Our family of 4 was invited to holiday on the Carnival Spirit for an 8 night cruise from Sydney to New Caledonia. It was described as the ultimate family fun cruise and boy it delivered! My outlook on cruising has completely changed after this experience. I am going to be honest my first thought of being “stuck” on a ship for 8 days was making me anxious. I thought we would easily be bored after the first day at sea with nothing to do. But I was wrong and as it turns out 8 days just wasn’t long enough! I am usually the one in my family that gets homesick when on vacation. I am very set in my own ways – I love my bed and I love my little bubble in our home town on the Mornington Peninsula. But I didn’t experience once bit of home sickness while we were away and I was so sad we had to leave the ship after 8 days at sea as it just wasn’t long enough to experience all of the activities on board!
We boarded the ship around midday after checking in our baggage and our suitcases were then delivered to our door around 4pm when the ship departed. As we walked on board we entered the lobby which was beautiful. I never pictured the inside of a cruise ship to look like this and it felt like we had walked into a luxury hotel. If someone had blindfolded me and placed me in the lobby I would have never guessed we were on a cruise ship. As we made our way up to the pool deck music was blasting and everyone was having a great time. Quite a few restaurants and bars were already open so we sat on the deck and had burgers for lunch, taking in views of the Sydney Opera House that people would normally pay big $$$ for. After lunch we booked the kids into Camp Ocean (kids club) as it gets full quite quickly. We organised day trips for the Islands which are an extra cost but some tours only take a certain amount of people and book out before the ship departs. We then organised the bubbles drink package which cost around $7 a day each and includes all your soft drink and soda water for the entire trip! The ship set off at 4pm and there was a departure party around the main pool which the girls got up and had a dance while we left the harbour.
We spent Day 2 & 3 and Day 7 & 8 at sea which you would have thought we were just lounging around at a resort. Throughout the days we would change locations – from the main pools to the top deck day beds and we were usually there during Eliza’s nap time enjoying free ice creams and deserts from the buffets. Almost every afternoon we would take the girls to the water park location of the ship which had a playground and 2 waterslides. Only Zac was game enough to go on the biggest one (it was one of those slides you stand on and the floor disappears, next minute your stomach drops and you’re at the bottom of the slide!) We only got around to using the mini golf and basketball court once while we were on board as we travelled during summer and it was quite hot. Some days we put the kids in Camp Ocean and ventured to the adults only pool and enjoyed a drink as a couple.
There were so many great dining options included that we didn’t feel the need to go to one of the restaurants that required an extra cost.
Breakfast you could go upstairs which was sort of set up like a food court and enjoy a buffet breakfast, or head to the main dining room and be waited on which was what we chose to do each day. The main dining room breakfast menu alternated each day and you just ordered as you would as if you were at a cafe.
Lunch there were many options all located near the main pool from burgers, mexican, barbeque, woodfire pizza, toasties/sandwiches, pastas, salads, asian etc
Dinner there were the same options as lunch but you could also go to the main dining room which offered a different themed dinner every night. People got really into it and often dressed up for the occasion. Some of our favourite themes were Mexican night, 80’s night and Formal night (everyone was dressed formal – all the men wearing suits and ladies in evening gowns). There is an early and a late dinner sitting which you will be allocated to and have the same waiters through the cruise. The restaurant staff were amazing and by the end of the trip they will get to know your names, what you’re going to drink and what foods you like. They knew my husband had a great appetite and towards the end of the cruise suggested he ordered two mains and two deserts each night to try everything! I’ll never forget when they insisted we tried frog legs the night the menu was French themed so we did and they actually do taste like chicken and are quite nice! Throughout dinner some of the very talented wait staff will put on a show and sing and dance, and my girls loved getting up and having a dance mid-dinner. Getting hungry is one thing you never have to be worried about on board with the food court area open until 9pm every night and wood fire pizzas and ice cream available 24/7!
Evenings were action packed on board but I was super tired most of the time which I think was caused by over eating (food coma), and would usually fall asleep by about 9.30pm. We tried to go to a few of the activities on offer as there was so much to do. Camp Ocean was open till 10pm every night but we only put the girls in once so we could have a dinner without the kids and then hit the casino. Each night they had a movie playing outdoors by the main pool so we cuddled up under a blanket with the girls and ate popcorn on a sun lounge. We also went to the theatre a few times which had a different family show on every night with so many talented performers and below that they had a comedy lounge which was a lot of fun. They also had adults only comedy shows on later in the evening which my husband went to solo as I was usually asleep back in our room with the girls.
Days 4, 5 and 6 were my favourite days of our cruise as they were the days we got off the ship and had a chance to explore some amazing destinations. We visited the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, the kind of beaches you will only see on postcards. I still can’t get over how breathtaking some of the locations were when looking back at photos we took.
Isle of Pines
This was definitely my favourite Island of them all. Don’t waste your money doing offshore excursions here because the beaches you arrive at are some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. The sand is milky white and soft and the water is crystal clear. We spent most of the day just sitting on the beach playing with the kids and enjoying the beautiful surrounds. Locals will set up little shops selling drinks and coconuts, massages and hair braiding are about $15. They also take Australian dollars so no need to exchange any currency.
