Tuesday, 2 July 2013

I have been to ... Zeebrugge

To celebrate my wife's birthday, we decided to go on a two-night weekend cruise to Zeebrugge and back aboard P&O's MV Ventura.

Saturday 29th June: Southampton
We set off from home at 8.30am, and reached Winchester Services by 10.15am. We stopped there for a late breakfast and then completed our journey to Southampton Docks. After unloading our luggage and parking our car we made our way into the Ocean Cruise Terminal.

The booking in process was reasonably swift, after which we passed through the security checks and made our way aboard.

Ventura was moored on the opposite side of the dock from a small container ship and two tugs.

The container ship belonged to Huelin-Renouf, a company that runs a regular service to and from the Channel Islands.

As Ventura left Southampton she passed the old tender Calshot, ...

... the SS Shieldhall (a ship that used to perform a similar function for Glasgow as the old 'Bovril Boats' did for London!), ...

... the military RO-RO ferry Hartland Point (which was moored across on the other side of the river at Marchwood), ...

... and the Princess Cruise Line's Caribbean Princess.

The Caribbean Princess is a near-sister ship of MV Ventura, and it was interesting to compare the two ships as they passed each other.

During our passage out towards the sea we passed two former coastal defence forts, Calshot Castle (which was built during the reign of Henry VIII) and ...

... and Horse Sand Fort (which is one of the so-called 'Palmerston Follies' that were built during the mid to late nineteenth century).

After watching Ventura sail out towards the Isle of Wight, we went below to get ready for dinner. As we had booked late, we were allocated to the 'freedom dining' restaurant. This meant that we were supposed to be able to turn up at any time between 6.30pm and 9.00pm for our dinner ... but the reality was that when we booked in, we were given a pager that would alert us when a table was ready. We had to wait approximately twenty minutes, which was not too long, but we did find it very noisy in the restaurant and decided that we would not like to have 'freedom dining' on a long cruise.

Sunday 30th June: Zeebrugge
We slept well, and when we awoke we found ourselves alongside in Zeebrugge.

Zeebrugge is the Belgian Navy's main base, and as usual we could see several warships moored in the naval harbour.

These included the BNS Bellis (M916), ...

... the BNS Narcis (M924), ...

... the HNLMS Makkum (M857) (which was out of the water undergoing maintenance), ...

... and the BNS Louise-Marie (F931) (which was formerly the Karel Doorman-class HNLMS Willem van der Zaan).

The Louise-Marie is armed with a 76mm OTO Melera gun, a RIM-7 Sea Sparrow vertical launch close-range anti-aircraft missile system, ...

... a 30mm 7-barrelled Goalkeeper anti-aircraft/anti-sea-skimming missile defence system, and a NH-90 helicopter.

We took the shuttle-bus from Zeebrugge to the nearby town and holiday resort of Blankenberge. we were dropped off near the Saint Anthony Church (Sint-Antoniuskerk) ...

... from where we made our way up Kerkstraat (Church Street) through the main shopping area and towards the seafront.

Along the way we stopped to listen to a very good local band.

In fact we used the opportunity to sit in one of the local caf├ęs so that we could have a drink and enjoy the excellent weather.

We then continued our journey towards the seafront, passing the Saint Rochus Church (Sint-Rochuskerk) during our walk.

The seafront (Zeedijk) was not as crowded as we had expected, and we were able to walk for some distance along the promenade.

We spend a very pleasant few hours in Blankenberge before catching the shuttle-bus back to Ventura. On our return we had a refreshing drink in one of the outdoor bars and then went back to out cabin to prepare for the evening.

The ship set sail from Zeebrugge at 5.45pm, and several miles out we were passed by one of the local Pilot boats. Usually these are quite small, but this one was the biggest I have ever seen, and is indicative of the fact that the waters in this part of the English Channel/North Sea are amongst the roughest in the world.

On this occasion we had booked a table in one of the select dining venues ... the White Room, which is run under the auspices of Marco Pierre White.

We ate an excellent meal and then went back to our cabin to pack and to sleep.

Monday 1st July: Southampton
We disembarked from Ventura at 8.50am, and after collecting our luggage and car we set off for home. Even though we were travelling back along the M3 and M25 motorways at peak times, our journey was still reasonably quick, and we were home before midday.

Another – albeit short – cruise was over!


  1. Ok, that all looks familiar, except the weather. Ah yes! Did exactly the same thing on the weekend of 1st June for my son's birthday!!!
    On the Ventura as well.
    Loved The port castle in Guernsey - must put the photos on my blog this week.
    All that food! Still stuffed. You can't beat a midnight buffet!!

  2. DeadGuy,

    I have been to Blankenberge on a wet Sunday ... and it is not half as nice as it is on a warm day!

    The Ventura is not my favourite P&O ship ... but nonetheless she does have her good points.

    I enjoyed my visit to Castle Cornet in St Peter Port ... but my wife did not! (She still goes on about having to look at rooms full of display cabinets of Militia buttons!)

    All the best,


  3. Great. Love pictures of interesting ships! I had a trip on the Shieldhall earlier in the year. Great fun. You were really lucky with your weather!

  4. Bob,

    The fact that your wife agreed to a trip to a battlefield ON HER BIRTHDAY means you are a lucky man indeed. As around our house, I suspect the question as to who has better taste in choosing a marital partner is not even close... ;)

    Best regards,


  5. Legatus Hedlus,

    I would love the opportunity to sail on the SS Shieldhall, as old ships have a certain fascination for me.

    The weather for the whole weekend was good ... but it did not hold into the next week unfortunately.

    All the best,


  6. Chris,

    My wife is very understanding of my hobbies ... as I try to be of her's ... which is why I am driving her across London later this morning to go to the National Archives to do some research.

    All the best,


  7. You certainly lucked out with the weather for this trip.

  8. Lee Hadley,

    We were really very lucky. I have done the same trip in the pouring rain ... and it was not half as nice!

    All the best,