I did a lot of research on Cruise Critic before our trip and found so many of the reviews helpful in planning our trip. I thought I'd return the favor for those yet to take this wonderful cruise. Although I booked the cruise as one 28 day itinerary, it was, in fact, two 14 day cruises, back to back. We were able tot stay in the same cabin during the entire trip.
The first 14 days went to Vanuatu, Fiji and New Caldonia. The next 14 days were in Australia and New Zealand.
We flew from LAX to Nadi Fiji. Our intention was to visit friends there and shorten the long flight time by breaking it up. We flew Air Pacific and got a great price. We spent one night in Fiji and then flew 4 hours to Sydney. We stayed at the Raffles Gateway in which I reserved on Orbitz. I highly recommend this hotel. Nice pool and nice people.
Sydney: We stayed a week in Sydney. We were in the Haymarket area for four nights at the Meriton Campbell apartments. We highly recommend this hotel. Our apartment had a kitchenette and laundry facilities. It has a nice lap pool and hot tub. It is a fairly new building and very secure. From here we did the hop on hop off bus and took the train to the Blue Mountains. It is a very easy trip to plan yourself and much cheaper than any of the excursions. The hotel is within easy walking distance to the train station. Then we moved to the Marriott at Circular Quay for our final three days. Very well located hotel with easy access to the ferries and Opera House. We saw an opera at the Opera House and it was a wonderful experience. We also took the ferry to Manly beach - again, very easy to do on your own.
The Volendam: We booked an inside cabin on the Lower Promenade deck so that we could easily get outside to check the sights and the weather. Our room was light and bright with lots of storage and a wonderful steward. We attended many of the shows and enjoyed most of them. You have to get there early because the seats fill up quickly. We ate many of our meals in the Lido and found the service and food to be quite good. We chose anytime dining for the restaurant and always got requested tables within a few minutes. The service and food were both very good, but we are not that picky. We loved our cruise director. We attended computer classes, cooking shows, movies and shore talks. They were all high caliber. Yes the Volendam might be getting a bit older, but we love the ship. We joined a cruise critic group and had some very enjoyable times with them We even got invited to a party in the penthouse suite, which was a treat!
Ports of Call and excursions:
Noumea: Joined up with cruise critic for Aquanature snorkling tour. Very professional group and we highly recommend them.
Easo, New Caldonia: Small island, no tours, beach day.
Port Villa, Vanuatu: We did two ship excursions on this day. In the morning we went to Ekasup village - this is not to be missed. Lots of information on the Aboriginal people, all in a forest setting with native dress. Then in the afternoon we took a snorkeling tour which was nice because they fed the fish.
Luganville, Vanuatu: We hired a cab here for the day at the cost of around $90 USD. It was worth every penny! Samuel drove us all around the island and then took us to the Blue Hole for swimming. It was one of the highlights of the trip
Laukota, Fiji: Very rainy day. Took the free shuttle to Jack's store and walked around and shopped.
Dravuni Island, Fiji: This is a small island and is basically a beach day. We hired someone to take us around the island in their boat. Then had a massage and snorkeled on the beach. Very relaxing day and beautiful island!
Ile Des Pins, New Caldonia: Again a beach and snorkel day on an amazing South Pacific island.
Our ship returned to Sydney for one day to load and unload passengers.
Melbourne: We joined with a cruise critic group and went with the tour company called A Tour with a Difference. He showed us all the sights in downtown Melbourne and then drove to the Dandenong Mountains. here we got to see cockatoos and crimson rosellas in the wild and hand feed them - it was an awesome experience. Lots of van time on this day!
Burnie: Small town - we did not book an excursion for this port. Walked around, went to the local museum and shopped.
Cruising Milford Sound in New Zealand was so beautiful. We entered the sound at dawn and stayed there for several hours. Amazing place - be sure to get out on deck early!
Dundedin- Port Chalmers: We booked with Back to Nature Tours and can highly recommend this group. He took us to see the University, Signal Point, downtown, Larnach Castle and then the see the yellow eyed penguins. The area where you see the penguins is on private property and much has been done to insure their safety. There is a lot of walking involved here as you have to do through tunnels to get to see them in the wild. Great experience and highly recommend. Then we hit the Albatross Colony. Another long, but delightful day.
probably our favorite tour.
Akaroa: When we got off the boat there were many people selling tours. We booked a bus to Christchurch for much less than the cost on the ship. This was just transportation and it took almost 2 hrs to get there. We walked around Christchurch and saw all the 'deconstruction' they were doing post earthquake. The container malls were very interesting. We then spent the rest of our time at the museum which gave a great account of the earthquake.
Picton: We had booked with Waterways for a two man motor boat tour of the harbor. It was raining that day, but the guide came to meet us anyway to tell us that the tour was cancelled and to offer other suggestions - very professional. We chose to walk around Picton and do a little shopping.
Wellington: We went to the Isite and booked a tour. They put us on The Big Red bus tour and we were the only ones on the tour. This couple runs the tour and they were outstanding. We highly recommend them.
Napier: We booked with Hawkes Bay Scenic tours for a wine and brewery tour. He gave us a good overview of the city and then we went to two wineries and one brewery. Very enjoyable day.
Tauranga/Rotorua: We booked a tour with Ann Norton and were lucky enough to be the only ones on her tour. The drive to Rotorua is quite long, but the scenery is beautiful. Rotorua is an amazing place with thermal pools everywhere. We then went to Te Puia which is a Maori area. Amazing Maori presentation and great views of the geysers. This is not to be missed.
Auckland: We stayed at the Sky Tower Hotel ( not the Grand) and loved the location. The rooms were very nice, as were the people.
All in all, this was a trip of a lifetime. Do not hesitate to go! You won't regret it.