Treated like royalty on a trans-Tasman cruise

Make an entrance by gliding down the Grand Staircase.

Make an entrance by gliding down the Grand Staircase.

For 10 days I turned into a right pampered princess.

In fact, I sensed what it might actually be like to be The Queen.

I was fussed over, waited on, chairs were adjusted whenever I sat down for a meal.

I got over-the-top-attention that bordered sometimes on flirtation.

There was a succession of big-shouldered young Russian waiters purring at me every time they saw me: "Can I get you anything at all, madame?"

Or perhaps there was just one Russian waiter and he made me light-headed.

But there were definitely endless waiters in dinner suits, smiling and eager to serve.

I tried to catch one looking grumpy, but never had any success.

I was onboard the Insignia, joining the ship's 20-day Coral Sea and Pacific Havens voyage from Sydney to Papeete for 10 days of port-hopping in Australia and NZ.

Boarding in Sydney, I soon realised I could fulfil my every food fantasy, from fresh crayfish whipped up a la minute just for moi, to chocolate mousse on the buffet.

I love ice-cream, but even I couldn't possibly have waded my way through every flavour on offer.

Some nights, the internationally-acclaimed chef on board, Ian Pengelley, even served up one of the dishes.

He's used to cooking for the likes of supermodel Kate Moss and A-list TV star Simon Cowell for goodness sake (he's worked in a string of top international restaurants and is currently spending most of his time at luxury restaurant Chai Wu in London's Harrods).

He has appeared on TV shows such as Celebrity MasterChef, and collaborated with the likes of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.

But here he was serving up my meal one night, and during the day he ran a cooking school onboard.

Tasting his creations at the end of these sessions, I'd ask him who the nice, and nasty, celebrities are that he usually serves. But that's another story for another day.

Pengelley taught me how to cook duck and watermelon salad with cashew nuts and sweet fish sauce, as well as shrimp and pork siu mai with black-pepper truffle.

A Veranda Stateroom on board Insignia.

A Veranda Stateroom on board Insignia.

With 600 or so guests the ship is small enough get to know faces, and I spotted him a few times, usually playing ping-pong on the ship's top deck.

But back to the food. I think I got off the ship after 10 days an extra 10kg heavier. And no, I'm not talking about all that food I consumed.

There was the shopping, too, that I picked up in the different ports. So make that 15kg heavier, if you're counting the weight around my hips and in my hands.

Heck, I decided to ditch the healthy eating regime and just enjoy the holiday.

This is the joy, or downfall, of being able to eat with no dining surcharges. So I ate with reckless abandon.

There was Toscana's authentic Italian dishes and Polo Grill's steakhouse fare.

In the Grand Dining Room there was continental cuisine and the Terrace Cafe was somewhere you could visit for made-to-order options (great burgers and milkshakes).

Then there was the 4pm daily high-teas, a ritual dating back to the 19th century in England, where I found myself swigging peppermint tea and trying to choose between sweet and savoury treats from trolleys four-tiers high.

I'd sit and enjoy the orchestra playing, chat to passengers from all over the world, gaze out to sea or read my book while draped over a silk couch.

The treat trolleys would be wheeled to me while I lazed about. Thus, walking off the ship a little heavier and in happy-holiday-mode was a given.

The service was not just great in the restaurants. IIt felt like there were room "fairies".

A sense of occasion prevails in the Grand Dining Room, one of a variety of restaurants on board.

A sense of occasion prevails in the Grand Dining Room, one of a variety of restaurants on board.

I had my own personal attendant who worked her magic not once but thrice daily, I swear, in my room.

It felt like every time I stepped out of it, she stepped in. I'd discover my bed made. Again.

Oh, and there was a direct line to call on her at any time (no, I didn't use that line - come on, is three times a day not enough for anyone's bed to be made?).

I think the correct term is I was actually spoilt rotten to the absolute, utter extreme.

It seemed as if staff were at every turn.

And they were. The ratio is actually 1 to 1.6 people.

The service really is extraordinary.

The staff worked their magic everywhere. I couldn't spot a single stain on any tablecloth or on any inch of my room.

No fading curtains.

Even during the day I spied a man with a paintbrush dabbing at the hallway walls. He'd obviously found an imperfect speck. No, I didn't see it.

The deck of Insignia.

The deck of Insignia.

The staff would do anything to help. Except for my request to interview the captain, which was sternly declined.

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"He has a ship to steer, madame. He's dedicated to his job."

I couldn't possibly argue with that, of course. 

Well, I did try, but was told it would take too long to get the OK from headquarters in Miami.

