In November 2022, my friend Heather introduced me to the joys of cruising holidays. We went on a short cruise two-night cruise from Sydney and disembarked at our home port, Melbourne. Recently, Heather invited me to go on another ‘mini cruise’ with her and of course I agreed. Here’s my brief account of our voyage. I couldn’t resist adding a bit of pirate jargon.
Cruise Day 1 – Tuesday, 28 March 2023. Embarkation in Port Melbourne.
Ahoy me hearties! We set sail at 5 pm on smooth seas. Heather was feeling as low as a sunken treasure chest because Tiger, her beloved cat, had passed away only two days prior to the cruise. There was only one thing to do and that was to head straight for the cocktail bar. The cocktails took the edge off Heather’s pain and in no time, we were laughing about nothing in particular. Yo, ho, ho.
Next up, it was time to explore the ship and find our cabin. Heather, an experienced seadog, led us through a labyrinth of corridors, up staircases, and more staircases, weaving right and left and finally we were standing outside our stateroom. As a novice sailor on board this vessel, I discovered stateroom is a fancy word for cabin used on cruise ships. For some unknown reason, we had been upgraded to a disabled cabin, er stateroom. But we were happy with that. After all, it was spacious with a double bed each and double the floor space of a normal room. Heather, the innovative type, used the shower seat for a table to put her toiletries on.
The Dining Room
All this exploring gave us a hearty appetite so naturally the dining room was next on the agenda. We opted for a shared table and ended up at a table for ten. The large table meant we were a good 1.5 metres away from the folks opposite, but we weren’t there to social distance – we were there to make new friends. Not only that, yelling across the table to be friendly and inclusive wasn’t good for the digestion. So as not to be too unrefined we only spoke to the diners seated on either side of us. After our first dinner, Heather made a mental note for our future on board dining experiences. Shared table for six, no more. That included her and me of course.
Due to my vision loss, we decided to move around on the ship in single file. This worked well because Heather already had a good knowledge of the location of the most important venues. Bars, dining rooms, buffets, showrooms, shops and trivia stops. So I scampered along behind her carrying my white cane. Single file worked really well. At least for me anyway! People gave me a wide berth when they saw the cane coming towards them.
Before we knew it, it was 7:30 PM and time to head to the Princess Theatre to settle in for our first show of the evening. Aye, this was right up my alley. The performer, Katei, as in g’day Katei was a classically trained rock violinist with an electrifying stage presence. He was an interesting mix of cultures and musical genres that he blended to create a unique sound. Katei was not only a true virtuoso, but he knew how to make his audience laugh raucously as well. Some people just have it all ….
After Katei’s show, we settled in for a bit of comedy at the Vista Lounge. Just when we thought we couldn’t laugh anymore, Jeff Green, the comedian emerged on stage from behind the curtains. This joker had the audience howling with laughter from the moment he opened his mouth until his show ended. That’s when he paused to take a breath.
Cruise Day 2 – Wednesday 29, March 2023. At sea.
After another good night’s sleep, we awoke to the sounds of a crew member knocking on our door. It was early, but he was most welcome. After all, he was delivering a freshly brewed pot of coffee that Heather had ordered the night before. I was beginning to understand why Heather spent most of her holidays cruising on the oceans. It was an oh, so civilised way to have a holiday. With that thought in mind, we headed down to the buffet.
Breakfast in the Buffet – What a Feast!
The food options in the boo-fay were endless. A fry-up, pastry items, fruit- dried or fresh, nuts, yoghurt, granola, cereal, toast, spreads, smoothies, juice. But you could also get curries, rice cooked in a variety of ways, carved roast meats, roast and steamed vegetables, salads and more! And this was all available even at breakfast. The buffet was open early in the morning for early risers and didn’t close until late at night so there was no chance of going hungry. Gotta love the Grand Princess.
Lunch and Dinner
The Da Vinci Dining Room was our eating place of choice for lunch and dinner most days. Heather always knew what she was doing and asked for a shared table for six – no more. We had great conversations, sipped on amazing wines and ate delicious food all served up by very handsome waiters. Strange, but there were no women serving (working at all) in the dining room. Just an observation, didn’t bother me at all. In retrospect, it wouldn’t seem appropriate for a female waiter (or is it still waitress?) to serenade all the guests at the table. Unlike Kevin, from the Phillipines who burst into song as he delivered food and drink to our table. It seemed completely normal.
Lunch and Dinner
The trivia shows had great names. Let’s get quizzical, Let’s quiz again, oh and err, Where in the World? We did them all. One before lunch, two between lunch and dinner and to finish off another fine day, there was a late-night Music Quiz. All these quizzes quenched Heather’s thirst for competition. She put me to shame because she knew most of the answers while I struggled to get any. I had answers for sure, but they were the wrong ones. I guess I had my mind on the Bible Study Group in the Wedding Chapel and spent a lot of time considering whether to go or not.
Cruise Day 3 – Thursday 30, March 2023. Eden.
