We had trouble finding much useful information online or from people we know about things to see and do in Lautoka, Fiji, the third stop, but first Fijian port on our South Pacific cruise. As a result we didn’t book any shore excursions in advance. After reading about the Ooh-La-La day trip excursion just before the cruise started we decided we would book it once we got on board as it sounded like it would be a good experience. Unfortunately it was all booked out already when we went to do so. Fortunately though, for the first 2 days of the cruise Royal Caribbean was offering 10% off Fiji shore excursions and the South Sea Island day trip excursion (Royal Caribbean shore excursion code FJ21) still had spaces available and sounded very similar.
From the description it didn’t sound like it was going to be as good as the Ooh-La-La one but we decided to go with it anyway as it still sounded like it would be an enjoyable day. In the end we were very pleasantly surprised. It was a fantastic experience and perhaps the best shore excursion we went on.
As soon as our ship was docked and cleared customs we disembarked and boarded a South Sea Cruises catamaran on the opposite side of the dock. Once we had everyone on the ship it was about a 35-45 minute cruise out to a beautiful tropical island. We knew that it was meant to include a semi-submarine experience, snorkelling, kayaking, and a BBQ lunch. Upon disembarking at the island though we discovered that it also included stand-up paddle boarding, guided snorkelling tours, access to a beautiful pool and hammocks under the trees, unlimited regular drinks (soft drinks, juice, beer, wine), and massages were also available though they have an extra fee.
There was lots of shade to get out of the sun when we needed a break which was fortunate as it was a very hot day. Even so it was difficult to stay out of the sun with so many of the activities being out in the water, so regular sunscreen was a must and we were both glad we had swim shirts on to help protect us from the sun a bit.
Upon our arrival we were serenaded by staff who directed us to pick anywhere we liked on the island to leave our belongings for the day. There were many deck chairs covered by thatched umbrellas as well as undercover tables and then of course there were a surprising number of trees you could sit under. There were even a number of hammocks. Once we were all on the island and settled the staff called us together to run through the important things:
- When and where is lunch happening – undercover where the tables are at 12pm.
- What is the deal with drinks? – Bottles and cans of soft drink, juice and beer are on Freddy’s tab (ie included in your excursion fee) at the bar, so help yourself. Speciality drinks like cocktails have an extra charge.
- How do the different activities work? – There is a hut by the beach for borrowing water sports equipment including stand up paddle boards, kayaks, life jackets and snorkelling equipment. Other activities are run from the beach where a boat will collect those going to the semi-sub or on the guided snorkel tour. All of these activities are included in your excursion package so there is no extra cost.
- Massages are available by the beach from their masseuses but are an extra charge.
- There are sharks in the water but they only have two kinds. The first is vegetarian and the second has false teeth so you don’t need to worry about them.
We wanted to make sure we didn’t miss out on going on the semi-sub so as soon as our briefing was over we had some soft drinks while they prepared for the first activities. We then went on the first semi-submersible trip. It took us around many of the beautiful deeper reefs surrounding the island. Being underwater we got to see a stunning vista of beautiful coral, colourful fish, sharks and jellyfish all through crystal clear water. It is a cosy ride but absolutely well worth it! Just be aware if you are claustrophobic, you are in a closed in space and you cannot see the sky at all, just underwater through the side walls of the craft. It is high enough to stand up in comfortably for most people (I’m 6’1″ and had plenty of head room) but it is quite narrow. It is very well air conditioned which helps keep the feeling of stuffiness at bay and makes the whole thing much more comfortable given how hot it can be outside. The semi-sub trip lasts about 30 minutes as it slowly winds its way around the island. I highly recommend it, especially since it doesn’t cost anything extra and is included in the cost of your excursion.
By the time the semi-sub trip ended it was about 11:30am, so almost lunch time. There was one more guided snorkel tour before lunch though so we hopped on the boat and they took us around to some of the deeper reefs away from the semi-sub route.
