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Is cruising better than flying? This traveller thinks so

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The Pacific Explorer on a five-night repositioning cruise from Auckland to Melbourne.

Repositioning cruises are as much about the journey as they are the destination; enhancing your holiday from the get-go. Melissa Nightingale is keen for us all to replace a tedious flight with a leisurely cruise. Here’s why.

It’s the middle of the night, and in the hallway, there’s a commotion.

The crew of the cruise ship have congregated, sleep in their eyes. There’s a stowaway on board, if you could put it that way. A minutes-old baby girl, born in the middle of the night to one of the staff, who hadn’t even realised she was pregnant.

Now 7, and named Pearl – after the ship she was unexpectedly born on – the child’s wild entrance to the world still goes down as the most “dramatic” thing now-cruise director Ryan James has ever known to happen on a cruise he was on.

Now, this may not seem like the key takeaway for most, but bear with me: if you were going to give birth to a surprise baby in transit to another country, wouldn’t you prefer to be on a ship instead of a plane?

I’ll branch out on that just a little bit. Wouldn’t any trip to another country be nicer on a ship, regardless of whether or not any births are taking place? Let’s face it, the flight is the worst part of an overseas holiday.

Getting up in the early hours to make it to the airport in time for an obscenely early baggage drop-off deadline, shuffling bleary-eyed through security, squeezing into a too-small economy class seat – wouldn’t it be nice to skip all that?

For an affordable way to holiday in Fiji with your family, look no further than P&O’s Pacific Explorer

P&O’s Pacific Explorer ensures a memorable and enjoyable experience for everyone onboard. Photo / Supplied
P&O’s Pacific Explorer ensures a memorable and enjoyable experience for everyone onboard. Photo / Supplied

Allow me to propose an alternative: travel by sea. Sit on a sun lounger with a cocktail in your hand and leg room galore, and relax in the knowledge nobody is going to hate you for reclining as far back as you’d like.

Cruises that travel from one destination to another without making a round trip, also known as repositioning cruises, have their pros and cons.

On the one hand, they often come with a lot of sea days, meaning you’re out in the open ocean for days at a time without any stops. This is not for everyone. On the other, for those who really just feel like kicking back on their way to their destination, this is pretty much ideal.

Of course, the staff and crew on board repositioning cruises know the days with only ocean to see can become monotonous, so it’s their job to keep passengers happy and engaged throughout.

On board P&O’s Pacific Explorer on its recent repositioning trip from Auckland to Melbourne, James is particularly busy catering each day’s activities to the demographic on board.

“My job day-to-day is to do the arrangements for upcoming days on the cruise,” he said.

Repositioning cruises often travel from Auckland to Sydney.  Photo / Harry Hayes
Repositioning cruises often travel from Auckland to Sydney. Photo / Harry Hayes

A good part of his role is “reading the room” and making sure the guests are happy, and altering the schedule to achieve that.

“If there’s a different demographic on board we do sort of tweak it.”

The vibe of the cruise could differ depending on age, gender, and whether there was a higher number of Kiwis or Aussies on board.

“[Kiwis] party longer than the Aussie crowd, but the Aussie crowd go in hard,” he said.

It’s already sounding better than a flight, right?

I have long wondered about turning the trip to a destination into part of the holiday experience, so travelling on this repositioning cruise was a great trial run.

On our second night on the cruise, we headed down to the theatre where the talented performance crew leaped athletically around the stage and belted out rock anthems for a classic rock-themed production.

Dare I say it, you’re unlikely to have a mesh-clad young man in eyeliner singing, gyrating and beckoning to you as you sit in your airline seat, and if that does happen to you on a plane, my condolences. It’s considerably more acceptable in front of a stage in a theatre.

Melissa Nightingale walks the plank on P&Os Pacific Explorer during a Tasman crossing.
Melissa Nightingale walks the plank on P&Os Pacific Explorer during a Tasman crossing.

Six more reasons to ditch the sardine can and try a repositioning cruise instead:

  • Did someone say massages? Or any other spa treatment you might want, for that matter. While away some of that spare time with a visit to the spa on board – I can recommend the salt scrub.
  • Nearly unlimited food that doesn’t have a plastic cover on top coated on the inside with condensation. There are multiple restaurants on board to choose from, with some included in your fare. For an extra cost you can splurge at some of the specialty restaurants. My favourite had to be a seven-course degustation dinner with wine matching at Salt, where we ate recipes from celebrity chef Luke Mangan’s collection.
  • On P&O you can “walk the plank” and pretty much hang off the side of the ship as the water rushes by below you. I would not recommend this on a plane.
  • You can attend the Purple Rabbit, a raunchy magic show where you will probably see some guy take off his pants, revealing the answer to a magic trick is duct-taped across his bare ass cheeks. Again, it’s not impossible this could happen on a flight, but you’re unlikely to enjoy it if it does.
  • There’s also the chance of witnessing something cool. On the lower end, you might see some dolphins. On the slightly more exciting end, you could see a dramatic ocean rescue. The Pacific Explorer was involved in two mayday rescues in as many weeks in late 2023, the most recent happening when an Australian ocean rower had to be uplifted from his capsised yacht outside of Noumea during a failed attempt at a cross-Pacific record attempt.
  • Stressed about taking a small child on a flight? Go on a cruise instead and drop them in the kids club. Problem solved.
A man was rescued from a capsised yacht, 10 hours north of Noumea, by the crew of the Pacific Explorer.  Photo / Daniel Logan
A man was rescued from a capsised yacht, 10 hours north of Noumea, by the crew of the Pacific Explorer. Photo / Daniel Logan

P&O Cruises Australia chief commercial officer, Kathryn Robertson, said repositioning cruises offered a “value-packed short break for those with little time to spare”. She said they were an affordable and leisurely way to travel.

“Our ships are a destination unto themselves, and with more time at sea, guests are able to simply relax and take advantage of all the onboard activities on offer.”

With some of these short trips priced at less than $400 per person twin share, it’s definitely tempting to skip the hassle of the airport for at least one leg of the journey. Some cruise lines also offer repositioning cruises in other parts of the world, including Singapore to Australia or Europe to America.

Unexpected babies, however, are not guaranteed.

Melissa Nightingale is a Wellington-based reporter who covers crime, justice and news in the capital. She joined the Herald in 2016 and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.



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