This month our cruise aficionado John Honeywell, AKA Captain Greybeard, checks out the facilities on Celebrity Eclipse, and gets racy on board cruise ship Norwegian Joy…
I have never agreed with the advice that first-time cruise passengers who want to find out what makes a holiday at sea so enticing should dip their toes in the water on a two or three-night sailing.
True, it’s an inexpensive way of discovering the delights of ship life, but it shows it off in a completely unrealistic and untypical way. Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous – and relatively inexpensive – way to throw a party.
Last month I took a two-night cruise on Celebrity Eclipse, spending a day in the French port of Le Havre. As it happens, P&O’s Britannia was doing its own weekender to Bruges at exactly the same time.
Friday afternoon in Southampton was hen and stag central, as group after group arrived at the terminals.
An agent friend travelling with her young son wrote on Facebook: “OK, so this is the first time we have embarked on a two-night cruise and so far I have seen three hen parties and one lady swigging a bottle of beer and we are only in the queue for check-in.”
On board it was obvious that the average age of passengers was at least half that on a normal itinerary, each one determined to wring the utmost from their all-inclusive drinks packages.
I lost count of the numbers of groups of girls wearing hen party sashes or T-shirts. There was a smaller number of stag groups, and the ones who stood out had taken the trouble to dress in matching bow ties and smart jackets.
And why not? The official brochure price for the sailing started at £399 per person sharing a balcony cabin, with a premium drinks package costing an extra $65 (£50) per person per day. But cruise ships never like to sail with empty cabins, even on a weekender, and some agents had been selling the cruise inclusive of drinks from as little as £359.
Six weeks before sailing, the Britannia cruise was available at £199 for an inside cabin, or £229 for a balcony. No included drinks packages, though.
What better way to celebrate than on a ship where all meals are included (excluding speciality restaurants), the drinks cost nothing, and there’s a choice of discos (nose-bleed loud or completely silent), plus lots of other entertainment? And no need to find a taxi to get home.
There was no sign of the sort of trouble that blights high streets and city centres up and down the country. The only issue I saw was the queues for the bars. To administer all-inclusive packages, Celebrity insists on a one-person, one-drink policy at all times. It’s not possible to buy a round, unless the barman can swipe everyone’s cruise card (complete with the magic sticker).
Which left another agent friend who had queued 30 minutes to get a drink wondering how he could justify the argument that the cruise was – as Celebrity claimed – “a taste of modern luxury”.