Blue Lagoon Cruises – Fiji Princess.
I’ve been on cruises before with the big cruise companies like Norwegian, Carnival, or Princess., huge floating cities with thousands of (predominantly geriatric) guests aboard.
Owned and operated locally, Blue Lagoon Cruises in Fiji is a bit different. The Fiji Princess cruise has a much smaller ship, with fewer guests – only 68, enabling access to bays and inlets inaccessible to the aforementioned floating retirement homes. At one of the stops, they even tie the Princess up to a coconut tree!
The Fiji Princess can dock anywhere..
Before boarding, we were greeted by the Fijian equivalent of a mariachi band – a small group of locals singing and playingguitars, anauthenticstart to our experience.
On our cruise itinerary we had a mere 37 passengers aboard plus crew members, so it felt very intimate. So much so, that cruise director Iosefo, or Sefo for short, knew everybody by first name, a personal touch you don’t often get on bigcruises.
The ship itself has four levels, and open-air dining area, multiple small tender boats for shore excursions (all of which are included). and unbelievably – Wifi on one of the levels. This, of course, caused my wife to complain as I’m actually sitting on the deck in the Wifi zone right now writing this, while other passengers watch sharks surround the Princess.
But don’t worry, I didn’t miss the action, they had circled us for awhile now because a staff members threw them some chicken into the ocean, chumming the sharks – “chicken of the sea”. Awesome! I threw a few pieces of my sandwich but they had the same taste and skipped all the bread. No swimming with the sharks today, that it later.
Chicken of the Sea for the sharks.
While most of the guests were about a decade or two older than us (we’re in our 30s and also happen to be on our honeymoon), there were people from all over the world, and all different walks of life. Most of the people were very cordial, except a Russian princess-type who wore designer clothes even when touring the local Fijian villages. #Annoying.
Our first stop was the famed Castaway Island, or Modriki Island as it’s officially called. We only had 30 minutes, but it was long enough to take some photos in front of some coconuts laid out to spell “Help Me,” and go for a quick snorkel. This is the place where Tom Hanks was stranded for virtually the entire Castaway movie.
Castaway island is spectacular and cinematic. In spite of it being so small, it has towering craggy rock cliffs, a pristine sand beach dotted with palm trees, and coconut shells littered all about. It felt isolated, tropical, and almost alien. But it’s also the home to tons of sea life, including striped tropical fish, seen while snorkeling off the ship. The waters are a deep blue that seems foreign for us California types. And it’s warm. Maybe about 80 degrees.
Awesome snorkeling at Castaway Island.
After this short stop, it was time to retire back to the room for a quick shower and change so we could make the Captain’s Dinner party. Although casual attire is generally acceptable, my wife Megan, pushed us to dress elegantly,.
We were fortunate to right next to Captain Jitoko so we could get to know him and learn his character. He was the first and only Fijian I’ve seen thus far on our trip that had a full head of gray hair. He’s a husky dude that looks like he eats a lot of fish and has seen a lot of things. Megan asked him if he’d ever sailed through a cyclone to which he responded with a yes when he worked for a different cruise line. “It was scary,” he said. Maybe that’s the time when his hair turned gray.
Captain Jitoko was incredibly polite, thanking each of us for attending the Captain’s Dinner by shaking each of our hands. But aside from the driver of the ship, he really gets in there and gets involved in things.
Swim with black-tipped and white-tipped sharks.
On one of the stops, we swam with sharks! Megan, had wanted to do it for years, so this was a huge tick off our bucket list. Honestly though, it sounds a lot scarier than it is. We stopped off at a reef out in the middle of nowhere, and hopped onto a boat tender and splashed out to the reef with our provided snorkel gear.
First the staff went out and fed the sharks so they’d be full when we arrived. They were white tip and black tip reef sharks, about a meter long, and mostly gliding at the bottom of the reef which was about 30 feet down in the deep blue waters. But the Captain really got in there! He was out there with us, swimming with the sharks, and in some cases even diving to the bottom to feed them fish he had brought from the ship. He even caught one by the tail and was petting him as he swam around us.
It was unnerving when they came up to greet us and swam a mere foot away; they majestically darted around, exploring their new friends. At one point there were about 6 sharks in eyesight. Watching from a distance was such a rare and beautiful experience. When I turned around another shark torpedoed straight at me; what an adrenaline rush! My wife enjoyed making fun of me as I scrambled to swim away from the curious reef sharks.
In addition to the sharks, there were also tons of striped tropical fish, starfish, sea cucumbers, and other denizens of the deep/ On another Princess snorkeling trips (of which there were many throughout the cruise), my wife and I had the unfortunate luck of running into a bloom of sea lice.
Megan got it the worst with tons of little red bites all over her that looked like chickenpox. I got it a little, but most people don’t react to it the way she did. None of the other passengers even noticed it. I did some research and discovered that sea lice is actually little microscopic jellyfish larvae that sting the same way adult jellyfish do. It is common in tropical waters. It’s just one of the things that you can experience when you’re in a place where sea life thrives. It is worth taking the risk though as they’re not really dangerous, just annoying.
The way to cure it, as the crew taught us, is to apply white vinegar and to take a hot shower. Our shower wasn’t hot at all, but once we went down to reception to ask, we noticed a repair request form. An hour later the shower be fixed.
