“You’re new here, aren’t cha?” a Canadian cruise veteran roars at me in a voice as loud as his pink Bermuda shorts. I stop prancing my way over to the all-inclusive bar and nod sheepishly. “You’ll love it here,” he says, his grin almost reaching the brim of his maple leaf baseball cap.
My fish-out-of-water experience on the Azamara Journey begins the second I step on board. Fearful of spending the next three days bobbing along the Mediterranean with 700 people from an entirely different age group, I have no idea what to expect, and figured I simply wasn’t the cruising type. But, as I aimlessly roam the boat, the sight of bottomless strawberry daiquiris eases my doubts.
It isn’t too long before we dock at Alicante, where I make a beeline for the nearest glass of tinto de verano, Spain’s beloved red wine and lemonade tipple. Emboldened by booze, I decide to make the most of the city’s rich Moorish history and delicious tapas.
After a punishing morning climbing the stairs of Santa Barbara Castle, I wander aimlessly and find myself in Calle Munoz, a street with pastel-coloured houses and higgledy-piggledy alleyways. I clock Livanti, a buzzy ice cream shop swarming with upbeat Spaniards — it must be good. I head in and ask for two scoops of coconut ice cream, but I’m given three. Oh no. It’s going to topple. It’s toppling. Thwack! It hits the floor, and I make a quick exit. I order another glass of tinto from a nearby café, flump onto the curb, and devour my surviving scoops. For all my clowning, it feels like the perfect way to while away a balmy Spanish afternoon.
Back on the ship, I spend an hour before dinner in the private hot tub — my new favourite haunt — being tended to by a personal butler. There’s something slightly disconcerting about being served cocktails by a man in a suit as I soak my prune-like feet, but I soon get used to it.
The ship’s casino is like a piece of Monte Carlo at sea. The wealthy-looking and the dapper lounge on plush chairs, sipping single-malt whiskies to the soundtrack of jingling coins and tinkling piano. The vibe is somewhere between a beach bar and a country club, with not a single shrieking child in sight. Having observed, but decided against placing a bet, I slip to the Discovery Bar. It’s a Michael Jackson themed night, although this doesn’t stop me inundating the DJ with requests, and I gulp down my Martini (another first) while shouting for a switch to Ricky Martin.
Would I go on another cruise? Possibly. Would I recommend it to others? Absolutely. When I first told friends — all also in their twenties — that I was going on a Mediterranean cruise, their reactions were as dubious as mine. But I got on board, discovered new cities, and, contrary to my usual travel habits, whiled away entire mornings without putting on hiking boots or getting out a map. And I’m happy with that.