A new adventure awaits on Fijian waters, with Captain Cook Cruises Fiji, with itineraries to explore the most beautiful islands in the world aboard the MS Caledonian Sky. Here’s our review of our recent experience…
‘Five minutes away!’ the text came through. We were seated in the open air foyer, on the cane furniture, our hair growing with the humidity, our swimwear still damp from the pool we’d just left. We counted the cars until she arrived, and eventually the door flung open, and we all yelled “BULA!” and pounced upon her. My sister had arrived.
When my sister Sarah arrives in any room, you can hear and feel her presence. Her personality is big, her energy vivacious, and it’s for those reasons I was excited to be taking this trip with her, along with Lacey and Lulu. My only concern was, that my sister enjoys the fancier things in life. I can’t imagine her ever camping, or staying anywhere with less than 4 stars, so there was a slight pressure on me to get the trip right (in all the fun, sisterly ways, of course! I knew she’d be essentially OK with whatever happened – although I may have just heard about it every Christmas until I was 80), and so I was keen to make it a memorable girls trip for all of us.
We’d arrived in Fiji to embark on an adventure aboard the new Captain Cook Cruise Fiji’s MS Caledonian Sky, a small, luxury expedition ship that journeys through Fiji islands (they also offer a Tonga and Samoa itinerary). A new offering, only arriving in Fiji the November prior, we were excited to be some of the first guests to experience both the ship, and the itinerary, a 7 night Mamanuca and Yasawa Islands adventure.
Before EMBARKING: Captain Cook Cruises FIJI
With check-in at Port Denarau, we chose a hotel nearby to the port for our stay prior to boarding the ship, deciding on the Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa. Thankfully the fancy side of my sister paid off, as she’s a Gold Hilton member, so we were offered complimentary breakfasts, room upgrades, and discounted dinners – which we took full advantage of.
On the day of embarkation, we made our own way to the Port (a 7 minute trip), where we checked in and were whisked off for a COVID test (we were visiting remote villages, and we couldn’t risk spreading anything to the villagers), which thankfully came back negative, and then all of the guests boarded the bus and made our way to Lautoka (a 45 minute drive away).
DAY 1: OUR HOME ON THE WATER, & TIVUA PRIVATE ISLAND VISIT
As soon as we arrived at the port, and MS Caledonian Sky was in our sights, the excitement butterflies settled in. We could see the crew lined up on the deck, ready to welcome us, with the always touching Fijian music playing as we boarded. They gently placed shell necklaces over our heads as we stepped onto the ship.
The embarkation was quick and friendly, being a small expedition ship, there was no lengthy tiresome process, instead a really personal greeting. We checked in, and then headed straight to deck 5 for a buffet lunch. Each day lunch consisted of an always-changing buffet menu, with hot meals, salads, fruits, desserts, and almost always, seafood.
After lunch, we traveled a short distance down the hallway to our rooms, and were joyfully surprised at the roominess offered. Used to cruise ship cabins, we were greeted with a room more like a lush hotel room; A queen bed with two bedside tables, two large arm chairs, a huge desk, walk in robe, and a large bathroom, with oversized bath. The icing on the cake was a balcony, that connected our room to my sisters (which I’m sure she loved when the girls popped over to visit every moment they could).
After settling into our rooms, we met in the Caledonian Lounge for a brief safety meeting, as well as an intro to the team, which includes an expedition team of passionate, and experienced Marine Biologists, and then got ready for the first excursion; A visit to Captain Cook Cruise Fiji’s own Tivua Private Island.
While the island is small, the reef surrounding it is huge, with over 500 acres of stunning reef. We spent a short while swimming off the beach, and then headed to the jetty to snorkel which was a great first taster to snorkeling in Fiji with loads of fish, and other guests even spotting a reef shark.
Tivua Private Island was so beautiful, and would have been ideal to set up in a thatched cabana for the day and just take everything in for a few hours, but we had a date with the Captain, with drinks and canapes on the Panorama Deck, so everyone headed back to the ship to shower and freshen up. Each night from 6pm canapes and complimentary drinks were served, with Manasa from the crew singing as we mingled. The kids loved playing cards with the crew and other guests during this time, before we headed down to the restaurant for dinner.
