A convert to cruising
OK, I'll be honest with you. For most of my life I've avoided cruising like the plague - or rotavirus, as the case may be.
It seemed akin to a floating Amway conference: everyone herded together, pretending to be nice to each other, as they quelled feelings of nausea/claustrophobia/boredom.
So it was with trepidation we boarded Captain Cook's MV Reef Escape for a three-day cruise around the southern Yasawa Islands. This fear was assuaged by the beaming Fijian staff who, simultaneously, thrust a cocktail into one hand and took a baby from the other. What is this magical Fijian force, with the power to quell the screams of a small baby and a tantruming toddler? (If only you could buy it by the bottle ... )
As cruise virgins, we made every mistake in the book. I stubbed my toe on the "lip" separating the bedroom and bathroom. Then I dodged fit-balls and weights, doing a gym workout during a big swell.
And for dinner, we were decidedly under-dressed in our sarongs and thongs. For the uninitiated, "smart casual" on the sea is a step up from the same dress code on dry land.
So is the degree of friendliness.
On our first shore excursion, to postcard-perfect Tivua Island, we were bombarded by bonhomie: "Hi! I'm Jan and this is my husband Bruce. We have two kids, 18 and 25, and their names are Mark and Jonathan. Tell us a bit about yourselves ... ?"
This was confronting for hubby, who would prefer the earth to swallow him than become the centre of attention, but I found it quite welcoming. Soon it was old home week, with our new friends - many of them grandparents - sharing childcare duties.
"Oh, it's been so long since my kids were this little!" one passenger, Barbara, gushed. "Can I have a little play with them?" They even cared for the kids while we did some spectacular snorkelling.
My other concern surrounded the freshness of the food on the ubiquitous buffets.
This too was unfounded, with a delicious dinner, and dancing, on board every night, plus a lovo feast in remote Yalobi village on Waya Island.
And here's another tip: If your kids are bad sleepers, take them on a cruise. The roiling ocean has somewhat of a soporific effect. Even hubby and I had a restful slumber.
Cruising is cut out for families, especially those on a tight budget.
All of your meals, entertainment, and most excursions and activities, are included in the price, so you don't have to worry about breaking the bank.
A small ship is ideal, if you're worried about the kids wandering off - the MV Reef Escape had 60 cabins and 45 crew members.
At the isa lei (Fijian farewell), Grace was clinging to her babysitter, Josivini, like another mother.
So it seems our fears were unfounded: no one fell into the water, contracted gastro, or was hospitalised for food poisoning.
What we did pick up was a sense of the cruising community. It's full of friendly, kind folk with an easy smile and a helping hand. And for families, that's priceless.
Ain't that the truth.