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Cinelandia

Cinelandia

The second half of the first week, and conversations are starting to get repetitive. As two girls, on a cruise trip alone, we’re a slight curiosity to the other passengers. Everyone else is a cruise veteran and are either much older than us, or if nearer to our age, holidaying with their families. So far four words seem to sum up the cruise experience; Butlins. On. A. Boat. Though actually, we’ve never been to Butlins. This must be rectified, and soon. Anyway, on with the tale…

Day 4 Curacao

Willemstad

Willemstad

We decide to explore Curacao’s capital Willemstad properly, rather than heading for the beach, so after a leisurely breakfast (blueberry blintzes!) we head for shore. Willemstad at first glance is like a film set, all multi-coloured Dutch colonial houses, but as we wander further in, the edifices start to crumble. Hooray decay! The prize is a beautiful derelict art deco cinema – cracked glass bricks and sinuous curves. We spot a dead lamp post; a wrought iron column sprawled on the ground in the park, rusting away. There are also shops called ‘Rim Jim Corner’ , ‘Beyonce Nails’, and our favourite, ‘Mr Tablecloth’ (which doesn’t just sell tablecloths. It also sells doilies). The town is made of two halves, connected by a bridge. The day is humid.

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We find a shop with a shelf of Holy Blessed Virgin Mary candles below a shelf of WD40. Then we spot some teenage skaters hanging out on the bandstand listening to death metal. So, despite the clichéd adverts, not everyone in the Caribbean listens to ‘Stir It Up’ constantly. We finally find an internet café (in the Columbian embassy weirdly) – the main news from Blighty? Dawn French and Lenny Henry have finally split up.

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Back on the ship, that evening we decide to start photographing all our cruise-wear outfits street-style-blog fashion. As the cruise progresses, this becomes an increasingly obsessive vanity quest. By the end of the trip, what are supposed to be casual snaps resemble David La Chapelle photo shoots in terms of effort expended.

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We go for a promenade around the deck and wish there were opportunities for assignations and passing of state secrets. However, some groupings of teenage youths have now developed and are hanging sulkily around in different areas– on the stairs, at the corners of decks. They try to look hard and rebellious. They are hampered by the fact that they’re on a fucking cruise ship.

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We decide to make a night of it with a drink at the Wheelhouse Bar, a cross between your nan’s living-room and Phoenix Nights, with its singing duo Gabrielle and Jumari. Gabrielle has a lovely voice with a laughing lilt and is a pretty blonde. Jumari has a horrid growl and looks like Meatloaf except more toad-like. They do all the clubland greats: ‘Hotel California’, ‘Living Next Door to Alice’, ‘American Pie’. Gabrielle sings ‘Oh What a Night’, remarking “It’s like I’m singing this to a lady, which is kind of strange. But I like to be true to the song”’. But when they do ‘I Love Rock & Roll’, they unhilariously sing ‘I love sausage rolls’ instead, to Nhung and Tamsin’s absolute horror. We watch couples dancing to the tunes, some haltingly, some expertly, in particular a couple we nickname the Pros, so Strictly are their skills.

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We chat to Gabrielle, who is from Tasmania, and very sweet. Nhung is having a soft rock power ballad moment (well, more than a moment) and requests Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Nicks and Heart. Every time she suggests a song, Gabrielle beams, “Oh, I love that one! But I don’t know it”. She says she gets quite bored doing the same songs all the time, and “some people laugh” (we immediately feel hideously guilty), and it doesn’t even pay very well. But she gets to save money and see the world, so it’s just about worth it.

We decide to make a night of it and proceed to Crooners Bar, where Alan & Alana (Renee & Renato with less hair) are just finishing up with ‘Green Green Grass of Home’. On deck DJ Nikki is ‘keeping the party going’. The ‘party’ seems to consist of 8 or 9 people shuffling around awkwardly to Journey, in Hawaiian shirts. It’s time for bed

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Day 5 Bonaire

After our night of decadence, debauchery and power balladry, we oversleep slightly, but we eventually make it out and get a taxi to the nearest good snorkelling beach, Bongos Beach.

