masquerades as ‘participation entertainment’ is most definitely not my idea of fun. And yes, being 55 years of age, there is a possibility that you could argue that I am ‘too old’ for this kind of thing.

To which I would reply; No- I’m simply mature enough to feel annoyed and unsettled by this constant, over amplified dumbing down of what should normally be my blissful, relaxing quality time spent at sea.

It wasn’t always like that, of course. Gone are the days of old, when all the entertainment provided would be a live reggae band on deck during the afternoon, laying down a montage of totally apt mood music at an agreeable volume that didn’t have the sharks diving for cover. This was the best of both worlds, because it was ambient and pleasant, as opposed to crude, banal and intrusive.

However, I would agree that there is a place for just this kind of loud, over the top stuff that seems to be spreading across the pool decks of far too many cruise ships like some kind of unstoppable oil slick.

It’s called a frat party. Either that, or Senor Frog’s. Rant over.

This is what a cruise ship's pool deck should sound like.....

This is what a cruise ship’s pool deck should sound like…..

SILVER SPIRIT- THE RIVIERA AFLOAT

Lobby Bar

Lobby Bar

Silver Spirit. 36,000 tons of exquisite, perfectly crafted cruise ship. All inclusive, all outside suites.A place where the cuisine of the Ritz meets the raffish indolence of the Riviera afloat. Just 510 guests are cossetted at a time aboard this floating fantasy island.

Forget crowds, lines of any kind, and ceaseless loudspeaker announcements. Your hardest choice here is whether to have a steak and champagne breakfast on your private balcony, or a midnight cocktail in one of the hot tubs. The ship combines space and grace in sumptuous Art Deco surroundings. There is shining brass, rich, deep carpets and lavish Italian marble everywhere.

Food on board is as fabulous and satisfying as the service. With laid back indolence on the menu every day, the Silver Spirit is a voyage to total, chilled out indulgence, no matter where she happens to sail in the world.

Step aboard, and enjoy these photographs of one of the most luxurious ships that has ever cut through salt water- the show stopping Silver Spirit.

Sunset from my balcony

Sunset from my balcony

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Silver Spirit off Lipari, Italy

Pool deck, looking aft

Pool deck, looking aft

Pool and upper level

Pool and upper level

Night time pool deck

Night time pool deck

Another angle

Another angle

The lido lifestyle. Peachy, no?

The lido lifestyle. Peachy, no?

Central corridor

Central corridor

Name of the game

Name of the game

One of several bars on board

One of several bars on board

Relaxation rules on this ship

Relaxation rules on this ship

Upper deck aft terrace

Upper deck aft terrace

Serious lounging indoors, too

Serious lounging indoors, too

Gorgeous interior staircases

Gorgeous interior staircases

Got food?

Got food?

None too shabby, is it?

None too shabby, is it?

Glistening table settings

Glistening table settings

Outdoor dining on La Terrazza

Outdoor dining on La Terrazza

Central lobby bar

Central lobby bar

And all inclusive means exactly that, 24/7

And all inclusive means exactly that, 24/7

Lose yourself in this..

Lose yourself in this..

La Dolce Vita never was sweeter

La Dolce Vita never was sweeter

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

CMV RELEASE AZORES CRUISE SCHEDULE FOR 2015

The Azores, in her previous guise as Athena, on the Croatian Riviera

The Azores, in her previous guise as Athena, on the Croatian Riviera

UK based Cruise & Maritime Voyages has been very quick to release the hugely anticipated 2015 for their recently chartered Azores. The 16,000 ton, 550 passenger ship, owned by Portuscale Cruises, has been lined up as the 2015 replacement for the veteran, 1972 built Discovery. While the latter is facing a far from certain fate, it seems that the Azores- built in 1948 as the Stockholm- is almost indestructible.

Some twenty-one sailings in all are on offer between January 26th and August 28th, varying in length from a one night repositioning cruise between Hull and Tilbury, to an epic, thirty night round trip from Avonmouth, Bristol, to the Caribbean. This itinerary visits no less than ten of the most stellar ports of call in the West Indies, as well as featuring no less than eighteen sea days on the outward and return legs of the voyage. Fares begin at £3,659 per person in a standard inside cabin. A single inside cabin is on offer at £3,779.

Other highlights of the programme include a pair of cruises to see the highlights of the Northern Lights, as well as cruises to the Baltic, the Norwegian Fjords, and  a pair of round Britain cruises.

