The kids love the Carnival Spirit’s new waterslide, while mothers are happy to flock to Turkish bath and dads just want to win mini golf.
My kids push me into the capsule, telling me it’s the “most awesome” thing on the Carnival Cruise ship.
The clear door snaps close, locking me in. I’m standing in my swimmers looking through the glass at their excited faces.
“Three. Two. One,” says a computerised voice. I’m suddenly whizzing down a water slide at what feels like 100km/h.
Green Thunder is one of the star attractions on Carnival Spirit – part of the ship’s $7 million upgrade to lure Aussie travellers.
The slide is the steepest and fastest water slide at sea – and I’ll vouch for that. The kids can keep Green Thunder – I’ll stick with the slower yellow slide next to it. But it’s part of the ship that provides plenty of laughs for all ages in the family.
Just like when we’re dancing under the stars on the top deck during the Mexican theme night. Yes, it’s cliche, but it’s a lot of fun.
We’re dressed in festive colours, us parents are sipping cocktails, and it’s time for the Macarena. The night is warm, the stars are out, we’re surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. Our nine-year-old and 11-year-old are not even embarrassed by their parents’ dancing performance.
Cruising has hit the Australian market with a force, with Australian cruise passenger numbers increasing 130 per cent in the past five years – and Carnival Corporation has pounced on the opportunity.
The company has two ships permanently based Down Under – the Carnival Spirit and in September her sister ship, Carnival Legend, arrives.
It may be an American multinational company but these two ships have been completely transformed to suit Australians.
The coffee’s been improved. There’s Aussie beer, well-priced local wine – there’s even a pub with sport on TV.
On the menus there’s more lamb, seafood and fruit and veg.
A BBQ fires up every lunch time on the top deck serving excellent meat and roasted vegetables straight from the grill.
While the food served to the 2600 passengers is out of this world, the 900 staff couldn’t do more to make us feel welcome.
If you really want to get an idea of how this floating small town operates, take a Behind-the-Scenes tour. It’s mindblowing seeing the kitchen in action, the storage area, waste disposal, operation rooms and even a glimpse of the captain’s bridge.
On a more superficial level, I want to hug our room attendant twice a day when he makes up our comfortable and functional room, which includes a lovely balcony.
After orientating ourselves with the Fun Ship, as it’s affectionately known, it doesn’t take long for us grown-ups to unwind, while the kids are constantly entertained.
They both find a new best friend very quickly so there are plenty of rendezvous at the pool or in the jungle lounge.
Kids club is heaven. There’s a daily list of activities, so parent time is easy to schedule. It’s the perfect opportunity to escape to the Serenity zone, where I’m happy to show my ID to prove I’m over 18.
There’s a pool and spa (without the squeals), a bar and private pods with views over the Big Blue.
But there’s another hidden cove to enjoy. Every afternoon I escape to the Turkish steam room, where I’m happy to close the glass door and let the hot vapours do their job.
Our nine-night cruise to New Caledonia is the perfect way to acclimatise to cruising (my husband had been reluctant to be dragged onto a ship).
The first two days on the ship let us enjoy the activities and acclimatise to cruising. We then have four days of exploring New Caledonia’s islands, then the final two days returning home.
Most nights we head down to the regal Empire dining room to enjoy the a la carte menu, except for two nights when the children are happily sent to kids club so we can enjoy a romantic evening.
As a family we love sitting in the elegant Empire room with crisp white tablecloths and perusing the incredible menu, which changes each evening.
The same staff serves us each night so we quickly become friends. Then there’s the gorgeous Maitre D, Desi, who charms and entertains the guests.
Another Aussie touch is the very likeable down-to-earth hotel director Stu Dunn, who never stops. At 7am he’s leading the walkers around the boat, later he’s running the hairy-chest competition, and in the evening he’s hosting the fabulous live entertainment – plus he’s always happy for a chat.
The four days of island-hopping mean we wake up each day to a new breathtaking view from our room. We discover Isle of Pines, Lifou, Noumea and Mare, all as magical as the brochures have you believe.
We hire snorkelling gear on the ship so many hours are spent discovering the underwater beauty of this tropical paradise.
A day in the capital Noumea gives us our first taste a real civilisation, and it’s wonderful to visit the local French markets.
The cruise offers plenty of information for day trips, but with some homework it’s easy to also play it by ear and go solo.
Back on board, there are several tense family mini-golf tournaments – girls versus boys. It’s all wonderful family time, win or lose.
IF YOU GO
Fares on Carnival Spirit’s eight-night cruise to the Pacific Islands from Sydney, departing August 29, are priced from $889 (subject to availability, conditions apply) per person quad share, and include accommodation, main meals, and onboard entertainment.
For more information and bookings, call Carnival Cruise Lines on 13 31 94 or visit carnival.com.au.
* The writer travelled as a guest of Carnival Cruises.