Easter Weekend 2018

Our Easter, this year, was filled with family, food and fun. A perfect combination of time spent with our nearest and dearest, long lazy food-filled days and games for young and old. Yes it ended up being quite celebratory weekend indeed.

 My family arrived from Melbourne the day before good Friday, and our house was immediately transformed into the wonderful chaos that having 6 adults, 3 kids and 2 babies under one roof would inevitably bring. The kids, in particular, wasted no time in re-acquainting themselves, spending hours on end jumping on the trampoline and playing ‘cooks’ with our toy kitchen. Our real kitchen, too, got a decent workout – catering for no less than 11 people over the weekend.

Celebrations ‘officially’ began on Good Friday, with our annual seafood lunch at my in-laws. All the usual suspects were on offer – prawns, oysters, calamari and the like. Served alongside a roasted sweet potato salad, and finished with a platter of sweet treats. Canberra turned on beautiful weather for the day (actually for the whole weekend), so we lazed outside in between courses, watching the kids make Easter bonnets and play on the tennis court.

Easter Saturday was spent at Questacon with most of the Canberra population who had not fled to the coast for the weekend, it seems. Then it was back home for the afternoon to enjoy the sunshine outside.  More trampolining, water-play, a picnic dinner for the kids, with a little quiet time thrown in too (to recharge the batteries).

Easter Sunday turned out to be quite a day! The kids were up early (like “it’s still well and truly dark outside early”) and patiently waited for the sun to rise before heading outside and exploring the garden to discover what the Easter Bunny had (generously) left.  A breakfast comprising  mainly chocolate for the kids ensued, along with hot cross buns and several coffees for the adults.

Then it was on to the main celebration of the day. We held an inaugural “Easter Olympics” at our place – consisting of two teams (the chicks and the rabbits – lead  by the team captains – C & J ) and 6 games. Everyone got into the spirit of the games, and a lot of laughs were had. The rabbits came out victorious in the end – and enjoyed receiving their medals and the hamper prize.

After the games, we sat down to a late lunch (linner) – feasting on slow-cooked balsamic beef, roasted carrots, maple sweet potato, roasted potatoes and a broccoli and chickpea salad. Served with cocktails and a local Pankhurst Pinot Noir.  Dessert was a selection of chocolate mousse, lemon meringue tarts and, of course, Easter chocolates!

As the day turned into evening, we made our way to bed with full bellies and fond memories of the day. By Tuesday all our house guests had made their way home, and I must say the house felt eerily quiet (or as quiet as it can feel with 3 kids at home).

And so another wonderful Easter weekend came to pass. Just like in previous years, a lot of fun and frivolity was had!

 

Life. Lately.

My oh my. Where do I begin?

I feel as if we hit the ground running in 2017 and haven’t really stopped since. We knew it was always going to be a busy start to the year, but I probably underestimated just how busy. Work is hectic. Home life is busy. Our social calendar is quite full. And then there is the whole ‘growing a baby’ thing…

I’ve just come off the back of a couple particularly full-on weeks, with a few more ahead of me. I’m certainly juggling the work / life balance, and probably dropping a few, no a lot of, balls along the way. Life is feeling full, and too often – frantic, but I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been lots of fun times too. For in amongst the chaos we wedged in a family holiday and have even booked in a few more short  family trips away for next month too!

So while I’ve found myself with a spare 20 minutes until my flight boards, let’s focus on some recent happenings that have made us smile…

The girls and I headed down the Hume just before Easter to spend the week in Melbourne. After a big school term for Miss C (and a term of daycare for Little J), it was truly rewarding to spend some one-on-one time with both the girls outside of their normal daily routine, and for them to also spend some time together.  Sure, there were moments of bickering (sisters..), but for the most part they seemed to really enjoy each other’s company, while collectively, and collaboratively,  keeping me on my toes!

Ps. Number of games of Uno played? Approximately 1000…

The car trip itself went pretty smoothly – although having done it quite a few times now with the girls they are becoming quite the seasoned car travellers. A bucketload of snacks helped, as did having the Moana soundtrack on repeat (both girls are obsessed!!)

But the main reason for our trip? Celebrating my little brother getting married!!!! Both girls were flowergirls and Charlotte, in particular, took her role very seriously. Josie on the other hand….yeah not so much (aka we had to wrestle her into her dress lol). They both barely left the dancefloor once the reception started though – so needless to say a lot of fun was had by all!

Yes. Shoes were optional by this time….

(You might notice that I don’t have a lot of photos from the day. I was also honoured to be a bridesmaid and my camera was, as expected, swapped for a bouquet!)

The next big excitement on the agenda? Easter! Which after an Easter-Thursday wedding snuck up on us in no time. It was wonderful to spend the morning with my family (before hitting the road for home), and watching the kiddies run around collecting eggs and generally getting up to mischief.

And in no way related to chocolate consumption (I swear!), we celebrated another milestone with Miss C losing her first tooth while we were away. It was wobbly for about a week (so so gross), and finally fell out the day before the wedding.  A visit from the tooth fairy and the Easter Bunny was, as you would imagine, pretty exciting for a certain 5 year old!

But it wasn’t all about the kids, for us ‘oldies’ got to have a bit of fun too. Namely ticking an item off our bucket list and watching our beloved Brumbies play in Melbourne. Starting with sunset nibbles on the Yarra, it was a fun night for sure – we just won’t mention the result…

Overall, this little break was just what I needed. Time with our girls and with my family, and trying to switch off from work before the next two crazy weeks begin.

Until next time!!!

