On Board the Majestic Princess: Darwin to Singapore

The days at sea are becoming very routine. Breakfast, lunch, ukulele class and dinner provide the main framework around which we fit in our other activities.

Ian at breakfast with a water view

The gym is well equipped, and heavily used. Late afternoon seems to be the best time to work out when there are fewer people there.

On this leg we dined at La Mer French restaurant. The service and the food were top stuff, and our table was located with a view of the sunset and electrical activity in the clouds.

La Mer menu

We started with cocktails, bread, and welcome dishes of polenta chips and olives stuffed with goat cheese. For entrée, we had a lobster bisque with a pastry top, and tortellini stuffed with wild mushrooms and snails in a green sauce. The lobster bisque was wonderful. For mains, we had duck breast in a tasty gravy, and jumbo scallops with more of the green sauce. Both were excellent. Dessert was a beautifully presented chocolate tart and a very light mousse, and again, these were delicious. Ian wanted to taste the French beer, but this was no longer available. Instead, we had a bottle of Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2016, which was full of flavour that went well with the rich food.

La Mer duck breast beautifully presented

 

 

 

La Mer jumbo scallops with green sauce
La Mer chocolate tart
La Mer mousse
Yalumba Y Series Viognier 2016

After our French meal, we had an early night and in bed enjoyed the latest doggie movie—A Dog’s Way Home. This is based on a book by W. Bruce Cameron, who also wrote A Dog’s Purpose, which we read last year, and which was also the basis of a movie.

On the day on which we were to cross the equator from the southern into the northern hemisphere, the ship had a Crossing of the Equator ceremony. This involved the ship’s First Officer, the Cruise Director, Neptune (King of the Sea) and his wife, Queen Double-D. Several dozen pollywogs who had not yet crossed the equator were put on trial for various trumped up charges. Of course, they were all found guilty, and sentenced to be covered in spaghetti and several differently coloured sauces. This all took place in the raised area between the two pools. As was to be expected, some food ended up in the pools, that were then closed for a day to enable cleaning. After the food splattering, the pollywogs were deemed to be shellbacks. The First Officer and the Cruise Director were both thrown in the pools, and the King and Queen escaped relatively unscathed by the experience.

Crossing the Equator ceremony with King Neptune
Cruise Director was dunked

We actually crossed the equator at sunset, about 8:00 pm. And a spectacular sunset it was.

Equator crossing sunset

We spent much of this leg practising the ukulele, either in our cabin, in a corner of a bar, or at Eric’s ukulele classes. This was becoming a Ukulele Cruise. Eric announced that we would be giving a concert on the day before we arrive in Singapore, and this spurred us on to even greater devotion. On the afternoon of the concert, there was much nervous tension. We performed in the Piazza, in the centre of the ship. The audience was spread on three levels. We had to stand, and thankfully had some music stands to put our music on. Over the Rainbow was a big hit with the crowd, and we followed up with Yellow Submarine, Brown Eyed Girl and Down on the Corner. For an encore we played Can’t Help Falling in Love. I think we did really well, considering that many people had not played a ukulele before. We did it, and felt both proud of our achievements and greatly relieved. The whole concert was recorded on the Reflections DVD produced on the cruise.

Ukulele concert in the Piazza. Image kindly provided by Eric Ripper.

 

Darwin, Tuesday 2 April 2019

We docked at what appears to be a temporary cruise terminal. As we now had Internet access via the Australian mobile phone network, we caught up with phone messages and email. We received an email from Scott and Sally Petrick advising us that they had set off on their trip to the Kimberleys a couple of days ago. This was the only time that was convenient for Sally to take time off work. We were very disappointed to miss them, but this freed up our day a little. We will definitely catch up with them in July.

Disembarking the Majestic Princess at Darwin, ready for a day of adventure
Majestic Princess at Darwin Cruise Terminal

We had not booked any tours, but disembarkation was very smooth. We headed for the Big Red Bus and bought a $35 ticket each for the day. There are four double decker buses that travel a loop around Darwin, with 12 stops. Ticket holders can ride the bus and hop on and off as much as they like through the day. The top floor is open where the windows would be, and this allowed great ventilation when we were moving. The weather was warm and humid. Our first stop was at Cullen Bay, where we had a late breakfast at the Boatshed. Never had such a large bowl of muesli in my life! We originally planned to have lunch at Cullen Bay with Scott and Sally, but now we could have lunch elsewhere, possibly in the town centre.

To kill some time before we hopped back on the bus, we walked around Cullen Bay, which is a waterfront medium density housing development. Katie checked out a gift shop, and we immediately found a dress that suited her and will be perfect for one of the two remaining formal nights on the ship.

We enjoyed a long bus ride to East Point, which is a good place to have a picnic sunset. We started marking on our map provided by the bus company all the places we will come back to and spend time when we are back in Darwin in July, hopefully with Scott and Sally.

We disembarked the bus again at the Waterfront. This is just east of where the Majestic Princess was docked. We walked around shops, restaurants and bars, then walked up the Traveller’s Walk into the town centre.

