Diversions galore aboard a brand-new superliner
You know you’re on to something big when wellwishers line the shore waving Australian flags and a light plane trails a salute in letters across the sky. We are setting out from Fremantle to Adelaide on the maiden voyage to Australia of Ovation of the Seas, the largest passenger ship to visit our ports.
Perth’s enthusiastic reception has been repeated as the vessel made its way to Sydney and on to New Zealand and other South Pacific destinations this summer.
A few days out to sea I am swept up almost 100m above the ship’s top deck in the North Star, a glass observation capsule, and take in the panorama of the Southern Ocean and, forward and aft, the vessel below. It’s a whopper, bold and beautiful.
If you roll up to the counter with (however many) wheelbarrows carrying a billion dollars and order, “One, please!”, this is what you get: Ovation of the Seas, the third Royal Caribbean Quantum Class ship, is 347m long (that’s the height of Uluru) and 41m wide. It has 18 decks, 16 for passengers, of whom it can carry 4905 (add another 1500 crew). Passengers are accommodated in 2091 staterooms, more than three-quarters of which have private balconies (and the others have “virtual balconies” so you can see what you’re missing, I guess).
All very super duper, but the question I have been most asked since the cruise is whether it isn’t all just too big. My answer is that with size comes great diversity. If you’re on board for a full-on good time, there are countless social spaces. Fancy peace and it’s easy to find quiet, intimate settings well away from the madding, and any maddening, crowds.
Let’s start with my cabin. It’s love at first sight. In teak and navy tonings, it’s spacious with fantastic clothes hanging and luggage storage space, a sofa, comfortable but firm double bed, large-screen TV and a bath area that can be called a room rather than cubicle. And there it is — the deep balcony with two sun lounges. I relish just sitting and savouring the solitude of the open seas. The first night out there’s a bit of rock and roll going on as we head into the Southern Ocean, but it calms down, with the promise of serene sleeps ahead.
The ship’s decor is both tasteful and playful, an echo of art deco here and modern chic there, with Asian and American influences. This eclectic approach is evident in a remarkable 11,000-piece collection of paintings, photographs and sculptures on display in public areas. A wacky two-deck-high wingback chair framed by red velvet drapes in the central Royal Esplanade sets the tone, as does the larger-than-life Mama and Baby panda installation on the open top decks.
Fellow passengers are, demographically, a good mix, from singles and couples to families and the veteran cruisers. This is a repositioning voyage from Beijing through Singapore to Sydney for the summer season and it is outside the school-holiday period, so the guests may be more skewed towards adults, but it is a harmonious group. At dinner one evening I sit at a table adjacent to Joan from the Gold Coast and Joan from the Sunshine Coast. Once neighbours, they have long been friends with strangely coincidental lives quite apart from sharing a name. They are on this trip to add new memories to old.
At another meal I am alongside two sisters taking their recently widowed mother on an end-of-year pickme-up. The grandkids are on board too, but indulging in a hot dog and chips feast. Multi-generational cruising works when everyone can venture off to their own thing and meet, well, “once in a while”, the family assures me.
Dining outlets are spread over decks three, four and five, with more adjacent to pools and activity areas on deck 14. The no-fuss Windjammer Marketplace, up high with a splendid view, is the standby joy, a carvery and soup and salad bar on steroids. Four full-service restau- rants serve dishes that change nightly. Feel like something more slap-up and for extra, but not exorbitant, cost, the world is your oyster, so to speak.
My small group tries Jamie’s (as in Oliver) Italian, which serves a great “plank” of cured meats for starters and a fabulous prawn linguine among its pasta dishes. On another night we head to Wonderland, where Alice-costumed staff lead us down the rabbit hole to a world of “culinary imagination”. But there’s a cautionary tale: invisible-ink menus aside, it’s not a tea party for children. This is a place of foams and fusions, a “kaleidoscope”, in its own words, of truffled egg in the shell, liquid lobster, crispy crab cones with avocado mousse and ohba leaf and halibut cooked in clear paper. The key lime lollipops on a shared dessert plate are a crowd pleaser. On our final night, our group gathers at Chops Grille, which serves a mouth-watering dry aged porterhouse.
The task is keeping all this eating in check but by day three I have settled down to, you know, the three square meals, morning and afternoon teas and a quick dash down from my eyrie for a midnight snack. Pizza from Sorrento’s is always on hand too.
Head chef David Reihana takes us on a tour of the galley deck. Preparing and delivering food is a logistical marvel and Reihana outlines the planning and purchasing that go into the menus. Lamb, not so requested in the Asian market, is a valued addition for the Australasian summer. He’s a Kiwi and can’t wait to get back home aboard the big beauty.
Work off the extra kilos in the Vitality Fitness Centre or Spa and Salon on decks 15 and 16 and immerse yourself in the sports deck activities while there. In the SeaPlex indoor arena, there’s ballroom dancing in the early afternoon, with roller skating and bumper cars to follow; how I miss the smell of sparks from the dodgems of youth, but a lifetime of real-road experiences has dimmed the appeal. I squib it too at the skydiving experience, RipCord by iFly, where a rush of air propels thrillseekers upwards in a cylinder. A younger member of my group describes it as the experience of a lifetime.
More my style are the entertainment venues on decks four and five. Two70, at the stern, is a fabulous space with a grand view by day of all that we are leaving behind. It becomes a great cabaret space by night. Catch here the show Pixels with its talented cast of dancers, singers, acrobats and musicians performing in an exhilarating hitech setting. The more formal Royal Theatre, seating 1300, presents headline guest artists and Broadway-style productions.
Perhaps the best bit of showbiz is the Bionic Bar with its robotic mixologists. I channel my inner George Jetson as I order onscreen and watch the cute darlings at work, combining ingredients and shaking and stirring just so. They have ears like those of the Mouseketeers that flap over the drink canister for the final shake. The cocktail is delivered with just a splash of spillage. Is that all too human or a technical malfunction, I wonder?
End the night at the Music Room nightclub, with heart-thumping rock ’n’ roll bands, or at Casino Royale.
This is a hi-tech ship and Captain Flemming Nielsen
Ovation of the Seas, the largest cruise ship to visit Australia
Main pool on Deck 14
The Alice-themed Wonderland, above; robots at work in Bionic Bar, above right; balcony stateroom, above far right; North Star observation capsule, right; entertainment in the Two70 lounge, below right