Prior to setting foot on the Ventura, my seafaring days were made up of extremely rocky ferry crossings across the Irish Sea and a couple of overnight trips from Hull to Holland. Hardly glamorous.
Over the last few years, I’ve been on a quest to share my love of travel with my twin sons, Finlay and Joseph, so we have used planes, trains, buses and cars to venture across the US and Europe. Fab times but undoubtedly tiring for me in the planning and execution of our road trips.
Last year’s two-week American adventure brought me up short as halfway through I was rung by a consultant to say that a lump at the base of my neck was thyroid cancer. Not to worry as it was treatable, but he wanted to book surgery dates.
Needless to say, I returned home bone-tired and fretful. Undergoing surgery, I vowed to myself that in 12 months time, I would be on a ship balcony toasting goodbye to the year with a glass of bubbly.
I was, thankfully, given the all-clear in December. Meanwhile my sons passed their driving tests and exams and we celebrated them reaching 18. It’s fair to say, it’s been a roller-coaster year and I wanted this holiday to be something special.
As we embarked on P&O’s Ventura, I have to admit to nerves on several fronts. Would I cope with life at sea? Would my sons enjoy it? Would we feel hemmed in?
Our two-week trip started in Southampton and took in Cadiz, Barcelona, Cannes, Rome, Sardinia and Gibraltar.
My cabin was spacious and highly comfortable with its own balcony. I came to love that private haven – breakfasting on it, spending hours reading or watching the ocean go by as my tired mind recharged.
The two days it took to reach Cadiz allowed us to catch up on sleep, explore the 19-deck ship and learn the ropes of daily life. I’d walk most days around deck six and seven for 30 minutes to stave off extra pounds from the fabulous food. The warm air, lapping waves, stunning sunsets and occasional spotting of leaping dolphins and whales made it a voyage to remember.
The ship’s excursions offered great value for money. All you have to do is step off the ship and onto a coach.
Having previously spent hours poring over timetables, ticket prices and routes, to have someone do it for me was great. One trip I fancied was full so try to get at least a couple pre-booked before boarding.
We went into Barcelona and had a guided tour of the majestic Sagrada Familia Church. In the 1880s, Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí took over the design and construction of a new church for the city. It remains unfinished to this day yet is still recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Seeing daylight stream in through the stained glass windows, casting breathtaking rainbow shadows amid the inner sanctum, brought tears to my eyes. For me, this was the highlight of our shore days and having the day there made me decide to return for a weekend. That’s the beauty of the cruise stop-offs – they’re like a taster menu.
It had to be pizza for lunch when we docked in Naples. We spent the morning meandering through the narrow streets of the old town and in the afternoon, we took a ship excursion to Pompeii – £50 each for a coach there and back, tickets and an expert guide was brilliant value. I was shocked when he told us the Romans invented cat’s eyes, using pieces of white marble in between the dark stones on roads. Halifax’s Percy Shaw obviously refined them for modern-day use.
Cannes was pretty but expensive – £20 for a chicken salad in a local cafe. But we enjoyed the little white train tours from the port front. At 10 euros and 50 minutes long, the recorded guide is packed with information on the resort town, which is a favourite with Hollywood A-listers and the mega rich.
Worrying that my sons would be bored proved fruitless as they went along to the 18 to 25 social get-together held the night after departure and palled up with a few others. From then on, they’d meet every night at 10pm to tackle quizzes, see acts, take part in karaoke and enjoy the nightclub.
Over 150 chefs dish up 16,000 meals a day around the clock. My two were highly impressed that after a night clubbing, they could go to a buffet up to 2am and enjoy an array of fresh food, instead of the usual toast or rice pudding at home.
We did not have a bad meal. We chose Freedom Dining, which meant we could eat at any time to suit us, though set dining is cheaper.
The four formal dining nights were a new experience. Dressing up to the nines to eat was something different, but again we threw ourselves into cruise culture and I loved seeing my sons suited and booted.
And so a year to the day of my operation, I opened a bottle of bubbly and on my balcony, my handsome sons and I toasted ourselves and our futures. I felt blessed.
As we returned to the UK, I was sad our bubble had to burst. Each day brought a new horizon My aim to take us all on an unforgettable holiday was achieved. I’d kept my promise.
P&O Cruises (0843 373 0111, pocruises.com) is offering a 13-night cruise on Ventura from £1,329 per person for an inside cabin. Departing on September 2, 2018, the price includes kids’ clubs, full board meals and entertainment on board. Leaving from and returning to Southampton, ports of call are Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome, Naples, Cagliari and Gibraltar.