Pacific paradise

South Pacific

A cruising holiday that leaves everything else in its wake.

You stroll up the gangway and are greeted as you embark the ship by a member of the crew who welcomes you on board and wishes you a pleasant cruise. You are shown to your cabin and your luggage arrives soon after. You unpack and hang your clothes in the wardrobe and place your toiletries in the bathroom. Twelve days later, you repack your bags and prepare to disembark as the ship ties up in your home port. It doesn’t get any easier.

Personally, I believe that cruising is one of the really great holidays. It’s also one of the great value-for-money holidays. Travelling all over the world is fantastic and we’ve done lots of it, but it does mean that you are constantly on the go; from airport to airport, city to city, hotel room to hotel room. Cruising on the other hand, is easy and far less stressful. You arrive and unpack once. Your cabin is roomy and well-appointed. You can choose your cabin type, from an interior room to a penthouse suite. When possible, we opt for a balcony room as the balcony makes our cabin feel more spacious. Plus, you can relax on your own private balcony and enjoy the sea air and amazing sunsets. Your cabin is cleaned, and the linen changed every day. All your meals are provided, so you can eat as much or a little as you like, and the choice is always excellent. In the evening, you can choose to eat formally in one of the ship’s a-la-carte restaurants, or you can eat casually on deck enjoying a beautiful South Pacific evening. During the day, you can participate in any number of onboard activities including swimming, waterpark slides, spas, dance classes, trivia and game shows, deck games and more. There’s Players Bar and Casino for those who don’t mind a little flutter on the tables or on the pokies. And to keep in shape, there is a fitness centre and exercise track on the top deck along with a day spa and a hair and beauty salon. The nightlife is amazing. Stage shows, special guest acts, live music, cinema and themed party nights are all on offer. For the younger members of your family, there are kids’ clubs to keep the little ones entertained and they are open until late.

We’ve cruised the South Pacific twice, the first time on the P&O Pacific Dawn and most recently on the Pacific Jewel. Both ships are very well appointed and offer a complete holiday experience – as little or as much onboard activity as you want, combined with great shore-based tours. One thing we do like about cruising the South Pacific is that your days at sea are not prolonged. Both our cruises have been 12-night cruises to Fiji and Polynesia; the first from Sydney visiting Noumea, Mystery Island, Port Denarau, Suva, Mare and the second from Brisbane to Port Vila, Port Denarau, Mystery Island and The Isle of Pines. With so many ports-of-call you can enjoy the perfect mix of onboard time at sea and onshore activity.

All onboard entertainment is provided for you to enjoy; from rock and roll bands to spectacular performances in the ships central atrium. Plus, cinemas and live shows every evening. There are pubs and nightclubs to suit every taste and on the main decks, bars where you can enjoy a quiet pre-dinner drink, as well as outside on the fore and aft decks and around the swimming pools. Super convenient for a drink with lunch or as you catch the sunset at the end of your hectic day. There is even an avenue of retail outlets so you can shop to your heart’s desire, duty-free. 

A day in the life

What to do today? This is where it starts to get hard! Each evening you’ll find a copy of the ships daily ‘newspaper’ in your cabin. This will detail onboard activities for the following day as well as details of the next port-of-call and onshore tours that you can take at that port. In most instances, the ships arrives in port in the early morning and departs early evening, so you have all day ashore if you wish. You can book your tours at the ship’s Shore Tour Desk on Deck 5.

Our typical onboard day starts with an early morning take-away coffee from The Cafe on the Deck 12, enjoyed on our private balcony. Then a brisk walk around the ship on the exercise track. Shower and get ready for breakfast. After breakfast, togs, towels, sunnies, a good book and our 30+ and we head off to find a spot around the pool. Lunch from the restaurant, eaten on deck and then back to the pool. Late afternoon, back to our cabin to relax or sit and quietly read on our balcony. Time to get ready for dinner. Casual or more formal – depending on the theme of the evening. A pre-dinner drink at Connections mid-ships on Deck 7 and then to dinner. Which restaurant tonight? Asian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Italian, or Seafood? After dinner, entertainment in the atrium, the early or late show in the Marquee Theatre (there are two shows nightly) then, depending on how tired we are after our gruelling day onboard, catch some live music and enjoy a nightcap at one of the many bars before turning in. The next day, repeat. Or if it is a shore day, casual clothes, comfortable shoes, a water bottle, camera and prepare for an exciting time exploring.

