Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cruise Review: The Fiji Princess

While Toronto was in the midst of its coldest month ever, I was in Fiji, where, among other activities, I took a seven night cruise on board the cruise on board the Fiji Princess, a 55-metre catamaran operated by Fiji’s Blue Lagoon Cruises. It promised a boutique experience that would see a maximum of 68 guests, lots of amazing food and a friendly, all Fijian crew. And for the most part, that’s what I got. Here’s a break down of what my first ever cruise was like.

Yep, we saw islands just like this
The Accommodations
My room was on the hibiscus deck, which was the cheaper of the two options. There wasn’t a ton of difference between the two classes and I’m glad that I didn’t the pricier room. Technically, it was a bit bigger but a couch took up the bulk of that extra space. There was also a coffee machine, a fridge with free drinks and a fruit tray upon arrival, nice touches but not essentials.

The tiny bathroom
What would have been nice was outdoor space and a bigger bathroom. While the cabin itself wasn’t a bad size and had plenty of storage, the bathroom was so tiny that the shower didn’t even had a door or curtain. At first glance, I thought the situation wasn’t that big of deal. Then we got back from our first snorkelling trip and we had to figure out how to rise off our gear off, find a place to dry it and wash and dry ourselves. It was an awkward and very wet process that we eventually refined but still… If I have one suggestion for the Fiji Princess, it’s to set up a dunk tank and storage space for dive/snorkelling gear.

Thankfully, the fresh bath and beach towels we were given daily helped with the situation. Rooms were also cleaned daily and quite thoroughly, as was the rest of the ship.

Food & Drink
I’m a really fussy eater so I have to admit that I didn’t get the most out of Fiji Princess’ cuisine. But I never went hungry and even really enjoyed some of my meals. Breakfast was also a partial buffet with made-to-order hot items like omelettes and French toast. Lunch and dinner were mostly buffets and there was always plenty of food including at least two different protein options. Fresh fruit was always available and dinner dessert usually included a couple other options.

The hot breakfast menu
There was also morning and afternoon tea, which included coffee, juice and some kind of snack and often fruit. On afternoons when we were at a beach, afternoon tea was set up right there on the sand, which was a fun experience.

If you’re a big fan of chocolate and/or salty snacks, you might want to pack a few of your favourite items as the cruise is light on North American-style junk food. Food also isn't available around the clock, like on some ships (though coffee and tea is always available and at least one of the ship's two bars are open).

As for drinks, well, we had to pay for them (no, there wasn’t even wine at dinner) but the prices weren’t out of line with what you’d pay in Toronto and they were pretty tasty. My husband was also pleased with the Fiji beer that was available.

The bulk of our off-boat activities revolved around the water. We snorkelled almost daily and had several “beach afternoons” that involved swimming, sun tanning, paddle boarding and more snorkelling. The water temperature was fantastic, as was the coral but underwater animal life was a bit lacking compared to some of the other places I’ve been. We didn’t see a single ray and the only turtle we spotted was by my husband when he and a few other guests went fishing with the crew (a free experience). It turns out that most underwater creatures are actively hunted by the locals and that’s why the wildlife is on the light side.

Diving was available including a dive with bull sharks that received mixed reviews by the fellow passengers that did it (yes, they saw sharks but it was a difficult, problematic trip to and from the dive site).

The cave that appeared in the film
The Blue Lagoon
There were also plenty of cultural activities. We visited three different villages, including a school and a church service, and got to drink kava with the off-duty crew members (it’s not as gross as it looks). All three village stops included “shell markets” where we could purchase tourist trinkets, some of which were locally made and some of where weren’t.

Each night before dinner, there was happy hour that featured 20% off drinks, spring rolls (or something similar) and often music performed by the crew. After dinner, sometimes there was an activity and sometimes there wasn’t. And this wasn’t a bad approach, as it gave us time to hang out with our fellow cruisers or go to bed early.

The staff was fantastic on the boat. They were friendly, helpful and knew our names by the second date. Api, the cruise director, was especially great and had no problem going the extra-mile to make the trip a great experience.

Other Notes
Drinking kava with the crew on the top deck
My trip was during the low season and as a result, our boat had only 22 passengers on it for the first three nights (11 of which were Canadian, something that was a bit unusual). Another 12 people joined us for the last four nights but even after they arrived, there was still plenty of space on the boat and it never felt cramped.

The Fiji Princess has a small pool that’s usually filled up with the boat is stationary. It’s nothing fancy but it’s a fun way to kill some time. Other ways to fill time on the boat include reading, board games and wi-fi, which, much to my surprise, worked more often than not though it was limited to certain areas of the boat (and no, the cabins weren’t one of them).

Neither my husband nor myself experienced actual seasickness though there was one morning when I did feel a bit ill thanks to rough water. While there were certainly times where you could feel waves or the boat moving, you get used to it pretty quickly.

Overall Verdict The Fiji Princess isn’t the fanciest boat and honestly, I’ve been to prettier places than Fiji, but I still had a great time on my trip. I have to admit that I was a bit worried about taking a cruise but for the most part, it was a positive experience and I will definitely take another cruise in the future.

One of the villages we visited

If you’re considering booking a trip on the Fiji Princess, let me know and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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