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Cruising to New Caledonia

A newbie on the cruise scene, Snezana Belevska-Bennell and family took off on an adventure aboard Carnival Spirit, and came home ready to debunk some common myths about cruising.
(Photography by Dave Bennell)

I hesitate to say this – mainly because it sounds so trite – but before I’d been on a cruise myself, I didn’t think I would enjoy it. My mind was filled with these preconceived notions about what happens on cruises... and who takes them.

I have to laugh at myself now because, not only have I taken my first cruise, I went on a full-fledged adventure with my husband and two sons, Luka (6) and Saachi (2)... and loved every minute. Our nine-day venture around New Caledonia was a real eye-opener for me. Every single doubt I had was blown to bits. Every myth was crushed; every misconception, sunk. What we enjoyed was a relaxed and fun vacation on board a big and beautiful ship. Here’s what went down to change my view of the cruising world:

MYTH #1: The ship mightn’t be safe for unsupervised young kids
I was convinced that my excitable two boys would be no match for whatever barriers the ship had against the big bad ocean. Call it a mother’s over-protectiveness, but I had literally Googled the heck out of those measurements: rail height, ship’s safety measures and what not. Thankfully, the ship was prepared for this mum-on-a-mission.

Within hours of embarking, my fears quickly dissipated. I was pleased to find that the deck rails were high (I'm over 5’8” and the rails were at my chest). The balcony railing in our room was also tall, slanting inwards and made from plexiglass, while the balcony door had double locks – one right at the top with no chance of kids reaching it. Phew!

All in all, seeing these safety measures provided me with a glimmer of hope that I would not be spending all my time chaperoning the kids.

MYTH #2: Only raging single party animals go on cruises
I had this vision of cruise ships being full of loud, boisterous party-goers that sat in a pool all day with beer cans. In my haste to typecast, I had completely forgotten that Spirit was a family cruise ship, so of course, the customers would reflect that.

In reality, there were people from all walks of life – corporate businesspeople, pensioners, young couples, jet-setters, and lots of families, especially those with young kids. This diversity led to a very comfortable experience for all.

MYTH #3: Cruises are boring
I’m unsure know how this got into my head, but I was convinced that spending four days at sea and another five at port destinations was going to be a bore-fest. I worried that the kids would not have enough to do and I worried that my husband and I would be at our wits’ end trying to keep the family entertained. Of course I needn’t have worried. Cruise ships are designed to cater to a diverse demographic of entertainment-hungry passengers. On Spirit, there were so many fun things to do, both day and night.

First, there was the ultimate kids’ club. Thanks to this, I enjoyed more ‘me’ time than I’d had since my eldest was born. Free and supervised, you could drop the kids off anytime from 9am until noon, 2 til 4pm, or 6 to 10pm. As my boys were under six, I had them enrolled in Camp Carnival, designed for kids in three different age groups (two to five, six to eight, or nine to 11 years). They had fantastic activities such as dance classes, dress up parties, jungle and pirate adventures, arts and crafts, movies, story time and more.

Further keeping us parents happy, all the staff were brilliant and super friendly. The ship had some other programmes for older kids too, which although we didn’t explore, looked wonderful. There was the Circle C youth programme for those aged 12 to 14 where kids could hang out in a club-style lounge setting complete with dance parties and movie nights, while Club 02 for 15- to 17-year-olds gave even older kids space to watch movies, listen to music, play sports and test their video game skills. For younger ones who stayed up late, the ship had ‘Night Owls’, a programme where kids had a ball with pyjama parties and movie nights.

The family fun didn’t stop there. The ship also had:

Three pools and four heated spas.

Carnival Waterpark on the top deck with features such as the Twister Waterslide, a Splash Zone and The Green Thunder (the steepest and fastest water slide at sea).

Mini-golf and basketball court on the top deck.

A video arcade for kids needing a tech fix at sea.

Family Shows including magic performances, comedy time, family karaoke and parties.

The ship also had other great entertainment options, just for mums and dads:

Serenity retreat: a place to grab a cabana and a cocktail. No kids allowed (enough said).

