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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

Royal Caribbean International's Harmony of the Seas, the world"s largest and newest cruise ship, previews in Southampton.

General view to Central Park

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 (halles-de-lyon-paulbocuse.com). 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 (www.bocuse.com) 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…

Stand by for the big, new Crystal Cruises

Crystal Cruises, which set its course as a leader in luxury cruising with the launch of its first ship 25 years ago, is now charting a new, vaster route.
Aboard the line’s annual President’s Cruise on Crystal Serenity and Chairman’s Cruise on Crystal Symphony respectively, Crystal’s president and CEO, Edie Rodriguez and chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay announced Crystal’s plans for a whopping brand expansion calling for a three-year program introducing new ships – effectively establishing three brand new classes of cruising – as well as its

What the new ships will look like

What the new ships will look like

Read more…

Anthem of the Seas is new, fun and could be the future

The stowaway is a pianist

It used to be big ships were not considered cool or classy.
Then designers began to add restaurants, theatres and gadgets like waving-making machines to swimming pools.
Heads were turned, often by families who want something for everyone.
And that’s just what I have seen in an inaugural preview of the newest cruise ship afloat, the 4000-passenger Anthem of the Seas, and a $1 billion baby that is a game-changer.
This one, like its slightly older sister, Quantum of the Seas, is a triumph for Royal Caribbean International, masters of the sea when it comes to big ships full of fun and innovation.
I mean, where else can you find two robotic barmen? You choose your drink, they mix it, pour it, serve it, and add the bill to your onboard account. With a tip, mind you. In cruising, some things never change. Read more…

If you only cruise once, make it the beautiful Sea Cloud

Sea Cloud under full sail

Years ago I met a bloke on a river boat in India. He had made a fortune in Calcutta and was cruising the world in style, and he had no doubt which was his favourite ship. “Sea Cloud,” and putting down his gin & tonic, he looked me in the eye, adding emphatically, “no doubt about it.”
So it happened this winter that a bus dropped me on a grubby little dock in Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, and there she was – a big four-masted barque with towering masts and looking absolutely like nothing else in the world.
My companions and I on the bus would fill Sea Cloud, because her capacity is just 65, slightly under the 6,000 on cruise ships of a different kind.
Sea Cloud was launched 84 years ago at a time of elegant liners, just months before the greatest of them all, the Normandie, when the richest men competed to build the biggest yachts with gimmicks to amuse prohibition-era guests, like bars that glided from behind library walls at the touch of a button. Read more…