CHAPTER 14 – CRUISES
Russian Cruise to nowhere “Alexander Pushkin “
Our very first group cruise was on the Russian cruise ship the “Alexander Pushkin”. It was a 3 day cruise to nowhere, which should tell you something! We had about 30 from Canowindra Day Care to look after. From the moment the ship left the wharf in Sydney, the state of the weather for the next 3 days was imminent, as the ship was reeling so much in the high swell, now you see Sydney city skyline, next you don’t just the waves.
Almost everyone on the cruise was seasick, and had to go to the ship doctor for a needle in the backside. I avoided this until the first night in the floor show was the most gorgeous looking Russian singer, who the girls told me was the ship’s doctor! So of course I had to line up the next day! The entire ship smelt of cabbage, which did not help.
“Crown Monarch” with Barry Matheson & HWT – Queensland coast &
Samarai Island PNG.
We felt very privileged to be asked by Harvey World Travel Head office to assist Barry Matheson,TV’s Travel guru, with a group of 80 passengers all booked by other Harvey World offices around Australia, so we had to pamper them and look after them very well.
Everyone flew into Cairns to embark on the “Crown Monarch” which then cruised northward towards Papua New Guinea.
There is a tiny little island in the Coral Sea that had enormous significance in the battle of the same name, in the defence of Milne Bay area, and consequently protection for Australia from Japanese invasion, that is Samarai Island
Today it is a lazy little third world seaside village, with the most delightful shy people. We had reason to visit there on a Pacific Cruise aboard the Cunard’s Crown Monarch. We were looking after a very large group of 120 passengers organized by Harvey World Travel head office, and because the designated cocktail party with the Captain promised to our group, had not been registered on board, an urgent phone call back to Sydney to rectify the situation had to be made.
All contact and lines back to Australia on board had been down, so a visit to the local post office and the only phone on Samarai Island was recommended to speak to Harvey World Travel Head Office. Sounded easy enough. Not so. First, one had to get in the long queue of both villagers and visitors to access this phone behind a wire fence in the tin shed a bit like a chicken coop which was the post office. Then, having made it to the front of the queue the fun started, one was not allowed to dial the number but this had to be written down, and called by the local operator, then the timing devise, the sand-in-the-glass egg timer set. Three minutes later, hard-boiled, decision made, we had lift-off, approval to go ahead with the long-awaited cocktail party that night making 80 odd people very happy.
It was a strange cruise, the Cruise Director got locked in his cabin for the last two days because he had had an affair d’ heart with a passenger (unforgivable sin and I am sure he was no Robinson Crusoe) but he paid the price. The woman passenger, one of our group, was lost for two whole days, incognito, which explains why poor Larry got locked up. Her cabin-mate kept ringing my cabin asking where is so and so, and short of banging on every state room door and searching under every bunk bed which I thought highly unreasonable and above and beyond the normal call of duty, I just had to trust that she would turn up again, which she did, with a smile on her face. Not poor Larry though.
The waters in the Samarai Island area are a very deep green, reflecting the lush vegetation which abounds on this and the surrounding islands. Locals survive on their own instincts of growing things and catching fish.
Blue lagoon cruise Fiji
This is a wonderful way to relax. In May 1993 I did a Tapa Tours educational to Fiji. Sailing through oily blue water, which is an indefinable blue quite different from other waters I have sailed in such as the blue of the Whitsundays Islands and Azure of the Aegean.
The staff on board these cruises are extremely friendly, and you find yourself looking forward every night to singing and doing a ‘tra-la-la’ dance on the back deck. Every morning and afternoon you get the cake with the green icing with a cup of tea. Dropping anchor at tiny un-inhabited islands is the real magic of the cruise. These, all fringed with palm trees, and white sand totally idyllic and unspoilt.
You get off at each island, either by diving overboard and swimming about 50 meters or taken across by small boat, to such islands as Treasure Island, Beachcomber island, etc. some of the islands were uninhabited and totally unspoilt white sand, palm fringed.
