Thursday, 20 December 2012

Merry Christmas

Calm Seas at Dusk in the Pacific Ocean
     I'd like to thank you all for 'cruising' along with me this year and wish you

                       a very Merry Christmas

            and may 2013 bring you more cruises and calm seas all the way!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Port Vila, Vanuatu, Port of Call Information

The view from a cruise ship in dock at Port Vila
Port Vila, on the island of Efate, is the capital of Vanuatu. Several cruise lines visit here on their South Pacific island itineraries. You're sure to be given a warm welcome when you arrive - the people of Vanuatu are reputed to be among the friendliest in the world!
   Your cruise ship will dock at the commercial wharf which is about 3 km from Port Vila township. Lines of taxis and minibuses wait near the pier gates as the ship arrives. A band of musicians are on hand to sing to you as you leave the port.
   By the dock is a large market with a lot of stalls lined up on both sides of the flat land beside the sea. Local people sell handicrafts, sarongs, jewellery, brightly coloured shirts and blouses, and children's toys.
   To go into Port Vila township, you can get a taxi which will be a set price for the vehicle no matter how many people travel in it, or a minibus which is cheaper but will only leave when all seats are full. The trip into town along the Lini Highway takes 10 to 15 minutes. Drivers accept Australian dollars for the fares.
   If you decide to walk, make sure you have sunscreen and water with you. It is so hot and humid that I don't advise it. It's so much easier and more pleasant to have a ride.
Looking back from Port Vila town to the cruise ship dock

To get back to the ship after your outing in Port Vila, either hail a taxi on the street or go to the little square by the Post Office where the minibuses park. The minibuses have to be full before they will leave town but there is seating under shady trees while you wait.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Lifou Cruise Port of Call Information

Arriving at Lifou by Cruise Ship
Doesn't this scene look idyllic? A cruise ship, calm blue seas, sunny skies, a coconut palm on a Pacific island! You have arrived at Lifou!
  Situated between New Caledonia and Vanuatu in the area of the Pacific known as Melanesia, the island of Lifou is a raised coral platform. It is densely covered in tropical bush and has some interesting limestone caves, white sand beaches and opportunities for snorkelling and diving amongst the coral reefs.
  Both P&O Cruises and Holland America visit Lifou as part of their Pacific cruise itineraries. Tourism is becoming increasingly important to the island's economy.
   Your cruise ship will anchor just offshore in the Baie du Santal. This large bay is almost enclosed so the water is usually calm. You'll go ashore by tender, a short trip of only a few minutes. The tenders will pull alongside a long wharf. From there you'll walk up a slight slope to a large, thatched roof hut where souvenirs, postcards, colourful sarongs and beach bags are sold.
   The car park behind this hut is where the shore tours leave from.
Ashore on Lifou Island
One little novelty that sets Lifou apart from other islands on a cruise itinerary is that here you can get your passport stamped. If you'd like to get that done, take your passport ashore with you and the lady at the table in the hut where the postcards are sold will happily decorate the document with a Lifou stamp. It costs a couple of Australian dollars.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Going Ashore on a Pacific Island

In the Village on Dravuni Island, Fiji
Sunhat. Check. Swimsuit. Check. Sunscreen. Check. Beach towel. Check. Water bottle. Check.
Now, what else will you need on a shore day when you're on a South Pacific cruise?
  Shore tours are often action-based, such as being out on the water, visiting waterfalls for a swim or walking through the tropical rainforest where the tracks are sometimes wet and muddy. Closed-in sports shoes are better than open-toed sandals or jandals (flip-flops).
   When at the beach, it's a good idea to wear reef shoes, those soft-soled rubber slip-ons, to protect your feet from scratches from the sharp coral that is underfoot in places.
   Take a cover-up top and perhaps a sarong to the beach as well. 
Kanak People on Lifou Welcome Cruise Ship Passengers
  Many of the South Pacific communities are deeply religious and the local people dress modestly. This photo shows women on Lifou in New Caledonia wearing dresses that are styled on the ones missionaries, shocked by the locals' nudity, introduced to the islands in the 19th century.
  It is a sign of respect for a different culture if you dress respectfully when ashore. Keep your swimsuit and scanty clothing for the beach. Cover up when walking in areas away from the beaches and especially when visiting an island village.
  Local customs may also mean that you don't wear hats in the villages and women are asked to wear knee-length or long dresses. This is where a sarong comes in handy!
   If you're lucky enough to be invited into a home, take off your shoes and leave them outside at the door.
   And always remember to accessorise with a smile!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Clothes for a Pacific Island Cruise

