August 22, 2005


On the BBC site, Maggie Philbin (the BBC preseenter who was a guest speaker on the ARCADIA crusie we were on) made this written and audio blog.
It is on the BBC site at: click here
Here is the written part - read the article to get the audio parts!

Cruising with Maggie

By 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...


The Arcadia cruised to: Palma, St Tropez, Florence (port Livorno) Rome (port Civitavecchia), Alghero (Sardinia) and Gibraltar.

• At 290 metres (952 feet) in length, Arcadia is 22 metres (72 feet) longer than Tower Bridge.

• At 244 metres high, Canary Wharf is 46 metres shorter than Arcadia.

• If you parked 30 double-decker buses in a line, they would be the same length as Arcadia.

• Arcadia is 5 times longer than Nelson's Column in height.

• Arcadia is 32.3 metres (106 feet) in width, that’s 6.7 metres (22 feet) wider than Concorde’s wingspan.

What’s it like to be on a cruise ship? What’s 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 we’ve read (with apologies to Bridget Jones) her multi-media diary complete with audio clips. Read (and listen) on!

Day One

Visits to gym:  1 (v. good, even if clinging to sides of running machine as ship crosses Bay Of Biscay).
Calories:  1000. Who’s going to be tempted by Glazed Lobster Tail Thermador when you can have every salad under the sun?
Alcohol: 0 (Welcoming glass of champagne doesn’t count).

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.

Maggie Philbin
Maggie Philbin

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…there’s another pool, twelve more bars and another five restaurants. Have been walking for two hours and still haven’t covered ship. Not in the least surprised to learn the promenade deck is 140m longer than Olympic athletic track.

Neil Oliver
Neil Oliver

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 don’t want you working too hard”. Now that’s 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, it’s 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.

Day Two

Visits to gym: 1 (No harm in setting running machine a little slower. Power walking might be more dignified).
Calories: 1500.  Ok, so I’m slipping.
Alcohol: Would be impolite not to try the cocktail of the day…

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, there’s 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 I’ve met have been the most down-to-earth and lovely people. I’ve met some real characters and it’s just stimulated completely my faith in human nature.”

Listen to more of what Michael has to say and what kind of life stories he’s heard by clicking on the audio links on the top right-hand side of this page.

Day Three

See the view from the Arcadia cruise ship webcam!
VIEW: Arcadia webcam >

Visits to gym: 0.
Food: Don’t let’s go there.
Alcohol: Errrr…I can’t remember.

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 ‘don’t reserve the sun beds’ you still find towels on the sun beds. You also have to be fit if your cabin’s 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

Alghero in Sardinia
The cruise visited Alghero in Sardinia

Visits to gym: 0 (Look, I’ve been tramping round, St Tropez, Florence, Rome and Alghero).
Food: It’s authentic and local, so surely it doesn’t count.
Alcohol: It’s authentic and local, so surely it doesn’t count.

Everyone is talking about the number of different boats they’ve 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 she’s 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 it’s 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 Pauline’s 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.

Day Nine

Jane Taylor
Jane Taylor

Visits to gym: 1. (There you go, back on track).
Food: Distract myself from chocolate buffet (700 people queuing to get in) by taking a tour of the kitchens with Jane Taylor. Even the potatoes have their own room and I can’t help remarking that their room is bigger than mine. Finally concede that 16 tons of potatoes takes up more space than sister's luggage. Jane tells me that there are 108 chefs and 40 back up workers who do the cleaning and washing-up. She added: “We’re looking at the fifth of the size of one deck taken up with galleys. We’re talking about 150 to 170 tonnes of food, regarding eggs we’re looking at about 51,000 for a 14-day cruise.”

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 haven’t quite cracked the sun bed problem. Eddy and Stuart from Newcastle reveal excellent technique which means I can finally stretch out and read book. They’re 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 “We’ve stuck together and we see each other about three or four times a year as well. We met last year during mine and Elaine’s 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! We’ve 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.

Day Ten

Visits to gym: 0
Food: Simply not prepared to put it down on paper.
Alcohol: Who’s counting?

A balcony on the Arcadia cruise ship
A balcony on the Arcadia cruise ship

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 Hutton’s story. Click on the audio link on the top right-hand side of this page.

Day 11

Visits to gym: 0.
Food: It’s very important to try Orchid restaurant with stunning views across the sea.
Alcohol: How can you review restaurant without checking out the wine list?

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 didn’t want to go but I was persuaded and the amazing thing is, I have found new confidence even at my age. I’ve 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.

Day twelve

Visits to gym: 0.
Food: Back to fruit cocktail.
Alcohol: Fair cop…the fruit cocktail was marinaded in champagne.

Have been tipped off that the theatre company, who’ve 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 don’t have to wear similar costumes. How on earth do they all manage to stay so thin? Does someone lock them in their cabins?!

Brian Graves
Brian Graves

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 it’s three months, for every year it’s three years. When we finish this job in New Orleans on 2 December it’ll 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.

Day 14

Visits to gym: 0.
Food: 0.
Alcohol: 0.

Have stowed away in potato room. I’m not coming home.

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