TRAVEL: 10 very good reasons to go cruising
FEW forms of travel are more senior-friendly than cruising. It ticks all the boxes for the mature person.
Here are Ann Rickard's 10 top reasons to step on board and sail into the sunset.
1. BECAUSE WE CAN
Where once cruising was difficult for the mature or not-so-abled person, now it is not.
With walking-frames, scooters and wheelchairs welcome on board, and plenty of trained crew to whizz you up and down a gangplank, just about everyone can cruise. Elevators on all big ships and spacious lounge/dining areas mean getting around is doable.
2. EASY ON AND OFF
With on-line check-in, embarkation is just a matter of showing-up, going through immigration and security and you are ready to enter another world.
And disembarkation, no matter the large numbers of passengers, is now just minutes providing you follow the authorities' instructions and wait in the lounges until you are called to the gangway. (It took us 90 seconds to disembark from Emerald Princess recently with 2,700 passengers on board.)
3. UNPACK ONCE
We all know the hassles of packing, unpacking and packing again if we tour by road or train - and let's not even talk about getting bags in and out of hotels.
Destinations never-before attainable, now are.
It is impossible to get to PNG's Conflict Islands - as we did on Pacific Eden last year - without endless hours of air and road travel and enormous discomfort.
Scenic cruising in Alaska's Glacier Bay on board Nieuw Amsterdam recently was a memorable highlight, something we could never have done on our own.
A day gently gliding along New Zealand's Fiordland and Milford Sound on Emerald Princess took us close to nature's marvels while sitting on the decks with a glass of bubbles - better than hiking through the beautiful but formidable national park, no?
New itineraries now take us to places we once could only dream about.
However, using tenders to get ashore if the ship is not alongside the wharf can be tricky for the not-so-sturdy, so check itineraries carefully before you decide on exotic locations.
Yes, lots of it, and yes, it can get frantic around the buffet, but other dining options on-board today are dazzling, with more and more celebrity chefs putting their names to at-sea restaurants.
Curtis Stone has opened SHARE on board Emerald Princess with some of his signature dishes we would normally have to wait months to try (butter poached lobster, chocolate cremeux, anyone?) in his LA restaurant (and we couldn't afford to get there anyway)
Luke Mangan's Salt Grill on P&O ships is where you'll enjoy some of his signature dishes including the famous licorice parfait.
Dragon Lady on Pacific Aria and Pacific Eden serve sublime Asian cuisine in luxe surroundings.
Master Chef, Rudi Sodamin will debut pop-up restaurants on Holland America ships serving classic French dishes, a rare treat. .
Speciality restaurants require a small surcharge but take you into a world of sophisticated dining unattainable to most of us on shore.
You don't have to queue to get a ticket for a Broadway-class act, just turn up at the ship's theatre, take a seat, let crew members bring you drinks and sit back and watch world-class theatre.
Then there are the pre-dinner piano bars, the afternoon-music, pool/deck fun, bingo, trivia and card games, ballroom and line-dancing. You can be entertained from morning to late. And it's all free.
Free photography and IT classes fill quickly on board. Then there is the learning that appeals even more: cooking demonstrations, food and wine pairing.
QM2 has an elegant wine tasting room where sommeliers will guide you through wines from its global cellar. Sipping wines from regions you've never heard of in luxe surroundings is one heck of a way to learn.
P&O now has special food and wine cruises to meet a demand from passengers wanting new skills in the kitchen or new food and wine pairing knowledge.
We might not be able to afford a Tiffany's diamond necklace but we can sure look.
Same goes for a Rolex watch or Montblanc pen or Ferragamo handbag.
Browsing in high-end shops with their big label names and unbeatable glamour all under the one roof is possible at sea.
There are constant sales on board of less expensive labels and plenty of good costume jewellery to have you coming back blinged-up.
Cabins - or staterooms as they are called today - have big beds, beautiful bedding, pillow menus, flat-screen televisions with movie options, a personal steward to look after your needs.
And who doesn't love a little chocolate on their pillow at turn-down?
Spas on board modern ships are fragrant tranquil places where all up-to-the-minute treatments are available.
If you are inclined to work out the exact cost of your cruise by dividing the number of nights between the fare, you'll find many cruises average around $100 a night or even less, inclusive of food, entertainment and activities.
Of course you can run up a big bar bill or go wild with the shopping or add up the dollars on fancy shore excursions, but if you plan carefully and make the most of everything available, you will find no better value than a cruise.