Let’s face it, all but the most exclusive cruises are basically Butlin’s on the sea, dressed up as a luxury experience. Add to this the frisson of excitement that comes with knowing you could throw up at any moment and you pretty much have a cruise. And this is how we chose to spend our Christmas – bobbing about on the Gulf of Mexico with three thousand strangers while the housekeeping staff gloomily lurked in corners with mops awaiting the inevitable. At heart, you see, I’ve always been something of a masochist.
There are many things to be said for taking a cruise: it’s all-inclusive, so once you’ve spent the money you know that you will at the very least have enough to eat and somewhere to sleep without having to fork out any more unexpectedly; it also allows you to visit multiple places with minimum planning (though admittedly they may not be places you necessarily want to go to… see ahead…) It also incorporates as little or as much “entertainment” (and I use the word advisedly) as you want (or not), courtesy of the Fun Squad, ensuring compulsory Fun is had by all throughout complete with a constant cycle of Giant Trivial Pursuit, Christmas Jumper Competition and swimsuit parade to really ram home those 70s overtones.
And then there was Kevin. Oh, wow, was there SO MUCH Kevin. Kevin, the Cruise Director, who I’m pretty sure hadn’t slept since around 1995 and existed on a cocktail of cocaine, egotism and desperation, rudely awakened you from your gentle snooze each morning as he shrieked over the tannoy. By the end of the week we half expected Kevin, increasingly manic and potentially a man on the edge of some sort of breakdown, to start hacking away at our cabin door with an axe, Shining-style: “Heeeeeeere’s KEVIN!”
For an extra fee they also provide excursions, which is a convenient, if not always impressive, way to see a new place in a very short space of time (cruise stops are never quite long enough – usually around 8 hours max.) We went on two of these – one was brilliant, one was average. But as the comedian (Paul Lyons – unknown yet brilliant, look him up) put it “Isn’t Cozumel beautiful? And you realise JUST HOW beautiful when you get to Progreso.” And he was absolutely right.
Then there’s the socialising, which seems compulsory on cruises. It seems surprising to me that my husband, who once texted me from the seat next to me on the London Underground to politely ask me to stop talking to the gentleman sat on my other side, seemed to warm to the idea of talking to complete strangers, something from which he would usually get as far away from as possible. But he did, and we became, on this occasion, really good friends with the most lovely couple from Mississippi. A friend of mine with whom I shared the fact we’d been on a cruise sneered at it, telling me that it wasn’t “proper” travelling, and that it was a meaningless and shallow experience where you would never really immerse yourself in another culture but a) By getting to know two people from a completely different part of the world we’ve done just that and b) my husband’s aim wasn’t to immerse himself in anything, it was to get his money’s worth from the drinks package.
So, to cruise or not to cruise? We’re in two minds. On the one hand, there was one day where, for a couple of hours, I possibly felt the illest I have ever felt in my life, something I didn’t think was possible on a vehicle of that magnitude. On the other, not having to think for yourself for a few days, and having your accommodation, activities, all the booze you could drink, some friendly faces and some weirdly creepy towel art (why is that a thing on cruises?) all at your disposal for five days was just the relaxing change I needed.