As these pages testify, I am a self confessed cruise addict, at my happiest when on board a yacht, boat, barge or (small) luxury ship. Crossing the Pacific from Los Angeles to French Polynesia, a slow boat from Singapore to China, circumnavigating South America and island hopping around the Caribbean, Greece – and nearer to home, no-where is more stunning than the magnificent Western Isles of Scotland.
“The day was yet in its prime, a lustrous summer day which might have gilded the palm-crowned glories of an Indian isle. The sky was bright above, and the great ocean heaved around us with a motion so subdued and gentle, that our hearts might have filled with joy and gladness.” From “A Voyage Round the Coasts of Scotland and the Isles,” James Wilson.
This poetic report was written by a cruise passenger in 1842, but could well describe this wildly dramatic destination today.
Inspired by traditional Mediterranean cruising on a Turkish Gulet, The Majestic Line was launched in 2005 to offer authentic boating adventures around the Argyll coastline, Western Isles and Hebrides. The Glen Massan and Glen Tarsan are former Irish fishing vessels, comfortably furnished with six double en suite cabins, a lounge-bar-dining saloon, fore and aft sundecks; Eleven guests are looked after by a crew of skipper, engineer, bosun and chef.
Following great success over the past decade, the award winning company has just launched a third vessel, Glen Etive which joins the fleet for the 2016 season. The grand ceremony on April 5th at Holy Loch Marina was heralded by a kilted Piper, speeches from the owners, Andy Thoms and Ken Grant before the guest of honour, the actress Barbara Rafferty christened the ship in traditional manner with a dram of whisky.
Master of this new mini cruise ship is Skipper David Wheeler, formerly on the Glen Tarsan, accompanied by his wife, Michelle as Bosun, Engineer Steven Campbell and Chef Michael Weir with his important role in the galley.
The inaugural series of 6 and 10 night cruises on board Glen Etive covers an exciting, enticing range of destinations, cultural and outdoor sporting interests: up close and personal bird watching and wildlife around “Skye and the Shiants”, to whisky tasting over the waves to “Islay and the Southern Hebrides;” the departure on 21 May coincides with the Islay Festival of Music and Malt, Fèis Ìle. And instead of jetting off to the Seychelles, visit the fabulous sandy beach islands of Barra, Canna and Mingulay, the “Idyllic Isles of the Outer Hebrides”.
And what is sure to be a very popular voyage is the chance to experience the remote World Heritage site of St Kilda, once a small outpost community with its own school and church. This is David Attenborough territory indeed with its vast colony of fulmars and gannets, the distinctive St. Kilda Robin and ancient Soay sheep.
It was in 1834 when the first cruise steamer, the “elegantly furnished” Glen Albyn, sailed from Glasgow to St. Kilda, the start of popular Pleasure Excursions around the Hebrides. As they manoevered their way through the Stacs, one intrepid Victorian tourist described that when the ship’s cannon was fired, the passengers took pot shots at the gannets with rifles! Thankfully today ecologically-friendly cruisers arrving on St Kilda are armed only with cameras and binoculars. But just like those early travellers who ventured out to this bleak, barren landscape, it retains a mystical atmosphere still haunted by its extraordinary heritage of pioneering endeavour.
“There is something in the very name of St. Kilda, which excites expectation. Remote and solitary, the spirit of romance appears still to dwell in the clouds and storms that separate this narrow spot from the world.” “The Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland” John MacCulloch (1824).
Meanwhile throughout 2016, Glen Massan and Glen Tarsan will set off on 3 and 6 night itineraries covering the map of the West Coast with ports of call on Mull, Skye, Colonsay, Muck, Rum, Eigg, the Slate Islands, exploring Loch Crinan and Loch Spelve as well as a fascinating journey through the Caledonian Canal to Loch Ness.
“Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream. Discover”. Mark Twain
In recent years, my partner Ken and I have experienced stunningly scenic journeys on Glen Massan and Glen Tarsan, from Arran to Mull as well as the tranquil beauty of long finger fjord-like sealochs. Life on board is casual, leisurely, fun: be as active or lazy as you wish, bird watching, a spot of fishing, read or relax on deck surrounded by a backdrop of glorious loch and mountain views. By day, enjoy a tender boat ride ashore to head off on energetic island walks, visit ancient castles, distilleries, art galleries, coastal towns, villages and fishing ports.
These intimate, wee ships have the atmosphere of a friendly house party: after an exhilarating day out in the open air, by 6pm or 7pm it’s cocktail time as guests gather for a G&T or a dram leading on to lively conversation over dinner.
As fishing boats, they are purpose built to navigate shallow waters of narrow inlets, natural harbours and sandy bays – the skipper always finding a hidden cove to anchor overnight for a peaceful night’s sleep.
My personal highlights ? Calgary Bay, Mull, watching five dolphins diving around the bow of the tender boat; listening to Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture as we approach Fingal’s Cave, Staffa; the distant silhouette of shimmering shapely islands at sunset; on deck before breakfast to capture a painterly view in the pure fresh air.
“Mull was astern, Rum on the port, Eigg on the starboard bow ….” Robert Louis Stevenson
You can be assured of superb, freshly prepared, seasonal Taste of Scotland meals on board as Chef Michael Weir on the Glen Etive proudly explains:
“I use only fresh ingredients and stock up at suppliers en route for example the mussel farm on Loch Spelve on Mull, and source lamb, pork and beef from local farms and venison from the hill. We’ll put some fishing lines over the side and we frequently catch mackerel We also can catch our own crab and even the occasional lobster by dropping our own pots overnight. We often find we are moored up beside a prawn boat or fishing boat where the skipper will happily swap some of their catch for a bottle of whisky! “
A cruise with the Majestic Line is simply unique, memorable and magical with a true sense of freedom and escape from real life. I cannot wait to step on board the new sleek, chic Glen Etive for another majestic adventure around the Scottish Islands. Now with a fleet of three charming boats, it is certainly the best wee cruise line in the world!
