The Cape Verde Islands and The Gambia are normally holiday destinations associated with 2 week hotel holidays so to find them encompassed in a cruise plus a stop in Senegal I considered a gem not to miss. The Cape Verde Islands form an archipelago of 10 volcanic islands off the coast of West Africa. Discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century they have held a place in history ever since. These were the first ports of call on an 11 night cruise aboard Fred Olsen’s smallest ship Braemar.
Boarding in Tenerife late at night with rain lashing down is not the best time to appreciate a forthcoming cruise especially with a lifeboat drill to be performed before we can eat and then finally sail. However this all passed by and with the drill finished and dinner eaten it was time to head for the cabin, a superior outside view on deck 4. Two beds both very comfortable, enough hanging space but little in the way of drawer space. The small bottles of toiletries from the bathroom have been replaced with more economic soap/shampoo dispensers but still of good quality by Gilchrist and Soames. Time for bed but for some reason instead of having the bed made and turned down Fred puts a folded duvet on the bed which you then unfold yourself! Still get a chocolate on the pillow though and one night over the Easter weekend it was a small bag of Easter Eggs. Tomorrow was the real start and indeed 6 hours later the sun is streaming through the window as it rises over a smooth blue ocean.
Braemar has 3 restaurants, Thistle, Grampian and a self-service buffet restaurant, The Palms, on deck 6. Heading for the Grampian, this like the other restaurants is situated at the rear of the ship and offers commanding views from large windows on 3 sides. For breakfast and lunch the Thistle and Grampian both offer a choice of waiter service or buffet. Making my way to the buffet it is time to indulge in fresh fruit followed by scrambled egg and smoked salmon. For a small ship the selection is excellent.
2 days at sea before our first port of call gives an opportunity to explore the ship and relax in the sun. Deck 8 hosts 2 swimming pools and 2 Jacuzzis. What a pleasant change to find spare sun beds and none ‘reserved’. Laying there in the warm sunshine, enjoying a good book, I could easily get used to this. Soon it is time for lunch and another feast is before our eyes prior to retreating back to the sunbed for the afternoon. If you want more than just sunbathing the ship offers something for everyone. Quiz’s, lectures, dance classes, chess classes, games, yoga, pilates and keep fit classes to name but a few. For the energetic there is the well-equipped gym which I visited daily. No, not to use it of course but as a short cut onto the outer rear deck.
Afternoon gone, time for dinner. First formal night and the Captains cocktail party. Tonight we get to meet our table companions and as always wonder who they will be. They turn out to be two delightful couples whose company we thoroughly enjoyed throughout the cruise. Dinner like the other meals does not disappoint. A choice of two starters followed by a choice of three soups, two salads and 10, yes 10, choices of main course from the menu including ‘stand by’ dishes.
One night Pheasant was on the menu which was certainly a first for me. Mid cruise lunchtime at the buffet was half lobsters, lobster claws, large mussels and some of the best steak I have ever had at sea. The waiters are all very friendly and efficient and as is expected have that ‘Can Do’ attitude. It has to be said that the food on this cruise was excellent. Entertainment is a matter of individual taste. Neptune Lounge being the main theatre with Coral Club more as a cabaret venue. Despite the small stage in Neptune and lack of modern facilities found on the mega ships the show team put on some excellent performances. One cabaret act stood out, Barnaby, a comedian who has the ability to make people laugh without being crude or blue. First saw him 14 years ago and he is still as funny. The Cruise Director, Ricky Jermy, also deserves a special mention for his professionalism.
Before moving on to the ports of call it is worth mentioning that Fred Olsen have introduced an ‘All Inclusive’ drinks package at £10 p.p per night. What excellent value, if only other cruise lines could copy this example. Goes to show there is no need for high drink prices.
First port of call, Porto Novo, Cape Verde. The town consists of a few shops, bars and public buildings. There is an open air clothes market but little of general interest plus it is a port into which you have to tender. A drink at a local bar and then back to the ship.
Sailing early afternoon we later berth in Mindelo on St. Vincent Island where we stay overnight. An interesting town of old brightly painted colonial buildings. The pink Presidential Palace, the grey and white Merrado Municipal building, bars and restaurants painted in bright blues and reds makes this a very colourful town reminiscent of a Caribbean island. On the seafront is a newly built area where you can listen to local music whilst enjoying a drink in the sunshine.
Third port of call is Praia, capital of the Cape Verde Islands. A bustling town with a fabulous fruit and veg market where the aromas are amazing. Here you can obtain every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable. Mystifying how the locals buy their produce, place it in a bowl on their heads and walk away. Amazing balance. Being Maundy Thursday the local cathedral was so well attended there were literally hundreds who could not get in but stood and sat on the pavements outside the cathedral doors and open windows. The sound of the choir from within left a haunting memory.
A day at sea followed before arriving to a colourful and musical welcome into Banjul, The Gambia where the temperature was climbing into the mid 30c’s. This small country gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. African tribal dancers on the quayside, the Banjul Police Band and a lone piper piping passengers from the ship making a mixture of music. The coaches and tours having departed the quayside then filled with local traders selling silks, clothes, shoes, wood carvings and other souvenirs of the visit. Having been to Banjul before it was a pleasure to have a virtually empty ship to myself and enjoy watching the traders on the quayside..
5pm, three long blasts from the ships whistle and we ease away from the quayside, saying farewell to Banjul and set course for our last port of call, Dakar, Senegal. As we glide quietly pass the beaches the sun is setting and fishermen are hauling their small canoe like boats onto the shore line. Unloading their catch either for their own consumption or for selling in the market.
Arrival into Dakar was very sedate by comparison to the previous day. Shuttle buses were available to take those not on trips into the centre of Dakar about 2 kilometres from the ship. On arrival at the drop off point in the main square passengers were immediately hassled by the locals to buy their products. It seemed that a polite ‘No thank you’ did not work. Some did not even get off the shuttle bus whilst others boarded the next one back to the ship. A great pity as I am sure that Dakar has more to offer. If vendors hassled less it would encourage people to look at their wares instead of frightening them away. Sailing again at 5pm we take up a northerly course passing the island of Goree notorious in the mid 1500’s for its export of slaves. Now it is two days at sea back to Tenerife where we say goodbye to Braemar.
By modern standards at a little over 24,000 tonnes and carrying only 930 passengers Braemar is small. However it does not feel small and when on the open deck it appears the opposite. I particularly liked sitting at the wicker chairs and tables of the Pool Bar enjoying a drink in the sun. The tiered stern where you can dine Al Fresco or just sit and look out over ships wake to that point where it blends with the horizon. As cruises go I rated this one fairly highly. No complaints with any of the food, indeed some of the best I have had at sea. Other than the initial boarding procedure, everything was extremely good.
I enjoyed the cruise and Fred Olsen is certainly on my ‘Cruise with Again’ list.
Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions
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