They were expecting a luxury cruise holiday — but the sight that confronted Irene and Lewis Cook when they boarded the ship was anything but luxurious.
“It was shocking. We knew we couldn’t go out on the high seas on this thing, because there’d be no way of getting home,” Irene recounts.
“It was meant to be a luxury cruise, with beautiful food.
“When you’re served up slop, and people have told you it’s gourmet dining, and you buy a drinks package and they don’t let you have any water or coffee, that was just quite unbelievable. And the staff were rude, they didn’t want to be on board.
“Arguments were breaking out all over the ship. It wasn’t nice at all.
“We decided then and there that that cruise was not going to be for us and we got our bags and trudged home and we were very disappointed about what had happened.”
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In a surprising twist, instead of being put off cruising for life, the couple was more determined than ever to take the cruise of their dreams.
“We’d spoken to my brother-in-law and he said, you really need a cruise with no children and no casinos. So we googled and found Viking was the name of the cruise line he was talking about,” Irene says.
As fate would have it, only a few days later, the couple was watching Channel 7’s Sunrise when they saw a live cross from a Viking cruise ship. It had docked at Sydney Harbour that morning and was set to sail out later in the day.
“We just said, I wonder if they’ve got a spare room … Lewis got on the phone … and we were on board by 1 o’clock that day,” Irene says.
She describes the difference from the ship they’d originally booked on as like chalk and cheese.
Although they’d previously been on cruises they’d enjoyed, they were blown away by the Viking experience.
“It exceeded our expectations … I personally was taking more photos of the ship than of the views. The ship just really outshone the views — and they were pretty spectacular I have to tell you,” she says.
“It has got a sense of serenity. It felt like a private yacht … there was always somewhere you could go to just be on your own and feel like you were the only couple on board.”
Not only was the 15-day trip to New Zealand enough to restore their faith in cruising, it convinced them to book not one but two more cruises with Viking.
This month, the pair will set sail on an epic 82-day adventure from Sydney to London, taking in exotic destinations including Halong Bay in Vietnam, China, India, Petra in Jordan and Egypt’s Suez Canal.
And — because that’s not quite enough bucket-list ticks for one year — they’ll follow it up with another 15-day cruise through the Norwegian fjords and Arctic during Northern Lights season.
Having found their cruising niche, we asked Irene and Lewis for their tips on choosing and making the most of a cruise holiday:
1. DON’T BE SCARED TO CRUISE
“Just do a cruise,” says Lewis. “We were very hesitant doing our first cruise, but once we’d done it, we thought it was fantastic. Irene gets seasick on a floating restaurant, but on a cruise ship, it’s fine.”
2. KNOW WHAT YOUR IDEAL CRUISE LOOKS LIKE
“You’ve got to know what you want in a cruise,” says Irene. “It’s individual — obviously families want to be on a ship that’s going to cater for the children as well. You need to figure out what your priorities are and then look for a cruise line that’s going to give you that.”
3. DON’T DECIDE BY PRICE ALONE
“What looks like quite a cheap cruise can end up costing you a lot more when you’re hit with bills on board.”
4. CONSIDER THE FOOD
“For us, food is important, especially when you don’t have a choice. You can’t go down the street and eat at a different restaurant.”
4. TAKE AS LONG AS YOU CAN
“I think you need a minimum of 10 days to orientate yourself around the ship and get into the swing of it.”
5. MAKE THE MOST OF SEA DAYS
“There’s a lot to do on board on sea days … we joined in with some of the dance lessons, bean bag toss, the trivia quizzes, some of the port talks, and saw the planetarium.”
5. WAKE UP EARLY
“(On the last cruise), we tended not to get up very early in the morning. We’re going to get up earlier on the next cruise and take advantage of all the talks and things. We really need to enjoy everything that’s on offer.”
6. GET IN EARLY TO BOOK SHORE EXCURSIONS
“We’re going to book more excursions (on the next cruise) even though they do offer free excursions at every port. We’re going to book ahead, because they do book out quite quickly.”
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