Tips for your first day onboard

With a blast on the ships horn we head off on a short three night wine and food cruise, safely onboard P & O’s Pacific Dawn. Having only completed longer cruises, this quick little trip was going to be interesting. Ive been researching for questions from those who have never cruised, this article is number one in a little cruising series I’m going to do. Be interesting to see what you learn.

Let’s start with why we choose a cruise holiday over staying at a resort?

Because we love cruising and no matter what level cabin you choose, your holiday is as packed or chilled as you would like it to be. Everything is done for you. Accommodation, travel, meals and entertainment are all included, except for a few specialty restaurants or some activities onboard which have a surcharge. Added to which you have the bonus of a changing landscape, and, if you’re on one of the longer cruises, different ports to visit without having to pack and unpack.

P & O have a handy little login called cruise control which becomes available once you’ve booked. From this site, you can monitor your payments prepay and order onshore activities, purchase spa voucher/s, or pre order special packages. For instance birthday or special occasion package, or even a bucket of prawns and bottle of wine. Something for everyone. Your final cruise payment is 75 days prior to boarding. After this why not go in and prepay in the months leading up to your vacation, its really worthwhile.

Boarding procedures are the same, no matter what style of cruise. For those who think of they turn up a couple of hours prior to their boarding time they will board the ship early, don’t bother. You won’t. There’s a process starting with priority boarding, depending on your cabin choice. The lower value cabins board last, higher value first.

With priority boarding we were amongst the first keen cruisers to embark. Quickly drop your cabin to drop off hand luggage, meet the cabin stewards, these are the people who work at keeping your cabin clean and ensuring you have what you need, so look aft them.

Do not forget the onboard daily activities guide, (trust me on this one, that guide will become your lifeline), then head straight up on pool deck to the bar! Nothing like being first in line!

From here, consider your dining options and duck into Salt Grill to ensure you book any desired special evenings before their bookings fill up. After which, cruise by the Pantry for lunch. Choose your cuisine and staff will serve you. Gone is the old help yourself buffet, no more dirty spoons contaminating other foods. As a tip, the food on the other side of the buffet is the same as this side. Keep that in mind.

Peruse the activities guide whilst partaking of a leisurely lunch. Eventually, time to leave the table and head off to the entrance to Waterfront restaurant. Here, put names down for activity bookings, or dinner reservations. As a side note, you could enjoy lunch here too which is an a al carte menu, with sit down service. A tip here, you will need to reserve your dining space for the evening meal if you wish to dine at the Waterfront. The Pantry does not require bookings, just go on in whenever you are hungry. They are only closed a couple of hours throughout the day.

For the Waterfront, Breakfast and lunch are walk ins, however dinner is pre booked only. Same applies to specialty restaurants onboard, for example Salt Grill, all which must be booked in advance.

Swing back past the cabin, pick up the life jackets, and work out your muster station. Trust me, yes you need these jackets today. If its a beautiful day, head back up on the pool deck whilst you wait for all passengers to embark and the ship to set sail.

Of course if you are one of the last ones to board, my tip to you would be to head straight to the cabin, pick up your life jacket and keep it with you until the drill begins.

Once all are on board, everyone has to present to their muster station, including crew, for the mandatory emergency drill. This is where you must have your life jacket. Your cruise card is scanned so they do know who is there. Don’t be the person holding everyone else’s holiday up trying to get out of it, the crew will find you.

Formalities over its time to drop those life jackets off and enjoy your time on this floating resort!

Now you explore, drink in hand if you so wish. Check out the bars, the spaces, spa, gym, adults only area. If you spend your first afternoon orientating yourself to the ships facilities and their location, it will make your onboard life so much easier…..Work out where your favourite spot might be, there’s so many comfy areas to choose from. For the smokers, there will be one corner of seats allocated up on pool deck plus usually one side of ship around a middle deck. Strictly no smoking anywhere else, including your balconies.