The restaurant was intimate, with great service from the crew, offering a delicious ever-changing menu. Each night we ordered an entree, main and dessert, as well as a palette cleanser – if ever you see the roasted coconut palette cleanser I highly recommend you embrace it with gusto, it’s phenomenal.
DAY 2: BROTHER’S BEACH & YAQETA WEST ISLANDS
Each night a sign up form was placed on the board for guests to sign up to either snorkeling, scuba diving (they have PADI Scuba Diving lessons available for anyone wanting them) or beach activities. Generally at each island visit there was snorkeling from the beach as well, so there was something for everyone. If guests chose scuba or snorkeling, they would eventually head to the beach to join the rest of the guests before heading back to the ship. It was a really flexible schedule, so you could do a little bit of whatever worked for you on the day.
As a notorious planner, I worked out with the Expedition Team which days had the unmissable snorkeling, and planned our days accordingly, opting for beach activities for all of day one because it was easier with the girls, and we were able to snorkel right off the beach anyway (although, didn’t I get FOMO when guests would come back from snorkeling and say, “THAT WAS THE BEST SNORKELING EVER?!”).
WHAT TO PACK ON YOUR DAILY EXPEDITION: Guests are provided with a small waterproof bag, perfect for carrying a room key, ID card, a small amount of Fijian cash, and a phone. At the first expeditions I took a big bag with towels, reef shoes, sunscreen, hats etc. By the end of the trip I’d figured we only needed the small waterproof bag, and our snorkeling gear, as well as our life vest. We’d just lather in sunscreen before we left the ship, and towels were unnecessary because we dried so quickly in the Fiji sun.
Expeditions generally happened twice a day; in the morning and afternoon, and lasted for around 1 to 2 hours, with the ability to return to the ship via a Zodiac (the small boat that takes you to each island) at any time.
Our visit to Brothers Beach was refreshing and fun. We spent time snorkeling, kayaking, swimming and chatting with the crew, who became firm friends (and still are) as the days passed by.
After lunch back on the ship, we changed location briefly, and then headed out to Yaqeta Island, which was one of my favourite visits. One of the great things with the MS Caledonian Sky, and its size, is that you have the ability to nestle into smaller nooks and visit great locations, like Yaqeta Island. With a capacity of just over 100 guests, it also never felt like too many people at any time, especially when we were spending time on the islands.
On some of the islands, villagers offered goodies from their stalls, as well as fresh coconuts. It’s always handy to carry small notes (a few FJD$5 notes is generally adequate) in case you’d like to buy something. I purchased a sarong from a newfound friend, and a fresh coconut on the beach.
When visiting villages, its important to be respectful of their customs. Generally if you visit into the village, through the treeline, you’ll want to make sure you’re covering your shoulders and knees, and have nothing on your head (including sunglasses perched on your head). Most of the time, if the chief has approved you visiting, swimming that beach in swimwear is acceptable.
Back on the ship we got ready for a white party, where all guests wore white while we mingled for canapes and cocktails, before making our way down to the restaurant for another delicious three-course dinner.
DAY 3: SHARK FIN BEACH, SAWA-I-LAU CAVE VISIT & Matacawa Levu Village Visit
Each night the ship moved for around 2-3 hours, and by around 5:30am we would arrive at a new location. On day three we arrived to a slightly overcast day, looking out at Shark Fin Beach. After a buffet breakfast, we got ready for a big day, one that I was looking forward to well before the cruise had even begun.
After a swim at Shark Fin Beach (from front on, the rock formation looks like a shark fin), we headed over Sawa-i-Lau Island to visit the caves. There are two caverns, but the larger one is easiest to access, although the stairs down into the cave are quite steep, there are not many of them.
The water was a stunning turquoise colour, and is colder than the ocean water, which is really refreshing in balmy Fiji. The caves are filled with a mix of both fresh and saltwater, fed by the tides, and filled with sunlight by an opening in the rocks at the top of the cave.
This cave visit was so special, and it really brought all the guests together, so it felt even more special that we were all experiencing the once-in-a-lifetime experience together, immersed in Fiji’s natural beauty. Some guests played around by jumping off rocks, and there was also a small natural tunnel that guests could swim (at their own risk) between both caves, so some explored that as well.
When visiting Sawa-i-Lau take cash (in FJD$5 notes, which you can cash for smaller notes at reception on the ship) as there as locals selling goods at the entry to the cave.
