Day 1- The six of us arrived almost an hour after our allotted boarding time due to a slight hick-up with the Shuttle bus company. They showed up with a 9 passenger van and, of course, our luggage alone(hello, this is a cruise and not a flight)would have filled that one so the driver had to go back to base in St. Marys to get the previously stipulated van w/trailer. To top this off; we were banned from entering the bus with food or bevies ruining our plan of a Champagne and strawberry bon voyage brekkie but was hastily consumed on the nature strip while the driver struggled with our sea trunks. The embarkation was very smooth and efficient literally taking ten minutes and our state rooms were ready straight away with bags arriving within the hour. Well done to both RCI and the Sydney Overseas Passenger Terminal. First seating dinner is great with a window table on deck three and our Service staff were wonderful but had to work very hard (serving three large tables) for the first couple of days as the waitress on the next table was sick.
Day 2- Smooth sailing the Tasman toward Hobart as we explored the vast expanses in this behemoth of the high seas. None we talked to ever mentioned sea sickness and (unlike some of the previous voyages) almost everyone was out and about doing the same thing. This was our wake-up call to the shear numbers of passengers on board and we immediately implemented the "be early for all events" attitude avoiding the disappointment of missing out felt by some (especially scooter jockeys or families with children). We asked our room attendant to remove the full complement of our mini-bar which he did but placed it in the cupboard above the microwave (woops, I mean safe) making this a convenient location for our stash of wine and chocolates (FYI-two bottles of wine per stateroom allowed on embarkation but confiscated if purchased on subsequent ports of call) . I made one small complaint to maintenance as the A/C vent above our bed was dropping black "Ghost Poo" on our white doona each time a door was opened or closed. This was sorted quickly by maintenance that removed the whole grill and cleaned the vent for us.
Day 3- 10am arrival meant we could enjoy a sit down brekkie in the dining room which was very nice but does take time if you order eggs other than scrambled. Hobart is a perfect selection as Port-of-call, well done. What a beautiful day in port and the 7pm departure was ample for use to see and shop and walk till we nearly dropped. We made it back on board just in time to not be locked out from early dining finding our waiter was now free of his extra table. This turned conversation at our table to the new rumours of some people sick with 24hr bug and being quarantined to their room.
Day 4/5/6- sailing across to and through the sounds was silky and we settled into our daily routine of food, events from the Compass news paper, food, trivia, food and then dinner followed by show, food, coffee and more food. Of course, we spent a fair bit of time happy snapping during the run through the sounds and it was nice even though it was a bit foggy and clouds partially hide the awesome majesty of the snow patched escarpment with waterfalls descending all the way from heaven knows.
Day 7- Early arrival in Dunedin meant an early start for brekkie in the Windjammer and we were there just as they opened for business expecting fresh hot food ready for the mob but instead finding almost everything had been prepared long before and placed on or astride warming trays that weren't even turned on yet. This practice was found to be systemic to all three serving areas for the duration of the cruise and I have to say now that this is a major area for improvement on VOTS including even the main dining where hot food should be served hot and cold food cold. This is not as much a problem with the food service staff as much as it is managerial and procedural. The coach service from Port Chalmers cost $20 round trip which basically was $1 a minute but did work very well for all who wanted to go down-town. I like Dunedin and we will try the train trip next time we go but is very expensive to book as an excursion from VOTS.
Day 8 Wellington was even worse for timing as we arrived at 1pm departing at 10pm so unless one could think of a really nice restaurant or early show in the CBD of Wellington...We just went to the nice restaurant and show back on board as did most, I reckon. This is all noted only in that itineraries are not generally fully published before you book your cruise and our travel agent actually had us down for Christchurch / Littleton until after the final payment and package arriving from RCI.
Day 9- cruising, lazy day, tried the bingo which was only 4 games and $32 all computer checked so the whole event lasted no more than 20 minutes. The jackpot had already gone off so I thought it was poor value compared to Princess which was 6 games, less cost, really fun presentation with manual checking of each number (mandatory chicken dance if it's a false bingo) and a better jackpot system raising the target number of black-out calls each day from a really low one so the last day is usually a grand finale until it goes off with a big win. I think this was the day we all had to be fully served by staff for any food or drinks as some threshold of infection had been reached.
Day 10- Tauranga was well orchestrated with arrival and departure for a great day out, well done Captain. Sorry guys but the Windjammer food is still a worry for hygiene and general freshness. I did see a few trays nice and hot though so a careful pick of the three areas provided a hot brekkie including a stop at the very popular omelette bar. We rented a car from "rent-a-dent" and ventured off to Hobbiton as well as Rotorua, then got back with 10 minutes to spare, (whew), so close to missing the ship sailing. Apparently, the ship will wait for a little while if you're late but you have to pay the mooring fees (maybe 1-2K per hour) even if you don't make it back before sailing.
Day 11- Auckland is like a mini Sydney with a Coat-hanger and Centre Point tower. We tied up right next to the Hilton which not only surprised us in all our glory but our similarly clad doppelgangers in the top story of the motel next door. Also, worthy of mention is that a 22 passenger free shark bus once per hour to Kelly Tarlton's is just a bit under-catered for with a passenger ship this size. Best use other public transport i.e. taxi. A 3pm departure was a bit early for the last NZ port-of-call and I feel sorry for those who missed the boat (sorry, I mean ship) and had to fly back to Sydney.
Day 12/13 Cruising homeward, we had time to relax, enjoy the Ice show (fantastic), Quest (hilarious) and see a new release 3D movie (excellent). The dining wait staff were "right on the money" and all meals in the main dining were hot, fresh and tasty. Had we finally trained them or was it Gratuity time? The windjammer just seemed to plod along status quo with one member of our party quite upset with the cleaning standards as tables were sticky, wash cloths used to wipe chairs as well as tables over and over then finding one guy resting his cloth on a garbage bin before wiping tables again (I've seen better practices by 14 year olds in Macas). Come on people; this is a 5star cruise ship, not a military cafeteria.
Day 14- ah Sydney...and we're in a 5 star hotel directly opposite the Opera House. We had full privileges to come and go all night but chose instead to have dinner on board and have a little Christmas party for our table. Funny; we had the entire do about Hanukah with the candles lit each day but I recon only the RCI bean counters would know what all that's about. I totally recommend that RCI really focus on their reputation, listen to their team, know their competition and never underestimate the power of a dis-satisfied custommer. In closing...as experienced cruisers; we had a great time regardless of the shortcommings but will think very hard before cruising again on the ships of Royal Carabian.