One of my biggest fears of taking my first-ever cruise to nowhere was that I would actually enjoy it.
While I've for the longest time dismissed cruises as a poor alternative to "real" travelling, I've always had a sneaking suspicion that cruise aficionados had long known: cruises aren't just for retirees who had given up on adventure, harassed parents with kids, buffet addicts and die-hard gamblers.
A recent trip on the Spectrum Of The Seas confirmed my worst fears. After two nights on Royal Caribbean's superlative-laden ship, I realised cruises to nowhere are an ideal way to break out of a two-year isolation, especially for those still worried about getting Covid-19 while on holiday.
"It's the ultimate travel bubble," quips Royal Caribbean's Asia-Pacific vice-president and managing director Angie Stephen over lunch.
True. You could even call it a staycation-plus, with the pluses coming from the plethora of options for dining and activities, the space to wander around and the ever-present view of the expanse of sea.
After two years of being stuck in Singapore, that alone is a far bigger deal than you might think.
Of course, it helps to hit the high seas on the three-year-old Spectrum, which officially arrived this month in Singapore, which it will make its home port.
The 350m-long ship boasts several firsts in the cruise operator's fleet. Apart from skydiving and surfing simulators, it also offers a bungee-trampoline adventure and a Singapore Flyer-like ride in a glass capsule 100m above sea level.
Spectrum also has more suites than usual - some 140 suites clustered in a "suite club" at the bow, with exclusive lounges. Despite their price, anywhere from 1½ times that of the usual staterooms, they sell out fast, according to the company.
I get a sneak peek of the biggest suite - a two-deck, 260 sq m Ultimate Family Suite that boasts jaw-dropping features such as a mini private cinema, a large balcony with a bathtub, a massive bathroom with a spa-like shower, and a slide for kids to scoot down to the first floor.
Apart from a multi-deck main dining hall, the ship packs more than 10 restaurants, with several bars, lounges and snack stops.
Tired of the usual buffet spreads? Fork out a bit more and you can dine on fillet mignon, a Jamie Oliver-standard pasta, a spicy Sichuan broth, teppanyaki or hot pot at the speciality restaurants.
My favourite is Wonderland, a zany Alice In Wonderland-themed restaurant that serves Insta-worthy creations like a literal garden of vegetables, a smoking bird's nest and a beef short rib served on an upside-down plate.
It is hard not to put on weight after the constant dining, but you can work it off on a 460m-long running track circling the top deck.
Surprisingly, one fun activity turns out to be quite a calorie burner. Perched on the stern (the back end), the Sky Pad allows you to bounce on trampolines while hooked onto bungee cords and wearing virtual-reality (VR) headsets.
This combination is supposed to take you into another world, but the VR sets are being maintained on this introductory cruise, so we are left with just the trampolines and bungees.
It still turns out to be fun. The elastic cords pull you into the air, turning even the most half-hearted hop into a gravity-defying leap. After about a minute, however, my calves start to cramp and I beg to stop.
The safety guide goads me to continue. "Last 10 jumps!" she yells encouragingly. "Come on!"
Grimacing, I carry on until she mercifully lowers me to the ground.
At the RipCord by iFly, however, I don't want to stop. Skydiver-wannabes get a minute each in the wind tunnel that blows you off the ground, simulating a freefall. It is a lot harder than it looks - most will end up spinning all over or hitting the sides, if not for the firm grip of the instructor.
By this time, my legs are aching too much to try boogie boarding at the FlowRider, a surfing simulator. Not to mention the bumper cars, badminton and table tennis.
With nightly movies, Zumba classes and live performances, you could over-pack your days and forget to do the cruise thing - laze on a sunbed and soak in the sun and sea.
And there are more than enough for the ship's capacity of 4,200-plus guests. Cruise ships are more like sunbed cities - sunbeds lining the entire length of the top deck, indoor and outdoor pools, and scattered around the "solarium", a giant greenhouse-like enclosure complete with palm trees and spa pools.
I manage to snag some time on the sunbed in my own balcony, but only after skipping a few shows that our concierge had so considerately booked for us. I'm almost regretful when the Spectrum slips back into the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at dawn and we prepare to leave. I'm not ready to admit that I'm a cruise convert, but I can certainly see its draw.
A large proportion of cruise passengers are first-timers, I am told, and if my own experience is anything to go by, I think they'll be considering coming back. And while many will be looking to take full advantage of the easing travel restrictions, cruises to nowhere are a great answer to those still worried about safety. Just don't forget to save some time for those sunbeds.
- The writer is a former Straits Times journalist.
- The "Shakedown Cruise" on Spectrum Of The Seas was hosted by Royal Caribbean.