Back on the Captain Cook Cruises Fiji Ship after another delicious lunch of Prawn Pad Thai, salads, deli platters and Fried Rice, as well as Fried Chicken, we did a Pacific Plunge. This is where guests have the opportunity to jump off the back of the ship for a swim. As somebody who wants to try everything, the girls and I joined in. The current was really strong so we kept floating away and then swimming back. It was one of my favourite activities we did on the ship (you can see me in my pink swimsuit above, holding onto Lulu’s hand), because when do you ever get the chance to swim straight off a ship? It was so fun!
We then headed back to our rooms to freshen up for a cultural activity on Matacawa Levu Island. The visit included a ceremony with the chief, a traditional Fijian dinner with a Lovo (with a whole pig cooked underground ), and accompanying side dishes.
One thing I loved about these experiences is that they were really considered. As someone who notices all the details, I noticed that for every visit, to islands and villages, two of the older crew members (who are considered to be the ‘spokesperson’ for their own villages) would go onto the islands before we even stepped foot on ourselves and seek permission for our visit. They’d sometimes offer a gift, which they did on this visit – and they kindly explain this all to us too, so it felt like we were part of the whole experience.
We got to play with the kids, buy from the small stalls, and after a delicious feast (and it was a feast!) we watched the locals perform while the sun went down. It was the perfect day, and my heart felt so full, and so lucky to have lived it.
We returned to the ship and drank Kava with the crew, listened to music and laughed together. A truly perfect day.
CAPTAIN COOK CRUISES FIJI TIP: It’s no secret that the weather is really warm and humid in Fiji. I highly recommend either purchasing a fan while in Fiji, or taking one with you. These foldable fans take up such little space, are waterproof, and perfect for a little relief from the heat.
DAY 4: VIWA ISLAND & DRAWAQA ISLAND
After the perfect day the day prior, I wondered if the cruise could possibly get any better, but I quickly realised it was only just beginning. We woke for a 7am ocean swim, leaving the kids sleeping soundly, Sarah and I met with our friends Jennifer and Kate for a dip.
As we boarded the Zodiac, I noticed a small rocky island nearby with a solo palm tree, and asked if we could swim near that, and the crew had only one response, “Absolutely!” so we made our way over and swam from one Zodiac to another, and then back, simply for fun and exercise. (It felt very Below Deck to make such a request, and instantly have it granted!). I love to be in the water, but I’m no ocean swimmer – especially when the water has a lot of waves and movement, so this experience challenged me and made me realise what my body is capable of.
We returned to the boat in time for breakfast, a quick freshen up, and to wake the girls for the first adventure of the day; Viwa Island.
Viwa Island turned out to be on my top 3 islands, because the conditions were just so perfect. The skies were blue, the water crystal clear, and we got to meet some villagers too, including Rita who just made the experience so special.
Each day aboard Captain Cook Cruise Fiji’s MS Caledonian Sky is jam-packed, while you don’t have to opt-in for every expedition (my sister didn’t), they’re included in your fare, and they’re magic so it makes sense to say yes to everything. It’s also a very busy cruise (which is my traveling style), so something to consider.
I bought a fresh coconut from Rita’s son for FJD$5 (well I paid him $10 because he was just lovely), and we talked for a short while. He told me about his sister who works in Australia, and I asked him, “Do you want to leave here one day?”
His response was to the point, “Why would I ever want to leave here?”
And to be honest I completely get it. When the crew announced that we had to leave, I almost cried, and begged, “Please just ten minutes more?”
After begrudgingly returning to the ship, where we were met with a buffet lunch of delicious things (a hard life, I tell you!) and a talk by the Marine Biologists on board (each day they did a talk about topics they’re passionate about – the talk on this day was around the reef and what to look out for when snorkeling, it was always really interesting and I made an effort to attend all of them).
