The grand en­trance

Noth­ing could be finer than to be aboard an ocean liner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - SARAH NI­CHOL­SON

I’VE just been struck by a rev­e­la­tion. I’m lean­ing against a rail­ing aboard Voy­ager of the Seas, with a tug­boat gen­tly nuz­zling this colos­sal ship to­wards its berth at Syd­ney’s Cir­cu­lar Quay, and I’ve re­alised there are few things in this world more glo­ri­ous than sail­ing into this har­bour city on a grand ocean liner.

I’ve seen ports from Europe and the Arc­tic Cir­cle to Asia and the South Pa­cific, on ves­sels of all shapes and sizes, but it’s not un­til this early morn­ing ar­rival into Syd­ney that I de­cide one of the world’s best cruise des­ti­na­tions is right here in our own backyard. All is splen­did on this sum­mer’s day, the air crisp and cool with the prom­ise of the heat that will soon de­scend, and the sun is haul­ing it­self above the hori­zon with an ethe­real light that’s creep­ing across the fore­shore sub­urbs.

A rain­bow stretches above the Syd­ney Opera House to mimic the el­e­gant curve of that fa­mous bridge, the sky in the west is turn­ing a the­atri­cal shade of mauve while still wear­ing a spray of stub­born stars, and a lonely Manly ferry darts past to sig­nal the start of an­other busy day. Syd­ney is a city made for cruis­ing, a des­ti­na­tion that de­serves to be seen from the wa­ter. Th­ese are my last few hours on Voy­ager of the Seas af­ter a jour­ney that has moved the ship from Sin­ga­pore to Syd­ney; it’s a repo­si­tion­ing cruise to put the ves­sel on Aus­tra- lia’s east coast for the start of the sum­mer cruise sea­son. Royal Caribbean has com­mit­ted the 3000plus pas­sen­ger Voy­ager of the Seas to the 2015 and 2016 Aus­tralian sea­sons so it will make this jour­ney through Syd­ney Heads dozens of times dur­ing the next few years, call­ing Syd­ney home un­til next month and again from Oc­to­ber to April; then it will ven­ture across the Tas­man and Coral seas to New Zealand and the South Pa­cific.

For the first time in our part of the world, pas­sen­gers oc­cu­py­ing in­side cab­ins will not miss a minute of the Syd­ney ar­rival-and-de­par­ture show should they fail to make it on deck be­fore the ship ap­proaches North Head. All of Voy­ager’s in­ter­nal ac­com­mo­da­tion is fit­ted with an in­no­va­tive “vir­tual bal­cony’’, a floor-to-ceil­ing tele­vi­sion show­ing a real-time pic­ture of the views around the ves­sel, al­low­ing those in th­ese win­dow­less in­ner cab­ins to take in the panorama.

The screens are po­si­tioned to look like a bal­cony, with cur­tains hang­ing be­side the mon­i­tor to trick the mind into be­liev­ing it’s a win­dow rather than an over­sized tele­vi­sion, and a cam­era mounted on the ship’s bridge cap­tures the cap­tain’s-eye view streamed to th­ese most af­ford­able cab­ins. This pi­o­neer­ing tech­nol­ogy was in­stalled dur­ing Voy­ager’s re­cent $80 mil­lion re­fur­bish­ment, a com­pre­hen­sive month-long up­grade that took place in a Sin­ga­pore dry dock in Novem­ber, and has been one of many im­prove­ments to en­hance the ex­pe­ri­ence of the pas­sen­ger.

“In ad­di­tion to the vir­tual bal­cony, we have in­tro­duced more state­room types,’’ says Sean Treacy, Royal Caribbean’s com­mer­cial direc­tor in Australia. “We’ve added new ac­com­mo­da­tion at the top of the ship with panoramic views. There’s noth­ing like th­ese cab­ins in the Aus­tralian mar­ket, and while they don’t have a bal­cony they are a pre­mium out­side state­room with floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows.

“We also have three new spe­cialty restau­rants — Gio­vanni’s Ta­ble, Chop’s Grille and Izumi Ja­panese restau­rant — be­cause we’ve no­ticed guests are al­ways look­ing for more dining op­tions; bow-to-stern WiFi re­places hotspots and now there’s a large screen on the pool deck so we can of­fer movies un­der the stars.”

Royal Caribbean has also added a FlowRider (wave pool), the first on a ship in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Th­ese fea­tures join a long list of ex­ist­ing at­trac­tions, such as gym and day spa, climb­ing wall, ice-skat­ing rink, a swag of bars and restau­rants, Royal Prom­e­nade bou­tiques, the Dream­Works Ex­pe­ri­ence for ju­nior pas­sen­gers, three swim­ming pools and six whirlpools.

There’s five full days at sea be­tween Dar­win and Bris­bane on my voy­age but that means there’s am­ple time to en­joy this 15-deck ship and I prac­tise my jump shot on the bas­ket­ball court, play a round of mini golf, in­dulge in a mas­sage at the day spa, spy the cap­tain at work through the Peek-a-Boo Bridge, and en­joy a Las Ve­gas-style show in La Scala Theatre. I eat flaw­less sushi at Izumi and what could be the world’s best ham­burger at Johnny Rock­ets Diner, sip cock­tails in R Bar and Guin­ness at the Pig & Whis­tle Pub, and watch My Fair Lady un­der the stars on the pool deck af­ter a fine multi-course meal in the ren­o­vated dining room, which my waiter ex­plains was mod­elled af­ter the Ti­tanic.

I lean on a rail to watch the is­lands sur­round­ing Cape York pass as we me­an­der from the Ara­fura Sea to the Coral Sea and spend the rest of that hu­mid af­ter­noon loung­ing in a chair on my cabin’s pri­vate port­side bal­cony to spot Great Bar­rier Reef atolls as we begin the jour­ney south.

And then, to­day at dawn, that glo­ri­ous epiphany. Good morn­ing, Syd­ney.

Sarah Ni­chol­son was a guest of Royal Caribbean.

A panoramic suite on Voy­ager of the Seas and, be­low, the ship’s Izumi Ja­panese restau­rant

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