He stood on the ship bridge, togged up to the nines, his hand shaking as h publicly reconfirmed his love to his wife. ‘I’ve got Parkinson’s,’ he said. ‘This is our 50th wedding anniversary. We really wanted to do this because I don’t know if we’ll see my 51st.’
The story was told to me on the first day of my mini-break on an Island Cruises jaunt around the west Mediterranean.
I had inquired as to what a lectern and a Bible under a glass case were doing at the heart of a control room.
Which I could only liken to my vague memories of sitting awestruck in an aeroplane cockpit as a boy.
I imagined the couple holding hands and looking out of the waves, letting their minds drift over their years together.
I hope they celebrated 51, 52, 53 years together and are still going strong. Because if any holiday can be life-reviving then that holiday is a cruise.
We took off from Toulon, halfway through the liner’s tour from Italy round to the Balearic Islands.
But although only on the mothership (its size must really experienced to be believed) for a few days it became my floating home from home.
Home that is if you enjoy the life of a country gent or a Beckham.
Life on board
But let me killl off some preconceptions straight away.
You’re stuck on it: Well, why would you want to get off when you’re in the middle of the sea. And you’ve got the sun beating down on you and you can look over the rails at the waves swishing comfortingly below.
The sea is always the same: Only if the weather remains the same, you’re stuck in the same spot and it’s always the middle of the day.
The sea is constantly changing and so are your surroundings, so much so that you’ll think that you’re wasting time by sleeping particularly if you can be taking in a breathtaking sunrise.
The onshore excursions are too short: Yes, if you just go to a plaza an sit drinking beer. But I would defy anyone not to get spring in their step whey they are awoken by the captain announcing you are in Barcelona.
And you look out for the first time on the statue of Columbus pointing to the US.
Las Ramblas is a shoppers’ paradise but personally I found the sea front more alluring and spectacular.
I was also put off by the market stall on the main thoroughfare where hens in cages are sold.
For the best way to see Barcelona, take advantage of the helicopter option. If you’ve never been in a chopper, don’t worry about noise.
You get earphones or turbulence because it’s like I imagined Aladdin felt on his magic carpet. Landing too is a skoosh like stepping off a stair.
Sports mad? There seem to be more pools, football arenas and studio per square metre the any other city I’ve been to.
For the soccer-mad Briton a visit to the Nou Camp is awe-inspiring. The dilemma is deciding whether to ty to pack in more sights or to return to the liner to enjoy a few extra on-board activities.
Just don’t cut it too fin or they’ll leave without you.
Don’t imagine you will run out of things to do on board. You can swim, drink, eat, and of course, eat.
You’ll never be bored
The buffet is an eat-all-you-like when-you-like, what-you-like treat… that comes at a price!±
Out guide told us that on average people put on a stone a week during a cruise.
He said this while downing a large glass of water. He has come down from 25 stone to 18 with a plan which involves drinking litres and litres of H2).
You can also gamble on board in get ship’s casinos. Or having sampled foods from around the world in any of he exclusive restaurants you can burn it all off in the gym.
Have a go on the rowing machine while looking out over the swell or opt for a massage in the on-board health suite.
Or simply do nothing.
When do we ever really give ourselves that luxury,
Turn off the mobile phone and just relax by the pool.
Even if somebody wanted to see you you couldn’t get to them so you might as well ignore that phone.
In the evenings it’s sheer indulgence to be able to saunter on from your living room (read, the restaurant) to your lounge (read, the theatre) to enjoy West End-style shows.
But then the dy finally comes – damn, I’m only halfway down the cocktail list when we have to get off.
Thankfully though, it’s not Old Blighty yet. As part of our package we have a couple of nights stop-off in Palma, Majorca.
We stayed in Santa Ponsa, in a lovely secluded hotel called the Jardin del Sol Suites & Spa which is close enough if you want to be near the busier main village.
We used the hotel as base and what a luxurious base it was. A Jacuzzi bath and a shower with sprinklers.
You will get hot if you go to Majorca in high season but that’s great, it gives you the chance to have a bath and a shower.
And if you want a siesta, then you can sprawl out on the hotel’s triple beds!
Michael and Catherine
The balcony looks out on the swimming pool and the glistening sea.
Drag yourself away from it all though and get out into the north of the island, it’s the most picturesque part of Majorca. But don’t just take my word for it.
Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a home there.
You’re in the high part of the island here and the views from the top of the passes are stunning.
The pick of the tourist attractions is the monastery at Valdemosa.
Let’s go Chopin
It would be interesting enough for its history, religious relics, position and scenery.
But it is all the more fascinating because of its association with Frederic Chopin, the composer and his lover George Sand.
Ostracised by the religious zealots in the village, the sickly Chopin was taken in by the monks and nursed by Sand.
You can still see his manuscripts and what is claimed to be his piano.
There’s only so much high culture you can take though, and any trip to Majorca would not be complete without some Spanish dancing.
The Son Amar show in a huge arena in the middle of the island crams it all in.
And that’s just the food which is shovelled on to plates and whisked away while you’ve still got your fork in your hand.
Still, there’s a show on.
The least said about the comic the better – maybe humour doesn’t always travel but the flamenco dancers and the magic art were well, magic.
But like the sun setting on the horizon over the Med on the liner, so it had to set on my cruise.
With my in-flight magazine on my lap and looking out on home soil again, I thought of circling Barcelona in a helicopter and the view at sunrise on my Island Cruise trip.
Reasons to cruise the Med
Watch the sunrise: You can watch the sunrise anywhere but you can’t watch it appear over the horizon with a cooling breeze around you on board a luxury cruise. Pure poetry!
Take in a cruise show: You can just watch while nursing a cocktail in your hand, or budding thespians can take part in one of the talent shows.
Step ashore in Barcelona: And then a take a flight over the city. It’ll be the smoothest flight you’ve ever had. Swirl over forests, haciendas, Las Ramblas, the specatacular seafront rebuilt for the Barcelona Olympics and the statue of Columbus.
Join the monks in Majorca: Visit the monastery that housed the hard-living hard-loving George Sand and her composer beau Frederic Chopin. Their short life together on Majorca could make a Hollywood blockbuster.
Learn flamenco in Spain: The La Mer Show is good old-fashioned Spain for the tourists, bu too less enjoyable for that.
Operating out of Palma, Majorca, until October, Island Cruises offers 14-night cruise-and-stay packages from £675pp.
Comprising a seven-night cruise followed by a seven-night stay in one of 29 Majorcan hotels.
Cruise and stay packages at the Jardin del Sol Suites & Spa with accommodation on a half-board basis start from £965pp.
Flights are available from Glasgow and Edinburgh, supplements apply.
*Since this article was published in The Scotsman in 2003 Island Cruises has gone through a number of changes with TUI now moving the previous brand forward with great success.Hence you being redirected to https://www.tui.co.uk
And the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque looks like one I need to get down on my knees on their magic carpet to give thanks for.
Book a two-night stopover in Abu Dhabi and get your second night free. Visit www.etihad.com.
Now I’ve also found something else interesting in my inbox. Ten nights in Phuket’s 4* Baumanburi Resort & Spa with Escape2 http://www.escape2.ie two free nights in the 5* Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel & Resort.
Prices from €1149pp. Offers based on travel in February. Other dates available.
Sheikh it up TUI
It’s often the trips that you pass up, or are passed up for you, that stick in the mind.
Such as the invitation to go out to Sharm El Sheikh which came around a few years ago.
And which I kindly gave to a colleague.
Such were the instabilities then that a couple of weeks later Sharm El Sheik was hit by a terrorist atrocity.