Ocean Village famously aim their cruises at 'people who don’t do cruises', with an emphasis on adrenaline activities - but lazier souls can enjoy them as much as all-action types
I was walking the usual six paces behind my wife as we headed for La Luna, our favourite lunch venue on the pool deck of Ocean Village Two, when I heard this female voice calling out. "Stop, stop. You know my husband." Turning to see this sunbathing woman chasing after me, I reflected that at least it wasn't a similarly half-naked man shouting that I knew his wife.
Then I recognised her and realised I was on the same ship as my former boss (Chris Palmer) of 10 years ago on ITV's long-running Wish You Were Here...? travel programme. Discovering that someone who spent years directing travel films all over the world was spending his hard-earned pension on an Ocean Village cruise, when I knew that TV folk were as reluctant as travel journalists to splash the cash, was all the endorsement I needed that this really is one of the best value- for-money cruises around.
I had come to that conclusion three years back when I cruised the Caribbean on the line's first ship and although prices have moved up with its popularity, Ocean Village is still a snip. It can afford to be because it saves on crew by making buffet dining the default option on board. That said, it is finding that more passengers - like me – are opting to pay a little extra to lunch at La Luna (basic pizzas are free but fancy ones and other treats like welsh rarebit cost from £2.50) or, for special occasions, to dine at James Martin's Bistro (£15).
There is also a new option: a Club Lounge. This costs £60 for the week but you can only book if you have a cabin or suite on the top two decks. It works a bit like an airport or hotel executive lounge and as it used to be the captain's own lounge (for entertaining), we usually saw him there at breakfast. The latest newspapers are also there, while soft drinks and snacks are available all day, with afternoon tea served and free pre-dinner drinks, too. It is an oasis of calm on what is designed to be an all-action ship, and comes in particularly useful on the last day of the cruise if - like us - you have a late afternoon flight home from Palma. You can store your carry-on bags and even use the showers before the transfer to the airport.
But I'm getting ahead of myself - a week ahead, in fact, as we were on board for a classic Mediterranean itinerary, which called first at Tunis. We decided to take the traditional city tour (£30) - not something often offered among Ocean Village's selection of Action Ashore tours, which highlight mountain-biking, zip-wiring, canyoning and other adrenaline junkie-flavoured excursions.
It was probably the only mistake we made on the cruise, as it was the same kind of coach-guide-carpet shop conspiracy that ships were offering 30 years ago. But the next day made up for it. Instead of taking the usual ride into Rome from Civitavecchia port, we opted for the Lake Bracciano tour (£36). This took us to a charming medieval village and the eccentric 15th-century Odescalchi Castle. This was where Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes married in 2006, but much more interesting was the costume museum inside, which featured wacky outfits from a variety of movies including that Vadim/Fonda risqué epic Barbarella. We then enjoyed a trip across the lake, with enough time the other side to find a lakeside restaurant for a quick lunch-with-a-view, before heading back to the ship.
Toured out after that, we did our own thing, first in St Raphael, a typically glitzy and crowded French Riviera resort with a colourful harbourfront market, and then again in Barcelona. There, instead of the usual La Rambla stroll, we walked over a pedestrian bridge to Port Vell, which is an eclectic mix of soulless shopping mall, IMAX multiplex and tasteful waterfront cafes with great views of a busy harbour.
Ocean Village Two is, not surprisingly, the line's second ship and, although there are changes (with James Martin's Bistro occupying a much cosier location), it is very much the same style as far as life on board goes. The accent is on informality, and there is the same contemporary, slightly edgy feel to the entertainment, from the Comedy Club acts in the late-night bars to the spectacular, laser-driven Planet deck show, based (very loosely) on Holst's 'Planets Suite'.
One word of advice: this may be a cruise aimed at "people who don't do cruises" but it has an appeal across all age groups. You can enjoy the experience without ever setting foot in the state-of-the-art Karma Spa or your backside on a mountain bike. We certainly did.