Spa Carnival: a place for rejuvenation including acupuncture, heated bamboo deep tissue massages, and a steam room. Find time for it, you'll love it.

The Casino where you get to dress up and have a date night, Bond Style.

An impressive 14 bars and lounges. You can salsa dance at The Atrium Bar, sip French Martinis at the Piano Bar, chill out at Jazz Club or have a late night boogie at the nightclub. There's also Fashion Boulevard - Chanel, Dior, D&G – they’re all here (and at duty free prices).

MYTH #4: The food is bad
The thought of over a thousand people being fed three times a day made me think it would be en masse feeding, army style. Oh how wrong I was. The food was simply delicious, with everything prepared fresh by the talented chefs. In fact, it was so good my belt buckle went out a notch.

Culinary offerings include luxurious à la carte selections in the Empire Dining Room, divine under-the-stars dining at Nouveau where you should be sure to book a Long Lunch at Sea, and Lido Restaurant which provides casual dining with 10 international food stations. There’s also the most incredible Chocolate Buffet at Patisserie, the open-air Fat Jimmy's BBQ, and uur kiddies’ favourite in the form of 24-hour pizza and ice-cream.

MYTH #5: There's never enough time to properly explore port destinations
When I was a young single flight attendant, one-day city stopovers were the best. Quick shopping, a night of dancing, and you're back on the plane flying to the next stop. But after having kids, I prefer to be based somewhere for a while, and the thought of just a day at each port sounded like a stressful rush. In reality, however, not only was there a good variety of shore excursions at each of the ports, there was just the right amount of time, too.

Here's a rundown of how we spent our days at shore:

Port Stop 1 – Isle of Pines: With incredible turquoise lagoons, pristine sandy beaches and towering dark green pines, I can see why this place is named the 'Jewel of the Pacific'. After watching a traditional welcome dance, we set off on a one-hour cultural tour through the picturesque Vao village, Saint Maurice Bay and Brush Island lookout. We spent the rest of the day at the sensational Baie de Kuto, a beach with powder-white sands and translucent shallow waters. We swam all day and sipped cocktails under the lush leafy coconut palms. Truly a tropical utopia.

Port Stop 2 – Lifou: Within 20 minutes of arriving on Lifou island, we were snorkelling in beautiful Jinek Bay. Just a short stroll from the wharf, this marine park is home to vibrant marine life, and it’s considered one of the world's finest snorkelling spots. After this, we took a scenic cross-island drive to the gorgeous Luecila Beach where we lay on silky sand and swam the time away. We spent the afternoon at Sandalwood Bay in the local markets where we tried local Kanak cuisine, watched traditional dancing and hung out with friendly locals.

Port Stop 3 – Noumea: Noumea has been described as a 'touch of France in the South Pacific' and that's exactly what we experienced. We did the 'Tchou Tchou' train excursion and within minutes of riding through town you could feel the French ambience. We passed pretty Parisien-style shops, bougainvillea gardens, stopped at several look outs (with ample fresh pastries and drink), and cruised through the old town, the beaches and the marinas. It was a fantastic way to get a good snapshot before deciding how we’d spend the rest of the day. We chose to visit Plage de la Baie Citrons (Lemon Bay), a sheltered bay with calm waters, packed with hotels and restaurants, before visiting Anse Vata, Noumea’s main beach and playing Bocce with the local men.

Port Stop 4 – Mare Island: They certainly saved the best for last. The remote island of Mare sits inside one the world's largest lagoons and contains the wildest untouched beauty. Natural aquariums, freshwater and limestone caves, and the most dazzling emerald waters I’ve ever seen. We spent the day at Yejele Beach, a remote beach fringed with tall palms and coral reef. It was all absolutely mesmerising. We snorkelled straight off the beach, ate fresh local delicacies from the beach huts and listened to island music; a true South Pacific experience that the kids absolutely adored.

My verdict
I think it’s safe to say that, misconceptions now firmly at bay, that I’m delighted to be a cruiser who loved all aspects of being on a ship.

Carnival Spirit was a super fun and easy way to explore a variety of destinations in the South Pacific. Thanks to my eye-opening experience, I’ll be recommending this cruise, and cruising in general, to families of all ages and sizes.

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