Gender Stereotypes…?

  
One sits quietly and colours while the other climbs and doesn’t stop moving!

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Cruising-part 2… the South Pacific….

(Read about our time on board the Carnival Legend here)

boat

Shore Excursions

We didn’t have to get off at any of the islands; in fact lots of people stayed on board the ship for a bit of quiet time! But we knew we might never visit this part of the world again, so we booked some Shore Excursions. The shore excursions were by far the most expensive part of our ship spending. We tried not to think about the cost of this bus ride, or how much that tour is actually costing per hour and just enjoyed ourselves. The Carnival website gave us a chance to browse all of the shore excursion options well before we boarded the ship. We had already chosen what we thought we would like, and once onboard, we got a brochure detailing the activities the ship offered. We could have gone with private excursion operators, but if we booked with the Carnival affiliated ones, we were guaranteed the ship would wait for us if the tour was running late. Peace of mind wins out! Sadly we were too slow to book for one of the tours we really wanted to do, so we know for next time to book everything the minute we step onto the boat!

On our cruise, we stopped at 4 South Pacific Islands; Mare, New Caledonia; Vila, Vanuatu; Noumea, New Caledonia and Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. We were often greeted by local dancers in traditional costumes which was really nice to see, despite the ugly surroundings.

We tied up at container ship docks in Vila and Noumea, but had to dock off shore in Mare and Isle of Pines. To get ashore, we used the life boats from the ship to ‘tender’ across.

IMG_2656

 

Mare

There is pretty much nothing to do on Mare, so we booked the only activity offered…a bus ride to the beach! Even though rain clouds kept passing over, the day was great. The water was that incredible turquoise colour you see in travel brochures and the kids got their first chance to try out snorkeling.

mare waterWe saw Nemos and Gills and the kids think they saw Dory, but I never did. Mike bought a coconut which he drank, and then ate the flesh.

coconut

The only down side to this day was that we all got BADLY sunburnt, despite applying sunscreen. I thought we were used to the harsh Australian sun, but perhaps the sun in the South Pacific was much harsher. Or maybe we needed to reapply it much sooner. Either way, we were lobsters that night and are now still peeling despite copious amount of aloe vera cream applied!

mare beach copy

Before the burn!

Vila

The first thing that hit us as we walked off the gangway in Vanuatu was the humidity. Mike’s shirt was wet after 5 minutes! We had booked a ‘Round Island Safari’ but as the ship was leaving an hour earlier than normal, the tour was going to be cut short a bit. Sadly, we didn’t get told about or have a choice in what was cut out of the tour due to the time restraints.

We went to a cultural village where we learned about how the local tribes survived the recent cyclone and saw the traditional rite of passage; hot coal walking.

Next stop was a waterfall where we got to have a refreshing 5 minute dip. Being able to wash off the sweat was a godsend!

waterfall

The next stop was a beautiful beach, which we assumed was the beach used in the Survivor Vanuatu series since we were supposed to visit that, but we were never told if this was the exact one.

survivor panoWe were also supposed to visit the site of the WWII affected areas, but that didn’t happen either. We did stop at a pretty spot for a packed lunch, but we were hustled off again pretty quickly. The rest of the time was spend driving around the island, which was nice to look at the how the locals lived, but we were over it after the first hour!

vila bus

We did get 30mins in downtown Vila to shop for souveniers but I would have preferred to ditch this for a longer swim in the waterfall or at the Survivor beach.

Noumea

We went on a short tour of Noumea before being left at a lovely beach for an hour and a half. The tour guide was from America, and despite getting an opinion-based commentary of the area, it was good to hear about local life and a westerner’s view of the French Province.

moumea panoThe beach and shops around it were like any seaside town, filled with tourists and souvenier and food shops. We walked along the shops for a little bit before heading to the beach. It wasn’t very good for snorkeling, so we just swam around. There was a pontoon anchored a fair way off the beach, so the kids and I challenged ourselves to swim out to it. Luckily the kids had their swim vests on because it got deep really quickly. We tried not to think about sharks or jellyfish and reassured ourselves that they would have told us if we needed to be careful!!

When we were back at the boat, we could have taken another free shuttle ride back into Noumea, since the ship was docking there for most of the day, but we decided we needed lunch and rest back on board.

Isle of Pines

We had intended to book a really cool turtle and island tour here, but we were too slow and apparently it is the most popular tour of the cruise. Even though we were disappointed, Isle of Pines itself made up for it! It had the same souvenier stalls set up like the other islands, but something about it seemed more laid back. Perhaps it was us knowing it was our last island before heading home.

