Writer Anne Kalosh cruised on First European Cruises' Flamenco
from Savona, Italy, to Morocco in the spring. Her report
ABOARD THE FLAMENCO -- Arching his brows, the sinister-looking
Davidoff, Prince of Illusion, punctuated his magic act with just
one word, a repeated, resounding "Si!" He got the point
across to his shipboard audience of Italians, French, Germans,
Swiss, Austrians, Poles, Slovenians, Welsh, Irish and
performs on the Flamenco, a ship that's a veritable floating United
Nations. Mixing so many nationalities on a ship is usually a no-no
for reasons that include divergent tastes in food, drink,
entertainment and shore excursions, not to mention language
problems -- one objection is the need for endless announcements in
But First European's attitude toward multinational cruises is
different. The result, for adventurous Americans tired of
megaships, bland food and cookie-cutter itineraries, is a ship that
offers the novelty of seeing Europe like, and with, Europeans.
Built in 1972, the Flamenco, which earlier sailed as Premier's
Majestic, was given a $10 million refurbishment last year that
brightened the public rooms, adding more vivid fabrics and lighter
woods. However, the putty-colored cabins remain spartan by
contemporary U.S. standards, although they have roomy closets and
good reading lights. There isn't a bathtub or private balcony on
The smoky library offers few titles in English, and finding an
empty lounge chair on a sunny afternoon was sometimes an exercise
in frustration. And, yes, there were long announcements in several
But the Flamenco's Greek officers and friendly international
crew work hard to please every nationality, creating an atmosphere
that's charming. All are fluent in English -- a plus for the
minority of Americans and U.K. guests on board our sailing (more
English-speakers book the summertime sailings, officials said). The
cruise staff and crew never failed to greet me in English in the
corridors. Daily programs, menus and news sheets were distributed
in English, Italian, French and German. Buses for shore excursions
were assigned by language.
Still, the handful of Americans on my sailing missed the easy
socializing that's a feature of most seagoing vacations. The large
contingents of Europeans were cordial but stuck together, seldom
intermingling. For this reason, U.S. clients might feel more
comfortable on this ship as a group. Flamenco passengers tend to be
in their 50s but my cruise carried many young couples, including
honeymooners, and even a few children.
The Flamenco's public rooms include a pleasing mix of lounges,
with the sleek, wood-paneled Starlight Lounge and the bright,
centrally located casino bar the most appealing spots for before-
and after-dinner drinks. The main Universe Lounge features good
views thanks to tiered seating. Shows focused on the visual,
including Davidoff's magic, a puppeteer and sequined-and-feathered
A small health club is equipped with a treadmill, stair machine,
two exercise bikes and weight machines. Daytime activities included
multilingual quizzes and scavenger hunts.
Food is one of the Flamenco's big pluses. Noontime and midnight
buffets were held at the indoor-outdoor Satellite Cafe, with
poolside seating at umbrella tables the choicest option, but most
Europeans flocked to the no-smoking dining room for every meal and,
no wonder: The food was outstanding.
The breakfast menu was jammed with everything from buttermilk
pancakes to brioche to broiled kippers. The one thing missing:
bagels. Lunch and dinner featured superb fish and chicken dishes,
terrific pastas, a memorable Champagne risotto, fresh salads, rich
desserts, exquisite cheeses and the best coffee at sea. Special
diets (including Kosher) were available with advance notice.
On-board services were inexpensive. In the gift shop, Murano
jewelry and French colognes were priced at a fraction of their
shoreside cost and, in the beauty salon, a shampoo/styling cost
$15, while a full-day spa package (aromatherapy massage, facial,
manicure, pedicure, shampoo and styling) was $130.
First European is positioning itself in the U.S. market
featuring unusual ports at competitive prices. On my spring
sailing, the ship visited Menorca and Ibiza in Spain's Balearic
Islands; Cadiz and Barcelona on the mainland; Lisbon in Portugal,
and Tangier in Morocco. The line operates its own tours, which were
generally of high quality and reasonably priced.
The Flamenco cruise experience is not without some rough edges.
Crowds formed at the reception desk and the gangway -- it was best
to avoid those areas at peak times. Sending faxes and making
ship-to-shore calls was expensive and time consuming. Dollars (and
other currencies) were readily accepted, but Italian lira is the
official shipboard currency, forcing Americans to tote around
calculators to figure the cost of everything from cappuccinos to
Line: First European.
Size: 17,042 tons.
Length: 535 feet.
Itineraries: Through August, the Flamenco offers seven-day
alternating itineraries from Kiel, Germany, to the Baltic capitals
and Scandinavian fjords. In the spring and fall, there are 10-day
Mediterranean trips from Savona and Venice, Italy, to destinations
including the Greek Islands, Turkey and Croatia. Per diems,
including air from New York, start at around $300. Longer
transatlantic repositioning cruises featuring ports in western
Europe and the Caribbean are also offered. The ship is under
charter to a Canadian tour operator in the winter.
Reservations: (888) 983-8767.