Days become shorter, the sun gets weaker dropping lower on the horizon and temperatures begin to fall, and thoughts turn to warmer climates bringing forth questions, where do I go, how do I get there, can I afford it. There is an endless choice but one to consider is Columbus, no not the explorer, Cruise & Maritime Voyages flagship, home ported at Tilbury, could be a good choice. The sun is starting to set as we move quietly away from the quayside to begin our journey down the River Thames to the open sea, our first port of call, Amsterdam.
Next morning sees us transiting the locks and Amstel River leading to Amsterdam where we berth at 9am. The sun shines from a clear blue sky and the mercury is steady at 20C. With most passengers off on excursions to explore the city, ancient sights and buildings it affords a good opportunity to explore the ship, my home for the next 14 days.
Columbus boasts 17 categories of well-appointed cabins. 597 have ocean views with an average size of almost 190 sq. ft. so no one will complain about lack of space plus 28 deluxe balcony cabins and 36 junior balcony suites ensuring there is something to suit everyone’s pocket. Cruise & Maritime Voyages recognising the needs of solo passengers have allocated 150 cabins for their use. All cabins are tastefully furnished coming equipped with air conditioning, private en-suite facilities with powerful shower, ample hanging space plus 18 drawers, flat-screen television, fridge, personal safe and that all important item, a hairdryer. Electrical sockets are of the continental type plus in my cabin an English style 3 pin socket. Waterfront, the main dining restaurant is set out to tables of 4, 6 and 8 settings with some for 2, partitioning selectively placed gives a more intimate feel to the area. Quality of food and service as I was to find out were excellent.
Sailing at 3pm we retrace out steps back to the open sea for our next port, Gibraltar, 3 days away. What is there to do on sea days I hear you ask, the answer is a great deal. Weather allowing, take advantage of the spacious deck areas, relax in the sun on comfortable loungers, swim in one of the two pools or sample a jacuzzi at the stern whilst enjoying 270-degree sea views. For others, take in a lecture, watch a film, test your general knowledge against fellow passengers in a quiz, feeling energetic, try your hand at line dancing, keep fit in the gym, take part in a craft class or attend one of the many other activities going on about the ship, the list is endless.
As we sail south the temperature rises until arrival in Gibraltar sees the mercury hitting 26C in the bright sunshine. Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, a home from home but in the sun. Red pillar boxes, police officers with British style helmets, Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Holland & Barrett and even a Morrisons together with electrical and photographic shops selling top quality items at tax free prices. For many it will be a trip to the summit by cable car to watch the antics of the famous Barbary Apes. Make sure you have a tight hold of cameras, phones and bags and don’t wear loose fitting jewellery. From here take in views of the Spanish mainland to the north and Africa to the south together with 360 degree views over Gibraltar.
Early evening sees us setting a south west course and time to dine in Fusion, the speciality Indian Restaurant served by waiters in authentic Indian costume. Dishes of chicken, lamb, lentils, spinach followed by a selection of deserts are a delight.
Following a day at sea it’s a midday arrival in Lanzarote and the capital Arrecife. As expected, the sun is shining on this island which boasts a desert like climate with very little rain. The day is spent exploring the sea front area whilst others visit the home area of César Manrique, a famous Spanish artist and architect who set up the Manrique Foundation for the improvement of Lanzarote art. Visit the grounds and large villa that was built for Omar Sharif but which he lost over a game of Bridge prior to moving in. The stakes were high and he did not realise he was playing the world Bridge Champion. After losing he never returned to the island. The gardens are now home to the Lagomar Restaurant, one of the islands most exclusive.
Sailing early evening we set a southerly course to the island of Gran Canaria and the port of Las Palmas. The port certainly lives up to its name ‘The Palms’, tastefully designed buildings, the waterfront, a wonderful park area boasting bars and restaurants, sun shining from an azure blue sky causes the mercury to hover on 29C. Yachts, sleek cabin cruisers mingle with ships of the Spanish Navy and a sea going Customs Cutter. A wonderful port to sit, relax, take in the sun and watch the world go by.
