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Cruising, love it or loathe it?

When I received the invitation to hop on board of Carnival Spirit for a 8-day cruise to New Caledonia, I was in two minds. I couldn’t help but let out a long ‘ooohhh….” of excitement since I’d never been on a big cruise ship before; but on the other hand, sailing on a cruise ship had also never been in my priority list, purely based on my general perception of what a cruise will be like. As most called it – the floating RSL. I tried not to judge the book by the cover, I read up heaps of reviews on Tripadvisor prior to our cruising day and also many friends who cruised before and enjoyed the whole experience, they all convinced me that I’ll love it. I was ready and so as The Pom, my faithful traveling companion; we packed our suitcases and ready to set sail into the unknown. carnival-spirit-4 carnival-spirit-depart-2 The Carnival Spirit was indeed a big girl, parked right next to the Overseas Passenger Terminal. Random fact: Do you know Carnival Spirit is actually bigger than Titanic? Titanic only weighted at 52,310 tonnes and was 269 metres in length, whereas Carnival Spirit is actually 88,500 tonnes and a little bit longer at 292.6 metres. The mind boggles at the sheer size and weight of the ship and still able to float on water. The ship was relocated to Australia in October 2012, and she is the largest and youngest cruise ship ever to be based full-time in Australia. Well, that might not be the case real soon, because she has joined by her sister ship, Carnival Legend who started sailing this month. We dropped our luggage at the bag-drop area where the crew members would bring them up to our room later. Checking in was easy and straight forward, each passenger was given an ID card which can be linked to your credit card, so that you can just use the card for any transactions on board. Even though they offer pay-by-cash as you go option, I think most passengers preferred to go with the easy swiping ID card option, so that they can keep track on all the expenses while on the cruise. carnival-spirit-depart-3 carnival-spirit-depart-4 It was so big that I really didn’t feel like on a ship at all. I couldn’t even feel the ship was moving until I see the Sydney city skyline and Opera House were slowly backing away and eventually disappearing into darkness. carnival-spirit-stateroom-1 carnival-spirit-stateroom-2 We’d been allocated in one of the best staterooms on Deck-8 which has its own private balcony. The room was actually not as poky as I’d  have thought, I think I’ve stayed in a smaller room in Japan. I could even fit in the bathroom and took a selfie! The Carnival Spirit has undergone a major “Aussification”, so the room was equipped with Australian power socket so international adaptor is not needed. Since we were going to stay in this room for the next 7 nights, naturally we unpacked all our clothing and hang them neatly in the wardrobe before putting our luggage away. That is something we would never do if we are travelling and only will stay in the hotel for couple of nights, like most of us will just pick the clothes out of the luggage every day. So it was kind of nice that we didn’t have to live out of the suitcase. carnival-stateroom-4 towel-folding-origamiCabin stewards were assigned to look after a number of passengers in different sections on the ship. Our cabin steward was super friendly and attentive, he would greet us by name every time he bumped into us along the corridor. Apart from the towel animals, our cabin steward would also leave us a copy of the Fun Times in our room; the daily newsletter which lists all the activities happening on board that day. I am a sucker for novelty and anything kitsch. Each night when we returned to our room, there would be a towel animal waiting for us. Someone on the ship obviously has mad towel folding skills! carnival-spirit-2 “Isn’t she a beauty?” Did I mention the ship is humungous? Just to give you a rough idea, there are 12 decks in total, spans over 3 footy fields from the bow to the stern. It can accommodate up to 2680 passengers and has 930 crew members on the ship at any one time. There are restaurants, theatres, bars, casino, gaming areas, outdoor entertainment areas, gym, spa, kids corner, swimming pools and two water slides! You really have to be on it to realise how big the ship is, I had sore feet  just by walking from one end of the ship to another, up and down of each deck every day. So let me take you on a virtual tour of the Carnival Spirit.

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viewing deck on top of the Captain’s bridge

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L to R: The unique funnel of the ship; nothing out there except blue sky and ocean.

carnival-spirit-10 carnival-spirit-9 carnival-spirit-8 We were in the open sea for two days before arriving at the Pacific Islands, so there was plenty of time for everyone to relax and soak up the sun on the top deck.

