You are using an outdated browser. For a faster, safer browsing experience, upgrade for free today.

Loading...

Articles

  • All at sea

    by Richard Sykes
    "For those disappointed that this site isn't mostly about my days as a Cruise Director, I'll try to rectify this in various articles. Check back for more coming soon.

    I’d trod the familiar career path of someone with absolutely no clue what to do with his life: Graphic Designer, Studio Manager, Musical Writer, Pantomime Dame. And so it came as no surprise to my friends and family that I auditioned to joined the showteam of a cruise ship.

    It was an odd audition, I'm an awkward, lumbering mover, so during the dancing part I looked like a hippopotamus trying to get up a particularly slippery river bank. The singing part – I could do. What I lacked in polish I made up for in gusto. But then there was this extra bit. Everyone had to make up a gameshow on the spot and present it. I nicked an idea from Radio 4 and made it a quiz. And so it’s entirely the fault of ‘Muddled Melodies’ that I began an 18 year career on the high seas.

    I began with a company called PEEL, based in Yorkshire. The Ausonia with First Choice was the most exhausting and exhilarating season spent with some lifelong friends and genuine heroes. There were some extraordinary characters on that ship, and I’ve met them throughout my life on the ocean wave. This isn’t entirely a coincidence.

    If you can imagine a land-based entertainer, with something to prove to themselves and the world, significantly out of their comfort zone, but adventurous enough to take a leap of faith; you’ve just imagined most of my colleagues.

    Through the Thomson years on the Spirit, Celebration and Destiny; the CMV decade on the Marco Polo, Ocean Countess, river cruises, Magellan and Azores; Fred Olsen’s Boudicca; and the three years with VTA on Aegean Odyssey – the ship has never been the memory, it’s always been the people who’ve surrounded, shocked and supported me.

    I’ve travelled every continent (well, all the edges at least), but the biggest discoveries and the fondest memories are often those precious moments spent laughing together in a tiny office, experiencing kindness and love in a cramped cabin or working so hard that the days just disappeared over an endless, blue horizon.

Top of the Ports

 

At the time of writing Richard was in his 12th year of cruising and his 5th with Cruise and Maritime Voyages. He was asked to make a presentation at the Kensington Olympia for the Telegraph Cruise Show. He opted to do a ‘run down’ of some of the best ports that the Marco Polo and Ocean Countess were visiting that year.

Here's Richard's top ten…

 

10 Ponta Delgada, Azores

Feels so unintimidating and homely. Beautiful cobbled streets and pavements. Great weather. Modern port. Scenery. Furnas Lake and beyond, rolling green hills. A walker’s paradise. Excellent fishing.

 

9 St. Petersburg, Russia

Church on Spilled Blood, St. Catherine’s Palace, The Hermitage… this is an extraordinary place for treasures, history and culture. The Russian security is a worrying sideshow. It’s improved vastly over the last five years with proper cruise terminals and better facilities. You could take a rush hour tour of St. Petersberg incredible underground system.Vibrant, insane and unforgettable… Just part of a great cruise along with Tallinn, Warnemunde, Stockholm, Copenhagen, the Kiel Canal and more. Truly great; if only the eastern block's LGBTQ+ policy was better.

8 Tresco, Isles of Scilly

I’m cheating, it’s not a port. But we tender directly to it so why not. Perfect gardens at the Abbey, but there’s more. New Grimsby (pictured) is a beautiful haven. Sandy, deserted shoreline. For any keen gardener, the brilliant guides offer masses of advice and humour.

St. Mary’s is superb as well. Trek along the coast line and find Julie’s. Have an afternoon with a crab salad accompanied by the house champagne, your ship anchored in the distance. Bliss.

7 Reykjavik, Iceland

I’ll admit, it’s not the most exciting capital city we visit. We sail from London, we’ve done Barcelona, Rio, Buena Series… But Reykjavik is a truly individual port. Scenery of Iceland is staggering. Some of the best is around Reykjavic and Akureyri. The best kept secret on a cruise of Iceland though is Isafjordur, a regular destination as you dot in and out of the fjords in the north. Great scenery, of course, but there's a woodhut cafe close to the ship's berth. The family cook whatver is caught that day, and if you catch it on a Sunday - or a special day - there's an all-you-can-eat price, which is extraordinary. It'll spoil your pallet for fish forever, nothing ever tastes THIS fresh again.