In the afternoon we were dropped off for snorkeling at Drawaqa Island, and beach activities on BBQ Beach (named because its one of the hottest beaches!). We were told the snorkeling was better than the Maldives, and it didn’t disappoint. We were dropped off on one end of the island, and could snorkel as far as we liked, before jumping aboard a Zodiac and dropped to the beach. I loved it so much I kept snorkeling the whole way (the first half holding Lulu’s hand until she jumped on one of the Zodiacs), swimming the entire length of the island, which ended up being over 1km in length. Everyone else had opted to take the Zodiac so when I arrived at the beach (along with one of the Marine Biologists, we swam together) everyone clapped because they were so impressed. It was a moment of my life I will never forget. I saw beautiful reef, coral, fish, and it just made my heart so full.
As if a reward for our busy day, we were greeted with the most beautiful sunset, and also invited to tour the Bridge (which happened to be right next door to our cabin). Captain Ian Davison talked us through all the processes, and then invited us to sit with him for dinner that night in the restaurant. Another perfect day in Fiji.
The theme for the night was tropical, so everyone wore their tropical clothing. We had opted to do two cruises back to back, as did most of the guests, but as we were heading back to port, some of our favourite crew members were leaving for their break, as were some of the guests. We played Music Trivia, and I won with my team mates Lulu and Nikita, taking home a bottle of wine.
DAY 5: TIFAJEK MUD POOL & HOTSPRING, & NUKU I MANA SAND CAY
We woke at Port Latouka, had an early buffet breakfast and headed to the Caledonian Lounge to say goodbye to our guests leaving. We’d connected with everyone so much, that it was hard to say goodbye (I cried!), thankfully we’ve stayed in touch and one of our newest friends lives in Fiji, and we managed to visit her before we flew back to Australia.
Most of the guests stayed on for the two cruises, so we had the option to head out on an adventure on the mainland of Fiji for the morning. We all chose the Tifajek Mud Pools and Hotspring (these port day excursions are included in the cruise fare), so we all jumped aboard a private bus to the mountains.
We arrived fresh and clean, then quickly lathered ourselves in mud (good for skin apparently), and into the mud pool, and into the hot spring.
There’s so much I loved about our Captain Cook Cruises Fiji experience, and I can’t pin point what is best, but one thing I really loved was the people, both the crew and the guests. Each day we just bonded so much, and this day was so special together. I mean how many people do you get to get this dirty with? I’ve since visited some of these new friends we’ve made in Melbourne, they were just really great people.
After the hot springs, and getting cleaned up, we headed to a small hut for delicious massages. While we had become quite accustomed to luxury aboard MS Caledonian Sky, this experience was a welcomed, more rustic and Fijian experience. I would recommend it people even visit the mainland Fiji for a short day out.
Afterwards we headed back to the ship to meet the new guests, have our favourite buffet lunch, and then head out to the Nuku i Mana Sand Cay (a sand island that is visible only depending on the tide). As soon as we arrived we saw baby reef sharks swimming, and quickly jumped into get a closer look. With the white sand, and turquoise water, and just existing in the middle of the ocean, it was such a unique, and beautiful experience. The sky grew ominous, and at the first strike of lightning, Lacey and I (and our friends Elena and Kathy) jumped on a Zodiac and headed back to the ship.
The storm passed quickly, and the sand cay began to disappear, so all guests returned to the ship to get ready for cocktails, canapes and dinner in the restaurant.
DAY 6: Monuriki Island, Monu Island & Yanuya Church visit
Waking up to beautiful blue skies, the storm clouds of the day before were just a distant memory. There had been lots of talk about what a great day was planned for our sixth day on the cruise, with a visit to both of the islands where Survivor (the TV series) and Castaway (the movie starring Tom Hanks) were filmed.
We started with an Ocean Swim, which I decided to take my snorkel and I got a glimpse of how great the snorkeling was, so I opted to snorkel in the morning during the expedition, while Lacey, Lulu and Sarah headed to the beach to swim, to do some Yoga.
After about 40 minutes of snorkeling, where there was just beautiful underwater cliffs of coral, and the brightest fish, I asked to head back to the beach to join everyone. As a HUGE Survivor fan (I watched every season of every version of Survivor), I was so excited to see where it was filmed.
The conditions were just so perfect, we had a swim, and played around in the water, and eventually agreed to head back the ship. Don’t get me wrong, we loved the ship (our luxury home on the water) but when the island looks like this, it’s very hard to leave!
