Ever passed these luxury cruise ships and wondered who travels on them? This time it's us.

Ever passed these luxury cruise ships and wondered who travels on them? This time it was us.

Regular readers of this blog understand that Mevrouw T and I are two to three star people, seldom treated to five star anything.

So although a chance to glide around the Black Sea in luxury French ship l’Austral and get paid for writing about it was an offer too good to refuse, we also feared we would feel uncomfortable among the smart set.

We need not have worried.

There’s a theatricality about the cruising event that is at once charming and mildly intimidating to those of us without the required experience and savoir faire.

The crew forms a guard of honour on the dock at Istanbul to welcome us aboard. We’re greeted in French and English by impeccably-suited staff, and our battered suitcases look slightly shamefaced among the elegant luggage in the lobby. On the other hand, we note with satisfaction that we experienced tourists are travelling considerably lighter than anybody else.

Captain van Damme and his impeccably attired crew.

Captain van Damme in white tie with his impressively uniformed crew.

In the cabin we’re issued with the program for the week and invited to choose from a bewildering buffet of entertainment and onshore excursions. Decisions must be made.

What should one wear to the ‘Captain’s Gala’? Or the Odessa Opera House? Mevrouw T always has an elegant outfit to slip into; I know I will be scruffier than anyone on the ship, including the deckhands.

I slip my least crumpled shirt over my zip-off trousers and we shuffle out to join our fellow passengers to see if anyone is prepared to talk to the poor neighbours from Australia.

A pre-sailing emergency drill helps to break the ice a little. Orange lifejackets will never be fashion items, and they’re great social levellers.

A welcome drink by the pool as we slide up the Bosphorus.

A welcome drink by the pool as we slide up the Bosphorus.

Everyone is wary at first, but within the hour most people have found someone to talk to. We gravitate towards the English speakers and find a couple from Sydney and a party of cheery Kiwis.

We're faintly chuffed when we find people like to pose for photos with OUR boat.

We’re faintly chuffed when we find people like to pose for photos with OUR boat.

Inevitably, a few of our fellow passengers apparently have too much money and too few manners. They regard it as their right, if not sacred duty, to complain long and loud about the wine temperature, the slightest rolling of the boat (excusez-moi, but that’s what boats do) or the runniness of a poached egg.

Mevrouw T and I, without previous cruising experiences from which to make unfavourable comparisons, have the advantage of being mightily impressed by almost everything. The cabin comfort, food and above all the service from the friendly staff (French, Mauritian, Philippino and Indonesian) are exceptionally good.

The vast majority of our fellow passengers also seem very happy with the arrangements, and we soon begin to really enjoy the company. About half the passengers are French speaking, and the rest of us come from around fifteen different countries – the US, UK, Uruguay, Poland, Mexico, Norway, Argentina, New Zealand, Australia, Georgia, Netherlands, Japan, Germany…and a couple I’ve missed.

Inevitably there’s a language divide at the dinner tables. I try to improve my French on a few occasions, but generally we Anglophones stick together, particularly since we’re travelling together (‘at the back of the bus!’ someone points out) with English speaking guides for the shore excursions.

At least I can fit in with the colour scheme.

At least I can fit in with the colour scheme.

But the luxury on board is for us just a bonus. We really signed on because of the itinerary. We’ll be visiting places we know little about – Nessebar, Odessa, Sebastopol, Yalta, Bartin and back to Istanbul.

It promises to be fascinating. More soon.

L'Austral does rather dominate the dock when it sails in.

L’Austral does rather dominate the harbour when it sails into town.

The writer was the guest of Compagnie du Ponant.


Filed under Black Sea

12 responses to “WE ENTER UNCHARTED WATERS – 5-star cruising

  1. Caroline

    I’m confused, is it a ship or a boat? Can’t be both.

  2. Sorry you had to force yourself to go 5 star. Still, every good artist has to suffer for their work every now and then. Hope you can recover and you are not to burdened by the experience.

  3. Oh Richard, how I hate cruise ships – have you ‘crossed over’?

    • I wondered why the French kept calling it a ‘croisiere’, Andrew.

      • Well, they must know something that we don’t!
        That looks like quite a small boat but I really dislike those great monsters that bully their way into inappropriate places, disgorge thousands of passengers and totally overrun the place. Already they have destroyed Santorini and Dubrovnik and I note with gleeful interest that many locals in Venice would prefer that they didn’t drop by!
        My Mum likes cruising so I do have to be careful what I say!

  4. Agnès

    Wow, this is serious stuff. Something else than a farm in the Alps…..
    See you soon Richard and Agnes

  5. Back in the fifties we were treated to two trips on grand ocean liners courtesy of the US government, which seemed to think that everyone who worked for the government (even poultry experts like my father) should travel first class. You can imagine the humiliation of my parents when they were seated at tables with the great and the good and the rich, silverware extending out as far as the eye could see. As a child, I loved it, cheerfully sending back the vichyssoise because it was cold, JFK changed all that. He knew that poor folks like us should not be traveling with people like the Vanderbilts. I think my parents were relieved.

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