Straight from the beach there are scores of brilliantly-coloured fish: blue and yellow Ikea fish, black & white Newcastle United Magpie fish, huge pale grey fish with iridescent turquoise and pink bits and long thin wriggly fish (not eels though – phew!). Nhung is very pleased with her brand new, bright yellow snorkel mask and fins, but then she gets sick and dizzy from too much snorkel action, and it starts to rain and she’s forgotten her towel. So we scramble under cover and have a drink with a talkative couple from Glasgow who tell us how the Up Helly Aa festival in the Shetland Islands teems with burly men dressed as Geishas. They also reveal that they ‘won’ a piece of art last night on the ship, but so hideous was it, that they hid low down in their seats when their names were called, so they didn’t have to claim it. Their holiday tip is Beirut; apparently you can swim in the sea or ski in the mountains within half an hour and it has great brothels.

Bongos Beach

Bongos Beach

Over lunch, we chat to a retired Canadian couple who tell us they always go on cruises and organised tours because they’re too scared to venture out independently. Then we go and watch a some amusingly inept people learning to line-dance and then to jive (with the exception of the smug Pro Couple). Alana teaches the jive lesson, giving breezy advice on breathing, “In with love, out with hate” in the manner of a smear test nurse. Then we go for afternoon tea – silver teapots, miniature crustless sarnies and colourful little cakes – the works. We do some more chatting to the couples sharing our table, but by now we’re starting to feel the strain of constant polite and boring small talk. The same 3 questions every time: “Is this your first cruise?”, “Have you been on any excursions?” and “Where did you fly from?”. Yawn.

After dinner, we decide to attend our first show – a talent show performed by the cruise staff. Four of the entertainment staff dance to ‘YMCA’ segued into ‘Hey Jude’, and try to get the audience to sing along. It’s like a scene from a nightmare. Luckily Abano the deckhand pulls it back from the brink by playing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’ on the trumpet in a sweet and charming way. A band made up of Filipino crew members do ‘Sex On Fire’. The audience clap along out of time. Though actually, as a boy-girl duet in Filipino accents, the horrible song becomes a thousand times better.

Everyone has to wear their uniforms. “Please appreciate English is not their first language -they’ve done a lovely job tonight” says the compère patronisingly. We hate the compère.

sea princess

sea princess

After some piano playing, a saucy belly-dance, and ‘Yesterday’ performed on the sobilka (a Ukrainian flute) , we finish with a turgidly unfunny skit from the entertainment staff which includes a man wearing a turban doing a fake Pakistani accent and pretending to be a taxi driver who likes to grope naughty nurses. It is all very surreal and frankly hideous, and the ship lurching from side to side helps contribute to a constant feeling of drunkenness.

Most of the ship’s staff are Filipino and are fascinated with Nhung. She seems to be the only person of Asian appearance on board as a holiday maker not a staff member. Allan, the barman in the Wheelhouse Bar, is particularly intrigued, but even waiters and waitresses who aren’t serving us, come up to us in the restaurant to ask where’s she’s from.

We return to our cabin where we find Joseph has left an extra chocolate on Tamsin’s pillow (though he’s folded Nhung’s pyjamas and not Tamsin’s). “I don’t care, I don’t want a chocolate on my pillow anyway” says Nhung. “I’d much rather have a, a” (pauses to think of the the ultimate succulent snack), “a pork pie!”

Day 6 At Sea

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All cruise veterans know that on at-sea days, you have to get up at the crack of dawn to make sure you secure a sun-lounger. As tyros to this lark, we don’t realise and seem to be scuppered, but eventually we find a spot at the rear nose of the Sea Princess, which only slightly smells of shit. (A drain-like smell often seemed to pervade the sun deck, contrasting with the ‘glamour’ of it all). Nothing of interest to report, we sun bathe all day.

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Tonight is another formal evening. Women on the ship really don’t get the whole formal thing though. Once again, glamour and style is thin on the ground. Once again, Nhung and Tamsin look fabulous.

The show tonight is ‘Piano Man’ – song and dance routines by the Sea Princess dancers to the tunes of Billy Joel, Neil Sedaka, Barry Manilow and Elton John. Pert buttocks. Spangly outfits. Hand-shimmies.

