Cruising is not a regular way of travel for us, in fact this is only our second cruise and our first one was also a one way journey. That first cruise in late 2018 was 15 days long and took us from Rome, Italy to Abu Dhabi, UAE and we definitely had some pretty amazing ports of call along the way. This is why we looked at repositioning cruises when we decided to head to the southern hemisphere for a while.
We enlisted the help of VacationsToGo once again to handle the booking process. At first glance a 31 day cruise looks expensive, but when we added up our average monthly spend for accommodation, meals, groceries, alcohol, transportation and entertainment plus the cost of a flight from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia the cruise ended up costing less. And the benefits of cruising are we can unpack our bags and settle in for a month, we don’t end up with jet lag plus we visited some interesting places along the way. Not a bad alternative to flying! Plus, we did not have to cook, shop for groceries or entertain ourselves for an entire month.
As it came close to our departure date we were very surprised to learn that the ship would be full, so we had no opportunity to upgrade our cabin. To keep the cost down we booked an interior cabin this time, which generally worked out fine because we spent most of our time elsewhere on the ship. The cost to upgrade to a balcony cabin was approx USD $1,200 each so what we decided to do instead was buy the Princess Plus package for USD $1,592 each. Now, that sounds like a horrendous amount but is actually USD $51.35 each per day and buying all the items separately would have cost us a lot more. Below is how we got value for our money and as you can see, the Plus package is not really beneficial unless you want to drink alcohol 🍷😁 but seriously what the heck else is there to do during 20 days at sea!!!!!
I think we got good value for our investment, but now we need to dry out in November 😂 More interestingly, where did we stop on our way to Australia:
Leaving Vancouver, Canada we traveled a very short distance to Victoria, Canada. This was not part of the original itinerary but we were very happy to have the chance to see my sister. She and her husband drove 3 hours from Comox to Victoria and we had a lovely few hours walking around town and popping in for a drink at one of our favorite pubs, the Bard and Banker. We spent a month in Victoria a couple of years ago and really like the city.
From Victoria we sailed for 2.5 days to Los Angeles. This too was not on the original itinerary but we were told that the hull of the ship required cleaning before entering New Zealand and Australia, so two days in Los Angeles were put in the itinerary, sacrificing one day in San Francisco which was disappointing. The day we arrived to Los Angeles, the entire ship had to disembark, clear US customs and then either re-board or head out on a tour. This took up a good chunk of the day however we have been to Los Angeles before and had no plans to go anywhere. We basically stayed on the ship enjoying the amenities for the two days spent in the Los Angeles port.
Leaving Los Angeles it took 4.5 days to reach Honolulu, Hawaii. During that time we had dinner with 8 other full time nomads. We all had a good time discussing life as nomads, what we are planning for the next few months and sharing travel tips. Following that dinner we were invited to join one of the couples in Honolulu for a game of disc golf. That sounded like a fun day out so off we went to the Kupuohi Disc Golf Course. We had an enjoyable couple of hours learning the game, even though we were not very good. I have determined I should probably stick to real golf!!!
Once we left Honolulu it was a seemingly long 5.5 days at sea, during which we crossed the equator into the southern hemisphere, before we arrived in Moorea, French Polynesia. Moorea is a small volcanic island with a population of around 18,000, and just 17 km (11 miles) northwest of Tahiti. We had hoped to rent bikes but unfortunately I tested positive for covid that morning (more on that later) so I did not leave the ship. Blair took a tender to the island, walked around town, took a shuttle to a black sand beach, walked back to the dock then waited 45 minutes for the tender back to the ship, he said I did not miss much! As we well know from our time living in Grand Cayman, the cruise ship dock is not in the nicest part of the island so he would have had to arrange transportation to one of the many gorgeous beaches. Moorea looks stunning and what I did see from the ships deck were a few humpback whales and their calves in the shallow cove nearby. The humpbacks travel here from the Antarctic to mate and give birth before making the long trek back south, I was even lucky enough to see one breaching 🐳
From Moorea it was only a 4 hour cruise over to Papeete, Tahiti the capital of French Polynesia. This island has a population of close to 200,000 with nearly 30,000 residing in the capital city of Papeete. The ship was docked near the center of town which is congested with traffic but we could walk off and on the boat as we pleased. With my mask firmly in place we got off and had a little wander along the seafront, checked out the local tourist market and picked up some cough syrup from the pharmacy before getting back on board. Once again, getting away from the port area you will find lovely beaches with fancy resorts and inland there are mountains to climb for breathtaking views. None of which we saw 😞 because I was not up to being out for very long.
The ship was docked in Papeete for 2 days before we had another 3.5 days at sea cruising our way to Pago Pago, American Samoa. American Samoa is a US territory with a population of just over 45,000 people. The US took possession of American Samoa in the 19th century developing it into a major naval outpost, the US military has a significant presence here on the island due to the island’s strategic location in the South Pacific. Tuna products are the main export of the island, the StarKist Tuna factory was across the harbor from our where our ship docked, and every once in a while we got a good whiff of the factory! When we got off the boat we went for a short walk around Fagatogo where the ship was docked and then decided to take a taxi east to Two Dollar Beach. These days it costs USD $5 to use the beach, chairs and covered shelters but it was worth it to sit for 3 hours and soak in the lovely ocean breezes and paddle in the South Pacific Ocean.
