Seychelles, Maldives and Andaman Islands
What a dream come true! Escaping the damp November weather to go island hopping in paradise across the Indian Ocean. We were sailing on board Boudicca, the smallest of Fred.Olsen’s ocean-going liners. She had already sailed from Dover, past Spain and the Canaries, around Africa on an incredible 168-night Grand Voyage that would continue to South East Asia and Australia before returning home via the Suez Canal and Mediterranean. Our two-week taster flew us into the Seychelles from where we sailed to the Maldives, Sri Lanka and the Andaman Islands before flying back from Phuket.
Our base for this exciting trip was a well-equipped Superior Ocean View cabin with picture windows, a desk and two chairs, coffee and tea making facilities, mini fridge and bathroom with shower. I was impressed by the cabin’s generous storage and 30 wood coat hangers! Plenty of space for all my ‘just in case essentials’ including our own snorkelling equipment and my footwear for every possible occasion.
Seychelles – Paradise on earth
Pinch me – am I really here? Our first shore excursion took us to Anse Source d’Argent on La Dique, one of the world’s most photographed beaches. With 7 Seychelles excursions to choose from the glossy Fred.Olsen booklet, this stood out as I would also get to meet some of the island’s delightful giant tortoises. The famous beach was relatively peaceful when we visited, allowing us time to swim in the crystal-clear waters and wander the soft white sands between the iconic granite boulders. The island has a pleasant, laid back vibe that would encourage me to return for a longer stay. But for now, the Maldives beckoned.
Maldives – Help! Our ukulele teacher is missing!
Our first glimpse of the Maldives from our mooring point off Malé was slightly disappointing: a higgledy piggledy collection of skyscrapers with no sign of the golden beaches and palm trees we associate with this island nation.
We had chosen a Snorkelling Experience from the 5 excursions available. Other options included spending the day on the beach at one of the luxury resort islands (too much of a shock for our sun-starved bodies), touring the islands by catamaran (John gets a bit seasick) and exploring underwater inside a submarine (too claustrophobic!). Slipping into the warm seas from the dive boat, I entered a magical underwater world of brightly colored fish and intricate coral. I was immediately surrounded by a shimmering shoal of vivid blue trigger fish. I floated along transfixed by the ever-changing scenery in the depths beneath me, dragging my gaze away every so often to check the boat was still in sight.
I could have stayed there all day, but it was soon time to go. However, as the dive boat prepared to return to Boudicca, we realised we were one short – Tony, the ship’s ukulele teacher, was missing! We had been assured the rather large reef sharks that we’d seen circling beneath us were harmless, but … There was a growing sense of unease as the boat puttered about, scouring the waters in vain. A collective wave of relief swept over us all when we finally spotted him waving to us from another boat! Venturing off from the group, he’d been swept away by a strong current and fortunately hauled out by the crew.
Colombo, Sri Lanka – A quick trip
A 2-hour tour of Colombo by air-conditioned coach had not been my first choice of excursion but both the jeep tour and tea plantation tours had been fully booked and the city walking tour was not an option for John with his poor mobility. The coach driver ably whisked us around the city’s key tourist sites through streets bubbling with tuk tuks and mopeds. Our guide was at pains to emphasise the steps the new government has put in place to keep tourists safe, pointing out the very visible armed guards and security measures around each hotel that had been attacked in the Easter Day 2019 terrorist incident. A quick photo stop at Independence Square where the heat hit us like a blast furnace as we exited the cool coach, then it was back to Boudicca.
We had merely touched the surface of this friendly island country and this brief tour made me keen to return for a longer visit.
Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Bambi and crocodiles
For me the highlight of the cruise was visiting these remote and relatively unknown Indian islands, sitting in the Bay of Bengal and closer to Burma and Thailand than India. Of the 572 islands only 9 are open to tourists and we were lucky enough to visit 3 of these. Our excursion to Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Deep island (formerly known as Ross Island) was definitely worth the cost of the Indian Visa. During the British Occupation, this tiny island had been home to a British settlement. The ruins of the Chief Commissioner’s grand colonial house, the church, bakery, ballroom, troop barracks have since been overgrown by vines and trees, offering photographic opportunities to rival those of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temples. Delightful bambi-like deer wandered up to meet us and striped squirrels scurried through the undergrowth.
