Thursday 24 Jan 2013 to Thursday 31 Jan 2013
Exceeded our wildest dreams
Enormously helped by Sally at Thomson shop in Swindon who explained the language for Cruses, selecting cabins and most important the All Inclusive package at c. '79 compared to many on board who were quoted over '200.
Check in c.0730, after hearty breakfast at Cumberland House, Gatwick North went without queues or problems. There is a special luggage check in for Red Sea cruses so we couldn't check in the previous evening. Flight to Sharm El Sheik modern short haul 5 hours no films or meals the pilot tried to make up for this by pointing out Mount Blanc and other features along the route. Had a good read and snoozed waking to see Mount Blanc, may have snoozed for much of the Mediterranean.
Transfer went without problems: 'Cruise admin marque with photo, and hand sanitization' completed, and then a welcome warm evening stroll to M.V. Thomson Celebration and the magic began.This was an adult only cruise, no children great.
Dariusdave has never been on a salt water cruise, yes a Nile cruise a few years ago not the same. The good wife of 40+ years has taken her mother on a cruise from Falmouth to Madeira so has experience of Bay of Biscay. Our abiding memory after walking up the gang plank was the friendly greeting. This greeting set the tone for the entire cruise.
We were escorted to our cabin by our Cabin boy. Horror of horrors our reserved double bed appeared as two singles with furniture between. Don't worry says our Cabin boy I will sort out while you are at dinner. Yes he did, friend for the entire cruise.
We had accepted a telephone offer from Thomson Cruise to upgrade to a 6th deck cabin at a generous discount. Our cabin had the promised window with a good view of the promenade deck, so any walking by could look in. Hence we had to remember to pull the curtains when dressing or undressing. Sometimes it is difficult to remember this is a Motor Vessel Cabin not a hotel room. Well it was spacious, had plenty of the right furniture, chest of drawers and large wardrobe. Even better it scores 9.5 out of 10 for coat hangers, plenty of them and fine quality. A fair size digital safe was located in the wardrobe, large enough to take cameras etc.
There were comfortable spacious arm chairs designed in a bygone age. A large television occupied the worktop adjacent to the bathroom wall. An unoccupied bracket and wires above hinted that the flat screen era would soon arrive. I know not if this electronic contraption worked but it was there. However there were a few electric points and with a little trial and error I could run my sleep apnoea machine. Beds, pillows and covers suited us, were comfortable and we slept well every night.
Bathroom was better than expected, a hot powerful shower morning and evening, basin with a bag of goodies and lovely soft fluffy towels. The loo reflected French build and design. Two fascinating features of the said loo it worked on the 'vacuum' basis so could be a little loud. Also, remembering childhood rail journeys and the sign about not pulling chain when in a station, seated in harbour, there was a certain noise and massage like vibration to the occupant. It seems the ships electric generator was not rubber mounted (or the rubber mounts had long worn out) and the whole ship vibrated which took a little getting used to. When at sea this was not a problem and vibration vanished.
The Hemingway's Bar
No point in wasting time waiting arrival of luggage to unpack and change. Time better spent exploring and locating the Cocktail bar. Oh for a guide or Tripadvisor review to alert one to the perils and dangers of the Thomson Cruise 'All inclusive' drinks system. We found the bar best described as long and thin. Main feature was the Grande piano. There were a few unoccupied tables and chairs. We were advised by bar staff to sit and await arrival of a drinks waiter. Now some tables had drinks menus and our table did not. Be warned not all drinks are all inclusive, if they are not be prepared for very expensive duty free snifters. Eventually a waitress arrived to log our Thomson Ship Credit Card info and agree that Mrs T might have a G & T but Dariusdave might not have a Cuba Libra, but he could order rum and coke.
There is no doubt that Thomson make their profits from the bar, adjacent casino and shops aboard. All inclusive service belonged to the age before a red flag holder walked in front of a motor car. The bar area contained a section where drinks waiters processed orders on computer terminals whose technology predated Mr Gates Windows system. Dariusdave may be past 60 but has had a computer terminal on his desk for decades. The length of time it took waitresses to tap in orders almost made Dariusdave think Thomson were paying a staff bonus for the slowest servers. When orders were processed barmen would fill glasses (assuming there were sufficient clean empties available) then place the glasses on trays to enable the waitress's to deliver to rapidly dehydrating customers.
