All aboard: 30-year-olds can enjoy a cruise as much as OAPs
All aboard: 30-year-olds can enjoy a cruise as much as OAPs

Could cruising be the cure for millennial malaise?

Going on a traditional British cruise might not sound like a young person's game, but it does offer a unique charm all of its own

Helen Coffey
Thursday 16 November 2017 08:39
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“It’s like a care home combined with a Wetherspoons-on-sea.” My boyfriend says this with a shudder as we pass through Raffles – a canteen-style eatery aboard Cruise and Maritime Voyages’s 1,250-bed Magellan liner –which has absolutely nothing in common with the luxury Singapore hotel of the same name. Just as the ship’s Kensington Restaurant couldn’t be further from the upscale London borough.

I nod nervously, eyes skimming from ageing face to ageing face as we make our way through the white-haired, shuffling hoards of typical cruisers: those in the 70-plus age bracket. The garishly patterned carpets, the traditional “British” pub with overblown pictures of London buses, the casino largely comprised of slot machines: "Wetherspoons-on-sea" turns out to be an eerily accurate description.

As soon as the ship leaves Tilbury’s London International Cruise Terminal, I start to feel panic grip me. We can’t get off, I think frantically. WE CAN’T GET OFF!

The Magellan’s lounge and casino

Before we went, I kept hearing about how cruising has changed over the last few years. “It’s not how you think it will be!” cruise converts told me enthusiastically. “Young people go cruising now, too!” I was told this so frequently and consistently over the past 12 months that it was a genuine surprise to find that, for most of our fellow passengers, the warning to “take along any medication you might need” during the ship’s evacuation drill was entirely necessary.

But I swallow my terror burps and explore the ship like the courageous young woman I am (emphasis on “young”). Though the Magellan is by no means small, psychologically I feel hemmed in. I am a Londoner, by choice if not by birth, and the options of what to do, see, eat and drink are endless in the capital I call home.

Here, there are three restaurants, one pub, three bars, a library and a card room (basically a room with tables and chairs in it). For the next six evenings, these will form the basis of all entertainment.

We venture further. Ooh, there are three hot tubs on deck – and a gym! It turns out, unsurprisingly, these facilities aren’t much in demand from our OAP shipmates. We make ourselves at home, fashioning impromptu gym outfits (my boyfriend dons swimming trunks while I plump for leggings) and working out harder than I’ve done in years, determined to prove to myself that I am young and vibrant and ALIVE, dammit!

The reward is a relax and a read in the hot tub at the ship’s stern. The evening is cool and grey, and the other passengers look at us like we’re mad – but we are cosy and happy, enjoying watching the landscape move around us as the sun sets.

And as the cruise continues, I find myself warming up to the idea of limited choice. In fact, there is something rather decadent about it: a return to the simplicity of childhood, almost. By day, we explore beautiful European cities, led around by expert guides and treated to hand-picked experiences: lunch aboard a barge on Amsterdam’s canals, a trip to the lauded Dutch Masters exhibition at the Hermitage and swinging atop the 100m A’DAM tower; touring Antwerp’s De Koninck Brewery and revelling in the four magnificent Rubens on display in the city’s cathedral-cum-art-gallery; visiting Rouen’s immersive, interactive Joan of Arc museum before wandering the grounds of Jumieges Abbey in the Seine Valley.

All decisions fall away, and with them so do my anxieties. “What should we do next?”, usually the recurring question on a city break, ceases to exist.

Back on board, we spend a day cruising down the Seine – no stop-offs, just wall-to-wall ship time for 12 hours. Four days previously, this idea would have filled me with existential dread. Now it feels liberating.

The Magellan’s Abba-filled dancefloor

One of the defining features of the millennial generation is our abundance of choice. From careers to brunch places, we’re overwhelmed with options at every turn. Sometimes on a Saturday morning, my boyfriend will ask, “What should we do today?” and we’ll look at each other blankly, overwhelmed by the burden of deciding from the hundreds upon hundreds of potential activities. All that choice can be exhausting.

But with limits in place, choosing becomes more fun than chore. Should we play darts or Scrabble? Hit the gym before or after a hot-tub session? Have pizza or curry for lunch? (Obviously both.) With clearly defined parameters there’s no pressure, and I am reminded of something else into the bargain – that having fun has less to do with where you are, and more to do with who you’re with and how much you throw yourself into life.

The afternoon holds a cocktail-making demonstration that my London self would have turned her nose up at. The ship’s bartenders make Pina Coladas, Kamikazes and Long Island Ice Teas, accompanied by pumping dance music, frequently spilling spirits and dropping bottles in their bid to emulate Tom Cruise in Cocktail. One even smashes dramatically on the floor, earning the barman an extra loud cheer. Hold yourself back and it is deeply uncool. Throw yourself in and it becomes wildly enjoyable. I laugh, I shout, I whoop – I’m drunk at 4pm in the afternoon and I am loving life.

Next day sees us dock in Honfleur, a pretty French port that has become a big hit with tourists. After an hour’s tour we are left to our own devices. For the first time in six days, the question “What should we do next?” raises its ugly head, and I feel a weariness descend. I am ashamed to admit it, but I’m already looking forward to getting back on the ship. We’ll drink at Sinatra’s, dine at the Kensington, and dance the night away at the Captain’s Club to an Abba-heavy soundtrack 40 years out of date. I cannot wait.

Soaking in some culture in Amsterdam

A 30-year-old may not be Cruise and Maritime Voyages’s target market for its brand of traditional British cruising, but a 30-year-old can absolutely enjoy it. And in a post-Brexit world where the pound still hasn’t recovered its former glory, it suits a young person’s budget constraints, offering the chance to visit multiple cities for a fraction of the cost of flying between them – with all meals thrown in to boot.

Yes, it may be ’Spoons-on-sea – but there’s a reason Wetherspoons is Britain’s most popular pub chain. Just throw back a Pina Colada, don some unnecessary formal wear, and embrace a life with limits.

Travel essentials

CMV (cruiseandmaritime.com) offers a six-night Springtime Break and River Seine Cruise on its Astoria cruise ship, departing from London Tilbury and stopping at Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rouen and Honfleur, from £349 per person. Price includes all food; excludes drinks and excursions.

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