Fiji Princess Cruise Review by Brian Morris: Best if sunny
Best if sunny
We took the Gold Club 6 night/7 day cruise out of Lautoka up through the Yasawa Islands in May 2008. The cruise is well organized regardless of whether you want to partake in everything or just want to do your own thing. The crowd on board was mostly Aussies and Kiwis with a smattering of English, Canadian, Italian and Swiss. Boarding: You register at the Blue Lagoon offices in Lautoka. You check your large bags and then the bags and you are taken separately in a bus to the wharf for embarkation. Either make sure all your valuables are in your hand luggage or lock up your checked baggage properly as there have been thefts from checked baggage, not by cruise staff but by wharf staff.
Cabins: Bridge deck cabins are the premium choice but beware if you are the quiet type who would rather have an early night than stay up drinking and dancing late. In summer weather, the drinking can occur on the top deck directly above Bridge deck and the noise will permeate thru the ceiling of More your Bridge deck cabin if it is mid-ships or forward of mid-ships. Similarly, cabins on the lower decks towards the aft of the vessel are exposed to the noise from the entertainment areas at the aft. Common to all cabins is a total inability to get any fresh air. They are sealed and rely on very harsh air conditioning for fresh air. We ended up leaving our cabin door slightly open at night and turning the air conditioning off as that was more comfortable than having it on all night. Bridge deck cabins are small by the standard of other cruise ships. Having said that, the Bridge Deck cabin we had was attractive and comfortable.
Safety: While the cruise ship was very well run and there was no incident on our cruise, the well known relaxed Fijian attitude applied to the safety drill, which was haphazard in its conduct and revealed some life jackets not to have the required light and whistle attached. Safety of passengers when going ashore was well cared for however.
Meals: While the food was usually very nice, it was not outstanding. Equivalent to your local good restaurant or club bistro/smorgasbord rather than gourmet. Excepting breakfast, there was good variety from day to day.
organized activities: This side of the cruise was outstanding. You are in a different location every day and snorkeling and village visits are well done. Night-time activities are at times a little silly but you have the choice to participate or not (eg, silly hat dinner, indian costume night for dinner etc). One thing you should prepare for is the "international Night" where passengers from each country are asked to get together and perform an act which is iconic of their country (eg, sing an iconic song or do a comedy sketch having a dig at their culture).
The vessel: Carrying about 70 passengers, it is just the right size if you like "intimate" cruising. That is, the chance to get to know all of your fellow passengers. The boat has no entertainment options of larger cruise vessels but that is no great loss as the cruise is not about what is on the ship but where the ship goes each day. Having said that, if you get sick or the weather is so bad that shore activities do not attract, you can get a DVD of your choice (from a limited range kept on board) played into all the rooms. There is no broadcast TV or radio on offer. The Fiji Princess is not the lead vessel of Blue Lagoon's fleet. That is the Mystique. It is a more modern and more richly finished vessel of about the same size. If you like opulence for its own sake then the Mystique is or you provided you don't mind air conditioning as most of the boat is sealed off from the outside environment with very little "fresh air" outside places compared to the Princess. Another thing to consider is that the Mystique is a monohull (conventional) ship while the Princess is a twin-hull (catamaran) vessel and hence probably a little more stable at sea. At the time of writing, the Mystique was doing the short (4 day) cruises only and the long cruises (7 day)were being done by the Princess. Neither boat has any private balconies but on the Princess, you can sit outside your Bridge deck (and the deck below) cabin to enjoy the passing scenery.
The itinerary: Most of the cruise takes place in waters well protected by fringing reefs surrounding the islands. The cruise spends its first day getting away from the over developed island resorts near the mainland and arrives at the southern end of the Yasawas on the morning of the second day. It stays in the relatively pristine Yasawa group for the whole cruise until the last day, all of which is spent steaming back to Lautoka. The itinerary is varied however to take account of sea and wind conditions. The captain appeared to always be striving to seek an anchorage which was in the lee of the prevailing wind. This minimizes seasickness and maximizes the pleasure of shore excursions, particularly snorkeling.
Health: The crew do not make any effort to control or minimize the spread of disease on board. Some crew and passengers on our cruise got sick with Fiji flu and no attempt was made by crew to stop it spreading. It is up to the sick passengers to go into voluntary quarantine in their cabin (which really is not quarantined because of the common air conditioning ducts between cabins) and up to healthy passengers to stay away from the coughers on board.
Service: The crew go out of their way to see that passengers have everything they need and that they are aware of available activities.
Weather: Overall the cruise was very worthwhile but because so much of its value stems from the shore excursions, primary of which are the snorkeling opportunities, the weather is important. On our cruise, we had NO (NOT ONE)sunny days in the whole week we were on board. We nevertheless did things but were always made conscious by the very brief sunny breaks in the cloud cover that everything looks so much more spectacular and feels better when the sun shines. For this reason, the cruise is best done in months more likely to be sunny, and the 7 day cruise allows more opportunity for at least some sunny days than the shorter 4 day cruise.
General comments: Tourist numbers in Fiji are on a downward trend thanks to the domestic political situation and declining economic conditions worldwide. This impacts upon the Blue Lagoon cruise company in terms of passenger numbers. Some short cruises have been cancelled outright and paid-up customers asked to reschedule at the last minute. Our cruise was a combination of the short cruise, the long cruise and the dive cruise. So double-check that your booked cruise is still departing as scheduled.
Overall, the cruise is well worth doing and represents value for money. There are not many added costs once on board except drinks. You see some spectacular scenery, get exposed to Fijian culture (even if a little stage-managed), get to do some great snorkeling over good coral with plentiful fishlife, and you have the complete flexibility to choose to participate in organized activities (both on shore during the day or on boat of an evening) or just have a quiet time doing your own thing. If you don't like air conditioning, turn it off in your cabin overnight, and there are plenty of open common sitting areas on the boat to get fresh air. You'll see more of the real Fiji spending 1 week on this cruise than you will stuck in a 4 or 5 star resort on the mainland or a Mamanucca island resort. Less
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