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Return to Hydra on the trail of Leonard Cohen

Never go back, a friend once said.

Leonard Cohen and MarianneI am too much of a romantic to follow what could be sensible advice, so I returned to Hydra, Greece, because my experience there around 30 years ago was so delightful, and well, memorable.

I was on a yacht with a handful of friends, and we sailed into the tiny harbour just like Honfleur in Normandy. We had to squeeze in sternfirst, Mediterranean-style, and it was no less crowded on the dock. But when the last ferry left with the day-trippers in the early evening, everything changed.

In fact it was heaven. There are no cars, motorbikes or scooters on Hydra, and as we stepped ashore at sunset the loudest sounds, other than church bells, were the clip-clop of donkeys. Read more…

Europe sails into the big time and Oasis of the Seas is just the start of it

Oasis of the Seas1You know you are on a big ship when you get in a lift and it goes up, up, up and UP … to Deck 17.

When you get there, below is a huge courtyard in the middle of the ship, with balconied cabins having views not of the sea, but of a park. Appropriately, it’s called Central Park.

It’s one of the “neighborhoods” in the vast Oasis of the Seas, the world’s biggest cruise ship, which has just arrived in Europe for the first time, docking at Malaga after a 10-day trans-Atlantic crossing.

For the record, Oasis has capacity for 6,296 passengers, there are 2,165 crew, and the tonnage is 225,282 – about five times Read more…

Savouring Burgundy on a hotel barge

Charming macaroon seller in Vezelay

Charming macaroon seller in Vezelay

Luciole with captains old and new

Luciole with captains old and new

France is not to be hurried, so the Luciole fits Read more…

Disney cruise is for kids of all ages

It’s noon, an unlikely time for a dance, but I have turned up because my grandson said this was where we had to be. When the music begins, characters in costumes appear and we are swept on to the floor.

A moment later I realize I am dancing with Goofy.

It is none other.

Looking back, it was one of many crazy, fun-filled activities on the Disney Fantasy, a ship designed to bring the kid out on everyone. It is the newest of four, a whopping 130,000 tons and with a capacity of 4000, plus 1450 cast and crew members.
But this is not big ship brash, nothing like many of the mega-ships cluttering up the Med. This is a beauty, a quality ship with grand decor recalling 1930s nautical elegance.

Of course it’s not just for the kids. It’s for the whole family, grandparents included, who are often the ones picking up the bill. Disney calls it multi-generational travel,

On the beach at Castaway Cay

On the beach at Castaway Cay

and it is a wonderful way to get all the family together, quite often at Orlando, Florida.
This is the location of Disneyworld (Disneyland is in California), home to the Magic Kingdom – and three cracking golf courses, for many years home to an annual PGA event.

Smart travelers will gather here, then take a private shuttle to nearby Port Canaveral on the coast to board the vessels. We did a seven-day Caribbean cruise taking in San Juan, St Thomas and Disney’s private island in the Bahamas, Castaway Cay.
It all starts with the captain blowing the ship’s whistle, which rather than the usual deep grunt, plays “When you wish upon a star.” That brings a smile to everyone’s face; Disney’s magic spell has been cast.

Disney Fantasy is an amazing ship with something for everyone, Of course the main thing is giving the kids the time of their lives, and boy does it do a good job.

First and foremost are the characters — Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy and the gang are all over the ship, with scheduled  Read more…

Seat mystery with Thai

I will never forget the travel agent in Vancouver, Canada, who had a small sign on her desk which said: “If you can afford to fly first class and you don’t, your relatives will.”

That advice holds true today, even if many travel agents have been put out of business by the internet.

But many good ones survive, usually because they know the business. Such as the one who advised me when I wanted to fly from Bangkok to Brussels. I knew that Thai Airways had a non-stop service with its Boeing 777, but was concerned about the business class seat.

Was it a flat bed, or the dreaded angle-flat? The airline’s website suggested the latter, and I was all set to shuttle to Singapore to take the SQ (Singapore Airlines) flight to Paris, then the train to Brussels.

Then a travel agent told me that on certain flights, maybe twice a week, the aircraft on the route was a Boeing 777-300ER, and that aircraft’s business class was configured with a flat bed, in fact the same bed as the A380. Yet there was no information to this effect on the airline’s website, and when I phoned Thai’s reservation department there was no clarity on the matter.

