When I cruised the Canal du Midi in France with European Waterways a couple of years ago I saw the now disused water slope at Fonserannes, built to get boats from one level of the canal to another and presumably deemed more efficient than a ‘staircase’ of seven locks, one after another, in the same place.

Unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster. Built between 1980 and 1983, it was modified in 1985 after a serious accident in 1984 and officially closed in 2001.

I loved the idea of it though, so when I saw that another European Waterways barge, the Panache, goes up and down the boat lift at Arzviller in Alsace I had to go.

My trip is next month and I’m really looking forward to it – except news has just come through of a change to the itinerary due to a serious accident on the lift.

Thankfully no one was hurt but it could have been fatal.

If your French is good, check it what happened here; otherwise you can read a report in English here.


Think I’ll stick to going through locks from now on.

How cool is this?

The nuclear icebreaker 50 Years of Victory will be carrying the Olympic flame to the North Pole this autumn.

After the official lighting ceremony in Greece, the flame will travel across all Russia’s time zones, go up to the International Space Station on board the Soyuz TMA-11M manned spaceship and to the North Pole before arriving in Sochi in early February 2014 for the winter Olympics.

It makes the torch relay across the UK for the 2012 summer Olympics look very tame.

The 50 Years of Victory is the only exploration cruise ship that gets near to the North Pole.

It will be sailing empty when it takes the torch into the icy wastes, but if you fancy setting foot on 90º North (there’s Champagne and a BBQ on the ice, even an optional hot air balloon ride, when you finally get there, after days crunching through the pack ice) there are two departures next year, on June 19 and 30.

Prices start from an eye-watering £15,965 per person for 14 days excluding flights. Click here for more information.

In just over a week I’ll be heading out to Barcelona to join Carnival Sunshine, the Carnival Destiny as was but now sporting a new look and loads of new features including these whizzy water slides and the Alchemy Bar, below.

One of these is called the Speedway Splash (no prizes for guessing which) – well it’s two slides actually, side by side, each 235 feet long. Boy (and girl) racers can go head to head and their times will be displayed on a giant scoreboard.

The other is called Twister, is 334 feet long and has a transparent section that extends over the side of the ship but if all goes according to plan you’ll be going too fast to stop and admire the view.

In case it’s not immediate obvious, this Alchemy Bar has been designed to look like a vintage pharmacy. I confess I am struggling with that idea (no dust, cobwebs, jars of unspeakable remedies), but I suspect after downing a few of the demon concoctions the mixologists will be creating no one will care what it looks like. Shame Carnival will have spent so much money on it!

Fred Olsen is sending a third ship to the Faroe Islands for the total solar eclipse in March 2015.

Originally just one ship was going north, to be in the best position when the light goes out on March 20, but it sold out so fast, as did the second ship allocated to the eclipse, that the third was a no-brainer.

The newly-added 13-night Braemar cruise departs Dover on March 11 and will be off the coast of the Faroes when the moon passes over the sun, blocking out the daylight.

Because the ship is at sea, there’s be little man-made light pollution, improving the view of the eclipse and the resulting Solar Corona, when a ‘pearly white crown’ appears around the sun.

It will be last time there is a total eclipse until 2026.

Prices for the Braemar cruise start from £1,699 per person. For an extra £29 per person per night you can upgrade to an all-inclusive drinks package.

There is really nothing new about seeing Queen Mary 2 sail from New York but yesterday’s departure was memorable as it was the 200th time the ship bade au revoir to the lady with the torch.

Since entering service in 2004, the Cunard ship has made the Atlantic her home – well the bit between Southampton and New York anyway.

And during those 200 crossings, passengers have scoffed 22.4 million meals, 980,000 scones 644,000 eggs and downed 481,000 bottles of champagne, 960,000 litres of milk and 8.4 million cups of tea.

I hold my hand up to having had at least seven of those meals during the one time I did the crossing.

It was a memorable occasion, mainly for the man who was breakfasting next to me on the first morning and noted there was rather a lot of sea out of the window and it all looked much the same.

