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Holland America’s new ship is a star

There was a time when dinner was the highlight of your day on a cruise ship. Well, other than seeing a golden stupa beside the Irrawaddy or stepping ashore on the Galapagos. It was dressing up time, walking down to the restaurant on the waterline, it was hearing the barman saying, “Your usual dry Martini, sir?” and following the maitre d’ to your favourite table by a porthole.KODM_FLOM

Times have changed. One night on my recent cruise the cocktails were at the Crow’s Nest on Deck 12 and dinner at Tamarind on Deck 10.
The ship was Holland America’s new Koningsdam and it does have a fine Dining Room in the usual location, but it also has six other restaurants, five casual dining places, an ice cream stand and 24-hour room service. No one goes hungry.
Mind you, we had 2,880 people on board, and popular spots, like the Lido Market Read more…


Sweet life on a gulet in the Med

As Kenneth Grahame wrote in Wind in the Willows, “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Which is sort of what I am doing on a small boat in the Greek islands as we sail where we fancy. There is no set itinerary; we go by sail or motor where the going is good and a friendly taverna awaits.
Our vessel, Naviga 1, is 25 metres long, a tad bigger than Water Rat and Mole’s craft, but a world apart from cruise ships longer than three football fields which definitely do not mess around.
She is not an ocean racer like the sloops that race from Victoria to Maui, but a sturdy, Read more…

Round Australia on two top ships

One sunny day in 1891, a German ship belonging to Hapag-Lloyd Cruises set off in the Mediterranean with no itinerary in mind. The captain declared, in effect, he was going nowhere, and cruising was born.
In today’s world of cruise ships, it would appear not a lot has changed in that many passengers don’t particularly care about where they are going, or indeed about being at sea. What lures them aboard modern mega-ships ships is an intoxicating array of bars, theme restaurants, jingling casinos, waterslides, zip lines, rock-climbing walls, the whole fandango topped with pools crammed with kids.
But there is another way – voyages, where you are going somewhere. Cunard does crossings, Southampton to New York, which is a hugely significant journey – think of the Mayflower and Ellis Island, the Blue Riband and Titanic.
Other lines sail adventurous routes, such as Antarctica, the Galapagos Islands, they take a passage to India, or a voyage to Australia, which has the added advantage of Read more…

Cruising the River Loire

The Loire might be the longest river in France but right now the next few miles have the full attention of everyone on the bridge.
Our vessel, the Loire Princesse, is less than 50 yards from the bank and heading straight for it.
Then one of its giant paddle-wheels goes into reverse, the bow swings hard to port, and we resume course between the channel markers.
Two hundred yards on, as we pass a herd of cows drinking at the water’s edge, the red and green markers call for more zig-zagging, which makes for interesting navigation but all in Read more…

Hebridean Princess a little treasure

It is a fresh Monday morning and I am on the bridge of Hebridean Princess as it turns from Tobermory harbour into the Sound of Mull on Scotland’s spectacular west coast.
We are just the captain, first officer and helmsman on the bridge, which is surprisingly roomy considering the dinky, 2000-ton vessel carries just 50 passengers and 37 crew. All of us could fit comfortably into one lifeboat on any of the new mega-ships.
Yet Hebridean Princess feels the right size for these waters, sprinkled with rocks and whirlpools amid heather-covered hillsides, where pleasurecraft and ferries proceed with caution not unmindful of the fate of the SS Politician, which sank off Eriskay in 1941 carrying 264,000 bottles of whisky.
Somehow a big ship would not feel right here, even if the captain was willing to chance featuring in a remake of the film Whisky Galore, and if a whopper did come by, there
img_2661would be no passengers on the bridge. Such privileges are reserved these days for passengers on small, expensive cruise ships.
Such as Hebridean Princess, which I had boarded at Oban, welcomed by a beaming officer flourishing the champagne drunk by the Tsars of Russia.
What followed was a week of elegant cruising in a style that would have pleased the Read more…

