• Travel Diary: A Mini-cruise to France

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    Forty years ago, there’s a good chance that either you or a friend were driving a Ford Cortina, listening to the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack and watching ‘Sale of the Century’ on TV, although not all at the same time. Ipswich Town were FA Cup winners, James Callaghan was PM and Boney M was riding high in the charts with ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’.

    Around about this time, in an unassuming office in leafy Surrey, a small travel company had opened its doors for the first time, offering customers a trip to the Dutch bulb-fields by coach. That company was Titan Travel (or Titan HiTours as we were known).

    Back then, who of our founding team would have dared to dream that in 2018 a handful of Titan employees and almost 140 customers would be boarding a Fred. Olsen cruise ship at Southampton to celebrate the company’s 40th birthday? Well, that’s what just happened!

    titan-staff

    Our 5-day cruise itinerary

    Friday 28 Sept, 17:00 – Depart Southampton

    Saturday 29 Sept, 08:00 – Arrive in Rouen

    Sunday 30 Sept, 08:00 – Leave Rouen; 13:45 arrive in Honfleur

    Monday 1 Oct, 16:00 – Leave Honfleur

    Tuesday 2 Oct, 05:00 – Arrive back in Southampton

    Amongst our 140 guests, we had some who had travelled with us almost 30 times, a number of people who were embarking on their first Titan holiday, and a number of customers who were joining us for their first-ever cruise. With all this in mind, we wanted to keep interruptions to everyone’s valuable holiday time to a minimum, but couldn’t resist arranging a couple of informal get-togethers on board.

    The first of these was held on the afternoon of day two in the ship’s Neptune Lounge, where the onboard entertainment team put on their big productions – musicals, magicians, comedians, etc. Our ‘show’ was a comparatively more low-key opportunity to say welcome on board and also a huge thank you to guests by way of some cocktails and canapés. It also gave everyone the chance to chat to us (the small Titan delegation), and swap stories with their fellow Titan guests. The ship’s staff had also created a dazzling ice sculpture and birthday cake for the event.

    cake-ice-sculpture

    The following morning, guests were invited to the Neptune Lounge once again for a much more informal coffee morning and quiz (about 1978, of course), and the chance to get to know their tour managers, Denise and Ruth, a little more.

    With these two Titan-exclusive (and we hasten to add ‘optional’) events out of the way, guests were free enjoy as much as they liked of the ship’s daily programme of activities. As well as the musical events in the evenings (acoustic guitarist in the Morning Light Pub, a band and the wonderful JD The Soul Machine in the Coral Club, and big shows in the Neptune Lounge), the ship offered a varied list of enjoyable distractions throughout the day including Pilates & yoga early doors (£5pp), golf & shuffleboard out on deck, trivia quizzes and afternoon bingo.

    Rouen

    rouen-cathedral-cruise

    Our stops in Rouen and Honfleur were certainly long enough for people to get off and explore at leisure.

    In Rouen we were docked about two miles from the famous cathedral (standard for a ship of our size), so there was a fleet of transfer coaches on hand to ferry people back and forth. Considering it was late September, the weather was gloriously sunny and we were able to enjoy the cathedral’s breathtaking façade (and rose window) in similar conditions to those enjoyed by the grandfather of impressionism, Claude Monet. Incidentally, while some passengers were exploring Rouen, others had taken the opportunity to join an excursion to Monet’s House & Garden in Giverny, located an hour’s bus journey further up the Seine.

    Before heading back to the ship, we took a brief stroll past the 14th-century Gros Horloge astronomical clock and the square where, in 1431, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. A church bearing her name now stands on the spot of her martyrdom.

    Honfleur

    honfleur-mini-cruise

    We departed for Honfleur in thick fog on the Sunday morning, but by the time we’d sailed beneath the vast two-kilometre-long Pont Normandie (Normandy Bridge) with Honfleur on our port side and Le Havre’s sprawling port on the opposite bank, the sun was once again shining.

    I’d done my best to prepare myself for Honfleur being a picturesque, historic, charming little place, but the reality really did punt my expectations into touch.

    Again, transfer buses were waiting at the quayside for customers wishing to go into town, but the distance was far shorter than that in Rouen – just short of a mile in fact.

    Once in town, I found it to be one of the mostly delightfully distracting places that I think I’ve visited. Any attempt at sticking to a pre-planned walking route was almost immediately sabotaged by an alluring medieval alleyway, charming shop (one of which only seemed to sell tinned sardines) or a calvados & cider merchant (this is Normandy, after all). After a good mooch around, we did the civilised thing and took a seat at one of the harbour-side cafes and paid an eye-watering amount for a coffee. On reflection, I’d say that, given the perfect moment that this created, the cost of the coffee was worth it.

     

    Our home at sea: MS Braemar

    After much thought, I’ve decided to put a little bit here about the ship itself. All of this is freely available online but it might help to hear a personal account from my relatively brief experience.

    So what’s Braemar like? Well, as I’ve not been on a cruise ship before (except Hurtigruten’s coastal vessels in Norway) I can’t really compare it to anything. However, it was clean, smart, well-staffed, relaxing and offered just the right amount of distractions. I spent time relaxing in the blissful silence of the library, enjoyed a cocktail or two in the Morning Light Pub and Coral Club, and grabbed the (unexpected) opportunity to sunbathe on the top deck, although I didn’t take a dip in the pools or Jacuzzis.

    Every evening, we had the second sitting in the Grampian restaurant. Again the staff were excellent and attentive, and the choice and quality of the food was spot on. The executive chef – Raith Rovers-supporting Derek Wilson – did regular rounds of the tables to ensure everything was up to scratch.

    Breakfast and lunch were free-seating affairs and were equally good, containing a mix of light and ‘heavy’ options. How I still fit into my trousers by the end of the cruise is anyone’s guess. I had to sample a bit of everything, though. Rude not to when you’re on holiday, isn’t it?

    Lastly, my cabin. I was located on deck 3 and my quarters were as big as I was expecting from a standard cabin grade. Not vast, not pokey – plenty of space for two single beds and a desk. Good cupboard space, twin port-holes, a safe, small WC with shower, and a large TV (which I didn’t watch once). Top tip: the plug sockets in the cabins are of the European two-pin variety. A few colleagues had expected 3-pin UK sockets but that wasn’t the case. Luckily, my adaptor was the last thing I’d chucked into my case before leaving home. Better safe than sorry, eh?

    The crew couldn’t have done more for us. My cabin attendant was friendly and helpful and everyone all the way up to the cruise director (and indeed the captain) exuded absolute professionalism and friendliness at all times.

    So, there we have it. I hope you’ll take some useful and interesting pointers from this write-up. Feel free to comment with any feedback or questions, and I’ll do my best to respond in a timely fashion. Thanks for reading this far!

    Find out more about our Fred. Olsen cruises

     

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    Alastair Brent

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