First Hand Review – Golden Horizon 2021 – Cruise Traveller

First Hand Review – Golden Horizon 2021

By Rebecca Barnes – The Jewish Chronicle, UK

This article by Rebecca Barnes for the Jewish Chronicle in the UK is a personal account of the new ship, Golden Horizon by Tradewind Voyages. We were so impressed by her skills and story, that we’ve asked for special permission to publish her article here. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Golden girl

Embrace the slow lane on a UK cruise in traditional sailing ship Golden Horizon

The magnificent Golden Horizon – Image: Tradewind Voyages

It’s a sultry July evening, the water is millpond still and there’s not a cloud in the cornflower blue sky. But I’m not in tropical climes, I’m in south east England — and about to sail into the sunset on the maiden voyage of Golden Horizon. 

This is ‘staycation’ cruising, and with specially composed classical music setting the scene, the evening has a real sense of drama and anticipation.  

“Sail aways are always a holiday highlight — the perfect excuse to come together with fellow passengers and toast your departure with a celebratory glass in hand. But on Tradewind Voyages’ traditional sailing ship Golden Horizon, sail aways are like no other you may have previously experienced.”

The music is stirring and with the setting sun framing our pictures, it’s an idyllic end to the day as we leave Dover and those famous white cliffs behind. 

But our attention is soon diverted as the majestic sails on this, the world’s biggest square rigged sailing ship, gently start to unfurl, giving the vessel the power to forge ahead on its course.

Image: Tradewind Voyages

It’s a magical, moving and captivating moment and, I guarantee, should you ever sail on this elegant ship, one you won’t forget in a hurry. 

Built as a near replica of the traditional sailing vessel France II (the second largest commercial sailing ship ever built), Golden Horizon has tall ship elegance in spades. With five towering masts and the largest amount of sail above water – 6,347 metres to be exact – if you like the idea of being at one with the ocean, this could be your perfect cruise match.

Mother Nature is quite literally the ship’s compass: with sustainability as a focus, the aim is to sail without using engines as much as possible under the right wind and currents – around 70 per cent each season.

It’s rather mind-blowing to think that the ship can go faster under sail than when powered by its engines. 

Golden Horizon Pool – image: Tradewind Voyages

With a global pandemic still in the air, embarkation takes a little longer these days: a lateral flow Covid test at the port determines whether I get to sail or not. Happily, it’s negative, so I’m free to board and celebrate with a glass of champagne at the pool bar – my first on a ship in 18 months. 

There are no waterslides or casinos to be found on the 272-passenger Golden Horizon: this is an intimate, authentic sailing vessel with a boutique feel, and which captures the romance of maritime traditions from years gone by. 

Many of the guests are sailing enthusiasts and fascinated by the ship itself. These adventurous sailors also relish true sailing conditions and aren’t too bothered that there are no stabilisers on the ship (but those without reliable sea legs take note).

Golden Horizon’s main dining – image: Tradewind Voyages

The interior is elegant and traditional with retro accents: nautical knot carpeting, glossy teak wood furnishings, gleaming brass and classical maritime artworks. Even the dimly lit gym looks like a private member’s club. It’s also worth noting, however, that there’s no lift on board. 

There are 140 cabins in total, ranging from porthole cabins to balconies, plus four blow-the-budget suites with fireplaces and butler service. All have sea views.

My porthole cabin on the gallery deck is very homely and features a large double bed with huge pillows, a gold and marble bathroom with Noble Isle toiletries and an excellent shower, robes and slippers, complimentary mineral water, tea and coffee making facilities, WiFi, USB charging points and a TV with free movies for those rainy days.

Cabin with Porthole – Golden Horizon – image: Tradewind Voyages

Along with a reduced number of guests on board due to Covid protocols, you’ll find the line’s ‘Good Habit Policy’ on the TV. Sanitising stations are stationed throughout the ship, and you are asked to wear a face covering in public areas and wash your hands regularly.

“There’s no doubt that this is a real head-turner of a ship; everywhere she sails she attracts attention.”

