Life aboard a cruise ship is smooth sailing for the Azamara Journey.

"And you thought Liberace was dead," cooed the man in a rhinestone-studded white suit, matching shoes and big rings.

His luxuriant head of hair topped by a spectacular blond pompadour added inches to his already significant height.

"In case you are wondering," he told the audience, "I am 5ft 18 inches tall."

This was Eric de Gray, cruise director on the good ship Journey, introducing himself at the first of the big little stage shows on the Azamara Club lines inaugural cruise from Singapore to Sydney.


Sailing aboard the Azamara Journey, we'd learn that Eric was the consummate entertainer - a singer, composer, director, recorded artist, author of a book of grandpa jokes, a former Canadian skating champion and model railway enthusiast.

And he was the captain's twin brother.

On day one, the personable Captain Johannes Tysse had introduced himself over the address system, mentioning we might have already met "my twin brother Eric".

Captain Tysse stands about 4ft 18 inches, and is bald as a badger, which is why we didn't get the twins gag until we saw them both standing together.

These two were the ship's rock stars. Their daily midday on-air banter amused everyone, the ding dong listen-up warning resulting in exclamations of, "The captain's going to talk to us, or perhaps it will be Eric."

"Hello, everyone, this is your captain speaking," the captain invariably started. "I suppose you're eating again."

Er, yes! The food and the choices of where to eat were good, although after a couple of weeks some people for whom cruising was a lifestyle were a little fed up. They were used to bigger boats with several decks of eateries, shops and places to play.

Captain Tysse is the spawn of Vikings. Growing up on the island of Osteroy, near Bergen, Norway, he would listen to his grandfather's tales of sea voyages.

He joined a chemical tanker as a deck hand in 1983, and several years later entered the Merchant Marine Academy for officer's training. He signed on to his first cruise ship in 1989.

"Cruise ships offer a much more interesting type of cargo," he said.

Asked during a meet-the-crew session what a normal day might include, he outlined the previous day: The first morning meeting with the bridge crew, paperwork, etc ... oh, and he'd officiated at the vows renewal of a couple he'd married on board 10 years earlier; then he'd judged the model ship building some guests (all men) had done during the cruise.

The majority of guests were British (294), the next largest group Americans (114), with Australians third (87).

Captain Tysse shared his first experience of having mainly Australians on board a ship. On the first day they drank all the beer that was supposed to last a week. Until the ship was due to reload at its next supply chain port, food and beverages crew had to rush around smaller places the ship stopped at and buy all the beer they could find.

Less than a week into our cruise, hotel director Ryszard Gusmann (Polish - there were 47 nationalities among the crew) told me our lot were drinking much more wine than expected. The ship had ordered 80 pallets (that's nearly 4500 bottles of wine) to be waiting for loading at Darwin. The first trip on a new destination was always a test of supplies and systems, he shrugged.

We grabbed the chance to take an "insider's view" tour of the ship's underbelly - a first for Azamara.

We saw the huge kitchen that, like New York, never sleeps.

A maize of storage and cold store rooms were crammed so tightly with stacked cartons that, even two weeks into the voyage, there was still only a person-wide aisle down the middle of each.

But what happens when all that food and packing comes out the other end? The ship's environmental officer, the delightful Eszter Feher (Hungarian), told us about the bio-treatment, storage and disposal of human waste and grey water. And rubbish - the sorting, crushing, wrapping, pulping, fish feeding (30 nautical miles from land) and burning (also 30 nautical miles out). The Azamara line has a zero-landfill policy and will not off-load in countries where waste goes into landfills rather than gets recycled.
Several people on the insiders' tour said they'd never heard anyone talk as passionately or entertainingly as Eszter did about a load of shit.

In the control room we peered at a bank of computer screens and heard about diesel generators, oil quantities, emission standards, water desalination (220 tonnes a day) and how one of the four 24,000 h/p engines runs 24/7 to power the ship's electrics.

Way down 'below' we saw the laundry.

A band plays aboard the Azamara Journey cruise ship. Photo / satchelmouth1, Flickr
A band plays aboard the Azamara Journey cruise ship. Photo / satchelmouth1, Flickr

At the end of the tour, up on the bridge we learned there are always three officers there at any time and one "watch". In this day and age, amongst the best navigation equipment the 21st century can offer, on every shift someone with binoculars just stands there and stares out to sea.

We tucked into canapes and champagne in this glass cage at the very front of the ship, and shared a toast with Captain Fantastic. The only disappointing part of possibly the most interesting tour I took on the whole cruise was the ship's wheel. It was smaller than the one in my car.

helloworld has a 15-night cruise aboard Azamara Journey, sailing from Hong Kong to Singapore, departing on December 23. All meals and entertainment and selected drinks are included. Prices start at $7849 pp twin share.