If your memories of cruising take you back to the Fairstar, the “fun ship” that plied Australasian waters from the mid-1970s to the late 90s, then you might be surprised how much things have changed in the interim.
For one thing, the ships – along with the cruise market – have grown enormously. And the facilities onboard are beyond anything you could have been imagined back then.
After the Fairstar weighed anchor for the last time, cruising developed a fuddy-duddy reputation, not just in Australia but around the world.
Cruise holidays were seen as an activity exclusively for the old and the old at heart. Images of well-heeled, formally attired elderly passengers playing cards, enjoying silver-service dining and waltzing to the sound of a string quartet drove many potential passengers away.
Well, cruising is back with a vengeance. While some traditional liners remain – hello, Cunard – modern brands embrace all ages with ships that are big enough to be everything to everyone, or small enough to seem like a private yacht.
Fine dining? No problem. The speciality restaurant menus are created by celebrity chefs of the calibre of Luke Mangan (P&O Australia), Jamie Oliver (Royal Caribbean), Curtis Stone (Princess) and Marco Pierre White (P&O).
But you can also grab a burger or pizza while you wait for your turn on the waterslide, the rock-climbing wall or, on some ships, the ice-skating rink, bowling alley, skydiving simulator, zip line or dodgem cars.
You can have an intense session in the gym followed by a morning jog around (and around and around) the deck, then sink hoops on the basketball court or have a splash about in the pool.
Or you can be pampered in the spa, borrow a book or board game or play Nintendo. And, there’s a range of bars for those who really want a holiday in the slow lane. Most onboard activities are free, and you can purchase an all-inclusive drinks package that means you won’t blow your budget on alcohol.
The best advice for newbies is to do some research before you commit. Browse websites such as cruisecritic.com.au that give practical information and crowd-sourced reviews of every ship and destination available.
The shortcut is to see a specialist travel agent who can not only match (and sometimes beat) the direct price from the cruise operator’s website, but can also look after airfares, hotel stays and other travel arrangements.
Choose where you want to cruise and which company suits your style. Want an affordable family holiday?
Try P&O, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Disney, MSC or Carnival. Prepared to spend a little more for a luxurious, romantic and more intimate experience? Check out Seabourn, Azamara, Silversea or Windstar.
Want to tackle the “mail run” through the Norwegian fjords?
Hurtigruten may be ideal for you. Fancy an authentic British experience, with a full English in the morning and scones for tea? Fred. Olsen specialises in that.
What you must do is forget about regimented dining times sat with people you don’t know or like, or “entertainment” from superannuated comedians who haven’t changed their routine since 1955.
Think instead about cigar and champagne bars and Broadway-style shows onboard, along with friendly company from around the world.
About the author:
Brett Debritz is well-travelled writer and broadcaster who blogs at www.planesailing.co. He is on Twitter (@debritz) and Facebook (@brettdebritz).