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Over and out from Overlord

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    Over and out from Overlord

    There’s something deeply moving about seeing the battlefields, the war graves, and most of all the few precious veterans that survive. Seeing it all in the context of my old friend Bill’s story made it all a very haunting process. The personal link with my old mentor and hearing his first hand account, the anticipation, and finally the seeing of the war graves has struck both me and Mrs B in ways we hadn’t anticipated. It’s been poignant.

    But there’s another reason why this has been such an emotional experience for us, and a reason why the theme of loss has been felt so keenly, and why its effects seem so raw. Three weeks before we joined the cruise Mrs B’s precious dad died after a very short illness. He was 64. Just a handful of weeks ago he was single-handedly carrying a large fridge/freezer from our kitchen to our drive, and then sitting down with us to plan our summer cruise together, so to say it was unexpected is an understatement. OK, he wasn’t as young as the boys that fell on the beaches of Normandy, but there was something of the same air of someone dying long before they should have.

    Mrs B was close to her dad, with good reason because he was as fine a man as I’ve met and a loving husband, father and grand-dad to my own girls. Without getting too personal, Mrs B was only nineteen when I met her and I was a little over a decade older. As a father of teenaged girls now myself, I know her dad would have been tempted to welcome me with a cattle prod. Instead I got a warm embrace and the patient example of how a real man provides for his family.

    As you can imagine, we were very ambivalent about going ahead with the cruise, since it’s still so raw and recent. In fact we have changed position so many times, and sometimes so many times during the same day, that it was difficult to be rational. In the end, we decided to ask ourselves what Mrs B’s dad would have thought.

    We didn’t expect this experience to provide any closure since it’s way too early for that, but it has helped with perspective, both for me and crucially Mrs B. How else can you weigh the waste of a life lost too young other than against the fullest possible experience lived by those left behind?

    Plato said: ‘only the dead have seen the end of war’. Though there is something deeply saddening about seeing the battlefields and the war graves of so recent vintage, by the current mix of people and cultures there’s something about the more modern, interconnected world that at least gives us cause for optimism.

    Our exchange with Lothar and Audrey had an impact on us, since they were seeing and experiencing much the same pain and bewilderment as some of the British, Canadian and American families aboard, and if anything you’re left with nothing but a recognition on a deep level of the futility of it all.

    By some extraordinary stroke of fortune, I and most of you will have lived our lives in times of peace. We won’t know the deprivations and challenges that people only a generation or two ago faced, and remarkably we are here learning about it on a luxury cruise ship, with every whim and wish catered for.

    And boy is it catered for. Azamara know what they are doing. This is the future of cruising, and though there are similarities with the past in the standards and quality of service, there are differences too in things like formalities, rituals and dress codes. Having experienced this, and seen how casual is really only a synonym for comfortable, I can’t see other than a short term future for the formal model. Its being squeezed anyway at the lower end with new cruisers on mega-ships reacting with bewilderment at being told to dress up for the first time since they were children, and at the upper levels by people who want to escape formality, not indulge a chocolate-box version of it. I think other than specifically traditional lines where the formality is a central part of the experience, like perhaps Cunard, its days are numbered.

    Of course the Azamara headline price is more expensive than the mainstream lines, but I am struck that this model seems to be what every cruise forum and message board seems to demand - an up front price with no extras like service charges or tips. In the end it’s value we all chase, not necessarily price, and the Azamara model gives value. Everything is included in the fare, and there is no pressure to spend more, though there are plenty of additional pleasures there for the taking if you want them.

    The crew are extraordinary, and the service levels are a significant step up from anything we’ve had afloat before. There is an element to very high service levels that is really anticipation, and then acting on that anticipation. When it’s done really well it feels like mind reading. It’s as if the waiter/server/crew member thought of what you wanted before you did, and by the time the thought had formed properly in your head, whatever demand you had was already being met with a supply. It’s extraordinary, very satisfying, and entirely refreshing.

    Of course to do this you need highly trained crew and sufficient numbers of them that they can lavish this sort of attention on their guests. On lesser lines, we have always found crew to be well trained and motivated, but extra care takes additional time. And prolonged positivity requires effort. It’s only when you experience it that you really appreciate the difference, and the difference costs money. I have no idea of course, but I would bet Azamara spend much more on training than their counterparts, and I think it’s a shrewd investment.

    Value is a difficult thing to pin down, as it’s an emotional assessment involving much that you can’t put a price on. In the end you’re left with a feeling; positive, neutral or negative. For us, Azamara was entirely positive. The single thing I would wish were slightly different is the mix of nationalities aboard. I think too many of any one culture tends to skew the experience, and I would feel exactly the same - probably more so - were it 80% British.