Sailing either upstream or downstream on Egypt’s River Nile is one of the most enjoyable cruise experiences possible. It transports one back 2,000 years as people are still growing things on the banks in the same manner as 2 centuries ago with mules and man power, no machinery.
The vessels that sail on the Nile are quite luxurious and the meals on board fabulous. My first Nile cruise was part of an Insight educational for travel agents on the “Serenade” and a few years later we took a group with us. Each day you get off to visit such inspiring places like Karnak, Sobek temple, etc.
Royal Olympic cruise of the Greek Islands
John and I boarded the Royal Olympic in 1996 to do a four day cruise to Mykonos, Paros, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini. This really only wet the appetite to go and visit these and more Greek islands. Each island has its own intrinsic beauty and culture.
There is no doubt the first visit to Greece you never forget, it really is a magic place with all of its history, culture, music, etc. the food is wonderful and way of life so different, eating late at night rather than the way we do here really appeals to me. That is really civilized, especially when everyone shares in meze lots of different dishes like spanakopitakia me tiri(spinach pasties with cheese) keftedes ya meze (meatballs) my favourite marides tiganites (fried whitebait) tzatziki, and of course Greek salad. If you try to make a Greek salad anywhere else in the world it is just not the same as with the local Greek version. Of course you have to finish off with baklava or melomakarona (honey cakes) or Thiples.
We then returned with a group in 1998 to do a 7 night cruise on the “Stella Oceanis” this included the Greek islands as well as Port Said Egypt, and Ashdod Israel.
CARIBBEAN CRUISE ON “ENCHANTMENT OF THE SEAS” HOSTED BY ADVENTURE WORLD/CRUISE SPIRIT
A group on Adventure World Caribbean cruise, what an adventure, we dodged a cyclone in the Caribbean, visited 4 fabulous ports with romantic names like Key West, Cayman Islands, Can Cun, Cozumel (Mexico), and Jamaica.
On this group were back rowe my good friend Ray Livingstone (what goes on tour, stays on tour!) Leanne Whyman (Cruise Spirit AW) 2nd back rowe Peter Sherwood, Gary Ewart, Debbie Costello, 3rd back myself, Ken Waldron, Cheryl McNamara, front rowe Clare Mills, Pat Sutherland, lovely Julie Donaldson (Royal Caribbean/AW hostess) Linda Connors, Louise D’Addario
We flew to Miami where we stayed overnight, watching all of the many large salubrious cruise vessels arrive and depart from the huge port of Miami.
The city of Miami does not have a lot to offer, in fact is quite unremarkable as cities go. Its best attribute is North Beach with its Art Deco architecture, quite unimpressive in the daylight, with its beachside not as nice as many of Australia’s beaches. But at night North Beach comes alive and is quite bohemian, with people spilling out of bars, lots of neon lights flashing, music everywhere. Very ‘hip’. We were there just a few days after Verscace’s murder which was a bit spooky so, of course had to have a photo taken in front of the Versace mansion which was boarded up by the police.
Versace, the Italian fashion designer, friend of Madonna, Elton John, Diana Princess of Wales among others, was killed aged 50 in his Villa on 15 July 1997.
We boarded RCI cruise ship “Enchantment of the Seas” on its maiden voyage from Miami on 13 July, 1999.
First port of call was Key West a fabulous little place. It has a little train which goes around all of the streets where you can hop on and hop off to see such delights as the cottage of author Ernest Hemingway, ice cream parlours galore, fascinating little weather board beach homes, and typical architecture for Key West.
Next port of call was to be Grand Cayman island also quite fascinating, with marinas with many boats registered here for all over the world. There was a place called Hell would you believe, where of coarse one had to send some postcards from the post office at Hell!
