The huge loggerhead turtle seems comfortable enough, sanguine even. Apparently he gets this sort of attention all the time. I even think I detect a smile. Maybe he senses the excitement he is bringing to the children surrounding him as we all bob about in the sparkling shallow water off Ile des Pins, New Caledonia. He lies sedately in the warm water, cradled by our local guide, who moments earlier dived into the pellucid shallows to fetch up the seemingly compliant turtle for a visit. Squeals of youthful delight ring out across Turtle Bay – an Isle of Pines hero-shot location – as the children gently acquaint themselves with the 50-year-old reptile. Cameras capture new profile pics and videos. It's easy to see why this is one of the cruise industry's favourite South Pacific shore excursions.
The cruise children have another turtle encounter at Amedee Island, following one around the jetty and across the sea grass for 20 minutes before he gets sick of the attention and accelerates away with a flourish. It's another 20 minutes before they stop saying "OMG" and "awesome".
Hanging with the turtles is just one of a never-ending cavalcade of thrills for the children on this Carnival Spirit cruise. The ship is a veritable child nirvana, a round-the-clock cycle of fun, food and entertainment.
They rush from one adventure to the next, fuelled by regular trips to Carnival Spirit's versions of the Magic Pudding, Lido Restaurant and Guy's Burger Joint. There is so much to do the most common complaint is they can't fit it all in. How to choose between ping pong, paper plane making and The Simpsons trivia quiz? Can we gobble down our cupcakes at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party in time to make it to the towel sculpturing class? Will there be time to see dad in the Hairy Chest competition and play foosball before the putt-putt championship?
Maximising the awesomeness requires careful planning. The daily Fun Times newsletter covers the cruise news and lists the cornucopia of fun and games. Youngsters can be seen marking their "must-dos" between bites at breakfast. And next cruise season there'll be an app for that.
The children look like they're having the time of their hereto short lives but what do they really think of life on board Carnival Spirit? First-time cruisers Emma (15), Samuel (12) and Zara (9) sit still for half-an-hour to give their on-board report card.
Green Thunder is the headline activity on Carnival Spirit. The six-second, speed-thrill waterslide begins with a trapdoor release at ship-funnel-height and drops vertically before flying out over the side of the ship and gently ending in sodden triumph and/or tears. It is a rite of passage and sooner or later all children ask each other: "Have you done Green Thunder?"
Emma: OH MY GOD, I was so scared when I climbed up got into the tube. I was terrified during the 3-2-1 countdown but once the trapdoor released it was over very quickly. I was very pleased I overcame my fear and did it.
Samuel: When I first saw it I thought "Oh crap! (wait, can I say that?) because it was so high. When the door closes it's pretty scary but when the floor falls away it's so fun! As soon as I finished I wanted to do it again.
Zara: I first thought "I'm definitely doing this" but when I got up to the top it was just too high. Maybe I'll do it next time.
Comedy Shows of the PG-rated variety are held every night and play to full, enthusiastic houses. While some are more child-friendly than others, the reviews are universally positive.
Emma: I loved these shows. Laughing is a great way to finish the day. I really liked [large, hairy comedian] Dave Callan and his Beyonce dance. I laughed so much my face was hurting.
Samuel: I liked that they were interactive with the crowd and got people up on stage. I got up on stage to do a Sean Connery impression but I had never heard of him. I misunderstood the instructions to put an H after the S in my name to make a "sh'' sound and I said "Samuel H". Everyone laughed and for the rest of the cruise I was known as "Samuel H".
Zara: The comedy shows were really funny. I got to help out by reading out names for the comedian to do impressions like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and SpongeBob Squarepants.
Food is never in short supply on a cruise ship but Carnival Spirit caters to young palates better than most. Themed feeds on this cruise include a Mexican night, Mad Hatter's Tea Party and Cat in the Hat breakfast. And it's not all sugar. There's plenty of fresh fruit, vegies and salads plus the classy Bonsai Sushi specialty restaurant (try the sushi boat). Guy's Burger Joint, Fat Jimmy's C-Side BBQ and Blue Iguana Mexican Cantina all do a roaring trade at lunchtime.
Emma: The Empire Dining Room is my favourite. The service is personal and the food is superb. I loved the pancakes in the morning. The Lido buffet is so easy and the quattro formaggi pizza is amazing. And I love Bonsai Sushi, especially the chicken and cucumber roll.