IOP

We walked past a beautiful beach to a very popular snorkeling spot. Everyone had a go at snorkeling, though the coral looked like it had been stepped on by thousands of tourist feet and lots of it was lying dead and broken on the sea bed. Still, we saw lots of fish and Alex swears he saw a sea snake swimming around!

After that we headed back to the first beach, which looked better for just splashing around. We past more food stalls and tried out some of the local cuisine. Mike had battered and deep fried fruit (aiming for that 4kg challenge!) then a fresh fruit plate, I tried a local dish of sweet potato, pineapple, chicken and some other things that had been slow cooked in banana leaves, and the kids ate regular beach food…icecream and chips! Man was I craving those twisties! I even turned a blind eye to the $5 per bag price tag!!!

The kids splashed around and made new friends in the water, while I read and Mike wandered the market stalls. We saw a man hiring out paddle boards so we gave that a go too.

The beach, the clear water and the serenity made Isle of Pines my favourite pit spot on the cruise!

Will we cruise again? Absolutely! Just finding the right cruise at the right time is going to be mission over the next few months. We were thinking of touring New Zealand, but the open sea=seasickness is putting us off. Hopping up the east coast of Australia to Bali and Singapore is the front runner at them moment. We already have our awesome travel agent on the job!

Cruising-part 1… on board the Carnival Legend…

syd boat

Our family holiday to the South Pacific on the cruise ship, the Carnival Legend was possibly the best family holiday I could imagine. I don’t know if most cruise ships are similar in fit-out, service staff, food or entertainment, but if they are, then cruising will probably be our regular holiday.

Money

The cruise was totally cash-less; we all had ‘sail and sign’ cards, even the kids. Everything that was bought was added to the account which we could check at little kiosk machines or through the TV in our room. We each had an account to see individual spending, but it was all linked to Mike’s so he had the overall cost. We knew how much we had allowed for spending, so it was great to keep an eye on it so that we didn’t go overboard (or in our case- we were being frugal so we splurged a little from time to time!) The kids loved having to sign for things they had bought.

We had to link our credit or debit card to the account which was a problem when we got back. The cruise line freezes the amount we had spent, which makes sense. But then they also took that full amount out in a lump sum, so our account went into negative. Mike called the bank and they weren’t worried about it and we quite used to the way cruise ships do things. They said the pending (frozen) money would be freed up in a day or so and not taken out twice and we would get no dishonour fees. Even though it was fine from the bank’s point of view, next time we would try to put cash onto our sail and sign account so that we are paying for it as we go so that this doesn’t happen again.

Accommodation

The accommodation felt cramped to begin with, but we very soon got used to our room. It had plenty of storage space for all of our clothes, and our suitcases fitted comfortably under the bed, which kept them out of the way. The bathroom was like a hotel room bathroom, small but perfectly usable. The toilet was REALLY noisy though, which no-one got used to. It sounded like it was going to suck the whole bathroom in with every flush! We also got used to having it serviced twice a day by our room steward and finding a new towel animal each evening! We took magnets too, so that we could stick things up on the metal walls to keep track of what everyone was doing each day.

Seasickness

Did we take seasickness tablets? Yes. Did we get sick? Yes. Did the tablets work? Yes and No. Alex and I are prone to travel sickness, Alex more than me. But I was the one that copped the seasickness more than him. It wasn’t really severe, no vomiting or turning green, but the movement of the boat was just enough to make me feel blgh. We had two types of tablets- normal and natural (ginger based) which the doctor said would be fine. The normal ones worked for longer but made us drowsy. The natural ones worked somewhat but only for an hour or two.Next cruise (yes we are doing it all over again!) I will go to the doctors and demand something stronger than over the counter strength tablets.

For anyone that gets seasick, I would highly recommend a room with a window or balcony.  Obviously they are more expensive, but worth seeing that horizon and having fresh air when you are feeling less than 100%. Also mid level, mid ship was the smoothest. Our room was the middle of the boat on deck 5 and it was the best! I bow down to the wisdom of our travel agent for her knowledge in picking this room for us, knowing our queasy tummies!

The front of the boat was the worst for feeling sick, which sadly was where the kids’club was! Alex only got sick once, but because he vomited at kids’ club, he had to go to the ship doctor. We knew it was seasickness, but they had to be careful and so he was excluded from kids’ club for 24hours and needed a check up back at the doctors for clearance before he could go back. Luckily this was at no cost to us, because we had heard that trips to the ship’s doctor was $100 a visit! After that, we just made sure we dosed Alex up with tablets before he went to kids club or when we went to the theatres which we also at the front of the boat.

Food

Cruise ships are known for mountains of food being available and it was certainly true for us. The Cruise Director (Fun Ensurer) told us about the 4kilo challenge- putting on 4kg from eating! Luckily Mike and I didn’t achieve that challenge (thought we did put in a great effort!!)

