From travelling in different types of planes and squeezing into share-cabs, to risking my life in tuk-tuks and riding pillion on modified motorcycles, I had done it all – except sail on a cruise ship the likes of those I had seen as a child in Swettenham Pier, Penang.
So imagine my joy when, in mid-August this year, I finally had the chance to go on a cruise liner – and get a taste of Italy and Japan while at it!
Costa neoRomantica promised five days of ‘Italy At Sea’ with authentic Italian dishes, wine and cheese, opera shows and dance parties. An evening of wine and cheese at Enoteca Verona was unforgettable, as passengers chose from over 80 wine labels and 100 cheeses from around the world.
The cruise also promised the beauty of coastal Japan for its excursions, specifically the cities of Fukuoka, Maizuru, Kanazawa and Sakaiminato, and a stopover in Busan, South Korea.
Despite the long voyage from Kuala Lumpur to our destinations, I was awake with excitement as we arrived at the first port. In true Japanese fashion, immigration and check-in procedures were done in record time, with polite greetings from everyone.
Costa neoRomantica was recently remodelled for over €90mil (RM451mil), resulting in an elegant and grand floating hotel. I thought my cabin would be small, but I was pleased to see a very comfortable bed and bathroom, with plenty of room for exercises.
If you can’t live without the Internet, fret not. Though the on-board connection comes with a US$30 (RM125) per 1MB price tag, it is worth it. I had no problem getting on social media with friends on Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp.
I was already impressed with what the cruise had to offer, but when I took the lift up to the open deck, I knew we were just getting started. I saw what only be described as that moment everyone dreams of on a cruise holiday.
A number of passengers were sunbathing along the deck, sipping cocktails from the Lido Bar Saint-Tropez and watching their young charges in the pool. Meanwhile, our media group was taken to the private Lido Bar Montecarlo and jacuzzi, complete with cabanas and a spectacular view of the sea.
For health and fitness, the ship also has Samsara Spa, an indoor gym, and a running track on the deck if you want a workout after all the eating.
There was no shortage of food, as passengers had access to dining around-the-clock at different restaurants. For our main meals, we could choose being served at the Botticelli restaurant, or binging on the buffet at Giardino, or ordering room service.
I’m prone to late-night hunger pangs, so I made regular visits to Grill Capri’s noodle and salad bar (10:30pm-midnight) and went for their sandwiches and salads (midnight-6am).
There are speciality restaurants on-board that are chargeable, like Mamma Trattoria where I had a fine six-course dinner paired with wines. Passengers have to pay to dine at La Fiorentina Steakhouse too, but its luxurious experience is worth every cent.
For me, Italian dining isn’t complete without pizza, so my group and I were delighted to find Pizzeria Napoli below the open deck. It’s the only restaurant on a cruise ship with a wood-fire oven, serving pies so delicious we returned three times during our trip.
Before anyone thinks that life on a cruise is just about food, there was much more to do apart from stuffing our faces. There was a lot of variety entertainment, with two different shows every night at least.
It’s easy to lose track of what’s happening on a huge ship, but all the activities are covered in the Today programme book delivered to the cabins daily.
Cabaret Vienna, the cruise liner’s lounge, hosts a different performance each night, from live music to dancing to magic shows. Passengers can also relax with pre-dinner drinks and live music in the intimate setting of Grand Bar Piazza Italia on Deck 8.
One evening I truly enjoyed was the Captain’s dinner party, where ship officers dressed in tuxedos and ballroom gowns danced with the children. The dashing officers also manned a pop-up bar to serve crafted cocktails to passengers, before giving the adult guests a chance to dance with them too.
Other dazzling events included a White Party where guests came dressed in white, and a masquerade ball with Venetian masks for purchase. We were also enthralled by the opera performances given by the European singers from whom we could not look away.
Of course, we also took the opportunity to explore the cities where the ship docked. Shore excursions are available, but for a hassle-free visit and peace of mind, it’s best to book through the cruise liner.
I’m happy to have ticked cruise ship off my bucket list of travel experiences. Now I know that life on a luxury liner is far from boring when you choose the right cruise.