It’s a sultry July evening, the water is millpond still and there’s not a cloud in the cornflower blue sky. But I’m not in tropical climes, I’m in south east England — and about to sail into the sunset on the maiden voyage of Tradewind Voyages’ Golden Horizon.
This is ‘staycation’ cruising, and with specially composed classical music setting the scene, the evening has a real sense of drama and anticipation.
Sail aways are always a holiday highlight — the perfect excuse to come together with fellow passengers and toast your departure with a celebratory glass in hand. But on Tradewind Voyages’ traditional sailing ship Golden Horizon, sail aways are like no other you may have previously experienced.
The music is stirring and with the setting sun framing our pictures, it’s an idyllic end to the day as we leave Dover and those famous white cliffs behind.
But our attention is soon diverted as the majestic sails on this, the world’s biggest square rigged sailing ship, gently start to unfurl, giving the vessel the power to forge ahead on its course.
It’s a magical, moving and captivating moment and, I guarantee, should you ever sail on this elegant ship, one you won’t forget in a hurry.
Built as a near replica of the traditional sailing vessel France II (the second largest commercial sailing ship ever built), Golden Horizon has tall ship elegance in spades. With five towering masts and the largest amount of sail above water — 6,347 metres to be exact — if you like the idea of being at one with the ocean, this could be your perfect cruise match.
Mother Nature is quite literally the ship’s compass: with sustainability as a focus, the aim is to sail without using engines as much as possible under the right wind and currents — around 70 per cent each season.
It’s rather mind-blowing to think that the ship can go faster under sail than when powered by its engines.
With a global pandemic still in the air, embarkation takes a little longer these days: a lateral flow Covid test at the port determines whether I get to sail or not. Happily, it’s negative, so I’m free to board and celebrate with a glass of champagne at the pool bar — my first on a ship in 18 months.
There are no waterslides or casinos to be found on Tradewind Voyages’ 272-passenger Golden Horizon: this is an intimate, authentic sailing vessel with a boutique feel, and which captures the romance of maritime traditions from years gone by.
Many of the guests are sailing enthusiasts and fascinated by the ship itself. These adventurous sailors also relish true sailing conditions and aren’t too bothered that there are no stabilisers on the ship (but those without reliable sea legs take note).
The interior is elegant and traditional with retro accents: nautical knot carpeting, glossy teak wood furnishings, gleaming brass and classical maritime artworks. Even the dimly lit gym looks like a private member’s club. It’s also worth noting, however, that there’s no lift on board.
There are 140 cabins in total, ranging from porthole cabins to balconies, plus four blow-the-budget suites with fireplaces and butler service. All have sea views.
My porthole cabin on the gallery deck is very homely and features a large double bed with huge pillows, a gold and marble bathroom with Noble Isle toiletries and an excellent shower, robes and slippers, complimentary mineral water, tea and coffee making facilities, WiFi, USB charging points and a TV with free movies for those rainy days.
Along with a reduced number of guests on board due to Covid protocols, you’ll find the line’s ‘Good Habit Policy’ on the TV. Sanitising stations are stationed throughout the ship, and you are asked to wear a face covering in public areas and wash your hands regularly.
There’s no doubt that this is a real head-turner of a ship; everywhere she sails she attracts attention.
My cruise calls at Cowes and Plymouth — Golden Horizon is at tender in both locations, which gives a steady stream of yachts the perfect opportunity for a closer look.
Our fascinating two-hour Plymouth walking tour with an excellent local guide took us to the bustling Barbican district, followed by the Citadel and the Hoe, where Drake was famously playing bowls when he received the news of the invading Armada.
But this ship is all about exploration and guided by the sun, prevailing wind and currents, Golden Horizon will soon head south to off-the-beaten-track locations such as Croatia’s Kornati Islands — a national park archipelago comprising 140 uninhabited islands and reefs.
Onboard, you’ll probably want to spend as much time as possible out on the split level top deck: from the wooden decking that stretches as far as the eye can see, to the authentic ropes and winches operated by the hardworking deck crew, the popular pool bar and the three saltwater pools, it’s a great place to be.