Exploring the South Pacific

The islands of the South Pacific are naturally beautiful places to exp Over the years, Dinah and I have holidayed in Fiji, New Caledonia and Vanuatu on a number of occasions but visiting them by cruise ship is a totally different experience. One of the things that I love about cruising is that you visit multiple destinations, not just the one and on a 12-night cruise from Australia you get to experience a number of exotic ports-of-call.

Our first port of call is Noumea. Noumea is the capital of the South Pacific archipelago and overseas French territory of New Caledonia. Situated on the main island of Grand Terre, Noumea is known for its cultural heritage, blending French and native Kanak influences. This is a fascinating city to wander with its mid-century streets and colonial era houses like Maison Celieres, Chateau Hagan and old Noumea City Hall. The artistic and cultural heart of New Caledonia, here you’ll find museums and art galleries to visit and street markets to explore. Noumea is a vibrant city of bars and clubs. It also has two casinos. Often referred to as the ‘Paris of the Pacific’, the shopping in Noumea is very French. Don’t miss Alma Street, Sebastopol Street and the Promenade.

Departing Noumea, our next port of call is Port Vila. Port Vila is the capital of Vanuatu and is a delightfully friendly town – with the roughest, pot-holed main street I have even driven on! That aside, this is a great place to walk the streets and explore the dozens of tourist goods, clothing and craft shops. There is also a large produce market in the centre of town. Watch out for the young boys with bright green Iguana lizards. They’ll let you hold them, and it will cost you. But not a lot, and you’ll end up with a great picture! At this port, the ship actually berths at the dock. In some ports you are ferried to the port on the ship’s tenders. At Port Vila, you will be greeted on the wharf by dozens of stalls selling local and tourist items. You will need to catch a taxi from the wharf into town. Not very expensive and you can share the taxi with other passengers.

Next stop Port Denarau, Fiji. On the coast Port Denarau is a great location if you are interested in authentic Fijian arts and crafts. Effectively this is one huge shopping centre with myriad shops, restaurants and eateries. It is also where many of Fiji’s top resorts are located. As is our way, Dinah and I always look for something to take home that reminds us of our travels to add to our collection of memorabilia. In this instance we opted for a small hand-carved wooden kava bowl inlaid with mother of pearl and sealed. Be careful buying wooden products. Australia has strict laws regarding the importing of wooden objects from overseas so you must declare any purchases at Australian immigration.

From Port Denarau to Suva, Fiji’s capital and seat of government. Suva is a city of broad avenues, lush parks and grand British colonial architecture. Here we opted for a day tour of the Fijian capital. A minibus transported us to many of the city’s more notable landmarks, important buildings and historic sites, including the Suva City Carnegie Library, a grand early 1900’s building. We also visited Government House, originally built in 1882, the University of the South Pacific (Suva campus), and the Fiji Museum in Thurston Gardens. The museum houses the most extensive collection of Fijian artefacts in the world and is also a research and educational institution specialising in archaeology and the preservation of Fiji’s language and culture. Outside the entrance to the museum, Fijian women were selling small hand-made terracotta pottery jars. Beautiful and everyone an original. Some now form part of our collection at home.

Next, Mystery Island. Literally a tiny dot in a huge ocean, Mystery Island is a small uninhabited island in Vanuatu. Other than an airstrip built by the United States military, the island has a few huts for overnighters. No one lives on the island. Indeed, it is considered taboo to do so. P&O cruise ships anchor just off the island and passengers are ferried by ship’s tenders to the island for a day of swimming and snorkelling in the crystal blue Pacific waters. This is some of the best snorkelling you will ever experience. Locals from the surrounding islands greet passengers and the grass huts are transformed into ‘pop-up’ shops seeing all manner of clothing and local delicacies.