Katie at start of Traveller’s Walk
History of Traveller’s Walk

The hub of Darwin is the Smith Street Mall. After looking at hundreds of watches over the past year on the Sun Princess, in Hong Kong, in Australia and on the Majestic Princess, Ian finally found the watch he was looking for—a solar powered Casio G-Shock digital watch that is water resistant to 100 m. However, our tummies were telling us it is lunch time, so we found Shennanigans—an Irish pub of the same name as the one in Maitland. We had a huge lunch—Katie had Thai beef salad, and Ian had fish ‘n’ chips, which he usually did on Friday lunches when working. The Guinness (Ian) and lemon, lime and bitters (Katie) helped to rehydrate us.

Katie hopped back on the bus and rode most of the circuit back to the cruise terminal. Ian walked back to the mall to reconsider the Casio watch, which he eventually bought for $129. Ian then walked back to the Waterfront across Skywalk and tried some One Mile Brewery Red Ale and IPA as part of his research into craft beers.

Skywalk to Waterfront
Waterfront

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Mile IPA
One Mile Brewery commitment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met up back in our cabin. We had had a big day in Darwin, and hit the sack early after a quick snack in our room. Tomorrow, we had to get back to ukulele practice, including Brown Eyed Girl. By the way, saw this caravan that made me smile…

Nice van

On Board the Majestic Princess: Sydney to Darwin

We are gradually settling into our cruise, being careful not to burn ourselves out in the first couple of days. On our first cruise—to the South Pacific on the Sun Princess about a year ago—we were overwhelmed with everything. This time, we were much more relaxed as the various aspects of cruising felt familiar. One of the big differences is that we have a private balcony to enjoy on this cruise.

Sunset over the Whitsundays (we think)

After a full day at sea, we docked at Fishermans Wharf in Brisbane. We had booked a tour of nearby St Helena Island directly with Cat o’Nine Tails Tours. However, our tour was cancelled the previous day due to forecast inclement weather. Indeed, it was wet while we were docked, and we did not feel enthusiastic about going onshore. We will rebook St Helena Island for when we are back in Brisbane in early May.

There are lots of dining options, as well as copious bars. We like the dining rooms where we get waiter service, and rarely a bad meal. Sometimes, we go to the buffet or bistro for a more casual meal, but the food here can be a bit ordinary. The beer selection was interesting, with many international brands. Best value beers are probably the 440 ml cans of Guinness and Boddington Pub Ale. Wine is outrageously expensive, more so than on the Sun Princess, so we probably won’t indulge much. We did find a 2018 Tyrrells Old Winery Pinot Noir, se we bought a bottle (wine by the glass is way overpriced).

Butterfish on noodles with bok choy

Every night there are shows, while there are numerous entertainers who sing and/or play instruments in the bars and the Piazza. The Piazza is the heart of the ship. We have seen two shows so far from the production cast from USA. They are leaving us in Darwin and will be replaced by a new production cast. The cruise director, who was also on our Sun Princess cruise last year, told us we were lucky to have two different production casts on the one cruise. He is probably right.

One of the best entertainers we have seen, ever, is Chris Watkins, a classical violinist and frustrated dancer (his words) from the UK. He starred in his own show, and then featured in a larger production show called Encore. We were also lucky to catch him for a short performance one evening in the Piazza. He plays a Swarovski crystal encrusted electric violin. Check out the shoes!

Chris Watkins on fire

Dance classes are available for line dancing and ballroom dancing. The participants certainly appear to enjoy them. However, it is very crowded, and we have not yet been game to have a go.

Ian took his ukulele so he can keep up his fingerpicking and strumming practice. We heard that some cruises had a ukulele program, and by luck, our Majestic Princess cruise did. It is run by Eric Ripper, who is the ship’s videographer. There are 41 toy ukuleles available for guests, but a few people, including Ian, had their own. The first session was chaotic, and Eric did a sterling job of keeping us together on You Are My Sunshine. He has some interesting tunes planned for us, including Beatles and CCR.

Ian playing ukulele with Eric Ripper

We attended our very first karaoke session and loved it. Their motto is “When they’re good, its great, and when they’re bad, its better!” Not sure about the latter.

There are multiple pools and spas on the uppermost levels. The best pool area is the adults only Hollywood Pool Club. This is well patronised because of its outstanding and lavish facilities with little  private suites overlooking the sea for guests to relax and enjoy. Tea and coffee are also served there at breakfast time, and a bar opens mid morning.

Hollywood Pool Club sofas
Ian in Hollywood Pool Club
Hollywood Pool Club lounges
Hollywood Pool Club pool

 

There are three formal nights on our cruise. The fist one was on the Brisbane to Darwin leg. We had a full night, and didn’t get back to our room until midnight. It started with the Captain’s champagne waterfall cocktail party, which is done near the start of every Princess cruise. The Cruise Director introduced the Captain and his executive team to guests. We were amazed that Princess Cruise has a Director of Environment as well as a Staff Welfare Director. Guests were then invited to pour champagne over a tower of carefully stacked glasses. When the last guest had contributed to the champagne waterfall, to Ian’s horror, the glasses were emptied of their champagne into a bucket rather than given to the guests.

