Is a cruise the perfect family holiday?
Ever since a young girl, I dreamt of going on a cruise ship. Every year we holidayed at our beach house out on the coast and occasionally a cruise liner would go past on the horizon and I always dreamt of being on board. Both my parents travelled overseas by boat and I could never ask enough questions, it was something that totally intrigued me!
So when Grab One had a deal a few years ago I jumped at the chance – four days, four people, for only $399 (it was just around NZ and in the winter, but I didn’t care, it got me on a cruise ship J), I was in! Those four days gave me the cruising bug and I knew I’d be back for more. So when my husband suggested a 10 day cruise around the Pacific Islands, I was like, heck yeah!
But 10 days was quite a long time and I have to say, we definitely had our reservations. What if someone got seasick, if we got completely bored or if the fact we had to be split between two cabins (because each cabin can only sleep a maximum of 4) didn’t work out as planned? These and many more were questions were flying around in our minds!
So is a cruise the perfect family holiday?
All I can say is that it is one of the best family holiday’s we’ve had. At the end of the day, when you go away, you all want a break right? Well, that is exactly what happens on a cruise. There is honestly nothing to do but relax, (or if you want to be entertained all day long, you can be). The kids are fully catered for at kids club and their entertainment is second to none. On previous holidays we’ve had, the kids have enjoyed kids club for the first few days, then they’ve got bored. But here, all the different age groups have separate kids club offering age appropriate activities and their facilities are amazing, not to mention the staff are so passionate.
Which left my husband and I time to enjoy together.
We chose a 10 day holiday around the Pacific Islands on the P&O Pacific Explorer cruise liner, 4 days at sea and 5 island stop overs (Noumea, Lifou, Port Villa, Mystery Islands and Isle of Pines).
For me, what made it such a holiday and it gave me a break from the daily chores – our rooms were cleaned twice a day with your beds made, fresh linen if you wanted and bathrooms cleaned (when you arrive back in the evening, your bed has been turned down and we either had a chocolate on our pillow or an animal made out of towels). The only thing I had to do was 2 loads of washing (and even that you can outsource if you want to!).
And obviously I didn’t have to do any cooking or dishes for 10 days. There were 7 different restaurants on board to choose from – 4 included in your ticket and 3 that were an added extra. They had one large main buffet style restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and then the other restaurants were a la carte (only one other catered for every meal). You can imagine my girls surprise when we walked in on day two to a pink display like this!
You could basically get any cuisine that you wanted with several of the restaurants menu’s changing daily. We generally dined out in the evening at the a la carte restaurants as we loved all getting dressed up and it was great for the kids to experience the fine dining and the different cuisines.
The food was fantastic, although this is something you have to be very controlled with! With an abundance of food at every single meal, it is difficult not to overeat so you do need to exercise some severe self control. To find out more, have a read of a previous blog I’ve written Battling the Bulge Onboard, after our second four day cruise we did in January 2016 for our 10 year wedding anniversary.
The onboard entertainment was phenomenal. As I mentioned earlier, if you wanted to, you could be entertained every minute of the day. Each evening on your bed, you received an entertainment guide for what was happening the following day – I always started my day by either attending the stretch and ab attack class, or a workout in the gym or several (and I mean several!) laps around the ship – it was important for me to maintain my exercise because I was certainly eating more than I normally did!
Then you could choose from dance classes, aqua aerobics, bingo, health seminars, movies, how to make cocktails, lawn bowls, zip line, bungy jumping, water slides & a water park, onboard trivia or spa treatments just to name a few. Of course, if you didn’t want to participate in anything, you could just lounge around the pool, reading your book and drinking cocktails!
Visiting the different islands gave us a taste of what they all have to offer. Two of the islands we docked directly at their ports (Noumea and Port Villa) and the other three we anchored out at sea and tendered to shore. As a family, we all really enjoy snorkelling so it was an incredible experience to see the vibrant coral and sealife at the various islands (I go more into detail below).
Obviously, one day at each island isn’t very long, however it’s long enough to have a look around and see if it’s somewhere you want to come back to. Our absolute favourites were Port Villa (Vanuatu) and Isle of Pines.
Port Villa was pretty special as it is the home of Tanna Farms Coconut Oil which as you know, I absolutely love so it was incredible to learn more about their product, their production systems and to meet some of the team. I go more into detail below and I’ll also be featuring more on this in the near future.
At night time, the bars were packed, the cocktails were flowing, the karaoke was hot and the live shows were in demand. Every evening there was a live show performed by either the onboard entertainment crew or they brought in external entertainment which may be either a magician, a comedian or other dance groups. An absolute bonus was on the last day we got to met the onboard entertainment crew, ask questions and go back stage to see how it all works.
We were incredibly lucky weather wise with temperatures around the early to mid 20’s. It could have been hotter but it certainly didn’t stop us from doing anything. On our last day and night though we did encounter some pretty rough seas which definitely challenged the toughest of stomachs!
To sum up, it’s a thumbs up from us as a family holiday.
The complete relaxation, the onboard entertainment and facilities are amazing. And with so many different fleet lines available to choose from, they’re now much more competitive and a really affordable way to travel.
If a cruise is something you’re really keen to do, here are a few specific things I’d recommend and a couple of pointers about each island we stopped off at.