Our final stop on the homeward leg of our cruise is the Isle of Pines. This is our favourite port of call on the entire cruise. The Isle of Pines, so called because of its distinctively tall pine trees, is southeast of the main New Caledonian island of Grand Terre and is famous for its pure white beaches and crystal-clear waters. Passengers are ferried to the island by ship’s tenders for the day and are free to sunbake, swim, snorkel and even explore local villages on a push bike. At the wharf are the remains of an early French penal colony, a stark stone walled prison with narrow slit windows. A great place to swim is Oro Bay in the northeast, natural bushland bounded by a coral reef. To the south and an easy walk from the wharf, is Kuto Bay. A huge rock, sacred to the locals lies just offshore in neighbouring Kanumera Bay. You can take half day bus tours of the island to explore locations such as the Grotte de la Reine Hortense, a labyrinth of majestic limestone caves that once were the home of Queen Hortense for some months during a intertribal conflict in the mid-1800’s. Or you can simply relax, swim and eat delicious local foods prepared by the islanders for visitors.

One more day and night at sea, and our cruise is over as we prepare to berth and disembark.

Ready to pack? Dinah and I certainly are!

Tips for the Trip

Be mindful when booking your cabin as the lifeboats suspended on either side of the ship may obscure the view from some cabins. Every ship is different, so talk to your travel agent, view the plans of your cruise ship and the deck layouts, then choose a cabin that has unobstructed views. This means that you may need to book your cruise sooner rather than later as cruising is extremely popular, and the best cabins go quickly.

You will need a current passport as you will be sailing in international waters and visiting a number of South Pacific countries as part of your cruise itinerary. If you plan to leave the ship at any of the ports of call, you will need a passport to be permitted to disembark. The ship’s company will take care of embarkation formalities at each port-of-call for you.

You’ll hear about drinks packages. You can pre-purchase drinks packages to pre-pay for your drink consumption during your cruise. Drinks packages can be costly, so not a purchase to be taken lightly. They tend to have a set daily charge. You need to consider what your daily drinks intake (alcohol and soft drink) is likely to be then choose a package accordingly. One advantage of paying up-front is that there are no nasty surprises when it comes time to settle your bill. Cruise ships don’t accept cash. When you board the ship, you will receive a charge card (like a credit card) which you will carry with you and use for every on-board purchase.

So, what do you take on board? You’ll spend most of your time casually dressed, either relaxing on deck during the day or on-shore exploring. It is the South Pacific, so the temperatures are warm to hot. Lose fitting clothes with thongs or sandals are great for every-day wear on board and of course, swimwear. A hat or cap is also a great idea. Take sturdy walking shores for your onshore explorations. It is tropical so it does rain. A lightweight rain jacket is a good idea. You can purchase these jackets on board (complete with P&O logo on the pocket) if you don’t already have one. For the evenings, something dressy-up is good. If the ship’s itinerary includes a formal evening, you may wish to pack something formal. There are no weight restrictions on your luggage and there is generally plenty of hanging space in your wardrobe.

With mobile phone cameras rivalling the quality of bulky SLRs, many people are opting to take their photos on their phone. Dinah and I certainly do. One less thing to carry. You’ll spend a lot of time near water – around the pool, on the tenders going ashore, swimming and snorkelling, so consider a waterproof cover for your phone. They are not expensive and come with a lanyard for around your neck. You can purchase them at most outdoor adventure shops such as Anaconda, Kathmandu and BCF in Australia.

Photo Gallery 

Main picture: From the stern of the Pacific Jewel, nothing but open ocean

  • Our magnificent Pacific Jewel
  • Anyone we recognise?
  • Spectacular onboard entertainment
  • Dance the night away or just relax and enjoy the music
  • The Pacific Jewel’s tenders ferry us to our ports-of-call
  • Welcome to Mystery Island markets
  • Grotte de la Reine Hortense caves on the Isle of Pines
  • Totems on Isle of Pines
  • The local craftsmanship is superb
  • We loved the hand towel animals our steward made for us every day
  • Dinah relaxing on deck in the afternoon sun