Lightweight Summer Clothes for a South Pacific Cruise

Just because all the travel brochures show the Pacific Islands as being bathed in bright sunshine and surrounded by turquoise calm waters doesn't mean the weather is always like that. In fact there are two distinct seasons in the South Pacific that you need to be aware of when you are packing for your cruise.
  The dry season is during the winter, between May and November. This is when the weather is the most comfortable, with daytime temperatures around 25°C. In most areas the winds are generally light.
  Pack lightweight summer clothes that are easy to wash and fast to dry. Also put in a pashmina or light jacket for when you stroll around the decks at night or sit outside on a lounger, stargazing to pick out the Southern Cross constellation.
  The wet season is during the Southern Hemisphere summer, between November and April. Then you can expect high humidity which makes the temperatures of 27 to 32°C seem even hotter than they are. The wet season is aptly named for the fierce tropical downpours that last about half an hour or so before the sun shines again.
  This time of year is also the cyclone season so you may find you are cruising through high winds and choppy seas. 
  It's a good idea to pack a fold-up, light umbrella or a clear plastic rain poncho (the type that comes in its own little pouch) in case you get caught in the rain when you're ashore.
  You might find it more comfortable in the high humidity to wear clothes made of natural fabrics rather than synthetic materials. 
   And what ever the season, you will need a sun hat and a swimsuit to make the most of the South Pacific and those exotic tropical island destinations!

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Souvenirs From a South Pacific Cruise

Beach Bags for sale at Port Vila markets, Vanuatu
I think part of the fun of travelling is picking up souvenirs of things you might not get in your own country. An island-style memento to take home as a reminder of your Pacific Island cruise will bring back fond memories of sunshine and sandy beaches when you are in the middle of a cold and frosty winter!
  The laid-back lifestyles of the tropics are reflected in the souvenirs on offer to tourists. When cruise ships visit some of the Pacific Island ports, the local people sell their wares from little stalls set up beside the roads or on the beaches. It is a great chance to chat and laugh with the islanders as you look at what they have for sale.

Souvenirs at a roadside stall in Savusavu, Fiji
Here are some of the things you might choose to buy on your South Pacific cruise.
The doll wears a tapa cloth top

  • Pacific Island clothing: casual clothes are the order of the day. Brightly coloured fabric, often patterned with hibiscus flowers, is used to make shirts, skirts and sarongs as well as beach bags.
  • Jewellery: delicate mother of pearl and other shells, such as the colourful conch and cowrie, are made into bracelets, necklaces, pendants and earrings. In Fiji, I bought an unusual pendant made of strips of shells. In Savusavu, Fiji, and in Tahiti, black pearls which are locally farmed are used to make striking jewellery. 
  • Wood carvings: artisans use locally sourced wood to create a range of wood carvings as souvenirs. Sometimes you'll be able to watch the woodcarvers at work. Their pieces range from tiny to life size, and include paddles, spears, decorated masks and carved turtles. I suppose what you choose will depend on how much space you have in your suitcase!
  • Souvenirs made from leaves: in villages all around the Pacific, pandanus leaves are woven to make a wide range of useful items such as floor mats for houses, and baskets to store and carry provisions. You might like to buy placemats and coasters for the dining table, baskets and bags or even a sun hat made from pandanus leaves.
  • Tapa cloth: something that is unique to the South Pacific is tapa cloth. The inner bark of the paper mulberry tree is harvested, soaked in water and pounded to compress the fibres. This results in a strong, thin, paper-like substance used to make floor mats, placemats, even clothing. The patterns in brown and black on the cream coloured tapa cloth are made from natural dyes. I bought a set of four round placemats in Fiji that are perfect for when we have barbecues.
A word of warning. If your cruise ends in Australia or New Zealand be aware that those countries have very strict bio security laws about importing items made of wood and other plant materials. You must declare them on your customs arrival cards otherwise you'll risk getting an instant fine and the goods will be confiscated.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

A Day in Noumea, Port of Call

Looking Down Over Noumea
So you are in Noumea on a cruise ship and wondering what to do for the day. If you want to explore independently there are several options. 

  • You could go on a one hour bus trip (get your ticket from a local operator at the cruise terminal) that is a good way of getting to the best vantage points up in the hills for spectacular wide views. From the lookout of Ouen Toro, the 360° view over the lagoon and islands and out to the Barrier Reef is stunning.
  • Ride on the bright yellow Le Petit Train. This train leaves from the dock and trundles on a sightseeing tour of the city that takes about one and a half hours.
  • Hire a pushbike from outside the cruise terminal and ride along the flat coastal road to one of the safe sandy beaches (Baie des Citrons and Anse Vata) for a few hours swimming and sunbathing. If riding a bike is not your thing, a shuttle bus runs to the beaches from the cruise ship terminal at regular intervals.
  • Visit the aquarium at Anse Vata Beach. All sorts of weird and wonderful examples of tropical marine life, including glow-in-the-dark corals, from the seas around New Caledonia are on display.
Reef Fish at the Noumea Aquarium

