Escape – Lisa Perkovic
It’s my first cruise since the outbreak of Covid-19 and I’m more concerned about my feet than my hands. There’s a barefoot policy aboard True North, Western Australia’s high-end adventure vessel, and I can’t get my head around sitting down to dinner with my shoes off. It turns out I didn’t need to worry about either.
When the 35 other guests shuck their shoes, it quickly feels normal. And with serious new Covid-19 protocols in place, there’s plenty of hand sanitiser at the ready; it’s even on the bedside table.
Day one aboard True North’s nine-night cruise from Esperance to Fremantle starts like any cruise, with a welcome drink, a safety briefing and a peppy chat from the cruise director.
However it’s 2021, and the past 12 months have changed the cruise industry forever. Our pre-check-in questionnaire included dietary requirements, snorkelling skill levels and now a Covid-19 exposure declaration confirming we had steered clear of anyone with Covid-19 and were symptom-free. On- the-spot temperature checks for all guests and crew before boarding are mandatory, adding an extra level of assurance.
It’s a winning formula. True North has been back in the water since July 2020, its small size and customised Western Australia itineraries allowing it to sail through the storm of the past six months with an almost full load of passengers each trip.
One guest jokes the 49m luxury yacht needs to be renamed “True West” for the next year or so and they’re right, the 18 cabins are filled almost exclusively with Western Australians keen to holiday in their own backyard while borders are closed.
Custom-built for the Kimberley’s narrow waterways and shallow estuaries, True North usually spends March through to September in the top of Australia; crossing over to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea before heading to the Eastern states to celebrate New Year’s Eve on Sydney Harbour.
The itineraries have been torn up and rewritten more than once since the pandemic hit, with the crew pivoting fast to learn new waters, new destinations and new experiences designed to keep guests entertained.
I’m not talking about musical productions and talent shows. True North’s offering is all about easy access to outdoor adventures, making it perfect for social distancing in the first place. Bigger vessels might have waterslides, robotic bars, ice rinks and zip lines, but we have six tenders zipping us out on fishing trips, nature hikes and beach barbecues. And something that blows other ships’ bells and whistles out of the water – our very own helicopter.
Perched on the top deck’s helipad, the seven-seater helicopter makes the entire journey with us, flying guests to remote spots including the windswept Breaksea Island off Albany, or over bubblegum pink Lake Hillier near Esperance. We spend an afternoon wine tasting like rock stars, the chopper landing on the grounds of Windows Estate and Aravina Estate Winery, before dropping us back to True North in time for sundowners at Eagle Bay.
But what about Covid-19? It’s easy to forget the pandemic when you’re blessed with zero cases and closed borders. The crew doesn’t rest on their laurels – there’s an open-door policy on your room when you’re not in it, the stewards freshening the sheets and cleaning surfaces several times a day.
When it comes to dining, forget mega buffets and smorgasbords. The chefs plate up breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a light continental breakfast the only buffet in sight.
This is certainly a different type of cruising to what’s offered by the super-sized vessels usually gracing our shores, particularly at this time of year, and it’s a formula that works in this post-pandemic world.