6 DESTINATION AFLOAT

THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, JANUARY 21-22, 2012
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Orion Expedition Cruises, in conjunction with Ultimate Cruising,
can offer sole use of staterooms, in five star luxury, on selected 2012
departures, you pay only the full twin share price with no additional
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CHARLES BREWER
Radiance of the Seas, the largest and most modern ship to call Sydney home, cruises past the Opera House
All about
the ship
Aweekend cruise from
Sydney is a splendid way to
sample Radiance of the Seas
SUE MILNE
Outdoor activities include rock-climbing, mini golf and basketball The staterooms are comfortable and offer plenty of storage space
I spend so much
time pondering the
pampering
Radiance Spa
menu that I miss
the sun salutation
yoga session in
the impressively
equipped
fitness centre
CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow and his
scurvy crew are creating mayhem
on deck 11, swashbuckling their
way across the huge cinema
screen that overlooks the outdoor
pool on Royal Caribbean Interna-
tional’s Radiance of the Seas.
Pirates of the Caribbean: On
Stranger Tides is all booming can-
nons and clashing cutlasses but
the mainly young crowd basking
beside the pool are more intent on
topping up their tans than the
on-screenaction.
If Johnny Depp and his band of
buccaneers did swing aboard, this
largely Aussie crowd would prob-
ably make no attempt to repel
them. They’d just pull over a few
more banana lounges, pour them
each a beer and return to the
serious business of dozing in the
sunshine or, for the marginally
more energetic, considering
tonight’s dining options.
However, thereis aninvasionof
sorts going on. Royal Caribbean,
having conquered the cruising
scene in North America and
Europe, is turning its full attention
to Australia, NewZealand and the
South Pacific, and the 90,000-
tonne Radiance of the Seas,
gleaming from aft to bow, inside
and out, after a $US55 million
makeover, is the latest of its cruise
ships to be based in Sydney.
Rhapsody of the Seas, a long-
time Sydney resident, received a
similar multi-million-dollar
facelift before returning to local
waters, and later this year the two
will be joined by another member
of the Royal Caribbean fleet, Voy-
ager of the Seas, billed as Austra-
lia’s first megaliner and boasting
an ice-skating rink and wedding
chapel among its attractions.
This will be the first time Royal
Caribbean has based three super-
liners in the region. There’s more
evidence this is regarded as an
excitingandlucrativenewmarket,
withRoyal Caribbean’s sister com-
pany Celebrity Cruises basing
CelebrityCenturyinSydney(tobe
replaced by the 122,000-tonne
Celebrity Solstice later this year),
and Celebrity Millennium cruis-
ing Asian waters, withtwo visits to
Sydney scheduled.
It all adds up to a huge vote of
confidence in the local market,
says Radiance of the Seas’
Norwegian-born captain Claus
Andersen. Although more used to
plying the balmy Caribbean and
rugged Alaskan coastline, he is
clearly excited to be navigating
relatively uncharted waters, in
particular weighing anchor at
such remote spots as Western
Australia’s Port Hedland, whose
14,000 residents put out the
flags to welcome the ship on its
maiden voyage around Australia
last October.
Even Sydney presents some
unusual challenges, says Ander-
son, who must manoeuvre the
300m-long vessel in and out of
Circular Quay, with little room to
spare, before passing the Sydney
Opera House and steering a
course between the Heads and
into the open ocean.
Once at sea, especially on this
Weekend Getaway sample cruise,
he can relax a little, for there is no
destination. We simply sail about
50km offshore and drift where
time and tide take us.
The ship is packed to capacity
with 850 crew (of more than 56
nationalities) and 2450 guests,
many of them Royal Caribbean
regulars, and some cruising nov-
ices suchas myself, whoaretesting
the waters on a short trip before
deciding on a longer voyage
aboard Radiance. Its 2012 itiner-
ary includes cruises to New Zea-
land, the South Pacific islands,
Tasmania, Queensland, Austra-
lia’s Top End, Tahiti and Hawaii.
And with so much to see and
only one full day and two nights to
do it, I cannot lounge on the bal-
cony of my stateroom on deck 10
or laze about the pool sipping
cocktails. Instead, armed with a
map of the ship, I take one of the
glass lifts that dizzyingly overhang
the ocean, to the top deck, plan-
ning to work downwards, explor-
ing the amenities deck by deck.
Of course, myplangets derailed
almost immediately. I am on my
way to see the nine-hole mini golf
course, basketball court, 10m-high
climbing wall and children’s
Adventure Beach pool area, when
I’m easily seduced by a compli-
mentary glass of champagne into
attending an art auction in the
Starquest lounge.
A little later, and not remotely
tempted to make a bid, I spend so
muchtime ponderingthepamper-
ing Radiance Spa menuthat I miss
the sun salutation yoga session in
the impressively equipped fitness
centre. A dip in the indoor adults-
only pool looks inviting but then I
might miss the wine-tasting ses-
sion or seminar on secrets to a
flatter stomach.
I browse the library, wander the
art gallery, splashsome cashinthe
shopping arcade, try my luck on
the blackjack table at Casino
Royale and watch the fabulous
Tango Buenos Aires dance spec-
tacular in the 86-seat Aurora
Theatre. I don’t attenda bingoses-
sion or watch the men’s interna-
tional belly flop contest but I am
sure plenty of passengers do.
