I didn’t give any warning that we (The Navigator & Moi) were travelling prior to actually leaving, as I normally do, and now I’m 5 days into the cruise and last night I lost all of my blog notes, no explanation, other than, maybe, my own stupidity. Today is Friday 3rd January 2020, and we’re just getting ready for breakfast before checking out the Pacific Island of Mare’ – part of New Caledonia. Yesterday (2nd January) wasn’t my finest day, I lost my notes that I had stored on the new Samsung tablet – didn’t RTFM ( choice words to do with reading the manual), I was lost for a few hours (not according to me but according to my fellow travellers), and I stubbed my toe on a tree root on a Pacific Island – metaphorically I was “rooted” (the physical pain from the bleeding throbbing toe plus the mental pain inflicted on me when I’m “found” by The Navigator not more than 20 metres from the rest of the mob on the boat and suitably admonished for my recalcitrance by the Navigator / Ginger)
The Touring Party – let’s call them characters from a 60’s -70’s TV show called Gilligan’s Island :
Gilligan – Stewart Adlington – A 50’s something resident of a central tablelands town
Maryanne – Leanne Adlington – 2nd youngest of the travellers and she has a “thing” going with Gilligan
Ginger – Genelle Reid – AKA “The Navigator” – Likes intelligent blokes, does not suffer fools
The Professor – Paul Reid – named for a lack of intelligence
Thurston Howell III – Andrew Williams – AKA “Thursty” – a renowned athlete who has featured in the medals in the Paddington Gift/Dash for many years. Doesn’t like Old Fashioned Cocktails but occasionally forgets this
Mrs Howell – Jane Williams – Lets call her Jane, long suffering wife of “Thursty”
The Skipper – John Peden – He knows nautical stuff, or at least knows what “nautical terms” mean and can salute like Benny Hill
The Deckie – Sonya Hogan – Travel Agent, Real Estate Agent, youngest traveller therefore the deckhand – can’t throw a rope but can cook and smells nice (a nautical priority I heard from “Caro” a nautical type chap we know)
The trip was planned by The Deckie for 4 until it was gate crashed by the older (in average age) crew of 4, taking the sailing party to 8 – the real Gilligan’s Island had 7 on the shipwrecked SS Minnow but the Deckie takes our party to 8
Day 1 – Saturday 28th December 2019 – Dubbo – Sydney – Pacific Ocean between Sydney & Noumea
Never let the truth get in the way of a good story – so I was once told by a scheming, devious, bulldozing work colleague. Only the crew of Gilligan’s Island will know the truth. And that’s the way it should remain.
As usual before a trip that is a holiday or travel I don’t sleep much the night before, the anticipation of a new experience, adventure, or whatever it is, keeps me awake wondering what the cruise is going to be like and things like;
• Will I, and/or The Navigator get seasick?
• Will the food and accommodation be good ?
• Will the Navigator get seasick?
• Have we got enough clothes, too many clothes, the wrong clothes?
• How much money will The Navigator spend on shopping
As we head to the airport The Navigator realises she’s forgotten her car keys, this is either the brow beaten son’s fault or my fault, or, both of us are at fault, and so the so the said son is sent back to the house to get keys while we check in for the flight to Sydney, all other travellers are there except the Captain who has taken the road option to Sydney.
The Blue Mountains are still smoking from the bushfires as we fly over the top, things don’t look like getting any better with the seasonal forecasts looking depressing. Caution – smoking is a health hazard!
The Captain is waiting for us at the International Terminal – Circular Quay, as our shuttle bus rolls in. We get though the immigration, check-in process despite my knees setting off a metal detector for the 2nd time of the day, and we are finally on the ship at lunch time. We settle into our first drink and food near the main pool. Lots of people.
Our cabin, 6283 on Deck 6 is amidships (Nautical term for middle of the ship) is great position, easy to reach, the balcony is nice and the view of the ocean and the access to fresh air I think is helpful, Ginger isn’t so sure yet and has popped her Qwell tablets a while ago in anticipation of maritime motion sickness at some stage – sea sickness actually never really comes except for a few moments of queasiness when the sea gets a bit rough on the last night of the cruise. She finds the Qwell has left her so dry she can’t spit, especially good I feel as she’s normally spitting chips at me.
