Cruising with MaggieBy Maggie Philbin
When BBC Radio Berkshire breakfast presenter Maggie Philbin told us she was going to work on a cruise ship by giving lectures, we thought, 'a likely story' - so we've got hold of her diary to find out what really happened...
Whats it like to be on a cruise ship? Whats it really like to share your holiday with 1918 passengers and 880 crew?
Breakfast presenter Maggie Philbin and her sister Nickie have just returned from a trip around the Mediterranean on Arcadia, a ship the length of 30 double decker buses. She told us it was work, that she was there to give lectures, but weve read (with apologies to Bridget Jones) her multi-media diary complete with audio clips. Read (and listen) on!
Visits to gym: 1 (v. good, even if clinging to sides of running machine as ship crosses Bay Of Biscay).
Feel like Alice in Wonderland as we try to find cabin. We walk through a piano bar with a string quartet, past a library, and peer into a British pub. Stop for an espresso to try and get bearings, then continue on through lecture rooms, a casino, a nightclub, a cocktail bar and a cinema.
Pass door to trendy-looking Gary Rhodes restaurant. Lose sister but find swimming pool. Try to keep count of Jacuzzis (six so far), track down hairdressers, thermal suite and gym.
Every so often a door marked Crew Only leads to a parallel universe where there are food mixers the size of concrete mixers and fridges as big as underground car parks.
Surely that must be it. Consult map. No theres another pool, twelve more bars and another five restaurants. Have been walking for two hours and still havent covered ship. Not in the least surprised to learn the promenade deck is 140m longer than Olympic athletic track.
I meet Neil Oliver the Cruise Director who bursts out of a door, Mad Hatter-like, running from deck quoits to bingo. Just enjoy yourself for the next couple of days he calls, we dont want you working too hard. Now thats my idea of a boss. I quickly ask him how he chooses his full-time staff. He explains: You could have someone come along who may every qualification going, its fantastic on paper but they might not have that sparkle. You may have someone else that has not got the qualifications but they walk in and just sail through because they will be a good little chatter or have a great history or have a unique personality that the passengers will love.
Listen to a few Neil Oliver anecdotes about the passengers on the ship by clicking on the audio links on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 1 (No harm in setting running machine a little slower. Power walking might be more dignified).
Decide to delegate reporting duties to fit in sunbathing. I give a talk in the Palladium theatre (my God, this place is HUGE. There are three tiers of audience seats) and recruit fellow passengers as reporters to help give true picture and find stories. Every so often, theres a gentle roll. This is the first time I have worked in a theatre that literally rocks.
Michael Burgess, a 46-year-old former fireman from Edinburgh tells me he has come as porter for his mother and stepfather. Like me he is staggered by scale of the ship and his first impression is of the friendliness of staff and fellow passengers. He said: I used to think perhaps naively that people who come on cruises might be a bit more well-off perhaps and a bit pretentious but the people Ive met have been the most down-to-earth and lovely people. Ive met some real characters and its just stimulated completely my faith in human nature.
Listen to more of what Michael has to say and what kind of life stories hes heard by clicking on the audio links on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 0.
Under the guise of investigative reporting I ask Janet and Bob from Burghfield for a few tips on getting hold of a sun bed, as fellow cruisers seem to have honed this skill to perfection.
They like many passengers are experienced cruisers. Janet said: It does help to be fit and healthy to use the sun beds! Although they try and say dont reserve the sun beds you still find towels on the sun beds. You also have to be fit if your cabins right at the front and mealtime is right at the back!
Listen to Janet and Bob to find out why their first cruise was extra special. Just click on the audio links on the top right-hand side of this page.
Day Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight
Visits to gym: 0 (Look, Ive been tramping round, St Tropez, Florence, Rome and Alghero).
Everyone is talking about the number of different boats theyve been on: The Oriana, Sea Princess, Queen Mary, Artemis, Battleship Potemkin. As comic Roy Walker remarks, They just have to be making it up. But then I meet Pauline Macarthy who tells me shes totally addicted to cruising and has been on at least 50, probably 60 cruises! When asked why she said: Well, I did a lot of anniversary cruises with my husband, we did our 40th anniversary on Sea Princess, our 50th on QE2 mid-Atlantic and our 60th on Oriana. I love cruises because its a complete holiday and hassle-free.
This cruise is particularly poignant for Pauline. Her husband of 61 years died at Christmas and this is her first cruise without him.
Listen to Paulines story and what a cruise is like without her husband by clicking on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 1. (There you go, back on track).
Listen to more facts from Jane Taylor and find out from executive chef Ian Summers how he decided what to serve people. Click on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Alcohol: People just kept buying me drinks. What can you do?
Still havent quite cracked the sun bed problem. Eddy and Stuart from Newcastle reveal excellent technique which means I can finally stretch out and read book. Theyre not alone in having made long-life friends on cruises. They are travelling with a group of people they first met one year ago on the Oceania Weve stuck together and we see each other about three or four times a year as well. We met last year during mine and Elaines silver wedding, we were out and about on the ship, we invited a couple off the table and a few off the disco for a champagne reception they drank all my free champagne and then decided to be friends! Weve had a great time ever since.
Listen to more of what Eddy and Stuart have to say by clicking on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 0
Cabin steward Edwin politely remarks that our cabin is frightening. He has a point. My sister has just moved frocks and discovered a sofa. The staff here are very impressive. The Hutton family from Windsor say they were staggered when a wine waiter recognises them from a cruise a year ago. Crikey, their bar bill must be worse than mine.
Listen to Bob Huttons story. Click on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 0.
Phyllis Barron, in her 80s, has come along with her daughter Patti who is here to lecture on The Mediterranean Garden (v. good). People are learning all sorts off stuff on this ship. You can spend two weeks Feng Shui-ing your house, learning about Brazilian gemstones or polishing up your Spanish and French. I counted over 52 completely different activities everyday. Phyllis told me she felt quite overwhelmed at first but has surprised herself. I really didnt want to go but I was persuaded and the amazing thing is, I have found new confidence even at my age. Ive been going up to people and sitting with them and asking can I join you this is something I never would have done before. It shows you that at every age, you find something out about yourself.
Listen to more of what Phyllis has to say. Click on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 0.
Have been tipped off that the theatre company, whove been very impressive throughout, are staging a truly spectacular show tonight. I sit back in awe as they do an amazing fantasy Cirque Arcadia with webs, silks and ropes. Very relieved I dont have to wear similar costumes. How on earth do they all manage to stay so thin? Does someone lock them in their cabins?!
No. But as Brian Graves, a singer, tells me, they do have to support each other off stage as well as on. He said: Living together on a ship is magnified - almost like dog years: for every month its three months, for every year its three years. When we finish this job in New Orleans on 2 December itll be a year practically but it will almost feel like three years. It will be very sad to say goodbye to everyone.
Listen to more of how Brian Graves copes with spending a year on a cruise ship by clicking on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.
Visits to gym: 0.
Have stowed away in potato room. Im not coming home.
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