Day 7 Grand Cayman

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Today we get a tender from the ship to land and then join a trip to Stingray City – a sandbar at sea teeming with tame rays. The vehicle to take us to the boat is an old school bus. “It’s an old school bus!”, remarks every single passenger as they climb aboard. The boat’s photographer tells us that he’s descended from Blackbeard.

blackbeard

blackbeard

The rays are huge, beautiful and amazing. We stand waist deep in the water and they brush against our legs like big velvet exclamation marks. Some people are scared of the ray’s tails, but as long as you keep your feet on the ground, it’s fine. The boat’s crew catch one so that the tourists can feed it kalamari and be photographed with it in 3 different poses; holding it, kissing it (apparently worth 7 years good luck) and standing sideways on with it flapping against their neck like a fish cape. The crew says that the rays don’t mind this treatment – there were no obvious signs of distress, but who knows?

Stingray City

Stingray City

The boat is full of Americans, who are all much more interesting to talk to than the average Sea Princess passenger. There’s a fat woman in a visor and a family from New Jersey, whose buck-toothed Meadow Soprano lookalike 12 year old daughter has a crush on a blonde 15 year old on the trip and keeps walking past him in a delightfully obvious way whilst the two 14 year old sons of the house stare at Tamsin’s tits in a not quite so delightfully obvious way. “He was looking at you!”, says the dad to the girl, “Was he looking at me? Was he really?” she demands to Nhung.

Meadow Soprano

Meadow Soprano

Dinner is a success tonight. Jackpot! We finally meet some proper characters! A hugely obese cruise-a-holic couple who have been on 33 cruises with Princess alone but never get off the ship. They like having the pool to themselves and are scared of being robbed by foreigners. They did once get off at Jamaica, but a sign in a shop, banning weapons, sent them scuttling back to the ship in terror.

pink & black

pink & black

They eat 8 courses each in all, including 2 portions of snails and 2 puddings, and encourage everyone to order 2 main courses, if they can’t decide which they want. The woman produces a pepper mill from her handbag, “They never put enough on”. They tell us about the one other time they got off the ship and swam with dolphins. “I thought you’d just get to pet them, but it was so much more”.

What could have happened? A dolphin blow job?

Too cool to cruise

Too cool to cruise

Lost

Hairgrip in the sea

Photo of Virgin Mary (got told off for taking one in Curacao)

Interest in small talk

Chocolate on pillow

Respect for the dress sense of British women

Found

Nivea crème (for Nhung’s sunburnt lips)

Johnson’s Baby Powder

Obsession with street-style snaps of our outfits

Obsession with getting clubland duo to sing more power ballads

Love for Sea Princess dancers

Beautiful fish

A liking for Ukrainian flute music

Comfort in sparkliness

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St Vincent

St Vincent

Introduction

OK, time for something a little different from our usual posts. The Lost Promenade have left the British Isles to sail the Caribbean seas on a cruise ship holiday!

Admittedly, this isn’t the kind of holiday we’d usually choose, but Tamsin won the trip through the ‘This Morning’ TV show (yes, people do actually win these things) so we decided to take the opportunity to continue our coastal explorations further afield and observe what the British are like when they visit the seaside on (almost) the other side of the world.

There is also something intriguing about the idea of a cruise ship. We were curious about the characters we might meet and the experience of life on board, but most of all, we were excited by the glamourous and romantic notion of 1930s cruise liners, chock full of murder, mystery and adventure…

We resolved to talk to as many people as possible and to try out every experience we could so we could immerse ourselves in the full cruise ship experience. However, the reality was not quite what we had hoped. This is the story of The Lost Promenade Abroad…

Part 1 Red Pants Do You Want To Dance?

Day 1 All Aboard

The Sea Princess

The Sea Princess

And we’re off! Not sitting together due to another one of Nhung’s loser exes making her late, so instead Nhung is in a draught with nowhere to put her feet and Tamsin is on an aisle seat jolted by massive, quivering arses every 2 seconds.

We check out the free toiletries – not bad but the film selection is piss weak. Tamsin tries to watch ‘500 Days of Summer’ but gives up after 30 minutes, unable to take the simpering fake indieness and bum-obvious references.

We look around us at the other passengers. It doesn’t look like we’ll have much competition in the ‘belle of the ship’ stakes and there are enough Daily Expresses to wallpaper a medium-sized asylum seekers’ detention centre.

