As frequent travellers to Tasmania, our family was looking forward to our first trip on the ‘new’ Spirit of Tasmania. Both ships (Spirit of Tasmania I & II) underwent a $31 million refurbishment in 2015.
I really wanted to love this trip, but while the décor has improved, there were some lowlights amongst the highlights.
Our late departure was not a good start. But delays happen and there is no point in getting stressed – a nervous embarkation directly behind a brand new F type Jag was a totally different matter.
I later learned a visiting cruise ship had thrown out the Spirit’s schedule, and with day and night crossings at peak time, there was no opportunity to make up time. The eventual turn-around time of about 3 hours is actually pretty amazing when you consider 400 vehicles and 1300 people were loaded onto the ship.
So, starting with the positives, here is my Family Friendly review of the “new” the Spirit of Tasmania II.
I don’t know what their secret is (my Tasmania hubby would say it was the fact they are Tasmanian), but I always find the staff and crew of of the Spirit of Tasmania to provide exceptional customer service – from the call centre to those working on-board.
And this time was no different – a query to the call centre about travelling with our dog was handled in a friendly manner. On board the ship, service is always with a smile and many staff members are up for a chat. They certainly help make the crossing an enjoyable one.
The top deck lounge
With its laid back atmosphere, this would have to be my favourite place on the ship (if you can get a seat – see below). It is probably one of the best places for families too, with a small play area and Xbox zone for the older kids.
Here you can watch the swells roll by and maybe spot a pod of dolphins or two if you are lucky.
Passing the other ship
So, you spend hours at sea with nothing much to see! Until you pass the partner Spirit of Tasmania travelling the other way.
Call me daggy, but I get quite excited to see another ship at sea. And it is kinda cute watching people wave at the other ship, where I am sure many of their passengers are doing the same. But it’s too far away to see.
You know, the food actually is not that bad. Children’s meals in the renovated buffet, now called Tasmanian Market Kitchen, are cheaper too (free for under 5 and just $10 for under 10s). So if you are having dinner or making lunch your main meal of the day, it is not an excessively expensive venture.
Now, food also brings me to the negatives
Bringing on your own food
To help cope with the “I’m bored” munchies, I had brought along snacks, mixing treats with fruit. Before boarding, as part of the security checks, we were asked if we were carrying any fruit – I said I was and it was duly confiscated on the basis that you can’t take fruit into Tasmania.
Fast forward to disembarking, when a quarantine officer asked if we had any fruit in the car. Well, I just laughed, then asked her how we could have, when it confiscated in Melbourne. She expressed surprise and said you could take fruit on the ship, just not into Tasmania.
I have crossed Bass Strait a number of times, including once a long ago when your dinner and breakfast was included in the fare (yes, that did happen). So I must admit I am pretty peeved at the fact you now have to pay to watch a movie.
Prior to the refurbishment, movies were free. Now you have to pay $34 for family (2 adults & 2 kids) or $13.50 per adult and $8.50 per child to see a movie. And with up to 3 movies shown on a day crossing, that adds up.
Likewise, a previous service renting out tablets pre-loaded with movies you could take back to your cabin to watch, has also been shelved.
Given you have a captive audience who need to while away 9 hours at sea, and given the large amount of money it costs to travel on the ship at peak periods, I think asking guests for this extra payment is not really on.
Bags my seat
Just like the ‘bags the lounger next to the pool for the whole day by leaving my towel on it’ mentality prevails at many holiday resorts, do does the ‘bags my seat/s in a communal area for the whole day by leaving my bags on them’ does on the Spirit’s day crossing.
I saw seats crammed together covered with belongings with no-one in sight. I saw people lying across chairs. Our attempts to find somewhere to sit on the lounge deck were to no avail. There were seats empty of people, but not of their belongings.
In the eating area, a number of customer service announcements had to be made on both crossings, asking people to move from the dining area to allow people to sit down and eat.
This is something Spirit of Tasmania to crack down. There has to be somewhere people can store their belongings so communal areas can be freed up for all travellers, not just those who decide not to pay for a cabin or seat.
Which brings me to my tips. And my number one tip is:
Book a cabin!
This is particularly so for families. Given you have no control over the order in which you board with your car, you don’t want to find yourself left standing after others have already “baggsed” their patch.
So, even if you are on a day crossing, BOOK A CABIN. The cost of a 4-berth inside cabin doesn’t add much extra to the overall cost on a day crossing. It then gives you your own space where you can climb into your PJs and relax with a good book (and even have an afternoon nap with your little ones).
You also have your own little ensuite, including a shower you can use to freshen up before you leave the ship. Spend a bit more and get a cabin with a porthole.
A cheaper option is to buy an allocated cruise ship seat, all of which are located in an area up the front of the ship with sweeping views of the crossing.
Either way, you will not regret paying a bit more to get your small piece of quiet and privacy, especially on crowded crossings such as the ones we experienced.
Give yourself time to board
This is not really an issue in Devonport, but getting to Station Pier in Melbourne can be a nightmare, particularly during peak hour traffic or when a cruise ship is in. Make sure you leave plenty of time to get there. Stressing in traffic as it gets closer to cut-off time is not a fun way to start or end a holiday.
Take your own entertainment
Limited newspapers and magazines can be purchased on the ship, so it pays to stock up on your own. Take books, playing cards and if possible, upload movies onto your own devices to save money on going to the on-board cinema. You will be surprised at how fast the times goes.
Plan and enjoy
There is no doubt the Spirit of Tasmania is a unique experience. Overall, it is a great way for families to travel to and from Tasmania and with a bit of forethought and planning, you can get it right and enjoy your journey to and from the island state.
Our travel on the Spirit of Tasmania was independently booked and fully paid for.
Make sure you check out some of the great family friendly accommodation found in Tassie too.
Other posts about what to do in Tasmania: