Life on board

Another sea day today, between Fiji and Auckland. There had been many of these on this cruise, more than we’ve previously experienced, so it’s worth looking more closely at what life on a cruise ship is like.

When we do make land and are being taken back to our ship by our excursion guides, they often refer to our ‘floating hotel’ and in many ways that’s exactly what a cruise ship is. But there are some differences too. What you have at your disposal is an impressively flexible environment which you can use in a variety of ways, depending on your inclinations. Of course, there may be limiting factors, most of which – as we’re experiencing today – are weather related. Today there’s a strong south easterly wind, blowing 25-30 knots, and a 3 metre swell, so there’s enough movement to make moving around interesting. The promenade deck is closed so the normal daily walks around deck 7 are closed. It’s too breezy to lie out on the open decks although skies ante mainly clear. The air temperature is 72F but a long sleeved shirt makes it more comfortable on deck. So no sunbathing today and a chance to use other parts of the ship.

Deck 15 is the open sun deck, with plenty of loungers.

I’m not a sun-worshipper, so while Moira absorbs the rays in a quiet corner I prefer the indoor area on decks 14 and 15 known as the conservatory, where you can sit or lounge under cover. It can get a bit echoey or warm however.

The buffet restaurant Horizons is on level 14 and you can take food either inside or, as we prefer to do at breakfast and lunch, out to the stern areas or to tables set up around the pool or conservatory areas on level 14.

The quality of the food is surprisingly good; better than I recall. The buffet has been improved by moving away from larger containers of food to individual portions or chef served food. Breakfasts include cereals, fresh fruit and yoghurts, a wide range of cooked options and a vast array of breads and pastries. The lunch variety is impressive, from an imaginative range of salads, always fresh, to an array of hot lunch dishes, with meat, fish and vegetarian selections accompanied by potatoes, rice, pasta and vegetables.

Dinner in the restaurant is like fine dining a la crate. The menu is extensive and varied. There are options for four courses – a starter, soup or salad, main course and dessert. All meals have been imaginative, tasty and well cooked. Portion sizes are just right. The food comes promptly and is invariably hot. A four course meal will be ordered and served in comfortably under an hour, no mean feat when catering on such a scale.

If you’re hungry between meals, or determined to overeat, there is a pizza place, ice cream and coffee bar and grill serving burgers and hot dogs, all located on level 14 near the pool.

Decks 12 through 8 are mainly occupied by cabins and suites. Decks 7 to 5 are the other main social area of the ship. The theatre where the main shows and talks take place is located forward on decks 6 and 7. Just aft of this is the piazza area which stretches its atrium up through decks 5 to 7. Entertainment takes place here throughout the afternoon and evening.

The main restaurants are found off the atrium on levels 5 and 6. On level 5 is found the International Cafe, serving coffee and snacks, a pizza restaurant and Vines wine bar, as well as an Internet cafe and the bar Good Spirits at sea.

There is also a casino here for those who feel lucky. Not my scene though.

You’re more likely to find me in the art galleries on level 6. Last cruise we bought a painting but this time there’s nothing that takes our fancy.

We’ve also enjoyed frequent evenings in the three main bars on level 7. Crooners usually has a pianist playing, there’s been a great guitarist in the Wheelhouse and Explorers run good quizzes as well as a resident house band.

So, there’s always plenty to do. The cabin provides a welcome quiet place to read or just relax on the balcony and watch the ocean go by. I love it and find it a perfect way to holiday.

The administration of the cruise, from time of booking, has been impressive. They use a system called Medallion, which comes both as an app on your phone and a physical device worn around your wrist or neck, provided when you embark.

Using the app you preload all your data, such as passport and visa details, proof of covid vaccinations and negative test status. This turns your boarding status to green, meaning that when you physically reach the port of embarkation you are boarded in minutes, avoiding the long queues we’ve previously seen.

The physical medallion is an electronic room key and charge card. The device works by wifi meaning your room unlocks as you approach. Staff can identify you as you approach them and your order is immediately charged to your account with, at most, a tap of the medallion on their hand held device.

The app on board allows you to book and amend dinner reservations. We prebooked them once we realised the app allowed this, but by then most reservations were quite late in the evening. However, after embarking we found that you can change almost any reservation up to, and sometimes including, the day it is for. It allows you to specify you want a private table, removing the previous bugbear we had of constantly being pressured to share a table with people we don’t know and, if declining, being sent away with a pager for up to an hour. We have walked straight to our table for two every evening without any delay. Great service.

The app also allows you to order food and drinks to wherever you are on the ship as it immediately shows your location to staff. It also allows you to see where your travel companions are and to message them. You can add people you befriend on board so you can arrange to meet up.

It also has a timeline of all activities so you can see what is coming up. It can be awkward on a small screen but there are large displays all over the ship which you can move with your hand or by synching your medallion on a touchpad. So you’ll always know where everyone is and what’s coming up.

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