Alot of holidays can be summed up in three words — sun, sea, shopping.
And three lovely words they are too, suggestive of a foreign location, catching the rays, relaxation and retail therapy. My most recent holiday had those three Ss in spades, but there were a further three which added hugely to our enjoyment of the holiday — sail-ins, sail-aways and sunsets. My companion and I were on a cruise, and every morning the ship, the Thomson Majesty, would sail into a new location and every evening we would leave and begin our journey to our next port of call.
The sail-in and sail-away may not be as important on every cruise, but we were lucky — our itinerary brought us to some spectacular places, including Venice, and it was magical to see St Mark’s Square and the Doge’s palace appear out of the early-morning mist. For all the world like a Turner painting.
That evening, as we left for pastures new, we passed the iconic buildings we had visited during the day and carried with us a great sense of Venice’s epic qualities and a little sadness at leaving behind such magnificence, which is further eroded year by year.
Another great sail-in was the dawn entry to Kotor, in Montenegro, which is known as Europe’s most southern fjord. The harbour is surrounded on all sides by steep mountains and at one crucial point is a mere 600 feet wide — so no easy feat then for our captain, the dashing Captain Leonidas Panopoulos, to manoeuvre the ship safely through to the port. By holding our breath throughout the sail-in, we felt we were doing our bit to help him.
It was lovely to visit places we had never been before, which was the case with all our ports, except Venice. The cruise started in Corfu and sailed the Adriatic sea, taking in Koper in Slovenia, Venice in Italy, then Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, and Kotor in
Montenegro, before bringing us back to Corfu in Greece. Each port was a voyage of discovery for us and we left the boat every day, but many stayed on board and enjoyed the ship’s amenities.
During that week, the Majesty was home to 1,460 guests and there was a fantastic mix of ages, from grannies through to teenagers and babies. There were a lot of extended families and while the fitter members of the families took themselves off exploring, the grannies often opted to stay behind to sunbathe on the top deck or play cards in the games room; we suspect some of them enjoyed the casino too. A lot of the teenagers opted to chill out on the top deck also, where there were two pools and games, quizzes and various competitions were on offer for anyone interested in taking part.
As is always the case on holidays, we quickly slipped into our own routine, which involved a daily tour, a daily sea swim and, of course, lots of meals. You could gorge all day and in the beginning it’s fair to say we stuffed ourselves but we got sense and developed a pattern.
There are four restaurants on the ship, some of which are waiter service, but after a couple of days, we decided we particularly liked the informality of the self-service restaurants on Deck 10. There was a huge variety of dishes on offer but we soon established what we loved best — fresh fish, fresh fruit and fresh salads and they were always plentiful. In the morning, there was a chef to make your eggs to order, including eggs Benedict and Florentine and another to make your pancakes and waffles.
They even made special pancakes for my gluten-free companion. My breakfast staple was feather-light pancakes, yogurt and a selection of fruit, usually mango, melon and pineapple. In the evening, the chefs were again at their stations, this time carving roasts, making fresh stir fries and pasta dishes.
Did I mention the desserts? Again, always a huge selection and I rediscovered a childhood favourite — fruit jelly, which went really well with the chocolate brownies and cheesecakes which were also part of the buffet.
Good coffee is one of life’s luxuries for me and the baristas on the top deck did excellent coffee, so we were always well set up for our daily tours.
At the beginning of the cruise, we had a video presentation and briefing from Paula, the destination manager, about each of the tours available, which included bike tours for the super-fit. There’s an extensive excursion menu available in every port. For example, in Koper in Slovenia, tours were available to Trieste, home to James Joyce for many years, Lake Bled, Ljubljana and the Karst region to see the famous Lipzaner horses, but we were happy to explore the pretty port of Koper with its narrow streets and outdoor cafes.
In the afternoon, we took a coach tour to a nearby medieval town called Piran, which is set on the sea and has echoes both of Venice and St Tropez. It’s near Portoroz, whose blue
flag beach is the only sandy beach in
Slovenia. It was delightful, but even more delightful was the water — crystal clear and positively warm. It’s going to be hard to brace ourselves for the Med again, not to mind the Atlantic.
Again, when it came to Venice, tours were available to the islands of Murano, home of the famous Venetian glass, and Burano, and further afield to Verona. But this time, we opted to wander over as many of Venice’s 400 bridges as we could and get a feel for its 118 islands, 150 canals and dozens of palazzi.