 

 

Family time in Fiji

IMG_9117If you follow me on Instagram, you might have noticed that recently my feed was filled with all things sunshine, palm trees and beaches. For our family fled the cold Canberra winter, and took a holiday to Fiji. Our first time to this amazing country, and one that we will no doubt return to again.IMG_9088 I managed to fill a whole memory card with photos, but here’s my best attempt at keeping our story ‘condensed’.
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The girls travelled really well – even when we discovered that the Virgin flight over offered no in-flight entertainment (?!) and the hostess would not even give me a pillow when Little J fell asleep on my lap (and therefore and so did my arm!). Thankfully the flight back with Fiji Airways was far more pleasant – with lots of entertainment to keep us occupied during the 4 hours flight.

After arriving in Fiji, we took a private transfer to what would become our home away from home – The Warwick Resort. Located on the Coral Coast, and a 2 hour drive from the Nadi airport.

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We were given a warm welcome, and the generous and kind hospitality only grew from there. I’d heard that the Fijians love kids, and this proved so true. Every staff member we passed greeted us with an energetic ‘Bula’, but the real warmth came when they interacted with the kids. For most often they scooped Charlotte and Josie up for cuddles or gave them a high five as we passed. Needless to say, the girls loved the attention!

IMG_9375 IMG_9156 IMG_8962It didn’t take us long to settle into a holiday routine. Generally I would get up before the kids, and take a walk along the beach. Most mornings I had company in the form of a dog (or dogs) from a nearby village, who were quite happy to trot along beside me as I explored the area.

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From there – we headed off to breakfast at the Buffet. A decent selection of all the usual breakfast items – with hot and cold selections on offer. Perfect energy for the morning ahead, which usually consisted of swimming and exploring.

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The Resort also offered a Kids program (for ages 2 and up) – which Charlotte LOVED. Filled with lots of activities – including fish feeding, arts and crafts, cooking classes, games, face painting and the like.

IMG_9085 IMG_9090 We usually ate lunch by the pool, where a Bar and Grill offered a variety of meal options. From burgers, to salads, or heartier meals for bigger appetites – there seemed to be something for everyone.  Washed down with a cocktail, or two.

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The Grill also had ‘kids meals’ – a lunch box including a hot treat (toasted sandwich, fish, chicken etc), plus fruit, vegetables, crackers and cheese.

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IMG_8992As Josie still has a lunch nap, we used the middle part of the day to rest and relax. Most days Charlotte fell asleep too, and we savoured the quiet time.

After lunch, however, the adventures continued.  We spent time at the beach, paddling in the water and building sand castles.

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Although Josie was too young to go to the Kids Club, the Resort has a Nanny service (for a modest fee) which we took advantage of most afternoons for a few hours. During this time Mr BBB and I headed off for a game of tennis or squash,  or out kayaking, and indulged in another cocktail in the lounges overlooking the beach.
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And while we certainly loved the resort-life, I couldn’t help but book a few extra things for us to do during our stay. The first was a horseride with Charlotte – something I had been promising her since her last birthday. A hut next to the resort had beach rides on offer, so one morning we did just that. An hour spent riding along the beach together, chatting with our local guide about all things Fiji. (ps. he was horrified to learn that we live 2 hours from the beach!)

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Another nearby business also offered a ‘Waterfall tour’ and a visit to the nearby Biausevu village. We booked this for our final day – and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. We were collected from the Resort in the morning, and driven to the village, where we were met with big smiles, participated in a kava ceremony and language lesson.

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From there, we hiked up to the Waterfall (about a 30-40 minute walk), making 9 shallow river crossings along the way. Realising that the walk was probably a little far for Charlotte, we accepted the offer of a horse ride, and she rode the entire way up and back with a young villager – smiling the whole time!

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The waterfall was gorgeous, as promised, and we wasted no time in cooling off with a swim. We also feasted on freshly picked wild grapefruit and coconut.

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After our afternoon adventures, we usually freshened up and headed to the pool-side for a pre-dinner drink and to watch the beating of the ‘Lali’ as well as the torch lighting. This was definitely a highlight for the girls, who got to have a go at beating the drum.

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Then it was off to dinner. Some evenings we dined at the Buffet – which usually had a theme (Fijian, Tex Mex, Indian etc). One night we went to the on-site pizza restaurant, which was rather delicious, while another night we indulged in an enormous seafood platter at another restaurant on site – the Wicked Walu.

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Most evenings had some sort of entertainment on offer too. Be it dance and song demonstrations, or games on the beach, lots to fill in our time before we fell into bed to get some rest before doing it all again the next day.

Some other highlights from our trip?

* Watching the Fiji Sevens take Gold at the Olympics – particularly as many of the players were from a nearby village.

* Being disconnected from the pressures of work and home life, and spending some great quality time together as a family…
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* Managing to somehow miss the heavy rain from the week before, and be blessed with gorgeous sunsets over the water every evening.

IMG_9261 IMG_9217 IMG_9089 But as they say, all good things must come to an end. And it was definitely with a touch of sadness that we said goodbye to this beautiful country and made our way back home. Bringing with us, though, so many memories and a yearning for more overseas travel.

I’d certainly say that Fiji is a “family friendly” holiday destination, with lots on offer for all ages.

But a few tips we picked up along the way:

* Fiji time is definitely a thing. There is no sense of urgency, so be prepared to wait a while for meals and drinks etc.

* Reef shoes were really handy – as the beach was quite studded with rocks and dried coral.

* Snacks and drinks are available were available for purchase at the Resort – however they were quite expensive. Next time we would probably stock up with water, snacks, beer etc from a supermarket on the way.

Life, Lately.

