Thursday, 29 April 2010

Carry On Cruising!

OK, it may not be quite on that scale, but Gary Clading's new book Stars, Staterooms and Stowaways is a terrific 'insider' read into some of the many offbeat, rewarding and downright comical moments of spending a life at sea.

The P&O Cruise Director has been in the business for 25 years and covers a wealth of experience of ships large and small, with Hollywood celebrities, epic adventures, comical passengers and brilliant insights into the cruise world that many of us love but few know from the inside out.

The likes of Marti Webb, Ginger Rogers, Joan Fontaine, Eve Arden and many more all crop up throughout the pages but it is not so much a catalogue of the rich and famous as the real life of the staff and crew that jumps out at you.

At once both admirable and touching, it is a diary of sea-going delight, with Gary's own tendency towards extraordinary animal welfare shining through in various stories both small-scale and large.

Highlights include cruising along the Orinoco; a magic act that went horribly - and hilariously - wrong; a passenger 'mutiny' on the SS Norway; a perilously rough transatlantic crossing into the teeth of a hurricane; Christmas with Ginger Rogers; and a cat called Yalta.

It is a kaleidoscopic series of stories and vignettes, all told in first person and with a delightfully light touch. Clading knows he has been part of an extraordinary lifestyle and privy to a succession of famous figures, but he always comes across as a regular guy (albeit one who can speak eight languages!) who just happened to find himself in an irregular job.

For anyone who has cruised, ever thought of a cruise or just wants a good, light-hearted read from someone who has lived life 'behind the scenes,' this is an excellent choice.

Friday, 23 April 2010

P&O Waive The Rules

Maritime tradition used to suggest that women were bad luck on ships; that ill fortune would catch up with any owner foolish enough to allow the fairer sex to influence the vessel’s operations.

To put that ancient adage firmly to rest, P&O Cruises have recently set sail with the ultimate female nautical totem – a woman captain. And a very modern meeting of sea-going savoir faire it is, too.

Captain Sarah Breton, the new master of P&O’s Artemis, has actually been with the venerable Steam Navigation Company for 21 years, starting as a third officer on the then-Royal Princess, and then going up through the ranks as second officer, navigator, first officer and safety officer before being promoted to Staff Captain in 2001. She has worked her way up to the supreme position after stints on a number of other Princess Cruises ships as well as Canberra and, most recently, Ocean Village.

Artemis set sail with 45-year-old Breton in charge for the first time this Monday, fittingly with P&O’s managing director Carol Marlow able to send off her fellow female high achiever in high style.

With the vessel poised for a 7-day journey from Southampton, Marlow insisted: “We are delighted that Sarah Breton has been promoted to the role of Captain on board Artemis. Sarah has worked on board P&O Cruises ships for many years and truly deserves to be Master of Artemis. We wish her every success in her new role.”

For Breton, it was most definitely a major milestone on her lifetime achievement chart. And she said: “Growing up near the water I always loved boats and the ocean, so it really does fulfil a lifelong ambition of mine to be a Captain with P&O Cruises. It is made even more special to be Captain of the first cruise ship I ever served on, after joining P&O as third officer back in 1989.”

Captain Breton lives on the Essex Coast and, when on leave, spends her time in the garden, sailing - whenever the weather permits – and watching Six Nations rugby and Formula One motor racing.
But there was no word from P&O and their 173-year history on whether they feel they are flying in the face of ancient nautical practice. Somehow, you feel it is a piece of maritime mumbo-jumbo that is now firmly consigned to Davy Jones’ Locker.

(Nautical history note – Sarah Breton is actually the second woman to be promoted to full Captain after Royal Caribbean’s Karin Stahre Janson in 2007, but the first Briton in that role)

Nomads of the Seas Pt 3 – The Food

While the amazing ship and the stunning scenery are two of the key elements of any Patagonia adventure with the unique Nomads of the Seas operation, the quality and variety of the food onboard (and ashore) is another eye-opening facet.