Taxiing back to the port area we went for another walk, heading west this time to visit the Tauese PF Sunia Ocean Center. This facility is part of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration) and has some great exhibits, movies and a Science Sphere highlighting the importance of the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa. It was really interesting to learn about the Marine Sanctuary and the work they do monitoring the coral reefs and the ocean temperatures. It looks like a gorgeous place to go snorkeling or diving and we had an enjoyable day on American Samoa.
Leaving Samoa we were headed for New Zealand, but an interesting thing happened along the way…..we lost 24 hours 😲 Sometime in the early morning of October 26 we crossed the International Date Line and poof, all of sudden it was October 27. The time did not change but 24 hours vanished!! At least we only lost one day, not 20 years like Rip Van Winkle 💤💤
Also on the way to New Zealand we caught up with the remnants of Cyclone Lola which gifted us with rather rough seas for 24 hours prior to our arrival in Auckland. Waves between 15-20 ft and wind gusts up to 120 km per hour tossed our ship around a bit but overall these large cruise ships handle rough seas quite well. The strong wind and waves also adjusted the itinerary once again. We ended up sheltering outside Auckland for 1 day until the port was re-opened for marine traffic, so this meant we gave up our stop in Tauranga, but we did have our day in Auckland. Not all bad since we like Auckland and had the opportunity to wander around the harbor and have some mouth watering fresh squid for lunch.
From Auckland we cruised overnight to the Bay of Islands, an area we missed visiting in 2019. Wow, what a gorgeous part of the country, no wonder it’s a very popular holiday destination for New Zealanders. We had arranged to rent mountain bikes from Bay Beach Hire and take a little ride around the area. We did a 15 km route they recommended and had some fantastic views along the way. It was a hot and sweaty 2 hour ride with more than a few uphill slogs, but the views made it all worthwhile! We would come back here 💕
After leaving the Bay of Islands, New Zealand we had 2.5 more days at sea before finally arriving in Sydney, Australia in the early morning of November 4th. The trip across the Tasman Sea was relatively smooth, but we did have a few bumpy hours with 10ft waves. It was a welcome sight to see the lights of Sydney as we cruised into the harbor. Yaaaaayyyyy, we have arrived in Australia!!!
So, what on earth did we do on all those sea days!!! Well, every day an itinerary is published with two pages of activities, movies, games, seminars, musical performances etc etc. There is more than enough to keep busy from dawn till dusk but we missed being as physically active as we normally are when on land. Before I got sick our sea days were fairly full starting with breakfast, then a couple of hours in the gym or a yoga class, followed by lunch, then bit of time out on the sun decks, or some computer work planning future travels. We had pre-dinner wine at Vines Wine Bar before heading to dinner then enjoyed a nightcap and various musical performances before our day was done. We periodically ran into our fellow nomads and participated in a couple of wine tastings together. It was pretty easy to pass the time! Once I got sick I quit going to the gym and for 5 days spent most of my time in the cabin, that got boring in a hurry.
I have to say that the staff on board were amazing. They were all extremely pleasant and I’m not sure how they did it, but they all knew our name!! (PS I found out later that the little fob we carry pops up on any ship device we are close to with our name, photo and room number) Working aboard a cruise ship is not easy, on this particular vessel the staff sign on for 9 months and get very little time off, and yet they all appear happy at their job. That being said, everyone we talked to was looking forward to the end of their contract and going home for 3 months.
So, about the dreaded covid infection 😷 Covid safety seems to be non-existent which is why I ended up getting covid 16 days into the cruise. I was one of the very few who wore a mask all the time, except when eating or drinking, but it just doesn’t matter these days especially when in close proximity to almost 5,000 people who take few precautions. There were so many people coughing and sneezing and a few of our wait staff were off sick prior to me testing positive. Once I confirmed my diagnosis, I spent a lot of time in the cabin, wore an N95 mask when I left for some fresh air, we ate all our self serve meals outside and I avoided being near anyone for 5 days. I definitely noticed a lot more masks at the end of my 5 days so I suspect more people were getting sick or becoming concerned.
Now the million dollar question…would we do it again? Highly unlikely! While travel is not perfect under any circumstances, taking a cruise instead of a 14 hour flight can be a good choice, we just would not get on a ship this big again nor a cruise this long. Our problem with this cruise is that it was full to capacity, which was a shock to us, resulting in almost 5,000 people on board including the crew. Our first cruise maxed out at 3,183 people including the crew and assuming it was full, which I don’t recall that it was. Between the number of people on board, the fact I contracted covid and that we both left the ship sick for a second time, it did not leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy about the cruise. We have not gotten sick from any of our flights over the past 2 years so maybe we’ll go back to flying and deal with the jet lag!!
So after 31 days, we are happy the cruise is over and excited to begin our time in Australia and South East Asia. Starting with three weeks in Sydney, Australia…..🦘🦘