Celebrity Century, a cruise ship that has spent most of its seagoing life in North America, is sailing around Australia and New Zealand this winter (summer in the Southern Hemisphere), getting a taste of what Aussies and Kiwis want to see and do on a cruise ship.
The Century is Celebrity’s first major investment into this part of the world, in preparation for one of Celebrity's newer and larger ships, Celebrity Solstice, which arrives next fall.
That’s why, for instance, the Century has meat pies in the Lido buffet line and a jar of Vegemite next to the morning toast.
Meat pies, of assorted ingredients, are about the size of a single serving chicken pot pie you might see frozen in an American grocery store. But, better, like a fresh chicken pot pie made in your kitchen. In Australia, pies are sold like burgers in shops along the busiest of streets for passersby to grab a quick lunch. Meat pies include gravy and vegetables, like a stew, and are covered with a pastry crust that leaks all over your chin if you’re not careful. I recommend sitting, with extra napkins, while eating a meat pie.
Vegemite is a salty spread, an acquired taste that may take longer than a cruise to acquire. A colleague told me to spread Vegemite thinly on my morning toast. Problem was, I could not get it thin enough for my taste.
The Aussie-fication of a cruise ship
“We are reaching out to Australians while keeping in mind that 50 percent of our guests are from North America,” said Darren Tiller, hotel director on the Century.
Before moving the Century from Alaska and San Diego temporarily to Australia and New Zealand, the cruise line searched its management team to find Australians to work the ship.
Australians tend to be active, to eat outdoors and to have a lot of fun by the pool, said Tiller.
Entertainers for three production shows all were from Australia, he said. Out of respect for New Zealand passengers, Celebrity was planning to add a Maori show.
“We have our standard menus at Celebrity,” said Tiller, “But as much as possible we have added Australian items as well” in the dining rooms and in the buffets. Food is provisioned from Sydney and Auckland, including local fish.
The ship offered three Australian beers, Crown lager, Victoria Bitter, and Hahn Premium light.
“Nobody drinks Foster’s in Australia,” said Tiller.
Passengers can keep up with rugby and cricket, as television channels report Australian and New Zealand news and sports.
Running out of Johnny Walker Red
Tweaking the Celebrity model toward Australia and New Zealand was still a work in progress when I cruised on one of the Century’s first Australian voyages in late fall.
Perhaps because Australians are known to prefer a more casual environment, the Century seemed to be slightly out of step with the typical high style and sophisticated atmosphere of Celebrity ships – the dining room and food preparation not quite as finished or formal, activities not quite as smooth.
Mine was the first Celebrity cruise along the east coast of New Zealand, which partly explained an unfortunately rough and disorganized tender operation at Akaroa, which probably is not an enticing port even in the best of weather. Akaroa has replaced Christchurch as a shore excursion port since New Zealand’s devastating earthquakes in 2010. Without comfortable facilities near the dock ashore, there was no place to shelter passengers from bad weather and no backup plan to deal with rain and the winds that also made tendering difficult. Adding to the confusion, at least one of the Century tender boats was not in proper working condition.
On a lighter side, by day three the ship had run out of Johnny Walker Red.
As I understand it, Australia places a big duty tax on imported liquor. So, when passengers from Australia came aboard in Sydney and saw the duty-free price on a bottle of favored Scotch whisky, Johnny Walker Red Label, they picked the store's shelves clean.
Sounds like a future onboard revenue source to me. I would load up the Solstice with Johnny Walker Red before it leaves North America for Australia next fall.