Cruising is one of the most popular forms of traveling in the world. In Australia it is the fastest growing tourism segment. Yet for us it has always seemed to lead back to that famous Shakespearean quote “to cruise, or not to cruise – that is the question”!?”
When we discovered that Bali was not in fact the Bogan infested cess pit that the western media would have us believe we thought perhaps cruise ships are likewise probably not floating trailer parks. More and more people are returning with happy anecdotes and tales of fun and laughter and more companies seem to be launching better and brighter ( and often bigger) ships. Stories about drink spiking and people disappearing overboard seemed to be diminishing despite an astonishing increase of over 6-fold passengers in the past decade.
So, in 2014 we decided to dip out toes ( quite literally) in the water by booking a 7 night cruise from Corfu in Greece. There are a few things we considered ( and have since learnt) when booking ;
2014 Variety Cruises – Panorama ll : Corfu, Dubrovnik, Korcula, Kotor, Saranda, Paxos, Corfu
She’s an old boat with only 64 berths, 1 restaurant and 2 bars and the cruise took us up the Adriatic to Dubrovnik stopping in Montenegro, Albania and Paxos on the way back.
We had an absolute ball! The Greek crew were fabulous, the food was great and the scenery was stunning. We dined in tavernas and danced in bars and on deck. We made lifelong friends from Gibraltar that were on their honeymoon, the poor buggers. The cabins were small and tired and John and Lachlan were so sick on the first night the manager took pity on me and gave me my own cabin ( they soon got their sea legs and have been fine ever since). But we didn’t care!
On the last night the captain allowed our daughter from London to join us for Greek Night and they had John dress as a Shiek. I laughed so much wine poured out of my nose.
We paid around AUD$4000 for a triple berth which is a queen/single bunk combo ( and nothing for the 2nd cabin)
2015 – Ponant – Le Lyrial ; Venice, Havar, Mijett, Dubrovnik, Kotor, Kefalonia, Corinth Canal, Hydra, Mykonos, Delos, Athens
This cruise provided us with the perfect way to finally see Venice whilst finishing in our beloved Greece. It stopped in Croatia and Montenegro , which we had previously loved and were keen to explore more. We decided to splurge a bit and were able to get an early bird rate for this inaugural itinerary on Ponant’s brand new ship, the 200 berth Le Lyrial.
Wow. French style, glamour and grace all the way, with free-flowing Piper Heidsieck, Laduree snacks and L’occitane toiletries. We were pampered and indulged the entire week with incredible food, stunning scenery and crisp, professional service. This was an older demographic with the majority of passengers being elegant elderly French people but there was a large number of Australians on board as well.
The few triple rooms were near the medical centre and unfortunately this was very noisy with doors banging and opening all night long. Again, the manager took pity on us and gave us an additional cabin on the second day so our son ended up in the original one all on his own!
We paid around aud$8000 for 3 and found this to be very good value for money. Prices seem to have gone up a fair bit since.
So finally our recent Australian P&O experience. Would the other small boats have ruined us for anything this big ? Would there be too many people and too many screaming kids running around? Having had a couple of really lovely holidays in Vanuatu would a big ship experience be really impersonal and mare our memories of that lovely country?
2016 – P&O Pacific Dawn : Xmas cruise,Brisbane-Noumea-Lifoe-Port Vila
As our annual hunt for a Summer holiday commenced mid-year and once again lead us to extortionate prices to holiday in Noosa or North Stradbroke our attention turned, once again, offshore. It would be nice not to have to fly anywhere and this cruise itinerary would take care of Xmas day as well ( I’m still recovering from hosting 28 for lunch the year before!). 1500 berth seemed big but not toooo big so we took the plunge and paid the deposit. We paid just over $5000 for 3 in a mini-suite.
Overall the week was a great success. We had a big suite with a balcony and met some lovely people whom we spent much of our time with, even Xmas lunch! There was a lot to do and we had great weather, although there are certainly some things that could improve. The pros and cons are probably these;
- A huge range of things to do onboard that suit all ages and all types. We went to Trivia and Karaoke nights, themed parties, the Piano Bar, listened to bands, played Blackjack in the Casino and even played Bingo! We used the gym,the day spa, jogging track, pools, adults only bar and danced in the night club. I bumped into a work friend on board travelling with a family group of 21 and they were able to use the kids clubs for the younguns and yet it was also wheelchair friendly for the grandparents. I can really see the appeal for family groups.
- Our teenager had not spoken to us so much all year and he had a ball. He really got into all the activities and made some great new friends. It was worth every cent just to see him so engaged and enthusiatic.
- The suites are spacious and comfortable
- The staff are fantastic
- Salt by Luke Mangan is an excellent restaurant
- The day spa is very good
- The Entertainers were fantastic and there are a lot of them from all over the world. We especially enjoyed the Argentinian rock duo.
- Booze is surprisingly reasonable and duty-free is excellent
- The coffee shop actually serves decent coffee
- It feels very safe and secure with Security staff and CCTV throughout
- The swipecard/cashless system keeps things simple
- The destinations are lovely. We were surprised to be able to visit Lifoe despite no dock or wharf and it is mostly undeveloped and authentic.
- The size of the ship meant there was a lot to do but we regularly ran into people we knew. It was easy to connect with others but we were able to have some alone time as well.
- Yes, there are a lot of Bogan’s but many of them are lovely so I would put this in the Pro’s section too. Lets face it, we’ve all got a bit of Bogan in us!
- Kids ran up and down on our ceiling all day. Now we know to make sure we are not under the pool deck!
- The large restaurants, particularly the buffet, are pretty awful. Breakfast was ok but other meals were very hit and miss.*
- Overall the ship is tired and in need of a refurb*
- The ‘Entertainment Director’ and his assistant were complete twats who seem to think making fun of people is funny. They were actually the least entertaining of the Entertainers
- Like most ships internet is very expensive and difficult to organise
* The Pacific Dawn is being dry-docked in February 2017 for a complete refit and apparently there will no longer be a buffet style restaurant
At the end of the day…
We would definitely go on a cruise again. I dont think we would like anything bigger than around 2000 berths and we are certainly not interested in a big Ovation-of-the-Seas type liner with 4800 beds ( a friend just returned from a cruise on that and said it was like living in a Westfield Shopping Centre).
Of course the more you pay the better the quality of things like food, wine and amenities. If we were cruising as a couple we would splurge again on something small and intimate but we would try and stick to places like Europe or Asia where you wake up somewhere new everyday. If travelling with the kids and/or extended family or friends we would happily consider a cheaper, and probably larger cruise.
There’s a lot to be said for being able to unpack and forget about all transport issues for your holiday and just sit back and watch the world go by ( from the adults only bar).