36 hours on the big Golden Princess from Sydney to Melbourne: genius or simply silly?

OK, SO cruising isn’t for everyone. There are lovers and loathers.

But if it is something you have been tempted to try but worry about potentially being ‘stuck’ on a ship for 10 days, the two-day cruise I’ve just disembarked from gives you a perfect taste of cruise life.

Whether you are ‘Rousey’ and his mates (all in matching embroidered T-shirts and on board celebrating his 40th); a family of six doing a trip back home to Melbourne from a visit to Sydney, gentle retired couples, a gang of race-going mates, a gaggle of girlfriends, or someone like me, who is heading to the Spring Racing Carnival, the journey between Sydney and Melbourne was never more, well, different.

During those 538 nautical miles (that’s around 990km or approximately one hour on a plane) you actually have time to take a tour of the galley and the bridge. And while some of you may roll your eyes with boredom as soon as I mention that, I actually learnt some interesting stuff.

Like this particular ship — the Golden Princess — left Sydney with 150 tonnes of totally fresh produce on board, as the ship was going onto another trip for eight more days.

With a huge Australian guest list, I learned from the head chef Andrea Baiardo, that Aussies prefer lamb over lobster (crustaceans are an American cruiser fave, by the way); that we drink more cocktails than any other nationality on board, tea consumption is greater from Australians and we prefer our beer straight out of a bottle. Standard. (But a nice little slice of Aussie culinary behaviour for you.)

The thing about this ship is that is took about 36 hours to go from Sydney to Melbourne. While that is a big chunk out of any working week, it was, for many, a mini holiday, with one full day at sea and two nights. And there are Wi-Fi packages: so (intermittent) connection guaranteed. Hallelujah!

We arrived in Melbourne very, very early on Friday, having left late on Wednesday, and were picked up by a river pilot about 3am before we sailed into Port Melbourne with all of the fanfare of helicopters flying around the ship with huge “Welcome to Melbourne” flags.

Sure, cruising is not for everyone. But if you pick and choose your on and off board activities — whether that includes lots or none at all — I actually found it a really pleasant way to get to Melbourne.

I got some work done; was in a new environment and like so many of us can do now, worked remotely the entire time. Perfect!

And we haven’t even spoken about the cost yet. (See below for those some pretty impressive details.)

THE GOOD THINGS:

• The food is seriously endless and bloody good. The Princess Cruises group have done a culinary deal with celebrity chef Curtis Stone. There are a handful of dishes (created mainly by Italian chefs) including Stone’s famous roasted pork belly (570 servings of that went down on Thursday night) and his chicken and leek pot pie which are both on the menu in a handful of the ‘smarter’ restaurants on board. And don’t forget there are seemingly countless bars and buffets of all varieties dotted around the ship and the pools.

• Never forget that on a ship, you can do as little as you want or as much as you want. There is no pressure to do a thing.

• On any one day there are personal training sessions, LGBT get-togethers, musical bingo, karaoke madness, origami lessons, pampering seminars and yes, something called the Skywalkers Nightclub. A disco divas paradise. (Of course I popped in!)

• Oh, and there are acupuncture sessions, Zumba classes, trivia challenges, carpet bowls, blackjack tournaments, piano recitals, outdoor movies, ping pong tournaments, impressionists, line dancing lessons and one very full on British Invasion theatre show. Think Rolling Stones, The Beatles et al …

• I love the fact that once you are unpacked, you are unpacked. No schlepping from hotel to hotel or city to city with constant packing and unpacking.

• And if you are not liking your two days sojourn, don’t fret. It is ONLY two days, but I seriously challenge you to find something you will NOT savour. Even looking out to sea from your balcony gives you a sense of quiet, calm, thinking time.

• There were 200 kids on this ship and we saw hardly any — they are SO well catered for that you’d never know they were on board.

• Everyone on board is genuinely friendly — whether that’s because many were en route to the Spring Racing Carnival, who knows? Spirits just seemed to be high as most guests are in holiday mode

• You arrive relaxed, maybe slightly overweight (boy, the food never stops) and provided you don’t get motion sickness, you are going to have a brilliant sleep. I promise.

