Family-friendly cruise ship Pacific Jewel will be making multiple four-night voyages from Sydney to Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island, off Brisbane, over the next few years - perfect for cruise-virgins who want to sample the water before signing up for a long-haul trip.
Gotta be in it to win it
I’m sitting sipping champagne with my wife in the thermal suite relaxation room on P&O Cruises’ Pacific Jewel wondering whether my kids are going to be proud of me or severely embarrassed. I’m considering going up against a hirsute selection of the 1950 other passengers in the ship’s Hairiest Chest competition, parading on main stage on the top deck between the two plunge pools. Unusually for this four-night cruise, my kids were not in the immediate vicinity, and my wife Ali and I were having some lovely, needed time together. Both Luke, age 10, and Zoe, age 12, were in their respective supervised kids or teen programs for a while – Luke playing video games and eating chicken nuggets in the kids area, and Zoe making jewellery in the teenage retreat in the bowels of the ship.
Like many on this maiden voyage from Sydney to Moreton Island, we were first-time passengers on a large cruise liner, and discovering one of the beautiful things about cruising as a family: in the huge range of activities on board, you get to spend time doing different things with individual members of the family, or even alone, then joining together again for delicious, plentiful meals. I’d sweated through an early morning boot camp with Zoe, done a drumming workshop with Luke and had a luxurious 25-minute father and son joint massage in the spa area (his favourite activity of the trip). Meanwhile Zoe and Ali went to cooking and craft-making sessions and as a family we watched live circus shows together and swam in the pools. Late at night I’d slip away to watch the late-night comedy shows or try yet another tantalising cocktail. As virgin cruisers, we hadn’t realised why a vessel such as Pacific Jewel actually is the destination of a cruising holiday, but the old adage is true: with so much on offer, or the ability to lie back on a lounge with a drink and a book, there is little need for the ship to go anywhere. In fact, P&O Cruises have very short two- or three-day cruises that go out to sea and come back, with no port of call. This new four-night trip to Moreton Island is the next step up for those who want to try a short cruise, but actually go somewhere.
Ashore at Moreton
And what a top destination Moreton Island is. There’s almost a full day in the schedule to try any of the wild activities: paragliding, sand-boarding, 4WD tours or helicopter flights, but before our afternoon snorkelling tour, our family walked 20 minutes up the beach, away from the crowds, to a bit of sand occupied only by starfish at the foot of a towering sand dune, where we played, read and swam. Cormorants chased fish through the gin-clear water while a juvenile sea-eagle soared overhead. The short snorkelling tour was of some wrecks, and had an interesting diversity of fish life. But the biggest highlight of the stop on Moreton was just after sunset, when Tangalooma Resort’s famous wild bottlenose dolphins swim into the shallows to be fed small fish by guests – and us! With grace and dexterity – and seemingly giving me a cheeky smile just before she did so – Tinkerbell took my tiny offering and circled back for another look. Back on board, the food is far more sumptuous than the dolphins’ buckets of raw fish, but you can certainly get sashimi if you want it from one of the 83 chefs. Most families would find the excellent Waterfront Restaurant, plentiful Plantation buffet and The Grill more than sufficient, and all are included with your fare. But if you want to splurge a little, an extra $25 a head pays for a scrumptious eight-course banquet at the Asian fusion La Luna restaurant or you can also pay for the Luke Mangan Salt Grill. Alcohol is also an additional charge, but not too expensive, with cocktails around $10 a pop.
So, back to the Hairiest Chest competition. It didn’t really take too much to convince myself to go in it. And just as well – I won! I think my son was just a little bit impressed.