As I reflect on the cruise I realise that I have just missed 4 months of the coldest and most miserable winter for years. Instead, we travelled 35,000 miles in temperatures rarely below the mid-twenties and visited 42 ports on 5 continents. We changed our watches 28 times as we moved through different time zones and I am still trying to find that day which went missing somewhere in the South Pacific.
It was a wonderful experience and I was able to see many things, countries and places I could never have imagined.
To retrace our 120 Days we started out with the Transatlantic Cruise from London to Panama, from the Americas we travelled down through the Caribbean, the Pacific and French Polynesia to Australia. From down-under, we then continued to navigate Asia and the Indian Ocean before travelling through the Suez Canal back to the Carribean.
Since arriving home I have been asked many questions about the cruise so I will try to answer some of them.
Value for money:
I thought the cruise excellent value for money. As the cost was divided up over 120 days it worked out no more than we would normally spend per day when Interrailing in Europe and much less than we would
spend on some Great Rail Journeys. While not luxurious the cabin was very comfortable with loads of storage space. The TV which we rarely used was rather small.
I am not a food fan (fish and Chips being my favourite) but I have been assured the food was excellent with wide variety and selection with menus being adapted each evening to reflect the local cuisine using local produce. Certainly there was a lot of food available virtually at any time of day. Breakfast normally started from 6.30, lunch at12 0’clock, afternoon tea at 3.30, a 5-course dinner at 6.00 with a buffet available until 9.00 and late night snacks at 11.00
There were also specialist restaurants for particular tastes Indian, Steak etc. and tea and coffee were available 24hours. The wines were varied and reasonably priced
We had an open invitation to inspect the kitchens. This was an opportunity to be reassured about the cleanliness of the facilities and appreciate the expertise and special skills of the different chefs.
In addition to the daily quizzes, games, dancing, and films there was a show in the Palladium Show Lounge every evening. When in port this often involved a company of local performers demonstrating traditional drama music and dance. On other nights we had guest acts singers, comedians dancers and magicians. Some were quite enjoyable but many of the performances were dated with stale jokes and the magicians were extremely good at making me disappear down to the Connexions bar to enjoy Chloe singing and have a dance.
Most evenings we had a performance from the resident show team comprising of 14 singers and dancers and backed by the ship’s orchestra. They were brilliant as one of our more knowledgeable friends exclaimed it was like watching a West End musical every night. The singing and dancing were colourful, exciting, vibrant and varied as we were treated to musicals such as Les Miserables, South Pacific and Rocky Horror show and tributes to Johnny Cash, Doris Day and Adele.
In addition, for those more classically minded, a delightful duo” A touch of class” gave a performance in the Atrium each evening. They really lived up to their name.
Our fellow passengers around 1700 were mostly from the UK but also included a couple of hundred Germans and a substantial number of Dutch and US citizens and as we sailed the southern hemisphere we picked up a significant number of Anzacs. Our fellow travellers were largely of our vintage. In fact, I calculated if we were unfortunate and all perished after hitting an iceberg the Chancellor would save £15million a year in pensions alone.
Our initial concern about relating to other passengers soon disappeared as everyone was very welcoming and we soon made friends. Our dinner table of ten gelled very well despite the fact that I got off to a bad start with the two American couples. On our first night they expressed support for Trump and admitted they all including the two wives normally carried guns. This resulted in a rather lively debate on gun control. We agreed to disagree and became good friends and were saddened when Jim and his wife had to leave the ship in Auckland because of a heart problem.
From the initial booking to disembarking at Tilbury everyone we dealt with was very friendly and helpful. Harry O’Hara@cruise was always ready to help and gave us with advice on issues such as insurance, connections and packages available. The crew who were from over twenty nations were always welcoming and pleasant and were happy to resolve any problem. Their cheerful attitude added greatly to the enjoyment of the cruise.
It would be impossible to embark on such a long cruise without finding some minor criticisms. The most obvious concern was the loss of the internet at times and quality of the connection. On the other hand, it was so relaxing to get away from all the daily concerns. I was also disappointed by the library and the lack of new books. The books were extremely dated and there was an absence of reference books which could be used to refute the answers given in the quizzes.
The excursions, on the whole, were enjoyable and provided an ideal opportunity to visit local sites and activities. However, some involved travelling long distances and left little time for sightseeing while others such as those of the Taj Mahal or terracotta warriors were rather expensive. For those of us who wished to travel independently, a shuttle bus was often provided. This usually went to the city centre but on a few occasions, it took us to a shopping centre/mall. This was tremendously irritating for those like me who hate shopping. In fact, I only made one purchase during the 120 days when I bought a copy of the Guardian in Auckland. On the other hand, Anne enjoyed some shops and buying souvenirs for family and friends as well as the 42 fridge magnets to remember each destination.
While I was never particularly worried at any time during the cruise I did have some concerns particularly when the tender hit the rocks at Moorea. On returning from a river trip in Shanghai the “driver “twice crashed into the jetty. On the third attempt, the manager had to leap from the jetty to the moving boat to steer it into its berth. A bit scary but we should have perhaps realised the “driver “was a learner when he had to call the manager to show him how to turn the engine on.