Another beautiful location and although the beaches were not quite as good as Isle of Pines was still great for snorkelling and hiking. If you enjoy snorkelling make sure you buy a pass for Jinek Bay which was only $15. It is a protected marine reserve so you must buy this pass on board before getting on the island. These passes sell out quickly because the Island of Lifou only allow a certain number of people in the water each day to protect the marine reserve. We took a walk to visit a local church which was quite a hike and involved a huge stair climb. It was a massive struggle with two young kids crying and complaining all the way but once we got to the top we experienced breathtaking views of the Island. After that we went and spent some time with the locals who were playing music and made us necklaces from tropical leaves. Then we went and had a play on the beach and swam with a turtle which was certainly a life experience! Just before we went back to the ship the local kids came and had a swim with us. They couldn’t speak English but somehow interacted with our girls and it was lovely watching them play together.
Things you should take to Lifou:
1. Snorkeling gear. You can hire on board for a fee otherwise I suggest you head to Kmart and get your own gear before you board which is much more affordable.
2. Aqua shoes/diving shoes are a must here. The beaches are not easy to walk on as they are full of coral which is very sharp and you can easily cut your feet.
3. Comfortable walking shoes as there is lots of exploring that can be done on this Island!
This is the one Island that I highly recommended you look at doing an offshore excursion as the ship docks at a shipping container yard unlike the others where you walk straight onto beautiful stunning beaches. This was our only offshore excursion we participated in and we chose the most expensive one but we wanted to see beautiful beaches.
We went on the Amendee Island tour which was a 45 minute ferry ride from the Noumea dock. I was used to being on a ship that didn’t even feel like I was on the ocean so I did experience slight motion sickness, no vomiting or anything just a little queezy. Adult tickets were $185, kids over 4 were $122 and 3 & under were free of charge. This included:
- Exotic buffet lunch followed by a famous island dance show featuring the “Tamure” dance by beautiful island girls
- Complimentary red or white wine during lunch
- Glass-bottom boat trip with commentary by volunteers from Noumea Aquarium (available on certain days) – (approx 30 mins)
- Free snorkelling equipment, flippers, mask, snorkel ($10 deposit)
- Demonstration of the different ways of tying a sarong
- Demonstration of how to climb up a coconut tree
- Sun and powdery white sandy beach with beach chairs and sun loungers
- Children’s playground
On the Island there are sea snakes which are confronting to begin with but they are not dangerous and they are scared of people so don’t stress if you see one! I hate snakes and the first time I saw one my anxiety hit the roof but by the end of the day I wasn’t very fazed. For the price we paid to do the excursion I would have hoped the food was a bit nicer, it was okay but I have had better buffets. The beach was beautiful and the education on the island was interesting and the turtle sight seeing was pretty magical especially for the girls. I probably wouldn’t spend that much to do it again but overall we enjoyed the experience. If you are with a large group you could probably look into getting a private boat for the day instead and visit a few beaches in Noumea.
TIPS CRUISING WITH KIDS
- Don’t take a bigger pram than one of those cheap $20 Kmart strollers. Some of the hallways around the ship are quite narrow and getting around in anything bigger than a stroller will be difficult.
- Pack warm outfits for dinner as the dining room can be freezing at night. We only took one jumper each which wasn’t suitable for the themed nights!
- Pack lots of sea sickness tablets and bands in case you hit bad weather. I was the only one in our family that got sea sick which was the last day when we hit really bad weather heading home. You can purchases sea sickness tablets and bands on board but it’s super expensive.
- Be sure to pick up a lanyard for each family member when boarding as everyone has to wear their cruise ID cards on the ship. This is super important as it works as your credit card, your passport for entering other countries and your child’s ID for Camp Ocean or if they get lost.
- Bring some cash for spending money on the Islands as the New Caledonia locals will take Australian currency.
- Don’t stress about taking kids swimming vests as they are available on board in all different sizes (less stuff you need to pack the better).
- Take aqua/swim shoes as most of the Islands have plenty of coral that you could easily cut your foot on.
- Check your cruise themed nights before heading off and pack suitable attire for the night and most of all have fun with it!
- Take water bottles so you can fill up water for free on board for day trips.
- Make sure you pack lots of sunscreen as it is quite expensive on board.
The ship was amazing and had so many facilities and activities on offer, although the pools were slightly disappointing as they were very small for the amount of people on board and there wasn’t much room for moving around without bumping into someone. But for an affordable family holiday it is hard to beat as you have all meals, entertainment and accommodation included in your cruise. You can go on 12 night cruise overseas for a family of four for just $4500. It was great having a holiday were we didn’t have to feel anxious about going out for dinners every night or worrying that we were spending over our budget. We have taken the girls to Fiji and Thailand previously but this was by far our favourite family holiday and we would gladly do it again for our next overseas vacation!