Love is in the air – and most definitely at sea, too. Over the years I've met dozens of couples who met on a cruise, shipboard weddings are increasingly popular and honeymoon cruises have been a favourite choice for many years.
Weddings and honeymoons aside, if you're looking for a romantic sojourn à deux, a cruise can be just the thing. Here are a few tips to maximise the love quotient on the ocean waves …
When money is no object, small luxury ships designed for adults rather than families offer the ideal atmosphere for loved-up couples. SeaDream Yacht Club's two boutique SeaDream vessels accommodate a maximum of 112 passengers, the 95 attentive crew members are on hand to cater for your every whim and when you're cruising in balmy climes you can sleep under the stars in Balinese beds on the top deck.
Take your sweetie to Tahiti! The intimate, 332-passenger Paul Gauguin sails year-round in beautiful French Polynesia – those dreamy tropical islands are highly conducive to romance and the ship itself is beautifully set up for couples. More than 70 per cent of the staterooms have balconies, an onboard troupe of Tahitians serve as cruise staff, entertainers and storytellers, and 24-hour room service means there are lots of opportunities for lazy breakfasts and private dinners.
If the budget doesn't stretch that far, there are plenty more options for romance at sea. Booking a cruise on adults-only ships is one; or make sure you go outside school holidays on a smaller ship that is not equipped with aqua parks, bowling alleys and climbing walls. Splash out for a balcony cabin and make the most of room service for a late breakfast or intimate dinner whenever you feel like it. Princess Cruises, The Love Boat line, offers Ultimate Balcony Dining; a four-course dinner, complete with wine and fresh flowers, is served on your balcony.
Talking of dinner, make sure the restaurants on your ship of choice have tables for two and book early for specialty venues. All modern cruise ships have specialty restaurants and it's well worth forking out the cover charge to enjoy world-class cuisine, top-notch service and, very important, subtle lighting.
Couples' spa treatments are another way to enhance the romance; all major cruise lines offer extensive menus of pampering treatments that include some that are specially tailored for couples. Some ships, including Royal and Regal Princess, offer "spa villas" for couples and private poolside pods are popular features on many more.
Happy Valentine's Day!
MEET THE CREW
NAME Steve Ross, a New Zealander living in Vancouver, Canada.
POSITION Customer Services Director, Princess Cruises' Dawn Princess.
MY JOB … is to ensure my team delivers an outstanding level of hotel services, while achieving the highest level of guest satisfaction and product consistency.
A TYPICAL DAY, I start early to get as much administrative work out of the way as possible so that I can be out on the floor visiting my areas of responsibility. Depending on the day, this includes disembarkation, embarkation, tendering and ensuring the ship clears on arrival and departure, so guests can enjoy their time ashore.
FAVOURITE CRUISE MOMENT Standing at the gangway on disembarkation day when guests shake my hand, thanking me for their great cruise experience.
FAVOURITE CRUISE PORTS Having sailed around the world many times, the favourite ports are the ones where I now have great friends and contacts that I've met over the years, Sydney being one of them.
INSIDER TIP Do as much as you want or as little as you want, however try and experience everything. You won't get better value for your holiday money!
Visa requirements can and do change (look at Bali), so before you set off for any overseas trip check with the countries' embassies, consulates or websites to make sure you're up to date, even if you're only visiting a country for a day.
The boss, the chefs and Aqua Expeditions
Aqua Expeditions' chief executive officer and founder Francesco Galli Zugaro, and celebrated chefs David Thompson and Pedro Miguel Schiaffino are hosting a series of special cruises in 2016. Aqua Expeditions' three elegant, boutique river vessels – Aqua Mekong, Aqua Amazon and Aria Amazon – offer adventurous voyages on the Mekong and Amazon rivers. Superb dining is an integral part of the experience; David Thompson is world-renowned for his Thai cuisine and Michelin-starred London restaurant Namh, and Pedro Schiaffino is the chef-owner of Malabar, one of Lima's most innovative restaurants. Both are consulting executive chefs for Aqua Expeditions. For details and departure dates, see aquaexpeditions.com.
Oceania Sirena sets sail
Oceania Cruises' sixth ship, the 684-passenger Oceania Sirena, will embark on its maiden voyage from Barcelona to Venice on April 27. Sirena has just had a US$40 million makeover and its inaugural season will combine classic and new destinations in Europe, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and Australia. As on its sister ships, there will be a strong focus on fine dining onboard Sirena. Tuscan Steak, a new specialty restaurant, will serve Italian favourites, steaks and seafood inspired by Toscana and Polo Grill; The Grand Dining Room will be transformed into Jacques Bistro during lunch; and the popular Red Ginger will serve Asian cuisine. See oceaniacruises.com.
Uniworld Boutique River Cruising and Insight Vacations have partnered to release the 2016-17 "Europe's Finest" program. Consisting of eight itineraries, this new portfolio allows guests to combine a premium escorted land tour with an all-inclusive river cruise to create a luxurious, great-value European holiday. For example, the 17-day Portugal and the Douro itinerary includes guided land tours in Spain and Portugal, sightseeing in Lisbon, accommodation in a five-star former monastery in the historic Portuguese town of Evora and a seven-night Douro cruise on board Queen Isabel. See uniworld.com or insightvacations.com.
DEAL OF THE WEEK
Book and pay for a Fijian island cruise with Blue Lagoon Cruises before June 30 and you'll receive a 25 per cent discount. The offer is valid when booking cruises six months in advance of the departure date, for travel anytime until March 31, 2017. With the discount, fares for the four-night Wanderer cruise start at $1376. Phone +679 670 5006, see bluelagooncruises.com or your local travel agent.
AVALON WATERWAYS is waiving the single supplement across its entire 2016 season of European river cruises, giving solo travellers the chance to sail at twin-share prices. The offer is available for bookings until April 8 and applies to deluxe staterooms (category D and E) aboard all European departures. Phone 1300 230 234, see avalonwaterways.com.au.
CRUISECO is offering 50 per cent off fares for a second guest and 50 per cent off the single supplement on its 34-night Mediterranean voyage on Azamara Journey. Departing Nice on April 20 it visits 10 countries, including Malta, Turkey, Greece and Croatia. From $10,800 for the first guest and $5400 for the second; phone 02 9492 8520, see cruising.com.au.