What lies within ...

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - LOUISE GOLDSBURY

“It’s so huge. Imag­ine be­ing stuck on that,” says a Manly ferry pas­sen­ger as we pull into Syd­ney’s Cir­cu­lar Quay un­der the shadow of Car­ni­val Spirit. “No way,” his friend scoffs, be­fore pro­ceed­ing to brag about her hol­i­day plans in Hawaii. “I can’t wait to just sit by the pool with a cock­tail and zone out for a week.”

It makes me re­alise how big a cruise ship can look to a non-cruiser.

I feel like turn­ing around and point­ing out that’s ex­actly what she could be do­ing on this cruise ship for a frac­tion of the cost, with­out go­ing near an air­port. Her poolside cock­tail could be sipped within min­utes of board­ing, and her trans­porta­tion to a trop­i­cal is­land would be spent ly­ing com­fort­ably on a deckchair in the sun or sleep­ing in a suite with a queen-size bed, in­stead of be­ing cooped up in econ­omy class for 10 hours straight. I know where I’d rather be stuck.

Of course, I un­der­stand the first im­pres­sion a cruise ship can make to a land­lub­ber. Car­ni­val Spirit is not the pret­ti­est ship on the seas, but its beauty shines through the love­able crew. Af­ter my cruise ear­lier this year, it’s no ex­ag­ger­a­tion to say the per­son­alised ser­vice is on par with a five-star ho­tel or a fine-din­ing restau­rant, mi­nus the at­ti­tude, yet you wouldn’t know that by look­ing at the ex­te­rior or, in­deed, the decor.

P&O and Princess Cruises also hide what lies be­neath. For many Aus­tralians th­ese older, re­fur­bished ships have be­come sec­ond homes, with staff wel­com­ing re­turn pas­sen­gers as part of the fam­ily. Royal Caribbean’s me­ga­lin­ers are of­ten com­pared to float­ing cities, but I haven’t been to a city where ev­ery­one grins and greets you for no rea­son, or where you can walk from the day spa to an art auc­tion to a casino to an ice rink to a chapel to a hot tub to a night­club and then back to your guest quar­ters in five min­utes.

The im­pos­ing ap­pear­ance of th­ese multi-level ves­sels be­lies the friend­li­ness of the peo­ple on-board, the ro­man­tic mo­ments to be had with your part­ner, the mem­o­ries cre­ated with your kids, the con­nec­tions with the crew. There are se­cluded nooks to read that book, pri­vate bal­conies to watch the sun­set, ham­mocks to sway your cares away, cosy bars to make new friends.

A big ship is as small as you make it. It’s what­ever you want it to be: a pool party, a play­ground, a solo sanc­tu­ary or an in­ti­mate get­away for two, obliv­i­ous to the crowds.

Air trav­ellers don’t gape at an A380 and de­clare they’re never fly­ing on one of those mas­sive beasts. Sports lovers don’t skip a match be­cause the sta­dium holds 20,000 fans. We don’t quit our jobs be­cause the of­fice is in a 10-storey build­ing. So why let the bulk of a ship de­ter you from wak­ing up in Fiji or Tahiti?

Big ships have many ad­van­tages, such as more space, ac­tiv­i­ties, en­ter­tain­ment, din­ing choices and sta­bil­ity on the high seas. Fares are cheaper, Wi-Fi is faster, and there’s a wider group of pas­sen­gers to meet as well as less like­li­hood of bump­ing into those you don’t want to see again.

You wouldn’t want some­one judg­ing you by your size, your age, your faded fa­cade or your salty, old bits. So don’t judge a ship by its cover.

Louise Goldsbury is se­nior editor of cruisecritic.com.au.

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