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Choose your own adventure on board a luxury cruise liner
Each morning as I walked briskly around the Promenade Deck counting the number of laps, I would look out on the horizon. On this day the Tasman Sea was quite still when suddenly a female humpback whale, followed by her young calf, on the migratory path back to the Antarctic Ocean, leapt out of the water. On other days I saw an albatross, bottle nose dolphins, sea lions, fur seals and penguins. There is perhaps no more pristine a sea than the Tasman to be found anywhere in the world.
I was on board the Diamond Princess, a mega 2670 passenger cruise ship, for 58 days. We completed four cruises between Sydney and Auckland and I was there to talk on the destinations visited and provide directions. To do that I had to learn the layout of 18 decks without getting lost, but I did that quite a lot. On Deck 2 was a vast laundry the size of a football field and, after entering a fire escape, I eventually exited in the galley – much to the annoyance of the head chef. As the days passed by the ship felt more like home. On board I met Ray and Barbara King from Tasmania who spend most of their time at sea having taken over 200 cruises.
A cruise is easy. You unpack once, and get looked after. Cruise ships offer a variety of dining venues from fine dining to buffets, sushi, pizzas and burgers available poolside. Activities include a gym and spa for luxurious indulgences to yoga, bingo, bridge, zumba, art auctions, ice sculptures and cooking classes. Lectures and Broadway-style shows are offered in the theatre, while in the lounges you’ll find a pianist or musicians.
The journey began with us sailing out of Sydney Harbour, one of the world’s most breathtakingly stunning harbours, flanked by the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. As we followed the coastline and day turned to night, twinkling lights came into view. With a day in both Melbourne and Hobart we then spent two days at sea crossing the Tasman when at daybreak the clouds parted to reveal the majestic peaks of New Zealand’s Milford Sound. On the South Island we visited Dunedin, a city with a strong Scottish heritage showcased by striking cathedrals, gracious terraces and the steepest street in the world. You can visit Larnach Castle, Speight’s Brewery, with reputedly the world’s best beer, get up close with fur seals and rare yellow eyed penguins, and join the Taieri Gorge Railway travelling on a series of steep viaducts past stunning mountainous scenery.
Nearby Akaroa is a pretty seaside town with the quirky Giant’s House, brightly painted craft shops, cafes and art galleries. You can also explore the scenic lush countryside of the Banks Peninsula, visit Christchurch or swim in the bay with playful Hector’s dolphins.
On the North Island, Tauranga has beautiful beaches or you can view the bubbling mud and geysers at Rotorua. The cruise ended in Auckland, a friendly vibrant city wedged between two harbours, with neat timber houses, boutiques, restaurants and many attractions. And while many passengers disembarked here, I still had many more days to enjoy at sea.
Travel Notebook Top 10
1) Decide on where you want to go and whether cruising is the best way to explore. From October to March ships of all sizes visit our shores. If you haven’t cruised before consider a sampler cruise. Cruises to Australian ports, the South Pacific, Asia and New Zealand are the most popular. Cruising to New Zealand provides an excellent overview with the best itinerary including the Bay of Islands and Milford Sound. Avoid school holidays and times of year when monsoon or inclement weather is likely. Wet, blustery days with an ocean swell are no fun.
2) Choose the right ship. More than one million Australians take a cruise every year, with many ships to choose from. They include P&O and Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Celebrity, Azamara, Holland America, Oceania, Regent, Crystal, Silversea and Seabourn as well as expedition cruise ships. Critical to your enjoyment is travelling with like minded people. Consult an accredited CLIA travel agent to help you choose.
3) Consider what’s included as gratuities, beverages and excursions all add to the cost of the cruise.
4) Choose the right cabin. Steer clear of noisy theatres, restaurants, elevators, stairwells, promenades, laundry, engines and anchor chains. Be in close proximity to places you’ll visit often. If you are prone to sea sickness choose mid ship for greater stability. Balconies are best but obstructed ocean view cabins are great value. I would avoid interior cabins.
5) For must see shore excursions book in advance but don’t be restricted by the ship’s choices. Research local tour operators or, if you want to self explore, have your day planned out with a map, transport options (shuttle buses are usually provided), local currency, a list of places to see, and the port agent’s contact and terminal details in case you get lost. Terminals that are in the city centre – Auckland, Sydney, Hobart and Akaroa – are perfect for self exploration. In New Zealand and Australia strict quarantine rules apply. Do not take food off the ship.
6) Travel insurance is a must as the ship’s medical centre is expensive. Ensure you’ve had a recent dental check-up. Bring all medications, including travel sickness tablets, with you.
7) What to pack: Dress appropriately. Consider the ship’s dress code and number of formal nights, and for excursions think about what might be needed to visit religious sites etc. On-board laundries mean you can pack lighter. For footwear, wear flat shoes with non-slip soles. Pack a shawl for chilly air-con and carry a tote bag. Take a water bottle that you can refill. Wear a lanyard to hold your access card.
8) Arrive preferably at least one day before your cruise departs to overcome jet lag, acclimatise and allow for any flight delays. At check in, avoid peak time usually 12-2. Drop off your bags with luggage labels and return later or queue early. Keep your valuables and fragile items with you. Have your passport, credit card and cruise documentation (checking in online will save time) ready to show plus a completed customs form.
9) Once on board, explore the ship to get your bearings. Using the ship’s map, visit all the areas that you are likely to use. Go to the library to borrow a book as the good ones soon disappear. Ensure everything in your cabin works and if you have any cause for complaint refer it without delay to the ship’s purser. Choose that day’s activities and book a dining venue. During the cruise, don’t eat and drink too much, establish a routine, exercise to maintain your fitness and get to know key staff by name. Whenever you use a restaurant use the hand sanitiser.
10) At the end of the cruise, always give thanks to the crew and pass on any positive feedback. Exchange contact details with new friends. As debarkation is always early, plan your time before your flight home. Consider an excursion booked through the cruise line so that you get to sightsee while your bags travel with you on the coach.