The others are on Deck 7 at the back with bigger balconies over the back of the ship, nice cabins as well but will rock and roll more due to their position.
The Professor and Ginger forget their cabin number, it’s not written on the card you get – * TIP – first time cruisers – write the cabin number on your hand until you get your bearings (a nautical term! = where the f… you are at). We reconvene at the Serenity Bar after lifeboat drill – An Adults Only area at the back of the ship on Deck 9 as we leave Sydney with the smoke haze from bushfires hanging over the city. The Bridge and Opera House and the whole thing is great as we head out to sea with a drink in our hand and a few deck chairs under our bums. The first dinner at the Gold Pearl Restaurant is pretty good, our service team Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa are great. We explore after dinner – a long day – nobody in the brig, nobody drunk and disorderly, a reasonable start to the trip I feel.
Day 2 – Sunday 29th December – At sea Sydney to Noumea
We wake to see a deep blue/indigo ocean outside our cabin – even the foam from the bow (nautical term for sharp bit at the front) is blue. After breakfast we try and get a spot in the Serenity Bar but the buffed, tattooed, bikini up bum people have taken all the chairs so we explore – tomorrow we have set a task for Thursty and The Captain to get there early and secure a spot for us. We’re heading into a north easterly wind so the top decks are closed off because the wind is making it dangerous to be up there, so no putt putt golf – a challenge for later in the cruise.
Today we settle in and learn the ropes, trying hard not to get lost. There are shops, bars, a spa clinic, pools, more bars, musicians everywhere and some good ones. We find the Piano Bar after dinner and hear the singer do an Elton John night.
No real memorable events today. The 80’s Rock N Glow party is a fizzer, from my perspective anyway, 80’s music wasn’t a great highlight in my life and the show we go and see is largely uninspiring , although they try hard, they can dance but they don’t really sing that well.
Day 3 – Monday 30th December – At sea Sydney to Noumea
Thursty and The Captain are up early to secure a space for the group around the Serenity Bar pool, so after a morning walk they find us a space on the starboard side (nautical term for “right”), at 6.30am – they say, – bulldust I say but as I’m still sound asleep at that time of the my view is not what you’d call evidence based. After breakfast we gather at the said point reserved by Thursty and the Captain with towels, books and other bits and pieces, despite a mob of 50-60 year old people speaking a Russian or Polish like language, interspersed with the odd English word trying to encroach our space, we hold firm to our prized hard won 6 chairs & bed space under shade sails. The morning goes slowly, reading, chatting, listening to our neighbours who sound like they are arguing but have smiles on their faces (Italians sound a little similar), watching the tattooed buffed boys and the beautiful young things with barely there bikini’s with a zero tolerance bikini line, the pool sitters who don’t get wet, the spa crew – shoulder to shoulder in hot bubbly water with a perspex screen to keep the boiling recycled body fluids and high chlorine levels in the spa. A pleasant relaxing morning and in no time lunch time has come around, we’ve had enough of the sun, and our neighbours and retire inside to the air conditioning. And, we really need something to eat – that’s a joke, we don’t need anything to eat, food and hydration are in no shortage at any time of the day or night.
So far the voyage (nautical term (nt) for trip) has been fair weather (nt for good weather) and a flat sea, hardly a sway in the ship so far.
Day 4 – Tuesday 31st December – Noumea – Trip to Amedee Island Marine Reserve
This morning early we can see land for the first time since we left Sydney, we slide into Noumea’s version of Circular Quay, a container wharf with what looks like a cement plant on the other side. Noumea (approx population 250,000) is the capital of New Caledonia (approx population 400,000) and I think it’s a French territory still? The city is mostly looking pretty unspectacular even though its mountainous down the middle of the island which is a nice backdrop for the city and has a reasonably pretty coastline. Noumea looks like its dry, not a place with a high rainfall. We have paid extra money to do a trip to Amedee Island Nature Reserve where you can swim with huge sea turtles off a beach, the island is quite a way out to sea so we have to take another boat.