Middle-aged Lady 1; “I’ve decided to have wine with my meal”

Middle-Aged Lady 2; “You told me that 2 weeks ago.”

Arrival – Barbados

Barbados

Barbados

We are shunted straight off the plane onto a coach, are photographed looking our absolute worst, Tamsin’s polka dot shoes are admired and then we stumble out against a big white wall. A door in the wall opens, we inch through and find ourselves in a cavernous lobby bedecked in palm trees and mirrors like a 1930s hotel, a spiral staircase at the centre, cascading like a disco double helix. We are aboard the Sea Princess.

A bit lost and confused, we eventually find our way to our cabins. We put down our suitcases, look at each other and break into big grins and high 5s. We’re on a Caribbean Cruise and it’s free, free, free!

Barbados

Barbados

Our stateroom steward, Joseph introduces himself to us. He is lovely and very impressed that Nhung is half-Chinese. We immediately reveal ourselves for the divas we are and request waffle bathrobes and fresh fruit. Because we can.

There is a fire drill in the theatre – more 1930s chic – all red velvet and geometric lighting.

We’re starving by now and pretty knackered so we decide to leave exploring Barbados till the return leg and go for our first cruise meal instead, before we set sail. We’ve plumped for ‘anytime dining’, which means we turn up when we like for meals and don’t sit at the same table with the same people every night. We’re too tired to make much conversation with our dinner companions tonight, all we can do is order something random from the menu, which features 1970s sounding dishes like ‘Frozen Pina Colada Soup with Pineapple Tots’, but the food is fine, and we’re so sleepy that we miss the ship setting sail. Damn, we’d planned to go on deck and wave to the departing land.

Barbados

Barbados

We go for a little walk on deck. The ship’s band Opus are playing ‘departure songs’. As they strike into ‘Summer of 69’, some Dad dancing can be observed amongst the passengers, also some wheelchair dancing. We leave to the sound of ‘Crocodile Rock’ and ‘Valerie’ and on the way back to our cabin observe a Scottish couple having a screaming argument of which the only intelligible word is “och”

Day 2 St Vincent

St Vincent

St Vincent

We wake at 7am but it takes us until 11.30 to get ready. Nhung has an infinite amount of stuff in her bag and every day she tips it onto her bed then takes ages assembling it together again.

Breakfast is a bountiful spread – nearly everything you could ever want to eat in the morning, not least lots and lots of cake.

St Vincent

St Vincent

Off the ship and straight into a water taxi to Indian Bay. Tamsin loves skipping along the surf in a boat and can’t stop smiling. The first choice of the other passengers is Villa Beach, but it’s tiny and packed. Indian Bay is almost empty apart from locals and is much nicer, with sand that’ s partly black lava. It’s Easter Sunday and gospel singers in white robes are singing to the sea.

Once we’ve found our spot, we chuck down our things and plunge into the sea without a frisson of cold. The luxury of warm water! We gambol and splash and giggle then we have a lie down in the sun. Various local blokes go past in pairs and all of them are flirty little devils; “Hi, you look lovely”, “I like your tattoo”, “Would you girls like some company?” We decline but regret it when we’re joined by a man who smells of wee and tries to sell us some gourds.

 

St Vincent

St Vincent

After a while it’s time to return (we’re paranoid we’ll miss the ship and get left behind) so we head back and Tamsin manages to lose her first item of the cruise – leaving her polka dot sunhat in the water taxi. We take some photos around the docks – no cheery palm trees and azure seas for us, instead we photograph the grime: ruined buildings, graffiti saying ‘fuck you’, rusty bus shelters, rotting fish heads.

St Vincent

St Vincent

As we walk back, a friendly man says hello and asks if we’re mother and daughter (Tamsin is in a prim dress, Nhung an on-trend playsuit). Tamsin loses her second thing on the trip: her confidence. But as she walks on, she hears the lovely rocksteady tones of June Lodge’s, ‘Someone Loves You Honey’ trickling out of a building and it’s suddenly a beautiful moment.

St Vincent

St Vincent

Back at the cabin, we continue to be impressed by Joseph’s ministrations, he’s folded a pair of knickers Nhung left lying around in the bathroom and arranged all our shoes into a neat line.