My cruise calls at Cowes and Plymouth – Golden Horizon is at tender in both locations, which gives a steady stream of yachts the perfect opportunity for a closer look.

Our fascinating two-hour Plymouth walking tour with an excellent local guide took us to the bustling Barbican district, followed by the Citadel and the Hoe, where Drake was famously playing bowls when he received the news of the invading Armada.

Image: Tradewind Voyages

But this ship is all about exploration, and guided by the sun, prevailing wind and currents, Golden Horizon will soon head south to off-the-beaten-track locations such as Croatia’s Kornati Islands – a national park archipelago comprising 140 uninhabited islands and reefs.

On board, you’ll probably want to spend as much time as possible out on the split level top deck: from the wooden decking that stretches as far as the eye can see, to the authentic ropes and winches operated by the hardworking deck crew, the popular pool bar and the three saltwater pools, it’s a great place to be.

Blessed with sunshine for the majority of my five-night voyage, I get quite used to propping up the bar at sunset, and enjoy strolling under the unfurled, illuminated sails of an evening. 

Unlike most other ships, there’s an open bridge policy too, so you’re free to talk to Captain Szalek and his officers as long as they are not undertaking navigational manoeuvres.

Service throughout the ship is ‘friendly but not overfamiliar’ – dress is casual and comfortable by day and smart casual in the evenings. 

Morning yoga on deck – Golden Horizon by Tradewind Voyages

A typical day might include a morning yoga flow up on the Bridge deck followed by a healthy oatmeal ‘Soul Bowl’ and fresh fruit for breakfast, then perhaps an organised shore excursion (in a bubble for now and charged for), with afternoons reserved for deck games, dips in the pool and, weather permitting, soaking up some rays. 

Golden Horizon is a great choice for active types, as there is a superb watersports marina located at the stern of the ship.

Guests’ gateway to the ocean, complimentary activities on offer off the hydraulic platform include stand-up paddle boarding, snorkelling, kayaking, sea bobs (for an additional charge) and windsurfing. 

You can also swim (subject to availability and conditions), and there are wetsuits on hand should you need them. Another unique feature is the 4.35 metre saltwater dive pool where you can enjoy a taster scuba session or begin PADI accreditation. 

Enjoying the watersports aboard Golden Horizon – Image: Tradewind Voyages

Meanwhile, the good-sized spa uses marine-based Thalgo products and offers facials, body wraps, pedicures and a hydrotherapy bath. While enjoying this zen space, it’s well worth taking advantage of the free-to-all facilities including sauna, Hammam and snow room.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are taken in the impressive two-deck main dining room — a real centrepiece of the ship with curving (and quite steep in places) staircases and a glass skylight which lets light flood in: look again and you’ll see that this is actually the bottom of the main pool.

With table service only, it’s elegant without being too formal, and there are no set dining times. 

When the weather’s fine, you can also have lunch and dinner al fresco at the Horizon Bar & Grill which doubles up as an entertainment venue. In the unlikely event of mid-afternoon hunger pangs, head to the piano lounge for canapés and cakes.

Enjoying sesame crusted tuna steak onboard Golden Horizon – image: Tradewind Voyages

There is an ‘Eat Well, Live Well’ ethos and everything is simply prepared, classic and healthy: fresh, seasonal produce is served when possible. There’s a good choice of options for vegans and vegetarians, while kosher diets can also be catered for with prior arrangement. 

Appetisers such as vegetable spring rolls and salmon gravadlax, followed by sesame crusted tuna steak and butternut and chickpea korma (a personal highlight) are typical dishes served in the evening; there’s a number of ‘always available’ options, too.

While the menu isn’t short of indulgent treats, you’ll also find healthy options such as a fresh fruit plate as alternatives to a rich dessert if you fancy.

Then after dinner, dance the night away to the resident musical duo in the Horizon bar, although many guests gravitate upstairs to the piano bar to partake in a quiz, followed by a nightcap.

While I would never have considered a UK cruise before, I now wouldn’t hesitate to recommend a no-fly ocean adventure, and appreciate my homeland even more.