We disembark (nt = get off) and catch a bus to our luxury motor yacht (nt for smaller than a ship) The Mary D – Seven, a 38m boat costing about $15m AUD. Its about 30 minutes voyage to the island and we go out to sea past Noumea’s Club Med. Things to watch out for = 1. Banded sea snakes which are 10 times more poisonous than a cobra but move slowly are shy and only come on land to digest their food. 2. Giant Sea Turtles. Amedee Island is UNESCO World Heritage listed because of the variety of sea life and birds.
We have set a task for Thursty – he of the Paddington dash fame, to get off the boat and get us a good beach position.
Thursty is off before the boat has docked, almost anyway, and he strides down the beach after a walk/jog along the jetty, steps over a sea snake which he didn’t see and gets a great position. Gilligan is immediately in the water, followed by almost everyone else and almost everyone has seen one of the giant green turtles feeding on the sea grass, except Thursty. He’s pretty pissed as this was the main reason he came to Amedee, second reason was to see a sea snake (which he stepped over but didn’t see).
With a little direction from Gilligan and a few other well meaning clueless snorkellers Thursty finds a turtle and I’m guessing he dives and swims alongside the turtle with a smile on his face, or maybe not because he hasn’t got the dive bit sorted yet and is reluctant to suck a lung full of air, dive without breathing then come to the surface and blow the water out of the snorkel before you inhale the next lot of air – get the order of operations wrong and it’s not a good look coughing or drowning in front of so called friends rolling in the sand laughing.
There is a colony of Ternes (birds) on the other side of the island, there are thousands of them and it’s a bit smelly so I don’t hang around them long.
There is a steel light house built in panels freighted out by the French in 1863 in 1300 pieces weighing about 157 tonnes.
Lunch is in an open shed near the beach, the food is great and washed down with a rum punch which is even better, then the islanders are dancing a hula type hip swinging dance with the local ukulele and guitar players with islander drums as well, young girl dancers with one well build 18-20 year old young fella. I almost dislocate my hip just watching them dance.
While we’re eating 2 sea snakes wander up the beach near us and Thursty gets his chance to see a sea snake, he’s now euphoric, especially with him being a task oriented sort of chap who has achieved what he set out to do for the day. We see more sea turtles from the glass bottom boat that takes us out on the reef.
It’s a quick trip back to Noumea on the Mary D – Seven, a shower, drinks at the bar and dinner tonight is upstairs at Fahrenheit 555, a fine dining restaurant, we’re not sure we’ll see the New Year in at midnight. Everyone is pretty tired after a long day
The meal at Fahrenheit 555 is pretty special and the Chef’s Art Dessert is spectacular, a piece of art which is 100 % edible and delicious.
We all pike and decide on not seeing in the new year – instead we go to bed.
Day 5 – Wednesday 1st January 2020 – Isle of Pines – New Caledonia
It’s a lovely sunny day as we wake to the site of the Isle of Pines, lots of pines on a sub-tropical island in the Pacific, could be a worse way to start the day and new year.
Today we learn the ship to shore shuttle stuff, getting to shore and back on a life boat shuttle, some life boats fit 250 people and some fit 150, it’s a pain but you have to line up, wait, shuffle, sit in a crowded stuffy life boat, motor to a jetty and then find a space amongst the 1000’s of other who landed before you. It’s a pretty little island with a resort, the local islanders look pretty poor and charge high margins to make a few extra New Caledonian Franks. The water is chrystal clear, greenish/blue, stunning. Not much to snorkel for so today is just a swim from where we sit on the skinny beach near the resort. A lovely relaxing day at the beach.
It’s now 2020 – the year I turn 65 – wonder what the year will bring????? But this is a great way to start 2020.
