When Ralph Waldo Emerson said famously “Life is a journey, not a destination” he was probably on a cruise ship! While he may have been a little sceptical about the efficacy of cruise-life before he embarked, it’s a good bet he was a total convert by the time he disembarked. Cruising is, as the name suggests, a one-way ticket to relaxation, via a few exciting stopovers.
Cruising is becoming increasingly popular with Australian travellers as cruise ships make more local docks their ports of call.
Tourism Australia reports that in 2012-13, 30 cruise ships carried 62,051 passengers into and out of local ports earning a cool $1.3b for the national economy – in Fremantle, the figure is estimated at $62.3m.
But back to the journey (and not the economic rationalist’s destination): WA is increasingly included on the cruise map, with Fremantle becoming a popular stop for cruise companies either repositioning for the Asia circuit or visiting Down Under during the off-season of the lucrative Chinese tourism market. And now more cruise lines are adding Port Hedland as a stopover, which is a salient lesson in seeing through others’ eyes.
Welcome to boom town
Port Hedland is the mining boom’s gateway and one of the busiest ports in the region and for some, a big tourist attraction.
It was a stopover for Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas recent repositioning cruise to Singapore via Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City.
The Voyager of the Seas is not Royal Caribbean’s biggest ship but big enough to have seven decks accommodating 3100 passengers and 1200 crew. Cabin (“stateroom”) sizes vary between 350sq ft with an ocean view balcony and half that size without a view.
There are a number of cabin options that cost between $1793 and $3443 per person. A balcony is well worth the extra, even though time in the cabin is minimal for most.
Of the 14 days on board, nine are leisurely cruising the open sea while there are stopovers of various lengths – Port Hedland for eight hours, Bangkok for nearly two days and Ho Chi Minh City for 12 hours.
If you think you could suffer from cabin fever for nine days at sea, think again. Voyager of the Seas is a pleasure palace complete with mini-golf, top deck jogging track, swimming pools and spa pools, rock climbing wall, theatre/3D cinema, casino, ice-skating rink, Time Zone, gymnasium, beauty spas, roller-blading, library and myriad of restaurants and bars.
For parents of younger children, there’s an accredited child minding service so you can indulge in the activities or simply flop on a deckchair.
Each night there is a live performance in the theatre and they are top class. If the Voyager cruise out of Fremantle is anything to go by, expect pianists, violinists, Royal Caribbean singers and dancers, female vocalists, comedians, jazz singers and band.
At the stopover destinations, passengers have the option to pre-book a shore excursion to take in the main sights.
One excursion included lunch at the Wentworth Hotel in Ho Chi Minh City, where delectable food came with an enthralling conversation with other passengers and crew.
It’s not every day you can chat to a young Ukrainian iceskater and ex-acrobat about her fantastic ice show over a spicy Vietnamese banquet!.
There is the usual lifeboat drill, which is an entertainment itself as crew muster loitering (usually Australian) passengers and there’s the fascination of witnessing the skilled manoeuvring into port.
The Voyager can turn on a sixpence, thanks to the lateral bow thrusters and two rear propellers, which can be rotated 360 degrees. The electronic navigation and steering system is sophisticated, with an autopilot to track its true course using 17 Russian and 24 US GPS satellites.
There’s a bridge viewing window for technology junkies.
For cruise sceptics, it is worth giving a go – there are cruises of various lengths and durations and more are stopping at Fremantle. Once you get your sea legs, the cruise options are endless floating to just about every corner of the globe.
The only reminders are: take your power adaptor; pre-order your wine before boarding to save money; take out insurance as Medicare doesn’t cover costs once you’re on board, not even if you are sailing between Australian ports; and remember to look down at the floor of the ship’s lift – it will tell you what day it is – your only reminder of the world outside.
Voyager of the Seas
• Gross Tonnage, 138,000
• Length,1020 ft (310m)
• Cruising Speed, 22 knots
• 3100 passengers, 1200 crew
• Cabins from $1793-$3443 per person