We were slightly taken aback by the question. We’re totally used to fielding all kinds of queries about our favourite pastime in the snug bar of The Bloated Goat, but this one gave us pause for thought. Several pauses, in point of fact.
It was simple enough. “What is a cruise actually like?” asked the newcomer standing at the bar, beer glass in hand and beard at full bristle. There was nothing malicious about it, just a genuine query, along with that look that says ‘Never-taken-a-cruise-and-would-need-an-awful-lot-of-persuading-to-try-one.’
To us, it’s always a challenge, an opportunity to convert one of the nay-sayers and chalk up another one to the power of good old persuasion; Treadwell and Tenny against the world!
But this time we were temporarily stumped. We looked at each other in a momentary sense of bewilderment. Well, a cruise is well, you know, good fun and, er, drinks, and lots of things like that, don’cha know. Only our words didn’t carry any kind of conviction, not even to us.
By the time we got home and the warmth of the final G&T had worn off, we were still searching for an elusive, cogent answer; a fitting riposte to the elemental query of WHAT a cruise essentially is.
So, after due diligence and a certain amount of brow-beating, we realised there was no simple answer. Instead, it needed a proper written response, hence we came up with the following:
Dear Mr Beard In The Corner of the Snug Bar
A cruise is a many-splendoured thing that comes in many shapes and sizes (mainly sizes), but it consists of four essential elements, as follows:
1. The Embarkation
This is the moment of maximum anticipation, the awesome realisation that you are heading for a genuine holiday adventure. A cruise ship isn’t like a plane, or train, or autobus, or motor-coach, you see. It isn’t just a means of getting somewhere; in certain respects, it IS the destination.
At embarkation, you get to explore your home for the next week/fortnight/even-longer-if-you’re-lucky. This is the moment of supreme expectancy, a chance to soak up the initial ambience and maritime vibe that has no equal in any other type of holiday. A hotel is still a hotel, no matter how fancy. But a ship is a mechanical and engineering marvel, a peripatetic wonder full of blissful creature comforts.
It’s also the source of non-stop martinis and other delightful libations, many of which you’re unlikely to try at your local (as good as The Bloated Goat is, it’s not renowned for its hand-crafted cocktails). This is the time to take a full, leisurely tour of your holiday vehicle, being sure to check on all the various dining establishments in full expectation of the meals to come.
You’ll have noticed that food and drink are a key component of the average cruise, Mr Beard, hence it is important, nay, vital, to align your cruise line with your personal culinary preferences. If you’re a meat and two veg kind of person, you might find Silversea or Seabourn too finicky for your palate. Equally, if you normally seek out a Michelin-starred repast, these ARE the droids you’re looking for.
2. At Sea
After settling into your nautical domicile, the next part of the equation is obvious – you set sail. Only, this isn’t like taking off in a plane (with the sweaty palms and anxious glances at the wings that always seem to be part of our flight ritual). This is a far more stately, dignified and altogether refined experience. Like taking off in a hot air balloon, the movement is almost imperceptible to start with, then it slowly gathers momentum, and you are off in sedate, respectable fashion.
Once out of sight of land (or, even with it being a decent distance off the starboard side), you can relax into a soon-to-be-all-encompassing state of languorous decadence. There is no great pace to being at sea; instead, it is more a matter of being still while the vista slowly revolves around you. It creates a diurnal routine of languid insouciance. This is the quintessential nature of sea travel – it is simply balm for the soul (even the Goat can’t manage that!).
3. Ports of Call
Working on the theory that man cannot live by languid insouciance alone, you will need to shake off this blissful sense of carefree detachment at several points during the voyage. These are called ports of call, and they are helpful in ensuring you don’t become completely divorced from reality. Unless you are retired and of completely independent means, in which case this will be your natural state.
Ports of call are the periods of occasional changes of pace when, suddenly, there IS a schedule that demands at least part of your attention. Even if you’re not taking a ship-organised excursion, you need to be aware of the location of the ship vis-à-vis its new attachment to land, and the time when you need to be back on board, or risk seeing it sail off into the distance without you (which is, most definitely, A Bad Thing).
Knowing where the port is located in relation to points of interest – especially the best place to get an Aperol Spritz, Banana Daiquiri or other notable beverage – will determine how active you need to be once you head down the gangway. We often seek out a crew member for a few local tips, as they usually know the lie of the land far better than the local tourist office when it comes to the best-value watering holes.
This is often the Moment of Infinite Sadness, the inevitability of a harsh world catching up with you once again and reminding you how dreadfully, remorselessly soul-crushing it is. It is also tied up with tedious housekeeping details, such as what colour tags you need to put on your luggage; what time your airport transfer is; and where-the-bloody-hell-did-my-ID-card-go. No, you can’t get off without it, and it is probably in that jacket you packed in the suitcase and left outside your stateroom door last night.
Ho hum. Reality catches up with us all, no matter how good the trip has been. But you can still beat the odds. Give us a week or two of being truly miserable over what passes for the typical British ‘summer’ weather, and we’re ready to book another cruise. Never fails to beat the blues, don’cha know.
Treadwell & Tenny
So how do you describe a cruise to your friends? What are the essential elements for you? Give us your thoughts in the Comments section below.