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outdoor spa and pool at The Serenity

serenity-area serenity-1 At the back of the ship is The Serenity, an adult only retreat where you can have a relaxing quiet moment without any screaming kids running around. There was a bar, an outdoor swimming pool and a spa. Apart from the sun decks, there were also hammocks and pods of day beds for those who are looking for intimate privacy. carnival-spirit-11 So you might wondering what are the normal age groups who join on the Carnival Spirit? We were cruising in July during the low peak winter season which tends to be more popular among the families with kids while they were still on school holiday. There were also a number of retirees and older couples who are seasonal “cruisers” who join a cruise every year. Then there were group parties including bucks and hens parties, birthday parties and even a wedding. I would say the guests were made up of 50% families, 20% older couples and 30% young adults. The Carnival Spirit has been dubbed as the “fun” ship, so it definitely attracts more younger audience. We’ve been told that the Carnival Cruise Lines has to put a lot of effort into “Aussifying” their ships to fit into Aussies’ lifestyle as they have done their research and found that Aussies like to get active instead of lying on the sun bed whole day.  So they revamped the ship with a lot more outdoor activities including the Carnival WaterWorks, an outdoor water theme park which is famous for its steepest waterslide at sea. green-thunder-4 If you were a kid, you would have so much fun on the Carnival Spirit. The SplashZone is a water theme park where kids can dive into a world of adventure, including mini racing slides, spray and splash playground and even a giant tipping bucket for wipe-out sized drenching. And for the grown ups, you simply can’t be on the Carnival Spirit without going on the Green Thunder!

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SPLASHED!

green-thunder-2The Green Thunder definitely lived up to its reputation and have you screaming your lungs out. This 60-metre water slide begins with a 10-metre close-to-vertical drop before twisting out to the edge of the ship and finishing with a big splash. There’s nothing like an adrenalin rush on the steepest and fastest water slide at sea. If you prefer to stay dry, there is also a mini golf, table tennis, challenge your mates to a game of dodgeball at the sports court, or work up a sweat at the two-deck fitness centre. There were different activities listed in the Fun Times newsletter each day for guests to participate, including trivia, bingo, karaoke, seminars, and how about something a little bit more risqué – Men’s hairy chest contest?

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This lady is giving the hairy chest a good sniff

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Dance, caress and sniff the hairy bodies

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The clear winner, took the title of hairiest man on the ship.

Oh boy, how should I put it? It was definitely interesting to watch as hairy men strutting their stuff topless then being fondled by women. They danced, then caressed their furry coats and finally gave those hairy bodies a good sniff. Somehow it was revoltingly entertaining.

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The joy luck club having a few rounds of mahjong

There is a casino on the ship for those who want to try their luck. The casino is not allowed to operate when the ship is docked according to the gambling law in that particular country. But you are more than welcome to join in for a friendly match of mahjong with the Joy Luck Club ladies. unwind Fashion Boulevard is the shopping arcade where you will be able to grab a few bargains. All items are tax free and a lot cheaper than the retail price including alcohol, branded handbags and watches being the most popular. Many of our fellow cruisers told us that they already have their Christmas shopping done on the ship. For those who like some peace and quiet, there are plenty of lounges where you can sit back and relax with a book. Another random fact – there are a total of 16 bars on the ship where you can kick back with a delicious cocktail or two. So set yourself a challenge to visit them all.

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The Sports Bar

You’d find sports fanatics hanging out at the Sport Bar watching footy on the big TV while sipping on cold beer.

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Jungle Room

jungle-bar-1 I actually stumbled upon this part of the ship by accident, a secluded Jungle Room that leads to the Club O2 is an alcove that not many guests have discovered. The cook kids lounge is an area where teenagers can hang out together for video games, dance parties or maybe just chillax and chitchat about Rpatz, Justin Bieber or One Direction.

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The oriental styled Piano Bar

The Piano Bar was our favourite bar on the Carnival Spirit. The oriental styled Piano Bar was where we spent many nights drinking cocktails (woohoo free pouring!) and sang along with Tim, the talented piano man as he entertained us with many good old classics.

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The Atrium

atrium-2 The Atrium is the heartbeat of the ship, the grand open space is fully gilded in gold, it spans eleven decks, drawing your gaze up to its beautiful red stained-glass dome.

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Captain Adrianno Binacchi

Guests also got to meet Captain Adrianno Binacchi at the Atrium on Captain’s Celebrations evening and everyone was welcomed to have photos taken with the captain himself.

