As the CMV’s Columbus pulled away from the docks of Yokohama in Japan, there are dozens of people grooving to the DJ for the sail away party. It’s a different vibe from the events that took place on these very decks, when this vessel was Pacific Pearl sailing Australian waters just three years ago.
There is the same energy and enthusiasm. But perhaps a little more dignity from a demographic determined to wring every last drop of enjoyment and excitement from their travels.
The music is coming from a spunky Japanese school jazz band. It’s awesome – but a little unexpected.
The Columbus is different too. It has been transformed into a very traditionally British vessel. But she is also full of rather nice surprises. Like a shore excursion to Japanese baths where we were buried in mud (see below).
She is now owned and operated by Cruise and Maritime Voyages, an unashamedly traditional British cruise company that is providing extraordinary value to a cruise passenger able to take longer voyages.
Cruise Passenger is on a leg of a world voyage, where many started their journey in Sydney, some even from Amsterdam. Those passengers have been at sea for the last two months.
The Columbus is now home for these grey nomads, a mixture of British, Australian and German cruisers. And this is apparent in the atmosphere – many are well acquainted with one another, and there is a lot of excited chatter amongst groups about their adventures after a day in Japan.
There is such a friendly and relaxed vibe between crew and passengers. We step aboard at Yokohama, where it is the first time the ship has visited. There is no other way to describe the ship, but lovely. She’s clean, modern and sophisticated.
While she doesn’t have big bells and whistles like dozens of specialty restaurants and bars, or even flashy décor, she’s exactly what you would want on a world cruise. She is British cruising at its best – but without the expensive price tag.
There are lots of public spaces, which are incredibly well used for activities on sea days like morning and afternoon quizzes, bingo, arts and craft activities, Zumba, informational talks about British crime and even choir practice in the Atrium. And there are a range of shore excursions that are appropriate for groups at all fitness levels.
We meet at The Dome for pre-dinner drinks and watch the sail away party. Then it was on to dinner at The Grill, one of the specialty restaurants onboard. The menu offers steaks with sides liked creamed spinach, baked potatoes, a surf and turf of lobster and filet Mignon and even a giant seafood platter of grilled salmon, lobster, prawns and calamari.
It’s a lovely start to the cruise, but many of us were defeated by the 300g sirloin. Our first day at sea is spent exploring the ship – Connexions, a stylish bar on deck 7 which is decorated with wicker chairs and tables, palm tree printed cushions and kitsch ornaments. The Taverner’s Pub is reminiscent of a traditional British watering hole with its deep mahogany chairs and tables, comfy banquettes and moody lighting.
We have a look at some of the different types of accommodation. The junior suites, the Columbus’ top accommodation offering, has a lounge area with a king sized bed, balcony and walk in wardrobe. The bathroom has a large vanity and a bathtub.I’m in a well-appointed oceanview stateroom which has a comfortable bed, large desk, a small sitting area and plenty of wardrobe space.
For the warmer parts of the cruise, there are lots of sun beds on deck 12 and 14 which I am told, is one of the most popular places on the ship for the Brits and Germans to sun themselves. As we are sailing through the north Asian spring, the weather is brisk and the wind biting, and we find most passengers around the different bars and the Hemmingway’s coffee shop, finishing off their crossword puzzles.
After rounds of quizzes and bingo, watching the choir practice and even a nap, it’s time for pre-dinner drinks and the show. Due to rocky weather, the ship’s entertainment staff are forced to change at the last minute from a production of Hello Dolly to tunes from the Rat Pack.
On a personal note, I’ve never been the biggest fan of cruise ship entertainment but this was short, sharp and unassuming. While it is not the glitziest of productions, it was three guys just belting out some classic bangers from Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jnr. Dinner tonight is at Fusions, another one of the two specialty restaurants on Columbus.
Serving Indian fare cooked in a traditional Tandoor oven built outside on the deck, it’s another delightful dinner of butter chicken, lamb Rohan josh, paneer finished off with kulfi and the extremely decadent gulab jamun. It’s a favourite amongst the British guests as Indian is the most popular cuisine in the motherland.
When you’re dining in the Lido deck or the Waterfront restaurant, you can find a mixture between German cold meat platters and salad, steak and ale pie or beef stew.
We head out for the shore excursion in Kagoshima, a small port at the southernmost tip of the mainland of Japan. Famous for its active volcanoes, samurai history and sand baths with healing qualities, we have decided to try the black sand of the Ibusuki baths. We visit a beautiful pottery museum on the way, which houses relics from a range of different Japanese eras.
It’s surrounded by well manicured gardens. The Ibusuki sand baths are located in a hotel. Our guide tells us there are also common sand baths, open to the general public.
The idea of the sand bath is that you are dressed in traditional robes before you are then taken to an outdoor sand pit and laid in grooves of black sand, lined up next to one another.The sand supposedly helps fatigue, circulation, joint paint, muscle pain and also helps your skin.
It is an odd sensation, buried to your neck up. The guides ‘dig’ you out at the 10 minute mark.It is slightly macabre seeing dozens of people lined up next to you in what looks like mini graves.
But it’s extremely relaxing and a wonderful way to end the day – looking 10 years younger, hopefully.
At the moment, the only downside to the cruise is how much I will be adding to the waistline as I sit and wait for my full English breakfast. The Columbus is a revelation. And, I suspect, the face of a growing segment of the cruise industry: well-priced refurbished ships gracefully taking their passengers the long way home.