I feel that it is all too easy to get caught up in the day to day. Work is done, school is attended, chores are completed, dinner is cooked, TV is watched, and bed is fallen into.

Wake, and repeat.

This feels particularly more so when the skies outside are dark and grey, and a “quick” trip to the shops requires a good half an hour to make sure everyone has enough layers on.

But in these moments, when the days are feeling busy but a little mundane, and the Winter-blues have sunk in, it is always nice to pause and reflect on life. Or at least, life lately.

Travels, lately.

The girls and I recently took what is becoming our annual trip to Melbourne. I snuck C and J out of pre-school and daycare for the week, and we headed down the Hume to stay with my family. I’m not into big drives, and nor are the kids for that matter, so we stopped overnight at Albury, both on the way down and on the way back.

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The road trip itself was quite an adventure, filled with music and snacks that had been judiciously selected by C. We found new playgrounds to explore, autumn leaves to stomp through and ate our weight in junk food.

As for our time together in Melbourne, well what can I say. It was so wonderful to step away from the pressures of being a working Mum, and just be a Mum for the week. Even if I did feel a little outnumbered by the girls at times (hats off to solo parents out there!)

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The highlight was spending time with my own Mum, brother, sister-in-law (to be) and my gorgeous little nephew. The girls were simply enamoured with their baby cousin, and I can’t wait to plan many more trips like this over the years to come.

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Exercise, lately.

Since the start of the year, I have made taking a walk or run part of my daily routine. The aim is to get a minimum of 10,000 steps each day, and so far so good. And while the weather has been pretty inclement lately, I’ve avoided missing my daily exercise by taking a walk early. Like 5.30am (before the kids wake up) early. Even if it is raining I’ve been layering up and hiding under an umbrella – guided by a headtorch from our camping supplies.  Pure style, right there.

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Dark and cold aside, these moments are proving rather wonderful.  Just an hour or so to myself to reflect and to plan, or to listen to a pod-cast.  Sometimes both.

Charlotte, lately.

I truly love age 4. So full of curiosity, knowledge, independence and spirit.

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C is blossoming into quite the young lady, and it feels as if she has grown so much since starting pre-school this year. She is bright and bubbly, and never fails to astound me with the little things she picks up along the way. She loves role-playing, and making up wild stories, but has a softer and sensitive side too.

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And is quite the little helper in the kitchen!

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Sometimes I have to remind myself that she is only 4, because she seems so much older!

Josephine, lately.

Oh Josie. My dare-devil, spirited one.

I’m not sure whether it is her age (almost 17 months) or her personality, but she is not afraid of sharing her emotions.

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Be they huge belly laughs, or throwing herself on the floor yelling with displeasure, J is one loud girl.  She has finally started walking, and wants to explore whenever she can – particularly if she can sneak into her big sister’s room and bounce on the bed.

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She has a smile that lights up her whole face, and squeals like a crazy lady whenever she sees her favourite animal….a dog!  And her new favourite activity? Drawing and colouring.

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Life, lately? Yes its been cold and I am counting down the days until the warmer months arrive. Yes its been busy, with work and all the things that come with raising two active kids. But we are healthy and happy, and looking forward to some fun new adventures in the months to come (hint: passports required for one such adventure!)

What about you? How has life been lately?

Easter 2016

IMG_4327I feel as if Easter snuck up on us this year, even though the chocolate eggs have been on the  shelves since early January…

But despite the surprise arrival of the 4-day weekend – we managed to fill the time quite easily. Actually, in all honesty, it was rather nice to not have a lot planned. Rather, the lack of  firm plans meant we could lounge in our PJs while deciding what to do, and head off for little adventures when motivation arrived.

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Good Friday was, as normal, spent with Mr BBB’s family – indulging in all things seafood! A relaxed afternoon grazing on various dishes – including prawns,  tuna and salmon sashimi, calamari and more prawns. Washed down with some fruit-filled wine and entertained with a game of Pictionary.

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Our contribution this year was a rather impressive side of ocean trout – that we picked up from the local fish shop. Cooked by Mr BBB on the BBQ then dressed with a garlic, parsley and chilli dressing.

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We followed this recipe – and the fish turned out beautifully (although we did reduce the cooking time a little to save it from being overcooked).

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And as for the rest of the weekend?  We pottered around – crossing a few things off our “to-do” list along the way.  We coloured, we went on an Easter egg hunt, we played and we organised. We got some exercise in too with a bike ride one day, and a family mountain climb the next!

Oh and did I mention that thanks  to family and the Easter Bunny –  our chocolate supplies have gone from ‘modest’ to ‘plentiful’?!

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Overall – it was a rather lovely weekend – with a nice balance of ‘activity’  and ‘downtime’.  Here’s to another short week too!

What about you? What did you get up to this Easter weekend?

Ten tips for cruising with kids

I have to start this post by clarifying a few things.

First, I am in no way an expert when it comes to cruising with kids. I simply picked up a few tips along the way, that I thought would be nice to share (particularly for those who are thinking of taking a cruise with kids in the near future!)

Second – I am sure that some of these tips may not work for you.  This is simply a collection of what things worked for us (and what things didn’t!). I am acutely aware that every family is unique, with different needs and routines.

Third – This was our first big holiday with two kids, with C being almost 4, and J having just turned 1. I am certain that our experience would have been completely different if the kids were older.

But now, let’s get to it!

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1. Establish a Holiday Routine

“What?” I hear you say. Routine, with kids, on a holiday??

Yes this routine-loving gal made sure to try and keep both kids on a pretty regular routine (albeit a holiday-relaxed routine) even though we were in a new environment. I felt as if it provided some structure to our day, and the girls knew what to expect next.

