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June 13, 2019 on the approach to Southampton, UK
10 knots / Temperature: 17°C / Seas: slight
Somewhere off the port side of Cunard
Line’sQueen Mary 2
are Fastnet and Old Head of Kinsale. They’re the first parts of Ireland that
ships come to on their eastbound course into Southampton from New York.
Today is the last day of my transatlantic crossing
aboard Queen Mary 2. Tomorrow, we will arrive into Southampton’s Ocean
Terminal bright and early in the morning. A handful of cruisers are continuing
on with the ship on a two-night extension to Hamburg; a few are doing a full
turn back to New York.
This is my fourth transatlantic aboard Queen Mary 2,
and I am happy to see that Cunard continues to add meaningfully to the
experience. The onboard lecturers this voyage have been stellar, and Cunard now
seems to add a couple well-known “Celebrity Lecturers” to each voyage.
I was delighted to see that drink menus have been
redesigned in the Chart Room and Commodore Club since my last crossing in 2017.
Unlike other cruise ships that seem to be content to have one drink menu spread
out over several locations, Cunard makes its menus aboard Queen Mary 2
specific to that location.
Cunard has also resisted the pull to cheapen its
product. Other lines are cutting out pillow chocolates; Cunard provides nightly
Godiva chocolates. Other lines are switching to plain china; Cunard uses
logo-branded Wedgewood china. Other lines have cut out the midnight buffet
snack; Cunard trotted out – among other things – bacon-wrapped hot dogs in the
King’s Court last night.
The sheer amount of live music onboard Queen Mary 2
is staggering. Someone said Cunard employs the greatest number of musicians on
a single ship. I don’t know if that’s true, but I think it must be. Very few
ships carry a jazz trio, a harpist, a classical duo, two pianists, and a
full-blown orchestra onboard.
Like a fine wine, Queen Mary 2 only seems to
get better with age.
That’s a credit to Cunard, which keeps the ship
sparkling. Sure, if you look for it, you’ll find evidence of wear-and-tear.
This is a working ship, after all, that spends its time primarily out at sea.
But the level of care put into Queen Mary 2 is
unique. She sparkles. You’d never guess she’s celebrating 15 years of service
There are a lot of ships and experiences that I like.
There really is no such thing as a bad cruise. But there are cruises that speak
more to some than others, and Queen Mary 2 and the transatlantic
crossing has always spoken deeply to me.
If you dislike dressing up, this isn’t the voyage for
you: every night is formal night to some degree; even “Smart Attire” nights
will require men to put on a collared shirt and jacket; with cocktail dresses
or “stylish separates” for the ladies.
The cool thing is that almost everyone dresses
up. Last night, for example, was the Roaring Twenties ball. I was part of the minority
that didn’t dress for that and just stayed in regular formal wear. Men put on
top hats, women wore fascinators. The band (remember that orchestra?) played
1920’s hits and old-school renditions of modern songs like Lady Gaga’s “Bad
Romance.” It was amazing.
I think that’s the takeaway with these crossings
aboard Queen Mary 2: there is always something amazing to see and do. If
you didn’t want to partake in the 1920’s-themed party, you had live music in
the Golden Lion Pub and trivia. Jazz music in the Chart Room. A pianist up in
the Commodore Club. An evening performance in the Carinthia Lounge. A
full-blown production show in the Royal Court Theatre.
The other fun variable is the weather, for you never
know what it will be like. On this Eastbound Crossing, we’ve had sun, rain,
fog, calm seas, moderate seas, warm temperatures, cold winds, high winds. In
fact, this crossing has been windier than most I can remember.
In the past, I’ve had all of the above, plus
thunderstorms, rainbows, and days so amazingly hot and still that you could
read on deck without a single page in your book fluttering.
You just never know what you’ll encounter, though it
is a safe bet to assume it will be, “a bit of everything.”
It’s an interesting exercise to look outside and
imagine the glory days of the transatlantic liners, when ships would meet and
pass each other with regularity. Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth
would regularly “salute” each other at sea, heading in opposite directions,
with a spectacle of whistles sounding while Captains drove their respective
ships at high speed through the Atlantic.
Those days are gone. We passed one MSC container ship
out of New York, and I spotted another on my mid-morning stroll around the
Promenade Deck two days ago. The latter was the subject of much conversation
around the ship, as it always is when another ship is sighted after days of
being alone. “Did you see the ship this morning? I heard it was a big one!”
People actually start embellishing the tale of the ship,
usually over copious amounts of cocktails. It was a nondescript cargo ship, but
I heard everything from cruise ship to freighter to one lady who, bless her,
thought it was Queen Elizabeth 2, which sadly retired since 2008 and is now
a floating hotel in Dubai.
(Even as I typed this in Sir Samuels, people have been
going over to the windows to stare at an NYK cargo liner heading westbound past
our port side. Ships: they’re the dolphins of the Atlantic.)
That’s also part of the fun of a transatlantic
crossing: there are characters onboard. People take Queen Mary 2 for all
sorts of reasons. Some, like me, take it for the joy of crossing. Others,
unable or unwilling to fly, take it as transportation to and from England and
“The Continent.” Some are going over to England for a holiday; others are
relocating temporarily or permanently for business reasons.
Other people choose to cross because they need to get
away. They need a break from whatever life is throwing at them. In the old
days, doctors used to prescribe a “long ocean voyage” as a remedy for a wide
variety of ailments. Nervous condition? Take a long ocean voyage! Chronic
illness? A long ocean voyage will set you
And while Blue Cross probably won’t cover my Queen
Mary 2 crossings, those turn-of-the-century doctors weren’t entirely without
merit. There is something restorative about an ocean voyage,
particularly today. Unencumbered by ports of call, Queen Mary 2 offers
the chance for people to disconnect. Days can be spent doing as much or as
little as you wish. There is the chance to read, the chance to learn, the
chance to be entertained. All without the hassle of ports of call.
