Friday 24 February 2017

You can get a taste for ships with everything

Cruising the high seas in five-star luxury, Ciara Dwyer discovers an array of pastimes from painting classes, to climbing and dolphin watching

Ciara Dwyer

AN old flame of mine was big into sailing. I was never on his boat but no matter. There will be new ships to sail. As I sipped champagne on deck and gazed at the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean, I smiled. I always knew I'd take to sailing. The luxury liner is the only way.

It doesn't get more lavish than the Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas. The 2,440-passenger ship is some baby. (It runs extremely smoothly thanks to the 760 hard-working yet permanently cheerful crew.) From the minute you step on board, you are steeped in opulence. There are beautiful paintings all over the walls -- giant multicoloured works of flamenco dancers and matadors -- and stunning sculptures. The space-age glass lift makes you feel like you are in a five-star hotel, a beautiful hotel on the sea, where they cater for your every whim while you delight in the magnificence of the ocean, and take in that beautiful sea breeze.

You can forget about feeling claustrophobic in a cabin. For starters, they're not called cabins but staterooms, and are utterly state of the art. My stateroom had a huge double bed, a couch, a television, a mini bar, a telephone and a balcony with two chairs and a table. The bathroom was pretty spacious and there was plenty of storage space for luggage and all my knick knacks. Just as I was marvelling that everything could be hidden away in cupboards, I remembered why everything had to be tucked in. You are at sea. (Before I set sail my father kept reminding me of the old line that I'm always at sea.) There could be stormy weather causing your trinkets to slide off the shelves. But thankfully it was smooth sailing all the way, while the sun shone.

We got on board in Tenerife, joining the Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas ship for the last four days of a 14-day cruise. (The ship had set sail from the Panama Canal and stopped at Barbados. Tenerife was the second stop before their final destination of Palma de Mallorca, where the ship is based.)

What do you do on a cruise? Well, that's up to you. You can do as little or as much as you like. The main thing is that you let go of your life on land. One of the nicest things I did was to stand at the stern of the ship and watch the wonderful trail of white gushing foam which we left behind us. It wasn't long before there was no land in sight, and so you get on with your life aboard. Believe me, there's plenty to do. There were days when I didn't think I could fit everything in, other times I made a conscious decision to do nothing. After all, you are on holiday.

A masseuse once told me that the quickest way to speed up the relaxation process is to get a massage at the beginning of your break. I duly booked one in the day spa. While the therapist stroked the stress out of my body, there was a lovely swaying feeling, as if I was a baby being rocked. (Walking along the ship earlier on I seemed a little drunk, as did everyone else, as we tried to get our sea legs. When I was lying down, the sea still held that lulling magic.)

Rejuvenated from the massage, the next day I decided to go for a run on the top deck. I did my laps on the running track and was happily distracted by the sea. Then it was time for breakfast. There is food available night and day. The Windjammer Cafe had a wonderful buffet for all meals and The Great Gatsby was a more formal affair with waiter service. The food was excellent in both places. And thanks to the fine food, I left the ship a little heavier.

Cruising is for young and old. I met a young couple who were enjoying a holiday with their two-year-old daughter. They said that this was their first foreign holiday together since she was born, and being on the ship made life easier. Their daughter became familiar with the surroundings and the routine and was able to partake in the children's club activities. There are plenty of retired people on board enjoying the shows and if you are infirm, then this seemed the ideal way to take a holiday. The ship is wheelchair friendly and I saw plenty of mobility scooters parked on deck, while the owners lapped up some rays on the sun loungers. Its suits all generations of the family. But there is also plenty to do for young singletons who want to live it up. There are several lounges, a casino, a karaoke night, a disco and champagne bar and if you're feeling very adventurous you can scale the rock climbing wall, after working out in the gym.

One morning, instead of going for a run, I took a watercolour painting class which was good fun. In the afternoon, I lazed in the library and happily did nothing. I felt like the Scottish woman I'd overheard at breakfast who'd told the waiter that she was "sleeping her head off". That evening, I took in a variety show in the beautiful art deco-style Palladium theatre. What talented performers. But sometimes it's the simple things which take your breath away. One day while having lunch I looked out the window and saw some dolphins leaping alongside the ship. There must have been six of them. It was a sublime sight. Moments later, I looked down and saw a sea turtle doing nothing more than happily floating along. I knew how he felt.

GETTING THERE

Enjoy a seven-night Spanish Mediterranean Cruise from €512 per person (based on two people sharing an inside cabin). The cruiseonly price includes departing from Palma de Mallorca, calling at Barcelona, Ibiza and Malaga in Spain, then stopping at Gibraltar, before returning to Palma de Mallorca; meals and entertainment onboard plus all relevant cruise taxes/fees. The price is based on a July 3, 2011, departure (other dates are available). For more information or to book see www.royalcaribbean.ie or www.whynotcruise.ie call 1800 932 619 or talk to your travel agent.

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