Things I've been wrong about cruising

20:34, Jul 21 2014
NOT WHAT IT SEEMS: Sailing these days has a romance to it.

It took a very long while before someone convinced me to go on a cruise. The idea horrified me.

I won't go swimming in the sea if the waves are higher than half a metre. Not being a seafaring type at all, I imagined that the ocean's swell got larger the further you went out to sea, so the prospect of lurching about in big seas terrified me.

My only real experience with the ocean had been a trip to the Nobbys off the Victorian coast when I was a child. The waves were huge and just about everyone was sick, except me. Nevertheless, I have always been convinced that I would get seasick the moment I stepped on board an ocean liner.

My next concern was claustrophobia. I couldn't imagine being anything but miserable in a small cabin with tiny portholes for windows. I suppose I had seen the Marx Brothers' movie A Night at the Opera once too often, which has the famous scene in which a couple of dozen people comically cram into a minuscule cabin.

I also scoffed that cruising was only for unadventurous types who were averse to being mobile, and spending a scant few hours in a destination following a guide with a raised umbrella didn't seem to me the ideal way to experience a place. Maybe it isn't, but I discovered something: you can always go back. I realised to my delight that I was wrong on all the other counts too.

The ocean can be a millpond and more often than not a cruise is without any wave action at all.


The one time I did encounter huge seas, on the way to the Falkland Islands, I survived, although I had a nervous few hours.

Ships have stabilisers and all kinds of technological wizardry these days and most often cruise seasons follow the good weather.

Unless you're in the cheapest seats, modern cruise ships don't have portholes but windows and walk-on terraces and staterooms that are masterpieces of design. I never felt a moment of claustrophobia.

I'm writing this as I cruise into Dubrovnik, Croatia. We've just visited Hvar, a lovely seaside village that wasn't on my radar and which I hope to visit again.

It's quite complicated to get there by land, which is another great strength of cruising - you can access destinations you maybe wouldn't bother about otherwise.

I once took an utterly fascinating cruise that stopped in many of the old ports of China. I wouldn't have troubled to fly and bus in. Sailing also has a romance to it. Seeing a place from the water often reveals its layers of culture, since the maritime ports in these places existed before anything else.

The idea of "cruise" is nowadays what you want it to be. There are rowdy cruises for singles who want to spend their whole holiday in sexy clinches with strangers or entirely blotto (and often both experiences at once) or cruises catering to well-read people who are interested in lectures about ancient Mycean civilisation.

There are cruises for families, gays, French-speaking people and adventurers. If you like to travel with 4000 other like-minded citizens, there are cruises for you. If you would rather be on a ship with sails, you can do it.

If the kids want climbing walls and Xboxes and you want a cabaret each night, you can find exactly that kind of cruise. If you want to trek through the New Guinea jungles and meet isolated tribes, you can do that too.

I prefer the small ships, with fewer than 500 or so passengers. I think they tread more lightly on destinations, not disgorging so many people onto the streets of small towns at once.

There's an emphasis on small group land tours and travelling individually. You rarely find yourself following that umbrella.

We sailed out of Venice a couple of days ago and the bigger cruise ships have become a contentious issue there, mostly because they enter the city via the canal, causing the potential for accidents.

If your dream is to sail past St Mark's Basilica, do it soon, because there is a move to ban the ships from the canal.

This cruise is the last leg of a five-week trip to Europe, changing hotels every day or two. What do I love most about cruising this time? Packing and unpacking only once.

What don't I like? The extravagant buffets. They're more dangerous than high seas.