11pm and the deck party is in full swing as we say farewell to Las Palmas and head west to our last port in the Canaries and possibly the best known, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, a port well known to those who transit the Atlantic on cruises. Unfortunately, arrival is on a Sunday when most shops are closed but considering it is only a half day stop it’s not that important to many. What is important is the sun is still shining from a crystal clear sky. Tenerife, an island to which the British flock 12 months of the year and many have made it their home. Boasting a tropical climate, it comes as no surprise the island produces tropical fruits such as the famous Canary Banana, the plantations of which litter the landscape and are exported all over the world. Tenerife is home to Mount Teide, Spain’s highest peak, at 3,718 metres set in the Teide National Park attracting visitors in their thousands each year who transit the cable car to watch the sunset over the ocean from its summit.
2pm we slip our ropes whilst many enjoy a deck BBQ and head north to Funchal the capital of Madeira an autonomous region of Portugal in the North Atlantic. Arriving at 9am the following morning two other cruise ships are already in port. From Funchal the visitor is spoilt for choice on what to do. Apart from the ships tours there is the bonus of two hop on–hop off bus routes, one travelling inland exploring the interior, the other covering the coastal routes as far as Camara de Lobos, the village made famous by Winston Churchill in 1950 where he completed a painting of the village whilst staying at Reids Hotel in Funchal. Something unique, a cable car to Monte Municipal Park here to change transportation to a traditional wicker taboggan and slide down the streets back to Funchal. For the less adventurous visit the beautiful Cathedral of Funchal finally completed in 1518 and fronted by the statue of Pope John Paul ll commemorating his visit in 1991, the interior with its striking high altar, walls adorned with paintings and murals by Flemish artists turn this into a place of beauty. Step out into the sunshine, take a leisurely stroll around Santa Catarina Park, gaze upon the selection of plants and shrubs from all over the world and finally no visit would be complete without sampling a glass of Madeira wine at one of the local bars.
4pm we again head for the open sea and our last port, Leixöes on the Portuguese mainland. This evening it’s time to sample the second speciality restaurant, The Grill, tastefully furnished and serving steaks cooked to your order, tender succulent and accompanied by a choice of vegetables. Time for desert, for me just ice cream, the steak was that large.
The following day, another sea day, so again many opportunities to take in everything the ship has to offer or just relax in a lounger with a glass of chilled rosé and watch out for the occasional dolphin or whale that make these waters their home.
Leixöes, a port unknown to many including myself but what a delightful town. A new cruise terminal, 5 floors high of intricate design housing an outdoor amphitheatre, exhibition centre, seating, shops, reception area and a cruise turnaround area capable of dealing with 2,500 passengers and their luggage. The new quay capable of handling ships up to 320 metres in length ready to accept some of the largest in the world. Ride the shuttle to the port gate and stroll 50 yards to the magnificent golden sands of Praia de Matosinhos Beach, relax in a beach bar sipping a cool drink out of the hot sun. Time for lunch, a short stroll through the small park housing the National Monument of the Lantern Tower of Senhor de Padrāo into Rua dos Heróis de França to be greeted by small pavement restaurants, tables covered in pristine white table cloths, shining cutlery, glasses sparkling in the sun light, mouth watering menus of fish, meats and local dishes, a memorable finish to the visit. All too soon it’s back to the ship ready to cruise back to the UK arriving in 3 days’ time. 4pm we slip our ropes for the last time, Columbus glides into the main channel heading for the open sea as the captain gives 3 long blasts on the ships horn, good bye Leixöes and Portugal. That night at dinner the mood is a mix of happiness and sadness. Happy that everyone has enjoyed the ports of call but a sadness that we are on our way home.
Time to look back and ask the question, who is Columbus suitable for. This mid-size ship will appeal very much to the British market and in particular the mature traveller, those over 50 years of age who appreciate how cruising used to be. It was a favourite when sailing as Arcadia for P&O Cruises and again as Ocean Village 1 which is still fondly spoken of by many seasoned cruisers today and many of those who sailed on the ship under those names are now back again on Columbus. At every port crew members would be seen painting, washing, cleaning, keeping this traditional ship of classic design with teak decking in pristine condition. Cruise & Maritime Voyages have bucked the current trend of all casual attire and have retained the traditional Formal, Informal and Casual on-board dress code so loved by the passengers. There is something special to see passengers entering the dining areas well attired for dinner. Unlike many other cruise lines, the Gala Buffet, Chocoholics Buffet has been retained to the delight of passengers, late night waiters wander the public areas with trays laden with canapes. This is a cruise line that has much to offer and will surpass the expectations of many, food, service, cabins, general ambience, entertainment and destinations will not disappoint.
Please be advised that Cruise & Maritime Voyages has now ceased trading. For more information, please visit www.cruiseandmaritime.com