But you don’t listen to country music,’ my friends said.
‘What do you do all day, look at the water?’ someone else quipped.
For a music and travel fan, this festival at sea sounded right up my street – even if I didn’t know much about country music.
Cases filled to the brim with outfits for every occasion, including the Captain’s formal night and the ship’s brilliant theme nights, my friend Natalie and I headed to Sydney Harbour, where the ship was to depart.
We were dazzled by the 10-storey Centrum, the central hub of the ship, with glass elevators facing the sea.
Then, as we stood on the balcony in our room, gliding away from the city, we were lucky enough to see calf whales playing in the waves.
The first two days were spent at sea. All our good intentions of attending the Fab Ab classes in the gym went overboard, as we devoured the newsletters and highlighted our itinerary (I took pens especially!) for the day ahead.
There were song writing workshops, line dancing lessons and the rock-climbing wall.
Despite my friend’s joke, gazing at the water all day is spectacular too – especially from the rooftop pool, pina colada in hand, live music in our ears.
It was already in our hearts and souls too.
Performances were raw and honest, with artists holding back tears to tell us the inspiration behind their songs, like Gina Jeffreys suffering a heartbreaking miscarriage and Travis Collins losing his beloved father-in-law to suicide.
Rising star Blake O’Connor talked about his mum’s two brain tumours.
‘But she’s kicking a--e, and she’s sitting just there,’ he said, pointing out his beaming mum as the crowd erupted.
At each show, gasps of ‘wow’ echoed around the audience and goosebumps prickled on my skin.
Especially when multi-award-winning Beccy Cole performed a song she’d written just an hour earlier, before playing every instrument in the band – with a glass of wine tucked between her cleavage!
Like every good country song, our fellow cruisers had a story too.
Tears flowed as we chatted to a beautiful mum battling cancer who booked the trip for her and her daughter, farmers who hadn’t seen rain in months, serviceman who had fought in wars and the generous teenage siblings who wanted to spoil their deserving dad.
‘The best thing about the cruise,’ guests kept telling us, ‘is the community.’
Two thousand like-minded, fun, positive, salt of the earth people.
Those who came alone quickly made lifelong friends on board.
Some were returning together after meeting on the cruise in previous years.
We also saw new romances blossom.
Then there’s the talent and passion.
Organisers book the 30-plus artists two years in advance to ensure cruisers get the very best of Australian country artists all under one roof.
With shows during the day, poolside, a big evening performance in the impressive theatre, followed by parties into the early hours, it’s a nonstop music extravaganza.
‘There’s no way we could afford to see the artists separately,’ fans told us. ‘But here, they’re all in one place so it’s actually quite cheap.’
Even better, it offers a rare opportunity to socialise with your favourites.
Between performances, musical legends frequent the bars, happy to pose for pictures and chat over a beer… or three!
On day four, we stopped at Nouméa, capital of New Caledonia, where we
picked up maps from the information centre and explored the city on foot, before getting the hop on hop off bus to Lemon Bay, where we snoozed under palm trees.
Well, we had to rest before the night ahead...
It was the Aussie, Aussie, Aussie night and time to change into our green and gold themed outfits!
Next day, we were first off the boat and onto the stunning island of Lifou.
It meant we were the only two people heading down a winding forest path to the secret grotto with freshwater pool.
We paid locals $10, which was worth it, as they had lined the steep trail with rails, lit the cave with floodlights and provided a rope to help tourists climb out of the water after a dip.
Next, we snorkelled in the turquoise natural aquarium at Jinek Bay, marvelling at electric blue fish and turtles, before the 15-minute walk up to the chapel and lookout with 360-degree views of the island.
Back on board, we needed our country music fix. By now, we were hardcore fans.
Back home, we bought all the artists’ music and looked up their tour dates.
And we still have post-cruise blues.
One of our new friends summed it up best: ‘Absolute magic.’
2020 marks the tenth consecutive year Choose Your Cruise, in partnership with Artist Network, Cruiseco and Royal Caribbean International, has been bringing artists and fans together, with their festivals at sea concept, including Cruisin’ Country, Bravo!, featuring opera, cabaret and jazz, and Rock the Boat, Australia’s hottest rock music cruise.
To book, contact your Cruiseco Cruise Specialist, at www.cruising.com.au or call 1800 550 320.