New Patagonian’ cuisine is not just a fancy phrase for their chefs, it is a whole philosophy, based on fresh, natural ingredients, lots of seafood, healthy portions (i.e. smaller rather than larger) – and plenty of it. Seafood was a regular highlight, and ran the range of sea bass, lobster and king crab but also barnacle mousse, abalone and superb ceviche.

The day started with a tempting buffet breakfast, featuring an array of cereals, fruits and yoghurt, plus locals meats and cheeses, supplemented by omelettes and other egg dishes at personal request. Aromatic fresh coffee and juices were another notable feature, along with bread and pastries. The accent was notably light (although there was also plenty of scope to start with a hearty meal if you so wished!).

The set three-course lunch was either onboard or in one of Nomads’ priceless isolated locations ashore, with the ship’s chefs disembarking to provide a startling meal in the most magnificent settings. Every cruise also features a barbecue lunch of truly gargantuan proportions and style - the Patagonian equivalent of a regal picnic featuring a whole roast sheep, beef prime rib, sausage, salad and their piéce de resistance – beef thyroid, a peculiar sweetmeat with the consistency of thinly-sliced chicken but the taste of fine patè.

Every lunch was different and offered something novel, be it a delicious soup, a fabulous pasta dish or just a neat variation on a sandwich, like their Club Sandwich, which boasted fresh local fish.

Dinner was the cue for a whole new culinary experience, though. Here, the chefs really went to town with a range of dishes that not only took the ‘something different’ factor to a whole new level but also delighted the tastebuds with unique combinations, from an array of hors d’oevres (different every night) to outstanding desserts.

The set multi-course dinner also had its own variations, with one night given over to a true tapas-style feast of 13 dishes while another featured the Grand Patagonian Production, a stunning seafood spectacular highlighted by king prawns and a whole King Crab, served en parade but ready to eat.

It was not so much a meal as a dining adventure, running the gamut of taste sensations but without ever over-doing the quantity or variety.

Several times a year, Nomads hosts their own Patagonian Cuisine tasting programme, with well-known land-based chefs coming on board to create ever more individual culinary wonders. But, for a true taste of the region, you don’t need to wait for those rare opportunities. EVERY cruise is a voyage of Patagonian dining splendour, accompanied by some of the finest Chilean wines (all complimentary, along with the open bar) to ensure the ideal balance of food and drink.

And, as a final observation on this utterly delightful dining extravaganza, don’t even think of not trying the Chilean drink speciality, the Pisco Sour. Made from the local Pisco liquor and combined with fresh lemon and syrup (plus any one of egg white, ginger and jalapeno as optional flavourings), it mixes into a dreamy concoction of slightly sparkling wine-with-a-kick that somehow sets off the stunning scenery to total perfection.

Here's the menu from that grand tapas-style tasting evening - all 13 courses of it!

Bourguignon fondue
Meat filet with sauces (yoghurt with old mustard, grilled tomato with basil, Eggplant caviar
Gruyere cheese fondue
Fig bread, nut bread, carrot bread
Baked potatoes (all for dipping in cheese)

Main Menu
From the sea:
Shrimp mousse with ragout
Octopus with chickpeas oriental style
Easter Island tuna tabouleh
From the earth:
Beef Tartar with dill yoghurt sauce
Corn crème with baked quail
Rabbit loin with pumpkin and avocado ragout
From the hearth:
Tuna skewers with wasabi mayonnaise
Lamb kebabs in fig juice
Duck breast with native cherries

Dessert Tasting
Panacota of papaya from La Serena
Lucuma caramel
Chilean fruit salad

Sauvignon Blanc, Amayna
Merlot Reserva 2007
Vina Santa Ema
Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Koyle

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Re-Branding Is All The Rage

Following hard on the heels of the recent 'relaunch' of Azamara Cruises as Azamara Club Cruises, Princess Cruises have decided they need to spruce themselves up for the UK market.

