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Sea fever

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: A Silja Line ferry docked in Helsinki harbour (photo © Dennis Dolkens / dreamstime.com).


When one time English poet laureate John Masefield extolled the lure of the ocean ("I must down to the seas again..."), he clearly didn't have Cunard's luxury Queen Elizabeth II ship or the same company's new super liner Queen Mary in mind.

Masefield's sensitive evocation of the vagrant gipsy life afloat and "a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover" is a far cry from the modern cruise where the closest the average punter might even come to Masefield's flung spray and blown spume is when the champagne corks are popped in the first class lounge.

Cruising may be expensive, it may be fun, but is it real travel? There may be something harmlessly pointless or just gloriously decadent about getting on a luxurious ship that's really going nowhere other than back to where you started, stopping off at various points en route. Over the next few months, the sparkling new Queen Mary, now just over one year old, will interrupt her regular spring and summer schedule criss-crossing the North Atlantic to offer a handful of Mediterranean cruises taking in Barcelona, Cannes, Gibraltar and Livorno as ports of call. When even the very cheapest berth, deep in the bowels of the ship with not so much as a porthole, will leave you with little change from €3000 per person for twelve nights aboard the Queen Mary this summer, one has to question if there might not be better ways of exploring Italy, Provence and the Iberian peninsula. And expect brochure prices of more than €30,000 per head for the very best suites on the same cruise to these European Mediterranean ports.

The Queen Mary will also make two trips this year to more northern waters. For those with midsummer time to kill, there's the chance to leave Southampton on a Wednesday evening in June, enjoy three days of unalloyed Cunard luxury, and a brief stop in Ireland to boot, and then arrive in the Scottish town of Invergordon at 8 am the following Sunday morning. No better spot, surely, to experience the dour restrictions of a Highland Sabbath than Invergordon on a Sunday.