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Artist’s Lobby

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Shaken, not stirred?

bar-3 Many nights we found ourselves having pre-dinner drinks while swaying to the live jazz music at the Artist’s Lobby. The cocktails were cheap and delicious ($10.50 each), but having said that, you can easily rake up a hefty bill by the end of your cruise, it was just too easy to order a drink with a simple swipe of the ID card. The Pom loved his Tiramisu martini and BBC, a delicious concoction of Bailey’s Irish cream, creme de bananes and Pina Colada mix, it was summer in a glass. If you’re looking for something a little bit more fancy, the Tasting of ‘Tinis is definitely worth a try. martini-tasting-1martini-tasting-4 There are eight flavoured martinis to choose from and you can sample four of the martinis at any one time for $19.95 per person. Better still, share all eight mini martinis in one sitting! It was quite a show stopper, our bartender able to train-chain-pouring (I made that up) all eight martinis at the same time. The martinis were pre-mixed using Stolichnaya vodka in large bottles, some were better than the others, so don’t expect too much. pharoah-theatre-1

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Bingo game every afternoon

The Pharaoh’s Palace is the main theatre on the Carnival Spirit where they will have different shows on every night. Usually they have two sessions for each show, at 7.30pm and 9.30pm. And in the afternoon, the theatre was usually packed with the Bingo games.

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The ‘FUN’ Ship with our cruise director – Stu Dunn

Stu, was our cruise director but we kept wondering what does he look like during the first day on the cruise because all we could hear was his sexy voice over the speakers greeting us. We finally got to meet Stu after the welcoming show on the first evening and he definitely didn’t look like how I’d pictured him in my head. pharoah-theatre-3 There are a couple of shows you simply can’t miss. The Mario, Queen of the Circus was a very funny comedy act, he definitely had us in stitches. Another highlight was the Comedy Hypnosis with Mark Anthony. As a skeptic, I found it very fascinating to witness how some of the passengers on the ship could be hypnotised so easily and started doing silly things as being told to without realising it. And the last show that I highly recommend would be the concert with violinist Jane Cho. It was actually her first gig on the cruise when we were on it, but Carnival Spirit has already decided to sign her up for more shows on future cruises. So if you are lucky enough to be on the cruise when her show is on, I can assure you that you’ll be in for a treat. After watching the show at Pharaoh’s Palace, passengers were welcomed to join Australian/NZ comedians for some laughs at the Punchline Comedy Club one deck below. Families were encourage to bring their kids along to the early kid-friendly session at 6.30pm, as the late night sessions were strictly for adults only. I repeat, ADULTS ONLY. Some of the jokes were simply way too much for my innocent mind. mexican-night-2 A cruise is not a cruise without the theme nights. There were three theme nights on the Carnival Spirit and many of the passengers came well prepared, brought along their costumes ready for the parties. The themes are different for each cruise, apparently you will get all the information that you need to know prior to the cruise date. The first theme night on our cruise was Caribbean Beach Party followed by a Mexican night. The last theme night was for adults only, a bathrobe bath pool party at the Serenity area.

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L: Best costume contest, Stu entertaining the crowd

mexican-night-1Stu, our cruise director did a fantastic job leading the crowd to some synchronised dance moves and got everyone dressed up for the Best Costume contest. mexican-night-4 Guess who won the best costume?   As much as we enjoyed all the fun activities on the cruise, but the highlight of our trip was definitely revolved around the food.

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international food plaza on Lido deck

All meals are covered in your tour package. However, they do have other options where you can pay a little bit extra to dine at their signature fine dining restaurant or book yourself in for the special dinner/lunch events. Here is another random fact for you – during an average week, Carnival Spirit guests can consume more than 9074kg of meat, 4535kg of chicken and poultry and a further 11,339kg of grocery and produce; that includes 28,860 eggs, 2200kg of tomatoes, 1100kg of lettuce, 4900kg of melons and 980kg of bananas. Trust me, you will never go hungry on the cruise, if you do, then you are doing it wrong. Let’s see, where should I begin? lido-deck-2 la-playa Let’s start at the Lido Restaurant, it was an all-you-can-eat buffet-style food hall features 10 international food stations where you could pretty much eat to your heart’s content. It was open for breakfast and lunch and offered the most choice, but it got very crowded during lunch time, but if you do not mind queueing up for food, then go for it. So we grabbed the trays, joined the queue and worked our way around grilled meat, snags, meat pies, burgers, salad bar and then onto sweet desserts and chocolate fountain. It was one of those unlimited self-service gluttony that we always ended up with more food on our trays than what our stomachs needed. The pizza station also stayed open 24 hours for those who were craving for some hangover cure after midnight. But wait, there’s more! How about 24-hour self-serve ice cream machines? ice-cream-machine-2 I think the idea of self-serve ice cream is actually more attractive than the ice cream itself. Nevertheless, who would say no to ice cream?