Blessed with sunshine for the majority of my five-night voyage, I get quite used to propping up the bar at sunset, and enjoy strolling under the unfurled, illuminated sails of an evening.
Unlike most other ships, there’s an open bridge policy too, so you’re free to talk to Captain Szalek and his officers as long as they are not undertaking navigational manoeuvres.
Service throughout the ship is ‘friendly but not overfamiliar’ — dress is casual and comfortable by day and smart casual in the evenings.
A typical day might include a morning yoga flow up on the Bridge deck followed by a healthy oatmeal ‘Soul Bowl’ and fresh fruit for breakfast, then perhaps an organised shore excursion (in a bubble for now and charged for), with afternoons reserved for deck games, dips in the pool and, weather permitting, soaking up some rays.
Golden Horizon is a great choice for active types, as there is a superb watersports marina located at the stern of the ship.
Guests’ gateway to the ocean, complimentary activities on offer off the hydraulic platform include stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling, kayaking, sea bobs (for an additional charge) and windsurfing.
You can also swim (subject to availability and conditions), and there are wetsuits on hand should you need them. Another unique feature is the 4.35 metre saltwater dive pool where you can enjoy a taster scuba session or begin PADI accreditation.
Meanwhile, the good-sized spa uses marine-based Thalgo products and offers facials, body wraps, pedicures and a hydrotherapy bath. While enjoying this zen space, it’s well worth taking advantage of the free-to-all facilities including sauna, Hammam and snow room.
Breakfast, lunch and dinner are taken in the impressive two-deck main dining room — a real centrepiece of the ship with curving (and quite steep in places) staircases and a glass skylight which lets light flood in: look again and you’ll see that this is actually the bottom of the main pool.
With table service only, it’s elegant without being too formal, and there are no set dining times.
Image Credit – Rebecca Barnes @ The JC
When the weather’s fine, you can also have lunch and dinner al fresco at the Horizon Bar & Grill which doubles up as an entertainment venue. In the unlikely event of mid-afternoon hunger pangs, head to the piano lounge for canapés and cakes.
There is an ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ ethos and everything is simply prepared, classic and healthy: fresh, seasonal produce is served when possible. There’s a good choice of options for vegans and vegetarians, while kosher diets can also be catered for with prior arrangement.
Appetisers such as vegetable spring rolls and salmon gravadlax, followed by sesame crusted tuna steak and butternut and chickpea korma (a personal highlight) are typical dishes served in the evening; there’s a number of ‘always available’ options, too.
While the menu isn’t short of indulgent treats, you’ll also find healthy options such as a fresh fruit plate as alternatives to a rich dessert if you fancy.
Then after dinner, dance the night away to the resident musical duo in the Horizon bar, although many guests gravitate upstairs to the piano bar to partake in a quiz, followed by a nightcap.
While I would never have considered a UK cruise before, I now wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a no-fly ocean adventure, and appreciate my homeland even more.
Although that said, with the wind in the sails and the sun shining on a blue sea, a Caribbean sailing on Golden Horizon would definitely appeal too.
Article and photo credits: Rebecca Barnes @ The Jewish Chronicle (thejc.com)
First published online 15 August 2021
Christmas will be here again before you know it so now’s the time to plan your next festive escape
In that spirit, a ‘part-time’ Christmas scrooge from Australia rediscovers the joy of the season on a Yuletide Markets cruise with Riviera Travel from Hungary to Slovakia and Austria.
By Andrew Mevissen
Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. But like the Olympics, I just think Christmas should be celebrated every four years. There’s so much rushing, stressing and preparing that the storybook magic of the season dwindles – for me anyway – and it all comes around so quickly each year.
But last Christmas this part-time Scrooge rediscovered the joy of the season when I boarded one of Riviera Travel’s Yuletide Markets cruises in Europe. How could I not be swept up in festive traditions and breathless anticipation when I’m in a riverside town’s medieval square festooned with twinkling lights and colourful decorations and brimming with jolly carollers and enchanting timber stalls selling cuckoo clocks, wooden toys, artisan gifts and every type of Christmas treat and trinket you could imagine. Ice skaters glide around glittering fir trees and the sweet scents of cinnamon, honey cookies, mulled wine and roasted chestnuts fill the frosty air.
It feels like I’ve been embedded in a Christmas card. In under 24 hours I’ve been transported from a sizzling Sydney summer in Australia to a winter wonderland in Europe, celebrating our happiest season of all.
‘Our festive cruise had begun’
Our six-day cruise in mid-December started in Budapest when we boarded Riviera Travel’s five-star river ship, MS Thomas Hardy, a modern, gleaming, elegant vessel more akin to a floating, boutique hotel. An impressive line of staff welcomed us onboard in the sparkling, marble-floored lobby. Complimentary bon voyage drinks were offered, our baggage was delivered to cabins in a flash and our festive cruise had begun.
Named after the famous British writer, MS Thomas Hardy is a beautiful and spacious ship boasting an ambience that is stylishly casual and charmingly mellow. There are rich hardwoods, gleaming brass, polished copper, expansive glass and intricate wrought iron – all creating a harmonious atmosphere of understated elegance and all designed to make guests as relaxed as the flow of the Danube. With only 169 passengers onboard, the friendly and personable crew quickly remember your face and name and you get to know your fellow passengers quickly as well.
As soon as you board the ship you feel the yuletide spirit, thanks to colourful Christmas trees and decorations, traditional Christmas delicacies on the restaurant’s menus, nostalgic Christmas movies on your cabin TV and favourite carols performed by the lounge pianist. But the best part is we don’t need to cook, wash dishes or clean – a perfect Christmas celebration in my book!
Our lovely stateroom sported a French balcony – a panoramic, floor-to-ceiling sliding glass door that, when opened, turns our suite into an alfresco sunroom. All cabins enjoy a river view and it was joyfully mesmerising to lie on our big, comfy bed and watch the gentle pastoral landscapes floating by, listening to the gentle, lapping water through our open glass door. Our stateroom offered a sitting area, ample space under the bed for luggage, flat screen TV with a bridge camera channel, individually controlled air-conditioning, phone, hairdryer, handy USB ports for phone charging, bathrobes/slippers and tea and coffee-making facilities including a small coffee pod machine – a nice and unusual touch. The marble bathroom boasted Crabtree & Evelyn toiletries. There’s an evening turn-down service too with chocolates on the pillows.
Flanked by panoramic windows, the tables in the main restaurant were beautifully laid out with crisp linen. A second, smaller bistro at the rear of the ship offered an alternative, casual dining venue overlooking the wake and back along the river. And unlike specialty restaurants on ocean ships, the bistro was complimentary. But like on all ships, there seems to be an unwritten rule in seafaring law that all passengers are never allowed to have more than a few hours between meals. That was certainly the case aboard Thomas Hardy where the tireless chefs were eager to please our palates around the clock. A highlight was a festive, eight-course degustation dinner – a delectable and veritable feast featuring seared prawns, rillette of duck, winter bisque, pan-fried halibut and rum balls.
The River Journey
Our five-night journey aboard Thomas Hardy took us along the storied Danube River from the gilded palaces of Budapest to the romantic old town of Bratislava in Slovakia and the baroque splendour of Vienna. In each port there was a free excursion which typically included a guided coach and walking tour for half a day or so, leaving the rest of the day to explore on your own – including the stunning Christmas markets of each port. My wife and I were like excited little children, following mazes of cobblestoned streets leading to town squares soaked in sensory-filling Christmas magic. We sampled local delicacies and bought Christmas decorations back home for our grown-up children.
I thought Australia showcased Christmas pretty well in the decoration department but Europe wins the prize hands down, with spectacular displays everywhere – and I mean everywhere – especially in front of the Vienna Town Hall where one of Europe’s biggest Yuletide markets unfolds every season. After all, the traditions which we now love about Christmas originated in Europe so it was an eye-opening, bucket list experience for a Down Under summer worshipper like me to finally experience a winter Christmas.