Especially attractive is an eight night, August 8th sailing that includes three full days at the port of Leith, allowing passengers to see and experience the very best of the Edinburgh Festival. This cruise also serves up a trio of calls at famous northern isles such as Torshavn, Lerwick in the Shetlands, and Kirkwall, the capital of the Orkney Islands.

In line with CMV sailings in the past, the Azores will be sailing from a series of regional ports. So far announced are departures to and from Bristol, Hull and Tilbury. 

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces on the Azores

Beautiful, Art Deco stern terraces on the Azores

All told, the 2015 Azores cruise schedule introduces some real diversity into a programme of no fly, dedicated ex-UK cruises, as well as showcasing a new, classically styled contender into the market.  Overnight calls at ports such as Rouen, Amsterdam and pretty little Honfleur acknowledge the increasing desire from passengers for more time in certain cities.

There is also a tendency towards longer sailings for this first season; no less than eleven of the cruises are in excess of ten days duration. Apart from the solitary overnight mini cruise on offer on July 17th, the shortest itinerary in the Azores programme for 2015 is a six night, Norwegian Fjords sailing, round trip from Tilbury, on August 28th.

As always, stay tuned.

 

A GALLERY OF LINER AND CRUISE SHIP INTERIORS PART ONE

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Carnival Breeze atrium lobby

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland

Kaisersaal Ballroom on Deutschland

Art Deco staircase, Silver Whisper

Art Deco staircase, Silver Whisper

 

Sansibar pool bar, MS Europa 2

Sansibar pool bar, MS Europa 2

Central lobby vestibule on the Europa 2

Central lobby vestibule on the Europa 2

The Schooner Bar, Majesty Of The Seas

The Schooner Bar, Majesty Of The Seas

The Champagne Terrace on Majesty Of The Seas

The Champagne Terrace on Majesty Of The Seas

Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager

Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Top Of The Yacht, Seadream II

Avenue Saloon on board Crystal Symphony

Avenue Saloon on board Crystal Symphony

Crystal Atrium  on the Crystal Symphony

Crystal Atrium on the Crystal Symphony

Grand Staircase on the Norwegian Spirit

Grand Staircase on the Norwegian Spirit

Casino corridor on board Norwegian Spirit

Casino corridor on board Norwegian Spirit

Tiger Bar aboard the MSC Magnifica

Tiger Bar aboard the MSC Magnifica

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

 

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

What a day for a Seadream....

What a day for a Seadream….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The aft pool

The aft pool

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

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

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

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

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

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera...

The beauty of the Seadream Riviera…

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

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

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

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

MORE TRAVEL PHOTOS FROM THE VAULTS

Pompeii remains a staple of the Italian cruise circuit

Pompeii remains a staple of the Italian cruise circuit

Trevi Fountain, Rome
Trevi Fountain, Rome

Ibiza Town

Ibiza Town

Eiffel's iron bridge vaults across the Douro

Eiffel’s iron bridge vaults across the Douro

Mount Oteamanu, Bora Bora

Mount Oteamanu, Bora Bora

Beach massage, French Polynesia

Beach massage, French Polynesia

Niagara Falls from the air

Niagara Falls from the air

Toronto skyline, seen from the top of the CN Tower

Toronto skyline, seen from the top of the CN Tower

Venice is a popular and compelling overnight stay

Venice is a popular and compelling overnight stay

Cannes old town

Cannes old town

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Los Arcos, Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

ANZAC war graves, Gallipoli, Turkey

ANZAC war graves, Gallipoli, Turkey

Titanic engineers memorial, Southampton

Titanic engineers memorial, Southampton

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Shell Beach, Saint Barts, Caribbean

Shell Beach, Saint Barts, Caribbean

Visby, Sweden

Visby, Sweden

 

FROM THE VAULTS: SOME SPLENDID SHIPBOARD SHOTS

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

Inside the Viking Crown, Majesty Of The Seas

Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager
Outdoor terrace on the Seven Seas Voyager

Pool deck, Silver Whisper

Pool deck, Silver Whisper

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

The Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic

Deck Pod on the Europa 2

Deck Pod on the Europa 2

Atrium bar on Europa 2

Atrium bar on Europa 2

Pool deck, Princess Daphne. Contrast with the earlier one shown on the Silver Whisper

Pool deck, Princess Daphne. Contrast with the earlier one shown on the Silver Whisper