• The Lotus Spa — the ships signature named pampering posse — gave me the most wicked hot stone massage — my muscles are still reeling in ecstasy. There are also facials, manis, pedis, teeth whitening treatments (yup!) and whatever your beauty heart desires.

THE NOT SO GOOD THINGS:

• Like everything, you get what you pay for — so you’re not going to get caviar and Krug champagne — but this isn’t one of those smaller, much pricier cruises where that is the culinary norm.

• You really have to be careful of your on-board account card, as it is used for drinking, gaming, shopping and spa treatments. It’s easy to rack up ‘unexpected’ bucks you didn’t realise you were spending.

• Like everywhere in life, not every guest is going to be your cup of, well, whatever, but this ship is SOO big it is incredibly easy to avoid anyone who may have rubbed you up the wrong way.

• I am being honest here, but the slight odour from the poor guest who threw up not far from my room took a while to subside but there were plenty of cleaners on duty 24/7 trying getting rid of the stench.

• This particular cruise is not a runway fashion show: I really wouldn’t bother packing anything too grand or glam. The bejewelled earrings and killer designer heels stayed in my suitcase.

• A few guests twirled around the ship sans shoes — something I never quite get — not for any silly style reason but more from a safety point of view. There are a few moments of delicate walkway diplomacy needed.

• Oh, and there is no way you can make the ship go any faster — this is a ‘commitment’ travel. So be prepared.

***

Packages for this particular two night jaunt started at $470 per person. And when you do your sums and work out what you get, it’s mighty good value.

Considering that includes an extremely comfortable room (it had the best bed and fabulous linen), all food, a small balcony with an uninterrupted sea view (that’s an essential, I reckon), as much entertainment as you want, adults-only and all-ages pools, in room TV, a good size bathroom and basically whatever activity you want to do. Yes. It’s great value.

And while the Princess Line isn’t in the incredibly up-market league of Seabourn or Silver Seas or Crystal Cruises, 1.7 million people make a journey on one of the cruise company’s 18 ships each year. And that number is growing ridiculously huge each year. Australians, it seems, love cruising

Sure, it may have only been 36 hours, but it gave me a taste of a new way of affordable and everyday cruising from one major city to the other.

As of today, this ship is now calling Melbourne home over summer and the one thing it is out to prove is that mainstream and affordable cruising has gone from daggy and at-times questionable to fun very, very tasty, super organised and efficient..

And, hey, what a terrific way for my race day hatbox to travel.

Now, it’s time to hop off and gear up to giddy up!

• Melissa Hoyer was a guest of Princess Cruises on the Golden Princess from Sydney to Melbourne just in time to #giddyup!

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


Etihad airways teams up with LUXE City Guides for stylish new business class amenity kits

Etihad Airways has launched a colourful new range of collectable limited-edition Business Class amenity kits, the result of a unique collaboration between the airline and luxury travel brand LUXE City Guides, the straight-talking, highly curated go-to guide for savvy travellers.

The stylish new kits embody the contemporary and innovative flair synonymous with the Etihad Airways brand, and contain inflight amenities and natural facial products developed exclusively by London-based skincare and grooming brand Scaramouche + Fandango.

Six new stylised kit designs have been created by LUXE City Guides for Etihad Airways, inspired by some of the iconic cities on the airline’s extensive global network. The designs for Abu Dhabi, London and Madrid, have been specially produced for Etihad Airways, whilst the Sydney, Los Angeles and Hong Kong kits feature bespoke LUXE artwork. Each kit contains a customised Etihad Airways LUXE City Guide which corresponds to the showcased city,covering everything from hotels and restaurants, to spas, bars, boutiques and bespoke shopping, as well as services, specialists and personal guides.

Scaramouche + Fandango has developed an exclusive unisex comfort kit and skincare offering in collaboration with Etihad Airways. Specially formulated for skincare needs inflight, the range consists of paraben-free products, high in natural ingredients, to enhance onboard wellbeing.

Calum Laming, Etihad Airways’ Vice President Guest Experience, said: “The introduction of these kits is not about providing brand names to our Business Class guests. It is about intelligent design, functionality and providing them with products which are attractive, natural, useful and re-usable. Collaborating with relevant, progressive lifestyle brands such as LUXE City Guides and Scaramouche + Fandango has enabled us to tailor amenities to the requirements of our guests while retaining all the authentic charm and sophistication of the Etihad Airways brand.