Remember that activities guide? Yes? Well make sure you take some time each day to go through tomorrow’s guide and work out what you’d like to do. The guide will appear in your cabin mailbox each afternoon/evening. The choices in this four page publication are phenomenal. Some activities are free, some have a charge. Another tip, if you like a drink, sign up for the cocktail making or tasting classes, They are great value.For the wine drinker, this is the most expensive drink on board. On 7 day or longer cruises, consider the drink packages, they do represent good value. Another option is to prepay and preorder packages prior to boarding.

On our short cruise, I had three bottles of wine included in packages we ordered, already paid for, with some delivered to cabin before we boarded, others arrive when you ordered your package to be delivered to your cabin.

One last question for this article, what sort of cabin should we have booked? My answer, entirely up to you. But, consider why you are going cruising. If, like us, you like to have some quiet time away from it all, then yes highly recommend a balcony. We love to sit for a an hour or two each day and just chill out in privacy.

But, if you’re a party animal or some one with kids who will always be on the go, then go the cheaper inside cabins, you’re not going to be spending any time there anyway so what pay for the balcony privilege if you don’t need it.

Enjoy your cruise! Watch out for the next in this little series and comment any questions you would like answered!

Isle of Pines, New Caledonia

Another stop on some cruises, is the Isle of Pines. When you first see this island, the number of pine trees spread across the island, does make it seem appropriately named. Pine trees give the impression of a very spiky hairdo, as their tops pierce the sky above,

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Tenders are used to transport passengers to the island where locals greet you with twisted plant headgear for each passenger. Here you may find a few available taxis, if you would like a look around the island.

Water surrounding the island, is beautifully clear, providing ideal snorkelling areas.

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For the best snorkelling, closest to the wharf, take a stroll down the road, past the markets, to the rock. Here, you have a relatively sheltered area, with some fantastic fish to see, especially up close to the Rock. Keep in mind it is taboo to climb onto the Rock. As always it is important to respect other cultures and beliefs when in their country.

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There are a few market stalls, enough to purchase your trinkets without having to much choice. They certainly help to give you a leisurely stroll back to the wharf. AUD are accepted here as well as local currency.

Enjoy the snorkelling- you never know who may be watching !

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Mystery Island, Vanuatu

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Straight up I will admit a soft spot for this beautiful uninhabited island. There is something about cruising into the area and seeing this tiny little island for the first time, which helps realign your perspective on life. The sun combines with the aqua blue sea closely surrounding the island, to create gorgeous sparkling diamonds, dancing across the top of the water.

Yes uninhabited, also taboo to stay on the island overnight, however there is an airfield running the length of the island. Perhaps not the most upmarket airport terminal around, but most certainly very cute!

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Ni Vanuatu travel by boat from nearby islands to sell their crafts and provide entertainment to cruise ship visitors. Permanent market huts are set up on the island to cater towards the visitors. Kindy children sit in their groups beneath the big shady tree branches, singing songs, while their curious eyes follow the ship passengers. You can tell when someone has stopped to listen, the volume of the singing increases, as the children throw all their enthusiasm into the songs. A delightful sound as you traverse the island.

Photo opportunities with ‘cannibals’ are provided. I must admit a giggle at this cannibal who was having a heated discussion on his mobile phone during our stopover.

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Our second visit to the island was Christmas Day last year. To spend Christmas Day snorkelling these beautiful waters was an incredibly relaxing experience. One of the hardest decisions for the day, do we walk round the island on the whiter than white sand, or wander down the middle, along the grass airfield. Sand tracks meandering through the shady trees thriving on the island, provide another option for exploring.

A word of warning should you choose the airfield option, this airfield us in regular use, you may need to duck for cover as a plane comes in for landing. Even on Christmas morning, two flights arrived and departed, somewhat unexpected on an island like this.

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Definitely a place for snorkelling, you will no doubt find the beckoning of the gorgeous aqua sea, very difficult to resist. A nice quiet area is located down the opposite end of the island to where you land. Fewer people make the five-ten minute trek down there, preferring to stay close to the landing dock. Leaving you to enjoy a peaceful uninterrupted snorkel. You may even find yourself in middle of a school of darting fish.

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Be sure to take a cruise stopping off at Mystery Island, you won’t regret your decision.