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Champagne with Panache

My first river cruise was pretty well perfect even if the vessel, a converted working barge, was somewhat basic. The captain was also barman and tour guide, his girlfriend was the waitress and made the beds, and the chef doubled as boatman.

We were a merry band of fewer than 20, the food was good, the wine endless and the entertainment was the glorious French countryside. 

What more could you want? Well, one captain was so fond of the hokey-cokey he had the passengers up and at it every night.

These days there are river boats almost everywhere, some with specialty

Panache - Cruising (2)restaurants and professional entertainers. And they are bigger, carrying almost 200 passengers and so wide they are restricted to major rivers like the Rhine, and they don’t do locks.

But, as you might have gathered from chef Rick Stein’s entertaining TV series filmed  on the Anjodi while cruising the Canal du Midi, there is a lot of charm to be found on a small vessel chugging serenely on a winding river, or along a canal where you can hop off for a bike ride.

I have just been on the Panache, a sister ship to Anjodi and both from European Waterways. While most barge cruises in northern France start Read more…

Cape to Dar by Rovos Rail

Fancy a super spa in Africa? Take the train.

Not any train, mind you. The one you want is Rovos Rail, where embarkation begins at Cape Town in South Africa – the fairest cape, said Drake – and ends 15 days later after a thrilling adventure in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

It is an indulgence of luxury and elegance on wheels, involving bush gear by day and Hermes ties at night. Ladies will likely be wearing Shimansky diamonds they bought in Cape Town.

This is new wave travel as practised on expedition voyages to faraway places like Antarctica, where you rough it, gently, by day and dine in state in the evening.

Two nights in Tau Lodge on the border of Botswana are en route. The first day we lunched by a waterhole with two white rhinos and the next day in the company of a

statuesque giraffe, while nearby, zebras fought off a pack of hyenas. On game drives we encountered huge lions and had sundowner cocktails, while our cozy cottage (with outdoor shower) overlooked a waterhole thronged with elephants and a malicious-looking crocodile.

And equally enjoyable was the spa, where Dina administered the best pedicure ever, then followed up with a massage that left me begging for more.

But Rovos Rail was waiting and so was the track through Gaberone, capital of thriving Botswana, a city of gleaming, Chinese-built office towers. We were to see

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Wild Africa on this Zambezi cruise

The distinctive, bold cry of the fish eagle, said to be the sound of Africa, was what I wanted to hear when I arrived at the Zambezi Queen on the Chobe River, on the Botswana-Namibia border.

On the first two days out on a small tender boat I saw a dozen, mostly in trees with a commanding view of the sweeping panorama of grassland teeming with elephants, hippos, Cape buffalo, antelopes, crocodiles and birds.

But when we got close, they spread their vast wings and took off, and without a

LXDflOelTgSQcANIr9UL+wsound. A big one had a favourite tree barely 50 metres from the Zambezi Queen, where it sat, aloof and stubbornly quiet.

Day three it all happened on the other side of the river, dramatically close to the Zambezi Queen, as we boarded the tender. All of a sudden a crocodile reared up at the river bank with a small dog in its vast jaws.

The unfortunate animal had been snatched nearby and drowned, and the crocodile, Read more…

Voyage in the wake of pioneers

A voyage is better than a cruise, where you actually go somewhere rather than sign on for a seagoing hop on – hop off version of If It’s Tuesday This Must Be Belgium. It’s a journey with an end, such as crossing the Atlantic.

I did this a while back on Cunard’s QE2, a Clyde-built express that once crossed Southampton to New York in three days, 20 hours at an average speed of 30 knots, but in its second life as a cruise ship took six days, in my case New York to Southampton, getting me to London for one of the first Eurostar runs under the vnewly-opened Channel Tunnel to Paris, and then Concorde back to New York.

{$filename} It was indeed, as they say, the only way to go, and then some.

But what was on my mind on a return to Southampton on a mild September day was not only the satisfaction of adding the return journey to my logbook, it was the thought of sailing west across the Atlantic in the wake of Columbus, the Pilgrim
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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…