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
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.