No matter how big the ship, it can feel like a very small place when you’re cruising with your mother, as Lucy Jones discovered.
“Let’s take a cruise together!” my mother says to me over the phone one day. 12 days in the South Pacific on board Radiance of the Seas. Her treat. And I think, as I often do in these situations, what could possibly go wrong?
Plenty. We haven’t lived together full time for over a decade, since I was in my late teens or early 20s. To make matters worse, we both live alone and are perhaps a little set in our ways. The two of us sharing a cabin barely the size of my bedroom for almost two weeks is a frightening concept. But once aboard, we both love it. We play trivia four times a day and win more than we lose. We sing loudly in the piano bar, drink Bloody Marys by the pool, eat pancakes and bacon for breakfast every day. I haven’t had this much fun with my mother in years.
As the days go on it becomes clear (to me at least) that while on board we seem to be joined at the hip. At just shy of 60 my mother is not particularly old or frail, but I find myself shadowing her every move, unable to leave her alone. Am I worried that she’ll fall overboard? Blow our life savings in the casino? It quickly becomes exhausting. If I was travelling with a six-year-old there would be endless options – I could drop them off at the kids’ club on the top deck and barely have to see them again until we disembarked. Radiance even has an adults’ only area, the Solarium, where I could read peacefully without the constant shrieking and splashing and pawing of sticky hands. But now that I am the child I have no such luck. There seems little point escaping to the adults’ only area when she can follow me. Where are the kindly staff members to take mother off my hands when I’ve had enough? Where are the organised activities to occupy her while I’m at the spa?
We both become short tempered in the face of such constant companionship. Mother seems to have developed an intense and rather alarming dislike of other people, which I don’t remember from our younger years. One evening in the dining room, our waiter (clearly having forgotten her name) addresses her as darling and I fear she may leap from her seat and pummel him with bread rolls. I am no better. After a particularly fractious morning I lose my cool at lunch and come to the very vocal conclusion that people who attempt to go backwards in the buffet line should be taken out and shot. We have a day of rain and retire to the games room for a spot of Scrabble. In more than 20 years of playing board games with my mother she has never once lost, and would frequently reduce my eight-year-old self to tears over Cluedo or UpWords. But this time I roundly thump her by at least 150 points. I am magnanimous in victory. She storms off in a huff.
The wheels fall off somewhere around day six. We have a huge fight and spend the next two days not speaking to each other. I make the fatal mistake of storming out of the cabin after the argument, meaning I am forced to stalk the decks while she orders room service and watches movies in bed. I set up camp in the champagne bar, returning to the cabin only when I know she will be asleep.
But this fight, as all fights in our 30-year history, eventually comes to an end. And there’s a valuable lesson to be learned: when both you and your mother are adults it is physically (and psychologically) impossible to spend every minute of the day together. Maybe it’s not just the kids who need their own special area on a cruise ship. The big kids could do with one too.