The day begins like any other; you’re startled awake by an offensively loud alarm, which is promptly snoozed to allow for an extra 10 minutes of snuggling under the covers.
But your sleepy brain soon remembers it’s not just another day, and you manage to drag yourself out of bed in time to catch sight of the rising sun’s dazzling gold rays shining low over calmly rolling ocean waters.
No land is in sight.
Are you planning your next vacation and looking for a quick midday daydream?
Read The New Daily’s 48 hours onboard a cruise ship for a different lens on holidaying.
A buzzing doorbell announces the arrival of the pre-ordered breakfast, and that’s how I spend the first half hour of my morning eating fruit, pancakes and a pain au chocolat on my private balcony while watching land slowly encroach on the sea as the ship pulls into port.
Later, guests make their way to go on an excursion into New South Wales’ Hunter Valley. I strike up a conversation with an older couple holidaying from America (something you’ll find is a common theme among the ship’s passengers).
After watching a crew member scramble back and forth amid requests for headsets that fit over hearing aids everyone finally disembarks and we’re given a bottle of water before we head onto a bus.
The tour guide battles with a malfunctioning headset as she talks about Newcastle’s history and main exports.
Beyond the city’s borders, “On your right!” and “On your left!” rings out as everyone clamours to spot kangaroos on the fields lining the increasingly winding and bumpy road.
Upon disembarking, there is some grumbling from guests disappointed to learn the term ‘cellar door’, with only a few rows of picked-clean grape vines to photograph instead of the vineyard that some imagined.
But the prospect of a wine tasting perks up everyone, and guests head inside to try everything from a light sparkling Chambourcin to a honey-thick-and-sweet Muscat dessert wine.
A friendly debate between the winery staff and American visitors over corked versus screw-top wine is followed by an even-friendlier grape-stomping competition.
Although some are disappointed to be stomping supermarket grapes instead of ones fresh off the vine – the season is long over, after all – we vigorously take part, slipping and sliding over the icy grapes slowly turning to mush.
There are cheers from the victorious team as everyone lines up – feet still sticky and covered in juice and the odd grape skin – to await their turn to be hosed off.
Next on the to-do list is pavlova making, with the meringue beautifully browned on the table in front of us before we’re allowed to dig into the sugary sweetness.
By the time we make it back to the cruise ship, we are all long past ready to eat, and turn to room service.
This time, it’s an American-style hot dog and fries, followed by a decadent chocolate brownie because everyone knows it’s against the rules to refuse dessert on a holiday.
Then I throw on my bathers and head down to the ship’s Nordic spa, keen to take advantage before the crowds set in.
Within seconds of settling into the steam room, beads of sweat well up all over my body; a few minutes later, the oppressive heat and steam makes it hard to open my eyes.
By now I’ve had enough and I swap the steam room for the ‘snow grotto’, an almost-identical room filled with snow, and revel in the refreshing cold.
The world gently sways as the ship leaves port.
I switch between the hot and cold rooms twice more before taking a swim in the hydrotherapy pool and hot tub – both of which are equipped with jets so powerful I am left feeling boneless and jelly-legged when I can finally drag myself away.
It’s not every day anyone get to indulge in a degustation menu, and there’s no reason not to tonight when there’s an obliging restaurant onboard and the cost for all meals on the cruise is covered by the ticket.
Guests can enjoy five consecutive dishes and their designated wine pairings.
The lychee foam topping the lemongrass and red chilli granita is strongly reminiscent of the white foam topping the black waves visible through a nearby window.
After dinner, I wander through the atrium and pick up one of the (oddly-specific number of) 1003 books placed around the ship, and lose myself in a story for a while as a string duo plays classical music nearby.
For more lively entertainment guests head to the jazz lounge-style club, where velvet-voiced singers belt out everything from Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl to Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud.
After desperately avoiding eye contact, I am dragged onto the small dance floor by an older lady determined to get every woman up during a rousing rendition of Shania Twain’s Man! I Feel Like A Woman!
One more drink, and I call it a night, leaving slow-moving couples to dance the night away.
If guests can manage an early waking they will be rewarded with another dazzling ocean sunrise, breathing in the surprisingly-not-too-salty ocean air.
The buffet breakfast is enjoyed outside on the ship’s deck, and is made even better when a new friend I met yesterday sits down to join me.
As the cruise ship makes its way across the Tasman Sea, we head up to the sports deck for a game of ping pong – but end up battling the ocean winds more than each other.
Back downstairs, I pass a spirited game of Cornhole and spend the next hour floating in the deck’s infinity pool, tempted to jump the clear panel barrier separating me from the ocean.
Reluctantly passing an assorted offering of cakes and gelato, I head for the pool grill and eat one of the best burgers I have had in ages; a thick, juicy beef patty and perfectly caramelised onions that put to shame all fast food joints.
The afternoon kicks off with a 50-minute Nordic facial.
The Swedish aesthetician expertly examines my skin, then gently subjects me to almost an hour of heated towel wraps, pore cleansing, moisturising, facial cupping, and massaging.
The pampered version of me that leaves the spa mentally erases buying a house off my wish list in favour of hiring a live-in facialist, because how on earth can I go on not having that experience every day?
By now, I am far too relaxed to worry about my complete lack of artistic talent as I wander in to the watercolour painting class.
Somehow, I emerge with a piece of work that surprisingly resembles the golden wattle we had been tasked with recreating, though my hands are covered in paint like a toddler coming home from a hard day’s work at kindergarten.
I spend some time fruitlessly trying to help put together a slightly-worn 1000-piece puzzle that the ship’s passengers are collectively working on throughout the cruise, before meeting friends for high tea that features the works; scones, finger sandwiches, tiny desserts and a dizzying selection of teas to choose from.
After a pre-dinner (let’s pretend that’s a thing) of swordfish sushi and lobster, I head to the cruise ship’s theatre and catch the end of a lecture on Australian national treasure, the late Steve Irwin.
Then it’s on to an Italian restaurant, where I marvel for a while at the menu before realising everything can be ordered in half-portions so I can taste more dishes.
As I wonder who I need to speak to make this mandatory in restaurants across Australia, me and my friends enjoy everything from truffles to zucchini-wrapped tiger prawns, topping it all off with a classic tiramisu.
I wrap up the night on my private balcony, gazing into the inky blackness of a night sky unmarred by city lights, and watch otherwise calm water transform into swathes of white foam and mist as it’s pushed out of the ship’s steady path.
The New Daily journalist travelled as a guest of Viking Cruises
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