  • Catch a local bus out to the Tjibaou Cultural Centre for an understanding of the indigenous Kanak people. The visitor experience starts with an easy 45 minute guided walk, learning about stories of Kanak folklore. Three traditional huts from three regions of Melanesia can be visited, along with displays of masks, sculptures and ritual costumes.
  • Swim and Sunbathe at Sandy Beaches in Noumea
  • And if all the swimming, sightseeing and sunbathing is not enough, you can always go shopping in the stores in the central city, near the cruise terminal, that are stocked with beautiful goods imported from France.
Enjoy your day ashore in Noumea!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Noumea Cruise Port Information

Arriving in Noumea on a Cruise Ship
Before I arrive in a port when we're cruising, I like to find out as much as I can about what to expect on arrival. Here is another post in a series about cruise port information for the Pacific.
   Noumea in New Caledonia is an easy port of call for cruise ship passengers. Ships dock right on the edge of town at the cruise ship terminal. Passengers are serenaded with songs of welcome by a local band as they disembark. That is always a lovely way to start a visit!
  The cruise terminal is well set out for tourists. It has an information centre with free maps; a small post office selling postcards, stamps and exchanging money; tour operators offering sightseeing trips around the city and countryside; a cafe and a handcraft market. Shore tours organised by the cruise company leave from the terminal car park.
  If there are two cruise ships calling at Noumea on the same day, one will dock at the container terminal. Free buses are provided from there to take passengers to the cruise terminal building.   When we were in Noumea the second time on a cruise, our ship docked at the container wharf and I took this photo from there of another ship arriving minutes after us.
   We didn't miss out on a musical welcome though. Musicians gathered on the wharf to greet us with traditional Kanak music.
  From the cruise terminal it is a flat, five-minute, two block walk to the heart of the city - Coconut Square (place des Cocotiers).
Looking Down over Coconut Square and a Cruise Ship Docked at the Cruise Terminal in Noumea

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Cruise Port Information for Fiji - Savusavu and Dravuni Island

Picturesque Savusavu Town, Fiji
Here is some port of call information for two more places in Fiji that cruise ships visit.

Savusavu is the main settlement on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. The colourful buildings of the little town, dwarfed by the steep volcanic hills behind, are situated on the shores of the deep, semi enclosed bay. International yachtsmen come here to shelter during the Pacific cyclone season, as did the United States Navy during World War II.
Sea Princess in Savusavu Bay, Fiji
Cruise ships anchor in the bay, a short distance from the township, and passengers go by tender to the Marina. Here you'll be serenaded by a local band as you enter the building which is a restored copra shed. From there it is a short wander up the main street, the only street, to the shops. On the days cruise ships visit, locals set up little stalls along both sides of the street to sell their souvenirs.
  Savusavu was interesting to me because it is a service centre for the surrounding district, rather than a tourist town. It was an opportunity to 'people watch' in an authentic setting. I loved the place and would like to go back one day.

Dravuni Island, Fiji
Dravuni Island looks like everyone's dream of a South Pacific paradise. It is a very small, only about a mile long, and you can walk from one side of the island to the other in 5 minutes. From the top of the one hill on the island there is a panoramic view over the other islands in the Kadavu Group, south of Suva.
   You can really chill out on the long sandy beach here. You won't be able to use your cellphone - there is no reception. You won't be able to drive anywhere - there are no roads or cars. There are no shops either, but on cruise ship visit days, the locals have little thatched huts along the edge of the beach and offer massages, hair braiding, souvenirs, cold drinks, and island style clothing for sale.
In the village on Dravuni Island, Fiji
  Please, respect local customs. Cover up your swimsuit and take off your hat when in the village. If you are lucky enough to be invited into someone's home or into the meeting place, take off your shoes, and sit rather than stand when inside a house.
  Oh, one final caution. The beach is lined with coconut palms. Don't sit directly under one. You don't want to be brained by a falling coconut!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Two Cruise Ports of Call in Fiji - Port Denerau and Suva

A cruise around Fiji is an ever-changing vista of beautiful islands clothed in native rainforest, white sand beaches lined with coconut palm trees, and blue seas fringed with the white of waves breaking on the coral reefs. It is a photographer's dream location.
  On Pacific Island cruises that visit Fiji, one or more of these ports of call will be on the itinerary.
Each of them is very different from the other.
A View From Port Denerau

Port Denerau, on the West Coast of Fiji's largest island, Viti Levuis a resort island on reclaimed land. Cruise ships anchor off the coast and tender passengers ashore to the Denerau Marina. There is a modern shopping centre here and shuttle buses operate between the large resorts and spas and the 18 hole golf course.

   The nearest town is Nadi, known for its duty-free shopping. Buses and taxis regularly run between Port Denerau and Nadi. Shops in Nadi are closed on Sundays.

