Sea Change

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ms Volendam, Holland America Line cruise ship
It’s 7.27am and against a breezy, north easterly wind and a silver sky, the Holland America Line (HAL) ship, ms Volendam, docks at Napier, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand. Leaving Sydney eight days ago, this is the ship’s fourth shore visit since crossing the Tasman.
Half way through a 14-day New Zealand and Australia cruise, (docking at Oban, Port Chalmers, Akaroa, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland) the thrill of being at sea, the sense of adventure and the lovely luxury of the ship is hard to contain. With its Dutch seafaring tradition, stepping on board this midsized ship is like entering a time-shell where all sense of time and the outside world is blissfully lost. The shock of the old is everywhere. Grand trimmings, soft tapestries, impressive artwork and big vases of fresh flowers deck the interior spaces. And we are spoiled by good old fashioned, impeccable service from an attentive crew of more than 600 who clearly love their jobs. Not a party ship, the atmosphere is gracious, carefree and safe.
Two of the most important crew members happen to be Queenslanders. David Griffiths, 28, the cruise director is from Caboolture and executive chef (of the 15 ship HAL fleet), Troy Wastell, 37, is from Rockhampton. Despite overseeing production of around 11,000 meals a day on 15 ships, training staff and keeping standards, Troy’s unflurried, good-fun manner contradicts the enormity of his job. Moving from ship to ship, he travels the world. Joining our table for dinner at the signature restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill, for ‘An Evening at Le Cirque’ created by master chef Rudi Sodamin and Le Cirque’s executive chef Craig Hopson, Troy says this night is a highlight on many HAL cruises. “Le Cirque is a well known New York restaurant.” He suggests what to order. “Go for the poached lobster with haricot vert and citrus appetiser, the butternut squash with huckleberries soup and the rack of lamb. And you should try the crème brulee Le Cirque – it’s famous.” This man has come a long way since training at Picinos in Rockhampton.

We frequent the main dining room, the Rotterdam, also serving five-course dinners, visit the Lido Restaurant for a casual dining option, the Canaletto for a little bit of Italy and we like The Terrace Grill for an alfresco, poolside lunch.

Travelling along the east coast, we wake up in a new port each morning. Before long some passengers will scamper down the gangway to explore Napier, a city crushed by an earthquake in 1931 and rebuilt in amazing Art Deco design. Some have booked one of the many shore excursions offered at each port call. Others will stay on board for an unhurried breakfast and make the most of the sunlit day by reclining by the pool. The days are as busy or as relaxing as we choose. Some lay by the pool, doze while reading, play bridge, visit the library, join a trivia team, a photography class or a seminar or maybe visit a winery or a golf course onshore. The more active among us join life-stylist Kristy for yoga or aqua aerobics, work out in the fully equipped gym and when ashore, the madcap adventurers are jet boating, kayaking, hiking, sailing on a grand prix yacht or jumping off Auckland’s skytower.
The Volendam carries 1400 passengers. Our spacious state room with ample storage has a sea view (I’m travelling with my 13-year-old daughter, Alice) and to our delight the bathroom has a shower and bath combination. Each night we arrive back in excited expectancy to see what Ari, our steward, has left for us. He straightens things up, makes a towel animal (so far we’ve had a swan, a bear, a monkey and an elephant), fills the ice bucket, provides fresh linens, turns down our beds, leaves the next day’s schedule and places chocolates on our pillows.
Turning 13 onboard, Alice joined the teenagers’ club. With HAL’s youth coordinator Collette, supervising, Alice and her new friends have plenty of cool activities to take part in. Their favourite pastime is hanging out in ‘the loft.’ Complete with leather lounges, high tech gear, portholes ? it’s their own place. In between cooking classes, swimming, karaoke, shore excursions and catching up with parents, they play cards or board games, watch movies and get to know each other better over tacos, ice-cream, pizza and sandwiches made to order. On her birthday night, our second formal dinner night, the chef made Alice an enormous birthday cake – which she later raced up to the loft.
Luckily I had plenty to do in Alice’s absence – like discovering an aroma-spa seaweed wrap, long lunches with great company, a sapphire sea martini in an ocean view piano bar, invigorating walks around the deck, taking in a show, photographing stunning New Zealand, swooning over duty free jewellery and learning how to make lamingtons.
With a fleet of 15, HAL has two ships (Volendam and Oosterdam) in the Australasian region for the first time. Offering affordable cruises the two will sail around Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific, visiting more than 50 ports.
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