We sailed around the cyclone to the port of Playa del Carman at Cozumel where we could travel to see Can Cun, and the beautiful Mayan ruins at Tulum for a swim. Following that we were told to visit a funny bar called Carlos’n Charlies a gay bar, where most of the off duty ship people went. Slushy Margaritas were the order of the day served on brown paper table cloths by whistle blowing waiters. The band was loud and people danced on tables. How we got back to the ship was anyone’s guess.
Next port Ocho Rios in Jamaica where we were taken for a goat jerk lunch of course. Everything is goat meat there. We were taken for a drive around Jamaica calling at a water fall which we had to go up (not down). All I can recall of Jamaica was rusty tin roofs everywhere. Not at all romantic like the name conjures up.
We cruised a day at sea before returning to Miami for disembarkation
Whilst in Miami the group went for a memorable lunch at Buba Gumps a new franchise that had just started up in response the the popularity of the movie ‘Forest Gump’
COSTA CLASSICA CRUISE
We flew via Vienna Austria on Lauda air transiting a few hours in a freezing cold Vienna. This was not expected at this time of year (Easter) 2003 and we had not packed many cold weather clothes allowing for temperate weather conditions in the Mediterranean. It was so jolly cold we all flocked into the Spanish Riding School to try to keep warm, but with not much luck.
We flew into the northern Italy airport of Malpensa and then transferred by coach down to Genoa through the intense rice growing region in mid-central Italy for boarding on the Costa “Classica” a very nice vessel.
Genoa is a strange dark city, all the old stone work is heavily water stained and old, quite Gothic in appearance and not at all welcoming or attractive. The port area is huge, and as you sail away from the port it reveals an uncolorful city of Genoa. Our Costa Classica vessel was very comfortable but I would describe as 3 star cruising.
This cruise visited the ports of Dubrovnik, Corfu, Malta, ending in Venice. The first port of call was Dubrovnik with its fascinating old marble paved streets. It was Palm Sunday when we were there so I went inside the old church of St, Blaise for mass, not understanding one word, but joining in anyway, as one does, ane responding by guess work as the service was exactly the same order as our service in English, of course.
We visited the Franciscan Monastery, circa 1234 containing a restored sculpture of the Pièta and a gorgeous cloister dating back to the 14th century; the Sponza Palace, which now houses the National Archives; and the Baroque Cathedral of the Assumption, built in the 18th century after an earthquake destroyed the original one. The monastery museum contains the skull of King Stephen I, and finger of St. Luke (fascinating).
Then, walk to Dubrovnik’s city walls, which are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; parts of the wall date from the 13th century. Your guide will lead you along the entire length and tell you interesting facts about the city. As you’re soaking up the medieval atmosphere, you’ll see the lovely Minceta Fortress, St John’s Fortress, Bokar Fortress and the Maritime Museum, and see Orlando’s Column, the City Bell Tower, the Rector’s Palace and the Church of St Blaise.
We were told on our city tour that on Sunday April 6 1667 Dubrovnik was struck by a devastating earthquake, now known as the Great Earthquake of 1667. More than 5000 citizens died under the ruins of their City, many of them were in church being a Sunday.
Dubrovnik, one of the most beautiful and harmonious cities vanished in ruins and fires which ravaged what was left of the city for days. The beautiful Romanesque cathedral, the representative Gothic and Renaissance palaces, countless churches and monasteries were turned into an irreparable pile of debris. The shipping in port also suffered casualties. Dubrovnik recovered slowly and with difficulty. The City changed completely. Dubrovnik was rebuilt in a modest Baroque style, houses of the same appearance and design, all with red tiles roofs.
Next we docked at Malta, which is quite different from what you expect. All the buildings are built of the same honey coloured stone, so nothing stands out, it all just blends. But having said that Malta is quite startlingly beautiful as its architecture is very clever.
