A refreshing, non-conventional cruise
Walking around the promenade deck on board Emerald Princess was quite the invigorating experience.
After months of humid heat during the Queensland summer it was a welcome stimulation to be pushed along the decks by a cold wind that made itself clear: it was boss.
The gusts all but took our feet a few centimetres off the decks as it forced us along for six exhilarating laps, at least a couple of kilometres I think.
We were crossing the Tasman from New Zealand to Tasmania during a hefty swell - cruising at 16.8 knots so the Captain informed us - and being out on the deck was a challenge with the mighty ocean rolling to the horizon and making us feel insignificant in the scheme of all things.
The day before, the ocean had been mirror-like as we gently cruised through New Zealand's Fiordland National Park, collective jaws gaping and eyes popping at the unspoilt beauty of it.
Imposing mountains thrust up majestically from the calm water, thick with verdant bush, dotted with gently tumbling waterfalls, their peaks veiled in wispy white clouds. We spent the entire day marvelling at this glorious gift from nature.
Fiordland National Park stretches from Martins Bay in the north to Te Waewae Bay in the south. It is an ancient place, formed 500 million years ago, replete now with lakes and bird and wild life. You don't want to speak in the face of such spectacular beauty. Even though there were 2,700 passengers on board, most on the decks with snapping cameras, it was quiet and ethereal throughout the day of spectacular scenic cruising.
Emerald Princess is big. She has space enough for all passengers to move easily around her 16 decks visiting some of the 11 restaurants and nine bars, relaxing in lounges, browsing the glamorous shops. Most passengers arm themselves with the Princess Patter newsletter filled with an itinerary of activities that requires some planning if you want to fit in even half the suggestions.
You might want to pass on the line-dancing for the Zumba class, or make the most of the complimentary champagne at the art auction, or watch the ice-carving on the pool deck before a game of trivia in the lounge, and later a show in the theatre. Then there is the one thing we all love about cruising: eating.
Emerald Princess is the chosen ship for culinary super-star Curtis Stone's first at-sea restaurant - Share by Curtis Stone. While you would have to wait up to five months for a reservation at his LA restaurant, on board Emerald Princess, just dial the concierge and you're in that evening. The elegant restaurant is all about laid-back style with glass bell lights hanging over timber tables and a striking stained glass panel that few can resist photographing. Personal memorabilia from Curtis Stone's home is dotted around the restaurant, but nothing detracts from the food. Six sublime courses take you from a charcuterie experience through exquisite salads and daring pastas, on to something from the sea (butter poached lobster...oh, my) and then from the land (duck leg confit, yes please) and finally to decadent desserts. A modest charge applies for specialty restaurants but the essential buffet experience works for most. If you want to be a little bit posh, any-time dining in the swish Botticelli Dining Room is where you are served graciously, and it's the place to make new friends.
At Crown Grill the steaks range from Flintstone-size to a 'delicate' 800 gram fillet mignon. You chose your meat from a display, it is cooked perfectly to your taste and comes with side dishes so generous you'll waddle out. A ploughman's lunch in the Salty Dog Pub makes you feel British, and Prego Pizzeria on the pool deck delivers delicious thin-crusted pizzas, perfect if you don't want to leave your pool-side spot.
It is said you gain half a kilo a day when cruising. Understandable, so hit the fitness centre, or better still, the promenade deck for six invigorating laps and you'll be right.