Travel blogs generally are all sunshine and lollipops. Everyone always looks so happy, the pictures post an idyllic scene and there is a tendency to think that travelling is always great.
Whilst 90% of the time that is true, there are also times when a visit to a location can be disappointing. Take for example a recent cruise port of call stop in Fiji that we have now phrased - our “Sad Stop in Suva!”.
As part of our Christmas Cruise onboard the Pacific Dawn in 2017 our itinerary included a stop in Suva, Fiji. This was our first visit to this destination and we really did not know what to expect. We didn’t book any shore tours - in hindsight our biggest mistake - and instead thought we would explore the town on our own. Suva is the capital of Fiji, it must have something to offer right?
The weather was pretty awful when we arrived, warm but with overcast with showers which persisted throughout the day. And the scenery was pretty grim, the ship pulls up in a working industrial shipping port with shipping containers and workmen the greeting views. The plus side to this was that we were within walking distance of the town and no tenders required to get off the ship.
We were in Suva just a few days before Christmas so the town was busy and buzzing with locals getting supplies for the festive season. We took a shuttle bus from the port to the town shopping mall which actually took longer on the bus than if we had walked it due to the crazy traffic. However at least we were sheltered from the rain, we got to see a little more of the town and we were able to sit and watch the locals go about their pre-christmas shopping frenzy.
On route our bus guide made sure we knew the obligatory term “Bula” and gave us a few tips on what to do in town - a message skewed towards shopping at the shuttle bus sponsor Taperoo Centre (essentially a shopping mall).
In town we headed to the top level where we were told we could get WIFI. Upon arrival we discovered you could only get 15 minutes of wifi and even when we tried to connect it was such a poor connection we did not bother. Not that it mattered we had not had any connection for the 7 days on the ship it took to get here anyway, a cruise is a great holiday for a digital detox.
If you are looking for WIFI in Suva, it is not readily available in any of the cafes or restaurants. (Update, apparently there is WIFI - we just had no luck finding it despite asking at numerous cafe's. According to cruise forums it can be found at Jacks?).
One positive to our visit was that the markets were open and we happened to be there on the day of the weekly flower market. The colours and arrangements were bright, colourful and unique to the flowers we get at home. We always enjoy walking through markets and discovering the local fare and trying to figure out what it is! There is always a new and exotic fruit or vegetable to be discovered.
After walking about a km of the main street in each direction, stopping at a cafe for a milkshake, we decided that the highlights of Suva were not going to be found in the township and we were disappointed in ourselves for not taking the time to do some research before arriving.
We ended up walking back to the ship, it was located just behind the markets and only about a 100m walk. There were a few markets set up at the port so we had a look at them but then decided to call it quits and head back to the ship.
So no WIFI, showery weather (we were there in rainy season what could we expect), really busy shops (it was Christmas) and lots of roadworks making the streets muddy and hard to navigate - that was our Sad Stop in Suva.
Having said all that the paint of the blog is that I am sure Suva has some amazing areas to see and explore, if readers can take anything from my sad post it is to book a tour when in Suva. Get out of the town and explore the beauties of Fiji so that you too don’t have to write a post like this! A good tip to do some research before you arrive as sadly we did not do.
If you have visited Suva on a port day stop and had an amazing adventure - leave a comment and let us know what we missed.
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Whilst a South Pacific cruise is mostly about relaxing, drinking cocktails and swimming there is more to do on the Island stops than just check out the local marine life.
If you are heading to the Isle of Pine and are after some physical activity and great views, there is an adventurous walk that takes you to a great summit, Pic N'Ga, that sadly very few cruise passengers venture to.
We have been to this island a couple of times and on both times enjoyed the walk. The first time, three years ago, we had planned to leave the kids at the beach with their grandparents whilst we tackled the mountain. However both the grandparents and kids decided they wanted to join us despite the fact that our then 5 and 8 year olds were wearing flip flops on their feet.
Our most recent visit on our 2017 Christmas Cruise aboard the P&O Dawn, the children now 8 and 11 years old were wearing appropriate footwear, carrying water bottles and wearing sunscreen and hats!
To access the walking track you follow the main road out of town and turn left at the intersection. About 200m down the road you will see a sign pointing you to Pic N’Ga that will take you to the off road walking track.
The walk starts through green lush forest like grounds and takes you along a stream that has only been dry when we have done the walk. I have read other reviews that have said this area can be quite muddy - both times we visited were in December.
About 300m off the road there is an official entrance with a donation box that the locals use to keep the track clear and signed for the tourists.
The walk along the stream is interesting, the kids watched out for any creepy crawlies lurking in the grasses but it made for a good adventure.
The walk then takes you onto rough grounds before going into a reasonably steep climb on gravel. This section is the hardest and it is very exposed with barely any shade along the way. It is important to take water, sunscreen and a hat as it can get very hot.
Once the incline is done, the views are amazing. You can see the ship, the beaches and the spectacular greenery of the island with uninterrupted views.
The walk is about a 4km round trip, is steep and loose ground in places, is exposed to the elements - but the views are worth it.
If you are after more than just markets and snorkelling on your trip to Isle of Pines, Pic N’ga is a great activity for the whole family young and old. And a great way to work up a sweat before you hit the beach for some awesome snorkelling!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Getting away for Christmas is a great option. Avoid all the stress and running around required at home and simply board a ship and get away. This year was our third Christmas cruise - we have written before about the Pros and Cons of Christmas Cruising having sailed on the Pacific Jewel in 2014 and Pacific Eden in 2015.
