With cruise holidays off the table for the foreseeable future, big ship enthusiasts have had to find a new way to get their travel fix. Hannah Warren discovers the allure of a cruise holiday on wheels.
Last month thousands of grey nomads were parked in their RVs just south of the NSW-Queensland border waiting for it to open. It seems caravanning has seamlessly filled the cruise-shaped space in the hearts of local travellers.
And it makes sense, really. After all, what is a caravan if not a small cruise ship on wheels? It has all the same benefits: you unpack only once, your room travels with you, you can eat any time of the day you like (though you might have to prepare your own food), and you have a personal butler. No, wait, that's your dog. Where have you put your glasses? Plus, a local holiday means you're putting money back into the Australian economy right when it needs your tourist dollars more than ever.
Just make a couple of small mental adjustments and your caravan holiday around Australia is essentially the same as a glamorous international cruise.
A winter cruise in the Med
Look, you know it's not the same as leaving behind an Australian winter to sail the Mediterranean, but when it's -1 degree at home in Victoria and 23 degrees on the Gold Coast, crossing the border into Queensland is a very similar experience.
Since you've lost your glasses anyway, you can pretend the surfers in Bintang singlets and thongs are handsomely dressed Italians, and that the sea breeze is wafting in off the Amalfi Coast. Seagulls sound the same everywhere, right?
Find a cheap and cheerful Italian place near the water and insist on calling the waiter Raphael, even after he tells you his name is Dave and he's actually from Perth.
When you make it as far as Cairns, stop in at the local cinema and talk loudly about how good the Film Festival is. After all, Townsville is quite nice this time of year.
Dressing for dinner
Most cruise lines have dress codes for dinner and other evening events, so why should your caravan be any different?
When packing, always include at least one formal outfit for events such as the Captain's Party - even though Bob and Ingrid from Shepparton keep telling you it's just a parmy at the pub near the campground, it's important that you dress to impress.
You should also include a few smart-casual outfits and accessories you can mix and match for slightly less formal occasions such as the social mixers. Bob calls it "a few tinnies by the barbecue" but you know better.
Don't skimp on smart clothing, you only have to unpack once so you can bring as much as you like. Now, where did the butler put your cocktail dress?
Cruises are known for their extravagant evening entertainment, and your caravan is no different.
You've been told this voyage has a fabulous nightly show called Acoustic Guitar, with a huge array of musical numbers and even some audience interaction.
You've heard the arrangement was by a marvellous up-and-comer, a mononymous chap called Bert. Reviews have been absolutely wonderful so far.
One of the biggest benefits to your very own caravan cruise is that the shore excursions are unlimited and completely bespoke. Honestly, they're as good as if you'd planned them yourself.
Choose from a short trip to a traditional bazaar to stock up on souvenirs and local produce (cheese and wine are popular around here), a full-day walk through the countryside to spot the fascinating wildlife (watch out for those drop bears) or a sightseeing trip to spot whatever the "big thing" is around here. A banana? A guitar? Doesn't matter, you can't miss it.
There are AusAmazing tours in the evenings to check out the nightlife of whichever port you're in, or you can even get on board with one of these very trendy "reverse shore excursions" and explore local inland and coastal waterways by boat. Truly a wealth of options. The butler will bring around a new registration form; he ate the last one.
Of course, one of the most important things to check before you embark on any cruise is the quality of the food.
The buffet is out (thanks coronavirus), so everything is à la carte, with options ranging from a tin of cold beans to a three-course tasting menu, depending on the mood the chef is in that day and how recently you were in port.
You are welcome to take your meals in your room, or you can eat in the common areas, which many cruisers prefer as it's much more social. In fact, just last night Mary and Jim invited you to dine at their table with them; you brought the potato salad and a bottle of wine, they had some sangas and the mosquito coils.
You can opt for specialty restaurants as many times as you like on your cruise, though they aren't included in your fare.
Still, you saved money on that airfare to Rome, so splash out and support the local restaurant business - er, Chef's Table.
The pool deck
Look, the caravan park's pool is perfectly adequate, but the surrounding facilities leave a little to be desired.
There's no poolside grill to speak of and you can't get a cocktail for love nor money. You're also not allowed to bring beverages from other parts of the ship, sorry, caravan park.
The facilities manager confiscated your pia colada yesterday, saying something about an "alcohol-free zone" and it being "a little early in the day".
Look, if you can't have a cocktail by the pool at 10am, what is the point of taking a holiday? Ah well, your next port is Surfers Paradise and a beachside breakfast cocktail is calling your name.
While you're here...
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