The West

Friends, sea, united
Joining in - on a Star Clipper cruise in the Mediterranean. Picture: Stephen Scourfield/The West Australian

We met Dave and Lorraine on a cruise. We just hit it off. They live in Cambridge, England, and Dave is involved in the publishing side of travel, and Lorraine is into thoughtful stuff and yoga. A perfect match for me and my wife, really. They're good fun, too.

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New friendships are common on cruises, of course. It's still interesting how, out of all those people on a ship, all those decks and all those cabins, the like-minded seem to be attracted to one another - to see connections and commonalities and form friendships. Like two magnets, drawn.

I occasionally receive emails or postcards from people I've cruised with, even years ago. It is as if our meeting were locked in amber - a bond that lives freshly forever. To each other, we always are as were during those days together - unencumbered by the daily routine, just "being ourselves". Just as we were when we cruised around Borneo and Sulawesi with Dave and Lorraine.

Dave was recently in Perth and we picked him up and took him home for dinner; an easy reconnection.

I regularly hear from readers who have had similar, or even stronger experiences. One WA couple who made new friends on a cruise years ago have regularly cruised with them since - living in different States but co-ordinating their holidays to match.

It is easy to make new friends on a cruise, but many people who contact me say they are a bit shy and nervous about it.

So, there are some tricks.

First, a good start to your trip can be to speak with a master cruise travel agent, who knows the ships and the sort of people who are attracted to them. Being on "the right ship" is a good beginning.

I chatted with one specialist master cruise travel agent about people who feel nervous about being thrown into such a new social situation, and she advised "just be friendly and go to all the activities that you can".

And getting involved in organised activities is the big tip.

Most cruises have a wide range of activities, for most interests - from yoga to quizzes, pool games to art auctions, wine tastings to dance lessons. Most ships also have a gym, where travellers meet.

The more activities you take part in, the better the chance of talking to people, and friendships beginning. And the cruise director and people who run these activities are skilled at helping people to get on and have a good time - it's what they do. If you are the sort who feels a little reluctant or shy, just let them do the work, and introduce you to others.

For the more confident among us, Cruisemates, a Carnival cruise line website, recommends starting random conversations - just picking a stranger, saying hello and asking if you can sit down for a chat. "People on cruises are relaxed and usually open to being social."

Then there are mealtimes.

This might provide the opportunity to join a table. Use your senses, of course - if a couple are sitting alone at a big table, they might be in the same boat, looking for someone to connect with, but shy in going about it. If someone is sitting alone, just ask to join them.

Most cruises have special activities just for singles.

For youngsters, most ships have youth programs and clubs which are good fun, with plenty of activities.

For example, Carnival's Club O2 is a good place to make friends for youngsters aged about 15 to 17. The tip is to go along on the first night, when everyone meets for the first time. Cliques tend to form quickly - instantly - and it's much easier to be with the group from the beginning.

Lots of youngsters might be a bit shy at the beginning, but the teen directors have ways to break the ice. It's what they do - they are skilled at it.

Or else, just have the confidence that particular friendships can and may just happen.

Like that with Kim and Sheila, a dentist and piano teacher from NSW, when we cruised the islands of Papua New Guinea.

And Derek and Sue, from London, when we cruised through the Greek islands.

And, of course, Dave and Lorraine. Which reminds me - I must send an email to them, to keep in touch.

The West Australian

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