I grew up in sunny Bournemouth, raised in a B&B and surrounded by contented holidaymakers.The Great British bucket-and-spade holiday – deckchairs on the beach and fish and chips on the prom – offered what everyone wanted in those days. But times change, tastes can alter, horizons expand.
In the meantime I’ve travelled the world with Blur and seen all the great sights, but I haven’t found a holiday that recaptures the glorious innocence of those faraway seaside years. Until now. Because now I have discovered cruising.I had such a fantastic time making the TV series Battlechefs, with P&O Cruises ‘food hero’ Marco Pierre White aboard the good ship Britannia a year ago, that I’ve been cruising regularly ever since.Britannia is a beautiful monster of a vessel, so thrillingly huge that I get goosebumps every time I walk up the gangway.
And she’s continuously arriving somewhere new, where you can either take advantage of organised excursions and activities or make your own plans. That’s if you get around to leaving the ship at all.
There never seems to be enough time to do everything, even when you don’t choose to venture ashore. In the past I’ve spent most of my time in the cookery school, but what I love most about a cruise holiday is that it can be absolutely whatever you care to make it.
And top of my to-do list at the start of this year was to shed a few pounds. A few weeks into 2017, the post-Christmas bulge still wasn’t going anywhere, though. I needed to spend a bit of time in the gym. And why not do that in the Caribbean?
I’d passed Britannia’s well-appointed gym on my way to dinner on previous cruises and noticed it had the most comprehensive inventory of up-to-date torture instruments I’d ever seen.
The exercise bikes have screens on which you can play Angry Birds. There is a whole slew of elaborate contraptions, which might have been designed by Nasa, for developing muscles I didn’t even know I had.
I booked a block of sessions with one of the on-board fitness instructors. Afterwards I watched the sun go down on another world of waves and careening seabirds as Barbados slipped below the horizon and a margarita slipped down my throat. Well, no point in rushing things.We were at sea all the following day, heading for Curacao, and I got up dutifully early to meet my personal trainer, Sylviu, a gentle, patient man.
He hooked me up to a futuristic, sophisticated body-composition analysis machine and told me that it indicated I was slightly overweight. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.
We spent a while planning a week’s activities and a diet plan and I signed up to a bunch of additional, communal boot camps. And then we got down to business. I haven’t been to the gym for ages.Half an hour into the session and I was wondering why that was, because I felt absolutely great, and by the time our designated hour was up, I was ecstatic, full of new vigour and purpose.That was before I even got to the ship’s hydrotherapy suite to relax. I swanned around the massive sauna and steam room, soaked in the seemingly Olympic-length Jacuzzi and wallowed on the waterbeds for most of the afternoon before slipping into black tie for dinner at The Limelight Club, followed by a gig by soul diva Jaki Graham.
There was plenty to tempt on the menu but I plumped for a virtuous blackened cod dish and managed to sing along to Jaki’s big hit Could It Be I’m Falling In Love before collapsing in bed, exhausted.
In the morning I crammed in a ‘body sculpt’ boot camp and a weights session with Sylviu before heading ashore for lunch in Curacao. This kicked off with a banana daiquiri (technically a smoothie) followed by fresh fish cooked on a fire on the beach. No one ever got fat eating that – and it is one of the most delicious things there is.
There was time for a swim before heading back on board for a monster bamboo massage in the spa. I haven’t had one of those before. It’s like being beaten up in very slow motion by a small woman brandishing a big stick.
But as I watched dolphins dipping in the moonlight from my balcony afterwards, I felt even better than the day before.
So it continued all week. The next day brought my first-ever spin class – basically bouncing up and down on an exercise bike while loud music plays – followed by more bashing away at the weights.
I hadn’t yet used the same machine twice, which stopped things getting boring and meant I must have worked every muscle in my body, but thanks to the massages (I quickly added a relaxing hot stone rub-down to my tally) I hardly ached at all.
I had jerk chicken and roast plantain ashore in Aruba for a treat the following day.
I’m not going to say it was easy avoiding the tasty temptations on offer: dining opportunities on P&O Cruises are endless, from masterclasses with famous chefs to wine tastings with the experts.
It was Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea – a spectacular feast of cakes, buns and good sticky things – that I was really craving but there is an abundant number of healthy options aboard, too. And the good thing about being really hungry is that even fruit tastes incredible.
There were plenty of things to take my mind off the culinary delights that were calling, from afternoon entertainment with up-and-coming magicians to staggeringly elaborate theatrical productions in the evenings.
And the star jumps and press-ups continued all the way from Aruba to Grenada, along with exercises called froggies and burpees, both of which are unpleasant but efficacious.I rewarded myself with a hot towel shave, a pedicure and a Thai poultice massage (the best one yet) and went to see Mari Wilson, ‘The Neasden Queen of Soul’, in The Limelight Club.
I also kept getting up early and I kept on thrashing away for an hour or two each morning. As the end of the week drew near, my body had actually changed shape.
So I went ashore in Kingstown, St Vincent, and treated myself to a boat trip to Princess Margaret beach on the island of Bequia, which has a fascinating history and an intriguing mix of native Bequians of African, Scottish, Irish, French, Indian and Carib descent.
I thought it was a bit more off the beaten track but the bay was gridlocked with billionaire yachts, resulting in several slinky bodies on the beach, which isn’t as bad as it sounds.
I had the local speciality – breadfruit and jackfish – for lunch and spent an hour floating in the sea in the sunshine while the house band at the beach bar played an old Steve Winwood tune.
Azure sea and golden sand: I could have stayed there for ever.
But the moment of truth was approaching. My second appointment with the scales came as we docked in St Lucia. I’d worked hard and as always, it had paid off.
I’d shed over half a stone and had a fantastic time doing it. And I even got a tan.
P&O Cruises offers a seven-night Caribbean cruise on Britannia from £1,139pp, departing December 9.The price includes return flights to Barbados, kids’ clubs, full-board meals and entertainment.Visit pocruises.com/B733B or call 0843 373 0111.
Breaking sweat: Alex in the gym during his Caribbean cruise at the beginning of the year b-error
Alex says the Britannia is a ‘beautiful monster of a vessel, so thrillingly huge that I get goosebumps every time I walk up the gangway’
Close shave: Alex opted for some pampering in-between his workout sessions
Blue sea and golden sands: The cruise included a stopover at Grand Anse in Grenada (above)
Eat me: Alex said there were lots of tasty temptations on the P&O cruise (above, chef Eric Lanlard’s afternoon tea stack)