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Tips for first-time cruisers

First-time cruiser Karyn Henger shares what she has learned about cruising.

We all have a bucket list of things we'd like to do and going on a cruise has been on mine for a while. In May I finally went on my first one - here's how it went and what I learned.

On board the Pacific Jewel

First, let's set the scene: I went for a short and fun-packed three-day comedy cruise with P&O Cruises on the newly refurbished Pacific Jewel. We went on a round trip from Auckland which didn't stop anywhere, but we did sail around the active volcano, White Island, which was beautiful.
I cruised with my brother, Steven, and a group of friends.
We were on board with around 1900 other passengers and 700 crew. On the 11 guest decks we were spoilt for choice for bars and restaurants; there was a casino, duty-free shopping, a spa and gym and outdoor swimming and spa pools.
We went sans kids but there were kids clubs on board. There was an Adventure Park, outdoor bowling green and giant outdoor movie screen.
It was like a resort on water and it's up to you to choose how much or how little you want to do.

Despite being contained you feel a sense of escape

Me and my bro pretty excited about leaving Auckland behind us.
P&O's tagline is "the fastest way to slow down" and the interesting thing is you do feel like you're leaving your worries behind you as the ship leaves the port. It's a slow drift out to open waters and you get this growing sense of liberation watching Auckland's city lights diminish behind you until they're swallowed up completely by the dark. With nothing left but you and the sea below and the sky above, you emotionally shift gears.
My one worry was that I might feel trapped but the open-air decks give the outdoor space you need and there is so much to get involved in anyway.
The top decks, just before sunset.
Loving the sea air!

You're probably going to eat too much

The menu for the Chef's Table. Pretty spectacular.
I took my running gear but didn't get round to using it. I also took note of the Saturday morning seminar on how to achieve a flatter stomach but went for brunch instead.
It would be fair to say that I spent a large chunk of the weekend eating - starting with a seven-course meal at the Chef's Table on the first night, with each course matched with the perfect wine to complement it.
On the second night we ate at the Pacific Jewel's newest restaurant, the Shell & Bones. It was a veritable seafood feast.
And on our final night we dined on steak, baby chicken and an array of sides at the Salt Grill.
Each meal was incredible and in between we grazed from the international food court or the ship's Waterfront restaurant.
There was plenty of good food, and nothing for it but to get involved.
We toured the ship's galley and were told that 9000 to 12,000 meals are produced every day. Food is prepared in batches to meet demand and minimise waste, and what's not eaten is turned into fish food, so everyone gets fed.
Dessert at the Chef's Table.
Roasted rack of lamb from the Chef's Table. My photo really doesn't do this meal justice.

You might also over-indulge in beverages

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There are a lot of bars and themed parties and you can move between them with your drink in hand, making it just too easy to barhop. In fact, you can even shop with a drink in hand - our friend bought a watch.
This was a weekend of abandon for me. I sipped on Cosmopolitans and felt like SJP.

Embrace the cheese

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When our flying fox and 'walk the plank' activities were postponed, there was nothing for it but to sign up for Bingo.
Bingo is played on the ship twice a day and it's hugely popular with all ages.
I'm glad we got seats early because the theatre was packed. This was honestly a cruise highlight for me. I can now say I've played Bingo on a cruise ship - and I had a win, walking away with $61.50.

Lots of lols

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P&O Cruises has been running comedy cruises since 2009 and they've proven very popular. In August they're launching 'The Big Laugh' - a first-of-its-kind Comedy Festival at Sea on board the Pacific Jewel.
We were entertained over the weekend by Kiwi comedians Justine Smith, Jarred Fell, and Cal Wilson and Australian comedians Damian Callinan and Micky D in a variety of evening and late-night shows.
Justine and Jarred were the stand-outs for me. Justine talked a lot about being 50 and newly married. She's hugely likeable and you can imagine sitting round a table with her drinking wine and laughing till you cry.
Jarred has a magic routine. As a rule I don't like magicians but I loved Jarred because he made me laugh like I haven't laughed in ages. He is quick, confronting and unpredictable.
Afternoon sessions are scheduled where you can meet the comedians and ask them questions. We asked them how Kiwi audiences compare to the Australian ones (the passengers on our ship were predominantly Kiwi), and they said Kiwi audiences are generally more 'buttoned up' but Kiwi cruise audiences are super-relaxed because they're not distracted by day-to-day worries.
You can also have a go at stand-up yourself. We attended a comedy workshop hosted by Justine and also a comedy gong show, where budding comedians gave a short routine and the actual comedians gave them feedback.
These sessions were uncomfortable to watch at times but, like a car crash, you looked anyway. At the end of the day, my hat goes off to those people who were visibly shaking as they faced us from the stage.

Other fun stuff to do

One sibling walks the plank like a boss, the other can't wait to get down.
At the Edge Adventure park you can go on the flying fox and walk the plank. I loved the flying fox. I hated walking the plank. While my brother showed no fear of heights at all, me - not so much.
My group and I all had Swedish massages and this is something I highly recommend.
Me, third from left, with some of my cruise buddies. We were about to do the flying fox.

Useful stuff to know

Sunset from the top deck.
Soon after boarding and before you set sail all passengers are summoned to their nearest muster station where the crew runs through emergency procedures and show you how to put on a life jacket.
Your room card is your currency. Lose that and you're a broken man/woman/child. Every individual gets their own card and you need it to get into your room and to purchase anything at all - everything is charged back to your room and you pay at the end. Take a lanyard to hang it round your neck.
This is a really good cruise to do with a bunch of friends. We saw a hen's party and lots of extended family groups. There are so many different things to do it's good to be able to split off with like-minded buddies for various things and then regroup.
Would I do it again? Yes. Although I'm not going near the plank.