Wednesday, 9 February 2011


Over Christmas, I went on my very first cruise. I wasn't really sure whether it would be my sort of thing - thus far, most of my overseas adventures have been relatively self-directed - but was pretty keen to try it out anyway.

So on the 18th of December, following our attendance at the Bon Jovi concert Sydney Football Stadium the night before (more on that another time, when I figure out how to download photos from my phone!), Grant and I boarded the P&O Pacific Jewel and headed towards New Caledonia and Vanuatu.

From the get-go it seemed pretty well organised. It took us less than an hour from arriving at the dock to the moment we were allowed on the boat, which was pretty impressive. We were stoked to discover that they had moved us to a room on a higher level, which I think was more or less the same room but with fewer stairs to climb to go places. Yes, the ship may have had several sets of elevators, but because of the self-perpetuating cycle of people pressing the button, growing impatient and climbing the stairs because the lift took too long, the lift took too long because it stopped at every level. I dare say that if the elevators had functioned more efficiently, my cruise-related weight gain would not have been capped at just a couple of kilos!

Anyway, I realise that a long blog about being on a boat could grow tedious, so I'll try to just give you the highlights! (Prediciting an epic fail)

SEASICKNESS: Absent. Felt dizzy when inside on the first day or two, but that could have had almost as much to do with the smell of new varnish as the unaccustomed motion of the ship. Regardless, by our last day when things got a bit rough, I found the motion quite soothing (not to mention amusing). On that last day, they put sick bags in all the stair wells, and I swear to God, they cause psycho-somatic motion sickness! I wouldn't feel sick unless I looked at one. Perhaps they need to find a more discrete way of making them available...

CABIN: Awesome view (duh), nice digs, huge wardrobe (which I claimed most of), lovely Indian steward by the name of John (pretty sure that wasn't his real name) who appeared to work at all hours of the day, who sometimes made us elephants out of towels, who tidied our room in such a manner that put my slovenly ways to shame (but GOSH it was nice to come home and have your shoes all lined up and your bed made!), and who managed to walk in on Grant... using the facilities. Yep, he deserved his tip!

COCKTAILS: Plentiful, tasty, generously sized and at $9.25, relatively cheap! This was the first of many (and probably a major player in weight gain)

A.M. - Took a bus around the place in the morning, and cursed ourselves for not bringing our bathers

P.M. - Did a Tree-to-Tree Adventure (basically a high ropes course, the only one in New Caledonia apparently), and had an AWESOME time. I do owe Grant another one, though, because I kind of bollocksed it up for him towards the end. Physical challenge + fear = adrenaline = not so good with the heart thing. So, to rephrase, I had an AWESOME time... until the part where it kind of went pear shaped.

A.M. - Did the Forest and Secret Ghetto walk. The walk included a talk on medicinal purposes for the forest's plants. Saw all the plants that you see in nurseries back home, and realised that the following photo's worth would cost several thousand dollars in a nursery:

Also played with a coconut crab (note the strong bindings!)

Also hung out in a cave

(that was the Secret Grotto part, where scary robbers used to live... oh no, there's one of them now!)

Heh heh heh. Only kidding. He's not a French Polynesian robber, and he's not **that** scary!

P.M. - Wandered about the village, got massages, swam at the beach and made friends with the local wildlife.

We also ate some delicious local food (some of which was questionable - there was this bizarre cake thing that was almost like a coconut-banana cake, but tasted like fish food smells, too!!! That's partly why we made such good friends with the wildlife on the island, I think. The dog loved us before, but she REALLY loved us later). Regretted the food later that evening... and again... and again... and again... and again... and again... and again...

Recovered from my overnight ordeal enough for some adventures in VANUATU!