We wait in a line in the tropical sun on a 23 degree C day that feels like 35 with no breeze before we wander back to get a shuttle back to the ship, shower, and return to the bar to swap stories and sing sea shanties ( we actually don’t do this – surprising I know) Tonight after dinner at table 558 I buy a deck of cards from the casino and we start up a eucha school, Mrs H, Ginger and Thursty abstain due to lack of interest in cards, Maryanne, Gilligan, The Deckie and The Professor start things rolling. The Deckie needs some coaching as she’s new to the game and concepts of suits, bowers, trumps, tricks, reneging etc are pretty foreign to her. The Captain tries some coaching but retires to the cabin for an early night, we all sense some frustration from the Captain with his mentoring of the Deckies card playing.
Day 6 – Thursday 2nd January – Lifou Island – New Caledonia
We breakfast in 2 groups then the lifeboat shuttle to Lifou, we get here early in the morning and the ship is sitting at anchor in a large wineglass bay with a small church – Lourdes – Notre Dame sitting at the top of a raised headland. The shore has local stalls selling services like hair braiding, massages, Chinese made cotton women’s clothes, some local New Caledonian made stuff as well. I leave Ginger, Thursty and Mrs Howell and trek to the church after a 3 second inspection of the local retail activity. The walk is warm and after about 15 minutes walking, then a climb up steep steps I can see the bay with The Splendor sitting in the middle. The church is a small, Pacific Island church, a small table as the pulpit, wooden windows that open onto flower laden frangipani trees and other colourful plants with a beautiful sea breeze blowing through it, I can almost hear the Islanders singing a hymn with their distinctive south sea island sound.
I try to find Ginger at close to the allotted rendezvous time, instructions were they would be at the beach until 12 and they would leave and if I wasn’t there they were to head back to the boat, after 2 looks I stubbed my toe on a tree root, I stumbled cursing while a few smart arse onlookers giggled at my misfortune and maybe a little bit of clumsy incompetence in trying to do a non male thing of doing 2 things at once (walking and looking). The toe hurts like anything, its bleeding over my thong so I leave fractionally early for the ship. Big f….g mistake Professor! I dress my toe after a shower, send a HUB message to say where I’m going (wifi it didn’t send it), go for a coffee at Juice and Java – write my blog up (subsequently lost all of what I wrote), all the while sitting next to a group of eastern European speaking people, possibly from Australia but hardly and English word is spoken – different lot to the day near the pool. Same as the other lot they talk like there’s an argument going on but they all look happy – maybe it’s a cultural thing, dunno!!! Then I go to Deck 9 as I advised, get a pizza, some iced tea and wait for the others, who don’t seem to be around. I then run into Ginger and get both barrels of the cannon and the icy stare with the news that they had been looking for me for 2 hours and I was 20 metres from them!! Anyway it was a lose – lose situation for me, the Professor, a man of distinction being lambasted in public by a fiery redhead, lots of fun! And I wasn’t lost , just misplaced, according to me, but not them.
This afternoon Thursty, The Captain and the Professor play the Putt Putt Splendor Open – 18 holes of intense competitive golf around a difficult windy course, with mandatory sledging, walking on peoples line, non golf etiquette is the order of the day, Thursty and the Professor are all square on the 18th but Thursty cracks under pressure and drops a shot to tie with the Captain for 2nd Place – no more needs to be said about who won. A few drinks at a bar on Deck 12 to settle the atmosphere of dejection for the 2nd placegetters.
Drinks in the sports bar at 6.30, before dinner then a late night walk up along the top decks for the non pro golfers to have a social/practice round before tomorrow’s Pro Am which will mean the losers going down the big yellow water slide. The poolside is humming with a breakout of mass dancing, a disease I got vaccinated for long ago, although earlier, The Deckie broke out into the Maccarena at the dinner table – the dancing disease is very contagious. The ship trundles along slowly towards Mare’ Island.
After dinner a few of us listen to Travis playing Johnny Cash in the Red Frog Bar, he plays his own style, not the best singer but a great guitarist.
