Travelling with a teenager: On board the Pacific Jewel
Family holidays are, by their very nature, a series of compromises — at any given point, someone in the group is doing something they'd rather not be doing, and silently thinking "how is this a holiday?"
Now that The Boy has turned into The Teenager, we're well past the days of continually amusing and placating; but there are still challenges.
On the one hand, he's far too sophisticated for kids' clubs and that sort of thing, but sitting in the sun with a glass of wine and a good book isn't an option either. The first part is illegal and the second part is simply not what 14-year-old boys do for fun.
A four-day, three-night cruise on-board the Pacific Jewel seemed like an ideal solution. The Pacific Jewel cruises from Sydney to Tangalooma Resort on Moreton Island and back, and features the P&O Edge Adventure Park — basically a bunch of "extreme" activities that take place on and around the ship's main open deck.
We'd never been cruising before, and being of a certain age, The Husband and I couldn't help humming the Love Boat theme as we walked along the gangway onto the ship.
The three of us shared a room, which made for a tight squeeze. The Pacific Jewel was first launched in 1989, and had a comprehensive re-fit in the early 2000s.
It's probably time for another, because the cabin decor had all the charm of a mid-range chain hotel, circa 2005. Ours was a balcony room — which we novice cruisers found quite exciting, but as it turned out, the weather was too chilly for us to take full advantage of it.
Once we'd had a nosy around, we quickly headed back to the top deck, where reggae-slash-pop music was blaring and Coronas (or the age-appropriate lemon-lime and bitters) were flowing with abandon as we departed the wharf and sailed slowly past the Harbour Bridge and Opera House and out past the Heads.
The Endless Summer Sail-Away party lived up to its name, and the countless groups of hen-, bachelor-, Dirty-30s, Fabulous-40s and Fantastic-50s partiers were making the most of it.
The weather began to pack in as we moved toward the open ocean, and the early-morning flight from Auckland meant The Teenager took himself off to bed by nine that night. After dinner at The Waterfront restaurant, Husband and I spent the late evening at the Karaoke Power Hour in the Connexions bar.
The aforementioned middle-aged birthday-partiers had migrated en masse and were still going strong, so we stayed until midnight happily amused, watching increasingly enthusiastic renditions of everything from AC/DC to Celine Dion.
After a good night's sleep in the remarkably comfortable beds, the first day dawned grey, windy and rainy. Clearly, the sundresses and bathing suits would remain in the suitcase.
Plans for sunning ourselves by the pool while The Teenager sampled all the adventure zone activities were off. Luckily, a behind-the-scenes tour of the ship was on the agenda, and this included a visit to the bridge with the captain and chief navigation officers.
We were as close to the bow of the ship as we could have been, and when we stepped outside onto the crew-only front deck and felt the wind full in our faces, we all were duly impressed.
The grim weather meant we were forced to look at the indoor activities, and with a full itinerary included in each morning's "P&O Good Times" newspaper, we had plenty to choose from.
Demonstrations of napkin folding and paper flower making; seminars on anti-ageing treatments and Chinese herbal remedies; family colouring-in contests and "'solutions to foot pain" sessions were all nixed, as were the Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament, ballroom dancing class and Martini mix-masters lessons.
Instead, we opted for a steady stream of trivia quizzes and other competitive options hosted by the ever-cheerful activities staff. The Amazing Race-style Selfie Hunt was great fun, as we traipsed all over the boat with cellphones in hand, following a series of clues.
There was plenty going on in the Marquee Theatre, too, including the Marriage Match. Basically a reiteration of The Newlywed Game with passengers as contestants, it was suggested as an "adult" activity, but there wasn't anything any more spicy than you'd see on your typical TV show, and the emcee was a real pro. The daily bingo hour was a huge hit, and with the promise of an ever-increasing "SnowBall Jackpot" each day — which topped out at AU$5580 — we were there on both rainy "at sea" days.
Happily, the day we arrived at Moreton Island dawned clear and sunny, and after 36 hours on board and inside, we were more than ready for some outdoor adventuring at the Tangalooma Resort.
Moreton Island, just off the coast of Brisbane, is the world's largest sand island, and there's a raft of activities on offer, from a four-hour "island bus tour" to scuba-diving around the wrecks.
