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Cruise shows North America's coastal charm

AAP logoAAP 20/10/2016 Maureen Dettre

Every traveller knows that slightly anxious feeling before the door to your accommodation is flung open for the big reveal. Will it live up to your expectations or leave you disappointed?

Being a first-time cruiser I wasn't sure what to expect: a tiny cubby hole below decks or a stateroom like Kate Winslet enjoyed in Titanic (pre-iceberg)?

The Orchid Villa on the 14th floor of Norwegian Jewel's exclusive enclave The Haven didn't disappoint. It's a spacious two-bedroom suite with a balcony overhanging the sea and a view stretching to the horizon.

The ensuite is stocked with Bvlgari products and includes a shower and a bath - both with sublime water views. Then there's Roland the butler. A butler! Haven suites all come with 24-hour butler service to attend to your every whim, from in-suite dining to replenishing fresh snacks as well as a steward called Ketut to maintain the pristine condition of your room.

But just in case you're imagining some stuffy, British "Jeeves" types who could make you feel awkward about your new-found good fortune, that's not the case. Roland is a cheery Filipino with a delightful grin and Ketut is an equally friendly Indonesian who likes to surprise by leaving different towel animals on your bed.

But wait, there's more: Haven guests also have a private sundeck with decadent Arabian-style lounge-beds around a pool, Jacuzzi and gym. It's tempting to enjoy breakfast and lunch there - then poolside snacks all day.

I embarked in Vancouver for a five-night adventure to Los Angeles, stopping at ports in British Columbia and Astoria in the US state of Oregon.

Shore excursions offering a sneak peak at the port cities proved a happy diversion.

In lush, temperate Victoria, in British Columbia, I opted for a two-hour cycle. It was an easy ride with a chatty guide who took us through parks to the inner harbour, past glamorous mansions oozing Gatsby-style elegance. We ended up at Fisherman's Wharf with its palate of colourful houseboats, where harbour seals pop their heads above water and perform tricks for fish.

The next day we docked at Astoria, a charming, well preserved town full of historic homes. A short stroll from the port is a glossy-painted, Wild West-style trolley car, which for a dollar takes you on a ride along the waterfront into the centre of town.

The town bought the dilapidated trolley, dubbed "The Old 300", on eBay. It's rumoured it took 300 volunteers 300 hours to restore it to its former glory. Taking a tip from a local, I hopped off at Buoy Beer Co, a bespoke brewery that occupies an old cannery factory on the riverfront at Astoria's historic docks.

Its restaurant boasts a range of hand crafted brews, Alaskan salmon and a 1950s industrial vibe. While I dined alone, I had all the company I needed: yelping, yawning and snorting sea lions, who through a glass floor I could watch lounging on a platform below the brewery.

Back on board it was full steam ahead to LA. The voyage was a tantalising taste of the premium cruising that's coming to Australia next year. Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Jewel will reposition itself in the Asia Pacific from November 2017.

It's a timely move by the third largest cruise company, with Australia's cruise passenger market having grown to become the fourth largest in the world. From next spring, passengers will be able to cruise to or from Sydney on the Jewel, enjoying a range of unique itineraries along the Australian and New Zealand coastlines as well as visiting tropical island favourites Tahiti, Fiji and New Caledonia.

There's a choice of 16 dining options on Jewel, including Teppanyaki, Chinese, French, a steakhouse, Italian, Brazilian and Japanese. When the ship takes residence Down Under, menus will be tweaked to incorporate the best Australian fresh produce and beverages. The entertainment will also have a local flavour, with ballroom spectacular Burn The Floor - a high-voltage combo of cha cha, samba, rumba and jive - already locked in.

The Jewel also boasts 14 bars and lounges, a favourite being the late-night karaoke bar, which is usually packed with uninhibited singers and includes three separate booths for those too shy to share their vocal talent. Hardcore revellers hit the Spinnaker Bar most nights, but the biggest night onboard is the "White Hot" party, where white-clad guests glow in the dark and dance the night away alongside enthusiastic staff members who maintain maximum momentum on the dance floor.

If gambling's more your thing, the casino stays open until the last player leaves.

But for those who enjoy quieter pursuits, there's a library, art gallery, cards room, video arcade, and spa and gym, where you can run on the treadmill while watching the waves.

The 1076-seat Stardust Theatre has shows every night - from comedians to jugglers, with the final night featuring the spectacular Le Cirque Bijou performers, whose plasticine-like agility and daredevil high wire skills are quite extraordinary.

During the day most guests hang around the spacious sundeck with its band, pools and hot tubs, with crew members manning the BBQs. There's also a kids' club as well as a teenage club - making the ship a floating resort suitable for all ages.

IF YOU GO

Norwegian Jewel's inaugural local season includes seven Sydney round-trip cruises, including:

- A five-day Sydney-Tasmania-Sydney trip departing Nov 12, 2017

- A nine-day voyage visiting Eden, Kangaroo Island and Burnie departing Dec 14, 2017

Ten 16-day cruises from Australia to NZ departing between Nov 2017 and Feb 2018

- An 18-day Sydney to Singapore trip departing Feb 20, 2018, including FNQ, Darwin and Komodo Island.

For more information on itineraries and pricing, visit www.ncl.com.au.

STAYING THERE: Norwegian Jewel offers a range of stateroom options from inside cabins to spacious balcony suites and the exclusive enclave of The Haven, with luxurious accommodation, 24-hour butler, concierge service and access to a private sundeck.

* The writer travelled as a guest of Norwegian Jewel and flew United Airways.

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