I love ports of call, but they are kind of a
hassle. Think about it: have you ever taken a cruise where people didn’t
have mob-mentality when it comes to going ashore? Where you haven’t been
crushed into a stairwell with three hundred other people all pushing and
shoving to go drinking at Margaritaville? Half of whom get to the end of the
shell door and then can’t find their keycard to scan off the ship? Who then
hold up the line by posing for every photo imaginable on their way down the
pier? Who then all wait until the very last moment to come back onboard,
leaving you out in the searing sun or the pouring rain while they again try to
find their keycard at the gangway entrance, leaving you wondering why you ever
left the comfort of the ship at all?
sailed since New York: 1,345 nautical miles
15 knots / Temperature: 13°C / Seas: slight
After a night of calm seas leaving New York, I awoke
to a beautiful, sunny morning aboard Cunard Line’sQueen Mary 2.
We’re surrounded by nothing but miles of open ocean – and the possibilities for
my first full day onboard my favourite ship are endless.
I wrote the above paragraph in 2017, on my last
transatlantic crossing. It’s still applicable now, as I set out on my fourth
transatlantic crossing aboard the iconic Queen Mary 2. Sailing from New
York to Southampton aboard Voyage M916 this past Friday, this truly is my
favorite journey by sea aboard a ship that has fascinated me since I saw the
first artists’ impression of her back in 1998.
In the past, I’ve always done a Live Voyage Report
for my crossings on Queen Mary 2. This time, I’m pairing things down a
bit; being more concise. The reasons for this are simple: I’m such a creature
of habit that by the end, the voyage reports all start to blend together. That,
and the demands of posting live are vicious: you spend more time struggling
with the internet than experiencing the cruise!
Sure, other cruise lines offer transatlantic crossings.
They’re great fun, too. But Cunard offers what could be thought of as the
classic crossing: New York to Southampton. No ports. No distractions. Just open
Half the people I meet think this kind of voyage is
nuts. No ports!? What will we do?! Those folks, however, haven’t been
aboard Queen Mary 2. Boredom here is simply not an option.
The real gem aboard Queen Mary 2 are the Cunard
Insights lectures offered up on every crossing.
So far this voyage, I’ve managed to learn about my mortal
enemy, wasps, in a talk by Dr. Ben Aldiss. Fun fact: if you wear blue or
black, you’re going to get stung. If you flail about when one is around you (as
I problematically do), you’re going to get stung. If you’re eating beef or
drinking beer, well, you’re probably going to get stung: wasps love a good
I also learned about Christopher Marlow, poet and spy
during the Elizabethan age in England, in an engaging talk by Giles Ramsay,
who also touched n the fact that successive kings and queens continued to
monkey religions to the point that the peasants rose up in protest.
I also checked out Dr. Lawrence Kuznetz and his
fascinating lecture on Apollo 11. It was a timely lecture; this year marks the
50th anniversary of the Moon Landing.
Yesterday, guests aboard Queen Mary 2 heard Brian
Wood, recipient of the Military Cross for his performance in battle during
the 2003 conflict with Iraq, talk about his struggles with PTSD during his time
in war, at home, and during his testimony in the Al-Sweady Inquiry into
allegations of war crimes by British soldiers in Iraq. A hugely personal look
at the effects of war, PTSD and the impact that has on men who are told to
fight for their country, then summarily abandoned upon their return, his talk
was one of the most moving I’ve ever encountered.
All of this is in addition to fencing classes at
9:00am (which I have to get there much earlier for, apparently –
everyone wants to learn how to do it!); trivia competitions; arts and crafts
classes; bridge lessons; fitness classes; live music throughout the ship each
afternoon; planetarium shows in the first planetarium at sea; and other fun
diversions. And let’s not forget Cunard’s classic white-glove afternoon tea; a wonderful
spectacle of Britishness if there ever was one.
Also speaking on our voyage is Joanne Harris,
author of Chocolat and The Strawberry Thief; and
Bob Smolik, talking about world affairs.
These lectures are just superb. They’re a great chance
to learn about a topic that you may not know much about, or one that you’re
keenly interested in.
One thing that I feel gets better with every passing
year are Cunard’s drink options. Last time I sailed across the Atlantic in
2017, Cunard had just recently refitted Queen Mary 2. Up in the
Commodore Club, they’d created entirely new drink menus with seven special
cocktails that honour past commodores of the Cunard Line.
A “Commodore” is like the most senior Captain of the company. Past
commodores have included folks like Sir Arthur Rostron, the man who
captained the Carpathia in April of 1912 and came to the rescue of Titanic.
In the menus in the Commodore Club, seven Commodores
(including Rostron) are profiled, and specialty cocktails have been created for
each. These aren’t inexpensive (one runs a hefty $25), but they are innovative
and high-quality. I love that they impart some of the history of the company,
and really brand the space – which just happens to sit three decks below the
In the Chart Room on Deck 3, a new menu (well, new to
me) brands this space perfectly, with a collection of drinks named after
constellations and zodiac signs.
I don’t know who at Cunard is in charge of this, but
the menus are designed beautifully and the drinks are spot-on. This is exactly
the kind of thing I wish more cruise lines would take ownership of. Viking
Cruises does this beautifully, and Cunard is clearly keyed-in as well.
Cunard also offers beverage packages now,
though only for purchase onboard. They come in the following flavours:
Beers, Wines & Spirits Option – $69
per person, per day
Premium Soft Drinks – $29 per person, per
Soft Drinks Option – $10 per person, per
Specialty Hot Drinks Option – $15 per
person, per day
I didn’t elect to purchase one of these because I
simply can’t drink $70 worth of booze each day, just to break-even. Plus, the
package tops out at drinks that cost $11, and I seem to be enjoying the $16
cocktails in the Commodore Club that wouldn’t be covered anyhow. You do,
however, get a 20 percent discount on all drinks above $11 if you purchase the
‘Beers, Wines and Spirits Option’ package.
