Ship Visit to Astor
Cruise & Maritime Voyages
Tilbury - 23rd June 2014
Report & Photos ©2014 Paul Timbrel
Additional Photos ©2014 William Mayes
ASTOR at Tilbury - Photo: ©2014 Paul Timbrel
2014 Visit Reports
Revisited ships will not be shown unless significantly revised since previous visit
2013 Visit Reports
2012 Visit Reports
2011 Visit Reports
Saga Pearl II
As we drove down the hill from the A13 towards Tilbury, with the exciting prospect of the inner docks to our right, we could see a funnel showing above the riverside terminal building. Only two cruise ships in the world bear a funnel of that design and we knew it to be the Astor. A funnel can make or mar the profile of a vessel and, although I don’t find this one particularly attractive, it does seem to suit the ship. The blogger on an online website suggested that the building of the ship had been financially backed by the Astor family – hence the name. He added that, because that family had made its fortune in tobacco, the funnel was meant to resemble a packet of cigarettes. It makes a good story.
We joined our party in the Tilbury terminal with time to enjoy the display of newspaper cuttings chronicling the history of the port, and also the array of photographs showing the cruise ships which have visited Tilbury Landing Stage.
Our group was called, so we passed through the security check and headed for the gangway. Ever since the 1980s I had been intrigued by an air of mystery around Astor. The first Astor had been built with that iconic funnel. And then, within years, a slightly larger vessel, this one, was constructed with a similar profile and the same name. There was the excitement of the Safmarine plan to re-establish the South African ferry, abandoned by Union Castle in 1977, and the disappointment as it failed to come to fruition. Both of the ships seemed to change hands quickly, and names changed as well.
We entered Astor on Atlantic Deck. The first impression was of a low ceiling and dark wood surrounding us. The wall displayed shields of ports visited. A plinth held a blue globe with water flowing from its north pole. Recessed ceiling lights illuminated the area. Nearby was the reception desk. The feeling of low air draft continued as we progressed, as did the presence of the ubiquitous dark wood. Frequent ducting channels narrowed the corridors. Judicious use of mirror panels had been made to give a greater sensation of space. It achieved its purpose. Mirror panels faced the stairways too, but they seemed so smoky that one wondered if they were one- way glass. Deep down on the Caribic Deck we visited the Wellness Centre: light, airy and spacious, with a heated swimming pool. Returning to higher regions one was aware of a plethora of pictures throughout the ship, with subjects ranging from Old London, through cartoon representations to abstracts and Ancient Egypt, and an impressively large portrait of Pushkin.
Our German guide, speaking excellent English, conducted us on a tour of cabins of various grades. Her patience was probably tested rather more than usual as our party was far from being a standard group with a general interest in cruising. First one and then another would lag behind to examine a finer point of ship design, or to get that perfect snap showing a cabin in comprehensive detail. The dark wood theme was found throughout the ship and the cabins were no exception. The word compact persistently came to mind, in the ship in general and in the cabins in particular. Compact, not in a derogatory sense, but appreciating the wise and careful planning which made the best use of available space. The cabin equipment is fairly comprehensive too. However, only when we reached the most expensive accommodation - three suites - did we find access to a balcony. The two Senator Suites, port and starboard behind the bridge, are very large with separate lounge and bedroom and an impressive bathroom with bath, shower cubicle and dual sinks. The equipment was inclusive, and the bar and coffee machine caught the eye of several of our party. Having enjoyed the wow factor of the senator we moved on to the Astor Suite, which is unique. Impressive in its size and spaciousness, it has all the assets of the senator suites. A view expressed was that some of us would have preferred a senator, but, tied up in port, we could not really appreciate the very large balcony with its forward view over the bow.
We went through the public areas and onto the boat deck at the stern. There the pool was adequate with pleasant sheltered space for sunbathing around it. We took the stairs to the open Bridge Deck above. The familiar pattern of cascading terraces was well executed. We went on up to the Sun Deck. There was no feeling of compactness out here. It gave a fine view over the bow. The close up view of the funnel revealed the simplicity of its structure. Walkways ran to either side of the funnel housing. These were marked into lanes with symbols for their use. Somebody said he couldn’t walk there as he had no parasol, and one had to admit that the symbol for the promenade lane did look somewhat like Mary Poppins and Bert. Apart from the symbolic representation, the signage on the vessel is in German, and we were told that announcements were in German too, with staff appointed to seek out and inform any non-Germans on board. As Astor is a comparative newcomer to Cruise and Maritime Voyages, we may only speculate as to whether this will change.
We continued to the businesslike Conference Room on the Boat Deck and thence to the small library on the deck below. The Boutique below that was small but well-stocked. On-board currency is the dollar.
We visited the Astor Lounge, which serves as the ship’s theatre, and other bars and public rooms. Two things were evident. One was the careful choice of very comfortable seating: cane work chairs in the Gallery Arcade. Secondly, in all the public rooms, there were anthuriums (flamingo flowers), looking plastic but definitely alive! When we came to the photo shop we found an innovation. On other cruise ships pictures taken by the photographers are usually displayed on racks, but here they were on LED screens.
After an energetic tour of a ship with so much to offer, we were glad to get to the Waldorf Restaurant (Astor family reference once more). The tables were beautifully set out, each with its anthurium. We enjoyed an excellent meal with good wine and very attentive service.
The Astor would certainly be recommended for anyone who likes to cruise on a small ship with a limited number of passengers and be well looked after. It would be an advantage to speak German but could be enjoyed without that. However, opportunity this year would seem to be limited to a thirty-eight night voyage from Tilbury to South Africa and Australia leaving on 5th November.
ASTOR at Tilbury - Photo: ©2014 Paul Timbrel