The great value cruise fare covers accommodation, exemplary hosts and hospitality, all meals (complimentary house wine with dinner), and ship to shore transfers. As well as joining a mixed group of couples and individuals, you can also hire your own cruise line!. Exclusive use charters are very popular for families and friends, corporate and business events.
See the website for all information, calendar of itineraries, fares and special offers: http://www.themajesticline.co.uk
Specialising in writing about luxury travel, I have had the pleasure and privilege of visiting some fine hotels, taking classic train journeys and especially sharing my passion for slow, slow cruises, the most relaxing way to explore the world.
Founded in 1994, the Italian family-owned Silversea cruise line has continued to develop its vision to create a superior style of 6 star leisurely travel experiences.
Imagine planning the perfect escape with all-inclusive hospitality, first class personal service and enriching itineraries to dream destinations.
Over the years, having island-hopped around the Seychelles, sailed around Venice and Vietnam, across the South Pacific to India and Africa, what entices me on board again and again is the sociable house party ambience and casually-elegant, romantic lifestyle.
There are currently eight small-scale ships from the super-yacht Silver Wind to the sleek, chic Silver Whisper, the grand art deco Silver Spirit to the Silver Explorer and Discoverer for Royal Geographical expeditions.
Muse = 1. In ancient Greek mythology, Muses were goddesses of science and art who inspired creative endeavours. 2. A person or guiding spirit who inspires a creative artist.
Always seeking to broaden the horizons and exceed expectations, Silversea has recently announced the fantastic news of their new glamorous flagship, the Silver Muse which will be launched for the Spring season 2017.
Very timely to develop the fleet and keep up to date and on trend given the strong competition amongst the specialist cruise industry; new ships are joining Regent Seven Seas, Norwegian and Seabourn. Azamara Club ships are being redesigned as a luxe brand, featuring unique complimentary AzAmazing excursions.
An increasing number of travellers prefer intimate, exclusive, all inclusive cruises on small luxury ships, river boasts and expedition vessels with a 21% increase in the past five years.
The ultra-luxury Silver Muse will accommodate 596 guests (slightly more than the Silver Spirit), but the overall décor and design is still under wraps. All that has been revealed by the CEO, Enzo Visone, is that there will a distinctive sense of originality, creativity and quality, to enhance “ the sophistication and innovative style for which Silversea ships are renowned”.
Also not yet revealed is where Silver Muse will be sailing on her maiden and inaugural voyages. I await the news with much anticipation.!
In January 2010, my partner Ken and I were amongst the first guests to board Silver Spirit, attending the Christening ceremony in Fort Lauderdale before we set off on a leisurely 10 week voyage circumnavigating South America.
This was like a mini gap year for adults, an intrepid adventure away off the well trodden tourist map for true exploration and cultural enrichment – with the secure comfort of a floating luxury hotel all the way. Stylish Silversea travel at its very best. (See feature link below).
The cruise line is internationally celebrated as a leader in 6 star luxury travel, regularly winning annual awards including “Best Small Ship Cruise Line” by readers of Condé Nast Traveller (11 times including 2014), and “Best Luxury Cruise Line” at UK’s Travel Weekly Globe Awards ( 9 times including 2015).
Magical, memorable seaviews, wildlife and wonderous sights are guaranteed from the deck of a Silversea ship.
Roll on Spring 2017 and the launch of Silver Muse for the start of more enriching, aspirational, inspirational travel experiences, wherever she may be sailing around the globe. See you on board!
“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has courage to lose sight of the shore”. André Gide.
For forthcoming Itineraries, Expeditions, Destinations, World Cruises, 2016 and 2017, and all cruise information – http://www.silversea.com
Read about the Grand Inaugural Voyage, South America on Silver Spirit, 2010
Many airlines and cruise ships are not allowed to fly/sail directly from the British Falkland Islands to Argentina, so instead we enjoy a soujourn to Uruguay. First, the historic, Colonial capital, Montevideo located on a Florida-style coastline between River Plate and Atlantic Ocean.
Arriving by ship, we didn’t have to walk far for an authentic taste of the local cuisine and culture.
The old Mercado del Puerto is a carnivore’s dream with dozens of Parrillas, (steakhouses), the prime cuts of beef served with local Tannat-grape wine.
And outdoors, browse the rows of market stalls for art, handcrafts and jewellery.
While on the Silver Spirit over Christmas, cruising around the Caribbean, we met a charming extended Argentinian family on board. Over festive drinks in the Bar, Snr B. the youthful septuagenarian Grandfather (work in BA, leisure in Uruquay), and his wife suggest we meet up in Punta del Este during our South America voyage.
Punta del Este, Uruguay is a trendy, upmarket resort famed for sand dunes, surfing waves, bars, restaurants and designer shops.
Arriving here on 9th February, all goes to plan and as we walk along the pier from the Tender Boat jetty we are met at the marina by our Silversea friends.
The afternoon is a scenic drive along the endless beaches along the coast to the sophisticated districts La Barra and Jose Ignacio; en route we pass the surreal sculpture on Playa Brava – La Mano, a giant hand of fingers jutting out of the sand.
As a family getaway retreat for those living in Buenos Aires, Snr B. has been coming here for nearly 75 years. He explains that when he was a child here on holiday, it was a sleepy village with one hotel and one taxi. Now the Hollywood A listers, wealthy Brazilians and Argentines flock here, with around 500,000 overseas visitors arriving in January for a summer/ winter sun vacation.