Sulphur, lava, glaciers, geysers … It’s almost alien. And it’s so close to Britain. Godenfos waterfall (pictured) is exquisite. Powerful. Primitive.

6 Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Duart castle (pictured). The greenest sail-in. The unbeatable Mish Nish Restaurant - sadly now defunct - on that -oh-so-picturesque front. For an alternative, take the ferry to the mainland and explore the west coast of Scotland.

5 Iles Du Salut, French Guiana

Three islands off French Guiana. Tame, abundant wildlife. A paradise. But there’s an Incredible savage history. It’s the backdrop to the film and book; Papillon. Devil’s island just across a narrow shark infested current.

Monkeys, macaws, agoutis, capuchins and sea turtles. Masses of iguanas. An unexpected wonder.

4 Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

From wildlife to history. Our history. Kirkwall is fine. Solidly built, great church, but the islands are incredible. The Old Man of Hoy sits close by. There’s Scapa flow – scene of one of the most daring enemy attacks in British waters. Neolithic remains are being unearthed at an alarming rate. Scara Brae – step back 5,000 years. Long before the pyramids. Ring of Brodgar; an immense standing stone circle. Brock at Maes How – once every year the sun shines down the tiny shaft. Lighting one special tomb. Incredible Viking graffiti. You can watch online if you can’t make it there.

3 Ulvik and Eidfjord, Norway

4.30 am. Coffee station at the ready. Dawn over the fjords. This stretch is very dear to me. I’ve seen people in tears just gazing at the immense beauty. Then the walls come towering in… There are prettier fjord towns: Flam for example. There are more dramatic fjords: Geiranger with its seven sisters and potential tidal wave; But this is the one that the passengers see first. It’s utterly captivating.

2 Manaus, Brazil

It’s a rain forest! It rains, but you can escape in this Incredible opera house. The variety of options available here is quite dizzying.

Swim with Pink river dolphins, explore incongruous river bank beach paradises, trek into the forest itself – you’ll find tribal cultures just minutes from the city. There’s the meeting of the waters, but Manaus is the pinnacle of an extraordinary expedition. We’re getting better and better at presenting the Amazon to our passengers. Lessons are learnt every time. When to switch off the lights so we don’t get as many massive bugs. When to have a ready made pontoon ready in case the day’s port was washed away.How to tour responsibly in places like Boca de Valeria. It’s such an experience.

But what’s at number one? Which place above all is my favourite? For the top of the chart, we head to the top of the world.

1 Alta, Norway

Really? Cold, remote, expensive shopping. But…

Alta is the most northerly port on a breathtaking adventure in the land of the northern lights. The excursions are overwhelmingly wonderful. Husky sledges, snow mobile rides, polar zoo…

Igloo hotel – a hotel made entirely of ice that melts away every spring.

But don’t. You might miss my personal obsession

When the Northern Lights are around Alta is an unmatched destination. The thrill of seeing these natural illuminations in full flight is wonderful. But with this cruise there’s even more…

A calm day at sea can turn into a whale watcher’s wet dream

Take a scenic train ride to Sweden

Lofoten islands

Bergen

Awe inspiring scenery around Molde

Take in Voss, Hardangerfjord views

Alesund’s exquisite charms

Svartisen Glacier

Blue nose certificates

And you don’t have to be at the top of Norway to see the lights, so every single night turns into a safari.

Have a good trip port pickers.

Did You Know?

There are lots of ways of keeping up-to-date and in touch through richsykes.com

Contact

Relevant emails are forwarded to Richard for personal responses, wherever he is in the world. Why not share your memories of a cruise, or one of his shows?

Keep up-to-date

Bookmark the home page and look out for fresh content as the site develops. Future plans include a mailing list for friends and fans.