“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them” – Amelia E. Barr.
I think this quote is quite true, but if you have ever cruised on Royal Caribbean, then I think it does come down to the ship as well!
After meeting on a P&O cruise, Daneve and I have always had a connection with getting out on the high seas and enjoying the occasional cruise. Part of our honeymoon consisted of a Mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean and we thoroughly enjoy our time.
After having Tahlin and Zahladee we wanted our children to experience the fun of cruising, so we decided to book a 2016 Christmas and New Years cruise with Royal Caribbean again.
Our trip started with driving to Sydney while visiting Byron Bay and spending nights at Opal Cove Resort in Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie. We planned to break up the driving stints on the way down as we didn’t really know how the kids would travel, plus Daneve wanted to catch up with her penpal friend in Port Macquarie.
We also had planned to spend some time with our friends Nat and Ric with their 3 boys near Wollongong before getting on the ship. We were given the option to leave our car there for the two weeks so that we didn’t have to park our car somewhere in Sydney.
Christmas Eve and we boarded the train and travelled to Sydney to began our adventure on Royal Caribbean’s “Explorer of the Seas”. The excitement started to build as we caught our first glimpse of our ship as we pulled into the station at Circular Quay. Tahlin couldn’t believe how big it was as we walked up to the baggage area. The look on his face was priceless!We were a little early, but we managed to have no problems with checking our baggage and filling out all the necessary paperwork before boarding the ship. We had our photos taken and received our security tags from the lovely people serving us. Everyone made our experience checking in quite pleasant and easy-going which was a great start to our adventure.
We walked on board to be greeted with a smile by the ship staff as we walked inside. We suddenly felt the grandeur of the ship and how magnificent this thing actually was, I can’t imagine what our little 1 year old daughter was feeling at that time!
We found our room, cosy but manageable for the four of us, then we decided to have a look around. We found the Windjammer Cafe and grabbed something quick to eat before heading up to the top deck to take in the view of Sydney. We stayed there until we began to move out of the harbour. We had a beautiful sunny day which made things very pleasant as we watched Sydney and its surroundings go by.
We decided to go to dinner in the dining room and found our designated table that had another family already seated. We hadn’t left the harbour yet but the sun was going down as our son Tahlin got his first taste of garlic snails. He was a little hesitant, but after having a go, I would say it became his favourite meal of the cruise.
Santa came the next day which was an experience in itself being in a small stateroom but we made it work. We had a little tree with some decorations so Santa knew where to put the pressies.
The first two days at sea was a great way to explore the ship along with the festivities on offer. The kids met Santa down near the ice rink and had a photo with him. They even got a gift from him along with every other child on board…that’s a lot of kids!
As Daneve & I were return RC cruisers, our family and other return cruisers were invited to a private ice-skating show which turned out to be a highlight for us. Free drinks, front row seats, watching some very talented skaters twist, turn, flip and slide around.
Instead of going into full detail and making this post into a full blown novel, I will summarise the rest of our trip and tell you about the best bits.
Some of the activities we did on the ship (usually on sea days) were as follows:
- Mini golf
- Rock climbing
- Flow rider (Daddy, much to dismay of Tahlin)
- Ice skating (Tahlin’s favourite)
- Swimming in pools
- Kids club
- Watching movies
- Craft and art sessions
- Toddler & baby playroom
- Oh did I mention eating
As you can see there are many things to occupy yourself on a cruise ship like this. I’m positive I have missed some things.
1st stop – Bay Of Islands, New Zealand (11am – 6pm)
We jumped on the tender boats and then a coach to the town Paihia where we walked around the shops & market. We decided to leisurely stroll back to the tender boat pick up point and stopped off at a small beach for a quick swim. As we walked we looked around at the cultural spots, took some photos and headed back to the ship.
