Our travel writers reveal the moment they fell in love with cruising.
It was the robot bartender that got me.
Aboard Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas, a pair of automated arms mix cocktails of your choosing. Patrons watch as a mechanical mojitos and droid daiquiris are lined up and swiftly downed. It's utterly ridiculous and I was, inevitably, completely hooked.
Cruising throws you these bizarre moments. And they'll quickly convert you from a sceptic to a fan. Where else are you going to see a sunrise in the middle of the Tasman Sea? I had that one aboard the gorgeous Queen Mary II, sailing from Sydney to Auckland — the sunrise cutting through the chill morning air as I jogged around the beautiful promenade deck.
You know what else got me? When the captain of the Pacific Pearl took us for an impromptu spin around White Island, yielding the kind of view of a Kiwi landmark normally reserved for seagulls and snapper-hunters. It was his first time skippering in New Zealand waters, and he told us an old Kiwi colleague many years ago had urged him to get to White Island, so we completed a grand, unique loop of the volcano.
The people-watching sport on that cruise got me, too — a hearty crowd knocking off bourbon and cola a little after breakfast. Good folk having good times. As an old newspaper hand from way back, it was inevitable that the birthplace of print — Mainz, on the Rhine — would get me. We sailed the river aboard the Avalon Imagery II on her inaugural voyage.
The great Judy Bailey smashed the Champagne bottle and inside the Gutenberg Museum there were original prints and a recreated press — I can report it takes a heap of muscle to apply the pressure that inks the page. The page of the Bible they let me print hangs on my wall today, framed. It still gets me.
Utah Beach in Normandy got me, too. Seven decades after young Americans had died there on the path to liberating Europe, I marvelled at how tiny the little landing craft were. They had little more space than the type of wee truck that might carry your couch and a few boxes when you move house. I'd landed nearby in something more salubrious, the Azamara Pursuit. Of course, you can explore Normandy from the land — beautiful countryside! — but it was cruising that got me there.
That's the thing about these ships: They get you in surprising places.
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I fell in love with cruising on my very first voyage, waking to find myself in the middle of an endless ocean, a window opening on vast and horizons, but I lost my heart in the Southern Ocean, to the wild waves, the petrels and albatross surfing the slipstream of our ship the curious penguins and the seals.
The romance of the sea — sailing to the unspoilt, remote corners of the Pacific, in the wake of remarkable Polynesian voyagers and brave European explorers so far away from home, travelling as they did to discover the windswept crags of the Sub-Antarctic islands; the Marquesas with their heady incense of smoke and decaying flowers — quickens my heart and exhilarates me.
The abbey called Stift Melk, on the River Danube, has a library so stimulating it inspired Umberco Eco to write The Name of the Rose. Its ceiling frescoes are painted in such clever perspective they look wrong to everyone but the royal visitor, seated in one special spot.
And there's a cloister so graceful you suspect angels had a hand in its making. Best of all, at the end of the day you're back in your room, the same one you've been in all trip, ready for the next day's wonders. I love river cruising: you go everywhere, but you unpack just once.
At dinner on the second night of our first cruise, a four-night return trip from Auckland to Napier, I honestly could not recall how long we had been on board: surely it must be day three ... or was it four? Barely 24 hours after sailing the brain had flicked into deep-relax mode.
Boarding had been a doddle after a 10-minute taxi ride from home to the cruise terminal on Princes Wharf, and everything about the ship was geared towards removing the stress of daily life. On the Monday morning after arriving back at 7am, and leaving my wife to return home with the luggage, I strolled to work feeling like I'd had a full week of R and R.
Boarding my first cruise in Miami, Florida, I felt like a wideeyed country mouse on her first jaunt into the big city. Everything was so big and shiny; so many elevators and corridors leading to where, I didn't know. I closed the door to my cabin, unpacked my bags and sat on my bed, not knowing what to do next.
The Set Sail party was still three hours away, dinner five. I was starving. I peeked out into the hallway and my room attendant quickly appeared. Would I like a little cheeseboard to keep me going until cocktails and canapes, he inquired. "Or", he suggested, "you can go up to the buffet restaurant and help yourself to whatever you fancy". I knew I was going to like this life at sea.
The world became a cocoon of relaxation even before we left the dock. By the next morning I realised that despite the other passengers being of differing age backgrounds and interests, we were all in the same boat — we wanted only to enjoy ourselves and were surrounded by a crew dedicated to making that happen. No more unpacking and packing, no more battling rogue weather elements on a night out and no more schlepping to various places of interest because, every day, new places of interest came to us.
There's nothing quite like the moment you step on to your cruise ship for the first time and realise you don't have to do anything except relax. It was the perfect way to end a year of wedding planning — just the two of us, unlimited free pizza, and a warm island breeze. It's been several years since that first tropical getaway and I'll never forget how it felt to know I had nowhere I needed to be and nothing I needed to do for two whole weeks. But the moment I remember most was sitting together at dinner and watching the moonlight carve a path through the ocean toward us. Absolute magic.
I had never heard of the Arafura Sea, yet here we were. Cruising through indigo waters at sunset, between the top of Australia and Indonesia, heading east from Darwin to Cairns. We were aboard the ultra-luxury Silver Muse, it was before dinner, and, cocktail in hand, we wandered from the poolside bar to a higher deck to watch the sun slide beneath the horizon behind us. We found a spot that looked back down the length of the ship, and there was no-one there. It could have been our private yacht, taking us on adventures to exotic places we never knew existed, through oceans with as many stories to tell as the countries we visited.
I always suspected I'd like cruising. The thought of unpacking just the once while visiting exotic locales has an obvious appeal, and the sea has always been my happy place. But when did I set aside the few lingering doubts I had? Was it when our butler delivered canapes and champagne to our stateroom? While lounging poolside in glorious sunshine when those back home were shivering? Eating the best meal I have ever enjoyed, anywhere, anytime while in the middle of the ocean? Waking up to a beautiful new vista each and every morning? Or forging friendships that endure despite the tyranny of distance?
Perhaps it was when I began searching new cruises before my current one had even ended, or when I realised I could spend another month on board and still not take advantage of all that was on offer. Or maybe, and this is my favourite theory of the lot: I was born to cruise.