We were delighted with this trip. Hope you're sitting comfortably as we had struggled to find out info about it and we have lots to tell about it which we hope will help you
We left behind a snow trapped England, being grateful to make it out on time on an excellent Emirates flight via Dubai travelling Dubai to Sydney on the fabulous, comfortable and quiet A380. On arrival at Sydney we took the easy 20 mins train journey from the airport to the Central Quay and simply walked to the nearby ship. After a short rest in the early morning sunshine admiring the beautiful harbour and having a drink in a local cafe (they were plentiful)we left out luggage with the ship staff and went off exploring Sydney before returning to check in at times allocated at the dock side according to your deck number. We were allocated 11.30 but walked on with no queue to speak of and a smooth check in process at 11.15.
Our room was ready at 1 and our luggage arrived early afternoon. We had lunch in the Windjammer which was good and not too busy but we should have remembered to go to the Park Cafe in the solarium as another reviewer had recommended - there it was peaceful and the food excellent.
As we were docked overnight in Sydney we had a wonderful opportunity to explore Sydney, coming and going as we pleased on and off of the ship until we left the following day at 5pm. Being docked in Sydney is great. You walk off the ship directly to the quayside brimming with restaurants, surrounded by the beautiful harbour views of Sydney Bridge and the Opera House, walking easliy to either of these.Just beyond the Opera House are the Botanical Gardens which are free and beautiful with wonderful views. In the evening we walked along the Sydney Bridge which gave amazing views of Sydney by night.
Sydney is a very clean city. It is easy to get around, much of it by foot, but also with easy access via short and cheap ferries from the Quayside to places such as nearby Manley Beach and Bondi Beach, both of which are beautiful and well worth visiting. The Sky Tower again gives good views out to Botany Bay and the Blue Mountains - but we were fortunate to go on a very clear day.
I dont think we could have started from a better port.
So we set sail on the second afternoon across the Tasman sea for 2.5 days - fortunately it was calm for us. There was plenty to do during that time. The highest proportion of guests were Australian, then Americans and then British.We have to say that we really liked the atmosphere on board with a predominance of Australians who were generally very friendly, cheerful, non complaining and at ease, which helped everyone to feel comfortable. Thanks folks!
Our cabin was midship D2 category and very comfortable and always spotless and well serviced. It had a slightly larger balcony on the area that jutts out which was good. The bed was near the window and the settee was quite large ('3 seater') and comfy. The bed was very comfy. There was lots of storage space in areas hidden behind mirrors etc. The bathroom was a bit small (shower with curtain) but adequate and always spotlessly clean. The room had some improvements since the 2011 refurb but not loads - it seemed just to be a flat screen TV and modern bedding really. Lighting was good.
It was easy to find your way around the ship and this had been improved by the touch screen guides by the lifts. Some of the lifts look out to sea and are glass walled.
The theatre holds almost 1000 and was good. The shows varied. The RC dancers and singers were excellent but just did 3 shows in 14 nights. The guest artists varied greatly. Some left much to be desired (eg Rod Stewart act) and there was bit too much emphasis on Australian humour for a ship with so many different nationalities but on the whole we had a good time in the theatre.
The main dining room was very good. It was charming and service excellent. We chose as usual to go My Time which worked well for us.We like being flexible and being able to meet different people.We didnt feel that the table allocation was very good though unlike previous cruises - often the allocation would leave huge tables for 10 part empty or we would even be put on a table and then no one else sent to join us which was disappointing.
The food was very good. There was ample choice. We did eat in Choppes Grille, the speciality steak resturant (for which there is a supplement) one night and it was excellent. The Filet Mingnon was delicious. The MDR is very good indeed but there is something more special about the speciality restaurant if you feel like a different dining experience. Breakfast in the MDR is very nice too - a lovely way to start the day - as is complementary breakfast on your balcony when the weather is lovely.Food is also available in the Park Cafe in the solarium much of the day until 1 am and it is very good. The Windjammer buffet restaurant is Ok but generally find it a bit hectic.
Formal nights were special. There are quite alot of folk who dont keep to the dress code in the MDR though which is a bit disappointing for those who look forward to the Formal Night.
Photographers are every where of course and you will have your photo taken loads of times. They are a bit pricey but that said it is a good opportunity to have a lovely photo and its unlikely after so many being taken that you wont find one you like!
The staff are all very good. We had an excellent Captain with a great sense of humour. Our cruise Director was good too.
We enjoyed the pools - one open air and one in the indoor solarium (adults only. The children also had a separate water slide elsewhere open for a few hours a day. The gym was well equipped but we werent impressed with the advice given by one of the leaders of the gym staff which we felt was somewhat dubious.
There were some shops on board which were OK
There was a good cimema, an open air cinema screen, good, mini golf and shuffle board. There were other facilities such as rock climbing and casino but we didnt use these.
