The beauty and the beast
Heading towards the port of Tilbury (which is largely designed to shift some 16 million tonnes of cargo each year) the view is, well, functional rather than beautiful. So when I drove round the corner and spotted Vasco da Gama sitting majestically behind the (somewhat ornate) cruise terminal building, it’s quite a contrast. Think beauty-and-the-beast type difference.
I was attending the Gala Event to welcome Vasco da Gama to the Cruise & Maritime Voyages fleet and looking forward to a first glimpse, following her 45-night maiden voyage from Singapore. Originally launched as Statendam for Holland America Line in 1993, the 55,877grt ship was briefly in the hands of P&O Australia and renamed Pacific Eden after a refit in 2015. A relatively small ship by today’s standards at 630 cabins (1220) passengers. In April 2019 the ship was acquired (still in great condition from its refit) by Cruise & Maritime Voyages.
First impressions are always important and as I took my first stroll around, the combination of fabrics, materials and eye catching patterned carpet gave the ship a feel of timeless elegance. That said, there are a few quirky bits (see picture) that hint at the fun to be had and that it’s not taking itself too seriously.
There were a number of cabins available for viewing during our visit and they all looked a nice size. The combination of mellow woods and coloured fabrics gave them a soothing ambience, perfect for relaxing after a day’s excursions. I spent the night in cabin 9123, a category 15 superior plus balcony on the Verandah Deck and thought this would suit my needs perfectly on a cruise. As well as an extremely comfortable bed I could picture myself sitting on the large leather sofa, sipping a cold beer (from my in room fridge), watching England win the World Cup on the TV (just let me dream OK). Everything’s there that I’d need for my (imagined) cruise plus I had to admire the thoughtful touches. The mini-safe is placed at eye level (no reaching or stooping), there are tea and coffee making facilities (all Brits cheer now) and a whirlpool bath complete with shower and non slip mat. With difficulty, I dragged myself away from playing with the adjustable-height coffee table to see some of the rest of the ship.
For a bit of activity there are two pools on board, one with a retracting roof (so no excuse not to get your 100 laps in, whatever the weather). The stylish spa was ready and waiting to pamper customers to within an inch of their lives, whilst close by was everyone’s favourite place on a cruise ship – not the bar – a sizeable and well equipped gym (no, I’m shocked).
Having found where to burn the calories, it was important to find out where to replace them and there are plenty of options. The three main Waterfront restaurants come in three incarnations; Classic, Mediterranean and Eurasia. Classic offers international cuisine with a twist of British, Eurasia delivers Asian style cuisine, whilst the Mediterranean venue serves (have a wild guess), Mongolian! Just kidding, it’s Mediterranean.
Each offers flexible dining, so you eat when you want (within the published opening times). Our Gala Dinner was in the Waterfront Classic and I thoroughly enjoyed my delicious Camembert in filo pastry, Caesar salad, salmon and baked Alaska. The restaurant has a nice decor, it is spacious enough to accommodate many diners without feeling crowded and the service was excellent. Other dining options are The Grill and Chef’s Table (these attract a supplement), with the relaxed Club Bistro offering buffet style meals. Club Bistro has a more modern decor but be prepared to keep those eyes shut as you walk by the Sugar Bar, temptation is a wicked thing, you have been warned!
Our cocktail party and the after dinner ‘big show’ were held at Hollywood’s, a two-tier show lounge with a range of comfortable seating. That sense of fun I mentioned earlier surfaced again at the cocktail party, where the Cruise Director should have been given a green award for recycling some of the oldest jokes I’ve heard in a while, but they were brilliantly delivered and worth retelling. The presentation element included admissions that this was all a bit of a ‘tease’ for customers who liked to sail from UK ports, as the ship will be deployed to the German market from here and will be serving the Australian market over our winter. That said, customers can enjoy Vasco’s facilities by opting for a fly-cruise. Further teasing came with the statement that something new is coming for the UK market, possibly in 2020.
The ‘big show’ itself was Anchors Aweigh! A wholesome and entertaining show, featuring some delightful singers and energetic dancers. I decided to forgo further entertainment being held in The Dome, in favour of a final wander around some of the public areas. Vases, sculptures and pictures to admire, comfy chairs and books in the Library, board games, slot machines and a casino in the casino lounge means there’s pretty much a place for everyone to enjoy. Still want more? then there’s a shopping galleria, shore excursions desk, photo gallery, cinema, plus Cappuccino’s coffee shop and Gelato’s ice cream bar to tempt you. Just thinking about it exhausts me but fortunately you can do as much or as little as takes your fancy.
My first impressions are that Vasco da Gama is a valuable and interesting addition to Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ award-winning operation.
Please be advised that Cruise & Maritime Voyages has now ceased trading. For more information, please visit www.cruiseandmaritime.com