Who hasn’t enjoyed singing along to Rod Stewart’s song “I am sailing”? The idea of ‘sailing to be free’ evokes images of being aboard a boat, gazing out across a wide, empty expanse of ocean, the breeze whipping one’s hair and the anticipation of adventure creating excitement and a delicious sense of freedom.
For me the days of being on a sailing boat with actual sails, ropes and booms are long gone. However, being on a large cruise ship enjoying soft comforts, easy travel and shipboard fun is a different matter and has long appealed to me. So, I booked a South Pacific cruise on the P&O Cruise ship “Pacific Aria”. It would leave Brisbane, sail to New Caledonia, Mare Island (part of the Loyalty group of New Caledonia) and then to Vanuatu.
My daughter accompanied me on the cruise. We flew from Auckland to Brisbane, stayed the night in a city central hotel and next morning boarded our ship. The boarding process was a little wearying but once on the ship and in our gorgeous oceanview cabin looking out our porthole at the waiting sea and having unpacked our bags, we were ready for action.
It started with a highly entertaining ‘welcome aboard’ dance by the crew on deck to the music of ‘YMCA’ which we enjoyed while the huge ship headed down the Brisbane River. The day was gloriously sunny, the breeze cooling and it was wonderful to leave Brisbane behind and head for the open sea while seabirds flying above fare welled us with their noisy calls. We explored the ship through an organised treasure hunt and were thrilled to win a cocktail set.
The ship was like a small town. It had everything one needed and wanted. A ‘pantry’ which was basically a food court provided breakfast, lunch and dinner plus tea and coffee at any time. There were superb restaurants – two free and two which required payment so one could have fine dining if one liked. There were a number of bars with fabulous live music; a swimming pool on deck; loungers and chairs everywhere; a spa pool; deck climbing facilities (as opposed to rock climbing – a real novelty); shops where one could buy clothing, jewellery and confectionery; bingo sessions with cash prizes; a kids’ club for the younger passengers; evenings of dancing including a Great Gatsby dance when people dressed up old style; quizzes where one could win a variety of prizes; a stunning casino; films and a wonderful, highly professional live show.
Anyone – young, old or in-between were catered for and no one could complain of boredom. People could spend as much or as little as they liked. All meals in the pantry were free as was much of the entertainment. Alcohol could be purchased by the glass / bottle or through drinks packages. It was easy to make new friends on the ship and we did so very rapidly. Just sharing a table at one of the restaurants provided a happy opportunity to meet another mother and daughter pair from Australia.
After a couple of lazy days at sea we arrived in Noumea in beautiful New Caledonia. A variety of island trips or experiences could be bought either on ship or on-shore. It was easy to disembark with our identification tags hanging from our lanyards around our necks. The performance of providing passports was unnecessary. Bliss. We opted for a bus tour visiting the main parts of the Noumea. We took great photos from the highest point and saw the beautiful St Patricks Cathedral. Then we went to a supermarket and bought a variety of French cheeses and crackers. Back on board we had these for dinner and then shared what we had left with our new Australian friends in their balcony suite.
After a night of travelling we arrived at Mare Island, a tiny little island with glorious beaches so small we had to use lifeboats to access the island. We spent time drinking from coconuts on the beach and snorkelling.
Some more sailing and we were in Vanuatu. We had family living on the island so we jumed in with them and headed straight to the Blue Lagoon, a popular feature of Vanuatu for travellers and locals alike. The water was turquoise and warm with no sharks or nasties. Local kids swung from a rope hanging from a large tree and somersaulted with laughter and bravado into the water. It was magical.
We fare welled Vanuatu to head directly back to Brisbane. We competed in quizzes often joining other people and forming competitive groups. We enjoyed the theatre shows marvelling at the professionalism and talent. I sometimes sat alone on the back gazing at the massive expanse of sea in awe of the immensity of nature. I saw flying fish and a swimming turtle as well as ‘fish nets’ where sharks or other sea carnivores circled smaller fish making a trap. We arrived back in Brisbane in the early morning. Remember writing stories as kids that ended ‘We were tired but happy’? We certainly weren’t tired. In fact, we were well rested, relaxed and happy.fWould I recommend a cruise? Absolutely! In fact, I went on another one the following year with a friend to the Whitsundays in Australia and for this year I have booked to go a 15 day European river cruise which will travel from Budapest to Amsterdam. I certainly do enjoy life on the water!