The grand entrance
Nothing could be finer than to be aboard an ocean liner
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