Published: 13:20, 16 June 2019
| Updated: 10:11, 19 June 2019
I was a first time cruiser who had never seen the attraction. Mum had been once before, and hated it because the Bay of Biscay and thrown its worse weather at the ship. We probably weren't the ideal candidates for this trip, or could we be converted?
Spurred on by friends who go year after year, and tempted by a girlie trip to explore places we'd never been before, we packed up, headed to Tilbury and set sail with open minds.
Check-in at Tilbury was a doddle and we were on board Columbus - with its capacity of 1,400 passengers - within 90 minutes of leaving home.
It was a few hours until we set sail, which gave us plenty of time to unpack, explore and get our bearings (I never quite managed this - thank goodness for signposts).
After waving goodbye to home (I could see the end of Gravesend High Street from deck), we headed for dinner.
There's a choice of restaurants on board. One is the Plantation Bistro, a taste-tingling buffet with a massive choice, great for decisive people and those who love to mix and match; useless for people like me who end up with 10 different things on their plate.
There's a wide range of dishes every night and you could happily eat there all holiday, breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. There's also an outdoor grill serving burgers and hotdogs.
We ate mostly in the Waterfront, which you have to reserve in advance but you can then sit and relax with waiter-service.
Every night, you could, if you wish, dine on five courses - starter, soup, salad, main and desert. Breakfast and lunch choices are equally as good, the standard of food excellent and the service impeccable.
Staff are friendly and quick to learn names and likes. After a few days, they'll remember your drink preferences and one night, I asked a waiter if it was possible to have lemon and hot water at breakfast the next morning. "Of course, Nikki" he replied.
Next morning, without prompting, a different waiter brought me a pot of hot water and three slices of lemon. Now that's customer service, and it was like that wherever we were on board.
There's also two speciality restaurants, which incur an additional charge, but well worth it for a special treat.
You could pretty much eat and drink your way through your waking hours - especially if you take up one of the all-inclusive packages - but even pay-as-you-go drinks are less than you'd pay in a London bar.
You could complete the cruise without ever getting off - a varied programme of keep fit, talks and activities fills the day, there's a twice-nightly show in the theatre and differing live music around the bars.
But the whole point of a cruise is the stop-offs.
Ours was a 10-day British Isles Discovery, and the first stop was, ahem, Amsterdam. CMV often calls into Dutch ports to pick up 200-or so European passengers.
Our excursion skipped the city and headed to Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world and the best place to see the country's iconic tulip.
There are 7 million bulbs supplied by 100 growers, planted by 40 gardeners over 32 hectares which drown your senses with colour and scent. It is open for just eight weeks, but in that time 1 million people will visit.
I must have taken 200 photos while I was there - none of them do it justice.
Our next day was at sea, heading for our next port of call, Orkney, home to St Magnus Cathedral, the humbling Italian Chapel, Scapa Flow, the neothilic standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar, the archeological site of Skara Brae and the impressive-tasting gin at the Orkney Distillery. For a small island, it sure has a lot.
From here on in, our evening routine was set - back on board, drinks, dinner and evening meal while we set sail for our next port of call.
Next up was Portree on the Isle of Skye, with its mountainous landscape (head to the Cuillin Hills Hotel for great views of the harbour and an impressive whisky bar). If it's clan history you're after, head to Dunvegan Castle which still manages a homely feel with stunning gardens and views.
Day six found us in Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull. Cue several attempts to explain to foreign guests why everyone's singing a song about a place called Balamory.
Its pretty buildings around the harbour didn't disappoint but a trip out to Duart Castle showed the varied landscape of the place, while topping up our thirst for history and more breathtaking views.
Next up, Dublin, which wouldn't be complete without a trip to the Guinness Storehouse but brace yourself for the crowds. A hop-on, hop-off bus is an easy way to take in the sights quickly, but try to jump off and stroll down Grafton Street to soak up the sounds of the buskers.
Day eight, and the Isles of Scilly. I'd been here for a few days before but never to Tresco's Abbey Gardens which are stunningly beautiful as are the isles' beaches.
Day nine and onto Guernsey. Saint Peter Port is a lovely town and many spent the day (tax-free) shopping but we skipped that in favour of exploring yet more stunning beaches, learning more of its role in the Second World War and visiting The Little Chapel, built three times by Brother Deodat Antoine and decorated with pebbles and broken china.
Day 10, and final stop was Honfleur, an utterly charming place filled with narrow, half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and a pretty harbour. Visit the wooden church, poke in and out its vast array of independent shops and stop for a coffee on the harbour. Idyllic.
Every place we visited had its own beauty, from the vast openness of Orkney to the sunshine of Tresco.
So, were me and mum converted? Yes. The schedule can be exhausting but within days of our return, we were glad we'd packed so much in.
Admittedly, I was younger than most passengers on board, but CMV unashamedly pitches its market at the retired and semi-retired - 85% of customers are 55 or over, but by next year, according to CMV's head of marketing Mike Hall, there will be more people in the UK over 50 than under 50, holding 80% of the nation’s wealth.
On board everything is priced in sterling, so there's no currency fluctuation to worry about, Brexit or no-Brexit.
The firm is also very proud of its smaller-sized ships, offering dedicated cruise customers something different.
Mike said: "We think 1,200 to 1,400 is the optimum size for us. We have got ships smaller in the fleet which we are happy to have because the size of the vessel gives us the opportunity to create more interesting itineraries. There are lots of ports that we go to that the mega-ships that are built new today with 6,000 passengers on cannot possibly get into.
"The British Isles cruise is a classic example. If you did a cruise like this with any of the big American cruise lines they would hug the coast and you would end up going to Newcastle and Liverpool and maybe Dublin.You certainly would not go to places like Tobermory or Portree or the Isles of Scilly. They all involve tendering, and that is quite a challenge even for a ship this size, and when you have got to get 6,000 people off - in my opinion - it would be irresponsible of any cruise line to dump 6,000 people on a little place like Tobermory - it can’t cope.
"These logistical things give us an edge in that we can create more exciting itineraries. That is the number one reason that people choose to cruise with us. The three main reasons are itinerary, price and convenience of departure port."
My advice if you're cruising? Take a small extension lead - one socket doesn't cut it for two women both with phones, a hairdryer and straighteners; pack a battery operated night light - handy to put on the floor to light your way in the dark when you're disorientated; and take a lanyard - your cruise card gets you in and out of your room, on and off the ship and approves any payments on board. It's a faff to keep getting it in and out of your purse.
But more importantly, do the excursions - it wasn't just the places that made our trip so special, it was the people.
It might add to the cost of your holiday but your guides are passionate about what they do. They live and work in those places, particularly the islands, because they love them. They won't just tell you about the history, they'll tell you about the people they know, the characters they've met, the stories told them by their family and friends.
And stop and say hello to others. If we hadn't, we'd never have met Rex, who was sat on a bench looking out to sea in Guernsey. He told us how he had been sent there as an evacuee and how he remembered taking broken blue Willow china up to The Little Chapel, to help with the build. Twenty minutes later, we were looking at that very china.
We left each of the islands - and the ship - feeling like we'd made friends with those who were so eager to share their stories, and welcome us back when we returned for a longer stay (and I'm sure I will).
Places provide the stunning backdrops. People make the memories.
Nikki was a guest of Cruise and Maritime Voyages aboard the Columbus, which sails from Tilbury. Similar British Isles Discovery trips are available throughout the year. More at www.cruiseandmaritime.com
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