Cruising the Fijian Islands
The best possible way to experience a country that is made up of islands is, in my opinion, to go by sea!
Fiji is made up of 330 islands, and many of them are uninhabited. The only way to get there is by boat. Sailing around the islands is also a great chance to see the country from a different perspective… and not to mention the gentle rocking which allows a nice peaceful sleep! Cruising the Fijian islands is the way to go!
I had the immense privilege to join a 7 night combination cruise with the one and only Captain Cook Cruises, and I have nothing but great memories, beautiful photographs, and new lifelong friends I met along the way! It was definitely a week to remember!
Below, I describe the 7 nights I spent onboard the Reef Endeavour with a breakdown of our daily activities and my experience through it all, just to give you an idea of what it’s like and maybe give you some inspiration for your next trip 🙂
Fiji was by far one of the best countries I have travelled to as of yet, and I am positive I will go back and explore more of this beautiful group of islands in the South Pacific!
**This was my first ever cruise experience, so I don’t have anything to compare it to. However, I believe it has set the bar very high as to my expectations for any following cruise I may take!
To give you an idea of my 7 nights on Reef Endeavour, here is the map of their trajectory.
The 7 nights is actually a combination of two of their trips: 4 nights for the Yasawa island cruise and 3 nights for the Mamanuca island cruise. I basically got the best of both worlds by combining both, and I highly suggest it to cover as much of Fiji as possible.
Traveling between the islands doesn’t take too long, and the ship is anchored at sea most of the day, and traveling to the next island is usually done during the early morning hours (3-4 am) to arrive in time for breakfast and morning activities!
Here are some general notes about my week aboard, before I dive into the 7-day itinerary:
The food onboard was really great. I’m a vegetarian (well, pescatarian if you want to be really specific) so it’s not always easy finding something to eat. They always had plenty of choices, whether it was a buffet style or a la carte. It was a mix of both styles; breakfast and lunch was always buffet style. Breakfast was always served in the dining saloon with open seating, and always had a great selection of fruits, cheeses, meats, hot items, made to order eggs, coffee and tea, and pastries such as croissants and the like. The pastries were to die for! Soooo good! As for lunch, it was always served up on the pool deck, sometimes inside and sometimes outside, buffet style. Salads, meats and fish were served along with fruits and dessert selections. Dinner was mostly a la carte with assigned seating, or buffet (which was once or twice). I really enjoyed the a la carte 3-course meal, and it was always delicious. The main dish usually consisted of one meat choice, fish and a vegetarian option which was lovely. Meal times were always the around the same time everyday: breakfast from 730-900am, lunch from 1230-130, and dinner at 1930 (unless otherwise stated, such as the village lovo feast).
We did have one Lovo feast in one of the local villages, along with a Kava ceremony led by the villagers. This was a very lovely way of seeing how their traditional ways, and I describe it in better detail through the itinerary below, along with a description of what a Lovo feast and Kava ceremony is as well.
The Cabins and Ship:
There are three levels of cabins to choose from: inside with porthole on the lower D deck (400’s), oceanside stateroom on deck B and C (200 & 300’s), or suites on deck A (100’s). I had An Ocean “B” Stateroom, which opens up onto the outside passage way, and had a lovely view of the ocean! It was sizeable for a ship, with enough room for two single beds (or in my case one queen bed), space underneath the beds to be used as storage, a little desk and chair area, 2 night tables, blackout blinds, controllable A/C (which I turned off at night), and a bathroom with an individual shower, sink and toilet. Everything was well thought of when arranging the rooms, and I loved the gentle sway of the ship at night that lulled me to sleep!
Another great aspect about the cabins are the toiletries they provide! “Pure Fiji” is a known line of hair and skin care products, and they are sold throughout the islands. These were provided daily and I absolutely fell in love with them! Extra points for this!
There are 65 cabins onboard the Reef Endeavour, with a maximum of 130 guests capacity and up to 50 crew members. It is a small cruise ship, and that’s what I liked about it: you got to know the crew, the other passengers and it wasn’t a “floating city” as some other cruises. We were at about half capacity as well since it was shoulder season, which made lots of room for lounging around and it didn’t feel too crowded. There was still enough room onboard for a spa (Senika spa), a swimming pool, a dining salon (Captain Cook Saloon), a main lounge and bar (Yasawa lounge), a library/meetup room (Reef room), and other features like the purser’s bureau and boutique, as well as outdoor seating areas to chill in.
Every night, while everyone is at dinner, a turn-down service is provided in each cabin, along with the itinerary of the following day’s activities!