I was met at the dock by ‘my man in Malta’ Mr Claude Muscat who had been doing all of our Malta accommodation bookings and ferry tickets to Sicily. He then drove me to the Barracca Gardens which are built atop the defensive bastions that surround this majestic city. These gardens, built by the Knights of St.John, command breathtaking views of the Grand Harbour and the fortified Three Cities, and the Fortress Cottonera. Next we went to St John`s Co-Cathedral that is full of impressive displays of Baroque art, including the acclaimed Caravaggio painting that is on display in the Oratory of this opulent Cathedral.
Then on to do some hotel inspections in Sliema and St.Julians area. Then on to St. Paul’s Bay looking toward the island of Gozo, before going the island circle trip to Mdina “the quiet city”, through Rabat back to Valletta port, and I was getting a bit worried after this full day of sightseeing in Malta as we got into the 5.00pm workers on way home traffic that we would not make it back in time to meet the ship, but as luck and Claude would have it, we made it.
For the next stop Corfu, for an important meeting with Michelle who was over there inspecting hotels for Siva Travel, and we decided we would hold our annual Board Meetings at a nice outdoor eatery in Corfu town as we managed to get there once a year either with cruises or one other year when I was escorting a Cowra client Mrs Janet Sprigge from Greece to Italy via Corfu, another year with Glenn Morton’s art group.
We also did some sightseeing with one of Siva Travel’s reps by car to Mouse Island, Paleiokastritsas and had a nice lunch near Benitses of wild spinach picked by the cook.
We then cruised on up to Venice which must be the most beautiful ports in the world to sail in or out of, We disembarked there, and flew out of Venice back to Sydney via Vienna again.
OLYMPIA EXPLORER CRUISE – GEOFF PHILLIPS 2003
This was a lovely group escorted by TV news reader WIN Wollongong, Geoff Phillips who took away quite a few tours that I put together, eg. America, Egypt and Jordan, and two Trafalgar Europe
This one departed in September 2003, a lovely group of about 40 on it. They flew into Athens and proceeded with a full city tour, evening dinner from the roof top of the lovely Divani Palace Acropolis hotel, which our company used a lot in Athens.
The “Olympia Explorer” cruised to Corfu, where most of the group did a tour or just wandered around the lovely old streets of Corfu shopping. Next on to Venice, a real highlight sailing into that beautiful city early in the morning just as the reddest sun was rising to greet us. All the group went on a cruise on the traditional gondolas, before all taking a boat ride to see marvelous Murano the glass making island and Burano a fishing village island with its beautiful colored houses and waterways, This island famous for lace-making was where the group had lunch together at a lovely outdoor restaurant enclosed by plastic dropsides.
Next port of call Dubrovnik “the jewel of the Adriatic” with its century old walls that many in the group took the opportunity to climb around and take photos of this beautiful place. We did a tour to Cravat a lovely old town north of Dubrovnik.
Next port Katakolon where we all took a stroll instead of visiting the original Olympic games site as we were to do this later on the tour.Then on to Istanbul, one of the most beautiful harbors in the world flanked by minarets and mosques. Lunch and a tour of Topkapi Palace was included here for the group.
Mykonos and Santorini, were the last two islands called into where the group wandered around the lovely old streets before returning to the ship to sail back to Athens.
PAUL NAGLE’S GROUP IN 2005
Paul and Noeline Nagle from HWT Katoomba escorted a group to Greece and the Greek Islands in 2005 which we joined up with in Istanbul.
The group had done the Athens sightseeing and then the four day Peloponnese tour going to Nauplia and seeing Mycenaue and Epidavrus, on to Olympia and to Delphi then up to Meteora, before joining the 7 day Greek island cruise on the “Perla”
They cruised to Istanbul, Rhodes, Santorini, Crete, Mykonos before returning to Athens and then ferry to Kefalonia to stay at Sami Beach for several days, doing day tours to Fiskardo, Assos, swimming at Myrtos Beach, day cruise to Ithaca.
Mediterranean Holidays and tours have some lovely cruises going from Athens this year that we can thoroughly recommend to readers of this website, see the ships below…. go to…. www.mediterraneanholidays.com.au