BURN­ING FOR YOU

A hol­i­day on the wa­ter will be hot when a new­comer joins the Aus­tralian cruise sea­son

Sunday Herald Sun - Escape - - CRUISING NORWEGIAN JEWEL - BARRY MATHE­SON

At­ten­tion all you other ships, make way for a new one, one that’s go­ing to lit­er­ally turn up the heat on the lo­cal cruise scene. When makes its home in Syd­ney from Novem­ber, it’ll kick off its four­month Aus­tralian sea­son in spec­tac­u­lar style with a high-volt­age theatri­cal dance show which has been de­scribed as an elec­tri­fy­ing pro­duc­tion that will have you “leap­ing out of your seat”.

It’s been a hit in more than 130 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Broad­way in New York and Lon­don’s West End, and the man be­hind it is renowned Syd­ney pro­ducer Har­ley Med­calf.

As well as there’s the ship’s or­ches­tra, Band on the Run, which will have you groovin’ to the mu­sic and dance of the psy­che­delic ’70s, a magic and com­edy show and in­cred­i­ble ac­ro­bat­ics with Le Cirque Bi­jou.

The shows will be staged in the 1000-seat three-level Star­dust The­atre, and here’s a tip from Keith, the cruise di­rec­tor: Seat your­self in rows 3 or 4 for the best views as your eyes are level with the stage.

is the star of Nor­we­gian Cruise Line’s 15-ship fleet and its Aus­tralian itin­er­ar­ies will in­clude a series of coastal Aus­tralia, Tas­ma­nia and New Zealand sail­ings which start from Syd­ney on Novem­ber 12.

It’s no mega ship. There are no rock climb­ing walls and ice-skat­ing rinks, but the Miami-based NCL says it’s not into gim­micks – its main fo­cus is cen­tred on cui­sine and en­ter­tain­ment.

While new to Aus­tralia, Nor­we­gian Cruise Line is ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered to be the old­est cruise com­pany in the world. It was started in 1966 by Knut Kloster, a Nor­we­gian ship­ping mag­nate who is re­garded as the fa­ther of modern-day cruis­ing.

In the mid 1990s, NCL pi­o­neered “freestyle” cruis­ing, throw­ing over­board many of the for­mal rules of cruis­ing and al­low­ing guests to dine with who­ever they want, at what­ever time they want, with no pre-as­signed seat­ing.

Coats and ties have been ditched – on the dress code is “re­sort ca­sual”.

To­day, as their slo­gan sug­gests, they want you to “feel free” and I got to check it out on the seven­night Alaska cruise from Seat­tle, which it’ll con­tinue to do un­til it heads our way.

From the very first night at sea, you could see the cheery ca­ma­raderie among pas­sen­gers who, on this week-long voy­age, were out to let the good times roll.

Seated by my­self in Azuma Res­tau­rant, a group of four AfricanAmer­i­can women from Mem­phis called out from the next ta­ble. “Hey, what y’all doin’ eatin’ alone. Come over here and join us,” they said in their Ten­nessee twang.

Join­ing Ar­lene, Joann, Con­nie and Dorothy was a hoot. On Trump: “Oh, next ques­tion,” they said.

As they tucked into a large plate of bar­be­cue spare ribs, they told me that if I ever vis­ited Mem­phis, the home of the blues, they’d take me to Cozy Cor­ner, a bar­be­cue joint not far from fa­mous Beale St, for the world’s best ribs. A tempt­ing of­fer if ever there was one!

The Mem­phis belles were a lot of laughs and af­ter din­ner they were in the mood to party on at the nine bars on the ship, then the casino where they were hop­ing to win some money to help pay for their cruise.

It’s the happy-go-lucky fun-lov­ing peo­ple you meet on a ship like this that is yet an­other rea­son why cruis­ing is all the go.

DIN­ING ALL OVER THE WORLD

The food at half of the 16 restau­rants on board is com­pli­men­tary. These outlets in­clude two main din­ing rooms, an Asian-fu­sion res­tau­rant serv­ing tasty wok-fried dishes and an im­pres­sive self-ser­vice, all-you-caneat buf­fet in the Gar­den Cafe with carv­ing and pasta sta­tions.

At the pop­u­lar O’Shee­han’s Neigh­bour­hood Bar & Grill you can grab a plate of fish and chips, prop your­self in front of the two-storey TV screen and watch a game. And sports fans will love the dis­play of Amer­i­can base­ball and sport­ing mem­o­ra­bilia adorn­ing the walls.

There are six spe­cialty restau­rants serv­ing Ja­panese, Ital­ian and French cui­sine and an Amer­i­can steak­house called Cag­ney’s, plus a sushi and sake bar. A nom­i­nal cover charge ap­plies.

I went to La Cucina Spe­cialty Res­tau­rant where I had ar­guably the best osso bucco dish ever, and the el­e­gant Le Bistro French Res­tau­rant is right up there with what you’d find in Paris. The es­car­got bour­guignon in gar­lic herb but­ter was for starters, fol­lowed by roast rack of lamb, ac­com­pa­nied by a vi­brant, fruity Cal­i­for­nia zin­fan­del called Zen by Zin was su­perb.

Out on the deck by the pool, chefs turned on a lunchtime bar­be­cue of fresh Alaskan salmon, which was so de­li­cious that ev­ery­one went back for sec­onds.

MODERN AND COM­FORT­ABLE

There are rooms with bal­conies and rooms with but­lers, all con­tem­po­rary and com­fort­able. You can choose from ocean­view and in­side state­rooms, mini suites with large bal­conies and fam­ily ac­com­mo­da­tion with multi-room suites or in­ter­con­nect­ing state­rooms.

If you re­ally want to splash out try The Haven, an ex­clu­sive en­clave that of­fers the most lux­u­ri­ous spa­cious state­rooms on board.

Haven guests can also dine in style in the classy Moderno Res­tau­rant where they are served such del­i­ca­cies as eggs bene­dict on a bed of tasty crab cakes.

THE ART OF PLAY

There are game and trivia shows, arts and crafts, cook­ing demos, dance classes and a new ac­tiv­ity called Can­vas by You, where the crew show you a scene and you try to paint it. Paints, brushes and can­vas are sup­plied by the ship.

KIDS CLUB

Young­sters are well looked af­ter by spe­cially trained youth staff at Splash Academy, where they learn to jug­gle at cir­cus school, while teens can hang out with peo­ple their own age at En­tourage, a place filled with video games, movies, arts, mu­sic and sport.

It’s all com­pli­men­tary and su­per­vised. Chil­dren also dine for free in the spe­cialty restau­rants.

The 13-deck car­ries 2300 pas­sen­gers and isn’t as crowded as big­ger lin­ers. On a walk around the ship, I found there was plenty of room for ev­ery­body.

And be­cause it’s a smaller ship it can call at smaller ports such as Kan­ga­roo Is­land, and there are plans for it to do that.

Ahead of the Aus­tralian de­but, cab­ins will be spiffed up with new fur­ni­ture, car­pet and a laun­dry list of cos­metic changes.

With a record 1.3 mil­lion Aussies tak­ing a cruise last year, NCL wants a piece of the ac­tion and while it ad­mits it’s a late­comer it be­lieves its freestyle con­cept will catch on, as it has world­wide.

Just ask my Mem­phis ship­mates.

PIC­TURE: SUP­PLIED

High-volt­age theatri­cal dance show tops the en­ter­tain­ment line-up help­ing make a splash for its sea­son Down Un­der. Pro­duced by Syd­ney’s Har­ley Med­calf, the lively pro­duc­tion has been a hit in more than 130 coun­tries.

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