After three years without cruising, I’ve forgotten how to do it

Cruise lines and cruise fans love a “first at sea” feature. It might be the launch of a new cruise line or a new ship – or the introduction of a new ride, touchless technology, virtual balcony cabins, an onboard brewery or, really, anything new and worth celebrating.

In the case of Carnival Splendor’s October cruise from Sydney to Tangalooma (Moreton Island), it is the first Australian cruise for the ship post-pandemic – the first for nearly three years. It is also the first ship to arrive in Sydney harbor carrying international passengers – Splendor has sailed from Seattle and many US passengers are on board for at least one or more cruises on the ship in local waters.

Meanwhile, in another first for the cruise line, CCL’s newly acquired Carnival Luminosa has sailed out of Brisbane on its inaugural Australian season.

Onboard Splendor, our small group gathers for dinner at Fahrenheit 555, the specialty steakhouse restaurant near the top of the ship on Deck 11. After three enormous courses and a lively demonstration of Cake Art, I discover I’ve left my keycard in my cabin . This is the sort of rookie mistake I haven’t made in many years of cruising – not quite a first at sea but hopefully the last.

Despite the gloomy weather forecasts I’d been obsessively following before Splendor set sail, we are blessed with sunshine and clear skies. This is when I find I make rookie mistake No.2 – packing a small bag with clothes exclusively for cool, rainy conditions instead of preparing for all kinds of weather. Where are my shorts and T-shirts when I need them? I even forgot sunblock, although I had packed a swimsuit – mostly for snorkelling at Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island.

But I’m determined to give the Green Lightning waterslide a go, until a young boy ahead of me says the slide is too scary for him. So I forego that opportunity and instead, take an 11.3-metre freefall drop, ride the punishing curves to scream down the Yellow Twister instead.

Rookie mistake No.3 is deciding to sail on a large ship that’s booked to the max, not only because so many cruisers have been unable to cruise locally for so long but also because it sails over a long weekend during school holidays. I quickly realized that Splendor’s Serenity Retreat poolside area at the aft of the ship on Deck 9 is my happy place, complemented by a lengthy stint in the Cloud 9 spa for a very reasonable $60 day pass. I have the thermal suite’s Laconium room to myself for a good hour or more and lolling around in the Thalassotherapy pool as the water sloshes back and forth with the ship’s movement is therapeutically soothing.

Ultimately, I rediscover a simple rule – if you don’t like crowds, pick a smaller ship (and expect to pay higher fares) and check a calendar for school holiday dates before you book. As cruising has grown and diversified over recent years – and changed even more since COVID-19 – there is a cruise style and ship to suit pretty much every lifestyle and budget.

If you’re contemplating a cruise for the first time, seek advice about what you will enjoy most. Talk to cruising friends, read reviews, consult a specialist cruise travel agent (see cruising.org.au for an agent near you) – that bargain fare might not be good value if you end up loathing the experience. We all make mistakes, rookie or otherwise, and this is the first one to avoid.

THE DETAILS

CRUISE

Carnival Splendor’s three-night cruises from Sydney to Moreton Island operate once a month until July 2023 and resume in October 2023. Fares for the February 9, 2023 departure start from $632 a person for an oceanview cabin, double occupancy. Phone 1300 385 625, see carnival.com.au

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traveller.com.au/cruises

Sally Macmillan traveled as a guest of Carnival Cruise Line.

FIVE THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT CARNIVAL CRUISE LINE

THE COMPANY

Founded in 1972 by Ted Arison with a converted transatlantic liner, TSS Mardi Gras, Carnival Cruise Line is the largest cruise company in the world based on the number of passengers carried – about 6 million a year. It is part of the multi-brand Carnival Corporation, which also operates Aida, Costa, Cunard, Holland America Line, Princess, Seabourn, P&O Australia and P&O UK.

THE FLEET

There are 24 ships in the fleet. The newest and largest is Carnival Celebration, which is in the Excel Class along with Carnival Mardi Gras; the rest are divided into Vista, Dream, Conquest, Spirit and Fantasy classes. Carnival Splendor is in a class of its own; it was originally designed for Costa and transferred to Carnival during its construction.

CLOSE-TO-HOME CRUISES

The 3500-plus-passenger Carnival Splendor is home-ported in Sydney for year-round cruises ranging from three to 11 nights to Queensland, Tasmania, Melbourne, the Pacific Islands and New Zealand. Carnival Luminosa, which accommodates up to 2260 passengers, is cruising out of Brisbane until April 2023. The ship then repositions to Seattle and returns to Brisbane in October 2023. Luminosa cruises around Australia and to Papua New Guinea, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

INTERNATIONAL CRUISES

Carnival’s ships cruise in Alaska, the Bahamas, Canada and New England, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera, the Panama Canal and Transatlantic.

CARNIVAL FIRST

Carnival Vista was the world’s largest cruise ship when it launched in 1996, and the first to exceed 100,000 tons. Twenty years later, Carnival Vista introduced the first brewery at sea, along with the first IMAX theatre. In 2019, Carnival Panorama featured the first seaborne trampoline park and in 2021, Mardi Gras was the first cruise ship in the US to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the first ship to boast a roller coaster.

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