Whale of a time cruising the Timor Sea
WE DIDN'T order whale at the Japanese restaurant on our cruise ship - but one arrived anyway, and in spectacular fashion.
Only it didn't come on a plate. It passed us by, about 50 metres off the port bow, as Legend of the Seas sliced through the open waters of the Timor Sea, about a day out of Darwin.
The Izumi Restaurant, high above the waves on floor 11 of the liner, offers an outstanding view for such a treat, and a dozen fellow diners took full advantage, swarming to the floor-to-ceiling windows to let out a broadside of oohs and ahhs as the whale breached and spouted at least five times.
Not a bad way to celebrate my wife's birthday (her niece later claimed on Facebook that she had sent a whale-a-gram), and it finished with the ever-smiling Izumi staff providing a surprise cake and singing Happy Birthday in good voice - I think they get a lot of practice.
As well as live whale entertainment, the restaurant served up a terrific Japanese buffet selection and also free-flowing champagne.
After the whale excitement died down, I turned my gaze below to the sun-drenched pool deck, where a team of passengers was giving the allegedly "undefeated" crew line-up a lesson in water volleyball.
The pool deck was also the venue for crowd favourite competitions such as The Sexiest Man Alive and the World Belly Flop Title - hilarious entertainment and also an outlet for the more extroverted and shameless style of passenger.
But this is just a snapshot of life on board our 12-day cruise from Brisbane to Singapore on Legend of the Seas - one of the Royal Caribbean fleet - with day-trip stops at Airlie Beach, Cairns, Darwin and Bali.
When we boarded the spectacular 70,000-tonne liner (fresh from a $50 million makeover) at the Port of Brisbane to join 2300 other passengers, I really had no idea of what to expect, as it was my first cruise.
What I learnt over the next 12 days is that the Legend of the Seas crew of 700 is trained and motivated to provide extraordinary service to satisfy almost every taste and personality - and they are going full steam after the Queensland market with first-time embarkation at Brisbane.
Following its revitalisation in 2013, the ship now possesses new facilities guests won't find on any other cruise ship sailing from Brisbane.
These attractions include a central atrium - with a breathtaking acrobatic aerial show - a rock climbing wall (I made it up the beginner's section) overlooking a mini-golf course, an indoor swimming pool, kids' club and a baby nursery.
The ship also features six dining options including the Izumi, Chops Grille steakhouse and the exclusive Chef's Table private dining room.
She boasts the stunning two-floor Romeo and Juliet grand dining room, an 800-seat theatre, the Vitality Day Spa and a fitness centre, steam rooms and a shopping arcade and medical centre.
You can do as little or as much as you like in a tightly packed program of activities (including karaoke, keno and trivia contests, shuffleboard and table tennis tournaments) and entertainment (professional comedians, singers, dancers, magicians, tribute bands, piano bar etc) outlined on the daily Cruise Compass booklet delivered to your cabin every night.
We found it easy to meet other cruisers as, like us, they were super-relaxed and intent on having a good time.
And we feasted on an endless supply of quality tucker 24/7 at the half-dozen or so restaurants and cafes.
Which takes me to the relaxed dining option at the Windjammer buffet restaurant, where serious self-control may be needed (you can always walk it off thanks to a designated 400-metre path around the boat).
While dining is inclusive of the fare, there are three speciality dining experiences on offer, with surcharges, to provide even more variety.
*The writer was guest of Royal Caribbean Cruises.
Legend of the Seas
Legend of the Seas arrives in December for Royal Caribbean's first season sailing from Brisbane. During her five-month season, Legend of the Seas will embark on 15 itineraries in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific ranging from 2-18 nights, before repositioning back to Asia in April 2016.
An 18-night cruise from Hong Kong to Brisbane on Nov 20, 2015, which calls at Manila, Puerto Princesa, Kota Kinabalu, Bali, Darwin, Cairns and Whitsundays. A similar cruise operates in reverse, departing Brisbane on April 20, 2016.
Nine South Pacific cruises ranging from 8-10 nights.
One 14-night cruise to New Zealand.
Visits to the Whitsundays and Cairns on two seven-night Queensland sailings.
One two-night sampler cruise, giving cruisers a taste of Legend of the Seas.
For information or to book a cruise, visit http://www.royalcaribbean.com.au, phone 1800 754 500 or see your local travel agent.