I’d heard guest after guests rave about how great the massages were on board the ship with therapist Wilma, so I booked a massage for in between island visits. What I didn’t expect, was to experience the best massage of my life. I stumbled out to the deck for lunch post-massage (which my sister kindly videoed), and I didn’t even make sense when I spoke, my hair was wild, and I was in a land of bliss. All I can remember saying was, “THAT WAS TRANSFORMATIVE!”
And it was.
Everyone at lunch laughed, and then a few more of the ladies booked a massage and said the same, “The best massage of their lives!” If you ever find yourself on MS Caledonian Sky, or in the vicinity of Wilma, you must get yourself a massage.
After lunch I composed myself, and we headed to Monu Island, where Castaway was filmed. Look at the coconuts spelling out ‘Help Me!’ This felt monumental, especially since I had only just watched Castaway a few weeks earlier.
Another of my favourite islands, the water was so stunning, and the views so special, Monu Island and Monuriki Island should go to the top of your bucket list.
As my sister and I were lolling about in the water, one of the crew called out, “Sarah, will you marry me?”
There was a planned fashion show happening after dinner, and they needed a bride to model the wedding outfit, and so it was decided, Sarah was getting (faux) married.
After a solid day of sunshine, snorkeling and swimming, we headed to Yanuya Island for their Sunday Church Service. We took little toys to give the kids as we walked through; handballs, water guns, and the like. The villagers in this island, also own the two islands that we had visited earlier in the day. It was interesting to see how well developed the island was, and that most families had their own boat – having the funds from the islands each year, as well as visitors like us made an obvious difference.
The Church service was moving, delivered in Fijian, with an introduction especially for us in English, it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We gifted a young Fijian girl a ball, and as the church service continued inside (we stepped outside because we were so hot), we played ball quietly, and it was so special for Lulu and I to share.
Back on the ship, we got ready for Sarah’s Fijian wedding, by having a faux hen’s night. I don’t remember laughing as hard as we did this night. The joy was so immense within us, we couldn’t stop laughing. I felt so alive, and just so happy.
After dinner we all met in the Caledonian Lounge we were treated to a fashion show, with music, and eventually seeing my sister walk down the aisle with crew mate Nicky.
DAY 7: Sacred Island Shark Feeding & Yalobi Bay Village Visit
On our last full day on MS Caledonian Sky, I woke super early. I was adamant to milk every moment of the day (which I had already been doing, but I was feeling incredibly emotional and grateful for all that we had been experiencing). Lacey and Lulu were so happy every day. They had made friends with the other guests, a beautiful group of girls who they played cards with each night, and spent the day swimming and snorkeling with. The crew had adopted them as their own, and were so thoughtful, fun and kind in every interaction with them, as Fijian people tend to do.
We started the day at Sacred Island, a spot renowned for reef sharks. Being up early, I noticed as soon as we sailed in the reef sharks started to appear by the dozen. I ran from room to room, trying to wake my sister and the girls so they could see how amazing it was.
The Marine Scientists on board headed out on the Zodiac to do a talk, and teach the guests (us!) about the reef sharks, as well as do a feeding session. It was a beautiful experience.
We headed to a nearby island for a swim and snorkel, while others opted to Scuba Dive. One thing the crew from Captain Cook Cruises do every visit to any beach or island, is to take away any rubbish they find. Lulu and I try to do it when we visit beaches in Australia too (take 3 pieces of rubbish for the sea) so we asked if we could join in and help out.
We found a few bits of rubbish that had washed in, likely from the mainland, and Lulu found a coconut that looked very much like a person’s head. She quickly called her Bethenny, and she traveled around with us as we explored the island.
Lulu also built a shell and coral garden, and the team was so engaged with her, teaching her about shells, and explaining what role they had in the ocean. Our hearts were so full.
If you’ve watched an episode of the reality TV show, Below Deck, you’ll know how much the crew tailor to their guests. They think of everything. On each island we visited the crew set up all the beach toys, chairs, shade, and then also a bar in case anyone wanted a drink. I requested a soft drink while watching Lulu build her garden, and crew mate Tim brought it to me, tray and all. So Below Deck!
We left the island, and headed back to the ship for lunch and to freshen up for our final expedition; a trip to Yalobi Bay for a school visit, village tour, as well as a hike (for those adventurous enough) and swim at the nearby beach.