J still required two naps per day, and although they were not taken in their usual cot, we made sure to give her plenty of opportunity to get the rest she needed. Most of the time she took a nap in the pram, and sometimes in the Ergo, but we kept her nap times pretty much to schedule.

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Generally our days went something like this: Up, breakfast, nap for Josie, gym, kids club & play (or Island adventure), lunch, nap for Josie, pool & play (or Island adventure), baths, dinner, bed for the kids.

We took the early dinner time-slot (5.45pm), meaning that both girls could be tucked up in bed not long after 7pm each night.

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On that note – don’t forget to pack your little one’s favourite teddy! I think having “Scout” and “Teddy” along with us assisted with the change in environment, and also made for smoother bedtimes as both girls had their bed buddies.

IMG_67982. Take enough nappies to cover the whole cruise

J is obviously still in nappies, and we made sure to take enough nappies and wipes  to cover the whole holiday. Yes, it took up a tonne of room in our suitcase – but it meant that we didn’t have to go searching for spares (and pay, what I expect, would have been top dollar) if we ran out.

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We also took a tonne of swim nappies, however once on board we realised that that non-toilet trained kids were not allowed in the pool (even with a swim nappy on). So we probably could have saved some suitcase space by leaving those at home.

3. Don’t forget the other ‘regular’ items

For us, a few things spring to mind as having been invaluable.

I made sure to pack a muslin cloth that we could cover the pram with to help J fall asleep. Without it she would fight her nap, but with it, she would generally fall asleep within minutes.

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Ahem, well most of the time…..

We also packed our baby monitor which worked a treat in the evenings. We would put the girls to bed in our room, then hang out in our family’s adjoining room – with the monitor easily reaching between the two.

And, if your kids are anything like mine, one (or both) of them will inevitably get sick. We didn’t face anything too major whilst away, but J did have a never-ending runny nose and spiked a couple fevers. Thankfully we had brought an ’emergency medical kit’ with us – including panadol, baby nurofen, bandaids, stingose and the thermometer.

4. Food, food and more food

I don’t know about you, but our kids love to snack.

On board, there was a lot of food available at the scheduled meal times – but in between the offerings were quite slim (and mainly consisted of hot chips, ice-cream and pizza).

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So I brought some ziplock bags with me – and at breakfast each morning I made a couple extra sandwiches to ‘take away’. I also grabbed some fruit and yoghurt to keep in the fridge in our room. That way, the girls could snack on some healthier options throughout their day (although they did still have their fair share of hot chips and ice-cream too!).

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5. Pack the pram and carrier

We took a small pram on the ship, that folded up easily and was not heavy at all. Not only was it great for moving a non-walker from place to place throughout the day, it was a useful ‘nap’ option as mentioned above.

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I also took the Ergo carrier which was perfect for our shore excursions – and when the pram was not going to be convenient.

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On that note, it pays to properly understand the shore excursions beforehand. We did have one incident where we thought we could take the pram – however we realised at the last minute that the ‘train’ was too small and we had to wake up a sleeping J and dash back to the ship to swap the pram for the carrier.

6. Call ahead for a cot

I was advised that the ship only has a limited number of cots, so I made sure to call well in advance to secure one. In truth, I was fretting about the logistics of getting two kids, two massive suitcases, two backpacks and the pram from the train to the ship (and then on-board!) so not having to worry about finding an extra arm to carry a portacot too was a relief!

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7. Take your bottle to dinner and have the waiters fill it with warm milk

J has a bottle of warm cows milk each evening before bed. The only problem was – how to get heated milk?

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Our dinner waiters were more than happy to oblige our request to fill the bottle with warm milk each evening after we finished our meal, which I then took back to our cabin. Brilliant!

8. Use the laundry service

I was on holiday and therefore had no desire to spend a day washing, drying and ironing clothes. The laundry service was a perfect alternative – with a 24 hour turnaround and reasonable fees.

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And, as you know, adventurous kids go through a lot of clothes!

9. Split the kids up at dinner

Ok this was possible as we were cruising with 6 other people, so I appreciate that it might not work for everyone.

Basically, our kids are pretty ‘new’ to formal dining environments (probably because we don’t, in all reality, go out to restaurants all that often).

Well, the first dinner was rather horrible. J didn’t want to sit still and kept throwing things on the floor and trying to get out of the high-chair. C, being her usual energetic self, didn’t want to sit still long enough to eat her dinner (she is pretty picky these days).

The combination of the two kids together + 2 nagging parents alongside = not a fun night at all.

So, the next night we decided to change tactics. We positioned the kids at opposite ends of the table – with Mr BBB and I alternating which child we sat next to each evening (and the our other family members playing musical chairs in between).

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We found this really improved the situation, and let us both have some one on one time with the girls. Add in the understanding waiters (and their dance and origami skills) and well dinner times became a lot more fun!

Tips for new cruisers – In addition to the regular dinner menu, there was also special kids menu which included all the usual suspects  – burgers, fish, pasta etc. We would usually order one meal for the girls to share, with a plate of vegetables on the side, and C generally ordered jelly for dessert. 

10. Make use of the Kids Club

Where do I begin?

C absolutely LOVED kids club – particularly as it meant she could escape from the adults and hang out with kids her own age for a few hours.

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Similar to the brochure outlining all the on-board activities, there was a full schedule of kids activities for the various age-groups on board.

We registered both girls for Kids Club on the day we boarded, and they were given a wrist band to wear for the remainder of the cruise. We were also allocated a mobile phone that the Club staff could call us on if they needed too.

