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Remember when cruise ships were the domain of very rich oldies or people getting plastered on fun ships? Not anymore. Prices are family-friendly, destinations are mind-blowing and the global cruise sector is booming. Lainie Anderson discovers why...   

It’s 1am and I’m sitting at a black jack table, nursing a precious collection of $5 chips in one hand and a gin and tonic in the other. I glance down at my Great Gatsby ensemble, and decide a quick tango in the nightclub is in order before strolling home to bed.

So, where am I?

If your answer is "on a cruise ship" ... well, hello my clever friend. And isn’t this cruising caper a hoot?

My husband and I recently left the kids behind with Nanna (yes, the woman is a legend) to see why cruise ships are the new black, brown and blue in international travel. The P&O Pacific Eden was our liner of choice, and the little-known Trobriand Islands of Papua New Guinea were our destination du jour.

Turns out all these ‘senior’ Aussies, gleefully spending our inheritance while flitting across vast oceans, are totally onto something. Might be why so many families are getting into the action these days too. Here are five quick reasons why I can’t wait to get back on board:

  • The food: Not sure why, but I’ve always equated cruise ships with budget buffet dining. Unfair! There are more restaurants on the Pacific Eden than you’ll find in your average regional town. Freddy faves include Salt Grill by Luke Mangan, Dragon Lady and Chef’s Table. And the sliders by the pool are worth the belly bulge in your bathers.
  • The fun: Your idea of fun might not be bingo, quizzes, nightly theatre shows or a Roaring 20s Gatsby headband-making workshop. But you know what they say ... when in Rome. Having said that, no activity on board goes for too long, so within an hour I was always back doing my absolutely favourite fun thing: lazing by the adults-only pool with my new ship besties Lizzie and Helen with a cool drink in hand (and whispering a small prayer to the god of all-the-Sav Blanc-you-can-drink alcohol packages). From pool, to freshening up, to pre-dinner drinks in one of 10 bars and lounges, to restaurant, to casino, to nightclubbing and then a quick hop, step and a stumble back to the cabin (with no exorbitant taxi fare). #winning.
  • The action: The vast array of things to do on board will make your head spin. The P&O Edge Adventure Park will too – especially as you hurtle through the air over the top-deck pool on the exhilarating zip line. You can fend off the calories in the gym with its penthouse sea views (OK, so I only went once but I DID break a sweat) or circumnavigating the ship on a slow jog around the divine wooden floorboards of level six. 
  • The culture: It might seem like the PNG day tours are a bit of an afterthought in this article, and to be honest they’re not top of mind when I look back on our week at sea. But of course the trip wouldn’t have been the same without meeting some of the wonderful people of the Trobriand Islands, getting a glimpse into their daily lives and seeing that spectacular island scenery. Not to mention the amazing snorkeling, the forest walks to skull-filled caves and the delightful kids showing off their traditional dance moves. Our richest rewards came from stepping away from the organised tourist activities and long lines of souvenir sellers to head out in a boat with local fishermen; sit on a beachside veranda to share lunch with a village chief; and join hundreds of locals swarming around boats laden with exotic fish as the day's catch was divided. 
  • The time: The thing is; you can do everything and nothing on a cruise. During one day at sea, I raced down to the buffet just in time to grab coffee and a few pastries for breakfast, then returned to bed to read until mid afternoon. Haven’t done that for a decade. 

True, cruising wouldn’t be quite as self-indulgent with the kids in tow, but the ship is such a safe environment (complete with kids’ club of course) that there’s absolutely no need for helicopter parenting. That’s especially true if your kids are teens like mine – throw them the TV remote and the room service menu and they won’t bother you for days.   

Better still, convince the grandparents that you’d love, love, love them to spend a bit of their inheritance on you, and all head off together on a cruise so they can babysit back in the cabin every now then.

Although, judging from all the exuberant oldies spilling out of Pacific Eden’s bars and lounges around midnight, convincing them to babysit might be easier said than done...