Ben Squires


Diary of a cruise rookie

Diary of a cruise rookie

In his first time on a super liner, Kevin Stent takes a three-day trip to Sydney on Explorer of the Seas, the largest cruise ship based in the South Pacific this season and leaves about five kilograms heavier and dreaming of his next adventure on the high seas.

Kevin’s cruise diary:

Day 1

Blimey, this floating resort is massive. Approaching the mega liner from Wellington's Aotea Quay,my neck hurts as I strain to get a complete view of the Explorer of the Seas.

My room is on the sixth floor (the ship is 15 storeys high). Small but perfectly formed, it's an upmarket self-contained space, complete with minibar and flat screen TV.

All unpacked, it's time find my way around this enormous floating hotel. Up on the top deck I'm surprised to realise we are already well out of the harbour. It barely feels like we are moving. A poolside band play a selection of wind muffled reggae classics. A huge gust of wind almost knocks me over - and my only pair of reading glasses fly overboard. A passenger wonders aloud if it's always this windy in Wellington. I pretend not to hear them.

The best way to truly get your bearings on a mega liner is to take a self-guided tour. The glass pod like elevators offer great views, and at each level maps and interactive screens assist with navigation.

It's a lot of fun exploring, which is just as well. The amenities are staggering: the ship has recently undergone a refit and now boasts a large "Royal Promenade" complete with shops, a cafe and bar. Elsewhere there's a 3-D movie theatre, more lounges and bars, a fitness centre, sauna, day spa, swimming pools, hot tubs and a solarium. There is a FlowRider surfing simulator, basketball court, mini golf, multisports simulator and even a rock climbing wall.

"This is some kind of boat," I gush to a crew member, only to be swiftly corrected: "Sir, she is not a boat, she is a ship". Oops. Sorry it's my first time...

Dinner is at 7pm and tonight there's a formal dress code. I feel a tad under-dressed but no-one bats an eyelid. The Royal Promenade is packed: loved-up elderly couples pose in front of the Xmas tree for professional photographers. Note to self: be nicer to my wife - we have a long way to go. The ship can accommodate 3100 guests and it's clear that the older demographic dominates the clientele on this journey.

Tonight I feast at Chops Grille, which boldly promises the "best steak on the high seas". The grilled New York strip steak is so good the hype might even be true. The Grille is one of three specialty restaurants where prices are not included in the the cruise costs, along with hip American hamburger joint Johnny Rockets.

I finish up the first day with a token attempt at exercise, strolling around the two-lane athletic track as the sun melts into the sea.

Day 2

A sign in the elevator tells me today is Thursday. Apparently it's easy to forget what day it is when you're cruising.

At 7am I head to the gym on level 12. It's a magnificent view, with running machines spread out around a curved wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. Thirty minutes battling to stay upright was more than enough and I get off quite dizzy, the combination of the running and gentle roll of the ship taking its toll. Retreating to the exercycle I sit between two 70-something Aussie blokes discussing a "good looking broad from Adelaide". I feel dizzy again. 

Time for a plunge into the pool - but which one? There are 10. The tepid salt water option brings my heart rate back to approaching normal.

Breakfast is at The Windjammer, a huge buffet-style dining area which is always open. Talk about the agony of choice - there are 10 food benches with every possible breakfast offering imaginable. I'm overwhelmed by the selection and plump for cereal and toast. For the next meal I'll be much bolder.

I retreat to my cabin and try out cruise ship TV, with several promotional channels - nearly all of them featuring super-enthusiastic cruise director Graham. For something more sedate there's a live camera view of the ship's bow. I drift away watching her plough through the waves.

I'm roused by the captain announcing over the intercom that we are 330 nautical miles from the South Island and travelling at 16.7 knots. Oh, and we're experiencing 4-metre swells.

It's time for round two at The Windjammer restaurant and this time I'm ready for battle:  Cajun fish, Vietnamese catfish, Southern fried chicken, Shanghai noodles, sweet chilli shrimp, eggplant Parmigiana, Irish stew, Cantonese beef - and that's only from one food island.

My head spins and I go in for the garbanzo salad, followed by cheesecake.

By mid afternoon I'm in the grip of a food coma and am forced to take advantage of a complimentary massage in the day spa. Rohanna from the Philippines  works for 40 minutes on my neck and shoulders with a mix of incredibly strong fingers and forearms. A regular headache sufferer, this is the first one I've ever had cured without codeine.

The afternoon slips by watching a big screen movie while sitting in a hot tub. Heaven.

Dinner is at the specialty Japanese restaurant Izumi. Our table shares a selection of nigiri and sashimi, and ishiyaki (hot rock). The chef presents his signature dish - Izumi Ryu Futomaki- sashimi with spicy aioli, cream cheese and wakame salad with fried tempura.

After an evening walk on the deck I return to my room to be greeted by a towel folded into the shape of an elephant.

Day 3

Today I brave  a walk up to top deck via the "Stairway of the Stars". Each floor level has a collection of framed photographic prints and artworks. Level 4 features Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne and Audrey Hepburn by Milton H Greene, level 5 Woody Allen, Dolly Parton and Andy Warhol by Annie Leibovitz. Weirdly, a framed copy of Paul McCartney's album Londontown also features.

At 11am the fitness centre presents "Secrets of a Flatter Stomach". I'm tempted, but instead wander back to the promenade and indulge in a cheesecake lollipop.

Later I meet Jack from Brisbane, a 15-cruise veteran, who tells me the secret to lunch in The Windjammer is to hold your ground. I'd grabbed a great dining spot with ocean views, but returned with my dessert to find the super-efficient staff had cleared my table - and a family had taken my spot. Jack explains that the trick is  to "load up the table before you start eating with everything you want, even if you don't want it".

By 3pm it's much warmer - we must be getting closer to Australia. I'm curiously gripped by a desire for exercise (perhaps my body has decided to fight back against all the food) so I tackle the surfing simulator, rock climbing wall and mini-golf. That night there's a 15-minute parade on the Promenade to mark the last night at sea on this leg, followed by a rock trivia competition in the Star Lounge. We move on to dinner at Giovanni's Table, the last of the main specialist dining options. I marvel at the thought of fine dining in an Italian restaurant in the middle of the Tasman Sea.

Day 4

What was supposed to be a leisurely cruise into Sydney becomes much more urgent when the captain announces a medical emergency. I hasten to add it's not me, after successfully negotiating an early morning workout and stretch session.

Within hours Sydney's heads come into view, followed by the city centre. To further confirm we are in Australian waters, a huge team of chefs wheel out a queue of barbecues and a poolside band starts up.

Sadly my rookie cruise ship experience is at an end and I'll be flying home.

I'm asked at Customs if I have anything to declare. Indeed: I'm about 5kg heavier - and already dreaming about my next cruise.

*The writer was a guest of Royal Caribbean International.

Written by Kevin Stint. First appeared on

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