AZAMARA’S SEVEN-NIGHT TAPAS AND WINE VOYAGE Gibraltar, Alcudia, Palma, Menorca, Cadiz, Lisbon
Cruises are no place for youngish solo travellers,’ I think as I negotiate my way along the gangplank from mainland Gibraltar onto Azamara’s Journey, trying not to disturb an older lady picking up the debris of a smashed make-up compact. On my left, a stray husband looks lost staring at his boarding itinerary, to my right, a loved-up couple swan along, completely oblivious to anything bar each other.
After check-in, it quickly becomes obvious that those behind the ship’s recent redesign are squarely aiming at holidaymakers used to booking into luxury hotels; both in terms of amenities and semantics. Cabins are called ‘rooms’ and there’s far less boat-specific jargon than I’ve been told to expect. Checking into my quarters, I’m shocked at the size: two queen-size beds, a sofa and a balcony with a table and chairs. If five-star hotel is the vibe they’re channelling, they’ve succeeded.
I install myself at the deck-top bar to soak up some high- season Mediterranean sun and assess the people on board. Sure, there are the octogenarian couples that are the mainstay of cruising but also younger pairs celebrating as kids have gone off to university and a fair few with no discernible other half.
On any cruise ship – particularly this one and its medium- scale 686 berths – there’s not much room to hide. It appears people sail just as much for the interaction as they do the experience. As we set off and I drift into a daze that is broken by an American chap asking me the way to the loo. He is jolly nice. He explains that he has just made the journey across the Atlantic after wintering in the Caribbean with a group of other Americans on the ship. Though these aren’t the kind of stereotypical brash, Hawaiian-shirted, size-of-a-house Yanks I was expecting. Rather, these guys are well-travelled, with an easy charm and genuine interest in a culture other than their own.
Mealtimes are a similarly social affair. One night I spot an elegant lady dining alone with a table set for two, so I wander over to chat with her. A veteran of some 20 cruises, Lucinda is now travelling solo after the passing of her husband. She has chosen this cruise as Henry, an elderly Bajan steward who had waited on them like a trusted retriever on previous sailings, was going to be working on this particular cruise. In that very moment it’s almost as though her husband was there opposite her, with Henry pouring their wine. She speaks openly about the happiness that Azamara and its level of service had afforded them over the years.
Indeed, like Lucinda, people on the ship have cruised many times before – some north of 30 sailings. They speak of the access it gives them to a variety of destinations that you just can’t get with single-location holidays and in their advanced years, they appreciate an easy way into a city – and where better than a port and its inevitable artery straight to the centre.
The food is also far stronger than I had been led to believe. Menus reflect the destination, so there’s tapas in Spanish coastal waters and in Palma, an excellent range of traditional Balearic food. Though the speciality restaurants are where the cuisine really steps up a notch. An excellent grill serves steaks at a size to please the American contingent and the wine list is substantial enough to maintain interest even across Azamara’s longest, 102-day, round-the-world voyage.
There’s no shortage of onboard entertainment. A cinema room, theatre, bar and casino are all on hand. Though don’t expect to bring down the house: everything is charged in dollars, where the exchange rate is penal and everything you win or exchange carries a hefty service charge.
If visiting myriad destinations on a holiday while maximising downtime is your thing, you can’t really go wrong with a medium- sized cruise. The scale of the ship dictates that you have all of the amenities you’d like, while it also has the ability to get directly into cities in a way that you can’t with the huge ocean liners.
As I disembark, it strikes me that I have barely stopped talking for the entire time I’ve been onboard. For a social soloist, a cruise is an ideal opportunity to meet new people and experience a wealth of destinations. Though make sure you remember to pack your conversational A-game. People will want to chat to you, whatever your age.