My dancing fleet on themed cruise

Dancers on board

Dancers on board

First published in Life

In preparation for the new series of Strictly which returns to TV screens on Sunday, Catherine Wylie joins a dance cruise

Peering over a balcony, I admire the dancers below. I’m not sure what dance they’re performing, but it looks like they know what they’re doing.

A cute teenage couple are perfectly in step, the girl’s pretty dress swinging elegantly as she moves. On the other side of the room, an elderly lady is with a very handsome young gentleman, who looks especially suave in a tuxedo. They’re gliding over the dance floor and, from above, it looks like they could almost be floating.

The truth is, we’re all floating – although some of us in a more captivating way than others. We’re on board P&O’s Azura on a Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise around Portugal, Spain and Ibiza. As I watch these talented amateurs combining their holiday with their love of dancing, I can hardly wait to do some fancy footwork of my own.

In my best cocktail dress, I already feel strictly glamorous, but I need the moves too. Handily, there are lessons for keen dancers to hone their art, or for beginners to learn a new skill.

I like to think I’m somewhere in the middle – until I find myself unable to bend my knees in a samba lesson with the critical eyes of notoriously nasty judge Craig Revel Horwood burning through me.

As I try to multi-task – swinging my hips, bending my knees, loosening my arms – I can’t help but think of Craig’s famous put-downs. This was going to be less “fab-u-lous” and more “dance disaster, daaarling”.

But I’m pleasantly surprised. Dressed in a pink blazer (well, of course), Craig observes our efforts and smiles. I bravely ask him what he thinks of my hip action, and am rather thrilled with his reaction.

“You weren’t bad. You didn’t fall over,” he says, in that typically flippant tone we all love to hate.

“It’s great to see everyone up there having a great time. And it doesn’t matter how bad you are because, actually, you’re not being judged. You’re here to learn and to have a good time,” he adds, with a dazzling smile.

And how can you not enjoy yourself when you’re shaking your booty to a Ricky Martin number, knowing that you have a packed evening of dining and entertainment ahead, before waking up to a new postcard-perfect view the next morning?

As a Strictly Come Dancing fan, I love all types of dance, so when the cruise’s daily newspaper declares the ship’s Headliners Theatre Company will be putting on a musical theatre show, I know I have to pencil it into my tight dance-filled schedule.

Oxford Mail:
Craig Revel Horwood sweeps Catherine off her feet

Sitting in the audience, fresh from my samba lesson, I suddenly want more than anything to be in Blood Brothers, Phantom Of The Opera or Cats. So when the musical show is over, I make my way to the ship’s main staircase and lean over to see what dance delights are on offer.

A pair of champion show-dancers are putting on a display of jaw-dropping proportions on the dance floor below. He’s a snake-hipped hunk and she’s as slinky as they come, wearing a typically skimpy costume that twinkles as she spins and shimmies.

I certainly have a lot of practice to do! Something also tells me that these two beautiful creatures had probably not been enjoying the ship’s culinary delights... unlike me.

If you love eating as much as dancing, you can easily devote an equal amount of time to each pursuit on a Strictly cruise – and it makes it twice as much fun. One evening, dressed in my favourite floor-length lace evening gown, to adhere to the ship’s black tie dress code, I dine in Seventeen – one of the ship’s more exclusive restaurants.

The high standard of service creates a real sense of occasion, as we dine on a delicious five-course feast featuring a buttery, creamy mushroom soup, and lamb that melts as soon as it touches my tongue.

On another evening, while in the Meridian Restaurant, relaxing in my window seat with a post-dinner cup of tea and looking out at the sunset on the horizon, I spy a school of dolphins.

As they leap from the water, it’s almost as if they’re having a little dance as the sun is going down on another hot summer day in the Med.

It strikes me that the whole world is, in fact, a giant dance floor. When we arrive in Lisbon, the hilly, cobbled streets are decked out in what looks like feather boas. Strung from gable to gable, the decorations made the Portuguese city look ready to cha cha cha.

Meanwhile in Seville, which I visit as part of an organised excursion from Cadiz, I’m left breathless when I step out into the Plaza de Espana. With a pretty fountain in the middle, a small river and ornate bridges, it feels like a film set fit for an old classic movie starring Fred and Ginger.

And as I admire the superyachts in Ibiza, I imagine partying into the night and dancing until dawn.

Back on board, dressed in sequins that sparkle in the last of the day’s sun, I prepare myself for a grand finale of sexy sambas and risque rumbas. In Craig’s own words, it’s time to “bring back that glitz and sparkle” and create “a modern version of glamour”.

I think the judges would all agree, this is one cruise that would score a perfect 10.

ESSENTIALS

* Catherine Wylie was a guest of P&O Cruises (pocruises. com; 0843 374 0111) which offers a 13-night Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise to the Canary Islands, from £1,399pp, departing September 25, 2014 on Aurora (R417). The saver price includes an inside cabin, full-board meals and entertainment from the BBC’s Strictly show. Departing from and returning to Southampton, ports of call include Lisbon, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, La Palma, Madeira and El Ferrol.

* A 14-night Strictly Come Dancing-themed cruise to the Western Med starts from £999pp, departing April 23, 2015 on Aurora (R503).

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