C was in the 2 to 5 years program, which had activities running from 10am to 1am on sea days (yes you read that right, 1am?!), and 7:45am to 1am on Island days. The club closed for a couple hours before dinner, and did not supply lunch.

There were far more limited hours that J, being under 2, could use the Club. A few hours in the morning before the older kids arrived, and some hours later in the day (again when the bigger kids were away). We therefore didn’t use it a lot for her, just a few times while we were at the gym.  Actually, the whole cruise was probably the most frustrating for J as she is not yet walking – and couldn’t just roam free like she would around the house. But we made use of our balcony and the quieter parts of the upper decks that were a little quieter so that she could crawl around and burn off some energy!

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Tips for new cruisers: We expected that there might be a nanny or baby sitting service on board, however that was not the case. Kids Club stayed open quite late, but there was no option to have a baby-sitter watch the kids in your room or separately. 

So there you have it…..cruising with kids, in a nutshell.  We found it challenging at times, but mostly rewarding, and I felt like our little family adapted really well to our time on the sea.

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It was a great opportunity to spend some quality time together, with the added bonus of having to only unpack once!

I hope you enjoyed this little series about our cruising adventure. I’ll be back to regular food and fitness blogging soon, but in case you missed the other posts in the series, here are the links:

What about you? Do you have any tips for cruising with kids?

 

Our Carnival Legend Cruise – The Highlights

Part 1 – The Details

Part 2 – The Islands

I am sure, by now, that you can guess just how much we loved our recent cruise. And for want of sounding like a glossy brochure (and no, these are not sponsored posts), I just really enjoyed our holiday!

While the Islands were wonderful, and the on-board activities a lot of fun, often our daily highlights were the small things. The simple things.

Let me break them down for you!

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The Hospitality

This was definitely a major highlight for me. For there was not a snobby hipster cafe attendant in sight. Rather, every staff member that we passed would greet us with a friendly smile and a ‘hello’.  Every single time.

It was gloriously polite and refreshing, and really set the tone for the holiday.

The evening dinners

Perhaps following on from my last point – our evening dinners ended up being one of my favourite parts of the trip – mainly because of the service.  We were allocated 3 waiters (Nyoman, Rodgie and Ronnie) who knew our names from day 1 and made such huge efforts to keep the kids fed and entertained.  After main course was served, a song would come on and all the wait staff would dance with the kids (and adults!) which both our girls thought was pretty much the best thing ever!

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Charlotte still talks about Nyoman, in particular, and is constantly asking me when we can go back on the ship to visit him!

The photographers

Ok it was incredibly cheesy, and a tad expensive at ($39 a photo), but it was lovely to have lots of opportunities to get family pictures taken.  Generally there were ship photographers at the various events and when boarding / disembarking the ship (seriously, how can I get this job??), along with backdrops set up as you entered the dining hall for more ‘staged’ portraits. The photos would then be displayed the following day, so that you could decide whether to purchase them.

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I couldn’t resist the corniness of this one – with accidental colour co-ordination and faux chandelier in the background. We also picked up some lovely ones of the whole extended family!

The sunrise

As you know, I am 100% a morning person (as is Josie), so it was not unusual for us to be up and wandering the decks as the sun rose.
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It was a perfect way to start the day.

The cocktails

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I sampled pretty much the entire cocktail list. Enough said.

Cat in the Hat breakfast

With Dr Seuss being a big hit in our household, it was no surprise that the Cat in the Hat breakfast was a highlight for our girls. This was a special breakfast on the final day, for an extra fee, with various Dr Seuss characters popping in to say hello.

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But my number 1 highlight….

The Chef’s Table

I had read somewhere that if a Chef’s dinner was on offer, it really was an experience not to be missed. And boy were they right.

It was $75 per person, which for what was included, was an absolute bargain.

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We started in the kitchen with appetizers and a glass of champagne, while the Chef chatted to us about all things catering on a cruise ship.

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We were then given a short cooking demonstration, before being taken to a gorgeous dining room to begin our feast.

And what a feast it was!

Seven  immaculately presented dishes – from which I could not pick a favourite (although the crab stack with passionfruit caviar and  the wagyu bone marrow soufflé were definite contenders).

And the dessert! Oh my – it was a feast in itself. Sea salt praline chocolate, raspberry mojito, key lime cake, apricot vanilla gel and citrus cream.

Paired with white and red wine, and some magic tricks for entertainment in the middle, I loved every moment of the Chef’s table from start to finish (and most certainly needed to loosen my belt buckle on the way back to  our cabin).

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(As for the logistics of doing this dinner with kids, we put Charlotte in kids club for a few hours over dinner, and managed to get Josie to fall asleep in the pram alongside the table. Karma was fortunately on our side as she stayed asleep for the entire meal!?)

Stay tuned for my final post – tips for cruising with kids!

Our Carnival Legend Cruise – The Islands

With the ‘logistics’ of our cruise covered in my Part 1 post, it’s time to talk about the adventure aspects! For a big selling point of this particular cruise was that it would allow us to explore a new region, without having to take any long-haul flights with two kids in tow.

The Itinerary included 4 islands in New Caledonia – Isle of Pines, Lifou, Noumea and Mare. However, as I mentioned in my earlier post, the visit to Mare was cancelled owing to the presence of cyclone Winston in the area. It was a little disappointing as that was to be another family ‘beach’ day, but we managed to make the most of the ship pool’s instead.

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General – tours

Not long after we boarded, a brochure was delivered to our cabin outlining various tours and excursions that we could book for the Island visits. Most tours cost in in excess of $59.99 per person (with some reduced fees for kids) – which did seem excessive (although I appreciate that they support the local economy…)

IMG_7043We were able to book the tours via our television – although I think you could also make bookings in person at the tour desk in the lobby if that was your preference.