To be honest, this was my favourite part of the whole trip: the amazing staff! As a solo traveler, I got to meet some really exceptional people on this trip, and some of those people include the staff! They are always available to chat or help out, extremely polite and friendly, and even the Captain and his wife (Ian Davison and Merelita) were always super social and lovely to chat with (and Merelita’s signing is so very lovely). I even had dinner with them one evening! Everyone from the kitchen staff to the activities crew were outstanding and charming in their own way (shoutout to Herman here, who would be our activities boat captain, always with a smile. He would allow kids to help navigate the boat, which they loved, and would give us clear instruction for snorkelling and made sure we were always safe and happy!). Ilisoni, our hospitality manager, was a true gem as well, and was always heard laughing and chatting away with someone and having a blast! He was also the voice on the speakers, and when it was time for an activity, he would be the one to call out “Boarding Time!!!” with his unique style and flare!
There were 2 marine biologists onboard for safety and to give reef talks and be present during snorkelling sessions and glass bottom boat sessions (they called it dry snorkelling lol). They were always available to answer any questions and give us insights into the reef systems in Fiji. They have a diving centre onboard with a couple dive masters for those who were open-water certified and wanted to do some diving at additional costs. As for snorkelers, those activities were included in the daily planned activities, and the snorkel, masks and fins were complimentary and handed out the first day onboard.
For couples with kids, they had a designated member for “babysitting”, usually during dinner hours (kids had a separate dinner time than the rest), which would consist of a movie or game while the parents had some adult conversation time! I’m sure some parents were very grateful for this! Even during the day, when we had some beach stopovers, the kids were always entertained by some of the staff members by playing beach volleyball or the like.
Needless to say, the crew were all hands-on and simply great for everyone! I huge high-five to all of them! This is where the quote “With Smiling Faces & Happy Hearts” in my featured image above came from! The epitome of why I love Fiji: its people!
The daily activities usually consisted of one AM and one PM stop, at two different spots. Mainly snorkelling, beach activities, and glass bottom boat tours were on the menu to allow everyone to be satisfied. It was a great mix of activities; whether you wanted to just lay on the beach, go paddle barding or kayaking, snorkelling, or “dry snorkelling” for those afraid of the water but still wanted to see the wonders of the underwater world! Some people also decided to stay on the ship and relax with some quiet time while everyone else’s was at shore. Whatever they chose to do, it was always welcomed and no pressure ever came from the crew. Ilisoni, our hospitality manager, would make an announcement 10-15 minutes prior to any activity (there were speakers throughout the ship, including the cabins), however it was never a forced activity, which promoted a very laid back and relaxed atmosphere. On some days, they had additional activities such as a local school visit or a hike. All in all, the breakdown of the activities was just right, with breaks for lunch onboard and relaxing time before the next activity took place.
My 7-Night Itinerary:
Day 1: Welcome Onboard & Tivua Island
Check in at Port Denarau started around noon, and we were due to set sail around 1:30pm. I handed over my luggage, was given my boarding pass and a voucher for a drink at a nearby restaurant at the harbour while waiting for boarding time around 1pm. It was a very easy process.
As the group arrived onboard, the crew welcomed us with a Fijian welcome song and shell lei. A light lunch was setup on the pool deck and we were free to check in at the purser’s bureau, where a manual imprint of a credit card was taken and I was handed my keys to my cabin! Easy breezy! My first impression as I stepped onboard was how welcoming and friendly the crew were. This quickly became a major factor in how much I enjoyed my time with them: the staff was absolutely AMAZING!
After this, I made my way to my cabin to drop off some stuff before I grabbed a bite to eat out on the pool deck. I absolutely loved my cabin! I was put up in a “B” Ocean Stateroom which was located on the middle level of the ship.
Shortly after departure, there was a mandatory safety briefing by Captain Ian, who was simply delightful, and an introduction of the ship and crew by the Hospitality Manager, the one and only Ilisoni! This guy is the best, and you can really tell he absolutely loves what he does, and is extremely good at it! He was the “go-to” person overlooking everything related to guest experience, and the voice on the intercom most of the time. Hearing “Ladies and Gentlemen…” and “Boaaaardiiiing Tiiimeee!” are just a couple phrases that have stuck in my mind with a smile!
It was a short ride through the channel and onto our first stop which was Tivua Island, owned by Captain Cook Cruises themselves. We stopped for a nice snorkel and some beach lounging before heading back to the ship around 17:00, where afternoon tea awaited (there was always tea and coffee, and fresh water at the coffee station inside the Yasawa lounge and Reef room).
Live entertainment by one of the crew members was setup in the Yasawa lounge with some canapés while people hung around having a drink before dinner.
At 1930, the Captain’s Welcome Dinner was served (which always takes place on the first night of either trips), followed by some entertainment with Ilisoni, crew introductions and welcome (which always means singing is involved! Fijians loved to sing!).
