By Susan Jaques, Cruise Critic contributor
It was a bad week for Captain Bligh. Right after the infamous mutiny, cannibals in war canoes chased Bligh and 18 of his crew from the Yasawa Islands. Over two centuries later, modern life still hasn't intruded on Fiji's spectacular 20 island archipelago -- though the villagers are considerably friendlier.
The Yasawas will look familiar if you've ever fantasized about the South Pacific. Remarkable for their long stretches of palm-studded white sand beaches, turquoise water and coral reefs teeming with exquisite marine life, the Yasawas are the playground for Blue Lagoon Cruises' small ships.
The 70-passenger catamaran Fiji Princess (formerly the Meridien Group's Pearl of Seychelles) offers three-, four- and seven-day cruises through the Yasawas from Lautoka, 30 minutes north of Nadi.
As we island-hopped through this archipelago, snorkeling emerged as the uncontested star attraction. On twice daily excursions, we floated alongside huge flat-topped coral heads that rose to within several feet of the surface, nourishing brilliantly colored fish and jaw-dropping invertebrates like lacy blue jellyfish and purple sea stars. The soft corals here come in custom decorative colors like mauve, green and magenta. Happily, snorkeling is as brilliant here as diving, but avid divers can join the Fiji Princess dive cruise the first week of each month or scuba with a local operator (when calling ashore).
Another highlight of this cruise is meeting locals and learning about Fijian culture. The ship's relaxed atmosphere encourages dialogue between guests and the warm Fijian crew who hail from different parts of the country. In our first visit to Yasawa-I-Rara Island, we enjoyed a meke dance and singing performance and participated in a yaqona (kava drinking) ceremony. Joseph, our Yasawa-born cruise director, shared his theory on why the pulverized pepper root drink is so popular. "It makes your lips sting -- like your first kiss. That's why Fijian men keep drinking it."
My favorite excursion is to Nacula Island's Ratu Meli Memorial School, attended by some 150 children from four villages. The children performed a concert for us in Fijian and English; their beautiful harmonies and faces are unforgettable. I also won't forget a kind hearted gesture. During our return to the ship, the tide had ebbed dramatically, making it difficult for a disabled passenger to reach the tender boat. Joseph carried the guest on his back across the tide pools to the waiting boat.
There's something truly luxurious about being completely cut off from newspapers, television, internet and cell phones. Our toughest decisions during this uncomplicated week involved choosing just which paperback to read and whether to get up off the hammock for morning or afternoon tea. Like the tides, the daily itinerary was flexible, and we quickly adjusted to the relaxed, informal pace. Most passengers, including three honeymoon couples, were first time Fiji visitors like us. The majority were Aussies and Kiwis, whose company we thoroughly enjoyed.
On our last day, we gathered in the lounge bar, watching wistfully as the Fiji Princess sailed toward Lautoka. After exchanging e-mail addresses and hugs with our fellow passengers, the crew sang Isa Lei, Fiji's moving farewell song: "... Isa lei, the purple shadows fall. Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow. Oh! Forget not, when you are far away, precious moments beside Suva Bay."
Fiji Princess Fellow Passengers
This trip attracts active types and snorkel enthusiasts who average between 40 and 60 years of age. Most hail from Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. and Europe (in that order). On our sailing, there were honeymoon couples from New Zealand, the U.K and Japan. The youngest guests were two teenage sisters from Auckland and an eleven-year-old boy from Hobart, Tasmania. More children sail during school holidays.
Fiji Princess Dress Code
With snorkeling and beachcombing being the main activities, essential packing items are two bathing suits, hat, sunglasses, water shoes and multiple tubes of sunscreen. (I brought mosquito repellant but happily didn't need it).
There are crazy hat, formal dress and Indian outfit contests for which you only need a good imagination (think found objects you pull together from adventures ashore and onboard). For village visits, women are asked to cover shoulders and knees. Though Blue Lagoon does not require passengers bring gifts for children at the village school, art supplies and gently used books are greatly welcome. The cruise line transports educational items and building material donated by past passengers.
Fiji Princess Gratuity
Tipping is not required. For guests who wish, there's a bure-shaped box in the foyer for gratuities which are divided among the crew.
December 2013 Pacific Sandy
We have just completed the 7 day Yasawa Islands cruise on the Fiji Princess. We are completely hooked on small ship cruising. We sailed out of Port Denarau which is 15 minutes from Nadi airport. The cab cost us $25.00. Boarding was very simple ...continue
This was our first Cruise, and we boarded with some trepidation.
We needed not to have worried the Cruise was wonderful.
Each day we would visit a deserted beach or village in the morning and then cruise to another beach or ...continue
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We had not been on an Ocean Cruise before and took this trip with some trepidation.
The ship was what we expected and we were happy with our cabin.
During the Cruise we stopped at either a beach or village every morning and again ...continue