“Etihad Airways continues to reimagine the flying experience, setting a new benchmark for innovation and luxury. The introduction of these kits is part of a much bigger journey which was started with the introduction of our new revolutionary cabins on the flagship Airbus A380 and Boeing 787s, and the new service concepts introduced fleet-wide. These collectable kits also reflect the global nature of our business, while simultaneously highlighting the inspiration, style and unique qualities of our home, Abu Dhabi.”

The Abu Dhabi kit uses a unique design pattern inspired by the rich architectural heritage of the Emirate, translated into a style best described as Arabian Modernism. The pattern reflects the Etihad Airways’ brand and colour palette.

Reminiscent of 1960s pop culture, the London kit uses the bold colours of the iconic London Underground map while the Madrid kit features the red and yellow of the Spanish flag in a pattern symbolising the city’s famous annual Carnival.

The initial limited-edition offering will be expanded at a later stage, with new designs and more cities to be launched.

Simon Westcott, LUXE City Guides Chief Executive Officer, said: “Etihad Airways offers one of the best in-flight experiences in the world. In partnering with LUXE City Guides to create its new Business Class amenity kits, Etihad helps ensure that the premium experience extends long after its guests have landed. It is great to be working with fellow innovators.”

The comfort kit features a luxurious facial moisturiser enriched with vitamin E and made with anti-oxidants and essential oils to combat fatigue and the lower humidity levels in the cabin. Triglycerides and essential oils rebalance the skin’s natural moisture. A honey and shea butter lip balm enriched with vitamin E keeps lips hydrated.

The new kits also include a sleep pack containing socks and eyemask, a care pack containing cotton pads and earbuds, in addition to a dental pack and earplugs.


Meet the busiest pedestrian crossing in the world: Shibuya, Tokyo . . .

IT’S one of the busiest pedestrian crossings in the world. Five major crosswalks converge together, and up to 2500 people try to cross the road at each change of lights. But remarkably, it’s orderdly. There’s no pushing and everyone is polite.

That could be because the crossing is in Tokyo, the world’s largest city. Its 34 million residents are used to crowds, and even during rush hour everyone is totally ordered.

The busy crossing is located in the city’s Shibuya district, home to one of Tokyo’s busiest train stations.

It’s a cacophony of noise, of billboards, mega-lighting, neons, cool kids, gigantic buildings and fast strides.

But when the pedestrian light turns green, the race is on and they’re (we ALL are) on a pedestrian crossing mission.

But in among what COULD be a complete schmozzle and pacing disaster zone, everyone gets where they are going with little fuss.

So, yes, I just HAD to give it a go.

Weirdly, and as if in on some kind of automotive cue, the human masses on all four corners surge forward once the ‘walk’ light turns green.

Seen brilliantly from above — like I did from possibly one of the most popular vantage points, umm, the panoramic Starbucks and also from the lift of the Excel Shibuya hotel — every ‘body’ was like a soldier entering battle.

There was no clashing in the middle — crossing the road is more like poetry in motion, a nearly choreographed event (or a fluid Tai-Chi or yoga class, at least) where every movement seemed to be ordered and seamless.

At each given time, the mass of legs and moving bodies may only last a minute, but as soon as that 60 seconds of movement is up, the crossing reverts back to being a sea of bleeting and beeping cars, buses and coloured taxis.

Sure, there are always a few stragglers. (Hello me!) – who use every last second to finally get to the ‘other side’. (Usually busy on a device snapping away.)

It’s funny, but nearly everywhere else in the world a huge pedestrian crossing like this could be daunting.

But weirdly, all of the passing peeps don’t seem as chaotic and mad as those on other major intersections in cities like New York, Paris, London, Melbourne, Sydney or the total madness of Beijing.

Simply, the simple art of walking through a pedestrian crossing at Shibuya is an experience.

Of course there is potential for a bit of human collision, but for some strange reason, it all runs so systematically and ordered.