Dariusdave is used to travelling All Inclusive and one accepts that 'local spirits' are not exactly Gordon's Gin. But after flight, Customs transfer and boarding our home for the next week a few cocktails would help us to relax and unwind from the strains and stresses of the journey. In fairness as we found our sea legs and discovered other watering holes we grew accustomed to the Celebration way. We have no memory of encountering the inebriated who take over our town and city centres at weekends, generally our fellow passengers were a friendly and very civilised group.
This bar with grand piano had two part time musicians. The violinist (both Dariusdave's daughters play the violin and piano) was an enthusiastic entertainer who knew how to charm his audience. The pianist although proficient seemed a rather dour character. We enjoy live music and were frequently found here before dinner. It may be a little harsh but I 'm sure honest to say The Hemingway's Bar seemed a little below par for service compared to the rest of Thomson Celebration.
Found on deck 9 and what a find. A young lady sings a young man plays a grand piano (an electric box provides additional sounds) and all our favourite Carpenter's Songs float across this bar to our ears. Plus on evenings cruising close to shore lights of various resorts are clearly seen. Unlike Hemingway's Bar Staff are attentive to customers' needs, ambiance near perfect. Horizons Bar ticked all our boxes loved coming here after dinner.
The Meridian Restaurant
First night, long short haul journey, a few cocktails need to feed the inner man. Originally thought we would visit the buffet. But as we left Hemingway's Bar we paused to be greeted by fellow passengers who strongly advised we try The Meridian Restaurant a floor below. Thank heavens for their sound advice.
Wow The Meridian became our spiritual home on this Cruise. Always make a show of sanitizing hands on entering this Restaurant, or you get sent back to do it again.
We were greeted, escorted to a table with a panoramic window and view of docks. Just a tip the ventilation system blows very cold by these windows. Sharm docks are not a great sight best to sit away from windows.
Our dedicated waiters presented us with menus. They asked to see our Thomson Cruse Credit Cards and as if by telepathy the thought entered my head that wine by the glass is AI, but bottles cost. The waiter team working system is so good our glasses were never dry. Plus our young waiters were anxious for us to dine in their zone at all meals and spoilt us.
First evening menu had loads of choices AI, plus upgrade like steak for a supplement. In fact every meal breakfast, lunch or dinner had wonderful choices we were spoilt. Silver Service every meal, waiter would always pull out chair for good lady and we were always greeted as welcome guests. By very good team work every cooked plate reached our table hot. It was a privilege to wine and dine here. One lunch time we joined a Cruise Regular from bonny Scotland she seemed to know every waiter by name. Drinks flowed and we must have departed a good hour after other guests no attempts to suggest perhaps we would like to move to a bar.
I will write later about Captain's Black Tie event. However here is the correct place to mention that wonderful Sunday evening dinner. Given several hundred guests descended on The Meridian at virtually the same time this was the ultimate challenge for The Meridian Team. There are many restaurants in Swindon that are good for a family of say six but can't cope with an office or club outing for say thirty. We were speculating as our food orders were taken in a calm and professional manner how they would cope. We need not have worried the Team were first class. Hot food was hot and properly cooked, waiting times were short, wine glasses were filled and an excellent evening was enjoyed in the right spirit.
Dariusdave did pay for the Wine Tasting Lesson one afternoon at The Meridian, it was light hearted and good fun. They even presented a certificate as a memento.
The Buffet Lido Restaurant
The second morning with early departure to Petra we breakfasted at The Buffet. Perhaps we were joined by several hundred guests all seeking sustenance at the same time before our coach trip. Hygiene standards were high, there was no self-service. Rather like school dinner ladies items that might have been full English were ladled or slapped onto one's plate, no portion choice. But with long queues and almost every table occupied we were confused as to whether we were in a rugby scrum or sardine tin. If every meal had been endured at this location we would not have enjoyed this cruise.
