She’s one of the most photographed royals to grace our stretch of the Murray River, and if you’ve ever caught a glimpse of the PS Murray Princess, then you’ll already know why.
But even more than her unopposed grandeur and regal aesthetic, the experience she offers on-board to guests, is one that stays with you forever.
So let me take you for a sneak-peek inside what it’s like to holiday on board our beautiful Princess.
What strikes me each time I talk to guests travelling on board the Princess is how great the cruises are for connecting with other people from across Australia, all who have a shared love for the Murray River. On a visit during late 2018, we spoke with people who came from Adelaide, Mildura, Canberra, Coffs Harbour and Melbourne.
On a balmy summer night, they were all seated together around an outdoor dining table playing cards, drinking wine and enjoying embellished stories about their past lives (only to be interrupted by rollicking belly-laughs).
It was hard to believe they were all strangers prior to boarding a few days earlier.
But it’s not just the social connections and lifelong friends you make when travelling with the Princess. When you step on board, you’re also met by the warm and welcoming crew. Your cruise director is your number one go-to person while you’re travelling, but the whole crew go above and beyond to make sure every guest has an incredible time during their 3, 4 or 7 night cruises.
By the end of the journey, the crew knows the names of most of their guests and vice-versa, as they work around the clock to ensure that everyone has a relaxing holiday, with every need met. The Princess has the perfect mix of luxury and fun – where you can relax, and be entertained in equal measures. Your time on board is what you make it – and that might include everything from wildlife encounters and dancing around a campfire… all the way through to wine-tasting and gourmet dinners.
If you can manage the early mornings, then you should make a point of being on the deck (or make your way over the gang plank to a good viewpoint on the riverbank) and prepare yourself for the incredible sunrise views.
The ranging colours of the river’s reflection on to the ever-changing backdrop is quite remarkable, and the abundant birdlife sings in the background to help start your day in a perfectly relaxed state (make sure you pack the binoculars if you’ve got a taste for twitching).
In the evenings, the sunset is equally marvellous – and none more so than when you pull up to Big Bend near Swan Reach. The variations of burnt orange against the incredible cliff face here is breathtaking, and even with one of the best photographers standing alongside me to snap the moment during our last visit, it still can’t capture just how amazing that moment really is in person. And after the sun has set, the boat’s giant floodlights light up the river ahead so you can continue enjoying the views with an evening tipple.
While we’re talking scenery, one of the best ways to take in some of the Murray’s finest scenes is on board the ‘Dragon-Fly’ flat-bottomed boat (part of the Princess’ guest offerings). It travels in small, personalised groups and explores some of the hard-to-reach backwater environments, giving you the chance to watch for darters, herons and egrets to name a few.
The Princess has plenty of places to take it all in as well. The top-storey sundeck is of course a favourite spot for guests to soak up the views, lay on a day-bed and read a book.
I have to say though, my favourite room is the two-storey ‘Paddlewheel Lounge’, right at the back of the ship, where through double-storey glass windows, you can sit and watch the giant paddlewheel gently move through the water and dictate the vessel’s speed along the Murray. Here – it feels like you’ve stepped back in time a few decades, with the golden spiral staircases above and pristine furnishings to lounge in as you relax and watch the world go by.
While of course our unique Princess is incredible, the opportunity to explore the path she travels is equally as brilliant. As part of your trip, there are plenty of excursions to enjoy on-shore, many which connect you to the environment and culture of the Murray River lifestyle.
If you prefer to stay on board, that’s perfectly fine, but for those who want to stretch their legs and soak up the surroundings, we’d recommend adding the Big Bend By Night experience – where you can get a close-up show of sheep-shearing and sheep racing (yes, – SHEEP RACING!).
Plus you can meet some of the native wildlife cared for by this passionate Murray River family, or even head out on a nocturnal tour to catch some of our favourite native animals in their element at night.
Just down the road from here is the Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park. Here you can discover a unique insight into the traditional landowners, the Nganguraku people, who will guide you through this culturally and historically significant archaeological site. At Ngaut Ngaut, the lower sections reveal ancient rock carvings and if you’re fit enough to climb the steep stair-case, you’ll see the top section features remnants of early habitation and tools.
Further downstream, you’ll have time to explore the beautiful town of Mannum, the historic birthplace of the Murray River paddlesteamer. Locally, we especially love Mannum for it’s historic main street filled with quirky shops, delicious cafe fare and interactive Dock Museum.
When you berth in Murray Bridge (the home of the Murray’s first and historic road Bridge), you’ll grab an instant glimpse of the beautiful historic Round House. From here you can wander the main street and explore the main retail area of the rural city (and we’d recommend a coffee and lunch at local favourite The Davery Establishment).
While you’re in town, you should definitely stretch your legs a few hundred metres down the River’s edge to Sturt Reserve. This is our region’s largest reserve, and of course, the mythical (and world-famous) Murray Bridge Bunyip. Just press the button and wait for the roar.
Speaking of things that ‘roar’, you can also take an excursion from the Princess to the Southern Hemisphere’s largest open range zoo at Monarto. Here, you can see giant giraffe herds, cheetahs spotted dogs, meerkats, chimps and a lion pride from your bus.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a luxury cruise without delicious food and drinks – and I can tell you this, you’ll never go hungry! The chef-prepared seasonal-menu means you can indulge in everything from salmon to scotch fillet – with the lamb shanks and pork cutlets a regular favourite as well.
Another favourite of ours is the bush tucker and three-course breakfast on the shore of a wetland near Big Bend. During this delectable meal you can savour the taste of Kangaroo sausages, double-smoked bacon and scrambled eggs flavoured and all the trimmings – flavoured by bush-tucker spices and finished off with wattleseed pancakes and real billy tea (or a glass of bubbles if you’d prefer).
But it’s not just me and the locals who think the Princess is pretty special. In one of his recent blogs, New Zealand’s Phil Vine wrote beautifully about his time on board the paddlewheeler:
“If ageing is an art form – and it probably is – the Murray Princess is a floating gallery, a boatload of portraits of our future selves. The perfect place to contemplate who you are, and the masterpiece you may become. Not to mention the actual oil paintings outside. Majestic ochre cliffs and crackling eucalypts. Timeless landscapes straight from the brushes of Heysen and McCubbin. They drift past at a leisurely 12km/h while an attendant and whimsical crew see to your every need.”