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 state room 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. It was a moment of pure out-of-the-blue magic which will live long in the memory.
Not satisfied with just the appearance of this single leviathan, Mother Nature put on another show the
following day by arranging for a school of dolphins to perform their gymnastic routines close to the ship.
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.
Therein lies the appeal of a cruise – as well as soothing the soul, it’s a feast for the eyes. There are decks to be viewed, people to be watched, seas to be scanned, ports to be witnessed. The whole experience could cause you optical overload.
Not that it got off to a great start. After setting out from Southampton for our 10-day cruise to Rome, the first views were of the Fawley oil refinery.
But that evening in the Princess Grill restaurant at the top of the ship, we were delighted with its stunning panorama of the sunlit ocean 12 decks below.
We found almost everything on board the Queen Elizabeth to our liking. Our state room was spacious and well designed. Its compact balcony, with twin sunbeds, became our regular retreat and viewing platform.
That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to do on board. The lounges, shops, art gallery, theatre, library, casino, spa, gym, games deck and pools are all 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 .
Conditions settled down for our passage off the Iberian peninsula and the next day we berthed in Gibraltar. Low cloud hung over the Rock as we explored the crowded, slightly disappointing shopping streets.
A day in Palma, Majorca, coincided with torrential rain. But the clouds cleared and the ship provided spectacular views of the city laid out along its curving bay, with thousands of yachts moored in the marinas.
In busy Barcelona we spent a morning on the beach before an excellent tapas lunch in a stylish square just off the Ramblas.
Then it was east to Monte Carlo. This glitzy port of call provides enough interest for a few hours, with plenty of options for a decent lunch.
On the final day we skipped the popular organised excursions to Florence and instead explored the sprawling port city of Livorno before a final session on the sun-dappled balcony.
Graham Bright was a guest of Cunard, which offers a 10-day Mediterranean Idyll cruise on Queen Elizabeth departing Southampton on August 31 and calling at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Cartagena, Barcelona, Marseille, Monte Carlo and Livorno, ending at Civitavecchia (for Rome). Prices from £1,429 pp.
For further information and reservations visit cunard.co.uk or call (08433) 74 2224.