Spending Christmas with the Queen of the Iceni ? Don't worry, no time travel required just a delightfully smooth train journey to Portsmouth Harbour where a complimentary shuttle was waiting to whisk us to the sparkling Cruise Ferry Terminal where we first caught a glimpse of our final destination, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines' M.V. Boudicca.
It is so nice to be taken care of. Apart from dragging my over-packed bag off the train to shuttle bus, from there it was taken care of only to reappear in my cabin. After a hassle free check-in I strolled around the light and airy terminal building, met up with my two travelling companions and had a nice 'cuppa' while we waited to board. When our group were called to board there was an orderly rush for the boarding gate. While in the inevitable queue to stride up the gangway it was great to be personally greeted by our Cruise Director, Stein Dyb. It is these little touches that enhance Fred. Olsen's reputation for friendliness.
Once onboard and, having been processed, we made our way to our Deck 4 cabins. After fighting my pals for wardrobe space (ladies -- please don't worry, there is plenty of hanging space) we set out to discover the geography of our floating hotel. Boudicca has 9 'public' decks (10 if you count the golf nets and putting green). The Beauty Salon was on our deck but all of us were beyond repair. On Deck 5 -- Main Deck were the shops, reception, tours desk and future cruise sales office. Deck 6 was where all the restaurants were situated together with lounges, the show lounge and swimming pool, Jacuzzis and lap pool. Deck 7 was home to the Internet Cafe (6 units), library, card room, gambling tables and the Lido Lounge. Deck 8 was the Bridge deck and Deck 9 housed the Observatory ( perched above the Bridge and offering a great 180 degree view) and aft (towards the blunt end) was the Marquee 'Fine Weather' Snack Bar and a plunge pool. Not that we crossed its threshold but up on Deck 9 was the Gym.
To make the dining facilities feel more cozy the area has been divided into 3 semi-separate areas and also includes an alternative dining restaurant 'The Secret Garden'.
The ship was in full festive mode with Christmas trees laden with decorations abounding and holly, bells and baubles glistening everywhere. With the dulcet tones of Christmas songs issuing from every broadcasting orifice how could we not embrace the spirit of Christmas?
Our cruise was to take us to Casablanca for a quick visit to Rick's Bar (for our slightly older readers), all the Canary Islands and, to finish off with a flourish, New Year's Eve in Funchal, Madeira where, I have to tell you, the firework display was quite fantastic.
Anyone who wonders where the variety show has disappeared to, it has grabbed it's passport and joined the plethora of cruise ships that now sail the many seas. Boudicca is no exception and boasted a good selection of acts to keep the full complement of passengers amused. These include an excellent crooner, Geoff Taylor who brought to life greats like Frank Sinatra, Matt Monroe and Sammy Davis Junior to name a few, Gabor Podhorszki, a classical guitarist who held his audiences in rapture during his afternoon recitals and Rikki Jay, a comedian who built up his act as the cruise progressed until he had the audience in stitches on the last night.
Day time fun included reindeer racing, deck quoits, shuffle board, table tennis (in a force 9), putting, carpet bowls and for less excitement but full of interest, port talks, enhancement lecturers and Gillian Slade's Flower and Spice Craft 'classes'.
This is definitely the way to spend Christmas and New Year. No washing up, six opportunities a day to eat, interesting ports of call with a nice range of tour options if you want explore beyond the ports and Fred. Olsen's super friendly girls and boys to take care of you. Even your social calendar is filled to capacity with the Captain's Welcome and Farewell cocktail parties, formal nights, Caribbean nights, an international night and, of course, special meals to celebrate Christmas Day and New Year's Eve. Add to that the fun of several sail away deck parties and you get the picture -- a great time was had.
My sincere thanks go to Captain Robert Bamburg (It used to be that you felt old when policemen looked young but now, even masters of cruise ships look young) and his crew for a thoroughly enjoyable experience with special mentions for Hotel Manager Clive Ramshaw, Cruise Director Stein Dyb, the Tours Team of Adela & Derrick and finally, our favourite supplier of cocktails in the Observatory, 'Princess' Paula.
Don't miss out - to make sure you grab your place on one of this year's Christmas and New Year cruises.