*Tip for new cruisers: If you have your heart set on a particular activity, make sure to book early. We left our run a little late – and discovered that some tours had sold out – and we could not get our preferred timeslot for others.

General – Disembarkation

Aside from Noumea where the ship was able to dock at the wharf, it was usually anchored off-shore and “tenders” were used to transfer passengers from the ship to the Island. If you had a pre-booked tour, I think you could jump on any tender. However, if you didn’t have a tour booked, you were allocated a boarding number and had to wait in the lobby until that number was called.

IMG_6944The tenders would then run back and / forth between the islands – carrying passengers to and from the ship. There was no need to book a return trip, it was just a matter of returning to the jetty when you wanted to go back to the ship,  and waiting for the next tender to arrive.

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Island 1 – Isle of Pines

None of the Isle of Pines tours in the brochure took our fancy, so we decided to just hang out on the Island.  And on reflection, this was one of my favourite days.

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We headed over mid morning and were greeted by locals selling their wares, drinks and a variety of food from little stalls set up along the beach. I can’t say that they were all that “friendly” (and service speed definitely suggested that “Island-time” is a real thing), but they were pleasant enough given the thousands of tourists that had landed on their doorstep for the day.

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We grabbed a bite to eat (chicken kebabs and coconut rice) and watched Charlotte dance along with some of the locals (girl loves to dance!).

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But instead of hanging out at the beach near the jetty, we decided to walk a few hundred meters up the road until we found our own little patch of sand.

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The weather was not fantastic with some scattered showers throughout the day. But it wasn’t cold, and the showers seemed to move through pretty quickly, so a fun day was had by all as we played in the sand and waded in the water. We opted to stay on the more sheltered side of the Island, although I am told that there were some good snorkelling options on the other side near the rocks?

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We also took the pram across, so that Josie could take her lunchtime nap. It was a little tricky getting it on and off the tender, but was handy to have with us (not only to let Josie nap, but to also carry the piles of swim gear, food and towels we inevitably seem to accumulate!) The Island was pram-friendly, with decent paved roads and lots of shelter under the trees when it started to drizzle.

*Tips for new cruisers – All vendors on Isle of Pines (and the other Islands for that matter) accept Australian currency. Although it was recommended that you take smaller notes for purchases (and the Guest services desk on the ship was happy to exchange larger notes if needed).

Island 2 – Lifou

Our second Island was Lifou, although our guide informed us that he did not like that French name (it had connotations of ‘madness’). Instead, the locals preferred “Drehu”.

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We signed up for a “Forest and Secret Grotto” Tour  (adults $65.99, kids $35.99)- and made sure to leave the pram on the ship and take the Ergo instead,  in anticipation of the walk.

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We headed over to the Island by tender just before lunch, and wandered along the beach, through the few stalls and watched a local dance performance. Lunch was a rather uninspiring chicken curry, and I couldn’t help but feel it was a shame that no ‘local’ dishes were on offer.

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There weren’t too many stalls, but quite a few places to get a massage or your hair braided, if that is your thing.

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We met up with our tour group after lunch, and took a short (but steaming hot) bus ride to the start of the walk. Turns out, however, that the ‘walk’ was more of a short nature stroll (only a few hundred meters long), which our guide spread out over a few hours explaining various customs and plants along the way. It was a nice walk, but Charlotte struggled with having to stop and listen every 20 metres or so, as we were shown a new plant.

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It was hot and humid under the canopy of the trees, but Josie soon fell asleep in the Ergo. Charlotte too, rather unexpectedly, fell asleep in Mr BBB’s arms along the way (the adventures of the previous few days obviously catching up with her!)

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The walk concluded at the “Secret Grotto”, which the brochure had described as “unearthly”. I was perhaps expecting something a little more grand – although it was still nice to get some brief respite from the heat and climb down into the cave (that had been lit with candles) and see all the formations of stalagmites and stalactites.

IMG_6973IMG_6978 IMG_5441 As for other activities on Lifou, my niece and her husband went snorkelling just off the beach, and reported back that it was rather amazing! Although she commented that there was a lot of sharp coral underfoot, so reef shoes would come in handy.

IMG_6943Actually, snorkelling seems to be the way to go on Lifou (which we unfortunately couldn’t do with the girls). Apparently the best snorkelling can be found at Jinek Bay – a marine conservation area – although only a limited number of passes are available (at $15 each) so you need to book quick.  Snorkelling gear is available for hire and purchase through the ship – at a pretty reasonable cost.

So yes, if we had our time on Lifou again – we would definitely bypass the walking tour, and try to go snorkelling instead.

Island 3 – Noumea

Unlike the other two Islands, we docked at the cargo wharf in Noumea – meaning that we could just walk off the ship. We were greeted with the sounds of drums on our arrival, with dancers putting on a local display. IMG_7024We were all feeling the effects of a big few days, so we kept things pretty simple. I had my heart set on heading over to the Amedee Island Marine Reserve (which I’ve heard is amazing), however it was an 8 hour tour (and $189.99 for adults, $129.99 for kids), so we decided to give it a miss until the girls were older.

Instead, we booked ourselves onto a Wine, Cheese & Tchou Tchou Train tour ($89.99 per person) in the afternoon.

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We were picked up on the wharf in the ‘train’, and taken for a driving tour of Noumea. It was a little rainy, and oh so windy, and it took a bit of work to get Josie to take a nap.

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On that point, I had misunderstood the nature of the ‘train’ and thought it would be pram-friendly. Alas, it was not, and at the last minute we had to rouse a sleeping Josie from the pram and dash back to the room to grab the Ergo instead. Not a great start to the afternoon.