“Do you think we will see any land during the crossing,” he asked, clearly hoping for a little excitement along the way.

Now I am more into history than geography, but even I had a vague inkling we would not be shouting land ahoy for several days.

Remembering the look of disappointment on his face, maybe I should have lied …

Captain Inger Olsen made history when she was appointed the first female to take command of a Cunard ship in the company’s 170-year history.

Then last week she was making history again, when she took ‘her’ ship, Queen Victoria, into the Faroe Islands (where she was born) for a maiden visit.

The ship was in the islands for a couple of days, spending an evening in Klaksvik, then moving on to Torshavn (seen behind Captain Olsen, pictured on the bridge of Queen Victoria).

After the Cruise Lines International Association nonsense of a Bill of Rights for passengers, I’m delighted to see that august body has been spending time and energy on something more useful.

Namely telling the world (and the politicians) about the importance of the cruise industry in the UK.

After all the bad news about fires on ships, this is thankfully something all the lines can – and should – shout about.

According to the CLIA report out today, the cruise industry contributed £2.49 billion to the UK’s coffers in 2012, up 3.7% on 2011. It also boosted the economies of Europe to the tune of £13.15 billion, which was 3.4% more than in 2011 (and the UK economy was one of the top three recipients after Italy and Germany).

Here are the other findings:

* The overall contribution of the cruise industry, including indirect expenditure, to the European economy grew 2.9% to £32.19 billion.   * The UK remained Europe’s biggest cruise market with a 27.7% share of total passenger numbers in 2012.

* In 2012, more than 1.7 million British holidaymakers took a cruise. European passenger numbers totalled 6.1 million; globally the figure was 20.9 million.   * More than 1.5 million holidaymakers either joined or left their cruise in Southampton in 2012, making it Europe’s largest embarkation and disembarkation port.

* More than 11,000 jobs across the South-East of England are supported by the port and each cruise ship turnaround is estimated to contribute around £2.5 million to the local economy (credit: a 2011 study on the Economic Impact of Southampton Port).

* The number of British jobs supported by the cruise industry grew last year to 66,059 people. That’s 2,000 more jobs than in 2011 and 20% of the total number of jobs the industry provides Europe-wide.

George Osborne (that’s Jeffrey to his friends) please take note.

I’ve heard of wine-themed river cruises, voyages linked to history or painting, even some Jewish special-interest itineraries, but this is a first: a knitting-themed river cruise.

It’s with AmaWaterways and is being hosted by Barry Klein, one of the top knitting and textile experts in the US, who apparently shares the accolade of being ‘one of the top 10 most influential men in the world of knitting’ with Charles Dickens and Edward VIII.

No I never knew Dickens was a knitter either. Maybe the expression ‘What the Dickens!’ came from the people who saw his knitted creations?

The seven-night cruise, between Vilshofen and Budapest, departs on December 27 so presumably rather than ringing in the New Year, passengers will be having a good old yarn instead.

Price is from £1,674 per person excluding flights.

My review of Royal Princess, the new Princess Cruises’ ship christened last week in Southampton by the Duchess of Cambridge, has gone on line at the Telegraph Travel website.

Click here to find out out all about this great new vessel.

Out goes Todd English, in comes The Verandah as Cunard shakes up the speciality dining on Queen Victoria.

The new venue is based on the eponymous speciality restaurant on Queen Elizabeth but the menu is slightly different.

According to Cunard, the gastronomic highlight is carpaccio of smoked beef with marinated aubergine, quail’s egg and truffle mayonnaise served under a glass cloche filled with scented smoke but I guess the best dish really depends on your personal taste buds.

There are another seven starters to choose from, as well as 11 main courses and six desserts, all created by Michelin-starred chef Jean Marie Zimmermann, who is Cunard’s global culinary ambassador.

Cunard is keeping Todd English on Queen Mary 2, which is good news for me at least because I had the best meal of an entire six-night transatlantic crossing in there.