I never wanted to cruise – until I did one

Darren Cartwright
(Australian Associated Press)

Before I visited five European cities in two countries and didn’t once have to pack, unpack or carry a suitcase, cruising never really held any appeal.

There were too many negatives, like being stuck on a ship with a couple of thousand people I didn’t know, bunking down in steerage and waiting for food poisoning to strike.

After a 10-night, 11-day return Celebrity Cruise with my enthusiastic partner from Venice, which took in the Amalfi Coast, Sicily and Dubrovnik, Croatia, they all appear to be urban myths.

On a ship carrying more than 2,000 passengers, rarely did we see or bump into the same people.

The “oceanview” room on the second deck had not a porthole, but a big round window as if it was built by the set designers of Playschool, dismissing any claustrophobic concerns.

The accommodation itself was in the three-star range, but be wary of interlocking rooms because there’s no lounge, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time sitting or lying on the bed – as we did.

The food was plentiful, although the quality ebbed and flowed, and it was served by ever-smiling and amicable wait staff who seem to work endless hours.

Breakfast in the Oceanview Cafe and Grill was equal to if not better than the more formal San Marco restaurant, which is also home to the nightly formal sittings.

Eggs are made to order although the wait times can be quite lengthy on days at sea, which also means gaining a table for a large group is a task.

The formal sitting menus were ever changing, which made dinner feel a little less like Groundhog Day. You can choose to sit alone or with “new friends”, and while we had a own table for two, we were a cosy 30cm from our neighbours.

The complimentary drinks and gratuities package included all liquids, from alcohol to bottled water and piping hot lattes, so there was no bill shock at check-out.

With the cruise making five stops in 11 days, you have to decide whether to go it alone and make your own way around places like Rome, Florence and Pisa, or dig deep for the highly organised daily shore excursions. If you opt for the former, do your research before you leave home.

On returning to the ship from day excursions, you’re greeted by more ever-smiling staff offering cold wash towels and fruit infused water, a great way to cool down at the end of a sweltering day.

Not everything, by the way, is a winner on Celebrity Cruise’s Constellation, but the negatives are few and far between.

There was only one main pool, so on days at sea it was almost impossible to get a lounge bed unless you went hunting straight after breakfast or camped out the night before.

For those worried about their growing waistline, there’s no need to be concerned about body shaming. People of all shapes and sizes were parked in the sun all day long.

If you’re sun shy or not a big fan of crowds, there’s the “adult” indoor pool on the same deck with two spas – the perfect retreat for anyone unable to source an outdoor spot.

For something to read there’s always the free daily Australian “newspaper” at reception or you can use your tablet – but be prepared to pay $US50 ($A69) a day or $US250 for the entire cruise for wi-fi.

Bingo is no longer for the working class. Games start at $US39 and a massage will set you back about $US130 plus.

The nightly entertainment was a mixture of in-house productions – some akin to a Rock Eisteddfod show – and guest performers who were by far the most impressive, while afternoon music and general trivia had a strong gathering and was the best place to meet new people.

On the alcoholic side of things, be wary that not all standard wines are available at every bar. If you find a bar that offers your favourite wine, you’re best to remember where it is.

After joining my partner on a Mediterranean cruise I never wanted to take, in the end I didn’t want to get off.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE: Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates via from Australian cities to Venice via their Middle Eastern hubs.

PLAYING THERE: Celebrity Cruise’s 10-night Italy and Croatia Cruise stops at Venice, Koper (Slovenia), Zadar (Croatia), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Split (Croatia), Kotor (Montenegro), Naples and Sicily, prices starting at $A2,890.

Celebrity’s nine-night Adriatic and Italy cruise stops at Venice, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Malta, Sicily, Naples and Civitavecchia (Rome), prices starting at $A2,160.

For more info, visit www.celebritycruises.com

* The writer travelled at his own expense.

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