Suva, as Fiji's capital, has most of the facilities you would expect in a modern city. Colonial era buildings and recently constructed department stores, a large movie theatre complex and tiny shops are a colourful mix in the downtown area.
   The food market, always busy and bustling, is worth a visit to see the tropical fruits and flowers and local vegetables. There is also a handicrafts market if you're looking for local souvenirs.
   As a welcome respite from the heat and humidity, visit an air conditioned department store or rest under the shady trees in the parks along the foreshore, cooled by the sea breezes.

A river cuts through the middle of downtown Suva, Fiji

   Cruise ships dock at the wharf on the edge of Suva's CBD. A free shuttle bus takes passengers into the heart of the city's shopping district. It delivers you to the door of a department store where you will be greeted by smiles, singers and traditionally dressed warriors! It is only a flat, 5 minute walk for those not wanting to take the bus.
Warriors Greet Cruise Ship Passengers
But if you walk, you might miss a welcome like this!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

The Southern Cruise Season has Started

'Dawn Princess' in Auckland, New Zealand
The South Pacific cruising season has started with the arrival of Princess cruise ship 'Dawn Princess' in Auckland this weekend. From October to April ships will sail around New Zealand and across to Australia, and some itineraries will also take in the Pacific Islands - New Caledonia, Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu and Fiji.
   There are more cruise ships than ever in the South Pacific this year. The port of Auckland is expecting over 100 visits. And more cruise lines are sending ships to this part of the world. Holland America, Princess, P&O, Celebrity, Carnival, Seabourn and Royal Caribbean will all be sailing here. The biggest ship to visit Auckland will be 'Voyager of the Seas', carrying 3840 passengers.
   Now is a great time to get a good price on a cruise. More ships and a stagnant economy mean there are big price reductions, especially for last minute deals. Cruises have never been cheaper!

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Highlights of a Cruise Around New Zealand

Visit Auckland, New Zealand on a Cruise
A cruise around New Zealand is a great way of seeing a wide variety of beautiful scenery, including places that are inaccessible by land. Add to that exotic Maori culture, coastal cities and excellent wine and you have a cruise that is guaranteed to delight!
   Here is a rundown of the highlights of our cruise from the north of the North Island to the south of the South Island.

  • Bay of Islands - (for history) - see Waitangi where the treaty was signed between Maori and the British in 1840 and visit Russell, the oldest township in New Zealand.
  • Auckland - (the largest city) - catch a ferry to the historic seaside suburb of Devonport or jump on the 'hop on hop off' sightseeing bus that will take you around the major visitor attractions of the city. 
  • Tauranga - ( for Maori culture and thermal scenery) - this is the closest port to Rotorua and it is a day trip to see traditional Maori cultural shows and the scenic attractions of the active thermal region.
  • Napier - ( for Art Deco architecture) - take a guided walk and learn about the Art Deco period and the buildings of the 1920s and 30s.
  • Wellington - ( the capital city) - walk around this small city and visit Te Papa, the interactive National Museum with displays that showcase New Zealand's history, cultures, and art. 
  • Picton - ( for wineries) - tours from the port to the Marlborough Region, one of the premier grape growing and wine making areas of the country.
  • Akaroa - (for a French influence) - an historic French settlement on the shores of a beautiful harbour.
  • Dunedin - ( for wild life) - albatrosses and rare yellow-eyed penguins are some of the wildlife that make the area around Dunedin and the Otago Harbour their home. Go bird watching only half an hour from the city centre.
  • Fiordland - (A World Heritage Site wilderness area) - this National Park of stunning mountains, deep fiords, and many waterfalls is home to a wide variety of marine mammals and native birds. Your cruise ship can go deep into the Sounds to places inaccessible by vehicle.
So there you have it - a list of what I think, are the best things to do in your New Zealand ports of call. Enjoy your exploring!

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What to Pack in Your Carry-on Bag

What to Pack in a Carry-on Bag
We all know that cruise lines advise us to put such items as medication, jewellery and anything else of value in our carry-on bags. But what else should you pack in your hand luggage in case something goes wrong?
   Jeanette and Dan had a very stressful start to their Mediterranean cruise. They were in Venice; their luggage was in Vancouver! Another horror story about airlines leaving bags behind! 
  So began a hurried round of shopping to buy underwear, in an unfamiliar city that seemed to sell mostly souvenirs! They boarded their cruise ship with only one small carry bag between them. Fortunately the rest of their luggage arrived within 30 minutes of sailing - the airline couriered the bags to the ship just in time.
  Here are Jeanette's recommendations for extra items to pack in your carry-on bag just in case  you and your luggage are spending the night on different continents!
  • spare pair of knickers and nightwear
  • change of clothes
  • basic toiletries
  • mobile phone charger
  • copy of complete itinerary
  • copy of travel insurance documents