Our comfy night time HQ.
As far as the rooms go, there are two types. We stayed in the Orchid Deck rooms which included a fruit platter and regularly restocked mini fridge with local beers, wines, and sodas. The rooms are small, but this is a ship so that is to be expected. The bed is surprisingly comfy, and thankfully there’s a high-powered air conditioner in each room so I could feel comfortable while my wife froze.
There’s also a flat screen TV with an extensive list of movies to watch for free. We did end up watching a couple of movies, but I have to admit, I was very disappointed that the movie Castaway was not included on the list, especially since we just went to the island where it was filmed.
To watch a movie, you have to go down to reception, check out a USB hard drive, and plug it into the TV. It’s a little wonky of a system as some of the movies don’t play sound, but for the most part, it works well, and gave us lots of options.
When cruise events are about to start, the captain or the cruise director speaks over a intercom installed in each room of the ship so we can’t miss it. “Attention,” they might say. “The snorkel trip is departing in 10 minutes. Please meet us at the reception for departure.”
That system worked great for an announcement, but unfortunately the speaker in our room was constantly emitting a low-level high-pitched buzzing sound and occasionally made some moderately annoying click sounds. You cannot turn off the speakers, so that’s just how it is. Maybe its an old ship, or maybe I’m just sound sensitive.
Grinding the Kava roots.
One night that I definitely got a good night sleep, because of the Kava ceremony. Most passengers came with curious minds as the crew and surprise surprise, the Captain, led us through the cultural experience of drinking Kava.
Kava is a medicinally used plant that when mixed with water creates a sort of muddy drink that is known to relax and improve the sex drive , with purported other various health benefits. It basically tastes like dirt; we drank it out of a half-coconut shell; my mouth is left feeling slightly numb, like dent novocaine.
Kava is a social affair, yah ha ha.
Clap once, then drink the entire bowl of Kava, then everyone around you claps three times and cheers you on. All the while, the crew, and most notably the Captain, are singing and playing both guitar and the Ukulele to help create an atmosphere of a typical Fijian cultural experience.
It’s kind of awesome that the captain doesn’t just pilot the boat. He plays guitar, plays the uke, swims and snorkels with sharks and he sings too! The Captain is rarely seen on larger cruises.
Kava is presented to the village chief to enter.
On another excursion we visited a local Fijian village. Here, we learned that once we come ashore, we must wait until the chief of the village accepts us in, at which time we offer him Kava as a gift. Kava is traded as a sort of social currency since in island culture it is quite difficult to obtain with transportation to remote islands. Once the chief accepts the Kava, we are permitted to enter the village and are treated as residents.
Inside the village, we saw all sorts of houses, a school, a church and spoke with the locals about what it’s like to live in a traditional Fijian village, cut off from most of society. Many of the people abide by an ultra-simplistic way of living and are all considered one family. One interesting note we learned was that once two people have kids, typically the kids are raised by the grandparents and the parents don’t take much of a part in their raising. Once their kids have kids, they raise the grand children. As unexpected as that was for us, it makes perfect sense to all the Fijian villagers, allowing the parents to work and make money when they are physically able, while the grandparents stay at home with the kids.
They eat and drink off what they can grow on their land. They fish using their boats and sand crabs as bait. They don’t get shipments from Walmart or subscribe to Netflix. They don’t even have electricity except for four-hours per day which they reserve for special engagements like watching Fiji play in a rugby game.
Islands glide by from the open air dining area.
Toothy catch of the day.
Our food on-board the Fiji Princess was much more luxurious and surprisingly better than we expected. Lots of fresh fish (the kind where you can still see the teeth and face), tasty Indian fare, and tons of fresh fruits and vegetables. Dessert was also served at each meal, which I particularly liked. On the night they served banana bread pudding and ice cream, I went a little overboard and had to moan and roll around on my bed awhile until I digested most of it. It really was delicious.
The best thing though, was that they had an automatic cappuccino machine where we amped up with one push of a button; out came a perfect cap, or espresso, or whatever sort of coffee fix needed to power through all of the excursions.
Night life and cocktails at the roof top bar.
At the very end of the tour, the 3-night guests were transferred off on a high-speed catamaran while the new 4-night cruise guests came to take their place. One of the great things about Blue Lagoon Cruises is that the catamaran takes guest back to Port Denareau where it started, or it drop you at one of the other island resorts along the way.
We opted to go back to the port, and what a ride that was! The catamaran is called The Cheetah and we immediately could see why. The thing raced through the water, launching spray above the passenger windows on both sides, while unbelievably, the staff walked through and poured everyone champagne! I’m not sure how they did it considering how much it was rocking back and forth, but we sure are glad they kept us filled with bubbles!
Cruise Fiji with Blue Lagoon Cruises.
As we approached the Port of Denareau, we saw just how big the island of Nadi is – gigantic – like the size of a U.S. state. And as sad as we were to be away from all the hundreds of little exotic islands, the tranquil lagoons and thousands of tropical beautiful fish, we were happy to get our land legs back, and get on to our next adventure.
Feature by Josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Correspondent. Photos by Josh and courtesy of Blue Lagoon Cruises.Follow and Share your Jetsetters Magazine Adventures.