2nd stop – Tauranga, New Zealand (6:30am – 5:45pm)
Before boarding the ship we had organised with another family to hire a bus and take everybody to Rotorua Skyline. We met up with the family on the ship before the actual day and made plans with them on where to meet and so on, so that we didn’t have too many delays. The drive was about an hour and we had good weather. You definitely know when you in Rotorua as the smell of sulphur “stings the nostrils!”
We got there fairly early and paid for the tickets and gondola. The main thing we were doing was the luge, which you control with handle bars and a pull back brake. It takes you down various tracks through the trees then you would be picked up by a chair lift back to the top to do it all over again. You chose the track depending on your experience with driving the luges. All in all we had a fantastic day along with hundreds of other people…it did get very busy and the line ups were long!
After using up all our rides we all decided to look at some mud pools in a park close by then make the trip back to Tauranga. It was a very big day and we were all very tired when we got back to port.
3rd Stop – Auckland, New Zealand (7:15am – 6pm)
We didn’t rush off the ship that day as we knew we had all day to look around. When we did get off, we decided to do the tourist thing and buy a “hop on and off” bus ticket.
We jumped off and on at various places picking and choosing when we wanted to look at something.
Parnell Rose Gardens.
Last stop was the City Centre for lunch and then a walk through the shops and back to the ship.
Having small children makes you choose the top priority spots to visit and then secondary spots you may or may not get to depending on the attention level.
4th Stop – Isle Of Pines, New Caledonia (8am – 5pm)
After two days of cruising, along with a New Years celebration, our next stop was Isle of Pines for New Years day. Daneve & I had already been here on the cruise we met on, but this time around it didn’t seem to be as pristine as it was before. It’s easy to see why when you know the amount of cruise ships come by in a year now. That being said we had a good swim and snorkel at a couple of the beaches. If we ever go again, I think we will travel out further on the island next time and find some nice areas to snorkel. The main rock area is completely destroyed by tourists and coral bleaching. Unfortunately the snorkeling wasn’t as good as I was hoping it to be. But we made our own family fun and had a good day at the beach.
5th Stop – Noumea, New Caledonia (7am – 4pm)
Another day at sea enjoying the cruise life until we stopped in Noumea. Again it’s a place where you need to get out and away from the area where the cruise ships dock. On this particular day there was another cruise ship visiting, so it was quite busy to catch a tour bus, hire a moped or just walk around. To top it off it was a Sunday, so all the shops were closed around that area.
We decided to walk to a market after being dropped off by our coach. Wasn’t that exciting, but we managed to get a few little souvenirs before deciding to go back and enjoy the ship.
I know there are some lovely spots in Noumea, but we had one of those days where we didn’t particularly want to trudge around with hundreds of people doing the same thing. Again if we go back, I will be definitely going out and about further away and exploring a little more.
In the next two days, reality started to kick in that the cruise was coming to an end. We crammed as much activities we could and tried not to think that we would be seeing the opera house and harbour bridge very soon.
Tahlin couldn’t get enough of the ice skating, everybody knew Zahladee due to just being cute to everyone. Daneve & I loved the fact that everything was done for you in regards to the cleaning & cooking. We just had to enjoy the cruise and not worry about the tedious chores that reality throws at you.
Skarlett was a fantastic staff member who cleaned and made up our stateroom every day. All the staff were amazing with smiles on their faces 24/7 which must have been hard sometimes.
One thing to consider when thinking of going on a cruise is taking small children. We had Zahladee who is 2 years old, which meant that she was too young to go into the kids club and there was always a time of day where a sleep was involved. This restricted us a little as one of us needed to be with her at all times. Things like shows or activities needed to be planned with the possibility of one of us not getting through something or postponing something in order to stick to our routine. That being said we were in the mindset that she was going to be with us all of the time, so it wasn’t a negative for us and we managed to get through it pretty well.
We had a fantastic time and it wont be the last cruise this family will go on…I can guarantee that!!
Thank you Royal Caribbean – Explorer of the Seas, for confirming to us that cruising is one of the best holiday options for us as a family.
Images © Kish Photography & Design