Orange ants swarm over my toes, tiny crabs fight each other for shells, and in the water a slim sea snake swims lazily towards us. The sun is shining, a warm breeze gently blows, and all along the beach people chatter happily. This is paradise. Paradise Cove, that is a pretty beach 20-odd minutes by boat from Vila, Vanuatu’s capital.
I’m on a 12-day cruise on Pacific Star, the latest ship in P&O’s Australasian fleet. With 11 decks and room for 1350 passengers, Pacific Star is a small cruise ship by today’s standards, but to me it is perfect.
In Auckland, Pacific Star sits serenely at Princess Wharf, awaiting her passengers like a queen waiting to greet her subjects. Stepping on board, I watch the city lights recede as we set sail. Gentle rocking wakes me the next morning, and it’s a strange feeling to step outside and see nothing but ocean.
It’s two days straight sailing to our first stop, Vanuatu’s Mystery Island, but Pacific Star’s entertainment staff, under Kiwi cruise director Michael Whitmore, do a marvellous job of keeping everyone occupied. Passengers are spoilt for choice with a range of restaurants, shops, a gym and several bars on board. The Duke Piano Bar rapidly becomes my favourite. The friendly Filipino bartenders, who know my name and always greet me with a smile, keep me entertained with various bar tricks and juggling.
All the ship’s staff seem to enjoy their work, and passengers are treated like royalty. According to Captain Lorenzo Paoletti, Pacific Star has 549 staff from 24 nationalities, and the camaraderie among them helps make the trip memorable. Their happiness is infectious, and it creates a great atmosphere.
We arrive in Vanuatu early on a Wednesday morning, and the rain which has been threatening hits soon after we’re ferried from the ship to Mystery Island. I’m determined to enjoy it anyway, and I splash around the island’s market, which sells a range of bright sarongs, bags, hats and other goodies.
Later, sitting beside the ship’s pool drinking cocktails with new friends as we sail into the sunset, I think this is exactly how I imagined a cruise would be.
Vila, renowned as one of the South Pacific’s best shopping spots, is the second stop on the trip. We leave the ship early and join a sail and snorkel tour, which takes us to the aforementioned Paradise Cove. The clear turquoise water is brilliant for snorkelling and fish in every imaginable colour are there in abundance.
Later, one of the tour staff leads us through
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