Cruising the French Riviera on a Shoestring Budget: Cannes to Menton

When you find an area you like and you feel relaxed in, it’s hard to imagine moving on to explore further afield. The Iles de Lerins just off Cannes are one of those places. With so much to do – visit and attend a service in the monastery on Saint Honorat, sample the famous wine made by the monks from grapes grown on the island, climb the ancient tower for spectacular views over all the islands and across to Cannes, stroll along the tree-covered paths of each island, take a dip in a private cove, watch the boats coming and going, explore the fort on Sainte Marguerite where the man in the iron mask was locked up for many years, try some wild blackberries – it really is hard to leave! But the time will come, usually with a strong wind forecast or a big swell, and you’ll decide to move on. So here’s the east Riviera on a shoestring…

Best Value Marinas (prices based on a 15 metre sailing yacht)

  • Nice Port – reservations available by email, excellent shelter, friendly service, shower facilities, wifi, excellent provisions, daily market, restaurants surrounding the port and in the old town, beach clubs, easy access to the old town of Nice and further afield by bus and train, about £50 per night in peak season.
  • Villefranche-sur-Mer – reservations available by email and telephone, very helpful and friendy staff, excellent shelter, some provisions, lots of restaurants, pretty town with access to cliff walks, about £60 per night in peak season.
  • Port de Beaulieu – an excellent alternative to the exceptionally expensive port in St-Jean, reservations by email and telephone, helpful and friendly staff, excellent shelter, good provisions in town, easy access to trains to Monaco, buses to Eze, about £55 per night in peak season.
  • Fontvieille – although cheaper than Monaco Port, it is still expensive but one that provides excellent service and value for money. Explore Monaco and Monte Carlo on foot from the marina, enjoy the hustle and bustle of the Principality but know that you have a peaceful marina for the night. Very friendly and helpful staff, reservations available, heliport, roughly £80 per night in peak season.
  • Menton Old Port – very friendly and helpful, provisions in town, willing to help in bad weather although the visitor quay has poor shelter from the swell. Wifi, water and electricity all available for about £50 per night in peak season.

Safe Anchorages

  • Juan les Pins – known in its heyday for its hedonisitc tendencies, this lively town with beautiful beaches has long attracted the rich and famous. The whole bay between Cannes and Juan les Pins is the anchorage of choice for many huge superyachts but the more modest-sized yachts head to the east of the bay and tuck in under the Cap d’Antibes between the Hotel Eden Roc and the small Port du Crouton. You’ll hold well and will be very well sheltered from any wind and swell with east in it. You can leave the dinghy on the visitor quay at Port du Crouton and wander into the town for excellent provisions, restaurants and the Petit Train to Antibes.
  • Cap d’Antibes – a number of small anchorages provide pretty lunch stops but are not particularly well protected. Try Anse de l’Aregnt Faux on the southerly tip of the Cap, the bay off La Garoupe for beach clubs and beach restaurants and the large anchorage east of Antibes for lovely views of the old town.
  • Rade de Villefranche-sur-Mer – anchor at the head of the bay outside the yellow buoys, take care to stay out of the no anchor zone as there can be up to 3 cruise ships a day anchored here. Take the dinghy onto the town quay and tie up with the others. A lovely anchorage, very popular in the summer during the day, quiet at night, but you may need to make use of a stern anchor to keep the boat into the prevalent swell which comes straight in from the sea.
  • Anse de la Scaletta – tucked into the Cap Ferrat and well protected from anything with south in it, this shallow anchorage is another one of those places you can stay for days. Paloma Beach on the shore provides watersports in the day time and romantic summer beach-side evening meals. Easy dinghy access to the port of St-Jean for provisions and a variety of restaurants as well as access to the popular walk along the coast between Villefranche and Beaulieu.
  • Baie de Roquebrune – anchor in good holding under the town of Roquebrune. Good shelter from east but open to the sea swells from the south. Good walk up to the ancient town, stunning views across the riviera and sandy beach with good snorkelling.
  • Cap Martin – the east side of the Cap is a good anchorage for lunch and can be used in very settled weather for overnight stays. Sandy bottom with good holding although quite deep as restricted by protected swimming area.

Helpful Hints:

  • Stock up on provisions at the big supermarkets when you can as small town supermarkets can be extremely expensive. Local bakeries however are excellent value for morning croissants and afternoon pastries!
  • Keep your eye on the weather, check it every day on the radio and again with a local port as local winds can be missed by national forecasts.
  • Book ahead in bad weather. If bad weather is on the way, plan ahead and get yourself into a good harbour. Remember, the less pricey ones fill up first so make sure you’ve got your space.
  • Be safe in the sun. Always wear a hat and suncream and drink plenty of water to keep hydrated and energy levels up.