This is the first year that Queen Elizabeth has been to British Columbia or Alaska, and the
first return of Cunard to the region in recent memory. From all indications, it
looks like Cunard is set to make a big splash on the West Coast; in many ways, Queen Elizabeth is the embodiment of the
perfect Alaska ship, one that blends open deck space with picture-perfect views
from nearly every public room.
Coming onboard on a beautiful Friday afternoon, I was
pleased to find the ship in spotless condition. After so many memorable
crossings aboard Cunard’s legendary flagship, Queen Mary 2, I found Queen
Elizabeth exudes a similar elegance while still managing to retain its own
Fans of classic-looking vessels will love Queen Elizabeth. Although she is based on
the Vista Class platform originally crafted for Holland America Line, Queen Elizabeth makes great use of this
slightly modified design, which manages to house a three-storey atrium; a
three-level main theatre; a two-storey Queens Lounge ballroom; and the bi-level
shopping arcade that houses gift shops on Deck 3 and a small casino and
expanded Golden Lion Pub on Deck 2.
The latter is particularly interesting. It better
replicates the feel of an English local than its counterpart on Queen Mary 2 (which is no less clubby)
with its dark exposed ceiling beams and walls of glass. It’s a bit like the
Wheelhouse Bar on Princess Cruises’ Grand Class (Cunard and Princess share some
interior design teams), but modified for a distinctly Cunard look and feel.
Complimentary pub lunch has always been a favorite
pastime of mine on Cunard, and the line now takes things one step further by
offering a complimentary Pub Dinner. Dinner offers a different menu than
lunchtime, with selections such as:
“Yorkie” Filled with Cheddar and Cumberland Shallot Chutney
Mac and Cheese
Spiced Dorset Lamb Shank
Fried Hens Egg with Forest Mushrooms on Toasted Country Bread
In Alaska, the Golden Lion Pub also offers a selection
of beers brewed by the Alaska Brewing
Company. They’re decently priced, too: $6.10 for a pint, or $7.50 for a
flight. But you’ll have to visit the Golden Lion to get one.
Other special Alaskan-themed drinks are available in
the Commodore Club or Café Carinthia. Alaska Signature Cocktails are $10.50
each, or $15.00 for a tasting flight. Hot specialty drinks (Alaskan-themed, of
course) can be found in the Garden Lounge.
Elizabeth are the touches that Cunard aficionados have come to know and
love. Things like walls wrapped in striking faux wood veneer. Paintings of
famous Cunard vessels that adorn the stairwell landings. Thoughtful touches,
like a two-level library and a proper bookstore. Stores selling cool logo swag
that you’d actually want to own.
What surprised me was how much attraction I instantly
felt to this ship. Queen Mary 2 is
and has always been my undisputed heavyweight favorite in the land of ships.
Truth be told, I’d avoided sailing aboard Queen
Elizabeth or her sister because I’d worried they were somehow “lesser” than
their larger fleetmate.
The truth is that Queen
Elizabeth is a gorgeous ship that’s worthy of sailing aboard in her own
right. You’ll find all the Cunard touches wrapped up in a slightly more
navigable package. Fresh from a recent refit, Queen Elizabeth sparkles and welcomes guests to Alaska or any place
she sails to.
Cunard has also created some added features for guest
in Alaska. Queen Elizabeth will carry
an onboard naturalist, Rachel Cartwright, for the duration of the Alaska
season, along with Native Voice’s Patricia Alexander. Together, they will act
as an interpretive team for guests onboard the ship, imparting Alaska’s natural
and historic beauty to Cunard’s guests.
Elizabeth is the right vessel for Alaska. Graced with plenty of
open deck space and glorious views from nearly every public room, not a second
of West Coast scenery is sacrificed. This is hugely important in Alaska; so
many of the big new vessels coming to this region are shockingly ill-suited for
such a picturesque and scenic run.
There’s a novelty in this for Cunard, too, and the
excitement of the crew was palpable during my tour. Queen Elizabeth had just completed her first revenue Alaska sailing
when I stepped onboard and was setting out on her second run – Voyage Q916 –
with port calls on Juneau, Skagway, Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Sitka,
Ketchikan and Victoria before her return to Vancouver on June 9.
That’s also noteworthy. Most Alaskan cruises are a
week in duration and feature a rather classic itinerary. Cunard shakes things
up with itineraries that are primarily 10-nights in duration.
Sadly, she’s only here for a short period of time –
come July, Queen Elizabeth sets sail
for points further afar. But she’s coming back in 2020, and her itineraries
from Vancouver will include a call on Glacier
Bay National Park – the quintessential Alaskan glacier viewing experience.
Not every line gets access to Glacier Bay; permits are tightly controlled. Out
of numerous lines vying for spots next year, Cunard won the challenge.
As far as I’m concerned, this eight-day voyage from Antigua to Barbados aboard Sea
Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud represents
the perfect combination of time spent in port, and time spent underway.
Aboard Sea Cloud,
that means setting sail at every possible opportunity – which is just what
happened this morning at 0900. No matter how many times I see this ritual
performed, it never fails to impress. Crewmembers scurry up the falls attached
to the masts and begin unfurling the sails. Lines are coiled carefully on the
deck, waiting for the commands to be given. Everything is done by hand, save
for the electric winches mounted to the decks. Lines are coiled around these,
which help take some of the manual labor out of making them taut.
Before our arrival in Gustavia, St. Barths this afternoon, guests onboard Sea Cloud were treated to a morning of
interesting and relaxing diversions. Breakfast buffet was served once again in
the Restaurant, followed by a bridge tour conducted first in German, then in
English half-an-hour later. A lecture on the History of the Caribbean was given
in both languages, and a lunch buffet was served at 1230.
