In fact, my moment of epiphany came rather sooner than expected. As I settled into a seat on the balcony of my suite on the Regent Seven Seas Mariner, glass of Champagne in hand, I took in the view of Lisbon sliding past as we set sail; the sun setting in a burst of orange over the River Tagus, the gulls dancing serenely in the slipstream just metres from where I sat. And I thought to myself, as so many before me must have remarked as they set off on their maiden voyage: "This is the life."
Our first port of call was the small volcanic island of Madeira, which meant that my second day was a bumpy one spent at sea, riding fifteen foot Atlantic swells. I must confess my sea legs were decidedly wobbly that morning (or maybe it was the Champagne from the night before), and it took me a little while to adjust. Luckily Regent's suites come with an extensive movies-on-demand service, so I was able to retreat for a few hours and settle my stomach with some seasickness tablets, a ginger ale from the pool bar and a film about dinosaurs terrorising a small volcanic island.
By lunchtime my appetite had returned and I headed back up to the pool deck for an obscenely tasty Black Angus burger with bacon and gorgonzola (my mouth is watering as I write this). Indeed the food was one of the real highlights of my time on the Mariner - the juicy veal tenderloin at Signatures and the herb-crusted lamb at Compass Rose were especially delicious. And memorable culinary experiences were not limited to the restaurants; settling down to enjoy breakfast in my suite, looking out across the veranda as we arrived into a sublimely sunny Funchal on day three, was also rather special.
Madeira's capital is a pleasant little town, in particular the old quarter around the Rua de Santa Maria, where the cobbled streets are lined by colourfully decorated doorways and the restaurants try and lure you in with the smell of sizzling scabbardfish. Provided you're not afraid of heights and your heart is up to it, the one experience not to be missed in Funchal is the cable car up to the hilltop village of Monte, and the famous wicker toboggan ride back down, piloted by two athletic gentlemen dressed in crisp white uniforms and straw hats whose rubbersoled boots serve as brakes!
Back on the ship, this particularly sunny November afternoon seemed tailor-made for enjoying a cocktail while sat in one of the open-air Jacuzzis, a thoroughly civilised way to enjoy the sailaway from Funchal. I was quickly discovering that there is a sort of infectious sense of satisfaction and contentment about being on such a luxurious, all-inclusive vessel. Everyone seemed to walk round with a smile on their face - not just the friendly and attentive crew, but the guests as well. Every time I asked someone what it was that they liked about Regent, the answer was pretty much the same: "They look after you."
After a day spent on La Palma, a beautiful and verdant island reminiscent of the Spanish Caribbean, my little taster came to an end on a scorching hot Wednesday in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The rest of the Mariner's guests would continue on for another three weeks, around the coast of West Africa and all the way down to Cape Town, and indeed they are still on there as I write this article. I left the ship feeling rather jealous of them, and clearly there is no turning back now - I'm a cruising convert!
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