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Al-fresco American style BBQ

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Hunk of smokey roast pork ready to be pulled (shredded)

jimmys-bbq-1 Go up one deck from Lido Restaurant was the Fat Jimmy’s BBQ, an al fresco American-style BBQ which only opened on certain days. The food was definitely more my style and much tastier than the Lido food plaza, think pulled pork, sizzling snags, smokey grilled chicken, corn bread and baked potatoes, all served on round metal trays. But be sure to get there early, as the queue can get very long and you’ll have to wait for a while for them to replenish the food.

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The opulent two-deck Empire dining room

If self-serve buffet not really your style, then the a la carte dining at Empire dining room is definitely a much better option. The opulent art deco dining room spans over two decks and was opened for breakfast (sometimes brunch), lunch and dinner. We actually preferred to dine here as it was more relaxing with friendly table service. It was a nice gesture when waitstaff memorised and greeted us by our names.

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‘Aussiefied’ burger with beetroot.

Food on the Carnival Spirit has also gone under “Aussification” where they had to introduce a new menu to meet Australian palate which includes salmon, lamb and pumpkin. “Aussies love salmon!” we’ve been told. And it’s not only food, they also take their coffee very seriously. Given Australians’ passion for coffee, ensuring that on board coffee is up to scratch is obviously a key part of the aussification process. They actually have the Australian Coffee School to train the ship’s baristas, from how to extract the perfect espresso shot to latte art techniques. I actually don’t recall seeing any instant coffee on the ship, but there are espresso machines at the Lido Restaurant for everyone to enjoy.

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Big breakfast of fried eggs, mushroom, hash brown, hickory smoked bacon and tomatoes

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eggs benedict on english muffins with aussie bacon, and extra hickory smoked sliced bacon

No matter whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, they all came with the a-la-carte menu and usually we got to pick three or more courses. For breakfast, a basket of pastries would arrive at our table as soon as we sat down. Then we would have to pick something from the Continental breakfast menu, followed by a main hot breakfast and you could order as many sides as you like.

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Brunch menu – clam chowder for starter

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Fish and Chips burger

On certain days, the Empire would served Brunch menu instead of breakfast, started from 8.30am until 1pm. The brunch menu came with three courses of starter, main (breakfast or lunch) and then dessert. I was so tempted to order the fruit loops coated french toast, but my body just wasn’t ready to be buzzing with sugar high for the rest of the day.

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spicy Neapolitan penne pasta dish

Dinner was separate into two sessions, the early 5.30pm seating was for families with young children, and the rest of us would join the 7.45pm seating. All guests had already been assigned to their designated communal tables where we got to mingle and share travel notes with our fellow cruisers. We also had our own personal waitstaffs who would look after us through the rest of the trip and you’d be surprised how fast they could memorised all the guests’ names. The dinner menu was extensive, it split into two sections – the permanent Every Day menu, and also the Today’s specials menu. Not only that, guests also got to enjoy Mexican and Caribbean feast during the theme nights.

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Grilled salmon with steamed broccoli and potatoes

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Grilled turkey tikka skewers from the Mexican feast

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hazelnut crumbed double-cut lamb chops

empire stateroom 5 Considering they had to serve 1300 passengers at each seating, the food was actually quite good and much better than I expected. Make sure to save stomach space for their signature warm chocolate melting cake which will send you into decadent chocolate bliss. If you ask nicely, they might even give you the recipe.

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Take the glass-bottom staircases up to the restaurant

The best meals we had was definitely at Nouveau Restaurant right on top deck, this fine dining steakhouse sure knows a thing or two about cooking the perfect steak. Meals at this restaurant are not included in the tour package but at only $30 to $40 for a 4-course lunch or dinner respectively, it is definitely well worth the money. I mean, seriously, where can you get a 4-course dinner and being served the finest aged prime beef or lobster for $40 in Sydney? Every passenger on the cruise should dine at Nouveau at least once.

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Waitstaff explains all prime cuts available on the menu

A huge meat tray was brought to our table and the waitstaff would explain all the different types and cuts of meat available on the menu, from filet mignon, strip loin steak, cowboy steak to scotch fillet and also double-cut lamb chops. Then there were also seafood and chicken available on the menu. There was also a small hand-picked wine list to match the food. We were super impressed with the food here at Nouveau, most of the dishes we’ve tried were executed perfectly.

