It was my first time on a cruise ship, and I must confess I was a reluctant cruiser, even long before the pandemic. The extent of sailing the high (and low) seas includes two-night sojourn aboard a rudimentary cruise ship 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 backwaters 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. Although this wasn’t technically my first time on a cruise ship, it was my first time on a luxury cruise ship.
As I board the Astor Cruise Ship (sadly no longer) from the Fremantle Passenger Terminal, there is all the excitement of departing an airport, with the added bonus of sussing 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 must have a lifetime of experience and cruising know-how judging by their floaty cruise attire in a sea of white, navy and florals.
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 probably 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 that 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 doesn’t apply in this instance.
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, preferably 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 dance 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 are 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, or after the campy 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 revelry continued well into the wee hours with our newly found friends, and we almost made it to sunrise.
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 now since the cruise season into Fremantle has resumed post-pandemic.
The Astor suite comes with its own private sun deck