You’ve seen the TV programmes – great floating apartment blocks, three thousand passengers shoehorned into a metal monstrosity and force-fed cheesy pop music whilst hi-de-hi hosts drag them from the endless rows of sun beds to play tacky tv-show style games whilst tipsy on the all-inclusive alcohol. And what about those endless, endless queues? Queuing to get off the ship when in port, herded back on.Who’d go on a cruise?
Well, I would actually and I have done so many times. Because it just isn’t the way the TVs producers (always chasing the ratings by showing any situation at its worst – after all that’s what makes ‘good’ viewing) portray it. They will choose the loudest, shrieking females at the sail-away party, the one ghastly snob who talks to the incredibly hardworking staff as if they were something she’d found stuck to her shoe, the one person who brags constantly that they have taken 100 cruises and is on first name terms with the captain.
The thing about cruising is that its yours to enjoy as you want. If the bun-fight in the self service cafeteria floats your boat (pun intended) go for it! We opt for the grander dining rooms where we are led to our tables set with pristine cloths, where the service is impeccable, the wine-waiters knowledgeable and the atmosphere leisurely. After our first experience, we have never taken part in the sail-away parties with their grating music, preferring instead to sit on our balcony quietly sipping a glass of champagne. Nor have we ever whiled away the night in the casino. But we have spent many a pleasant evening watching classic plays such as Hobson’s Choice or Blythe Spirit, or watching scaled down versions of west-end shows. I’m not a fan of comedians so rarely choose this as a form of evening entertainment but this doesn’t matter because every evening there are several alternatives on offer – a singer in one bar, a band in another, or would you prefer a classical pianist? I’ve heard someone say that [she’d heard that] cruise ship entertainment was ‘tacky’. My response to this? Take a look at the outstanding Ukrainian violinist Katerina Rosso. http://www.barryball.com/index.php/artists/kateryna-rossa Scroll to the bottom of her page and click the first video link – stunning!
We find the cabins comfortable, well equipped and a sight bigger than most hotel rooms. Sliding patio doors lead onto the balcony and one of my favourite things to do when sailing is to watch for sea-life. I’ve seen dolphins leaping, porpoises playing in the ship’s wake and a whale ‘spouting’. I’ve seen shoals of jelly fish in their thousands.
A large cruise ship can offer more facilities than a small town. A tiered theater which seats 775 people (more than the one in my local town), a cinema, library, an art gallery, hair and beauty salons and for those who want it, a fully equipped, state of the art gym. On sea-days I’ve attended several interesting talks on all manner of subjects, classes in Spanish, jewellery making sessions. I’ve even known there to be a choir group. There’s more: several well stocked shops (jewellers, perfume and cosmetics, clothing, leather goods and gifts) and numerous bars and restaurants which offer choices to satisfy all tastes. Most food is included in the cost of the cruise but for a supplement of a few pounds how about an evening at Qsine (Celebrity Cruises) or Marco Pierre White’s (P&O)? It is possible, of course, to spend absolutely nothing on food because what’s included is wide-ranging, good quality and plentiful.
Cruising is essentially a touring holiday but without the need for the constant packing and unpacking – instead, your accommodation travels with you. It’s wonderful to see (albeit as a snapshot) so many different places. Without boarding a cruise ship I might never have experienced a souk in Morocco… or the Medina
… or seen the awesome Peterhof Palace (Catherine the Great lived here at one time) or the Hermitage Museum with its staggering thirteen miles of corridors in St Petersburg.
I’d certainly never have seen Stockholm’s stunning archipelago of nearly 30,000(!!!) islands – some large enough for several houses, some so tiny that the cormorants jostle for space. It takes around five hours to sail past and their beauty is breathtaking – the most wonderful sight I have seen on any holiday I’ve taken.
Maybe we’d not have chosen a land-based holiday in Croatia if we hadn’t already enjoyed three ports on an Adriatic cruise – Dubrovnik, Makarska and the oh-so-Venetian Rovinja.
The same happened with Madeira; we fell in love in a day and just had to return.
Though we might have chosen a Greek holiday, we’d certainly not have seen as many islands as cruising allowed us to. The old town in Corfu was my favourite.
I doubt that we’d have thought to travel to Estonia or Lithuania.
Many of my friends have cruised and enjoy it as much as I do. It’s not for everyone but most people who say that it’s not for them cite three main reasons: sea-sickness, dressing up and feeling ‘hemmed in’ or claustrophobic. Many cruise ships are as large as a village with big open spaces both inside and out. A walk around a single deck on the celebrity Eclipse (pictured at the top of the post) is half a mile – multiply this by as many as nineteen decks. And there’s half an acre of REAL grass on the top deck.
With regard to sea-sickness, I tell those who voice their concern that a 116,000 ton cruise ship is not a cross channel ferry! The latter are flat bottomed and ‘bounce’ on the waves rather than slice through them like the cruise ship or ocean liner, and these are fitted with enormous stabilisers. If I, who cannot even travel on the Isle of Wight on a ferry without a couple of Boots travel sickness tablets (I’m not exaggerating), can happily sail across the unpredictable Bay of Biscay on a cruise ship, you will be fine.
Dressing up is, for me, one of the best parts of cruising. A 14 night cruise will generally have four formal nights i.e. black tie. How often do most people get that chance? I LOVE it, but its not compulsory! Granted, on those nights, anyone not dressed ‘appropriately’ will be refused admittance to selected restaurants and bars, but there are plenty of other places to go. If wearing short and a vest to dinner is your thing, do it … just not in the same restaurants as me! Better still, choose a different kind of cruise. Horses for courses.
There are also those will dismiss the idea of a cruise because they have a reputation for being full of old fogies. Hahaha! Wrong. But again, do your homework – Fred Olsen and Saga are a world apart from the Royal Caribbean ships with climbing walls, ice-skating rink and ‘Tidal wave’ slide. Certainly, the right cruise ship is a really safe environment for the elderly, even having medical facilities on board. A friend’s 95 year old father and his lady friend are regular cruisers. Perhaps you’d rather party all night. Again – Choose your cruise! And by the way , with regard to queues – time your disembarkation right and you’ll walk off unhindered.
Our retirement and semi-retirement have unfortunately curtailed our cruising activity and a new central heating system put paid to foreign travel of any kind this year but the brochures for next year sit temptingly on the coffee table. Neither of us have any hankering to visit the Caribbean though I know many who have very much enjoyed it. It’s some years now since we saw the Norwegian Fjords and its looking like that might be the choice for next year (though if we do choose it I will NOT be taking a trip up Mount Dalsnibba. If only the brochure had mentioned the 45 hair-pin bends)! It was one of the scariest moments of my life, even if the view over Geirangerfjord was amazing.
Then again, husband has a fancy for Iceland and I’d quite like to revisit Barcelona and Florence….or maybe it’s time to go back to Venice. Then there are Amsterdam and Bruges which rank among some of my most-enjoyed city visits. Decisions, decisions! One thing is for sure – those brochures will be well thumbed by the time we make up our minds.
For anyone considering a cruise I’d recommend the Berlitz guide to Cruising. Your local library will have, or be able to get hold of, a copy. In addition to masses of general information, it describes each cruise ship in detail.