We arrived and were treated to a display of the school kids performing. It was the CUTEST sight ever. The kids danced and sang, and then invited our kids to join them. Afterwards we split into two groups, and were guided through the village by two guides, both named Mary. I loved our guide Mary so much, so was so sweet, and generous with sharing all the history of the island, and genuinely proud of the village they’ve all built together.
If ever you find yourself visiting Yalobi Bay, it’s a great place to offer donations. They appreciate cash donations, but also enjoy school supplies for the kids, plus size clothing and bras, and sporting equipment (Mary also said she’d love a phone, and a yacht, but you know!). We picked up loads of school supplies from Kmart and Big W and made up pencil cases for the kids. It cost us around $100, and was really appreciated among all the children.
The kids played Volleyball with the local kids, and it felt like the perfect experience to end our trip. We made our way via Zodiac to a nearby beach on the same island, while some of the guests hiked up a mountain (including my hike-loving sister, Sarah). The locals gifted us a bucket of mangoes, so we floated in the water and ate mangoes (dipped in the saltwater, they were delicious!), while everyone hiked. It was cool to see them all sitting on a rock ledge and calling out to us, as we bobbed about in the water. I did wonder if life could ever get better, it felt pretty perfect.
We headed back to the ship for one last Pacific Plunge, where most guests, including Lacey, Lulu and I, all jumped into the water off the back of the ship and floated about together (an interesting choice given the reef shark experience in the morning).
You can see how close everyone is. The trip had bonded us, changed us, and the crew had become extended family.
After our last dinner onboard, the crew put on a talent show, where they danced, sang, and invited us to join in. Before long we were all dancing around the Caledonian Lounge, laughing and singing together. Afterwards we had a Kava Ceremony and stayed up late sharing stories, and reliving the best bits of the trip together.
When drinking Kava, it’s custom to clap once, receive the bowl of Kava, say “Bula!” and then drink in one go, clapping three times on completion. Your Fijian crew will happily walk you through the process.
DAY 8: IT’S NOT GOODBYE, IT’S SOTA TALE
I’ve never been good at goodbyes, as I feel things so deeply and when I meet good people, it hurts my heart to say goodbye. A saying I learned in Fiji was ‘Sota Tale’ which means see you soon. So we didn’t plan to say goodbye, instead to say Sota Tale, because we plan to return and share the experience with Shane (who couldn’t join us due to work commitments).
We woke early, as we arrived in Port, and had breakfast before meeting in the Caledonian Lounge for the final goodbyes. The crew sang, as we sat tearily in admiration, and they then formed a line to hug each of us as we left the ship.
After saying Sota Tale, we all left and headed to our hotels, and while some guests were flying out later that night, we all ended up out our hotel, and got to swim and hang out for a little longer, making parting ways a little less sad.
Our thoughts on Captain Cook Cruises Fiji
If you asked either Lacey, Lulu or I what the best experience we’ve ever had, this is it. We loved our time on MS Caledonian Sky. The experience was faultless, the service impeccable, the joy rippled through the ship, most in part because of the amazing crew.
I loved that the trip was wholesome, and soul-filling. We were active every day. There was no-one drinking and getting wild, and we were either swimming, eating or ending the day by playing cards on the top deck.
The activities were well-considered, with opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and scuba diving, and also for cultural activities on the island. I honestly, and whole-heartedly can not imagine a better holiday.
To add an extra layer of brilliance, is definitely the crew. They’re so passionate, knowledgeable, and open to sharing. I said to one of the crew, there’s this delicate dance of giving people enough information, but leaving enough room for people to be curious and ask questions. They do this dance beautifully, never bombarding with information. It’s a real skill!
While the experience is luxury, also has all the special touches that nod to that value jam-packed into a Captain Cook Cruises Fiji adventure; with all food, experiences, education etc included in the fare. (They also have really good deals, so keep an eye out for those too). You are never left wanting more, and it feels so generous, more so than any experience I’ve done.
We’ll be back. I can’t wait to share the experience with Shane. We’re considering the Northern Lau trip, as I’ve heard people rave about it, and I would love to experience that myself too. My wish is that others can live this beautiful experience, just as we were lucky enough to ourselves.
We traveled as guests of Captain Cook Cruises Fiji. The review is my own thoughts. We flew via Virgin Australia at our own cost. Fiji Airways flies direct from most capital cities in Australia.