Argentina’s capital is sensual, seductive and unforgettable – Santa Montefiore
Buenos Aires is grand and glamorous city of wide boulevards, Jacaranda trees, shady gardens, a colourful melting pot of European heritage and Latino culture stylishly elegant with a passionate energy – this is the Paris of South America. If you have never visited BA before, then you must experience all the major architectural sights, following Eva Peron’s journey from Casa Rosada, the Presidential Palace, to her simple grave in La Recoleta cemetery, Teatro Colon opera house and stroll around the Palermo with its parks, gardens, boutiques and café society.
A must-see historic district is La Boca. Here so the story goes, the steamy hot Tango dance began. Like a Little Italy, La Boca in the late 1800´s was the harbour port of Buenos Aires, the name boca, meaning mouth of the river Riachuelo. This was indeed a poor neighbourhood, where the street girls, sailors and immigrants all mingled together creating a multicultural party atmosphere; fiddlers would play Spanish flamenco- gypsy tunes while, first, the men and then couples, showed off sassy dance moves.
Today, the district is a charming, vibrant, vivacious district of cobbled streets, gaily painted houses, atmospheric old bars and street cafes .. and everywhere Tango dancers strut their stuff.
As we had done the “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” city highlights tour a few years ago, we decided to spend a day dowtown for shopping and culture. From Calle Florida to the Parisian-styled Palermo, browse the boutiques for quality leather, fur, jewellery, clothes and accessories. The shuttle bus from the Port took us directly to the Marriot hotel very near Calle Florida, a pedestrianised shopping street.
Wandering aimlessly into the attractive women’s fashion store, Andiamo, (Calle Florida 914), we received a warm welcome by helpful staff. I bought three T shirts, with Artistic designs by Picasso, Miro and Lichtenstein.
Then I spotted a colourful pink and turquoise maxi dress. Perfect cruise and pool deck wear.in this sultry heat.
As we walked on down the street, we were politely “accosted” by a few shady characters trying to attract our attention with the shout of ‘cambio, cambio!’ These ‘unofficial’ (i.e. illegal) money changers known as arbolitos, who may offer exchange rates better than the banks, but not recommended. We didn’t require Argentinan Pesos at all, with US dollars widely accepted.
Having studied our Lonely Planet South America guidebook for suggestions on what to see and do, we were inspired by the listing for Museo Fortabrat housing the art collection of multimillionaire, Amalia Lacroze de Fortabrat, who was Argentina’s wealthiest lady until her death in 2012.
It was an easy stroll down to Puerto Madero, the gentrified dockland area where old warehouses have made way for luxury apartments, waterfront restaurants and cultural lifestyle. Paying homage in street names to outstanding women in Argentina’s history, the district is a revitalised exclusive residential, gastronomic and business centre of the city.
The eclectic art collection has been reportedly valued at US$280 million. Amalia Fortabat was an astute buyer and seller of fine art – in 1980 she paid $6.4 million for Turner’s painting Juliet and Her Nurse, and sold Degas pastel, Mary Cassat at the Louvre for $16.5 at Sotheby’s New York (2002). The modernist Museo creates a fabulous airy, light-filled space across many levels divided into different periods and genres, from ancient Egyptian ceramics to Argentinian contemporary art by Raquel Forner, Xul Solar, Antonio Berni, experimental artists and La Boca School. Elsewhere, the European masters including Chagall, Dalí, Klimt and Rodin.
And pride of place is a glamorous portrait of Amalia by Andy Warhol, in his distinctive colourful “Marilyn” style of screenprint.
The architect of the Gallery, Uruguayan Rafael Viñoly followed Fortabrat’s precise design brief based on the fact that she “always wanted to look at pictures and the stars at the same time”. The roof retracts, moving with the sun’s rotation so visitors may stand in the sunshine without harming the works on show in this extraordinary personal Art collection.
A truly inspiring few days exploring the coastline of Uruguay and then the cultural hot spot, Buenos Aires … next stop Rio de Janeiro, Carnival City.
It is in the early hours of the morning of 3rd February when the Silver Shadow cruises gently through the Beagle Channel. Sailing past the stunning Glacier Avenue of six extraordinary ice-smothered mountains. It is certainly unfortunate that all guests were sleeping peacefully in their suites,in pitch black darkness, as this majestic sight would have been a geological highlight of the voyage.
In 1832, as a young crew member, Charles Darwin sailed these waters on board the HMS Beagle, under Captain Fitzroy which gave the fjord its name. This was the first ship to sail the channel from east to west, around the southern coast of Tierra del Fuego north to reach the Strait of Magellan. Tierra del Fuego, “the land of fire” was named by the explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1520 who witnessed numerous fires lit by the Selknam, the natives of this archipelago of islands,originally known as Karunka.
We arrive in Ushuaia, the most southerly town located Fin Del Mundo, the end of the world. This is a busy fishing port and gateway for expedition ships sailing south to explore the White Continent, Antarctica. It’s a quaint, historic frontier town, with a backdrop of high Andean peaks, formerly a Penal colony (visit the fascinating prison, preserved as a museum and art gallery and see the train at the end of the world, built by the convicts through the surrounding forested national park.)
Circumnavigating South America, it is not necessary to sail around the treacherous seas of the black rock, Cape Horn. We continue along the Beagle Channel to the south of Tierra del Fuego to reach the South Atlantic. Expecting wild waves and cool weather, we are pleasantly surprised to find extremely calm waters and two warm sunny days en route to the Falkland islands, the other British Isles at the other side of the world. While this is the end of their summer, it is sometimes too rough in the bay off Port Stanley to be able to anchor safely. We are indeed fortunate. While we are initially informed that the temperature may be in the region of 10 to 14 C, we come ashore on the tender boat at 10am (dressed in wind-proof trousers, hiking boots and hats) to be greeted by tropical-style sunshine. Thankfully we are wearing layers and soon strip down to T shirts and pack away our jackets.