The French Riviera is truly beautiful all year round. Although the best weather is during the summer months, May and October can be the perfect time to cruise, with lower marina fees, quieter anchorages and warm sun.

Luxury Cruising Offers Advantages for Many Celebrations

This new trend taking hold in the elite industry of luxury small ship cruising is being taken up by some big corporate companies as well as individuals who are looking for an event offering something with a difference that will have their guests talking about it for a long time after.

Small intimate motor yachts are now being hired for private functions, such as weddings, honeymoons, birthday parties, family celebrations, anniversaries and company meetings or social events.

These yachts make the perfect venue for a small intimate event as they are equipped with a full friendly professional crew, fully furnished, have an open bar and onboard chef to cater for any event or function.

Yacht charters are available all over the world for the pleasure seekers and there are many fabulous famous vacation islands to choose from.

Having a celebration for your child’s sixteenth birthday on board one of these beautiful floating hotels will be an unforgettable experience for him or her and their guests.

You may choose to party on the boat, or cruise to a specific destination, such as a private island, and drop anchor and start your celebrations there. Either way you and your guests are sure to have a memorable event that they will talk about for years to come.

Couples are choosing to get married on a cruise ship as you can reserve a small, fully crewed, private luxury small ship just for you, your wedding party and your guests. Very intimate and very fabulous!

Some couples are even choosing to stay on and honeymoon with their guests. This is a perfect situation for those couples who would love to have their friends and family join them on their honeymoon. And some couples even arrange to have a double wedding and honeymoon together!

While it can be a lot of fun to have others along you are provided with you own private quarters for your more intimate moments, while choosing to celebrate this momentous occasion with your closest friends as well.

Many companies are beginning to reserve these small yachts for corporate events as well, such as company dinner parties and award banquets for employees.

Consider having your next boardroom meeting on a small luxury cruise ship that offers you absolute privacy away from everything.

With full internet services available and a full suite of technology that includes a large flat screen for presentations it is the most luxurious floating office around. A helipad will easily accommodate an out-of-town executive who wants to join the meeting once the ship has sailed.

After the business is completed it’s time to adjourn to the bar, kick back and enjoy the pleasure of some good team building and serious fun.

These small cruise yachts come equipped with everything you need for your corporate events from an open bar to a fully staffed kitchen. If you want live music to entertain your guests, this can also be arranged.

They also offer glamour and exclusivity as well as a range of adventures such as heli-golf excursions, deep-sea fishing, beach and exercise activities, wine trails, bush and island walks to give different choices to your guests on board.

Whether it’s shopping for souvenirs at the local village markets, swimming or sun bathing on the beautiful island beaches, heading off with the guys for some serious big game fishing or heli-golf, you won’t be disappointed with the style and luxurious offerings on a luxury small ship cruse.

Luxury Cruising From San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

In a recent article entitled “Three Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise our of San Francisco,” we wrote about the fun of spending part of a vacation in the famous City by the Bay, and part of it cruising to exciting destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, and the South Pacific. This story is about the cruise we selected to follow our own tour of San Francisco.

Selecting a cruise

As Mark Twain often noted, it can be a bit chilly in San Francisco regardless of the time of year, so we thought a cruise to some place warm would be the perfect other-bookend for a vacation.

We did an internet search and explored all the cruise line itineraries sailing out of San Francisco on our travel dates, and Princess Cruise Lines had exactly what we wanted – a roundtrip sailing from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. We made the right choice, and here’s what you can expect if you decide to take the same plunge.

The day before the cruise

We arrived in San Francisco the day before our cruise departure to Hawaii. We toured our favorite sites in the city, had a nice dinner at Scoma’s on Pier 47, and checked into our favorite and always fashionable San Francisco Hyatt Regency. The hotel is directly across from the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, and a very short distance from the cruise terminal at Pier 35.

Sailing out of the Golden Gate

We settled into our port side stateroom, popped open a bottle of bubbly, and when the ship pulled away from the dock, we proceeded to our patio to watch the San Francisco skyline on slow parade. There was Ghirardelli Square lit up in its entire splendor, and the famous Transamerica Pyramid Building – outstanding among its traditional “square” neighbors.

