This was meant to be the perfect vacation, and the best way to introduce our little dude to travel overseas. We had been looking for a relaxing holiday to get away from thinking about our increasingly busy & stressful jobs. We wanted to avoid long flights as the li’l dude suffers from travel sickness. The idea of a holiday with lots of food (and drinks!), entertainment and activities (and kids clubs!) with minimal effort, whilst being transported painlessly from port to port overnight seemed perfect. The price was right, and several family members who had been on a cruise were enthusiastic converts. Every article and review on the internet enthused about the joys of cruising whilst the dissenting views seemed few and far between. There was no way we could NOT have gone on this holiday!
I know you’re itching to hear what happened next (OK, I know you aren’t). And sadly for us, (Spoiler Alert) yes, we hated it (so not a Spoiler, it’s in the title of this post). And hopefully, you’ll read my reasons below and go ‘Pfft, you big girl’s blouse’ and they won’t matter to you and you’ll have a great time on your cruise. But just in case you wanted to read a dissenting opinion (or tell me in the comments how wrong I am), here it is.
But hey, this was a vacation after all, and it’s not all rainclouds and stink-bombs. There were some pretty good things about our cruise too.
- Ports of Call: We visited 5 islands in New Caledonia and Vanuatu as part of the cruise itinerary, and each one was better than the last. The beaches were picture perfect, the people were friendly and the weather was wonderful. We enjoyed snorkeling at Lifou, poking around tiny Mystery Island, and wines on the powder-soft beach at Ille de Pines. We adored Noumea’s gelatos and coffees, and even a hiccup with a disorganized tour operator at Port Vila turned into an opportunity to play with the local kids for our son. It was a great way to check out a number of places and figure out which ones were worth coming back for a longer stay. Yes, I’m aware this sounds smug and like I’m rubbing it in, because I am. :)
2. Onboard space and service: Our cabin was surprisingly spacious, and the stewards were efficient, friendly and unfailingly helpful. Rooms were serviced twice a day, treats were handed out to grubby little hands (not to me! to the 8 year old) and cute towel animals were created for the pampered little dude. Restaurants were large and light, service was prompt and courteous and our needs anticipated surprisingly often (or maybe we are that predictable!).
3. Food, glorious food: Anyone who knows me will cheerfully, and quite truthfully, tell you what a chow-hound I am. The only thing I like better than pigging out on a delicious meal is drunkenly exclaiming how much I am enjoying this amazing wine. The rock star is an absolute foodie (post-gig band-bonding McDonalds sessions notwithstanding) and the little dude is a picky foodie in training (and bloody hard to cook for). Let me just say that every meal onboard, at every restaurant had something for everyone. The rock star doesn’t do buffets, but even he didn’t have too much to complain about on the occasions we had to. And the food at the Chef’s Table degustation and Salt Grill were to die for!
Okay I can see you’re getting set to sign up already. So let me just provide a run-down of the things we didn’t rave about.
- Sea-sickness: You knew this was on the list the minute I mentioned that little dude gets travel-sick. But everything we’d read and heard (and we talked to a pharmacist) made us believe that sea-sickness tablets would be literally a magic pill. Sadly this was not the case not just for little dude but for me as well. Although actual throw-up incidents were limited to 1 (not me!), the first 2 days of unease continued in mild form throughout our trip. For example, the night we ate at the Chef’s table unfortunately coincided with slightly choppy seas, leaving me unable to fully enjoy my amazing meal. And little dude was unable to stomach the Kid’s Club (on the higher decks) for long periods of time, leaving him nauseous, bored and restless, and one us was always confined to the cabin with him.
So if you or any children in your party are in any way travel-sickness inclined, please proceed cautiously. I guess you could always tough it out and enjoy yourself in spite of your sea-sickness (we met some of these hardy souls on board), I’m just too much of a wimp to achieve this myself.
2. Time Limits suck: Ok, so this is what I feel at the end of every vacation. But I’m actually talking about the limited time you get at each port. Mystery island is tiny, and a few hours there is plenty. But each of the other ports had so much to see and do that there was no way to do it all. When you’re docking at 8.30 and leaving at 5.00, that isn’t much time at all, and long disembarkation times cut into it even further. Worse, we were so anxious about not getting back in time that we’d make sure we were back a couple of hours before the ship was due to leave. The one time we didn’t (in Noumea), we (Ok, me) were sick with worry about whether we would make it. I don’t need that shit on holiday.
3. Cabin Fever: It is a massive ship. It will take you ages for the first day or 2 to get your head around what is where. But once that is done, it is like being trapped in a hotel with the same layouts and carpets and upholstery no matter where you go. What makes it worse is that wherever you go, the people are the same too. I’m a city girl who hates exercise and loves the great outdoors only when there are glass windows between us. I can veg out in bed all morning and not leave the house all day (unless it is to get another bottle of wine from the beer fridge in the garage). If I couldn’t cope, you sporty, outdoorsy types are DOOMED!
4. Same same but different: One of the things that makes a holiday interesting to us (a belated realization, thank you cruise!) is the opportunity to do something completely different. In Thailand, it’s night markets and hanging out at temples and just all the things that make it so different from New Zealand. In Auckland and Melbourne, it is walking around the quirky bylanes and alleys, discovering cool places to eat, drink and shop. It is the ability to stay up late watching the locals from a table at a café while li’l dude stays up way past his bedtime and has a massive dessert. Unfortunately the time limits at port force you into an on-board routine pretty quickly, and we were getting bored and going to bed early. And when your seasick child is in bed by 8 pm, you feel like a bad parent for sneaking away even for a quick drink. Added to this, the much anticipated entertainment was sub-par, the jokes too clean and the boozing around us just exhausting. I stopped feeling silly going to bed at 10 about halfway through the trip.
5. Demographics: In spite of cruise industry advertising to the contrary, I just think we were a bad fit for this kind of holiday. We didn’t have many other couples or families in a similar age group, and it was hard to connect with people with quite different interests and concerns. There were loads of people under 25s and over 50s, and not many in our 30’s age group. We weren’t interested in partying until late, or in Bingo or Line dancing, although we did enjoy Trivia and a few other activities. The little dude wasn’t particularly well catered for outside of the kid’s club and we aren’t fans of leaving our child there all day, so his participation in child-friendly events was limited as well. Ultimately, we were looking for a bit more culture and excitement from our holiday than the cruise was able to provide.
Obviously, these observations and opinions are ultimately very specific to the kind of people we are, and our particular ages, interests and expectations of a holiday. But given that we are not particularly unique in these things, I do hope that someone else in a similar position at least thinks about and prepares themselves for these challenges before they pay out that deposit. And I’m really unsure how much more we could have done to mitigate these things. I researched ships, ports, tours, sea sickness remedies – you name it – as much as humanly possible. But it was one of those things that you need to try to realize if it is for you or not, and it was not for us.
Still, we’re the type of people that never say never. Rock Star and I have agreed to give it another whirl – this time when we’re 60, and without the li’l dude cramping our style. Until then, we’ll just stick to our land based holidays.
What about you – have you had similar experiences on a cruise? Or have you been in exactly the same circumstances and still enjoyed yourself tremendously, and think we could have done something different?