The drive was nice, and the locals would wave at our ‘train’ as we drove past. We wound our way through the city, and headed along the coastal road – stopping at Lemon Bay and the Ouen Toro lookout.

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We then headed to a seaside restaurant – where a French wine & cheese tasting had been set up.

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It was an informative experience as our host talked us through the various wine flavours – and certainly more ‘structured and formal’ than I had been expecting. Both kids, again, struggled with having to sit still – but that was probably an error on my part in not finding out beforehand just how formal the afternoon would be.

IMG_7067 Overall, Noumea was not my favourite day, and I think if we were to visit again I’d try to head out on a tour to Duck Island or Amedee Island instead (although this would largely depend on how old the kids are, costs etc…)

In sum

  • We loved having a beach day on Isle of Pines, and would do the same next time!
  • On Lifou, we’d try to get a pass to Jinek Bay Marine Resort and do some snorkelling.
  • We’d use Noumea as a base to visit one of the nearby Islands – preferably Amedee Island.

Stay tuned for Part 3 – the Highlights of our holiday!

Our Carnival Legend Cruise – The Details

If you follow me on Instagram, you would have noticed that my feed has recently been filled with all things sunshine, seas and sailing.

IMG_6834 For our family took a long overdue holiday – a 9 night cruise around New Caledonia. It was our first cruise, and our first holiday with two kids, and we didn’t have a great idea beforehand of what exactly we were getting ourselves into.

But we returned home relaxed and happy, a little sun-kissed and otherwise filled with fond memories of our time on “the sea”.

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A few of you have enquired about our cruise experience generally. While I could regale you with endless pictures of tropical islands and my assessment of the best to worst cocktails on board (which I may or may not do at a later time…) perhaps a run-down of the finer details would be of more benefit to any of the cruise-newbies out there?

I’ll break it down into a few parts though – mainly to keep it from becoming an epic-novel:

  • Part 1 – The Details
  • Part 2 – The Islands
  • Part 3 – The Highlights
  • Part 4 – 10 tips for cruising with Kids

So grab a cocktail and let’s do this!

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PART 1 – THE DETAILS

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The Planning

Running a small business means that we cannot just step away and take ‘leave’ in the way that you do in a regular employment environment. Rather, we had to plan well in advance – so much so that we found ourselves researching possible cruises back January 2015 – i.e. over a year ago. The idea of only having to unpack once, and having catering and the like all taken care of, was definitely the appeal of taking a cruise rather than another form of holiday. And as for destinations – well we are all lovers of warmer weather – so an Island getaway sounded just perfect.

Searching through Cruise Republic – we came across a cruise that fitted in with our  schedules and we booked it pretty much straight away. We also asked Mr BBB’s family if they would like to join us – and they jumped at the chance – so we soon had ourselves quite the family adventure planned!

The Cruise

We chose a 9-night New Caledonia cruise on the Carnival Legend, an impressive 2000+ capacity ship that seemed to have fun for all ages on board.

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We departed from Sydney – spending a couple days at sea before visiting Isle of Pines, Lifou and Noumea. We were supposed to visit another Island (Mare) however the cyclone in Fiji prevented that, so we had an extra sea day on the return trip home instead.

The Booking

We booked through an online agent – Cruise Republic – which was a relatively simple process from start to finish. I placed a call with the agent to confirm which room he thought would suit our needs, and he recommended a suite. He also helpfully suggested that we book rooms on the left side of the ship as this was the side that normally faced the islands when the ship docked (ie they usually gave a better view).

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I loved that the online booking system let us view the rooms, and reserve a particular cabin –  not just a cabin type. As such, we  were able to secure 3 balcony suites next door to each other – with a deposit being payable at the time of the booking (and the balance a few months before departure).

We were also able to finalise our booking online, adding passport numbers and dinner seating preferences before we set sail. An itinerary with boarding passes, luggage tags etc was emailed to us – which we could print off and take along.

In fact, the only time I needed to speak with someone regarding our booking (aside from the initial query regarding room type) was when I requested a cot be placed in our room for Josephine.  The rest of the process was completed online / by email.

*Tip for new cruisers: some cruises have policies in relation to minimum sail ages / pregnancy etc. For ours, Josie had to be at least one year old. 

Our room

We booked an Ocean suite – with the other family members grabbing similar suites either side of us.

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It was not the cheapest option, but certainly a comfortable one – with a king bed and a single bed (converted from a sofa) for Charlotte and a cot alongside our bed for Josie. There was also a pull-down bunk above the sofa had we needed an extra bed. I was surprised to see how much storage / cupboard / hanging space there was, and the bathroom was rather spacious too.

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As a bonus, once we were on board, the staff were able to open the doors connecting our family’s respective balconies to make one long balcony between the rooms. Great for passing between rooms, and giving the girls some extra room to play.

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Another nice touch was that you had the same housekeepers throughout the cruise, who would make up your room each morning and turn down the room each night. Anjana and Katrina (our housekeepers) would always greet us and the kids with a big smile, and were more than happy to help us in any way they could (be it getting some ice, or a power board etc).

Tip for new cruisers: there is only 1 or 2 power points in your room and they wont let you bring any double adaptors etc on board. They will, however, supply you with a power board on request when you embark.

On board

A big plus of this cruise was that I didn’t need to worry about carting my wallet around everywhere. Rather, at check-in, we were given a Sign & Sail card, which not only was our room key but basically our on-board EFTPOS card!

