Boutique ship has the right blend of comfort and casual, writes MICHAEL FERRANTE
It’s nice to be able to step back in time, experience some good old-fashioned service and leave daily life (and all those home chores) behind. It’s even better when the hardest part is packing, then driving 10 minutes down the road to our home away from home.
It is, of course, nothing new for tens of thousands of West Australians who for many years have enjoyed the convenience of stepping aboard a cruise ship at Fremantle Passenger Terminal.
The temperature is nudging 40C as my family and I board Vasco da Gama for our five-night Southwest Escape voyage from Fremantle to Esperance return, via Albany. Fresh south coastal sea breezes can’t come soon enough.
Cruise & Maritime Voyages marketing executive and host for our cruise, Mark Guy, tells me soon after boarding that we can expect a “traditional British cruise experience”, which is comforting to hear considering I’m travelling with a couple of nervous first-time cruisers — my wife Alessandra and son Joel, 7.
Offering a traditional cruising style certainly doesn’t mean being out of date. This 630-cabin ship, previously Pacific Eden, but refurbished then relaunched last year as Vasco da Gama, is elegant, with fresh, contemporary decor.
My favourite space, The Blue Room, has plush lounge suites, ideal for chilling out and listening to a live pianist or jazz in the evenings. In a nod to its musical roots, the quieter back section of the room, which is separated from the main floor, has framed trumpet pictures. A couple of trumpets are displayed, adding a touch of authenticity.
Cabins and amenities
A range of cabin types — Inner, Ocean View, Balcony and Balcony Suites (including the Royal Penthouse Suite), offers prices to suit most budgets.
Our cabin, a Superior Plus Balcony, is a nice size for two adults and a child. It has one of the most comfortable beds I’ve slept in and the option for a fold-out bed. The balcony has space for two chairs, a small table and plenty of room to move around and take in the views.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a cruise without the option to indulge in some pampering. Jade Spa offers a full menu of massage and healing therapies, body treatments and hair styling. Not normally one motivated enough to do workouts on board a ship, I do make the effort this time (albeit just once) because this area has one of the biggest and best-equipped gyms I have seen outside a regular gym.
We may not have ventured more than about 15 nautical miles (27km) from the WA coast, but the food aboard Vasco da Gama takes us on a very different, cosmopolitan journey over the five days.
Three a la carte restaurants under the Waterfront badge, and included in the cruise fare, offer a huge range of international dishes.
There’s Italian and Spanish at Waterfront Mediterranean, and a banquet of Asian/Indian fare at Waterfront Eurasia (the butter chicken masala and fried cauliflower with soy ginger sauce are a stand-out). They are our two favourite “free” eateries.
For a more relaxed meal with meditative views over the ocean, or snacks or a good breakfast, we head to the fare-inclusive Club Bistro buffet. The made-to-order breakfast omelettes, lunch time fish ‘n’ chips and the salad bar selections are my favourites. The selection overall is substantial.
If it’s fine dining you’re after there are two choices — the American steakhouse-style The Grill ($49 per person charge) and an intimate gastronomic experience, Chef’s Table, includes a gut-busting nine-course degustation for $109 per person, and is hosted by Sidney. Bookings are only taken after boarding and you can arrange a group of up to 14 or join others in the beautifully appointed dining room.
Dinner and late-session shows at 9.15pm in the 700-seat Hollywood’s Show Lounge are undoubtedly a highlight for us. Joel is particularly enamoured with the Rock n Roll Dreams show and was up on his feet applauding and cheering after each performance.
The evening theatre show schedule for this cruise also includes Legends, where we reminisce and sing along to old favourites from different eras, such as Elvis (Can’t Help Falling in Love), Wham! (Wake Me Up Before You Go Go), and the Proclaimers’ I’m Gonna Be (500 miles) — yep, remember those? The next night is ABBA show Dancing Queen, and on the final night the multi-talented stage performers are scheduled for Queen tribute show, We Will Rock You.
Destinations, coming up
We’re looking forward to visiting a couple of gems on our south coast.
In Esperance, we get on the coach for a day trip to Cape Le Grand National Park. My son gets to climb a big granite mound in Hellfire Bay by the turquoise water rimmed by the sugar-white beach.
Nearby, at Lucky Bay, we get close to a young kangaroo and its mother at the top of the beach. It’s a first-time experience and certainly a lucky day for us.
The following day in Albany we make a short stop at the Natural Bridge and the Gap in Torndirrup National Park, where waves have carved formations over hundreds of years. Strong winds and spits of rain make nature’s show all the more spectacular for us. Next stop is a visit to the National Anzac Centre where a brilliant multimedia facility portrays the story, and horrific impacts, of World War I. It’s a moving experience.
Circus on the sea
Cruise & Maritime Voyages has pulled off what is believed to be the first Australian Fringe Festival event on a cruise ship, in a sell-out debut.
As one lot of cruise passengers left Vasco da Gama last Saturday, others who’d bought a Fringe On The Water show and accommodation package were ready to party into the wee hours.
Crew donned pink paraphernalia and had the ship transformed into Fringe central in a flash.
YUCK Circus — an act that has rocketed to Fringe fame after forming just two years ago, headlined the event with two shows in the ship’s 700-seat Hollywood’s Show Lounge.
The all-female troupe, determined to shatter gender stereotypes in the circus genre, had the audience in awe at their strength, skill and agility during acrobatic scenes, especially the climbs. All part of the plan really.
Let’s hope we see it back again on water next year.
This is an edited version of the original, full-length story, which you can read here.
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Vasco da Gama’s five-night Southwest Escape departs Fremantle on January 27, 2021.
Fares are from $849 per person twin share, plus up to $325 per person onboard credit per cabin, until February 14 (subject to availability and change).
DisclaimerMichael Ferrante was a guest of Cruise & Maritime Voyages. They have not seen or approved this story.
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