- Before you leave (and during the cruise), you get the option to book shore tours through the ship, however you do pay a premium for these. We often found the same tours could be booked on arrival at each island through the local tour operators for a fraction of the price
- I’d recommend taking your own snorkelling gear – you can rent them off the ship and on the islands but it was so much easier and cheaper having our own (we also took reef shoes but didn’t end up using them). Although there were many different tours you could take, often the snorkelling was incredible directly off the beach
- I would recommend having your first aid kit fully equipped and updated – you never know what might happen!
- Take some extra packaged foods for shore excursion days – boxed nuts, individually packaged rice crackers or muesli bars. Some of the islands you visit are quite primitive with not many eating options so snacks are a great idea to have – you’re not allowed to take any unpackaged food off the ship
Below l go more into detail about what we did at each island – there are a huge number of excursions to choose from so I recommend doing your research before you leave.
In terms of currency, generally they all accept the Australian dollar but we got some Franc for New Caledonia and some Vatu for Vanuatu. We probably could have got away with just using Australia dollars though which would have been easier.
Noumea: The ship docks right in the heart of the city. Directly across the road there is a supermarket called the Casino, it’s quite expensive for some things but we picked up some bottled water (and hot chocolate as we’d been recommended that they do the best hot chocolate!) but it’s great if you need any supplies or they have chemists for medical supplies. They speak french but also a lot speak english as well. We purchased a ticket to Duck Island ($25 AU each) which included a Hop On Hop Off bus ticket that takes you to various different stops around the island. Snorkelling at Duck Island was great, it was our first snorkelling experience, although the weather wasn’t overly warm so we didn’t snorkel for very long.
Be aware that the restaurants all close for a siesta in the middle of the day so we ended up having lunch back on the ship and heading back out for a wander around briefly in the afternoon as we left it too late!
Lifou: This is the only place I’d recommend pre-booking a tour. They have a marine reserve at Jinek Bay which they only allow 200 people in (which fully booked out on the first day of the cruise). P&O have a special agreement with the chief so they won’t accept any extras (even though we tried!). So either book this before you leave or on board in the first day or so (we did hear that by the end of the day they were allowing anyone into the reserve so up to you if you want to take the risk).
We went for a walk up to the church to view the lookout which gives a gorgeous view over the island and then we spent some time on the beach – we even saw a turtle come up for air!
Port Villa: As mentioned above, this was a pretty special day for me. We’d previously arranged to be picked up by one of the Tanna Farms team and taken to their distribution centre (their factory is on Tanna Island). It was absolutely amazing to see the setting of Tanna Farms, to hear first hand their story, their morals and ethics behind their social enterprise and what goes on behind the scenes. I’ll be sharing more in detail coming up so stay tuned!
A driver had then been arranged to take us around the island. We travelled to an incredible place called The Blue Lagoon which is a large swimming hole with ropes that you can swing into the water. Amazing and definitely recommend!
Then it was off around the island on a tiki tour, showing us the different beaches (I have to say, stick to the main roads as the off roads are a little bit less to be desired and in some cases, there are more pot holes than road!). If we’d had more time, I would have visited the Cascade Waterfalls as apparently they were amazing – you can also go horse riding as another option.
They have large fruit and veggie and handi craft markets in the middle of town if you want to pick up some local wares.
Mystery Islands: A really small island that you can walk around in 40 minutes. Incredible crystal clear water with gorgeous snorkelling directly off the beach. If your girls are wanting their hair braided, this is the place to do it. All the other islands offer it but I’d definitely wait until here – it’s cheap and they’re really good (do allow a long time though!). They also offer great cheap massages and are fully set up for tourists!
Isle of Pines: The most beautiful of all! This island is incredible and one we’d definitely love to go back to. It’s exactly what you’d imagine a Pacific Island to be like, incredible white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, incredible snorkelling and a divine hot sunny day – we definitely didn’t want to leave. The snorkelling is amazing directly off the beach but you can do glass bottom boat tours to go out further and see more prolific sea-life and turtles. We hired paddle boards as the water is a mill pond and perfect for paddling around in.
So there you have it, that is my take on our family holiday – cruising is a great way to see different places without having to pack up and un pack at every place – it’s so easy and relaxing and definitely a holiday if that’s what you’re after – the kids will love it, you will all love it! Enjoy!
How did you go with everyone finding their sea legs, that is the main thing I worry about. I’d love to go on a cruise but I worry that I would feel sick the whole time.
Hi Kym, fortunately we didn’t have any issues with sea sickness, being such a big boat you don’t feel it so much and you get used to the gentle rocking. On the last night and day, it was much more rocky but still we were ok. I’d just take some sea leg tablets with you to be on the safe side. I hope that helps and good luck, it’s worth it!
Thanks! Yes I wondered. Some people have said the trip can be very to my, others didn’t really feel it. So hard to know. But yes I can take sea legs tablets at least
Did you all get to sleep in one room as a family of 5? We are a family of 6 and always struggle find places that can accomadate us.
No, we had to get two cabins but they were side by side and initially we thought it would be a problem but it was actually fine. A couple of times my hubby and I wanted to watch a movie on the tv and the girls were watching something else so it worked well. I think some of the other cruise liners have 6 birth rooms.