Best-selling novelist Milly Johnson has spent nearly £60,000 on cruises – here she tells us why she can’t get enough of life at sea

Sightseeing at the Acropolis, Athens
Sightseeing at the Acropolis, Athens

I’ve just spent a blissful fortnight on P&O’s Azura. Again. I love that ship. I know it so well that it’s become a home from home for me, and the itinerary was port-rich: eight in 14 days. I have always wanted to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa and it was even more fabulous than I imagined. Plus it made for great background selfie material – essential criteria for my two teenage sons. Later that day I was handbag shopping in Florence, though it was 42°C so thank goodness for the shelter of cafés which served ice-cold Peronis and pumped out cool fine water vapour over its grateful customers.

We posed by the Colosseum in Rome, purred at the yachts and Ferraris in Monaco, and paddled in the Corsican sea. And I’ve never seen as many dolphins in the ocean before escorting us on our way from Gibraltar. Oh, and did I mention I had a good old natter to featured chef Marco Pierre-White, who starred in my third book and travelled with us for a few days?

With my boys at the Leaning Tower of Pisa
With my boys at the Leaning Tower of Pisa

I’ve been cruising for 12 years now, ever since a friend of mine convinced me that it would be a perfect way to holiday. It wasn’t something I had considered before, but I’d just come through a nasty, exhausting divorce and badly needed a break, and the idea of flying to a resort with two pre-school children wasn’t appealing to me. My friend was right: all three of us took to cruising like ducks to water. The children had a whale of a time in the kids’ clubs, so much so that I had to drag them out to eat. They paraded around dressed as pirates earning their dolphin dollars while I chilled in the sun with a Pinot Grigio and a good book and I felt my head empty of everything but the moment.

My boys are in their late teens now and still loving the ships, though they are more interested these days in bronzing their muscles to impress the girls than bouncing around in a ball pool. On board we have had quality family time together, talking at the dinner table, laughing together at the comedians in the theatre, and of course fighting over the mirrors in the bathroom. They now take an age to get ready. A far cry from the old days when they were out of bed and into their shorts and
t-shirts in seconds in case they were late for their tuition by a professional footballer up in the nets.

Meeting chef Marco Pierre-White
Meeting chef Marco Pierre-White

I’ve had time and opportunity to lose myself in reading gritty crime novels, test out some cocktails and have a massage in the spa that ironed out the knots in my neck so much I swear I walked out of the treatment room three inches taller. Taking time out for myself is something I forget to do on land. At sea, I make sure I’m my own best friend.

Cruising has given us as a family the opportunity to see so much of the world and be thrilled by the big and the small: the ruins of Pompeii, the shipyards of Gdansk, the palaces of Russia – and equally as fascinating for young ones – lemons the size of rugby balls on a Sorrento farm. We have swum in the most beautiful sea coves which can only be reached by boat, sailed on underground fairy tale lakes and been mesmerised by a Venetian glassblower making a Ferrari horse from a molten blob on a stick.

We’ve had adventures that we didn’t mean to have either, the most notable being when I missed the ship in 2012 and had a three-day dash across Europe to catch up with Azura. It was a tale of a maniac taxi driver, a woman selling knickers, huge disguising sunglasses and some of the most beautiful scenery my eyes have ever touched on. In retrospect, it’s funny, but at the time, it was anything but.

Preparing for life jacket drill
Preparing for life jacket drill

A cruise holiday isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t have to be wildly expensive either. You don’t need a new ball gown for every evening, you don’t have to book a suite with a butler. Taking into account that a four or five course meal for three in a restaurant every night would cost us about £100 – and that’s a conservative estimate – I would say a cruise is pretty good value. I reckon I’ve spent about £60,000 on our cruise holidays but I don’t begrudge a penny of it. I’ve worked hard enough to deserve them and I’ve loved every one of them and I’ve come back to terra firma invigorated and ready to get my teeth into my next project.

My work levels are ridiculous and I’d explode if I didn’t have a yearly holiday. And that’s why I cruise, because I’ve found that being at sea on a ship is the only way I can truly relax. It’s as if my pressures are stopped by border control and are not permitted to follow me on board. Yes, they will be waiting for me when I return, but by then I know my batteries will be fully recharged and I will be strong enough to take them back onto my shoulders.

Enjoying a drink with my youngest
Enjoying a drink with my youngest

I’ve had a partner for nearly four years now and yes, I’ve converted him to cruising too. He was under the same delusions I was all those years ago – that he’d be cramped and bored and surrounded by miserable pensioners. Like us, he was amazed at how much there is to do, and how huge and comfortable the ships are. It was a thrill to see his shoulders drop as he relaxed and lazed in the sun.

I once invited a friend to come with us to test it out because her fiancé wasn’t keen on taking the plunge. He saw her holiday photos, allowed himself to be persuaded and now they take three a year. They even married on board. I’m rather proud of bringing cruising into their lives.

Now I’m home with no one to call me ma’am or to make my bed for me and a dip in my spirits is natural, but I’ve discovered that there is a sure and certain way to beat those post-holiday blues and that’s to start planning the next cruise. It’s the only solution.

Milly’s
 latest
 novel, 
Afternoon
 Tea at the 
Sunflower
 Café, is 
out now in 
paperback (£7.99). Find out more about Milly at millyjohnson.co.uk

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