A second excursion to Swaraj Deep (formerly known as Havelock Island) took us to Radhanagar Beach – one of the world’s top 10 beaches. Finding we had 2 hours here, rather than the expected 45 minutes, I strolled a couple of kilometres along the pristine beach and was hoping to paddle by some rocks. However, a sign, fortunately in English, warned “Danger – Salt water crocodiles live here” so I quickly turned on my heel and made my way back to the busy part of the beach. There’s safety in numbers and I’m quite a fast runner!
Tourism is relatively new to these unspoilt islands and hopefully their remote location will prevent them becoming over-commercialised.
Phuket and the sea gypsy village
We spent the final day of our cruise on a speedboat tour of the islands off Phuket’s Phang Nga Bay. We passed the kast towers – iconic tall, thin limestone islands – and spotted monkeys watching us from caves beneath gnarled stalactites. We stopped off at Koh Tau, “James Bond island” where we queued patiently to follow other tourists along the paths to the various photo view-points trying not to breathe in fumes from the rows of brightly coloured boats darting in and out to deposit and collect passengers.
It was a relief to be back to sea and to visit Ko Panyi – a 200-year-old Sea Gypsy Village built on stilts. We walked across the village’s football pitch – a floating pontoon where every missed kick sees players jumping into the sea to rescue the ball – and through a covered market that was a riot of colors and aromas. Dried fish stalls stood alongside tables selling tasty-looking snacks, clothing and souvenirs. Wizened traders grasped our arms urging us to buy. We crept past the village school where all the children were laying on the floor for an afternoon nap and climbed back aboard our speedboat.
The heavens opened on our way to our Thai lunch on the beach at Rang Yi island where, dripping wet and sheltering under cover, I enjoyed the best Tom Kha Gai coconut soup I have ever tasted. Lunch included a couple of bottles of Singha beer each so the rest of the day passed in a bit of a haze!
At sea days
Our two-week cruise involved seven sail days when the ship’s entertainment team put on an amazing array of activities from lectures to craft, sports and singing. The Fred.Olsen’s Daily Times news sheet left in our cabin each night listed the following day’s timetable. Most activities were free, though some such as yoga and Pilates, incurred a small charge. I enthusiastically signed up for Pilates, Line Dancing, Ukulele Fun and Watercolour Painting, but had to give up line dancing as I found myself feeling stressed running from one end of the ship to the other to be on time for class and then sprinting sweatily into breakfast just in time to catch last orders. I saw many of the same faces at these arty/creative/fitness activities. It seemed that most other guests enjoyed card games, lectures, chilling on the deck, by the pool or in one of the many lounge areas.
As part of our deal we had a table for two booked in the Four Seasons Restaurant with waiter service every night. For us, eating out is the highlight of any holiday and it was lovely to enjoy a different menu of fine dining every night with tempting choices and good wine. There are buffet restaurants for those who prefer a more casual style of eating, but we like to be waited upon. After our dinner, we retired to our favourite bar to listen to talented singer Jon Kelly’s gentle guitar music and popular songs – anything from Simon and Garfunkel to George Thoroughgood. Finally, we’d take in the show at the Neptune Lounge – where the talented entertainment crew put on high class shows of singing, dancing, magic and comedy. My favourite show, however, was the ‘non-entertainment’ crew’s performance of traditional dances from their home countries and the engine room boys’ saucy song and dance routine to the Tom Jones classic “You can leave your hat on”!
All in all, this cruise was a great way for me to tick off several places from my wish list in the company of my husband who, being disabled, finds it hard to cope with the type of independent adventure travel we enjoyed when he was more mobile. Boudicca’s smaller size allows it to moor in places larger ships cannot reach. The crew looked after us well, meeting our every need on board and making passport controls a breeze. The excursions were, on the whole, carefully planned and well managed to maximize our time on shore. Our experience with Fred.Olsen provided a good introduction to ocean cruising and a wonderful opportunity to visit Paradise on Earth.
Carole and John were guests of Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines.
At the time of writing, there is still time to join Boudicca for parts of its return journey to the UK. I am sorely tempted by several of their two-week cruises in January/February and March including Singapore, Bali and Myanmar; Authentic India; or Ancient Sites of Oman, Jordan and Israel.
This was our first ocean cruise – I have two more articles to follow about tips for first ocean cruises and cruising with a disabled partner.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.