Gunta from Latvia has screwed up her face in what I can only assume is some sort of bastard love child of awe and disgust. So I say it again: "No, I've never had a facial."
She's still looking at me as if I've just suggested something untoward involving her, me and a miniature pony. Does "neverhadafacial" possibly mean something else in Latvian?
My face, after a debilitating round of acne all through my teens and well into my 20s, is what you might call a challenge. It'll be like trying to sandpaper 10 years off the north face of the Eiger.
We are on the beautiful Emerald Princess cruise ship, in a small but comfortable room towards the pointy end, slicing away from the Norwegian fiords back towards Southampton and I've taken advantage of our full day at sea to cross another item off the bucket list. To wit; one facial.
The Lotus Spa was voted Best Cruise Ship Spa by something called Spafinder Wellness 365 and you've got to say it's pretty spiffy. I like it because it's tucked away with something called The Sanctuary, an exclusive adults-only two-deck section of the ship which features a beautiful covered deck with private cabanas, a pool and a couple of whirlpool spas. There's also a frighteningly well-equipped gym.
Here in the spa they offer such delights as GoSmile tooth whitening, Aroma Spa Seaweed Massage, Exotic Lime and Ginger Salt glow with Massage, Ionithermie Cheek Lift, a Chocolate Indulgence Body Treatment and detoxifying ocean wraps. That last one is also available as a lunch option*.
These treatments are designed to "enrich the lives of all our guests with premium treatments that nurture wellness on every level".
I have chosen the Elemis Oxydermy Facial, a 50-minute treatment which will supposedly erase my fine lines and wrinkles. I've picked it because I like the idea of giving the Lotus Spa a good workout and my face, after a debilitating round of acne all through my teens and well into my 20s, is what you might call a challenge. It'll be like trying to sandpaper 10 years off the north face of the Eiger.
First, though, we have to get past the aghast look on Gunta's face, which, by the way, looks 25 when she is in reality 32.
"Well," I say as she grapples with the concept of a face that has never come within cooee of a facial, "I think I look pretty good for 85."
I can't say for certain but I think there's a millisecond of hesitation before she gets the joke. Surely I can't pass for 85, not even for a millisecond? After all, I'm a well-preserved 58*.
What follows are 50 minutes of foam and cleansers and unguents and exfoliating and oils and some sort of machine that thrums gently away on my face for a while. I have no idea what it is or what it does as my eyes are closed and covered with cucumbers or cold tea bags or somesuch. She could be using a Hoover for all I know.
There is hushed music of course. There always is in spas. In the background. Some twat on pan pipes if I'm not mistaken. If it's the same bloke every time he must be making a fortune in royalties.
I do ask Gunta what the machine does but by this time I'm pretty zonked and she could be speaking Latvian. Later I learn that it somehow introduces oxygen directly into the skin's pores – an easy task on me because my pores are like WWI foxholes but a bit of a worry in case I take too much O2 on board and end up looking like the Elephant Man.
Finally we are done and I stagger out into the lounge with its view of the Sanctuary pool and collapse into a chair with a glass of refreshing citrus-tinged water. I feel fantastic and I've got to say I'm looking gooood. Well, not 85 at least.
I ask Gunta for a list of the various embrocations she used to work her magic. It seems I was anointed with a deep cleanse facial wash, a pro-collagen marine cream-cum-anti wrinkle moisturiser, an energising skin scrub, an eye reviver cream and a post-shave recovery mask. Put that lot on a raisin and you'll end up with a grape.
And for a mere $US274.50 I could have them all in a routine that would keep me looking more grape than raisin. That routine, helpfully written out by Gunta, looks a lot like this: am/pm daily facial wash ($30); am/pm daily moisturiser ($80); am/pm daily eye reviver ($69); weekly exfoliating scrub ($47.50) and a weekly recovery mask ($69).
But, as they say, what price beauty? Well, $US169 for 50 minutes, according to the bill. Plus a 15 per cent service charge. Plus space for a tip.
My tip? Get rid of the pan pipes.
While the Emerald Princess will be locating to Australia in November, the Crown Princess will take over the Norway fiord route in 2017. Prices for interior staterooms start from $1629 a person twin share (taxes, fees and port expenses included) which includes a $100 Air Credit (expires on October 31, 2016). Fares include motor coach transfer from London to Southampton and return. For more information and bookings see a licensed travel agent, visit princess.com or call Princess Cruises on 13 24 88.
It's best to book as many of the more popular treatments sell out well in advance. Entry fees to the adults-only Sanctuary are $20 for a half-day pass or $40 for a full day.
Keith Austin travelled as a guest of Princess Cruises