TV star and ambassador for Princess Cruises Phillip Schofield talks to Liz Jarvis about his new-found love for life at sea
My first experience of cruising was a Royal Princess sailing to Marseille and Barcelona last year. It was funny because usually when we go on holiday I’m always the driver and I load up the car and make sure everyone’s got everything. So this was the first time I’ve ever moved from one place to another and only had to remember myself. Our room floated with us, with everything in it, and we got off and had a look around and got back on again and went somewhere else, and I thought, ‘actually this is really quite appealing, I like the fact that the world is moving outside our windowʼ. After that, my wife Steph and I couldn’t wait to get on board Regal Princess for a Baltic sailing.
From the moment we boarded, the ship, crew and destinations did not disappoint. Our daughter Molly was with us and she’s really fussy, she’s like Monica from Friends, but within five minutes she was saying: ‘It’s fantastic, I love it.ʼ She’s 25 and is now absolutely hooked and planning to take her mates on a cruise. She loved the restaurants, the pools, the spa, and the fact that there was so much space.
I grew up in Cornwall, and then we moved to New Zealand for four years.When I came back to London I was just desperate to get into TV and radio. I do wish we’d taken a cruise when our daughters were younger, because I think a cruise is the ideal chance to see the world and know that your children are safe.
I thought cruises would be a bit stuffy and over-organised and we would be herded around, but I quickly discovered you can do what you like, when you like. There was no rush or no compunction to get anything done, it’s actually incredibly carefree.
To anyone thinking about taking a cruise, I would say ditch your preconceived ideas. And the crew are delightful, they’re not all over you but they’re there if you want them. One night we ended up in Club 6 and we were there until 5am, and they were vacuuming around us.
One of the things I was really keen to try on board was the wine. I loved the Super Tuscans on board, the big Italian reds. The prices were cheaper than they are on shore. And one of my favourite things was taking a wine-blending course; you have a vial of Cabernet Sauvignon and a vial of Merlot and a vial of Petit Verdot and you mix them if you want something a little bit more robust or softer or whatever, and that was fun to do. And I thought Movies Under the Stars was cool, too; to be able to sit outside on a star-lit beautiful night and watch a movie was fantastic.
I’d love to cross the Atlantic. My father in-law crewed posh yachts for other people for a while, and when he was 75, he crossed the Atlantic for the first time, from Dublin to Antigua. And I thought that sounded amazing. I mean obviously the way that I’m planning it is a very different way of doing it, I’m not pulling on any ropes or anything. But he said that the feeling of being out in the middle of an ocean at night is extraordinary, because there’s just no light pollution, and you also get to see dolphins and whales and I really like the idea of that – with a gin and tonic in hand. I’d also love to cruise Alaska, and I think South America would be incredible.
The Chef’s Table Lumiere experience on board Regal Princess was very special; you start off with the chef in the galley, as he’s preparing all sorts of amuse-bouche, with lots of little bits to taste. I don’t have a massive appetite so I was thoroughly enjoying myself and then I realised that was just the appetiser. And then there was this huge four-course meal, with a sommelier coming in and pairing the wines with the food. It was a real treat, but man I was full.
I really enjoyed sitting with a cocktail and watching people crossing the SeaWalk for the first time. As we walked across it I did actually say ‘OH MY GOD’ to Steph, and there was some language that we probably couldn’t put in an interview. And The Sanctuary is lovely. We had a couples’ massage, and it was a stunning day, and the beds are probably the most comfortable I’ve ever lounged on. I found it hard to move from there.
Our balcony stateroom was very pristine, with a bathroom and a shower and a little balcony. I would quite happily have spent a month going around the world in it. It was everything you would want in a hotel room, with an ever-changing crazy view. And one of the things I really enjoyed was being out on the balcony with Steph, having a gin and tonic and a chat; it’s also one of my favourite places first thing in the morning.
We have a house in Portugal that we go to most summers. It’s just a little place, tucked away, no one knows where we are, it’s not grand in any way; members of my family will drift in and out, I barbecue, we sit in the sun and chat, and drink rosé. Holly (Willoughby) has got a house down by the coast, and we’ve got other friends dotted about, it’s like ITV-on-sea. So we all see each other occasionally, we go to theirs or they come to us or we’ll have an impromptu party, so that’s usually part of the summer. As far as holidays are concerned, increasingly when your daughters are 22 and 25 if you want them to come with you, you have to dangle a bigger and bigger carrot, and so now we’re at maximum size carrot to get them to come away with us. You just never know if it’s going to be the last time you all go away together because the youngest has got her boyfriend now, so in April we took the girls to the Maldives.
Steph and I will be cruising in Italy on Crown Princess at the end of the summer. Cruising has opened not just my eyes, but those of my family, to any number of possibilities available on Princess ships, and a wealth of eye-catching destinations. I can’t recommend it enough.
My rule is always to only drink the wine of the country that we’re in.
So I wouldn’t, couldn’t drink Australian wine in Italy, and vice versa. That’s a rule that I stick with and that way you get to try all sorts of things that you don’t normally get to try. And if you’re somewhere that doesn’t produce wine then there’s always something locally produced to try, and experimenting is always fun. Plus there’s always gin.