Daily life on board a large cruise ship can become an endless round of organised activities for those who like to keep busy.
But thankfully some of the best entertainment on offer is occasionally unscripted.
This lesson was brought home in dramatic fashion one afternoon while my wife and I relaxed on the balcony of our stateroom aboard Cunard’s splendid Queen Elizabeth. Slumped on sunbeds, we suddenly noticed a dark shape looming beneath the surface of the ocean little more than 50 metres away.
We stared transfixed as a huge whale emerged for a single leap before plunging back beneath the Atlantic swell off the coast of Portugal. But when it came to startling sights, nothing could have prepared us for the vision of a small Japanese man clutching a straw boater performing exaggerated solo dance moves on a giant outdoor chessboard. Quite extraordinary.
Therein lies the appeal of a cruise - as well as soothing the soul, it’s a feast for the eyes.
Our stateroom was spacious and well designed with, importantly, plenty of good storage. Its compact balcony, with its twin sunbeds, became our regular retreat and viewing platform, usually accompanied by a glass or two.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to do on board because there most definitely is. The lounges, shops, art gallery, theatre, library, casino, spa, gym, games deck and pools are all immaculately maintained and vying for passengers’ attention.
The ease of embarkation at Southampton is marred only slightly by the necessity to cross the Bay of Biscay, which soon reminded us who’s in charge by laying on gale-force winds and heavy seas.
Conditions settled down for our passage off the Iberian peninsula.
The following day there was a close-up of the smaller Ocean Princess cruise liner as we berthed bang next to her in Gibraltar.
A day in Palma, the impressive capital of Majorca, coincided with torrential downpours of rain. But later the clouds subsided and the top of the ship provided spectacular views of the city.
In busy Barcelona we spent a morning on the beach before an excellent tapas lunch in a stylish square just off the Ramblas.
Come the ship’s afternoon departure it was back to the good old balcony to gaze at the Costa Brava as we sailed east to Monte Carlo.
There were fun and games to be witnessed in Monte Carlo’s harbour, as we boarded the ship’s lifeboats to go ashore because another cruise ship had bagged the only available berth.
This glitzy port of call always provides enough interest for a few hours, with plenty of options for a decent lunch, but on the final day we skipped the popular organised excursions to Florence and instead explored the sprawling port city of Livorno.
Yes you see an awful lot of sea on a cruise, but a whole lot more besides.