Ken and I are particularly pleased to be able to step ashore in Port Stanley. In 2010, we were on the Grand Inaugural Voyage of the Silver Spirit, which circumnavigated South America from Fort Lauderdale from Florida to Los Angeles. On this cruise we also managed to visit the Falkland Islands and booked a shore excursion to Bluff Cove Lagoon, with its magnificent penguin colony. As well as the wonderful wildlife, what was most surprising and exhilarating about the trip was to visit the Sea Cabbage Cafe and the newly built Bluff Cove Museum.
We met ex-pat Brits, Hattie and Kevin Kilmartin, the owners of the 35,000 acre Bluff Cove farm (Perendale sheep and Belted Galloway cattle), who had the inspired idea to create the 3 hour Island adventure especially ideal for cruise passengers. It’s the most perfect excursion, combining wildlife – a rookery of Gentoo and King, (as well as seasonal Magellanic and Rockhopper) penguins, seal-lions, ducks, geese, and numerous sea-birds, local food, history, arts and culture.
As a travel writer.I entered this tiny, blue clapper board beach hut museum for a Tourism Award through the British Guild of Travel Writers which recognises important and inspiring new experiences for world travellers (arts, heritage, culture, transport, architecture, sports etc.). A long story cut short, out of dozens of entries, the Bluff Cove Museum was voted in 2nd place in the Global category as best new tourism venture, by the BGTW members (Awards dinner, November 2010).
And so here we were back again on the 15 mile drive to Bluff Cove. Now a very popular and successful shore excursion, there were two excursions for Silversea at 10 am and 11.30. The journey begins by mini bus for a short drive from the pier, past the army of workers clearing the land mine sites, to the start of the Farm Estate track, and then we climb aboard a 4×4 landrover (4 guests per vehicle), with a convoy of vehicles setting off for a fun, rock ‘ n rolling trip across the wild moorland to reach the Bluff Cove beach. As it’s a dry sunny day,, it’s a fairly smooth, muddy bog-free ride over the grassy terrain.
Our arrival coincides with the time when the cute Gentoo chicks are beginning to moult their fluffy down. It’s a beautiful sight to see the huge huddled groups of penguins, particularly the majestic, proud yellow necked Kings.
They appear quite oblivious to the few dozen visitors invading their habitat (markers show where we may stand outside the Rookery) as we snap away taking their portraits. It is seriously warm for early February (late summer) and while we have been taking off our cosy fleeces, several over-heated penguins, more used to a chilling wind, are taking a cooling dip in the sea and sunbathing on the sand.
Then it’s a short stroll over the grassy bank above the sea shore to the Sea Cabbage Cafe where a welcome cup of tea and an excellent selection of home-baking is being served. As well as sampling delicious carrot cake, the local speciality is freshly baked scones with diddle-dee (local berry) jam.
Down on the beach we see Hattie watching over Toby, the Kilmartin’s 7 year old son paddling and playing in the surf. What a fun reunion we have, here again after five years since we first came to Bluff Cove.
The Museum, with its iconic “Penguin paperback” logo on the side, has been developed with style and innovation: farm wool crafts, silky soft mauve and green tweed throws, Bluff Cove branded mugs and magnets, postcards and artwork. We also see the framed BGTW certificate, with other travel and tourism awards.
Around the walls, fascinating displays of photographs and documentation on Falkland Island culture and heritage, from archive maps, early exploration (Darwin arrived here on he Beagle), military artifacts and memorabilia from the 1982 Conflict to the 2013 Referendum when the around 98.5 % of islanders voted to stay as an official British outpost, to remain as part of the United Kingdom. This tiny beach-front cabin is not just about Falklands history, but presents a living, topical and contemporary overview of the life and culture of the islanders today.
Our driver of the 4×4 jeep for our journey back to Stanley in the afternoon is Amy, a 20-something girl who was brought up here with on her parents farm on the north side of the island. She and her siblings were taught how to drive at a young age as they had to be set off to get help in an emergency.
700.000 penguins, 600,000 sheep, 3,000 people. The other British Isles at the other side of the world in the South Atlantic. This is a landscape which at first glance may seem so bleak, barren but linger awhile, observe and breathe in that salty sea air down on Bluff Cove beach; Admire the beauty of this rare, raw, remote, untouched natural world.
The long, slender ribbon of a country, Chile stretches for 4,300 km from the bone dry desert of the north to the icy glacier fjords of South Patagonia. This a land of volcanoes, lakes, beaches, world renowned vineyards, lush forests and beyond, the snow sprinkled mountains of the Andes We dock in the enchanting “resort” town of Valparaiso, which serves as the main port for the Capital, Santiago. This is the start of the second segment of the Grand Voyage where a couple of hundred guests disembark and new passengers will join the ship for our journey to Buenos Aires.
With our trust Lonely Planet guide to South America in our backpack, we set off to explore Valparaiso for the day. This is a grand, gracious Unesco city of history, architecture and culture. From the Plaza Sotomayer, we experienced the slightly unnerving Ascensor El Peral, one of the original wooden funicular trains which transports people up to the top of the steep hills around town. These were built between 1883 and 1916. The cost per person per journey is 100 Chilean pesos. (about 15p).
At the top is a charming Bohemian residential village of cobbled streets, bars and bistros, like Montmartre, Paris with artists and selling prints, jewellery and decorative craftwork. Here is the Museo del Bellas Artes, within the elegant art deco Palaccio Baburizza. We wandered around the private art collection by 20 – 21st century Chilean and European artists – inspiring landscapes and enchanting portraits, exhibited with care on three floors around the cool, spacious of around this beautiful mansion.
We set sail south towards the Lake District of Chile, to Puerto Montt and Chacabuco, surrounded by mountains, rivers, cattle and sheep farms, home to the traditional Gauchos “cowboys”.
