Round the World: Crossing The Atlantic On A Cargo Ship

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I have just discovered my favorite way to travel. The 12 day voyage was wonderful and I didn’t want it to end, no matter how much I was looking forward to further adventures in the US.

Much of the success of the ship is due to the lovely fellow passengers and crew on board the CMA CGM JAMAICA. We were five passengers: a French couple, and three other women, an American, a German and myself. Everyone was friendly, sociable and willing to party. And party we did. We were invited to a party in the crew recreation room the first day at sea, and the party lasted until 2 am when I had to beg off. The party didn’t really stop until we arrived in Charleston. Sure, the crew had work from 8 am to 5 pm, plus the on call shifts on the bridge and engine room, but that just gave us passengers time to rest until the next party.

The crew onboard was part Ukranian, mostly the officers, and part Filipino, hence most of the crew. The messrooms and recreation rooms were split according to nationality, not officer/crew distinction. I guess it works for them, but as I have been used to very mixed international groups, both at work and with my friends, I find such divisions odd. The Filipino crew especially were absolute darlings and we spent most of our time with them. Imagine our very great surprise when they told us that in their collective many years at sea, we were the first passengers ever to party with them. It may have had something to do with us being mostly women and thus a welcome change from the all-male crew. Whatever the cause, it was magical.

We did take a few nights off, watching movies or BBC’s Jane Austen TV series in my room, and I had a few solitary evenings when I felt the need to re-charge. We also gathered for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the officers’ messroom, took turns around the open deck, and spent time at the forward deck, watching the sea go by. Of course we also got stellar tours of the ship, first inside the super structure including the bridge, then twice around the ship including the outside, and finally the engine room, which was very exciting.

Meal times for passengers were 8 am for breakfast, 12:30 for lunch and 18:30 for dinner. The food was good, plentiful, and mostly potatoes/pasta, meat/fish and vegetables. There was usually also a soup (mostly with meat), and always a few different salads, bread and cheese. Dessert was usually fresh fruit, which was lovely, with an occasional cake or ice cream. I had brought some hummus with me, and I had that usually at breakfast with toast, cucumber and tomatoes. I explained that I was vegetarian at first dinner, so for all other meals I was brought the food without the dead animals automatically. Great service!

The sea was mostly calm, with a few rocky nights, but I held up well. The weather prohibited us from going outside on some days, whether it was due to waves, wind or rain, but on most days we spent at least a few hours outside. I was walking laps around the long forward deck of the ship whenever I could. The last few days were hot and sunny, and despite a high SPF sun screen, I managed to get a sunburn.

The way the ship was organized is that the super structure, i.e. the tall part with all the crew and passenger quarters (in photo) shared spaces and engine control room, stands between the two decks. The back part is shorter, about 50 meters, and the long front part extends about 200 meters. The walkway along the edge in the front is mostly underneath the containers, which dominate both decks. There were nine decks accessible to us: the upper deck where the ship’s office was, decks A-G with cabins and shared spaces, and the bridge. We were allowed on the bridge most of the time, with permission from the officer on charge. Only when they were busy with either departure or arrival, and usually at night time, the bridge was off limits.

Boarding and disembarking went with little fuss and ceremony. I took a taxi to the harbor in Bremerhaven and was dropped off at the reception. They waved me through to a little shed next to the fence, and a shuttle bus picked me up from there. I walked up the gangway to what turned out to be the upperdeck level, submitted my passport, and signed a few papers, and that was it. I was in my cabin at around noon. The ship departed at 11 pm, and I spent it mostly in my cabin, reading. It had been a hectic few days and I was glad of the chance to take it easy. The outside areas were off limits during cargo loading and offloading anyway.

Leaving the ship was also quite straightforward. A US immigration officer came onboard to do a “face check”, i.e. comparing faces to passports, and asking a few questions about me, where I was coming from and what my plans in the US were. I got my stamps, and it all took about 5 minutes. We organized a taxi pickup from the ship with an agent who came to the ship at the same time as immigration. When we were ready, we just walked down the ramp and got on the taxi. There was no customs or further passport checks. Simple!

Two of my worries from an earlier post were thus dispelled. I was not sea sick at all, and there was no trouble with immigration. What I hadn’t expected was the emotional whiplash of leaving the ship after 12 days at sea. We were such a close group of people, amplified with the lack of contact with outside world, that leaving the ship was hard. I would have gladly continued on. After being fully pampered by the lovely crew, in my own suite of rooms, with everything prepared for us, the prospect of other people, traffic, noise, and dealing with my own accommodation, travel and food was daunting.

But, I had to get off, they wouldn’t let me stay. Besides, I had the whole of US waiting for me. And two more cargo ship passages to come.

This voyage set a really high bar for any other cargo ship trip, however, and I will never forget it, or the people I shared it with.

For further details of booking a cargo ship voyage please call Miri Lopusna at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail PassageEnquiry@aol.com.

