For those of you who’ve never cruised before, there’s nothing quite like arriving at the passenger terminal and seeing that big, beautiful ship in all its glory. Although the Dawn Princess is not a large boat by today’s standards, she looks massive when you’re standing next to her on Circular Quay, Sydney. We arrived at around 8am…five hours early for our scheduled boarding time, but not too early to drop off our bags and take a wander around Circular Quay and The Rocks while we eagerly awaited embarkation.
Luckily for us, we managed to get on board an hour early, and so hit the buffet for some lunch before heading to our cabin for a much needed nap! I’m not going to lie…an interior cabin is small, and has no window. However, when it’s in the order of $1000 per person cheaper than an ocean view room, you question just how much time you’re going to spend in there, and the answer for us is always, not enough to warrant the extra expense! There’s too much to do on board to be holed up in your cabin all day!
Dinner in the Dining Room is, we think, a highlight of cruising. Silver service, excellent food, and luckily for us, fantastic company. The first night is always a little awkward, meeting the people you’re going to be having dinner with for the duration of your holiday. What if you don’t get along? What if they’re the sort of people that complain about every little thing? What if they chew with their mouths open? Fear not, because the maître d is more than happy to move you to another table or even to the other dining room if you wish! There’s two dining rooms on Dawn Princess (as on most cruise ships), which hold approximately 400 people each in a sitting, and there’s two dinner sittings a night. And the food! It boggles the mind to think that the galley can serve so many meals in such a short time, and never once was there something to complain about. The desserts were most definitely a favourite, as the scales can attest to.
After dinner, we liked to enjoy the nightly show in the Princess Theatre. We were blessed with some amazing performers on this cruise, from comedian Jeff Green, to violinist extraordinaire Christopher Watkins. Todd Adamson from the US production of We Will Rock You, and our personal favourite, variety performer Danny Elliott who plays 15 different instruments including bagpipes, banjo, pan flute, didgeridoo, piano, guitar and almost everything in between. AND he sings and tap dances!
Occasionally we decided to do something different than the theatre, and one night we went out on deck for Movies Under the Stars. The deck chairs are covered with special comfy cushions, complete with a pillow and blanket, and the bar staff bring drinks and popcorn. On several occasions we (and by we, I mean me!) braved karaoke in the Jammers Nightclub, and once or twice we were convinced to go to the Wheelhouse Bar and dance to ship band Mosaic (from the Caribbean island of Santa Lucia). The piano bar, Crooners, was good for an old fashioned sing along, as long as you didn’t listen too closely to the lounge performer who appeared to be tone deaf! That didn’t stop the passengers making use of the dance floor, though. A lot of them seemed to like him! We even visited the Casino a couple of times.
Then there’s the destinations. This itinerary took us first to Brisbane, which really turned on the beautiful weather after two rainy days at sea.
Two sea days later, and we found ourselves in Cairns. We took a ship organised tour to the village of Kuranda, nestled in the rainforest of the Kuranda Range. Our coach driver impressed us with lots of local information on the way up, and then we had some time to wander around in the local markets before riding the skyrail back down the mountain. We stopped at Barron Falls, which although not gushing the way it had been six weeks earlier, was still a spectacular sight. This was our first visit to a rainforest, and we were amazed at just how thick the vegetation was. From our gondola above the tree tops, we couldn’t see the forest floor at all!
Alotau, in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea, was our next stop, and something of an eye opener. If you have an aversion to heat and dirt, I don’t recommend it. We took a tour in the afternoon, which visited the sites of significance for the Battle of Milne Bay: a pivotal victory against the Japanese during WWII. Prior to this, the Japanese had not been defeated, and many were beginning to believe that they were unbeatable. The ANZACs put a big dent in the Japanese invasion plans for Australia. Despite not being particularly taken with the location, we found the history of the area fascinating.
As much as we like visiting new and exotic places, for us the sea days are at least as enjoyable, if not more so. We spent many an hour lying by the pool working on our tans, and many more in one of the adult-only hot tubs at the stern of the ship, mock-tail in hand. If we tired of lying around relaxing, we would go to an art auction, or off to learn to jive in dance class. There was trivia and bingo, and an assortment of self-improvement seminars – everything from ‘lose that belly fat’ (on a cruise? Sure……) to ‘the power of meditation’. The table tennis competition was a favourite for Darryl, and although we didn’t try it out, the water volleyball looked like a lot of fun.
