Visiting the Renaissance in Brest
With Vadym Markelov, Onno Heesbeen and Clèment Mousset.
I was asked to assist in a special assignment by Onnozone to deliver the ship models he created for the Renaissance, to the ship in Brest (France). The ship is the first of hopefully more vessels sailing for CFC, based in France, The Damen shipyard in Brest is now getting her ready for her first voyage as the Renaissance, cruises will mostly start from Le Havre.
With special thanks to Clèment Mousset for welcoming us onboard his ship!
Our little adventure started at the end of my workday at LGG airport in Belgium, I had prepared my bags and the car before work so all I had to do was pack my workbag and drive from Liège to Eindhoven, where Onno and Vadym were waiting for me.
The 3 of us packed all 5 model ships and our own bags in my car and we headed off for a long drive from Eindhoven in the Netherlands to Brest in France, almost 1000 km to go!
We left around 19.00 and of course this was not going to be drive in one go, we stopped a few times along the way for toilet breaks, refueling and eating and drinking, we drove at night so we had no problems with traffic and heat. When we had covered about 80% of the voyage, we decided to stop for some sleep and do the final leg in the morning.
By 08.00 we arrived in Brest, parked the car and walked around a bit to find a local bakery where we had some coffee and freshened up a bit. Now it was time to go to the Damen Shipyard in Brest!
We arrived at the gate security where we handed over our passports in exchange for a visitor pass (they knew we were coming) and drove along the dock to finally arrive at the ship where I parked the car in a safe area and we went onboard to check in at reception. The ship is not operating yet and a lot of work is still ongoing so we had a unique view as visitors on the ship instead of actual passengers, the was not going anywhere for now and would remain tied up in the dock of Damen Shipyard Brest during our stay. At reception we got our keycards and cabin numbers, Clèment welcomed us onboard and we were offered breakfast just like cruise passengers would be getting breakfast. After breakfast, we went back to the car to unload the models and store them in one of the cabins, take our bags and photography equipment and rest a bit.
We got cabins on deck 10, the premium cabins onboard this ship and I stayed in cabin 1011, a spacious cabin with sitting area and balcony.
The MS Renaissance was built for Holland America line in 1993 as the MS Maasdam. She was the second ship of the Statendam-class of 4 ships, designed for Holland America line as full-time luxury cruise ship.
The 4 ships of the Statendam-class:
Statendam - currently operated by Nicko Cruises as Vasco Da Gama
Maasdam - currently being prepared as Renaissance for CFC
Ryndam - currently owned and operated by Celestyal Cruises as Celestyal Journey
Veendam - currently owned by Seajets and in cold lay-up as Aegean Majesty
Maasdam sailed with Holland America from 1993 to 2020 when disaster struck and the Covid pandemic grounded the cruise industry to a halt, many ships were anchored and laid up and a number of ships were either scrapped or sold, Maasdam was sold to Seajets who also owned a number of other ships including her sisters Veendam and Ryndam, although Seajets renamed her Aegean Myth, they never operated her and she was sitting idle ... until someone got interested!
After the demise of Cruise and Maritime Voyages in the UK, their original plans of starting up a French brand with one of their ships were cancelled as well, so there was actually a market for a France based cruise line to start, so Clèment Mousset founded a new company called Compagnie Française de Croisières and started looking for a suitable ship. After Covid, some older vessels were suddenly available and CFC decided to buy the Aegean Myth, former Maasdam, from Seajets.
The ship was renamed Renaissance and by early June 2023 she was in Brest in drydock at Damen Shipyard Brest. After drydock, she was moved to the dock next to it and this is where I had the chance to stay onboard.
We had a unique experience onboard Renaissance, the ship remained docked at Damen Shipyard in Brest and although there was restaurant staff and other staff onboard for various services, it wasn't fully operational yet, pools remained empty, jacuzzi's didn't function yet, we had breakfast, lunch and dinner in one of the smaller restaurants except for the second evening when we ate with the entire crew in the main restaurant. Since we had cabins on the highest deck, we also had a balcony and in this weather, that was a nice place to sit in the evening. Only some of the public spaces actually had coffee makers so we spent some time in the Neptunes Lounge. The hallways were still covered with protective cardboard and on the port side of the ship, all lifeboats and tenders were still missing, these were loaded onboard on our second day. We even lived trough an electric test, a test of all the firedoors and some more crew announcements.
A random selection of interior shots while the ship was in Brest.
By the time we were leaving, the crew only had 8 days left to get the ship ready for the shakedown cruise where Onno and Vadym of Onnozone would also be onboard. Sadly due to work and other commitments, I myself could not join this cruise but I know that Onnozone will publish a great review afterwards.
We realized that we slept onboard during a unique time when a lot of the signs of her past life as Maasdam at Holland America were still visible but most of the names of the areas and the deckplans displayed were already from CFC. A state in which the ship would never return as once the first cruise starts, she will be in full CFC configuration.
A big thank you to the entire crew of MS Renaissance as they did their best to treat us and fellow visitors ... I wouldn't say passengers yet at this time of course ... with the highest luxury possible regarding food and service, even though most of the services were not operational yet. I am sure they will get great reviews once cruising.
If possible, JGADV will be traveling onboard pretty soon as well and make a full operational review
The return voyage
We prepared early to make sure we had an early breakfast and got our stuff together and loaded up in the car, unique during these days was also the fact that my car was parked just meters from the gangway between cranes, equipment and other cars and vans of various people getting the ship ready, opposite was also the tanker Brasil Knutsen in drydock. Another fact was that our passports remained with security at the entrance of the shipyard and we instead received a visitor pass. So when we were finally ready to leave the ship, we said goodbye to the crew and stopped quickly at the back of the ship and somewhere further forward to take some last photos before we went to the exit where we got our passports back in exchange for the visitor passes.
We weren't finished with this part of France yet, so we went to see something I wanted to see for a long time, the Saint Mathieu lighthouse, this iconic lighthouse and its great location was the start of our last day and we weren't disappointed. We explored the ruins of the abbey and the military relics and I even flew the drone for some nice aerial shots of the site.
Next on our agenda was a few hours driving and then a late afternoon stop at Mont Saint Michel, where we went all the way to the abbey and surrounding halls, crypts and fantastic buildings and rooms. We explored the rest of the village and found a good place to have dinner as we were all pretty hungry by now. Once we were ready to leave, we had a long drive ahead of us.
There was no deadline as to when we needed to get home and we all agreed to just see how far we got before we needed rest, surprisingly we just stopped a few times for some coffee and snacks and once at the Pont de Normandie for an evening view on the bridge and we ... especially me as I was the driver ... could still stay awake pretty well. Eventually we arrived back in Eindhoven in the middle of the night and I myself arrived home by 5am. Just a few days but what an amazing time we had!
MORE will be added to this post on a later date, including impressions of the only upper class stateroom onboard and more photos of the ship and the return voyage!