Cruising with Princess to Papua New Guinea (PNG) may be the perfect way to travel to this unsuspecting tourist destination.
PNG’s tourist industry is very much in its infancy and doesn’t make a lot of peoples “travel to” lists. But if you have been reading up on the must visit destinations for 2016, you will see PNG firmly on the list.
A lot of people have reservations about traveling to this still pretty remote country. There is the odd news article of an incident involving a tourist and the Australian Government’s official travel advisory for those considering visiting is to do so with a “high degree of caution”.
The stories and cautions would put most people off travelling there and firmly put a visit to PNG in the “too hard” basket. I’m very much an independent traveller and have travelled extensively. Even so, PNG has always been a destination that kept slipping to the bottom of my list for these very reasons.
Then a couple of years ago I saw that it was possible to go cruising with Princess to Papua New Guinea from Australia. I wanted to go, but the husband didn’t. Therefore it went to the bottom of the list once again.
It seems that visiting PNG was to be my destiny. At the end of last year I was invited to go cruising with Princess to Papua New Guinea aboard the Sea Princess.
This is the first in a series on Princess and PNG, there really is so much to share with you. I thought a nice way to start is with an overall view of our trip. Giving you a brief insight of what cruising with Princess to Papua New Guinea is like.
Day 1 - Embarkation Day Brisbane
Boarding a cruise ship is very much like boarding a plane. You arrive at the terminal at your allocated time, drop off your tagged luggage and then check in. With cruise cards and other information in hand we head to security and immigration. As boarding time is staggered it is a pretty speedy process and before we know it we are excitedly skipping up the gangplank to begin our 10 night cruise.
Finding our cabin is an easy affair, and we dump unwanted hand luggage before heading off for some lunch and explore the Sea Princess. This is my first time on the Sea Princess and my first full length cruise. I feel like a kid on a big adventure, I want to go explore everything.
The day had started early with an early flight from Sydney to Brisbane, therefore first stop is Horizon Court Buffet for lunch, Sea Princess’ self serve smorgasbord. It is open 24 hours offering breakfast, lunch, dinner and light snacks.
It’s a bit of a mad house as everyone seems to have the same idea, plus it’s the only place to have lunch on embarkation day. It is a big space and we don’t have any issues finding somewhere to sit to eat lunch.
After a bit of an explore we head back to our cabin and are happy to find that our luggage has turned up. We also meet Macton our cabin steward for time we are on board. He looks after the cleaning of our cabin, nightly room turn down, and generally makes sure we don’t want for a thing. We also find out during the cruise that he is the master of towel animals. By the end of the cruise we have acquired our own zoo of freshly laundered animals.
Later in the afternoon, before setting sail, there is the mandatory emergency drill. This happens on all cruise ships before setting sail. The expected alarm is activated, we grab our life jackets from the wardrobe, and head to our designated marshalling area. There is a little sitting around until all passengers arrive, and once they have the safety demonstration is carried out.
Don’t have any grand ideas of staying in your cabin. Your allocated steward will do a cabin check to make sure you have gone, then upon entering your designated area your cruise card will be scanned so you are accounted for. If you haven’t turned up, they call for you over the PA system.
For departure we head up to the Seaview Bar for some cocktails. A few blasts from the ship’s horn at sunset and we start to meander down the Brisbane River. The voyage has begun.
For the duration of your cruise you will be assigned one of two dining rooms, ours is the Rigoletto. You will also be assigned an early or late seating time for dinner as well as a table. Generally you will be placed on a table of six, eight or ten people, whom you will dine with every night you have dinner in the dining room. This means you will be with a group of people you already know or you are about to meet new friends. There are a handful of tables for two.
As well as a time and table, you will also have the same two waiters every evening. Jesus and Nemanja looked after us while we dined at the Rigoletto. They got to know my drink preferences, that I drink too much, that I enjoy sparkling water with dinner and other little details like that. It gets to the point where they pretty much know what you want before you have thought about it.
After a very long day Josh and I just head back to our cabin to crash. We are asleep within minutes thanks to the gentle roll of the Sea Princess. Being rocked to sleep by a ship each evening is one of my favourite things about cruising.
Day 2 – Sea Day & The First Formal Night
Our first day at sea is a rather relaxing one. We explore more of what the ship has to offer. There seems to be something happening every minute to keep you occupied, zumba classes, shuffle board, trivia, seminars, movies, gaming lessons, live music, bingo, it’s an endless supply of entertainment.
As it’s the first of our two formal nights that evening I decide to visit the Lotus Spa for a manicure and pedicure. It’s a relaxing space offering all sorts of beauty treatments, plus acupuncture for those so inclined.
