Did we want a swig of kava from the communal half-coconut shell?
Seated on woven mats, we had just watched Fijian villagers in grass skirts pound kava (a pepper plant root), still covered with dirt. Mixing the powder with water, they made Fiji’s potent traditional beverage.
But kava has been known to put unsuspecting tourists to sleep. Hmmm… Perhaps just one small sip to try it?
We were being welcomed at a remote Yasawa Island village in Fiji while on a Fiji cruise.
Many villages throughout Fiji welcome you with the kava ceremony. It’s a cultural highlight when cruising Fiji and part of what makes a Fiji holiday special.
Fiji is an island country with more than 300 islands.
The two biggest islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, where most of the people live.
Many of the other islands are mere specks in the vast blue Pacific.
If you picture paradise, chances are it looks a lot like the Fijian islands.
Fiji is blessed with warm azure waters, sugar white beaches, rainbow-colored reefs and unique cultural experiences like fire-walking, hula dancing – and the kava welcome ceremony.
And a cruise is one of the best ways to explore some of these unspoiled Fijian islands. Think beach barbecues, swimming, snorkeling and visiting local Fijian villages.
Cruise lines that cruise Fiji
The two small-ship cruise lines that regularly cruise Fiji and the Fijian islands are Blue Lagoon Cruises and Captain Cook Cruises.
They each have one ship offering itineraries ranging from 3 to 7 nights.
Blue Lagoon Cruises:
We were sailing with Blue Lagoon Cruises.
Operating since 1950, Blue Lagoon Cruises offers comfortable barefoot-and-cutoffs cruises on the 68-passenger Fiji Princess. Cabins are 117 and 142 square feet in size.
Captain Cook Cruises:
Especially popular with Australian passengers, Captain Cook Cruises operates the Reef Endeavour in Fiji. It accommodates 130 passengers in cabins sized approximately 150 and 300 square feet. The ship was refurbished in 2013.
Things to do in Viti Levu
Viti Levu is the main island, where international flights land. It’s home to Suva, the colonial capital. Suva is a popular Fijian port-of-call for bigger vessels cruising the South Pacific (such as some Princess and Celebrity Cruises’ ships).
The Fiji Museum there contains exhibits from Fiji’s cannibalistic past. (Are those the boots of an unfortunate missionary who was killed and eaten?)
You can also see the rudder from Captain Bligh’s HMS Bounty (where the legendary mutiny occurred).
At Pacific Harbor, an hour’s drive away, you can watch the famous fire walkers tread barefoot on red-hot coals at the Arts Village.
Off the west coast, Denarau Island is a shopping and resort hub connected by bridge to Viti Levu. Its picturesque port and marina bustles with cafés, boutiques, restaurants and adventure tour offices.
Sailboats for Fiji day cruises to the nearby Mamanuca Islands also take off from Port Denarau.
Cast away to the Mamanuca Islands
Both Blue Lagoon Cruises and Captain Cook Cruises include the Mamanuca Islands in their Fiji island cruises.
With white sand beaches and coral reefs thriving with candy-colored fish, the Mamanucas are perfect for living out your Robinson Crusoe fantasies for a day. Or more…
Cruise Yasawa Islands
You need to get further away from Viti Levu to discover more secluded islands. The Yasawa Islands are a chain of 20 islands with volcanic rocky peaks and pristine powder-white beaches – they’re the quintessential, laid-back Fiji islands you really want to escape to.
It’s here in the Yasawas that you find the “Blue Lagoon” – a sea of clear turquoise waters sprinkled with teeny tropical islands.
At Nanuya Lailai, the Fiji Princess tied up to a coconut tree, and we spent the day kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and lazing on the beach. That evening, a barbecue dinner was served under the stars on the sand.
Because these islands are more remote, the islanders are more traditional than other Fijians, and that also makes a visit to the Yasawas just that much more special.
Supporting the islanders
One of the things we particularly liked about Blue Lagoon Cruises is that it supports the islanders financially.
The company helps the people of the Yasawas by making payments to access beaches, visit villages and have the locals perform traditional Fijian entertainment and sell home-made crafts and artifacts.
Educational projects are also a focus of attention.
One morning, an excursion took us to a local elementary school, which exists mainly on donations from passengers.
We listened to the children sing, and talked with them about life at the school (many children board during the week, because the cost of daily boat transportation is too expensive).
Interacting with the children, it seemed they were having almost as much fun as we were on our Fiji cruise!
Fiji Islands map
More Pacific cruise ideas!
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Photos © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase (except where noted)