Play­ing board games on the Welling­ton docks

THE CRUISE TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - HELEN HUTCHEON

IN Jan­uary I joined the 922-pas­sen­ger Crys­tal Sym­phony in Syd­ney with my hus­band, Pa­trick, for a cruise around New Zealand.

From the mo­ment we stepped on board and Gre­gor, our shin­ing jewel of a but­ler, poured a wel­come cham­pagne, ev­ery­thing was bliss.

It was only in June last year that this ul­tra- luxe ship un­der­went a twoweek multi-mil­lion-dol­lar ex­treme makeover in­volv­ing 1100 work­ers and we were de­lighted to see that the re- de­signed pub­lic ar­eas are as chic and el­e­gant as ever.

The top deck Palm Court is where we spent most of our time out­side of Pent­house 1060. Some­one said it evoked the glam­our of Hol­ly­wood’s leg­endary Co­conut Grove, which was dec­o­rated with ar­ti­fi­cial palm trees from Ru­dolph Valentino’s 1921 movie The Sheik.

Dur­ing the day we read and snoozed in ma­jes­tic wing­back chairs that face the ocean for un­par­al­leled panoramic views and at night it was the per­fect place for pre-din­ner drinks and ro­man­tic mu­sic.

In the af­ter­noons the Palm Court ri­vals The Ritz in Lon­don for its ex­trav­a­gant teas served by white­gloved ste­wards.

Not that we could man­age an­other morsel af­ter an overindul­gent lunch in the Crys­tal Din­ing Room. We came just for the sense of oc­ca­sion, in agree­ment with Henry James who said, ‘‘There are few hours in life more agree­able than the cer­e­mony known as af­ter­noon tea.’’

We also ven­tured from be­ing mol­ly­cod­dled in Pent­house 1060 to have pre­lunch drinks by the Liv­ing Wall, a world map made up of many dif­fer­ent plants, in the Tri­dent Bar & Grill on Deck 11. This beau­ti­ful gar­den at sea has an au­to­mated ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem and is cared for by the ship’s florist.

Then there were evenings in the al­ter­nate restau­rants, Prego and Silk Road, where there is no cover charge, in keep­ing with Crys­tal Cruises’ allinclu­sive pol­icy.

Nib­bling on a hand­made choco­late from the Crys­tal Col­lec­tion be­fore lights out, I wished that th­ese sea days could go on for­ever.

Be­fore long, though, it was time to go ashore and in Welling­ton I made my usual pil­grim­age to Kirk­caldie & Stains. This shop­per’s par­adise has been New Zealand’s pre­mier depart­ment store since it was opened in 1863 by Scots­man John Kirk­caldie and English­man Robert Stains.

It is at Lambton Quay, the end of the line for the courtesy buses that cruise com­pa­nies put on to carry pas­sen­gers be­tween their ships and the city.

Laden with parcels we rushed out of K&S and on to a bus that was about to leave for the wharf. As soon as I see ‘‘my’’ ship in the dis­tance, wher­ever I am in the world, I have the strangest feel­ing I am com­ing home.

And as we rum­bled along, there it was, gleam­ing white and beck­on­ing in the mid­day sun. Just in time, I thought, for an aper­i­tif be­fore lunch.

The se­cu­rity guard at the en­trance to the wharf came on board to check our pass­ports and the bus con­tin­ued on to take us to the bot­tom of the gang­way. Up the steps we went un­til we reached the em­barka­tion deck.

We du­ti­fully pro­duced our iden­ti­fi­ca­tion key cards and handed them over to a friendly Filipino crew mem­ber to in­sert into the kiosk to record we were back on board.

He took a very long look, smiled and handed them back, say­ing, ‘‘Crys­tal Sym­phony.’’

‘‘Yes, that’s right,’’ I agreed. ‘‘We pas­sen­gers on this ship.’’

‘‘No, no,’’ he in­sisted. ‘‘Crys­tal Sym­phony. Keys are for Crys­tal Sym­phony.’’

We were to­tally be­wil­dered. Then we looked around. Crys­tal Sym­phony was fur­ther along the pier. We had in­ad­ver­tently caught a Sil­versea Cruises’ courtesy bus. We were on board Sil­ver Shadow.

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