TRUTH BE TOLD

Es­cape de­bunks cruis­ing ur­ban myths and brings to light the facts of a hol­i­day at sea

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - CRUISING - MAL CHENU

Aussies love cruis­ing. More than any­one else in the world in fact. A record 1,281,159 Aus­tralians went to sea in 2016, up 21 per cent on 2015 and four times as many as in 2008. This equates to 5.3 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion, the high­est pro­por­tion of any coun­try.

So if this many Aussies love cruis­ing, what’s wrong with the rest of us? “Nay-sailors” baulk at the idea of pay­ing a for­tune to be crammed on to a float­ing RSL with a cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple for days or weeks on end and queu­ing for buf­fet food. But is this the re­al­ity?

Let’s take a look at some of th­ese con­cerns which, as a com­mit­ted cruis­ing con­vert, I now re­fer to as myths.

MYTH NO.1: CRUISE SHIPS ARE TOO CROWDED MYTH BUSTED

Yep, there are a lot of peo­ple on board, but you can find quiet nooks in places like lounges, the li­brary, chapel, spa zone, a quiet cof­fee shop or on a deckchair away from the pool.

And state­rooms may not be cav­ernous but you might only use them to bathe, dress and sleep.

A state­room with an out­side bal­cony is rec­om­mended if you want a pri­vate al­cove – star­ing out across the open blue is end­lessly cathar­tic.

Most ships have adults-only pool ar­eas and lots of bars and restau­rants, which are only as full as their land­based equiv­a­lents. And you can pay for ex­clu­siv­ity. For ex­am­ple, AquaClass guests on Celebrity Cruises (celebri­ty­cruises.com.au) have unlimited ac­cess to the spa re­lax­ation room and their own restau­rant.

Christa Kin­n­ear, cruise devel­op­ment man­ager at Phil Hoff­mann Travel (pht.com.au) says: “Po­nant Cruises is a fab­u­lous bou­tique line spe­cial­is­ing in lux­ury cruis­ing. Le Bo­real and l’Aus­tral have just 132 cab­ins each.” (po­nant.com)

MYTH NO.2: I COULDN’T STAND BE­ING STUCK ON A SHIP FOR DAYS WITH NOTH­ING TO DO MYTH BUSTED

Ac­tu­ally, there is so much to do, cruise lines have taken to declar­ing “the ship is the des­ti­na­tion”. A race among cruise lines look­ing for the next wow­fac­tor has led to a rapid es­ca­la­tion in ship­board ac­tiv­i­ties.

There are ships with wave rid­ers, wa­ter slides and wa­ter flumes, in­door sky­div­ing, bumper cars, climb­ing walls, ropes cour­ses, bungee tram­po­lines, ice skat­ing, zi­plines, ten pin bowl­ing, For­mula 1 race car sim­u­la­tors and even ro­botic bar­tenders. Not even the sky is the limit. Royal Caribbean’s Quan­tum of

the Seas ac­tu­ally has a Lon­don Eyein­spired ob­ser­va­tion pod that ex­tends out over the wa­ter.

And Nor­we­gian Cruise Line re­cently an­nounced its next ship,

Nor­we­gian Bliss, will have a two-level elec­tric car track. (roy­al­caribbean.com.au; ncl.com)

Stan­dard en­ter­tain­ment on most large ships in­cludes Broad­way-style shows, co­me­di­ans, ma­gi­cians, bands and themed par­ties. You can work out in the gym, learn a dance or lan­guage, play trivia, gam­ble in casi­nos, sing karaoke, watch movies on big out­door screens, at­tend lec­tures and craft work­shops or chill at the pi­ano bar.

You can pay for a spa treat­ment or a wine, whiskey, sake or cock­tail ap­pre­ci­a­tion course. And all of this is on the ship. Ex­otic ports-of-call await.

Kin­n­ear says: “Princess Cruises have a new app, “Princess at Sea”, on free Wi-Fi so you don’t miss any­thing on board and you can stay in touch with your party.”

