Land lubber Anita takes in a trip where the food is full on and you’re never far from land as you circle the British Isles
That Julie, cruise director of’80s TV series The Love Boat was a free-spirited one. She’d launch her all-American freckled face into any handsome, boarding passenger in a show of (un)professionalism that would these days have HR walking you off the gangplank.
I loved The Love Boat although my young self didn’t notice the sleaze. So I was first up to try a slice of the Caribbean Princess’ British Isles tour from Southampton to Normandy via Guernsey, Cork and Dublin. The Love Boat was filmed on one of the early Princess Cruises fleet, and staff behaviour has changed somewhat Ã¢â‚¬â€œ not only are there loads more international crew, the boats have swollen in size and the lurrrve factor has given way to food cornucopia.
If you’ve never been on a cruise, it first seems surreal. And confusing, exciting and MASSIVE. There were over 3,000 guests on this megalithic 16-deck, floating hotel with at least nine restaurants and cafes, a casino, theatre and copious bars all looking like a set off Cheers with their mahogany-panelled surrounds. The second thing you notice is the slow tempo of guests. Chuck any metropolitan impatience to the Alisio winds and let the soft shuffle of pensioners guide your gait.
Although there were lots of teenagers and some young families, most passengers are in their 50s upwards. This means it can take a while to get to your destination behind a well-fed group of Americans Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Princess Cruises are American and passengers seemed mainly from the States, Japan and Australia Ã¢â‚¬â€œ perhaps undertaking subterfuge entries into Britain after Brexit.
And the Love Boat sleaze of yesteryear was pretty invisible. People now seem ordinary Ã¢â‚¬â€œ gone are visions of the wealthy, monocled and be-hatted.
The best bit of course is that all food, once you’ve paid for the cruise, is free, any time of the day. It’s incredible you could summon room steward Edgardo to deliver a croque monsieur to your cabin at 3am. I had fun with this though I’m sure room service didn’t when I kept forgetting I’d ordered while upstairs in the Jacuzzi.
You pay a $29 surcharge at one of two speciality restaurants, Crown Grill (steak and seafood) and Sabatini’s (Italian) if you want a treat. The American influence is evident in the choice of food on offer, the top deck hosting ice cream, pizza and hamburger bars. People did seem quite zombified already and queues were forming at the multiple cafes straight after the muster evacuation talk Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all that chat about man overboard.
Meals such as breakfast, post-breakfast, pre-lunch, pre-toilet, post anything, are taken in the curvaceous and ambling Horizon Court on the 15th floor where the lido is located Ã¢â‚¬â€œ all wood panelling, teardrop jewels studded in the ceiling and wave-themed.
An example of my greedy, totally random meal (for there is no designated meal, all times being mealtime) was an authentic-tasting aloo gobi (must be all the Indian staff), chicken and mushroom cacciatora, pak choi, spicy hot wings (not), potato salad, mozzarella balls and strawberry mille feuille, all on one plate.
It’s cost-effective, unless you buy a drinks or internet plan which can work out pricey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ 12 days of free soda (who cares?) works out at $84 and internet access is £199 for 10 hours.
Our meal at Sabatini’s speciality restaurant was a cut above the rest. A starter of white bean, shaved fennel and marinated shrimp was delicately balanced, although I couldn’t quite taste the declared truffle oil. I also enjoyed a generous serving of lobster done three ways with eccentric plating, plus an easily drinkable “Ancient Peaks” Merlot from California.
Should you tire of ship food, you can always refresh yourself at the ports you call at. Docking at Guernsey Ã¢â‚¬â€œ home of creamy dairy and French poet and novelist Victor Hugo Ã¢â‚¬â€œ gave us a wonderful snatch of France without needing to speak the language. They were having a market the day we visited where some good local cheese Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to be bought at the Co-Op Ã¢â‚¬â€œ was on show.
And in Cork, we nipped to the lively pub Gallaher’s for a good salt beef doorstep sandwich and wonderful local Franciscan Well pale ale. They also seem rather fond of chocolate with every second shop selling mounds of the stuff in hard and liquid form.
Back on board and another night’s restaurant offered food that was a mixed bag Ã¢â‚¬â€œ very good bread and butter, a lovely beef chilli with welcome chunks of meat, rather than mince, and with a gentle home-cooked taste. But there was also a slightly soggy red snapper ceviche and a chicken and spinach soup more like a weak stock in which floated three tortellini and a shred of spinach.
You shouldn’t get bored on board. After dinner, there’s plenty of entertainment. If you don’t fancy an off-West End show, talent competition, quiz or crooning, there’s clubbing.
Our Princess had one of the best nightclubs (that means almost empty as I can’t dance) I’ve been to in a while: Skywalkers literally rocked as it shuddered in the sky. The club is perched on a stalk; a space-age pod suspended over the top deck and to which you travel up a bizarre moving conveyor belt along the windowed bridge.
Inside, it’s quiet, most passengers already asleep at 10.30pm. Cheesy pop like Frankie Goes to Hollywood (who’d have thought Relax was once so controversial?) belts out at a sedate volume and some people are dancing.
Later, when I wandered along the decks at midnight, most bars were deserted apart from a few couples hidden in the circular armchairs. Yet the bands played on Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sound familiar? Ã¢â‚¬â€œ and on each floor, musicians were covering Elton John or Billy Joel to empty bars as most passengers had gone to beddie-byes.
It was disconcerting when, at 6.30am and still in bed, the ship docked and a series of jerks rippled through the dark cabin Ã¢â‚¬â€œ at every moment through the night I was
convinced we were sinking.
However, this feeling dissipated once morning sun hit the bow and the new normal of a never-ending breakfast hit, while watching Liverpool approach over peaked waves. I nipped up to the 16th deck Jacuzzi and watched the passengers troop onto dry land, loathe to leave.
The Caribbean Princess next does its British Isles tour in the spring and summer of 2017. A sample itinerary is below:
Sunday June 18, 2017
Southampton | Guernsey (St Peter’s Port) | Cobh | Dublin | Liverpool | Belfast | Glasgow (Greenock) | Orkney Islands (Kirkwall) | Invergordon | Edinburgh | Paris/Normandy (Le Havre)
Prices start from £1,499pp (based on two people sharing an inside stateroom)