Watching the world float by
Sarah Berry indulges in food and sea air in a weekend away that doesn't involve driving anywhere.
I can't think of a better weekend than one spent having a relaxed adventure somewhere by the seaside; the fresh, salty sea breeze can awaken you from your epicurean coma. Just in time for the next round of indulgent delights, of course.
The consensus is with me on the heady mix of adventure and indulgence. Weekends away represent the biggest segment of the Australian holiday market. Whether you like to be beside the seaside, at the cellar door or tickling your taste buds with regional delicacies; whether you like action or relaxation, there is something to suit everyone.
And now, cruise ships are getting in on the weekend escape action too. P&O are offering themed weekends away based around comedy, food and wine, or lifestyle. The three to four-night cruises are a little different to the stock standard cruise, but still bring together all the best bits of a short break.
With a program including chocolate and cheese tastings, wine masterclasses, coffee appreciation sessions and cooking demonstrations by renowned chefs among other activities, my cruising companion and I are on board.
And that's despite my boat buddy being afraid of boats. A food and wine weekend with wondrous views of the water? Yes, please, thanks very much.
Until the message advising us of a delayed departure due to high seas, that is. Two to three-metre swells, they say.
"Please don't make me go to the high sea deathbed," my cruise companion says.
After prying her white knuckles from the gangway at Sydney's Barangaroo, we make it on board the Pacific Pearl. Thankfully she needn't have worried, it is to be a weekend of smooth sailing and indulgent adventure.
The weather is amazing, and although the ocean air is icy the captain cruises down the south coast to the Victorian border, chasing the sun (the navigational route for each trip changes depending on weather conditions).
As virgin cruisers, we aren't sure what to expect of the accommodation or any of the activities.
The joys of cruising, as we ascertain from our seasoned sea comrades, come in many forms. People can participate in as many or as few of the activities as they choose. Because it's inclusive, it's also budget-friendly.
Experiences such as the magnificent Luke Mangan restaurant or the spa are extra, but you don't need to spend more money if you don't want to. All entertainment and experiences are brought to you. And you get to watch the world float by. Literally. Which is ridiculously relaxing.
I'd recommend getting a room with a balcony as the rooms are compact and the sea air is too sweet to miss a minute of. The beds and pillows are soft and lovely. And being rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling of waves is seriously soothing.
Cruising is not for everyone though. On our food and wine weekend, there are about 2000 passengers of all ages and associations, which isn't everyone's idea of getting away from it all.
There are 800 crew and over 90 chefs. If you like numbers, you might also be interested to know they use around 24,000 eggs, 2000 litres of milk per day and 1200 kilograms of flour per day. There are seven restaurants on board the Pacific Pearl, a range of bars and four age-specific children's centres, including the largest teen lounge in the fleet, which has been specially designed for 11 to 17-year-olds.
According to the International Cruise Council of Australasia, Australian cruise passenger numbers have tripled in the past five years.
For my boating buddy and I, we can absolutely appreciate the appeal of lying in bed for a weekend watching the world float past our window, while we read and relax. The chocolate and the coffee sessions are also standouts for both quality of information and enjoyment, as is dinner at the Luke Mangan grill - decadently delicious, fresh food. I must confess that our table has seconds of the liquorice parfait.
An afternoon spent at the gym followed by a steam room and sauna session is a cleansing antidote to all the indulgence. And although treatments are on the expensive side, an "oxidermy" facial at the spa is pretty spectacular too.
The great thing we discover about cruising is that you can choose your cruise. Whether you go for a big or little ship, a long or short cruise, an indulgent or intrepid style, there is a cruise to suit everyone. Even those who aren't bent on boats.
As for my boating buddy and I, we manage to find our sea legs. One hundred per cent.
The writer travelled as a guest of P&O Cruises.
P&O Cruises will offer more than 30 departures in 2013 - including 18 winter departures and new four-night escapes - across themes such as comedy, food and wine, and lifestyle (which offers fashion, cocktail and pet-whispering workshops among other things), plus new short breaks to coincide with special events including Mother's Day and Christmas in July.
Fares on three-night food and wine cruises from Sydney next year start from A$399* per person quad share.
Fares include accommodation, main meals, and onboard entertainment and activities.