Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ newest acquisition, Magellan, is a real gamechanger, writes Sam Ballard
Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) is a company with ambition. Having been founded less than 10 years ago — as what was then a charter business — it has grown exponentially. It now operates a fleet of four ships (Marco Polo, Astor, Astoria and Magellan) as well as its relatively new river cruise division, CMV Signature. This, along with a burgeoning trade sales team, really does show that the firm is heading full steam ahead.
While operating far and wide — with a particular emphasis on Australia — it is first and foremost an ex-UK operator, specialising in regional departures. Along with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, it covers virtually every cruise port in Britain, meaning that wherever your client lives, they are, more often than not just a few miles away from a CMV holiday.
Last year, cruise adviser took a trip with the company to the Norwegian fjords on the Marco Polo; a beautiful destination that was enhanced by being on a small ship, on which we could venture through Norway’s mystical waterways. This time round we were invited to take a Scandinavian Cities and Fairytales cruise from Tilbury on board CMV’s newest ship Magellan with calls at Amsterdam, Hamburg, Helsingborg, Copenhagen and Aalborg, where the vessel would celebrate its 30th birthday — in the city where it was originally built for Carnival Cruise Lines.
Having left Tilbury and settled in to our cabin, we explored what would be our home for the next eight nights. Magellan is, in many ways, a natural progression for CMV. It is bigger and newer than its last flagship, the Marco Polo, and offers guests something a little different while still being on brand. Formerly the Grand Holiday, a ship catering for the Spanish family market and operated by Iberocruises, it has needed some reworking for the CMV customer. The best example of this is the former kids’ pool, at the back of the ship, which has been fitted with artificial turf and decorated with garden furniture. It’s not a million miles away from Celebrity Cruises’ much-lauded Lawn Club.
We docked in the Dutch capital the following day and walked two minutes from the ship onto a canal boat for our tour of the city. Amsterdam is beautiful and we urge anyone who has not been before to go: it has more canals than Venice, while the narrow houses that line the waterside are often more than 300 years old. The waterways are far busier than those of the UK, with houseboats dotted along the canals. Many locals take advantage of a warm afternoon by taking their own boats out and spend a day on the water, with a few cold beers on board.
The tour, which was organised by the Blue Boat Company, was excellent. With our guide offering an informative and funny history of the city. We were guided through different neighbourhoods — past famous bridges and the Anne Frank house — before ending up in front of the Rijksmuseum, where we spent the rest of our day in the company of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer and Van Gogh. After burning through our shoe leather (and our breakfast) we headed out on our own steam, to eat at a Dutch café, Singel 404. The canal-side eatery is renowned for serving up the best sandwiches in Amsterdam and they didn’t do their reputation any harm on our visit.
The following day we docked in the German city of Hamburg, which lies on the banks of the Elbe River. Our day would consist of three parts: a walking tour of the Unesco world heritage warehouse area, an open-top bus tour of the rest of the city and an evening excursion around The Beatles’ old haunts, in the city’s seedy Red Light District, St Pauli.
Hamburg’s docks are an area in transition. The city has been an important trading post for centuries, and now has the largest container port in the northern hemisphere. The vast brick warehouses that dominate much of the landscape — the biggest bonded warehouse complex in the world — are now filled with creative start-ups and small businesses. Around them, however, are huge swathes of wasteland that, in time, will become part of the new city, which they hope will be populated by 50,000 new residents.
But, it wasn’t until the bus tour of the city, beyond the deserted docks which promise a great future, that we saw what felt like the real, vibrant Hamburg of the present. Around the lakes, past the mansions that belong to the Niveas and Klitchkos, and the five Lutheran churches that dominate its landscape.
We spent our evening in the company of Stefanie Hempl’s Magical Musical Tour. The walk, which centred on St Pauli’s Reperbahn takes us to the places where The Beatles — then a five-piece — spent their formative years. Here, between 1960 and 1962 the young band played more shows as The Beatles than in any other city in the world. They honed their craft — and met a certain Ringo Starr — before returning to Liverpool.
After a day at sea we arrive in Helsingborg, the beautiful city that sits on the Swedish side of the narrow strait that separates Sweden and Denmark.
