People either love or hate cruise holidays. Even if you’ve never been on one, I bet you’ve already formed a firm opinion. Cruise holidays are loaded with stereotypes of passengers piling their plates high at buffet meals and drinking copiously on the ship’s deck. I hope to bring a balanced perspective and fresh insights into many aspects of life in my new online magazine, In the Circle. This is why I have chosen to share my experience of a cruise holiday that I took with my mother nearly two years ago.
Why we decided to go on a cruise
At the time, I was working as a lawyer in the Corporate department of a large New Zealand firm called Bell Gully. I decided that I needed a bit of a break. We wanted to go somewhere in the South Pacific which is fairly close to home, but also where the weather would be nice during autumn, as it would be starting to get cooler back home. I wanted to treat mum to a holiday to say thank you for her unwavering support over the years. I would not be the person I am today, let alone have accomplished all that I have done over the years, were it not for her. And that includes her being a tiger mum during my childhood, because it’s made me into what I am today.
Why did we decide to go on a cruise holiday? We had never been on a cruise before and were open to a new experience. At the time, I was quite tired from work and was looking forward to a relaxing holiday so I could recharge my batteries. A cruise appealed because it offered full flexibility. It would give me the opportunity to either participate in the number of activities and entertainment on board or do absolutely nothing if I so wished. It also offered good value for money, as it was all-inclusive of meals and accommodation. Holidays in South Pacific destinations such as Fiji, Rarotonga and Tahiti can get quite expensive due to the cost of accommodation and meals at hotels. The cabins on cruise ships are also nice, especially if you can afford a balcony room or the minisuite.
Booking the cruise
I had started researching cruises a few months beforehand and discovered that a number of P&O cruises departed and returned to the port in Auckland. This made it a convenient holiday option rather than needing to fly to Australia in order to catch the cruise, which is what I had presumed most people did. I also discovered that there were a number of cruises around the islands of the South Pacific. We had always wanted to visit Fiji but never had the opportunity, so I searched specifically for cruises that included this as a destination. I ended up booking an eight night cruise on the P&O ship the Pacific Pearl called the Fiji Encounter, departing Auckland in late March 2016. The cruise had three stops: Suva, Port Denerau and Dravuni Island. At the time I booked, I paid a bit extra and secured us a balcony room as I loved the idea of being able to spend afternoons lying in bed staring at the endless blue ocean.
Prior to our departure, we received a pleasant surprise. P&O offered us a complimentary upgrade from the balcony room I had purchased to a mini suite room with a balcony. Mum and I were over the moon! At the time I had made the booking, this was really in my heart’s desire, but was a little outside my budget, bearing in mind that we needed to allow for on-board costs such as beverages and dining, if we chose to eat at some of the fine dining restaurants on board.
The cruising experience
Both of us were impressed by the process of embarkation, which was very organised. Passengers boarded the ship in an orderly fashion and the process of immigration was smooth sailing. No pun intended! When we reached our room, we were positively beside ourselves. The minisuite room was much more spacious than the balcony room and the crew had given us a complimentary basket of fruit. Prior to our departure from the port, a member of the crew thoughtfully knocked on the door and asked if we would like some complimentary champagne, which we graciously accepted.
We both settled into cruising life with relative ease. With friendly crew around to answer any questions, we felt instantly welcome on board and any issues were soon resolved. Mum and I quickly found our favourite restaurant on board. We favoured the a la carte restaurant over the buffet. It gives you greater control over what you eat, as there is always the temptation to eat more than you should at a buffet restaurant! It is also nice having your meal brought to your table. As it was just the two of us and the tables were normally for six or more people, we were often seated with other passengers. We found ourselves surrounded by friendly faces and learnt a great deal about cruises from other passengers, many of whom had taken cruise holidays in the past. We met people from lots of different parts of New Zealand, as well as international visitors who had decided to take a cruise as part of their stay in the country. The restaurant was also extremely accommodating of our diabetic diet. Every evening, we advised the front of house of our dietary restrictions for the next day. Kitchen staff were able to make slight adjustments to items on the menu and provide sugar-free alternatives. We were extremely grateful that our condition did not affect the quality of our dining and ability to enjoy our holiday. The meals themselves were of the highest quality. We really enjoyed the range of fresh fish offered at the restaurant we dined at most of the time.
In the morning, cabin crew would make up our room. I really appreciated the funny animals that one crew member made out of towels, which he would place on my bed. Every day, we received a newsletter with information regarding the activities and entertainment on board for the next day, as well as information about any places we would be stopping at.
We spent our days mostly in our room, which was hard to leave as it was so nice! While there is an overwhelming number of activities and array of entertainment on board, we enjoyed having quiet time to ourselves, simply relaxing and looking out at the ocean from our cabin’s balcony. Something else we really enjoyed doing during the late afternoons and early evenings was relaxing on the loungers on one of the deck levels at the back of the ship. We liked looking out at the ocean and enjoyed getting some fresh air.
For each stopover, P&O offer a variety of day packages for different encounters. These organised expeditions can be quite expensive and didn’t really appeal to us, so we decided to do our own thing.
Our first stopover was the port of Suva. We explored the bustling township, starting with the large fruit and vegetable market near the port. We had lunch at a lovely Indian restaurant and browsed the shops at a nearby mall before heading back to re-board the ship at the end of the day.
Our next stopover was the port of Denerau. A lot of passengers had chosen to purchase a day pass for one of the nearby hotels and relax at a resort, but we were both nervous about potentially missing the ship at the end of the day. You are constantly warned that if you’re late, the ship will not wait for you. We therefore explored the port of Denerau and re-boarded the ship early. Note that if you take an organised tour through the cruise company and the tour is late in bringing you back to the port, the ship will wait for you.
The greatest disappointment was Dravuni Island. This tiny island has only 200 inhabitants. From the photos and what we had read about it, Dravuni Island sounded stunning. This was the stopover we had most looked forward to. As the port was so tiny, passengers had to be taken to shore in life boats. Due to rough sea conditions, the captain made the call that it was unsafe to take passengers to shore in tenders, so we proceeded to head back to Auckland early.
Fine dining on board
Although all meals were included in the cost of the cruise, mum and I decided to try the two fine dining restaurants on board. While dining at such restaurants on board a cruise incurs an additional cost, it is generally fantastic value compared with having a meal at a similar restaurant on land. We started by trying the Salt Grill by the well-known Australian chef Luke Mangan.
The meal was excellent. Diners could select three courses plus a few sides to enjoy with their meal. We sampled wonderful seafood and finished our meal with a wonderful cheeseboard. We enjoyed our meal at the Salt Grill so much that we decided to return on our last night so we could enjoy the restaurant one last time before disembarking the ship.
During the cruise, we also dined at the Asian restaurant Luna, which offered a Thai and Japanese option. We decided to try the Thai banquet, which was simply delicious.
Cruise holidays are definitely not for everyone. However, I think it’s important to give things a go first, or at least consider a variety of different perspectives, in order to make an informed decision. This is why I chose to open up about our holiday. If you want to spend a lot of time on land, a cruise holiday probably isn’t for you, as it takes awhile to disembark and re-board the ship, which must be factored into time spent during stopovers. However, if you are with a family or large group with different interests, cruise holidays are good as they offer something for everyone. Passengers who want quiet time can have just that, while the more energetic can explore everything that ship life has to offer. There are also different dining options to cater to all tastes. Overall, we thought that cruise holidays offer excellent value for money. It provided us with a much-needed relaxing holiday. We were well cared and catered for on board. If we were looking for a similar experience in the future, we would not hesitate to take a cruise again.