A South Pacific cruise just before Christmas was the perfect introduction to cruising for Brisbane couple Karen and Shane, as well as their two primary-school-aged daughters. Along for the ride on board Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas were siblings and cousins, all helping to celebrate Grandma’s 70th birthday on a seven-day round-trip New Caledonia cruise from Sydney. Here, Karen shares how a family cruise can keep several generations happy.
As a first-timer, what was your impression of cruising?
I think it’s a lazy person’s holiday, in that you get there, you unpack your bags and you don’t have to repack – that’s obviously great! Someone comes and cleans your room twice a day and you don’t have to think about food; just the fun things you’re going to do for the day.
What was your cabin like?
Shane and I ended up getting two beautiful balcony rooms (an adult and a child in each room). We had two bathrooms, huge beds, and space for our luggage.
In the evening when you were out to dinner, the cabin staff would shut the curtains, turn down the beds, and provide information sheets on what’s happening the next day. And they made little towel animals, like elephants and monkeys. The kids just loved that!
The sheets were lovely, white, crisp sheets, and the beds were comfortable. The showers and toilets are small but more than serviceable. There’s a cupboard and a television in all the rooms – one of the channels was the cruise director telling you about the day’s events.
Did your girls try out the kids’ club?
On the first day we got there, I queued for 15 minutes to get them registered; and then my two girls refused to go! They would have been in different groups because of their ages.
What did you do?
We simply chose things that everyone wanted to do, and we had a nice time with our family! We met another family with two little girls who wouldn’t go to kids’ club either. We took them to an ice-skating show together and movies, so they would have friends.
As a mum, what was your favourite part of the cruise?
Just letting the kids choose their own food, and not having to make lunches and breakfasts, and pack snacks to take places. You don’t have to stress about it.
And they’re so excited at dinner time! My oldest daughter would choose off the adult a la carte menu – it was such a big experience to eat out in a restaurant every night. You could also ask for things that weren’t on the menu – like a plate of vegetables for the kids. It’s very flexible, even in a la carte dining.
And what was your favourite part, just for yourself?
I really loved the gym because you eat so much food and you can go there for 30 minutes a day and feel like you’re doing something for yourself. All of us went to the gym every day, even Grandma! It was at the front of the boat and had a huge view of the water. In real life we would like to exercise, but we just don’t have the time or the money to get to the gym.
Apart from the gym, I liked to hang out in the spa, and watch the outdoor movies in the pool area, drinking cocktails. They had this strawberry pina colada called Lava Flow that we all decided was the best cocktail on the boat.
What was your husband’s favourite?
He was really interested in how the boat worked. He took us all to see the Peek-a-boo Bridge Overlook, which gives you a view of the bridge below.
What about the kids?
Probably going to all the shows. My oldest said she wanted to live in a mansion and have people come and put on dinners and shows every night! The ice-skating show was one of the best.
What was your favourite onboard family activity?
My girls mostly went to shows and movies, and hung out at the pool. We did card-making one day, and scrapbooking. They like arty-crafty stuff. We hung out in the games room and played games. And there was lots of swimming.
Did you do any shore excursions?
We had two days’ cruising, then two days of excursions, and two days’ cruising back. On the first day we went to Mare Island in New Caledonia. At that stop they use tenders to get you to the dock, then a bus to the beach. It was a huge expanse of sand, lagoon and reef, and all the way along the local people are selling coconuts. The girls got their hair braided and we bought some trinkets. The others went snorkeling at the edge of the lagoon, while I stayed in the shallows with the girls. It was all very relaxed.
In Noumea, they had organised tours but we didn’t sign up. We just got a hop-on-hop-off bus pass that took you to a couple of beaches, as well as the main part of town.
What was your favourite restaurant?
We liked the Windjammer Cafe. At almost any time of the day you can go there for the buffet. As a party of eight, we sometimes we couldn’t find a table at breakfast, so we would go to the main dining room, which was much quieter.
Then there are the paid restaurants. Our 16-year-old nephew went to Johnny Rockets a couple of times – it was his favourite thing – for the big meals and the dancing wait staff.
What’s your best tip for first-time cruisers?
Find out where everything is really quickly so you can really get into the cruising lifestyle before the end. Get on that boat as fast as possible, get to your room, go straight up to have some food. As soon as you get on the boat, start enjoying yourself!