Caroline Righton never thought two weeks aboard a floating city would be her kind of holiday until her first cruise. Read more about her experience below:
“Perhaps because my most enjoyable holidays have always been a bit freewheeling, the idea of going on a cruise has never appealed to me. The thought of such an organised holiday that might involve competitive dressing up and vying for a seat at the captain’s table after a day playing deck quoits (whatever they are!) filled me with horror. Where was the pleasure in that?
So it was bizarre to find myself and my husband Mark wearing a life jacket for a muster drill on the deck of a cruise ship in Florida, before setting off round the Caribbean for 10 days. More surreal, too, when I realised I was humming the Titanic theme tune – and that I wasn’t the only one. Cruising is having a moment – and has been for quite a while, it appears. When I started considering taking a break after a busy year, the idea of going on one kept popping into my head. There must have been something in the air because everyone and everything I encountered seemed to have a cruise vibe going on. Even while doing a bit of shopping online, I was directed to the cruisewear collections!
So I succumbed to the idea of a holiday that would give me a change of scene along with guaranteed indolence. After all, if I failed to gel with my fellow passengers or the itinerary was not to my liking, then my veranda suite would be a sanctuary from which to order room service and watch the world go by.
I soon discovered I was to do a lot of succumbing over the holiday and it started the minute we stepped on board, where we were greeted with a glass of Champagne and a cool, damp face towel, as our luggage was whisked away to be unpacked by our butler. I’d read about the butler duties in the advance information we’d been sent and was determined to exclude us from the unpacking service, but short of rugby-tackling the stewards to get our bags back, there was not a lot I could do. At least I’d invested in new holiday pants.
Of course, when we entered our cabin, I absolutely loved finding all our clothes hung up beautifully. Even more delightful, our shoes and luggage had been polished! I did wonder for a moment why a small cabin boy appeared to be having a nap in our bed, before realising it was the silk feather body bolster I’d requested from the pillow menu to support a creaky knee, which Mark Anthony, our butler, had carefully positioned under the covers. And what of all the other preconceptions and cruise clichés I’d mocked? What of the competitive dressing up, the formalities and toe-curling compulsory cruise activities?
The first surprise was the number of singles, mainly in their forties to sixties, who were all looked after by professional hosts. These crew members, especially the Gentlemen Hosts, fascinated me. How do you get that job? They were all attractive, jolly chaps and effortlessly threw themselves into everything – from sunbathing to dancing! Their job description must simply state – enjoy having fun! Their female equivalents were equally lovely. I can’t remember the career teacher mentioning that path along with nursing, teaching, and journalism.
And the more mature fellow cruisers? Well, there were quite a lot of them and quite a lot of them were a lot older than me at 58, but they were brilliant. So brilliant that now, I almost only want to holiday with people over a certain age, who book cruises with a party mindset, and a lifetime’s experience that disinhibits enough to promise conversational hand grenades igniting most exchanges. You can choose how much you socialise, as the maître d’s ask whether you want company or not as they show you to a table at one of the seven restaurants, which offer every sort of cuisine from French and Italian to Japanese, fusion, and classic grills.
Often Mark and I just had a table to ourselves, but one of our most fun nights was when we chose to share a table for Thanksgiving with Americans who didn’t know each other either. Among our number were a pilot, a university professor and the former CEO of an energy company, plus a granny who was enjoying the first Thanksgiving meal she hadn’t had to cook for 24 people in 45 years.
One of my favourite exchanges that night was in answer to a “Where do you come from and what do you do?” conversation opener to an elegant silver fox single traveller. “I’m from Chicago and look after the finances of a chain of casinos.” The follow-up jokey response to “Hmm, that sounds like Mafia!” was a smiling “No comment”. And I’m not sure when in his back story he learned to pogo on the dance floor, but clearly he’d had a punk period along the way and that’s just what he and I did later, with my efforts providing the cringe factor that night!
That was one of two formal evenings throughout the trip, both held when the ship was at sea all day. It wasn’t compulsory in all the restaurants, but most people did put their glad rags on. Yet again my preconceptions that cruisewear was a bit tacky and the only fashion excitement it was likely to generate was the static from the carpets was quickly disproved.
I’m not a great one for dressing up, especially on holiday, but there is something so otherworldly about cruising that I happily put on the floaty silky numbers I’d rather sullenly packed, before taking the arm of our butler who, along with all his colleagues, knocked on cabin doors to escort their passengers to dinner. I found myself really enjoying the special occasion feel of those formal evenings.
You’ll have guessed that I’m a total cruise convert. I can also now mix the perfect Martini and know that I’ll never embrace playing Bridge. Those were the only two activities I opted to join in with. Mark and I also chose not to go on any of the organised cruise excursions, preferring instead to wander around any port we stopped at and find a bar to savour the local ambience.
But to be honest, I could as happily just have stayed on board and been relentlessly cosseted. It was like no other holiday experience I’ve ever had. It was just so peaceful, and decorous, harking back to another time of travel and holidays. It was so… elegant!
That is, until some mad Englishwoman demonstrated moves on the dance floor to illustrate the story she’d told over dinner of dancing with Bob Geldof when she was a student!”