We start our formal evening with the Captain’s welcome address and a champagne fountain. Champagne is offered around and you can have your photo taken while you pour some champagne into the Marie Antoinette glasses.
The menu this evening in the Rigoletto is in celebration of Princess Cruises' 50th anniversary. It takes us on a culinary journey through the decades. Each course a modern take on some of the most popular dishes during Princess’ sailing years.
After dinner we discover The Nook, the resident Whisky bar. It’s a cosy area on Deck 7 and becomes our second home due to the intimacy and tranquillity of the space. John the bartender and Putu the waiter become old friends by the end of the cruise.
Day 3 – Sea Day, Leaving Aussie Waters
It’s another sea day and in between reading and getting some work done, we participate in a few of the ship’s scheduled activities.
I head to the Norman Love Pastry Chocolate demonstration as it completely appeals to my love of chocolate and cooking. The whole atrium smelt like chocolate, and of course there are samples to try.
There is one major draw back to cruising, the endless supply of food!
For dinner we head to the Sterling Steakhouse, which is the Sea Princess’ signature restaurant. All food is included in the price of your cruise, but there are a few exceptions. The Sterling Steakhouse is one of them. For an extra $25 per person you can order what you wish from the menu, there is no limits except your stomach.
We pass up on dancing the night away with DJ Frost in the Legends bar and stop by The Nook for a quick nightcap on the way to bed. This cruising business is seriously tiring work.
Day 4 - Alotau
This morning I wake up with Kawanasausau Strait sailing past my balcony. We are running a little behind in arriving in Alotau due to a medical emergency the previous morning, which saw a person being airlifted from the ship. We eventually dock just before 11am.
After a couple of relaxing days at sea I’m ready for my first taste of PNG.
There are a couple of options open to you, an organised tour or you can go and explore the surrounding areas by yourself. Tours can be booked online before leaving home or on board. The benefit of booking your tour through Princess Cruises is that you are guaranteed that the ship will not depart without you if something delays your return, e.g. bus gets a flat tyre.
Tours vary in length and price. There is a history tour of Alotau, a cultural experience with a local family, the battle of Milne Bay tour, or head to the Alotau Cultural Festival. You will be given a disembarkation time that will get you to your tour on time. The mini buses line up, you jump in, and off you go to explore.
Alotau is the capital of the Milne Bay Province and is famous for the Battle of Milne Bay, which occurred during World War II. This was the first major battle in which allied troops decisively defeated Japanese land forces.
It’s a dusty town with bumpy roads and smiling locals. Everyone seems to have come down to the bay to witness the spectacle of the cruises invading their town for the day. If you aren’t going on an organised tour it is an easy walk to the town markets where you can purchase souvenirs, and have a look at the fresh fruit & vegetables, fish and other local products. Please note that you can’t bring fresh fruit and vegies back on to the ship.
Day 5 – Kitava
The beauty of cruising is that you go to sleep somewhere and wake up in a new destination. Today we visit Kitava, one of the four Trobriand Islands.
Unlike Alotau where we simply walked off the ship when we pulled in to port, today’s adventures require a tender to take us to shore. A tender is a small boat (life boat) that ferries you to shore. In order to board a tender you need to obtain a ticket that gives you an allocated tender time. This saves the push and shove of everyone trying to get off the ship at once. You don’t need a tender ticket to return, you are free to do so at your own leisure.
Kitava is the extreme opposite to Alotau, it’s a snorkelling haven. Do make sure you pack your snorkelling gear before leaving home as there isn’t any for hire. You also have the opportunity to do some more shopping, or go for walks inland. Hike up to the look out, the local village or skull caves.
Day 6 – Rabaul
Our third day of discovering PNG is in Rabaul, which is nestled under the majestic Mount Tavurvur Volcano.
In 1994 Mount Tavurvur erupted and covered the entire town in ash. The town folk evacuated down the road and basically didn’t come back. There is still ash everywhere today, it’s fascinating to see. The roads are bumpy and the ash makes it a dusty little town.
Like Alotau, Rabaul is part of World War II history. Rabaul was a base for the Japanese troops. You can go for an independent walk around Rabaul, but again I highly recommend that you hop on one of the organised tours.
There is a choice of two half day tours, which take in such sights as; Bitapaka War Cemetery, Kokopo War & Cultural Museum, Rabaul Volcano Observatory & North Coast.
The moonscape of the Rabaul hot springs is well worth visiting and offers a close view of Mount Tavurvur. It is possible to climb Tavurvur with a guide, weather and volcano explosions pending.
After heading back to the ship and freshening up after a long day discovering Rabaul, we head to the Beer & Wine Garden. The Sea Princess’ own pop up festival. The “garden” is a showcase of wines and beers for you to sample. Let’s just say we had a very festive evening as we sailed away from Rabaul.
