Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Sovereign round the Med

Some images from a week-long circumnavigation of the Western Mediterranean onboard the MS Sovereign. Originally delivered to Royal Caribbean in late-1987, at the time of her inauguration, she was the world's biggest passenger ship and she knocked SS Norway into the number 2 spot and Queen Elizabeth 2 into number 3. As a 13-year-old boy, I remember being very excited reading about Sovereign of the Seas and realising that this great ship existed - albeit sailing weekly from Miami, a place I would be unable to visit for some years to come. In 2009, Sovereign was transferred to the Mediterranean to operate for the Spanish company Pullmantur and I joined her in Barcelona, accompanied by my good friends Ann Haynes (writer of the excellent Haynes World shipping blog) and the Danish maritime writer, photographer and all-round good chap Soren Lund Hviid( Sovereign proved to be a wonderful ship - albeit a little frayed around the edges after nearly 25 years' hard usage.

In Barcelona, the Sovereign was berthed aft of a much newer large Royal Caribbean cruise ship, Brilliance of the Seas. The newer vessel's toweing superstructure contains deck upon deck of outside cabins with balconies, whereas Sovereign boasts only a very few of these on one deck.

Sovereign's atrium; back in 1987, such a large shopping mall-like space had never previously been found on a passenger ship - but thereafter atria of this type became standard features of all subsequent cruise ships. Sovereign's atrium remains eighties-tastic.

Leaving Barcelona.

A warm Mediterranean evening on the lifeboat promenade deck with Sovereign's Spanish passengers chatting and smoking, much as they would do of an evening on a street in Barcelona.

Sovereign's wake and flagstaff at dusk.

Time for a cocktail in the Viking Crown Lounge, the wrap-around cocktail bar cantilevered from Sovereign's funnel.

At anchor in the bay at Villefranche, our first port of call and only a short walk from Nice:

A funny Art Nouveau mansion on the outskirts of Nice:

An aerial view of Nice harbour:

Back in Villefranche, Sovereign had swung round into a very helpful position for photography:

Villefranche maritime museum - scary!

Sovereign's show lounge:

Andalucian-style pig's cheek for dinner - it was delicious.

Signs in Livorno, our second port of call:

We took an Italian Intercity train to visit the lovely Renaissance town of Lucca:

In Lucca's famous piazza, which follows the footprint of a Roman amphiteatre:

A purveyor of various sizes of knobs and knockers:

A somewhat less glamorous diesel train for the return to Livorno:

Whizzy concrete sports hall, spotted from the train:

Livorno main square:

Moby Otta arrives in Livorno in perfect evening light:

Port number 3, Civitaveccia with Costa Mediterranean and Mariner of the Seas:

Time to read the Danish translation of the manuscript of my forthcoming book about Danish liner shipping, due out in the autumn from Nautilus Forlag (

The Italian Railways train ferry Scilla arrives (above), followed by Mega Express Two and Moby Freedom (below):

Taking photographs while holding a drink is a special skill of mine:

Scintu arrives in the early evening, followed by Nuraghes:

Nomentana leaves, then Cruise Roma appears:

Dinner - a big steak - mmm!

Some passengers form a conga-line in the dining room. I'm sure it's not good for the digestion to dance so soon after having eaten:

Approaching Naples in early-morning light:

An old Clyde favourite, laid up in Naples harbour:

Noordam approaches Naples' Stazione Marittima:

The Staziona Marittima is a very imposing building from the Fascist era - but I soon found more such wonders when I began to explore Naples:

Naples is a fascinating city, but its garbage collection is notoriously haphazard and so, on a hot summer day, its smelly streets are not suitable for those of a sensitive disposition:

The view from the fortress:

The sensational Post Office and Telegraph building - a wondrous example of the Fascist-era 'Littorian' style (ie Italian streamline moderne):

Approaching Palermo:

A travel agency in Palermo, little-altered since the 1960s and featuring the advertising and graphics of numerous long-vanished shipping lines:

Palermo's magnificent fire station - another Fascist-era monument:

Luncheon in Palermo - this was delicious.

Palermo's post office - this one verging more towards monumental neo-classicism:

La Superba arrives in Palermo harbour:

Onboard Sovereign during the final day at sea - the wind picked up causing quite a few of my fellow passengers to become unexpectedly re-acquainted with their lunches (for so big a ship, she's not a very good performer in a breeze):

The view from my cabin porthole:

Farewell night dinner - a Moroccan lamb confection (good, but not as good as the version Ann Haynes makes!):