And who would ever think that this would be something you would want to put on your travel bucket list? (By the way, Shibuya is also the home to Tokyo’s best night life.)

Well, I did. I did it. And it was actually best to experience the crossing at night time.

Even at 9pm, the place was buzzing with mega lights and billboards making it even more exhilarating and exciting.

As simple as it sounds, but how much fun was is to be part of one minute of pure, pedestrian madness and be part of complete anonymity in a sea of humans.

And all with just one common goal: to get from one side of the main streets of Shibuya to another.

Melissa is in Tokyo as a guest of fashion retailer, Max & Co.

Follow the conversation on Twitter and Instagram @melissahoyer


The trip that tainted flying for ever . . .

THE worst thing about flying up the pointy end of a plane (a real #firstworldproblem) is that you never want to go back to flying any other way.

The sheer thrill and the internal shriek factor I felt inside (a feeling I tried to cooly hide when my upgraded boarding pass was handed over at Los Angeles airport last week) made me nearly cry. Tears of joy.

First class travel is up there in bucket list land. Chances are most of us will just dream about it. But when I was invited to try it out on the sky’s big boy, a Qantas A380, on a flight back from Los Angeles, I came home with some very bad news. It totally rocks. And here’s why.

As soon as you check in you make your way to the lounge. Not just any old lounge but the FIRST class lounge, which in itself makes you feel like you have joined the smarty pants society. A glass of champagne and anything you like from the lounge restaurant — one croque monsieur thanks — and it was time to board.

Once on board, and yes, there is absolutely NO queue when you are ushered toward the left of the plane. Well, actually even though you board via the front doors, you actually turn right when you’re travelling first on an A380. Small detail. But hey, it’s first class, so who cares?

OK, so I’m on board.

As soon as I perch myself in my seat (more a suite than a seat) a chilled glass of real deal champagne is gently popped into my hand. It is served, not with a teeny pack of pretzels or peanuts but with two exquisite canapés — a caviar tartlet and a crostini with salsa verde and pickled fennel — all put on a small tray that is above 2J’s magazine holder.

Oh and you pretty much have your own flight attendant too.

My seat is a fully fledged flat bed that rotates so it turns to where your 17-inch TV screen sits, which is just on top of a small extra seat. Or, it can be a foot rest if you are really, really tall.

For most first flyers, the extra seat is there in case you would like to invite a neighbour/partner/travelling buddy/husband/whoever over for dinner and a chat. Personally, I’m happy with my own company for the next 14 or so hours.

My understated and impeccably mannered flight attendant, Sunita came and made up my bed even before we left. And just after that I strapped myself in with a belt that resembled a car seat — the whole, over-the-shoulder extravaganza.

As I was flying from Los Angeles to Sydney — an overnight flight — it was clever for Sunita to make my bed up before I decided to munch on some supper. Saved all the getting up and standing around thing later on.

My choice of mushroom soup with sourdough croutons, a Penfolds Shiraz and a tagliatelle bolognese (OK, I was hungry) was simply sensational and with the addition of Pepe Saya butter (he’s a butter artisan from NSW) it made the meal seem even more special and Neil Perry-esque than if I was having it on land.

I watched one movie, about six brilliant episodes of Emmy-award winning Veep(well, I had just come back from covering the Emmy Awards) and then, without having to count sheep, I blissfully fell asleep.

REASONS TO LOVE FIRST CLASS:

 There is a serious calm and feeling of luxe in first class. It’s like you are the only king or queen of the world for those precious hours and no matter what you ask for, it’s quietly and elegantly attended to.

 A first class seat or pod (there are 15 of them on an A380) takes up about four economy seats so, yes, there is room. Serious room. And as there are no overhead lockers I could have my on-board flight bag within constant reach, which I loved.

 Chic, dark grey PJs: Serious first classers zip straight to the bathroom as soon as the charcoal PJs are handed to them for a quick changeover. I, on the other hand, hang onto them and took them home as my, well, comfy, at-home lounge wear.

