Warning: cruises can become addictive.
My name is Roger and I am a cruise addict, there I have admitted it and am now prepared to share how I got pulled into this life-changing habit.
Back in 2013, I had never cruised and had no idea what it was all about. I lived in Exeter and my sister and brother-in-law were down for a visit from our hometown in North Wales. We were discussing going on holiday together later in the year, so we decided to see what was on offer in the high street. We arrived in the travel agents with little to no idea of what we wanted until the agent suggested that she had a great deal on a cruise – why not try that?
I was dubious, I had visions of bowties, cummerbunds and dinner jackets. ‘Not my style,’ I thought. But – as the agent said – you don’t have to don a bowtie if you don’t want to, and it did seem to be a good deal. Before I knew it we were booked on a cruise leaving from Dover, heading to the Western Mediterranean and Italy. I was both nervous and excited, and the anticipation and planning only added to this. Six weeks before we were due to sail the tours brochure arrived and, during this period, I reconsidered the idea of formal dining. Why not dress up and take part? So off I went to the local Moss Bros and bought my dinner suit. In hindsight it was a great choice.
We had booked our cars into the Dover Port Carpark and drove up to Dover the night before. (Good old Premier Inn). I was surprised at how easy the check-in procedure was and before we knew it we were on board.
This is when the love of cruising really started for me. The crew were so welcoming and made us feel at home straight away. We were shown to our cabins but, as we had to wait for the luggage to come up to the cabin, we just had to explore. We had taken out the All Inclusive package so I suppose it was inevitable that we ended up in the Observatory Bar drinking sparkling wine with the piano player tinkling away in the background as the ship prepared to sail away.
At this stage, I think it is important to point out that there are different kinds of cruising and cruise ships. There are the huge floating blocks of flats that are advertised as the “largest cruise ship ever”, they go to sea, with up to 6000 passengers on board and a full Disneyland on the top deck, not to mention all those kids. There are the “Posh” ships, where the different ‘classes’ of passengers have different facilities and never the twain shall meet. Then there are the smaller, more traditional ships, which cater for, shall we say, a more discerning clientele. Okay, let’s be frank, we were all old.
Personally, I love the third kind.
So off we went down the Channel to see what this new form of holiday would bring. The food was sublime, such a variety of choice, so much of it and such great service. With this cruise line, the Main Dining Room had set meal times with two sittings and you could have a table just for your party or join with others to make a larger table.
There was nonstop entertainment, whether in port or at sea. There were nightly shows, musicians in every bar. There was a gym, a pool area and a spa. During the day there were lectures, traditional sea games and competitions to join. Enrichment sessions, like bridge classes, a choir or ukulele band to join. A library and lounges to sit in. A chocolate and coffee bar. There were new, like-minded people to meet, or avoid – if necessary. And don’t forget the drinks; cocktails at any time of the day.
But for me the best thing of all was this: cruising was like having a long holiday in a five star hotel, with a fine dining restaurant which could mysteriously move overnight and you were in a new city each day. On this first cruise we visited, amongst others, Rome, Florence, Pisa, and Pompeii as well as North Africa and Spain. It was truly amazing.
Before we knew it three weeks had passed and we were on our way back to Dover and a return to reality. We got back to the cold grey damp of an English late autumn, but a bit of a fire had been lit in my soul. In the following nine years I have been lucky enough to have been able to go on 37 more cruises, some short and some longer and all have been memorable in some way.
For more of my adventures on board, look out for my next blog.
Roger will continue to share his adventures at sea in this special cruise ship diaries series. These will be published here on the blog every Tuesday into the New Year.
And if Roger’s nautical tales has you in the mood to escape these chilly English climes, check out our upcoming travel events: Romance and mystery in rural England with Art History lecturer Stella and a live tour of Spain’s La Mancha with Damian from the Calambur Experience tour company!