Entertainment is deliberately low-key and consists of the enrichment lectures and the pianist who plays in The Club. The two lecturers on my cruise delivered three talks each, all themed around the area in which we were cruising. An eminent historian talked about subjects including the crusades and the seven wonders of the ancient world, while a top Middle East correspondent for a British newspaper discussed the political situation in the region. Both speakers accompanied the excursions, and they added a lot of value to the tours.
Noble Caledonia's cruises are very much focused on the shore excursions, which are included in the price. Occasionally, there was a choice, but on most days, everybody went together in a fleet of three coaches. The standard of all the tours was excellent, from the free water that was offered before departure to the cool hand towels and fresh juice that greeted us on our return. When lunch was included, it was always superb. Tours I did included a day in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon with a wine tasting, a visit to the amazing Roman remains at Baalbek, and a second full day on which we visited the antiquities at Byblos and the amazing cave systems at Jeita with lunch at a beachside restaurant. Both were pretty standard sightseeing fare in terms of the destination, but the guides were excellent (and frequently challenged or questioned by the passengers), and the lunches were outstanding and a chance to try genuine local food.
Passengers did comment by the end of the trip that they were tired. On our 14-night cruise, there were three sea days, but a lot of people spent two of these on an overnight trip to Cairo, which meant they'd been on the go every day for two weeks.
Many Noble Caledonia holidays include these extra overland options, as well as pre- and post-cruise tours. Some incur an additional charge, while others are included. The cruise I did actually started with passengers flying into the Jordanian capital, Amman, and opting either for two days at Petra or a day at Petra and one at Wadi Rum, included in the price, before joining the ship in Aqaba.
During the sea days, a gentle pace was kept up, with impromptu bridge, lectures, napkin-folding and a Q&A with the captain, chief engineer and hotel manager.
Everything about Island Sky is tasteful and small-scale. There's one big room, The Lounge, behind Reception on Columbus Deck, where the daily lectures and the Captain's drinks party take place. It's a comfortable venue for lectures, with banquette seating along the sides; deep chairs in red, green and gold stripes in the centre; and Art Deco-inspired panelling and uplighting.
One deck up and linked to The Lounge by an open-plan, curved staircase (which does mean that noise carries between the two) is The Club, with a coffee, cream and blue colour scheme and big picture windows out onto the promenade. It's the place to gather for afternoon tea and pre- and post-dinner drinks. Alwin, the pianist, plays from tea onward, until the last passenger retires, and his repertoire ranges from cocktail melodies to dance music (by which I mean YMCA and Neil Diamond).
Aft of The Club, a small library is well stocked with books and DVD's, with a couple of sofas for a cosy read. Two Internet terminals are available there. A 100-minute package costs £12, and Wi-Fi is available on most of Marco Polo Deck (Deck 4).
Island Sky isn't a ship for fitness fanatics. A promenade encircles the Marco Polo Deck, and a lot of people walk there daily (nine laps equal a mile). And that's it. There are no classes or gym facilities, as there isn't any demand. In any case, you're walking for a lot of the day on tour.
Explorer Deck has a tiny Beauty Centre offering manicures, pedicures, basic head and shoulder massages, and hairdressing. A wash and blow-dry costs £16, a manicure £15, a pedicure £25 and an Indian head massage £10 for 20 minutes.
For outdoor space, the top-of-ship Observation Deck offers a hot tub and steel-effect blue sun loungers on a deck of green Astroturf. It had very little use when I was onboard, as we were ashore all day, every day, but would be pleasant enough on a sea day. An outer deck below the Outdoor Cafe is one of the few places onboard where smoking is permitted.
Island Sky isn't suitable for children. There are no facilities for kids, and the high-brow nature of the cruises means the shore excursions are generally adult-oriented, too.