Samuel: I love the Lido buffet. For breakfast every day I have hash browns, sausages, bacon, rock melon and a peach pastry with chocolate sauce for dessert. I wish I could have that every day!
Zara: At the Empire Dining Room the food is really good and the waiters are lovely and remember my name. The singing and dancing before dinner is lots of fun. The hamburgers at Guy's are really good too.
Trivia is huge on Carnival Spirit. Games are packed, subjects are varied and the questions are thoughtful and fun. Additional levity is provided by host "Baby Jayne" and her self-deprecating mangling of Australian place names.
Emma: These are so fun and really make you think. I now know that a group of jellyfish is a smack. I feel smarter because I came on the cruise.
Samuel: The trivia is lots of fun and is a good chance for families to do stuff together.
Zara: It's been my job to write down the answers. It's really fun. There have been trivia competitions about Harry Potter, Star Wars, Friends, Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Disney songs and even beer trivia. If you win you get a medal.
Creative Cove is where arty, crafty types fire up their imaginations in various activities such as silhouette painting, jewellery making and tote bag decorating. Children are given the tools and the knowhow but their creations are all their own.
Emma: I made a tote bag and got to choose my own patterns and colours. My bag will be really good to take to the beach.
Samuel: I went and played basketball instead.
Zara: You can make lots of different things and I made a tote bag that says "Life's a Beach''.
Favourite place on the ship: Small people infiltrate every corner of the ship but our panel opted for fun-in-the-sun activities.
Emma: I hang out on Deck 11 as there are a lot of deckchairs in the sun and not many people. It's a peaceful place to read my book and get a tan. A lot boys my age hang at the basketball court and the putt-putt.
Samuel: The top deck area. It's great fun when the wind is strong – you can lean forward and the wind keeps you upright. And there's mini-golf, a running track, ping pong, basketball, the waterpark and the awesome Green Thunder.
Zara: The Twister waterslide on the top deck was lots of fun. The trick to go faster is to cross your legs and lift your bum.
Kids' Top Tips.
Emma: Get the social Wi-Fi pack so you can keep in touch with friends at home and post photos of your holiday.
Samuel: Bring a watch because parents always want to meet you somewhere at certain times. We also had walkie-talkies so we could tell the parents where we were.
Zara: You should sit in the front row if you want to be part of the shows.
FIVE MORE REASONS TO CRUISE ABOARD CARNIVAL SPIRIT
How's the Serenity?
Essential. The adults-only retreat at the stern on Deck 9 provides deck lounges, hammocks and pods for two, chilled entertainment and a bar. Try the Red's Remedy cocktail. Serenity's popularity grows steadily throughout the cruise and passengers mark their territory early with towels and books before heading to breakfast.
This cruise makes three stops in New Caledonia, each with a choice of excursions. We lounge on the beach at Mare Island, chill at the day resort on Amedee Island and opt for the speedboat tour of Turtle Bay and Brush Island on the Isle of Pines. Disembarkation is generally efficient and the venues are archetypal South Pacific paradises. Shore excursions cost extra but how often are you going to get the chance to swim with loggerheads and practise your high school French?
At Alchemy Bar, Daniel conducts an entertaining tutorial blending the history, utensils and techniques in the art of the cocktail. Daniel's talent for mixing and bad jokes makes this a hoot and we are left shaken, but not stirred.
Nouveau fine dining
Nouveau is a quieter, more romantic dining option with a signature wine list and a menu of succulent seafood and steak. And no children. Selected Nouveau dishes are also available in the Empire main dining room (extra charge). Bookings essential and recommended prior to boarding.
Wiggle for Westmead
For a $15 donation passengers receive a T-shirt and take part in the Wiggle dance beside the pool on Deck 9. The dance is more wobble than wiggle but raises nearly $2000 for The Children's Hospital at Westmead. A feel-good way to remind lucky children about those less fortunate.
Carnival Spirit is based in Australia during the summer months. Fares on this eight-night New Caledonia itinerary start at $949 per person quad share interior. Sister ship Carnival Legend is also based in Australia in summer. Carnival Spirit uses Australian power points and currency and has good coffee.
(Tip: When your child does Green Thunder, record the trapdoor moment with a time-lapse video for a priceless facial expression.)
The writer was a guest of Carnival Cruises.