Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Blue Lagoon Cruises: Fiji Time Machine

From Today's Cruise Weekly

Everybody knows Fiji as the epitome of the romantic tropical getaway. But cloistered inside the sanitised confines of a premium Denarau Island hotel or resort, what are you going to see of the real Fiji?

Long associated with genuine Fiji island cruising, Blue Lagoon Cruises operates two 4-star and one 3-star vessel on 6-, 3- and 2-night itineraries throughout the Yasawa Islands and, with the 'Historical and Cultural Cruise', beyond to the far northeastern reaches and dateline.

Those wishing to indulge their hedonistic urges can opt for the Yasawa Island cruises, but for those wishing to truly explore and discover, the 6-night, tri-annual 'Historical and Cultural Cruise' is for you.

Aboard the French-built, 60m catamaran 'Fiji Princess', up to 72 passengers cruise comfortably to infrequently visited ports and islands like Levuka, the 19th Century colonial capital and wild Rabi (pron. Ram-be) past Vanua Levu where resettled Micronesians from Kiribati and Banaba still cling to traditional language and customs. The schoolchildren enthrall visitors with energetic dancing and song.

Besides school and village visits, there is plenty of time for swimming and snorkelling among the gorgeous reefs and SCUBA diving can be arranged on day six at Nanuya Lailai during the layover. Guests may fish from the vessel at any time and DVDs play around the clock to in-cabin flat screen TVs.

The 13 sqm cabins are not large and it's definately one at a time in the ensuite bathroom. Food is hearty and plentiful with daily variation, but you won't find any Michelin stars on board. There are no cabin phones or onboard Internet, but mobile reception is available most of the cruise for those who must stay in contact. But to fully enjoy the relaxing Fijian experience, learn to turn it off.

While slightly behind international standards of 'luxury', the Fiji Princess has spacious public areas with plenty of 'air'. While there are wall maps and bridge visits, a small library with reference books would be a nice addition.

Staff are attentive and friendly in true Fijian style, but be aware the word 'urgent' does not translate in the local culture. Be calm and patient and your request will be addressed.

Founded in 1950 by Trevor Withers, a young, starry-eyed New Zealander, Blue Lagoon Cruises grew to become the defacto national cruise line of Fiji. Initially planned as a tuna fishing enterprise, the potential for tourist and passenger transport soon overtook the failing fish business. Withers had fallen in love with the Fiji Islands, particularly the idyllic Yasawa Group to the North West of Viti Levu, and felt sure he could persuade well-healed Americans to soak up the sun and surroundings.

The first vessel was an ex-military fast launch converted to carry just six passengers with a second vessel acquired in anticipation of more business.

It wasn't until the mid-1960s that Blue Lagoon Cruises hit its straps and in 1966 BLC was sold to Claude Millar, a fellow New Zealander who further expanded the fleet with the sturdy and robust Fairmile Class ex-naval 34m motor launches. Millar added more vessels during the 1970s, replacing the aging Fairmiles.

Upon retirement in 1978, Millar sold out to David Wilson who continued to grow the company with the introduction of Princess-class vessels. In 1996, the sleek 188ft Mystique Princess joined the fleet, creating a whole new level of opulence. In 2001, BLC became a majority Fijian-owned company and supports the remote Yasawa Island communities through development funds and capital works.

Prices for the 6-night/7-day 'Historical and Cultural Cruise' start at $7,774.80 per cabin (2 persons) but at time of writing early booking incentives were offered. Check with your agent.

Web: www.bluelagooncruises.com