For the next three days we cruise at a steady pace through the Patagonian Fjords, a seemingly endless labyrinth of narrow lagoons dominated by the towering snowcapped peaks of the Andes.
Anchored in Laguna San Rafael, a exciting excursion by catamaran is offered to guests sail through a field of ice flows to visit the Mount San Valentin glacier This giant wall of ice cracks and groans as splinters calve off, crashing into the sea.
We were expecting chilly Antarctic-style temperatures here but the sun is burning bright. The thermometer reaches 75F and guests have discarded their sweaters and the (thoughtfully allocated) soft wool blankets for swimsuits around the pool deck. Almost tropical weather, tranquil water and truly magnificent vistas all around.
For two more days, we travel through this dramatic, surreal, isolated wilderness, only accessible by small ship, is an exhilarating experience. Much of the scenery as we meander through the narrow, curving inlets of the fjords is reminiscent of the Highlands of Scotland – like sailing through Loch Lomond with its tiny forested islands.
We follow the itinerary on our World Map tracing our way slow through the Magellan Strait, named after the extraordinary navigator Ferdinand Magellan explored the remote lost New World of Tierra del Fuego and Patgonia in 1520. Three hundred years later, it was the turn of Captain Fitzroy accompanied by naturalist Charles Darwin who arrived here on the HMS Beagle on their epic scientific expedition of discovery around South America.
Unfortunately, it is in the wee small hours of the morning that we sail through the Beagle Channel, missing the breathtaking sight of the utterly spectacular of the Glacier Avenue, along the Cordillera Darwin mountain range. This is a series of dazzling white, turquoise-tinted glaciers and gushing cascades of melting rivers of ice. Thankfully Ken and I had experienced a similar voyage on the Silver Spirit in 2010, when we cruised northwards during the day. My goodness, it was freezing cold with a 70 knot Antarctic gale!
Next stop, Ushuaia, the most southerly town on the planet before we set off to the other British Isles, the Falklands.
The ancient civilisation of Peru is an extraordinary blend of bone-dry desert along the coastline, surrounded by wild Amazonian rainforests and beyond, the high peaks of the Andes. This is the land of the Incas.
One of the finest trips of a lifetime is the journey to witness Macchu Picchu, the lost 15th century mountain city of the Incas. Around 28 guests departed on a 3 night Silversea land programme in Callau, Peru to visit Cusco and then travel by the luxury Belmond Hiram Bingham train (named after the American historian who discovered the archaeological ruins), to see this one of the “new” wonders of the world.
Pisco may appear at first glance to be s small sleepy resort and fishing port, but all around is a panorama of natural beauty and rich heritage. Amongst several shore excursions were two special half day trips. First a flight over the desert to see the Nazca lines, a series of mysterious, historic drawings of birds, animals and geometric shapes carved into the sand. These date from the Paracas culture of the region, (900 BC – AD200) and only visible from the air.
Ken and I selected to take a fast speed boat trip to the Ballestas islands, nick named the “poor man’s Galapagos”. Fifteen guests were allocated in each sleek motor launch with an expert driver and a local guide, who gave an excellent commentary all the way. About half an hour from the pier we approached a rocky shore, and beyond carved in the sandy hillside was the design of a giant three prong candelabra. Historians and archaeologists have long debated the origin and meaning of this magnificent art work, presumably Paracan period – which can only be seen from the sea.
Throttle at full speed, we zoom out to the distant mini archipelago of islands, about an hour off shore from Pisco. As part of the Paracas National Park, this is a rich and eclectic nature reserve. Slowly meandering up to a curving bay at the first islet, we see a colony of sea-lions. It is mating season and a few dozen giant silky grey males are barking and roaring at each other like African lions.
A few are in angry combat, virtually boxing each other as they compete for the attention of the tranquil females sunbathing nonchalantly on the sand. We are told that they become pregnant twice a year. After giving birth to one pup, they are expecting again within 15 days. It is estimated that these islands are home to 5,000 sea-lions.
The Ballestas are also an ornithologist’s dream destination. 250 different species of birds will nest here over the course of the year: Guanay black cormorants, Peruvian Boobies, which hover over the water and suddenly dive like a jet fighter when they spot a shoal of anchovies below the surface. The habitat is also shared by Pelicans with their long pointed beaks, and flocks of tiny Incan terns, skimming over the sea.
As the song goes, “There’s an awful lot of coffee in Brazil”. Here, change the title to “There’s a heck of a lot of guana in Peru.” The natural deposits of the pelicans, cormorants and boobies provides excellent fertiliser and 7 000 tons of guana is painstakingly scraped off the rocks each year and transported ashore.
We experience a leisurely cruise around the beautiful tiny islands, with stunning their round rock shapes and arches as if sculpted by Rodin or Moore. Cameras were clicking every five seconds as we turned a corner and see a cliff face where a colony of Humboldt penguins live side by side with Pelicans and Boobies.
Sailing on around the islets, with hidden coves and caves, we observe ancient whiskery granddad sea-lions slumbering on a rock, and young year old pups trying to clamber up on their ungainly flippers for a siesta after a cooling swim.
Around the Paracas Reserve you may also be fortunate to see whales, dolphins, flamingos and turtles.
This was an exhilarating marine wildlife experience. We felt as if David Attenborough was suddenly going to appear from behind a group of penguins to describe the mating behaviour of the noisy – and presumably randy – sea-lions parading on the beach. A BBC documentary at its best in real life in front of our eyes. Magical.
One of the most magnificent, majestic engineering monuments, the Panama Canal changed world geography.
In 1914 it enabled ocean liners and cargo ships to sail through the narrow isthmus of Central America between the Atlantic and Pacific in just 8 hours. In 1880 the first overly ambitious, poorly managed French project to build “the great trench” was a tragic and financial disaster, costing the lives of twenty thousand workers through heat exhaustion and tropical disease.
