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PORTSMOUTH DOES A STERLING JOB


The two bars were popular meeting places and, for meals, there was either the main dining room or the more informal Veranda restaurant. Both have open seating – you can dine when you like, and with whom you like. The food is good, with a wide choice of


dishes. And, if there is nothing you fancy at dinner in the main dining room, they can always serve salmon or steak as a reliable back-up.


Service on board was excellent. On our first night we popped into the Wheeler Bar for a drink after dinner. A waitress came to serve us, looked at my wife and not only remembered her favourite drink from the previous year, but also the type of glass she preferred and the fact she didn’t want ice. Amazing.


Staff and crew are always extremely


friendly, and strong bonds are formed with passengers, many of whom are regulars – Swans, as they are affectionately known. Guest speakers on this particular cruise included popular Radio 4 Today presenter James Naughtie. His after-dinner talks proved extremely popular and his anecdote about Peter Mandelson changing his trousers while James interviewed him brought the house down.


One of the pleasant aspects of a


Minerva cruise is that the guest speakers, however eminent, are also highly approachable and all mixed comfortably with the passengers during the cruise. Otherwise the entertainment was


low key, featuring a cocktail pianist, an excellent jazz band, a musical duo, wine workshops and that old favourite, the crew show. If it’s full-blown West End productions you’re looking for, you’ll be disappointed.


O


ur itinerary took us to Malaga, where we spent a wonderful day at nearby Granada’s superb


Alhambra Palace. However, Malaga was also the unlikely setting for two dramatic highlights of the cruise. As we arrived, the captain came over the public address sys- tem to recount the adventures of the early hours of the morning.


Apparently the ship had picked up a distress signal from four men in an inflatable craft that was out in the Med and sinking. Minerva responded promptly, found the boat and secured it safely to the side of the ship until a lifeboat arrived and took the men on board. Later in the day, as we were leaving the Spanish port, large bush fires broke out on the surrounding hills and we watched as 


Winter 2011-12 I WORLD OF CRUISING 57


Controversial headlines were made just over a year ago, following the decision to switch Swan Hellenic’s home UK port from Dover to Portsmouth. Company Chairman Lord Sterling was reported to have made comments about his cruise clientele not being keen to mix with the ferry passengers who would share the new £16m terminal, and his views were widely covered in the national press. So, now Minerva has spent the summer settling into her new home port, how has Portsmouth fared against her south coast rival? Well, Portsmouth International Cruise Terminal is situated in a busy and unattractive dock area, so there is a lot of traffic and general to-ing and fro-ing. Being dropped off by coach was easy, but driving your own car there might prove more stressful than at Dover’s cruise terminal, which is separate from ferry traffic. It does have good connections, though, and is obviously more central – albeit still in the south – than its Kent counterpart. The terminal building gleams in the sun, all glass and aluminium, and has the feel of a modern airport terminal. We were greeted with Swan staff and our own check-in desk, which dealt with the arriving passengers quickly and efficiently.


The building is airy and spacious, and has all the facilities you would expect


– coffee shop, book/paper shop, bureau de change, etc. Swan passengers were treated to complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits, and we had our own reserved seating area. However, ferry passengers did tend to mill around and we missed the calm of the admittedly older and more basic lounge in Dover. Also, unlike at Dover, you couldn’t just walk on to the ship. We had to troop back through the terminal and take a minibus transfer, again replicating that airport experience. Sail-away at Dover is always a genteel affair, gliding into the Channel as the


White Cliffs slowly recede but Portsmouth is a completely different experience and caused a great deal of excitement on board.


As we made our way out of the harbour and past the historic dockyard, we


were treated to a lesson in British maritime history. First up were a number of decommissioned naval vessels, including the Ark


Royal aircraft carrier, and then we glided past Nelson’s flagship, HMS Victory, and HMS Warrior, the world’s first iron-hulled warship. We also passed the home of the Mary Rose, Henry VIII’s warship. Overall, Portsmouth provided all the facilities we needed and a wonderful sail-away, so in this regard it did a sterling job.


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