ROUEN’d By Luxury!
Phil Hopkins, Arts & Travel Editor
At a time when cruise ships seem to be getting ever larger and competition for the biggest cinema, surfing machine or show lounge remains eternally fierce among cruise operators, there is something hugely attractive in being on a smaller ship where you are able to recognise fellow passengers at the breakfast table!
These days some liners boast 6,500 guests with around 3,500 crew, and navigating the ship, let alone the ocean, is like finding your way round a small town!
However, if your penchant is for something a little more personal – a maximum say, of 930 passengers - than you may find yourself cruising the world on one of Fred’s ships.
Fred is shorthand for Fred Olsen Cruises and the adopted vernacular seemingly used by most of those Filipinos who staff the Braemar, one of the line’s four ocean-going vessels.
I joined the ship at Southampton for one of its five day ‘taster’ cruises to Rouen and Honfleur in Normandy, France, one of the company’s strategies for introducing ‘newbies’ to the concept of water-bound luxury.
Olsen’s proudly boast a 60% passenger return rate and position themselves in the upper middle market; not the QEII perhaps, but certainly not one of the budget liners. Affordable luxury.
The 248 mile car journey from Leeds to Southampton – should you decide on the self-drive option - takes about four and a half hours, although coach or a short internal flight are alternative modes of transport from Yorkshire.
However, motorists entering the QEII Docks, are rapidly put at their ease.
You pull in, your pre-labelled bags are rapidly taken from you by an army of porters and, once your car has been checked for any scratches or dents, it is taken away and parked on your behalf leaving you to walk the 50m to check-in, rapid boarding and early tea and cakes in the main ship lounge!
In the UK cruising is often thought of as aspirational, something you get round to when you have a few quid in the bank, however, in the US it tends to be an optional way of seeing the world rather than a mode of transport which subsequently provides dinner table bragging rights!
Either way, it is a hassle-free way in which to sample the world in the same way that Fred Olsen’s taster cruises are highly effective at introducing virgin cruisers to the concept of the floating luxury hotel.
And it is those last three words that probably best sum up the cruise concept. People in their fifties and sixties are invariably past ‘cheap and cheerful’, know that they ‘can’t take it with them’ and want to enjoy the fruits of their labours; a hang-the-cost attitude; we just want something nice!
In the case of Olsen’s Braemar there are numerous dining options from the silver-service Grampian and Thistle Restaurants, to the self-service Palms Café along with opulent drinking, socialising and entertainment areas.
However, as much as being a holiday experience in its own right – there is a comprehensive programme of entertainment from dawn till dusk and beyond – cruising, at the end of the day, is also a safe, contained and luxurious way in which to reach your destination.
Rouen took just 19 hours from Southampton, part of that time as we slept in our Superior Ocean View room on deck four. No balcony but two single beds and a great just-above-the-water line view of the spectacular and peaceful River Seine.
In some ways cruising is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it gives you all the luxuries of a five-star hotel but, on the other, it confines you to the water-edge and those things that you are able to reach, at best, with a two to three hour coach ride, aka ‘shore excursions.’ However, in the case of Rouen – Lisbon is another good example - you really are within a short walk of all the action or, if you are rheumatically challenged, a three minute bus ride, and small connecting mini-buses are never far from the gangplank!
Rouen is a 2,000 year old magnificently preserved medieval city filled with gothic buildings dating from the 12th to 15th centuries – including the magnificent splendour of Notre Dame Cathedral - and the Braemar berthed at the spot where Robert Fulton conceived and built the first submarine, Nautilus in 1798.
In the same way that York is all about the Vikings and Canterbury, Chaucer, so Rouen – dubbed the City of a Hundred Bells - is steeped in the story of France’s greatest saint, Joan of Arc, who was burnt at the stake there.
Despite being devastated by fire, the plague and bombs in a past life, modern Rouen is now a vibrant cultural centre and one of Normandy’s most engaging destinations.
Leaving Rouen, we set sail for Honfleur following the route taken by Bartholdi’s Statue of Liberty on its journey to New York in 1855. The passage included views of cliffs, forests, manors, abbeys and chateaux and, within a matter of hours, we were in yet another example of medieval France.
Rich in history and architecture, Honfleur’s Old Dock is surrounded by stunning narrow houses, one of the first things to strike you, whilst the town centre boasts a picture postcard harbour. It is also home to St Catherine, St Etienne and St Leonard churches, as well as The Lieutenance, an odd-looking 17th century building once occupied by the King’s Lieutenant. Surrounded by all this architectural splendour you can bear witness to medieval cobbled streets leading to shops, cafes, bars and restaurants, where you are able to sample the local cuisine or indulge yourself with a glass of regional wine.
However, for those wanting a little more, shore excursions run by the cruise line are a way of accessing those places of interest a little further afield.
Deauville, sometimes called Deaullywood, and Bayeux, home to the famous tapestry, are two such destinations.
The first is home to one of the most important French film festivals outside Cannes and, if you do only one thing, visit the ‘star gallery’ at Le Normandy Hotel.
It is a fascinating opportunity to momentarily indulge yourself in a little celebrity culture and, if you cross the road and walk the 100 metres to the beach, you can also observe the glorious period changing huts, each of which features the name of a famous Hollywood actor who has been in town at some point.
Bayeux meanwhile, is an opportunity to learn about William Duke of Normandy’s conquest of England which is recounted along the 70m long tapestry.
In the same way that Fred Olsen’s ‘taster cruises’ are a great introduction to the cruising concept, so the art of cruising is a way of introducing yourself to the world in a controlled way, safe in the knowledge that there will always be a bed at the end of the day, breakfast in the morning, copious amounts of food and a disco in which to dance it all off as you gently meander to your next destination!
A similar cruise with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines in 2019 will be a ‘French River Cruising in Five Nights’ departing on board Balmoral, L1927. Sailing from Dover on 10th October 2019, ports of call will be: cruising the Seine River; calling at Rouen and Honfleur both overnight stays, before arriving back in Dover on 24th October 2019.
With calls into two classic French destinations, complemented by two chances to capture the Seine River in all its glory, this sailing will offer incredible experiences all the way with options to savour romantic Paris, visit the Claude Monet House and Gardens and more as part of an indulgent five-night escape. The perfect ‘taster cruise’ of the Fred Olsen experience.
Prices currently start from £599 per person, based on an interior twin-bedded room, subject to availability, and includes all food and entertainment on board, as well as port taxes.
Further details of this cruise can be found at: https://www.fredolsencruises.com/cruise/french-river-cruising-in-five-nights-l1927
For further information on Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, visit the website at www.fredolsencruises.com, or call Reservations on 0800 0355 242 (Monday – Friday, 8am – 8pm; Saturday, 9am – 5pm; Sunday, 10am – 4pm).
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ROUEN’d By Luxury! , 26th November 2018, 5:47 AM