Elisabeth Easther meets the president of Carnival Australia and P&O Cruises.
I grew up on the west coast of Norway, an absolutely stunning place dominated by mountains and fjords. Although when you grow up in a place, you sometimes take it for granted, and don't always appreciate the beauty until you leave. Having since travelled round the world, there's only one other place that reminds me of Norway. Last year, I went to the South Island with my family, and there were plants and trees there, including a little wild strawberry, that I hadn't seen anywhere else on the planet except Norway.
As a child we did a couple of trips to what is now Croatia. We drove for about three or four days, stopping and exploring as we went, down through Germany, over the Alps to Italy and then to Croatia. I remember it as one of most magical places; the water, the food, the culture. Although it was still part of Yugoslavia back then, so there were limitations to what you could find in supermarkets. One thing they didn't have was chocolate, so after a few weeks we went over the border to Italy to stop at a supermarket to buy chocolate.
On my first independent holiday, I went to London with a friend and I was so taken with the energy and history, I swore I'd go back and spend more time there. Three years later I went to university in London, studying hotel management. As soon as I finished, I went to sea on the old QE2 and I really caught the travel bug. I've travelled around the world six or seven times now and I've seen some amazing places. My grandfather was a sea captain and I always remember him talking about Spitsbergen. It's an island near the North Pole, and he said it was amazing. I managed to go there on a smaller ship, and when we took passengers ashore, we needed to have security guards with shotguns in case there were polar bears. It was so incredibly remote, the raw beauty was absolutely breathtaking and it will always stay in my mind.
When I travel around the world, we often take people ashore to try local cuisine. I remember many years ago stopping in a food market late one night in Thailand. They were serving water bugs fried in soy sauce. They looked like cockroaches, but we thought we should give it a go. So I grabbed one and started chewing on it. But it was full of shells and not particularly nice. Then another customer — a local — came by and ordered the same thing and he took a bug and peeled it like a prawn. I had no idea, but once I peeled it, it was actually delicious.
Last year we did a trip to Vanuatu, to Tanna Island, and we climbed to the top of the volcano. Standing there on the edge of the crater, seeing red rock being slung into the air and hearing the noise and feeling the power was a magical experience, partly because it was so raw, and not too managed.
Spending time at sea is amazing. Sailing across the Atlantic, you get into a rhythm when there are a number of sea days. You can enjoy the ship and your fellow passengers.
Sailing into certain cities is also magical; sailing into New York and seeing the Statue of Liberty, with Manhattan coming out of the water. Sailing into Hong Kong, the energy is always amazing. Or sailing into Venice literally between houses and seeing this amazing city, that's always tremendous. Or in our part of the world, coming into Sydney through the heads and seeing the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. You have to make sure you get up early, as it's something you'll remember forever, even though it's over in a flash.
My best travel advice is to find a balance between planning and leaving things to chance.
Try to plan some anchor points in what you're doing but also leave plenty of room for being spontaneous or spending an extra day somewhere and doing something outside the plan, giving yourself time to explore.
Further information: see pocruises.co.nz