I can see the twinkling lights on the land. A cluster of brightness surrounded by black. The wake being cast aside is fluorescent; although on closer inspection it could just be the lights from the ship reflecting off the white water. A delicate, cold breeze ruffles my hair as I lean over the balcony and breath in the salted air.
Perhaps the lights are Gosford? My smart phone, which still has a good signal, says we are somewhere north of Manly. We have been sailing for just on two hours and we are going nowhere. Well, nowhere in particular. This cruise; a 3-night comedy cruise; sails out the Sydney Heads on Friday afternoon around 3pm and turns left to head up the coast and then does a u-ey around Coffs Harbour and creeps home in time for work on a Monday morning.
They call it a Sea Break; I call it a rest. This is the sort of cruise I like. Some luxury. Some hedonism. Too much food. Too much drinking. Grand fun and it’s only three nights. Not long enough to get bored on board and no so long that all your New Year’s resolutions are thrown out the porthole. Long enough to let your hair down but not long enough to let yourself down. You can even still go to the gym if you want!
The 3 or 4-day cruise to nowhere is a relatively new option in the cruise offerings. With port fees being too expensive for ships to stay in dock, they go out for short trips in between their longer voyages.
This is my fourth short cruise in three years. I have learnt not to bring my ‘big’ camera. There are no real photo opportunities that the phone can’t handle. Nothing beyond friends doing silly things, playing trivia; corny stage shows and maybe the occasional dolphin. I have learnt to pack a series of nice frocks, so you can get dressed-up for dinner and forget the diet for a little while.
Cruising has come back in vogue and it’s a huge business. According to Statistica the global cruise industry was worth $US39.6 billion in 2015. This was a $US15 billion increase from the previous 5 years. Why is cruising so popular? I think it boils down to a few basic elements
- 1. You don’t have to plan much. Book your cruise and away you go. No itinerary to work out. No deciding where you are going to eat other than choosing from the options on the ship. You don’t need to worry about connecting flights, hiring a car, booking hotels etc etc.
- It’s good value for money. Cruising is an all-inclusive ticket. I am no millionaire so the cruises I have been on have been very reasonably priced. The ticket includes food, entertainment and accommodation. If you are canny, you can avoid paying for anything else, provided you drink water, coffee and tea and stick to the included food options. On P&O and Royal Caribbean the included food options are very acceptable. The alcoholic beverages are about the same as in a suburban pub. If you are planning on partying hard you can buy drinks packages at various levels. There is enough free entertainment to keep you amused but you’ll have to opt out of the spa treatments.
- You can do as much or as little as you like. Go to the gym, attend all the trivia sessions, origami, dance lessons, play board games on deck, swim, sun bake, sleep, drink and eat. It’s up to you. You don’t even have to get off for the shore tours when you get to port if you don’t want to. You can spend your whole time in the spa, get botox, attend lectures on nutrition. On themed cruises you can try your hand at stand-up comedy, go to cooking lessons, or photography lessons among many other activities.
- You can find a cruise to suit your budget. On the Cruiseaway website the cheapest cruise leaving Sydney is $190 but you needed to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice for the 4-day comedy cruise to New Zealand. On the other end of the spectrum, you can spend a cool $40,000 on a 62 night round the world cruise.
- Cruises are great for families. You can book your little nippers in to the kids’ clubs and be free to spend the day as you wish. You’ll know they’ll be entertained and they can’t get up to too much mischief.
Cruising is not for everyone. If you are a serious adventurer, I would say that you’d find them a TAD boring. Some liken cruises to a floating RSL’s on a Friday night with the roast meat buffet and jelly cups. Lots of kitschy glitz, rusty tinsel, feather boas and bingo. Cruise companies have tried to appeal to the adventure market with on-board rock climbing walls, zip lines and water slides. At the end of the day though, you are stuck in the one place, for a few days at least.
For those who suffer sea sickness the thought of getting on a big white ship is terrifying. With all those decks towering above the water you might also worry about the risk of tipping over in big waves. Modern technology has it covered – to some extent. Stabilizers, which act like big under water wings, reduce the side to side rocking of the ship. They can reduce movement by up to 90%. The forward and back rocking can be reduced by sailing parallel to the waves. There is less movement in the core of the ship so you will do better in an inside cabin on a lower deck. Another benefit of inside cabins is that they are a cheaper. On the downside, they don’t get any natural light. This is great for sleeping in, but it will mess with your body clock. The view can get monotonous especially after several “at sea” days.
I would recommend cruising with a group of friends. Around 6 – 10 would be ideal. Decide from the start that you won’t get precious if you want to do different things and not spend every minute of the day with each other and only go for a few days. Be prepared to relax and party. Pack your dancing shoes and your slippers!
 RSL clubs or Returned Services League Clubs are usually large, brightly lit clubs with cheap drinks, cheap food and lots of poker machines. The entertainment is often provided by 1970’s has-beens or rip offs of has-beens. Some are very nice, but they can be bland.