Cruising the South Pacific

One of the biggest perks of moving to Australia is the chance to see a whole new part of the world. I’ve been obsessed with traveling since the first 2-week trip my family took camping across the American West when I was 8. My parents have always prioritized traveling, which instilled in me the desire to experience the beauty, wonder, and excitement of discovering new places. As a kid we visited National Parks from California to South Dakota, seeing some of America’s most majestic landscapes. I’ll never forget the first time I stood on the rim of the Grand Canyon, hiked an active volcano in Hawaii, or watched black bears crossing right in front of our car in the Rocky Mountains. We snorkeled with stingrays in the Cayman Islands, climbed a waterfall in Jamaica, and swam with dolphins in Mexico. These experiences shaped my spirit and developed within me an intense desire to really see our world, not content with staying put.

Now that you understand my travel compulsions, it should come as no surprise that when we found a cruise offered at a ridiculous last-minute discount, we couldn’t say no! Easter is national holiday here, with both Good Friday and Easter Monday as work holidays, so we took advantage of Donnie’s time off and booked a balcony room for a 9-night sailing on Royal Carribean’s Explorer of the Seas.

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The ship left from Circular Quay, so we hopped on the fast ferry on Monday afternoon and walked over to the passenger terminal. We wasted little time in acquiring some delicious beach beverages and settling in for our sail away!

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We sailed for two days before reaching our first port: Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. New Caledonia is a French collective, made up of several islands located about 750 miles east of Australia. We anchored a few hundred yards from shore and took “tenders” (basically cramped little rescue boats) to the small dock. From the dock, we walked directly onto a beautiful beach complete with white sand and crystal clear, turquoise waters.

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IMG_5583.jpgDonnie and I spent most of the day in the water, just soaking in the sun and enjoying paradise. We also tragically lost our beach towels to the surf when the tide came in considerably further than we expected and drenched our towels in salt water and approximately 3 tons of sand– oops! This was our favorite day of the entire trip: sunny, blissful, relaxed.

We docked in Noumea, New Caledonia the next morning. Noumea is the capital of New Caledonia, and is described as the “Paris of the South Pacific.” I’ve been to Paris a couple of times and can safely say that the only thing Noumea has in common with Paris is a shared language.

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While we were not super impressed by Noumea, we did enjoy taking a bus tour around the small island and spending some time at the lovely Baie des Citrons, or Lemon Bay. If you are into kiteboarding or windsurfing, this is the destination for you. We loved watching the kiteboarders speed up and down the intensely blue water.

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We also found the most terrifying Marilyn Monroe statue ever at a little beachside restaurant.

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After we left Noumea, we headed for Mystery Island, Vanuatu. Vanuatu is an independent island nation that was occupied jointly as the British-French territory of New Hebrides until 1980. The new name, Vanuatu, is composed of “vanua” which means home and “tu” which means stand, to indicate the independent status of the country. Mystery Island is completely uninhabited, but local residents come over from neighboring Aneityum when ships are in port to provide snorkeling excursions, drinks, and market goods.

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The tiny island is surrounded by a coral reef, so the snorkeling is excellent just off the beach. We saw giant, rainbow colored parrotfish chomping on coral, as well as lots of other brightly colored fish and different coral. We also walked around the perimeter of the island and discovered the WWII-era airstrip that was used by Allied forces. Walking down the jungle-ish path truly felt like you had been transported to a deserted island.

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After snorkeling, exploring, sunning, and swimming, we jumped on a tender boat and boarded our ship for 3 lovely days at sea on the way back to Sydney. We used our utterly relaxing days to sun-bake (this is what Aussies call “laying out” or “sunbathing”) and read, enjoy frozen drinks, and lose a few dollars in the ship’s casino. We discovered Roulette (so addictive!) as well as the classic Quarter Game and a slot machine (or “pokey” in Australia) that featured our favorite bonus “Fever Games” where you got 10 free spins and I once scored $62 on an 80 cent bet!

This was our first time on Royal Caribbean, and we were pretty impressed with the experience. Our balcony room was lovely and pretty spacious for a cruise ship cabin,

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Deck 5 was home to the Royal Promenade, which housed shops, an Irish pub, and a French-inspired snack shop.

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We spent most of our time on Deck 14 on the back of the ship. There were nice sunning chairs, a perfect breeze, and it was super uncrowded. We were also only a few steps away from the sky bar and the adults-only pool.

In our opinion, Carnival has better “casual” food for breakfast and lunch, but this ship did have a Johnny Rockets that cost an extra $7/person for a soda, fries and onion rings, any main, and an ice cream sundae. Donnie was thrilled with their American-style burgers and real American bacon! In the evenings, the dinner in the main dining room was impressive. We loved our waiters, Anthony and Rob, and dined on delectable lamb curry, steaks, grilled lobster, roast chicken, scallops, prawns, and numerous sweet treats. It was also fun to dress up a little for dinner after beaching and sunning all day.

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On the last night, we finally visited the mini-golf course, and I wish we had gone earlier! The course was open 24-hours and really fun, even if Donnie beat me.

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We only had our phones for pictures, as I didn’t take my nice Canon, but we tried to capture the beauty and fun as best we could. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the South Pacific and came back to Sydney well-rested and a bit more tan than we left.

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