Twenty years later President Roosevelt began to dream the impossible dream to set up an new American canal construction. From 1903 it took ten years to complete at a cost of $380m. On August the 15th 1914 the SS Ancon transited the canal to mark the official inauguration.
12th January 2015 saw the Silver Shadow follow its wake on the 50 mile journey. At 6.15 am we entered the first of three sets of giant locks, elevating the ship 85 feet above see level. We anchored in the tranquil Gatun Lake for a couple of hours awaiting our turn to transit the final Gatun Lock.
Cruise ships are a tiny proportion of the Canal’s business but are given priority. Pilots accompany the Captain and his officers to guide the ship through the extremely narrow 110 ft wide waterway. A fee ranging from $50,000 to $250,000 is charged based on size and tonnage. Along the lock walls, two electric locomotives run at each side attached by heavy cabled to pull the ship through.
A local expert, the author on the history and building of the canal, Patricia Holmes came on board for the day to give a fascinating running commentary from the Bridge. Most guests were out on deck or in the Observation lounge watching all the action as the Shadow was gracefully raised and then lowered through the various ladders of locks.
The most scenic landscape is the 8 mile Culebra cut which crosses the continental divide. Looking out both port and starboard the view of the Panama landscape is just thick steamy rain forest and crocodile swamps, such a wild, impenetrable terrain; you can only just imagine the extraordinary, super human achievement for the army of 24,000 international labourers working with steam shovels in unbearable heat. With incessant noise, dust and muddy landslides, it was described as Hell’s Gorge. Unskilled workers from Barbados lined up to go to Panama to earn a dollar a day, living in ramshackle huts. Skilled engineers and professionals were paid between $87 – $250 a month with comfortable free housing and medical attention.
To witness the crossing through the Panama Canal and appreciate its construction was s truly awesome, exhilarating cruise experience. A journey only possible due to the passion, determination and commitment of the French and American pioneers, one hundred years ago.
For cruise passengers, Fort Lauderdale, Florida is the ideal stepping stone from the United States to set off to explore the Caribbean.
A necklace of small coral islands spanning 110 miles from the southern tip of Florida, the Keys are both exotic and all-American. Warmed by subtropical seas, cooled by trade winds, life along the palm fringed beaches embrace a sassy, sultry sense of place more akin to the West Indies.
Key West is the final stop at the end of the 123 mile Highway, crossing 42 bridges linking all the Keys. By ship, it’s a gentle overnight 12 hour journey.
Key West is my kinda town. Lazy, leisurely, laid back and charmingly artistic and cultural. This southernmost town of continental USA, just 90 miles from Cuba, it’s a casual “anything goes” beach resort with a fascinating maritime history and inspiring literary heritage. It’s a tropical paradise.
The Silver Shadow docked on 8 January at Mallory Square pier, right in the centre of the shopping markets, bars, bistros, boating marinas and visitor attractions.
Whether you are interested in the stories of pirates and shipwrecks, the regular vacational visits by several US Presidents, experience deep sea fishing or scuba diving, there’s fun and games, wildlife and water-sports, music and museums for all ages.
To set you up for a busy day of sightseeing and adventures, enjoy a slap up brunch at Two Friends (512 Front Street). Expect hearty platters of scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and hash browns, or an ingenious Crab Cake Eggs Benedict, washed down with a strong coffee or, more likely, a Bloody Mary. Cuisine in Key West centres on the freshest seafood – conch, lobster, crab, tuna. mahi, oysters, with a diverse choice of American, Cuban, Mexican and Italian food. Local specialities are, of course, rum and Key Lime Pie.
The best way to explore all the highlights is a hop on, hop off Trolley Bus tour. Tickets are valid for two days to allow a comprehensive tour through the streets of traditional clapboard houses visiting all the highlights around town.
On our tour, we had the chance to encounter with Louie. He is a stand-up comedian while sitting in the driver’s cab. Over the course of the 90 minute round trip, all the passengers were in hysterics with his running commentary which was informative witty and wise. “Eating and drinking is allowed on board, just no alcohol. Disguise it in a Coke bottle, I don’t mind” (This is a very cool, crazy. live and let live place). Turning a corner onto a quite residential street he says “watch this” before keeping pace with a strolling couple on the side walk and going off-script “Ladies and gentlemen I wouldn’t walk along here – this is the heart of the crime district!…” (Key West is extremely safe).
Louie says he is asked all the time – where is Hemingway’s house? He stops right nearby you can’t miss it. We hopped off here to tour the Hemingway Home and Museum where the eminent Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winning writer lived from 1931 for ten years.
It was a case of serendipity or a twist of fate which had led to his initial stay. Arriving on a P&O steamer from Cuba in 1928, he had been due to pick up a Ford motor car, but a delay in it’s delivery meant that he had to stay for a number of days. Finding the atmosphere to his liking and the fishing excellent he embraced the bohemian rum-drinking artistic culture. Key West became his inspirational literary muse.
Walk around his home at 907 Whitehead Street, to see his artwork, family photographs, dining table, bedroom, bathrooms and library of books (from Steinbeck to Shakespeare) which remain intact. It’s as if he has just gone out for an afternoon fishing for marlin or a round of drinks at Sloppy Joe’s, his ghostly presence lingering on the long shaded veranda and in his spacious garden study. Here he typed from 6am to 12 noon daily, completing seventy per cent of his novels and memoirs including To Have and Have Not, For Whom the Bell Tolls and Death in the Afternoon. A selection of first edition novels in various languages are displayed in the house.
Wander around the garden and you will encounter six-toed cats, direct descendants of his own feline furry friends.