You might be wondering if I was treated differently because I'm a travel writer.

The answer is no.

Every one of the 600-plus passengers aboard the Insignia were treated like kings and queens, not just this particular "princess".

In one of Oceania Cruises' brochures it states: "Our mission is to exceed your expectations".

I thought it was likely a cheesy motto; but they're not joking.

And when every need is met, sometimes people can get picky.

I overheard this conversation on a perfectly fine winter's day. The waiter asked a chap: "Is everything perfectly OK, sir?"

Cooked-to-order cuisine at Insignia's Terrace Cafe Grill.

Cooked-to-order cuisine at Insignia's Terrace Cafe Grill.

The man replied: "Well, er, yes, perfect, thank you. Actually, beyond perfect."

The waiter asked next: "Are you sure there is nothing more I can possibly do for you. A little more water, wine or another serve of ice-cream or pudding. Anything?"

The man responded: "How about sunshine? Could you rustle up just a little more of that?"

The waiter chuckled and replied: "If only I could, sir. I definitely would love to do that for you".

Such service was not only dangerous to the waistline; there was also a real chance that my ego could explode like Mr Sunshine's.

I had to stop myself from returning home with a case of if-I-can't-get-it-now-syndrome.

You know, the kind of behaviour people can indulge in if they're used to getting everything they want, all the time.

But I enjoyed the extravagance and made the most of it. I knew there would be a pile of washing the height of the SkyTower when I got home…

There were stops scheduled in Hobart, Picton, Napier, Tauranga and Auckland during my 10 days of cruising.

We missed the Tauranga stop as the captain ruled it was too windy to go into port that day.

I did feel for some of the passengers who wouldn't get to experience Maori culture on a tour planned for Rotorua.

But I was pleased they put safety first and anyhow, a fresh itinerary for that day was whipped up within minutes.

Passengers were never given a chance to be bored.

We were offered art classes (I enjoyed a charcoal drawing lesson with an acclaimed artist during the trip) and there were also performances (a couple of orchestras and bands were among the entertainers on the ship, along with a pianist and magicians).

Or, if you preferred, you could just just drink cocktails by the pool (or the two spa pools).

With all the eating, I made a pact to hit the gym a few times, and ran on a treadmill while staring out to endless blue sea and sky.

During one session I glimpsed 10 dolphins playing alongside the ship.

I thought I was just pointing and whispering to the others in the gym but when I took out my earphones later I realised I must have been screaming, "DOLPHINS!"

Yes, just a little excited.

My favourite stop? It was Hobart.

I walked off the ship and around the nearby cute and pretty neighbourhood, then took a bus tour.

It went right to the top of Mount Wellington, a whopping 1,269 metres high.

It was bliss, sitting in the snow and among the clouds, looking out over Hobart and out to sea.

I truly felt close to heaven up there. 

Back on the ship, I met passengers from all over the world.

Insignia is a " mid-size" ship, with 10 levels and boasting bars, a ballroom, stage, casino, and a few shops.

But it's not so big that you could lose your room. Well, you could possibly if you had too many cocktails. Not that I'd know...

On a mid-size ship you soon get to know some of the staff and see familiar faces at dinnertime.

This means you also recognise the highly-acclaimed pianist when you happen across him with a tiny towel barely covering his mid-region.

He had been for a spa pool dip and was making a mad dash to his room, was my guess.

Our eyes met, we chuckled, and I think I said, "I enjoyed your performance" (not the flesh-revealing one, the piano performance).

However, the size of the ship also meant you felt the rise and fall of the sea if it was stormy.

Two nights were like this and I was rocked to sleep.

I was never sea sick, but a staff member joked after one of the rough nights: "I thought I might be speaking to the fish at one point".

Of course, he was joking. Well, kind of.

Being at sea was an adventure. It was fun. It was extravagant.

But by the time the ship berthed in Auckland I was ready to be home - and couldn't wait to do my own cooking, cleaning and bed-making. Honest.

Fact file

Insignia's next 20-night Sydney to Papeete voyage departs on 9 May 2016, calling at Hobart, Picton, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland, Apia, Pago Pago, Raiatea and Bora Bora.

From $9330 per person based on a Deluxe Ocean View Stateroom. Fares include: all onboard meals and entertainment; port charges, fees and gratuities; dining at all specialty restaurants; unlimited soft drinks, cappuccino, espresso, teas and juices, and 24-hour room service.

For more information on this and other Oceania Cruises itineraries, see OceaniaCruises.com.

The writer was a guest of Oceania Cruises.

 - Stuff

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