Just CRUIS­ING the Pa­cific

The ex­pres­sion “hav­ing a cruisy day” is one LINDA SHACKELFORD has dished out gen­er­ously in her 34 years – usu­ally to de­scribe week­ends. Yet, it wasn’t un­til re­lax­ing pool­side on the P&O Pa­cific Pearl sip­ping a pina colada, as the Fijian sun beamed down, t

Travel Digest - - FIJI - Linda Shackelford trav­elled cour­tesy of P& O Cruises.

Fiji it­self is a ma­jor draw­card for Ki­wis in search of a “cruisy” es­cape – with its se­lec­tion of re­sorts, crys­tal clear water, mar­kets, mu­sic, culi­nary de­lights and cock­tails all set­ting the scene for a de­sir­able hol­i­day des­ti­na­tion.

Com­bine those at­trac­tions with a 247-me­tre-long lux­ury cruise liner and you have a re­sort at sea. With my younger sis­ter in tow, we were both ea­ger to ex­pe­ri­ence our first ever eight-day cruise.

Upon check­ing into to our deluxe bal­cony suite, we were wel­comed by our friendly stew­ards Arnold and Frenchie. Both from the Philip­pines, their warm smiles, re­lent­less en­thu­si­asm and pen­chant for mak­ing an­i­mals out of tow­els (they can make 28 dif­fer­ent crea­tures in to­tal) was just one of the spe­cial touches we saw from the 727 staff (that’s one crew mem­ber to three pas­sen­gers) while on­board.

Run­ning a P&O Cruise is a huge op­er­a­tion – 93 chefs, cooks and bak­ers run the ship’s smoothly op­er­ated gal­ley to de­liver over 10,000 meals each day for pas­sen­gers and crew. A to­tal of 146 waiters serve up top-notch gourmet ex­pe­ri­ences for pas­sen­gers – from al la carte din­ing at Wa­ter­front restau­rant, buf­fet at Plan­ta­tion, to tapas, oys­ters and steak at Salt Grill where the menu is de­signed by Aus­tralian celebrity chef Luke Man­gan.

For Asian fu­sion, guests en­joy Thai and Ja­panese at the dimly lit Luna. For a highly mem­o­rable din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the de­gus­ta­tion din­ner at The Chef’s Ta­ble is not to be missed. At an af­ford­able $AUS 95 per per­son (all prices on board are Aus­tralian, which equates to $105 in New Zealand dol­lars), eight cour­ses with wine to match were al­most out­shone by the taste­bud teaser of the night – a cit­rus basil sor­bet with vodka.

Après-din­ner, we en­joyed cock­tails at The Mix Bar and lis­ten­ing to sweet sounds of live jazz and blues. An easy walk (or el­e­va­tor ride) up one level and we found our­selves singing along with the du­elling pi­anists at The Ori­ent. We felt right at home when we heard Kiwi mu­si­cians, the Brent­wood Duo, de­liv­er­ing per­fectly har­monised ren­di­tions of pop­u­lar hits be­side the pool. From Queen­stown, this brother and sis­ter act now spend their time per­form­ing in Mel­bourne and on cruise ships.

What cap­ti­vated my sis­ter and I was how we could while away the evenings – not once re­treat­ing to our cabin be­fore the strike of 12. Like many other pas­sen­gers, we “dressed to im­press”, in keep­ing with the cruise-ship for­mal dress tra­di­tion af­ter sun­set. We hopped be­tween the nine bars and lounges, in­clud­ing the Casino. The adults-only Oa­sis Bar pro­vided a chilled am­bi­ence and housed the ship’s two spa pools.

Theatre plays a large role in the on­board en­ter­tain­ment of­fer­ing, with dif­fer­ent shows on each night. The Vel­vet Rope came highly rec­om­mended, with tal­ented per­form­ers from around the world putting on a toe-tap­ping 45-minute mu­si­cal that did not dis­ap­point. Nor did the ma­ture-au­di­ence com­edy show by Jeremy El­wood, a reg­u­lar fix­ture on Seven Days.

