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Cruising through the generations


Passenger Donna Thomson has travel and exploration in her blood. From her father through to her daughter, she reveals why her family loves to be at sea

A montage of pictures of Donna’s family

Donna’s father, Andrew Thomson, at sea; Donna’s christening; Donna and her daughter Robyn

From my father’s career at sea and my mother’s Chilean background to my adventures cruising and my daughter’s desire to explore the world, our family has travel in our blood.


Past generations of cruising

My dad always loved the sea. Having joined the Merchant Navy in 1969 and trained as an oiler in the engine rooms, his story with P&O began when he finished at the National Sea Training School in Liverpool. Along with three friends he headed to Southampton, where he ended up with a job on the P&O ship Orsova.


His first trip working in the engine room on Orsova was to Bantry Bay in Ireland. Gulf Oil had opened a new terminal there and had chartered the Orsova for five days to celebrate its opening. According to my dad, the Orsova was a great ship to work on where all the staff were treated very well and the food was fabulous.


Following Bantry Bay, they embarked on a three-week cruise to the Canary Islands, calling at La Coruna, Lisbon and Cadiz (all of which I visited years later on a cruise on board Oceana). Later in 1969, and still on board Orsova, dad embarked on a five-month world cruise visiting Montreal, the Panama Canal, Acapulco, San Fransisco, Vancouver Island, Honalulu, Fiji, Sydney, Auckland, Singapore, Penang, Hong Kong and Cape Town, to name just a few of the ports of call.


Blossoming love

In June 1971, he left Orsova and joined the cargo ship Sig Ragne, which was bound for Antofagasta, Chile. One night in Antofagasta a few of the guys went ashore to explore. Settling down for a drink in The Washington Hotel, and putting their basic Spanish to the test, they began talking to the waitress and her friend. That friend was my mum.


Mum was 23 and dad was 21, and despite the language barriers (mum couldn’t speak English and dad had very limited Spanish), my parents got on like a house on fire. My dad left Chile one week later, but my parents kept in touch by letter. A whirlwind six months later, in 1972, my dad brought mum over to Scotland – she left her whole family and life behind, all for love! They got married in March 1973 and by November I came along. In 1979 my sister was born.

Andrew Thomson’s paperwork for working at sea

Andrew Thomson’s paperwork for working at sea

Present generation of cruising

My dad left life at sea when I was born, so I was in my late 30s before I had the pleasure of cruising. But I caught the cruising bug straight away. My husband Barry, my daughter Robyn and I have been on three P&O Cruises now, all on Oceana, and I’m hoping we have many more to come. I love every part of it: waking up in a different port most days; visiting more places than I’d go to on a two-week land holiday; dressing up for dinner – it doesn’t matter how old you are, every girl loves dressing up and putting on fancy clothes.


Every port I’ve been to I’ve loved for different reasons, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. Montenegro and Dubrovnik were stunning, but going on a gondola in Venice was something I’ll never forget. My dream is to go on a Northern Lights cruise – it’s been a wish of mine for years. That and visiting Bora Bora.


The future generations

My daughter Robyn is 15 and absolutely loves cruising. She enjoys listening to her papa’s sea tales and the things he has seen and done – especially how he met her gran. She has been so fortunate to see so many places at such a young age and has made so many friends through cruising who she’s still in touch with. Robyn was 12 on her first cruise and we weren’t sure how she would find it, if there would be enough to keep her entertained or if there would even be children her own age on board. But she has loved every cruise she’s been on. Barry and I hope that in years to come we will be cruising with our grandchildren, too.