BURNING FOR YOU
A holiday on the water will be hot when a newcomer joins the Australian cruise season
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 Norwegian Jewel makes its home in Sydney from November, it’ll kick off its fourmonth Australian season in spectacular style with Burn the Floor, 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 Burn the Floor, 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.
Norwegian Jewel 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 Norwegian Jewel, 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 Jewel’s 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.
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 Norwegian Jewel 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.
SPECTACULAR KICK-OFF High-voltage theatrical dance show Burn the Floor tops the entertainment line-up helping Norwegian Jewel 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.