Immersing in the local culture
But as wonderful as the Christmas celebrations were, my wife and I always like to steal away from the crowds and join locals in places that help us authentically experience the cultural fabric of a destination. In beautiful Budapest we immersed ourselves in the huge, steamy, outdoor thermal pools of the historic Szechenyi Baths, wandered the cavernous halls of the giant Central Market Hall, savoured hearty goulash soup in the glorious surrounds of the Central Café for lunch and stood in awe at the magnificent Parliament Building, brilliantly lit at night.
In picture-book-lovely Bratislava, we borrowed two of our ship’s complimentary bicycles and cycled along the river and through backstreets, stopping for hot chocolate. And in magnificent, wintry Vienna, we picked the cosiest, warmest café we could find to indulge in traditional apple strudel and Vienna coffee! In every place, we walked, wandered, watched and wrapped up during the short, cold days, returning always to the luxury and warmth of the Thomas Hardy at the end of the day. And how delightful, before leaving Vienna, for the passengers to be serenaded by an Austrian string quartet which came aboard the ship to perform a spine-tingling concert featuring composers who loved Vienna, such as Mozart, Bach and Strauss.
Our favourite experience
But as appealing as advent markets and grand, historic cities were, our absolute best memory of our short river sojourn was soaking in the ship’s top-deck, open-air plunge pool, heated to toasty jacuzzi temperatures in winter. We were in there at dawn and at dusk and after dinner under the stars, coffee or wine in hand, soaking in the majestic splendours of Europe all around us. Just bliss! It was, indeed, beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
Returning home to a hot summer in Australia, just three days before Christmas, I was now, finally, in the mood to celebrate the joy of the season!
To find out more about Riviera Travel’s Yuletide Market Cruises in Europe for December 2020, call us at Cruise Express on 1300 766 537 or visit www.cruiseexpress.com.au
The far eastern part of Russia is a long way from the rest of civilisation but that certainly does not make it irrelevant. This sparsely populated natural wilderness north of China has beauty, ruggedness and a hardy feel. The landscape is dominated by mountains and volcanoes, tree pinned forests and vast open fields. It is spread over a large area – 17 million km2 – and has a modest population of 4 million out of a total Russian population of 146 million. All this makes it the perfect spot for nature lovers to visit.
This part of Russia, however, is not just a wilderness playground. It has cities and its own people, known as the Evens. Petropavlovsk is the capital for the area and locals proudly point out that it is a world away from Moscow. Situated on the Kamchatka Peninsula, unusually the city has no roads connecting it to the rest of the world. Its population is under 200,000 instead are serviced by an airport. Situated on the icy coast, the city is flanked by dramatic mountains and fierce-looking volcanoes.
Outside the city, the roughed edged countryside greets the explorer with open arms. Visitors can have an adventure in this untamed land all year round just as long as they have decent footwear!
Russia is not normally associated with beaches but Petropavlovask has isolated, beautiful beaches with the mountains in the background completing a fine picture-postcard scene. You are unlikely to take a dip though due to the temperature! Sitting high on a hill above the city is the golden-domed Trinity cathedral which offers great views of the city, mountains and bay.
Moscow and St Petersburg are great destinations in their own right but this is Russia in its authentic form. Russia untamed, Russia bold, Russia wild. A place where all touristy gimmicks can be forgotten and where visitors can rediscover authenticity.
Dip your toe in Russia’s Far East aboard Silversea’s Silver Muse on Cruise Express’ 30-night holiday package departing in August 2021.
www.cruiseexpress.com.au/cruise-list/alaska-russian-far-east/ or call 1300 766 537 to secure your place on this incredibly unique journey.
Slow travel is a new trend in travel
Time is a precious commodity today, amidst the breakneck pace of modern life. This is why slow travel has become one of the fastest-growing holiday trends right across the globe. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Australia, where our vast landscapes offer a compelling opportunity to stop and take stock of our surroundings. And what better way to do just that than by embarking on a heritage rail journey back in time? In this spirit, Cruise Express has your ticket to slowing down, fast.
Pioneering this nostalgic mode of travel, Cruise Express transports passengers to the golden era of travel. Unique heritage rail and sail experiences are specially designed to help you switch off and slow down. Like the new ‘Southern Aurora’ tour, which takes you on an eight-day adventure by sea and rail – traversing the country from Sydney to Tasmania, Melbourne and back. Daydream out the window from your private compartment aboard the historic ‘Southern Aurora’ train and disconnect from your devices; or laze on deck aboard Australia’s latest cruise ship, Explorer Dream and let the meditative ocean calm you down.
