Like sunburn and pavlovas, the arrival of international cruise ships in Australia marks the approach of summer. This will be the busiest season yet, with 20 ships in Carnival Australia fleets alone making almost 700 calls at 38 city and regional ports in the next few months.
The first migrant arrival of the season, Majestic Princess, docked in Sydney this month, her dawn entrance along an illuminated harbour "runway" as glittering as the superliner's interiors. It's the newest and largest in the popular Princess fleet to visit Australia.
At 330 metres in length, with 1,780 rooms and what's claimed as the largest shopping space at sea, Majestic Princess's dimensions are impressive. Yet what's more remarkable is the ease with which any of the 3,560 passengers can find relative solitude. There are private karaoke suites, of course, and a quiet library. Adjacent to the outdoor pools on Deck 16, crowned by a supersized cinema screen, is a tranquil conservatory housing an adults'-only pool club flanked by private ocean-view cabanas and faux foliage.
Just as serene is the Lotus Spa, with 10 treatment rooms and a thermal retreat called The Enclave. It's accessible to 50 guests only, for an additional charge, who create a circuit around a hydrotherapy pool (with monsoon shower overhead), heated loungers, steam rooms, a sauna and a crescent of herbal-perfumed "sensory" showers, ranging from Siberian to tropical. And on the Deck 16 "sea walk" in the evenings, there's often just you and your vertigo. The cantilevered, glass-floored walkway extends 8.5 metres beyond the edge of the ship; peer down at the churning ocean, 39 metres below, for a reliable dose of adrenaline.
There's adrenaline, too, in the likes of DIY stand-up comedy performances in a recording studio, karaoke power nights ("if you're good, that's great; if you're bad, it's even better!"), line-dancing with the crew, and non-surgical brow lifts in the spa.
Among 13 eateries on board are two specialty restaurants with menus by Michelin-starred chefs. Taiwanese-born American chef Richard Chen, formerly of one-star Wing Lei at Wynn Las Vegas, applies a light touch to the Cantonese menu at Harmony. Highlights include a fragrant roast-duck soup, a pork-rib braise, and steamed sea bass in a soy-ginger broth. Chen also oversees the deckside lobster grill. The wall tiles and banquettes at La Mer evoke a Parisian bistro, albeit one with floor-to-ceiling ocean views. Its menu of well-turned bistro classics is overseen by Emmanuel Renaut, of the three-star Flocons de Sel in the French Alps village of Megève. There's more lobster, as well as big steaks and a sensational onion soup, at the clubby Crown Grill.