Never shake hands on board a cruise ship, I am told when I stretch my hand out in greeting on the third deck.
My rejected fingers hangs awkwardly in mid air for a moment, but as I lower them, I quickly realise it’s nothing personal.
Anxiety about transmitting germs lurks in every nook and cranny of this vast cruise ship, with vats of hand sanitiser positioned strategically throughout, along with signs indicating the importance of washing your hands after a trip to the bathroom.
When I take on the buffet, amped for the oodles of food that await me, latex gloves plonk portions unceremoniously onto my plastic plate. I don’t go back for seconds.
Extra caution is being employed on this particular cruise because of a reported case of a norovirus which struck 135 passengers and eight staff as the 3,114-guest liner made its way from New Zealand to Sydney.
Norovirus is a highly contagious illness that often spreads in places like schools, nursing homes and… cruise ships. Its symptoms are similar to those of the flu, with vomiting and diarrhoea usually experienced for several days – not the best way to spend your holiday. It can pass through a group of people incredibly swiftly, which is why the containment of a cruise ship is a veritable playground for such a bug.
Check in was delayed as each level of the vessel underwent “enhanced cleaning” to rid it of any traces of contamination. Our cabins too are being additionally sanitised meaning we are stuck with our luggage for the next few hours.
We wander from deck to deck as our food goes down, suitcase trailing in tow, reluctant to head for the rock-climbing wall or the mini-golf course because of its dead weight.
Instead we head for the spa, where we ditch our load in lockers while we soak in the whirlpool. Then we recall warnings that the warm bubbles can be breeding grounds for bacteria, and jump back out.
But as soon as we are finally allowed into our cabin, we are transfixed by the unrivalled views of the Sydney Opera House from our balcony, sunbeams bouncing brightly from each of its more than a million geometric tiles. Germs are instantly forgotten.
In a couple of hours, those creamy curves will shrink into the distance as the ship sets sail. As it comes alive with evening energy, We browse the wine list in Carmen restaurant as the lights of Sydney’s CBD disappear into the darkness.
Don’t expect to get a drink in the dining room on the first night of a cruise, comes my second warning of the day.
Passengers tend to order wine at the end of dinner for the next day’s meal, so with the wine cellar a fair trot away from the dining room, the chances of getting a glass of vino tonight are slender.
Admittedly it takes a while, but it does come. Three wines in, and we’re finally sailing the high seas.