When I stepped aboard my Viking ship for my second cruise, it was like coming home. I wanted to dash along the corridor to my cabin, slide open the balcony doors, slump into a deck chair, kick off my shoes, watch the action on the dock below – and sigh. Within minutes, a knock signalled the arrival of Malaya, my steward extraordinaire. “Hello Mrs Anne,” he beamed. “Would you like me to show you where everything is?” To be honest, I already knew from the last cruise. Because, even though it was a different ship, it all seemed familiar.
It is such a thrill to be shown your in-room this, wi-fi that, and push-button the next thing, your soft brushed cotton bathrobe with matching slippers, your personally controlled heated bathroom floor and your fingertip room service telephone.
The only effort you have to make on a cruise holiday is getting to the ship in the first place. Once you are on board, relaxation is almost instant.
Your ship is your sanctuary. You wake up every morning in a different port; often a different island or country. All you have to do is saunter down the gangway and explore. The ship has done all the legwork for you. To be honest, I never thought I would be so seduced by the lifestyle.
As I bobbed around the warm sea in Barbados, I got chatting to an American couple on their 13th Viking cruise and a British lady who was already booking her eighth. I was starting to understand why.
My Caribbean cruise was the first holiday I have had without the children in 30 years and I’d forgotten just how important a real break is. In the last few years I have opted to stay at home, supposedly to relax and enjoy the garden.
In actual fact what you end up doing is a load of DIY and cleaning out cupboards. Hardly relaxing. For some reason, I’d allowed myself to forget just how wonderful holidays are – particularly those where you truly get away for some guaranteed sunshine and exotic food. Us Brits work longer days than most people in the industrialised world, take fewer holidays and retire later. It’s no secret that holidays have physical and psychological health benefits, not to mention a better outlook on life.
So it was I found myself on the Caribbean cruise of my dreams, aboard the Viking Sea – basking in the sun beside a beautiful pool and chilling in my little parcel of luxurious privacy, my balcony overlooking a glistening sea.
That has to be soul food, doesn’t it? Contemplating a calm ocean is endlessly cathartic and gently inspirational. I even found myself writing about 2,000 words a day for the new novel. It didn’t feel like work. It was actually a release – along with the occasional mojito.
Every morning I woke up to watch the ship berth at a new dock, sometimes with the dark volcanic St Lucian mountains as a backdrop; sometimes with miles of Antiguan golden sands and swaying palm trees.
I also ticked off many of my bucket list goals – from swimming with turtles and whale watching to partying on a deep sea catamaran.
Then there was the kayaking along the coast and taking a “Mixology” class at the Bacardi distillery in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
If you had told me a few years ago that I would get the cruising “bug”, I would have laughed. I was one of those people who thought cruising was all about paying a fortune to be crammed on to a floating hotel with hundreds of others, all queueing for everything and nothing to do except eating and drinking. A friend warned me everyone who goes on a cruise puts on a pound a day. That in itself almost put me off.
That perception couldn’t be further from the truth, certainly as far as Viking is concerned. The ship itself is so much “the destination”, you find yourself torn between staying on board and going ashore to explore.
There’s a smashing gym where I spent an hour every morning before breakfast, in an effort to disprove my friend’s prediction. (It worked).
There are also lounges, library areas, with a fascinating array of books, sofa seating overlooking the pool area, armchairs around real flame fireplaces (yes, even in the Med and Caribbean) and on the brand new Viking Orion, a domed planetarium-cum-IMAX theatre where you can sit back and contemplate the stars.
I quickly got into the routine of making myself an early morning cuppa and watching the Viking crew members lower the gangway, put up the distinctive red tent and banners and prepare to welcome passengers on to the day’s excursion coaches.
One of the best bits of cruising is you never have to think about preparation of food. It is there everywhere – and not just in buffet form.
There are first-class restaurants, serving world class cuisine alongside excellent wines and cocktails.
On our last day, my friends and I agreed not to mention the dreaded word “disembarkation” because it might just put a damper on our spirits.
Which one of us will be the first to admit that actually all we want to do is book the next cruise? And none of us would mind if it was EXACTLY the same although perhaps a Norwegian fjord or a journey down the Nile, just to ring the changes.
I don’t mind, as long as I can have my balcony retreat and rejuvenating Nordic facials, I almost don’t care where we go.
The only downside to luxury is you get used to it.
Viking Cruises offers an 11-day West Indies Explorer round trip, departing from Puerto Rico on October 22 for British Virgin Islands, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, Barbados, Dominica, Antigua, St Martin and US Virgin Islands. From £3,190pp for a deluxe balcony cabin; departures on November 1, 11 and 21, from £2,790pp. Includes flights, drinks with meals, nine excursions. Call 0800 298 9700 or visit vikingcruises.co.uk.
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