Of course, this is a ‘make-your-own-fun’ kind of
cruise. For me, that meant reading, writing and conversing with my fellow
guests – none of which gets old or even remotely boring. Of course, Sea Cloud isn’t for everyone. For those
who want a quiet, reflective cruise experience in the Caribbean, however, it is
the icing on the cake.
This afternoon we dropped anchor off Gustavia and
joined a cavalcade of private luxury yachts, each more glamorous than the last.
Two other sail-cruise ships also joined us at anchor today: Windstar Cruises’ Wind Surf and Star
Clipper’s Star Flyer. Both
feature sails; both are very different from Sea
Cloud. Although modern, Star Flyer
does come close to equaling Sea Cloud in
terms of grace, but she can’t replicate the history packed within this hull.
This is my first time to Gustavia. I have to admit, it
may not be my kind of place. Sophisticated and very French, it is also
extraordinarily expensive. The town harbour is packed with mega-yachts, and the
average shopping experience is limited mainly to high-end brands like Bvlgari,
Cartier, Hermes and Louis Vuitton. Entering one clothing store on the opposite
end of the harbour, I found a ceramic mug with an anchor and the word,
“Gustavia” that went for €79. A street map of Gustavia was €13. At another
store, ballcaps pushed €40.
A beer at a local pub went for almost €8, but the
grocery store down the street had Red Stripes from Jamaica for €1.50 a bottle.
Add to that the fact that it was really hot outside
and I was missing my home-away-from-home, and it doesn’t take much to suppose
that I went back to the Sea Cloud and
felt immediately better.
When I returned to the ship however, I was met with
welcome news: Cabin No. 4 was now
repaired and ready for me. I packed up a few things from Cabin No. 10 at the
stern and brought them forward to my new digs. Cabin Stewardesses Marion and
Jessica brought the rest. I didn’t even need to remove my shirts; they simply
took the hangars and placed them in my new closet.
Original Cabin No. 4 is located on the port side of the ship,
on Main Deck. Styled after a room in an English manor, it is 237-square feet
and has an additional 43-square feet reserved for the marble-clad bathroom. It
also has not one, but two closets and features a total of three porthole
windows: two in the main living area, and one (frosted) in the bathroom.
It is sumptuous and gorgeous; just one of ten
distinctive staterooms on Main Deck that harken back to the ships construction
An electric fireplace provides an extra dose of
illumination, and carpets, drapes and soft furnishings feel new and fresh.
There is a curious little double-doored vestibule entryway that also houses a
small pantry. If you’re looking for your lifejackets or a Coca-Cola, it’s
tucked away in there.
While the furniture in here isn’t unique to the ship,
it is antique furniture from the
period when Sea Cloud was launched.
However, in keeping with modern times, the room is fully air conditioned and
has a number of European-style 220V electrical outlets spread throughout.
Storage space is amazing, with two full closets (including one with a chest of
drawers) and plenty of drawer space in the main living area.
A small knob located behind the bed allows for three
channels of music to be piped into the room.
Like all cabins aboard Sea Cloud, you won’t find a TV here – and that’s a-okay with me. This
ship, with its opulent surroundings, is entertainment enough.
I looked around on the beach, where scantily-clad
bathers were drinking like it was end-of-days. There were people drinking in
the water, drinking on the sand, drinking at the bars that lined the shores of
White Beach. In fact, there wasn’t a single establishment on the beach that didn’t involve drinking.
This afternoon, Sea
Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud arrived
at Jost Van Dyke, BVI and anchored
off White Beach. A cluster of chartered and rented catamarans was beyond our
anchorage, and just astern of us was Crystal
Cruises’ ungainly little Crystal Esprit. Nice enough on the
inside, it is a boxy little vessel that couldn’t have contrasted more with the
sleek lines of the beautiful Sea Cloud.
The heat today seemed to be more intense than
yesterday. The breeze at anchorage was nearly nothing and the sun beat down on
me. Still, I decided that I should go ashore to White Beach, and so boarded one
of the ship’s zodiacs for the quick ride and wet landing ashore.
The benefit of sailing aboard a small ship like Sea Cloud; no waiting. I simply walked
out onto the promenade deck, scanned my card off the ship, and proceeded down
the gangway and into the waiting zodiac raft. Easy.
Jost Van Dyke wasn’t really my scene, but it didn’t
help that I had used up all my U.S. cash, which is needed to purchase almost
anything on the island. I’d converted a lot of money to Eastern Caribbean
Dollars, which turned out to be pretty well useless here.
But most of the entertainment on White Beach is
limited to a) suntanning and b) drinking heavily. It is home of the Soggy
Dollar Bar, which reportedly invented the Painkiller. The recipe is a
closely-guarded secret. I like a good drink – I would have killed for a cold
beer at that point – but I’m not a big sun person. And with little available
shade and no access to libations, I quickly grew tired of Jost Van Dyke.
White Beach actually reminded me a bit of walking into
a Margaritaville, but on the beach. Except that everyone here was going to
clamber back aboard their rented Lagoons and Fountain Pajots and drunkenly sail
away later. That part really makes a man think. Some of these folks couldn’t
have driven a golf cart afterwards, but a 60-foot catamaran is no issue. Like I
say, it makes you think.
So, I ended up catching the next zodiac back to the
ship (You’re going back already?) and
sitting on my beloved promenade deck, reading a book and looking at Jost Van
Dyke. And that suited me just fine. And it turns out the ship makes a heck of a
good Painkiller as well.
That’s the nice thing about Sea Cloud: there is never any real pressure here to do anything you
don’t want to. No one forces you to go ashore or stay onboard or really do much
of anything throughout the day. The attitude is that this is your vacation, and
you can make it what you will.
