Inside a giant of the sea

ROBERT UPE
Last updated 15:12 12/11/2012

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The wind is in my hair when my putter makes contact with the golf ball. Thwack. It rolls nicely towards the hole but deviates at the last moment, probably a quirk of the local conditions.

There is a hint of salt spray in the air and a heavy southerly swell but this golf course is not next to the sea. It's on top of the sea.

To be precise, I'm on the sixth hole on the Voyager Dunes course on an upper deck of one of the world's biggest cruise ships, the Voyager of the Seas.

Life on board the megaliner, which pulled into Station Pier at Port Melbourne on Sunday morning for a 12-hour stopover, is rollicking fun.

If you are not on the mini-golf course, you could be lying on a deck chair next to one of the ship's three swimming pools, watching a 3D movie (Men in Black 3 screened yesterday), climbing on a rock wall, inline skating or trying your luck in the casino.

There's also a promenade that is lined with shops, bars and cafes. On Saturday morning it's as tightly packed as any suburban shopping mall in the lead-up to Christmas.

There are also occasional street parades along this strip by Dreamworks characters from movie hits such as Shrek and Madagascar.

The Pig and Whistle English-style bar is particularly popular along the promenade and there is also a sports bar where an old red Morgan convertible catches the eye. Shops sell Coach leather goods, Lacoste shirts and duty-free perfumes. This is a slice of suburbia afloat.

There are 1694 Australians on the current 18-day cruise from Fremantle to Sydney via New Zealand. Also prominent on the passenger list are 1000 Britons, and Americans, Europeans and Chinese.

Most passengers may be aged 60 or older on this cruise, but the ship has strong appeal to families when it is on shorter cruises.

Fares for the cruise started at A$1800 ($2298) for an inside cabin, but some suites cost more than A$10,000.

The fare covers pretty much everything, including meals, room service, broadway-style shows and other entertainment. Drinks are extra but at least they are reasonably priced.

Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas is big by any measure. It carries 3800 passengers and is the eighth-biggest cruise ship in the world.

It will be based in Australia this summer for a series of cruises to the South Pacific and New Zealand.

When it was built in 1999, it was rated the biggest cruise ship in the world and the shipbuilders presented the then captain with a scooter so he could get around the 15 decks more easily.

The blue scooter, with inflatable tyres and a gold plaque on the handlebars that says "captain" is kept on the bridge where the current skipper, Charles Tiege, is happy to show it off, but never uses it. Captain Tiege says the advantage of a ship as big as Voyager of the Seas is the breadth of its offering.

"This ship was built with guests in mind. We asked guests what they wanted and then the Voyager was built around their feedback. We have everything from an ice-skating rink, to golf, basketball, movies, and kids' programmes from three months to 19 years old.

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"We have a lot of three-generation families travelling with us. So you can see there is something for everybody. If you want to sit on a balcony and read a book and look at the horizon you can do that, if you want to play in the casino you can do that. There are 700 or 800 activities. It is just like a floating city."

Keeping everyone fed is executive chef Andrew Norman, who is responsible for turning out 20,000 meals a day.

The former Melbourne chef manages US$1 million of food a month and there are eight kitchens, 125 cooks and chefs, and 70 kitchen hands.

"We use 400 dozen eggs and 300 kilograms of bacon a day, and during a cruise we will use up 4000 kilograms of bananas," he said.

The dining room seats 1920 people and is spread over three levels. It is dominated by a grand chandelier in the centre, but is it a Gordon Ramsay Hell's Kitchen behind the scenes?

Not so, according to Mr Norman.

"I only yell when I can't be heard. The kitchen is like a stage production. Everyone has their part to play and we have systems in place. We can do 1500 main courses in about 35 minutes. It's a slick operation."

Fast facts

* Voyager of the Seas can carry 3800 passengers plus about 1200 crew.

* At 137,000 GRT (a measure of volume rather than weight), she weighs more than 30,000 elephants. She is 42,000 tons larger than the US navy's biggest aircraft carrier.

* 18,000 pieces of pizza are served on each cruise.

* There are 10 dining options from cafes to restaurants and 14 bars.

* There are 1557 cabins.

- Robert Upe cruised on Voyager of the Seas from Adelaide to Melbourne courtesy of Royal Caribbean.

- The Age

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