Jeanette and her husband went on to enjoy the cruise, but could have done without the hassles in the beginning.
  Take their advice. Be prepared for a luggage hold-up, and pack things to get you through the first couple of days - just in case! 
  Thanks, Jeanette, for the cautionary tale.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Mediterranean Cruise for 2013

A Mediterranean Cruise with NCL
Yippee! We've got a Mediterranean cruise sorted for next year. It's a wonderful itinerary over 12 days. We'll be visiting Barcelona, Toulon, Livorno, Rome, Naples, Istanbul, Izmir, Mykonos, Athens and Venice with 2 sea days.
  And we'll be able to cross sights off our bucket lists - Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral, Pompeii, Ephesus and Hagia Sophia.
  The cruise is with Norwegian Cruise Line. We haven't sailed with them before so it will be interesting to see how different they are from others. 

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Looking for a Mediterranean Cruise

We're getting ready to go to a cruise expo in a couple of hours. I've been researching Mediterranean cruises for next year so am looking forward to seeing what's on offer at the expo.
  We want to cross a few places off our bucket lists!
 Pete wants to see Gaudi's Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona. I want to go to Pompeii and Istanbul. And, having lived in Greece, I'd love to go back there, even if only for a few hours over a couple of days on a cruise.
  Let's hope we can find an itinerary that works for us and the dates we have to work around so we can turn our dreams into reality!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

European Rivers - Which One to Cruise?

River Cruises in Europe
This page from the Avalon Waterways brochure gives a great view of Europe's rivers. Which one would you choose to cruise? Or would you plan for a combination of cruises for a longer holiday that spans Europe?

  • The Rhine River - across Holland and Germany and down to Switzerland
  • The Main River - through central Germany
  • The Danube River - through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary
  • The Moselle River - through Germany, Luxembourg and France
  • The Seine River - through Normandy in France from Paris to the English Channel
  • The Rhone River - through Burgundy and Provence in southern France
  • The Elbe River - through Germany and the Czech Republic
There are so many river cruises to choose from ranging from 5 to 15 days. Some offer add-on days in major cities such as Prague, Paris and Budapest.
  And when would you go? In summertime when the weather should be pleasant but there would be lots of tourists around? Or would you go in winter on a romantic, but freezing cold, Christmas cruise to visit the traditional Christmas markets in the riverside towns and villages?
  I want to go on them all!

Friday, 25 May 2012

Thinking of a River Cruise in Europe?

Research a River Cruise in Europe
My daughter and son-in-law are moving to Germany to live so the thought of visiting them next year sent me scurrying to my stack of brochures about European river cruises.
  Viking, Amadeus, APT and Avalon Waterways seem to be the main cruise lines in the area. In fact, the future of river cruising looks so bright that this year Avalon have two new 'suite' ships and Viking are launching six new ships, with another four to debut in 2014.
  The prices for European river cruises seem to be quite a bit more expensive than ocean cruises. But you have to think what is included in the cost:
  • all gourmet meals (wine and beer and soft drinks included in on-board dinners and lunches)
  • accommodation in large staterooms (with floor-to-ceiling windows on upper and middle decks)
  • all gratuities
  • all guided shore excursions daily with local guides
  • transportation, entry fees and reservations on tours
  • personal audio headsets for tours
  • port charges
  • lectures about local areas visited
  • wi-fi connections
  • excellent crew:passenger ratios ensures excellent service
Now to work out which cruise we might go on!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Celebrating your Birthday on a Cruise

The Birthday Boy
My husband was really looking forward to his birthday this year. He would be celebrating it while we were on the cruise. I had put the date in the 'cruise personaliser' part of the online registration, so then it was a case of wait and see what the day would bring.
  Well, it brought a cluster of balloons outside the stateroom and a big 'Happy Birthday' poster stuck on the cabin door. Of course I had to take a photo!
  At dinner that night, some of the waiters gathered round the table and sang a rousing 'happy birthday' to him. He also got a delicious chocolate cake and a birthday card.
  However I didn't get to see all that. I was in the ship's infirmary hooked up to an intravenous drip! But he did save some of the birthday cake for me. I had it for breakfast the next day! It was delicious.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Navigation at Sea

On a Princess Cruise
When on a Princess cruise recently I went to a lecture about navigation at sea. Taken by the First Officer, it was an interesting look at what goes on on the bridge. He explained to us about the different navigational aids that are used, the regulations governing cruise ships and the procedures that are followed to safely navigate the ocean waves and get in and out ports.
   There are at least four officers on the bridge at all times. As well as using sophisticated electronic equipment, there are two helmsmen, stationed one on each side of the bridge, constantly taking visual bearings using binoculars. 
   The officers work on a rotation of four hours on, eight hours off, every day during their two or three month contracts. Then they go home for two or three months for a break before returning to sea.
   The ship's watches are of four hours duration, starting at midnight. Often the busiest time is the 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. shift, the time a cruise ship usually comes into dock at a port of call.
   Usually a ship's arrival and departure from a port is taken by a local pilot although the captain is still officially in command. There are only two places in the whole world where captains completely hand over command of the ships to local pilots - the Panama and Kiel Canals.
  I like going to lectures on a cruise, finding out about what goes on behind the scenes while we passengers are lolling about in deck chairs!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