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Entree – Australian Blue crab cake on roasted capsicum ramoulade

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entree – baked french onion soup

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entree – Escargots Bourguignonne

The escargots bourguignonne was my favourite entree, inside the mini brioche buns were filled with juicy snails baked in garlic herb butter sauce, topped with crusty croutons and served with a creamy spicy mayonnaise that had a subtle heat kick.

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grilled 500g prime cowboy steak

The whopping 500g prime cowboy steak will cure anyone who is suffering from iron deficiency. Again, the steak alone will cost more than $40 in Sydney fine dining restaurants, so it was definitely value for money.

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Surf and Turf

The surf and turf here at Nouveau was one of the best we’ve had, came with a combo of juicy sweet Maine lobster tail and filet mignon, cooked to a perfect medium rare.

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double-cut lamb chops

If you have a huge appetite, then definitely go for the double-cut lamb chops. The portion was huge, it came with not one, but two double-cut lamb chops, and also three thick slices of lamb backstrap on the side that were succulently tender. long-lunch-1 If you want to try the Long Lunch At Sea here at Nouveau restaurant, you will have to make a booking in advance as they only run this special lunch for two days throughout the whole trip. It cost only $30 per head and we got to indulge ourselves to a scrumptious 4-course meal. The four courses consists of entree, soup & salad, main and dessert.

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entree – twice-cooked breast of spatchcock

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entree – spaghetti alla vongole

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mushroom soup with truffle oil

The mushroom soup with truffle oil won me over, it was creamy and thick, full of earthy nuttiness in the flavour. The presentation itself was a work on art.

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seafood platter – $20 extra

If that was not enough food already, guests were also welcomed to order an extra seafood platter on top of the main course for an extra $20. I knew there is no way I would be able to finish all the dishes, so I decided to skip the main course and only ordered the seafood platter as my main. It was ridiculously cheap to pay only $20 for this generous amount of seafood which includes prawns, oysters, scallops and half a Maine lobster.

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chocolate mousse

Always make sure to save some room for dessert. The decadent chocolate mousse was more like a solid block of ganache. All we could think of after the long lunch was our comfy bed as we slowly drifting away into food coma. behind-the-kitchen-2 behind-the-kitchen-1 It’s time for some random fact – On the Carnival Spirit, the Food and Beverage department is the largest department on board with 442 crew members consisting of 117 cooks, 197 dining room personnel, 62 bar staff, 46 utilities with support staff and 11 provision personnel. Counting the number of plates leaving the galley, they serve over 7,200 plates per seating (including entrees, salads, mains and desserts). This means a plate leaves the galley every 1/2 second. We were very lucky to be invited by Chef de cuisine Jerry Furtado to join him at the Chef’s Table experience where we got to experience an exclusive behind-the-scene tour of the galley and witness all the action during the dinner service. It was absolutely fascinating to watch, the galley worked like a military operation, an army of waitstaffs were lining up along the stainless steel bench, putting plastic lids on the dishes as soon as they hit the pass, then stacked them up high on the tray and carried it out to the hungry diners at the Empire dining room.

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Chef de cuisine Jerry Furtado

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prime beef taco, avocado, chilli sauce

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L to R – duck dumpling, soy sauce caviar spheres, ginger; lamb croquette w/ fried sage

The Chef’s Table experience was an intimate group of 14 guests. We were led by Chef Jerry for a private tour of the galley then we got to sample a few appetisers in the kitchen, which offered a glimpse of what we could expect for the meal later on. chefs-table-12 chefs-table-13 making-chocolate-cake Then it was followed by a cooking demonstration. It was a privilege to watch Chef Jerry showing us on how to make their signature warm chocolate melting cake and also sharing the recipe with us. Yes, we all received a copy of the recipe to take home. We eventually left the galley and moved on to our degustation dinner but we had no idea where the private dining room was and came as a surprise. We followed chef Jerry back up on Deck 2, pushed through the revolving door, descended down the spiral staircase and finally the secret location has been revealed.   chefs-table-1 It was actually inside the Dancin’ dance club! A long table covered in white linen tablecloth has been set up right in the middle of the dance floor. The whole room was glowing in crimson red from the red lighting underneath the glass dance floor. They did a great job by keeping a secret of the location as it definitely took me by surprise. Dining in the middle of a dance floor?