So it was with some foreboding that we boarded the aircraft, but sure enough, we had two beds that were perfectly flat and comfortable, and a very good night’s sleep was had.

FYI — these flights leave around midnight, so passengers have a choice of dinner beforehand or a meal on the plane. Fact is that Thai’s business class lounge at Bangkok offers plenty of tasty food, and French wine, while you are waiting, although the lounge does get very busy.Image

Singapore Airlines does the business

It’s goodness knows how long since British Airways raised the bar in business class travel with its flat bed. Since then other airlines have redesigned their business class cabins, but some major airlines are still offering angle-flat beds, which slope downwards rather than lie flat.

This means that you spend the night sliding down, usually staying awake in anticipation of a downward motion.

Singapore Airlines has not made that mistake. For some time now it has offered a proper business class bed, and its product on the A380 is as good as it gets.

I tried it out on a flight from Paris to Singapore, a 12-hour haul usually done overnight. Boarding early, I checked out the cabin and noted there was an economy section at the rear, and took the opportunity to try the economy seat. Not bad, I can tell you — plenty of pitch, a foot rest, and a good recline. If push came to shove, I could handle that.

By comparison, however, my business class seat was palatial. It was fully equipped for working or relaxing, with a big screen and endless movies, games and audio programs.

Champagne, sir? I hate to see it go to waste, and from that moment on a smiling, smart flight attendant rarely left my side. The food and wines were excellent, after which I slept well — on a fully flat bed of course — and awoke just in bed for a hand-made breakfast.

The A380 is as quiet as a glider, a magnificent aircraft that delivered me to Singapore right on time. Ten out of ten!Image

Scenic does Amsterdam to Budapest in style

My first river cruise was in France on a barge built in 1926 as a mule-drawn freight vessel but transformed 40 years ago into a peniche, or hotel boat, with 10 bedrooms, one bath, two showers and two toilets. The captain was an engaging young Englishman who was also barman and tour guide. His girlfriend was the waitress and made the beds, while the chef doubled as the boatman which allowed him opportunities to pick up escargots strolling on shore.

As for the entertainment, it was “more wine, mon ami” although one captain, who was later to become a professor of botany, liked getting everybody up for the hokey-cokey.

Things have changed.

River cruising in Europe has grown into the hottest thing in cruising, itself the fastest-growing part of modern travel, with Read more…

When in Rome — avoid August!

Rome is the gateway city for many travelers on Mediterranean cruises, and while some cruise lines make all the hotel and connection arrangements, some do not. Smart travelers prefer to linger, such as someone from Honolulu, who is unlikely to be in Rome very often.

Last time I was in Rome I paid a king’s ransom for a trendy hotel in a very good area, but it was a small room and the concierge was not helpful.

This time I chose the well-located and moderately-priced Hotel Mediterraneo on Via Cavour, whose grand, marble entry and Art Deco design gave me a lift. So did the spacious room, and the balcony with the kind of view you would expect from the hotel being located on the Esquiline Hill, the highest of Rome’s seven hills.

The Mediterraneo has nice touches such as free slippers and a bed mat which is part of the turn-down. There is a bath and a good shower, and the mini-bar, Read more…

Hapag-Lloyd goes for younger, international market with stunning new Europa2

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, operators of the Europa which has been best ship in the world * for all 13 years it has been afloat, showed off its elegant, and trendy, newbuild in a shakedown cruise that was full of surprises other than the name – Europa2.

The 43,000-tonner, with 516 passengers a little bigger than its renowned sister, is the roomiest vessel afloat in terms of passenger space ratio, and every cabin comes with balconies bigger than competitors.

Its stunning design is light and outward-looking with huge windows, Read more…

Caribbean attacks might bring a sea change to cruising

The dream of a Caribbean cruise is becoming a nightmare to be avoided after two more attacks on tourists. And could it lead to cruises becoming just that, with no ports of call?

In the most recent incident a busload of more than 50 passengers from a Celebrity vessel was robbed on St Lucia. This came shortly after a couple, P & O passengers, were shot and robbed on Barbados, supposedly a relatively safe destination.

And just before these attacks, I had an unpleasant experience on St Thomas. I had been playing golf at Mahogany Run and was returning to my Disney cruise ship.

I asked a taxi driver waiting outside the golf club Read more…

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