Robin Mead, a travel writer for 40 years, has written more than 30 travel guide books as well as contributing to newspapers and magazines all over the world. He has also been a hotel inspector, and for the past 12 years he has worked as a lecturer on board cruise ships in the winter. He says his great loves are the sun, the sea, posh hotels, Sussex (where he lives), the Channel Islands and … ghost stories! Robin writes for Silver Travel Advisor about world cruises.
It felt a bit as though we were emigrating, instead of leaving home for just a couple of months. Who would pick up the post? How would we pay the bills? What if something happened to the house? And, most worrying of all, how would we survive day after day of being cooped up with the same people in the same surroundings?
We asked ourselves these, and a thousand other questions, as we prepared to set off on a world cruise. Well, half a world cruise, to be more precise. A seven-week journey from Southampton to Sydney, via the Suez Canal, then a week visiting friends in Australia before flying home. Not a bad way to while away the months of January and February, we thought.
We were right in one respect: even half a world cruise is a marvelous experience. Silver travellers share that view, judging by the response to my recent article about world cruises. But it seems that readers also share the same worries that we had.
Top worry (assuming you have solved the packing problems and alerted relatives and neighbours to their new domestic duties regarding your home) is your fellow passengers. In the departure lounge at Southampton docks we eyed our new shipmates with some apprehension.
A very tall man with a penetrating voice looked worrying. And how could an elderly lady travelling on her own need 17 massive suitcases? A happier sight was a couple we had met before whilst cruising, and who we knew to be good company.
Company is a major concern on a lengthy cruises. But the ship’s officers are well aware that not everyone gets on with everyone else, and if you find yourself in wearying company at dinner, for example, a quiet word with the maitre d’ will ensure a rapid – and very tactfully executed – move to another table.
Cruise lines are also know that not everyone wants to dress for dinner two or three nights a week. So there is always another restaurant, or casual buffet, where you can wear what you like and eat what you like with whoever you like. Some cruise lines even make a special feature of “a night in” – where you enjoy room service in your cabin while relaxing with the TV or a good book.
Shipboard activities are the same: you can join in, or ignore them, as you wish. On long voyages some passengers quickly form choirs or little theatrical groups. Dance classes are particularly well attended, as are Bridge schools, whist drives, photography classes, and daily lectures. Deck games become more popular as the weather improves.
The crew often organize a “country fair”, or some other fund-raising activity, in aid of charity. And there is always the “Crossing the Line” ceremony to enjoy as you reach the Equator: a celebration that usually seems to end with the captain being thrown into the swimming pool.
In short, it is impossible to be bored. Time flies by. You will reach journey’s end before you know it.
And those fellow passengers? It is quite sad to say goodbye, even to the irritating ones.
We felt a last-minute rush of sympathy for the tall man with the penetrating voice. Everyone else on board had refused his company at dinner, and he and his wife had been packed off to a table for two in a far corner of the restaurant.
As for the elderly lady with all that luggage, whose tiny cabin had been so filled with suitcases that she could hardly force her way in, she was wearing the proud smile of someone with a job well done as we disembarked in Sydney.
“I’m emigrating, you know,” she announced. “This was by far the cheapest way of getting all my stuff to Australia – and I’ve had a lovely holiday too!”