MYTH NO.3: I’M A FOOD SNOB AND I DON’T LIKE BUFFETS MYTH BUSTED

An­other ben­e­fit of the nau­ti­cal-up­man­ship has been the com­pe­ti­tion in cui­sine. All stan­dard meals are in­cluded in the fare – in­clud­ing restau­rant-qual­ity din­ners – but most ships also boast fine-din­ing spe­cialty

restau­rants for an ad­di­tional, and usu­ally rea­son­able, cost. Miche­lin­starred in­flu­ences abound – think “Nobu” Mat­suhisa on Crys­tal, Jamie Oliver on Royal Caribbean, Guy Fieri on Car­ni­val, Jose Garces on Nor­we­gian and our very own Cur­tis Stone on Princess. The eclec­tic Qsine restau­rants on Celebrity are a funky din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with groovy decor, clever in­ter­na­tional share plates and or­der­ing by tablet. (celebri­ty­cruises.com.au)

Buffets are still around but the qual­ity is high. You can al­ways avoid queues by or­der­ing room service.

P&O has re­placed the buf­fet on four of its ships with a cafe-style con­cept called The Pantry. Cruise lines of­ten host celebrity chefs and of­fer food and wine-themes, in­clud­ing Hol­land Amer­ica Line’s pop­u­lar Amer­ica’s Test Kitchen and Crys­tal’s Ex­pe­ri­ences of Dis­cov­ery (hol­lan­damer­ica.com, crys­tal­cruises.com)

Kin­n­ear says: “I love the food on Ocea­nia Cruises. It’s just stun­ning.” (ocea­ni­acruises.com)

MYTH NO.5: CRUISE SHIPS ARE PACKED WITH OLD PEO­PLE/ DRUNKS/NOISY KIDS MYTH BUSTED

Well, yes and no. Se­niors do make up a fair pro­por­tion of cruis­ers but they are mostly ac­tive and in­ter­est­ing.

“Booze cruises” are rare th­ese days and cruises with­out drinks pack­ages at­tract fewer party an­i­mals.

Some cruises are more kid-friendly than oth­ers and sea­soned cruis­ers go out­side of school hol­i­days to re­duce the splash fac­tor. Talk to a cruise agent – they know about the ships, itin­er­ar­ies and de­mo­graph­ics.

Kin­n­ear says: “New Zea­land and longer cruises gen­er­ally at­tract an older age group. Some lux­ury brands such as Aza­mara and Ocea­nia may not have the sort of kid-friendly ac­tiv­i­ties that at­tract fam­i­lies.”

MYTH NO.4: IT’S TOO EX­PEN­SIVE MYTH BUSTED

All meals, en­ter­tain­ment and daily ser­viced ac­com­mo­da­tion (plus a turn­down service with a towel sculp­ture) is usu­ally in­cluded in a fare that is of­ten cheaper than the price of a re­sort ho­tel room.

Cruises start from about $100 a day. You’ll pay for your drinks, restau­rant up­grades and spa treat­ments but the cost of th­ese gen­er­ally com­pares favourably with land-based re­sorts.

Choose shore ex­cur­sions wisely. Some­times a lo­cal tourist map will suf­fice. Then again, hol­i­days al­ways cost more than you planned and, long af­ter the Visa pain has passed, you’ll be talk­ing of snorkelling with tur­tles, or cook­ing with a lo­cal nonna, or sip­ping wa­ter from the glacial stream you jour­neyed to by he­li­copter.

Kin­n­ear says: “Com­pe­ti­tion means we’re en­joy­ing some of the best rates ever right across the board.

“Tra­di­tion­ally P&O of­fer great value but oth­ers such as Royal Caribbean and Car­ni­val have some amaz­ing deals for this sea­son.”

PICTURES: SUP­PLIED

(Clock­wise from main) Quan­tum of the Seas’ ob­ser­va­tion pod; Cur­tis Stone’s tarte au vert on Princess Cruises; Har­mony of the Seas’ wa­ter­slide; Nor­we­gian Jewel show.

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