Whale of a time on Med cruise

Sunny: The shores of Barcelona.

Sunny: The shores of Barcelona.

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Graham Bright breaks stereotype and marvels at unexpected sights on a luxury cruise

Daily life on board a large cruise ship can become an endless round of organised activities for those who like to keep busy. But thankfully some of the best entertainment on offer is unscripted.

This lesson was brought home in dramatic fashion one afternoon while my wife and I relaxed on the balcony of our stateroom aboard Cunard’s splendid Queen Elizabeth. Slumped on sunbeds, we suddenly noticed a dark shape looming beneath the surface of the ocean little more than 50 metres away.

We stared transfixed as a huge whale emerged for a single leap before plunging back beneath the Atlantic swell off the coast of Portugal. It was a moment of pure out-of-the-blue magic which will live long in the memory.

Not satisfied with just the appearance of this single leviathan, Mother Nature put on another surprise show the following day by arranging for a school of frisky dolphins to perform their gymnastic routines close to the ship. This time we had a longer opportunity to marvel.

But when it came to startling sights, nothing could have prepared us for the vision of a small Japanese man clutching a straw boater performing exaggerated solo dance moves on a giant outdoor chessboard. Quite extraordinary.

Therein lies the appeal of a cruise - as well as soothing the soul, it’s a feast for the eyes. There are decks to be viewed, people to be watched, seas to be scanned, ports to be witnessed. The whole experience could cause you optical overload. Not that it got off to a great start. After setting out from Southampton for our 10-day cruise to Rome, the first views on offer, of the sprawling Fawley oil refinery, were a sight for sore eyes.

But that evening, ushered to our table for two in the Princess Grill restaurant at the top of the ship, we were delighted with its stunning panorama of the sunlit ocean 12 decks below. “You like?” asked our waiter . You bet we do.

In fact we found almost everything on board the Queen Elizabeth to our liking. There is plenty to do on board. The lounges, shops, art gallery, theatre, library, casino, spa, gym, games deck and pools are all immaculately maintained and vying for passengers’ attention. And when the weather is clement, you can take your pick of the sunbathing and relaxing areas on the outside decks.

The following day we berthed in Gibraltar. We explored the crowded, slightly disappointing shopping streets and underwent the surreal experience of popping in to the local Morrisons for a couple of bottles of fizz to refresh the balcony supplies.

They were needed for another day “at sea” although not until after the captain’s cocktail party which started at the surprisingly early hour of 11.30am. And if indulgence is your chosen path, then the traditional afternoon tea served every day by immaculately-mannered and white-gloved waiters is highly recommended. Once sampled, it’s a habit that’s tough to break.

A day in Palma, the impressive capital of Majorca, coincided with torrential downpours of rain. But later the clouds subsided and the top of the ship provided spectacular views of the city laid out along its curving bay, with mountains behind and thousands of luxury yachts moored in the marinas.

In busy Barcelona we spent a morning on the beach before an excellent tapas lunch in a stylish square just off the Ramblas. Sometimes it was hard to remember that we were actually on a cruise holiday. But come the ship’s afternoon departure it was back to the good old balcony to gaze at the Costa Brava as we sailed east to Monte Carlo. There were fun and games in Monte Carlo’s harbour, as we boarded the ship’s lifeboats to go ashore because another cruise ship had bagged the only available berth. In a heavy swell, the lifeboats bobbed furiously up and down in the water and boarding was a hazardous exercise.

This glitzy port of call always provides enough interest for a few hours, with plenty of options for a decent lunch, but on the final day we skipped the popular organised excursions to Florence and instead explored the sprawling port city of Livorno before a final session on the sun-dappled balcony.

Graham Bright was a guest of Cunard, which offers a 10-day Mediterranean Idyll cruise on Queen Elizabeth departing Southampton on August 31 and calling at Lisbon, Gibraltar, Cartagena, Barcelona, Marseille, Monte Carlo and Livorno, ending at Civitavecchia (for Rome).

Prices from £1,429 pp. Visit www.cunard.co.uk or call 0843 374 2224.