A festival on a cruise ship?
When Festival Kidz received an invite for an 80s cruise I did wonder – can a cruise really be a festival? But I’ve never been on a cruise before and I love to try new things.
It was an excellent deal. For the price of a festival glamping ticket, festival goers had a whole week in a lovely cabin on a ship including heated pool and spa and all meals (and 24 hour snacks!). This together with some of the really big names of the 80s playing every day, plus parties and activities, and brilliant childcare so you can even go out to some of the parties without the kids! And on top of all that there was the chance to explore three cities during the cruise – Bilbao, Vigo and Lisbon.
So – how did I get on?
I had an absolute blast!
I ate great food, saw beautiful European cities, watched brilliant music, surfed and partied with friendly people. Sadly I couldn’t bring the children as it was term time. I visited the onboard childcare and saw some of the activities and I know that my children would have loved it even more than me. In fact after seeing my pictures they keep asking me to go next year and take them with me!
Although we only had good weather the first two days I managed to get some turns on the Flowrider surf simulator machine. I enjoyed this so much that I am going to look for one in England to take the children to. I stood up, but the children start lying on a boogie board until they feel ready to get up onto their knees and then feet.
The climbing wall was available for several hours a day, and once I got used to the feeling of not being attached to anything (this is the first time I’ve used these new style harnesses which shows how long it’s been since I’ve climbed) I hugely enjoyed it and I had a few goes. There was also a mini golf course, football/basketball court, table tennis, swimming pools and jacuzzis. The skating rink was closed for the music this time, which was a shame. But there was always something to do.
I looked around the childcare area and there were many rooms for different ages, including soft play for the toddlers and a teenager hangout with a pool table and video games. I talked to other parents who said their kids had been happier having pirate parties with the other children on the ship than going to a ‘posh’ dinner where you had to be quiet all evening – so it was a win win. There were additional activities for the whole family, such as football games or outdoor films which you could watch from the jacuzzis.
The Room and Food
The room I had was lovely, I couldn’t fault it. It had a beautifully clean en-suite bathroom – not something I usually have at a festival! The only thing that could have been a problem was that my room overlooked the concourse, which meant there was a party outside until midnight most nights. It wasn’t a problem for me – at one point Sara Cox was DJing right outside my window! But if you have children who need their sleep it would be best to book a sea view room or one without a window at all (these are the cheapest!)
There was so much lovely food I struggled to stop myself eating – you need some self control! The buffet was available for 3 hours during each meal time, or you could have a proper waited experience at a particular time (you were allocated a dining time on arrival). Added to that there was a 24 hour cafe serving sandwiches, pizza, fruit, ice cream and coffee. Heaven!
If you wanted drinks these were quite pricey – they did an all inclusive drinks deal so you could pay in advance for the week but that was costly too. I mainly drank water all week, but I don’t need to drink that much to make a fool of myself and you can always wait until you get onshore (where I found a bar with glasses of beer for one Euro each).
Even though you have to pay for wifi I thought it was worth it for broadband as I was away from my family. I did a Skype tour of the ship, which the girls loved, especially as everyone waved and cheered at them as we went by.
And this to me illustrates the vibe on the boat. People were extremely friendly, welcoming and great fun. I think maybe it was mainly because of the eighties music rather than people who go on lots of cruises, although I met people from all backgrounds. Most of the lovely people I met were eighties fans – some had retired and followed the bands around as more mature groupies, and why not? These people were so much fun. They all dressed up, and danced, and really didn’t care what anyone else thought – perfect festival people in my opinion!
I have an admission to make – I’m not that much of a fan of 80s music – I’m more of a 90s indie kid who got into techno a bit later and became a raver. But I also like dancing and being silly, and 80s parties can be great for that, especially when everyone dresses up.
However I was immensely impressed by the quality of what was on offer. I have never seen Tony Hadley before and even at 58 he was full of energy and a great performer. He got the whole crowd on their feet (no mean feat!) and the atmosphere was fantastic. The same goes for all the shows – I really particularly enjoyed Kim Wilde and Go West. They kept the music fresh by including younger musicians and singers, and (now I’m going to show my age) it was fantastic to watch musicians who could really play their instruments.
Not only that – they LOVED to play. Every night ended up in a jam session later in one of the small bars with musicians out of the various bands – if you were lucky to find it – from about 1am.. Dropping in and out of songs, improvising and getting the crowd to join in – they were wonderful to watch.
They had other extras such as signing sessions, a quiz with Mike Reid, and Q&As. I saw the Q&A between Mike Reid and Tony Hadley which was an interesting insight into the lives of musicians on the road.
