Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...

29 May 2011

Le Boreal Part 4

Le Boreal Part 4 (the final one)
Friday 29th April 2011
It’s Royal Wedding Day – hooray – so I turned on the flat screen television to watch,

before heading out for breakfast. It seems the hot dishes were not hot, as the burners underneath them had not been turned on, so the meal was disappointing for some. During the night the ship’s clocks had been put back so we were now on Portuguese time, and looking forward to passing through the Straits of Gibraltar this morning. The sky looked ominous and it was soon pouring with rain, but then the sky cleared somewhat and we could see the famous Rock through the mist. Views from the ship’s stern were getting better by the minute, and soon we could see vessels crossing between north and south of the Straits and others berthed near the Rock.

Those chums with the whizzy zoom lenses could identify even the ISLAND ESCAPE berthed there.

The sky clouded over again so it was time to hot-foot it to the Ispahan Grand Salon for another treat – the Royal Wedding on the big screens. We watched the ceremony and when the moment came for the playing of the National Anthem – yes, of course, we six British patriotic friends all stood up out of respect for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

One kind friend had bought champagne so of course we stood and drank toasts: firstly to the new Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and then to Her Majesty the Queen. It was a spectacular and emotional ceremony to watch and admire, with the morning’s whole events in London perfectly carried out in the British traditional way.

Yet again I was reassured to see that half a million people in The Mall were perfectly happy to be able to walk towards Buckingham Palace at a steady pace behind just a handful of Police Officers, who were there to control the crowds.

On the ship, today’s alternative entertainment offered two morning lectures and tastings; lunch was good and the afternoon was spent by me looking at the Philippe Plisson picture books and the others playing Monopoly, before we attended a Culinary Quiz. Dinner this evening was to be a formal dress event so I enjoyed wearing the ‘posh frock’.

As usual it started late, with the evitable queue and search for a table, but the food was most enjoyable.

Tonight’s French chef explained absolutely everything about the menu, and there was a short prize-giving for the Culinary Quiz winners. The Captain was photographed with the several winners and dinner continued. It had been another good day – lucky us.

Ships seen: Azura (bound for Malaga), Island Escape, MSC Poesia, Oleander, Tarifa Jet, Milenium Dos, Al Mansour, Atlas 1, Atlas 2, and various container ships, but all seen through damp mist

Saturday 30th April 2011
This morning LE BOREAL berthed in Lisbon, after a comfortable sail along the River Tagus from the Atlantic.

The sky was grey but at least it was not raining.

As we waited to disembark, I saw an engineer going through Reception with WARTSILA writ large across the back of his overalls. At 10.30 a.m. the Captain was standing at the top of the gangway to shake hands with every departing passenger, and that was the end of 3 enjoyable days on the ship.

Looking back, I remember the fish dish I had to send back one evening as it was uncooked, the lack of outdoor walking space, and the late dinners every evening, wondering whether our group of six would be able to sit together; but the ship was compact and beautifully furnished and very comfortable, and I was glad to be on her for a short time, on one of her very few short trips.

I could be diplomatic and say that I imagine she might be completely different when on a port-intensive cruise, or in the Antarctic perhaps. The Gastronomic Cruise is apparently an annual event, but I would probably not recommend it to others because of the lack of organisation in the Restaurant, which affected the comfort of our group of six. Was it value for money? I think not, despite being booked many months ago at an acceptable price. I have had food of similar quality, interest and enjoyment on other ships, such as BLEU DE FRANCE and COLOR MAGIC; one of our group suggested that perhaps the Company Management or Chefs ought to go on cruises of other national and international shipping lines just to see the levels of care and comfort given to their passengers, which would make them more aware of what they offered in comparison. I think that’s a valid point.

Once ashore in Lisbon, we took a local train into the central part of the lovely city, and found a local restaurant serving lunch. Aha, back to land-based food again, and choosing Italian or Portuguese cooking. My friends set off for their various means of transport home, but I went into the Ferry terminal to get a return ticket to cross the River Tagus. The weather was warm and sunny so I enjoyed my short ride on PALMALENSE out and LISBONENSE (spacious air-line style seating with no open deck space) back.

I could see LE BOREAL still berthed at the terminal, although it was past her scheduled departure time.

The airport bus took me to Lisbon Airport, to catch a flight home to London Gatwick. I have to record that my easyJet flight landed 20 minutes early, as there was little air traffic around according to the pilot, and so I was home in good time.