The ship with something for everyone, and I mean everyone

Harmony of the Seas might be the biggest cruise ship in the world, but she is not unique. Two sister ships are already in Royal Caribbean’s fleet, and another is coming along in two years.
All are remarkable vessels, if only for their size, moving more than 6000 passengers in great comfort while being lavished with lashings of restaurants, bars and other accoutrements of good living.
Having said that, the sheer size originally put some people off, including myself, as my cruise writing focus steered me towards small, luxury ships with as few as 112 passengers. Harmony of the Seas is a humungous 227,000 tons with 18 decks, five times the size of the Titanic.
I did not sail on the first ship in this class, Oasis of the Seas. When the second, Allure of the Seas, came along, I thought I would risk a few hours on a day visit, for I had noticed a Read more…

Why bother with an agent?

photo.JPGI’m back. Like my crossing of the Drake Passage, I have survived, so no more on that.
But I must say that while fighting off the Grim Reaper I did quite a bit of reading, everything from the brilliant Maisky Diaries (he was the Russian ambassador to UK 1932-1943) to a re-read of The Fatal Shore, Robert Hughes’ epic story of the settlement of Australia, and a must for anyone going there, particularly by ship.
I was also happy to see Cruise News, produced by Mundy Cruising of London for its clients, as this helped keep me up to date with developments in the luxury end of the cruise industry with reviews of vessels, as well as entertaining columns by Edwina Lonsdale, the managing director, and her husband, Matthew, who don’t hold back (that’s them in the picture, on Europa2)  Read more…

Best things to do in London, starting with the Royal Academy

If you love London but dread the busy streets in  the big shopping season then let me share a haven of peace and quiet wonderment — the Royal Academy of Arts, located slap bang on Piccadilly right across the road from Fortnum and Mason.

Walking into the spacious, classical courtyard takes me back to a London of times past, but only for a moment, for what is the artificial forest doing here, and these giant posters?

The latter announce the current exhibitions featuring artistic phenomenon Ai Weiwei and Jean-Etienne Liotard, two great talents who could not be more different. But that is the Royal Academy, which is a fine knack of often having something for everyone.

Ai Weiwei, he of the sunflower seeds at the Tate Modern five years ago, is back with a major exhibition of large-scale installations in steel, marble and glass, not to mention 1000 plastic crabs.

For something completely different, climb the stairs and check out the serene paintings of Jean-Etienne Liotard, a Swiss artist in great demand in Enlightenment Europe. He travelled widely and drew great inspiration from the Orient.

Known as “the Turk”, he dressed the part while working as a court painter.

Coming up next year is an exhibition on painting the modern garden, using the work of Monet as a starting point, and moving on to Matisse.IMG_2441

If you like to eat well in France, you’ll love Lyon

France has a lot to offer, starting with Paris.
The south of France has beaches and glamor, Bordeaux glorious wine, but there are also two cities equally dynamic and second in size only to the capital.
Marseille has its lively Old Port and its famous bouillabaisse fish soup, while Lyon has – everything!
Located two hours south of Paris on the fast TGV rail system, Lyon is close to the Burgundy region, surrounded by vineyards, as well as top Michelin-star restaurants.
Often called the gastronomic capital of France, the heart and soul of the city is a big indoor market called Les Halles ( Here foodies will find the best of everything such as Bresse chicken, many cheeses such as the creamy, local St Marcellin and delectable cakes with almond-rich pralines. You can eat fresh oysters with a “pot” of Macon wine, and dine at any of the cozy restaurants offering traditional Lyonnais cuisine. Chez Antonin does a wonderful seafood lunch.
Paul Bocuse’s name is on the market because he is the city’s most famous chef, but his Michelin 3-star restaurant ( is actually just out of town Read more…

Nothing like catching a fish to make a man feel like a boy again

You have to like getting up early to go fishing. I mean, they start serving breakfast at 4.30 am. But I made sure I was on the dock at 6 am, keen to try the new Kingfisher boats at the Canadian Princess Resort at Ucluelet.
Step aboard, said Keith, our skipper.
Not with that banana, said my buddy, cringing from the fruit I had brought from my room.
Huh? You don’t like bananas?
They are bad luck at sea, I was told.
Don’t worry, said Keith. He had two bananas.
So we sailed, bananas and all. And we fished for four hours, just south of Tofino and Long Beach, amid the rugged splendor of the Broken Islands group on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Read more…