Still, my favorite part of going ashore at Jost Van
Dyke was seeing the Sea Cloud looking
resplendent at anchor. Every rented catamaran that went past slowed to
photograph our ship as it did so, and even Crystal’s guests looked a little
green with envy. People stopped to talk to the AB’s (Able-bodied seamen) that
were manning the zodiac landing site ashore to ask about the Sea Cloud.
Back onboard, we raised our anchor just after 5pm and
set sail into the most brilliant sunset we’ve seen so far this trip. It was
spectacular, made all the better by the gorgeous amber hues it cast off the
ship’s gleaming brightwork and teak.
This evening, dinner was taken outdoors on the Lido Bar.
Painkillers were distributed to eager guests (they were indeed delicious!) and
that added the necessary social lubrication for the next event: a sea-shanty-singalong
with the crew!
I though the singalong was good fun, but I didn’t
realize it has a storied tradition. According to the printed songbooks that
were passed around, this tradition started in 1982 and had blown into a
full-time thing, occurring on every voyage, by 1984. It has been performed
weekly by the crews aboard Sea Cloud ever
In recognition of the diverse nature of Sea Cloud’s crew, many of these sea
shanties are in English, German and Tagalog (Filipino).
And so it was then, that guests and crew aboard Sea Cloud sand and drank and were merry
as the classic ship made her way through the darkness of the Caribbean sea,
bound for new adventures tomorrow in Gustavia, St. Barths.
along with our Voyage Report in the Southern Caribbean aboard the legendary Sea
Once again, my morning aboard Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud began as it did yesterday: with a sumptuous breakfast in the main lounge, followed by a cup of coffee out on the gorgeous teak-lined promenade deck.
After a quick stop at Spanish Town in the British Virgin Islands to drop off guests taking an excursion to Virgin Gorda, Sea Cloud got underway again and sailed through a brief but intense early-morning rain storm. I’d seen the line of clouds coming towards the vessel and took that as the cue to go down to my stately Cabin 10 to change books. No sooner had I arrived in the room than I could hear the rain pounding down on the deck and see what looked like a veritable North Atlantic storm through my dual porthole windows.
On the subject of that: you truly don’t need a balcony, or even a picture window, to enjoy a cruise. On a ship like Sea Cloud, having porthole windows in the cabins on the main deck only adds to the romance of being onboard. It is worth noting, however, that cabins on the upper decks mostly have full-sized picture windows.
The rain passed within ten minutes and I went back up on deck to watch our final anchorage off Moskito Island. Moskito Island is owned by Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson, who also owns and makes his home on nearby Necker Island.
We wouldn’t be graced with a visit from the Virgin impresario today, but we were treated to an altogether special experience: a beach day on secluded Moskito Island.
I’ve been on a lot of cruises, and I’ve seen a lot of “beach days” on my itineraries over the years. Nothing, however, has been quite so charming and relaxing as this. I got a bit worried when I saw SeaDream Yacht Club’s Sea Dream II anchored with us. I pictured a beach crowded with two ships (albeit small ships) worth of people.
But over on the beach, it was just the fortysomething guests from the Sea Cloud, invited to a sumptuous beach barbecue in the heart of paradise.
With a steady breeze blowing to keep things cool, guests were offered complimentary beer, wines and rum punch, along with liberal amounts of water. The buffet feast included sausages, salads, seafood, and everything in-between, plus dessert, all carted over from the ship by the vessel’s talented galley staff.
I’ve taken a lot of Caribbean cruises. A Caribbean cruise on a big ship is a party-hard, heavy-drinking affair. There’s loud music. Bob Marley plays on repeat. You’ll hear One Love a lot more than one time.
Here, there is nothing. No loud music, no Bob Marley, no boozy guests. Well, okay, pleasantly-boozy guests. People here get drunk in the way that Ernest Hemingway famously wrote people go bankrupt: slowly, then suddenly. Even the music played at a reasonable volume on the beach was limited to modern contemporary hits, like Panic! At the Disco’s High Hopes.
When you strip away all the steel drum music and loud pool games and other diversions, you’re left with Sea Cloud: a quiet, reflective vessel with a quiet approach to the Caribbean. It’s not for everyone, obviously, but it is wonderfully refreshing.
Back onboard, I found an amazing photo album in the ship’s Lounge, filled with photographs taken by a photographer of Sea Cloud back in 1932, when she was the Hussar. She looks very different with her jet-black hull, but those graceful lines are still there. I was able to note, too, just how faithful the company’s restoration of her interiors has been. Purchased in 1979 by a consortium of German investors, Sea Cloud has operated faithfully as a cruise ship ever since.
I am completely enamoured with this ship, but Sea Cloud is not for everyone. It isn’t the right venue for families with kids, who will be bored stiff by the quiet nature of the onboard experience. It isn’t for those who need constant entertainment and stimulation; reading and conversing with your fellow guests constitutes entertainment here.
Sea Cloud also isn’t a good choice for guests with mobility issues of any kind. There are numerous steep staircases around the ship that have to be navigated on a daily basis, and doors with high weather seals require guests to constantly keep an eye on their footing. The ship has no elevator, and getting on and off will almost always require either a zodiac or a tender ride ashore. On this particular itinerary, Sea Cloud is at anchor for every port of call except for our embarkation in Antigua and our disembarkation in Barbados.
However, Sea Cloud is a great choice for couples and solo travellers. It is perfect for those who value ships with lots of maritime history and an international crew and guest experience. It is amazing for those looking for a mindful Caribbean cruise experience.
In this way, Sea Cloud is perfect for showing you the Caribbean that you never knew existed; one far away from the bustling ports of St. Thomas and Nassau and the like. This is the Caribbean as it used to be.
This is Sea Cloud’s Caribbean.
