Who doesn’t enjoy holidays? I for one tend to finish one and straight away I’m thinking what to do for my next one. This year I was approaching a special birthday and my best friend was urging me to do something different, whether it be a weekend or a couple of weeks somewhere. At first I wasn’t that keen to bother at all. When I was in my teens my mother was 35 years old for around 10 years. I only worked it out when I was in my early 20s that she definitely wasn’t still 35! I guess it’s a female vanity thing, then again men are always asking women’s ages, rarely does a woman ask a man’s age! By now I also didn’t like being reminded of my age!
I had to give in, after much prodding by my friend I started scouring the internet for holiday ideas. Thailand and Vietnam were out, as my friend had been there a few times already. I could have easily gone to Coral Sea Resort, my favourite destination in the Whitsundays, but that was a lazy choice as I had been there over 20 times! The Whitsundays is an idyllic location and stunning holiday, but I itched for something new. I had also been to beloved Bali several times. The other issue I had been recovering from recent back surgery, so I also wasn’t keen to be cooped up in a plane for a long flight. It suddenly dawned on me that I had never done a Cruise holiday. I had for some reason like many people, always considered cruises to be for senior retired people or drunk Aussie bogan types. Looking at the P&O website I could see there were so many destinations and it seemed such an easy holiday.
A friend runs a travel website called Vacation Goddess – a one stop shop for insider travel information and latest news. On chatting with her, Alison told me she had been on over 30 cruises and was a great fan of them. I was keen to try a short south pacific cruise not far from Australia. Alison was a wealth of knowledge giving me great tips on what to do at each island. There were some great European cruises advertised on her site which I thought to check out at a later date once I had done a short cruise. I was also very fortunate to have another friend Jonathon who has worked for Carnival Cruises for over 18 years and he said he could organise a great deal. The idea of no flying, a short 10 day trip to the exotic french islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu, inclusive of all food and accommodation for an absolute bargain price was too good to be ignored.
I wanted to go the week of my birthday and funny enough a South Pacific Cruise with P & O was leaving on the exact day of my milestone birthday. The price he organised was one that only a person with a very low IQ would refuse. The Pacific Pearl P & O Ship is one of older ships that will be refurbished later in the year, but he convinced me I would still have a great time. I didn’t mind if it was the older original design as I wanted to go on my birthday and didn’t want to wait until later in the year for a more modern ship like the Carnival fleet.
It all started so easy, a friend dropped us to Sydney’s Circular Quay passenger terminal. We got there early, but they were lovely and said we could check in early and enjoy settling in before the majority of the passengers boarded. Lunch would be served on the ship at 12 midday so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to board early. We checked our bags in, then filled in departure card info and had our first photo taken against the ship poster backdrop. Up in the lift to the next level to hand over our credit cards, where they take a photo of you for ID and you then receive a P&O room key-card which looks similar to a credit card. This is used to purchase anything onboard that isn’t included such as alcohol, spa treatments, shopping or any Port tours you haven’t already booked. If you didn’t pack a lanyard to put your key card on, we were told we could easily purchase one on board at the gift shop. We then waited in a colour group for only around 15 minutes to be called to board. Even though this is one of their older ships yet to be refurbished we were still excited.
My friend Jonathan had booked a great room mid ship on level 5, near the main atrium core. We found our room and a P & O welcome birthday gesture of a personalised sign with balloons.
We really had no idea what to expect as in our minds we thought the room might be shoe box in size. We were pleasantly surprised to open the door and find plenty of space. Each bed had its own bedside drawers, more drawers were located near the main clothes hanging area outside the en-suite. There was a TV, lounge chair, desk and mirror. Even the en-suite had two cabinets one each side with shelves for our toiletries. We jumped around like school girls and the view of the ocean from our room was just perfect.
It was almost 12 midday so we took off to explore the ship before lunch as we weren’t set to leave Sydney port until 4 pm. We were in amazement at how many bars, lounges, restaurants, shops, decks and pools there were.
