Can a thirtysomething enjoy a Caribbean cruise?

Tum cruise: All the food you can eat - and then some more

A look around Royal Caribbean's 'Oasis of the Seas' and it's island stops - in sixty seconds. Video: Dan Lloyd

 

“I never know which starter to order, so I just order them all.” We’re heading for dinner at one of the many restaurants on board our cruise ship, waiting at the lift like cattle waiting for feed. In his southern American drawl, the man with a healthy appetite reveals what’s on today’s menu, having read it on the interactive television in his cabin. We listen intently, other passengers nod in agreement while adding their own tales of gluttony.

Small talk among the more than 5,000 passengers on the Oasis of the Seas is dominated by how much food we’re eating, how much sun we’re getting and how much alcohol we’re drinking. It’s day four of our seven-day Caribbean cruise, our waistbands are tighter, our skin is redder and our livers, well, they’ve been better.

When the taxi pulled up to Port Canaveral in Florida, near the launch pads of the Kennedy Space Center and a 40-minute drive from Orlando airport, we didn’t know what to expect. From experience – well, my parents, their friends and some retired guy I chatted to in the pub once – some people are obsessed with cruises. But, being in my mid-30s I didn’t see myself or my girlfriend as prospective members of the cult.

Thirty minutes after arriving on board, however, my preconceptions have been thrown overboard.

We enter the ship on the “Royal Promenade” level. Smart boutiques, faux English pubs and neon signs line the hall as guests of all ages walk around with cocktails and beers, laughing loudly, facetiming on their phones (there’s wifi) and eyeing up the offers being peddled by the staff.

We open the door to our cabin. The room is gleaming and larger than you’d expect, with a balcony. Donny, our smiley cabin attendant, welcomes us and gives us a quick tour of the room. “Can Donny help with anything?” “Any questions for Donny?” Not now Donny, thanks.

It’s like herding cattle, moooooo,” says an over-excited guy in a New England Patriots cap as we shuffle off

Since this cruise only stops three times in seven days, the first port of call is to see what’s on board. The sun deck is something to behold; some guests sit in the shade reading books, others queue at the bar for piña coladas. Hot tubs heave with drinkers, laughing, chatting, frying in the sun as music plays in the background. Only the Tannoy announcing our departure breaks this strange harmony.

Surprises lurk around every corner. Wave machines, crazy golf, theatres, a park (“Central Park”), gym, running track, sauna and steam room. Meandering corridors lined with cabins stretch on forever – a blessing for walking off an eight-course meal.

Time on the ship goes slow, so our first stop at Nassau in the Bahamas couldn’t come soon enough. And judging by the queue to disembark, we’re not the only ones keen to stretch our legs. “It’s like herding cattle, moooooo,” says an over-excited guy in a New England Patriots cap as we shuffle off. He carries on mooing, along with the occasional fist pump.

Carnival atmosphere

On land, there’s a carnival atmosphere. The smell of suntan lotion and the sound of flip-flops fill the air. People shout out offering excursions. Weaving through the market traders, we head to Junkanoo beach. Fellow pale cruisers fill the beach. After two hours we head back to the ship for a complimentary hot dog; we were stupid to leave for so long.

It’s not long before dinner. Straying from our normal complimentary restaurant we are hosted at 150 Central Park, the flagship eatery on the ship with cuisine from chef Michael Schwartz. Bread comes with six different types of salt, including one that tastes like hard-boiled eggs. This is intimate fine dining with smaller portions – a welcome departure from the communal dining rooms.

We’re back to sea for 24 hours. The sun hides behind thick cloud and the wind is fierce. The boat sways from side to side. We wander aimlessly around the ship wondering what to do; some of the classes are niche (Tiffany & Co jewellery cleaning anyone?) and other activities are either too pricey or cloaked upselling. It’s only 12.45pm, time for lunch maybe?

The next day we arrive at the lush green island of Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and prepare for our “Tree Limin’ Extreme” tour. A minibus takes us up to the hills and our hosts Leron and Daniel go through the safety measures before we take six ziplines between the treetops taking in the stunning views.

Back on the ship we have time for a quick change before dinner – it’s been at least four hours since we’ve eaten. The waiters bring us calamari, as they do every day. After saying we liked it once they bring a bowl each time, even though it’s off the menu. The staff on the ship just can’t do enough for you . . . except for the door people at the comedy club, who refuse us entry two nights in a row.

Still, if you can’t get into the comedy club, there’s other entertainment. The Oasis of Dreams water show in the outdoor theatre features toned men and women dangling on cables and jumping into a pool from impressive heights, with an incomprehensible narrative. It’s bargain-basement Cirque de Soleil and the audience love it.

As we head for bed groups stream into the nightclubs and bars, many clutching large colourful plastic cups with lids, thanks to the $65 (€55.70) a day “all you can drink” plan (it’s cheaper for soft drinks), while the casino is full of smoking gamblers.

Our next island stop is St Martin and another excursion: the Tiki Hut, a floating platform in the sea, from which you can snorkel to sunken vessels and bizarrely a helicopter, down below. Combined with cheap cocktails, sun and silence, it’s the highlight of our trip. And yes, I understand the irony of taking a day trip on a floating platform when you’re on a cruise.

Back in our cabin there’s a surprise for us, as there is every evening. Every day, Donny arranges towels on the bed into the shape of a new animal. Tonight a rabbit wears our sunglasses, yesterday it was a stingray. We’re back out to sea now for a long two days, the sun and free food keep us entertained before we roll off the ship early morning on day eight.

It’s been a voyage of discovery: we now know that cruises aren’t reserved for pensioners, but for lazy hedonists of all ages.

Daniel Lloyd travelled as a guest of Royal Caribbean. For additional information or to make reservations, see royalcaribbean.ie or call 0844 493 4005

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