Embarkation at Portsmouth for the start of our celebration cruise onboard the Marco Polo was outstanding. Instant car parking at the terminus and immediate no fuss boarding meant this cruise started well and soon we were settled in our cabin. This was our first cruise with Cruise and Maritime after hearing good reports from friends. The theme of this cruise won us over as soon as we saw the advertisement and we were not to be disappointed. This small ship was a classic and served her customers well. The ambience was sympathetic with lots of lounges to meet new friends, relax and chat. The chef had created a themed based menu especially for the special university day on the 6th June and we even had D-Day coins and celebration wine on our beds on arrival.
Leaving Portsmouth we reminisced about the Navy and its history. This was made even more interesting with some of the ex-naval guests on board. Waking up to the centre of Antwerp was a treat and we decided to explore the city. We quickly discovered ‘Chocolate Nation’ which gives the history of Belgian chocolate and at least three tasting sessions in the tour! Nearby Antwerp Cathedral was a stunning sacred space which was hosting an exhibition of Rubens paintings . Tours to Ghent canals were approximately one hour’s drive but worth it. We enjoyed Belgian beers and the relaxed pace of canal life.
Our next port of call was Honfleur, a pretty harbour town worth exploring. We decided to go on the Pegasus Bridge tour which also called at Ranville Cemetery. Whilst reflecting in the war cemetery we heard a loud noise approaching and saw three Dakota planes circling overheard. Apparently, there was a parachute drop by the red devils and a 96year old veteran who had landed here during the war. It’s difficult to describe the emotions but it certainly made us understand more about the bravery and mission here. The roads around this area were very busy with lots of gendarmes’ around to police the junctions. We saw lots of people in uniforms , some with jeeps others with artefacts of the time. It all added to the feeling of being there and everyone was in celebration mood. Pegasus Bridge was very crowded with visitors from around the world. Veterans were already there celebrating with champagne which the British army had organised. Exploring the gliders which landed on the bridge made us realise how brave they were and complexity of their mission – but they were successful and secured the bridge. The museum is well worth the visit and the shop was extremely busy with anniversary souvenirs and beer for sale.
We had entertainment every evening, but the guest speakers focused on subjects linked to the theme of the cruise. Rose Cook talked about ‘Vera Lynn’ and her contribution to the war, especially Burma. The second talk was about Glen Millers life and a final talk on ‘The woman who saved the monarchy’ and this was about Wallis Simpson and the impact on Britain at the time. Rose clearly does her research and the fact the theatre was full for her lectures shows how popular she was with passengers.
Marco Polo offers all the usual activities but this cruise was unusual and everyone onboard ,crew and passengers were determine to ‘honour our boys’. Three D-Day Veterans ( aged 96,97 & 98 years) travelled with us and we enjoyed their company and tales. They were guest of honour at the onboard remembrance service on the 6th June when they laid a wreath (biodegradable) over the side of the ship which was moored off the beaches. Everyone attended and it was a very moving service and the ship was decorated in red, white and blue bunting and balloons with some passengers in uniform. The highlight being a letter from Buckingham Palace on behalf of Her Majesty.
The afternoon River cruise down the Seine was enhanced as we had accidently gate-crashed the tall ships who were heading to Rouen. People from all the villages and towns were waving to us along the way with schoolchildren waving flags. Again something that wasn’t planned but don’t these moments make a holiday special? We docked in Rouen later that evening and I took the time to visit Moneys Garden in Givenchy the following day. The rain was persistent but the gardens looked fresh and just as wonderful. The ticket includes a tour of the house where Monet painted and we strolled through the nearby village to the church where his family grave is sited.
Back onboard we discovered the weather had deteriorated and the captain had decided not to sail. Passengers were offered an extra night free accommodation onboard.
Having since heard the Boadicea had to be diverted to Dover we were glad to be safe in port. Arriving in Portsmouth we were soon united with our car after a smooth disembarkation and enjoyable week. We were impressed with the way this company handled the unexpected bad weather and as a result we booked another cruise for 2020. As time passes and we celebrate VE day, we know there will be less veterans around but the essence of remembrance and this cruise will always be special. I would encourage you to seek it out in 2021 and book now because in our opinion this will fill up quickly and who would want to miss out?