I'LL be honest. I had a mental stereotype about cruises, and standing in Dubai port, staring at the enormous Brilliance of the Seas, I was apprehensive about sharing it with 2,500 OAPs for a week.
I feared that I was entering a floating retirement home, where dinner would take place at 5pm, and a game of bingo would set you up nicely for hitting the hay at 8pm. But in truth, the stereotype didn't stick.
Yes, cruises are for people of a mature age. The majority of the 2,000-plus guests were 50- plus, most of them married couples. But it's a long way removed from an old folks boat.
My grandly named “Stateroom” was clean, well equipped, and had a small balcony. A huge comfortable bed dispelled any fears of sleepless nights, and the standard of service was exemplary. Breakfast was delivered hot each morning to my room, which was left spotless after each clean.
The only quibble was the shower — a minute cubicle that your average American tourist would have difficulty fitting into, and a shower head which sprayed water in every direction other than straight ahead.
Having quickly got my sea legs, it was time to explore. Granted, BOTS doesn't boast the ice rink or open-air theatre of other, larger ships in the Royal Caribbean fleet, but it does offer plenty of activities. The main theatre featured a different stage show each night, all MC'd by the irrepressible Gordon, the ship's chief entertainment officer, a British music hall act straight out of central casting.
A cinema reminded me how far down the toilet Eddie Murphy's career had gone. A casino not only gave you the chance to be robbed, but also offered a sanctuary where you're allowed to smoke indoors. Two vices, one stone — why not? The boat's central atrium, its regular clinking of glasses accompanying the tinkling of a piano, gave it the feel of a plush hotel lobby, and lulled you into the mood to slump into a comfy seat and gorge yourself on brandies.
Despite the myriad attractions of bars and restaurants at every turn, those with a disposition towards fitness are very well catered for on board. The air-conditioned gym would not only put most Dublin gyms to shame with its equipment levels and cleanliness, it also offered panoramic views of the the sea, making the treadmill workout almost bearable.
The food on board was a revelation. The main restaurant, which served buffet meals all day, catered for every imaginable taste, all laid out in a cavernous area which meant that there was no queuing, and no scramble for seats, even though up to 800 people could be eating at any one time.
If self-service isn't your thing, the two gourmet restaurants on board — Portofino Italian restaurant, and Chops Grill steakhouse — offered the red carpet treatment for a modest surcharge of about €20. I dined in Portofino, and it was better than any Italian restaurant I've been to in Dublin.
The travel itinerary was very straightforward — sail overnight, arrive at the next port early in the morning, leaving the whole day free for either an on-shore excursion, or lounging around by the pool.
Sailing at night at a leisurely pace, you hardly notice the travel, and this being the Gulf, good weather is almost guaranteed.
The ports of call on our Gulf odyssey were to be Muscat, in Oman; Fujairah, one of the lesser-known Emirates; the better-known Abu Dhabi and Dubai; and Bahrain. Muscat was, to be honest, the only scenic one, its harbour in a moon-shaped inlet is almost Mediterranean pretty. A variety of excursions were on offer at each port, combining various degrees of shopping, sightseeing, travel inland to the desert, or even golf. I must confess that, out of the five shore trips, I only availed of one. The warm March sunshine (about 24°C) made the idea of lounging by the enormous swimming pool very attractive, and with the guests mostly British — ie not German — it meant that securing a sun lounger didn't involve getting up at 6am. And having lounged and read all day, hit the gym early evening, and relaxed with a nightcap in the bar at night, by day six I was rested, tanned, and converted.
I never thought I'd say it. My cruise around the Gulf opened my eyes about this type of holiday. The craic may be 90, but you don't have to be . . .