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Be it booking tours, ordering cocktails, buying photographs or even playing a few bingo games, everything was charged to the Sign & Sail card – with the balance being deducted from our bank account at the end of the cruise. There were machines around the ship that would allow us to check the running balance (cocktails can add up!) and I think you could also make cash deposits onto the card if you wanted to.

I appreciate that it could be a little dangerous if you didn’t keep track of your spending, but I really enjoyed being able to leave my room without lugging a purse around.

IMG_6749*Tip for new cruisers – The card did not come with the lanyard you see in the above photo – we purchased these from the gift shop soon after we boarded. It was much more handy ‘wearing’ the card, and the lanyard had a clip to remove the card when handing it over to make payment etc

Food

There was rarely a moment that I felt hungry on this cruise – not due to any lack of appetite but because as soon as one meal was over, we would generally be gearing up for the next.

We usually had breakfast early – around 7.30am – which was served Buffet Style on the Lido deck. There were both hot and cold breakfast options, tea, coffee, yoghurt, fruit and a tonne of pastries. Most mornings we kept it simple – eggs, toast and yoghurt  (and I’d often take some yoghurt, fruit and a few sandwiches back to our room in case the kids got hungry mid morning).

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For lunch on sea days, we would again generally hit the buffet, then eat it at one of the tables pool side. There were lots of hot lunch options (pasta, curry, soup, pies, sandwiches etc), and a well stocked salad bar. And dessert bar.

Many cocktails were consumed, generally by the pool while we swam and munched on hot chips from the outdoor all-day burger cafe (and snuck in a few ice-creams from the 24-hour soft serve machines too).

IMG_6751 Then there was dinner.

And what a wonderful part of our cruise that was.

Given the girls are still quite young, we chose the early dinner sitting at 5.30pm (I think the later one was at 7.45pm?). We were allocated the same table in the dining room each evening, and the same 3 friendly waiters – who made the whole dining experience fantastic.

IMG_5184 IMG_7259 Dinner was served ala-carte – with a range of options being available for entrée, main and dessert (half of the menu changed each evening). My girls aren’t the greatest when it comes to formal dining (more on that in my Cruising with Kids post), but the waiters didn’t seem to mind and always went out of their way to talk to them, dance and generally make them laugh.

*Tip for new cruisers – Most cruises have a couple ‘theme’ nights and ‘cruise elegant’ nights – which you may want to take into account when packing. Our cruise had two formal nights- where cocktail dresses / suits were recommended (and jeans / tshirts were discouraged). Our theme nights were Caribbean and Mexican – with menus and music to match! We didn’t dress in theme, but I did see some people in Hawaiian shirts and sombreros. 

Activities

I had an expectation before this holiday that cruising would allow you to be as active, or as idle, as you would like.

And that expectation was pretty much spot on.

Each evening our housekeeper would deliver a newsletter outlining the various activities on offer for the following day. From trivia, to scavenger hunts, to dance competitions and karaoke – there really was something for everyone. Most were free, although some had a small fee (such as bingo).

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Or, if you wanted to take it easy, there were a tonne of lounge chairs by the pool and on the upper decks – perfect for lazing and reading (not that we did much of either with two kids!).

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Speaking of the kids, Kids Club started from age 2 – and was  jam-packed with kid-friendly activities. Charlotte had a ball visiting for a couple hours most days and making lots of friends along the way. Although Josie was too young to attend the formal program, we could still take her to the play room at certain times of the day so that she could crawl around and play with the toys (again, more on that later).

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After dinner, there was also a full program of music, shows, comedy acts and pub trivia. We saw a few shows throughout the cruise, and also had some ‘down nights’ – convening in one of our family member’s rooms (after the girls had been put to bed next door) to play various games or just catch up on the days happenings.

Obviously our days on the Islands were a little different, but I’ll talk about those separately.

Exercise

I’d read that there was a jogging track on the ship, so I had grand plans of taking a daily run. Alas, it was on the very top deck, extremely windy, wet and only 100m long?!

Instead, if Josie woke early, I would take her for a walk around the ship (either on the lower outdoor deck which was 400m long, or even around the indoor corridors to get some steps in). Then, after breakfast, I hit up the gym for 30-45 minutes on the elliptical.

The gym itself was well equipped – with lots of cardio and weights equipment, and a spa. I found that working out on the moving ship could be a little nauseating on sea days, but not too bad when we were docked. Mr BBB and I made a pact that we would try to fit in a workout everyday and clock up 10,000 steps (as a way to (hopefully) counterbalance the abundance of good food and drinks) – and I am pleased to report that we were successful in our cruise-fitness mission!

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Other than the gym – you could also take the stairs between decks – which made for a nice little bit of incidental exercise too!

Getting there / getting away

As we live in Canberra, we had to travel to Sydney to board the ship. We weren’t all that keen on flying there, and parking would have cost us a fortune if we drove, so we all took the train up! It took approximately 4 hours to get to Central Station. From there we took a short train ride to Circular Quay where the ship was located.

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Once we arrived at the ship, the whole boarding process was amazingly smooth. We dropped our luggage off, headed through immigration, collected our room cards, went through security and voila.

We were on board.

We were then ushered to the dining room for lunch, snuck in a sneaky first cocktail by the pool, and then a few hours later we were advised that our rooms were ready – our luggage having been delivered straight there.

As for disembarkation, it was similarly seamless. We chose the ‘self help’ option, which allowed us to carry our own luggage off. The process started at 7.00am on our final day, and I think we were off the ship by 7.20am. Points for efficiency right there!

So there you have it, a little of the logistics of cruising in general. I’ll touch more on cruising with kids shortly, but if you have any questions in the meantime, please feel free to ask!

Otherwise – stay tuned for Part 2 – The Islands!