1. WATCH FIREWORKS
Fireworks are a regular feature of celebrations such as ship launches, and the annual New Year’s Eve spectacular on the island of Madeira attracts ships like moths to a flame. But there’s only one cruise line which puts on a pyrotechnic display with every voyage. That’s Disney, whose four ships all feature pirate parties which start with Cap’n Jack and finish with a real blast.
2. SEE A WEST END SHOW
Theatres on many new cruise ships are bigger and better-equipped than most on Broadway or in the West End and it’s a shame many of the performancxes are of amateur dramatics standard. Forty minutes of show highlights is often the norm, and on Carnival Breeze the performances have been cut back to just half an hour. The exception to the rule is demonstrated on Royal Caribbean’s newest ships – the full version of Hairspray: The Musical features on Oasis of the Seas, Chicago is performed on Allure of the Seas. Liberty of the Seas now shows Saturday Night Fever, and I predict that it won’t be long before Jersey Boys make their debut at sea.
3. GO STAR-GAZING
As flat-screen televisions moved into cruise ship cabins, the few ships with dedicated cinemas were finding other uses for the space – until some had a re-think and realised that passengers wanted to move in another dimension. Royal Caribbean fitted 3D projection equipment in the theatres on some ships, and are showing the latest DreamWorks features; Cunard did the same in Illuminations, which also lays claim to being the only planetarium at sea, and put on recorded performances from the Royal Opera House. MSC and Carnival have gone even further with 4D and 5D performances – adding moving seats and other special effects.
4. GET COOKING
Want to improve your skills in the kitchen? Then sit down and watch a cookery demonstration. Visiting chefs join crew from the galley in the Culinary Arts Centres on board Holland America’s ships – I put a mean salad together on Eurodam with the help of What To Eat Now’s Valentine Warner. On board Oceania’s new Marina and Riviera they take things a step further by setting aside a cookery learning centre in association with American foodie magazine Bon Appétit. Each can accommodate classes of 24 with subjects ranging from The Art of the Tart, through a Taste of Ireland, to a Passion for Pasta.
5. PRIVATE TOURS
Avoid the crowds at some of the world’s most popular tourist sites by taking a private after-hours tour available on some cruises. The opportunity to stroll unhindered through deserted galleries at the Hermitage in St Petersburg is one that I shared this summer only with my fellow passengers from Saga Sapphire. Visiting St Mark’s Basilica in Venice from Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey after all the other tourists were back on their ships provided a rare opportunity to descend to the crypt, and also provided an unforgettable light show.
6. HAVE A BARBECUE
The Lawn Club Grill restaurants on Celebrity Silhouette, launched last year, and Celebrity Reflection, making her debut next month are outdoor barbecues where passengers can do their own cooking. Guests choose their own steaks, chops, and other slabs of meat and fish, season them to taste from a selection of herb and spice rubs and then slap them over the heat until they are cooked to perfection. Invite a group of friends for your own $30-a-head barbecue at sea – and let the crew do the washing up. On Carnival Breeze, Jimmy’s C-Side BBQ has the best pulled-pork sandwiches at sea – well worth the 15-minute queue to get served.
7. A WEIGHT OFF YOUR MIND
With all that unlimited food around, it might sound unlikely, but a cruise ship can be one of the best places to lose weight, as I proved earlier this year. Alongside the steaks and sausages, lobsters and linguine, the restaurants provide a bigger variety of salads than you could rustle up at home, and it’s no hardship to stick to sparkling water instead of martinis for a few days. Team the low-calorie options with a couple of sessions with a personal trainer in the gym, and treat yourself to a seaweed wrap in the spa and you could lose a pound a day or more, as I did on Celebrity Silhouette.
8. READING MATTERS
Books are a popular companion on a cruise – if only because a paperback is handier than a Kindle for bagging a sunbed or reserving a table in a self-service restaurant. Libraries are a popular hang-out too, with some ships taking it to extremes. Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria have wood-panelled two-deck affairs with a spiral staircase that wouldn’t look out of place in a gentlemen’s club and Queen Mary 2 claims to have 8,000 titles on its shelves. But the world-beater in terms of the number of books per passenger must be tiny Minerva. The ship carries about 350 passengers and more than 5,000 books – many of them academic tomes whose authors have been guest lecturers on board.
9. BRUSH UP ON PAINTING
You could buy postcards as mementoes of your cruise, you could fill up your digital camera’s memory card – although the light is never quite right and there’s always another passenger standing in the way. What’s the alternative? Learn to paint – cruises with Fred Olsen and on Saga’s Quest for Adventure frequently feature water-colour classes. Complete beginners and old hands get expert hands-on tuition, and get to put their work on show at the end of the week. Bring your own equipment and it’s free, or a small charge may be made for paints and brushes.
10. THAT CAN BE ARRANGED
Paula Pryke, flower arranger to the stars, doesn’t just advise Crystal Cruises on their floral decorations and formal night corsages – she travels on their ships a couple of times each year, joining passengers on excursions to gardens and local markets, and organising demonstrations while on board. Next April she will be on Crystal Serenity for an 11-night La Dolce Vita cruise from Barcelona to Venice, and in May she joins Crystal Symphony for a 17-night voyage from Los Angeles to New York, via the Panama Canal.