I am normally opposed to all inclusive holidays. Ferreting out quirky local establishments to eat regional food is probably the most important part of a holiday for me. However, when my boyfriend Jamie’s parents suggested we went on a family cruise (they would be paying the lion’s share) I was quick to overcome my stance on this!
I was very excited about cruising around Italy, which as a foodie is one of my very favourite places. However I was nervous about how the whole experience might backfire. Stuck on a boat with a bunch of people who I anticipated might be quite conservative, with ship entertainment and formal getting dressed up nights (tuxedos for the men!) all sounded potentially stifling to me.
Well it confounded all my expectations and here’s why:
- Being out at sea, without another ship in sight is a deeply relaxing experience. Staring out at the horizon is mesmerizing.
- Waking up in a different place every day is incredible! Being on the move for the entire week kept us all on our toes and kept our curiosity peaked throughout. Below going clockwise – Florence, Naples, Dubrovnik and Venice.
- The opportunity to eat formal three course meals for lunch and dinner with waiter service every day is just EXCELLENT. Who cares if it’s not local food? Getting to choose from a broad and different menu every day and be pampered by attentive waiting staff is a treat. It wasn’t always the best food I’ve ever eaten, with the odd dud dish (a bruised banana wrapped in a toasted tortilla was a particular low point), but largely it was posh tasty restaurant food with loads of variety every night. We were eating as a family of eight every evening with an eight year and ten year old boys – and the ease of routine every night allowed for us to enjoy real quality time together.
- The promenade deck. On the 7th deck of the ship there’s a lovely wooden boarded and wide promenade that goes in a circuit all the way round the ship. It’s about a third of a mile so if you are very keen you can run 10 laps to tick off three miles! However Jamie and I preferred to have a tipsy stroll on the promenade after dinner and before bed. It would always be very peaceful and romantic walking along and looking out at the night sea.
- The view from our cabin. Waking up to a different panorama every day was thrilling. And watching the light change and sea scenes change from our window was a delight.
- Sleeping at sea. In normal life I’m a bad sleeper – my brain struggles to switch off. However on the cruise I slept so deeply every night. I’m going to take a punt and say that the gentle motion of the sea had a very calming effect, combined with a day’s worth of sea air and feeling dreamily removed from day to day reality was a winning sleep inducing cocktail!
- The incredible staff. Initially the attentiveness of the 900 strong staff (there were only 2000 cruisers) was a little overwhelming – it’s not something I’m used to. But oh, it didn’t take long before I was lapping it up! Our cabin was cleaned twice a day, drinks were brought to you on your lounger and anything you needed – hairdryer fixing, a new bottle of conditioner was quickly sorted by the ever present cabin hand. Returning to post cruise life without a fabulous army of staff pandering to your every whim, has been tough.
- There are a million different ways to cruise. If you like a Butlins type experience – you can have it – enjoy the entertainment, join in the quizzes, go to the nightclub. If you’re anti-social and hate the sunshine – sit in the library, the games room and enjoy the sea views from the peaceful and shaded promenade deck. I burn really easily and I like my peace and quiet, so I enjoyed sneaking off to the shady and calm promenade deck for games of scrabble and when we did sun bath there were lots of quiet corners dotted about the boat. I was also delighted to find a gym on board which after all that fine dining was useful for damage limitation!
- Watching the sun set on deck. This would make me positively giddy. You would often set sail around 7pm, watching the port disappear and moving along the Italian coast. This accompanied with a G&T as the sun was setting was sublime! The only downside is that pre dinner drinks on deck combined with sunset excitement tended to leave me hammered before dinner!
I came away from my week Mediterranean cruise very chilled and content. It reconfirmed my love of Italy and I’m already hankering to get back and stuff my face with Italian food. And whilst I’m not about to go on any cruises in the next few years, it has left me curious about doing another more exotic cruise at some point in my lifetime as it’s very unique way of experiencing a country – perhaps Baltic and Scandinavia or South America . It also taught me a lesson that going all inclusive does come with benefits – being spoiled rotten and not having to lift a finger for a week makes you really relax. Are there any other cruisers out there? Do you love or loathe it? Please do comment.