We sailed from Sydney and visited Vanuatu, Noumea, Lifou and Isle of Pines. The cruise was excellent - I cannot fault the ticket prices, the organisation, the food and the overall service. The shows were probably the weakest point, but that doesn't really worry me.
Here are some tips to make your cruise even better / cheaper:
- The duty--free prices on the boat are ok , but they are even better on the islands. Luckily Carnival offer a price guarantee -- if you see an item cheaper on the islands, they will match the price. You can either show them a photo, or just quote the price you saw. This way I got two bottles of Baileys for $44 versus the original price of $56.
- If you want to buy some jewellery, wait until the last few days, when the price tumbles by up to 50% (if you are prepared to haggle). We got a tanzanite ring down from a ridiculous $1000+ to $599.
- At the international cruise terminal in Sydney, there is a GST refund desk on the way out. I was kicking myself for not bringing a tax invoice for my newly-bought IPad. I could've gotten a 10% refund right there on the spot.
- Carnival offered a reasonably priced internet plan for $140 for unlimited access for the whole cruise. Or rather, that would be reasonable if the wifi worked properly. There is no guarantee that it will connect at any given time, and it was sometimes shockingly slow. One crew member told me that Carnival are still using a US-based service provider, and that may account for the slowness. An easy way to reduce the price is to split the internet with another cruiser. We made a deal with another family: we'll only use the internet during even hours, you can have it during odd hours. This also ensured that our kids were not on for too long.
- I don't want to shock anyone, but the ship excursions are obscenely overpriced! I wouldn't mind paying a little extra if they offered something unique, but all Carnival does is act as agent for local tour operators, and whack 100% on top. I recommend you do a little research on the internet in the weeks before your cruise and organize your own tour through email. We booked a tour in Vanuatu for $40 pp that was (I heard) far superior to the ships' offering for $80 pp. And it was done through the exact same local tour company! I won't mention their name in case Carnival tries to exact revenge...
- On the other hand, beware of booking local tours on the spot. You don't know what you are going to get. Our friends booked a tour in Lifou and spent 45 minutes in a tiny car with a tour guide who spoke no English.
- In Noumea we booked a 2.5 hour bus tour for $20 pp, $10 for kids. I can't remember what Carnival was charging, but no doubt it was at least double. This tour was arranged on the spot, after we decided against renting a car.
- None of the ship's fact sheets warn you about this, but if you are going to New Caledonia's smaller islands (which include Lifou and Isle of Pines), you really should buy some Pacific Francs (XFP) before you sail. I recommend $100 - $200 worth. You cannot buy them onboard, or on the small islands. Of course the locals on Lifou will accept dollars, but they hit you with a 50% markup (I often saw prices like '1000F / $15'). You can use ATMS in Noumea to get francs as well.
- If you are left with a few francs too many, approach one of the local vendors before you board the ship. A lovely French lady on Isle of Pines was quite happy to change Francs into Dollars for me at a reasonable rate (100 for 1). After all, the locals can't really use the dollars themselves, and it costs them money to get them changed at the bank
- I recommend learning a few basic French phrases before you go to New Caledonia. The locals love it and you might even see them smile! Even if it's just: bonjour / parlez vous anglais / c'est combien? / merci / au revoir.
- Even if you are sailing the South Pacific in the middle of summer, pack a jumper/sweater. Carnival likes to crank up the airconditioning, especially in the restaurants. Maybe they could tone it down for the Australians, who perhaps don't weigh/sweat as much as your average American?
- In the restaurants I think they purposely serve American-style percolated coffee (which tastes bland and is not very hot) in the hope that you will order a 'real' coffee and pay $3 or $4. But I found that the free coffee machines on level 9 could brew up a very decent cuppa.