A gentle cruise to Napier is ideal for a spot of mother-daughter bonding, writes Maureen Marriner.
When cruising with an elderly parent, the activity-packed lines don't come on your radar. Royal Caribbean may have the newest and biggest with Symphony of the Seas, but what does a 93-year-old want with 23 waterslides?
Part one of Travels with My Mother was last year when we took a four-day jaunt from Auckland to the Bay of Islands and back on P&O's Pacific Pearl and just chilled. What to do as a follow-up? Pearl is no longer with the line but many of its runs were taken over by the Pacific Jewel. We plump for that, this time heading south to Napier and back.
Having previously had an ocean view cabin I wanted a balcony on this one.
Not simple. All Jewel's balconies are more or less the same size but you can forget any ideas of stretching out on a sunlounger. The balconies fit two sit-up chairs and a small table. One person can go out and sit but the second person must then step out, shuffle across, almost on top of their cabin mate, and close the door before they can reach their own chair at the other end of the balcony.
You may say that, despite the cosiness, everyone with a balcony is in the same boat. Not so. Balconies on Deck 10 did not come as such from the shipyard for the maiden voyage, they were a carved-out reno and are solid metal to waist height. This means sitting down gives a wonderful view of white paint.
I knew this prior to booking but had difficulty pinning down either P&O or a cruise agent as to the situation on Deck 11, where the balcony cabins are standard or deluxe. The more expensive and forward have rail balconies, the standard are called "metal-fronted".
No one would give me a definitive answer as to how much metal, but online reviews pointed to ankle-height with rails above.
The standard Deck 11 cabin I chose was aft, best for Mum and her walker because of its proximity to lifts, with restaurants directly above and directly four decks down and a short walk to the adults-only sundeck. A cruise agent advised me to cross my fingers as to our view.
Installed, however, with the aid of Auckland's fabulous wheelchair assistance team — no queues for us — we discover we will be able to sit out and see out.
At 4pm we leave Queens Wharf, a tug pulling out the stern and turning us in the equivalent of half a three-point turn. Then we stop. A tannoy message says a passenger is unwell and we must return to the dock and a waiting ambulance. It must be a ghastly experience for the unfortunate person who had the briefest of cruises, and our eventual departure is an hour after we began our first.
We sail on millpond seas, the first day spent exploring the ship. That night on such a short cruise is traditionally the Gatsby Party and many regular "cruiselings" fully embrace the theme — so many tiny beads are seldom gathered in one place.
At Napier we have an Art Deco greeting at the wharf, oddly accompanied by a couple of pirates for photographs.
There are excursions but we have a rental car booked and head south for an hour to Waipukurau and lunch with Mum's sister.
It's apple season and the orchards lining the expressway out of town are so laden they look artificial.
On return to the ship a lineup of gleaming old cars and an enthusiastic band form the art deco farewell.
I hit the gym a couple of times, giving Mum a chance to rest, and I walk a mile of loops around the top deck each sunrise to combat the ever-present food. A couple of times when we need to go to the pointy end I sit Mum on her walker, she holds on, lifts her feet and I push her, backwards at speed, down the corridor. Such fun.
The age range of our fellow cruisers is wide but tends towards the older. P&O caters well to them; the staff are considerate and nothing seems too much trouble. Walkers and wheelchairs gather to one side of the restaurant of an evening. On our last night, we rug up after dinner and go out on to the deck to star-watch without light pollution. Visibility is hampered by the lifeboats suspended overhead.
Mum points to a star. "That's the lone star." she says. I ask how she has identified it. "It's the only one I can see."
Next year, all being well, we plan to fly to Sydney and cruise back. The Tasman is bound not to be a millpond and we feel like a little excitement.
Pacific Jewel has various sailings in Australia and the Pacific Islands until February 24, when she will be farewelled from the P&O fleet. Pacific Aria will then take her place as New Zealand's cruise ship, sailing from Auckland from April to July. For more information, see pocruises.co.nz
If you want to breakfast in your cabin and avoid the milling throng and room service charges, take a tray in your luggage. If you have chosen your cabin well, it is a short walk. Return the plates when you are done.