Day 2: Brother’s Beach & Gunu Village
After breakfast, a morning snorkel or glass bottom boat ride near Naviti Island, then a stop at the beach for some fun in the sun! Activities were always available at the beach, with kayaks, SUP boards, beach volleyball, etc. At least 4 crew members were always present on the beach to help with activities and supervise everyone, and offer some cold refreshments (or as they called it “the beach bar”) if desired.
I joined the Reef & Culture Talk in the Reef room right before lunch. They had this going on daily at 11:45 for those who wanted to know some information about the reef systems in Fiji, and about the history of their culture.
Some fun facts
-The first settlers on Fiji arrived some 3500 years ago. They first stepped foot on Narokorokoyawa Sacred Islands (which we visited on a later day, see below). The origin of the first settlers is debatable; some believe they were from Africa, others say it’s from Melanesia near Vanuatu.
-There are 4 main cultures in Fiji: Indo Fijian, Indigenous Fijian, Micronesian Fijian, and Polynesian Fijian. Needless to say, the Fijian language is a mix of all these put together. It’s quite a unique sound, with some resemblances of Hindi, African, and Asian. The Bauan dialect is the most commonly used today, although there are many dialects that still exist.
-There are 330 islands in Fiji, and only 1/3 of them are inhabited, and cover an area of over 18,000 square kilometres.
-Cannibalism was huge in Fiji until the late 1800’s, when Christianity eradicated that practise. It is believed that, back in the day, if someone got sentenced to the death penalty, they would bake and eat the person who was sentenced! Talk about karma! Today, that obviously doesn’t happen anymore and both cannibalism and the death penalty are no longer existent.
-In the local villages, there are several rankings (the Chief being the highest) and it is still respected to this day throughout the islands. When visiting a local village, one needs to ask “permission” to enter, usually by offering kava root (a sacred plant).
-Kava is a plant, and the dried, ground up root of it is used to make the Kava drink. Back in the day, Kava was used to connect with the spiritual Gods, and is a highly respected plant to the Fijian culture. It came from Tonga, and is still very widely used in the South Pacific as a social drink. It does have a slight psychoactive effect on the body and mind, and can give a little “buzz”, but it is in no way dangerous or toxic. There are even Kava bars in most Fijians cities! It honestly tastes like dirty mud water with a twist (that’s the best way I can explain it!), and if ever you find yourself on one of the Pacific islands, I urge you to at least try it! A Kava ceremony is usually always conducted at important events (social, political, etc) and is a huge part of Fijian culture.
After lunch, another snorkel trip was planned, this time near Gunu beach, along with beach activities as well as a glass bottom boat tour.
This evening is the Gunu village tour and Lovo feast with kava ceremony.
Lovo is a traditional way of cooking, and is still used to this day. It consists of an earth oven: a fire made pit in the ground, lined with heat-resistant stones. When the stones are heated, the food that is wrapped in banana leaves are placed inside the pit, covered with soil and left to cook before being removed and eaten. Fish, chicken, pork, sweet potato, and taro are served in a community-like setting. A Meke, a traditional song and dance ceremony, is presented by the local villagers, along with a handicraft market by the women from the village as well.
*It is important to keep in mind the dress code when visiting local villages. Shoulders and knees are to be covered (even for men!) as a form of respect to the villagers. Hats and sunglasses must also be removed as entering the village.
Back onboard for a sumptuous dessert buffet, kava bowl with the crew and some light entertainment!
Day 3: Sawa-I-Lau Caves & Blue Lagoon
It started with Blue lagoon beach landing. This place is made famous from the 1980’s movie “The Blue Lagoon” with Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins. It was an overcast day for us, so the true colour of the lagoon was sort of masked since there was no sun. It was still a very lovely place to lounge around on the beach or limestone rocks! The water was clear, shallow with a sandy bottom.
After lunch there was a guided school visit at Ratu Namasi School ( I didn’t do this one, I opted for the one a couple days later), then followed by two optional tours for the afternoon:
1) 15:30 Swim in the caves of Sawa-I-Lau (there was an entrance fee that goes to the local village of Tamasua). This is the tour I did.
“Sawa-I-Lau island is the distinctive limestone mass rising 600 feet above sea level off the south eastern coast of Yasawa island. The imposing landmark is the object of many legends. The cave is famed for the inscriptions on its entrance walls which have long puzzled archaeologists. They concluded that the symbols do not represent a formal script. They most likely have symbolic or magical meanings, or were perhaps “clan” or ownership marks.”
2) 17:00 Hike up Mount Tamasua (763 ft elevation) for sunset views.
An a la carte dinner was served, followed by Fiji Olympic hermit crab race.
Day 4: Yaqeta/Drawaqa:
As a storm hovered near us just north of the Yasawa islands, we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Activites went on as usual though, and our day was as usual.
Our first stop was Yaqeta island, followed by Drawaqa island.