Captain Wojtek Ziolkowski's Gala Reception
Love it or hate it every civilised cruise should have a Black Tie event. Yes it gives the Ship's photographic team a chance to earn their wages and yes Dariusdave was happy to buy a few photos next day. Celebration is as The Thomson Brochure suggests a smaller liner, nothing wrong with that. But dare Dariusdave suggest that not only were a very large number of guests participating in this ritual but most were over 60+++. Hence very long queues may have been good for photographers but not so good for ageing limbs and joints. Might Dariusdave suggest three or even four smaller sessions would have quicker shorter queues and less stressed participants? Dariusdave a mere 62 and fit for bowls was perhaps at the younger end of the age spectrum, but many decent 'Seniors' (who were too British to complain) found the long slow queues a great physical strain. Thomson please think outside the box and find a better way.
Otherwise we enjoyed this ritual and can only praise the 'fine dining crew' for their exemplary contribution to a memorable evening.
Ports of Call and Trips
First stop Aqaba in Jordan, frankly the geography or environs of the port are of little concern. Any who have read their Tripadvisor know what to expect.
First morning a little overcast but what a privilege we were to be entrained by The Jordanian Red Arrows who have appeared at The Fairford International Tattoo. It is a great advantage that they fly propeller aircraft so we may see and enjoy. Jet aircraft can be far too fast for the amateur photographer. Half an hour literally flew past I select a photo at the end of this review that I hope shares the joy of this first morning. A bonus that we were welcomed to Jordan by their 'Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines.'
A shuttle bus was available to take guests into Aqaba. We availed ourselves of this free service after lunch. Aqaba was extraordinarily busy, we were informed later it was a National Holiday after their Election. Our mini-bus eventually deposited us at The Movenpick Hotel. Now as the seasoned traveller would expect there were many professional beggars, conmen and so called unlicensed guides plying for our generosity. Plus a few bedraggled horse and cart operators who reminded me of Steptoe.
First foot forward we decided to walk into Aqaba to see and photograph the great flag. After half a mile or so Dariusdave spotted what he expected a genuine taxi guide dropping some Americans at a local restaurant? Conversation opened. The guide offered an exciting itinerary, Dariusdave armed with $ performed the mandatory haggle honour satisfied we boarded a very mature Toyota Corolla (the same model my daughter drove in her student days) and headed into town. Our guide explained how there was snow on the mountains near Petra as, like Joseph in the New Testament, he had returned to his home village to vote in the Election. Hence today was a National Holiday.
Our guide showed us the public beach where many from Amman the Capital of Jordan were enjoying family day out. Yes we did observe many mothers wearing the 'Swimming Burkha' as they splashed around with their children. We stopped at the castle and various locations to photograph the Great Flag. The flag pole at 130 meters high is one of the highest flag poles in the world. Our guide explained it was not the Jordanian Flag flying (although it looked similar) but the flag for Arab liberation that dates back to the First World War and Lawrence of Arabia. We also visited various markets and saw real coffee shops. All too soon our journey was over and we walked back from the main market to rendezvous with our transport. A fascinating afternoon trip, a chance to see parts of the real Aqaba with a knowledgeable guide speaking impeccable English a bonus trip much enjoyed.
We choose this cruise so that we might visit Petra; attempts from Taba in October had failed. We regard Petra as one of the most important archaeological sites in the Middle East and many regard it as one of the remaining Wonders of The Ancient World it has long been on our must visit list.
An early start, I counted ten coaches (there may have been more) so at least 600 guests were intending to 'walk the walk' each coach had a qualified guide. Points of interest along the route were seeing in the distance Aaron's Tomb on Jabal Harun. (Author's note Israel also claims this tomb in an Israeli location) The return journey identified Wadi Rum where parts of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed. The landscape with snow topped mountains, arid plains and small villages was of great interest and comfort stops well chosen for the photographer.
We arrived at The Petra Movenpick for comfort and coffee then our guide offered us the choice walk with him or ride. No choice we wanted the full guided tour. Wow it just got better as we approached The Treasury. Little glimpses at first through the Canyon then we were at the 1 Million $ Harrison Ford location. Our guide explained as part of filming for Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade the Queen of Jordan escorted Harrison Ford down The Canyon. At one point she asked 'If I show you the finest site in The World will you donate 1 Million $ to my Charity,' Harrison agreed and The Queen of Jordan asked Harrison to take one step towards her and he could then see The Petra Treasury, legend has it he paid up.
