Think big

Di­ver­sions ga­lore aboard a brand-new su­per­liner

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - GRA­HAM ER­BACHER

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

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