If you follow me on Instagram, you would have noticed that my feed has recently been filled with all things sunshine, seas and sailing.
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”.
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!
PART 1 – THE DETAILS
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
We booked an Ocean suite – with the other family members grabbing similar suites either side of us.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
*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
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).
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).
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.
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.
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).
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!).
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).
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.
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!
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.
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!