A.M. - Outrigger canoe and snorkelling adventure. We had the fantastic luck of being put in an outrigger with a pair of senescent tea-baggers (to make it abundantly clear, I come from a background that involves canoeing and rafting, and so, to me, a tea-bagger is one who dips their paddle ineffectually into the water, rather than drawing it in long, strong strokes... wow, I'm not really making this any better, am I...). It got better, though. (<-- that's Sarcasm Font, BTW. Kirsti and I developed it to help convey emotion in emails)When they first saw the outriggers, they said "Oh! We're not going in THAT, are we???". And THEN, when our guide told us not to lean a certain way and joked about needing to swim, the lady said "Oh, I hope not - I can't swim!" Ummmm, what part of OUTRIGGER CANOE and SNORKELLING were you struggling with, lady??? Because CANOEING involves CANOES, and SNORKELLING involves SWIMMING!!! Sheesh!

The snorkelling was fabulous, by the way. And then they took us back to Ifira island and gave us awesome tropical fruit, and a local dish that involved sweet potato and coconut cream. Odd combination, but it worked. And the sweet potato was green! And we made friends with the wildlife again!

(Sort of. It kind of more made friends with the piles of rubbish. I assume this was what the pigs in Cairo did before they shot them all in fear of swine flu. Now I get why the streets piled up with rubbish!)

P.M. - Zego Sea Safari! Grant seemed very excited about this.

We zoomed past the island that used to have the British Consulate's house on it, as well as the British Hospital. It has now been turned into a resort. And then we zoomed past some fancy-pants waterfront home - tough gig, living here!

And then we zoomed by the ship, which was... big.

Then we stopped for more tropical fruit on Ifira island, before bringing us to a place where we could swap drivers. I wasn't so keen (mainly cos I'd been packing myself on the back of the Zego), but once I got started, the Hoon Within was unleased.

And then we got back on our little bus, and part of the ship's entertainment team hitched a ride, and this peppy little 19-year-old wannabe dancer thought that Grant and I were the parents of the 17-year-old twins who were on our Zego adventure. WTF!!!

The mystery was why so many people swam on the seaward side of the island (unless it was to get away from the crowds??). These were the same people who got stung by - you guessed it - stingers! The island was damned hot (the heat and light reflecting off the sand and black rocks was incredible) and fairly uneventful for us, although it did feature a landing strip that was built by the Americans in WWII (<-- must check that) to service a nearby island. And Queen Elizabeth II visited it in the 1970's. I actually felt kind of... proud isn't the word, but something similar... moved, anyhow, to be standing on the same spot that she once had. The water was soooo blue.

Christmas day, and it involved a nice snooze (HAH, by which I mean a fiance doing his best to wake me up without actually touching me - I just KNEW he was staring at me, waiting to open presents, before I groggily prised one eyelid open at 6am!!!) and a fantastic snorkel. We'd been told by other passengers that the snorkelling wasn't much chop, but I guess they weren't swimming in the right place because we saw some AMAZING things, including a baby ray; some cousins of Nemo; Angelfish; this weird mystery fish which at first I thought was a snake of some sort, freaked out, and then realised that it was probably acually a pipe fish; a big school of fish that Grant dived down and swam with; oh and coral that had these irredescent blue tips like you see in photos - it's not digitally enhanced!!! Christmas dinner was delicious, if a little randomly politically and religiously intense - we managed to be seated with a Greek gent and his partner (although they were a bit cagey about that, so who knows) who had spent much of his life in the Middle East, but who I also took to be some sort of Catholic priest. Interesting dinner conversation for Christmas day!

Other highlights of the trip included dancing lessons (I can Tango! And Cha-Cha! And Merengue!), the ability to watch television on a gigantic screen from a spa bath, watching the comedy, winning trivia, screwing money out of the casino (oh! I won dinner for two at the Chinese restaurant on the ship! And it was FANTASTIC!!! If you're ever on the Pacific Jewel, make that your priorty. After the cocktails, that is...), oh and the MAGICIAN! He was - for want of a better word - MAGIC! His name is James Galea and he's been on the Ellen show. If you ever get a chance, go see him. He is WAY better than David Copperfield (not a figure of speech. I actually went to see him when he toured Adelaide in '09 and I was severely underwhelmed).

We had a GREAT time, and it's relatively cheap, considering what you get. So if you've never been on a cruise and don't much fancy doing anything hard, give it a crack!

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