Holidaying with Island Cruises has always been one of my firm favourites, and our second cruise with them only confirmed this. My 2005 holiday on the Island Escape was the highlight of my year, so I was extremely excited about going back to the company in 2006. The newly bought ship, the Island Star, was an extravagant example, and put the first ship to shame. My first glimpse of the immense liner brought a smile to my face as I felt the sun beam down, reflecting off the striking white hull.
Countless windows and various balconies looked more and more appealing as seconds ticked by, furthering everyone’s anticipation to just get onboard. Striding up the gangway, a sense of apprehension overcame me, worrying about being in the middle of the sea, alone, trapped. These irrational thoughts were crushed by the lovely stewardess who showed us to our surprisingly spacious cabin. On Deck 7, looking out of the sparkly-clean window, immediately you could see the beautiful sights of Palma, the giant trees softening the atmosphere.
With a knock on the door, we were introduced to out Cabin Steward, Richard. His extensive knowledge of the ship assured us that we were going to have a first-rate holiday, whilst soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Exploring the ship astounded us with even more surprises, not least the size of each of the five on-board restaurants. The top deck was amazing, perfectly clean, soft surfaces and traditional Spanish music being played softly. As evening approached, as the skies became darker, the ‘sail away’ party preparations were being made.
The blaring horn, signifying that the Island Star was leaving port, encouraged the passengers to continue cheering, waving and sing as the ship gradually drifted out of the bay, under the Captain’s instruction. The Ocean Theatre, where all of the shows are held, completely astounded me when I walked in. In the rusty old ship, Island Escape, the Ocean Theatre was nothing to be proud of; I wasn’t expecting anything more this time. But how wrong I was! Two decks high, with double seating and fabulous lighting, it looked like a scene from the Queen Mary 2!
The performers were wonderful, completely crushing the Simon Cowell stereotype that singers on cruise ships are mildly average, they were some of the best I have ever heard! The relaxed Beachcomber restaurant was great for grabbing a bite to eat when in a rush. Some of the excursions forced an early rise, so this 24-hour restaurant was ideal. The buffet-style area catered for everyone’s tastes, and the staff were always there to help, dressed neatly in their pineapple-covered shirts. Island Cruises has a favourable reputation for being the friendliest ship in the Med, and they definitely lived up to that.
Pacing down corridors, staff always smiled and said hello, even the tired housekeeping staff. When sitting at the bar in The Pub, the friendly bar staff always had time to keep me company and chat, often entertaining me with jokes and magic tricks. The Captain is also known for being very ‘down to earth’, welcoming the chat of any curious passenger. He understands people’s concerns with cruising, and as was explained in the informal ‘Chat to Captain McNeill’ in the Bounty Lounge, he has experienced a lot of the passenger’s problems himself, often sea sickness and dizziness.
The ship itself is 208 metres long, has a tonnage of nearly 50,000 and has the capacity to cater for almost 2000 guests, which is far more than its predecessor. Fortunately, unlike in the peak of the golden age of cruising, there are stabilisers fitted to the ship, to minimise swaying. But even these miracle inventions could not quite cope with what was to come the next evening. The gales that were forced upon us on the third of the six nights were quite traumatic to say the least, causing me to vomit every fifteen minutes or so, feeling the lurches beneath me.
But thankfully, they died down before sunset, so we didn’t have to cope with the lashings of foamy water on the window or the threat of falling out of our beds with each large wave. To be honest, the facilities available to bring the teenagers together were dire. A tiny arcade which was normally jammed full of boisterous adolescent males seeing which one could kill each other first on ‘Monster Kill’. A room, with a few board games for amusement was also meant to entertain us, the bored youngsters. We took to meeting each other on the top deck, dancing to the live music and making loads of new friends without their “help”!
On the fifth evening, we were specially invited to go the ‘Captain’s Cocktail Party’, only for loyal customers, who have travelled with Island Cruises previously. To be frank, it was one of the most boring events of the whole holiday, the Buck’s Fizz bubbling away could be said to be the highlight of the evening. The Captain rambled on for a tedious twenty minutes, followed by some singing by the confident entertainers and it finally ended with everyone receiving an overly-generous i??50-off voucher for our next cruise.
On the final evening, before all the cruisers left the ship for another year, there was a stupendous deck party, with live music from the on-board band ‘Freedom’ and a gathering of all the officers. Much to our surprise, the big finale consisted of the ‘big-wigs’ dancing to the cheesy tune of ‘Is This The Way To Amarillo’, with the excited crowd taking hundreds of pictures and videos with their over-the-top cameras. The alcohol was spilling over the bar, with the ‘i??1 a pint’ sign attracting many tattoo-covered men to the counter.
As the time to leave the ship crept closer, I felt a sense of contentment mixed with a slight sense of wistfulness. Recognising the palm trees, which I had seen only one week prior, reality hit me. I knew that in a matter of hours, I would be sitting on a plane, travelling home with all the memories of the trip swirling around my head. All the friendships that had been created in such a short space of time and all the beautiful sights I had seen in Monte Carlo and Mahon filled me with emotion. I’m sure all the laughs and all the happiness will still be there when I return for my next visit, next summer!