Taking a cruise with thousands of others just isn’t my thing. I’ve been on short half day cruises, like the Riverboat Postman on the Hawkesbury River and one around Two Fold Bay on Australia’s Sapphire Coast, but that’s different. Being on board a huge ship with lots of other people, unable to disembark until the ship docks and then only for a limited time, fills me with dread.
Stepping on Board a Cruise Ship
I’ve only ever looked at the massive cruise ships berthed at Circular Quay from afar. Awed by their size and even a little bit dismissive of those on board, I’ve actually never stepped on board.
When the opportunity arose for me to step on board the MSC Poesia for a ship inspection, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to see for myself what those who love cruising enjoy about being on a ‘floating city’ for days on end. Perhaps after the ship inspection, I’d be converted. After all, how can I say that I don’t like cruising if I’ve never even been on one?
Waking up to Views of the Sydney Opera House
Before boarding the ship, I wander to the eastern side of Circular Quay to look at the floating hotel from afar. It really is impressive. It sleeps just over 3000 passengers and around 1000 crew members. The highest part almost reaches the top arch of the Sydney Harbour bridge. Row upon row of balcony cabins look out onto the Opera House. What a pleasure it must have been waking up to that sight this morning.
As I admire the ship, I notice a woman watching me. Neatly dressed in cream pants and a pastel floral shirt, she smiles and we start chatting. A passenger from the MSC Poesia, she was hoping to tour the Opera House this morning. Unfortunately, they don’t have a tour today so she’s not sure what to do with her day. I offer a couple of suggestions and take the opportunity to find out from her what the ship is like.
Meeting a Passenger on the MSC Poesia
From Germany, Marlis has been on a number of cruises. If you need to get away from people she says “you can always retreat to your balcony”. That’s if you’ve booked a balcony cabin as opposed to an internal one which probably is only good for sleeping in.
Marlis plays the violin, hence her interest in the Opera House. Now retired, she taught literature and philosophy and has written a novel, in German and set during WW2.
Could I or Couldn’t I?
I love hearing people’s stories. If I were to meet people as interesting and open as Marlis when on a cruise, I’d be sold on cruising. Then she tells me she’s halfway through a world cruise of 119 days. I stop, shocked and repeat “One hundred and nineteen days! I couldn’t do that”. She replies that she didn’t think she could either, but says you “ease into it”.
This is the first time that the MSC Poesia has sailed into Sydney Harbour and the company has invited people in the cruise trade and media for a ship inspection. As the passengers are either on board or off exploring Sydney before setting sail at 5pm, we have a carefully curated schedule.
Exchange of Crests in Sydney Harbour
We begin with drinks and canapes in the Pigalle Lounge. Sitting in a comfortable semi-circular booth upholstered in red we face a low wooden stage. There’s a drum kit on the stage which is edged with amber coloured beaded lighting. This must be where jazz and other music happens at night.
The captain, impeccably dressed in whites with navy epaulettes begins a ceremonial exchange of crests. Someone in the know explains to me that when a ship makes her maiden call at a port, there’s a traditional exchange of crests between the captain of the ship and local authorities.
Before touring the ship, Leisa, the PR Manager leads us to the Le Fontane Ristorante where we enjoy an al a carte lunch. I chat to my fellow diners, all are seasoned cruisers, about their cruising experiences. They love the simplicity on board. You unpack once. The only decisions are where to eat and in the evening whether to visit the theatre, listen to music or try your luck in the casino. And when coming into port, there’s that shore excursion to decide on.
There’s a Temptation to Overeat
While tucking into my fish chowder followed by a vegetable purse and crème caramel flan, I think about how easy it would be to expand my waistline if I joined a cruise. With meals offered in the two buffet restaurants, two more formal restaurants and the more exclusive Kaito Sushi Bar (you pay more here) included, the temptation is to overeat.
My fellow diner says you do tend to eat more than usual on the first couple of days, but then there’s a tendency to moderate what you consume. With my sweet tooth, I’d have to walk around the top deck numerous times to burn the extra calories.
