This was our first time cruising, and we did this as a family of 4, so we had no benchmark on what a cruise would be even though we sort information from family and friends who have been before.
We found embarking - organised, quick and staff willing to assist with questions. We did not receive a slip to fill out, but had staff willing to help. No big deal. We were "processed" fairly quickly and it was a very smooth process to go through customs. Staff were continually reminding us what documentation was required so we were prepared. This was for a 2pm board. Our rooms were available, and the buffet was open. Settled in well.
Our room consisted of 1 king bed, 1 sofa and 1 bunk which both were good sizes. The rooms were made up during the evenings to sleep and again in the morning for relaxing. Towel animals, chocolates and next days program were available each evening, and the kids love finding the animals in the room. Our room Steward Justino did a fantastic job with the rooms and Greeted us by name every day and had the best positive attitude.
The room was spacious enough and always clean. We were on level 8, just under the Lido deck, but no real issues with noise. Guest Services were available 24 hours if there was any noise issues and dealt with it. We had a balcony room and it was fantastic- no breeze issues, and we went out there many times when in our room. Great way to start each day and watch the sun rise.
No worries with the food. The buffet was very good - 2 corners opposite each other served the same main foods i.e hot dishes and accompaniments. Each day was different menu of fish, meats, pastas etc, from around the world. There was minimal, if any delay when 1 bemire had run out and swapped for a full one. Lines moved well.
There was also other areas with salads, meats, cheeses, 24 hour pizza, ice cream, and a deli. The buffet catered for everyone.
If you wanted a 3 course meal, then The Empire restaurant was fantastic. Good size portions for a 3 course meal, consisting from an everyday menu to a changing daily menu, both for breakfast and dinner and sometimes a brunch menu. Order something from each if you like. I had a fussy child eater, but the wait staff went out of their way to get her something else she wanted. THE STAFF ARE FANTASTIC, so helpful, and the kids loved our waiter Kanter. These guys ensured you were looked after. You could also "buy" your main meal from the Nouveau Restaurant for about $25 in this room.
We did not go to the Nouveau Restaurant $40p.p but the menu looked fantastic with prime meat cuts and seafood dishes as examples.
Soft drinks were $2.25 or you could purchase bottomless for entire trip for $44/ child.
Beer approx. and ciders $7-$8. Basic spirits $7- $8. Cocktails $9.50 - $10.50, and there were daily novelty cocktail drink holder which you could buy for about extra $5. They had a café in which you could buy "nice" coffee for about $3.50, which was very good.
For the budget conscience like myself fresh filtered water was available at the buffet area and in the restaurants waiters continually filled you glass with iced water. Lemon juice cordial and iced tea is available anytime, and for breakfast other juices are available, and there are even waiter which trolley around the juices and tea/coffee, which is handy if you are seated a bit away from the food service areas. You could also have coffee, tea and hot chocolate anytime.
They had 3 kids club groups with varying activities and also an after 10pm -3am night owl service at a cost of $8/hr. aged groups 6-11, 12-14 and 15-17. The 9yr old did a few activities, such as art and made her own stuffed toy. Can't comment too much on this, but she did go to the night owl 1 night so we could watch a show. The 13y.o teenager pretty much went to the sports cage all day every day and made friends. Didn't go to any club, but he made many friends and seemed to be happy, and no issues for him. Being a school holiday cruise, there was about 1000 kids on board, but I must admit we had no issues with any unruly behaviour. I have read on other critic reports on kids riding elevators, in the casino, being loud etc, but considering the amount of kids, this was a non - event. There was security on board and if any child was running around the pool, or was tempted by the pokies, there were politely spoken to and moved on.
Entertainment was great. Shows were about 1 hour duration, which was perfect, there were comedians doing both family and adult shows, same as hypnotist and some great production numbers from great singers and big bands, and also a magician. Musically, there were soloists, duos and the Philippine rock band were fantastic. The musicians rotated throughout the ship. There was also trivia's, karaoke, a room for board games, and many other fun activities all over the ship for all age groups. YOU WILL NOT GET BORED, so go and participate. There are even prizes given on these activities. There were also some lucky winners on the pokies and bingo!
The islands we went to were Isle of pines, Mare and Noumea.
Isle of Pines in fantastic, we did not take a tour, as we just enjoyed the local market and spending time at the beaches swimming and snorkelling. There are plenty of things to do, and like the other island, you can either book a shore excursion from the boat, or organise your own tour with the local. They do speak good English and accept $AUD or Caledonian Franc.
Mare - we booked shuttle to a beautiful beach( can't think of the name starts with Y), but was well worth it. Fantastic place to snorkel, great island feel with locals setting up along the beach with food and drink, and massages and cornrows hair styles. This was pretty much the only place we all went, but plenty of room for the whole boat to snorkel. There was also a small village as we got off the tenders with small souvenirs. The women did all the greeting and got you in and out of your courtesy vehicles, and the men just drove. The ladies spoke English, with some better than others. I must admit I was surprised, and thank goodness because my French is ordinary. Very friendly locals. My favourite island!
Noumea- jury is still out. Ship was too big for the ferry terminal, so we docked at the shipping yard and got on a bus for a free shuttle to town, approx. 3 minutes. We walked through town, didn't enjoy too much, and found it impossible to find a public toilet, and some locals even charging 1000 francs to use. We bought some souvenirs at the tourist centre and went back on the boat for lunch.
We booked a city aquarium tour - 2 hours. Had an aussie expat guide in a new comfortable coach. Nice tour great sites and aquarium was enjoyable, but tour was too quick, Would have been nicer as a 3 hour tour, we didn't even have time to look at souvenirs in the aquarium shop. Noumea is a place I think where you need to spend more tan 1 day.
The organising of the tours and use of tenders was very good. It is important to know what you want to do, pack what you want early, have breakfast and wait for you number, which flowed well getting on and off the boat. We watched some seminars of the cruise director Stu on our room T.V and made a decision to get the shore tours from the boat, and although more expensive, we thought it would be better if something happened, the boat will wait. If you book through the local guide, and there is a problem, then you may be stranded. Its easy to book a tour with a local In isle of Pines and Noumea, but you need to weigh up your options.
The boat itself is HUGE, and very Las Vegas is probably the best description. Its clean and the staff are fantastic and come from 51 countries around the world. There are areas to have a great time, a loud time, an adults retreat, a quiet time, a quiet drink and everywhere in between. Plenty of space for all 2210 guests.
There are themed nights such and pirate and Mexican nights, formal night and a night to meet the captain.
Photographers photograph you from the time of embankment to all port call and in between. There is no pressure to have you photo taken or purchase any photos, but there were many families getting portraits done.
All in all this was a worth while trip doing, and is great value for money. All spending is done using your on board card which has all you details and used to purchase items and also used to get you on and off the islands. You can check what you have spent on machines around the ship or on you in room T.V.
The only problem I had was- I found I'm more of a land person, but there's tablets and even a needle for that.
Have fun and enjoy this ship