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Cruise Scotland latest

Summer is here, with the weather in Scotland set fair for a good spell, but for those who want to get away, the question is – where to?

Some popular destinations such as Spain are off the radar, unless you want to quarantine for two weeks on your return, while staycations are heavily booked, particularly those offering elbow room, such as camping sites and caravan rentals.

But if you fancy getting afloat, and are prepared to dig deep for something special, there appears to be space on a number of luxurious river cruisers in England, Ireland, and indeed not far away in Scotland.

What’s more, as the vessels carry just eight to 12 passengers, they are ideal for private charter by a group of friends or family, says Derek Banks of European Waterways, one of whose hotel barges in France featured chef Rick Stein in a popular TV series on French rivers and canals. 

They are the Magna Carta on the River Thames, Shannon Princess, and two delightful barges on the nearby Great Glen – Scottish Highlander and Spirit of Scotland. Kitted out like elegant Scottish country homes, they move quietly over Loch Ness, pay their respects to Urquhart Castle, and lay on visits to Glencoe and a whisky distillery. There are also opportunities to go take a stroll beside a loch, not a bad idea I found after some splendid meals on Scottish Highlander.

The west coast has quite a flotilla of little boats, mostly Oban based, which cruise around islands of great character such as Mull, Islay, Jura, Rum, Skye, and St Kilda. Some are magical, such as Iona and Staffa, the latter visited by Felix Mendelssohn, and to hear his Hebrides Overture as you approach Fingal’s Cave is an experience you will never forget.

The companies include Majestic Line, Argyll Cruises, St Hilda’s Sea Adventures, Hebridean Cruises and Red Moon Cruises. Some have quite a history, they are beautifully fitted out, and they compete for the best cooking.

Snag is, most are not sailing this month. The FCO has decreed that river cruising is allowed, but ocean cruising is not on.

Mike Thoms, CEO of Majestic Line, says negotiations are going on and he hopes to start cruising on August 29. The others appear to be in the same boat, other than Red Moon, which is operating as normal at present. Hebridean Cruises, which has stopped cruising for now, says it is almost fully booked for next year. That’s how popular these cruises are!

They are popular with small groups, and the highest standards of safety are promised with daily temperature checks and sanitizers galore.

Then there’s the Hebridean Princess (pictured) the former ferry chartered twice by the Queen, which has been reconfigured from 50 to 40 passengers to assure its fiercely loyal clientele that they will be safe on board. (A passenger who once saw me making notes asked, “I say, are you a travel writer, or are you one of us?”).

Ken Charleson, managing director of Hebridean Island Cruises, says the situation is frustrating. “The Highlands are full of people, with cars, caravans and tents everywhere.”

Although the Hebridean Princess is ready to go, it sits in Greenock, its first voyage being a trip across the North Sea at the end of August.

Such a shame. Hebridean Princess earns its keep with an interior such as you imagine would be found at Balmoral Castle, its house champagne was drunk by the Romanovs and every aspect of its ambiance is about unstuffy top quality service, wonderful food and wine, but fun as well.

In fact all of the vessels operating in Scotland are special in their own way, the main features being small in size, amazing scenery and easy travelling to find a gangway.   

European Waterways — 1753-598555

Hebridean Island Cruises — 1756-704700

Majestic Line — 1369-707951

St Hilda’s Sea Adventures — 7745550988

Argyll Cruises — 7917858545

Red Moon Cruises — 7768101667

Hebridean Cruises — 7585151611

 

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Magellan had the right idea, but my world cruise was better

Magellan, a Portugese explorer in the service of Spain, left these shores in 1519 with the idea of sailing around the world. He had five ships and 270 crew. But just one ship, the Victoria, arrived home safely three years later, and with only 18 men, not including Magellan, who had died en route.

It was not a promising start to world cruising.

Nevertheless, 500 years later, I decided to have a crack at it. Like Magellan, I had been around a bit, and some considering his world was a lot smaller, voyaging on all great

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Crystal Serenity anchored off Jamestown, St Helena

oceans and visiting the Galapagos, Antarctica, sailing up the Amazon, down the Nile, and made fabulous trips on the Ganges and Mekong. 

But the world cruise is something else. It is the holy grail of cruising – expensive, long (up to 244 nights) – and it’s hard to find a vessel going exactly where you want to go.

But I did find a very good ship, the Crystal Serenity, leaving from Los Angeles on an 85-day sort of circumnavigation, pointed in more or less in the right direction, and figured that if I hopped ashore here and there that would work. 

I like LA, particularly Santa Monica. We had four nights at the JW Marriott slap bang on a glorious beach, not far from where Mae West had a house, Read more…

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

Read more…

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
Read more…

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…