With eye-watering flight fares rearing their head and accommodation prices soaring through the roof, stamping the passport now comes with a few extra zeros - making travelling in 2023 a tricky task in a financial crisis.
However, globe-trotters on the lookout for family-friendly vacations that won’t break the bank have landed on a form of travel that was once considered only for the older crowd but is now emerging with a multi-generational clientele. Cruising.
I am a first-time cruiser and, when taking to the seas a few weeks back, I didn’t know what to expect. All I had to go on were a couple of Oscar-nominated seafaring films - Triangle of Sadness, Titanic and Life of Pi - which didn’t really instil me with eager sea legs.
But my week on P&O’s Pacific Explorer put all my apprehensions to rest.
Cocktails on loungers while soaking in the sun, shows that had me in fits of giggles and states of awe, culinary experiences that could rival the very best dining institutions in Auckland, and fond memories have converted me to an avid sea-goer and cruise-line connoisseur.
Whether you’re hoping to save some pennies or looking for a holiday the whole family can enjoy, here are a few reasons why P&O is a great way to explore the Pacific.
Your experience won’t be like anyone else’s
Those on a budget can explore the islands on their own itinerary. Wander around Suva’s Municipal Market, overflowing with spices and brightly-coloured Indian sweets, or play a game of volleyball with the Port Denarau locals - free of charge.
Those looking for the kind of adventure that only money can buy can choose from a range of excursions offered via P&O’s shore tours, which can be pre-booked or organised on the ship.
From trekking across the Kila rainforest and learning about the local flora and fauna to sailing through Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands and snorkelling among the Pacific’s vibrant reefs, Fiji is yours to explore the way you like and has something for everyone.
When it comes to food, the all-inclusive Pacific Explorer has a sea of free options (pun intended) at your disposal. The Pantry’s buffet-style canteen offers cuisine for every taste bud in a laid-back space, while The Waterfront, Angelos and The Dragon Lady provide a restaurant-esque ambience with an a la carte menu of delights to choose from.
If you’re a foodie looking to buy a bite, 400 Gradi and Luke’s are two superb Italian establishments that will have you leaving the ship with a full stomach and tighter waistband thanks to their menu of must-orders.
And if you’re looking for an experience a cut above the rest, enjoy a degustation from the kitchen mastermind of Luke Mangan at A Taste of Salt to really leave a memorable stamp on the palate.
Those wondering if eight days at sea might be the cause of boat-induced boredom should think again. From dance bonanzas and comedy clubs to bingo every arvo and a comedy/sex show for the books, the risks of monotony are few and far between on the Pacific Explorer.
The spa gives an incredible hot-stone massage, the gym offers killer Pilates classes and don’t get me started on the parties - those sailors know how to get down on the dancefloor.
Kids and cruising go together like peas and carrots
Family holidays can be a bit of a nightmare if you don’t have your ducks in a row. And by ducks, we mean childcare professionals.
Yes, I know, holiday time with the family is for “bonding”. But when “bonding” starts looking like temper tantrums, full mum mode and only reading the first page of that book you’ve been saving for the holidays, sometimes the best way to bond is love from afar.
Pacific Explorer really caters for all ages. Kids’ clubs like Turtle Cove for 2-5-year-olds, Shark Shack for 6-9-year-olds and HQ for the tweens and teens mean there are loads of supervised spaces to keep their boredom at bay.
What’s more, with an arcade, swimming pool, spa pools, water slides, parties and activities at their disposal, the kids might just have a better time than you, and not at your expense.
The price won’t make your eyes water
And for all this, the price really isn’t going to take your breath away.
When booking a family holiday, the expenses can stack up. After factoring in a place to stay, the flights there and back and food costs on top, there’s not much left in the pot. Add-ons such as childcare, activities, souvenirs and experiences start to seem out of reach.
Pricing for the Pacific Explorer starts at $1,207.90 per person for a twin share room, which still comes in cheaper than most accommodation options for a week in Fiji.
That price you’re given covers accommodation for eight days on the ship, which also acts as your transport to and around the islands. It includes access to a range of ship experiences and locations, breakfast, lunch and dinner are sorted and childcare clubs come free of charge.
Those on a budget could easily board and disembark the ship without paying a cent during the trip. And for those with a little disposable income, the ship can be a well of wonders too, with a variety of shops, shows and spa treatments to spend your dollars on.
4 Top tips for life at sea
- Sea sickness tablets might just be the difference between the best family holiday and an interpretive re-enactment of that scene from Triangle of Sadness. Don’t think you know better than the ocean - she’s a mighty beast and doesn’t really care whether you suffer from motion sickness or not.
- Book experiences when visiting the islands. While there’s so much to explore without a booking, the islands really put 100 per cent into their tours and experiences. Dive into the diverse culture of the locals or put your feet up with the help of unparalleled Fijian hospitality - you definitely won’t regret it.
- Tourism is Fiji’s largest industry, earning over F$500 million in foreign exchange and employing around 40,000 people, so spending a few dollars on memorable experiences really makes a difference to the locals on the islands.
- Cash is king in Fiji so make sure to withdraw Fiji dollars before your trip. There are heaps of markets and cash-only stores that you’d kick yourself to miss, especially if you’re in the market for a shark tooth necklace or eye-catching sarong.
So if you are looking for an affordable way to explore the islands, P&O’s Pacific Explorer comes out on top - especially if you’re travelling with the brood. An ocean of possibilities awaits.
For more information, see pocruises.co.nz