We head for the pool, have a ‘dirty banana’ cocktail and proceed to explore the ship. We find

  • An art gallery with horrendous paintings for sale, mainly involving women’s bottoms
  • A photography room showing the hideous pictures of passengers embarking – not even worth looking for hotties, everybody looks awful
  • An internet room – it’s $55 for a hour’s use. We won’t be using that then
  • A perfume shop – Nhung spends a lot of time trying different scents and we bemoan the fact that all Chanel perfumes smell of old lady.
St Vincent

St Vincent

For our evening meal, Tamsin experiments with a frozen daiquiri soup for starters (basically melon milkshake) and we sit with the dullest people we’ve ever met. They have a protracted conversation about how one of their sons has unusually curly hair, “like a darkie”. As they get merrier, the off-colour jokes start: “What’s the difference between a chicken leg and a man’s penis?” We never find out. Any suggestions?

We expected to meet lots of interesting freaks on this trip , especially Americans. But in fact this ship is aimed at the Brits, so there are no Yanks, just the odd Canadian. Instead the Sea Princess is Middle England on sea.

Day 3 Grenada

Grenada

Grenada

We knew exactly where we wanted to go this time as Tamsin had been here before – straight to Grand Anse Beach.

After a frolic in the sea and posing for waterproof pictures in the surf, the Calypso Man does the rounds, singing bespoke songs to all the sunbathers (all with a suspiciously similar tune). To Tamsin, “Hey lonely girl, sexy sweet girl”, and magnificently, to a man in scarlet trunks, he sings,

“Man in red pants

Do you want to dance?

Red pants. Red pants.”

The man is stony-faced.

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Grand Anse Beach has become more commercialized since Tamsin was here 3 years ago – there are many more loungers, parasols and people selling stuff.  But it’s still beautiful.

In the water taxi back we pass a yacht, “Old man in a thong!” shouts Nhung and the whole boat titters.

Back on board ship, by 3pm everyone in sight is snoozing. Apart from 2 Yorkshiremen who held a 10 minute long conversation about shaving. There’s a big screen to show films on deck, but, oh Christ, it’s ‘500 Days of Summer’ AGAIN! Other poolside entertainment includes a golf competition, cocktail making and an ice carving demonstration.

 

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Tamsin has an ice cream, and then brilliantly at about 3.30, a lady with a trolley comes round , calling “Cookies and Milk!” She also has an apron and a hat (coveted by Tamsin) emblazoned with the same slogan. It seems certain that the Lost Prom will end this holiday at least a stone heavier.

Then Nhung sees IT. She lost her heart, her soul, falls head over heels in love, becomes obsessed. The object of her desire? A powder blue trench coat pictured in a fashion magazine. “I can’t stop thinking about it”, she says. For the rest of the holiday, she every now and then gets a faraway look in her eye that means she’s dwelling on her love. At one point Tamsin asks her, “What have you thought about most since you’ve been on holiday, the trench coat or your boyfriend?” Reader, suffice to say, when Nhung returned from holiday, she split up with her hapless beau within a few weeks. And the tragic postscript to the tale, is that when she finally got to see the coat in the flesh she didn’t like it after all.

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So it’s all very exciting because tonight is the first Formal Night! However, although Nhung and Tamsin look splendid (if we say so ourselves), most of the the other passengers are a bit disappointing. The men all look dapper in their DJs and dickie bows, but they don’t have to think much about that. The women show a general lack of flair and imagination and mainly look insipid in black dresses. There’s nobody really glamorous though we do spot a lady with a Barbara Windsor bouffant.

So 3 days in and we’re starting to get to grips with life on board. The short length of time we spend in each destination does mean we’re finding it a little difficult to get the essence of each place. And starved as we are of warm sun and seas for most of the year, we’ve not been able to resist some serious beach action, but visiting the beach means there isn’t time to see much else of a place. However, we’ve got ages to go yet, so hopefully some glamourous noirish escapades or screwball scrapes will develop very shortly. And no more Zooey bleeding Deschanel.

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Lost

Polka dot sunhat

Confidence momentarily

Heart to a powder blue trench coat

Found

Middle England far from home

Free in-flight toiletries

Joseph the lovely stateroom steward

How to carve ice

Cookies and Milk

The cruising life

 

Barbados

Barbados

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