Wilba is one of the most established and prominent members of Cruise.co.uk’s cruise community who’s always happy to share his extensive cruise knowledge; and boy is it extensive! Well it should be – considering how young he was when he first started cruising!
We asked him to tell us that story in his own words…
How it All Began
“It all started in 1958 when Mum booked 14 nights on the P&O Arcadia out of Southampton. Dad didn’t fancy the idea so he was just the taxi driver to and from the port.
Me, I was the luckiest kid in the neighbourhood; most of my mates had never even seen the sea, let alone a cruise ship and to be honest the kudos of cruising was something very, very special, especially for a young boy like me.
Arcadia, all 30,000 tons of her, was a two class ship in those days, the main body of the passenger area being First Class, the remaining aft section being Tourist Class.
We were in the posh end, although we certainly weren’t posh. The cabins were small, a four berth being about half the size of today’s two berth, with two wooden bunks, just enough room to stand and dress between the two, a wooden wardrobe at the end of one set of bunks and a hand basin at the other.
Toilets, showers and baths were down the corridor unless you were ‘very’ rich, bearing in mind this was the First Class section!
Moving on Through the Sixties and Seventies…
Moving on from Arcadia (two cruises) through the sixties and into the seventies on ships such as Canberra and Oriana (the original), the following applies to my memories of all the P&O cruises during that period.
Dining was two sitting, as per the current system but with true Silver Service, with everything served platter to plate.
Dress Codes was strictly enforced, the Maitre D’ had a chair near the entrance of the MDR (Main Dining Room) with a couple of jackets draped over the back and a selection of ties for those who ‘forgot’ to put them on…….and this was just for the Informal nights!
No alternative restaurants, self service, burger or pizza bars in those days.
No dress, No food, although a sandwich from room service was a last resort.
Entertainment was simplistic by today’s standards, no theatres or even show lounges but there was a ballroom/dance floor complimented by the ships orchestra playing strict tempo dance music.
‘Strictly’ fans would still love it today.
Cabaret nights were held in the same venue, the ships dance troop typically of four boys and four girls headlined by a ‘previously famous artiste’, comedian, magician or vocalist type act.
Daytime entertainment really was like you see in the ‘Carry On’ films, deck quoits, shuffle board and yes ok we still do it, table tennis, with the highlight of the cruise being the Swimming Pool Games, diving for spoons, the greasy pole and of the evening cruise highlights were a world away from what is on offer now, with one exception, Bingo!
When I first started cruising in the late fifties, Bingo was still a parlour game in the UK known as Housey Housey, the gambling prize element had not been considered but the cruise ships bought it over from across the Atlantic and it was a massive success onboard, literally the whole passenger compliment turning out to play and hopefully win something.
Other evening highlights were wooden frog and horse racing nights, another chance for a flutter but the ‘big’ event was the Fancy Dress Night.
Some bought costumes from home but the best, and usually the winners, were made up on-board with cardboard boxes, crepe paper and loads of imagination, helped along by cabin stewards and hotel staff alike.
Some of the creations were clever, funny, original and topical, the judging and prize-giving hosted by the Captain.
So onto the Ports of Call…
My first cruise in ‘58 was out of Southampton for Lisbon, Dubrovnik and Naples.
Not a lot has changed in itinerary or shore excursion costs. Yes even back in those days, tour prices were a bone of contention, so after the first two cruises with just Mum and myself, Dad decided he might just fancy the idea of cruising and immediately took up the challenge of DIY tours, a tradition I have continued myself from that day onwards.
Incidentally, Dad enjoyed his first cruise so much he continued cruising 3 or 4 times a year for the next 38 years until his demise. Mum at 89 is still planning her next cruise, we know she has done over 140, but we are not sure just how many over that figure!
Whilst on the subject of Ports of Call, how different were the port lectures conducted by professional independent bods who bought along their projector slide shows with camera shots of their own experiences.
No big sell, no mention of sponsored Cruise Shops and equal time and guidance devoted to cruise tours and DIY’ers alike.
I can’t leave the subject of onboard costs without mentioning the price of drinks, a much revered subject these days on all cruise forums.
Back in those early days of my cruising, late 50’s early 60’s, beer and spirits were about a shilling! That’s 5p in today’s money. Just imagine 10 drinks a day for 50p!!!!
Cruising as a Couple…
The seventies saw my marriage to Barbara, more cruises on Canberra, old Oriana and a few old clunkers now in Neptunes Locker, but some interesting cruises non the less, one notable, cruising to Yalta and Odessa back in the days of the USSR on Canberra. That was an eye opening couple of days plus a memorable sailaway which I will keep for another time.
The eighties was a fairly barren cruising decade for me, but by the late nineties I was back in the swing of it, now starting to look for more adventurous cruises such as the Far East and the Orient, Star Cruise a little known line in our part of the world.
Small ships, stunning ships, wonderful food, superb service, in fact some of the best and most memorable cruises we have been on.
First Taste of Royal Caribbean
By the early ‘Noughties’, Royal Caribbean started cruising out of Europe and we quickly became fans, a little more glitz, a bit more pizzazz, and as a result, we are now Diamond Members going on Diamond Plus.
That’s not to say we have not enjoyed cruising with other lines over the last decade, Carnival, Princess, P&O, NCL, MSC, Celebrity etc., Celebrity now a firm favourite of ours after cruises on Galaxy, Century, Equinox and Eclipse.”
Cruising has played a special part in our lives, meeting many wonderful people, seeing places in a matter of days that would have taken years to achieve as a fly/hotel holiday, and moreover, enjoying that ‘special feeling’ that cruising offers, escapism from the realities of humdrum working life.
Do you consider yourself to be a cruise addict? How long have you been cruising for? Do your pictures beat Wilba’s? Would you like to feature your story here? Let us know in the comments below…// END - About the Author ?>