This was only our second cruise, our first being years ago on another small ship with Renaissance. We had a port-side balcony cabin that time and that was our main criteria when searching for a cruise this time. We had always wanted to visit Australia and New Zealand and had originally booked on Oceania, when we found a similar cruise with Regent for virtually the same price, only with everything included in the cost. In pricing out the tours we wanted on Oceania (some as much as $300 per person), the potential cost of our alcoholic drinks, internet and gratuities, it was a no-brainer to switch to Regent and we are so glad we did.
We felt spoiled from the moment we walked onboard, greeted at embarkation with a glass of champagne, our luggage waiting in our cabin, as well as a welcome tray with a bottle of Champagne, flowers and fruit. We could order two bottles of liquor for our cabin (I ordered more Champagne and Absolute vodka, which were delivered immediately.) On subsequent days, we could order wine by the glass from room service, at which point they asked "Do you want a bottle?" and from that day on a fresh bottle of wine appeared in our room. That, plus the fact we could order everything from aperitifs to wine to cocktails to after dinner drinks and suffice to say we were well taken care of.
One of the main reasons we chose Oceania initially was its reputation for fine food. I certainly don't have any complaints about the Voyager on that score. Every lunch and dinner was like dining in the finest restaurant back home. You could order anything you wanted, as much as you wanted. One dinner, for example, I had fois gras sliders and tuna tartare as appetisers, beef wellington and butter poached lobster an an entree and grand marnier souffle with vanilla sauce for dessert. Each day there was a themed lunch on the pool deck: once it was an Australian buffet, including kangaroo and crocodile, and every type of barbeque. The next day was a seafood buffet, with local New Zealand green lip mussels, king crab legs, made-to-order Pad Thai, sushi, fish curry and paella. (OK, the paella wasn't very good - the seafood and sausage were way overdone.) We could order from the room service menu and did that for breakfast every day but one. I don't think the breakfasts were very good, probably because they were overwhelmed with having to prepare that many in a short amount of time. Everything was overdone - bagels were almost burnt, the french toast was so hard it bounced off the plate when we tried to cut it. Once we ate breakfast at La Veranda and the made to order cheese omelet was incorrectly prepared. He added the cheese to the eggs and stirred them, instead of melting the cheese inside the omelet. But those are quibbling complaints. In general, the food was so amazing, the first thing I wanted when we returned home was a plain burger!
Our cabin was so beautiful, everyone who saw our photos exclaimed "That is your cabin on a ship???" A beautiful marble bathroom with a shower AND a bathtub. A walk-in-closet, extremely comfortable bed with as many pillow as we wanted, a lighted vanity and chair, a sitting area, desk, sofa, two chairs and a coffee table that was transformed into a dining table when room service used a tabletop which was stored in the closet. There were comfortable throws which we used to sit on the wicker-type furniture on the deck at night, binoculars in the cabinet, a flat screen TV and our own Illy Espresso maker. I could easily live in that space indefinitely. My only complaint was I couldn't blowdry my hair in the bathroom because there was no plug. I had to do my hair at the vanity next to the bed, which was hard to do sitting down and which disturbed my husband every morning. There must be some reason they don't put a hairdryer plug in the bathroom, but I don't know what it is.
We spent three days with their pre-cruise package in Sydney (well worth the extra cost of only $399 per person) and one day post cruise on our own in Auckland. Our pre-cruise tours included a boat cruise of the harbor one day and a trip out of town to the Blue Mountains on the next. Our hotel was the Four Seasons, which was in an excellent location to walk to the Rocks, the bridge, the harbor and the Opera House. Our favorite restaurant (Jacksons on George St.) was right across the street from the hotel and we ate most of our dinners there. It is a reasonably priced Irish pub with fabulous pub fare, including wonderful lamb shanks and steak and kidney pie.
