Flight US751 is on time in Philadelphia. Our hostess's parents are from Cork so she does not charge us for the beer. A bus awaits in Miami airport to take us to Fort Lauderdale where the Westin resort hotel has a rooftop pool for a sunset plunge and a splendid meal of lobster. It does not take much investigation to find the Elbo Room, oldest dive bar in town, a sort of beachside Mulligan's with retro Americana.
Someone once called ocean liners "the cathedrals of the Industrial Age". Cruise liners are the cathedrals of the 21st century. The short journey to Fort Lauderdale pier gives us our first view of Allure of the Seas, 5cm longer than its sister ship and the largest cruise ship in the world. It may also be the most beautiful.
The captain embarks from Fort Lauderdale pier on a cruise to nowhere. He is going to pull just far enough off the Florida shore to open the casino, open the 21 bars on board the ship and serve free drink to his guests, 4,000 members of the world's media and travel trade, including five media and 25 trade representatives from Ireland who are glad to escape the gloom at home. There are familiar faces everywhere, the assembled travel writers from six continents. We have met at events like this before and there is much catching up to do.
The CEO of Richard Fain tries the flow rider, an amazing on-board surfing machine. He is much better at it than your correspondent, who manages to disappear into the back wall in an explosion of bubbles and indignity, which leaves his togs half hanging on in full view of 50 spectators and six TV crews. Fain says the Irish have the highest on-board spend and highest satisfaction rating of any nation. He wants more Irish on Allure escaping the gloom at home and, at €1,500 lead-in for a seven-night cruise, is likely to get them.
The axis of energy on Allure of the Seas revolves around Dazzles night club, where the cutting-edge cruise-sellers of the world are showing off their skills. Reports come back from the karaoke bar that Ireland has starred at the microphone with I Will Survive and You Sexy Thing. In the night club Irish are again at the forefront for a rousing Bonnie Tyler sing-along.
Sadly, the time has come to depart on US airways through Philly. The lounge occupies a space-age second-floor berth on the A concourse. We arrive back to a winter wonderland in Dublin airport and talk of the IMF.
The countryside is beautiful with its white blanket on. Maybe Tourism Ireland should turn Luqnaquilla into a ski resort.