By offering a unique combination of rail and sail adventures, you are able to reconnect with old world pleasures. Travelling by rail is particularly peerless in its grounded potential. You will embark and alight in the centre of town, journeying through gentle, eye-pleasing scenery along the way. In this sense, rail travel proves both comfortable and relaxing. Which makes it the perfect way to immerse yourself in the sights and sounds of your journey – without the highly-strung pressures of modern-day life.
If you’re from Melbourne, we also offer a chance to recharge close to home through our ‘Northern Explorer’ rail and sail tour – taking you along the eastern seaboard to Sydney by rail and back by sea.
Or venture further afield with international steam train journeys like their ‘British Isles Rail & Sail’ experience. Once aboard, you will have the chance to travel through gorgeous countryside, visiting some of the remotest corners of England and Wales. Take in the russet and gold tones of the great moors of West Country, for instance, and seek solace in the rolling hills of Snowdonia National Park. Gaze up at the clouds or across vast plains as you relish the relaxing simplicity of travel – just as it used to be.
Nature often acts as our most powerful reminder that time is incredibly precious, and we can bring you closer to nature at every turn. So set your sights on a slower speed and take the time that you deserve to return to some of the simpler things in life.
* For details on the exclusive rail holidays offered by Cruise Express, click here.
The Sub-Antarctic region holds incredibly unchartered abundance and diversity
While most of us are very familiar (and some even luckier to have been) to the Antarctic, the Sub-Antarctic is a little less familiar and far less touristed. Located in the southern hemisphere, immediately north of the Antarctic region, the Sub-Antarctic includes many islands in the very southern parts of the Indian Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.
The Sub-Antarctic Islands of New Zealand and Australia are the ultimate in eco-tourism and have UNESCO World Heritage status, with some of the best-preserved and protected nature reserves in the world! These islands are so pristine and remote, and enjoy some of the most abundant and often endemic wildlife, with rare plants, birds and other animals. Fortunately, the isolation and harsh weather of the region are partially responsible for having kept tourists at bay and the New Zealand Government strictly controls shore visits.
Visitors are treated so sightings of fur, leopard and elephant seals, along with giant petrels, Auckland shags and Campbell Island teals, one of the rarest flightless birds in the world. 10 of the world’s 24 species of albatross breed in these islands, with five being endemic to the region. Campbell Island has six species, including the largest breeding population of southern royal albatrosses, the largest albatross in the world.
10 species of penguins inhabit the islands, two of them endemic (the Snares crested and erect-crested penguins), as well as king, royal and yellow-eyed penguins. Not uncommon are sightings of southern right, humpback and sperm whales, particularly around and in the harbours of Campbell Island.
The history of this region is fascinating and disturbing. Over the centuries, particularly in the 1800s, mankind wreaked havoc on the region, destroying much in its wake including a great deal of seal and whale slaughtering, even sea lions were hunted to extinction on the mainland (they are still critically endangered and confined mostly to the Sub-Antarctic).
Not surprisingly, there were a significant amount of shipwrecks in the area in the 1800s. What seemed like a good idea at the time, was to provide provisions for survivors, so ‘castaway’ depots were created on land including Campbell Island. As technological advances in shipping meant the different trade routes by steam were embraced, these depots were abandoned. Unbelievably, these abandoned pigs, rabbits, goats, and rats annihilated vegetation, feral cats wiped out many native birds and sheep even developed self-dropping fleeces!
The introduction of invasive species including rats, rabbits, feral cats and farm animals was also catastrophic. While it is an ongoing issue for many of the islands, there is slow progress and in some areas, painstaking eradication programs have been successful, enabling many islands to flourish again.
Fortunately, a great deal of work has been done in preservation and conservation for many decades and for those preferring to travel to an uncrowded, immersive and unique destination, the Sub-Antarctic is the ultimate destination.
To find out more about how you can visit this remarkable destination click here.