As I’m heading for Sydney’s Circular Quay, my weekend companion calls me for the location of our rendezvous point.
“Where exactly is the Overseas Passenger Terminal?” she asks. I give her directions, and tell her I’m nearly there.
A few minutes later, as I walk out onto the quay, I call her back. “Don’t worry,” I laugh. “You won’t miss it!”
We’re having a night aboard the cruise liner Celebrity Solstice. And here it is before me, tied up between those two great icons, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. It dwarfs them both, at least from this perspective. The Sunday crowds on the wharf are gawping open-mouthed, cameras are clicking, and as I get closer I see the queues of passengers lining up to board.
It’s an overnight cruise, a mere taste of what you might expect if you signed up for one of the longer ones. This superliner, part of the Celebrity Cruises fleet, has five Australian-based cruises this season of between 11 and 18 nights. On its first visit to Sydney, I’m part of a media contingent invited to come aboard for the night to check it out.
It won’t be a long trip: simply out of Sydney Heads and along the coast a bit before turning back, a mere 75 nautical miles. We don’t even need a passport, just a driver’s license to prove who we are.
We board in time for a late lunch in the expansive buffet restaurant, where it’s pretty hard to get a seat. The passengers are hungry.
Then it’s time to explore. After dropping our overnight bags in our twin cabin on Deck 8 and admiring the view from our balcony, we decide to start at the top and work our way down. There’s a lot to see.
Deck 15 provides the best views of Sydney I’ve ever had. It’s just a shame the city hasn’t turned on better weather for us; despite a sunny morning, by the time we have boarded the skies are slate grey and cloudy, there’s the occasional drift of light rain, and it’s cool and windy. But we can’t have everything.
Before us is the harbour bridge, with Luna Park tucked beyond and beneath it, and on the other side the Sydney Opera House. It’s a magnificent sight.
We work our way down the decks. The top deck has an array of options: bars and cafes (of course), a swimming pool, basketball half-court, a fitness centre, spa and solarium, and a medi-spa (they’ll do botox and acupuncture among other treatments). Most extraordinary of all, half an acre of vivid green lawn – and yes, it’s real grass. Julie wants to see the Corning Museum of Glass, but our timing isn’t right for a glass-blowing demonstration so we move on quickly.
There’s plenty to look at. We stop to watch a wedding in progress on the open deck, note that all the wonderful double hammocks in discreet corners are occupied, and decide that people-watching might be the best sport aboard.
There are more bars (15 in all), a library, shops and art galleries, a casino, a running track, more swimming pools and Jacuzzis, lots and lots of sun lounges, and a 12-deck atrium that’s set off by a large ficus tree, growing in an enormous suspended pot. And with Christmas looming, there are plenty of festive decorations and Christmas trees around too.
After a while, my feet are sore and I realise we’ve been walking for two hours! I’ve had enough “sightseeing” and soon it will be time to get ready for a cocktail party at the Lawn Club.
Sydney – despite the weather – turns on its magic. As the sun goes down, the lights come on and the city is transformed. The view from Deck 15 would be hard to beat. My friend Julie, a Sydney girl through-and-through, asks anyone who’ll listen: “Why would you want to live anywhere else?”
But dinner awaits in one of Celebrity Solstice’s nine dining areas. Of these, three are “specialty” restaurants, and we are trying the Asian cuisine at Silk Harvest. The food is excellent (and I can easily see how dangerous an 18-night cruise might be for the waistline).
In the morning there’s a rush and a crush as the 2850 passengers head to breakfast and then prepare to disembark – all before 8.45am. Julie dashes off to work; I head to the airport and home.
The one night cruise is probably ideal for those trying to make up their minds about cruising. If you’ve never cruised, it’s a chance to see if you would like it. For serial cruisers, it’s the chance to check out one of the newest and most sophisticated vessels around (so I’m told).
Having a night on this grand liner was fun. But for me, one night was enough. As we watched the sun set over Sydney the night before, Julie had sighed: “This is almost enough for me. I could go home right now, and be quite happy to have just seen this.” And I have to agree.