For many years, Princess have been seen as the 'American' arm of P&O, and yet that is a gross over-simplification of the relationship between the two sister companies, who both became part of the giant Carnival conglomerate in 2002. There has always been an element of cross-over from P&O to Princess, and vice versa, since the 'Love Boat' cruise line started sending ships over to Europe more than 10 years ago. Their style appealed to passengers on both sides of the Atlantic, and the differences between the two fleets provided plenty of contrast.

More recently, P&O vessels have started to look more like their Princess counterparts - less traditional, more glamorous and all with a common starting point from the shipyard.

However, there obviously remains a 'difference' both from the Italian roots of the Princess line (many of their original vessels having been merged in from the Med-based Sitmar Line) and their predominantly American clientele, so it is a little surprising to hear the 'US' version needs to re-brand itself for British consumption.

You would think UK cruisers would be sophisticated enough to know the difference, and to understand the attractions, of cruising with Princess rather than the P&O option, but it seems that is not the case.

Among other things, Princess intends to present a 'fresh look' that has an 'emphasis on high standards' and will provide a
‘rejuvenating and relaxing retreat’ at sea.

Hmm. Call me old-fashioned, but I would pretty much say those should be the cornerstones of every cruise line today. Most ships are relatively new (or heavily refurbished); most cruises offer high quality in terms of food, service and entertainment (especially when compared with similar-priced land alternatives); and ALL cruises should ultimately be a relaxing experience (unless you try to take in every onboard activity and every excursion at every port of call!).

Princess already have excellent ships, with a genuine variety in their fleet and some superb service enhancements (like their Movies Under The Stars facility - see above). They offer great dining options and some far-reaching itineraries, as well as a distinctive Italo-American gloss that sets them apart from main rivals Holland America and Celebrity.

So I'm left wondering if this 're-brand' is primarily a marketing exercise aimed at making Princess better known to those who have yet to sample a cruise rather than anything substantial in terms of their product delivery.

Then again, perhaps I need to take a Princess cruise sometime soon to find out! Here's their press release in full:

13 April 2010
– In a bid to grow its business in the UK, Princess Cruises is re-launching the brand with the introduction of its new 2011/12 brochures. Based on extensive customer research, the brand will increase the emphasis on the high standards of its food and service and the relaxing and rejuvenating ambiance onboard. The new brochures, starting with the Mediterranean & Scandinavia 2011 edition, which is due out next week, will highlight the new positioning with a completely fresh look. T
he growing success of Princess in the UK has taken it to the number four position in the UK market, with a very loyal following. The research reveals that despite its positioning in the market, Princess is not as widely known as other UK brands. The new brand positioning for Princess will create more stand-out from other cruise lines, and increase its presence in the UK through a drive of marketing and sales initiatives.

Trustworthiness, excellent food and high standards onboard were the top priorities for British cruisers choosing a cruise line. Princess’s new look for the brand in the UK will highlight the exceptional dedication of its crew to maintaining the highest standards and the excellent quality of its cuisine, with all food freshly prepared from scratch every day. The new brochures have a calmer and more relaxed feel, illustrating the brand’s promise of providing a ‘rejuvenating and relaxing retreat,’ which research proved to be appealing to consumers.

“I am very excited about the beautiful new brand our marketing team has created. The new look illustrates Princess as the consummate host and the perfect retreat from which to explore the world,” said Pieter van der Schee, Princess Cruises’ head of brand marketing. “We have ambitious plans to grow the number of Princess passengers from the UK to our many destinations around the world and our increased activity and new identity for the brand are important in our quest.”

Princess Cruises’ new look in the UK can first be seen in the Mediterranean & Scandinavia 2011 brochure, out next week. The new design will then be rolled out to all other brochures and marketing literature and will be supported with increased direct marketing activity and more joint marketing with agent partners.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Nomads of the Seas, Pt 2

OK, in the opening part of our Photo Essay on the unique Nomads of the Seas operation in Chilean Patagonia, we looked at their special ship, the MV Atmosphere, and her amazing array of equipment for their signature up-close-and-personal tours of the region.