 These are serious seats; they swivel 75 degrees, they lie totally flat, give you a massage and one moment you’re facing the front of the plane and the next you’ve swivelled like you’re on a seat on The Voice. Next, you’ve reclined yourself into a flat bed. Oh, and did I tell you that your made-up bed includes a large cotton pillow, a smaller pillow, a seriously comfy and homey duvet, a woollen blanket and cotton sheet that has been fitted over a sheepskin-covered foam mattress? I felt like I was in a very, VERY comfy baby’s pram.

 Loved the mobile charger; the “time to destination” counter; the privacy screens; very smart amenity bags with SK-II products, a small mirror and the trusty toothbrush and toothpaste, which I always forget to bring with me.

 I loved spending at least 30 minutes getting to know my first class digs, especially the aforementioned “time to destination” tablet that doubles as your seat adjuster, entertainment controller, light switch, massage boss and flight path.

 Oh and did I mention that first class peeps are first to get off the plane, which made me feel even more like a rock star than when I first walked on.

 After a 6am arrival — and those pancakes (see above!) — I zipped home, unpacked, put the washing on and felt perky enough to come to the office for the day. Now that’s a mega bonus.

On a side note — OK, a rather big one — it pays to remember that using your points can get you up the pointy end, if you have paid for a full fare ticket. So, if you are in the business of frequent flying and those points are accumulating, hey, give it a go.

The only bad news is, well, there really isn’t any.

Happy flying!

HOW TO GET THERE:

The Qantas A380 aircraft operates services from Sydney and Melbourne to Los Angeles and Dubai, Sydney to Hong Kong, and Dubai to London with its codeshare partner Emirates.

Melissa Hoyer was upgraded by Qantas: the staff probably saw how tired she looked as she checked in.

This article was originally posted on news.com.au


Santiago has become much bigger destination than a stop-over. It should be on your travel bucket list

REVERED for its idyllic location — you can see the snow-capped Andes Mountains from just about any part of the city — Santiago is morphing into a serious holiday destination.

The Chilean capital (and it’s pronounced Chil-ee not Chile-aay) hasn’t always been a spot that has jumped out as a travellers ‘must-do’.

Usually, it has been the first entry point to South American tourists who then transit to Peru, Lima, to Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires or to the 2016 Olympics city, Rio.

But I’ve got a big surprise for you: it is one of the world’s most colourful and diverse cities. And it’s home to some surreal sights.

With its signature Spanish-inspired architecture, sleek hotels and cafes with coffee waitresses showing off their legs as they serve espressos, Santiago is also a very short distance to snowfields, to horseback rides up the Andes, a buzzy night-life and a heap of vineyards.

It’s well worth scheduling 3-4 days of Santiago sightseeing into your South American bucket list trip and here’s why.

You can have a day or two seeing Santiago; take day trip to the historical town of Valparaiso; have a day at a winery then a day to immerse yourself in the Andes — whether you’re on the ski slopes or riding a horse.

Or you could venture a bit further and trek their UFO trail, or head over to Easter Island.

YOU MUST SEE:

• Valparaiso

The historic port city of Valparaiso is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and shows what a once exquisite and wealthy merchant town now looks like.

Sure, it’s a little worn around the edges but it is an example of late 19th century architecture with its hills are dotted with thousands of multicoloured houses, homes. And lots of graffiti.

In Valparaiso, all of the houses are brightly coloured and one of the rules of the town is that you cannot paint your house the same colour as the one next to you.

La Sebastiana, the former home of Chilean Pulitzer Prize winning poet Pablo Nerudais also open to the public and is one of the most popular tourist stops in the town.

• Plaza de Armas

This is Santiago’s main hub in the centre of the CBD and perched off the plaza are various historic buildings, including the exquisite Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela (its richness and sumptuousness took my breath away), the main City Hall, a very cool-designed central Post Office and the National History Museum.

• San Cristobal Hill

The summit of this hill offers spectacular views of the city, and it can be reached via a funicular railway and up the top is the famous giant statue of the Virgin Mary In fact, it’s the biggest statue of the Virgin Mary in the world. Oh, and Catholicism is the overriding faith of many Chileans.

• Vineyards

We visited the Bodega RE vineyard which is part of the Casablanca Wine Valley(recently named one of the great wine capitals) when we visited we dined at the cellar door, taste-testing some killer wines. Did you know that Chile is the fourth biggest producer of wine? Even beating Australia, which comes in at 5th place?

