Hoovering: Close to the Madding Crowd

babyRecently, I birthed a human. Involuntarily without pain relief. It took a full lunar cycle of cacophonous banshee-song and at the end he nearly died. I also tried doing comedy on a cruise ship. The cruise was worse.

The food was, however, fascinating. You’ll be relieved to know I’m only here to talk about the food.

There was so much of it. A crazy demonstration of extremity in decadence. A 24/7 Tudor banquet. Except with robots serving some of it, thus cock-blocking one’s usual human-dignity alarms.

There were diners and buffets and drop-in burger-bars and 24-hour pizza, cafes and ice-cream machines. The Hunger Games made real.

The week began in awe, excitement and full immersion. By midweek, a modicum of self-restraint and bafflement at my surroundings kicked in. By the week’s end, I was broken by what I saw as a complete dystopian horror.

Let’s start with the breakfasts. Option-wise, it was intergalactic. I half expected to see a Klingon supping prune juice. You could have chocolate on French toast and sag aloo, with a slice of Edam on the top. Intrigue led often to disaster. It turns out it’s fine to have strawberry compote, but not with fried rice.

It wasn’t consistent. The third-floor American Icon restaurant had scrambled eggs made of cream and silk. If you ventured up to Windjammers though, you got your neck and lungs jammed too, with scrambled eggs that were like hot MDF.

breakfeast-squareMainly, it was exquisite. A fresh salmon omelette and a blueberry pancake were the treats I’ll remember most warmly. My partner Mikey had a holiday romance with sweet, crispy, maple bacon.

There was a machine on the 15th floor where you helped yourself to frozen yogurt. The queue was full of teenagers who’d never been told ‘no’ in their life. They laughed in the face of waste, getting five each, only to drop, throw and sometimes even spit them at people, often breaking the machine.

I felt trapped inside some clever artist’s immersive piece about absolute sybaritism. I only went once.

We got off the ship at every chance we could.

Palma, the capital of Majorca, is akin to Meereen in Game of Thrones. Ancient hot, dusty forts with air full of sea salt and horse shit. The only difference was, instead of dragons everywhere, there’s gelato shops. And it isn’t fictional.

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“Dinners on board were the most boggling debacle in the buffet places. Marginally less so when we went to the restaurants, where at least there was a beginning and end.”


We ate otherworldly ice-creams which blew our tongues and hearts. I had a scoop of coffee and one of almond. Oof. What a wonder. Roasted, toasty flavours but in the smoothest, cold cream.

Vernazza, if you’ve never been, is a tiny fishing village set into an Italian cliff-edge. If you emptied all the tourists out, it would be so stunning. Don’t go. Go. There’s no more confusing a shame than somewhere which would be improved by an apocalypse.

gelato in vernazzaI tried the ‘local special flavour’ ice-cream. ‘Sweet wine’ was the only discernible ingredient. It was odd. Sherberty, herbal, boozy in an old-person way and ultra-saccharine. Luckily, I also had a ‘safety scoop’ of delicious hazelnut.

We didn’t have lunch. We’re not insane. Dinners on board were the most boggling debacle in the buffet places. Marginally less so when we went to the restaurants, where at least there was a beginning and end. Even then, there were more courses than you could house in one person.

Over the week we tried some delicious creations. Mikey braved snails! Giant garlic bogies. We liked them. There was Marmite and raisin bread. Mysteriously… nice. There was crab ravioli which tasted of the sea and clouds at once. Another night I got a French onion soup which had a Yorkshire pudding floating in it. Sorry, I didn’t mean this to become such erotic non-fiction.

My favourite was two curries. A vegetable one, which was properly powerful. It had aubergines, which had soaked in all the beautiful spice, fennel and heat, with earthy okra and potato. The blaze was just at the point where it was still fun, like a rollercoaster that reminds you you’re ALIVE without actually making you shit yourself.

Another was much milder but even more memorable. It had a fish I’d never eaten before, mahi-mahi. It was really dense like tuna, so good with spice, but with a much lighter flavour. In a citrusy, coconut sauce it was perfect. It set off all your taste buds at once, zingy and fresh but warming too.

We were beyond lucky to have eaten all those things, but it was absurd. Not the food that people took and ate and loved. I think that’s glorious. But the mountains that got discarded, day in, night out. That appalled me. Luckily, not as much as my comedy appalled the other passengers. So, that’s something. I would never do it again. But then, in the immediate aftermath, people say that about babies too.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship: Harmony of the Seas
Website: secure.royalcaribbean.com/harmonyoftheseas
Accessible: Completely (its most redeeming feature)

Catch up with Jess’s previous Hooverings here.


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