Is cruising to the Canaries the right holiday for me?
- Credit: Archant
We’ve never been on a cruise before – but when my wife Judy and I were offered the chance to spend seven days with Ipswich-based Fred. Olsen on its Boudicca ship sailing from Dover to Tenerife we simply couldn’t resist.
The 2,000-mile voyage included stops at La Coruna in northern Spain and Madeira before we reached the Canaries - and flew home to the UK.
We'd always shied away from cruises before - partly because we like to get out and about on holiday and we were nervous about being cooped up in a ship for ages, and partly because the image of cruisers are of those who rather more mature than us.
But having turned 60 this year I thought it was time to give it a try - and that was a great decision.
Because actually when your only real experience of ships has been a Channel or North Sea ferry you soon discover what a different beast a cruise ship is.
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The Boudicca really is a high-quality hotel afloat (as are Fred. Olsen's other cruise ships: Braemar, Balmoral, and Black Watch).
The cabins are comfortable - most have windows although there are some that are inside with no natural light - and the staff are fantastically attentive and can't do enough to make you comfortable.
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As we arrived to join the Boudicca at Dover it was moored near a larger cruise ship from another line - but as we sailed it became clear that it was the perfect size for a relaxing cruise.
Our journey was the first stage of a "Grand Tour". The ship left Dover on October 3 and is not due to return until March. After we disembarked new passengers arrived and it was due to sail on to Capo Verde, St Helena, South Africa, the Seychelles, around India, around Australia before doubling back and returning to other ports in Thailand, Indonesia and India before visiting Dubai and returning to Britain via the Red Sea, the Suez Canal, and the Mediterranean.
Boudicca can hold nearly 900 passengers. We had just under 600 on board for our phase of the voyage. People are leaving and joining every week or fortnight.
It's a very relaxed experience. There are several restaurants and bars across the ship. You can eat where you like for most meals - and the food and drink is of the highest quality.
It is prepared in a huge kitchen - and we were given a privileged view behind the scenes to see the team that produced mountains of food for meals between 7am and 1am every day.
We found that all the food is superb - but if you want to push the boat out a tad, there is a weekly poolside grill for an extra £20 per head. That was something extra special and well worth it at least once!
We had been advised to bring smart clothes for the captain's reception. While some people did dress up in smart tuxedos and evening gowns, we did not feel out of place in a lounge suit and cocktail dress.
During the day people wore appropriate casual clothes (my shorts got a last airing of the year) and "smart casual" for dinner covered just about anything short of ripped jeans or scrotty vests!
Our fellow guests said other cruise lines with larger vessels can feel more regimented - and some American companies do have a concentration on retailing - but we never felt under any pressure to buy any pressure to buy anything (although I did end up with a new pair of cufflinks).
And there are many facilities on board - Judy visited the ship's Atlantis Spa which offers a range of treatments, from massages to pedicures and facials.
She chose to undergo a seaweed wrap treatment - or a "micronised marine algae body wrap," to give it its full name.
She said: "I decided to have the 75-minute treatment, which includes scalp and foot massage. There is also a shorter 45-minute treatment available.
"It was sheer luxury and left my skin feeling very well-moisturised - apparently it also detoxes and remineralises. The staff were very kind and friendly, and I could well have been tempted to return for one of the other treatments."
There is also a wide range of entertainment and information events on board - from evening shows in the Neptune lounge featuring singers, dancers and comedians to daytime lectures on sights to see on our next destination.
You can learn to play bridge (or pit yourself against other experienced players), enjoy a small flutter on the gaming tables - or even learn to play the ukelele! It all helps to develop a real sense of a holiday experience for the travellers.
The cruise line arranged excursions at the three ports we visited - from La Coruna we visited the world famous pilgrims' destination of Santiago de Compostela where St James the Apostle is believed to be buried.
One of the most sacred sites in the Christian world, this was a great visit - even though the main cathedral is being restored and inside is full of scaffolding.
Our visit was enlivened by some bizarre, but highly enjoyable, street entertainment nearby!
At Madeira we went on an excursion in a cable car up to the Monte Tropical Botanic Garden half way up the mountain by the island's capital Funchal. It was a spectacular ride to a spectacular garden - well worth seeing before we had a few hours to explore Funchal itself.
At Santa Cruz de Tenerife we decided against taking a tour - but spent the day exploring the city and buying souvenirs on the day before we flew back to Birmingham Airport. It was the perfect end to a relaxing week.
Can I afford to take a cruise?
We travelled as guests of Ipswich-based Fred. Olsen Cruises on the seven-day voyage from Dover to Tenerife with return flights to the UK included.
The cost of our seven-day cruise started at £599 per person. Full details of cruises and prices can be found here - and there are sometimes discounts for last-minute bookings.
Longer tours are more expensive, and the cost varies. Suites or balcony rooms cost more - the cheapest fares are for interior rooms with no windows.
All food is included and is the same whatever class of cabin you have and there are packages including some alcoholic drinks - which mean people can budget in advance for the cost of their holiday.
Guests receive a card when they arrive on board which they can use to buy anything on board - from a cup of coffee to designer clothes - and also acts as a passport when leaving the vessel at many ports.
Boudicca is one of four ocean-going cruise liners in the Fred Olsen fleet.
She was built in Finland in 1973 and was originally called the Royal Viking Sky. In 1982 she was lengthened.
She joined the Fred. Olsen fleet in 2006 and renamed at that time.
Boudicca can take a maximum of 880 guests in 462 cabins. There are 61 suites. She has a crew of 329.
There are five restaurants, four bars and the Neptune Lounge which puts on some great cruise shows - the tribute to Las Vegas was a real highlight of our holiday.
There are outdoor swimming pools and Jacuzzis which are a delight on a warm day - and as well as the spa there is a fitness centre, golf nets and areas marked up for deck games.
There are a few shops and a ship's photographer who records guests at several points on their journey.