Julie is the author of a number of guidebooks, including 'Melbourne's Best Bush Bay and City Walks' & 'Melbourne for Dogs' (with RSPCA). Read more of her adventures at her walks blog: walksmelbourne.com
Published October 7th 2012
Need to lay back and be totally spolied?
P&O's Pacific Pearl seen from Isle of Pines, new Caledonia
Ever fancied the idea of being waited on hand and foot as you gently rocked your way through the crystal blue seas of the South Pacific? Palms swaying gently in the breeze, clown fish frolicking gently beneath you as you find your way across the shallow lagoon? An evening's live entertainment put on for your viewing pleasure? Your own private cabin steward to see to your every need? Someone to cook and wash up at every meal? Ahhhh, bliss.
Day dream bubble popped yet? It needn't. My kids and I have just returned from a 9 night paddle across the seas to Caledonia and Vanuatu on the P&O's Pacific Pearl, which sails out of Sydney. With a 15 year old and a temporarily wheelchair-bound 13 year old in tow, the cruise needed to cater for all our needs and it did so admirably well. A dramatic sail out of Sydney Harbour under the Harbour Bridge (which from Deck 14 felt like we needed to duck) on a glorious clear late afternoon set the scene for 2 full days of cruising in good seas.
One of my kids tends to motion sickness, but a couple of kwells and calm seas kept things at bay until they got their seas legs, and to be honest, I found the rocking very lulling. It was certainly easy to relax on the deck chairs in front of the big movie screen and watch the waves - and even some whales - go by. The cabins (we had an outside cabin with a big window) were surprisingly spacious with excellent built-in storage, and were serviced every day. I am not sure I could do the inside ones, with no windows, but if you were going to be doing activities all day and not in the cabin, you can save a few hundred dollars by opting for these. We found the cabin was a good refuge for relaxing during the day and had pre-recorded current TV and movie channels on loop for when you just needed to veg.
There is a constant program of onboard events and activities: virtual bridge tours by our Italian captain (Costa Concordia jokes, anyone?), bingo, karaoke galore, talent contests, cooking demonstrations, fitness seminars, trivia quizzes, movies, yoga, pilates and stretch classes, scavenger hunts, scrap heap challenges, kids clubs divided by age group with their own full agenda of events (and of course plenty of screen based games as well for older kids) - you name it, they had it. There is even an obligatory casino, a tiny library and satellite internet access if you really have to have it.
In between was the food - which is all included, both in the buffet and the a la carte restaurant. The restaurant was the hands down winner for us, with really top class food in pleasingly small portions (let it be said - there is no lack of food on a cruise ship - the 2000 passengers and crew consume some 7 tonnes of it a day. Really. And in case you're wondering, the end result of all that er - eventual waste - is collected, dried, processed and burned to fuel the two desalination plants which produce the water. Ingenious).
The stand out of the at-sea cruise experience for us was the service - it is impossible not to feel pampered and cosseted by the smiling, efficient and just very friendly crew, many of whom come from Canada, the UK, and dedicated training schools in India and the Phillippines. The entertainment each night was impressive - full on broadway style song and dance shows and some stand-out circus, comedy and magic acts. Each of the numerous lounge bars also had a variety of bands, singers - jazz, rock, soul, acoustic guitar. And there was plenty of space to tuck up with a book as well. Kids braved the (very) cold water of the sloshing swimming pools because it was just too much fun to ignore, but for my money I would want it to be another 10 degrees warmer and less windy before I braved the pools - and even snorkelling in September was a bit 'refreshing'. Those with wetsuits were looking pretty smug.
Snorkelling at La Rocher, Isle of Pines, New Caledonia
Going on shore brings home the real benefits of cruising - travelling to a variety of places without having to pack your bags and hang around in airports is definitely a bonus. We visited four ports: Noumea, Lifou Island and Isle of Pines in New Caledonia, and tiny, uninhabited Mystery Island at the southernmost edge of Vanuatu.
The islands lived up to everything you might imagine from the Pacific - astonishingly clear water, fantastic snorkelling, superbly friendly local islanders, picturesque palm trees and powder fine beaches - in fact I have to nominate the beach at the Isle of Pines for softest sand in the world - it was like talcum powder. And even with a wheelchair, and making some of the transfers via the cruise ships life boat tender, 3 of the 4 ports were accessible thanks to the willing help not just from the crew, but also our fellow passengers.
All in all, a very, very easy and entertaining, no-thinking holiday if you really need a rest where you can do as much or as little as you like. Enjoy.