Pre cruise There is an Airport Shuttle from the Airport to Downtown Auckland for $14 one way. Pickup is outside Door Nine in the International Terminal and you pay the driver directly. The bus was a typical city-type bus and the driver announced which hotels were served at each stop.
Pre-Cruise Hotel was Crowne Plaza CBD which is a nice hotel- about what you would expect from a Crowne Plaza property. If arriving from the Airport on the Express bus there is a back entrance along Elliot Street. From the bus stop at 237 Queen St., take Darby St. to the pedestrian Mall on Elliot St. and turn left. The marked Entrance is through the mall on the right.
We used Gray Line Tours for a one-day bus tour of the North Island that included the Glow Worm caves in Waitomo and the thermal park in Rotorua. They pick up right in front of the Crowne Plaza so it was easy to coordinate. The glow worms are inside a cave and are visible on the ceiling. After walking through the cave area, you get in a raft and silently move towards the dark cave where the glowworms are nestled in the ceiling. The scene resembles a planetarium with the dots of Glow Worms on the ceiling. In Rotorua, the Thermal Park and Maori Concert at Te Puia were nice. Included was a guided tour of the mud pots and geysers. There was also a Kiwi at the park but since they are nocturnal it was almost impossible to see it in the darkened display. A light lunch was served on the bus as well as a snack on the way back to Auckland. This is a good way to see the north island and the thermal areas for far less than a ship excursion.
Quick and painless. We arrived just after 4 and walked through without waiting.
The Diamond Princess was extremely stable, even during heavy seas. In fact, it was far more stable than previous ships we have been on. The only noticeable issue was a "wobble" or vibration at times but even in the Tasman Sea the ship never actually rocked too much.
Passengers were evenly mixed between Aussies, Brits, and Yanks, along with some groups of Russians, New Zealanders, and Brazilians.
For the first time on a cruise, the beer on board was cheaper than in port. For most Americans and Canadians, the cost of many things in NZ and AUS are much higher than found at home. For example, $2.90NZD for a 16oz. Coke was about average in stores. Also, Princess had money exchange machines on board which gave a similar rate to banks ashore but the exchange fee was only $4.50USD which was cheaper than the local banks and money exchange stores.
We felt the staff was more attentive and personable than ever before. We felt this was the best overall service we received of any Cruise, even though many of the Crew contracts expired midway through the cruise. My only complaint is the one way entrance and exit in the buffet which caused traffic jams as passengers backtrack to exit and collide with those moving clockwise as they enter. The Wake Show with cruise director Kelvin was excellent. Just FYI, he is moving to the Crown Princess after the next cruise. I don't know if Port lecturer Elizabeth was unfamiliar with the ports on this cruise or just wasn't good at presentations, but she was not the best for directions if you wanted to explore on your own. Typical things missing from port lectures were what times the Shuttles ran or how far it was to the central business district. She also tended to wander off topic into things not related to the port.
Excellent. Typical Breakfast on the buffet included Corned Beef Hash, Fried Eggs, Omelets, Pancakes/ French toast, whole fruit, Apples, Pears, Oranges, stewed Pears, Prunes, Peaches, Oatmeal and Congee, Bacon, link Sausage, and an alternative Sausage (Italian, bangers, etc.) and different variations of Fried Rice. Operating times which did not change were 5:00am-6:00am for Continental and 6:00am-11:30am for regular breakfast (although by 5:30am full breakfast was always out and available)
Lunch was available from 11:30am-3:30pm and snacks (good) from 3:30pm-5:30pm. Lunch options were too varied to list but always available were fruit, excellent rolls and bread, wrapped sandwiches, a carved meat and four other main course meats, salad bar, and a dessert bar.
Dinner was 5:30pm and 8:00pm for traditional seating and 5:30pm-10:00pm for anytime dining. The Buffet was open 5:30pm-11:00pm. In the MDR always available for dinner were a half pound Burger, Sirloin Steak, and grilled Salmon.
There was an optional poolside buffet on sea days which alternated with Italian, Mexican, Sushi, and Soup days. On three of the sea days they provided a British "Pub Lunch" in one of the alternative Dining rooms with your choice of a Ploughman's lunch of bread, cheese and pickles, or either bangers and mash or fish and chips (beer extra). It was a nice thought, but we could have found better food in any of the dining rooms.
In a change from our last Princess cruise, the soft serve at Scoops is now free during opening hours 11:00am-11:00pm
Mostly production shows featuring the ships dancers for the first nine days, with some comedians and Ventriloquists later in the cruise. There are three movie channels on the TV that show recent movies that were in theaters within the last year. Typically the primary MUTS movie was shown the next day on channel 21, but not listed in the channel guide. The Channel lineup was ESPN international, NFL games (during season) Australian TV (within Australian waters) an art channel, Princess TV (TV show repeats including "The Love Boat"), Fox News, MSNBC, BBC, and CNBC. In the evening most alternate entertainment was skewed towards music and dancing in the Explorers lounge, Wheelhouse bar, and the Atrium.
The sea days included the usual assortment of carpet bowling and fee-based and fee-free seminars.
