Family Christmas Cruise #1: Introduction


This writing serial will cover the family holiday trip that took place back in December 2015, over the Christmas holiday period. Over this and the next set of articles, I will share a bit about my experience on this my first ever cruise experience, as well as my first ever travel to the South Pacific.

Trip Origins

The idea for a family holiday began as a serious discussion over a September weekend spent in Sydney. I call this the serious discussion because the idea of a cruise is not a new idea to my family. Many years ago, in the late 1990s, my dad went on his first cruise holiday with his siblings. That cruise experience was a short trip over a manner of days, and the location of it was around the immediate area of Malaysia, Singapore and some of the Indonesian islands. This was the last time ALL his siblings had come together to spend time as a family. I suspect that reunion was a very significant milestone in the life of the family because the opportunity for the entire family at my dad’s generation to come together as an entire immediate family has been very rare.

My dad as the eldest of the six, had already left home, along with my number #2 uncle, by the time the youngest sibling/sister was born. By virtue of that fact alone, there may have been undocumented occasions in Singapore where the entire Lee family were together for a meal, but there is no photographic evidence of such. With the three eldest children, including my dad, all married off and beginning their own families, there may have been the traditional CNY family reunion dinner occasions, but photographic evidence of these events is practically non-existent, given it would have been the late 1950s/early 1960s in Singapore. With my eldest aunt following he husband in their business relocations around Malaysia, her absence in various family reunions was possible. In the 1970s, my dad migrated to Melbourne, Australia and then early in the 1980s, the middle sister also migrated away from Asia to Switzerland. With my grandfather passing away in 1982, when I was just months old, and then give years’ later, the first of the siblings passed away, any opportunity for the entire family to reunite was forever lost. With my grandmother passing away in 1993, the key to unifying the family passed to the siblings themselves. Partly, with this context established, all siblings made the effort to come together shortly after to embark on what became my dad’s first cruise experience.

Throughout the last decade of so, my eldest brother has developed an interest and love for cruises. With the resources and time available, he has pioneered the advent of cruising in luxury for the family. In 2014, my other brother embarked on his first cruise experience – a Mediterranean cruise – and thus I was the last member of my immediate family to get an off-shore cruise experience.

With this context set, the idea was floated over the course of a September weekend holiday in Sydney for a family cruise holiday over Christmas. The exact destination and route was not a key objective – spending a week or so together as a family was the main goal. With my brother offering to pay for our dad’s share of a twin cabin, it was a fairly easy decision to commit to, given I had both the financial means and annual leave available.

We returned to Melbourne and within a week my sister-in-law had done sufficient research to have a cruise identified – an 8-day cruise from Sydney to the Pacific Islands on the Carnival Spirit. Carnival as a cruise line occupies a brand reputation in the market as being one of the more ‘fun’ cruise lines. As a subsidiary of the parent Carnival Corporation, this house of cruise companies includes P&O, Princess, Cunard as well as Holland America as some of the best known cruise companies in the world. As such, Carnival retains its “fun/party” image whilst Cunard and Holland America command a more elegant experience and market/brand positioning.

The Carnival Experience

The Carnival Spirit is based out of Sydney and has been in operation since 2001. The travel agent handling our family booking was professional from the start, and I approached the agent for assistance in organising our transit flight from Melbourne to Sydney. Such is the service provided by the likes of Carnival that the offer by the agent to organise flight tickets and transfer service was a decision I readily accepted. When comparing the cost of organising my own flights (Qantas or Virgin being my two airline considerations), a limited cost savings was noted. For $20/person, we would disembark and collect our luggage from Sydney Airport and make our way to a designated collection point within Terminal Two, where all passengers would be directly driven via coach to the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. Whilst we took advantage of this service at the commencement of our holiday trip, we forfeited the prepayment to spend an additional half day with family at the conclusion of our holiday trip.

The amount of information provided by Carnival via their website and the travel documentation sent to us was professional and well designed. All our tickets and boarding passes were provided in hardcopy. Some of the paperwork required us to sign and return some forms, which we need in a timely fashion, having received the material in early November. Lanyards and a travel compendium were the first branded artefacts which we would bring with us onboard. Luggage tags were provided to help clearly mark the destination cabin, which we affixed after arriving at Sydney.

In the weeks leading up to the holiday, our packing was guided by both the Carnival issued information pack, as well as the verbal advice provided by the more experienced cruisers in my brother and sister-in-law. The same overriding travel principles of packing and travelling light (Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip #13) feature here – it is somewhat interesting that I publish here on XBOP the more recent travel from February 2016 first before this earlier trip in December 2015… but nonetheless, God has a reason behind directing me down this path. The same suitcase and small bag combination accompanied me on both recent travels. Both trips in recent times were of a similar duration so my packing was not that different each time. For this cruise trip, I did spend some time switching between different small bags and in the process, left behind my chargers which saw me unable to use my Apple Watch once the battery was fully flat… Fortunately, I was able to share my dad’s charger and thus still had use of my iPhone.

At this point in time, it is not clear to me whether I will follow the same journal per day model that the Samaritan’s Purse Discovery Trip approach required – as a pure holiday and being with family most of the time, the focus was very different to my more recent travel, which infused and was all about building the Kingdom of God. Whilst the Cambodia trip impacts and changes me in many ways, this holiday was not about change per se, but relaxation and spending time with family, in particular my toddler grand-nephew. In many ways, much of the trip was planned and catered to the fact that we were travelling as a family group and that one member was a toddler. Previous experience from my Europe 2009 trip had also prepared me for spending sustained amounts of time with a toddler, so I was looking forward to the trip just for the time with family.