Roman Holiday

by johntstone

A luxurious life on the ocean waves on the biggest yacht afloat. Great destinations to tear you from your floating palace. Friendly staff in a cosy atmosphere

Fancy a trip on the biggest yacht afloat? No, you don’t have to be a talented footballer and win the Champions League for Roman Abramovich. A trip to your travel agent and you could join the passengers on Windsurf. With current discount levels, it is a surprisingly affordable 5* experience.

There are various itineraries available, but we chose a cruise along the Italian and French Rivieras. To sail into Portofino, Monte Carlo and Nice, gawp at the billionaire’s yachts, then remember we were on the biggest and best, was special. The relatively small size – by cruise ship standards – meant we were able to sail into ports other ships just can’t reach.

Small size does not mean a lack of facilities; although, true, there was no climbing wall, ice rink or some of the other outlandish offerings on the modern behemoths. Many surrender the intimacy and friendliness of smaller ships for facilities they wouldn’t use in a month of Sundays, let alone on a week’s cruise packed with other things to see and do. What there was instead were teak decks and a personal service that most ships can’t hope to match.

Windsurf is not the newest afloat; some may carp at the rather crude portholes that were on offer rather than picture windows. To me it was like being in a slightly worn stately home, rather than a spanking new footballer’s mock Tudor monstrosity, sorry mansion. The experience was more that of a house party guest than of a paying customer. If you demand daily bingo, quizzes, organised games and lavish evening shows, look away now. There are informative lectures, board games, a well stocked library - DVD and books – and equally well equipped gym.

There is a choice of restaurants without the aggravating surcharges demanded on most ships these days if you stray outside the main restaurants. There is the opportunity to eat al fresco with only a dozen other tables in sight. Whilst some may mourn the absence of the legendary cruise staple, the midnight buffet, those who have suffered from coming back several pounds heavier might not. Complimentary 24 hour room service is available if genuinely hungry rather than just eating because it’s there.

The choice of ports is equally inspiring. I have already mentioned the glamour spots and the chance to sail into world famous yachting destinations. There are also opportunities for culture vultures – Rome is the starting point and Florence and Pisa are optional excursions (or are easily accessible by local train for those prepared to live less like the uber rich on dry land).

Whilst having a port a day was great for those who don’t like days at sea, it sadly meant the travelling was at night. Of course we wanted to see the computerised sails raised and billowing in the wind, although in truth it is the ship’s engines that do most of the real work. That meant an early start to the day before our moving hotel reached its next destination

The highlight for us was what on booking we were least looking forward to. This was due to our lack of knowledge of the area known as Cinque Terre. Approaching from the sea is the best way to appreciate this series of villages visually. Clinging seemingly impossibly to near vertical cliffs they are picture perfect. However it would be remiss not to disembark and explore by train and foot. An 8.5 euro ticket buys you unlimited travel on the train and entry to the areas that are a national park (although if you don’t want access all areas, a simple return ticket from Riomaggiore to Monterosso will suffice).

This really was a hidden gem and certainly not somewhere we would have visited on a bigger ship. Back on board I found another hidden gem. Whilst the mainly American guests headed for the main restaurant for a full cooked breakfast, I found a very acceptable continental alternative aft. Several mornings I found myself alone other than for waiters hovering discreetly but attentively nearby. So I fantasised that I was the owner – isn’t that what a dream holiday is for?