Day 7 – Friday 3rd January 2020 – Mare’ Island – New Caledonia
Breakfast at 8.30, Thursty gets our tickets for the shuttle and we get to the island earlier than we thought. We are then shuttled to a beautiful beach with a lagoon surrounded by a coral reef, water as clear as glass and a Mare’ Beach patrol of locals selling bbq chicken and dear beer – The Skipper and Thursty buy 4 cans on New Caledonian No1 Beer for $12 a can, I think I heard that correctly, the old lady who took them for a ride looked so honest. Mrs Howell had a nasty surprise in the loo when her stall was gate crashed by a local man who was cleaning the lavatory – trying to work out who got the biggest surprise! We have a spot under a large tree, lots of people from the ship at the beach along with a supply of local mongrel dogs looking like they need a wash and a good drench hanging around, I don’t befriend the scraggy infested infected looking mongrels but some do.. There is late talk of having a look around the island but time runs out and we get the bus back to the jetty where elite retail athlete Ginger and mentor Mrs Howell go shopping assisted by Gilligan and Maryanne.
Back on the ship a shower and food is in order and plans for getting to ships happy hour at 6pm are locked in. We convene at Happy Hour for the free drinks and find the place chock a block with people, cheap skate grog swagglers, looking for free cocktails and beer. The blue cocktail, a poor excuse for a Blue Lagoon is wishy washy, tastes like a sports drink BUT, the beer is good. Dinner at 7.45 as per usual and then the Splendor Pro Am golf later in the evening – the wind will be up so the shots will need to be punched low into the wind, it’s going to be a much harder course to play than yesterday.
The pro-am is delayed until tomorrow due to poor weather conditions, dinner tonight as per usual, is at table 558 and another good meal eventuates. An impromtu game of eucha at the bar gives The Deckie some hard eared lessons in the Eucha School of Hard Knocks, she’ll be better tomorrow after some patient coaching by Gilligan and good partnering by Maryanne.
The Captain heads to bed, the much dreaded rub and scrub at the spa this arvo has done his head in, the mental anguish knowing that other people know he’s had a “massage” and the unknown factor of whether it’s going to be pleasure or pain has taken a toll on him. Thursty also heads to bed, today has been draining, he’s missed the Paddington Dash for the first time in many years and is desperate to know the cricket score between Australia and NZ at the SCG, we find out its mostly good news for Australia.
On the Beach at Mare’ Thursty beachcombing, contemplating cricket scores
Day 8 – Saturday 4th January – At Sea – Noumea to Sydney
Breakfast is on the Starboard side of the restaurant this morning, not up to our usual standards but ok all the same. Eucha is on Deck 9 at the back near the Indian Restaurant, Gilligan & The Professor v The Captain and the Deckie. The Deckie is under immense pressure from the Captain, despite being a learner and still trying to get the terms “following suit”, reneging, bowers etc etc, they win the first game, then its 1 game apiece and in a boil over Gilligan and the Professor come like a thief in the night and steal the match. Its tense but nobody gets shot – round 2 is tomorrow.
Golf is set for 4.30pm but wind conditions are again abysmal, and it turns into a practice round with a few highlight holes in one from Maryanne and Thursty and a some healthy sledging. Gilligan takes the water slides on like a 12 year old who has been eating red frogs all day, it takes the pressure off the rest of us as he’s now the centre of attention, and amongst the 10-15 year old’s, this hairy old bloke shoots down the slide scrabbling for relevance, wiping his eyes of the chlorine with a bit of water in it to kill the festering snot ridden water from hundreds of enthusiastic adolescents.
A busy night planned for tonight – a show, group photo, dinner, comedy club, horse racing in the casino, hope we’re up to it.
Day 9 – Sunday 5th January – At Sea – Noumea to Sydney
Today is the last day at sea, we get a great breakfast spot at the back to the Gold Pearl Restaurant looking over the sea, it’s a brunch day so we have a long relaxing breakfast. We actually see a large buoy in the water that we pass with about 50 meters gap between it and the ship.
As we wander up to Deck 9 for cards, we see a sea mist or smoke haze on the Australian side of the ship, a sign of what to expect when we dock tomorrow morning I suppose. During the day the sea gets a little rougher and by nighttime we’re really rolling, not sure how Ginger is going to hand this if it gets worse or stays this way.