We could see the Golden Gate Bridge coming up above the bow, and we bid a fond farewell to old Fort Point as we made our way out of San Francisco Bay and into the vast blue Pacific. All we could think at the time was, “What a spectacular way to start a cruise!”

Next stop – Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A future article will describe the Hawaiian ports of call in Hilo, Nawiliwili, Lahaina, Honolulu, and our final stop in Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. Why are cruise ships sailing to Hawaii from US ports required to stop in a foreign port like Ensenada? We will explain in the upcoming article.

This story features the many vacation pleasures aboard the Star Princess. Note: The Grand Princess has now replaced the Star Princess on the Hawaiian route out of San Francisco. They are sister ships, so the differences are minimal.

Sweet suites

The Star Princess has several luxury suites positioned throughout the ship. The Grand Suite is 1,314 square feet of pure indulgence, with a walk in closet, large bathrooms, and an oversized balcony. These elegant digs are for the truly fortunate among us.

Besides luxury accommodations, the suites come with supplementary amenities such as an exclusive Suite Breakfast at the Sabatini’s specialty restaurant – where you can start your day with a complimentary “Good Morning Mimosa,” and select other goodies from an extraordinary breakfast menu. We expected the service to be impeccable, and it was.

Did you know that the now famous champagne and orange juice “Mimosa” drink was first created and named at the Paris Ritz in 1925? Its namesake is the mimosa plant, which has bright and frothy yellow flowers.

There are also afternoon and pre-dinner cocktail and private nosh parties where suite passengers get to mingle and mix with the ship’s officers that drop by.

Care for a quiet dinner for two? Having a lavish room service meal served in a ship’s suite is the height of seagoing indulgence and sublime privacy.

Suite passengers are also provided with priority boarding, and disembarkation via the Elite/Suite Disembarkation Lounge. While visiting ports that require taking a launch to shore, suite occupants are furnished Priority Tender Disembarkation Tickets – a nice time-saving touch.

Time for dinner

It was soon time for our initial dinner on board the Star Princess. The first night aboard a cruise ship is a casual affair, so after cleaning up a bit, we made our way down to the Portofino Dining Room on Deck 6.

The Maître d’hôtel was busy orchestrating the process of showing the first diners to their assigned tables. Remember when everyone ate at either an “early” or, “late” sitting? These days you can dine in traditional fashion or decide to eat at any time you choose during dining hours. There are advantages to both practices – it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

That’s entertainment

After a sumptuous dinner, it was time for our opening night of entertainment in the Princess Theatre on Deck 6 and 7. The first show included the entire cast in an extravaganza review. The large two-story theatre was packed, but comfortable, and everyone enjoyed the lavish musical production.

We took a stroll around the Lido deck before returning to our stateroom after the show. Not quite ready for bed, we turned on the TV, and watched our first movie from the library of closed circuit films. It was an oldie,- An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – a quintessential tearjerker with the plot starting on a cruise ship. What could be more apropos for the setting?

Days at sea

It took four days to reach our first port of call in Hilo. We travelled 2,003 nautical miles (2,303 highway miles) from San Francisco. The time passed quickly.

Days at sea can be quiet or exciting – it’s your choice. You can shop endlessly in the myriad Ship’s Boutiques. You can visit the Internet Café to catch up on emails, listen to live Chamber Music, and attend lively Art Auctions. How about a workout in the extensive Gym, a Seminar at Sea, eating pizza, a hot dog, or hamburger, or trying your luck in the Casino?

Having your teeth whitened is another option, as is enjoying sundry Spa indulgences, snoozing by one of the Pools, and chatting it up while enjoying the entertainment at your choice of the many Bars and Lounges. There is also the opportunity to watch Movies outdoors or indoors, peruse the Library, read, and of course – eat.

The ship’s master

On one of our days at sea, we had an opportunity to interview the ship’s captain. At the time of our sailing, the master of the Star Princess was Edward Perrin who hails from Dorset, England. As is usually the case, Captain Perrin was most congenial and very willing to share stories about his ship and experiences at sea.

We always ask sea captains what they like best about their jobs. Captain Perrin revealed that he most enjoyed the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives – both crew, and passengers. He gave an example of an elderly couple who saved all their lives to take a cruise. They approached him with the problem that they had no more money to spend while on the cruise. Captain Perrin summarily wrote a list of “free” things the couple could do on their cruise vacation. They were elated, and the good Captain was equally gratified – it made his day, and he has never forgotten the feeling of being able to help.

Where passenger services are concerned, an important member of the crew is the Hotel General Manager. On the Star Princess, that was Terri Lynn Cybuliak, and she greatly contributed to our fun discussion.