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guests getting to know each other; garlic brioche.

The degustation dinner was the greatest excuse for the chefs to have some fun with the food and break away from the normal dinner service. The meal was very experimental, contemporary and even molecular-ish. Brioche buns with roasted garlic baked in mini flower pots were presented to us to kick off our dinner.

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L to R – Tomatoes Our Way! , Southern Bluefin Tuna Banh Mi

There wasn’t a menu and the courses kept coming with Chef Jerry described each dish to us. The first course was a refreshing tomato salad done in many ways, from aerated tomato juice, cherry tomatoes that had been chardonnay poached and even cocoa butter coated. Second course was Southern bluefin tuna tartare on lemon bread then sandwiched between two thin brittle sesame crisps and with avocado gel.

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Spatchcock

The spatchcock was juicy pink with a nice caramelised glaze of sofrito sauce on the outside, dollops of butter squash foam to offset the richness, but I loved the balsamic and parmesan spheres inside the caramelised onions looked just like green beans in their pods.

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Barramundi

The fish course was very Australian, a thick fillet of Barramundi was cooked to perfection, tender and succulent white flesh rubbed in herb pesto, it was a simple combination of fish with fresh vegetables but presented in a contemporary execution, sous vide carrots, air dry condensed beets and mushroom soil.

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Wagyu

The last savoury course was a nice piece of slow stewed wagyu short rib, we able to cut the meat with a fork like butter, served with puffy potato pebbles, cubes of pumpkin fudge, a sprinkle of tomato dust and velvety rich red wine jus.

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Chocolate 32C

The piece de resistance of the evening was the 32C chocolate, the solid semi-sweet chocolate ganache tian oozed with salted caramel as soon as I cut it open. I didn’t think we even need all the other components on the plate which including aerated pistachio and mango cake with mascarpone cream, guava and caramel praline. The chocolate was decadent enough that I savoured slowly and mopped the plate clean. The Chef’s Table experience was a very popular event on the cruise and only happened for two nights. It cost $75 per person but tend to book out fast. Should you find yourself on a Carnival cruise in the future, I would wholeheartedly recommend you to sign up for this unique experience on the first day as soon as you hop on the ship.   mare-mystery-island-8 By day 4, we finally able to hop off the ship for some shore excursions around New Caledonia for the next three days. There was a sense of excitement as we woken up by the vibration from the engine of the ship, we knew the ship has finally docked somewhere. I never thought I could be so excited to see greenery again after spending two days on the ship cruising the endless ocean. It sure felt a little bit like Captain Cook who has just discovered a new foreign land. And the first island we explored was Mare.

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Looking back at our ship from the island

mare-mystery-island-3 Mare is the second-largest of the loyalty island in the archipelago of New Caledonia. The island itself is 42 km long and 16 to 33 km wide. The population of Mare is about 6900, of mainly Malenesian heritage. Mare is a raised coral atoll, a former atoll that has been lifted about 120 meters, hence it makes this island a perfect spot for snorkelling. The island itself is still pretty much untouched and unaccessible. There was shuttle bus service that would take all the tourists to the nearby Yejele Beach. It costs $19.99 for a return trip ticket which you will need to book on the ship before the excursion day. The scenic bus ride from Tadine where we tendered to the Yejele Beach took 20 minutes but eventually we arrived in paradise!

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humans!

No, no, no… look the other way!   mare-mystery-island-2 Ta-dah! Totally A-M-A-Z-I-N-G! (Cue the angel choir) If there was 2680 passengers on the cruise, then it was very likely that there would be over 2000 of us on the beach. But don’t let that put you off, the white sand beach stretches a couple of kilometres along the beach so you can always find a spot without being intrusive. I mean, just look at the crystal clear blue turquoise sea, I soon forgot that there were actually other people around me and I was in my own little piece of paradise. mare-mystery-island-6 The locals grabbed the opportunity and made a few bucks from the incoming tourists. There were a few stalls set up by the beach selling food and drink, hot chips were frying in the old oil and chicken thighs were grilling on the fire pit, and a man was frantically hacking young coconuts with his machete as there was a long queue of tourists waiting for some fresh coconut drink. We’ve been informed by our cruise director Stu that was better for us to hop back on the ship for lunch after our excursion rather than buying food from the stalls that can be unhygienic. mare-mystery-island-5 And not to mention, it is very likely that you will be mobbed by stray dogs, staring you out till you give them some of your chicken maryland. Poor doggies… mare-mystery-island-1

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Selfie time!

