Former BBC royal correspondent Jennie Bond is a fan of cruising. Here, in a guest blog for shipmonk.co.uk, she busts the myths about holidays at sea…
In a curious way, I often think that cruising is rather like becoming a parent for the first time. When I had my daughter, 26 years ago, I felt as if I’d walked through an invisible door into a community which, until then, had been something of a mystery to me. And it was a wonderful feeling.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, you probably have quite a few preconceptions about what lies on the other side of that door. And the chances are that most of them will be totally wrong.
The most common myth is that you’ll all be cooped up like battery hens, jostling for space and sun loungers. As I write this, I am sitting on the sun deck on board Azamara Quest. We’re berthed at the exotic Caribbean island of St Maarten, the sun is hot and it’s late November. Most of the sun loungers are empty, there’s one person in the pool and the couple of dozen guests around me are quietly reading or soaking up the rays.
My husband has decided to stay in the cool of our stateroom – large and comfortable – where his afternoon reading will have been briefly interrupted by our butler offering him tea and cakes. Later, after watching the sun go down from our balcony, we shall dine in one of the excellent speciality restaurants on board at a table for two.
The truth is that you can be as sociable or unsociable as you like on a cruise, and even on the smaller ships, there are plenty of corners where you can be private and peaceful.
Another myth is that it will be like Butlins on sea. Again, the choice is yours. Some cruise companies put the emphasis on ever-available entertainment: music around all the bars, quizzes by the pool, live bands in every venue and dancing into the wee hours. And that’s great if you’ve come on holiday to let your hair down and party hard. But if you prefer a quieter pace, there are many ships – like this one – where the entertainment is a little more discreet. But it’s certainly there if you want it: exercise classes, discos, jazz brunches and live shows in the theatre every evening.
There’s also a myth that when you’ve done one cruise, you’ve done them all. Nothing could be further from the truth. We’ve been ocean cruising around the world for nearly 20 years. Each one has offered something different. And, this year, we had a completely new experience: a river cruise down the Rhine.
The voyage on Uniworld’s SS Antoinette took us from Basel to Amsterdam, past fairytale castles and magnificent countryside. The ship was far more spacious than I had imagined and oozed taste and luxury. The food and wines were excellent and the shore excursions – all included in the price – were varied and highly informative. Our favourite was a vinegar tasting trip in Germany, where we learned about and sampled some of the finest vinegars – which can all be served as aperitifs or digestifs and which allegedly carry medicinal qualities.
We thoroughly enjoyed the holiday, and there are so many more rivers around the world to explore.
So, if you’re in two minds about whether cruising is for you – take it from me: there’s a ship, an ocean or a river to suit every taste. And, once you’ve taken the plunge, I’d be astonished if you didn’t go back for more.
Jennie was a guest of cruise specialists ROL Cruise (www.rolcruise.co.uk)