“It was dark inside Sloppy Joe’s and the bar looked like something salvaged from a boat wreck. Fans did little to move the air. As the Gellhorns sat themselves at a table, Martha had a memory from some magazine article that this might be the author’s haunt, that Mr. Hemingway might even be here, killing the hottest part of the afternoon alone”
“Ninety miles away is Cuba, where they sometimes go for drinking and dancing, where Ernest sometimes goes for peace and quiet, as if he can’t get enough of that on this four-mile island where nothing much happens.”
– from Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood.
Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval Street) was owned by Hemingway’s friend and fishing buddy Joe Russell, who became the character of Freddy in To Have and Have Not. The original manuscript of this novel was found at the bar along side many of the authors personal artefacts after he died.
The quiet pace of life and secluded sanctuary of Key West, was also beloved by the playwright Tennessee Williams, who lived here from the late 1940’s to his death in 1983. Since then over the decades contemporary writers such as Elizabeth Bishop and Judy Blume have equally been drawn to this cultural island. A literary festival takes place in January of each year featuring seminars and discussions, musical and poetry performances, book signings and receptions. January 2015 saw the 33rd such event attended by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Marilynne Robinson.
Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Treasure Island would surely have felt at home here, an historical place of pirates and shipwrecks where the very houses were often made from the timbers of wrecked schooners. The island became extremely wealthy in the mid 19th century,when numerous ships floundered on the reefs. Local teams of Wreckers would rescue the crew as well as salvaging the cargo and valuables on board.
Various museums tell the story of the wreckers and sunken treasure. Mel Fisher spent fifteen years trying to locate the wreck of a 1622 Spanish galleon. Groups of experienced scuba divers can join organised archaeological expeditions each year to explore the seabed to find more gold coins and jewellery.
Every evening at sunset there is a party atmosphere around Mallory Pier with live music, street theatre performances and cocktails or step on board a boat for a cruise around the bay at Happy Hour.
Just like President Harry S Truman and Papa Hemingway, visitors may well feel enriched by the artistic ambience and vivacious vibe; experiencing the sand between the toes,you may not wish to leave this magical island of dreams.
But sadly for us, we could not linger longer; the Silver Shadow set off at 5pm to set sail again, en route to the Panama Canal.
The Grand Voyage continues… .
After experiencing the wonderful World Cruise on board the Silver Whisper last year,* I began to dream of planning another very special “trip of a lifetime.” For the first time, Ken and I will be saying goodbye to family and friends and jetting off to escape our traditional Christmas at home.
This year Silversea offers a choice of fabulous Festive cruises departing from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Valparaiso, Chile, and from Singapore.
Saturday 20 December: We fly with British Airways from Edinburgh to London Heathrow for an overnght stay at the smart and stylish Sofitel Hotel. Ideally located at Terminal 5, the Sofitel will be the perfect place to stay, eat, drink and relax, ready for an early morning BA flight to Miami.
All going to plan, we shall arrive here on the afternoon of 21st December and transfer to the glitzy, glamorous Ritz-Carlton hotel, Fort Lauderdale. Time to unwind and acclimatise into the winter warmth of Florida sunshine.
The next day, 22nd December, we board the Silver Spirit for what I am sure will be a magical two week jaunt around the Caribbean. We experienced the Inaugural voyage of the Spirit in 2010 –she’s the largest of the fleet (but still only around 500 guests), and designed as an elegant art deco-styled boutique hotel. We love the Star Cabaret bar, lavish Spa with private jacuzzi pool and favourite chairs on the Panorama Deck, watching the wake of the rolling waves.
Our first port of call is Key West, a charming resort rich in Bohemian lifestyle and artistic culture, inspiring Hemingway, Tennessee Williams et al. Laid back is the word ..
Two days at sea as we prepare to celebrate 25th December: what a novelty – sunshine not snow. I can just imagine sipping Margaritas on deck at midday, a leisurely lunch, later dressing up for a festive party, meeting new friends over a glass of champagne and canapes, then dining on smoked salmon and lobster ….musical entertainment in the theatre… all part of a day of treats on board.
As you may tell from my bubbly anticipation, I can’t wait to experience a very different style of Christmas this year!.
For this cruise, I shall pack a perfect book as my travel companion: a brand new edition of Discover Caribbean Islands (Lonely Planet) will ensure we find the best beaches, bars, markets, culture and heritage to experience as much as possible. This will be our personal guide as we set off to explore each island.
The itinerary takes us from the southern tip of Florida to Puerto Rica, fashionable St. Barts, and lush green island of St. Lucia …
>>> and on to Tortola (British Virgin Islands). Ken and I visited here before and will need to check out Stanley’s Welcome bar. It’s a shack on the beach but the music, the cool vibe, rum punch and seafood is to die for.
Then off to Dominican Republic and Grand Turk before it’s back to Fort Lauderdale. But we’re not going home just yet. …
Returning to the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for an overnnight stay, we shall join a few dozen other Silversea guests for a special Bon Voyage Gala Dinner. The next day, 7th January, 2015, we board the Silver Shadow for the start of a Grand Voyage which will circumnavigate South America – across four cruise segments – over the next two months.
We shall transit the Panama Canal (now 100 years old), and then on to Costa Rica, a place known for natural beauty and surfing beaches. South to Ecuador, the place to buy an authentic Panama hat, and then cross the Equator and saunter along the Peruvian coastline – Callao, Pisco, Matarani … and onwards we sail.
Our essential Lonely Planet guide to hand now will be “South America – on a Shoestring”, to advise on the diverse countries, cultures, cities, fishing villages, local food and drink on this leisurely expedition. Must check out the best drinking hole to sample a Pisco Sour or two.!
23rd January – Ken’s birthday and it’s a relaxing day at sea and Formal Night so we can get glammed up for dinner.!
It may not be too chilly in Chile, (looking forward to sampling delicious wines), until we venture further south to the Patagonian fjords.
