Formula One motorsport commentator, Murray Walker and wife Elizabeth tell us about their favourite cruises and reveal where they’d like to go next.
Unless I’m very much mistaken, veteran motor racing commentator Murray Walker met his match when he married his wife Elizabeth. You might expect the voice of Formula One, fondly known as Muddly Talker, to do all the talking but far from it. Mrs Walker is no shrinking violet, has a keen brain, and it was she who introduced cruising into their lives more than 40 years ago.
“Murray was convalescing from appendicitis and I was told I had to get him beyond the reach of the telephone, so his office couldn’t bother him,” explains Elizabeth. “I’d already decided we weren’t having any more beach holidays where he would roast in the sun while I sat in the shade, bored, so I booked us on a cruise to the Canary Islands on Edinburgh Castle. He could lie in a soggy heap in the sun and I’d have something to do. That’s how it started, and we’ve been cruising ever since.”
There are family connections with the sea. Murray’s grandfather was Company Secretary of Union-Castle Line, while Elizabeth’s father worked in the Far East, his family travelling back and forth on the great P&O liners. “We did our first couple of cruises back in the 60s,” says Murray, “and the ships were basic. Nothing compared to the five-star floating hotels of today. Then you had a cabin with a porthole, a washbasin and two bunks. We went on a Fred Olsen ship to the Canaries and it was passengers out, tomatoes back. Then in the early 1970s we went on the Canberra and yes, I suppose I took to cruising.
“It’s really no different to being in a very good hotel. Except you see some lovely places along the way. We’ve just had a wonderful time on Queen Victoria with some very good entertainment. It’s never dull, there’s always something going on and so I refute entirely the claims that cruise ships are full of old fogeys!”
“A lot of people say they go cruising but they don’t,” says Elizabeth. “They’re touring with a ship instead of a coach, visiting a different port every day and gadding about the countryside. That’s not cruising. For us, cruising is days spent at sea, which is why we always try to sail from Southampton rather than fly to meet the ship.”
The Walkers are well qualified to advise those who may be considering their first holiday at sea. They haven’t yet been down to the Antarctic but they’ve cruised pretty much everywhere else. “I’d suggest an even mix of sea days and port days,” says Elizabeth, “because that’s what cruising is all about, plus it’s relaxing. We don’t especially like the Caribbean, for example, but we do like the days spent crossing the Atlantic Ocean. If you’re hopping on and off, visiting a new port every day, it’s just exhausting. And you have to be aware that shore trips can be expensive – they’re not always included in the price of the holiday.
It’s vital you know exactly what you’ve paid for before you board the ship as what’s included does vary enormously. Some are completely pre-paid, others aren’t. You might even want to choose one of the smaller ships – there’s just too much walking from one end to the other on the really big ones. We were on Ventura last autumn – she takes 3,300 people – and that was big enough.”
The Murrays are firm believers in seeking specialist advice before parting with hard-earned cash. “Here we have Bath Travel, and there’s Mundy Cruising in London, and many other such specialist agents around the country. To whittle your choice down you must decide where you want to go – do you want to go to the Arctic, South America perhaps, or a trip round the Mediterranean? And what kind of ship do you want? There’s so much choice – we’ve been with Union-Castle Line, Fred Olsen, Silversea, P&O Cruises, Hebridean, Cunard, Swan Hellenic and Peter Deilmann.”
“Peter Deilmann has my favourite ship,” says Elizabeth. “She’s a German ship – the MS Deutschland –she’s stunningly beautiful, the food is gorgeous and I just fell for her. I loved every minute aboard that ship. There’s plenty of space, no crowding and the accommodation is done to a very high standard. The first time I sailed with her I went from Spain to Athens on my own, and since then we’ve been to Greenland and the Norwegian fjords together.”
“Yes, she’s a lovely ship,” says Murray, “but nearly all the passengers are German and I prefer to be among British people because I can converse with them more easily. Elizabeth is more sociable in that way – I won’t just dive in and talk to anybody.” This is Murray Walker, the famous television commentator. Surely everybody wants to talk to him, get his autograph and discuss what happened in the last Grand Prix? “Well yes, there is that,” says Murray, “but in fact most people leave me alone.
“If you’re the sort of person who likes a bit of privacy, who doesn’t like a lot of other people milling around, then cruising probably isn’t for you. It can be difficult to find a quiet space to be on your own, so we tend to book a suite, so I can retire there if I want to.”
With such a bulging logbook of voyages, where would the Walkers choose to go if they could cast off for just one more cruise? “I’d take the cabins from Swan Hellenic’s Minerva and put them on the Deutschland, that would be my ultimate ship,” says Elizabeth. “And where would I go? Well Murray would cruise around Australia forever, but me, I’d like to go across the Pacific and see the Pacific Islands.” “I’m besotted with Australia,” says Murray. “We went with P&O Cruises from Darwin to Singapore and I really enjoyed that. I’d also like to go to Alaska. And as for the perfect ship, well, we certainly haven’t been on them all but Hebridean comes near the top of my list.” Their opinions may differ, there’s no denying that, but the Walkers certainly share a passion for cruising and, above all, for the tranquility of the open sea.
Murray Walker OBE is a Formula One motorsport commentator, famous for his enthusiastic commentary style.
Words: Rob Widdows
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