A First-Time Cruiser Sets Sail to Fiji

Skeptical, but intrigued a newbie cruiser heads to the South Pacific with her husband and finds it’s better than she expected.

Image courtesy Blue Lagoon Cruises.

Image courtesy Blue Lagoon Cruises.

What comes to mind when you hear the term “cruise ship”? A massive beast of a boat filled with disinterested tourists, the elderly and norovirus?

It did for me and that’s why last year, when planning my winter holiday, I ruled out the idea of taking of cruise. Then my husband and I got it in our heads that Fiji was our ideal destination.

With over 330 picturesque islands and some of the best soft coral in the world, Fiji is one of those spots best explored by boat. But since a private yacht isn’t quite in our budget right now, we started to seriously look into the region’s cruise ships options.

After a bit of research we decided on our trip: a seven-night cruise on board the Fiji Princess, a 55-metre catamaran operated by Fiji’s Blue Lagoon Cruises.  It promised a boutique experience that would see a maximum of 68 guests, lots of amazing food and a friendly, all Fijian crew.

But while everything looked great on paper, both my husband and I our concerns. This feeling wasn’t helped by the reaction of some of our friends. Even though I shared our trip details in my most chipper voice, I knew that some of them were skeptical. Unless it was part of a multi-generation vacation, a cruise just wasn’t something people under 40 did.

But maybe it should be.

One of our main concerns about taking a cruise was that we’d bored, a common worry of virgin cruisers. Our trip did come with a detailed itinerary but we weren’t sure if it would be enough or if we’d end up actually following it, since most activities are subject to weather (we were in Fiji during the rainy season) and cruising conditions.

Rain did cancel one morning jungle trek and also cut a couple of beach afternoons short but otherwise we mostly followed the itinerary. Being on a boat actually allowed us to in some cases to beat the weather, letting us spend our evenings under a clear sky instead of a cloudy one.

Snorkelling with sharks. Image by Lindsay Kneteman.

Snorkelling with sharks. Image by Lindsay Kneteman.

Over eight days, we ended up visiting eight islands including ones where Cast Away and Blue Lagoon were filmed. Among other activities we explored caves, snorkeled almost daily including once with sharks, fished with the crew, tried paddle boarding and visited three different local villages. We were never bored though we also had plenty of opportunity for downtime, whether it was lounging on the beach or in the boat’s small pool.

Besides being just the right amount of busy, our trip also had the right amount of social interaction. Dining was communal though there was no assigned seating, evenings altered between organized activities and being unplanned, there was a 24-hour-bar and a surprising number of nooks perfect for reading or using the boat’s free Wi-Fi. The helpful, engaging crew also worked to create a warm, friendly atmosphere and by the end of day two, I’d spoken with almost all of the 21 other passengers (another 12 would join the ship for the last four nights).

Another big concern of ours was that our fellow cruisers would mostly be seniors. Again, we were worried for nothing. While the average age of the other passengers was 50-something, there were also enough under-35-year-olds aboard that we always had someone to talk with.

One aspect of our trip that never worried us was our actual cabin.  We knew it would be small, but based on the photos we saw, it appeared to have plenty of storage and it looked adequate, if a little cozy. Then, a few days before we left, I realized that I’d never seen a photo of the bathroom.

When I saw the bathroom, I understood why. While the rest of the cabin was tight but smartly designed, the bathroom was miniscule. It’s also my only real complaint about the ship. Between drying snorkeling equipment (there was nowhere else to put it) and the curtain-less shower, the bathroom was frequently wet. On my next cruise, I’ll be either getting a room with a bigger bathroom or one with a balcony (neither of these were options on the Fiji Princess).

And yes, I likely will go on another cruise though it will be another boutique ship. While the Fiji Princess might have shown me that cruising can indeed be fun, I’m still skeptical of the bigger ships.

In addition to our cruise, we spent a few nights on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. On our last day there, a 2,000-passenger Princess cruise ship pulled into port, flooding it with people who seemed mostly interested in the surrounding tourist shops. I couldn’t believe how, at only 12:30 pm, there were already dozens and dozens of passengers lined up to return to the ship.

Then I saw a sign advertising the costs and itineraries of available day trips. They were significantly more than what we’d paid for our excursions. No wonder so many of the cruisers were skipping exploring the island. While I’m sure the ship was perfectly comfortable nice, what I witnessed reminded me of why so many people look down on cruise ships.

But as I now know, cruising doesn’t have to be that way; that there are other, more civilized options and one of them is currently cruising the Fijian islands.

For more details on the Fiji Princess and Blue Lagoon cruises, visit BlueLagoonCruises.com.

More from Travel & Style
5 Tips for First Time Cruisers
Why Carry-on Your Luggage
Jillian Harris’ Packing Essentials