With priority passes in hand, we hustled onto one of the earliest tenders, raring to go. We'd selected sledding down the sand dunes and a 4WD safari as our two activities, and there was plenty of time in between for a long beach walk and a leisurely lunch (bog-standard fish and chips and pizza) as well.
The crowd with us for dune-sledding largely comprised small children (a bit too young for the hard slog up the dune), and their parents (a bit too old for the hard slog up the dune); so the two guys running the activity seemed happy that at least one member of the pack was fit enough to practically run up the massive dune, and old enough to handle some of the steepest and fastest runs. While most of the party did about two to three runs, The Teenager did eight.
The 90-minute 4WD safari, too, had ample opportunity for going fast, making tight turns and jouncing over bumpy terrain. The day at Tangalooma Resort was absolutely the high point of the trip.
That evening was fine with no wind, so the captain gave the go-ahead and The Teenager was finally able to sample The Edge activities. The funnel of the Pacific Jewel had been set up as a rock-climbing wall, and he happily scaled up and repelled down; zip-lined over the open deck a few times and drove a Segway through an obstacle course on the top deck.
Given the generally inclement weather, and the unintended indoor-focus of the journey, sampling each of the ship's restaurants became more of a priority than perhaps it would have been otherwise.
We had dinner at each restaurant in turn, with increasing levels of poshness – from the jumped-up cafeteria vibe of The Pantry to a four-hour Thai banquet at Luna (at which literally every item on the menu was brought forth) and finishing with the salubrious fare at Luke Mangan's Salt Grill.
As an only child, The Teenager has been eating out at "grown-up" restaurants practically forever, and he's been blithely ordering the most expensive bit of beef on the menu (and could I have it medium-rare, please? With no mushroom sauce, thank you) since about the age of 8.
So, knowing that our meals were part of the overall package, his eyes lit up when he saw something he's wanted (but has been forbidden from ordering) for several years: Wagyu beef. He accompanied that with seared scallops as a starter. Husband and I both opted for the lobster agnolotti starter; then he chose the sirloin, and I went for tandoori-spiced seared tuna. By mutual agreement we all chose a different dessert: calvados custard for me, strawberry cheesecake for The Teenager and the specialty liquorice parfait for The Husband. We unanimously agreed that it was one of the best meals we've ever had.
On the morning of the last day, the windy-rainy weather was back. I went for a 90-minute Thai Coconut Poultice Massage at the Aqua Spa; which was absolutely blissful until the masseuse finished things up with a sales pitch for the various emollients she'd been using. By early afternoon the sun was out, so Husband and I spent a few comfortable cocktail-filled hours on the adults-only Oasis deck, while The Teenager amused himself in the video arcade and another scavenger hunt, selfie-style.
And that's one of the best things about travelling with kids this age — they're old enough to do their own thing, and we can relax knowing they're safe within the confines of the boat.
The Husband and I agreed that the trip would have been ideal if we were along with two or three families that had kids around that same age. There were activities — the casino (him), on-board sports and games (teenager), and spa (me) — that we each wanted to do a bit more of, but the other two didn't want (or weren't allowed) to do.
The final verdict? It's a split decision. The shipboard aspect of cruise — and teenage boys having fun when disconnected from online gaming — strongly relies upon being continually occupied with activities that often depend on good weather, and sadly, we didn't have enough of that.
However, the wide variety of on-board activities that were on offer meant that there was always something going on. It was, as every family holiday is, a series of compromises; but we'll absolutely give cruising another try.
Cruising on Pacific Jewel: The Pacific Jewel with P&O The Edge Adventure Park will be based in Auckland from September 1 to October 31, with three- to 15-night cruises departing during that period. Pacific Jewel returns to Auckland from March 21 toAugust 26, 2018. For itineraries and pricing for cruises departing from Auckland see pocruises.com.au/ships/pacificjewel
P&O cruises to Moreton Island: Four-night P&O cruises to Moreton Island depart from Sydney. Prices range from AU$535-$1638 (approx. NZ$570-$1740) depending on group size and room package. See pocruises.com.au/cruises/sunshine-coast/x736
Tangalooma Resort: Passenger and car ferries leave Brisbane for Moreton Island and Tangalooma Resort daily. Accommodation on the island ranges from AU$179-$479 (approx. NZ$190-$510) per night. See tangalooma.com
The writer travelled to Tangalooma Resort on the Pacific Jewel courtesy of P&O Cruises