Day 11 saw us in Darwin, which was actually very lovely. For some reason, I didn’t expect it to be. We got together with two of our dinner mates, and shared a taxi to the Darwin Military Museum. We very much enjoyed the Defending Darwin Experience: an interactive display about the Japanese bombing of Darwin on the 19th of February, 1942. The museum has an impressive display of artefacts from the war and a collection of firearms that made Darryl drool! This was another day we planned to make good use of the pool when we got back to the ship. Top end weather was taking some getting used to!
The next stop on our itinerary was scenic cruising along the Kimberly Coast. This was something we’d really been looking forward to. I must admit to being somewhat dismayed when I learned we’d have to be up at 5.30am to fully appreciate it, but dragging ourselves out of bed at stupid-o’clock was absolutely worth it. At around 3.30am, the Dawn Princess pulled into Prince Frederick Harbour, at the southern end of York Sound. She remained stationary until around 6am, allowing us to marvel at the sight of the sun rising over the red, scrubby cliffs which are a feature of the harbour. The ship then performed a 180 degree turn before slowly sailing west, navigating her way through numerous islands dotted throughout the Sound. A specialist Kimberly pilot was brought on board in Darwin to perform this task, as it can be quite tricky for such a large ship.
Broome was next, and although we opted not to take a ship run tour, we did ride the shuttle bus into town for a bit of a look. There was a pop-up market where we were dropped off, and most of the stalls were all about pearls. We wandered through Chinatown, and checked out the Pearl Luggers Museum. We took a bus out to Cable Beach, and although it was closed to swimmers due to a crocodile sighting earlier in the day, we enjoyed walking along its vastness, fascinated by the sand patterns which looked like fireworks all over the beach. Curious about how and why they were there, I got chatting to the lifeguards on duty, and found out the small balls of sand are made by tiny ghost crabs as they forage for algae. We enjoyed an ice cream on the foreshore before heading back to the ship for dinner. Due to the tides, we didn’t set sail from Broome until 10pm, which gave many passengers the opportunity to take a sunset camel ride along Cable Beach.
Our second last night on board was one of our two formal nights. In order to have dinner in the dining room, gentlemen are expected to wear a suit and tie, and ladies a gown, cocktail dress, or pant suit. We really love formal night, and the ship’s photographers are set up in numerous locations around the atrium to take photos of you in all of your finery. It’s a wonderful way to have formal photos done without the cost of a sitting at a studio. Don’t get me wrong – the photos are not cheap at $25 each, however there’s no obligation to buy them, and as always, we were pleasantly surprised at how well they turned out (obviously the photographers used a GREAT filter!). Dinner was followed by a balloon-drop party in the atrium, which turned out to be a lot of fun.
Geraldton was our last port of call, and as we’ve been there numerous times, we opted to stay on board and enjoy what felt like an almost empty ship. We sat in one of the hot tubs on the pool deck and watched the football on the big screen, soaking up as many rays as we could before arriving back in Fremantle the next day. One of us came back as brown as a berry – the other slightly less white than before!
It’s always sad when a cruise comes to an end, especially this one as it was the penultimate voyage for Dawn Princess, which is being sold off to P&O. We’d become quite close with a number of other passengers, and even several of the staff members now seemed like friends. The ship felt like home! We did consider just not disembarking, but apparently that’s frowned upon by the cruise line, plus they’d gone and sold our cabin to someone else!
Although not our first cruise, this was the longest, and possibly the most enjoyable so far. I can imagine that the Indian Ocean would be difficult for some cruisers, as it’s notorious for having big swell. Once we started down the west coast, the boat was pitching (moving forwards and backwards) quite a lot. We actually love the movement of the ship. It makes simply walking more fun, and there’s nothing like being gently rocked to sleep. For me, I never sleep as well at home as I do on a cruise ship! And no, it’s not because of a food coma! This particular itinerary is very popular with the over 80 crowd, as it stays primarily in Australian waters (which means access to Medicare at most ports). We absolutely love cruising, and can’t recommend it enough as the most relaxing holiday you will ever take. Where else can you get your travel, accommodation, food and entertainment all included in the up-front price? Plus, you only unpack once, even though you visit lots of different places. Trust me when I tell you that you’ll never be as well looked after anywhere else as you are on a cruise ship.
Will we go cruising again? Absolutely…in 119 days, to be exact. But who’s counting?
Article by L.Gaull