Maureen: the travel industry’s favourite columnist

Refit for a queen

It was all aboard Boudicca this week, as members of the travel industry were invited to inspect the stunning refurbishment of this latest addition to the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines fleet. And what a transformation it is.

Think about the TV programmes Ten Years Younger, Ground Force and Grand Designs all rolled into one and conducted in dry dock and you get an idea of the sort of operation undertaken on the old girl since she was acquired last October.

The name, Boudicca, fittingly reflects the qualities of strength, purpose and striking looks for which her namesake, the warrior queen, was renowned; and, as an emblem of proud determination Fred Olsen couldn’t have chosen better. (I do wonder how they choose ship names. Is it like having a baby where you buy a book listing the options and scan The Times for the year’s favourites?)

I made my way to Dover to join other invited travel types to register for the inspection and accompanying dinner. On board, I bumped into Kevin Anderson, sales executive for northwest England and Ireland at Fred Olsen, who I noticed had perfected that rolling sailor’s gait.

Refraining from asking if he’d been overdoing the hornpipe, I listened as he explained that he was suffering from blisters on his feet, though he offered no explanation as to how they’d been acquired. I assumed they were the result of lengthy walks about the ship in ill-fitting footwear, a scenario I am all too familiar with myself. I can only advise leaving the high heels off until dinner…

I left Kevin and made my way to my cabin on Atlantic Deck where I was impressed with the tasteful furnishings and two port holes offering an uninterrupted view of Dover.

Once afternoon tea was over, we were free to roam around and inspect the public areas and cabins on all decks. Although I was very happy with my cabin, I was utterly seduced by the Premier Suite which was the epitome of sea-faring luxury.

Asking Fred Olsen general sales manager Lol Nichols if I could possibly swap accommodation, Lol let me down gently, telling me that the cabin had to be left free for inspection. I told him that I wouldn’t mind if people popped in every now and again, as long as they knocked first, but he simply wouldn’t budge.

A stroll around the ship gave us an insight into the design brief. The Tintagel, Heligan and Iceni rooms all referenced the stories or families associated with those places in the patterns woven into the carpets. Artwork, much of it chosen by the Olsen family, was hanging everywhere, bringing together the historical theme.

In the corridors on Deck 8 I bumped into travel agents Eileen and Monica from Berkhampstead, who, being cruisers themselves, were as impressed with all they’d seen as I was.

A glance at the yard arm suggested it was time to change for dinner and the champagne reception. In no time at all I was sipping bubbly in the company of Jenny Comerford and Stephanie Charlesworth of the Travel Centre, South Cheshire College.

Before dinner, we were addressed by Fred Olsen himself, who welcomed us aboard and played a video showing the refit of the ship which entranced both the men and women in the audience.

The men were impressed by the feats of technology demonstrated, marvelling at the skill of the workforce as they got to grips with a vast array of tools and gadgets of the sort not usually found in B&Q, while the ladies had little interest in the process but fully appreciated the strength and physiques of the workers involved…

At dinner, I sat with Chris and Hazel Bailey of Bailey’s Travel, Northamptonshire, and very much enjoyed getting to know them. Chris, it seems, has a habit of finding himself abandoned in all sorts of remote places, from Australia to Africa. I was able to reassure him that there was little chance of him finding himself deserted in Dover.

The food was absolutely splendid and I can happily report that the wines I sampled were also more than acceptable.

Entertainment then followed in the Neptune Lounge, where I found myself laughing at Bobby Davro, who proved himself to be very versatile. I’m sure I’d have been giggling even if I hadn’t had a drink – and I told him so later.

The evening continued with dancing for those with the energy, while those who were flagging could enjoy the cocktail pianist playing in the observatory.

Jenny and Steph took to the floor and proved their credentials as disco divas while I offered up my ‘west country wobble’ before sinking into a chair.

After a comfortable night’s sleep I rose for an early breakfast and left for home, with memories of a thoroughly enjoyable day.

I loved the ship, and for me, there is a great appeal in knowing that the company is still family run by people who have a strong input into the product.

Many thanks to Fred Olsen for my invitation and for the insight into an experience that is clearly so much more than plain sailing.

Every penny counts

One story that I took away from my evening on board Boudicca came from Thorntons Travel managing director Patrick Murphy.

His clients’ tickets had not arrived from Mundi Color; and a call to the operator revealed that they would not be sent out as there was the princely sum of 1p owing on the invoice.

Although this seemed ridiculous and even laughable, Mundi Color would not budge. The company was adamant that, until it was paid, the clients could not expect to receive their tickets.

The solution? A penny was taped to a piece of paper and posted out first class, at a cost of 30p for the stamp. Penny pinching, or penny wise? A penny for your thoughts…

Maureen Hill works at Wessex World Travel, Gillingham, Dorset

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