I went on a cruise ship and thought it was going to be terrible
I was eyeing up the lifeboats as I got on.
It was a family member's 60th birthday, so the entire family decided to go on a family holiday, and at some secret family meeting (that I feel I was purposefully not invited to), it was decided that everyone would be going on a cruise.
Please God. No.
Prior to embarking (ship lingo, get used to it), I had a preconceived notion of cruise ships as vessels filled with couples in their '80s, somehow celebrating their 70th wedding anniversaries.
And that everything on board would be... what is a nice way of saying dull? "Not exciting"?
Basically, that episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine where Jake and Amy try to stop a criminal on a cruise ship? That.
Clip via TV Promos
There were low hopes of having much fun on the high seas. But at the very least I'd probably get a tan, and at least I didn't have to pay for alcohol or food on the boat, because that was all taken care of.
Stock up on books and just get on with it.
And how wrong I was.
Flying into Barcelona to get on board, we got to the dock and found that our boat - the Norwegian Epic - was big. Huge. HUGE. We knew it was going to be huge, but this was HUUUUUGE. As if someone picked up the Empire State Building, turned it on its side, and set it afloat.
There was a queue of people waiting to get their bags checked on and get on board, and we found out that the ship had a guest capacity of well over 4,000.
Once that was sorted, we went straight to our rooms, which was the next big fear. Boredom, and claustrophobia, probably with a room with no window. While those window-less rooms do exist, we sprung the extra for the next room up, which came with its own balcony.
It is impossible to describe what a difference this immediately made. There had been foregone conclusions that we'd be in a room similar to Jack's in Titanic, but thankfully, this fear didn't materalise. We sat and watched the world go by initially, because it was absolutely lashing out and going to the pool on the top-deck was a no-no.
Yep, Day One was a washout, as the boat sailed across the Med towards its first port of call, Naples in Italy.
So that first day was spent exploring, and discovering that not only were there more bars than we could count on board, each bar had a different specialty. From American-themed beers 'n' wings joints, to the fancy cocktail lounge, to an Ice Bar that required you to wear a big furry coat upon entry, there was no shortage of places to get your drink on.
Ditto for the restaurants, with plenty of different nationalities and styles of cooking presented, and all but the two premium outlets covered by the all-inclusive price upon booking the trip.
Next day, out at sea, the sun returned, and everyone hit the sun loungers. There were two main areas on the top deck, one with different entertainers every day (dance competitions, or a traditional Spanish band, or a EDM-loving DJ), that also had some huge water-slides and jacuzzis and the likes.
And down the other end was the adult-only pool, so if you didn't have kids, or simply wanted a more chilled-out time, then you could head here.
It was on this first sunny day that the biggest surprise of the trip revealed itself.
Everyone was so... young.
The anticipated median age of 70 was off by about 40 years. Sure, there were some older folk there to celebrate anniversaries (as expected), but the majority of the holidaymakers here were around 30, some with their families, some with their partners, some on their own.
It appeared that the idea that cruises were just for the older generation was entirely false, entirely unfounded.
Over the course of the next few days, the ship had everything from midnight raves by the pool, to a Cirque Du Soleil show, to an R'n'B club night (there were at least three different nightclubs on board, not including the spots on the boat they turned into impromptu dance-floors), to a Broadway-level performance of Priscilla Queen Of The Desert.
Or there were movie nights, huge pub quizzes, LGBTQ mixers, and... yes ... shuffleboard.
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This was all without the designated stop-off points on the cruise route which only added more things to do. And only if you wanted to, of course. If you had no interest in getting off at Rome, or Florence, or Cannes, or Majorca, then that was entirely your decision, and you could stay onboard the now (mostly empty) ship and enjoy the pool deck almost entirely to yourself.
You could pay the tour guides on board the boat to bring you on trips around each stop, or you could just get off and make your own way around each city for the six to 10 hours the ship was docked there.
At the time, there was a huge public transport strike in Rome, so there was no real way to get to and from the city from the boat without spending A LOT of money on taxis, so that was out for us. On the other hand, we discovered that Naples had a day cruise to the nearby islands of Capri, so the family booked a small boat that took us around one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
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Before we knew it, the cruise was making an overnight return to where we started, and on that final night, we all watched an incredible lightning storm develop over the Mediterranean, as the cruise ended the way it began: full of rain.
And then, just like that, the week was over, and we were back in Barcelona, waiting the few hours for the flight back to Dublin.
Afterwards, talking to people about it, I felt like someone who had found religion. "No, seriously, I know you probably don't believe me, but it was great, I can't recommend it enough!"
Not to go overboard (a bit of nautical humour there!), but the fears of it being boring, being just an excuse for centennials to renew their vows or whatever, being a bit... what is a mean way of saying not exciting? "Dull"? They all fell away pretty sharpish once you got on board. Both figuratively, and literally.
Consider me converted.