What lies within ...
“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.