The only other time I was concerned was when a bout of the norovirus hit the ship. This spread to a number of passengers but I managed to avoid it.
These are my personal rankings and so I have no doubt many would disagree. They are based on my preferences and prejudices and were no doubt indirectly influenced by my background as a historian and economist. It was not possible to visit Sri Lanka without recalling the massacre of the Tamils following the civil war or avoid being amazed at the Chinese economic development when in Shanghai.
As I was looking forward to a get-away- from- it-all holiday I tended to prefer a quiet destination rather a noisy bustling city. Inevitably my opinion was also influenced by the weather at the time of the visit.
Top Ten Destinations
1. French Polynesia:
Tahiti Bora Bora This met my criteria for a perfect holiday. The blue lagoons and crystal clear waters with dolphins playing. The volcanic peaks with lush slopes growing many varieties of tropical fruit. But most importantly the peace and calm and so remote from all the worries of the world.
2. New Zealand:
New Zealand brought back memories of my youth a simple life with the freedom to roam and appreciate the wide open spaces. The visit to Tauranga highlighted this freedom as we walked along the coastal path at the base of the extinct volcano Mount Maunganui admiring the breath-taking beach and the amazing wildlife on land and sea.
I was an agreeable surprise particularly as I was apprehensive given Columbia’s recent violent history. It is a beautiful walled city and fortress and has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site reflecting its history as the main port in Spanish Colonial Empire. It is an absorbing place with the impressive old town plazas, cobblestone streets and colourful colonial buildings.
After Dubai Muscat was a welcome relief. The presence of old forts highlighted the historical significance of the city. New buildings particularly the very impressive Grand Mosques blend tastefully in with the old. A visit to the Mutrah Souk is a fascinating experience.
5. Valetta Malta:
The port entrance is very impressive reflecting the island’s location in the centre of the Mediterranean which has historically given it great strategic importance as a naval base. The island has had many rulers it including the Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, and British and each has left a mark on the country’s ancient culture. The fortified city of Mdina is particularly interesting. For more, check out this 3-day Itinerary for Malta.
Is modern China and an influential centre for economic, financial and world trade. You can feel the throbbing energy of its economic development. There is also a blend of cultures, the modern and the traditional, and the western and the oriental. The multitude of skyscrapers when lit up at night provide a spectacular and colourful view around the harbour.
7. Funchal Madeira:
My first impression of Funchal was the abundance of flowers and shrubs particularly as we walked along the seafront promenade. As we entered the cobbled streets in the centre there is a sweet fragrance of flowers everywhere.
8. Bridgetown Barbados:
As we left the ship you knew you were in the Caribbean with the Calypso music in the background and the old colonial buildings. There was a carefree atmosphere as we wandered through the noisy market past palm tree lined white sandy beaches to the harbour which was a hive of activity with boats of all shapes and size.
9. Koh Samui:
Thailand a beautiful island with a lush tropical jungle We disembarked in the small town of Nathon ambled along the narrow streets with many stalls and through the grounds of a very attractive Buddhist temple. We then strolled along the beautiful beach and came across a number of wrecked ships and wondered about the 2004 tsunami.
10. Cochin, Kerala, India:
Cochin was a very interesting city with rapidly expanding business and commercial centre and a long colonial history. As a result it is multicultural and has one of the largest Christian populations in India with churches of many denominations including St Francis CSI church which was the first church in India and where Vasco De Gama was initially buried before his removal to Lisbon An interesting sight is the rows of giant Chinese cantilever fishing nets along the river bank.
Unfortunately, I cannot include all the cities I enjoyed but others such as Sydney, Manila, Aquba and Singapore should also get a mention. There were also a small number of ports which I did not enjoy for different reasons.
I felt Dubai was an appalling place. It was so commercially driven, very expensive and the only place we visited where tourists were not made to feel welcome. It had no history and prided itself on building the Burj Khalifa the tallest building in the world, the world’s largest shopping mall and the construction of three artificial islands. The whole place seemed artificial with no substance and no heart.
2. Cristobal Panama:
This port as I previously pointed out was frightening and we were glad to get back to the ship.
3. Port Klang Malaysia:
This was our own fault. We decided not to go on any of the official excursions although with hindsight there were some interesting options particularly the trip to Kuala Lumpur. Instead, we took the shuttle bus to Klang which we thought would leave us in the city centre. Instead, it took us to a massive out of town shopping centre. As I hate shopping we did not stay long.
Normally we love Amsterdam and have visited it on many occasions but only in summer. We arrived in January when the city was suffering the after-effects of Hurricane Eleanor and the temperature was close to zero. With the wind, it was absolutely freezing and we returned to Columbus early.
5. Phu My Vietnam:
Again a wrong choice instead of going on an excursion to the Mekong Delta or Ho Chi Min city we decided to go independently. We hoped to walk to the nearest town and see how the rural community lived. Unfortunately, after walking for over an hour in temperatures in the mid-thirties along a largely deserted road, we felt the heat was too much and we would have to walk back we gave up and returned to Columbus.
Conclusion: The experience of a lifetime saw so many wonderful places and things but so much more to see I would gladly do it all again.