We watched the Voyager come into port from our hotel window with great anticipation. At first, we had received word that we would not be able to board until 5pm that evening, due to a problem the ship had with people getting sick on the previous voyage. (It was only a small percentage - 2% I believe.) To compensate, the cruise line arranged a free lunch for the passengers at the Four Seasons. In the end we were able to board by 4pm. Then an announcement came from the captain informing us that because of high seas we would not be able to depart that evening as planned, but would stay in port until the next morning. It was a beautiful evening in Sydney and we had an amazing dinner on deck with a perfect view of the illuminated Opera House and shimmering water. I was in the computer room the next morning when I felt the ship moving.
Speaking of the computer room, that was the only downside of the trip. I love photography and writing and was looking forward to chronicling our trip daily from our cabin or balcony on my blog. That proved to be impossible, since the internet was so slow as to be infuriating. It seems that is a common problem at sea. The person on the ship with the most thankless job, in my opinion, was Emily who was in charge of the computer room. She had to remain tactful and patient with every person who was irate at not being able to connect in their room, or even had problems in the computer lab. I heard her say the same things constantly to person after person every time I was in there.
As part of our package we had received $750 in shipboard credits (some from the ship, some from our travel agent.) which could be spent on spa treatments, more expensive wines and spirits or at the gift shop. Everyone was scrambling on the last day trying to spend those credits. The jewelry was very expensive as was almost everything in the gift shop. I didn't want to spend $350 on a blouse! I was able to spend part of my credit splurging on a special event in the Observation Lounge: a champagne and caviar cocktail party. I love caviar, but wouldn't normally spend $105 for a little jar, (there there three different priced options, that being the most expensive) but I could do it guilt-free on this journey. While in the Observation lounge we were treated to a whale sighting. Once, during dinner, we spotted a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water next to the ship.
We had many land tours to choose from and because we were in a deluxe suite, we were able to book our choices in advance of the lower classifications. We booked our tours on the first day we were able to do so and it is a good thing we did, because those choices sold out quickly and other people had to go with their second choices. I was happy with our choices. Many involved long-ish bus trips, but the countryside was so beautiful and I too many photos out of the bus window. We punted (a flat bottomed boat guided by handsome young men, like Venetian gondoliers) on the Avon River in Christchurch. We had a wild ride on 8 person Argo vehicles in Dunedin, seeing seals and a lone penguin emerging from the sea. We had tea at a sheep farm with a sheep herding demonstration at Pencarrow Lodge in Wellington. I took hundreds of photos of the incredible colors and sights at the Hot Springs and Thermal Baths in Rotorua. In the end, I had 1800 photos to edit and whittle down, which I liken to having to choose among favorite children.
A special treat in Wellington was a completely unexpected opportunity to visit with an old friend we had not had contact with in almost 30 years. We happened to be in port and available at the same time as him. A resident of New Zealand, he had visited our area that many years ago and we had a short but sweet time together. As it happened, he was in town and available and picked up us at the ship. We spent the afternoon together and he drove us all over town, showing us Lord of the Rings studios, beachhouses Peter Jackson had built for the cast, up to a mountain lookout, and down to a lovely beach location where we had coffee and finally he took us to Parliament for a private tour (because he works there). His greeting and farewell to us was "Kia Ora" a lovely Maori phrase meaning "Be well/healthy", doubling for "Hi". The New Zealanders are among the friendliest in the world. As we were punting on the Avon, we witnessed picnickers teaching their little children to stand, smile and wave to us as we floated by.
The night before the last day at sea I found myself getting teary during crew's farewell show in the two floor Constellation Theater. I felt such gratitude for the amazing experiences we had and the love and care we felt onboard. The choices we made, beginning with switching from Oceania to Regent, our choice of Australia and New Zealand, our choice of cabin, our choice of tours, were perfect and I wouldn't change one thing. My memories will stay alive for the rest of my life due to the many photos I took. If you would like to go on a virtual journey with us, they are located here: https://picasaweb.google.com/maggiwun/BucketListTripToAustraliaAndNewZealandJan2014?authuser=0&feat=directlink