Take a cruise to launch a new hobby

Jeannine and her friend Diane learn bridge with David and Cherie

On Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ friendly ships you can discover a latent talent, as Jeannine Williamson found out.

“Think of a dozen eggs or buns, you need 12 high card points to make an opening bid,” says Cherie Chapman as I look down at my hand and try to do some quick mental arithmetic.  Earlier we’d been given another memory jogger – the mnemonic Never Eat Shredded Wheat – as the retired headmistress walked around her ‘class’, her youngsters of yesteryear replaced by a group of older travellers.

It is yet more food for thought, in every sense, as we continue our beginners’ bridge class after learning how the signs of the compass denote where we should be sitting around the table. I try to concentrate and not get distracted by the sun dancing on the sparkling water outside the window as we head towards the Azores.

People that have never cruised often worry that they will be bored with days at sea. There’s certainly no chance of that with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. I’m on a 12-night Wonders & Wildlife of the Azores & Madeira sailing from Southampton aboard the 1,338-passenger vessel, Bolette, one of Fred.’s three small ships and there’s never a dull moment.

Get to grips with bridge

Recently celebrating its 175th anniversary as a shipping company, Fred. Olsen certainly knows a thing or two about cruise holidays. As well as visiting engaging destinations on its ocean cruises, there’s just as much emphasis put on having a great time aboard, and one of the hardest things is deciding what to do. Each day me and my friend Diane I go through the packed daily programme – starting with a fitness class at 7am and ending with a silent disco or other musical entertainment past midnight – to work out how much we can fit in.

Having tried and failed at bridge on an over 50s holiday before, we decide we both want to give it another go. I’m a tad apprehensive as the last classes (and I only made it to the end of the second) were very serious and conducted in hushed tones. Any qualms are quickly dispelled by bubbly Cherie and her husband David, regular teachers at sea who also organise bridge and walking holidays back on dry land.

We quickly discover laughing is allowed as we get to grips with terms such as singletons (only holding one card in a suit), doubletons (having two) and voids (not having any cards in a particular suit), while trying to work out – as our rookie games progress – what other people might be holding. It’s testimony to our tutors, who make learning fun, that we all complete the course. Diane was inspired to join a local bridge club on return and continues to make sterling progress.

Solo silver travellers welcome

Talking of singletons, when it comes to holidays for solo travellers over 50 Fred. Olsen is a great line to pick. There’s a welcome party for solos and dedicated single events, including afternoon tea, dining in Bolette’s two speciality restaurants with solo shipmates and meeting up before ports of call for anyone who wants to buddy up and explore independently.

The many activities, which on our cruise also included a book club, choir, art and craft classes in the dedicated studio, ukulele sessions, dance classes with professional partners available for the live music events, carpet bowls and traditional deck games such as quoits, are sociable and perfect for single travellers over 50 (or indeed any silver traveller sailing as a couple or with friends and family). We certainly bond with our bridge classmates and I’m not surprised when the cruise director tells me many passengers form lasting friendships and book another cruise so they can meet up and sail together again.

Star in a show

I’m tempted to have a go at the ukulele and join the class run by the appropriately named George, albeit not Formby. By the end of the first session we can play London’s Burning. OK, it is just one note all the way through, but it’s really enjoyable and each day we begin to string more chords together. We’re even allowed to take the mini instruments and music sheets back to our cabins to practice; much to the amusement of my friend.

Little do we know George has something up his sleeve, and at the third lesson he announces we’re gearing up to a concert at the end of the cruise – alongside the fledgling floating choir. The last time I was on stage was at school, but when the day arrives there’s safety in numbers and the ukulele is very forgiving if you go wrong Like so many other things on the cruise, it turns out to be enormous fun and we briefly bask in the generous applause.

Go home with a new hobby

Fred. Olsen puts a big emphasis on activities. Additionally, all cruises include ‘signature experiences’ and on our sailing this includes cookery demonstrations, star gazing and going out on deck trying to spot whales and dolphins with members of the marine charity ORCA.

Of course, you can do as much or as little as you want. If you prefer to lounge on deck, swim, indulge in a spa treatment, curl up with a book in the library, enjoy daily afternoon tea or watch the excellent shows by the talented and energetic members of the ship’s theatre company that’s all on offer, too.

Best of all, bar a nominal charge for art materials, the classes are free. So it’s a fantastic opportunity to try something you’ve never done before, or brush up on a previous pastime that’s been gathering dust. At the end of the day you’ve got nothing to lose – except a friendly game of bridge – and might go home with a brand new hobby, as Diane did. In the meantime, while I have no immediate plans to give up the day job for a life on the stage, I have looked up local ukulele sessions. Watch this space!

Find out more

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines offers a wide range of itineraries from short break taster sailings to Bolette’s 106-night world voyage in January 2025. These include both fly-cruises and convenient no-fly round-trip sailings from Southampton, Liverpool, Newcastle, Portsmouth and Rosyth.

To book a cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and get further information from our Silver Travel Advisors, call 0800 412 5678.

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Jeannine Williamson

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