Sea and tell
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.
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.