This was our first cruise. We had previously spent holidays at various resorts and islands on the east coast of Australia, but have never cruised before. This was to be a new experience and we agreed that there was no way we could prepare for how we would feel about it. The experience turned out to be spectacular, different, frustrating, exhausting, memorable; but in a word amazing.
The cruise was from Sydney to Cooktown and return. We flew from Melbourne to Sydney. Embarkation at Sydney went very smoothly. We were on the ship before we knew it. One oddity is that my wife's luggage was at the door to our room when we arrived but my luggage did not turn up until well after dinner. Yes I was getting worried. We wondered what we were going to do the whole time we were at sea, but the activities started almost as soon as we were aboard. It took most of the first day to find our way around the ship, the sheer size meant there were plenty of things to find and places to explore. Sailout from Sydney Harbour under the bridge was a spectacular start to the cruise.
We had an interior room, at the front of the ship, on level 10. Space was sufficient, and I was pleased at the solidity of the bathroom as I feared that it would be flimsy and inadequate like most en suites tend to be. There was plenty of space in it for me, but a larger person might struggle there.
There was plenty of motion during the rough weather, but after a busy day on board, the motion soon rocked us to sleep. Claustrophobia was a constant feeling, but it was not overwhelming. I did not like being shut away from the outside world. I felt much better when I discovered that it was possible to switch the television to a channel that gave a constant display of what was happening ahead of the ship. Left on all the time, it was a bit like having a window, and as soon as the sky lightened early each day, light filled the room from the tv display. Very natural, and I no longer felt that I missed having a real window.
The food was good to excellent, with plenty of variety, especially the desserts. We mainly dined in the buffet, as we were given an 8pm dinner sitting which was far too late for us. The staff were always friendly and polite, which is more than could be said for some of the passengers. The buffet was crowded and uncomfortable if we went there at the wrong time. The solution was to have breakfast early, have afternoon tea then a late dinner.
The lifts were very slow and often crowded. It was usually much faster to take the stairs. Unless patience comes with age, this will be very frustrating for the more frail passengers. DEcor was tasteful enough, not unlike a decent hotel. The ship was clean and well maintained, as was our room. The atrium was quite pleasing and bright, and not at all overdone.
There were far more activities than we could do, and we were never bored. The lectures by the reef pilot and other guests were most interesting. Since most of the passengers were over 70, I would have thought that movies would have been classics from the past rather than those unappealing action flicks that seemed to be commonly shown.
The library had a surprisingly good collection of books. The rates for using the internet were outrageously high, and it was slow. And to make things worse, you cannot use the computers offline. So you can't use the computers to do things like typing up a diary and saving it to a thumbdrive. The string quartet were divine and the pianist was a classy act as well.
We were on board more for the experience of the cruise itself rather than for stuff that we could have done anywhere else, so we tended to spend a lot of time viewing the sea, weather, birds, ocean life and the workings of the ship. Highlights included watching the restless sea, watching spectacular sunrises and sunsets over the ocean, watching boobies and frigate birds, seeing dolphins, watching the tendering operations, and hearing the anchor being dropped at stopovers. I spent many evenings out on the promenade deck just feeling the warm breeze, smelling the sea and feeling the motion of the ship. I would have liked a hammock there so that I could stay all night.
Stopovers were a welcome change. We are very independent so found our own way around while on shore. We quickly learned to be up at 5am to have early breakfast and get in the queue for tickets to be on the first tender out in order to make the most of the day. Unfortunately Cooktown was cancelled due to rough weather, which was a huge disappointment as it was our main objective. No fault of the ship or the crew, it was just the way it turned out. We were a bit deflated for a few days afterwards, and the pointless hike out to Willis Island and back did not help much.
Weather was glorious at Brisbane, and at Sydney. The cruise into Sydney harbour at dawn, with the Sun Princess just ahead of us was one of the highlights of the trip. We disembarked easily and with minimal inconvenience.
Having now completed my first cruise, I would suggest that it is necessary to think carefully about one's expectations before booking. Preparation is essential. Read about the experiences that others have had. Don't just assume that a cruise is relaxing like in the brochures, or that the weather will be great at any particular port. There are crowds and queues and the weather can be unkind too.
If you are a gregarious person, and in good health then cruising is for you. So if you just want to eat all day and wallow in the pool then go for it. However if you shudder at the thought of being locked in a crowded cafeteria for days at a time, then you probably will not enjoy cruising.
Be prepared to find that the experience may be hard work. An unfamiliar environment, close living, battling crowds , climbing many many steps and long walks from one part of the ship to another are all exhausting and stressful. Think very carefully of the risks if you are elderly or frail. The first few days especially will be very demanding, so take it easy.
Did we enjoy the cruise? Yes. Would we do another? Probably not. I would much prefer to spend a few days at each of my destinations rather than arriving and departing the same day. However I am glad I did the cruise. I will remember it as a new and amazing experience.