Some thoughts on cruising, luxury and disconnecting.
Growing up in Sydney, the fact I am not, and have never been, a beach person has often elicited gasps and some teasing judgment. Beyond simply being a city person to begin with, I would much prefer to be freezing my toes off and climbing gorgeous mountains in Iceland, to sunning at the beach. Fact of the matter is, I am both too restless for just relaxing and doing nothing, and too lazy to muster energy when temperatures reach beyond 35C (even worse when it's humid. If people could wilt, that would be me).
8 days of cruising to the tropical South Pacific Islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu with my extended family, and I have a pretty awkward bikini tan, a newfound appreciation for snorkelling and the knowledge that taking a break from the internet for 8 days seems merely to result in many more daytime naps.
Cruise ships occupy an interesting space between two extremes - the movie definition of 'luxury', full of shiny surfaces polished to high gleam, courteous staff dressed to the nines who use 'madam', 'sir' and (in one particular, seven-year-old's case) 'princess' instead of names, and an impression of pure abundance, from the free-flowing food to its assortment of pools, theatre, art galleries, spas, casinos and duty-free shopping. At the same time, it's a necessarily abbreviated, mass-produced form of luxury, where giving 'everything' to more than 3000 guests means that 'everything' must be abridged, portioned and scheduled, ready for the line of guests awaiting their turn. Similarly, the island day trips, while a welcome change of scenery, gives you little time to do anything beyond getting a cursory introduction to the aspects of island living designed to be showcased to tourist-loaded tender boats (though, to be fair, there is enough time to scope out the local French supermarket and empty a coconut). You do have to admire the commitment of the staff, and the feat of engineering, teamwork and logistics that enables such a ship to exist, elaborate theatre and ice-skating performance setpieces included. On the whole it was a very interesting experience. It's certainly a trip I would fund for all much-beleaguered parents so they can relax without worrying about anything at all (and, incidentally, young teenagers who have a surprising obsession with going to the gym).
My favourite moments, however, turned out to be the ones in between regularly scheduled programming - clambering up at 5AM to run up 6 flights of stairs to take photos of the sunrise, lying on a loungechair in the afternoon listening to the waves, temporary cornrows by a talented Mystery Island girl named Celia, finding out that snorkelling makes me a braver swimmer, a 5-person-on-a-bed Star Wars marathons, and sketching while sipping tea at the Royal Promenade cafe.
Spending time with family without the internet will never be the life-changing, revolutionary experience that we are told we absolutely need, but if this cruise has taught me anything, it's that moderation is key.
Also, don't try a difficult rock climb three times in the space of 15 minutes because you are stubborn and/or competitive. Your rarely-exerted muscles will thank you later.