When it comes to cruising, I’m a novice. The extent of sailing the high (and low) seas includes a two night cruise from Mykonos to Venice on a Contiki tour, and living up to the tour company’s raucous reputation, most of it’s a blur except for cruising into Venice because who’d ever forget their first glimpse of that magical destination. The other two cruises were aboard houseboats; one through the verdant back waters of Kerala in India’s south and the other through the equally stunning scrub with Mandurah Houseboats in the Peel region about an hour south of Perth. All very different and so incredibly enjoyable I wonder why I have had so many misgivings about cruising.
As I board the Astor from the Fremantle Passenger Terminal there is all the excitement of departing an airport. There’s also the added bonus of being able to suss out all your holiday companions. There’s an assortment of couples and gaggles of girls but I can’t help but notice that many of the other passengers don’t just have a decade or two on me and my friend, but more like a lifetime of experience and cruising know-how judging by their floaty cruise attire in a sea of white, navy and florals. Never underestimate someone with a walking frame, especially one adorned with tinsel and a horn.
Clearing customs is as breezy as the Fremantle Doctor (the nickname for Fremantle’s afternoon sea breeze) and refreshingly, there’s little scrutiny of my passport; although I’m a bit disappointed I don’t get to add another stamp to it. Possibly because I’m on a cruise to nowhere as we’re staying in port overnight before she sails south to Albany and Esperance in the morning.
Regardless of the size of your vessel or the destination, one thing is certain, once you board it’s like you’ve entered another country with an entirely different culture and sometimes even another language; like the Astor which has an international crew. And just like Vegas, what happens on board should probably stay on board.
With 289 staterooms over seven decks sleeping 620, our floating hotel is a small ship compared to many other cruise liners which are more like cities which have come adrift from the mainland. It’s intimate and there’s a sense of familiarity as you regularly bump into the same guests; some who you’re happy to see and probably others you wouldn’t complain too much if they got lost at sea. Thankfully, the latter didn’t apply but I can see how there could be the sense of entrapment.
We’ve been allocated a De Luxe Suite Ocean View cabin which is spacious, light and airy. Armed with all the mod-cons including a sitting room, well equipped bathroom, wardrobes, a double bed, desk, flat screen TV and priceless ocean views. Our suite could rival any high-end hotel room and is more than just a crash pad but somewhere you can happily retreat for long periods of time.
I’ve always wondered what you’d do on board while at sea for days on end. I guess I’d previously missed the point of cruising as I soon discover it’s not really about rushing around doing activities (save that for the destinations) but to slow down; most likely perched on a bar stool. There are several bars to choose from like the elegant Captain’s Club complete with live musicians or the relaxed pool bar or the Astor Lounge for late night cabaret and theatre performances. Or there’s the luxurious Hanse Bar which opens out onto the Sun Terrace where the entertainment is mostly provided by the guests displaying all kinds of dances moves. There’s the typical gentle bopping along to the groove, the classic disco diva moves, those resembling the spin-dry cycle of the washing machine and no party is complete without some unsuspecting fresh meat being devoured by ladies of a certain age. “You’re never too old!” seems to be motto of the night.
Of course there’s organised activities like yoga plus a swimming pool, jogging track, gym, shops and a wellness centre to get yourself all prettied up for the nightly dinner extravaganzas. Food is all inclusive whether you’re dining at the Waldorf fine dining restaurant or at the relaxed buffet in the Ubersee Club Bistro. There are also specialty dining rooms for special occasions; and there seemed to be plenty to celebrate that night as birthday cakes were lit-up and delivered to almost every table at the Waldorf.
The party didn’t end at dinner, nor at the cheesy Queen-inspired We Will Rock You cabaret, nor after a certain starlet re-enacted the titanic when she hit the deck during a daring dance move. The staff seamlessly helped her into a chair; they’ve obviously done this before.
The revellery continued well into the not-so wee hours with our newly found friends. We bonded over our own dubious dance moves and copious amounts of cocktails. They were by my side when I realised I’d misplaced the cabin key. They even helped me search the decks and the contents of my bag but to no avail. In my fuzzy state and with a bladder threatening to fail me I somehow explained my plight to the late-night concierge and with my posse on hand, we even managed to locate my cabin. It seems the missing key wasn’t even an issue since I hadn’t locked the door; foolishly assuming it had locked behind me. Clearly this is also another incident the crew have witnessed many times before. Much side splitting laughter later placed my bladder in even further danger; and we didn’t quite witness the sun rise. Not that the sun rises in the west anyway, but try telling that to this group virgin voyagers.
With all my cruising misgivings dashed I have to confess that I’m one of the converted. I now completely get the appeal and understand the meaning of the term “cruisy.”
I long to sail off into the sunset to some exotic destination, which is entirely possible aboard the Astor which departs Fremantle to circumnavigate Australia and voyage to Bali, Africa or Portugal before eventually returning to London for the European summer season.
See www.cmvaustralia.com for more details