We have had a long-standing goal of crossing the Atlantic via ship, but for some reason we didn’t have a similar goal for the Pacific. All that changed when we noticed that Carnival had a separate division in Australia and one of their cruise offerings was an 18 day cruise from Sydney to Honolulu visiting 5 ports along the way. We were immediately hooked by the idea and soon we were booked for a cruise on the Carnival Legend! In a few short months we flew to Sydney and after spending a week there it was time for our Pacific cruise!
Our cruise began in beautiful Sydney Harbour at the Circular Quay. (BTW – That’s pronounced “key”.) The Carnival cruise port is situated directly opposite the Sydney Opera House and just a short distance from The Harbour Bridge. This is one of the few ports where you can have a movie-style departure with friends waving at you from the dock as you sail away! Unfortunately, we had no friends here to wave us off, but our Sydney friend, Wendy, was out on the tip of Potts Point as we sailed by.
Our departure time was set at 4:00 PM but for some reason we were delayed until about 6:30. This worked out perfectly as we had fantastic views of The Harbour Bridge and the Opera House as we sailed out. This was so incredible that I think no cruise should leave Sydney Harbour in the daytime!
Our cruise began with two sea days. We love sea days and there were a total of 11 days on this cruise with no ports and no sight of land. During these days there is no lack of things to do. I typically start my sea day around 5:00 AM. I start by touring the ship (making sure all is well and checking our position on the world map) and then I settle in at my “ship’s office” (a table on the port side of the Lido deck) where I post to social media and catch up on my writing. Between 8 and 8:30 AM, Mona will wander over to my office and we’ll go have breakfast. After that we have to start making choices: Will it be trivia games? Lounging with a good book? Lectures on destinations? Eating? Chatting with friends? Our days always seemed to be packed!
Nights at sea were always jam packed as well. Most started with a great dinner at our table for 14. Yes, that sounds like a lot for one table, but it worked out very well. Somehow the 14 of us rotated seats enough that over the cruise we ended up enjoying the company of everyone at the table at least once or twice. After dinner there was a show in the theater. Some nights there were Vegas-like productions, others included acts like magicians, mentalists and one night there was a hypnotist. Lots of fun!
After the shows there is still plenty to do. There’s always the casino, music, comedians, dancing and a sports bar to watch rugby or soccer. Some people stay up until the wee hours of the morning enjoying all the fun, but for us, the day ends around 10 or 10:30. By then we’re tapped out and ready to be lulled to sleep by the ship.
Ports of Call
New Caledonia: It was a warm sunny morning when we anchored at the port in Noumea, New Caledonia. We were on the Lido Deck watching the docking when we heard some drums and shouting. We looked around and some some men clad in straw skirts and carrying spears doing what appeared to be a cross between a welcome dance and a war dance. Very cool!
Previously, I only knew of New Caledonia because it was where McHale’s Navy used to go for R&R. I now know that it was the second largest American WWII military base in the Pacific with over 1,000,000 men stationed there. Also, New Caledonia is French and its language is French but over 33 different languages are spoken on its 700+ plus islands. There are still lots of tribal clans with their own languages and customs. I know all this because we took a bus tour of the island and we had an excellent guide who explained all this to us!
Our visit consisted of a tour and a little geocaching. We may have to visit again to get a better understanding of what New Caledonia has to offer.
Fiji: Two days later our captain threaded our tiny vessel of 88,500 tons through the reef and to the dock at Port Denarau, Fiji. Now, if you’re like me you tend to think of Fiji as an island. In fact, it consists of over 330 islands and 540 islets, covering an expanse of approximately 18,700 square kilometers. About 135 of those islands are inhabited by approximately 895,000 people. Most of those inhabits are native; however, there are a sizable number of Indians whose ancestors came here as indentured cane field workers.
After debarkation we boarded a bus to take us to the Westin where there is an area set aside for Fijian traditional meke (dances). This is one of the few places they still perform the firewalk and this clan is one of the few still allowed to do so.
Here I was honored to be deemed Chief of the Day and I got to start the ceremonies by drinking kava out of a half shell of a coconut. Kava is a mildly narcotic drink made from mixing the powdered root of the kava plant with water. Drinking it gave me a numb feeling around the mouth and tongue along with a sense of relaxation. Once I was properly relaxed the festivities began!
There were several meke, some with women and some with men, all with drums and chanting.
The finale was when each warrior walked on stones that had been roasting in the fire throughout all the dancing. We sat near the fire pit during this and even twenty feet away the heat was uncomfortable.
Did you know? Fijians used to be cannibals. However, the last documented occurrence of cannabilism was in the 1800s. About the time our home state of Illinois gained statehood 7 missionaries visited Fiji. The leader of the missionaries patted a tribal chief on the head. This was a gross insult so they ate all of them! Note: Since I was chief of the day my fellow cruise mates made a point of NOT touching my head! Now… you know!
Afterwards, I talked to the top warrior of the clan. He was a quite serious fellow and he told me about how his clan was very special and how he is helping them modernize their family. He also accepted, on behalf of the clan, a Bee Kind Rock made by my sister.