As we have mentioned in previous cruise articles, ship’s captains are contracted to be masters for months, not years, and therefore transfer from ship to ship quite frequently. Keep an eye out – you may very well find Captain Perrin at the helm of your next Princess cruise.

Attention on the bridge

After our meeting, Captain Perrin invited us to join him on the bridge. The ship’s bridge is always manned 24-hours a day by two officers working four-hour shifts in a three-watch system. It is interesting to witness the vast array of sophisticated systems that run these mega ships in a controlled and quiet atmosphere. We continue to be fascinated by the fact that the traditional ship’s steering wheel has been replaced by a tiny joystick on a desk panel.

Dining in the specialty restaurants

All the food aboard the Star Princess, and most other cruise ships for that matter, is quite delicious. It is amazing that seagoing chefs can prepare thousands of assorted meals daily, and do it with such finesse.

People always ask, “If all the sit down meals are included in the price of the cruise, why would anyone pay extra to eat in a specialty dining room?” The answer is quite simple – intimacy – and a little something extra special for an important occasion.

Each specialty restaurant has its own kitchen, so there is just a touch more attention to detail in the food preparation and presentation. The waiters have fewer tables to attend, and the overall experience is that of eating in a truly fine restaurant. The extra charge is never extravagant, and the experience is worthwhile.

Avoid disappointment, reserve your specialty restaurants early.

Our recommendations

Throughout the years, we have enjoyed many cruises, and Princess Cruises is one of our favorite lines. It provides first time cruisers with an enjoyable introduction to cruise vacationing, and it offers seasoned cruisers a nice selection of accommodations and amenities. Whatever your wallet dictates, a Princess Cruise will provide good value for your vacation dollars.

If you go

San Francisco International Airport is about 20 miles and a $65 taxi ride to the Cruise Terminal or Hyatt Regency. Your travel agent or Princess Cruises can also arrange transfers to and from the airport, but if there are two passengers involved, we recommend taking a cab, it’s a lot less hassle.

A final note

The San Francisco Cruise Terminal is presently located at Pier 35. That will change when the America’s Cup Headquarters pulls up stakes from Pier 27 sometime around September 2013 – after the US (hopefully) wins the Cup.

After a quick facelift and the addition of a new park at the site, the vastly improved cruise terminal at Pier 27 will be capable of handling larger ships, and will come with expansive views of the City including Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Bay Bridge.

Happy travels!

First Time Cruising With Carnival Spirit

The Carnival cruise line is an amazing fleet of luxury cruise trips that caters for all types of cruisers. Families, couples and groups of friends of all ages are made welcome on board their ships and the entertainment is catered for all.

The Carnival fleet currently contains 22 ships that are found world-wide and most popular in the Caribbean. Some of the ship names include the legend, victory, glory, pride, destiny, dream and the paradise.

Carnival finally made its move into Australian waters offering short trips on the east coast of Australia but also to the beautiful South Pacific Islands.

Currently only the Carnival Spirit departs from Sydney Australia and this is the ship I was privileged enough to experience. The Carnival Legend will soon be arriving to Australia shortly as well.

There are 10 levels on the Carnival Spirit which includes a number of restaurants, day spa, a gym, 2 main pools for all ages and an adults only area which includes a pool and Jacuzzi too.

The entire ship is decked out with magnificent artworks, structures and paintings particularly in the Grand Atrium which has a multi-level painting which is around 6 levels high.

What makes this the Carnival Spirit stand out and makes the appeal for both kids and the young at heart is its 50 foot water slide known as the Green Thunder. This is located on deck 10 and counts down from 3. The waterslide is so fast I couldn’t even tell you if the platform dropped or pulled back or what.

The restaurants on board are all paid for within your cruise ticket price all except the steak house restaurant called Noveau. It cost $35 per person to eat here and it is well worth the price as you get 3 courses of the best quality meats. Make sure you walk in hungry these meals are massive.

The main restaurant is also 3 courses and table service and just about all the wait staff are extroverts, fun and a little bit crazy all in the name of fun. After dinner is mostly served there may be a song and/or dance by the wait staff which helps lift the mood for the evening fun times.

There are also plenty of bars found around the ship which includes a karaoke bar, pool bars, the casino, Shanghai bar, the grand atrium and the waiters walking around the decks coming directly to you for orders.

Lastly the entertainment on board is also worth checking out most of which are performed in the Pharaoh’s Palace which is found on deck 2, 3 and 4. Here you will get to see magicians, hypnotists, dancers, big band concerts and more.