Having been a contested region for centuries, it now boasts a number of tourist attractions that draw in people from around Sweden and far further afield, including Sofiero Palace, the former summer residence of the Swedish royal family. The palace itself has a relaxed feel to it, which is in keeping with the more informal attitude that Scandinavians have towards their royal families.
The princess who renovated the palace — Princess Sofia — was known for her green fingers, and it is the gardens themselves that are the most impressive aspect of Sofiero. During the early summer 10,000 rhododendrons are in bloom. The restaurant, which is part of the former palace itself, looks out across the water onto the Oresund. You can see Denmark across the sea.
In the evening we sail across the Oresund to Copenhagen. The capital of Denmark is one of the most popular cruise calls in the region and for good reason too, like most major cities it has something for everyone. From the fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson, whose name is splashed all over the city, to modern areas such as the Meat Packing District and Christiana, an anarchist republic on an old air force base.
We start our day bright and early with a rickshaw ride around the major sites. The famous statue of the little mermaid is only a few hundred metres away from where our ship is berthed and we get there before the crowds surround her little island. The statue’s appeal is such that it was loaned to Shanghai in 2010 for the World Expo.
After that we are taken past the Churchill Gardens and stop in Amalienborg, a large square that is home to four palaces occupied by the Danish royal family. It’s the poshest cul-de-sac you are ever likely to see and one of the finest examples of Danish Rococco architecture in existence.
Our rickshaw ride ends at the food market near Norreport station. Here we are treated to two hours of tasting the local fare brought to market by specialist sellers from regions around Denmark. We taste honey made in the botanical gardens around the corner, liquorice from the Danish island of Bornholm as well as local cheeses, meats and wines.
Our day also includes a visit to the second oldest theme park in the world: Tivoli Gardens. It has rides, bars and stages for what seems to be a predominantly foreign crowd. We are swept up in the throngs of merrymakers and soon decide to make our exit and walk up the Vesterbrogade road, to see the city’s emerging Meatpacking District.
The area, which is centred around a former Bosch showroom, now houses new restaurants and bars in and around the abattoirs, many of which are still in business. It’s a great area that offers something a little different from the major tourism attractions.
The final call of our Scandinavian adventure is a big deal for CMV. However, it’s an even bigger day for the city of Aalborg. The northern Danish port, once a shipbuilding mecca, hit the peak of its powers 30 years ago with the construction of the Grand Holiday, which is now sailing under CMV’s colours as Magellan.
Back in 1985 it was the jewel in Carnival’s crown. It was the largest ship that the line operated until the introduction of its Fantasy-class in 1990. A statistic that puts the development of the cruise industry into some perspective.Magellan carries about 1,250 passengers across its 726 cabins. It represents a huge step forward for CMV, increasing its capacity by about 40 per cent. It also further diversifies its offering — allowing it to take the much-loved Marco Polo out to the UK’s regional ports, and bringing Magellan into Tilbury.
In the morning we are whisked off to receive the honour of being welcomed into the Christian IV guild. After a short drive we are led into the oldest building in Aalborg, the Jens Bang’s Stone House where we are sat at tables surrounding an empty head table. The elders of the guild walk in, wearing full ceremonial dress, and we are unsure what to expect.
However, what follows is an hour of pure theatre. The nine elderly gentlemen sit down and read their rules and commence to rib and wisecrack at their own expense as we are immediately put at ease. We drink aquavit (the local liquor of choice), eat sausages and are given the key to the city.
After our initiation we are taken to Lindholm, a local Viking burial site, where we are taught about burial rituals, farming communities and the grizzly fate that was left to Viking slaves (many skeletons were found buried with a smaller headless skeleton). After our tour we meet Jesper Lynge, a chef and storyteller who cooks us up a storm by the burial site and recounts some of his favourite Viking yarns.
As we head back to the ship, I’m reminded that a lot of travel agents we have spoken with recently have told me how much success they are having selling CMV. With a new ship and new brand launches happening in recent years, it is taking on its sector with ever louder enthusiasm. The three-star, ex-UK market is a huge area within the British cruise industry, and because it doesn’t have dodgems, ice skating rinks or vertical waterslides, it can often be neglected by the press.
However, having been a regular guest with CMV over the years, it is clear that when it comes to serving the cruise market outside of Southampton, it is among the best at what it does. Its loyal following — both agent and passenger alike – have certainly proved that they have a place in this industry.