    Cruising is definitely becoming more specialist and compartmentalised as it becomes more popular. I’ve long believed that in all the different sectors the quality of cruise holidays is high, and it’s the small details that differentiate each line or ship, and it’s the small detail that will cause you either to rebook or not. This is true at the upper levels too. At each successive step up the cruising ladder, more and more things become ‘givens’. You reach a point where what’s left is service levels. Azamara are very good at service. This seems to us to be Azamara’s unique offer, or to use the horrible term that’s become popular, it’s DNA, We hope to be back to sample it again.

    Finally, since so many of you kindly commented on my dear old friend Bill’s story, I should tell you all that he died in the autumn of 2004 at the age of 84, contented and at peace. After our first long-awaited reunion, I resolved not to make the same mistake again and we went on to spend many more happy hours together.

    Bill once told me that ‘men should dance only at weddings and sing only at funerals’. I sang loudly and completely out of tune at his funeral, and I know he heard me.
    Last edited by Max, Warwickshire; 15th June 2014, 09:38 AM.

    We're just leaving for Hamburg airport and I wanted to say a sincere thank you for the nice and encouraging comments from previous days.


      Thank you for a very informative review coupled with an incredibly moving story. My sympathy goes to Mrs. B on the loss of her father. My mother passed away last month, but since she was over 100 years old we could celebrate a long life well lived which eased the loss somewhat. To lose someone unexpectedly in the prime of their life is a different situation all together and I hope time will bring healing.



        Thanks you for your very readable blogs. The time, effort and thought which has gone into them are much appreciated.


          Max, I'd like to add my thanks for your thoughtful and thought provoking blogs. It was a privilege to read the stories of Bill, Billy and William - with a box of tissues close to hand - and I'm so glad you shared them with us.

          Best wishes to you and Mrs B. Jenny x
          Last edited by Hirst, Salisbury; 14th June 2014, 07:16 AM.


            Whilst I still have to catch up on a few episodes Max, I want to thank you again for imparting your own experiences these past days and for the sensitive way in which you have retold others' personal experiences of life and loss.

            Hope you and Mrs B are having a safe journey home.


              Once again, thank you Max for a wonderful series of well-written and clearly time-consuming blogs.

              Have a safe trip home.
              Duncan S

              See my blog!


                Hi Max

                Have thoroughly enjoyed reading your excellent and very informative blogs, I also offer my condolences to Mrs B, wish you a safe journey home.

                Photo Albums





                  Thank you Max for a wonderful read, I have only just caught up with the whole blog in the last hour, very moving, very poignant and extremely well written.............Wilba


                    Welcome home Max and Mrs B, my condolences to you both and my respect to you both for a very selfless decision to go ahead with the cruise. I have hung on to every word on every line and I have been moved beyond I can describe. You have done everyone proud, especially Bill!
                    Thank you for the most moving of daily reports, told with great care and in the sincerest manner!



                      "Privilege" is a word often used about cruising; it can refer to the actual experience, as in your wonderful time with Azamara, or it can imply something less easy to define

                      In this case I'd suggest that the privilege has been largely ours, in enjoying some of the most insightful observations I've ever read. Just as we all owe thanks to the fallen, so we owe them to you, Max, for bringing the issues so vividly to life; I know Bill would have been utterly proud of you

                      Warm thoughts to you all on the loss of Mrs B's dear dad; I'm sure you sang just as well at his funeral as you did at Bill's, and certain that he enjoyed it every bit as much

                      “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Thomas Campbell



                        The most moving and well written blog, it was a privilege to read it. Thirty five years ago I lost my husband when I was 7 months pregnant and sadly our precious baby was born full term on 14th June and died the following day. Mrs B bravely did the right thing to go on the cruise, life can be cut short in the blink of an eye. I was once told to live each day as if it was my last, because one day it will be. I have not always managed to do this but I do try because it is important to make the most of what you have. I am sure Mrs B Dad would be very proud of her for going on the cruise and as you go through life and have decisions to make then thinking back to what he would have said or done will set you on the right track. My thoughts are with you both, take care of yourselves.
                        Queen Mary 2
                        Queen Victoria
                        Queen Elizabeth


                          Hi Max,

                          Just a quick note to say I've really enjoyed your daily comments and it was nice to meet you yesterday as well, have a safe journey home
                          I have worked in the cruise industry for the last 6 years and in the travel industry as a whole for 13 years. I have been fortunate enough to travel on a variety of ships and destinations all over the world. Please head to my website www.petersportsofcall.co.uk for more information and to read my feedback from customers that have already used my services!

                          Please call me on 0800 408 6091 or email peterw@cruise.co.uk with any enquiries. I am always very happy to help


                            Thank you Max, it's been an incredible journey. Extremely emotional, and very well written.
                            My very best wishes to you and Mrs B, I hope to meet up with you both one day on a cruise, you sound a delightful couple............................Carol


                              Many thanks for the time thought and effort put into this excellent report. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your story and wish you and Mrs B all the best for the future........ Homer


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