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After a few choppy waves at the outset, Catherine and Alec Beattie experience calm seas and happy cruising on a voyage from exotic Singapore to exciting Sydney.  According to top chef Gary Rhodes, the secret of a great crème brulee is to use white caster sugar to make the...

A Top Cruise Down Under

After a few choppy waves at the outset, Catherine and Alec Beattie experience calm seas and happy cruising on a voyage from exotic Singapore to exciting Sydney. 

According to top chef Gary Rhodes, the secret of a great crème brulee is to use white caster sugar to make the crunchy topping – it heats quicker and caramelises better than Demerara or granulated sugar. 

We’re on the P&O cruise ship Arcadia where it’s standing room only at the personable chef’s cookery demonstration in the Palladium theatre. With the stage transformed into a kitchen and large screens capturing his every move, Gary effortlessly produces a three-course feast as he entertains us with cooking tips and anecdotes from his career as a professional chef. 

Gary’s talk is just one of many passenger events on our two-week cruise from Singapore to Sydney – part of Arcadia’s 101-night Grand Voyage from Southampton, an epic journey visiting 39 ports in 19 countries and lasting from January to April. Some lucky passengers are doing the entire voyage, while others, like us, have joined for one or more legs of the trip.

It’s hardly the most auspicious start to our holiday – tropical downpours and no sign of Arcadia at the passenger terminal. Panic! Did we get the date wrong? Has she sailed without us? It turns out that Arcadia is berthed at the Pasir Panjang container terminal, a few miles away and passengers are being transferred by shuttle bus. Even from a distance (and in the rain) Arcadia is a beautiful sight. Berthed alongside tall gantry cranes loading cargo into the hulls of container ships, she’s a vision of sleek white elegance amid her industrial surroundings. 

Check-in is carried out in tents on the quayside. Our cruise cards are quickly issued and we are directed to a small gangway to join the ship. We board and find ourselves in a long queue of passengers returning from shopping trips and sullen faced security staff making checks and scanning hand luggage and packages. No crewmember is around to welcome us on board or to help us locate our cabin. 

After our palatial room at the magnificent Grand Hyatt in Singapore, our cabin seems small and the green and brown décor uninspiring. 

But it is well designed, clean and comfortable with adequate wardrobe space, a two-seater sofa and small table, flat screen TV, tea /coffee making facilities and a large double bed with room underneath for our luggage. There’s a bath and a shower and Temple Spa toiletries, and best of all, floor to ceiling windows that open out onto a private balcony with a small table and chairs. 

The luggage arrives promptly, so we unpack then take an exploratory walk. A sign for afternoon tea outside one of the restaurants reminds us that we haven’t eaten since breakfast, so in we go. A waiter in white gloves seats us at table occupied by another couple. This seems odd, as the dining room is almost deserted and there are lots of empty tables. ‘Sorry, there must be some mistake,’ we say, as he disappears to fetch our tea. But the couple smile and explain that sharing tables is the usual practice at teatime. Two hours and several refilled teapots later, we are still chatting to our new friends and the waiters are asking us to leave so they can set the tables for dinner. 

We depart Singapore’s steamy heat at midnight. By the time we are tucking into a buffet breakfast the next morning, we have crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere and are in the Java Sea, separating the Indonesian islands of Sumatera, Java and Kalimantan (Borneo). When Arcadia transits the Lombok Straits into the Indian Ocean, we are just four nautical miles from Bali, but miss seeing the exotic island because it’s 2.30am and we’re fast asleep. We have a further four sea days until our first port of call, Freemantle in Western Australia. 

As cruise first timers, we are impressed with the numerous amenities on board: 11 decks overall, a central atrium spanning three decks, six dining venues including the stylish Arcadian Rhodes, 14 bars, comfortable lounges, glass fronted external lifts with dramatic sea views, spacious decks with sun loungers, a library with the latest best sellers and internet access and a well-stocked shopping arcade. We can dance into the early hours, try our luck on the gaming tables, watch a movie or take in one of the shows in the Palladium, Arcadia’s three-tier theatre. 

The main Meridian restaurant is on two levels linked with a spiral staircase. It has striking glass chandeliers and the walls are decorated with modern British artwork. We eat here most evening and share a table with two other couples. They rarely join us, so we have dinner à deux most evenings, served by Menino and Kumar, our Indian waiters. The tasty six-course menus offer traditional British cuisine with a choice of imaginative starters, main courses and desserts. On formal nights, when passengers dress up in their finery, the tiered, softly lit restaurant has a tangible festive ambience. 

A day into the cruise, Alec asks the ship’s doctor for some medication. He’d had food poisoning in Singapore after eating some dodgy seafood and is still feeling tired and dehydrated. He is surprised to be treated as having norovirus, a temporary but highly contagious form of gastroenteritis that spreads rapidly in confined areas like cruise ships. He is confined to our cabin for 36 hours and threatened with removal from the ship if he doesn’t comply (random phone checks are made daily). Medication and a light diet are prescribed, our stateroom sanitised and Alec’s laundry taken away each day and washed separately. Although I share the cabin, I am free to come and go as usual. Fortunately, Alec is not suffering from norovirus and is fully recovered by the time his quarantine ends. 