Cards again and The Deckie has got better, her style still baffles the Captain and late starter Thursty, but its effective as she plies crushing blows to opponents at the end of tricks rather than drawing cards out, she smashes them late.
The last dinner is a Japanese option, the women get all sorts of facials, wraps, scrubs, massages, pedicures during the day and turn up to dinner glowing. No spare skin cells are going back to the mainland with this lot.
We present our tip to our table waiters, Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa with a little limerick that gets put together at the bar before dinner with a bit of help from Gilligan and the Captain
To our friends on the good ship Splendor
A ship so big you couldn’t upend her
Manilyn, Ludi and Santosa we commend yer
Keeping us happy with the service you render
A bit corny but hey, I didn’t have time to write an ode or a masterpiece piece of poetry.
The ship is really pitching and rolling as we wander into the Casino to go horse racing, Maryann hollers every time she gets a winner, and the security guy edges closer to her trying to work out what the fuss over winning $10 is about. Thursty wins as well and then Ginger loses it for him. At the back of us a Texas Hold Em or something like that table, has a big pot of about $16,000 at risk – I assume it was real money. This area reminds me of a saying that goes something like “Slow Horses and fast women will often split a fool from his money”
Back to the cabin to pack, but Ginger doesn’t get far sorting her gear out, the ship’s rocking and rolling in the heavy seas has beaten her and she isn’t well. A tablet under the tongue and her head hits the pillow quickly.
Dinner in the Gold Pearl dining room – note the pearls on the ceiling – aka various other bits of anatomy
Day 10 – Monday 6th – Sydney
About 5.30 am we sail in through the Heads, it’s a grey muggy warm Sydney morning, no sun with heavy clouds and a rumbling storm north of the city.
As we glide up the beautiful harbour a few kyakers are paddling, a couple of small outboard boat buzz past with fishing rods off the back, ferries trundle past taking early workers to the city and a few early morning walkers heel and toe it along harbourside paths in their athletics gear.
We are first in the line off the ship, the captain is heading to pick up his vehicle at the Opera House and the rest of us find our shuttle to get us to the airport to get us home and to work or in some cases to rest.
What did I like;
• The company – travelling with friends is terrific, its hard to coordinate a group of more than 4
• No shortage of food or drinks and the breakfasts and dinners were very good
• Our wait staff were brilliant – Ludi, Manilyn and Santosa (Indonesian and Balinese)
• Getting on to the islands and seeing the locals and the beautiful beaches
• The cabin with the balcony was great, very clean, comfortable bed , big windows
• Lots of things to see and do – good musicians
• Swimming with giant green turtles and snorkelling over coral reefs with colourful fish in a warm sea
• Overall the ship staff were lovely and made you feel welcome
Things I didn’t like;
• There are 3700 passengers on this ship if its full – a lot of people
• The internet – wifi and Hub messaging was hit and miss – very poor service for the expensive price. You never knew where or when it was going to work
• The queuing up and being stuffed into a life boat for shuttling
• The garish internal design – looks like an LSD induced psychosis influenced the design – with pearls in oyster shells resembling breasts with the pink bits, shells that somebody called a close resemblance to fallopian tubes and other weird things
• Prices – drinks were on the expensive end of the price spectrum but if you don’t have a drinking problem its manageable
• Too much food – too tempting to just hoe in as though you won’t be able to eat for the next 3 weeks
• Get the Carnival Hub App before you get on the ship – info on it is useful eg ships maps, what’s on that day and where
• Write your Cabin Number on your hand or on a card and keep with you for the first few days in case you forget what the cabin number is – Its not on your Card that’s around your neck – for security reasons
• If you are big drinkers – look at the drinks package BUT you’d need to be a big drinker to justify the cost – in my opinion
• You don’t need many clothes just practical clothes and one pair of good jeans and a good shirt – recycle and was in your room, clothes dry pretty well in the airconditioned cabins