Included in your cruise price was access to the buffet and the main dining room restaurant. On Carnival cruises, and probably other cruise lines, you got allocated a time-slot to eat at the restaurant-early or late. We were given ‘any time dining’ which made everything much more flexible, although we tended to go early anyway so if we had that time-slot it would have been fine. The food was great, with a large range of cuisines on offer which would suit adults well. There wasn’t as much of a range at the buffet for my pretty-boring-eating-kids, but the restaurant had a kids menu of the normal things, like hot dogs, chicken nuggets, spaghetti. There was one part of the buffet out near the pool that served hamburgers and chips and the kids ate there most lunches. I was less than impressed with them; they had a smell to them which I put down to preservatives, but the kids loved them and never got sick.

Carnival offer a 24hr soft serve icecream machine, which sounded great, but the kids and Mike only had it a few times. They also had 24hr pizza, which sounded like heaven, but the pizzas were only ok. The Legend had 3 other restaurants which had an additional cost to visit…and we tried them all! Freshies bar was a seafood spot that was still a very reasonable price. We got the kids fish’n’chips which was $6ea and they got 4 fish finger sized pieces of battered whiting and chips, which we thought was good value. Mike and I got a hamburger for $7 each and nearly offended passers by with our groaning over how good it was!

Bonsai restaurant served Japanese, which we had never really had before, so while the kids were at kids club (they would never eat it!), we gave it a go. Again the prices were really reasonable; we got a California and Tempura roll for only $6ea. We also tried the desserts which were only $2-$3.

The Nouveau Restaurant the the poshest of all three restaurants, with booking required and a $45 per head price tag. The food was of a much higher quality and the wait staff were still just as friendly but of a different level of service. You could have more than one entree and dessert, but just one main. Their main selling point was the steaks which were to die for. If you like Hog’s Breath steaks like we do, these were possibly better!

Drinks

We had decided to get the ‘bottomless bubbles’ package before boarding and signed up as soon as we got on. It was $5 per child and $7 per adult per day, so about $220 for us for the length of the cruise. We thought we were on a winner here to save ourselves money. HOWEVER…one time was accidentally got charged for a coke and found out they were only $2.75. We went back through our account and added up all of the drinks we had had (they add them to your account with a price of $0.00) and found we had totally ripped ourselves off. We were no-where near coming out on top. They only benefit of it was not having to sign for every single drink we ordered. Next time we would get the package for 1 or 2 people and share it. It is linked to that person’s card though, so they would be the one who would have to keep going to get the free drinks.

Each day there was a cocktail of the day which I tried. Alcohol was definitely where the cruise ships made their money. Particularly around the pool and in the theatres, the bar staff brought all the drinks to you and it was so easy to just drink the day away.

My cocktail is in the middel...the others are the kids' soft drinks! They wanted the fancy glass and umbrella too!

My cocktail is in the middle…the others are the kids’ soft drinks! They wanted the fancy glass and umbrella too!

Staff

The staff on board were fantastic. Carnival obviously have a policy of addressing everyone by name (with the help of our sail and sign card) which made us all feel special. Its clear that the staff enjoy what they do, because there was always a smile on their face and an effort to make our trip the best it could be. Staff name tags listed their name, their job and where they are from. We loved trying to find as many different nationalities as we could!

Our room steward very quickly learned all our names and chatted to use whenever we passed him in the hallways. The waiters and waitresses do an excellent job keeping the buffet area clean. In fact there are very few bins anywhere on the ship because the staff clean up so well after everyone, there is no real need for bins!

el capitano!

el capitano!

Entertainment

Apparently Carnival are a cruise line aimed at families. The amount of activities available on board were phenomenal, and with a large range of ages and tastes in mind. Each evening, we got the ‘Fun Times’ fort he next day, detailing what was going on and where everything was happening. We would grab a pen and circle everything that sounded good and plan our day from there.

Swimming

The swimming pool and waterslides were the biggest draw card for our kids. They would have spent every minute in the water if they had the chance! The two pools were small but they never seemed really crowded. They were deep; above our kids’ heads, but narrow, so they could swim from one side to the other in a few strokes. The area around the pool was walled off to keep the water enclosed when the boat was rocking, and it was fun to see the mini waves cause by the boat’s movement.

swimThe spas were popular too, particularly since there were no adults in them. The adults wanting a quiet swim could go to the Serenity Area, which was kid-free! This area had its own bar, deck chairs and pool/spa area for adults only.

