TRUTH BE TOLD
Escape debunks cruising urban myths and brings to light the facts of a holiday at sea
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.”
(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.