The real luxury of this cruise is beyond the small details. Beyond the opulence of the staircases, the soft white bedding, the harpist in the lobby every morning. It’s the bubble you are placed in. A comfortable nowhere, skimming along at sea with no sense of location. It is wonderful.
Despite my profound attempts at switching my phone off, of course I am going to try and sneakily check my email to send a photograph out, or continue my ongoing feud with Asos. All those petty things, you can’t just switch off from them. Just as well there is no wi-fi on board, and no signal at sea. In the evening, a small newspaper printed out by the ship with Associated Press articles is left on the bed. It gives me that sense, the same one as writing a letter by hand, or sending a postcard. That the world may be wound tightly, but you can go back to a moment when things took time. It comes with sounds, the rustle of the paper, the act of sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea to scan the headlines, and then leave the world behind again. There’s no insistence on commenting, no furious checking on Twitter to see who agrees or disagrees with you, no to-the-minute cycle of impending Armageddon. I can’t describe the peace it brings.
Breakfast is brought to the room at an assigned time. We eat scrambled eggs on toast and drink coffee with the French window open, letting in the sea air and watching the water coast along. No land in sight. Before 9am I have written 1000 words. I have no distractions.
We visit the gym and walk along the promenade deck on level 3. A complete cycle is a third of a mile, and we walk it six times. I go back to the expansive gym and use the rowing machine while looking out at sea, which is quite the experience. I had barely been managing thirty minutes at the gym back home, and now I go for over an hour. Day one and I already feel a sense of renewal and energy.
We explore the ship for the rest of the day. John goes to a lecture about Russian history. We visit the onboard library, where you can choose from over 6000 immaculate hardbacks, spread out over two levels with plenty of armchairs and maps. A daily crossword is provided, which John fills in while I read. I spot so many books I want to check out, and I notice I can go over the 100 pages a day I can normally hit on a day off. Amazing what happens when you are not checking your phone every 12 minutes.
Lunch is ridiculous. The main restaurant is buffet style, but the food is fresh and bountiful. I pile up a plate of salads and cheeses before I realise there’s a whole other section of cooked food, fruits, and even more salad choices. There are patisseries, crumbles, pies, soft serve ice cream and slices of cake. The atmosphere is more peaceful and controlled than any buffet I’ve ever been to. Nobody is piling up their plates out of greed. I feel like I’m in a rehab from life.
The evening is a gala evening, which means tuxedos after 6pm. We are invited for champagne in the ballroom so we can meet the crew. The cynical part of me, which is large, thought the idea of suits and smart dress stuffy, overwrought. I find myself enjoying it. In a world where you can visit a Michelin star restaurant in a tracksuit, it’s nice to have some pomp. It’s high drag, and everyone is game to live in the fantasy of what they think the 1920s were like in their imagination. What the hell.
For dinner, every time I blink someone is bringing us more wine, or checking if we’ve finished, or asking what coffee we would like with petit fours. We take a stroll and go to see the show, a musical extravaganza that pairs famous artists with classic pop songs. It’s admirable to see dancers re-create a Degas ballet scene, or doing the can-can with splits on a stage that is smaller than one on the West End, and also rocks side to side slightly.
We end the evening in the cocktail lounge, serenaded by a ridiculously talented piano player/singer who banters wittily and takes requests, performing anything thrown at her by sheer memory. Coming to bed blissfully tired, we find the next day’s activities on the bed along with the mini newspaper, the covers turned on, complimentary chocolates and a card for requesting the next day’s breakfast. What a dream.