We had no intention whatsoever to take a holiday in December this year, despite the fact that this was our 50th Christmas together as a couple.
Then I spotted the opportunity to take part in an auction in the Silver Travel Advisor newsletter for a 13 night cruise around the Canary Islands!
So decisions, decisions. Do we spend three weeks in dark December in the wet and miserable UK, listening to wall to wall Slade, Bing Crosby and Good King Wenceslas or do we make a silly bid for 13 nights of superb Fred Olsen food, hospitality and entertainment and two weeks of wall to wall sunshine?
Well surprise, surprise. We went for the latter.
As I said, the offer was a 13 night fly cruise off the coast of North Africa on Fred Olsen’s M/S Braemar, setting off from Tenerife and calling at Gran Canaria, Agadir, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, Madeira, La Palma, La Gomera and back to Tenerife.
The brochure price was around £2,500 and the bid I made was £675.
Much to my surprise our bid was successful andwe had a bit more than a week to organise and prepare ourselves for a pre Christmas with a difference.
With little time to spare we organised an all inclusive drinks deal for two at £10 pppn,
single trip holiday insurance, airport parking at Manchester, care for our 8 year old JackRussell dog and 16 year old Budgie, Christmas card distribution and last minute gift shopping.
The drive to Manchester Airport at three o’clock in the morning in torrential non stop rain was hell. The four hour flight after the ordeal through security control wasn’t much better.
But thereafter, once we embarked on the ship it was heaven … just heaven.
Feeling that warm sun on your back after weeks of miserable dark and wet weather beats any medicine that your GP can prescribe.
The weather throughout the cruise was just brilliant, with the air temperature hovering between 21 – 25c with just one wet day in La Palma.
Christmas in the Canary Islands is rather subdued apart from the odd Santa doll popping up now and again. Apparently they make more of twelveth night than Christmas itself.
Madeira on the other hand was a joy, with larger than life tableau of wise men and their camels, a large nativity and local schoolchildren singing seasonal songs in front of Funchal Cathedral. A giant 15ft Santa Claus dominated the Christmas Market which was tended by locals dressed in traditional costumes. Wonderful, just wonderful. Madeira’s Christmas Lights at night just take your breath away. Unfortunately we chose not to make the trip into Funchal at night and stayed on the ship for Dinner instead. A big mistake apparently. Even so the millions of tiny lights made a spectacular sight from the top deck of Braemar.
The quality of Fred Olsen’s hospitable crew and staff is legendary, but sadly we thought that the entertainment was below par on this cruise. The one exception to this was a young comic magician called Danny Buckler who was a cut above the rest.
The food was great as usual and we were privileged to dine in the quieter Grampian Restaurant on this trip.
On the negative side I have two small niggles.
The ship was only half full for this cruise, which is surprising when you consider the alternative back home. As a result Fred Olsen will not be visiting Madeira next Christmas. With only a small number of passengers to serve we sometimes felt we were being rushed through the courses and the wine glasses were not replenished as often as we would have liked.
Also our auction success was classed as an Anchor Fare.
As a consequence we were obliged to pay an extra £50 for the privilege of changing from first sitting dining to second sitting dining.
From our previous history with Fred Olsen they would know that we preferred second sitting, so they were presented with a perfect opportunity to add another £50 to my account.
But Hey Ho. This was a real bargain, so my message to other Silver Travellers is to keep visiting this site for opportunities to spend your winter heating allowances!!