It was mid July, and the water was a nice refreshing 23C. Make sure to bring along your snorkelling gears as there were plenty of Nemo and pretty fishies to be found swimming around the coral. If you do not have one or forgotten to bring the gear along, they are available for purchase or hire on the ship. As we all know sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances while travelling and unpredictable things can happen. When we finished our excursion on Mare and hopped back on the cruise, we received a letter in our room from the Captain to inform us that our excursion to Isle of Pines the next day had been cancelled due to severe bad weather. As a result, our cruise would skipped the Isle of Pines and headed straight to Noumea the next day.

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Welcome to Noumea, New Caledonia!

noumea-8 Noumea is the capital city of the French territory of New Caledonia and it is one of the largest ports in the South Pacific. With a population of close to 100,000; Noumea is the home to the majority of island’s European, Polynesian, Indonesia and Vietnamese. Noumea is the most “westernised” city in the Pacific Islands region and you will find most of the locals speak French fluently. The best way to discover the city is by joining a tour. You’d be able to book tours on the ship or you can book them at the information centre in the city, and the price will be slightly cheaper. We decided to join the “Noumea in a nutshell” bus tour which gave us an informative introductory to this city.

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Humans!

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An overview of the Noumea city from the lookout

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“houp” wood – traditional wood carving on the Kanak totem pole

The indigenous Melanesian tribes are known as Kanaks, and La Coutume is the name given to traditional Kanak rites, rituals and social interaction between and within clans. Mwâ Ka – is a 12 meter high totem pole, meaning the house of mankind. The eight sections of carvings represent the eight regions of New Caledonia. The Kanak community created it to commemorate 24 September, the anniversary of the French annexation of New Caledonia in 1853. noumea2 No far from the Kanak worship ground is an American war memorial related to World War II. New Caledonia was an Allied base during World War II and was also used to repair allied ships damaged in the war.   noumea-6noumea-3 noumea-5 We also visited the little Church of La Conception, built by Missionaries in 1874. This church and its cemetery remain a popular destination for hundreds of pilgrims who gather every year to celebrate the Assumption on August 15. One of the interesting features in the church is the stained glass depicting a story about a priest being decapitated by the local kanaks. One of the tourist attractions that I was looking forward to visit is the Jean-Marie Tjibaou Cultural Centre. Unfortunately by the time we headed back to the information centre, and found out that we just missed that particular tour by 15 minutes. So we ended up having lunch in the town centre instead.   noumea7

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nicoise salad

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poulet baguette

Eat all the french banquette when you are in Noumea. It was odd to hear everyone speaking French while we were no where close to France but in South Pacific. You have to agree with me that’s something so sexy about French accent, no? Oui! We stumbled upon this French restaurant called L’Annexe and decided to grab a bite while sitting outside for some people watching. The cost of living is high here in Noumea, and our lunch was definitely on the pricey side and I am also not surprised that it was a popular tourist trap.

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The last sunset as we headed out way back to Sydney

Honestly, I never thought I’d say this, I actually quite enjoyed the cruise! But I do have to agree that ‘cruising’ is definitely not for everyone, specially for those who like to organise their own trips and taking control of the itineraries. Don’t get me wrong, I am still one of those people who like to make sure if I am travelling in a foreign country, I want to go out and see things and do things every day, not just sitting around and wasting time away. On the other hand, I do see the appeal of cruising, the ship itself is no longer just another transportation to get you from Point A to Point B, but instead your holiday starts pretty much as soon as you hop on it. And I also found that I’ve totally changed my travelling habit when I was on the cruise. If I was travelling with The Pom, it is normal behaviour that we would stick together and do things together, it would just be a holiday between me and him. However, when we were on the cruise, it was inevitable that we would start talking to fellow cruisers and made new friends along the way which is something new to us. And we both agreed that it would definitely be much better to go cruising with a group of friends rather than just the two of us. During our last night on the cruise as we were slowly sailing back to Sydney, we both felt relaxed and recharged. And the funny thing was, we were actually discussing and contemplating when we should join our next cruise and looks like I might celebrate my 40th Birthday on a ship!         Visit Carnival website for their current special dale and last minute offers. [A Table For Two and guest were travelling on Carnival Spirit as guests of Carnival Cruise Lines]