This is the land of magnificent, breathtaking glaciers and high mountain peaks of the Andes, tracing the route of Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle.
Ushuaia is the most southerly town in the world from where expedition ships set off to explore the White Continent; the Silver Shadow will head north to visit the Falkland Islands.
Due to occasional rough seas we may not be able to anchor, but hopefully we can visit Stanley and take an excursion to Bluff Cove penguin colony, Sea Cabbage café and museum. Bluff Cove is an exciting trip by 4 x4 vehicles over wild moorland to visit this tranquil beach and nature reserve.
We then set off north, visiting Montevideo, tango our way around Buenos Aires, and many ports of call in Brazil. So looking forward to our arrival into Rio – it’s a beautiful sight with Christ the Redeemer statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain framing the city.
Grand Voyagers will be treated to a night at the Rio Carnival – probably on Valentine’s Day.
At the top of my wish list in Rio is to arrange a visit to the famous Belmond Copacabana Palace for lunch or a cocktail by the pool. This glamorous, grand hotel is 90 years old and renowned for its vintage Piano Bar and timeless sophisticated ambience.
Buzios is an elegant seaside fishing resort, reminiscent of the smaller towns along the French Riviera. By now we shall be into the final month of the cruise but many more delights still to come: Devil’s Island, Barbados, Grenada and exploring the islands of Dutch Caribbean – Curacao, Aruba, Bonaire.
Snorkelling with the turtles and tropical fish is meant to be fabulous in Aruba and as we sail on, perhaps time for more watersports in the Bahamas with its white powder sand beaches and glorious warm sea.
Lazy, leisurely days at sea too as we set off back to our final destination, Fort Lauderdale.
Will be in touch again soon once we are on board with stories and photographs about our adventures around Latin America.
* see feature on World Cruise under the Great Boat Journeys cruise chapters.
For more information on Silversea cruises – www.silversea.com
Ritz-Carlton Hotels is the preferred collection of luxuruy hotels worldwide for pre and post cruise stays. www.ritzcarlton.com
Gary Bembridge has always had a passion – travel. His well established and popular website Tips for Travellers, covers stories and experiences of his journeys, especially by sea.
I share this love of cruising: the sheer luxury of unpacking once before setting off on an exciting itinerary, ports of call, ocean views, enriched by a sense of freedom and relaxing lifestyle on board.
Having recently circumnavigated the world by ship over four months, cruising really is the ultimate great escape.
As Gary writes in his introduction, “ It satisfies my desire to keep going to new places … I look forward to pulling back the curtains to see what new delight is revealed. On a land based holiday, no matter how beautiful the view, I am always a little disappointed to find it is the same one I left the night before.”
Absolutely! Why stay for two weeks in one hotel, when you can visit ten Caribbean islands ?
Bembridge has now published “The Cruise Traveler’s Handbook” – subtitled, “How to find and enjoy unforgettable cruise vacations”.
Primarily aimed at those who are wary of taking a cruise, it equally offers valuable information on the wide world of ships for even the most experienced, veteran cruisers.
Divided into neat, reader-friendly sections, it covers the facts and fallacies of a cruise holiday, extensive advice on planning a cruise to find the preferred size of ship, cultural lifestyle, standard of cabin and price structure to suit you. Where in the world can you explore by ship, sail by yacht or meander slowly by river boat or canal barge?
A major part of a cruise holiday is Planning with a capital P. Packing and Shore Excursions.
If you take the wrong clothes for the climate and destination, or miss out on the best sightseeing, wildlife spotting or snorkelling trip, then you won’t experience the perfect cruising adventure.
Under “Cruising Myths Dispelled” virgin cruisers will have their doubts answered in a couple of pages. In a nutshell, cruises are for all ages (families with young children, honeymooners, 30, 40, 50+ couples, and senior citizens.). You just have to select the best cruiseline to suit your age group and social lifestyle, whether you wish to wear shorts and T shirt day and night, or dress up for black tie formal dinners.
Bored on board? Non cruisers often say they would feel stir crazy. As explained in the Handbook, nothing is further from the truth, with full Day at Sea programmes of leisure options, lectures, fitness classes and spa treatments on offer on these floating hotels. Alternatively relax and read on a lounger. Do as little or as much as you wish.
Under Cruising Options, Gary details the essential categories of Cruise lines. The mega Resort ships (up to 6,500 passengers), offer good value, family oriented, leisure cruises. Plus: Broadway style shows, Kids’ clubs. Minus: Queues and Fixed meal times/tables.
In contrast. the Small Boutique cruises – Ultra luxury, all inclusive fares for 250- 500 guests. Plus: House party ambience, small yacht-size ships. Minus: luxury at a cost.
There’s a comprehensive run down on the main Cruise lines from Carnival to Silversea as well as covering Adventure ships for Antarctic expeditions and tall Masted Schooners to experience traditional. graceful sailing.
And you don’t have to take a transatlantic voyage or sail around the Med. Take it easy on a slow, slow river cruise with a selection of boats and barges touring the grand rivers of Europe, Russia and China.
The chapters cover every aspect of a cruise from dealing with sea sickness and safety on board, selecting a suitable cabin, checking essential dress codes to budgeting well for a successful, good value trip.
Colour photographs illustrate a few of the writer’s favourite ships and ports of call while the Resources chapter helpfully lists a selection of other cruise books, magazines and review websites.
Written in an easy, inspiring manner, Gary Bembridge presents the ideal expert guide to Cruise Travel from packing your suitcase to disembarkation. It blends both humorous anecdotes and serious advice on how to plan the perfect voyage.
“I love cruising and want everyone to try it at least once. I passionately believe there is a cruising option for everyone”.
The Cruise Traveler’s Handbook – Gary Bembridge.
Full Flight Press www.thetravelershandbooks.com