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On board Australia’s newest cruise ship: Pacific Aria

P&O pulled out all stops to celebrate the introduction of the Pacific Aria in Sydney.

P&O pulled out all stops to celebrate the introduction of the Pacific Aria in Sydney.

Without getting too salty, losing your ‘virginity’ (cruise virginity that is) is apparently quite the big deal.

Indeed, it’s clear there are two types of people on any cruise. Those who have, and those who have not sailed the high seas.

Those who know the difference between a boat and a ship, for example. Or those who can stroll from starboard to port without a second thought.

Having never toyed with the idea of taking a cruise until joining the maiden voyage of one of P&O’s newest two ships, Pacific Aria, in November, I was firmly in the have-nots.

“Is this your first time?” more seasoned cruisers inquired, knowing looks on their faces. One older man and his wife were particularly buoyant, ratcheting up their 13th cruise this year.

My last holiday was a two-week surf camp in a tiny town in Indonesia earlier in 2015, the only similarity being that there were vessels, bathers and bikinis involved.

So it was with some trepidation that I boarded the Aria at Sydney’s Circular Quay, the ship’s huge hulk almost dwarfing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Spacious rooms await on the Pacific Aria.

Pacific Aria

Spacious rooms await on the Pacific Aria.

What on earth was this cruise – a two-night taste test from Sydney to Brisbane – going to be like? Would it be full of golden oldies and non-stop bingo and eating?

Sleeping on the high seas.

Pacific Aria

Sleeping on the high seas.

And how long would I last until cabin fever – or worse, seasickness – struck with a vengeance?

Once my friend and I were installed in our suite, we followed our rumbling stomachs straight to The Pantry – a kind of upmarket food court with lush chairs and sea views. The concept of the buffet is, apparently, dead in the water.

Likewise, the ship’s stylish resort-style pool deck provided a welcome surprise.

“Is it too early for a cocktail?” my friend asked around 2pm, soaking up the Sydney sun on poolside loungers. “Definitely not,” I answered, the old Fairstar the Fun Ship jingle dancing its way through my head. “Let’s do it.” Things had begun well.

Live music is a key ingredient of the refurbished Pacific Aria, and later that day, its maiden voyage was marked in fine style as Jessica Mauboy and other artists sang on a poolside stage for the company’s ‘Five Ship Spectacular’ – P&O’s expanded fleet of five meeting in Sydney Harbour for the first time.

Even without the Moet & Chandon we’d been supping in one of the ship’s schmickest bars, it would have been a spectacular night. Parked – sorry docked – beside the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Opera House to our right and fireworks lighting up the night sky, I felt like I’d landed front and centre in a high-quality TV commercial touting Australia. Pretty breathtaking.

Dining with a difference.

Pacific Aria

Dining with a difference.

As the fireworks finished fizzing above the Opera House, it was time to get serious about this sailing caper, our ship lightly rumbling out of Sydney Harbour towards Queensland, our oh-so-comfortable beds calling. There’s something about the gentle rolling of the ship that makes for a solid slumber – my shipmate reporting it as the best night’s sleep she’d ever had.

Day 2 and it was time for a very welcome hot stone massage. The price list was a little shocking, but the full appointment book pointed to the fact that very few passengers cared.

Next up, already soothed into maximum floppiness, I joined my friend in the retreat room – along with two other robed-up souls gazing out to sea. Lying on heated recliner chairs, we finished off with a Jacuzzi and a spot of cleansing in the steam room.

Of course, a person needs to eat (chances of starvation aboard a cruise ship are nil), and tonight’s dinner was to be at the Dragon Lady, a modern Asian restaurant with sunken tables and dim lighting. After refreshing with a seasonal pear, orange and ginger juice shooter, we began the not-so-taxing task of working our way through the menu.

It was difficult to know what to try first: the steamed edamame pods, the oriental spiced duck samosas, soft shell crab, slow-cooked beef cheeks or the many other oriental offerings. So we indulged in them all, finishing off with a dark chocolate cake and a whisky and wasabi brulee. Was this really a cruise ship?

The next morning, after two nights at sea that included a quirky stage show, plenty of eating, brisk walks around the deck, bubbles galore, laughter and no bingo whatsoever, it was time to walk the gangplank (I mean, exit via the gangway).

“So, what do you think, are you now ‘Cruiselings’?” our friendly host asked as we prepared to become landlubbers once more.

“Hmm, I’m not sure,” I replied. It had been fun, interesting and spectacular, but perhaps not really my usual style of holiday.

However, one should never say never – after all, one million Australians take a cruise every year, many of them return customers.

“Maybe in a few years,” I settle on, rolling my carry-on bag back on to solid ground. First I needed to go for a big old walk to wear off all the fun and frivolity.

CRUISING THERE: Pacific Aria is one of P&O Cruises’ two new ships. In 2016, it will cruise from Brisbane and Sydney, offering themed short breaks, along with Australian getaways, Pacific Island holidays and trips to Papua New Guinea.

A three-night, round trip, comedy-themed sea break departs Sydney on June 3, starting from $426 per person, quad share, a balcony priced from $907 per person twin share and a suite priced from $1174 per person twin share. (Prices valid until February 25, 2016)

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