One book or two?

It was a big dilemma I faced while packing for our four-night cruise on P&O's Pacific Jewel.

The cruise, which departed from Sydney, was largely at sea — there was just one day on Moreton Island — so with visions of me in a sun lounger, no children to keep an eye on and nothing else to do I was leaning towards two books.

At the last minute, with my bag close to overflowing, I cut it back to one. I figured I could always drag myself off the lounger for long enough to get another one on board.

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In the end, it was a non-issue — somehow, I got to the end of the trip without opening a single page of my new book. It turns out there's always plenty to do on a cruise.

We boarded the Jewel on a Thursday afternoon and after a quick inspection of our room — our bags were already waiting for us by the door — headed upstairs for lunch.

That was followed by the mandatory safety briefing and before we knew it we were on deck with nearly 2000 others, sailing out of Sydney Harbour with drinks in hand. With the sun dropping low in the sky, the views were spectacular and the mood for a relaxing cruise was set.

One of the big attractions on the Jewel is her great offering of outdoor activities, indoor entertainment, bars and various places to eat. The problem is deciding which order to do them all in.

The top deck is home to P&O's Edge activities — an adventure playground for those wanting to burn off energy.

High above the pool kids shriek with a mixture of fear and adrenalin as they zip across a flying fox. In between the two pools others challenge their mates to go higher on the bungee tramp.

The Edge adventure park. Photo / Dean Purcell
The Edge adventure park. Photo / Dean Purcell

If you look up from the deck you'll find a mix of children and adults taking turns on segways and climbing the funnel.

There's also the Titanic experience — fortunately that's re-enacting the moment where Rose stands on the railing at the very front of the ship with her arms out and declares "I'm flying" — not plunging into icy cold waters and promising never to let go, before letting go of poor old Jack.

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On the second day of the cruise we were booked in to sample some of these activities but the weather had other ideas and they were closed in the afternoon. Quietly relieved at no longer having to be too energetic I figured today was the day I would start my book, even if I was tucked up inside away from the wind instead of on out a lounger by the pool.

Somehow, an afternoon nap happened instead. That's the beauty of cruising without children. You have the freedom to simply do nothing, just relax. I'd get to the book later, maybe after dinner. Or after the Gatsby themed party in the evening. Or maybe tomorrow.
Themed party nights are a big part of P&O's entertainment and despite my initial reluctance as having to pack outfits for them, the two we did attend were great fun.

At the Gatsby party hundreds of women dressed up in flapper dresses, sequins, boas and feather headbands. Men scrubbed up nicely in suits, ties and hats. Anyone lost could simply find their way to the party by following the the trail of feathers from the cabins, down the halls, in the lifts and into the Atrium where 1920s music was playing.

Day three offered little chance for reading. We woke up anchored just off Moreton Island.

The sun was shining and everyone was keen to explore the island off the coast of southeast Queensland.

Helicopter tours give a great view of the 37km-long island which is essentially all sand covered in some foliage.

4WD bus tours take you along the beach, across the Island and to the impressive Champagne Pools — where waves crashing over rocks look just like champagne following out of a bottle. From the pools you can head up to Cape Moreton Light, home to Queensland's oldest lighthouse and views so spectacular dolphins, turtles and stingrays can often be seen in the clear blue sea far below.

There's also whale-watching in winter and year-round snorkelling — around 15 ships that were deliberately scuttled by the Queensland Government to provide safe anchorage for small boats — dolphin feeding tours and parasailing rides.

Back on board, sitting back with a drink and enjoying another beautiful sunset seemed the perfect way to spend the rest of the afternoon before heading inside for dinner.

Then there was the whiteout. Yet another dress-up — this time for the Blanco Party where everyone wears white and cocktails and live music flow freely on the top deck. The party was hugely popular and I found myself grateful I had brought a white dress for the event.

After two party nights I decided Sunday was definitely the day to rest and start that book — after my massage.

No cruise is complete without a visit to the spa and I opt for a Thai Coconut Poultice massage.

The massage rooms are hidden at the very front of the ship, offering views most passengers don't get to see unless they are with the captain at the bridge.

Elizabeth Binning enjoys the sunset. Photo / Dean Purcell
Elizabeth Binning enjoys the sunset. Photo / Dean Purcell

However, I saw little of them as I lay on the table, face covered, while being given the equivalent of a coconut sponge bath that smelled so good I instantly wanted some coconut ice or louise slice.

Seventy-five minutes later, I emerged nourished, relaxed and ready to eat again. That's the problem with not doing a lot — it makes you hungry. Fortunately there are plenty of places to eat on board — the meals I had at Salt Restaurant and Luna were two of the best I've had for a very long time.

After lunch, it was reading time. The sun was shining, tummies were full and muscles relaxed. We headed to the quiet kid-free area at the back of the ship and sank into two loungers.

My book sat patiently on the table next to me as I got comfortable.

Then somehow, getting comfortable ended up being a long nap, followed by two scoops of New Zealand Natural ice cream back up on the top deck.

As we returned to our cabin before our final dinner, drinks and evening stage show I resigned myself to the fact there was just no time to read on this cruise — I was far too busy relaxing.

CHECKLIST
Details: P&O's Pacific Jewel is 245m long and has a maximum speed of 22.5 knots. There are 11 guest decks and six restaurants. She weighs 70,310 tonnes, carries 1950 passengers, around 620 crew. She has an Edge Adventure Park, Aqua Spa and kids club. She has replaced the Pacific Pearl on cruises out of Auckland from this year.

Further information: Pacific Jewel sails from Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland. Two-person balcony rooms on the Moreton Island, four-night cruise start from $839pp.