It all looked so fabulous. Everyone on board was equally excited laughing and smiling. The atmosphere was great so different to just going to a resort. We made our way to the upper deck to the main buffet restaurant. At the entrance and exit to the restaurant, they encouraged you to use the anti-bacterial hand wash before receiving your tray and plate. I was pleased as I sure didn’t wish to get sick on a ship, otherwise it could make for a very dull holiday indeed.
A huge array of food was on offer and all included in our cruise fare. There was salads, soup, curries, chicken dishes, casseroles, roast meats, cold cured meats, Asian wok fried noodles, sandwiches, rolls, wraps, cheeses, crackers. I just can’t name all the dishes. Also a large selection of desserts and make yourself coffee and tea machines. Being an unusually warm Sydney winters day, it was an easy choice to sit outside and enjoy the view of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
After lunch, we headed back to our room to unpack our clothes. We met out maid Lena who would clean our room twice a day for the duration of the cruise. Then the loudspeaker announced that there would be a muster drill. This is to make sure that everyone knows where to go in an emergency and where their life jackets are located. It is also a welcome to everyone on board. Our muster drill was nearby on level 7 in the main entertainment area called the Marquee. This was very informative and allays any fears you might have had in regard to safety. Next all were told to make sure we were on deck in the next hour for the welcome party.
The party was in full swing, with a live band and singers to entertain us. All were enjoying their first party drink as the ship cruised out of Sydney Harbour at sunset.
The party was pumping, everyone was loving it. Sydney Harbour put on a stunning clear night for our departure.
We checked out the daily program and at first there is so much to do in different areas of the ship that it’s quite a hard choice. This pic below is just a sample of one of the days we had on board.
One thing we did the first day was check out the Aqua Health Spa & Fitness centre. My friend is slightly obsessed with skin, body care products and treatments. The spa was located on level 2, also the most stable part of the ship if you happen to get sea sick. (Important note: take Travel Calm tablets 4 hours before leaving Sydney and continue for a day or two – this should stop any sea sickness – same on the way back) The Pacific Pearl is one of the older P & O ships though it is set to be refurbished. I still thought it was designed well. Nice treatment rooms, gym and hot thermal tiled beds, chill out room, spa and our favourite, the steam room. The chill out room was nice to go to at the end of your steaming etc where you could enjoy a complimentary glass or two of champagne. This is only included if you bought a thermal spa pass for the trip. They were offering passes to couples for $300, ($150 each) and we thought for our 10-day cruise, it was the perfect addition to our days – especially with the complimentary champagne. We also booked in a couple of spa treatments to have while we were at sea.
For our first evening meal and as it was my birthday, we decided to book in the specialty restaurant, Luke Mangan’s – Salt Grill. This restaurant unlike the buffet and Plantation restaurant isn’t included in your ticket. But for an opportunity to enjoy fine dining at it’s best, we were happy to pay the first night special of $29 each. A four-course menu choosing from a selection of dishes designed by the celebrity Chef Luke Mangan.
Every mouthful was delicious and perfectly cooked. I was so impressed as for some odd reason I really wasn’t expecting to have such exceptional quality dining on a cruise ship.
Of course, as it was my birthday they also brought me a surprise treat!
After dinner, we checked out the welcome night feature show in the Marquee. Though we were so tired from the excitement of our first day we enjoyed the fast paced action and performances of such a talented team of young people.
We slept like babies to the rocking of the ship. The great thing about cruising is while you sleep, the ship goes faster and covers the distance required to get out to the islands within 2 days. We woke up early, anxious to check out the ship. People were up early exercising or just chilling with their coffee, enjoying the wide open expanse of aquamarine sea.
It was such a beautiful winter morning, that we decided to eat at the Plantation buffet restaurant and sit on the deck checking out the daily program of activities. After breakfast, we took off checking out every corner of the ship. The family pool was already filling up with people wishing to get a head start on their tan.
I decided on a session in the gym followed by a steam, we then had lunch, checked out a talent quest, then decided to find a spot to chill out in the sun and ready. The top deck was busy and a bit noisy with the large outdoor screen showing the tennis. I also didn’t want to spend my holiday near screaming kids. I was so relieved to find the adults only out door lounge and hot tub bar. Perfect spot for cocktails in the afternoon sun.