This time I'd like to highlight the region, as it is also one of the world's truly unique environments and an amazing realm of stunning scenery and enchanting wildlife.

From Nomads' point of view, Patagonia starts as soon as you sail south from their port of Puerto Montt, the biggest city in the Lake District region of the country. Surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (some of them still active), the backdrop is never less than breathtaking, but it also changes with astonishing regularity, even from minute to minute as the light changes.

The journey continues out of the Reloncavi Sound into the Gulf of Ancud, passing by the huge island of Chiloe on the starboard side. Watch out for dolphins (including one species found only in Chilean waters), sea-lions, penguins, sea-otters, blue whales (in season - late summer, around February in the southern hemisphere) and a multitude of seabirds, including cormorants, comical steamer ducks and albatross.

Most of the hinterland is thickly forested, which makes for a fascinating combination with the rugged mountains. The many islands and rocky outcrops are home to sea-lions, penguins and kelp geese, as well as some vibrant and verdant plant life, which in turn attracts many tiny hummingbirds. Several types of dolphin often frolic alongside the ship (and even more so when you go out for excursions in the RIB inflatable boat) and even when the weather turns grey and rainy (which it is sure to do at some stage in these regions), there is always something to admire in the passing vistas.

With luck (and the right weather!), you will see imposing volcano of Corcovado and the currently active Chaiten, still spewing out clouds of smoke and ash two years after its most recent eruption.

Ultimately, this is an extraordinarily desolate and even forbidding part of the world. But the sheer fact that so few people live here - and even fewer visit - makes this one of the great cruise adventures you can take. And, when you take one of Nomads' helicopter tours to go hiking, kayaking, fishing or merely sight-seeing over this impossibly rugged countryside, it is utterly absorbing and totally unforgettable.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Nomads of the Seas - A Photo Essay

It is now six weeks since we got back from Chile and our amazing experience cruising around Patagonia with the superb Nomads of the Seas, so it is long overdue for a proper report on the trip (which will also be the feature story in the next edition of World of Cruising magazine, out in June).

So, to do something different, I thought I would turn this into a kind of photo essay, using some of our many (like 1,753!) pictures of the trip to illustrate a few key points about this unique operation that sails out of Puerto Montt in southern Chile.

Let's start with the ship itself, the purpose-built M/V Atmosphere, carrying just 28 passengers and barely 160ft long but absolutely packed with features and some astonishing gadgets - like its two Bell 407 helicopters (for sensational sight-seeing and tours inland), five jetboats, a US Navy-quality RIB inflatable boat (for up-close dolphin and whale-watching) and a variety of canoes and kayaks.

The ship has a very comfortable lounge and bar, an open dining room and a very chic little spa, with massage, sauna and three thalassotherapy whirlpools, and that is about the extent of the facilities. But that is more than enough - as we found out in due course!

New edition now out!

OK, I'm more than a week late with publicising our latest edition, but the Spring issue of World of Cruising magazine is now available to subscribers and online visitors alike.

It is choc-full of great destination features (Singapore, the Pacific North-West, the Maldives and the Aegean Sea, plus river cruising on both the Rhine and Rhone in Europe), ship reviews (the new Silver Spirit, Princess Danae, Majestic Cruises and Royal Clipper), insider news and comment (Aft View, Passenger Perspective and our annual Cruise Planner on every ship worldwide), and our unique regular features like World of Spas, Fashion and The Admiral.

You can see more online at - and look out for our all-new website, coming soon!

We are also hard at work on the next edition for June, featuring Nomads of the Seas in Chile; Royal Caribbean's amazing Oasis of the Seas, an Arabian Odyssey around Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai; cruising on the Brahmaputra River in India; sailing on the unique Patricia of Trinity House; the amazing Galapagos Islands with Haugan Cruises; a look at how life aboard ship has changed in the past 100 years; a luxury voyage on The Nile; and a special look at 'green' cruising.

It is all in store in the Summer edition of Europe's premier publication on the subject of cruising, so make sure you order your copy now!