CRUISING is a surreal world of unexpected surprises.
Boarding a ship on holiday is like moving to a foreign village, with strange customs to be learned, new rules to be observed and a cast of hundreds - sometimes thousands - of strangers to share your days.
Prepare for the journey with these handy survival tips.
1. If you've already booked a berth aboard something called Crystal Serenity, or Carnival Ecstasy, or Enchantment of the Seas, you've probably twigged that cruise companies love extravagant language.
The industry comes with its own flowery prose designed to dazzle prospective passengers. Hence even the most basic windowless cabins are billed as staterooms, as if a minor royal might have stayed there just before you, and butlers, let's be frank, are often little more than glorified room attendants.
As with so much in life it's actions, not words, that matter. As long as your butler brings Champagne to your cabin on command, let them call themselves whatever they like.
2. There are few areas of 21st-century life where dress standards still matter as much as they do on a ship.
Several operators have loosened their bow ties and ditched formal nights in a late acknowledgment that hardly anyone these days gets about in tuxedos and organza gowns.
But it's still a minefield navigating the spectrum of dress codes from daywear and cocktail to informal, smart casual, elegant casual or "stylish separates".
This is a parallel universe where denim is - bizarrely - banned after 6pm on many ships. Always check company websites for detailed fashion tips, or risk social death at sea.
3. Even on the surest ship and calmest oceans, having the ground shift constantly beneath the feet can make novice cruisers queasy.
Pills and patches help ease the upset; some cruisers swear by ginger, others by bananas. Allow a day or two for the middle ear to settle and the sea legs to kick in, except if you're heading to Antarctica.
As always with travel, the most amazing destinations are the hardest to reach and expeditioners must brave 48 hours of the wild Drake Passage crossing before feasting their (slightly bleary) eyes on the White Continent.
4. For those who really can't stomach being at sea, there's always river cruising. It offers all the fun of being afloat and none of the nausea.
5. If you've ever dreamt of one day eating spaghetti ice cream then the cruising life is definitely for you. Dining at sea is a series of never-ending indulgences, a place where it's possible to fill your face from 5am breakfast buffets to midnight feasts via detours to pizza stands, burger bars and 24/7 room service.
Celebrity-chef restaurants are all the rage right now and, while you've got more chance of spotting a mermaid than you have of seeing Thomas Keller or Luke Mangan manning the stoves, you can expect their branded menus to be a cut above the ordinary.
And some, like Nobu Matsuhisa's Umi Uma restaurants on board Crystal Cruise ships, are seriously good, serving terrific sushi using fish bought from ports en route and caught from the same oceans you're sailing in. (As for that spaghetti ice cream, you'll find it at Café al Bacio & Gelateria on Celebrity ships.)
6. It is not humanly possible to take part in every activity offered on board. All major cruise lines offer dozens of diversions for on-board entertainment.
Cunard ships, for example, offer almost 100 daily events, ranging from watercolour classes and bridge tournaments to film screenings and Latin dance, to keep passengers busy during long stints afloat on round-the-world and transatlantic sailings.
Due to the sheer availability of options, you will do things at sea that you never imagined yourself doing on land. It might be wailing through late-night karaoke in the nightclub, catching a "Broadway-style" show or a craps class in the casino.
Don't hold back. Just go with the flow.
7. No matter how grand a ship's claims of connectivity at sea, and no matter how "state of the art" their latest technology might be, outside major ports the on-board Wi-Fi will often be woeful.
Brace yourself for late '90s-era connectivity as websites fail to load, emails abort and disappear mid-delivery and Facebook remains a distant dream.
The only thing you can do to cover yourself is make sure internet access is included in your ticket price. At least that way you won't be charged for all those hours spent staring at the spinning wheel of despair.
8. Cruising holidays can leave you looking years younger. Partly this is due to the stress-free lifestyle and invigorating sea air, but often it's the result of shrewd investments at the on-board spa.
With everything from teeth whitening to skin peels and Botox now on offer, it's the ideal opportunity for a makeover.
9. Of all the many compelling reasons why cruising holidays now lure more than a million Australians to explore the world's seas and rivers each year, they usually have less to do with ice cream flavours and craft classes than with the rare pleasures of seeing our world from the water.
For some it might be reclining on deck under a blanket of stars in a balmy New Caledonian bay. For others, the first sight of Lisbon lit up like a Renaissance painting as you glide down the Tagus at dawn.
For diehard cruisers it's the Arctic, the Galapagos, the Amazon - anywhere on water where we can explore deeper and see more than on land.
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