This was just a sample of a lazy day at sea. The beauty of cruising is you can be as busy or as lazy as you want. There are so many activities to choose from or just do next to nothing. In the evenings, there are options to dine in different restaurants and great live music in every bar, fantastic cabaret dance shows, comedy, magicians, talent quests but also theme nights. The first up was the country western theme. They give you hints by email before the cruise as to what to pack, failing that you can buy cowboy hat and western wear on board.
We of course we danced the night away, consumed quite a few cocktails, zapping everything onto our convenient charge cards. Cocktails were $10 each , we thought they could have been a bit cheaper as they did appear a bit weak on the alcohol. It was probably just as well, otherwise we might have suffered worse hangovers in the morning. On finally making it to our room we were greeted with the first of our daily towel animals.
The second day at sea was much the same, some morning exercise, word trivia games at one of the bars, a facial, lunch, an outdoor movie, steam room, champagne and more cocktails.
We also had our first formal night where all the guests were encouraged to dress up. There were several photographers on the ship taking photos. This was to be a regular occurrence and made for a fun atmosphere. All photos were displayed in a large gallery for guests to purchase later if they desired. It was fun to be on ship with all the guests dressed up. Of course each evening we had a few cocktails to start off the night.
We decided to try out the Waterfront restaurant which was ala carte and also included in our cruise fare. The menu looked great, service was quick you could sit alone or share tables with other guests. We found the food delicious and beautifully presented. This restaurant was open breakfast, lunch and dinner and no extra charge.
Next morning we arrived at Noumea. P&O encourage you to book port tours prior to your cruise online, but failing that you can book on the cruise ship or even just pay for one when you get off the ship. There are plenty of people trying to sell you their time or tour. The tours promoted by P&O vary from $15 to $140 and vary in length of time. We decided to book one tour at each port, except Noumea.
I had heard there wasn’t a lot to see at Noumea, couple of pretty beaches, shops etc. A bit like any port city, unless you look further than the initial area you might not get the best impression of what the island has to offer. We decided to do our own thing and board a hop on hop off shuttle bus that takes passengers around the main beaches of the island. We did a bit of shopping and bought some french clothes and of course I had to buy some little cakes.
It was great to get on land and check the area out. The beaches were pretty and the water looked so clean.
A popular thing to do is take the zodiac boat out to Duck Island resort for the day, but we decided to eat at one of the local french restaurants. The food was delicious and we enjoyed listening to the other french speaking patrons chatting a way in their language.
Back on the boat by 4pm to change for cocktails and yet another fun night. The weather was a little wild, in fact it was more like cyclonic winds. The movie showing on deck was The Second Best Marigold Hotel. We had our hearts set on watching this movie, so in a fit of laughter we put on our best wind chill protection gear and huddled under blankets to watch the movie. We were among 20 other determined viewers. Later the next day, we saw the movie come up on our room TV, to think we could have watched it in bed instead though I’m sure w wouldn’t have laughed so much!
Next morning we arrived the island of Lifou. We had booked the Jinek Bay marine park snorkeling trip. It was $15 each to go to the park for 3.5hrs. We had brought our own snorkel gear from home. You can hire or buy snorkels and flippers on the ship but of course ship pricing for snorkel gear is around $50 -$70 compared to bringing your own. It is also a good idea to pack your own reef shoes for walking to the marine park.
It was a great day out but nice to get back on board for cruise life. We were really loving the convenience of just stepping off the ship looking around then just as easily returning to our floating hotel. The ship has everything you need to have fun. Pacific Pearl, though an older ship was still well decked out. I just loved how you could pop into your room for a while then go out again so easily to a bar, a show, listen to music, dine, swim, chill, mingle or even just find your own little spot by yourself. Not forgetting so many activities, learn to dance, zumba, yoga, gym, cocktail making courses, whisky courses, art auctions, talent quests, bingo, word trivia, shopping – these are just a few activities!
