Magazine article The Spectator

Cruising the Eastern Mediterranean

Magazine article The Spectator

Cruising the Eastern Mediterranean

Article excerpt

In Huddersfield, where I grew up, a town-centre department store boasted a 'cruise wear' section. In the window display the gentleman dummies wore deck shoes, starched white shorts and flannel jackets, while the ladies struck elegant poses and held designer sunglasses in their slender moulded hands. In Huddersfield, the opportunities to flaunt such clothes were limited. The shop closed down, but for as long as it existed it provided a vision of continental chic and luxury living, nestled between Burger King and the Polish mini-mart.

Cruising is no longer an exclusive activity: even a half-hearted search on the internet throws up dozens of companies offering thousands of departures to hundreds of destinations. If there's water, they go there, be it ocean, sea, lake, loch, fjord or river. We plump for an unchallenging week down the west Balkan coast leaving from Venice docks, offloading our luggage at the ferry terminal and picking up the all-important cruise cards -- our door key, ID, status indicator and wallet rolled into one. There's a practice drill, then the deep baritone of the ship's horn booms out across the Venetian lagoon, and we're off.

Sailing through the Venice Channel is like sailing though a Canaletto. St Mark's feels within touching distance and I could throw my hat onto the top of the Campanile. It's also an environmental sore point, not to mention visual heresy, that ten storeys of steel should be bisecting one of the wonders of the world. Campaigners are outraged and I'm suitably ashamed. We make a tour of the ship, the Splendour of the Seas , which is a reverse Tardis in the sense that it's much smaller and more navigable inside than its hulking exterior suggests. There are theatres, bars, a gym, a casino, a spa, a library (deserted), an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, a shopping mall and adult-oriented rock oozing through the ship's speakers. I don't know where everyone goes at night, but under the perfect dark of the sky and in the pitch blackness of the sea my wife and I have the putting green and the quoits rink to ourselves.

One truly impressive aspect of this experience is the international make-up of the passenger manifest. I was expecting retired Brits in elasticated waistbands, stretch-cotton lounging suits and Velcro-fastened sandals, but we're among people from Belize, Mexico, Panama, Brazil, Norway, Croatia, Germany, South Korea, China, the US and the Isle of Man, and young people too, some on their honeymoon, others requiring no such excuse. …

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