A couple of years ago I decided it was time to satisfy my curiosity and sample a cruise. Having heard a mix of stories, both good and bad, about the pleasures and nightmares of being on a ship with 400 other people (I wasn’t contemplating anything that stretched anywhere near 1,000 passengers), I was finally sold on the idea by friends in Hong Kong who said they liked the convenience of not having to pack and unpack, pull out their wallet or worry about entertaining other family members who might be in tow. As much as I was convinced by their testimonials, it still took me another two years of field research, casual interviews and hoarding brochures before I took the plunge and booked a place on a German ship out of Hamburg.
Like many children who grew up in a city far from the coastline (in this case Winnipeg), the sea was an exotic place for me and I went through various phases of interest. There were the Titanic years in which I read everything I could and begged my parents to stay up late so I could watch A Night to Remember. Then came the fascination with The Poseidon Adventure and in an age before household video recorders I would relive the movie scenes on my View-Master. (If you’re too young to know what this little piece of technology is then think very early virtual reality without the hype.)
At the same time I had a large-format book that chronicled all the Italian cruise liners of the 1960s and 1970s, with their sleek profiles, well-turned out crew, chic ladies on loungers and tutti-frutti-hued nightclubs. It was perhaps this book that prompted me to start ducking into travel agencies and dragging home bags full of brochures from lines that no longer exist. Despite my mild obsession, my parents never took the bait and I had to settle for sailing lessons rather than a trans-Atlantic crossing on a ship with Gio Ponti-designed cutlery and a proper outdoor swimming pool.
When I finally boarded the MS Europa 2 in Hamburg on a rainy Sunday in June with family in tow, I was sure I was doing the right thing. Or rather, I’d researched the cruise sector so thoroughly that I knew this was as good as it was going to get. We were shown to a pair of suites tucked just behind the bridge while the Polish steward poured drinks and showed us around the sprawling set-up. As he dealt with the unpacking we walked the decks and checked out the other passengers.
Aside from five Swedes we were the only non-Germans aboard the vessel and we quickly recognised that this was a good thing. You need order on the high seas and you couldn’t ask for a better group of nationals to obey rules and stay in check (Japan aside, of course). This collection of Germans – mostly from Munich and Stuttgart – was also particularly well dressed, in their Loro Piana loafers and Brunello Cucinelli scarves. The children were impeccably behaved too.
As we cruised down the Elbe toward the North Sea we sipped gin and tonics and surveyed the handsome Hanseatic mansions along the shoreline. Later we ordered currywurst for room service and ate it out on the terrace of our suite. Come morning we enjoyed the breakfast bulletin from the captain (German first, followed by English), which reminded me of a school announcement and was just what we needed to set us up for the day. On the top deck we angled a collection of loungers toward the sun and a fresh-faced young lady kept us going with good coffee, perfect plates of biscuits and a selection of newspapers that were easy to manage in the stiff breeze. As a large frigate belonging to the German navy slipped past I thought about where we should grab lunch and what it would be like to host a monocle event at sea.
As we have just wrapped up our Quality of Life Conference in Vienna (highlights are available on monocle.com and a full overview will be included in our July/August issue), I’ve been wondering where we might go next. While our conference will remain on terra firma, I’ve been thinking about what four or five days on sea might be like if we put our Culture editor Robert Bound in charge of entertainment and the conga line, music supervisor Chris Chilvers on decks with playlists and a line-up of DJs,
monocle editor Andrew Tuck chairing a few one-on-one discussions with some sharp authors and thinkers, and senior correspondent Sophie Grove covering aquatic activities. If you think you might be up for such an adventure then fire a flare to the addresses below. In the meantime, I’ll be roaring up Lake Garda in my Frauscher, prepping for the launch of our seasonal shop in Merano, South Tyrol – open from late May. We’ll be hosting a summer party come July so please sign up to our newsletter if you’d like to receive an invite. Drop us a line if you have any comments or queries; my first mates are Mat Faint (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Hannah Grundy (email@example.com). The commodore can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the ‘FT Weekend’.