As we were all on a boat, the band members were part of the cruise and you could see them having drinks with people on every bar in the ship. Everyone was down-to-earth and friendly, and especially Tony Hadley and Mike Reid seemed to be enjoying themselves and were happy to tolerate never-ending requests for selfies and autographs. Of course I had to join in (it seemed to be the thing to do!)
As well as the big names, the rest of the bands were top quality. I loved The Gangsters, a ska band playing at 11pm in a Lounge Bar deep in the heart of the ship. They played The Specials and Madness, but they also played a lot of their own music which was fun and fantastic to dance to. I also loved the Stomping Ivories – two pianists and a drummer – playing jazz versions of everything from classical to modern pop. They kept asking if any musicians in the audience wanted to join them and as the place was full of musicians, at one point they had four pianists playing one piano! Something I’ve never seen before.
I didn’t know what to expect before I went. I knew that the passengers would mostly be much older than me and although this was true they were also one of the most fun, friendly and up-for-it crowds I have ever partied with. And it was good to be with people who although were enjoying themselves (mostly) knew when to stop drinking. When I left the dance floor in the early hours (to get some food from the 24-hour cafe then get myself to bed) there were all ages from about 25 to 80 still dancing together.
Spain and Portugal
Of course as someone who loves travelling I greatly enjoyed the time we disembarked. When we docked we had several hours to explore the cities. For the one port that was outside the city, they provided a shuttle bus – although be warned you will need to take Euros! The port at Bilbao had no cash machines, so I had to borrow some money from another passenger, who was completely lovely and told me I didn’t need to return it (although I did, including a note and a postcard of the Guggenheim). You could also book excursions with the ship, but I recommend getting out and exploring yourself.
If I had been with the children I would probably have taken them to the beach, or maybe gone to just one place at each port. Without the children I wandered round the cities with a map, rediscovering the joy of being lost.
In Bilbao I went to the Guggenheim there – which like the London Tate. There I really missed the kids. There were huge artworks and an interactive exhibit where you walked through a dark room full of hanging feathers – they would have loved that.
I walked around the old town which was fun to do as it was all narrow alleyways. Then I walked around the beautiful art deco market and ate very cheap tapas with the locals at the bar there. At one stall I didn’t realise I had to take a ticket to be served and had been waiting patiently, and the old man behind me insisted I go before him anyway. Then everyone queuing behind me wanted to help me with my purchase (I was trying to buy some ham for my husband!) It was an incredibly friendly place and would be a great place to take children learning Spanish, as the locals were so keen to help. I eventually managed to buy a lovely piece of Iberico ham with the help of the whole queue and all the Spanish I could muster.
In Vigo I climbed up to the old castle at the top of the hill. There were frogs and turtles in the lake at the top that all the children were captivated by, as well as climbing over the ancient ruins. Then I sat and ate fresh oysters in the old town – Vigo is meant to have some of the best seafood in Spain and I admit they were the best oysters I’ve ever had.
Lisbon had so many sights to see I decided to climb around the old streets – it was enjoyable just to wander round as the streets zigzagged up the hill. Many of the houses still had the original local tiles so there was plenty to look at. With children I would have hired a tuk tuk – you could hire one with a driver to take you around the city – fantastic for kids. Right at the top of the hill is a proper old castle with turrets, and you can climb up the walls and walk around the top. Again, I know that the children would have enjoyed climbing around. They even have a camera obscura, which is a large periscope mirror reflecting onto a large dish, turning it around you can see a 360 degree view of Lisbon from the castle. It was amazing to see.
If you’re a bit more organised than me you can ride around on the trams – the steep hills make these fun for children but you will need a tram map. A word of advice when going to Lisbon – if you intend to wander round the old town buy a map before you go. You can get one with a tram map included.
The tourist map has hardly any roads marked and there were many people lost in the narrow winding lanes, myself included. Of course without children getting lost is probably part of the fun – but with them you will want to be able to find where you’re going. I was looking for a tile shop to buy some vintage traditional Lisbon tiles to take home and it took me an hour to find it! At least if you do get lost you can always just head downwards to get to the port.
Would I go again?
I confess there were times when I wished I was on land, as I prefer to become immersed in the culture of a new country. I also do love the camping side of festivals. But as a week’s holiday, considering how much I had done in a week – seeing three cities, trying out new activities, eating myself into a stupor while partying with an up-for-it, friendly crowd – this is a perfect change for older festival goers who would like to experience a bit of luxury and a break from the washing up.
So yes, I would love to go again but take the whole family next time. You know that much is true.