KIWI: High Seas Sensations – Cruising New ZealandAs a virgin cruise passenger I was apprehensive about spending four nights at sea with about 1900 other souls on Holland America Line’s MS Oosterdam, who would probably all be well versed in cruise line etiquette and the in's and out's of life aboard a massive vessel that operates like a medium sized New Zealand town.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2014
As a virgin cruise passenger I was apprehensive about spending four nights at sea with about 1900 other souls on Holland America Line’s MS Oosterdam, who would probably all be well versed in cruise line etiquette and the in's and out's of life aboard a massive vessel that operates like a medium sized town. Though catering to multi-generational travelers, clearly these cruises appeals mostly to Holland America's core demographic: mature, sophisticated, well-traveled couples, the majority of whom are repeat cruise passengers.
So after getting my bearings I wandered the passageways with a ships map in hand in search of the restaurants and bars – as you might expect there is a plethora of dinning options on board a large cruise ship - from International selections in the Lido Restaurant to five course meals in the Vista Dining Room or char-broiled burgers around one of two swimming pools to fine dining in the Pinnacle Grill; there seems to be types of cuisine to please everyone.
First port of call was Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, known locally as 'the Mount.' I hadn't booked any shore excursions, as all I wanted to do was hike around the Mount and check out the town centre, having never been there before.
There are two or three different trails you can take on the Mount and they all offer good views of the coastline. The shore trail is the longest, so expect to hike about six kilometers. The trail was surprisingly busy with many young mothers pushing strollers, or joggers getting their training runs in. A fair number of the cruise passengers had also opted to get some exercise too on a beautiful, clear sky day.
From a glorious day in Tauranga where there wasn't a cloud in the sky, to high winds and huge seas off Gisborne a day later. The overnight passage was a rough affair as a strong wind had materialized, throwing up big swells. There was a big thump every so often as the bow of the ship smashed into a big wave, making it hard for me to enjoy a good nights sleep.
In Gisborne there was also the problem of disembarkation as the ship was held offshore because there is no deep-water port and therefore all shore excursions were by going to be by tender using the ship’s life rafts. In fact the weather and swells were so rough they cancelled all the day trips deeming it too dangerous. It was then that we sailed on to Napier - the Art Deco capital of New Zealand.
A highlight of day two at sea was being invited onto the bridge to meet the Captain, once he had docked in Napier. He had spent 10 years as a Captain of Holland America Line ships. His bridge is one of high tech gadgetry and looks something akin to a bridge on a Star Trek movie. What was surprising was how small the ships navigation wheel was – about the size of a sports cars steering wheel. Apparently the wheel is very responsive so the Captain informed me.
A point worth mentioning is in regard to shore excursions. Always allow plenty of time to get back to the ship after you day of activities ashore, unlike one of our group who arrived five minutes before departure to find that the main gangplank had been withdrawn. She made it back onboard via a service gangplank by the skin of her teeth.
Dinner on board that night was a formal affair so it was just as well I brought my tux! We dined in he ship's signature restaurant, the Pinnacle Grill which specialises in steak dishes, although there are seafood alternatives on the menu. I started with lobster bisque with crème fraiche, followed by filet mignon and jumbo prawns on whipped potatoes with a garlic rosemary beurre blanc. Dessert was one of my favourites, crème brulee in three flavours; caramel, chocolate and coffee.
Napier, our port of call the next day was overcast and a tad chilly with occasional showers cleaning the downtown streets, it’s known for the deadly 1931 earthquake that destroyed most of its downtown district. It occurred at 10:47 am on Tuesday, 3 February 1931, the Hawke’s Bay earthquake (also known as the Napier Earthquake) is recorded as having caused the largest loss of life and most extensive damage of any quake in New Zealand’s history. The official death toll was 256, and 593 people sustained serious injuries. The effects of the earthquake were greatest in the towns of Napier and Hastings, yet other towns in the Hawke’s Bay also suffered major damage. However, the city was rebuilt quickly in the style of the period, Art Deco and what a tourism draw card they have now.
On my last night at sea and my last night in a deluxe verandah stateroom I started drinking French Champagne at 3.30 pm to celebrate on my small deck as we majestically cruised out of Napier Harbour heading to Wellington via the Cook Strait. Now that’s what I call a sophisticated departure.
Another highlight of the trip was to be served an authentic Indonesian dinner that had been prepared by the Indonesian ship’s chefs (the guys who chef only for the crew) from down in the labyrinth of passageways in the bowels of the ship. We started the meal with Gadu Gadu from Jakarta - a salad of sprouts, cabbage, green beans, sliced carrots in a peanut sauce followed by Nasi Goring - beef cubes, fried chicken, satay chicken and Indonesian rice. For the last course they served an unusual variation of a fruit dessert in yogurt.
Bon Voyage. I was slightly sad to leave the ship but very happy to be catching up with an old buddy of mine. Oscar picked me up from the dockside in his Alfa Romeo and whisked me to his hilltop home in Eastbourne, a suburb of Wellington. We took his private gondola to his private hideaway where we could see the MS Ossterdam berthed in port on the other side of Wellington Harbour. She dwarfed the city and later that night slipped out of the harbour as the sun was setting – a magnificent sight and one I’ll remember fondly as being my first cruise – hopefully I can bring my tux out of retirement again in the not to distant future and find myself cruising in Alaskan waters, through the Caribbean or even around the Mediterranean? Now that would be sensational.
Top Cruise Tips - My tips for taking a cruise while on board are: 1 exercise regularly. 2 regulate how much food you eat. 3 drink good champagne. 4 Buy wine at your ports of call for your room. 5 take in a range of onboard classes. 6 Use your expensive internet minutes wisely – type drafts first then log on and send. 7 read up on your ports of call in advance. 8 make new friends onboard. 9 bring sea leg tablets. 10. dress up on formal nights and boogie the night away.
Shane Boocock travelled on the MS Oosterdam courtesy of Holland America Line. Go to: www.hollandamericaline.com
MS Oosterdam Features:
The Culinary Arts Center: a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen offering interactive gourmet cooking lessons taught by our own Master Chefs or culinary guests
The Digital Workshop powered by Microsoft: Guests will be able to show and tell" their vacation memories, learning how to share all their digital memories through email, blogging and social networking
Greenhouse Spa & Salon: facial, hot stone massage, steam in a thermal suite, hair and nail salon.
Vista Dining Room: features impeccable service and an extensive wine list. Five-course menus include continental cuisine, vegetarian and low-carb options
Pinnacle Grill: This intimate reservations-only venue offers an elegant, sophisticated dining experience. Featuring premium ranch beef, inspired seafood dishes and many select wines
Canaletto Restaurant: Canaletto is your destination onboard for an intimate Italian dinner. The evening begins with the chef’s selection of antipasti with a taste of the delicious fare and personal, polished service to follow.
Lido Restaurant: offers a relaxed ambiance for all three meals and features a variety of fresh, cooked-to-order specialties
Explorations Café: a comfortable, coffee house environment where you can browse through an extensive library, surf the Internet and check email or simply read the morning paper.
Vista Show Lounge: features talented vocalists, dancers, illusionists, comedians and variety acts
Crow's Nest: offers sweeping 270° views during the day, and a hip, fashionable nightclub each evening
Club HAL®: dedicated youth facilities and activities for kids ages 3 - 12
The Loft: designed exclusively for teens (13 - 17) to have fun, socialize and hang out
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