My Christmas cruise to the Pacific Islands
Onboard the P&O Pacific Sun, I spent the remaining week and a bit of last year relaxing around the tropical lushness of the Pacific Islands. I thought I’d better get these happy snaps up just as we hit the second month of 2011 so here they finally are!
To those who have never cruised before, it’s a holiday like no other, not all good but not all bad. Firstly, food is included in the price so it’s essentially a ten day all-you-can-eat marathon. Quite a bargain really. The quality of the food is mostly average but the service is lovely. That’s if you don’t mind that the fact that the majority of staff have been hired on eight month contracts from developing countries such as the Philippines. They work ridiculous hours tirelessly and only at the end of the contract do they find out if it will be renewed or not. It was so heartbreaking speaking to those who had young children back home but then you begin to wonder about their quality of life had P&O not hired them. Bring on the middle-class guilt.
Anyway, back to the beginning -
Here we are departing from Sydney.
This is dinner on the first night – typically a three or four course meal: tonight I have the lime and basil marinated baby prawns with tzatziki and Turkish bread for entree; almond crusted zucchini slices with thyme and white mushroom risotto for my main and a glazed cardamom and cherry creme brulee for dessert. As food is included, we were free to choose from the buffet or the restaurants with table service. The food is pretty similar at both except the restaurant has a ‘daily specials’ menu which offers some essential variety throughout the trip.
Activities onboard remind me of a RSL club! Karaoke, bingo, etc. There are a few creative ones such as the Marriage Match game show and a few comedy acts. The first time I played bingo, I won the major prize of $340, missing out on a few numbers to win the jackpot of $2000! Still awesome because it’s free money!
Breakfast the next morning (not pictured) was from the buffet. I had fresh fruits (grapefruit, pineapple and rockmelon) with banana pancakes. Plus a hash brown! And lunch was another three-course meal! I start with a Thai chicken and lychee salad with minted lime and brown sugar marinade followed by battered flathead fillets with mushy marrowfat peas, chips and malt vinegar and fresh watermelon drizzled with lime and mint vinaigrette.
Here is the front of the ship. There was nowhere to do the Titanic pose!
Drinks are not included in the cruise price and the card system (which you carry around instead of using cash) makes it so easy to mindlessly rack up an enormous bill! We were so thirsty after several hours of lounging about outside so grabbed the ‘my love’ fruit frappe of kiwi fruit, orange and honey ($4.75) and a Heineken ($7).
Dinner is beef cheek and cauliflower terrine with roasted beetroots for entree; grilled beef scotch fillet with garlic and black pepper butter and potato wedges for main; and kiwi fruit and melon pavlova with passionfruit sauce for dessert.
It was a gorgeous evening at sea that night.
All that food caught up to me on day three so for breakfast, I pass on this
Got a bit bored with being stuck on a ship (one more day to go after this before we see land!) so we explored some of the day activities and end up in the library playing card games and chess. Even Bryan, my kid bro, got into it!
Quick lunch from the buffet this time, it’s roast chicken!
Then we head to the show lounge for a screening of the movie Lottery Ticket featuring Bow Wow. Following the movie is afternoon tea. (The next day we watch Dinner For Schmucks and one of the later days, we watch The Switch – all relatively new flicks if you keep in mind that this blog post is a month overdue)
This is where we’re headed.
And this is where I spend most of the ‘sea days’, re-energizing – reading business books and sun-baking!
I won’t bother showing you every single meal from here since it’s not as exciting as the islands I visit so let’s just skip to that!
This is a fruit platter ($5) from the first island we stop at – Wala, Vanuatu. Creepy fact: only one generation ago, the fierce warrior tribes here were cannibals!
On a more pleasant note, this island is home to 200 – 300 smiley locals and is an unspoilt paradise with no electricity, telephones or roads. The locals set up bars (which serve the local Tusker Vanuatu beer), hair braiding stalls, fruit stalls and sell handwoven bags and sarongs all along the beach.
Fresh coconut water is the bomb.
The coral gardens are stunningly beautiful and I wish I had brought along my underwater housing for my camera! Fishes, so colourful and water so clear.
We pay a local tour guide $5 each for an one hour trek around the island. It was sensational. I’m amazed by their simple lifestyles and how the island is so self-sustainable. A natural sweetness fills the air as soon as we’re off the sand. It’s the papayas, pineapples, mangoes, bananas, soursops and other fruits which are ripening all around us.