With tempting food available 24-hours a day, we expend the extra calories by using the stairs instead of the lifts and taking brisk walks around the promenade deck after dinner. There are ample exercise opportunities – swimming in two heated pools (one with a retractable roof for all weather use), table tennis, yoga, dancing and exercise classes and much more. In the light and airy gym on the Lido deck, fitness trainers are on hand to devise workout programmes and there’s also a Kinesis gym and a Sports deck for practising golf swings or tennis serves. 

If my weakness for afternoon tea piles on the pounds, I can try a slimming treatment in the Oasis Spa – lymphatic drainage massage or a seaweed wrap should firm up the flab. The spa also offers signature spa rituals, couples treatments, individual massages, mud therapies, body scrubs and speciality facials. Men’s treatments, medi-spa therapies like acupuncture, hairdressing and beauty services are also available. 

For an additional charge, you can access the adjoining thermal suite, which boasts a large hydrotherapy pool with invigorating water jets, steam rooms scented with essential oils, aromatic experience showers, a gentle sauna and heated ceramic beds placed in front of floor to ceiling windows. It’s a warm and peaceful area, perfect for whiling away an hour or two before and after a treatment to prolong the beneficial effects. 

Treatment rooms are small but cosy and some have large windows so you can gaze out at the ocean while being pampered. I try several treatments during the cruise – albeit not slimming wraps – and all are of an excellent standard, carried out by friendly and professional therapists. My feet are buffed and beautifully polished (luxury pedicure with Beverley) and my skin cleansed, exfoliated and rejuvenated (Oxyjet Star facial with Marie). I also have a hot stone massage during a heavy sea swell. When Mother Nature rocks the boat, the treatment is even more relaxing than usual. 

Life on board evolves into a pleasantly relaxed routine, punctuated by mealtimes and a plethora of activities. With nine sea days on our 14-night cruise, there’s time to appreciate the marine environment as we watch the constantly changing seascapes, marvel at the wingspans of albatrosses and the antics of dolphins and flying fish. We access email to keep in touch with family and friends back home, listen to celebrity speakers and attend talks and seminars on a diverse range of topics. After dinner we usually take in one of the spectacular evening shows with the talented Headliners performing their dazzling dance routines. We also take a behind the scenes tour of Arcadia’s vast gleaming galleys, where Executive Chef Trevor Connolly and his team prepare unbelievable amounts of food every day for Arcadia’s 3000 hungry passengers and crew. 

One afternoon, hairdresser Emily gives a talk and asks me to be her ‘model’ so she can demonstrate how to create different styles with hair straighteners. My hair looks unusually good at the Commodore’s cocktail party that evening! Another interesting seminar is given by Dr Sun, a Chinese acupuncturist, who explains how this ancient therapy can help alleviate chronic conditions like back pain. Alec books a treatment with Dr Sun and I go along to watch. After a short consultation, Dr Sun begins by inserting about 20 ultra-fine needles into Alec’s lower spine, leg and ankle. She leaves the room for several minutes. On her return, she tweaks the needles then pushes a long needle deep into Alec’s right buttock – he doesn’t even flinch! After just two acupuncture sessions, he is free of the sciatic pain that has plagued him for months and can manage without painkillers. 

One of the joys of cruising is exploring new destinations without the hassle of packing and unpacking. We sign up for the excellent shore excursions arranged at each port. These are conducted by knowledgeable local guides who tell us fascinating facts about Australian history and culture. We also see some of the tourist attractions of the coastal cities of Freemantle, Perth, Albany, Adelaide and Melbourne. 

We paddle in the Indian Ocean at Perth’s Cottesloe Beach; sample Aussie wines and walk around historic Albany; tour colonial Adelaide and view the city panorama from the heights of the Mount Lofty Lookout. In Melbourne we visit the colourful Fitzroy Gardens, make a wish at the magical Fairies Tree and look around Cook’s Cottage, the family home of Captain James Cook, the famous English navigator who explored the southern hemisphere and ‘discovered’ the east coast of Australia. The two-storey brick cottage and adjoining stable were shipped over piece by piece from their original location in the north of England. We also visit Eureka Skydeck 88, one of Melbourne’s newer attractions – the 92-storey tower is one of the tallest apartment building in the world. Fast lifts transport us to the Skydeck on Level 88 in a mere 40 seconds, from where we enjoy incredible 360º views through floor to ceiling glass windows. 

Memorably, Arcadia ‘saves the best ‘til last’ with her triumphant arrival in Sydney on an overcast February evening. Passengers and crew line her decks as she leaves the Pacific and sails through the North and South Heads into Sydney Harbour. She is welcomed by a flotilla of small vessels and yachts, helicopters circling overhead and a fireboat spewing water plumes into the air. With the iconic Harbour Bridge in full view, Arcadia passes the famous Opera House before berthing at the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. It is an emotional and spectacular finale to our first cruising experience. 

Arcadia cruises from Sydney to Singapore in March 2012 – calling at most of the ports described and also at Bali in Indonesia. Prices from £2399 per person sharing an inside cabin or from £2936 per person sharing a cabin with balcony. Prices include flights and fuel charge. On board credit £35 per person.The above cruise is part of Arcadia’s 109-night Grand Odyssey departing Southampton on Monday January 9 2012. Prices for the whole voyage from £11081 per person including £200 fuel charge with £750 per person on board credit.Charges for use of Arcadia’s thermal suite with hydropool:
20-day pass £150 per person.
10-day pass £100 per person or £150 per couple.
5-day pass £75 per person or £100 per couple.
3-day pass £50per person.
1-day pass £20 per person.

To book or for further information visit Tel: 0845 6780014

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