Travel and Lifestyle

Ice hockey and Liza Minnelli

Only twice have I had to queue for more than 10 minutes the men's toilet while the women's has been empty - an ice hockey game in Canada and a Liza Minnelli drag show in London. Both were full of noisy men but only one was sponsored by Budweiser. Ice hockey is Canada's national sport and I couldn't visit Toronto without catching a game. I was in luck, the local Maple Leafs were playing the New York Ducks. It was a fast, aggressive emotional ride for the 20,000 fans. Since fighting amongst the players is actively encouraged it does attract an especially masculine audience. For every woman I saw I counted at least 50 men. There was enough testosterone I the place to put hairs on Justin Bieber's chest.

Beavis and Butthead's closest living relatives were sitting right behind us with a running commentary including: "The Ducks are f***ing losers man... even though they're winning," on seeing a competition winner receive his free popcorn and T-shirt, "Where the f***'s our free popcorn and shit man? This is f***ing bullshit" and my personal favourite when a player missed a shot, “That guy's totally got herpes”. What? They were more entertaining than the match.

The real winners were the advertisers or rather the people receiving the advertising revenue. I counted 157 billboards in the stadium itself plus the countless screens and banners around the bars and merchandise stands. You can buy kits, cups, T-shirts, pens, caps, bottle openers and giant foam hands with fingers to do the pointing for you.

The local team won and everyone went home happy. Would I go back? Probably not unless Liza Minnelli was the half time entertainment. Now that would be interesting.

A first look video clip of “Oasis of the Seas”

P1000708With a total capacity of 8461 passengers and crew and weighing in at over 225,000 tons, the new Oasis of the Seas is… enormous. I am lucky enough to be onboard right now for one of the first cruises, before paying passengers come on board, and you can watch my little video showing you around some of my favourite parts of the ship below. You see the amazing Boardwalk area with restaurants, donuts, rock climbing walls and the Aqua Theatre, the ice rink, the Opal Theatre, the huge Promenade through the centre of the ship, Central Park with 100s of real trees and plants right through the middle of the ship, the zip line over the centre of the ship and me giving expert lessons in how not to surf on the Flow Rider! [youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_KGpBL3d3Aw[/youtube]

The "Boardwalk" with the beautiful carousel

One of the sundecks. The ship is so wide!

The Promenade for shopping and bars

Bevelling with "Tracey" and "Duane" from the cast of Hairspray

The view from our cabin, looking over Central Park inside the ship!

At last, an Indian massage with a happy ending

Having a head massage in India is as authentic as pork pie in Melton Mowbray and mint cake in Kendall. After a dreadful experience in Mumbai where I had to tell the owner to either call the police or let me go, I was looking forward to the “very good” treatment my driver organised in sleepy Cochin. Sebastian, my masseur, told me I would have a head and face massage then full body, and finally a body steam with wash. Nice. I was a bit worried I hadn’t brought my swim suit but was immediately instructed to strip naked while he tied a little string around my waist and looped a bit of gauze in between my legs. That fixed that.

After the invigorating face massage (next time I will shave first) I laid on the bed and Sebastian went on to drench me in warm oil and massage ever inch of me. The gauze was removed and he worked away. He would repeatedly go from rubbing my nipples to rubbing my... (what’s the best euphemism? “bits”?), and kept doing this at regular intervals. So it would be arms, nipples, bits, left leg, nipples, bits, sides, nipples... Now fortunately for me, Sebastian was not my type and I managed to control myself. Still when someone is doing this to you for 40 minutes it does take considerable mind control not to respond. My technique was to practise Portuguese verb conjugations. It worked and I managed to avoid the indignation of “you want happy finish, sir?”.

By the end there was so much oil that I was literally sliding all over his little plastic bed and it was a relief to be invited to enter the steam bath. This was not the marble tiled oasis I expected. Instead a portable contraption resembling a one man tent with a hole in the top like the kind of thing you might find in Argos (see picture). Still it did the trick. Then it was wash down time, and I was ushered to the toilet where a bucket of hot water, a small bar of soap and a small towel awaited. Again it did the trick. Who needs power showers with 8 oscillating massage heads when you’ve got a bucket in a toilet?

When all said and done, the massage was great and the experience was authentic and real. I’d much rather have that than whatever the Hilton might be offering. I felt invigorated, relaxed and it only cost me £10. That’s my kind of happy ending.

My gym workout

When you travel on cruise ships a lot, as anyone will tell you, you put on weight. The shear quantity and availability of food on ships is a running joke. Everyday is like Christmas day and you can eat non-stop, for free, if that's what you want to do. And yes, that is what I like to do... I had been getting away with it for years, but eventually by ageing metabolism could take no more and decided to slow down the processing of daily bingeing - one large cooked breakfast, elevenses, large cooked lunch with desert, afternoon tea and cakes, dinner and supper - and the weight started to creep up.

Of course, ships usually have great gyms too, which are just as easy to get to as the buffet, so I decided to make the choice and go there at least a few times a week so at least I could feel a little less guilty eating the way I do.

In the Norwegian fjords

A gym instructor in the Crystal Serenity devised an alternating 2 days workout for me and I have been doing it most days since then. I shared it with a few people including a violinist friend of mine Christopher Watkins who claims it helped him loose loads of weight and now swears by it. So, I thought I would post it up here so you can download it as a PDF. This is my little typed version I print off and fold up pocket size for the gym. I hope it proves useful!

Next time you're on a ship remember the Collins' Dictionary definition of chocolate eclair: "A cake - long in length, short in duration."

The world's best recipe for Bircher Muesli

My favourite breakfast right now is Bircher Muesli also known as Swiss Muesli. Basically it’s cold porridge with fruit, and the best I have tasted is on Crystal Cruises. I was lucky enough to share a taxi with one of Crystal’s top chefs who gave me the recipe... enjoy!Note, I especially like their “...berries of your fantasy”.

Recipe for Bircher Muesli

Serves 6 portions

  • 2 cups of oats quick

  • ½ cup of walnuts, roughly chopped

  • ½ cup of almonds, sliced, lightly toasted

  • 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds, lightly toasted

  • 2 table spoons of raisons (if you do not like raisins, just replace by dried cranberries or any other dried fruit)

  • 3 table spoons of honey (sweetness is up to your taste)

  • 4 cups of milk

  • 1 medium apple, freshly grated

  • 1 medium pear, freshly grated

  • 1 cup of whipped cream

  • 2 cups of yogurt

  • 2 bananas, sliced

  • Seasonal fruits and berries for garnishing

Preparation

  1. One night before mix oats quick, walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins, honey and milk and but in the fridge to soak.

  2. Before you serve add freshly grated apple and pear.

  3. Fold in whipped cream and yogurt.

  4. Garnish with sliced bananas and seasonal fruits and berries of your fantasy.

Diving with Manta Rays in Hawaii

Have you seen Gary's YouTube page yet? We've just added a new video clip of Gary diving with Manta Rays in Hawaii last year while working for Princess Cruises. Click here to have a look, it's less than 2 minutes long.

The wing span of the near-shore Pacific Manta Ray averages 5 to 8 feet but can reach well over 14! They have no real teeth, no stinger, and a harmless disposition. 

These huge and gentle creatures feed on a food source of almost microscopic organisms called plankton, so Mantas must work very hard to get enough of this tiny food. On this night dive you’ll see Gary and the other divers holding torches to attract brine shrimp, a form of plankton that ray feed on. Using their cephalic fins like big scoops, they funnel water into their wide-open mouths and filter out these organisms. It was an awesome experience.