Themed nights aboard kicked off with the apt All Black Nero Party on de­par­ture from Auck­land; Bianco – the P&O White Party and the most an­tic­i­pated night of all – the Gatsby Party. All pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to hit the dance floor with some of the 1,800 other guests. Those wish­ing to carry on, made their way to the The Dome night­club.

Seek­ing so­lace dur­ing the days, the Aqua Spa pro­vided me with a hair sa­lon, fa­cials, man­i­cures and pedi­cures, mas­sage, acupunc­ture, sauna, ther­mal chairs and the aro­mather­apy room. Those wish­ing to trans­form their looks could even opt for botox or teeth whitening pro­ce­dures by the qual­i­fied ap­pear­ance medicine doc­tors. A gym meant we had no ex­cuses for not work­ing off our in­dul­gence and we eyed up the sun­set stretch classes as well as yoga and pi­lates.

Fam­i­lies didn’t have to look be­yond this float­ing ho­tel to keep their chil­dren en­ter­tained. The four kids cen­tres and the P&O Edge Ad­ven­ture Park of­fered a fly­ing fox, climb­ing wall and walk the plank – 70 me­tres above sea level. In ad­di­tion, there was a full itin­er­ary of trivia and game shows, ta­ble ten­nis, deck chess, golf putting, board games and movies to watch – all doc­u­mented in the Pa­cific Daily news­pa­per, so you can plan ahead.

Once the ship’s four diesel en­gines slow right down to a stop af­ter trav­el­ling at a top speed of 33km / hour, there is more ex­plo­ration to be had ashore. In Suva, we joined a P&O Shore Tour, which we’d booked on the ship. The Naililili His­tor­i­cal Tour by Long Boat kicked off with a tra­di­tional Fijian wel­come and kava cer­e­mony at Waivou Vil­lage. Set on 270 acres, the vil­lage is made up of 700 peo­ple from four gen­er­a­tions of Fi­jians. The hum­ble vil­lagers live sim­ply; they grow their own food, some have tele­vi­sion, but seem more con­nected through com­mu­nity, cul­ture and re­li­gion. They per­formed cus­tom­ary songs, dances and served kava. They ush­ered us on

long­boats down a river to the his­tor­i­cal Naililili Church built in 1889 by Catholic Mis­sion­ar­ies, with a neigh­bour­ing school of chil­dren call­ing out “bula” and ea­ger to have their pho­tos taken.

An­other draw­card of the Fiji En­counter cruise is a day trip to the re­mote Dravuni Is­land, with a pop­u­la­tion of a mere 200 peo­ple. How­ever, due to high winds, we were not able to be taken ashore on the ship’s ten­der boats. Per­haps fortunate, as two days later our hearts went out to the peo­ple of Fiji as the na­tion was hit by Cy­clone Zena, just six weeks af­ter Cy­clone Winston dev­as­tated the re­gion. For the ma­jor­ity of our time at sea, the weather was calm, with sea­soned cruise go­ers com­ment­ing on how pleas­ant the jour­ney was. Pa­cific Pearl Cap­tain Sal­va­tore Lupo, how­ever, noted while con­di­tions were fair dur­ing our par­tic­u­lar cruise, the word “Pa­cific” can be de­ceiv­ing at times.

While the Pa­cific Pearl will make New Zealand home for five months this year, it will con­tinue with an ini­tial short sea­son from Fe­bru­ary 2017 – April 2017, be­fore be­ing re­placed by the big­ger Pa­cific Jewel at the end of 2017.

Un­til then, I will look at the shiny Pearl when it’s docked in Auck­land Har­bour with fond mem­o­ries. It def­i­nitely lives up to the epit­ome of “cruisy” – pro­vid­ing a re­lax­ing mode of travel to many colour­ful coun­tries in the Pa­cific and de­liv­er­ing non-stop plea­sures along the way.

One dare­devil pas­sen­ger goes to great heights on the fly­ing fox, 70 me­tres above sea level.

Waivou Vil­lage is home to a com­mu­nity of 700, with friendly lo­cals per­form­ing tra­di­tional dance and song for tourists.

On ar­rival at Waivou Vil­lage, Linda and Emily were served the tra­di­tional Fijian drink Kava, made from the root of the pepper plant and water.

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