Touring the Cruise Ship
It’s lunch time and the buffet restaurants are busy. The food looks and smells very tempting and the wide selection will suit most palates. Being an Italian ship, the pizzas are renowned. We watch the chef expertly create a flat disc from a round ball of dough.
Piped music accompanies us we follow Leisa down corridors carpeted in different colours with round swirly designs. I suspect the different patterns delineate the sections of the ship and assist passengers to orient themselves. It would surely take me a day or two to work out the ship layout and be able to get from my cabin to where I want to go without getting lost.
Bars, Lounges a Casino and a Theatre
We stroll through a number of bars and lounges. All are quiet, but will liven up when the ship sets sail. I wonder how lively they will get and if I’d be able to find a quiet corner to read a book.
MSC Poesia is a European ship with an Italian heritage. It has a definite European feel and many of the staff are Italian. The passengers are a mix of Europeans. Taking this into account, the entertainment is not language based and is a mixture of performance art, singing, dancing and acrobatics.
A Balcony Cabin
I’m genuinely surprised by the size of the balcony cabin we get to inspect. It’s roomy and comfortable with a double bed, bedside tables and lamps, two-seater sofa, a desk and chair and a small balcony with two chairs and small table. Having travelled on sleeper trains, I expected something pokey. The bathroom is another surprise. It’s quite big enough.
I’m reminded that the levels on a ship are decks, not storeys. Passengers sleep in cabins, not rooms and the boss of the ship (not boat) is known as either the Master of the Ship or the Captain. I learn that the most desirable cabin is one midship.
We see the spa, the gym and the upper deck where you can laze outside on lounges before dipping into one of the temperature-controlled pools. If I didn’t have a balcony cabin, I’d probably spend most of my time up here in the fresh air.
I may well have been Converted
When Leisa bids us farewell, I hand in my security pass and step into the cruise terminal thrilled that I’ve dipped my toe into the world of cruising. I’ve learnt a new language – the language of cruising – and met some interesting people. While all cruise liners are different, I now have an insight into the cruising world. I may just have been converted.
….enjoyed your tour but still not a convert, myself!
I’ll reserve judgement,Fairlie. I was thinking that I spent at least a week on a train in a shared compartment in Russia. This ship is palatial compared to that experience.
We have enjoyed every cruise we’ve taken, especially on Viking. I think you would too.
Well,I’ll have to give it a go then, Charlene!
Thanks for the tour Joanne! I’ve always wanted to have a peek inside one of those ships!
Like a floating hotel, Adale!
Big ship cruising fills me with dread, too. So, thanks, Joanne, your tour helps dispel some fears.
Been river cruising in Europe and enjoyed.
There seems to be a middle ground of people like yourself Christine, who like river cruising, but have not yet dipped their toes into big ship cruising.
River cruises are fantastic. A lot less people, no sea sickness and absolute luxury. We are doing 2 in France later this year
They do sound like fun, Colleen. And as a friend says, you see land all the way!
Hi Joanne – good to see you have set foot onto a large cruise ship! Being a cruise addict myself I have cruised on several cruise lines, different sizes and have stayed in an inside cabin, balcony cabin and a junior suite over the past 20 years.
I love unpacking and thinking about the many daytime activities I can take part in, a lot are dance classes. After a stretch class early morning, a walk around the top deck I’m ready for breakfast!
I enjoy the shows at night and the different restaurants you can dine in.
I recently did an Australia Day 3 night cruise in January and in November am doing a 6 night Melbourne cup cruise
I hope you try one sometime
I’m getting the feeling that I must give it a go, Chrissy
I’ve been on several short cruises (none longer than 10 days) but all in “small” ships. I cannot imagine anything worse than those brightly coloured carpets – especially if one was feeling a bit seasick. I know people love the city on the sea aspect of the big cruise ships, but I could only be tempted by the small ships with a few hundred passengers.
Interesting comment about the ‘loud’ carpets, June. I hadn’t considered that. Perhaps I’ll start my cruising journey on a river cruise.
