We wanted to visit Australia and spend some time with friends in Melbourne but we also wanted to see a bit more of the country and decided the best way to do so was by cruise ship.
It was our first time on Royal Caribbean having mostly been on Celebrity on previous cruises. First, the bad points, or maybe just not so good. The cruise atmosphere seemed a little downmarket from Celebrity. Each day over the tannoy would be a screeching announcement that bingo would be taking place - much too hi de hi for my liking. In the MDR the service was very quick. It was as if they wanted to get rid of us as quickly as possible. A rather annoying thing was that every night we were asked if we wanted to pay extra for lobster or filet mignon. This was accompanied by a large poster with pictures as if we didn't know what a lobster looked like ! Another irritating thing was that each night the bread rolls would come out to the song 'hot hot hot' and we were expected to wave our napkins in the air. Maybe the last night it would be funny, but every night ?
The cabins were small. There was no fridge. The lifeboat drill on the first day was the longest I have ever experienced. It was extremely hot and we were made line up very close together and left to stand so long that several people fainted.
Enough of the not so good points. The good points. The embarkation was quick and smooth, probably the best I've ever had. The cabins were clean and well presented. The staff were friendly and knew us by name from the first day. The food in the MDR was good with plenty of choice. The buffet food was also good. I heard that the following week they had norovirus and were not allowed to serve yourself.
The ship was well maintained and we saw the decks being regularly washed. There was a barbecue by the pool each day.
It was easy to get to the ship by taxi and contrary to what we were told before the end of the cruise, there were plenty of taxis available to take us to the airport and VERY much cheaper than the ship's transport.
We did not go to the entertainment in the theatre but the various music around the ship was good. We particularly liked the acrobatic dancers who performed in the huge chandeliers which came down from the ceiling.
There were 5 sea days and 2 formal nights. The dress was not as formal as we are used to but it suited us as it was so hot and after a hot, humid, tiring day, we did not feel like dressing up too much.
The ports we stopped at were probably the best choice for Queensland. First stop was Brisbane. We had arranged a private tour by boat to the Lone Pine koala sanctuary which I think was a good choice. The boat trip had a commentary and we passed lots of nice £million+ houses along the way. The sanctuary was good.
Next was Airlie Beach which was as far north as we went and was very hot and humid. We were not allowed on the beach as it was stinger season and also I heard that there may be saltwater crocodiles. It is quite a long walk into the town but there is a shuttle bus provided which was around $15 I think. There were plenty of volunteers giving information, cups of water and maps. It is a pretty little town with plenty of shops and a small market. There are plenty of places to eat but check the prices at a few as they vary quite a lot. There is also a pool area which we didn't use but looked quite nice.
Cairns was the next stop for two days. We were not too impressed by Cairns itself, It had nothing but tourist shops selling the same things. There is a night market which is indoor and good for cheap souvenirs. The first day we had arranged a private tour to Kuranda by skyrail and return by train. You can upgrade to a diamond cable car which has a glass bottom but I don't think it is necessary as you have a good view anyway. The cable cars were frequent and each group could have one to themselves. There are two stops. The first you can have a little tour with an Aborginal ranger which was interesting. Kuranda is bigger than I expected with markets and shops. There are some good jewellery shops where you can buy opals. I bought some t shirts for $15 but back in Cairns they were $10 and in Melbourne's Victorian markets they were $5 for the same thing !
The second day we got the catamaran to Green Island. It was quite choppy and there were many people suffering from sea sickness. Green Island has a nice little beach where you can hire a bed and umbrella. You can snorkel. There are some places to buy food and I would go inside the ones which are covered by nets as the birds can be a nuisance. We had the lunch on the boat which was ok but a bit pricey. We went on the glass bottomed boat which was good - we saw so many different coloured fish and turtles. The coral was not as colourful as I think it would be on the outer reef. Then the semi-submersible. I would recommend this only if you are not prone to sickness. There are a lot of fish to see.
Next stop Newcastle. This was the only place we did one of the ship's tours. We stopped at a place called Morpeth which we were told as we headed there was pretty much all closed on a Monday (it was Monday). We had over an hour there which was a waste of time. Then we headed to the wineries. We tasted Hunter valley cheeses and of course several different wines. You could buy bottles of wine of course. At Tyrrels winery we were shown the vines and the huge barrels and were told how the different wines were made. It was very interesting.
Leaving the ship we had a few choices and we chose to make our own way off. We kept our luggage in the cabin and headed off at 7.30am.
It was a very enjoyable cruise and we were glad of the sea days as it was quite tiring with the heat and humidity. I don't think we would have seen as much if we had travelled overland or at least not in as much comfort.