A cruise is like being at a resort. At sea. The additional bonus is that you hop off someplace new everyday, spend a few hours wandering around, and then come back to the luxury of a nicely made room, endless food and a good night’s sleep.
Our first night on the ship was quite glamorous as it turned out to be the Gala night (happens twice during the week-long cruise) and everyone was dressed in their glad rags, floating between the many nightclubs and bars that the ship boasts of (each with it’s own live entertainment: jazz, disco, piano, karaoke, classical music etc); shopping (don’t roll your eyes, this is what defines modern man) and gorging on the midnight buffet, that is the highlight of the evening.
The idea is that after a seven course dinner, you spend one night living it up – there is a show with professional performers from all over the world that is staged every night at the ship’s grand theatre – and then hit the midnight buffet (cakes, pastries, bread, salads, cold cuts, fruit) where in addition to eating you can also marvel at the fruit sculptures that line endless counters. Whew. Tiring, but nice.
The first stop was Genoa, where we got off (and the rest of the ship as well, going by the queues everywhere) to visit their world-famous aquarium that is part of a Marine village, that also boasts of a life-size pirate ship and a marine museum. We spent 2 hours at the aquarium, and fell in love with the penguins who kept throwing themselves in the water, climbing out, and then promptly throwing themselves in again. The clown fish (Nemo and gang) were a big draw, as were the sharks displayed right opposite (fittingly, one of them resembled the adorable Bruce) whilst a huge tank of creepy piranhas (very orange and very still) looked out at us (hungrily?) in a definite predatory spirit. They also had some Venus flytrap kind of plants which looked deceptively innocent, though they were rumoured to ingest and digest small mice and other rodents quite easily. Eeeuuh.
We had a fire drill that evening. Everyone had to wear orange life-jackets and assemble at a designated meeting point – the kids had child-sized ones which I couldn’t find of course, so we put the big ones on them (to much whining and protests) and headed off. It took half and hour and most people treated it as a nice photo opportunity – including the professional photographers on the ship, who take your pictures every where they can and then sell them to you. These pictures are actually very good (and very expensive) and I can bet no one’s going home empty-handed.
Our next stop was Naples, where we took a drive along the Amalfi coast (straight out of the movies), and even though we had a couple of unscheduled potty & puke breaks, it was just too beautiful to have been missed (Laila had to go potty on a stretch that had some spectacular views, but no inhabitation; Ishaan politely vomited into a bag; Laila into poor Rohaan’s lap, but hey, at least we saved the cab from too much damage, right?)
Pompeii was our last stop that evening and Ishaan stared wide-eyed at the remains of the two poor souls who had been fossilized in lava, when neighbouring Mt. Vesuvius erupted around 700AD, burying this model Roman city for posterity to ooh and aah over. But it was the fossil of the unfortunate dog, in an awfully contorted position, that attracted the most attention. Ishaan was so impressed by it all that he insisted on buying a magnet with Mt. Vesuvius erupting away onto poor Pompeii. This cheerful souvenier will soon be on display on the door of our fridge.
We docked next at Palermo, Sicily, home to the Godfather, and immortalised by Marlon Brando, whose mug is found on every kind of magnet, shot glass, wall plate and t-shirt imaginable. We walked through the town centre and found that Palermo was fittingly rougher and dirtier than the other cities we had visited. Vespas raced around us; a group of teenagers passed us on the street on some kind of school visit, but unlike Florence, these kids looked and behaved like punks; the streets were full of Bangladeshi’s selling poor quality clothes and souveniers; the roads led off into narrow looking alleys, where you could easily imagine the Mafioso and their families scheming and plotting revenge, murder and other dark deeds. It was a nice change.
We had now been on the ship for four days. It began to feel a little like home (though who has the luxury of having the room made up twice a day, fresh towels and all, eh?) and left to me, I don’t think I would ever have got off. I used the fitness centre one day, which has 10 pieces of every kind of gym equipment imaginable, paired with a funny assortment of super-fit and super-obese people working out together.
Our next day was spent on board as we couldn’t dock at Tunisia due to the political turmoil there. We spent the day at the pool – the steaming hot jacuzzis are pure bliss! – and explored the ship where we found a gaming arcade, a 3-D theatre (chargeable), an outdoor sports arena where you can play table-tennis, tennis and even football. You could sign out board games (free of course) and we borrowed a deck of cards and Monopoly.
That night was the 2nd Gala dinner where you got to meet the Captain and the crew (they are introduced before the nightly show begins), and could take pictures with them if you liked. It was all great fun. Ishaan, however, wasn’t impressed. “If they are all here”, he whispered, “than who is sailing the ship?” The boy is sharp. And paranoid.
Our last stop was Palma de Mallorca, part of the Balearic Islands and not something we were terribly excited about, as we expected it to be a small, touristy kind of place. To our pleasant surprise it turned out to be a quintessential European town, straight out of a picture-book: clean as a pin cobbled stoned pavements hung with big, brass lanterns; fountains and flowers everywhere you looked, and an impressive cathedral that dominates the skyline. There is also an old Arab quarter here with some lovely buildings – but our big find was an ancient, wrapped-around itself olive tree (with tiny little green olives hanging from it’s branches) that seemed to whisper secrets of the long-lost past, to weary travellers resting in it’s cool shade.
A perfect way to end a perfect week.
A little more…
- We had to dress formally for dinner almost every night. Though this may sound tiresome (what to pack?!), the formality of it all lends itself nicely to the vibrant party atmosphere that the ship is trying to create. I carried a few dressy, neutral-coloured tops and 2 dresses, that I accessorised with some jewellery, 2 shawls, 1 jacket and 1 pair of black heels – and managed to look respectable (I hope).
- The ship was quite child friendly. There was a play area where we could drop the kids off, to be looked after by the in-house staff. Mine of course refused to stay there without us (sigh), but a lot of children seemed to be having a blast. Then there are the endless swimming pools, jacuzzi’s, splash pools where you can spend all day. The food has immense variety and offers all the usual suspects (pizza, burgers, hot dogs, French fries, spaghetti) and the children really enjoyed the nightly shows: jugglers, gymnasts, magicians, ventriloquists, professional singers and dancers. Clean, wholesome entertainment that is easy on the eyes. The best part was that on our package the kids were free. Which is why the ship was full of children. We weren’t complaining.
- Lastly, do your homework about the ports that the ship stops at before you get on the ship. This is because the travel desk on the ship will obviously try to sell you their packages and logging onto the net and trying to find info at short notice (and in the midst of a hundred things) is near impossible. Luckily for us my father-in-law had done mountains of research that helped ensure we spent time seeing or doing stuff that we really wanted to, and were not forced to, along with a busload of other people. Maps are also not available on board, so try and get some off the net.