Sea and tell

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 1 Now there are 443 Aus­tralian pas­sen­gers and the cock­tails have names such as Surfers Par­adise. Trivia quiz ques­tions veer away from English foot­ball, Tu­dor monar­chs and stars of Coro­na­tion­Street to mar­su­pi­als and Antarc­tic ex­plor­ers.

At the ex­cel­lent Oa­sis Spa, I have a ru­inously ex­pen­sive Oxy­jet Star fa­cial (sham­poo and set is still the most pop­u­lar ser­vice, es­pe­cially on for­mal nights) and buy a day pass to use the sprays and jets in the hy­dro pool, the steam­room and the bril­liant mo­saic­tiled heated lounges, an­gled for ocean views.

I make my way through a stack of li­brary books, mostly read­ing on my cabin bal­cony, watch­ing widewinged brown birds ac­com­pa­ny­ing Ar­ca­dia like avian out­rid­ers. As we get closer to the West Aus­tralian coast, the light seems more brit­tle, the ocean splashed with sun coins. By a full moon, I con­ju­gate Span­ish verbs in prepa­ra­tion for my morn­ing lessons in the Spin­naker Bar. Our teacher is coach­ing us to or­der large vol­umes of wine, beer and ja­mon sand­wiches; I think it must be spe­cial­ist cruiser’s Span­ish.

I tour the bridge, where the pro­pi­tiously named third of­fi­cer Gavin Seabright ex­plains the in­tri­ca­cies of the com­put­erised nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem. We are at a steady-as-she-goes 19 knots on course for Fre­man­tle and Al­bany. On a walk through the main gal­ley with Ir­ish-born ex­ec­u­tive chef Trevor Con­nolly, there’s the in­tox­i­cat­ing smell of fresh pas­tries from the 24-hour bak­ery and plates of tea-time cakes, fudge slices and meringues be­ing read­ied for the Choco­holics’ Buf­fet (its cen­tre­piece is a chocolate foun­tain that throbs like an oil well).

Down un­car­peted back stairs, an­other uni­verse is in op­er­a­tion. It’s a world of steam and heat (I visit the laun­dry where an av­er­age of 2200 sheets a day are washed in tum­bling ma­chines the size of wardrobes), the scurry of dead­lines and de­mands, the ad­min­is­ter­ing to (I sus­pect) ever more looney re­quests. One passenger ap­par­ently doesn’t like the fruit in her bas­ket (she wants green grapes, not black); an­other has had a laun­drette rage in­ci­dent in which a man (a man!) re­moved her clothes from the dryer and may have (may have!) touched her un­men­tion­ables. Fruit scouts are dis­patched; the laun­drette episode logged and in­ves­ti­gated.

The well-de­signed en­suite cabins (701 of which have bal­conies) fea­ture a pal­ette of wheat and soft green and have stocked mini­bars, elec­tric jugs, tea and cof­fee sup­plies, flat-screen tele­vi­sions with news and movie chan­nels, and a high de­gree of com­fort. There’s plenty of stor­age and hang­ing space but (imag­ine the griz­zles) no draw­ers; beds are su­per-comfy and well piled with pil­lows.

It’s all a far cry from the Ar­ca­dia of old, with a shared bath­room and two sets of bunks in my fam­ily’s cabin. I was on top of one, mother and fa­ther be­low, and the spare up­per berth was re­served for our sewing bas­ket and my puffy pa­per out­fits. (My de­fault cos­tume, on mother’s off nights, was a dozen or so in­flated pa­per bags pinned to my swim­suit and a sign that read: Wind Bag. My fa­ther banned me from wear­ing it on deck lest I be scooped up by the breeze and sail clear to China.)

Half a cen­tury later, I still have the tiny soap­stone fig­ure of Gane­sha, the ele­phant god, that our Goanese stew­ard, Joseph, gave to me the day we reached Syd­ney. Ap­par­ently I sobbed like a wild thing and we hugged each other so tight we squeaked. Then, as now, I wanted the magic of that big sea voy­age, with its lim­it­less pos­si­bil­i­ties, to last for­ever. Su­san Kuro­sawa was a guest of P& O Cruises.

Check­list

Ar­ca­dia is in Syd­ney to­day (un­til mid­night), Bris­bane on Mon­day and in the Whit­sun­days on Wed­nes­day. Prices for Ar­ca­dia’s 2010 World Cruise start from $3085 a per­son twin share for 14 nights from Bris­bane to Hong Kong (from Fe­bru­ary 26). Or spend 24 nights from Syd­ney to Sin­ga­pore (from Fe­bru­ary 24) from $5075 a per­son twin share. More: 132 428; www.pocruises.com.

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