What to Expect on an Antarctic Cruise

Spectacular views of wildlife on an Antarctic cruise
Theo continues his report about their cruise to Antarctica on Hapag Lloyd's cruise ship 'Bremen'.
"Any cruise will be unpredictable in terms of ports of call in the Antarctica peninsula area, but if you accept that that is part of the allure then fine. The seas can be rough and it's pretty cold.
  "Calls in South Georgia and on the Peninsula are by using zodiacs and wading ashore. A maximum of 50 to 100 people are allowed to land at any one time. Three calls were offered in one day on South Georgia but one or two is more typical.
  "There is not a lot more to do than walk around the beaches and observe the wildlife (spectacular) at most places. Port Stanley is a town, Gritviken and Deception Island had their whaling heritage, and we visited research bases at Orcades (South Orkneys) and Port Lockroy.
Exploring by zodiac in Antarctica
  "There are hot water springs in Deception Island where the ship penetrates a spectacular sea-filled volcanic crater so a pit for bathing was dug.
  "I defy anyone not to be impressed by the spectacular ice and snow scenery of the Lemaire Channel or the exhileration of using zodiacs (inflatable boats) to get you close to the ice in Paradise Bay.
  "It is, however, a long haul to get there. If you do take a trip to the Antarctic then make sure that the ship lands. Do really check what clothing is provided – we were lent boots and anoraks for the trip."
  Many thanks, Theo, for the great photos and information about cruising in the Southern Ocean to Antarctica. You've given us an excellent overview of what to expect on an Antarctic cruise.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Cruise to Antarctica

The ship 'Bremen' in Antarctica
Ever wanted to cruise the Southern Ocean to see the wonders of Antarctica? In January this year, Theo and Linda Steel did just that. They went on a cruise to Antarctica from Ushaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world.
  Here is what Theo has to tell us about the ship and their itinerary:
 Hapag Lloyd run what are primarily expedition ships with small ship conditions on board. We travelled on 'Bremen' which does both warm and polar cruising – taking in the Amazon on occasion as well as trips to both Arctic and Antarctica where it uses its strengthened hull. It has cruised the North West passage from Alaska round to Greenland as well as the ice trajectory from S. America to New Zealand.
  There are about 80 double cabins on board for customers; they are spacious and to a high standard with good food to match. There is a pianist and a ship’s choir on board, a small pool and a sauna.
  The predominant clientele is German speaking but 30% on our bilingual cruise were British/Dutch/French.
  We had a 20 day cruise with 6 sea days and 15 calls in the Falklands, South Georgia, South Orkneys and on the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. 
  If you like strolling cities then it is not the cruise for you – the largest place we visited was Port Stanley (pop 2000) on the Falklands, although we had a day in Ushuaia in Argentina which was more interesting than I expected and is located in fabulous scenery.
  If on the other hand you like wild scenery, seabirds, whales, seals and penguins then it is for you. You can also get up close to the conditions endured by some of the heroic explorers, and see a part of the world that has not sustained human settlement other than for research or, briefly, for whaling.
  Many thanks, Theo. More about this Antarctic cruise from Theo in my next post.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

About Sea Princess

Sea Princess anchored off Dravuni Island, Fiji
I enjoyed cruising on the 'Sea Princess'. It has an elegant 4-storey atrium, the scene of the Captain's cocktail party and end-of-cruise celebrations, the champagne waterfall and the renewal of vows service.
   My other favourite part of the ship was the Horizon Court Buffet restaurant. This was on Deck 14, at the front of the ship. It was always bright and light because of the curving windows on three sides. Of course, the food had something to do with its attraction too!
   The circular area in the centre was often the scene for special foodie events such as the Chocolate Extravaganza and the Japanese themed lunch.
   Captain Mario Ciruzzi took us 4132 nautical miles on this South Pacific Islands cruise. 'Sea Princess' is registered in Bermuda and went into service in 1998. Its sister ships are 'Dawn Princess' and 'Sun Princess'. It carries 2,270 passengers and 854 crew.
   Some of the crew were new to cruising, and had been on board only 2 weeks. Others were new to the ship but had been working on other Princess ships before. Our stateroom steward loved life at sea and was on his 12th contract!

