It’s rare on Sydney Harbour to stand with your back deliberately placed towards the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. But in front of me, a teenager is twisting and turning and flying up and down in a tube of air. And another 20-year-old is deliberately splashing large waves of water over the sides of a surfing simulator as he expertly guides a board under his knees.
We’ve come on board Royal Carribean’s Ovation of the Seas with Elise Brown, 19, a tunnel athlete and the youngest indoor skydiving instructor at iFly. The ship has docked in Sydney Harbour ahead of a seven-night cruise to New Zealand.
Elise has brought her own flight suit to take on Royal Carribean’s huge wind tunnel – RipCord iFly.
As she kits up, she tells us that skydiving feels like flying. Anyone can do it.
“RipCord is heaps of fun, get in there go for a burn, go for a fly,” Elise says.
“For kids who are coming to do it, I reckon just hold nice and still, nice and calm have a look at the view it’s heaps of fun.”
Elise is one of the first passengers in the tunnel. With the elegance of a gymnast, she swirls through the tube before holding her body in mid-splits position and spinning mid-air.
It doesn’t take long for a crowd to form and soon, like me, they all have their back to the bridge and are gazing in awe at the sight of a human flying.
A teenager next to me says to his friend: “I can’t wait to do that”.
In the shadow of the Rip Cord iFly, an instructor carves through the artificial waves on the Flow Rider surfing simulator. Music pumps as groups of teens, tweens and adults gather to watch and wait their turn. Most passengers attempt to kneeboard, a few bodyboard.
On a sticky Sydney day, the cool water is refreshing. We watch as the teens and tweens line up to have a second, third and fourth turn. The adults are a little less energetic.
“The Flow Rider, I had no idea to begin with, I fell off straight away but then the instructor told me just get in there, stay nice and low and get your feet in the water, then it was super easy to balance from there,” Elise says.
“It’s heaps of fun, it’s kind of like flying in a way, its all about balancing and trying to find that super sweet point.”
Ovation of the Seas is the largest cruise ship serving Australia. It is 347.1 metres long, 41 metres wide and 62.2 metres tall. In an average week-long cruise they serve 23,000 steaks, 84,400 eggs, 18,000 slices of pizza and 230,000 desserts.
It has 16 guest floors and two staff service floors and 2091 guest cabins, fitting 5011 passengers.
Apart from the iFly indoor sky diving and the Flow Rider, it also has a concert hall, dodgem car track, rock climbing, karaoke bar, waterpark, several pools and spas and an observation arm called The North Star which lifts passengers sky high above the ship.
Ovation of the Seas has dozens of restaurants, and bars, a shopping mall and even a bionic bar – where robots serve cocktails.
You can eat at Jamie’s Italian, an Alice in Wonderland themed theatrical restaurant, an Irish pub, pizza bar, buffet, American grill and even a Japanese restaurant.
Want to get away from the kids? Ovation of the Seas has an adults-only oasis where pools of water cascade underneath towering palm trees. It’s humid inside thanks to the towering glass ceiling.
Tucked into the corner we find a group of six adults packed into a spa with beers. They cheer us as we walk past and we tell them they have found the best spot on the ship.
Here’s a tip if you are going on board – pack your swimmers in your carry-on. That way you can jump into a spa or pool while everyone else waits for their luggage. You could even have a pool all to yourself.
Teenagers Laura, Mia and Elana wander around the ship, checking out everything on board as they prepare for a cruise to New Zealand.
Their smiles are huge and their eyes are wide as they enter the Seaplex Zone. Here an a basketball court has been transformed into a dodgem car track. We’re told later it will transform again into a roller skating rink. On the mezzanine level above, teens and tweens hang out playing Xbox and Ping Pong or just watching the other kids on board.
Two of the girls grab one dodgem car. Their friend grabs another and they proceed to bump and smash their way into several other brightly coloured cars.
“She’s a bad driver,” says one of the girls as they exit the rink laughing.
Outside other teens and tweens marvel at the rock climbing wall, wondering what it would be like to climb once the ship was actually at sea. Would it be swaying? Or would she ship stay stable?
It’s not just kids that love this ship. The crowd onboard is diverse. Large groups of families have come with grandparents, parents and kids. Every single age group is represented.
On day one, many families crowd into the Windjammer Marketplace buffet restaurant to get a bite to eat before their rooms are ready.
Toddlers’ eyes widen as they spot the dessert bar. Primary school-age kids wander around with a face that says they can’t believe their luck at being let loose in this slice of heaven. Teens pile their plates up high, their parents glad they don’t have to pay extra to fill those growing stomachs.
Some elderly passengers have brought their walkers on board. I smile as I see many use their walker seat as a carry tray for drinks and meals from the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Cruises are all-inclusive, so it feels like everything is free. You can sign up to different drinks packages depending on the level and quality of alcohol you intend to consume. The basic unlimited soda package is $15 a day. On board, all the prices are in US dollars – so watch your conversion rate.
More families are cottoning on to cruising as a way to holiday with their parents and their kids. It’s rare to find a holiday where everyone seems happy.
Rachel from Royal Carribean tells me multi-generation families are the fastest growing booking type for cruises. The cruise ship even has wheelchair access and pool hoists to allow everyone to enjoy their time on board.
“Cruises have something for everyone on board and they make multi-generation holidays so easy,” she says.
While the teens and tweens love the iFly, the Flow Rider, the Seaplex and the teen club, adults love the concerts, the karaoke bar and food.
In the Royal Theatre, you can watch The Dream, the story of a man who dreams his departed soulmate comes back to live and encourages him to rediscover his passion for life. Or catch the Vegas-inspired Live.Love.Legs show – a blend of aerial acrobatics, choreography and song.
The Music Hall is the place to see live bands and dance the night away.
If you have toddlers and early primary school kids, expect to head straight for the waterpark and swimming pools.
We watch as several toddlers and preschoolers climb to the top of the steps laughing as fountains of water spray over their bodies, then squealing with delights as they ride down the short waterslides. It’s day one of their cruise and they couldn’t be happier.
On a cruise, you can do as much or a little as you like. After one day on board Ovation of the Seas, we can see why so many families love cruising. It really does have something on board for everyone. Even if your type of holiday is just lazing around in a big chair looking at the view.
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Travel allows you to get outside your bubble. It makes you realise there are other ways to do things, and that’s OK. Plus, I am a huge fan of skiing and for the best powder – you need to head overseas.