After breakfast, the typical tender brought us to a nearby beach, and a snorkel trip as well. This was by far the best snorkeling during the whole trip as it was a marine protected area.
So many beautiful colors and sea life in calm waters, perfect snorkeling conditions. The photos below speak for themselves.
Once everyone was back onboard, the crew conducted an emergency drill (which didn’t affect anyone but was interesting to witness.
We then had an Asian night buffet style dinner, and some nightly entertainment with a musical quiz.
Day 5: Outside Denarau/Port Day:
Today we head back to Port Denarau for a switch over in passengers. It was the end of the 4 night yasawa islands cruise, and the beginning of the Mamanuca 3 night cruise. We got into the area in the early morning hours, and we anchored right outside the channel due to the pending weather conditions. Port Denarau is a small port, and if there happens to be weather and strong winds, it could cause a lot of damage having a big ship banging against the docks. So to be safe, Captain Ian decided to stay out at sea and have the tender bring us into the port. For those like me who were staying onboard for the following 3 nights, we had some choices of activities to choose from for the day, such as: Tuvua Island day cruise, Full service transit lounge, Mud pools, Zip lining (at an additional cost), or Garden of the Sleeping Giant. I chose to do the mud pools. I would highly recommend this experience!
The Sabeto hot water springs are one of Fiji’s hidden gems. It is a natural therapeutic spa, also known as the Sabeto mud baths. The mud at the bottom of the area is said to be of therapeutic benefits for the skin and rejuvenation. It was definitely a fun thing to do! I was accompanied by a nice Swiss family and their 3 kids who also enjoyed it a lot. Definitely a nice thing to do for a morning or afternoon activitiy. The Garden of the sleeping giant is also down the road so both can be combined, although we didn’t have time for both.
At the mud pools, there is also a massage hut with some ladies offering some massages after the mud baths. We ended up taking the 15-20 minute massage at a very reasonable price.
We were then transported back to the ship (which at this point came into the harbor as the weather broke up and winds lightened up as well), and were back onboard for 1230 where lunch was being served as usual, as the crew welcomed the new guests onboard.
We shortly arrived at another beach location in the Mamanuca’s for some afternoon beach activities and snorkeling. I wasn’t feeling well so I stayed onboard and just relaxed.
We then had another Welcome Dinner followed by crew introductions by Ilisoni, and some entertainment by Steven.
Day 6: Monu, Monoriki, Yanuya:
Monu island was this morning’s destination for snorkeling and beach activities.
There then was a Fijian curry-inspired lunch (which was by far the best lunch ever on the cruise!) out on the pool deck.
In the afternoon, we were set to visit Monuriki island, the famous island where Castaway was filmed! No sign of Wilson, although I found the most beautiful beaches! This island was very gorgeous (and very HOT!), with amazing views and turquoise seas! No wonder this was the chosen island to film Castaway!
At 1700 there was a church service to be held on the local island Yanuya. I didn’t participate in this activity since it was a very hot day, and hot + churches = disaster in my eyes! I did hear from the others who did go that it was an interesting discourse.
Day 7: Sacred Islands & Yalobi, Waya:
Narokorokoyawa, known as the sacred islands, is situated to the north-east of the Mamanuca islands and south of the Yasawa islands. This was the first landing spot some 3500 years ago, according to scientists.
The Fijians are very respectful of their land, and these islands are extra special. Before stepping foot on them or even swimming in the waters, they make Kava offering near one of the caves, as a from of respect for the Spirit Gods and a sign of gratitude for allowing access. Prior to contact with the Europeans, Fiji has no written language. Its’ history is based on legends that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
In the morning, they do a reef shark feeding off the starboard side of the ship, and it was quite beautiful to watch from above. Afterwards, the usual snorkelling and glass bottom boat departure took place, as well as a beach landing. It was definitely a beautiful spot to snorkel at, and the beach was also very lovely!
After lunch, there were 2 activities that took place: Ratu Navailu Boarding School Visit and an optional Yalobi village tour. I opted for the school visit, and the children were absolutely beautiful and lively! They sang traditional Fijian songs, danced for us, and even showed us around the school after their performance.
Later in the day, there was a guided adventure hike up School Hill. I can’t hike because of my back, but it was apparently very hot with beautiful views!
Day 8: Port Denarau:
The usual breakfast is served as we arrive into Denarau to disembark. The whole staff gathered on the pool deck to sing us “Isa lei” which is the Fijian Farewell song before we all had to leave around 9am.
This marks the end of my week-long cruise, and it was such a delightful experience that I would recommend it to anyone!
Fiji is by far the most welcoming country I’ve been to! A huge thank you goes out to the staff and everyone involved in making my week a fabulous and memorable one, and I hope to join another Fijian cruise in the coming future!
As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch with me, and also be sure to check out my other blog post about Fiji here (coming soon)!
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Love and Light,