We were first time cruisers and after years of wondering if cruising was for us decided to try. We booked through Flight Centre including all transfers and a trip to Rotorua. All were organised exceptionally well and there were no problems. The weather was consistent rain to start with and only improved in the last few days.
We had an Oceanview Balcony and it was perfectly acceptable considering how snug it was. Very clean and well maintained by the cabin steward, Garry Mudlong. The bathroom was very small but no less than we were expecting. After reading tips on Cruise Critic we took a power board and were very glad we did as it seemed strange to only have one power point in the cabin (or stateroom as they seem to prefer to call it).
The food was very good and well presented, although not all was to our taste (i.e. grits), but there was plenty of choice. The staff serving were very good indeed, but sometimes they didn't know when to leave you alone to eat your meal. After the meal and trying to drink coffee with an offer of refill before the previous mouthful went down did get a bit wearing as I would rather have finished the cup. A small criticism but all in all the service was excellent. At dinner we were put on a table with two couples including first-timers and veterans of cruising. After the initial introductions and pretty soon into the first meal we got on really well and their company was one of the highlights of the cruise.
Entertainment was plentiful and varied although not all are to our taste, like carpet bowls, but gave plenty of fun to others. The shows were well presented and the singers, dancers and musicians all performed with great professionalism.
All tours went like clockwork and the thing all people have told me who have travelled to New Zealand is how well the Kiwis do tourism and I can only agree. All the people involved, right from the outset when you get on the coach and the driver gives you a running commentary, are very clued-up to how to make the trips an enjoyable experience.
One thing that came across in the forums we checked before sailing was the situation regarding alcohol. Whilst appreciating that this is a business, I can understand the attitude of people towards the cruise line, which works very hard indeed to make sure you only consume product purchased on board, or pay a steep premium. We had no interest in drinking in our cabin, but I thought it a cheek selling duty-free alcohol in the on-board shop yet opposite you buy a beer or spirit at Aussie prices, so they are charging excise duty in international waters, but I doubt Canberra sees a cent of that. We had a few photographs of the hundreds they take of you and the prices are very steep, but they don't give you the file to take with you allowing you to email to friends and family. It comes across that the name of the game is a very subtle sell! sell! sell! but you do have a choice so beware.
To sum up, we had an enjoyable time, with the ship's crew making a great effort to give us all a very nice Christmas and New Year. Not sure if we see ourselves as future cruisers, but you never know.