Twenty years ago, Jennie Bond was asked to lecture on the QE2. At the time she was the BBC’s royal correspondent, in her 40s, and wasn’t convinced a holiday at sea was for her; she came back a convert. “We had an absolute blast. My husband and I loved everything about it: the luxury, the lifestyle, the relaxation, the exploring. My daughter was seven and loved the kids’ club on board. We’ve been cruising ever since.”
Now she sets sail twice a year. “I do one big cruise with Cunard every year – next year it’s Singapore down to the Seychelles – and I do a girlie cruise with my daughter. She’s 27 and we have a lovely time together, getting glammed up for cocktails.”
Over the years she’s tried everything from transatlantic crossings to riverboats, but her favourite cruises are to the Caribbean or Indian Ocean. “I love the sea and I love to be in hot climates. We’ve just come back from a fantastic trip: we flew to the Seychelles, then went to Mauritius, the French island Réunion – I love going to places I did not know existed – and ended up in South Africa. Now I’ve more time, what I really like to do is extend my cruise. So we stayed a few days in the Seychelles, cruised, and then did a week in South Africa. It was just the most brilliant, varied holiday.”
On Azamara Quest, a smallish cruise ship owned by Royal Caribbean
Transatlantic crossings often include six days at sea without a stop. Doesn’t she get bored? “There’s a multiplicity of things to do. Every evening a news-sheet is delivered to your room, listing all the things happening the next day, which makes it sounds like Butlin’s but it’s very far from that. At 7am you can be doing one of the fitness classes that run all through the day, but I’m not really a morning person. My ideal day is to stay in bed while my husband walks six times round the deck. Then the butler brings breakfast and we have it on our lovely balcony in the sunshine watching the ocean go by.
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“At ten o’clock I’ll do line dancing, which is enormous fun. Then a little read or a lecture. There are some great lectures about all sorts of things – history or art or science.
“My husband is less sociable, so he spends more time in the library, which is very quiet, or on our balcony. The really big ships have all sorts: climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, I think one even has dodgems. I prefer to swim and read until it’s time for a sundowner – we wait until at least five o’clock! In the evenings, there’s a whole lot more: ballroom dancing is incredibly popular.”
When the ship does dock, does she join in the excursions or prefer to explore for herself? “Sometimes we do our own thing and sometimes we go on tours, which are very well organised. In South Africa we went on a tour to Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth, which would have been a bit of a mission to get to on our own. You can hire quad bikes on some of the Caribbean islands, so we love to go roaring round, hoping we find a nice restaurant and get back to the ship in time!”
On a quad in the Caribbean during a Cunard voyage
Bond also recommends smaller ships, unless you prefer not to mix with your fellow passengers. “You do get to know everyone and it becomes a bit like a house party. I had a wonderful time on the Royal Clipper, a tall ship with sails that looks like something out of Poldark and only takes about 200 people. That’s a completely different experience, because your cabin is small – I had to crawl over my husband to get into bed. We really felt like we were sailors. There was enough luxury – beautiful food, a little pool – and in smaller ships like that you can sail to extraordinary desert islands that the big liners never get to.
“River cruising down the Rhine was a much more cultural experience, because you stop in towns, and to my surprise it was pure luxury: amazing food, lovely cabin, string quartets, champagne.”
When people ask her what’s the one thing she really enjoys about a cruise, Bond says, “It’s the fact that you unpack on the ship and that’s it. And after you’ve been wined and dined and danced the night away or giggled at a comedian in the theatre, you wake up the next morning and another country has come to visit you without any hassle. Suddenly you’re in Barbados or Grenada or Mauritius. I get so excited when I draw the curtains.”
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