These days, big cruise ships have become so amenity laden that they resemble something of a cross between a shopping mall and a Las Vegas resort. We’re almost swamped by a tidal wave of cutting edge, new attractions that seem to expand with each new ship.
Of course, it’s all done to give those fantastic floating resorts some new kind of ‘wow’ factor, and that’s okay. People do love them. But after more than thirty years at sea, some of the most amazing- and lasting ‘wow’ factors for me have little or nothing to do with this new, neon gimmickry.
So, without further ado, here’s just a few of the things that still really float my boat; pun wholly intentional…
1) looking back out over the wake at the stern. Nothing is so stress beating as this; just leaning on the railings with a breeze kissing your hair, an early morning cup of coffee to hand, and just watching that vast, roiling white wake, cutting a perfect straight line back across the sparkling azure carpet of the briny, all the way back to the razor fine line of the horizon. Almost miraculous.
2) Watching the gangway come down at the start of the voyage. We no longer have streamers to throw, so I always make a point of going to watch the gangways retract back ashore. It’s a hugely symbolic moment; I equate it with severing the last links to reality. And, even though the ship is still briefly tethered to the land by her mooring ropes, I can feel secure in knowing that the ship- my little fantasy island for the duration of the journey- has been hermetically sealed; made safe and fast against all the banal, screaming mediocre stuff on shore that rains on my parade. Adios, Jedward. It’s been emotional.
3) I love watching how some people open up and blossom as the voyage takes hold. Strangers on day one become smiling acquaintances; people become less buttoned up, less uptight.
And you do see it, too; it’s almost as if some dead weight has been lifted from them. People who may not always be especially pleasant ashore seem to raise their game as they lose their defensive armour and posture.
I once saw two little old ladies from an English ship; probably pillars of their local WI, in their pearls and twin sets. They were probably fierce competitors in their local home made jam competitions. They made it ashore in Willemstad, Curacao one Sunday morning. And there they sat, at a sun splashed waterfront cafe, in their twin sets, complete with baseball caps and a bottle of Budweiser each. The old dears were drinking straight from the bottles, and giggling to themselves as they did so. They had gone native in the Caribbean, and it was wonderful to see. Heartwarming, even. For them, it must have been so liberating; probably a moment never to be repeated.
4) The sunsets. The oldest cliche at sea, but I never, ever tire of them. Out on the ocean, away from any land based pollution, they take on a magical, almost mystical allure that defies conventional wisdom. People who would never look twice at a sunset at home are lured out to them, as helplessly as lost moths that flitter skittishly around a flame. They seem to take forever; both time and reality appear to have been put on pause. And, if there’s a little soft piano music drifting around in the ether, then it sharpens the mood- and the moment- to almost brilliant perfection.
OK. There’s just a few of the things that still hook me about cruising, and sailing in general. What is it about the cruise experience that keeps bringing you back? What makes you smile??