We remembered our Merchant of Venice from school and were thrilled not only to cross the Rialto but to find the Jewish district, the ghetto, the first place to use the word ghetto.
The Jews were actually invited to Venice in the Middle Ages to engage in money-lending, but were confined to this, as well as to textiles, pawn shops and medicine. Despite being invited to the city, they were treated shabbily: they could only live in the ghetto, where the gates were locked at night and they had to wear identifying marks, women wore a yellow scarf and men a yellow circle.
Venice is a giant, if picturesque, maze, yet we managed to find the kind of shops we like and did a spot of shopping — and incredibly got what we felt were bargains. And contrary to popular belief, away from St Mark’s Square, the coffees and lunches are only slightly more expensive than they were in other tourist spots on our itinerary.
All our ports had their own unique selling point; Split has an amazing old city dating back to Grecian times; the tiny Kotor has wonderful medieval walls, crooked streets and numerous extremely pretty churches, while Dubrovnik’s ancient city walls, grand palaces, narrow cobbled hilly streets and mandatory red roof tops will be familiar to every Game of Thrones fan; there’s even a Game of Thrones tour. On each port tour, we had great guides who not only knew their history, they spoke excellent English and were really engaging. All the cruise staff were fabulous too and we particularly loved Lorna, the social hostess who has been with the ship for 14 years and organises celebrations like birthday parties and renewals of vows.
To help us familiarise ourselves with each port, the cruise team delivered a daily newsletter with useful advice about the next port of call, including currencies, details of tenders and shuttles and a little bit of history, as well as the day’s activities for those staying on board. There were also details of special offers in the ship’s shops and spa, the cocktails of the day in the ship’s bars, and one newsletter contained details of the amount of drink consumed by the 1,600 passengers for the week. Wait for it — 8,500 litres of beer, 1,100 litres of spirits, 1,800 bottles of red wine, 2,000 bottles of white and 1,200 bottles of rose. And there were very few Irish on board!
Each newsletter had a profile of someone on the staff — there were 600 in total, made up of 37 nationalities, who all seemed to be able to live in harmony — including our handsome captain, who was Greek, and the cruise director Paul, who delivered really enjoyable entertainment every evening.
But first we always went to Deck 10, and before tucking into our dinner, we kept our eyes peeled on the horizon and the golden red sun burnishing the sky with its fiery glow before slowly, gradually dipping down into the deep blue yonder and disappearing, taking with it yet another of our precious days at sea. And here’s another holiday ‘S’ — the sadness with which we left the good ship Majesty.
Food: Apart from the excellent food on board the ship, in each port we made a point of trying out local specialities. In Kotor in Montenegro, there was a farmers’ market just outside the city walls, and as well as stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables and local fish, we enjoyed Njeguska prsuta,a locally produced smoked ham, and their delicious Pljevaljski, which is a salted cow’s milk cheese.
Split: One of the nice things about a cruise is the opportunity it affords travellers to get a taste of new destinations which they can return to at a later date. Split would have to be top of the list from this cruise. The old city is a vibrant place for exploring — it includes extensive remains of Diocletian’s palace, built in 295, as well as medieval churches. At the same time, the ancient streets are buzzing with lively cafes, bars and craft shops.
Entertainment: Each evening, the talented Thomson entertainment team put on a twice-nightly 45-minute show, usually a compilation of top Broadway, West End or Parisian shows, and the singing, dancing and costumes were always superb. The variety is extraordinary — each performer clocks up over 800 hours of rehearsal time before joining the ship and each has to learn over 80 dance routines.
For summer 2016, the Adriatic Explorer itinerary sails on the Thomson Dream ship. Boasting six restaurants, eight bars, three lounges, a nightclub, a casino, two whirlpools and two swimming pools, as well as an on-board spa.it can accommodate up to 1,500 passengers in its 757 cabins.
Prices are from €1,399pps for seven nights, in an inside cabin on deck 4 or 5 on a full-board basis. Prices include direct flights from Dublin to Corfu on May 27, 2016. (Price correct at time of issue and subject to availability and change.)
If you book your Summer 2016 Thomson Cruise early, there is a chance to get a free all-inclusive upgrade (drinks package), available on selected dates and subject to limited availability.
Visit your local Falcon Travel Shop to book or call 1800 927 404. Visit thomsonholidays.ie.