Follow along with our Voyage Report in the Southern Caribbean aboard the legendary Sea Cloud:
Dawn broke aboard Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud this morning, turning its polished woodwork a deep amber colour. After my first 24 hours onboard, I’ve determined that sunrise and sunsets are when Sea Cloud is at her most beautiful, her woodwork, brass and steel burnished by the embers of the day.
We were steaming along under the power of the ship’s diesel propulsion plant, but hardly any vibration can be felt throughout the ship. In this respect, Sea Cloud is quite distinct from other sailing ships I’ve been on. Most lose their grace when their engines are engaged. Sea Cloud does not.
At 9:00am sharp, though, the call for “All Stop” was rung on the ship’s brass telegraph (which actually works thanks to a loving restoration in 2001), followed by “Finished with the Engines.” It was time to go sailing.
Unlike other sailing vessels, there is no computer-assisted hoisting of the sails here. Instead, everything is done by hand, the traditional way. Deckhands calmly stepped into harnesses that could clip into the ship’s rigging and scurried up the masts, ascending to impossible heights. Then, they shimmied out along the stays, releasing the sails as they went along. Watching from the starboard bridge wing, the whole thing was slightly vertigo-inducing, even from my sturdy vantage point.
After that, the deckhands raced back down the masts to set the sails. In no time, the ship’s synthetic sails (they last longer than traditional canvas) were billowing in the trade winds of the Southern Caribbean, and we were on our way to Moskito Island, British Virgin Islands.
Today was listed as a day “At Sea” aboard Sea Cloud. A day at sea aboard most cruise ships means thundering along at 18 knots. Not here. Aboard the storied decks of the Sea Cloud, we would go as fast as the winds sought to take us. Which, as it turns out, was about four knots.
Four knots isn’t very fast. In fact, unless you looked over the side of the Promenade Deck, you’d think Sea Cloud was standing still. She just pitches gently up and down in the soft tropical swell. Still, there were signs we were indeed underway: the land mass of our starboard bow continued to grow steadily larger ahead of us.
This is very much a, “Make Your Own Fun” kind of cruise – and that’s how Sea Cloud’s guests like it. Frankly, I can see why. Except a morning talk from Captain Serhiy Komakin and an afternoon lecture on pirates by guest speaker Gerrit Aust, guests were free to do as they wished throughout the day.
For most of us, that meant sitting out on Sea Cloud’s beautiful teak decks, relaxing in steamer-style deck chairs, reading a book and sipping a drink. It meant conversing with our fellow guests over lunch or teatime served on the Promenade. It meant sun-tanning, or just spending moments quietly reflecting.
Surrounded by the sea, I plowed through 204 pages of a nonfiction book. I walked the ship. I took photographs. I spent time on the bridge, which is generally open to guests, and was pleased to see so much original details were not only preserved, but in working operational condition. The ship’s gigantic brass telegraph is still serviceable, as is the original bronze telemotor that adjusts the ship’s rudder.
Most modern cruise ships have a smaller steering apparatus than my Nissan Micra, and throttle controls that look like they’re part of a video game. Sea Cloud’s telemotor and wooden-spoke wheel, adjacent to the massive brass engine telegraph, mean business.
I’ve studied ocean liners all my life. Sea Cloud may be a sailing yacht, but she’s as close as you can get these days to a living, breathing, Atlantic liner experience.
Sunset came at 1757 and with it, the start of cocktail hour up in the Lido Bar out on deck. This flowed into the Captain’s Welcome Cocktail and dinner at 1900, held once again in the ship’s gorgeous wood-panelled lounge and restaurant. Gorgeous woodwork like this just doesn’t exist on modern ships, and the room’s scent – a mixture of resin, years of polish and pitch – is evocative of another time.
Service onboard is impeccable, and dinner is no different. The quality of food that is created a la minute from the ship’s postage-stamp of a galley is truly inspiring and rivals meals I’ve had onboard the likes of Seabourn and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. Lunches and dinner are, of course, paired with complimentary red and white wine selections that rotate continually. Beer is also complimentary during lunch and dinner, and though it is not advertised as such, champagne is dolled out frequently on a gratis basis.
Soft drinks, teas and specialty coffees are free of charge throughout the day, and while other drinks are priced in Euros, few will break the bank. Beers run for about €4, while a specialty house cocktail will cost you roughly €9. But with so many beverages included in the cost of the voyage, most guests probably won’t buy more than one or two drinks per day at an additional cost.
After dinner, as Sea Cloud sat bobbing around in the Caribbean Sea, guests retreated back up to the Lido Bar for nightcaps. Music from our onboard pianist drifted softly across the open decks. The moon shone brightly, casting a swath of light across the sea.
Before going below to my stateroom, I stood on the fantail of the ship, a place Sea Cloud calls, “The Blue Lagoon.” I gazed up at the stars, felt the swell under my feet, and just stood there admiring it for several minutes.
Sea Cloud reminds me that it’s okay to take the long way home. It’s fine to put the cell phones away, store the cameras, and disconnect. The moon, the stars, and the waves will always be there to welcome us when we do.
For all the cruises I’ve done in the Caribbean, I’d never been to Antigua before. It is a charming little island; a sort of scaled-down Barbados. British and French-influences are felt heavily here, along with the rich history of the island itself. Of course, the fact that Antigua reportedly has 365 pristine beaches – one for every day of the year – doesn’t hurt either.
On the ground, locals speak an interesting mix of English, French and a sort of local patois with each other, but many roll out flawless English and French when it comes to dealing with tourists. The Canadian Contingent is well represented here; expect to find folks from across Canada and the Francophone province of Quebec outnumbering Americans here. Brits are also here in droves, thanks to direct flights to the island’s modern V.C. Baird International Airport from British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.
You might find it interesting to note that most Caribbean cruises don’t depart from places like Antigua. This is no ordinary cruise, however: I came to the capital city of St. John’s expressly to set sail aboard one of the most legendary ships afloat: Sea Cloud Cruises’ Sea Cloud.
