I booked the Sun Princess cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu back in August and only after that, discovered Cruise Critic and was to learn such a lot of valuable information about cruising in general and the Sun in particular so feel I owe it to those who shared their experiences, to share mine also. Flew to Sydney the morning of the cruise with some trepidation after reading that flying the day before was a safer option but on this occasion, no worries; arrived in Sydney from New Zealand by 7am, collected by the shuttle I had booked via Internet as the result of info from the forums and had my luggage dropped at the wharf by 9am, also as a result of info gleaned.
Disembarkation of the previous cruise was in full swing so went for a walk in the local area for an hour or so, back to wait in the shade watching this lovely big ship that was to be my home for the next 12 days then jumped in the check-in line as soon as I noticed it was open. Very effortless, got my boarding number, the magic number 1, and only waited another 45 mins or so before I noticed people queuing for the gates. Thought I couldn't be so lucky as to be boarding at 11.15 but was! Only minor quibble was that there didn't seem to be any announcements so glad I was being observant. Quick trip through customs and up the gangway for the start of a holiday of a lifetime.
All very painless so far, got straight to my cabin, had a quick trip round the very empty ship with the help of my downloaded map and in the buffet having lunch by 12 midday. Luggage was in my cabin by 2pm, very pleased with the location, space and storage facilities and met my steward. Also as a result of CC info, asked for an egg-crate mattress as the bed seemed a bit hard and that was delivered and bed remade by evening. Tried to book for Chef's table as advised but not available on the Sun but did book Ultimate Ships Tour, first one on the list(unfortunately cancelled later due to Norovirus outbreak but more on that to come) Watched sail-away (right on time at 4pm) from the empty Promenade deck as I was feeling a bit too overwhelmed by the experience thus far to brave the crowds on the upper decks, and what a magnificent sight as we silently slid out of the berth, round the corner and under the bridge, past the Opera House and the city, out of the harbour and into the teeth of the first wind and rolling seas!! Welcome to life aboard ship!
The rest of the first night passed in a blur, dressing for dinner ( I had asked for first seating but got 2nd and it was a great move, no children, no rush) meeting table mates, going to the first show and finally sinking into bed some 22 hours after my early start. The boat was rolling a bit in the swell and others reported next morning hearing and feeling big crashes and waves but I slept like a baby. So started the pattern, great sleeps, super meals, met some lovely people, had a CC roll call meeting with 8 others and kept banging into them often during the cruise, went to dance classes, a few seminars,watched sporting events, lay a lot on recliner chairs in the shade, watching the world , and the sea, go by reading and dozing, what a life. A number of things really made an impression on me; one was that for 2250 people on board, it never seemed crowded, I don't know where everyone was but the only time I noticed lots of people was on shore trips as the blue and white towels where everywhere you looked!!! Another thing was the amazing service from stewards, bar staff, dining room attendants -nothing was too much trouble for anyone and always delivered with a smile. I felt like I didn't have to do anything, not even peel my own banana at breakfast! What a way to have a holiday. The meals I thought were wonderful, very easy to make healthy choices (or not as the case may be), sit down meals in the dining rooms, great choices in the buffet, the pizzeria and outdoor grill were good options for a change, and the afternoon teas were a special treat, very necessary to get one through to a late dinner you understand. I heard a number of people complaining about the standard of the food and I could only think "where on earth do they normally eat then!!" If something didn't suit, the waiters were only too pleased to get you something else. The shows were of a very high standard, great singing and dancing, superb costume changes. One comedian had questionable content in his show but everyone else was just great. Special highlights were the staff pantomime performance and the staff international show, where do these folk get their energy from, given the hours they work?? Only one night was it a bit tricky getting a seat for the 10.15 show, again where were the crowds?
Port visits were well handled for tender transfers at 4 islands and gangways for the ports of Vila and Noumea. As long as you were organised to get your number for the tenders, the wait didn't seem very long at all, and avoiding the early rush for the gangway avoided waiting there too. My favourite port was Vila mainly because of a great ship's tour to the Cascade falls, and a visit with someone I met in NZ who took me to lunch and then to her lovely home in the hills so it was interesting to see the contrast between the expat's and the locals' living conditions. Noumea was the one I had looked forward to the most as I had been there on a school trip many years ago and it was neat to see again the bits I remembered. The other islands were great to look around, swim and snorkel and see how the locals lived tho I rather suspect a lot of that was just for the benefit of the tourists and souvenirs often came from Indonesia or Mexico in the case of my sunhat! Fuller reviews follow. Christmas day at sea was a particular highlight for me, one of the main reasons for a cruise at that time, no fuss, hard work, rushing around, just enjoying others efforts. The decorations in the Atrium were stunning, Santa Claus found the tunnels on the ship and made a grand entrance down the panoramic lifts and the snow arrived at the same time. All the activities for the day had a Christmas theme, the church services catered for most tastes and the meals were lovely. A lot of people got into the mood with suitable hats and other decorations. After Vila, an outbreak of Norovirus was reported and stringent health measures were put in place with anyone reporting symptoms, confined to their cabin for 2 days, buffet went to full service and hand disinfectant stations were everywhere. I felt unwell for a couple of days but without any gastric symptoms, however was more than happy to lie low and stay fairly much in my cabin just in case. Once we left Noumea, it was homeward bound, 2 more sea days to do stuff or not as the mood took me. I was never bored, or lonely, despite travelling on my own, I made some nice friends that I hope to keep in touch with and had many more fascinating conversations with people I may never see again but who knows in the wonderful world of cruising. Arrival back in Sydney was early Tuesday morning and I managed to wake up in time to get up to the top deck this time to see us going under the bridge and berthing right on time. I was lucky to have the last allocated time to disembark at 10.30 so that was effortless as well. Half an hour from walking off the ship to being in a cab on my way to the hotel. If this all looks too positive to some, well I prefer to look on the bright side and it all sure beats being at home doing all my own chores and going to work every day. Any slight negatives I noticed were too minor to mention here. I'm hooked and I will be back. Thank you Princess and all the lovely crew of the Sun for an amazing holiday
Isle De Pins, New Caledonia. Lovely swimming beach which I enjoyed without too many crowds. Over the other side of the road was a popular snorkeling beach and this was where most of the families had taken up residence for the day. There were a few stalls selling drinks and souvenirs and one where some local women were giving away samples of the local underground cooking called Bounga, very tasty and eaten from a leaf plate with a grass stalk for a fork! Examples of the pines that give the island its name everywhere, very tall and skinny with small branches. Didn't stay long as it was quite hot.
Lifou, Loyalty Islands More stalls at this island, taxis and bikes available for hire. I walked up a hill to an abandoned church and there were lovely views back over some of the island and out to the ship. Walking back I noticed another side road that lots of people were walking back up so went to investigate and found a magic snorkeling beach with fantastic coral and fish life, just off the shore. Glad I had taken my gear with me. again, didn't stay long but certainly enjoyed what I saw
Noumea, New Caledonia I didn't book any ships tours here as I wanted to look around the town where I had been many years ago on a school trip, found the area that we had stayed in and the local square was as I remembered it. Went to the information office on the free shuttle from the boat and there were many tours available, very similar to the ones the ship was offering and for about a third the price. Took a little train, round all the beaches, up to 2 vantage points over the city and through the streets, for only $AU25. The day was a bit grey and cool so didn't stay long but did enjoy using a little of my very rusty school girl french.