The Champagne Waterfall

It took a while, but Ian tried the gym on day 5, and Katie joined him the next day. The gym is well appointed, and extremely popular.

Embarking the Majestic Princess at Sydney, Tuesday 26 March 2019

The previous evening, we hosted friends Felicia and Nick, and Felicia’s parents, as well as our house sitter, Isaac, to wood-fired homemade pizzas. Felicia offered to drive us to Maitland station the next morning, but Nick turned up instead. We were at the station a little earlier than expected, just after 8:00 am. We caught an earlier train, and consequently had to wait a while at Newcastle Interchange for our express train to Sydney. We changed trains again at Central and alighted at Circular Quay. We had our first glimpse of the Majestic Princess at the International Passenger Terminal as the train pulled into the station. Our scheduled boarding time was 1:15 pm, and we were 25 minutes early. Despite receiving multiple messages requesting us to avoid being early, we were welcomed into the processing system, and we entered our stateroom on board at 1:25 pm. The process was much smoother than last year when we cruised on the Sun Princess.

Majestic Princess at Sydney International Passenger Terminal

Our stateroom (fancy name for a cabin) has a balcony with two chairs and a small table. It is quite private. What an upgrade from the interior room we had on the Sun Princess! By this time, the clouds had gone, and it was a beautiful, clear day—Sydney looked glorious!

Our cabin with balcony
Sydney Opera House from our cabin

We were just too late for lunch in the dining room, so we were recommended to go to the buffet, which is called Marketplace. We found this to be rather confusing, and although were starving as we had not eaten all day, very little food looked enticing. We eventually filled our plates with a seafood rice dish. Later, we found grilled vegies and beef skewers, which would have been a little more interesting. Ian washed his rice down with a Corona, which made him a little happier.

While checking out the Atrium, we came across Trish and David, who are also members of U3A Maitland. They have come cruising with friends Peter and Christina. We arranged to meet up for an early dinner in the dining room.

Dinner was lovely—three courses with waiter service. We watched the Majestic Princess cast off and head down the harbour from our dining table. The others went to an early show after dinner, but Katie and I walked around the ship and checked out the impressive indoor and outdoor gyms. We had an early night after a long day. We are now cruising!

The Poyer’s and Moonshadow Dinner Cruise, 15 March 2019

Wharf 1 at Nelson Bay

We have not actually started our overseas or national travels yet, but we took the opportunity to use Matilda the motorhome and try out a top restaurant in the Port Stephens area with family. Together with Ian’s cousins Lesley and Phill of Nelson Bay and Avril of Old Bar, Ian and Katie boarded Moonshadow at Wharf 1, Nelson Bay, to enjoy twilight cruising on Port Stephens. Moonshadow has a bar that was very popular, and Ian was pleased that it served Whale Ale from the local Murray’s Brewery. We disembarked at The Poyer’s restaurant at Lemon Tree Passage for a four-course dinner.  

Friday night rowing

This function was fully booked with 70 guests on board.

Settled in Moonshadow

The dinner was delicious, and most guests purchased wine to accompany each course. Course One was Oyster Champagne Sabayon (a single oyster in its shell with a lovely sauce). Course Two was a choice of Scallop a la Provencale’s or Goat Cheese with Smoked Speck, Walnut and Croutons. Course Three was a choice of Barramundi, Olive Oil Potatoes, Asparagus, Capers, Lemon Parsley and Croutons, or Canard a l’Orange. Course Four was a trio of Crème Brulee, Banana Trifle and Chocolate Mousse.

Lonely oyster
Goat cheese salad
Scallops
Two Rivers Cuvee
Rutherglen Pinot Grigio
Barramundi
Duck a l’orange
Trio of Desserts

The serving portions were small, but very nicely presented. Service was excellent. However, it was surprising that there were no bread rolls, or bowls of shared vegies to help soak up some of the alcohol.

We had a calm evening cruise back to Nelson Bay after dinner. We had set up Matilda on Lesley and Phill’s driveway. Dexter enjoyed the company of Lesley and Phill’s dogs–Meeka and Gidget–while we were on our dinner cruise. He slept in the motorhome with us.

There were thoughts of running the Fingal Bay parkrun with Dexter the next morning. However, we had a slow start to the day after a big night out, so we gave it a miss. Overall, it was a good first travel adventure for these two grey nomads.

 

Majestic Princess Cruise

Majestic Princess

Firstly, Katie and Ian are cruising from Sydney to Hong Kong, stopping at Brisbane, Darwin, Singapore, Ho Chi Ming City, and Kaohsiung on the Majestic Princess.

A cruise ship with the capacity for 3,560 passengers, with 15 decks. She’s a big girl with a Gross Tonnage: 141,000, a length of 1083 ft, beam of 155 ft (which of course we never talk about on a girl), and an average speed of 22 knots.