So many people dismiss cruising without giving it a go.
"Ooooh no, it's for old people!"
"Ooooh no, it's full of drunken teenagers running riot!"
"Ooooh no, I can't deal being trapped in a tiny cabin!".
I must admit when we booked one of the first post-COVID cruises on board the P&O Pacific Explorer, I had my own reservations. I was a bit of a cruising snob, having sailed on the glorious QE2 and Royal Caribbean luxury liners. I had pretty much resigned myself that this cruise was going to be a "floating RSL". But hey, it was the only cruise line brave enough to battle those COVID scaredy cats so I thought I would give it a go.
But let me tell you, those myths need to be tossed straight into the ocean. For a cruise ship with a reputation of being on the lower budget side of the scale, the P&O Pacific Explorer blasted all my low expectations straight out of the water.
The Pacific Explorer, affectionately known as "Dora (the explorer)" is in my opinion, a great size for a cruise liner. Its maximum passenger capacity is around 2,000. Basically, this means that you don't need a GPS to find your way around and the queues aren't as intense. I recently cruised on board the Carnival Splendor, which can house over 3,000 passengers and the congestion and crowds were, at times, out of control.
The BEST Holiday
A cruise is a true holiday - you really don't have to worry about anything. Your bed is made twice a day, there's never-ending food without the need to step foot into a kitchen, beer is on tap and there's an itinerary of activities and entertainment to pick from. Plus if you've taking young 'uns on board, the kids / teens club is sheer paradise. It's the only getaway where I can really switch off and relax with a book and a tall cocktail, without worrying about preparing the next meal or keeping bored kids entertained.
Eating is a big part of cruise life, with BIG being the operative word as extra kilograms are probably the only unwanted souvenir of a cruise holiday.
Meals on board Pacific Explorer work differently to many other liners. Most cruise ships offer a main dining room, a buffet and some paid-for restaurants.
There are also paid-for restaurants - Lukes, 400 Gradi, A Taste of Salt and Shell & Bones which we didn't try. They all have a good reputation but we found the included meals were more than enough for us. Next time, we may splurge on a dinner at Lukes.
Desserts (and the kids' menus) were a downer
The food was generally delicious. My only disappointment was the desserts in the Pantry. Those lurid green and pink coloured cream cakes were just not to my taste. Also, the kids struggled a bit with the children's menu. The creators of the youth menu clearly do not have kids themselves as there was not a nugget or cheese pizza in sight and the food options were way too sophisticated for my kids' palates. Plus the names of the food items were bizarre - "I don't want anything" was the name of one of the menu items and another was Roasted tomato and Capsicum chowder. I don't know any kid that would willingly pick that for dinner. Thank goodness the dessert was popular with jelly, cookies and ice-cream on offer.
There is a daily schedule (printed and on the P&O app) which details all the activities and entertainment available, as well as the times for live music and the opening hours of the restaurants and bars.
I love that on a cruise you can choose to be as busy or as lazy as you want. I know for some people the most idyllic holiday would be chilling by the pool with a cocktail and a book. However, I suffer from intense FOMO on a cruise and I make sure I attack the schedule with a highlighter the night before so that I know what activities I don't want to miss.
There is usually at least one dance class every day (which the kids and I loved) as well as a variety of trivia (the cruise director's trivia is the BEST). Bingo is super popular but it's not cheap or you can simply relax in one of the many lounges and enjoy the live music. There are movies out on the pool deck or in the theatre and three swimming pools (one is adult-only), waterslides and whirlpools. There is a fully-equipped gym and spa on board with a couple of free fitness classes as well as ones you have to pay for.
There is a daily evening show in the show theatres. Some of them are ticketed at around $20 per person, others are adult-only but many are family-friendly and definitely worth seeing. During our cruise, we saw the hilarious James Bustar, as well as Rock: Anthem of the Ages.
There is usually a show at 7pm and then it is repeated at 9pm. We often had an early dinner at 5:15pm and then caught the early show. But you can just make the schedule work for you.
For me, the cruise ship is the journey and the destination all in one. I know some people would pick cruises based on its port itinerary but generally, in my opinion, the cruise is all about the actual ship.
Most people love exploring the ports and spend loads of dollars on shore excursions (which can be booked through P&O). I've been known to stay on the liner as others explore a stopover.
During our Pacific Explorer cruise, we stopped off at Airlie Beach and Cairns. We disembarked at both ports and enjoyed a casual explore but we were back on aboard at midday for lunch. Moreton Island / Tangalooma is a tender port which means that ship can't dock near the Island and passengers need to take small boats to reach the shore. This can be a slow process to get thousands of eager cruisers off and back on the ship but you just need to get into holiday mode and go with the flow.
Talking about kids, there are action-packed kids / teen clubs which my kids enjoyed. You can grab a schedule of activities and the kids can come and go as they please (the younger ones need to be signed in and out by their parents). It's a great spot where children can escape their parents and parents can grab a bit of child-free time.
Our cruise director (Julie) and her entertainment team during our cruise were absolutely spectacular. Julie's hot rhythms Zumba-style classes on the deck were a highlight of our holiday. The teams change around regularly but the staff are generally wonderful, so friendly and helpful. Our cabin attendants were brilliant and we loved coming back to a spotlessly clean cabin with the most adorable towel animals.
When it comes to cabins, you basically book what fits in your budget. Our cruise was a bit of a spontaneous one so we booked the cheapest fare available - which is a guaranteed interior cabin. This means that your room is only assigned a few days before your cruise. Next cruise, though, I would pay a bit extra so I could pick my own cabin. We didn't mind the interior cabins at all but if your budget can extend further, a balcony or a mini-suite would be more comfortable.
Best for the budget
No holiday is perfect, but cruising for us, is a budget no-brainer. Booking a hotel within Australia for a family of 5 is exorbitant. Then add food, activities and transport and it's bye-bye budget. If you can nab a special offer, you can cruise for around $100 - $150 per person per day and that includes just about everything. Plus if you live close to the wharf, you can even catch a ferry or a train to board the ship. It really is the best-value holiday we've found.
So what are you waiting for? Life's a cruise and I'll see you on the sea!