It's all food for thought

Relax your body but exercise your mind on your next cruise holiday, suggests Katrina Lobley.

Within minutes, Kim McCosker has passengers eating out of her hand. Or, more precisely, nibbling on her easy-to-make apple slice and two-ingredient cupcakes.

An Australian cookbook publishing phenomenon and the brains behind the 4 Ingredients empire, the Sunshine Coast-based McCosker is at ease and so is her audience, as she liberally sprinkles her cooking demonstration with words such as "darl" and "hon".

A regular guest on P&O Cruises, McCosker is on board the Pacific Dawn's inaugural cruise to Queensland's Moreton Island, along with animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti, who helps passengers solve pet problems.

"I treat it as if I'm having a cup of tea with 400 of my closest friends," says McCosker of her cruise ship demonstrations. "It's a conversation – not a lecture or tutorial.

"It's not scripted, it's very raw and very real, so whatever comes into my head comes out of my mouth and often, ooh, I wish I could shove it back in there. But they're often the funniest parts. "

P&O Cruises senior vice-president Tammy Marshall says the line runs more than 50 themed cruises a year, centred on food and wine, lifestyle or comedy. While passengers may not know the line-up of guest speakers when they book, they board a cruise with "a lot of expectation".

"We've found that customers are choosing these cruises because of the content and they want to hear from the experts," she says.

"We do have quite a young audience – not to say we don't have some baby-boomers in there – but our content is obviously relevant in the market. For instance, we've had Emma Barbato, who was [a trainer] on The Biggest Loser. When Fifty Shades of Grey became a hit, we went and sourced a sex therapist for couples. It was very popular at the time. There's also quite a focus around pets and animals."

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With cruise lines offering on-board lectures, demonstrations and Q&A sessions with all sorts of experts, passengers can easily turn their cruise into a learning holiday – or something to brag about once they get home.

McCosker is a cruise line's dream, known to happily mingle with guests between cooking sessions. "I enjoy cruises because I also use them as market research," she says. "If I'm not there with my kids, then I'm sitting down with Mary and Joe from Cronulla, chatting with them and, from there, many ideas have stemmed for my books."

The writer travelled as a guest of P&O Cruises.

MASTERS ON BOARD

OMAKASE DINNERS

Celebrity restaurateur Nobu Matsuhisa is aboard Crystal Symphony's 12-day Rome-Istanbul Black Sea voyage, from July 13, and together with sake master Fumio Hazu, is hosting "omakase" dinners, sake tastings and cooking demonstrations. crystalcruises.com.

COCKTAIL CLASSES

Cocktail aficionados can join "The Liquid Chef" Junior Merino's mixology class on board Celebrity Equinox's 12-night Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona, Spain, taking place next month. celebritycruises.com.

HANDS-ON COOKING

Oceania's Riviera and Marina vessels play host to "hands-on" cooking classes in which passengers learn to prepare dishes using ingredients bought from local markets. oceaniacruises.com.

CLOSER TO HOME . . .

Closer to home, chef Sean Connolly conducts hands-on cooking classes on board the MS Oosterdam as she sails around New Zealand and Australia from November 10-24. hollandamerica.com.

SHACKLETON TRIBUTE

Adventurer Frank Nugent – who helped lead a 1997 expedition replicating Ernest Shackleton's open-boat journey of survival through Antarctic waters — will speak during a commemorative sailing from South America. The cruise marks the centenary of Shackleton's adventure. See theshackleton100.com.

TRIP NOTES

CRUISING THERE 

Kim McCosker will be aboard the Pacific Dawn's food and wine cruise, departing from Brisbane on November 26. Three-night food and wine cruises aboard the Pacific Pearl and Pacific Jewel take place on selected dates from Sydney from March. Fares are from $549 a person, twin share.

MORE INFORMATION

pocruises.com.au.

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