The next day we stop at Port Vila, the capital and largest city of Vanuatu. There’s a traditional drink here called ‘kava’ which is made from kava root. They say its effect is somewhere in between alcohol and marijuana. Unfortunately we didn’t get time to experience it! Anyway, arrival at Port Vila was confronting. Seconds after stepping off the ship, swarms of taxi drivers scream out at us to negotiate a deal. I eventually strike up a deal with a nice young man who was willing to be our chauffeur for 3 hours for $150 all up. Petrol here is about $2 per litre so I thought it was a winning deal! The P&O shore tours were heaps more expensive than this and the itineraries were limiting. With our own chauffeur, all six of us are able to explore more parts of this tropical heaven and spend extended time wherever we wish.
We also pay an extra $15 to check out this marine park. I touched a turtle!
And my brother gave this one a turtle-five!
Snorkeling at Crystal Blue Beach / Lagoon is absolutely incredible! Fishes of all sizes and colours swim right beside me! Again, I regret not bringing a waterproof camera!
By night, it’s cocktail time.
Christmas Day is spent on the uninhabited Mystery Island, Vanuatu. Mystery Island is picture perfect with sandy pathways that lead to white beaches all around. There’s crystal clear lagoons, coral gardens and an abundance of the most beautiful fishes. Oh, and fresh cooked lobsters. Can you think of a better way to spend Christmas Day?
Back on the cruise ship, extra effort was put into Christmas Day dinner to make it more special.
The last stop is Noumea, the capital city of New Caledonia, a ‘French Overseas Territory’. It is fantastic! Exactly like being in the South of France but not so far away from home! We’re all more relaxed now that we’ve returned to civilization. Unfortunately, the city typically doesn’t trade on a Sunday so there isn’t much to do except for eat and swim.
We take a city tour then make a quick shopping stop at the markets for handicrafts and jewelery and then check out the produce and fish markets. There’s surprisingly a lively Vietnamese community in Noumea!
We decide to have lunch at a fancy cafe by the beach, Cacao Sampaka (35 Promenade Laroque, Noumea, Nouvelle Caledonie; Phone +687 26 45 46). I love the casual elegance of the outdoor dining space – extra wide woven wicker chairs and luxurious vintage-style tables. I have a peach, strawberry and orange juice (1000F), the trajectorie givrée, which is an awesome salad of crab meat, saute prawns, gingerbreaded prawns, cucumber, grilled eggplant, banana chips, chives, poppy seeds and loads of lettuce with a citrus vinegar dressing (2250F); and a salted caramel tart (900F). It’s so nice to have good food after seven days of cruise food.
On the journey back to Sydney, I finally wake up early enough to watch sunrise. In the middle of nowhere, I realise that the world is truly my oyster.
There’s a seafood BBQ on the deck today too.
Then we sail into wild winds and I’m sea sick for two days, desperate to get off the ship. No number of tablets can save me.
Despite being sick, I push on and take the galley tour (before running back to the cabin to rest). Here are some quantities of food the cruise goes through during a ten day trip: 3750 dozen of eggs, 3125kg of fish, 902kg of pork, 937kg of steak, 2500kg of rice, 1087kg of bacon, 1500kg of pineapple, 1231kg of watermelon, 7500 tea bags, 1250kg of apples, 5000 litres of milk, and apparently the washing brigade wash approximately 12500 plates, 10000 glasses and 15000 items of cutlery each day! Crazy or what!
Last meal onboard was pre-booked at the beginning of the trip. The Churchill library transforms into an elegant Seafood and Steakhouse, and for just an extra $25 per person, we get a fine dining experience with menu items such as fresh oysters with champagne vinaigrette, wagyu ribeye steak, baked whole baby barramundi, soft shell crab and more. It’s a pity I am too nauseous to savour this feast, but I’m glad my trusty partner in crime, Zen, has an appetite! I order the lobster soup with tarragon essence, Queensland mud crab cooked Singapore chilli style with tomato and black bean sauce, and the coconut creme brulee.
And that’s what it is like to travel on a cruise ship. It’s definitely not for everyone and while I had plenty of enjoyable moments, I think I’m just one of those people who would prefer to fly direct and spend more time on ground. Pacific Islands, I’ll be back.