You could do everything on the Arcadia, writes Terry Durack - or nothing at all.
I'm not a spa person. My spa is the bar, in all its soothing, relaxing and pampering glory. But on the Arcadia, which has an Oasis Spa and thermal suite, someone should keep the staff employed. So I sent my wife.
"Oh, are you sure?" she asked, as she ran out of our cabin, slamming the door. She came back reflexologised. Her report: "That was serious therapeutic reflexology, not just a foot massage. The ocean-side massage rooms have magnificent floor-to-ceiling windows; water everywhere."
The Arcadia has just had a multimillion-dollar refurbishment, giving it 1050 staterooms (716 with balconies), five restaurants, eight bars and 12 decks of facilities including a nightclub, casino, 700-seat theatre, cinema, an English-style pub, library, shops, gymnasium, two outdoor pools, five (yes, five) whirlpools, and a hydrotherapy pool in the spa.
And the best thing? It's child-free! Oh, come on, there's a part of every one of us that lets out a little sigh of relief at that.
I'm not a cruise person, either, but even I felt the Arcadia was a good vessel for cruise and non-cruise people alike. With itineraries to 36 destinations in more than 25 countries including the Mediterranean, Caribbean, Norwegian fjords, Baltic, Atlantic Islands and South America on its 106-night world circumnavigation, it packs in a lot of stops (technical term), so you're never far from an exotic port. Okay, mine were Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, but I had a ball. And did I mention it was child-free?
It's big. Really big. 83,700 tonnes. Yet it pulls away from the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Sydney's Circular Quay without so much as a squeak. Suddenly it's gliding towards the Heads while all 2094 passengers take selfies with the Opera House in the background.
The first day is spent running around orienting yourself. "That end is aft. No, that end." But I'm disappointed. Where's the full catastrophe Cecil B De Mille-style decor, with faux fountains clashing with gilt-edged mirrors and naked statues? Instead, the refit is all corporate elegance, the carpets lush, the cabins as cute as wood-lined caravans, with built-in robes, flat screen television and bathrooms that have a tub.
The big night out aboard Arcadia is at the Ocean Grill, from British celebrity chef Marco Pierre White.
It's at its most charming when the dress code is black-tie and everyone is as tarted up as the wood-grain dining room's crisp white napery and fine stemware.
The best thing, however, is that the Ocean Grill has a dedicated galley and chef, Cathy Bull, with the odd visit from Marco himself fulfilling his contracted 30 days a year at sea. The food is suitably glammed-up British grill fare, from potted duck rillettes to grilled lobster with triple-cooked chips, and a ripper of a salt marsh rack of lamb. Dining here is not exactly speedy, but then, what's your rush?
Arcadia's new East restaurant, from British-based Indian chef Atul Kochhar, features a fun, pan-Asian menu of Malaysian curry puffs, Thai fish cakes, Cambodian Khmer king prawns and Indonesian slow-cooked lamb rendang.
Arcardia's chef Prabhu Ganapati worked with Kochhar in the kitchens of his Michelin-starred Benares restaurant in London's Mayfair. "He doesn't look for spiciness," Ganapati says. "He looks for flavour."
Then there's the big mother, the fine-dining Meridian Restaurant, under Arcadia's executive chef Ian Summers, which seats 800 people on two levels. The old days of having to sit at the same table every night have gone, although one area is still reserved for die-hards. It's all rather jolly, like dining with the long-term residents of an old English seaside hotel. There's also the poolside Neptune Grill. And then ... there's the Belvedere. It's a scarily big self-service restaurant with wall-to-wall food, rolling from breakfast baked beans to sushi to nachos to afternoon tea to curries and stir-fries. You just help yourself, 24 hours a day. Note to self: Swim home. I need the exercise.
I swear I did all this in one day aboard the ship: Had a full English breakfast with two Yorkshire couples undertaking their seventh cruise. Took a brisk promenade around the deck. Survived a boot-scooting lesson with Hillbilly Millie. Lunched on fish and chips by the pool. Attended a lecture by Detective Chief Inspector Terry Brown on criminal interview psychology and related techniques. Had a tap-dancing class (difficult), followed by a little afternoon beer time (easy), a swim and a snooze in a deck chair in the sun. Lost a couple of games of table tennis, due to the disconcerting swell not disconcerting my wife's game. Dressed for cocktails and a very swish dinner with said wife. Got dragged to the Palladium Theatre to see a show - Pam Ayres! She's still alive! And so funny!
It's utterly exhausting, this cruising thing.
The writer was a guest of P&O Cruises.
P&O Cruises' Arcadia departs Southampton, England, on January 6, 2015, and circumnavigates the world, making maiden calls to Darwin, Lahaina in Hawaii, Manila and Sanya in China's Hainan Province. The 106-night cruise is from $20,249 a person, twin share. A 20-night leg from San Francisco to Sydney departs January 31 and is from $3499 a person, twin share.
From Sydney, the Arcadia sails to Darwin and Asian ports including Shanghai and Hong Kong. The journey back to Europe takes in Mumbai, India, Muscat in Oman, Dubai, and the Suez Canal. The ship stays overnight at key ports throughout the circumnavigation.
FOUR MORE SAILING IN THIS SEASON
The Silver Whisper will visit Sydney and Melbourne as part of its 2015 world cruise, while the Silver Spirit departs New Zealand bound for Melbourne on February 12, then sails from Melbourne on February 23 for a 14-night journey to Lautoka, Fiji.
Carnival Legend, a sister ship to Carnival Spirit, arrives on September 22 for her first season in our waters. The 2124-passenger Legend has a pub, and Australian power points in cabins. For the kids, the cruise line's popular Green Thunder speed slide is in place on the pool deck, too. See carnival.com.au.
Victorians can cruise from their doorstep to Southampton on Aurora's 52-night journey from Melbourne on March 3, 2015, priced from $6689 a person, twin share. Ports visited include San Francisco, Honolulu, Apia, Milford Sound, Antigua and Cabo San Lucas. See pocruises.com.
The Royal Caribbean Line's 3800-passenger Explorer of the Seas will be based in Sydney next year, joining its sister vessels the Legend of the Seas, Voyager of the Seas and Radiance of the Seas in Australian waters. Together the ships offer more than 70 itineraries in the region. See royalcaribbean.com.au.