The engine is revving, the lights turn green and I am off, hurtling out of the pits and onto the race track followed by a clutch of wannabe race champs. I’m leading at the first bend, overtaken at the second and only just make it around the third because now, instead of thinking of the task in hand, my mind has wandered to all the strange things I have done on cruise ships over the years.
There have been plenty but this, racing a go-kart on Norwegian Cruise Line’s new ship Norwegian Bliss, has to take poll position. Given she is cruising from Seattle to Alaska this summer and next, I guess you could say it is just another wild experience to notch up on a cruise to America’s 49th state. Here are some other bizarre and unique things that you can do on a cruise ship:
Learn to dance
I know, I know, this doesn’t really fall into the strange category for most people. But when you have two left feet and a poor grasp of left and right, believe me, it is a very odd thing to try to do. I had a go at the cha-cha and the waltz but I knew things weren’t going well when my partner, one of the professional dancers on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, suggested I either talk or count but don’t try to do both. He was being kind really. What he should have said is, “Have you ever thought of taking up go-karting?”
Learn to cook
I would never have dreamed, all those years ago when I started writing about cruising, that I would not only have cookery lessons on a ship (and I mean actually rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty) but be taught by a celebrity chef. But there I was, in the Cookery Club on P&O Cruises’ Britannia, discovering why my pastry is never very good (hint: instead of adding flour, use cling film to stop it sticking when you roll it) and learning the expert way to slice onions from cake supremo Eric Lanlard. He was charming, patient and funny and the result of my labours was pretty good, even if I say so myself.
Have dinner on the lawn
This is another of those who’d-have-thought-it moments and I loved it so much that I’ve done it twice! The grass lawn is, of course, on Celebrity Cruises’ Solstice Series ships, the dinner was in the Lawn Club Grill, a venue that debuted on Celebrity Silhouette when she launched in 2011. I ate there on a cruise with my daughter soon after she launched and we had the most amazing evening. Picture the scene: a warm summer’s evening, a calm Mediterranean sea and sizzling steaks on the grill. Yum! And now, Celebrity Silhouette has come to the UK, replacing Celebrity Eclipse as the cruise lines’ British ship. I was lucky enough to go on board her first ex-UK sailing - a two-night jaunt to Le Havre - so naturally, I had to make a return to visit the Lawn Club Grill. Sadly, the weather was not on my side (luckily they have blankets!) but the food and service were just as great. If you’re going on board, do not miss out.
Climb the mast of a clipper ship
Some ships have go-karts, cookery clubs and grass lawns. Star Clippers sailing ships have masts so what else can you do but climb them? Just strap on the harness and off you go, they said. It sounded simple but it is a long way up - about 40 feet to the crow’s nest and you’re climbing a rope ladder, remember - and more than a little scary if you’re not good with heights. The view once you get there, however, is spectacular! And it is certainly different - as indeed are four new cruises to Borneo that Star Clippers are offering in 2019 on the eponymous Star Clipper. Think rainforests, orangutans, caves and kayaking.
Not as in picking and cruising grapes, you understand (but maybe that is an idea for a cruise line!), but blending different grape varieties to create my perfect wine. I confess it’s not something I’d ever hankered after doing, but there I was in Bleed, a venue on Holland America Line’s Koningsdam (it will also be on Nieuw Statendam when that launches later this year), tasting wine with one hand and making notes on which ones might mix well with the other. It’s all good fun but you do tend to imbibe rather a lot before even deciding which ones to blend, which colours your judgement rather. Put it another way, I thought for sure I had created the perfect wine until I tasted it the next day!
And still, cruise lines weird and wonderful, keep coming. I’ve got my eye on a seven-man submarine on Scenic Eclipse, the discovery yacht that Scenic is launching this autumn (which incidentally looks just spectacular). Imagine that David Attenborough moment as you dive down into the frozen waters of the Arctic or Antarctica. Awesome!