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Noumea Port of Call

Kanak welcome for Sea Princess
After our stop at Dravuni Island, we left Fiji behind and made a south-westerly course to Noumea. A day at sea, then we docked on a clear, blue sky morning at Noumea's shipping port. We had a good view of P&O's 'Pacific Jewel' as she docked also, at the cruise terminal.
   A troupe of musicians, local Kanak people in traditional costume, was on the quayside to welcome us to New Caledonia.
Coconut Square, Noumea
   Free shuttle buses took us to the cruise terminal and from there it was only a two block, flat walk into the centre of town, Coconut Square. I was interested in seeing the shops this time, especially ones that sold imported fashion clothing and accessories from France. But I'm afraid it was look but don't buy - the prices were too high for my budget!
   We cast off at 5.30 p.m. and headed out of the harbour for our final two days - across the Coral Sea, then the Tasman Sea to end the cruise where we began - Sydney, Australia.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

At Dravuni Island, Fiji

Dravuni Island is tiny in Fiji
The village on Dravuni Island
To the 150 or so natives of Dravuni Island, it must seem like an alien invasion every time a cruise ship calls - 2000 passengers descending on their village! But they put out the welcome banner and welcome us to the tiny island, south of Suva.
   The village looks very colourful. Sarongs that are for sale are strung on lines between the coconut palms that line the sandy beach.  Villagers have erected little thatched roof huts along the edge of the sand and from these they offer cold drinks, souvenirs, massages and hair braiding.
   It takes only 5 minutes or so to walk to the other side of the island where the snorkelling is good. Or you can take a bit longer and climb the one and only hill for a panoramic view out to the other islands in the Kadavu Group.
   Dravuni Island is visited by Princess and P&O cruise ships. It is a place with no cellphone coverage, no cars, no shops, no organised shore tours. Beautiful and peaceful, it is a place to chill out on the golden sands, swim in the warm tropical seas and enjoy this quintessential South Pacific island experience!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Cruise to Savusavu in Fiji

Savusavu town in Fiji
Savusavu is a little town on the edge of a beautiful harbour on the island of Vanua Levu in Fiji. 'Sea Princess' anchored just offshore and we tendered in to the port building, an historic copra shed that has been refurbished and now houses a cafe and shops. A local band serenaded us with ukuleles and beaming smiles.
   The township hugs the shoreline of the bay with steep hills covered in rainforest behind it. You can see  steam rising from the volcanic hot springs behind some of the buildings. Apparently some of the local people boil their food in the hot pools.
   Savusavu Bay is well known to the yachting fraternity as a safe place to stay during the South Pacific cyclone season. The waters are deep and very sheltered, and with the colourful buildings in the township, - it certainly is a picturesque spot.
The Copra Shed Marina, Savusavu
   Souvenir sellers were out in force with the arrival of cruise ship passengers. They had erected little tented shelters along both sides of the main road ( the only road!) and laid out their souvenirs for us to browse.
   I really enjoyed our day there. It was very low key, absorbing the friendly, laid-back atmosphere and people watching. I did buy a mother-of-pearl shell necklace but the grass skirts and coconut shell bras on offer just weren't quite me!!!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Suva, Another Fiji Port of Call

Local band in Suva
Wherever we went in Fiji we were welcomed with music. These happy chappies sang for us in Suva.
  'Sea Princess' docked at the waterfront and a free shuttle bus took us into the heart of the town. It was really only a five-minute walk but there was an extremely busy bus station between the ship and the shops so it was more convenient to take the shuttle. And a little cooler; the temperature was in the early 30s and it was very humid.
   I hadn't been to Suva for many years. Now there is a big movie theatre complex and modern department stores as well as an interesting variety of little shops. I have never seen, in one place, so many stores selling mobile phones as I did in Suva!
  Walking along the main street, Victoria Parade, we saw the beautiful colonial building of the Grand Pacific Hotel. This is where the Queen stays when she comes to Fiji as do visiting prime ministers and presidents of other countries.
Suva as seen from the cruise ship
   We found the people very friendly. Many would call out 'Bula, hello', to us as they passed us on the street. That attitude plus the beautiful weather made us appreciate Suva as a cruise port of call.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Port Denarau, Fiji, Cruise Port of Call

Port Denarau, Fiji, seen from the cruise ship
Our first stop in Fiji on this cruise was at Port Denarau. As you can see from the photo, the weather was against us. It made the tender ride ashore to the Denarau Marina even longer than usual; 45 minutes of rocking and rolling, bucking and twisting on a little boat. Seasick-inducing! We decided not to go ashore.
   Port Denarau is a large area of reclaimed land. Six huge resorts, a golf course and a shopping complex have been built there. A shuttle bus goes between the resorts.
  A couple from our dinner table took a shore tour to the Shangri-La Resort and Spa. A Fijian cultural show and traditional lovo, meal cooked in the ground, were the drawcards for them. Because it was Sunday, the advertised fire-walking ceremony did not go ahead for religious reasons. Instead, a thrilling performance of war dances and fire dances was held. Men holding long batons, flaming at each end, danced and did acrobatics while twirling the fiery poles. The authentic, pounding rhythms of the drums added to the spectacle.
  Once all passengers were safely back on board, 'Sea Princess' headed towards Suva, the capital of Fiji. More on that next time!