Built in 1931 for Marjorie Merriweather Post, a socialite with money to burn, Sea Cloud is a living time capsule. Updated and modernized after a long and varied career, Sea Cloud embodies the past glory days of sail and transoceanic travel in ways that few other vessels can match. I didn’t want to leave this embarkation up to chance, opting to fly into Antigua a day early and avoid the stress of arriving upon embarkation.
Here is what makes Sea Cloud so special: in addition to the miles of teak and impeccable woodwork found throughout, eight of her 32 all-oceanview cabins are originals that date back to the 1930’s. Unlike today’s cruise ships, nearly all of Sea Cloud’s cabins are all unique and entirely distinct from one another. You can even sleep in four small but delightfully nautical cabins that were formerly used by the ship’s Offiers, complete with upper and lower berths.
Over the course of the next eight days, Sea Cloud will take me to ports of call in the British Virgin Islands, Jost Van Dyke, St. Marthelemy, Dominica and Barbados.
Sea Cloud: Trade Winds of the Caribbean
Embarkation in Antigua
Moskito Island, BVI
Jost Van Dyke, BVI
Gustavia, St. Barths
Gustavia, St. Barths
Disembarkation in Barbados
If Sea Cloud is deliciously “Old School”, so to is Sea Cloud Cruises’ documentation, which includes printed luggage tags, leather-bound luggage tags, and printed copies of your cruise ticket, shore excursions and air itinerary. Sea Cloud also does its own thing when it comes to embarkation; guests are warned not to arrive at the pier before 16:00 hours (4:00pm) “unless instructed otherwise” to allow the crew time to turn the ship around. For someone like me who is used to being at the pier at eleven in the morning, waiting until quarter after three to take a taxi to the main pier in St. John’s was like being made to gingerly unwrap presents on Christmas morning. And Sea Cloud isn’t kidding about the embark time: it started right at 1600 hours.
When I arrived at the Nevis Street Pier, I found Sea Cloud bookended in port by the much-larger Norwegian Dawn and Celebrity Summit, both docked at the nearby Heritage Pier. Despite the obvious discrepancy in sheer size, the smaller Sea Cloud managed to turn heads on the pier. That’s the effect an old, classic schooner yacht has on the public: they all want to know what that magical ship in port is.
As with most small ships, embarkation was an easy and convivial affair. A quick check of the manifest against passports was all that was needed to proceed along the dock, with the brilliant Sea Cloud glistening in the setting afternoon sun. I stopped a dozen times along the way to photograph this classic vessel. Every angle was more beautiful than the last. Nautical aficionados talk about ships as a “she”, and speak of vessels in terms of “lines.” Like a classy and elegant woman, Sea Cloud is a graceful ship with sleek nautical lines; her grace further accentuated by the overly-boxy Celebrity Summit next door.
A complimentary welcome glass of champagne greets guests as the step aboard this floating legend. Whisked up to the Spanker Deck (the uppermost deck aboard Sea Cloud), guests assembled in the Lido Bar to have their passports stamped out of Antigua & Barbuda. Keycards – only used for getting on and off the ship – are issued (stateroom doors require no keys to open), and an embarkation photo is taken. After that, guests are escorted to their staterooms by a staff member.
I was lucky enough to be placed in Stateroom 4 – one of the ship’s original rooms – but an unexpected hitch with a small water leak necessitated a move to Stateroom 10, with the promise to occupy Stateroom 4 later in the voyage. Trying out two rooms in one cruise? Sign me up!
Stateroom 10 is the furthest aft cabin on the port side of Main Deck. Spanning 242 square feet, it was carved out of two former crew cabins in 2002 and is one of the more modern cabins onboard. While it may not be as elaborate as the “Original Eight” cabins onboard, it is nonetheless immediately welcoming.
A large living room and bedroom includes a small sitting area with a char, coffee table and a stool; and a row of cupboards line the portside curvature of the hull.
A walk-in closet provides ample storage space, and the room’s bathroom truly took my breath away. Clad in marble with gold accents and stocked with L’Occitane toiletries, it is a rather impressive space.
Back in the front room, there is even a faux fireplace that lights up with the push of a button. Two porthole windows let in plenty of natural light, and shades can be drawn for privacy or darkness.
Power is European-style 220V two-pronged plugs, so bring adapters and converters if necessary. Interestingly, a second 220V power outlet is tucked away in the cupboard above the fireplace that hides the room’s life jackets.
You won’t find a TV in this stateroom (unlike Sea Cloud II, which boasts them), but that’s entirely the point on this classic vessel. Apart from the modern fire doors and electric apparatus, this ship is a trip back in time.
I’d barely started to hang my shirts in my closet when I realized daylight was fading. I raced up on deck in time to catch the setting sun and the departure of Norwegian Dawn and Celebrity Summit, the latter of which seemed to sound its horn out of respect for the venerable Sea Cloud. Passengers on her balconied decks waved to us. I’ve been on Celebrity Summit; she’s a nice ship. But I didn’t experience a single shred of envy for the departed; cocktail at my side, I placed my hands on the broad teak railings of the storied Sea Cloud and watched Celebrity Summit sail into the distance.
We started moving just after 1800 hours. I was surprised how quiet Sea Cloud was. Under the exclusive power of her diesel engines that turned her single-screw propeller, I expected her to shake, rattle and growl as other sailboats I’ve been on do when, forced against their will, engage their diesels.
None of that happened aboard Sea Cloud. Her forward-mounted engine is an oddity in the cruise industry, where funnels, engines and vibration are almost exclusively located aft. Because of that, the majority of engine noise will be felt by those staying in Cabin No.’s 14, 15, 16, 17 – the former Officer’s Cabins – whereas the other accommodations can really keep up the illusion that Sea Cloud is forever under sail.