After jumping / falling / crashing off the boat into the water our tour guide told us about some of the marine life we could find in the area and proceeded to point different things out to us. The water was surprisingly very calm and so it made for very easy snorkelling with almost no waves. Our guide was very knowledgeable and dived down a couple of times to show us things. The first was to tease a clown fish out of it’s hiding place and slowly coax it up so we could see it better. He never touched the fish or the coral and the fish never seemed concerned or threatened which absolutely amazed me. He also found a blue starfish that he brought up from the bottom to show us. To his credit once we had all touched it he didn’t just let it go back into the water, he dove back down to where he found it and put it back on the bottom of the ocean in about the same place.
I was very impressed at how much care they took of the island and it’s surrounding reefs and marine life. It is obviously very special to them and seeing the natural beauty of it I can understand why.
Come 12pm it was lunch time and our snorkel tour guide took us back to the boat and helped us board. Then back to the beach for lunch.
Lunch was a delectable buffet of local dishes including:
- Bread rolls
- Rice dishes
- BBQ chicken
- BBQ lamb sausages
- BBQ beef steaks
- Fruit salad
We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch, and were amazed at how good the chicken and lamb tasted.
There are a small number of souvenirs available on the island, some were marked as being in support of an orphanage. If you do choose to buy anything, just remember, you can negotiate the price. For example we were asked for AUD$15 for a magnet that we would only pay about AUD$5 for in Australia. Even once you account for additional costs of landing it in Fiji, there is no way it is worth AUD$15. We decided not to negotiate on this one since it indicated it was supporting an orphanage.
I’ve never had a professional massage before, so after lunch we decided what better place to have one!
So I got a back massage which costs FJD$20. They also take Australian cash and charge AUD$15 for a back massage.
It was excellent, I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend it if you have time. It takes about 20 minutes and is very relaxing with the sounds of the water and ocean breeze in the background.
When my massage finished I noticed that wifey was doing something in the water nearby. It turned out she had spotted a black tipped reef shark and was trying to get a picture or video of it without going in the water. So we spent about 10 minutes chasing this shark around. You can see it’s small dorsal fin in this video as it swims around in the shallows:
Now we had done all of the key activities we wanted to do, so the rest of the afternoon was time for us to go snorkelling ourselves. We did want to give stand up paddle boarding a go but unfortunately they only had two boards and both of them were in use at the time. We weren’t really interested in kayaking so we jumped in the water for a snorkel.
The tide was going out over the course of the afternoon so the reefs were becoming shallower and easier to get closer to. Just off the beach from the island we got to see a wide variety of fish, another shark, sea cucumbers, coral and more. It was very easy snorkelling because the water was just so calm and still with only very gentle waves.
At 2:30pm we were called back into the island to get ready to leave. I’m sure we weren’t the only ones that were sad to be going, but we packed up, dried ourselves off and headed to the boats that would take us back to the catamaran. We were back at the port at about 3:45pm so had a little bit of time to browse the markets that had been set up there. They are literally by the entrance/exit to the ship so it is very easy to access. They include a wide variety of local wares from an array of different vendors including apparel, skincare, carvings, souvenir items, food and probably more. Since the dinner theme this night was tropical we decided to get a tropical shirt for me and dress for wifey.
One thing I will say, is if you want to buy something that is local. Make sure you check where it was made. We noticed most of the clothes were actually made in China, India, Vietnam etc. There were however a small percentage that were actually made in Fiji. We picked from these ones. The same can be said about a lot of the other items. Some of the carvings actually have stickers on them that say “Made in China”. So if you want something authentic, make sure you check where it was made.
Finally we hopped back on board the ship, very tired, but very happy after the wonderful experience we had.
My number 1 tip: Just do this shore excursion, it is so worth it.
My number 2 tip: Take sunscreen and re-apply it regularly. You will definitely get burnt if you don’t. Even with it we still ended up a little pink in places that weren’t covered up.
My number 3 tip: If you don’t have a drinks package on board the ship, get a couple of extra soft drinks or juices on the island for free, you can take them back on the ship with you. Don’t try it with alcohol though, and don’t abuse it, the last thing I would want is to see them get rid of something that contributes to making this excursion so good because of it being abused.