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Monday 18 December 2017

Michael O'Doherty: Sail into the sunset

A cruise reminds Michael O'Doherty it's a beautiful world, however old you are

I've just seen my future, and it isn't pretty. Knocking around for much of the past decade with people much younger than me, in locations that might be deemed inappropriate for a man in his 40s, I've been conveniently insulated from the older generation, except for the occasional family funeral or accidental glance at Winning Streak. But on a rare trip abroad this week -- a cruise in the Arabian Gulf -- I've been granted a sneak preview of what awaits me later in life, as well as being reminded that I need to get out more often.

Economists like to judge the relative merits of foreign countries by the Big Mac Index -- how much one costs worldwide being an accurate measurement of these countries' relative costs of living. I, however, like to judge the countries I visit in two other ways: the Shower Index and the Bellini Index.

The hotel or cruise-ship room is judged solely by the strength of the water from the shower, the ease with which the temperature can be set, and how accurately the water is dispersed from the head. The current holder is a small hotel in Lucerne, Switzerland, that I visited 25 years ago. Boasting laser-guided jets of water from its immaculate shower head, it was a remarkable piece of engineering and reinforced all stereotypes about Swiss precision.

The shower in my ship's 'stateroom', however, has something you'd expect to find in a Zoe Developments apartment. Cheap, refusing to stand up straight and spitting out water in fitful spurts in any direction other than straight ahead, it's a bad omen for my week ahead.

The quality of a Bellini is the other great leveller, and wherever I travel, I make sure to ask for one. Simple enough to make -- a glass of Prosecco topped by peach purée -- it provides a crucial insight into what kind of culinary experience you can expect. Harry's Bar in Venice is the resident champion, as you'd expect from a restaurant that invented the drink. And the first one I had in Dubai at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel was almost as spectacular, so I hope that my cruise ship can similarly regain some ground after its shower-related debacle.

But if travel teaches us one thing, it's that all stereotypes are true.

There's a common perception that sea cruises are simply floating nursing homes navigating the oceans, trying to put off the inevitable. And immediately upon boarding my cruise liner in Dubai and getting into a lift, I was joined by my first co-travellers, who seemed to have been sent straight from central casting. Seventy-years-old-plus American couple? Check. Blue rinse on her, comical toupee on him? Check. White slip-on shoes? Check.

Trousers? Well, check ...

And after I decided to case the bar before a dash onshore, it got more gruesome: a Jury's Cabaret-reject comedian attempting to warm up the audience. "And if you ask the crew which is port and which is starboard, they'll tell you where to go ... quite literally!" Oh stop it, before my colostomy bag overflows.

But there's also one truth about travel that is uplifting. I woke up on a cold, cloudy day in Dublin and finished it off watching a spectacular electrical storm over the Arabian Gulf from a 25th-floor bar in a Dubai Hotel, a perfect Bellini in my hand. It's a big and beautiful world out there -- go forth and see it.

Michael O'Doherty is the publisher of the VIP magazine group

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