You may have read about my top destinations for 2014…now here are my top ten cruises and ships. I find cruises are the ideal opportunity to visit several new places. I can see many ports and facets of a country, or indeed countries, without ever having to pack and unpack except when embarking and disembarking, of course. If you haven’t tried a cruise yet, now is the time to splash out and go to sea! Here is my pick of the best:
1. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Quantum of the Seas
The 4,180 passenger Quantum of the Seas ‘changes everything’ (according to Royal Caribbean Cruise Line) and this is certainly true, particularly as far as technology is concerned. This SMART ship has a dedicated satellite zapping down fibre optic type broadband that will create incredible bandwidth. This means superfast downloads and unbelievable connectivity. Shazam! Some of the other amazing features on board are: North Star (a London Eye type pod that pivots right out over the sea at about 350ft high), Ripcord by iFly which offers simulated sky diving, the Bionic Bar with robot bartenders mixing drinks and dynamic dining that encompasses 19 dining venues. I tried both Jamie’s Italian and Chops Grille. Yum!! And there is also first class theatre entertainment with shows like Mamma Mia. The Anthem of the Seas will be sailing from Southampton in 2015. Can’t wait.
2. Norwegian Cruise Line’s Getaway
At the beginning of 2014, Norwegian Cruise Line’s new ship, Getaway, had a spectacular launch in Southampton. I wrote more about this ship than I ever expected to and it was, indeed, a beautiful vessel. Its bright and brassy livery and interiors are all about and dedicated to Miami, Florida. And to top it off, the godmothers of Getaway were the Miami Dolphins Football Team Cheerleaders. I very much enjoy the exceptional venues (dining and otherwise) that Norwegian Cruise Line offers. You can’t beat the Ice Bar for a bit of frigid fun and the Modern Churrascaria Brazilian restaurant is an all-time favourite of mine. On this occasion, several people ‘walked the plank’ as part of a top deck that has water park type attractions. Several also whizzed down a water slide tube while shivering in the English winter cold. At least the sun was shining!
3. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth
I am cheating a bit here because I sailed on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth at the very end of 2013 but I thought she deserves a mention and more. I flew out to the port of Pireus in Athens and joined the cruise in progress. We sailed to several Greek ports of call enjoying the wonderful sunshine and history of these islands. This Cunard ship is not as large as the Queen Mary, which is an all out ocean liner, but I love her traditional wood décor through-out and beautiful salons, theatres and dance venues. To me it brings back the grand and glorious golden era of cruising that will hopefully live on forever!
4. Eastern Mediterranean Cruise on Azamara Quest
My first visit to Istanbul was one of my top ten destinations for 2014 and the highlight on my Eastern Mediterranean Cruise with Azamara Club Cruises. The Azamara Quest luxury ship is mid-sized with a capacity of 686 passengers but still manages to create an intimate ambience. The pool deck is fabulous and swimming in the ship’s salt water pool is a real treat. Other ports of call on our trip were Chania, Crete and Santorini, Kusadasi, Turkey; Dikili, Turkey and Patmos, Greece. The AzAmazing Evening Concert in Turkey, in one of the amphitheatre in Ephesus was a stunning event and meticulously planned.
5. Do’uro River Cruise, CroisiEurope’s Infant d’Henrique
The Do’uro River in Portugal is known mainly for its UNESCO heritage terraced vineyards and for the making of exceptional fortified wines. Our itinerary and trip began in Porto on board Infant d’Henrique and that day was, by coincidence, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist. Incredible fun. All the residents had sardine dinners along the river and then there was a spectacular fireworks display near the Ponte D. Maria Pia. Sailing up the river was beautiful. I recommend the excursion to Vila Real to visit the historic Mateus House and to also try out the delicious pastries created during medieval times.
6. The Rhône River, Uniworld’s SS Catherine
Launching a vessel with someone as famous and well known as actress Catherine Deneuve is always going to be an exceptional experience. But when it is a six star vessel like her namesake, the SS Catherine, that brings everything to another level. The launch was elegant and the meal that followed, luxurious. This event was then followed by a cruise down the Rhone with visits to exceptional vineyard towns: Tain-l’Hermitage and Tournon-sur-Rhône. There was a special induction ceremony into the Touron-sur-Rhone wine-makers guild. Viviers was another stop on our voyage with a lovely village and spectacular climb to a well-known statue of St. Mary that overlooks the Rhone and the valley.
7. Emerald Waterways
Another launch with a super celebrity was the Emerald Star river cruise ship which I joined on the Rhein River. Twiggy was the godmother on this occasion though we saw very little of her during the actual cruise. The ship is very modern featuring natural décor, white, black and crème coloured interiors and scaled back minimalist cabins. Sailing through the famous section of the Rhein River, which is dotted with medieval castles, is always a treat. It was a dazzling afternoon and the beauty of this setting cannot be overemphasised. There was an excursion to a beautiful spot in the Black Forest where they have refurbished, medieval farmhouses. This is not only a new cruise vessel but a brand new cruise line so expect to hear more about Emerald Waterways in 2015.
8. Forever Fjords with Fred. Olsen on Balmoral
I just cannot get enough of the Norwegian coastline and ports. This is such a rugged and gorgeous part of the world that I will always grab the opportunity to take a cruise to this wonderful destination. And I also enjoy sailing with Fred. Olsen and writing about this good value cruise line. On this fjord itinerary, I got to see the Pulpit Rock which is a short boat ride up the Lysefjord Fjord near the port of Stavanger. There were even mountain goats playing around on the craggy cliffs. Bergen and its old harbour plus bustling fish market is always a favourite destination as is Flåm and the incredible Flåm railway that climbs an enormous mountain traversing rivers and waterfalls along the way.
9. Hapag Lloyd’s Europa 2
Nothing is better than Europa 2 according to Douglas Ward and his Berlitz Guide to the Top Cruise Ships. This sleek modern ship, with luxury cabins with butlers, bathtubs and enormous balconies has a price tag that is not too unreasonable for well-heeled Brits. There are speciality restaurants with exceptional cuisine (the Italian was my favourite) an amazing spa and spectacular pool deck as well as gorgeous art work through-out. Though it was only a taster cruise on Europa 2 for me, I am looking forward to having the full experience in 2015.
10. Regal Princess, Princess Cruises
There was a launch in Florida this autumn of another brand new vessel, Regal Princess. This new addition to Princess Cruises’ fleet was welcomed by well wishers including the former cast of the hit series The Love Boat. Such a shame that, up to now, there has been little opportunity for the British press to experience the new ship but I am sure this will be amended. The sister ship of Royal Princess, Regal Princess has many similar amenities including the exceptional Sanctuary Spa. Watch this space for a report in 2015.