Directly below the palace is the Punch-liner Comedy Club where 4 to 5 comics perform most of which includes an adult’s only show.

All in all the Carnival Spirit lived up to its reputation and makes the trip as comfortable and as entertaining as possible. I would definitely book with Carnival again and would highly recommend it for any first time cruisers.

Cruising the Hawai’ian Islands – An Aussie’s First Time

Boarding a cruise ship is always a crowded affair. It was so in Honolulu. What surprised us was that we had to take the locks off our suitcases before boarding. The ship, Norwegian “Pride of America”, was a similar size to the Princess ships that we had cruised in around Australia. So we expected to get to our stateroom after boarding the ship. We boarded around 12.30pm only to enter our stateroom at 5.30pm. We found out later that the crew was all American citizens, meaning they had to be paid at higher rates than the crews on other cruise lines. Norwegian were the only cruise line allowed by American law just to cruise around the islands. Other cruise lines had to visit at least one foreign port. This meant there were fewer crew members to do the work.

We found that the selection of free restaurants was not as extensive as with Princess. We dined mostly in their buffet restaurant and a couple of times in their East-West restaurant. These were fine. By Australian standards, the coffee on board ship leaves much to be desired.

We found our stateroom was the best designed one we had seen with a better arrangement of the bed; more cupboards space and better designed bathroom and shower.

The theatre was more spacious and it was easier to move to and from your seat. People could move past you without the need for you to stand. However the Mardi Gras cabaret showroom was smaller than in Princess and the view from the rear not as good. Still, as the cruise went on, the performances in these two areas were of a high quality.

For those that liked to walk or run to wear off the effects of too much food, the promenade deck had a walkway of length 546 metres. Three times around was a mile (over 1.6 kilometres). The walkway was much wider than those we had seen previously on other ships.

The purpose of the cruise was to see the islands of Hawaii. Consequently, during the day, there was a lack of things to do on the ship if you arrived back early from a tour. There was only one port where tenders were required to take us ashore. We were impressed at how easy it was to get on and off the tender and how spacious they were compared to others we had been on.

We arranged to do a tour at each port we visited, six in all. We discovered Roberts Tours on an internet search. It turned out that they were the biggest tour operators in America in their green busses. We found them better priced than the tours organised through Norwegian Cruises Lines. In fact, by booking several tours through them as what they called “Combo Tours” we saved at least $100 each. Their service was excellent, always on time with great driver/guides who were able to go extra places when the time permitted. We found the guides very knowledgeable and didn’t talk too much. They gave clear instructions with regard to departure times and made good suggestions about food and so on.

Security was a very big issue. On returning to ship and pier, we had to show photo I. D. as well as our cruise card to even get on the pier or the tender or off the bus on returning from the tour.

The thing that surprised me the most about the islands on the cruise was the altitude that buses climbed without our realising that we were at a high altitude. I found I would look out the window of the bus and see an altitude sign like 2400 feet. We never seemed to be so high. It is not something you see in Australia. We, of course, took the tour to the highest volcano on the islands. It was reputed to be the highest on the earth because it is a mountain that rises from depths of the sea. It was over 10000 feet above sea level. Our bus was only able to take us to 9500 feet where we were able to see its huge crater and walk up to a minor peak some 400 metres. It was quite a demanding walk because of the lack of oxygen at that height.

We did see an active volcano. From the viewing platform, it was possible to see lava bubbling to the surface of the crater. Later that evening, the ship cruised past another lava flow. This was bigger and the lava was flowing into the sea. This was much more spectacular.

On the island tours, you see lots of coffee and macadamia plantations. On one plantation which had quite a variety of activities, we found pineapple ice cream. It is a pleasure not to be missed. The coffee plantations we visited allowed coffee tasting. We saw the famous surfing beaches where the Pro tournaments are held. Another spot we saw was the start and finish of the famous Hawaiian Iron Man triathlon.

All the islands were very green with very steep rugged mountains. There was wet and a dry side of each island with a great variation in rainfall. One side of each island tended to be the windy side with the other side protected from the wind by the high mountains. For us the weather was great. The only time we needed a jumper was on board the ship where the air conditioning was sometimes too cold.

Each island had a highway which circumnavigated the island, usually close to the beach. We found on our bus tours to get the best view you needed seats on the right hand side of the bus.

If you only going to visit Hawaii once in your lifetime, you must include the cruise as part of your holiday as well as Honolulu, Waikiki, Pearl Harbour and tour around the island from Honolulu.