Suite 902 on the Louis Rhea

Suite 902 on the Louis Rhea

Lobby on the Crystal Symphony

Lobby on the Crystal Symphony

At sea on the Carnival Elation, bound for Cabo San Lucas

At sea on the Carnival Elation, bound for Cabo San Lucas

Lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

Lobby on the Norwegian Spirit

Pool bar, Norwegian Spirit

Pool bar, Norwegian Spirit

Tiger Bar, MSC Magnifica

Tiger Bar, MSC Magnifica

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Lido pool on the Louis Cristal

Winter Garden on the old Ausonia

Winter Garden on the old Ausonia

Norwegian Epic interior

Norwegian Epic interior

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Pool deck on the Norwegian Sun

Lobby, Costa Favolosa

Lobby, Costa Favolosa

Lido pool on the Costa Favolosa

Lido pool on the Costa Favolosa

Atrium, Carnival Paradise

Atrium, Carnival Paradise

Thomson Majesty interiors

Thomson Majesty interiors

Lounge on the Princess Daphne

Lounge on the Princess Daphne

Chart Room, QE2

Chart Room, QE2

The Queens Room, QE2
The Queens Room, QE2

 

 

LADIES OF THE SEA- SNAPSHOTS OF SOME FABULOUS SHIPS

The 1959 built Rotterdam, seen here as the Rembrandt. I cruised her in the Med in September 1998

The 1959 built Rotterdam, seen here as the Rembrandt. I cruised her in the Med in September 1998

The Southern Cross, still in the 'coke tin' livery gifted her by Premier Cruises. A spiky little ship
The Southern Cross, still in the ‘coke tin’ livery gifted her by Premier Cruises. A spiky little ship

The Majesty Of The Seas at anchor off Coco Cay, Bahamas. September 27th, 2008

The Majesty Of The Seas at anchor off Coco Cay, Bahamas. September 27th, 2008

The Disney Magic, sailing from Port Canaveral in April 2011

The Disney Magic, sailing from Port Canaveral in April 2011

The Silver Whisper in Helsinki, August 2013

The Silver Whisper in Helsinki, August 2013

The Grande Dame; the legendary, beloved SS. Norway

The Grande Dame; the legendary, beloved SS. Norway

Crystal Symphony off Bermuda

Crystal Symphony off Bermuda

Braemar off St. Barts, Caribbean

Braemar off St. Barts, Caribbean

Norwegian Spirit docked in Barcelona, April 2013

Norwegian Spirit docked in Barcelona, April 2013

Taking wining and dining to Olympian heights- the new Europa 2

Taking wining and dining to Olympian heights- the new Europa 2

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect 'mini liner'

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect ‘mini liner’

Carnival's Paradise at Catalina Island

Carnival’s Paradise at Catalina Island

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

Louis Cristal is the former Leeward

The QE2 off Propriano, Corsica

The QE2 off Propriano, Corsica

Silver Spirit off Lokrum, Croatia

Silver Spirit off Lokrum, Croatia

The magnficent Crystal Serenity

The magnficent Crystal Serenity

Costa Favolosa at Katakolon, Greece

Costa Favolosa at Katakolon, Greece

 

DOWN MEMORY LANE- SOME TRAVEL SNAPSHOTS FROM THE ARCHIVES

Coco Cat, Bahamas. On my birthday, September 27th, 2008.

Coco Cay, Bahamas. On my birthday, September 27th, 2008.

Heads on show, Helsinki.
Heads on show, Helsinki.

The silent streets of Pompeii.

The silent streets of Pompeii.

The magnificent Pantheon, Rome.

The magnificent Pantheon, Rome.

Sailing from Monte Carlo at midnight on the Silver Wind, spring 2009.

Sailing from Monte Carlo at midnight on the Silver Wind, spring 2009.

View from a train, en route from Toronto to New York.

View from a train, en route from Toronto to New York.

Cellar bar, Porto, Northern Portugal.

Cellar bar, Porto, Northern Portugal.

The dining area on the Spirit of Chartwell, the Queen's Diamond Jubilee barge.

The dining area on the Spirit of Chartwell, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee barge.

Carousel and waterfront, Honfleur, France.

Carousel and waterfront, Honfleur, France.

The famous Mykonos headland.

The famous Mykonos headland.

Streets of old Quebec.

Streets of old Quebec.