We first arrived at Milford Sound in South Island NZ. This is spectacular. We chose to risk it and take the apparently pricey overnight, overland trip from there via Queenstown to rejoin the ship at Dunedin the next evening. This trip was amazing and worth every penny. We were so glad to did it. 40 of us tendered off at 7.30 am, seeing the Sound from an amazing perspective and took a short coach trip to the lake side to walk along and look back at the ship dwarfed by the Sound and sitting beneath the huge waterfall - lovely sight. The lakeside walk was followed by a forest & waterfalls walk (think Lord of the Rings Forest), then the amazing Mirror lakes, and through breathkaing Alps and snow capped mountains and avalances to Queenstown. We stayed in a good hotel (Millenium) and had the afternoon to ourselves to explore this beautiful place before meeting for a cruise across the lake to a beautiful lakesie restaurant for a delicious meal. This was followed by an interesting sheep shearing and sheep dog exhibition and back to the hotel via the steamer boat for 10.15 so the day was very full. An early start the next day took us to Arrow Town, gold mining village and then the home of Bunje jumping where our amazing tour guide jumped for us as no one was waiting to go!! Thats a guide and a half! We then headed to a winery, saw more sepctacular scenery, had lunch and headed to Dunedin for a tour of the sights before returning to the ship. A trip never to be forgotten.
Akaroa was an opportunity to see Christchurch but as it was 1.5 hrs away and there was still so much earthquake damage we decided to enjoy Akaroa. We were tendered off and then independently took a boat trip with Black Cat around the harbour to see the wildlife. It was easy to book yourself and much cheaper than the ship trip with the same company (remember the ships trips are in US dollars and the local tours in NZ dollars). We saw lots of wildlife - 30-40 Hector dolphins, the Blue eyed penguins and lots of seals. It was excellent - good boat and very clear and informative commentary. Loved it. We then walked around the bays, went up the lighthouse, to the church for a guided tour etc and had a fantastic day. Its a lovely place and easy to explore and get walking around independently after being on the ship. Weather was amazing
Wellington is the capital. You can walk about 20/30 mins into the centre or take a shuttle. We went to the Museum which was very interactive, varied and interesting and then to the Cable car which takes you to the top of the Botanical gardens. From there its a knee aching steep walk down (wouldnt want to go up !!)through lovey gardens and views to the rose gardens at the bottom. Then an easy walk back to the ship but make sure you cross up and over the railway on a bridge as soon as you meet it or else you are stuck across the railwaylines from the ship and have to walk all the way back (take it from us...a kind local walked back with us!!). We also went to the lovely wooden Old St Pauls cathedral which is worth visiting.
Tauaranga was a great port. Everything says its Tauaranga but it is actually Mount Maunganui which is lovely. Some took a bus ride to Tauranga but didnt think much to it. The ususal thing to do from this port is to see the geothermal activity around Rotarua which is amazing. We did that but would have liked another day just to be at Mount Maunganui too. There is a Mount to climb and lovely beaches to enjoy including a peaceful harbour side beach and surfing ocean side beach (which goes on for miles). We walked off the ship and chose a tour from an information centre just off the ship. It was much cheaper than the ships tour. They book up quickly though so its worth getting off early to make the most of the day. 9 of us went in a comfy mini bus with an excellent local guide to the thermal springs Rotarua at Whakarewarewa where we saw bubbling mud, Champagne pool, Guysers, Mauri show etc. We also visited Kiwi farms and saw beautiful lakes, crystal clear springs and beauutiful countryside. The local tours stop at lots of interesting extra places cf the large coach tours too. There was just time on return for a walk on the beach then back to the ship.
Auckland - here you dock right next to the Hilton and take a strange and tortuous route off the ship through the hotel area. But its easy to get straight to the city centre. We did our own thing again here and chose to take a nearby ferry across to Devonport - a quiant suburb with lovely old wooden houses and sandy beaches where we were able to swim and walk along the coast. It was lovely. We also visited the excellent free Maritime museum where there is a fabulous waterfront cafe with to die for home made snacks (try the warm savoury scones!).
Our last port was Bay of Islands. It was bit dull and cloudy so it didnt seem worth the helicopter tour which would have been spectacular if the sky and sea had been their usual brilliant colours. We were tendered off here with an option for an early bird tender if you were not on a ship trip (they get priority tenders usually). We took the early bird. The local tour facility seemed inclined just to try to sell the helicopter tours. We walked outside and took a local trip with another couple which turned out to be great. We went to the local waterfalls, ancient stone hose, its oldest house in NZ and its lovely cafe, an ancient Kauri Forest, Chocolate and woodwork factories and Glow worm caves (which were very good). A full day and well worth it. There was a craft market and shops at the central area of the bay. It was nice to walk back along the bay to the tender rather than taking the shuttle.
So most of the ports were easy to explore independently and take tours arranged with locals at the time if you wnated. The locals are so very friendly and pleasant and relaxed. We were fortunate to have excellent weather. The colours of sky, landscape and sea were amazing. The beauty of NZ is indescribable - there is no way that you can do justice to it. The cruise was an excellent way to see it and we were gald we chose this way rather than a mobile home. If you're wondering about it - just do it! You wont regret it!
Just a couple of last comments - the Tasman Sea can be choppy. We were fortunate but it was bit choppy returning.
Lastly - we stayed in Sydney after disembarking, at the Intercontinental in a club room with access to the club lounge on the roof top. What a bonus this turned out to be ! Not only was the hotel, club lounge and food great and so close to the ship, but we watched the ship sail out the next night from the roof top! It was quite emotional seeing it sailing out of that beautiful harbour and quite the icing on the cake at end of a wonderful holiday!
Oh - and one final thing! Take the ferry from Darling Harbour to Central Quay -this was the last thing we did and fantastic - perfect views of the Opera House and Bridge and the ferry goes under the bridge - great!