LE BOREAL is said to be a chic mega-yacht, for those who want sophistication in a relaxed environment. Of course, I like experiencing all forms of travel and ships in particular, and this trip had certainly provided me with a new insight into luxury travel. I was also lucky enough to share in a lot of fun and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Ships seen: Express Santorini, Atlantico Line redundant ferry, Palmalense, Lisbonense, Dafundo, Alentejense, Lisboa Vista do Tojo

14 May 2011

Le Boreal Part 3

Le Boreal
Part 3

Thursday 28th April 2011
Here we are still at sea, sailing from Marseille to Lisbon, with sunshine outside.

Two of us had a rather disturbing time just before breakfast, as we ventured up to Deck 5. One of the dancers gave us a briefing on how to use the Gym and Fitness equipment – and not just the more usual items, but also whizzy computer-generated individual assessments and programmes. Very kind of her but I think I’ll stick to walking and swimming…

Breakfast was plentiful and I loved seeing a huge bowl of prepared sliced pink grapefruit on the buffet table.

There was a lecture in the Theatre by Michel Escoffier, talking about his great-grandfather Auguste Escoffier. This was followed by a cookery demonstration by another of the chefs on board. We decided to take advantage of the open Bridge policy and visit there.

Visibility was still good outside and as the watch keeping Deck officers showed us the radar we could see two ships visible towards the horizon. We were then shown information of their names and the destination for one of them.

I had taken pictures of Ponant’s new ship L’AUSTRAL being completed in Ancona last July, so I gave copies of the photographs to the Deck officers. One of our group also handed over a gift for the Captain of a copy of “Cruise Ships Third Edition” by William Mayes, which we thought would be well received. No acknowledgement was ever received on board and, at the time of writing this, still hasn’t been.

Lunch was followed by an afternoon lecture and red wine tasting (which I didn’t attend) in the Theatre, by a gentleman described (in English) as ‘best wine Expert in the World’.

After lunch we walked in the sun on the top deck,

and noticed a large white container up on the non-public deck above the stern.

It was only when we saw an engineer going into the side of it that we realised that it was not the usual kind of container. We subsequently asked and found out that it contained a motor generator, which was needed for the ship’s use following her problems in Antarctica a few months ago, when one cruise had to be cancelled in January.

Tea in the Main Lounge Ispahan was enjoyed as we watched a promotional film from Compagnie du Ponant about the arrival in Marseille of LE BOREAL and L’AUSTRAL just the other day. Now we know what the helicopter was doing, flying over Chateau d’If whilst we were there! The film was made by Philippe Plisson, the renowned photographer of the sea and lighthouses. I have admired his work for a long time, and some years ago I was lucky enough to meet Monsieur Plisson himself, on board a Transatlantic liner. I remembered that he also has a small business in St. Malo. The Library on board this ship has several of his books of photographs so I enjoyed looking at them one afternoon, while the others played Monopoly.

The pre-dinner entertainment was a classical/jazz piano concert in the Theatre, which most of us saw and enjoyed. Again, it started later than advertised and so did this evening’s Gastronomic Dinner, but at least a public announcement had been made about the new dining time. This is not really a problem, but it is so disappointing then to have to queue for an unknown length of time outside the Restaurant, knowing there is no allocated seating and there is no guarantee that six friends can even sit together for what should be the highlight of the day.

Dinner was again wonderful to see and enjoy, despite the lengthy French descriptions from the Chef. Luckily two of our group speak fluent French so were able to describe the dishes again this evening, but in précis (!) form.

My daily programme told me that the final entertainment of the evening was to be a showing of the film ‘Ratatouille’. I loved seeing this film in my local cinema but didn’t quite expect to see it on a Gastronomic Cruise! (For anyone who hasn’t seen the film, it’s about a rat that wants to be a French chef, in France, and succeeds!)

Ships seen: Tirranna, going to Setubal, Portugal, and Torm Fraya.

To be continued...

10 May 2011

Le Boreal 27th April 2011 Part 2

Wednesday 27th April 2010

Wow, it’s a red carpet day, and lots of it! We all arrived at the cruise port to find LE BORÉAL and L’AUSTRAL bow to bow, with red carpet going in every direction. L’AUSTRAL had her maiden voyage celebrations yesterday and would leave later today, after our departure at 12 noon.

There was time for lots of fun photographs before luggage was handed in, tickets were checked and we could stroll along to the gangway.

The Captain of LE BORÉAL was standing there, ready to shake hands and see us each guided to our cabins. No, make that a stateroom not cabin, as I had a balconied cabin with a huge bed and seven pillows/cushions on it.

The toilet cubicle was adequate for a small person, but the separate bathroom/shower was bigger with a surprising totally glass wall separating it from the bedroom part of the cabin. As the sole occupant of my cabin it meant I could at least look through the bathroom glass wall and see the sea. Hmm, this has novelty value I suppose, especially when I was showering. In fact there was also a sliding door which could be pulled across to cover the glass but I left it open.

