Lyon, March 26, 2014 — Earlier today, I boarded an Emirates 777 in Singapore bound for Lyon, France. The journey took nearly 18 hours, including the two-hour layover in Dubai. I am returning to Lyon for christening ceremonies celebrating the launch of the SS Catherine, operated by Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, certainly an aspirational name for a river cruise company.
Only a few days ago, I was in Avignon and Bordeaux (and later in Porto) for the christening of an armada of Viking vessels. There is so much to say about that event, and my schedule has been so chockablock, that I’m holding my posts and photographs for next week when I can do justice to the most ambitious fleet expansion (and corresponding christening events) that I’ve ever witnessed.
My own travel has been ambitious also. It is hard to believe even for me, an avid traveler for more than three decades, that since this past Saturday (five days) I have flown from Porto to Lisbon to Lyon to Dubai to Singapore — and now back to Dubai and to Lyon. During the past 10 days, I’ve watched spectacular naming events, including a Viking River Cruises event that I will never forget at the two-millennia-old Pont du Gard. I’ve seen some great entertainers perform, among them the legendary Mireille Mathieu and the sensational Ana Moura, a Portuguese singer attributed with introducing Fado into the mainstream music scene. I’m a fan since seeing her perform in Porto last week.
I’ve flown on private jets where Veuve-Cliquot flowed freely and Middle Eastern airliners that put U.S. carriers to shame. Having traveled for nearly 36 hours during the past five days on Emirates, I can say without hesitation that the Dubai-based carrier is what I imagine Pan Am to have been — a travel experience rather than a mode (and often a frustrating one) of travel.
Two nights ago, I slept at the famed Raffles Hotel, which I visited nearly 30 years ago while backpacking through Asia. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be sleeping in a suite where the cost of a night’s stay probably came with as many numbers as the postal code of a small town. It’s been an exciting two weeks.
When tomorrow evening comes, I will have stood witness to 20 christenings. You’d think a person would get tired of such events, but I’m looking forward to seeing Uniworld’s new vessel and to get a taste of its popular Burgundy & Provence itinerary. And I hope to get the chance to shake the hand of Catherine Deneuve, the legendary French actress who will serve as the godmother of the river cruiser that will carry her name along France’s fabled waterways.
All of the ships I have seen this month were small ships, and, ironically, the smallest of the ships I will have seen christened will be an ocean-going vessel.
This morning — after 18 hours of flying, it’s hard to believe it was only this morning — I trundled down the gangway of Silversea Expeditions’ third ship, the 120-guest Silver Discoverer. I was privileged to have been part of a naming ceremony that took place yesterday pierside at Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore. The ceremony was entertaining and, at times, moving, and as is often the case with all that Silversea does, the event included a thread of narrative that was both personal and inspiring. Read my full story of Silver Discoverer’s christening and the journey to success of a luxury cruise company now turning 20 years old.
Dinner on board Silver Discoverer last night ended with a question posed by a few of the industry’s most experienced cruise executives who were seated at my table: If money were no object, which segment of the cruise industry would I launch and operate ships? The answer was an easy one, although twofold: Small ships and river cruise vessels. I’m not sure I could turn a profit with either, but that wouldn’t matter if money were no object. I’m going for giving people experiences, and in my travels, I’ve found small ships and river cruisers to be the most enjoyable — and most enriching — modes of cruise travel.
During the past 10 days in Europe and in Asia, I was fortunate to experience some of the best of both segments — with more to come, beginning tonight when I step aboard the SS Catherine. Follow along, and you too may discover that size does matter, but contrary to what that phrase often implies, when it comes to cruising, smaller almost always wins.
Tune in tomorrow for the christening of Uniworld’s S.S. Catherine on livevoyagereports.com