If you're looking for bells-and-whistles entertainment on this ship, there isn't any. A cruise on the Murray Princess has a focus on the river and dining and mingling with fellow passengers, with prerecorded music accompanying lunch and dinner, and live music after dinner from the ship's entertainer. On our cruise it was Bill, who played the electric piano and sang popular oldies, proving to be a hit with most guests. During the Captain's Dinner he also played live music, and there was music and dancing in the dining room after the buffet was over (there's a dance floor in the middle of the room).
During the day if cruising, activities include bingo and trivia competitions. Besides live music from Bill in the evenings, one night after dinner our cruise director held the "Murray Cup," a fun event which is essentially a large board-game "race" where guests can bet with real money. There isn't much in enrichment beyond a few informal events, including a chat with the Captain about the paddle steamers, pioneers and engineers of the Murray, and an opportunity to inspect the wheel house with the Captain on the last afternoon of the cruise. The Captain also took a small number of guests on a 30-minute nature walk one morning before breakfast.
Most shore excursions are included in the fare and involve wildlife spotting and history. On our cruise stop in Blanchetown (which is also an overnight mooring point), we went ashore for a guided tour of the local Burke Salter vineyard, followed by a cellar-door, wine-tasting event with cheese and biscuits. At Sunnydale, a highlight for many is the Woolshed Tour; it takes you to a local homestead, where you get to meet the owners and learn about sheep breeds and shearing, as well as bet on a sheep race. Afterwards, you can visit the Wildlife Shelter where rescued native animals including an emu, wombats and kangaroos are being cared for until they can be released back into the wild.
* May require additional fees
Another excursion on our cruise was an exploration of the Ngaut Ngaut Aboriginal Conservation Park, a stop on our itinerary. This is one of the most significant Aboriginal archaeological digs in Australia, where guests can view ancient rock carvings and climb to the top of the cliff to see remnants of early habitation, including tools, and soak up the panoramic view. On the last day on board, we also got to enjoy 15-minute scenic rides on one of the ship's two solid tender/expedition boats; this also provided passengers with a great opportunity to photograph the Murray Princess cruising.
The only additional shore excursion for a fee was at Sunnyvale, after the onshore barbecue. A 45-minute to one-hour Nocturnal Tour aboard a tractor and cart to view animal river life at night cost AU$15 a head.
The ship has a two level-lounge, the Paddlewheel Cafe, which is divided between Cadell and Randell Decks by a spiral staircase; and a bar at the front of the ship on Sturt Deck.
The Paddlewheel Cafe is open daily from 10 a.m. to midday and from 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. The lower-level Randell Deck is also home to the souvenir shop, where you can buy soft drinks, snacks, some toiletries and souvenirs including hats and polo shirts. The smaller, upper level on Cadell Deck has a small, "help yourself" library with books or board games. Guests are welcome to borrow a book, or swap and replace as they choose. This lounge is also one of two places on board where you can access complimentary Wi-Fi; the other is the bar. Just ask for the daily access code at the souvenir shop.
Through huge floor-to-ceiling glass windows, both levels offer a view of the Murray Princess's impressive paddle wheel tossing spray into the air, but when the ship is on the move it's not the best place for a quiet read as it makes quite a lot of noise. Fortunately, the ship moors at night so guests are not disturbed when they sleep. The decor in the Paddlewheel Cafe is traditional with a strong nautical feel, featuring dark red leatherette chairs and rosewood tables, dark wood-paneled walls, and imitation gas lights.
The Sturt Bar is where most people gather pre-dinner. Besides a view over the bow of the ship, the primary feature of this room is the large, circular, polished wood bar that joins it to the Sturt Dining Room next door. There is a full bar available, including local beers and wines, plus a Cocktail of the Day available a special price; this could be anything from a "Procrastinating Pelican" (a mix of Kahlua, cherry brandy and dark crème de cacao blended with coconut milk and cream) to a "Billabong Breeze" made with Cointreau, strawberry liqueur and pineapple juice. Cocktail hour starts at 6 p.m. nightly. You can also order a latte or cappuccino here for an extra fee -- except for during the breakfast service when we tried, as there was no one to make it. The crew was too busy when asked, as they were working as wait staff or cleaning rooms. (They all do multiple jobs.) Just a note: BYO drinks are not permitted onboard.
The Sturt Bar is an entirely indoor venue, so if you want to go al fresco with your pre-dinner drink, options including sitting on one of two small benches on the deck outside, with one at either side of the bar, or venturing further afield to the Sun Deck, which involves a climb up some steep stairs. The bar decor continues the traditional theme enjoyed throughout the ship, with dark red leatherette stools around the bar, dark red leatherette chairs and rosewood tables, dark wood-paneled walls, imitation gas lights, grey curtains and dark grey-and-gold carpet.
There is a guest laundry on Chaffey Deck, in the bowels of the ship, with two washing machines and two dryers. It's free of charge to use and open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., but you have to make a reservation for a specific time by putting your name down in a special book at the souvenir shop. You also need to BYO detergent, or buy it from the souvenir shop. You'll also find an iron and ironing board in the corridor for guests to use.
An elevator links Randell, Cadell and Sturt decks, and although it says that it can take six people, we were advised that it shouldn't carry any more than four. If it gets stuck, ring the bell inside and the crew will be along to rescue you. (From what people were saying on our cruise, we suspect this happens frequently.)
There is also a Sun Deck occupying roughly two-thirds of the roof of the Murray Princess, which you can access by way of two sets of steep, narrow steps. It has a large awning if you want shade, and plenty of wicker chairs and tables from which to enjoy the view. On our cruise, we found this to be a much-underused area in spite of the summer weather; this could be due to the fact there is no outdoor bar, or that the stairs are so steep, they can be tricky for people who aren't steady on their feet.
There are designated smoking areas, including Randell Deck forward and Sturt Deck both forward and aft. Smoking is not permitted in staterooms, cigarettes are not sold on board, and you are asked not smoke pipes or cigars.
Finally, the wheel house is always open to passengers except when the ship is arriving or departing a port, or going through locks.
Also deep in the bowels of the ship on Chaffey Deck are a gym, sauna and spa. The gym is small with no windows or portholes; it contains an old exercise bike, a rowing machine, a newer spinning bike, a fitball, and some free weights including dumbbells. Towels and bottled spring water are provided. The sauna and spa is next to the laundry and can be used by reservation only. While the sauna is a decent size and traditional in style, the spa is just a triangular spa bath, with old-fashioned 1980s decor, bright lighting and no view -- hardly romantic.
Swimming is an option at some places on the Murray River, either from the small beaches at a few of the ports of call, or directly from the ship via a ladder on the ship's side. You are asked to advise a member of staff if you plan to take a dip, as the river can have strong currents in places. When we moored at Big Bend, the crew put down the ladder and put out some floating devices attached to a rope for people to hang on while they enjoyed a swim, and there was always someone watching over us. There is no doctor on board in case of any mishaps, but the ship's officers are trained in first aid.
There are no facilities or fares for children, and no special provisions made for young cruisers. If your kids are older teens, you are welcome to enquire about bringing them along, but it's not really a ship or environment they are likely to enjoy.