The splash park was more aimed at young children, but Alex had a good go at it anyway. Our kids were only tall enough to go on 1 of the 2 waterslides but they were happy with that. There didn’t seem to be quite enough water pushing through it to be able to go fast, and sometimes the kids needed to scoot themselves along to get anywhere. The one they were too short for was much more adult-oriented anyway, with a scary first drop and really fast zoom around the waterslide tubes. I went on it twice but that was more than enough!

Fun

We went to to the mini golf area several times, played pingpong with the only ball we could find (I guess they blow overboard easily!), had a go at basketball and played giant chess with another family. There was some kind of trivia every day, several times a day, which we were never close to winning. Mike entered the bean bag toss and mini golf challenge. We went to a health seminar, and Megan and I visited the hairdresser (very expensive but also very much needed!). I went to the gym several times and a few stretch classes too. We lost at bingo and the kids built a bear each (cost extra). Mike and Alex watched a chef do an ice carving and they all watched a movie in one of the theatres. One night Mike and I went to the comedy club, where again, the drinks are at your fingertips.

Camp Carnival (aka Kids’ club)

Megan was always keen to go to kids’club but Alex was more reluctant….until he made his ‘best friend ever’! At the start of the cruise we got a booklet with all the activities they had planned, so the kids could choose what they wanted to do and what we could fit in around all of the other activities offered on board the ship. Luckily the kids were in the same age group 6-8yrs. I think if Alex was in a different group to Megan, he might not have gone as often, or at all since the different age group clubs were in different areas and did different activities.

Kids’ club was open from 10am-10pm, with a break from 3-5. They didn’t give the kids lunch, so we had to plan our day around that, either sending the kids in the morning and picking them up at lunchtime, or sending them after lunch. When Mike and I went to dinner just the two of us, the kids went to kids’ club dinner at the buffet with a set kids menu. There was a Night Owl after hours babysitting/kids’ club option from 10pm-1am at $8/hr but we found we never needed the kids to stay that late.

The kids seemed to have loads of fun and talked about the staff all the time.

Shows

I was really surprised at the quality of the live shows that were on in the evenings. There was a cast of 8 singers and dancers and their 45min shows were a highlight of my time on the cruise. There were 4 different shows, based around different eras of music-Motown, Disco, the Brits and Rock. There wasn’t really a storyline to them, but I was singing along so much that I didn’t care! The kids really enjoyed them too, despite not knowing many of the songs.

theatre

There was also a Magician who was more of a comedian than magician, but it was enough to have the kids amazed at his magic. The last night had a world-renowned violinist on stage, but after the awesome costumes, songs and sets of the other shows, we weren’t as excited by this.

Photography

I wasn’t prepared to have our photo taken as often as we did. At every port we docked at, we were stopped several times getting off the gangway to have our photo taken. The photographers even had huge signs with the port and ship name on it to force us to stop (imagine the stop signs of crossing ladies at school crossings!). They took our photos at the restaurants and tried to get us to stand in front of all the beautiful (read ‘tacky’) backdrops. We let all our photos accumulate until one of the last days, so that we could sort through them all. I’m a big fan of photos, but I was appalled at the price of them, and so we only bought 3 out of the 30 possible ones of our family! There were no package deals as incentive to buy lots, only crappy souveniers after you bought more and more. The crazy thing was all of the photos were already printed for you to fall in love with, and any you didn’t want went into a bin. So they had already spent the money to print the photos (small cost to them, of course) so why not offer a bulk deal?? Bad business if you ask me!

Theme Nights

The theme nights were a big anticipation for us. Based on the length of our cruise, we knew we would have 2 Elegant nights, a Caribbean and a Mexican night. The Elegant nights were a chance to dress up a bit, and even though I was worried about taking up luggage space with dresses I’d only wear once, I’m glad we did it. We got a family photo on one of the Elegant nights, something we rarely do, and Mike and I timed our fancy restaurant visit with the other Elegant night.

The Caribbean and Mexican nights were a huge disappointment. We went out of our way to find or buy clothes to suit these nights and were really annoyed to find that these themed nights didn’t start until 10:30pm! Megan still wore her outift to dinner that night, but since no-one else in the restaurant did, it was really rather pointless. So we have some leis and stick on moustaches is anyone needs them for a fancy dress party!!

 

Would we cruise again? FOR SURE! All of this food, accommodation, fun and travel for one price…who wouldn’t?? And that doesn’t even include the Shore excursions that we did on the islands! Read about those by clicking here!

 

Getting photo ready…

As we plan and pack for our big family holiday…we splurged a little and bought the kids a Polaroid camera. 

  
Our hope is that they will be able to document our trip in a scrapbook as we go, rather than drawing it (as we’ve done in the past) or taking digital photos and having to wait to get home to print them (no one likes waiting!)

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