What did we expect - no idea - despite joining the CC Roll Call for this cruise?
Embarkation in Sydney on a very wet Saturday was painless (they have had plenty of practice by now) and we found our stateroom easily. We took the recommendation to visit the Windjammer cafeteria for lunch and that was when we first experienced the fact that we would be sailing with 3000+ other hardy souls! We also vowed that, unless absolutely necessary, we would not venture into that vast domain for food for the rest of the trip (nothing wrong with the food - just too many people all at once - and we wanted/needed to avoid all the extra calories!) (we only broke this "rule" twice during the cruise and then only for a carafe or two of wine at the back end approaching sunset!)
We soon settled into our daily routine which was helped by the crossing of the Tasman Sea in good conditions - and in what proved to be the warmest few days of the whole cruise where we were able to adjust to life without the hassles of everyday living ashore.
Our arrival in Auckland went without a hitch, other than it was 3pm (what other ships arrive there at that time of day?!) Once ashore (3.30ish) we had time to choose a destination before everything closed for the day and a short uphill walk had us at the Sky Tower by 4pm. It was an inspired choice as the view from the top was, in modern parlance, awesome, especially on seeing the "jumpers" fly past the window! One quick cup of coffee later, we were heading back to the harbourside for a beer and some photos of very expensive yachts before rejoining the ship for sailing with long queues patiently waiting to reboard. A FEW SHORT HOURS IN AUCKLAND WAS A MAJOR DISAPPOINTMENT THAT WAS TO BE REPEATED AT NAPIER SOME DAYS LATER. THIS IS AN ISSUE THAT RCCL NEEDS TO ADDRESS.
Tauranga was next up - at least this arrival was around 0800 and everyone had their day ashore at the various attractions - Rotorua etc - with time to breathe.
Napier - the jewel in the crown for some of us -BUT WITH A 2PM ARRIVAL - and no sooner had the first hardy souls got ashore than the heavens opened big time, albeit only for half an hour or so - but enough to keep some onboard. What a wonderful little town, with its Art Deco facades and many folk ready to look after us in their 20s/30s attire and vehicles to match. They really went out of their way to make us welcome and could not believe that we had such a late arrival (most cruise ships arrive between 0900 and 1100)
Wellington - lived up to its nickname as the windy city. The newish National Museum - Te Papa - on the waterfront - was superb as was the walk back down through the gardens after the ride on the cable car (but really a train on wires!). After seeing the queues starting to build at the shuttle bus stop outside David Jones (?) we gave up further exploration in order not to hang around for too long. (I nearly managed to "sell" my return shuttle tickets to 2 American ladies who seemed to be about 300th in the queue!! ) Once again, not a good experience with a ship of this size.
Our next day at sea - 30 November - was our 50th wedding anniversary and we had many well-wishers that day (and a few bevvies!) culminating in a lovely dinner party for 12 of us (on an official formal night as well!) This brought a tear or two to both of us and we thank those of you who made this a special occasion - you know who you are!)
Christchurch and Akaroa were not on the agenda so we steamed south to Dunedin which we were eagerly anticipating as the "Scots Presbyterian capital of the south". Alas, the wind was to be the winner in this and, after a few hours circling outside the harbour in the hope that the wind would abate, it was decided that the narrow winding channel would be too difficult for our 135,000 tons and, as with the Pacific Pearl some hours earlier, we headed back out to sea and for a slower passage round to the Sounds.
Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds - each one got bigger and more impressive. Dusky had the pesky NZ sandflies which know how to bite, Doubtful was brooding and calm, but the full Monty was laid on at Milford - brilliant sunshine, snow capped peaks, wonderful waterfalls and even a couple of small planes to join us. This was the perfect end to our brief few days at the land of the long white cloud as we said goodbye to the snow peaks and headed back over the Tasman.
Two and a half days later - Melbourne - and an early morning arrival to beat the next depression rolling into from the south west and the chance to get in some Christmas shopping for those so inclined. After a quick tram ride on the 109 into the CBD we hit the Queen Vic market, which gets more like Shanghai by the year, to grab those small pressies for the kids and a walk round to Collins Street for a catch-up at the Myer's Christmas window displays - all mechanised and very Christmassy. With the weather closing in Melbourne never surprises in this!) we head off away from the crowds by tram to St Kilda for a lovely leisurely lunch (the 3 l's?) at Rococo for the best risottos either of us have had in years (plus a couple of pints of proper beer - Fat Yak - for me). Dodging the showers, and the crowds, we got back to the Port Melbourne terminal relatively unscathed although that was was not the case for a lot of our fellow cruisers who had to suffer the indignities and hassle of trying to force their way onto the 109 tram when no additional trams had been provided for that afternoon (too much of a Union issue perhaps?)
A windy and cool journey back to Sydney ensued and we arrived at the Heads on schedule early on Saturday morning. The disembarkation process was even smoother than the arrival procedure, for which we were very thankful,
In summary, we thoroughly enjoyed our first cruise, perhaps because it was also our big anniversary, but also perhaps because we appreciate that everything cannot always go as planned ( I was in the Royal Navy for 25 years and unplanned events were the norm!!). Our anniversary was hassle-free, and helped by the dining room team who were well-versed in these events and who appeared genuine in wanting to make our trip a special occasion. Our room attendant was on the ball, had a pleasant manner and always knew the answer to our questions.
We even got to meet the Captain (once) and his good lady and their 2 friends on more than one occasion and they seemed to also be enjoying their time onboard.
Next cruise - we shall almost certainly do another one - but perhaps on something much smaller. The Voyager is a well-run and organised ship but at 3000+ passengers and a crew of some 1500+ it is just too big to logistically tick every box. The "back onboard" routine at some of the ports was, at best, tiring, and at worst, downright unacceptable, especially for those of a "certain age" having to wait in line in inclement weather.
Marks out of 10 overall - 7.