Confessions of a cruise virgin!
What happened when cruise novice ANNA MOORE swapped her usual family villa holiday for a Caribbean voyage with her best friend Debbie?
read what happened when cruise novice Anna moore swapped her usual holiday for a caribbean voyage
Since the birth of my first child 18 years ago (followed by two more), holidays have been family affairs usually involving a remote house in Europe, a hire car and a complicated set of directions. Before that, it was hitch-hiking and backpacking. I’ve certainly never considered a cruise – though my dad loves them… surely because he’s over 80 and can no longer cope with planes, trains and rentals. Why else would anyone choose to cruise?
So when I booked a Seabourn 7-day Caribbean cruise with my best friend Debbie earlier this year – who was also leaving her partner and 18-year-old twins behind for the first time – we both felt like we were stepping out of our usual lives.
I imagined that (for a very refreshing change!) the two of us would be at least 20 years younger than our fellow passengers. “We’ll be Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” we decided – aloof, mysterious and glamorous among the grey. We’d turn a few heads, raise a few eyebrows…
One day into the real thing, we realised how wrong we’d been – or, as Debbie turned to me and said, “We’ve got to admit that we don’t stand out at all!” Yes, there were some older passengers on our ship – the Odyssey – but there were others younger than us too. Plus a whole heap of elegant ageless party people, gay guys from Florida, English eccentrics, glamorous wives, wealthy widows, colourful Australians and Californian tech millionaires. All life was here – and we were just glad to be part of it.
And how could we not be? Whatever your age or stage of life, cruising the Caribbean makes sense. For a start, it’s the only way to see so many different islands, often only 50 miles apart, but each with its own distinct character. Some were small and sleepy – like the charming, magical Terre-de-Haut which Debbie and I wandered across in less than an hour. Others can only be reached by boat and only the smallest cruise ships like the Odyssey are able to harbour there. Waking each morning and stepping out on the balcony to see a new island across the sparkling sea was a magical feeling I’ll never forget.
In fact, there’s surely no easier, stress-free way to travel. After years of self-catering – or sitting in foreign restaurants with three children, sizing up the prices – I loved the fact that, once on-board, every meal, every drink (apart from a few very fine wines), every spontaneous cup of coffee or slice of cake, every room service snack is “free” (or covered by the price of the cruise).
Each morning, we could scan the day’s menus which had been placed in our (very comfy) suite the previous night and choose where and when to eat – “turf and surf” from the poolside patio grill, Pacific halibut from the Restaurant, ricotta gnocchi from the Colonnade.
Better than that, most needs were met before the “need” had even registered! Step out on deck to look at the view and a waiter will pass with a tray of perfect peach daiquiris. Disembark and you’ll find fluffy rolled towels and cool bottles of water waiting as you step off the boat. Returning to our suite after a long day, there’d be our favourite wine in the mini-fridge and the fruit we liked best, all cut into delicious edible slices. All the boring bits of a standard holiday – logistics, decisions, cutting into a pineapple – are eliminated!
The other element of cruising that we both loved was the sheer potential for socialising.
Though it’s easy to spend a cruise without talking to any other passengers – and there were many who did – Debbie and I met more people on the Odyssey than we had on any previous holiday. We were invited to dine on group tables every evening – and though we could always decline, we usually accepted.
On these tables, I could find myself seated beside other cruisers – couples, singles, widows, some of whose stories
I’ll never forget. We loved getting to know Yolanda, a singer from Pittsburg who’d lived a life, opening for Aretha Franklin, singing backings for Luther Vandross… or the Ukrainian dancers who spilled the beans about staff life on board. One worry I’d had in the lead-up was around wardrobe. I’m a casual dresser
– I work from home in “comfy” attire and opt for jeans to parties if I can get away with it. As it turned out, my standard summer wear was fine for daytime and most evenings. There was one formal night, although even this you could opt to avoid. For me, holidaying with a friend was a lifesaver here. Debbie had enough satin, sequins and shawls for both of us.
There was always a schedule for passengers not wishing to disembark – golf, table tennis or shuffleboard on deck, canasta, backgammon or chess in the Card Room, Team Trivia in The Club – but Debbie and I took every opportunity to explore the islands.
There were a lot of highlights and many mini adventures when the two of us were let loose – jumping into taxis for spontaneous tours, noodling around churches and lying on the most beautiful beaches we’d ever seen.
There were lots of organised excursions too – we went on just one, kayaking and snorkelling in Antigua – but otherwise opted to do our own thing, safe in the knowledge that the moment we returned to our beloved Odyssey, every need would be met in an instant.
The ship sailed slow (just the gentlest motion that lulled us to sleep), but the cruise went fast. Too fast. After seven days and seven islands, we disembarked in Barbados for the final time, spending a night in a guesthouse before flying home.
Months later, we both found ourselves dreamily tracking the Odyssey on the website seascanner. We watched it make a few more loops around the Caribbean before its transatlantic crossing to Spain… then over to Greece. And as real life crept up on us (the washing, the cooking, the faff, the hassle) we both yearned to back in the Seabourn bubble! w&h
Whatever your age or stage of life, cruising the Caribbean makes sense
Clockwise from left: Anna on a snorkelling trip in Antigua; water sports day; Anna and Debbie on deck with daiquiris