That evening we decided to try the Luna Restaurant , a specialty Asian fusion restaurant. This isn’t included in your cruise fare but only $29 each. The evening menu was Japanese, I was excited as I love Japanese! The menu was impressive and we consumed so much food. We lost count of how many dishes we had. Each was beautifully presented and tasted delicious.
After dinner, we spent yet another fun night at the different bars listening to great music and dancing. We arrived back at the room to find a little treat.
Next morning was our 3rd Port, the island Vila. We had booked the Ekasup cultural village tour which would be all about Melanesian culture and customs. It cost us $85.99 and would be for 2.5hrs. We really loved this tour, it was fascinating to hear and see how the people lived in the villages all without electricity and their way of life.
Another fantastic day out. We were both so impressed with the lovely people on the island. It was a hot busy day so we went to the outdoor adults only spa bar, downed a couple of cocktails and watched the sunset.
We had a big night ahead. There was going to be a huge White Party on Deck with live music and entertainment. Everyone was requested to wear white.
This video below is a little peek of what a white party sounds and looks like! It was such a fantastic night. Very hot and sweaty dancing, lots of drinks, but we didn’t have far to travel back to our cabins when we had enough party fun.
Our last port was Santo and we had booked the Northern Seaside and Blue Hole Tour, $79.99 each and goes for 3.5hrs. Your tour begins with a 30-minute bus ride past coconut plantations and traditional villages. We got to enjoy a pristine white beach, swim and snorkel.
On the way back we went to see the famous Blue Hole. More swimming but in the most crystal clear clean water. The azure coloured water was amazing and surrounded by lush tropical rainforest. This tour was our favourite as you got to drive through the jungle, enjoy a perfect tropical white sanded beach and unique waterhole.
This is really a worthwhile tour so keep it in mind if you intend to do a south pacific cruise which includes Santo on the port list. Exhausted but happy we arrived back on ship and went straight to the Aqua spa centre for facials, a session in the steam room and some more champagne. Such a tough life on a cruise!
We knew we had a couple of days at sea as it was now the journey back home to Sydney. Plenty of shows, activities and dining out to be done. More spa treatments and shopping. Arriving back in Sydney early at 6 am to the most stunning sunrise.
We are now both hooked on cruise holidays. In fact, I have recently booked my second cruise to leave 25 November 2015, which is part of the 5 Ship Spectacular on the brand new P & O Pacific Eden. This cruise goes starts in Sydney with a firework extravaganza with all 5 ships in Sydney Harbour, a white party on each ship with popular singers on each. We will hav the Veronicas live and the cruise will run for 9 days seeing the South Pacific Loyalty Islands. This time, I will get to see Noumea, Mystery Island, Isle of Pines and Mare. I can’t wait!
Cruise Travel Tips:
- Bring the credit card for the first check in as no cash on board. Everything gets charged to your boarding card which you wear around your neck. This is also your ID.
- Bring $1 and $2 coins, also small notes as some islands will take these.
- Tip your room maid as they clean twice a day and don’t earn much.
- You can change some money on the cruise ship into the currency each island requires.
- Bring a power board as in the old ships there is only one electrical socket, in the cabin near the beds. You will find a power board handy for phone chargers, hairdryers etc. I’m hoping the refurbished ships have more than one socket in the cabin area.
- Pack reef shoes, good for walking on the islands and snorkelling so you don’t cut your feet.
- Take Travel Calm tablets before you board the ship. You can also buy some on the ship. Take on the way back too. It can get rough on the way back.
- Pack a small back pack for the island tours and bring your own water bottle. You can re-fill on board.
- Bring your own snorkelling gear if doing any snorkel tours, you can hire or buy on the ship but they are expensive around $70. Some island markets you can buy them for $15.
- You can’t bring any alcohol on the ship. Only a few cans of soft drink no bottles. Check the details on what you can and can’t bring before boarding
- Bring your own first aid kit, panadol, gastrolyt tablets etc and don’t forget travel insurance. It’s very expensive if you end up sick on the ship and in the ship sick bay.
- Be aware you might get land sickness for a couple of days when you get home. This involves feeling a bit dizzy, tired and sometimes nauseous. It will pass, just rest and drink lots of water.
- Bring a smile and make the most of this unique holiday