After the Fijian dances we boarded a bus to take us back to the port area. There we visited a restaurant where we tried some local foods and met new friends at a geocaching event, the first one we have ever hosted. Our day was long, but it was wonderful!
Papeete, Tahiti: Five days and two Mondays later we pulled into port in Papeete, Tahiti. Yep, two Mondays because we crossed the International Date Line and literally had two Mondays in a row. Unfortunately, our visit to Papeete was not to be a pleasant one. Three days before Mona came down with a severe nose bleed. The ship’s physicians had treated it as best they could but couldn’t fix the problem. As a result, we had to stay in our cabin for two days until we got to Papeete because the bleeding wouldn’t stop. Carnival also told us that we should be prepared for our cruise to end in Tahiti if the local doctor couldn’t fix it.
Carnival made arrangements for Mona to be seen by a specialist in Papeete and a crew member escorted us through the busy streets to the clinic. There we met a wonderful French doctor, Dr. Thierry Soussi, who spoke English with (Mona says) a wonderful French accent.
Dr. Soussi treated Mona, told her to rest onboard the ship until 6:00 PM when we would return to him to see if the procedure was successful. Before we could leave we had to pay the surgical bill. Luckily, we had our credit card with us and paid the bill of 13,753 French Polynesian Francs. That charge was a bit of a shocker until we found a WiFi hotspot to find out that the bill was actually only $130.32 American. WHEW! (And, yes we followed our own advice and had travel insurance so all charges, including the onboard medical fees, were fully covered.)
We returned to the clinic for Mona’s 6:00 PM appointment and she was tentatively cleared by Dr. Soussi. She wouldn’t be fully cleared unless we reached Bora Bora with no resumption of issues.
We didn’t totally miss out on experiencing Tahiti as that night a troupe of Tahitian dancers came on board the Legend and put on a show. We both felt it was just for Mona!
Did you know? Tahiti is one of 118 islands and atolls stretching over 1200 miles of the South Pacific and collectively, known as French Polynesia (so technically we were in Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia) which is an overseas collectivity of France. Many consider French Polynesia a separate country but all their citizens have French nationality and are entitled to vote in French presidential elections. Now… you know!
Moorea, French Polynesia: Overnight we steamed 30 kilometers (about 18 miles) to the port in Moorea. The harbor here is too shallow for the Legend’s 26 foot draft so the ship was anchored off shore and tinders were used to ferry passengers ashore.
In our case, we had booked a 6 hour excursion so we simply stepped from the Legend onto our small excursion boat. We then motored along the coast, enjoying the scenery above and the scenes in the water below us.
After a few kilometers the captain decided it was a good place to swim so he dropped the anchors and in we went! At first the water was full of rays, much like the ones we had seen in Stingray City off of Grand Cayman. But soon we had new visitors swimming with us…4 to 6 feet reef sharks! There were about 30 of them milling around in the water and our guides were chumming for more. This was my first time swimming with sharks and It. Was. Awesome! Unfortunately, Mona couldn’t join in because of doctor’s orders so I guess we’ll have to go back.
After swimming we motored a few kilometers more to a small motu (island) where we waded ashore. Here they were cooking a lunch for us and we were free to swim while waiting. The water was crystal clear and the swimming was primarily in a channel between two motus. Lots of fish to see and even a ray or two. While there a guy waded up to Mona and I with a pan of chunks of raw fish that he had just caught and cleaned. Of course we tried it and it was wonderful! Shortly afterwards we had our island lunch: grilled fish, grilled chicken, raw fish, salad and pineapple. Excellent!
After lunch we waded along the shore and several rays came to visit. Mona finally got her chance to pet a few stingrays! She’s loved petting rays ever since our first visit to the Grand Caymans.
Mona was tired and wanted to sit and listen to music so I borrowed a mask and a snorkel and went to explore. I swam about 100 meters up the channel towards the ocean and came across huge pieces of coral of all colors: pinks, whites, yellows…along with anenomes about a foot in diameter, colored bright orange and with little fish swimming in and out of them. This reef was teaming with fish of all kinds and all colors. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many at one time. I’ve got to get a GoPro!
It rained almost the entire time we were here, but it didn’t matter. The magic of Moorea won the day!
Bora Bora: Ah…Bora Bora…the stuff of legend and bucket lists. It’s just a small island in French Polynesia, but who hasn’t dreamed of visiting here!
Bora Bora is basically one island surrounded by a huge reef. Yes, there are a few motus, but still it’s basically one mountain island with a huge lagoon. The waters inside the lagoon are usually calm thus allowing the construction of those in-the-lagoon hotel rooms that we’ve all seen pictures of.
Today was kind of a repeat of yesterday. Boarding an excursion boat straight from our ship, incredible scenery, rays, sharks, sun, rain, sand, beaches, beautiful natives. Boring, huh? Mona still couldn’t get in with me to swim with the sharks and rays even though she was eager. As I said, we are going to have to figure out how to repeat the experience for her.