The ship was built at Fincantieri’s Ancona shipyard just last year for Compagnie du Ponant, at 10,700 gross tons, 16 knots, 140 crew, with 223 passengers on board today. She is French-flagged and is Ice Class 1C, for her more usual Antarctic cruises and expeditions. The ship has 132 cabins, with double or twin beds and private bathroom facilities.

There are six decks: Deck 2 Le Liberte has the Gastronomic Restaurant (268 seats) aft, with a Marina just aft of that. Deck 3 Le Champollion above that has the Medical Centre forward, cabins aft of that, with Reception and Excursion desk around the circular seating.

Aft again is a small shop, then Main Ispahan Lounge and bar,

with access through poorly fitting doors to the small open deck behind that. Deck 4 Le La Fayette has cabins and the Theatre aft. Deck 5 Le Normandie has the forward Bridge, cabins behind, then the Fitness centre, with hairdresser, massage and beauty facilities. Deck 6 Le France has the lovely open Panoramic Terrace at the bow,

with the Panoramic Lounge/Bar/Library inside behind that, which we all enjoyed very often.

Cabins were behind that, then the partly-covered Grill Restaurant, which proved popular but disorganised for buffet mealtimes. The swimming pool was sited here, with snow-white pool towels and dark coloured steamer chairs. The soft seating was in the signature bright red colour.

Above again on Deck 7 Le Paris was an aft Open-Air Bar; forward was some deck space but filled with Zodiacs and then a small forward Sun Deck which was not always available. There was an open Bridge policy.

I loved the subtle colour palette inside LE BORÉAL, with its dark brown or grey and white, with bright red splashes of colour. It seemed very stylish and comfortable for our 3 night Gastronomic Cruise, sailing from Marseille to Lisbon in Portugal. This re-positioning cruise is the only short one available, so it was an ideal length to try out one of Ponant’s Yacht Cruises. I liked the art work on board, in the cabins, corridors, lounges and stairwells, although it was sometimes hidden by poorly sited lighting (in the Ispahan Grand Salon for example).

Lunch was available in the Grill Restaurant, with disorganised buffet queues all around, but there was eventually a good choice of food, with wine and other drinks all supplied with the meal.

The Captain announced our departure time (late) and we blew 3 whistles to Ponant’s newest ship as we left the quayside. The sun was blazing down under a cloudless blue sky, we were sailing on a one-year old ship, and there beside us was a brand new vessel about to leave on her maiden voyage within an hour, and when we signalled our goodbyes in the usual nautical way – nothing, absolutely nothing, no response whatsoever. We all found this extraordinary.

Later that afternoon all the English-speaking passengers on board were invited to a Welcome Briefing in the Theatre from one of the Cruise Directors – Nadine - and our Captain Jean-Philippe Lemaire. After the brief Briefing it seemed the moment to ask politely why our 3 whistles on departure hadn’t been acknowledged by an answering signal from L’AUSTRAL, who was about to set out on her maiden voyage. The answer from the Captain, in English, was to the effect that yesterday had been the celebrations day (we knew that, but we weren’t there) with lots of whistle blowing, and today there were important people on board L’AUSTRAL and they didn’t choose to interrupt things with the VIPs. He also mentioned that it was not a maritime necessity to salute each other with whistles.

Afternoon tea was available,

then Lifeboat Drill followed, and soon it was time to prepare for the first of our Gastronomic dinners, starting at 7.30 p.m. First however we were informed that as dinner would probably be long and enjoyable, it had been decided that the ‘entertainment’ would be held at 6 p.m. with a Welcoming Show of Dancers in the Theatre. This was pleasant, but then it was announced that dinner would start later than advertised so we all trooped back to the Ispahan Lounge before being summoned down to the Restaurant to queue to enter. Seating had not been allocated in advance. A pleasant meal followed, which took three hours to serve with the appropriate wine; as each course was served, the French chef explained the details of the particular dish, and the wine, in French, at great length.

There was no English translation, which was a shame as the English-speakers on board (over 50 of us) had been told we would be treated equally with the French-speakers.

That was the end of our first day on our Gastronomic Cruise. It had been very enjoyable, in congenial company, and we really liked the ship and its furnishings.

Ships seen: Tassili I and II, Danielle Casanova, Napoleon Bonaparte, Paglia Orba, Scandola, Jean Nicoli, Atlantic Star, L’Austral, Le Boréal, Al Sabini, Monte d’Oro

To be continued...