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Vibrant Port Vila

The handicraft market at Port Vila, Vanuatu
After the peace of Lifou, it was a bit of a shock to encounter a traffic jam on a Pacific island. Lini Highway, the main road of Port Vila, was chock a block with cars, utes and minivans. But there was no road rage. Everyone seemed to be good natured and smiling, courteously stopping to let bewildered cruise ship passengers cross the road.
  You can walk the main street of Port Vila in about 5 minutes, but why would you want to? Take your time to stroll - there is so much to observe in this colourful town.
   According to the tourist brochures, the people of Vanuatu are among the friendliest in the world. I enjoyed chatting to the stallholders at the markets, the shop assistants in the duty-free stores went out of their ways to be helpful and the staff at the cafe we went to were very friendly.
  After the hustle and bustle of the main street, we walked along the waterfront and browsed around the market there in the thatched roof huts. If you like colourful beachwear, sarongs, and bags, this is the place to get them. 
   It was a little cooler and quieter on the shore of the harbour. The water was calm and there was a faint breeze that was pleasant. In the distance we could see our ship at dock, a sightseeing helicopter was taking off and landing from a pontoon, and a little ferryboat was transporting people to the resort island of Iririki that lies just offshore.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Fruit Carving - Fantastic!

Carved fruit with a Japanese theme
I love this! It is the most exquisite example of fruit carving I've seen. One lunchtime on 'Sea Princess' there was a Japanese themed meal. This carving graced the sushi display. Fantastic!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

More on the Lifou Shore Tour: How to Cook Bounga

Drinking coconuts on Lifou
While in the village of Hnathalo on Lifou we were given refreshments by several young women who cut the tops off small coconuts and handed us each one. The coconut milk was a cool, refreshing drink.

Cooking bounga under hot stones
Then we were treated to a cooking lesson in how to cook bounga, a Melanesian meal. Older women prepared the food while our guide explained the method to us. Small yams, taro, chicken pieces, and slices of papaya were doused in coconut milk and wrapped in banana leaves. This bundle was then tied with a fiber string, made from the leaves of a nearby tree.
Wet leaves piled on top to cook bounga
   They put the bounga 'parcel' in the pit, an area of cleared ground where a fire had been burning. The women used bent lengths of sticks as tongs to pile hot stones on top. Then they covered it with wet green leaves, and a sack. One lucky lady had the hardest task - shovelling dirt over this pile so it was completely covered and no smoke could escape. The bounga  would take one hour to cook.
   Meanwhile, they had pre-cooked another meal and handed round plates of the chicken and vegetables for us to try. It tasted slightly smoky, like food cooked in a Maori hangi, but with a coconut flavoured twist.

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Shore Tour on Lifou

Sea Princess at Lifou 
I'm not a great fan of organised excursions but felt I wanted to see more of Lifou than I did last time we were here. So I decided to take the cruise ship's shore tour called a 'Melanesian Experience'.
  It was a beautifully sunny, very hot day and the water in the Bay of Santal where the 'Sea Princess' moored was those glorious turquoise and blue shades like you see on a tourism poster. A five minute tender ride took us to shore, then we boarded a bus for our two hour tour.
  According to the brochure we would 'view traditional houses and cheerful gardens' in two 'enchanting' villages. This, to me, implied a visit but no, we kept right on driving along. The only viewing was done from the bus windows and as there was no commentary, we didn't know where we were or which villages we passed through.
St John the Baptist on Lifou
 Eventually we arrived at an historic church, built by missionaries in 1883. This was the church of St John the Baptist, a tall, solid building with towers and turrets, its ochre coloured plaster contrasting with the bright blue skies. It was so unlike the Melanesian houses we had seen on the drive. These were small structures of corrugated iron or local limestone with no window glass and wooden shutters, or circular thatched 'beehive' houses with conical roofs in the traditional style of Lifou.
Chief's case on Lifou
  Our guide bustled us off the bus and into the church then bustled us straight out again. From there we walked a short distance to the village of Hnathalo. Young girls gave each of us a plaited flax headband, adorned with flowers to wear - a charming touch! After taking off our shoes we went into the chief's 'parliament' house - a circular thatched building supported by enormous mahogany posts. It was dark inside and hot but impressive for its size and height. This photo doesn't do it justice - apparently it is the largest 'case' on the whole of Lifou. Our guide told us some interesting facts about Melanesian society.
  I'll write more about the visit in my next post - including how to cook a meal Lifou-style.