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?

Woman & Home - - Editor's Letter -

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

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