The Queen Victoria is a stunning ship but it's the little things that make cruising so much fun, writes Catherine Masters.

Sheryl and Tania are telling me about the phantom jigsaw smasher who came in the night and broke up one of the giant puzzles two old women had painstakingly put together during the day.

They're hooting with laughter and I'm doubled up in near hysteria on hearing about what has been the most devious and entertaining event yet on this elegant cruise ship, which attracts hordes of wealthy old people who wear their diamonds and pearls in the gym.

One of the old women was so upset she wrote a message on the ruined jigsaw.

"It said 'I hate you'," snorts Tania, a policewoman from Papakura who talked her mate, Sheryl (though she didn't have to talk very hard), a watchhouse officer from Manurewa, into coming on the Queen Vic's Los Angeles to Auckland leg.

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It's not surprising we're laughing so much. For four days we've looked out from our cabin balconies and seen nothing but the never changing, yet mesmerising, Pacific Ocean surrounding this massive ocean liner, which purrs through any kind of weather and houses such an entertaining microcosm of life.

Sometimes the sea is a darker blue or the white caps are bigger but there's nothing else around as far as the eye can see.

The Kiwi girls (if you're in your 40s you're still a girl on this ship) have no regrets. They spent $3400 each for 15 days, which they say has been terrific value. They have loved every single minute on board, every blissful moment of drama and intrigue. They have even learned how to line-dance.

They hang a silver fern flag off the side of their balcony when they come into ports and locals in tug-boats wave and yell "All Blacks". When the flag is not hanging off the balcony, it's pinned to the wall of their cabin.

As is the way when New Zealanders go anywhere, when you least expect it you run into another Kiwi.

In my case, instead of elderly Americans and Brits, Sheryl and Tania were in the cabin right next door. They were giggling most of the time and usually forgetting to keep their voices down on the balcony where the partitions are paper thin and you can hear anything anyone on the other side says.

Sheryl wipes at her eyes and launches into another fabulous cruise story. Actually, it was about Tania, who went down early in the morning to the laundry and discovered that the fighting over the washing machines is truly tremendous.

"It's dog eat dog in there," Tania says.

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There was a bit of a stink this morning because there are two doors to our laundry room, one opening into each adjoining corridor, but one door was unlocked first leading to a mini-stampede from one side and serious grumbling from the other that it wasn't fair.

The women recount the story they heard of how - they think it was on another cruise line - a fight broke out over the washing machines and four people had to be kicked off the cruise.

We're convulsed now. Then there's a story of someone threatening someone else with an iron. You couldn't make this stuff up ...

These Kiwi women are fantastic. At 43 and 44, they count as spring chickens on this cruise and, like me, were a little awed when they saw the general age of the other passengers.

But they've adapted, finding most of the old people to be awesome with some amazing life stories to tell.

Some of the aged couples are so obviously still in love, it's really sweet. Which brings us to waltzing. When you walk into Hemispheres, the nightclub, you can pretty much guarantee you'll double the numbers. The whole time I was on board the most I saw was around nine people - counting us - in there.

One night, my group of journalists decided to give the DJ (despite the patchy turnout Hemispheres has not only a DJ but a resident band) some requests just to see what would happen.

One of the Aussie journalists picked Tainted Love, deciding not to be too harsh on the oldies.

I pushed it a bit by asking for anything by Led Zeppelin which obviously was too much of a challenge because it never eventuated.

But the minute the opening bars of Tainted Love came on an older couple got up and started waltzing under the flashing lights. They stayed clamped together waltzing through Dancing Queen and Unchained Melody.

The crew will tell you the oldies will waltz to anything and there they were.

One night, I headed off along the long narrow corridor of cabin doors in a hurry to get to our next posh dinner (posh nights are compulsory, passengers love it, the women dress in glittering gowns and the men in tuxedos), when I had to slow down for a woman in her Queen Victoria dressing gown ambling along on her walking frame, her friend not far behind.

She pulled the frame aside for me then yelled out in broad New Yoick accent: "You can still overtake us even in those heels." She was cackling with laughter.

Because this isn't really a party ship, I tended to venture off late at night to the Cigar Bar. It was a smoky - but well-ventilated - cozy bar, where an older American man would sit most nights and we would sup, me on a merlot and he on a brandy, and talk about the American elections.

One night, though, he wasn't there and a group of intruders was. They were Americans ranging in age from about 60 to well beyond and this is how the conversation went.

I'd pricked up my ears when a woman drawled that she remembered the days when there was a milkman. Not to be outdone, one of the men replied: "Well, in my day we didn't have a refrigerator." Yet another replied, with the coup de gras, "We didn't have washing machines, we used to have to take our clothes and boil them white."

It was all I could do not to snort my merlot out through my nose which would not have been the done thing in a classy joint like the Cigar Bar.

Music from Confrey Phillips, who plays piano and sings New York, New York, is piped through from the refined Commodore lounge next door which has spectacular views off the front of the ship.

Confrey was big in the 1950s and 60s and he is smooth. He calls you by name by the second night and, instead of reciting his credentials, will slip you a card with the information that he has played before the royal family and so on. The next day you'll see him in his shorts at a pool.

Another Kiwi on the ship is Patu Kerei, from Te Kaha in the Bay of Plenty, who's the head waiter in the Queens Grill, where the seriously rich people travel (there's an upstairs and downstairs even on this flash cruise ship). Patu has seen it all, having met the likes of Prince Charles and Camilla and, the highlight, Rod Stewart.

But even better, he confirms that yes, the glamorous elderly American woman with crimped blonde hair, long black dress and full make-up who I ran into on my first day when trespassing on the exclusive upper deck, and thought could be a faded movie star was a faded movie star.

Sadly, no amount of wheedling and begging will get out of Patu just who she is except that she is from the "golden age".

Patu is discreet.

All he will say about the other passengers is that they include a couple of English writers and a young man who made a killing from selling his mobile phone company.

And that young man has been looking at a $100,000 necklace in one of the shops downstairs as a Valentine's Day gift for his girlfriend.

Cruising on the Queen Victoria has been quite an experience and a lot of fun but, after six days or so, I thought I'd had enough.

However, on my last morning watching the sun rise over the Fijian islands, I found leaving quite a hard thing to do.

Postscript: Despite the presence on board of New Zealand policewomen and a Kiwi journo, we never did find out who the dreaded jigsaw smasher was. However, Tania assures me when she left the ship in Auckland one of the enthusiastic jigsaw masters had "her people" on it.

Late night things to do

Go for a swim in the front pool under the stars. The waves in the pool match the ship's momentum and can get quite big; find the southern cross as you swim.

Stay up late hoping to spot the phantom jigsaw smasher.

Ask Confrey Phillips to play your favourite Dean Martin number.

Take in the late night cabaret in the Royal Court Theatre high in a private box where you are plied with champagne.

Having eaten an enormous amount throughout the day, why not attempt another piece of cake at the 24-hour buffet.

CHECKLIST

You can join The Queen Victoria on cruises all around the world. For more information see cunard.com or cunardline.com.au.

Catherine Masters travelled on the Queen Victoria courtesy of Cunard.