There was a half hour break at The Treasury Site, where loud Bedouin Boys kept offering to sell us postcards and other items. Then Dariusdave and good lady happily agreed to walk on to Roman Petra. We saw the amphitheatre carved into the stone hillside and many more tomb carvings in The Pink City. Lunch time was approaching but Dariusdave agree to 'climb the climb' to see the 'tent' covering Roman mosaics. Another great wow experience.
There is a mystery at the Roman end of Petra. Dariusdave was lucky enough to negotiate a horse and trap to return us to the entrance. We have never travelled so fast as taken by that Bedouin lad. However when we arrived back at the Movenpick, well shaken and stirred, our guide was waiting to take us to lunch. There must be a secret guide's short cut.
Cairo Sphinx & Pyramids
Given political problems it was no surprise that The Cairo Museum trip was cancelled. We had booked Pyramids Son et Luminaire with Nile boat trip and lunch.
Our guide spent much of the desert crossing trying to sell 'Gold Cartouches' with your name in hieroglyphics. Like a good Boy Scout Dariusdave had ensured Good Wife Cathy was wearing her Nile Cruise Cartouche. We were a little surprised to be told it was real old gold (less than ten years old) unlike the ones on sale now.
We were greeted at The Gates of Cairo by road blocks, armed soldiers and tanks. Travel around Cairo was fascinating paddy fields between blocks of flats. Our guide explained good Muslims were expected to have at least eight children, there was a population explosion and farmers were converting fields to flats built without planning permission or Western Building regulations. Most seemed unfinished and given visible lack of spirit levels in the construction one fears for any earthquake activity. We did witness mini-riots at fuel stations where mini-bus drivers fought for scarce supplies of diesel Our guide studying for a PHD who already had a Master's Degree. Explained Egypt needed to import fuel, lack of hard currency from reduced tourist numbers resulted in fuel shortages.
We stopped for our boat trip and lunch. This was accompanied by a familiar face (see Dariusdave's review Sol Y Mar Taba) the Whirling Dervish and a traditional Egyptian Belly Dancer. Interesting to study the faces of The Egyptian Customers all dressed as affluent businessmen. Dariusdave wonders how much longer such entertainment will be permitted by The Islamic Government; our guide seemed surprised it still continued. However our friend the Whirling Dervish was as good as ever.
There must be 1001 Papyrus shops within a mile of the Pyramids. Last time we visited one it was in Luxor, this time Cairo. Jolly good salesman, same old pictures, be warned if you enter you will be hassled till you buy.
Son ET Luminaire
Good old MV Celebration had provided blankets, much needed in the chill evening air. We think we were the only party and front two rows were enough. A really professional production, easy to hear and understand the voices. The lighting was fantastic we enjoyed every minute. Hope photos do justice to this historic evening.
Must say compared to last visit a vast improvement. The area has been tidied up there is now a proper entrance to the Sphinx and a comforting number of Security Guards around for our protection.
Return journey to Celebration there was one fascinating experience approaching Sokhna harbour we encountered a mammoth lorry queue at 'The Motorway Services' again we were told shortage of diesel. Hence great stacks of Chinese Containers at the port that could not be transported to Cairo. Diesel was reserved for tourist coaches we were very lucky to have made this trip.
Back to Celebration, back to sea.
All aboard, engines soon running and we were heading south through the night for Safaga.
Safaga may be an industrial port but there were many trips available greatest was coach to Luxor and Valley of The Kings. We had stayed there as part of our Nile cruise and eleven hours aboard even an air-conditioned coach was a bit much for my knees. We could have tripped to local shops, stayed at a local hotel or had a boat trip. We decided to enjoy the facilities aboard Celebration and enjoyed countless entertainments. Patricia Colledge gave a fascinating Lecture 'The Valley of The Kings.' The Baked Alaska Parade through the Meridian Restaurant and at 11.30 The Crew Show in the Broadway Show Lounge were a grand ending to our first cruise.
Sadly all good holidays come to an end and we were soon sailing back to Sharm El Sheikh . The departure from Celebration was very well organised as was the transfer to airport. Would we cruise again? Yes we have just booked MV Celebration Eastern Promise for 26 April 2014.