Jan Bromilow finds life aboard Radiance of the Seas a breeze.
“Do you have a Powerball in there?” asks the heavily accented man as I hand him my case. A Powerball? Is he concerned that I may be a multimillion-dollar winner who hasn’t yet claimed my prize? I give him a blank look and he slowly and patiently repeats: “A Powerball.”
Again, I look blank and then he points to a noticeboard behind me. There, hanging by a long, thin, white electrical cable is a four-plug extension power board. Oh, a power board — well, no, I have never even considered a power board as an essential travel item.
Happy that there is no such offending item in my luggage, he accepts my case and I’m free to head on into the Sydney cruise terminal to complete the somewhat lengthy formalities prior to boarding Radiance of the Seas.
Husband Dion and I are about to leave on a 16-night cruise from Sydney back to Perth via Brisbane, Airlie Beach, Darwin, Bali, Port Hedland and Geraldton.
This is to be the longest cruise we have undertaken and also the first as just a couple, without any friends for company, so it is sure to be interesting.
Our first day is a sea day, and I take to the stairs to explore (we have a pact never to use the lifts while on board).
It turns out that our comfortable balcony stateroom on deck eight is well placed for accessing decks 11, 12 and 13, where all the action is, along with deck four for the atrium and guest services, and deck five for the Cascades dining room.
Exploring is made super easy with the interactive Wayfinder screens in most lift lobbies, where passengers can view a map of the entire ship and see what activities are happening and where.
Another convenient feature is the Royal Caribbean TV (RCTV) system, which allows guests to keep an eye on their shipboard account, book shore excursions and receive messages, just by a touch of the TV remote and from the comfort of their own stateroom.
The 2500-passenger Radiance of the Seas has numerous features — something to suit everyone. For families, there is the Royal Babies and Tots nursery and special teenage areas — all deserted for this cruise, as the majority of the passengers are either retired or approaching retirement age.
Similarly, the rock-climbing wall doesn’t arouse too much interest.
However, the casino, library, the on-board shops, crazy golf, cinema and Radiance day spa are thriving. The pool and whirlpool areas and outdoor cinema are very popular hangouts, fringed by bars and cafes so that food and drink are never far away. At night, the Aurora Theatre is the main venue for entertainment, with a variety of acts — including a hypnotist, singers, dancers and comedians — offering something different every evening.
The food on board is amazing — high quality and so much of it. When booking the cruise, we chose the MyTime dining option, which means we can reserve a table each night at whatever time we choose.
We are lucky enough to strike gold on the first night, when we’re seated in an area serviced by Roderick and Melroy, both of whom are exceptional waiters. We so enjoy their company and service that we arrange to dine with them at every possible occasion for the rest of the cruise.
We also take advantage of a special offer to dine at four of the speciality restaurants during the voyage for $79. We thoroughly enjoy the exquisite taste sensations of Izumi Japanese restaurant and Giovanni’s Italian, have an authentic steak-house experience at Chops Grille and a meat feast at Samba’s Grill, a Brazilian churrascaria.
Throughout, the crew are friendly and attentive, and wherever possible acknowledge passengers by name and take the time to chat.
Maintenance crews are to be seen all day long around the ship, cleaning, scraping, painting and generally fighting the slow battle against the elements.
The daily Cruise Compass program, delivered to our room each night, provides details of the range of options designed for passengers to help fill their day.
There is towel and napkin-folding, bingo, trivia competitions, music, table tennis, line dancing, choir, special sales, enrichment lectures and more.
The fitness centre becomes my regular daily haunt — just trying to keep on top of those calories. I learn from one of the trainers that, on average, a cruise passenger will put on a nearly half a kilogram in weight for each cruise day.
And, with the exceptional food available throughout the day, I can well imagine this to be so.
After a vigorous workout, I enjoy hot, lazy days relaxing in a favourite spot on the aft deck, chatting with other passengers, reading and gazing into the ocean for any sign of life below.
Most of our fellow passengers are Australian and American, with a number from the UK — mostly, it seems, from the Manchester area, many of whom have combined this cruise with extended visits to relatives.
Our first port of call is Brisbane. Here, we’ve arranged to spend the day with family. Unfortunately, I had assumed Brisbane would only have one port — not so.
It becomes apparent, when talking on the phone about where to meet up, that the rellies are at a completely different place. We are docked at the top of the Brisbane River, across from the airport, in Fisherman’s Island, a fair distance from the Portside Cruise Terminal nearer the city. We do eventually meet up.
There’s another day at sea before we reach Airlie Beach. Most passengers are unaware that during the night we had to return to Brisbane to off-load someone who has been taken ill.
