Time for a quick look back at 2010 – and what a year it was. Avoiding Icelandic ash clouds, striking airport workers and snow-blocked runways I have somehow managed to visit five continents by cruise ship. It’s been a year of contrasts; I have been deep in the bowels of the biggest cruise ship the world has ever seen, and I spent enchanted hours looking for Scottish wildlife from the wheelhouse of a converted fishing boat. Unforgettable – except that sooner or later the memories fade. So here are a few photographic reminders.
First trip of the year was a week in the Red Sea on Thomson Celebration. The aromatic taxi rank in Petra (above) consisted of a collection of camels, horses and donkeys and I was delighted to discover their Jordanian “drivers” were a lot less pushy than their Egyptian counterparts at the Pyramids, who never take no for an answer.
I can’t remember seeing camels in Dubai, but there were more magnificent horses at the spectacular naming ceremony for Costa Deliziosa and the opening of the port’s new cruise terminal at Port Rashid. There was also an opportunity to take a brief look at the former Cunard liner Queen Elizabeth 2, still looking splendid, but a little forlorn, at the quayside.
There was hardly time to draw breath on my return from Dubai before I was airborne again, flying to Buenos Aires. A couple of days in the bustling Argentine capital preceded a flight to the world’s southernmost city, Ushuaia, where I boarded Via Australis for a four-night cruise to Cape Horn and on to Punta Arenas in Chile. What a fantastic adventure; it’s difficult to decide what was the real highlight – the Magellanic penguins on Magdalena Island (above) or the Pisco Sour cocktails in the ship’s Yamana Lounge.
Two new cruise ships made their debuts – P&O’s Azura was named by prima ballerina Darcey Bussell a few days after an early morning arrival into Southampton (above). Yachtswoman and cancer survivor Emma Pontin did the honours on Celebrity Eclipse, but only after the ship had made what once would have been described in tabloid headlines as a “mercy dash” to bring home holidaymakers stranded in Spain by the Eyjafjallajokull ash cloud which had grounded flights over Europe.
Leaving my postal vote behind, I escaped the election campaign in May to take a cruise among the Norwegian fjords on board the newly-refurbished Saga Pearl II (above, in Eidfjord). If I had realised the count would have led to a stalemate I might not have sat up half the night watching the BBC news on my cabin television and could have waited instead for the moment a few days later when Captain David Warden Owen strode on stage to interrupt a game of Call My Bluff and announce that Britain had a coalition government.
By the end of May I was heading for the Baltic on board P&O’s Azura and sampling some of the wines chosen by TV’s Olly Smith for his Glass House wine bar. The first two days of June brought us to St Petersburg, where there seemed to be couples celebrating weddings in every open space (above) and on every canal bridge. Most significantly for me, I spent some of my time on board submitting to acupuncture therapy administered by Jessica Ho, and I have been an ex-smoker ever since. If only I could get her to do something about the weight I have put on since giving up cigarettes . . .
June also saw a quick flight to join Norwegian Epic in Rotterdam, and a delayed journey across to Southampton where thousands of travel agents were waiting for their chance to spend a couple of days on board NCL’s new giant, and to spend an afternoon in the sun watching England’s one brief moment of World Cup glory on the ship’s big screen.
Remarkably, a month in which I did not go to sea once – unless you count an hour chugging around the Kyles of Bute during an interesting few days in Scotland, where the highlight was watching the lively dolphins of the Moray Firth (above). I couldn’t let a month go by without something of a cruise, however, so I spent a few days on the African Queen, a floating hotel on the quieter reaches of the River Thames.
Another memorable month, spending a week touring the Canadian Rockies before boarding the Diamond Princess for a week-long cruise to Alaska. So many highlights, it’s difficult to choose between them, so I’ll settle for three: our journey from Jasper to Vancouver on the Rocky Mountaineer train; the sight of black bears (above) nonchalantly plucking salmon from the waters of Neets Bay in the Tongass National Park; and an afternoon watching the vastness of the Harvard Glacier calving into College Fjord. We’ll draw a veil over the quantities of food consumed during the cruise, which did nothing to restore my waistline to the sylph-like proportions of my days as a smoker.
There were another two visits to the Baltic this month – one of them to spend two exhausting days poking into almost every corner of the unfinished Allure of the Seas in the shipyard at Turku in Finland. Then it was time for another cruise, this time on Fred Olsen’s Balmoral, which – because it’s a smaller ship – provided an opportunity for a transit of the Kiel Canal. St Petersburg claims to enjoy only 30 sunny days a year, and on my second visit of the year to the city, I took full advantage of one of them to enjoy the fountains of Peterhof palace (above).
The weather was less kind when I returned to the UK to spend a week sailing off the west coast of Scotland on Majestic Lines’ lovely little boat, Glen Tarsan. A converted trawler carrying 11 passengers and four crew, it would have been at the mercy of the wind and waves of we had followed the intended itinerary to Iona and Staffa, so instead of exploring Fingal’s Cave we remained in sheltered waters off Mull and in Loch Linnhe and Loch Sunart.
The sun was smiling on Cunard for the emotional ceremony at which the Queen named the latest ship to carry her name, but the rain was coming down in buckets again a few days later when I arrived in Dubrovnik at the end of an interesting few days aboard Voyage to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey.
I was one of only two British journalists invited to Germany to see Disney Dream emerge from a giant construction shed at the Papenburg shipyard of Meyer-Werft, and then I flew to Florida to spend three days on Allure of the Seas – claimant to the title of biggest cruise ship in the world thanks to an extra two inches on sister ship Oasis. Royal Caribbean put me to work during the visit, and although I know many readers were disappointed they didn’t get to see me in a pair of fishnet tights alongside the dancers from Chicago, I did get to make a sensational smoked sweet potato soup with chef Molly Brandt (above) from the ship’s 150 Central Park restaurant.
The year would not have been complete without a chance to see whether Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth lives up to the hype, and after spending a week on board between Southampton and Grand Canaria, I’m delighted to report that she’s all that and more. However, I’m a bit worried about the main swimming pool (above); with its two Jacuzzis at one end. It reminds me of something I last saw in a schoolboy’s exercise book, but I can’t remember exactly what it was. Any suggestions?
That’s about it for 2010. I hope you have enjoyed following Captain Greybeard as much as he has enjoyed travelling across the world.
It’s already looking like 2011 is going to be just as exciting. In just over two weeks I’ll be flying to Orlando and joining the inaugural celebrations for Disney Dream, and by the end of the month I will be in Dubai ready to spend a week cruising the Gulf on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas.
You’ll be able to follow me here, in the pages of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror, and elsewhere as well. More of that later.
A Happy New Year to all of you.
All pictures © John Honeywell, except the picture of Molly Brandt and me, which is © Simon Brooke-Webb