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A Revival In The Australian Cargo-Passenger Trade With Four Newly-Assigned Ships From CMA CGM And Another From NSB

CMA CGM Bellini at sea

The CMA CGM Bellini is one of five CMA CGM container ships now offering 180 berths per year between Europe and Australia

As recently as January we wrote that the direct Europe-Australia cargo-passenger trade had closed. Now, only three months later, with the vagaries of the world container ship market, we can report that five 10-passenger container ships are joining the route for CMA CGM, with a one-way passenger capacity of about 180 berths a year.

In January,  CMA CGM had just withdrawn the 6-passenger CMA CGM Matisse and CMA CGM Utrillo, its last two remaining passenger-carrying ships on the direct Europe-Australia-New Zealand service via Panama.

At the same time, the 7-passenger MSC Monterey and sister ships were being moved from the Suez route to other services, with the MSC Monterey now serving the Europe to California trade.

Ten years earlier there had been fifteen passenger-carrying container ships running between Europe and Australasia. But now, two basic alternatives remained for cargo ship passengers travelling from Europe, and both involved a change of ship, either in the USA or in Asia. And in recent months, the only direct cargo-passenger service between Europe and Australia has been a single-ship service by the 10-passenger CMA CGM Bellini.

However, there is now very good news for travellers to and from Australia in that the Bellini‘s sister ships CMA CGM Chopin, Mozart, Puccini and Rossini are now joining the North Europe Med Oceania (NEMO) Line via Suez, resulting in sailings about every three weeks.

Port rotation is London Gateway, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Le Havre, then Fos sur Mer, Genoa and Damietta, Egypt, in the Mediterranean, through Suez to Réunion and thence Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide. The return voyage brings the ships to Singapore and Port Kelang then back to Europe via Chennai, Colombo and Cochin to Damietta, Malta, Salerno and London Gateway.

As well as embarking in London, passengers may now join in the Mediterranean. Genoa to Sydney for example is 33 days compared to 44 days from London. The fastest trip from Europe to Australia is 25 days Genoa to Fremantle. Fares are set at €110 per passenger per day in double or twin cabins, or €120/130 per day single.

On the return voyage, passengers from Australia are able if they wish to transfer at Singapore to the French Asia Line 1, which offers a 21-day transit to Southampton, compared with the 32 days it takes to get to Tilbury on the NEMO Line.

MSC FlaminiaService is also once more available on the MSC route on the MSC Flaminia. But this 5-passenger ship, which is managed by Bremen-based NSB on behalf of German owners, is still subject to last-minute transfers to other MSC routes. Nevertheless, the Australia to UK return can be booked as a through voyage.

The MSC Australia Express starts at the new London Gateway terminal on the Thames, proceeding via Antwerp and Le Havre to Fos sur Mer, La Spezia, Naples and Gioia Tauro in the Med, and via Suez to Mauritius and Réunion before proceeding to Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Fremantle.

While northbound passages from Australia to Europe can be booked on the NSB ships via Singapore, Colombo, King Abdullah and through Suez to Valencia and London Gateway, the full 91day trip can also be booked as a full round voyage.

For further information on booking your sea passage between Europe and Australia please call Miri Lopusna at The Cruise People Ltd in London on +44 (0)20 7723 2450 or e-mail PassageEnquiry@aol.com.

Paula Travels UK To New Zealand Via Panama While Sister Caroline Joins Her From New York To Colombia In The CMA CGM Utrillo

A letter received from client Paula P after her voyage from Tilbury to Tauranga in the CMA CGM Utrillo:
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CC Utrillo in Panama Canal
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You recently arranged the last-minute journey for me on CMA CGM Utrillo from Tilbury to Tauranga (departing 14th May 2014). Caroline, my sister, joined me from New York to Cartagena. I wanted to give you some feedback now that I have arrived safely in New Zealand and am starting to recover from my epic voyage.
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Firstly, I had no idea what to expect and had little time to research what life would be like on a freighter. I was filled with trepidation as I said goodbye to family and set off for a 7 week odyssey.
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Every aspect of my journey was outstanding. The captain ensured that any requests for special meals etc. were met and the food was excellent. We had BBQ and spit-roast nights too which meant we could chat with the crew and enjoy the karaoke and dancing. The cabin and communal areas were nice and clean and well air-conditioned and the pool was filled and re-filled daily while we were in the Pacific.
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I was given access to all the usual areas: bridge, engine room, deck and mess rooms. The crew were always delighted to show me around and answer questions. They were polite and respectful and put safety first with any requests to visit their areas. In fact, the only time that they were not smiling was during fire and evacuation drills which were taken very seriously.
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I enjoyed watching the pilots in port and Panama and the experience of loading and unloading never became boring. Together, with the other two passengers, we watched many sunsets and early departures and arrivals. The weather was great and the oceans calm and there was only one really rough day when most of the crew felt seasick too.
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cc Utrillo wake
I have the most wonderful memories and spectacular photos. I have had forced relaxation with little communication with the outside world and I feel like a new person. Thank you for all your help in arranging this experience. I really look forward to my next trip and hope to be in contact again soon.
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Australia and New Zealand constitute our most popular route but for further details on passenger voyages on any of 300 cargo ships please call Miri Lopusna at The Cruise People Ltd in London on 020 7723 2450 or e-mail cruise@cruisepeople.co.uk.
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Photos courtesy Paul P.
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