Music on the water

It’s early evening on Prince Edward Island and the beer, mussels and music are flowing freely aboard the small ship MV Fairview while it chugs leisurely around Charlottetown harbour.

It’s been grey and overcast much of the day and now it’s getting pretty chilly standing out on deck. But we are being blessed with the unfolding joys of an unexpected and marvellous sunset. A gleaming sheen spreads across the darkening swell like a gift from the Gods.

Inside the Fairview’s snug cabin, the steamed island blue mussels are piping hot and the local ale well chilled. An on-board ceildih is in full swing as local whiz musicians Cynthia Macleod and Jon Matthews, on violin and guitar, segue a stream of infectious, foot-stomping Gaelic reels and jigs that are guaranteed to warm the cockles of the heart.

See and hear for yourself how they swing ….

This is surely one of the finest ways to party while on the Gentle Island; nothing at all fancy, simply a small group of happy souls afloat, enjoying a short cruise beneath a glorious sunset accompanied by tasty morsels and lively toe-tapping tunes. I can’t think of a better recipe for baking a lasting memory.

# This lively, joyous music is a hallmark of Canada’s most Celtic Province. Regular ceilidh are held at various locations around the island and could easily form the basis of a devoted fan’s Celtic music itinerary.

How best to see Charlottetown from the sea


The world of the serial cruiser


Cruising – for some a better deal than a retirement home

My earliest insights into the rarefied world of serious ocean cruising were provided by Delhis Mary Wolf of Pompano Beach, Florida, who knows all about being at your best when everything about you is all at sea.

We met aboard a Holland America ship. Mrs Wolf had boarded in Los Angeles at the start of a 62-day voyage to Australia and New Zealand. After this extensive journey she would take a ‘back-to-back’ Caribbean cruise. Having already sailed well over 100 cruises, on a variety of ships, she showed no signs of slowing down.

The first insight provided was about motivation. Sailing the high seas, she said, was a far more attractive proposition and heaps more fun than the alternative – being moribund in an old age home. She asserted that costs were not that different, whereas the benefits were incomparable.

“Not all cabins cost $1000 a day, although that’s what you often read in the media,” she said. “Consider this: I have cabin crew looking after me, all meals included, lectures and activities during the day, live shows at night, a library, cinema and a casino. And there’s also a doctor and nurses on call should I ever need them, God forbid.”


A second insight was social. Private parties are crucial to the voyage  calendar. Mrs Wolf had thrown her own soiree early in this current cruise. “Tonight it’s my sister Zelma’s turn. It’s the best way of meeting people on board. I’ve made so many friends from around the world while cruising,” she said.

“You see, we cruisers really are a community afloat. Many of us are old friends. My late husband Larry and I began cruising way back in the 1960s and since then so many people we’ve met on ships have become close friends. I’ll sail the Caribbean with a dear friend I met on the Mediterranean.”

holland america

A commemorative cruise tile

I assumed anyone with her cruising record, status and obvious means would have a suite or a cabin with private deck at least.  “Oh no, dear,” she said, “I want stability and size. The higher up you are in a ship, the more there’s that rolling movement.

“I’m happy on Main Deck, amidships, in an inside cabin. They’re more spacious than outside cabins. And anyway,” she added, “I don’t really like looking at the sea.”

Before I could react to this unexpected declaration she’d glanced at her watch and dashed off to the hairdresser. Life aboard ship means never a dull moment.

Getting shipshape to aid others

Food is a vital component of any cruise. Whenever I’ve set sail somewhere I’ve been truly amazed at the amount of food issuing from the ship’s galleys round the clock – and equally amazed by the amount of munching passengers manage, especially those who seem to be chomping non-stop throughout their cruise.

Perhaps such voracious appetites are stimulated by all that fresh sea air. Or is it a case of the more you eat, the more value you think you’re squeezing out of the cost of your cruise? Whatever the rationale, piling into the buffet is a core attraction of days spent at sea.

So it’s terrific to know that the Holland America Line is doing something positive to encourage its passengers to walk off all those calories for a good cause.

Oosterdam 3Tomorrow I’ll be on board the Oosterdam in Sydney harbour for a special event celebrating the introduction of the “On Deck for a Cause” initiative across the Holland America fleet.

Passengers on every cruise this year (that’s 500 cruises!) will be asked to donate $20 to participate in a fund-raising five kilometre (3 mile) walk.

Depending on the ship, this will mean completing nine to 12 laps of the exercise deck; not much for some, a real challenge for others. (I quite expect tomorrow’s lunch on the Oosterdam to be followed with a fast-paced, energetic inspection of the ship.)

Those who finish a walk will get a special “On Deck for a Cause” T-shirt and wristband and celebrate with a small party. The real incentive, however, is doing something for others less fortunate while also battling that bulging cruise waistline.

Monday was World Cancer Day. This new shipboard initiative will benefit six cancer organisations around the world – in Australia, the US, Canada, the UK, Netherlands and Germany. A minimum 80% of funds raised will be distributed among these organisations, the other 20% will cover costs.