Day 7 – Sea Day Sailing PNG
After three full packed days of exploring PNG a sea day is a welcome respite. We start our day with an insider’s tour of the ship. We get to see what goes on behind the scenes and what goes into keeping the Sea Princess ship shape.
Besides the very informative tour, we do a lot of not much. Participate in various activities on board, read and eat.
We have lunch at Café Corniche, which has been given the accolade of best pizzas on the high seas. We end up eating there twice, so they must be pretty good. Pizzas are included in your cruise fare, but if you wish to have one delivered to your cabin it will be an extra $3. Of course you can order one to go and take it to your cabin yourself and save the $3.
Day 8 – Doini Island, Kawanasausau Strait & Milne Bay
Our final stop in PNG is another tropical island. Doini Island is located in the heart of Milne Bay on the Eastern tip of PNG. This is another tender access stop, but well worth it for the reward of white sandy beaches and crystal blue water as far as the eye can see.
Another fantastic snorkelling spot, and unlike Kitava, Doini is a resort. This means there are facilities, a bar and live music. The locals from the surrounding islands have a market running where you can purchase souvenirs.
After spending the morning soaking up the sun on Doini it’s back on to the Dawn. Once everyone is on board we set sail and make our way through the Kawanasausau Strait.
I planned ahead and ordered some guacamole and corn chips to be delivered to our room as well as a bottle of champagne. We watched the islands pass by from the comfort of our cabin balcony munching on dip and sipping on champers. It was such a relaxing way to watch PNG fade in to the distance as we started our journey back to Australia.
Day 9 – Sea Day, Homeward Bound & 2nd Formal Night
We start our day with breakfast in bed. Well, to be more precise breakfast on our balcony. For $49 you can enjoy a champagne breakfast for two in your cabin.
It was quite a funny event. Four trays were delivered with a vast amount of food. The trays covered my bed as there wasn’t anywhere else to put them. We had a breakfast feast of fresh fruit, smoked salmon, pastries, coffee, tea, fruit juice and of course there was a bottle of Prosecco.
After a filling breakfast what better to do than waddle down to the Sanctuary and laze around for the morning. The Sanctuary is the Sea Princess’ adults only slice of relaxing nirvana. For $20/person half day or $40/person for a full day ($30/full day for entire trip) you can enjoy an exclusive little area of the ship. Leave yourself in the hands of the Serenity Stewards who will offer you healthy drinks and snacks while you laze around on the ultra comfortable deck chairs.
That evening was our second and final formal dinner on the cruise. Snappy cocktail dresses for the ladies, jackets and ties for the men. Another multicourse feast was consumed and more waddling ensured.
The night finished with the 50th Anniversary Golden Balloon Drop Gala Party. A sea of golden balloons was dropped from the Atrium ceiling on those dancing below.
Day 10 – Sea Day, Final Day on Board
Our final day on Sea Princess had arrived and it was probably our laziest day of all. Well that was after we hit the sales. If you like to shop, then this is the day to do it. Sales everywhere!
It is also the day where you need to pack. All bags need to be tagged and put out for collection before you head to dinner. Insiders tip, make sure you have an adequate over night bag that you can pack all those essentials you need to keep with you until disembarkation in the morning.
We had one last dinner in the Rigoletto and bid a fond farewell to Jesus and Nemanja, who had looked after us like silk worms. Then it was on to The Nook for final nightcaps and more farewells. At this point I am feeling quite sad to leave my newly formed family.
Early to bed as we had an early disembarkation time in order to meet our flight back to Sydney in the morning.
Day 11 – Arriving in Brisbane
We wake up and we are in Brisbane. Josh and I don’t bother about breakfast (but it is available if you want it), we just grab our belongings and head to our designated area to disembark. You will have a time, which is allocated to you.
Leaving is the reverse of boarding. You will need to go through immigration and then clear customs. Pull out all those shells and wooden items people. Yes you will be able to bring them in, they just need a good once over to make sure that is all you are brining in. They will be given a shake out and inspection to clear them of bugs etc.
Then it is a case of picking up your luggage and heading to your reserved bus transfer or a cab to your next destination.
All in all it was a very easy, non hassle way to taste what PNG has to offer. I would highly recommend it to those interested in visiting PNG.
How was cruising with Princess to Papua New Guinea? The staff go above and beyond, and you will feel like family by the time you disembark. Sadly you may also be 5kg heavier. I really should have titled this “Eating my way to PNG with Princess”!
Belly Rumbles travelled on the Sea Princess to PNG as a guest of Princess Cruises.
Majority of the photos above were taken on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lenses