During the early hours of the morning, the ship berthed in Eden, a small port on the south coast of New South Wales. After our usual breakfast in the buffet, it was time to grab the shopping bags, change our sea legs to our land legs and walk across the gang plank. We hadn’t walked far when we came to a small craft market that was strategically placed on the wharf to attract the passengers from the ship. Heather managed to do the whole market while I was still stuck at the first stall with the man who was demonstrating his hand-crafted bird whistles. Sucked in.
My first purchase on land??
It was hard to get away from Bird Whistle Man until I parted with $19 for a six pack of whistles and a set of instructions (verbal and written) on blowing techniques.
“Use this one and blow like this for a kookaburra”.
“Try this one for a magpie”.
“Put your lips together, squeeze and blow.”
“And then blow like this in the red whistle for a New Holland honey eater”.
“Got it and thank you”, I said as a clutched the pack of whistles and scrambled after Heather.
With a quick pace and steady legs, we left the market and continued up the hill towards the township of Eden. Eden had always been a popular port stop for cruise ships. Heather was a regular visitor to Eden due to her extensive cruise history, so she knew the town well. She pre-warned me the hill was tough, but not tough enough for the shuttle bus. That was only for old people. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we paused at a couple of lookouts on the way to get our breath and take photos.
What can I buy next?
It wasn’t long before the shops came into view. Heather was in the market for new shoes. Well, what a surprise! The first shop we stumbled across was a shoe shop that just happened to sell bags as well. In we went and it wasn’t long before we came out; Heather with a pair of shoes and me with a new handbag.
Next, we checked out the clothes shop that Heather had raved about and never missed on a port stop in Eden. This shop had dressed Heather and her sister on many occasions over the years. Naturally she was eager to bag another bargain or two. I was getting excited too as we got closer and the ‘everything under $10’ rack that Heather had described many times, stood outside on the street like a beacon. We rummaged through the rack. Nah, nah, looks interesting but nah, can’t see me in that, nah, nah, the colours aren’t right, nah, nah.
Food, drink and trivia
We went inside the shop and neither of us could find a single rag we couldn’t live without. It was a bit disappointing. But nothing an extra hot, three-quarter strength coffee and a regular temperature soy milk flat white coffee at the cafe next door couldn’t fix. We followed that up with a pizza chaser for lunch onboard at Alfredo’s Pizzeria.
To top that, trivia was on again in the afternoon in the Explorer’s Lounge, Deck 7 Midship. Forward, Aft, Midship. I was learning the ship’s terminology thanks to Heather. My understanding was Forward means go that way, Aft means go the other way and Midship means go somewhere in the middle. But still I was clueless really but thankfully Heather led the way to wherever we had to go and I scrambled along behind her.
Once again Heather showed that she’s full of random facts and useless information as she mastered all things trivial in the Couch Potato Quiz followed by Let’s Quiz again. I was excellent at knowing the answer after the actual answer had been given. Oh, I knew that. Why didn’t I think of that? Too slow. What’s wrong with my brain?
Last dinner on board the Grand Princess – Bon appétit!
Dinner never failed to disappoint. This one was particularly good because it had a French theme. J’adore French food. Gastropods, amphibians, raw mince, eggs. Not so sure if everyone had the same feeling but there was plenty of other food to choose from on the menu. But for me, it was escargot followed by chateaubriand and for desert, bombe Alaska washed down with a glass of wine. Delicieux.
We lingered longer than usual over dinner because we were enjoying the company of the other diners at our table. An elderly mother and daughter from country Victoria who were into car racing and a husband and wife from New South Wales who were into cruising, kept us captivated with their stories.
The parade of the Bombe Alaskas
The surprise parade of the Bombe Alaskas compensated for lingering longer at dinner and missing Katei’s final performance. Suddenly, the lights were dimmed and shiploads of waiters appeared in white uniforms, black vests and tall chef hats. Each waiter had a flaming bombe Alaska balanced on one hand whilst swinging a napkin high above head level with the other. All the diners stood up and started cheering and swinging their own table napkins whilst clapping in time to the music.
After all this excitement, we scurried off to watch Jeff Green’s final performance in the Vista Lounge. Aft, midship, forward, deck. I was still clueless about where to go but Heather was onto it as usual. We were seated just in time to see Jeff Green break through the stage curtains and deliver his first joke.
There was only one thing left to do on this final night of the cruise. Trivia – what else? The trivia theme was party music. After a couple of questions and realising this was not really our thing, we made a quick exit back to our room and turned in for the night.
Friday 31 March 2023 Disembarkation Day
It felt a bit sad wandering down to the buffet knowing it our last breakfast on board the Grand Princess. We seriously pondered over the thought of staying on board for another month and sailing to San Francisco. But we had responsibilities and neither of us was reckless and irresponsible to simply disappear for a month or so. It’s a skill we had to learn. So after a leisurely breakfast in the buffet, we left the ship and headed for the bustling streets of Sydney.
Thanks to Heather for taking the feature image of the Grand Princess berthed at Eden. Also, thanks for introducing me to cruises and making this voyage such a fun experience!