I’ve spent a large part of my working life trotting in and out of palaces and castles reporting on royalty. And I sometimes wonder whether that’s why I’ve always felt so naturally at home on board Cunard’s magnificent fleet of queens.
But the truth is that everyone is made to feel instantly at home on a Cunard voyage. From the moment you’re greeted at the terminal to the final morning when you say farewell to your personal steward, you’re made to feel like royalty yourself.
The sense of space, the sheer elegance and the gentle decor of each of the queens always combine to soothe away my cares and worries. I’m sailing away, sometimes my phone will be out of range and – for a week or so at least – everyone back home will just have to look after themselves.
For me, the joy of cruising is that you can wake up every morning and find that a new destination has come to visit you overnight. You draw back the curtains to see a new island, or port or country – and all you’ve had to do is be wined and dined and dance the night away on board.
Recently, my husband Jim and I seem to be making a bit of a habit of sailing through the Panama Canal on Queen Victoria. It really is one of the most exciting voyages you can make. There’s so much to see, do and learn during the day-long passage. Sometimes it seems impossible that such a large vessel can be manoeuvred into the narrow locks. Often you are so close to the sides that you can reach out and touch them, which always seems quite crazy. And there’s something truly special about seeing the sun rise over the Pacific and set over the Caribbean.
Oh, the Caribbean. How I do love cruising around the islands in the midst of the British winter, having different adventures along the way. On our last Cunard voyage, we stopped in Bonaire and decided to pretend we were young again.
“Come on,’ I said. “Let’s do it. Let’s just hire a Harley Davidson for the day and go and explore the island.”
Now, Jim has loved motorbikes all his life, but he’s no spring chicken any more and, even as I said it, I began to regret my bravado.
Perhaps the good life on board Queen Victoria had made us feel a little too carefree, but it certainly seemed like a good idea as I booked our Harley tickets at Cunard’s very helpful tour desk.
And so it was that we found ourselves at the Harley rental store on a rather wet afternoon in Bonaire. I should also explain that Jim and I are not very tall. In fact, we’re quite short. And Harleys are big, and long… and a bit scary on slippery roads. By the time I’d found the right sized helmet, I was having serious second thoughts about our adventure.
So you can imagine my utter relief when Jim got on the monster bike they’d assigned to us – and found his feet didn’t reach the brake pedal. What a lucky escape. They regretfully told us we wouldn’t be able to ride. We were overjoyed, and crept away to enjoy a much more age-appropriate pursuit: a rum punch in a seaside bar.
Back on board, we settled into the safety and comfort of our stateroom. The Cunard queens really do boast the most magnificent accommodation. It feels like a home from home. Huge comfy beds, fresh linen every day, plenty of storage space for the vast quantity of clothes that you’ll probably never wear, a sofa to lounge on and – in most of the staterooms – a balcony where you can enjoy a quiet moment and a glass of something delicious as the ocean passes by. And my personal seal of approval goes to the bathrooms – many of the staterooms have a proper bath as well as a shower that, to me, is sheer bliss after a day in the salty air.
I love getting all dressed up in my finery for formal nights on board. Jim and I can generally be found in tatty old jeans, sweatshirts and wellington boots as we struggle to keep our few acres of Devon coastline tidy and our Shetland ponies happy (in other words: shovelling poo). So we tend to look at one another in amazement when we make a special effort and scrub up as best we can.
But it’s only fair to try to do justice to the fantastic efforts of the Cunard chefs. Dinner is, without fail, a culinary delight. Lobster, Chateaubriand, crepes suzettes flambéed at your table: it’s an adventure in itself. I have sadly had to train both Jim and myself to forsake the desserts as – being short of stature – we simply can’t afford to expand in other directions. But we love our meals on board the ships and often sit there chatting for so long that we’ve missed some of the wonderful entertainment that keeps everyone partying until the early hours.
There’s always lots to do on board and you feel fabulously healthy with so much glorious sea air. Jim tries to impress me by walking around the deck five or six times every morning. Well, most mornings. It counteracts the guilt of eating so much delicious food. I must admit, I’m not a morning person – so I stay in bed and make sure breakfast is brought to our stateroom in time for his return. Just another aspect of the consummate service.
I love having the choice of so many activities – from dance classes (just in case the call ever comes for me to appear on Strictly Come Dancing) to cookery demonstrations, history lectures or games on the sports deck. Then again, you’re just as likely to find me lazing by a pool with my book.
Whether you’re on board for the World Voyage or just spending a week or so with Cunard, I can’t imagine that you’ll ever be short of something to do.
In a few weeks time, Jim and I will be flying out to Fort Lauderdale to join Queen Victoria for more adventures in the Caribbean before we sail through the Panama Canal once more en route to Los Angeles. And in these dark days of winter, it’s the thought of all the fun to come on board that’s keeping us smiling.