For the very best Fiji has to offer you really need to break away from the mainland (yes, that includes Denarau) and get out to the islands. And the further you go, the better it gets. Up in the outer reaches of this island nation all the clichés come true – elegant palm trees lining white sandy beaches, not another soul in sight, and don’t get me started on the snorkelling.
You’ll find the Yasawa Islands lying just to the North of Viti Levu (home of Nadi, Suva & Denarau). Easily accessible by air or sea, this group of around 20 volcanic islands offers both quiet isolation and pristine coastlines. Think Tom Hanks & Cast Away (fun fact: that movie was filmed at Monuriki Island – one of the first stops on my Yasawa Islands cruise!).
Once solely the domain of island-hopping backpackers, the Yasawas are now also host to a handful of luxury all-inclusive resorts. But by far the best way to visit is by ship.
Discover Fiji on an expedition-style cruise
A vastly different experience to the massive liners you would normally associate with cruising, the small-ship experience (a.k.a. expedition cruising) is more like an intimate and exclusive tour taken with extended family, but without all the drama of travelling with relatives.
From the moment we stepped onto the Reef Endeavour’s gangplank we were welcomed like long-lost friends. There were no slow-moving queues, immigration officers, or forms to fill out – just a personal greeting from the Captain and his First Mate and that sense of instant relief that comes when you first embark on holiday.
The ship covered a surprisingly small area in the four days we were onboard, cruising mostly in the evenings and during meal times to maximise time spent in our destinations. Rather than being split up into “sea days” and “port days”, our cruise was an island-hopping blend of idyllic beaches and small traditional villages.
The pace was slow and somewhat luxurious – a morning beach visit (do as much or as little as you like) followed by a swim in the onboard pool and a shower before lunch. The leisurely midday meal pre-empted a quiet refreshing drink on the sundeck before a stop at a picturesque island village for a taste of culture, or another equally stunning (and deserted) beach. Sundowner cocktails rolled into 5-star evening dining in the ship’s restuarant, with live local music rounding up the day’s itinerary nicely.
What to expect onboard
Cruising like this really is all about the destination. Expedition ships are small with basic, but more than adequate, amenities. You won’t find waterslides, climbing walls or huge movie screens here – but you will have a pool, plenty of public space for convalescing, and the fantastic food you’d expect from a 4/5 star cruise line. First rate spa facilities are the icing on the cake.
There’s no shortage of leisure equipment either – you’ll be assigned your own snorkelling gear on Day One of the cruise, and there are plenty of opportunities to use it if you choose. You’ll also find a marine biologist and dive instructors on board, stand up paddleboards, kayaksand even a glass-bottomed boat. Some ships even have a kids club – but keep in mind these types of cruises are far more suited to an older family (8 years +) as they’ll get the most out of the activities on offer.
Cabin types vary across the different brands, with bunkrooms, family suites and standard double staterooms among the offerings. All are equipped with ensuites and are big enough that you won’t feel like you’re tripping over each other – even in the cheapest category. You’ll more than likely find your porthole or picture window looking out onto a public promenade rather than a private balcony, but rather than feeling exposed, I found this rather added to the overall expedition feel.
The cruise was relaxing and allowed us to see some amazing sights and we loved the food and the snorkelling… And the crew were all lovely too and it was a great way to see more of Fiji. I would love to go back and explore some more of this paradise in the future!Abi & Family
Ship & itinerary options
You can discover Fiji by small ship on one of two cruise lines – Captain Cook Cruises Fiji & Blue Lagoon Cruises (see the comparison table below). Both operate a set of three, four and seven night Yasawa Islands cruises out of Denarau Marina. Captain Cook Cruises’ Reef Endeavour also ventures further North with seven and eleven-night cultural cruise options that take you deep into Fiji’s colonial history and uncover some of the best snorkelling to be found in this part of the world.
The Reef Endeavour is fantastic option for families, with kids welcome onboard from the age of five upwards on all of their cruises.
Blue Lagoon’s Fiji Princess is predominantly an adults-only ship, with a strict 16+ age limit except for during select family sailings around school holiday time.
|CAPTAIN COOK CRUISES FIJI||BLUE LAGOON CRUISES|
|Ship ||MV Reef Endeavour |
Max 130 passengers
Max 86 passengers
|Cabin Options||Quad Cabin (2x single bunks)|
Stateroom (1x double OR 2x single)
Connecting Family Stateroom (1x double + 2x single)
Tabua Suite (1x double OR 2x single + separate sitting area)
|Stateroom (1x double OR 2x single)|
|En-suite||yes - all cabins||yes - all cabins|
|WIFI||yes - complimentary||yes - complimentary|
|Cruise Options||3,4 & 7 night Yasawa Islands cruises|
7 night Cultural cruise
11 night Lau & Kadavu cruise
Specialty family cruises
|3, 4 & 7 night Yasawa Islands cruises|
Specialty family cruises
|Depart||Port Denarau||Port Denarau|
|Onboard facilities||pool, spa pool, library, gym, gift shop||pool, boutique, library|
|Spa treatments||yes (surcharge)||yes (surcharge)|
|Water sports equipment||glass bottomed boat, SUP, kayaks, snorkelling||glass bottomed boat, SUP, kayaks, snorkelling|
|Diving & Fishing||PADI dive instructor on board (surcharge)|
Marine biologist on board
|Dive instructor on board (surcharge)|
Sports fishing (surcharge)
|Children||5-17 years on all cruises|
Kids club 5-9 years
|16+ on normal cruises|
5+ on specialty family cruises
What you need to know
Cruise packages – including return flights from Auckland to Nadi, 1 night accommodation in Nadi and a 3-night cruise (meals included) start from around NZD $2500 per person, although they can often be picked up much cheaper.
The cruises depart from Denarau Marina – approximately 20 minutes by shuttle or taxi from Nadi International Airport.
Cruises usually depart around lunchtime, so unless you have a very early flight be prepared to stay a night in a resort or hotel pre-cruise. Denarau resorts are handy to the departure port, while Nadi hotels are further away but more competitively priced if you’re on a budget.
For some cruise departures it’s possible to be picked up or dropped off at an island resort.
All meals are included on your cruise, as are most of the activities. For extras like spa treatments or dive courses – and your afternoon cocktail – they’ll set you up with an onboard account.
Anita | Burgess Travellers
Anita Burgess is in the business of making memorable family moments. Soccer mum, travel broker & writer, she’s happiest with a camera in her hand and the sand between her toes. Find insider travel tips and inspiration for your memorable moments on her blog, Burgess Travellers, or get in touch if you’re ready to make your holiday happen.
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