The water started getting pretty rough on top with swells up to two feet. However, the snorkeling was still incredible with lots of rays, sharks and thousands of colorful other fish. I was amazed at how many sharks and rays were at this location. Way too many to count. One shark even swam straight into my face mask. Yikes!
After the swim we had another island lunch but this time it was native fruits prepared by our crew. Afterwards they serenaded us with island songs. Life on Bora Bora is tough!
We shelled in the surf for a while and then we waded back to our excursion boat for a ride to town. There we wandered through the Straw Market and walked to a restaurant for a quick meal before heading back to the ship.
All too soon it was time to take a boat back to the Legend. Time passed so quickly but we crossed another bucket item off our list by visiting Bora Bora!
Crossing the Equator
At 4:41 AM on day 15 of our cruise we crossed the equator! I, along with 5 other passengers and 1 crewmate, were gathered at the ship’s monitor to watch and log our passing over that magical line in the sea. However, most of the ship’s passengers and crew were fast asleep. I don’t know why they would want to sleep through this momentous occasion, but they did!
Later that day the ship conducted the customary King Neptune’s Court to commemorate us first-time-equator crossers’ conversion from Pollywogs to Shellbacks.
The ceremony included the ship’s captain, his senior staff, Judge Jen, and of course Neptune and his Queen. Things started with the judgement and sentencing of several of the ship’s crew who were first timers. Their sentence was to be assaulted with spaghetti, gravy, milk and raw eggs. But only AFTER they kissed the fish!
Afterwards, the passengers received their judgements…they must also Kiss The Fish! We complied with the judge’s orders and kissed the fish and so we are now true Shellbacks. An honor indeed!
Oh, those Aussies!
As I said at the beginning. This cruise was a Carnival-Australia cruise and as such it was tailored for Aussies and there were about 2000 Aussies on the ship. The foods were tailored to Aussie tastebuds so we had things like snags, meat pies, mash peas and Vegemite. Of course, the ship offered all kinds of wonderful food but those four items were seemingly always available on the buffet along with fish n chips. Oh yeah, I guess I should translate: “snags” are sausages. Aussie pies are like American pot pies, but filled with just meat. The cooked peas are always mashed so you could easily pile them on your mashed potatoes and cover with gravy. And Vegemite is an Australian “taste treat” usually lightly spread on top of buttered white toast. Yum. (Note: It took me almost 20 days before I could say “Yum”.)
Another feature of an Aussie cruise are the Aussies themselves. They seem to be the most carefree and fun group of people we’ve ever traveled with. Every day was like a party and not once, literally, not once did I see a passenger berating some poor crewmate. (Unfortunately, we see this all too often on other cruises.)
Not to be outdone are the Kiwis from New Zealand. Yet another group of fun-loving people who helped make this the cruise of a lifetime!
And so it was on the 18th day of our journey we saw Diamond Head rising up off the starboard bow. America at last! Yes, we were glad to be back on home soil and headed back to our family…but…frankly, we weren’t ready to go home just yet. After a few days in Hawaii the Legend was cruising northward to Vancouver and we would have loved to stay aboard with our friends. However, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” so we said farewell to the Legend and aloha to our friends and headed to a local Tiki bar to wait for our plane’s departure. Now all that was between us and home were a few Mai Tais and 4300 miles of travel!
One of Our Best Trips Ever!
The Carnival Legend is a beautiful ship and we love its layout. The food onboard was awesome and the crew was among the best we’ve ever encountered. This was also a “journey” cruise meaning there were extra activities for passengers including lectures about the ports of call, a midnight buffet and a Captain’s Party with free beverages for everyone.
The itinerary was “legendary”; sailing the South Pacific with 5 exotic ports of call and lots of sun-drenched days at sea. All of that is enough to make this an awesome journey!
However, what made the trip even more special were the friends we made along the way. Of course many were trip-only friends but we also met several people who almost instantly felt like life-long friends. Especially touching to us was how concerned they were about Mona’s medical issue and how they helped us through those issues. Some of our tablemates felt badly that we missed Australia’s National Dessert so they had the chef prepare special Pavlovas just for us! Mona had so many onboard doctor’s visits that we made friends with one of the ship’s doctors, Dr. Jackie, and we’ve already cruised again with her on the Carnival Vista. Also, some of our new Aussie friends are planning on visiting us here in the US this summer. Additionally, we are planning to return to Australia in 2018 to visit as many of our new friends as possible. Who knows, we might even be able to skip over to New Zealand to visit those new friends as well!
Yep, wonderful ship and crew + incredible new friends = One of our best trips ever!
If this cruise interests you then you should visit Carnival Australia’s Website. Check out their cruises and be sure to sign up for their newsletter so you’ll get notified of their incredible sales events.
And for the record: We have received no compensation from Carnival for this article. We paid for everything on this journey.
Speaking of paying: We paid $1778.50 Australian for this cruise including taxes and port fees. The exchange rate was at .7 so that translates into $1245 American. Divide that by 18 and you’ll see that this cruise cost us $69 per day per person. Very cheap! Also worth mentioning is that Australia does not have a tipping culture so tips are not automatically expected. Yes, we tipped but definitely less than we would have on an American-based cruise.