Radianceof theSeas’ top-to-toe
revitalisation includes the cre-
ation of new dining venues, in
addition to the all-you-can-eat,
all-day Windjammer cafe. The
mainrestaurant, Cascades, offers a
grand dining experience remi-
niscent of trans-Atlantic ocean
liners, while newspecialty options
include Izumi (Japanese), Samba
Grill (Brazilian steakhouse), Rita’s
Cantina (Mexican), Giovanni’s
Table (Italian) and Chops Grille
(steak and seafood).
There are ice-cream sundaes
and excellent coffee at Cafe Latte-
tudes, hotdogs at the Boardwalk
Dog House, a selection of spark-
ling wines at the Champagne Bar,
English ales at the Quill & Com-
pass pub and an exclusive new
dining space where up to 14 guests
can enjoy a specially prepared
menu presented by the evening’s
featured chef.
After a long day at sea, explor-
ing the ship’s impressive facilities,
and having enjoyed a Dungeness
crab mousse and succulent steak
dinner at Chops, I’m ready to curl
up inmy bunk.
And a very superior bunk it is,
too: a deeply comfortable king-
size bed that fits snugly in the
wood-panelled stateroom. There’s
a full-sized window, private sea-
facing balcony, small sitting area,
ensuite bathroom, interactive flat-
screen television and far more
storage space than I would use on
this short voyage.
I need no rocking to sleep but
wake early next morning as the
newest, largest and most modern
shiptocall Sydneyhomeslips back
into the harbour and gently docks
at Circular Quay.
Sue Milne was a guest of Royal
Caribbean International.
Checklist
Radiance of the Seas will operate
a two-night Weekend Getaway
cruise fromSydney on November
15; from$431 a person. The ship
will also depart Sydney on
December 12 for an eight-night
South Pacific cruise; from$860 a
person. More: 1800 754 500;
royalcaribbean.com.au.
The whale shark at the end of the world
GETTY IMAGES
The whale shark is a gentle creature and harmless to humans
MATTHEW CROMPTON
When I surface,
exhausted from
the sprint, I pull
off my mask and
see that everyone
is smiling in the
sunlight
IT is rounding into hour two and I
am beginning to feel a little like
CaptainAhab.
‘‘Look for the dark shape
beneath the surface,’’ our guide,
Charlie, a diminutive Irish lass,
shouts over the roar of the twin
85hp outboard engines. Squinting
and sweating in the hot midday
light, we peer like sun-blind mari-
ners into the deep, and though the
sea here is lovely — now cobalt,
now turquoise — we have spotted
nothing that looks even remotely
like our quarry.
Thewaters off thetownof Tofo,
on the southern coast of Mozam-
bique, are among the best places in
the world to see, and to swimwith,
the colossal whale shark. At an
average of 10m in length, they’re
filter-feeders, gentle and slow and
harmless to humans despite their
metre-wide mouths.
And though something this
massiveshouldnot behardtospot,
we are experiencing considerable
difficulty doing so.
The small boat, now stopped, is
pitching in big swells and I
am sunburned and beginning to
feel nauseous.
‘‘Would you say the whale
sharkis a reclusive creature?’’ I ask
Charlie as she stands surveying
the shallows from the bow. ‘‘Well,
perhaps a bit shy of human con-
tact?’’ I continue. ‘‘I mean, we don’t
really knowmuchabout them . . .’’
She sneers at my needling and
goes back to watching the sea. The
German guy next to me is begin-
ning to turn green.
Not that there isn’t a silver lin-
ing; as a location for heatstroke
and seasickness, you could hardly
choose a more beautiful setting.
We’ve motored far south of the
townandtheundevelopedAfrican
coastline here is stunning, with
high khaki-coloured dunes rising
behind a broad sweep of empty
beach; only a lone fishermaninhis
short pants and floppy hat belies
thefeelingthat this verywell could
be what Mozambicans call fin del
mundo, or the end of the world.
Lovelyor not, our timeis almost
up. There’s a real sense of disap-
pointment as we turn back north.
‘‘Even the researchers at the mar-
ine institute here don’t really
understand the behaviour of the
whale shark,’’ Charlie apologises
as we chop back across the waves,
the town hoving into view around
the rockypoint. Suddenly, though,
our skipper calls out and throttles
the engines way back. There’s a
dark shape just off the starboard
bow, and we quickly come about
to get ahead of it.
Swiftly donning mask and fins,
we roll backwards over the gun-
wale into the warm salt water,
kicking through the waves just as
the whale shark comes into view.
It’s a beautiful female, perhaps
8m long and distinctively spotted,
swimming gracefully along the
ocean floor just 5m below us, the
slow, serpentine motion of her tail
stirring up the sediment in a cloud
around her body.
All of us are kicking as hard as
we can to keep up, and I can feel
the wash of pressure off the fins of
others all around me. On we kick,
tiringandslowlyfallingbehind, for
30 seconds, 60 seconds, a minute
and a half, and then the water
deepens, the blueness becoming
inscrutable and, just like that, the
shark is gone.
When I surface, exhausted
fromthe sprint, I pull off my mask
and see that everyone is smiling in
the sunlight.
‘‘Amazing,’’ one woman says.
‘‘Amazing,’’ others reply and the
word choruses all around as we
tread water over the deep.
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