ON a nostalgic cruise from Singapore to Australia, it’s as good to travel in bygone style as it is to arrive
DARTING between Singapore’s modern city skyscrapers in the busy afternoon traffic, I remember the words on my ticket, “Please board on time or the ship will sail without you!”
I’m en route to embark on a nine-day voyage from the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, via exotic Bali and onwards to the beautiful white sand beaches of Fremantle in Western Australia.
Singapore is a melting pot of culture and history, and where the world’s hard-core shoppers come to splash their cash on fashion, jewellery and fine food. I had spent the day delving into the cornucopia of treats that Singapore has to offer. At the famous Raffles Hotel, also known as the “Grand Dame” of Singapore, I sampled the secret ingredients of their legendary cocktail, the Singapore Sling, and then visited the spectacular botanical gardens which were full of blooming orchids.
In her bygone splendour, the MS Astor departs along the Singapore Strait under cover of darkness, bound for the pristine shores of Fremantle. Flanked by endless ocean, we sail at an average of 14.5 knots, while watching Singapore’s lights fade to black, and counting down the 1,010 nautical miles it takes to reach Bali, my first port of call.
Most passengers had boarded the ship at the start of the cruise in northern Italy, before sailing through the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The ship attracts many Australians, who help achieve a relaxed mood, although there were a few disgruntled faces when the ship ran short of Vegemite and Australian beer.
The Astor is a classic cruise liner which manages to offer an authentic experience, evoking nostalgia for the halcyon days of trans-Pacific sea crossings. With her seven decks and weighing 21,000 tons, she carries up to 600 souls. She is an intimate ship, where you are known by your name, not your cabin number, and her recent £14 million refurbishment is reflected in the classy finish of the cabins and facilities.
Daily newsletters and Tannoy announcements keep passengers updated about multiple activities on board and we spend our time soaking up the sun by the outdoor pool, turning our focus to art classes, or playing tennis on an open-air court.
The ship does not have a casino, but passengers keep themselves busy with shuffle board, zumba, learning how to mix the perfect cocktail, quizzes and bingo. My early mornings are spent bent double in yoga classes, or working up a sweat in the air-conditioned gym, followed by a relaxing stint in the spa.
The ship has two restaurants: the stylish à la carte Waldorf restaurant, and the open-seated Ubersee Club, where a large hot and cold buffet is laid out. The quality is good enough for me to forgive the occasionally repetitive menu.
Evenings are centred around the Astor Lounge, where the cabaret never fails to entertain, despite the ceilings being too low for the famous finale lift in Dirty Dancing.
The place to be late in the evening is the Hanse bar on the al fresco Boots deck, where cocktails flow and passengers dance into the wee hours; some even stay until sunrise.
My suite, conveniently situated at the heart of the ship, lacks a balcony but is fitted with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning ocean views. The wardrobe is spacious and amply accommodates my belongings. The bathroom, although small, has a walk-in shower and all the essentials.
While we sleep, the ship crosses the Java Sea and we wake to find ourselves in Benoa Harbour on the east coast of Bali. Known as “The Island of the Gods”, Bali is hot and crowded, yet beautiful. Ship excursions depart on tours taking in the island’s varied landscape. There are idyllic beaches, simmering volcanoes and delicious food, but it’s the warmth of the people that makes it so easy to fall in love with Bali. Some passengers haggle over taxi prices into Kuta, the main shopping area six miles from the harbour, where the streets are mostly lined with small shops selling souvenirs and knock-off DVDs, bags and watches.
We leave for Australia as the sunset douses Bali in a deep orange glow. From the deck I see fishermen in small colourful wooden boats bobbing about on the water. It’s a beautiful departure.
With four days of sailing ahead I wallow in the vast expanse of the ocean, soaking up the sun and fresh sea air. Some nights I settle in a deckchair on the top deck waiting for the moon and bright stars to fill the sky and bring a soft light to the dark ocean.
Excitement gathers as we near the equator, and congregate on deck to raise a celebratory glass. We cross into Australian waters and just 26 miles from shore slowly glide past Australia’s North West Cape and along the west coast until I finally spot birds flying overhead and make out a slither of land on the horizon.
When we enter Fremantle Harbour, we pass a never-ending convoy of cargo ships carrying valuable minerals excavated from the prosperous mines of Western Australian, most destined for China.
After docking alongside the Maritime Museum on Victoria Quay, 13 miles from the bustling streets of downtown Perth, and under a blue sky and warm sun, I disembark.
For a chance to visit a host of exotic locations with little effort, travel in comfort and with an opportunity to learn new skills, eat great food and be entertained along the way, the MS Astor is surely the most gracious way to reach Australia.
• The next Cruise and Maritime cruise from London Tilbury to Fremantle, Australia, (taking an alternative route to that above) sails on 16 October next year, from £4,259pp.
• The cruise takes 54 nights, stops at Funchal (Madeira), St John’s (Antigua), Castries (St Lucia), Bridgetown (Barbados), Acapulco (Mexico), Nuku Hiva (Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia), Papeete (Tahiti, French Polynesia), Moorea (French Polynesia), Auckland (New Zealand), Sydney, Adelaide, Kangaroo Island and Fremantle (Australia).
• www.cruiseandmaritime.com (0844 414 6185)
• Tourism Western Australia: For general travel information visit www.westernaustralia.com