In Cabin 10, all I can hear is the sloshing of the water outside my room and the metallic whirring of the ship’s two propellers somewhere below my deck, driving us through the night, bound for the British Virgin Islands.
Following the customary lifeboat drill, it was snack-und-cocktail time aboard the Sea Cloud. A bilingual ship, both German and English are spoken onboard. Crew switch effortlessly from Guten Tag to “Good Morning!”, and everyone I’ve encountered so far has been top-notch, reminiscent of my luxury cruise a few years back aboard Hapag-Lloyd..
Grand Classica. Photo courtesy of Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line
A relative newcomer to the industry, the Bahamas Paradise lineage stretches back decades, all the way to Imperial Majesty Cruise Line, which operated a popular old ocean liner known as Regal Empress on a similar run. Absolutely beloved by guests, Regal Empress had its fate sealed by changing SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations. Sold for scrap in 2009, Imperial Majesty rebranded as Celebration Cruise Line, which eventually folded and rebranded in 2015 as Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line.
Bahamas Paradise acquired its second ship, Grand Classica in early 2018. It began life back in 1991 as Costa Cruises’ Costa Classica and was revolutionary at the time for that cruise line. It was the first purpose-built Costa ship that had been built in two decades, and the largest passenger liner constructed in Italy for an Italian company at that time.
Together with sister-ship Costa Romantica, which set sail in 1993, the duo were easily identifiable at sea thanks to their broad, tall hulls littered with rows of oversized porthole cabin windows and their circular discos which were affixed to the ship’s forward radar mast, high atop the navigation bridge.
Costa Classica was sold to Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line in late 2017 and entered service for the line in April of 2018 as Grand Classica.
I had always wanted to sail aboard one of these original “Costa Twins”, so I jumped at the chance to sail aboard Grand Classica in her new iteration. Despite being a very budget offering (Bahamas Paradise sailings often go for less than a night in a Holiday Inn), I was impressed at the overall quality of the ship, the entertainment, and the onboard staff – all of which were top-notch.
There are some hints of Costa’s very multilingual past onboard. Some signs are still in Italian, while others are printed in about six different languages. That’s slowly changing as the ship gets more miles to the Bahamas under her keel and her new owners swap old signage and branding out for new ones.
Food onboard was hit-and-miss. It’s satisfying, in a sort of “Well, now I’m full” way. But if you go in with appropriate expectations, it’s hard to be disappointed, particularly at this rock-bottom price point. Bonus points for the one specialty restaurant I tried during my sailing (The Rock Grill); shelling out a little bit for food really ratchets up the quality meter. My steak was superb, and cooking it over the superheated block of volcanic rock was an experience I’ve only had on upscale-luxury-line Silversea.
Drinks were pleasantly boozy. No skimping or watering-down here; what was advertised as a two-ounce pour seemed to me to be frequently more than that. Beverage prices are extremely reasonable, and optional drink coupons can be purchased onboard that add a touch of inclusivity to the brand.
My Oceanview Stateroom was well-appointed and more spacious than I was expecting. The oversized porthole window was a real treat and provided great views of the Atlantic during our all-too-short (and very slow) sail over to Freeport. Cruisers might want to bring a power adapter; only one North American-style outlet was to be had, with the others being the two-pronged European type. Beds and bedding were more comfortable than I was expecting, and the room was very quiet overall.
In some ways, Grand Classica looks a little out-of-place in the Caribbean. Her interiors aren’t very tropical, with lots of brass, marble, and gorgeous wood panelling found throughout. She’d be great on a Mediterranean cruise. But that’s not really a con; it’s more of a quantifier, and this ship certainly exudes class in every public room.
My favorite onboard spot was the Encore Lounge on Deck 8 midship. Bright and airy, this lounge spans the entire width of the ship and features a central staircase that heads up to the shops and café bar on Deck 9. At night, trivia games and live jazz music are offered here, and the performers on my sailing could have given those on more upscale lines like Cunard a run for their money. I found the Encore Lounge to be charming and cozy, and I gravitated here both nights I was onboard.
The ship has a small and rather under-used casino that is adjacent to the Regal Room on Deck 9 aft. The Regal Room offers 180-degree views of the stern of the ship and often serves as a sort of pseudo-disco playing Latin music late at night.
Evening entertainment production shows were featured each evening in the Legends Grand Theatre, which also doubled as my muster station point for the mandatory lifeboat drill. It’s a really beautiful space with some seats for solo travellers like myself, but watch out for those pillars; they block sight lines from some of the upper-level seats.
Overall, this ship offers a wonderful (if very fast) cruise to the Bahamas that should be able to fit any budget. It is a great introduction to cruising for those who have never been before, and a wonderful “quick fix” for folks like me that are looking to expand their collection of ships and ports of call.
As 2018 comes to a close, it has been quite a year of adventure and travel; one filled with ships of all shapes, sizes and styles. I began the year aboard the classy Carnival Elation, and ended it aboard a 10-passenger catamaran operated by boutique travel company Trade Winds.
This is usually the time of year when I slump down into a recliner, grab a tumbler of scotch and swear to not travel this much in the following year. It’s lip-service: the spring of 2019 is shaping up to be a busy one, with cruises scheduled with Carnival, Disney, MSC, SeaCloud, Silversea and Hapag-Lloyd Cruises. And that’s just between January and April!
But 2019 will also represent something new for From the Deck Chair. It will be expanding, slowly but surely, over the next year. You’ll see some interesting changes, including a new logo and design, and newer content going up over the next few months. And while the Live Voyage Reports probably won’t be returning (I just don’t seem to have the time to do them justice anymore), you will find more ship tours, profiles and Voyage Overviews coming your way in the New Year.
Until then, here is a look at some of the ships and voyages I’ve seen over the past year – proof, certainly, that no two cruises are alike.