How would a self-proclaimed anti-social cruising newbie fare on a weekend break to Bruges? Read on to find out more about these confessions from a cruise newbie.
I can be pretty anti-social. I love people, love my family, but I spend my entire life talking, meeting, planning and when I’m on holiday I like to switch off, read and speak as little as possible. I suspect this doesn’t exactly make me the greatest holiday companion but my husband and little girl have got used to it. Will this make me an uncomfortable cruise passenger?
I love to travel and haven’t done anywhere near enough of it since I had my little girl. So it feels like cruising arrived in my life at exactly the right time to give me chance to tick some places off my bucket list efficiently. Multiple destinations in a single trip? Yes please!
My first experience on a cruise ship was to be a two-night taster cruise to Bruges, somewhere I’ve wanted to go since Brendan Gleeson threw himself from the top of Bruges tower in the eponymous film. But this isn’t really about Bruges, there are countless destination and rough guides that’ll help you more than my tales from a brewery, waffle house and torture museum (very interesting if you’re feeling brave). This is about me vs cruising… who’ll win?!
So, going on my first cruise felt like an adventure. We genuinely had no idea what to expect, which is liberating when you have your whole life planned with precision. With a wave to the 5-year-old and her grandparents we headed off to Southampton. And Oriana.
Like most people, airports make me furious, or rather, people’s behaviour in airports makes me furious. The desperate queueing, the barging and of course, the waiting around, don’t make for a relaxing start to any trip. But the Mayflower Cruise Terminal couldn’t have been any more different. We handed our be-labelled baggage over, walked into the terminal and were checked in within minutes. Things were looking good. Security was thorough but fast and within 20 minutes of arrival in the terminal building, we were on board, clutching our passenger cards – which would act as cabin key, safety portent and payment card for the next 3 days.
Oriana is lovely, easy to navigate, beautifully fitted out and the staff were, quite simply, amazing. We didn’t walk past a single member of the Oriana team that Friday afternoon without them checking if we were OK or needed anything. Maybe we looked helpless, but I’m fairly confident this was their approach to everyone on board that first afternoon.
Something that had made us nervous beforehand was the size of the cabins. I’m almost 5’11”, my husband is 6’5”. We are not small people, so concern over fitting into and sleeping in a cabin for two nights was high. We needn’t have worried. Our standard outside cabin (no upgrades here) was incredibly spacious, with huge picture windows, a dressing area and a massive bed.
We went straight out to explore the ship, which was gorgeous. Lots of space, multiple pools, bars, restaurants and brilliantly; no crowds, anywhere. Which was a theme for the weekend. We never struggled to sit down in a bar, or on a deck, there was always space for us.
Seriously, I’d jump around corners on the Saturday night expecting to find 100s of people queueing for the bar, or sniding up a corridor. It never happened. Don’t get me wrong, it didn’t feel like we had the entire ship to ourselves, but I was infinitely more relaxed than I am on most holidays. And I challenge anyone to find a more heart-lifting sight than a promenade deck stretched out before you.
AND SO TO THE FOOD AND CONFESSION No.5
I’m known for being greedy. I’m one of seven and growing up, if you didn’t eat fast, you didn’t eat, which had the effect of making eating somewhat competitive – could I measure up?! Combined with the pre-cruise warnings that I would need stretchy trousers by the end of our trip I had very high expectations.
We ate both evenings in the speciality restaurants: The Beach House on Friday and the fabulous Sindhu on Saturday night. Both wonderful, with Sindhu standing out. Each dish was beautifully presented, with top-quality ingredients and attentive but not intrusive service. All elegantly delivered to our table despite a bit of a roll of the ship in the Channel. My husband enjoyed it so much that he’s been casually stalking Atul Kochhar’s restaurants since we got home, trying to work out which ones he can visit as he travels round the country for work.
And to my final confession. I loved it. Both the little things, like the turndown service and pillow chocolates, to the bigger things like the elegant feeling of being on a cruise ship and consistent table service – I miss table service! I’ll never be a ‘joiner’, an evening entertainment aficionado or a lover of the formal evening. But that’s OK, because now I know a cruise can be whatever you want it to be. With amazing destinations thrown in. Which is pretty awesome.