They also do some very interesting ‘mixed’ wine blends like ‘Chardonnoir’, ‘Pinotel’ and ‘Cabergnan’.

• Graffiti

It’s hard not to see it, because it is, literally everywhere. Some of it is pure street art others bits are, well, just tedious tags that don’t contribute much to the look of the city at all. Some of the best, though, can be found in the bohemian neighbourhood ofBarrio Bellavista which is also the coolest place for funky eateries and a buzzy night life.

• Valle Nevado ski resort

The ultra popular ski and snowboarding resort is literally a one-hour drive out of the city of Santiago. It is in the El Plomo foothills in the Andes Mountains and the best time of year to be there is about the same time as an Australian winter. It has also just received its first ski resort gondola and had an easy 30cm of snow last week.

• Museum of Memory and Human Rights

Wow, this is one of the best museums I have ever entered. I wish there was a word that wasn’t as sterile as ‘museum’ as it doesn’t do justice to this architecturally exquisite space that traces the rise, brutality and the ultimate fall of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990. The Museo de la Memoria los derechos Humanos uses audio, visuals and in a spectacular and extraordinary way to retell history. A REAL must-see.

• Horseriding on the Andes

Seriously, this was the best fun ever, A troupe of us were given a horse each (mine was a slow little chomper named Pistachio) and we slowly made our way up the Andes Hills. A company called Andes Riders had organised a brilliant BBQ and a glass of Chilean red that awaited us once we arrive up top.

The vista was spectacular with the snow-capped Andes never far from our eyesite as our horses led a well-trodden path up the mountain. Total heaven and made even more fun by the trip back DOWN the hill …

• Coffee With Legs

Yup this had to be done. One of the most funs ways to have a coffee. Served by gorgeous girls showing off their legs while serving you a macchiato? I mean, coffee with sex appeal, why not! South Americans aren’t shy!

WHILE IN CHILE

You can also venture out of Santiago to the San Clemente UFO trail, a 30-kilometre stretch that takes in sites of alleged extraterrestrial activity.

And don’t forget Easter Island, a remote island that’s home to a mysterious and infamous series of statues.

HOW TO GET THERE:

We flew Qantas who is increasing services to Santiago from November 2015 to January 2016 with the 5th service running on Sundays, adding to the existing Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday services.

Being the only airline that flies a non-stop service from Sydney to Santiago Qantasalso uses codeshare services operated by LAN from Santiago to six destinations across South America, including Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Lima.

The QF Business Cabin to Santiago featured Skybed sleeper seats, a self-service refreshment bar and mood lighting with additional ground services including dedicated check-in counters in all ports, priority baggage with additional allowances, priority boarding and disembarkation and express customs and immigration in selected ports.

The restaurant-style menus were ‘designed’ by Australian chef and restaurateur Neil Perry and business customers could choose from a range of menu options and refreshments throughout the flight.

WHERE TO STAY:

We were invited to test run the Novotel Santiago and it was worth every minute, and best of all, the tariffs are seriously affordable. The Novotel is in a ‘nice’ end of town, in Vitacura, and is just a street away from the smarty pants ‘designer’ fashion strip of Santiago.

The hotel, which is part of the Accor Hotels group has a slight business feel to it, but that said, it is immaculate, has a killer breakfast buffet and the sunset (below) would greet me each night on my stay. Bliss …

There is a ‘Stay and Chile’ at Novotel Santiago with three nights from $640 (plus VAT 19 per cent) (two people twin share) while six nights start from $1300 (+VAT) (two people twin share)

These packages include buffet breakfast, free internet, UG parking, heated pool, jacuzzi, and late check out of 4.30pm.

Full board packages are also available including breakfast lunch and three course dinner plus a glass of wine or soft drink, at Restaurant 365 at Novotel, from $850 for two people (twin share) for three nights, or from $1,700 for 6 nights. Valid for bookings and travel from now until to December 31, 2016.

To book — Email: h5233-re@accor.com specifying the package type required.

*Melissa Hoyer was a guest of Qantas,Tourism Chile and Accor Hotels

This article was originally posted on news.com.au