Jane McDonald’s cruise-focused documentary series on Channel 5 was a refreshingly realistic portrayal of ocean and river cruise holidays.
Onboard a brand new P&O Cruises ship for the first time – it was either Azura or Ventura – my wife and I had just arrived at our cabin when a familiar TV face appeared at the door.
“Can I come in and have a look?” she asked, as she breezed in. “Ooh, isn’t this fabulous, there’s so much room,” she said, sneaking a peep in the wardrobe and the bathroom before taking her leave and disappearing down the corridor in search of her own accommodation.
That was my first encounter with the force of nature that is Jane McDonald, who was just as enthusiastic about her cruise ship surroundings then as she demonstrated in her all-too-brief series for Channel 5.
Yes, another documentary series about cruising. But this one was different. For once, it was entertainment that did not make a habit of creating fake drama for effect; it did not reinforce perceived stereotypes by showing elderly, obese passengers gorging themselves at the buffet; and it did not concentrate on creating mini-dramas behind the scenes.
Instead, it showed a down-to-earth northerner – albeit one with a history of success as a singer and a brief career on Loose Women – actually enjoying herself on cruises at sea and on the river. What’s more, she was talking to fellow passengers who were also enjoying their time onboard.
Although she had cruised the Caribbean while making the TV series that brought her fame 19 years ago, her visit onboard MSC Divina – complete with Yacht Club and Swarovski crystal staircase – was a world away from the old Galaxy, and a real eye-opener for her.
She loved her week in the Inner Hebrides with the Majestic Line, and belted out a couple of verses of Amazing Grace while inside Fingal’s Cave – prompting Gogglebox’s Malone family to comment unkindly: “There’s always one who starts showing off in a cave.”
On the other hand, her haunting version of Ultravox’s Vienna, performed at the end of a Uniworld cruise on the Danube, had Erasure’s Andy Bell tweeting: “You MUST release Vienna now its fabulous LOVE Cruising with Jane.”
The series was so refreshing! And so effective. The operators who co-operated in the series can have no regrets at taking part.
Marie McGhee, sales manager of The Majestic Line, said: “The effect of the broadcast has been immense. Within the first 10 minutes of the programme our website crashed with the level of traffic. It was all hands on deck responding to messages on Facebook, phone and email, from people desperate to book a cruise.
“We have run out of printed brochures and we expect our 2017 season to be totally booked out very soon.”
Uniworld received more than 40,000 visits to their UK website during the weekend following the broadcast of Jane’s Danube cruise onboard the ultra-luxurious Maria Theresa.
“We have been completely blown away by the response,” said Kathryn Beadle, Uniworld’s UK managing director.
“The level of interest has exceeded all expectations. During the episode our web team was closely monitoring the UK website to ensure that we could handle the traffic, and they said it was like watching the numbers shooting up on a Las Vegas slot machine. It was truly unbelievable!
“We are dealing with nearly 1,000 enquires from customers, and this is a phenomenal opportunity for our agent partners to capitalise on interest from the show.”
I hope Jane can be persuaded to make a follow-up series. There will certainly be no shortage of cruise lines offering their ships as locations for a week.
As Kathryn added: “The show has been wonderful for Uniworld, but there’s also enormous benefit for the river cruise industry as a whole, as it has really helped to explain what travelling on the waterways is all about. I’ve been contacted by many agents who have said that watching the show has given them a clearer understanding of the product, and that they will now be looking to sell rivers for the first time.”