Hello there, I have been on a huge ship with the kids, the Carnival Spirit, and it worked really well for us as a wee family, at the time. I’d love to try a very upmarket big ship one day but my favourite was a smaller ship in Fiji, the Reef Endeavour, it had about 80 or 100 guests max and I just adored that cruise.
Will enjoy doing some cruises when the family have left home I think… but not with hubby as he gets seasick. Maybe we should do one together one day??!!
I’ve heard about the smaller cruise in Fiji and it sounds perfect. I’d love to share a balcony cabin with you, Seana
Joanne, you did make big ship cruising sound very appealing. Well done. I loved the Odyssey Expeditions cruise of the Kimberleys from Broome with 20 passengers, crocodile and shark spotting, crabbing, casting for barramundi, and swimming in incredible pools….. amazing colourful landscapes, and sunsets on the bow with the catch of the day. I shall keep open about cruising though. Many thanks.
Thanks Loretta. I think an open mind is what it takes.
Like you I never imagined I could go on a ‘big ship’ cruise. I lived on a 36ft yacht for seven years in Europe.Floating gypsies.
But when I worked my husband and I used to go on coach tours all over the world. A different stop for night and breakfast , morning coffee , lunch. We saw the world accompanied by guides who knew all the best places to visit. No thinking just seeing and learning. As a school principal it was wonderful to be organised by someone else for two weeks a year. My sister could not understand me. She went on cruises. Loved getting dressed up for dinner, the quizzes, the evening entertainment, dancing, the films,
the talks and dancing. I couldn’t understand her.
Then i went to New Zealand on a large ship. And loved it. Realised why my sister loved it. It is relaxing. You can do as much as you want to do or just sit and read watching the world go by while you are waited on hand and foot. We have done several since and each one has been different but spectacular. Particularly in Northern Europe.
I still prefer a coach tour because you see so much more of the country you are visiting but they are not relaxing like a cruise.
Different holidays for different reasons . Horses for courses.
Hello Caroline, thanks for your detailed response. As you say Horses for courses. I think I’m closer to cruising than ever!
You’ve almost convinced me. Tourism Services in Melbourne sometimes offer an onboard Info Desk to visiting cruise ships ( the posh ships) and I’ve done a few of these. It’s certainly another world!
That would be a fun gig, Erica
Most cruise ships offer a library or chill area where you can sit and read without intrusive music acts so you aren’t confined to your room. Many times there are also games available like Chess, board games, Jigsaw puzzles for cruising customers to use.
I cruised a 10 day trip to New Caledonia and Vanuatu with my family on a smaller P&O Cruise ship – Pacific Pearl and found plenty of activities and things to do. We tended to gravitate to the family fun ones like Bingo and the main show or chilling on deck.
They usually have 18+ areas too so you can get away from loud kids etc and usually a kids play room often separated into Juniors and Seniors so kids can do age appropriate fun activities with their peers and parents get a little alone time if they want.
With a 1 year old I was more than pleased to return to our porthole view (non balcony – kids safety first) room for naptime where I could get some reading in.
Furthermore some cruise lines tailor more to the older set with more relaxing activities and there are rarely young families on those style of cruises.
There are plenty of Youtube channels that cover various aspects of cruising.
My personal faves are Trek Trendy who covers Airlines, Trains, Cruise, and Bus first class travel around the world.
Also Tips for Travellers is a guy who covers a variety of cruises both before and after the changes brought about by the pandemic. He has lots of content that aims to help understand cruising and avoid common pitfalls as well as guides to help find the right cruise (and cruise line) for you.
Thank you for your detailed and considered response, Jason. I am being persuaded by all the cruisers out there. I’ll certainly look at those Youtube channels and Tips for Travellers.
Great overview Jo. We did a one week cruise on a small ship that holds a maximum of 80 guests in Alaska which was amazing. I am open to going on a big cruise ship.
Eighty on board sounds ideal. A small ship can go where smaller one can’t. I’m slowly coming round to tge idea of a big ship cruise, Bernadette