Judith Tabron knows where she wants to be when she wants to relax, writes Tim Roxborogh

In her former day job she looked after everyone from Beyonce to the Dixie Chicks to Hillary Clinton, so legendary restaurateur Judith Tabron knows more than a thing or two about service and customer satisfaction.

When the time comes for Tabron to be the one getting all the pampering and attention, she never has any doubt what she wants to do: set sail on another cruise.

Eight cruise holidays and counting means Tabron is among those with the best advice on where to go, what ship to choose and how to get the most out of your cruise experience.

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Speaking to me and co-host Stephanie Holmes in the latest Trip Notes podcast, Tabron - who hosts new TVNZ reality show My Restaurant Rules - hit us with her top cruising recommendations, as well as sneaking in a couple of yarns about some of her favourite celebrity encounters from her two decades at the helm of Auckland's famous Soul bar.

Available at iHeart Radio, or wherever you get your podcasts, the new episode of Trip Notes is available today. This cruise special episode features Tabron's top tips on cruises in places as varied as Canada, Cuba and her absolute top pick, the Mediterranean.

With almost 30 million people taking cruise holidays every year, not to mention that the average age for cruise passengers is trending down — currently 47 and dropping — cruising has never been so popular.

My Restaurant Rules host Judith Tabron, centre, with Trip Notes hosts Tim Roxborogh and Stephanie Holmes. Photo / Supplied
My Restaurant Rules host Judith Tabron, centre, with Trip Notes hosts Tim Roxborogh and Stephanie Holmes. Photo / Supplied

Judith Tabron's Top Cruise Tips

1. Combine a cruise with a hike

Tabron and her husband usually split their Mediterranean holidays into three parts. The cruise comes last, after first taking a city break where she can shop and research restaurants, followed by a multi-day hike.

"We've hiked mainly in France but also for a week in Spain where they move your bags each day and you just walk to your next best meal," she says. "So we do our exercise and then lastly, before we go home, we do a cruise to relax because we feel like we can put on the weight we've just taken off."

2. Choose a small ship if . . .

Tabron loves a smaller ship because of the ease of getting on and off, as well as for the fact "it gets you closer to the ports. And it also gets you into ports that you won't get into with some of those massive ships."

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3. Choose a big ship if . . .

Many of the biggest vessels have duty-free shopping streets that put some large airports to shame.

There will be countless bars and high-end restaurants on board, as well as features like hydro-slides, zip-lines and even indoor skydiving.

Beyond that, some of the theatres on modern cruise ships are incredible, with productions, like Jersey Boys and Hairspray, the equal of which you'd find ashore in a major city.

4. Cruises for foodies

Silversea's Silver Whisper is self-described as, "having the amenities of a grand resort" with "the charms of a stylish boutique hotel". With a guest capacity of 388 and a crew capacity of 302, that's a hard-to-beat crew-to-passenger ratio of 1.28 to 1.

Silversea's Silver Whisper is a good cruise holiday choice for foodies. Photo / George Novak
Silversea's Silver Whisper is a good cruise holiday choice for foodies. Photo / George Novak

But for Tabron, it's the ship's acclaimed Italian restaurant La Terrazza that she loved the most: "You're supposed to only [dine] there once on your trip, but I ate in there every night because the food was so good!"

5. Take shore leave

For Tabron, it doesn't matter whether it's the Silver Whisper, Oceania or Seaborne, all the ships she's been on have had excellent dining options.

But she stresses that just because you can get your free lunch back onboard, it doesn't mean you necessarily should.

"When you stop at these ports, you really need to experience some of the local delicacies," she says. According to Tabron, this means opening yourself up to meandering down streets, away from the tourists and discovering the places only the locals know.

Travel podcast Trip Notes is available at iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts. Photo / Supplied
Travel podcast Trip Notes is available at iHeart Radio or wherever you get your podcasts. Photo / Supplied
You can hear more from Judith Tabron in the new episode of Trip Notes, available to download now through iHeartRadio or wherever you usually get your podcasts.

Subscribe, and each new episode will automatically download every fortnight. You can also go to nzherald.co.nz/tripnotes to watch video from the podcast, and catch up on any episodes you may have missed

For more travel inspiration, go to houseoftravel.co.nz.

My Restaurant Rules screens on TVNZ 2 at 7.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays