We chatted not only about his many and varied experiences onboard and onshore, but also just what it is he loves about cruising - and how it has changed over the years. Huge thanks to Mick for sharing his knowledge and stories with other cruise lovers.
Roll call: a long list of ships and cruises
Mick's first memory and the beginning of a long love affair with oceangoing holidays was in the late 50s, when his grandmother took him down to Sydney harbour on the coach. P&O's Canberra was docked, and to his young mind it took up the entire harbour - an impressive sight for a little boy!
They had afternoon tea onboard and a tour of the ship, and he remembers seeing a sign to the crow's nest and asking his grandmother why there were crows allowed on a ship! Of course, at that time the crow's nest was not just a gimmicky nautical name for a bar, but a real lookout station for sailors.
With that first encounter having given him the bug, Mick took his first proper cruise with family on the Himalaya in 1967, a P&O passenger liner converted for tourist voyages. Following on from that was the Patris in 1973, a passenger ship which sailed passenger routes and then the occasional leisure cruise out of Australia with the Chandris Line from 1959 to 1979.
More Australia-based cruises included one as a young man with a group of rugby mates on the Fairstar in 1974, originally built as a troopship, at the beginning of her career as a full-time Australian cruise ship for SITMAR. A cruise on P&O's Oriana followed in 1978, and a pair of back-to-back cruises out of Piraeus in Greece as part of a honeymoon. Mick can't remember which line those were with, but recalls the gorgeous Greek islands as a true slice of paradise - and Santorini especially features on his bucket list as somewhere he would dearly love to revisit.
In 1993, he took his sons on the Fairstar, remembering the ship as very tired - and it wasn't long after that the ship was broken up for scrap. There was also a cruise on sister ship Fairsky at some point, and in the early 2000s Mick cruised onboard the Norwegian Star, a vessel operated at the time by Star Cruises, for two back-to-back Australia coastal cruises. Interesting, a different vessel called the Norwegian Star will be returning to Aussie waters in 2016 as part of the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet.
image by Aah-Yeah via Flickr Creative Commons
More recent cruises have included two on P&O's late Pacific Sun, on on the Pacific Dawn, an Asian adventure on the Diamond Princess to celebrate his 60th birthday and a jaunt to see the 2011 Rugby World Cup on the Rhapsody of the Seas with his youngest son (he has an extensive background in rugby). What an impressive wealth of cruising experience!
Seachange: how cruising has evolved
With such a strong resumé of cruises over many decades, he is well-placed to comment on how the industry has changed and evolved over the years, both the good and bad aspects.
More food options is unsurprisingly at the top of the list - in fact, more options in general. Up until his Norwegian Cruise Line voyage in 2002, Mick found that most ships offered one venue for dining. He remembers buffets as a relatively new addition to the scene when he cruised on the Pacific Sun, and on his second Pacific Dawn cruise, passengers were able to sit where they wanted for dinner - before that, assigned tables were the norm. This meant you always had the same waiter, too - and if you got a good one, they would recommend the best dishes and just make for an overall better cruise experience.
The accommodation available has also undergone huge changes as the cruise industry has moved entirely away from its passenger liner roots, when ocean travel was more functional than for leisure. Memories are of youth hostel-style accommodation on his earlier cruises, with bunks and shared bathrooms. Now, he enjoys his own space and often splashes out for a balcony or minisuite - but does miss the camaraderie of the communal living.
When he started cruising, passengers could bring guests onboard before they sailed away to check out the ship, and when it came time to leave you would hear on the intercom: "first call for visitors to go shoreside." This was a pretty effective marketing tool, and several people in his group alone were introduced to it that way. The security was a lot more lax back then, and looking back he could see the potential for a stowaway situation!
Overall, Mick describes his earlier cruises as much more simple. You would split time between your room, the dining room and the bar or lounge, without many other options. The upside of this simplicity was that cruising in general was a hugely sociable way to holiday, and he formed long-lasting friendships among the people he met onboard. He recalls one occasion during his Norwegian Star cruise when the ship docked in Cairns and he was in an onboard bar, when he was surprised by the appearance of a good friend from previous cruising adventures who had just boarded. After a big greeting and hug, his bewildered son whispered to one of their cruising companions, "I think Dad knows that bloke...."
The prices are another point of difference, but this of course applies on land also! 18 cent beers were the norm when he cruised on the Fairstar with friends in 1974, and they would give the girl behind the bar 20 cents for each one rather than bother with change. He realised that those 2-cent "tips" would have quickly added up, and figures he paid for a lot of the staff's beers to the detriment of his own supply.
Despite those significant differences in cruising then and now, Mick says that the basis of cruising hasn't changed - he describes it succinctly as "get on, get fed, get entertained and get off - and while that may sound a bit blasé, he means it in the best way. After all, he's done it again quite a few times since the 60s!
The ups and downs of a cruise enthusiast - it's all about attitude
One of Mick's favourite cruise memories is from his Fairstar cruise in 1974, which he went on with his rugby buddies aged around 18 - who said cruising used to be for old people only?
The social aspect and camaraderie of the holiday was what sticks out most in his mind, as well as the hijinks which such a group are bound to get up to. In this case, that included six hired cars and a road race from Lautoka to Suva. This was interrupted by a flat tire, and lacking a jack, the friends all pitched in to lift the car so it could be changed. Mick recalls the villagers looking somewhat astonished.
Making your own fun was a theme of his earlier cruises, and this meant a number of memorable moments, from getting up onstage to sing to playing cricket in the long narrow hallways of the ship. A more recent highlight was a behind-the-scenes tour of the Rhapsody of the Seas during their Rugby World Cup cruise in 2011, a very interesting look at how everything works.
Food is an important aspect of any cruise, and of course we discussed the best eats from his long list of experiences! Top of the list were the many onshore BBQs which married beautiful beaches with plentiful food. In Champagne Bay in 2002, he was very impressed by the $15 lobsters fresh from the ocean sold by the locals, and his younger brother has loved garlic prawns ever since they first tried them on the Himalaya in 1967. Mick also told of his kids' long-standing love for Bombe Alaska which began on the Fairstar.
Of course, with so many cruises under his belt there have been some not-so-good cruise experiences. Mick recalls being barred from going ashore in Honiara as the civil war was taking hold. One passenger had gone on the cruise specifically to see his grandson who lived there, and was prevented from touching him although they could see each other - one of the saddest scenes he can remember. A drawback to cruising in Asia was the unexpectedly long journeys from the ports to the cities they serviced - some long days spent travelling!
There was also an occasion during his travels to Singapore for the Princess cruise when he lost a significant amount of money in the airport - a big setback! Then there was the time after a swim in a waterfall on Lifou when he sat on the steps to dry off and was attacked by an army of red biting ants. However, his philosophy is that it's all about the attitude you have.
Although his cruise tales may tell the story of a charmed life, that's far from the truth - Mick has overcome plenty of challenges which have not altered his passion for life and cruising. A back injury in 1995 which left him needing several surgeries, a diagnosis of bipolar in 2003 and also a 12-year struggle with cancer, recently recurring, have certainly presented obstacles and altered his travel requirements - including flying business class for comfort and booking balcony cabins so he has a private refuge when necessary. He gave this piece of advice for cruisers: you can still do what you want to despite setbacks, you just might have to alter your thinking and your plans a little. It's not the circumstances which make a cruise - or any holiday - a great one, but the way you approach it.
Even with such a long history of adventures under his belt, Mick still has his eyes on the horizon and a bucket list to conquer. It includes a round-the-world cruise - he would like to add that of course he is open to offers of sponsorship - and a few others. This is one cruising story which isn't over yet!