Getting ashore at Airlie Beach requires tenders and Royal Caribbean have chartered local boats to assist with taking passengers ashore so it takes no time at all to reach the marina. Even though it is extremely hot, we opt for the 10-minute walk into the town centre, and stroll through the markets selling local crafts and arts, rather than pay a $20 shuttle fare — still thinking of those calories, too.
Lively Airlie Beach is a major centre for cruises to the Whitsundays but unfortunately for us, due to time restraints, only those lucky enough to pre-book ship excursions are able to go further afield to explore the Great Barrier Reef and islands.
We look around the streets of backpackers’ accommodation, surf shops and numerous restaurants, wine bars and beer cafes, before settling into a cool cafe overlooking the sparkling ocean.
Here, over a cold beer, we meet a couple of fellow cruise passengers from Pennsylvania who are on their 84th Royal Caribbean cruise.
We fill in another three sea days before reaching Darwin and, during this time, another two passengers are taken ill and have to be taken to hospital. Passengers watch from the decks as a pilot boat comes out from Cairns to skilfully manoeuvre alongside to pick up one passenger.
And, a day later, with the same skilful manoeuvring, another pilot boat from Cook Island comes alongside.
Our next stop — Darwin — surprises me.
I expected the sweltering heat but had no other preconceived idea about the place.
We arrive during cruise week — we are the last of six ships, along with Seabourn Odyssey, which is moored further out to sea, to visit the port this week. We disembark and, with the sun’s rays pricking at our skins like sharp needles, stroll through the lively waterfront bars and markets on the short walk to the city centre, where we opt to take an open-top hop- on hop-off bus tour that takes a 90-minute circular route with regular stops along the way.
We pass numerous modern apartment blocks, the salubrious area of Cullen Bay and then disembark at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, where we enjoy exploring the well-presented museum and reliving vivid memories of the 70s at the Cyclone Tracy exhibition — as well as the air-conditioning.
The furthest stop on the bus tour is the Darwin Military Museum, which I am ashamed to say we bypass because of the time and the extreme, energy-sapping heat.
Halfway through the tour’s return leg to the harbour, the skies start to darken and passengers on the open top deck get to experience, with much hilarity, an impromptu wet T-shirt competition when drenched by a very short tropical downpour.
Darwin is certainly a place to go back to and explore further — a few hours is just not enough.
We spend more lazy days at sea before reaching Bali — or rather, the port of Benoa.
This is another tender port and once again Royal Caribbean has organised local craft to assist with getting everyone ashore, which certainly cuts down on the passengers’ waiting time.
Many just opt to take the boat ride and then go directly back to the ship because Benoa is a fair way from anywhere and it is so very hot. We are made of sterner stuff and make our way to the enthusiastic throng of taxi drivers to negotiate a fare to Kuta (the nearest town).
After a somewhat hectic and nerve-racking drive, we find ourselves at the beach in Kuta.
People are everywhere, and it is so hot, dirty and noisy that we gratefully escape to the comparative coolness of a bar down a side street to sample a local Bintang beer.
Yet another sea day before we reach Port Hedland. As this is a working port, everyone is ushered straight on to coaches and driven out past the mountains of white salt and towering rusty red machinery into town.
It is all very orderly, with two stops and then back to the ship.
Overnight, we make up speed in order to try to outrun the cyclone brewing to the north of us. Our last port of call is Geraldton.
Yet again we are tendered ashore but with no local craft engaged it is a rather lengthy process.
Waiting for their turns to go ashore, passengers line the decks, clutching their numbered tender tickets and shouting out good-naturedly to those lucky enough to be boarding the tenders below.
The town centre is just a short walk from the port and when we arrive the residents are busy preparing for the impending cyclone, with shopkeepers dragging out their sandbags and piling them up ready for use.
We bump into friends from Perth, who were on their way to Carnarvon but have been turned back as the roads north of Geraldton have been closed. They have waited for 25 years to get to Carnarvon and now it looks like they’ll have to wait a little longer. Despite the oppressive heat, we make our way up the steep hill to the HMAS Sydney memorial.
It is too hot to stay for long and we head back for some relief in the cool of a local shopping mall. Before returning to the ship, we explore the WA Museum Geraldton, which is right on the waterfront.
Finally, early in the morning, we are in Fremantle. We have an early breakfast and, having elected to take the Express Walk Off option for disembarking, we quickly and painlessly gather our belongings and carry them off ourselves when we’re ready.
We personally found this particular cruise to be too long and with too many sea days — we are the type of cruise passengers who prefer to use the ship as a hotel and disembark every day to explore new places.
So, it is back to the Mediterranean, with its many ports of call, later in the year for our next cruise, with friends.
For more details on cruising with Royal Caribbean, see royalcaribbean.com.au or phone 1800 754 500.