For New Year's, there was a balloon drop in the atrium and a second party outside on the pool deck that had steamers and similar festivities. Champagne bottles were available for purchase
There is a self-service laundry on each floor for $2.00 each for wash and the same for dry. The wash/dry times listed on the machines aren't always accurate, so plan on getting back early. There was also a special on one sea day of $20 for everything you could stuff in a laundry bag. Otherwise you could opt for the usual dry cleaning at a cost consistent with most Hotels.
Typical Princess Cruises quick and painless disembarkation. At our allotted time we walked off the ship. Nothing more need be said.
I'll list detailed port information in the Cruise Critic port reviews. The following are Princess-specific details:
Docked in Mt. Maunganui at the intersection of Mall Rd. and Salisbury Ave. There were plenty of local tours offered at the I-site in the port, including a HoHo bus which at $25 compared favorably to the $15 for a round trip bus to Tauranga offered by Princess.
Picton- We were parked on Shakespeare Bay. There was a free shuttle here since there is no public access to the port area. Since Picton is a small town, we took the Bus to Blenheim - it is 25 min but also easily drivable. You can book the bus in advance or get tickets from the I-site. We felt both Picton and Blenheim were about half day visits each. The I-site will book tours, buses, trains, etc. We wanted to see the Omaka aviation museum in Blenheim but didn't make it. There were rental cars available near the I-Site advertising for $25 a day. Unfortunately, the bus schedule didn't work to get there and back. In retrospect, we should have taken the ships excursion or rented a car. There were also local tours available to the museum which were half the cost of the ships excursion. These local tours were also bookable through the I-site.
Wellington- the Ship docked right next to Westpac stadium. Princess offered a $10 shuttle into town, but from where we were docked, for us it was easily walkable into town. From the Stadium into City Center was approx. 1 Km. We were in town on New Year's day so a lot of shops and sites (such as Weta Cave) were closed.
Akaroa- This was a Tender port. There was plenty of local vendor's dockside as we arrived, selling their tours. You can pay cash to the vendors directly or pay the dockside I-site rep with a credit card. We used Akaroa tours for the $45 round trip to Christchurch with a drop off at the I-site next to Canterbury museum. No need to take the tour to the red zone for an additional $15 unless you are unable to walk the four blocks from Canterbury Museum to Christchurch Cathedral. You can walk through most of the damaged area along the sidewalk although all the destroyed /damaged buildings are fenced off.
Dunedin- docked in Port Chalmers. Princess offered a $15 Shuttle which drops off in Dunedin in front of the Robert Burns statue at the Octagon. Some passengers got off their tour buses in town and only used the shuttle one way. This was the only port in NZ that required both a picture ID plus a cruise card for access to the port and the ship. The disembarkation and return was also a bit chaotic here. Port Chalmers has maybe an hour's worth of browsing with some small shops and most importantly a New World Supermarket within walking distance of the ship. On our itinerary Hobart was the next stop with three days at sea before we arrived so the Supermarket trip for some snacks was a must.
Hobart- docked right in town at Sullivan's Cove parallel to Hunter St. There is a courtesy shuttle which makes two stops; the first at the visitor's center and the second at Salamanca place. There is shopping at both Elizabeth Street and Salamanca place which were all about a 20 minute walk from ship along a marked path. We took the Princess Excursion to Bongorong Park and Richmond. We considered a rental car but the park is out of town and not clearly marked from the road. (In fact, our excursion bus driver got loss and cost us 10 minutes at the park.) At Bongarong, Kangaroos were roaming free in their compound. Free feed was available to feed them. Several Tasmanian Devils were also in enclosures. Wombats, Koalas, Emus, Wallaby's, and Purple Tongued Lizards were all in natural habitat areas and on display for that perfect close-up picture. For most fellow cruisers we spoke with, this was the highlight of the cruise. Unfortunately the ships excursions only spend 45 minutes there and everyone felt that was not nearly enough time. Richmond is included in several of the combined excursions with Bongarong and has the oldest church, oldest bridge, and a Gaol. This city was worth about 30 minutes of browsing instead of the hour spent here. Everyone on our bus would rather have spent the time at Bongarong.
Melbourne- Docked at the Station Pier. There are two main methods to enter the city from the port. The #109 tram runs every 10-20 minutes from near the food store just outside the port. There is also a free one-way shuttle from the ship into town which drops off in front of the Victoria Arts Center. The free shuttle and tourist bus was actively pushed at the tourist center in the port, along with directions on how to pick up the tourist shuttles. When we were there both the free downtown visitor tour bus and free city circle tram were packed so tightly with Tourists that it was almost impossible to see anything. Both take just over an hour to make a circuit. Regardless of which way you decide to get to town, you will need a Myki card to return on the 109 Tram unless you have an excursion or private tour booked.
Sydney - Docked at Circular Quay in the Overseas Terminal. A cab from the ship to our post-Cruise Hotel in the city center near Queen Victoria market was only $9. There was also train or bus service from the Circular Quay station which is only a short walk from the ship. If going straight to the Airport, the Airport Express bus runs from Circular Quay to the airport for $16 one way. There are also numerous Airport Shuttle companies that pick up from the Hotels for a few dollars less. Your Hotel should be able to book this for you.
There is no end of things to do in Sydney. We had four days post-cruise and still felt we missed a lot.