This year we opted for a 12-night Fiji and Vanuatu itinerary that sailed out of Brisbane on P&O’s Pacific Dawn which departed December 16, 2017.
Many people ask us if the ship does anything special for Christmas, for those considering a Christmas cruise, here are some of the the extras we experienced this year that made our trip Festive.
Passenger Christmas Choir
If you love your Christmas Carols and have always wanted to sing on a stage, here is your chance. The entertainment team recruited a passenger choir early on in the cruise and rehearsals were held on the sea days . A repertoire of Carols were performed on the main stage of the Marquee theatre in front of 400 odd passengers on Christmas Eve.
Kids Christmas Play
If you have children in the kids club they will also get the opportunity to perform in the Marquee theatre in front of a crowd of passengers. The kids club scheduled rehearsals for the children who had the opportunity to take part in a Christmas play performed on stage on Boxing Day. The play was a cute story about a little Christmas tree waiting to be picked from the woods and taken home to be a part of a family’s celebrations. Our daughter played a bird!
Family Christmas Fair
On Christmas Eve from 10am-12pm the Dome was transformed into a Christmas Fair for families to enjoy. Stations of activities were set up including face painting, wreath making, Christmas colouring and cookie decorating.
The kids club team conducted family games, ice-cream vouchers were handed out and families could opt in for a gingerbread house making competition. With only 10 minutes to construct and decorate a gingerbread house we failed dismally and opted for just piling on as many sweets and decorations as possible so we could eat it later! Needless to say we did not win that competition - we did get to eat the gingerbread house though!
For those wanting to celebrate the actual reason for Christmas, there was a catholic midnight mass and a Christmas morning non-denominational church service held.
The ship slowly became festive over the course of the cruise in the lead up to Christmas day. A display in the atrium of gingerbread houses and trees, the bars all had trees and decorations, the pantry came alive with gingerbread house displays and the waterfront restaurant had a great display that greeted everyone. All the staff wore Christmas hats and t-shirts and there was a really festive feel about the cruise.
Passengers also got into the spirit decorating cabin doors with wreaths, children’s drawings and even Christmas lights. We took it a step further and put tinsel up in the cabin and many passengers wore Festive t-shirts, hats and other outfits throughout the cruise. Top marks to the group of girls wearing the ugly Christmas jumper rashies.
Letters To and From Santa
At reception there was a Santa letter box set up with special paper for children to write letters to Santa. On Christmas Eve both our children received personalised letters on their beds in return from Santa, along with a towel animal of a reindeer!
Christmas Eve Carols
On Christmas Eve a special Christmas production was performed in the Marquee theatre with all the Christmas classics sung by the Entertainment staff. Passengers were all provided with song books and encouraged to join in the with the passenger choir when they took to the stage.
In the Atrium the crew also performed a few carols during the night to get everyone into the spirit of the Festive season.
Waterfront Christmas Menu
On Christmas Day the main restaurant, the Waterfront, presented a special Christmas menu. A traditional menu was served for dinner only (the restaurant was closed lunch on Christmas Day as we were ported in Port Villa). The menu included all the traditional offerings of Christmas ham, turkey with cranberry and Christmas pudding for dessert. The tables were set with bon bons and the staff all wore Christmas hats and were in a Festive mood.
The restaurant was packed for dinner on Christmas night. We forgot to make a booking (most people did this on the first day of the cruise!) and by the time we remembered they had booked out. Having said that, we simply arrived at the restaurant at 5:30pm, was told to come back at 6pm and was seated by 6:15pm. The restaurant did two seatings that evening and did the best they could to accommodate as many passengers as physically possible. The service was a little slow but that was to be expected with a full house and it gave us as a family plenty of time to catch up and enjoy the bad jokes in the bon bons!
Visit from Santa
On Christmas Day Santa visited the ship! All the children gathered at the marquee which was decorated with hundreds of red and green balloons and a big red chair for the special visitor. The entertainment team had packaged a video together of Santa and an elf around the ship which was shown not he big screen before Santa entered the theatre and took place on the stage.
Every child onboard was then invited to the stage to receive a gift and the ship photographer was unhand to capture Santa photos for all.
Our children received a P&O Selfie Stick (11yo) and a P&O frisbee, ball and drink bottle (8yo).
Late Night Babysitting
After a long day, our kids were of course up at 6am!, the kids club offered complimentary late night babysitting. Normally charged at $5 per hour after 10:30pm until close at 1pm - on Christmas night the late-night service was offered complimentary.
The kids were given blankets and a Christmas movie allowing the adults some time for a late night drink or visit to the night club to celebrate Christmas.
Overall the crew did a great job to get us into the spirit of Christmas. We noticed many large groups travelling together and multi-generational families enjoying a stress free Christmas where no-one had to cook, clean or drive!
Penny - Itchy Feet Family
Some four years ago after returning from a QLD holiday where we rented a house with a pool, we returned home and put this beauty in our back yard. However for the last four years we have never been able to find a solution to our ugly fence. Whilst we loved the pool, the ugly fence was not very inviting as you can see.
However today we finally found a solution! Un-real Hedging. This stuff is gold! In just a few short hours we transformed our back yard into the below, bringing the resort home.
At just $55 per panel, from Bunnings, the constantina hedging of artificial plant was simply put up using cable ties to attach to the fence and in literally a few hours our backyard was transformed. After returning from a Christmas Cruise just days ago, we felt like we were still on holidays!