We spent 6 nights pre-cruise and 5 nights post-cruise in Sydney. We stayed at the Mantra on the Kent. My only complaint there was that every night we had to call and tell them they only left us one wash cloth. We had the same problem on our return trip after the cruise. By then we'd figured out that leaving a note asking for what we wanted usually worked. Their reply was that they outsource the housekeeping, but that's no good reason not to take care of the problem.
But anyway, there is so much to do in Sydney I can't stress enough that if you can, you should definitely spend some time here. My review would be twice as long if I wrote about that as well. We did everything off of our "must do" list, but there were so many others things I would like to have done as well. I got to meet a cruise critic friend who was wonderful, and the people of Sydney are just so friendly. I was quite impressed, especially for it being a big city. I usually have a problem with crowds and big cities, but actually felt quite comfortable in Sydney most of the time. I never quite got used to the hectic pace of the train, and surely never would, but getting around is so easy with all the trains, buses, and ferries.
Embarkation went quite smoothly. We arrived at the port around 12:40 and we were in our staterooms at 1:05. The line went pretty fast and we got right into our room. They said because we were "foreigners" we had to decide whether we wanted our credit card to be charged in Australian dollars or if we wanted them to convert it for us, and we had to check the appropriate box to leave things in Australian dollars. I hear it's more expensive for them to do the conversion for you. Please keep in mind as I write this review that all prices stated will be in Australian dollars unless otherwise specified. As a side note, during our 6 weeks in Australia we got a rate of as low as 61 cents on the dollar and no higher than 69. We were quite pleased!
As we embarked they were still in the process of converting everything on the ship into Australian dollars so that caused some problems and some services weren't available immediately. The internet was down, the laundry was being changed over, and the casino wasn't being converted until we docked in Brisbane. But overall it seemed to go pretty smoothly with just minor glitches in the system. One bigger problem for some Australians was that not all cabins had an AU electric plug yet. Every day they were doing a few cabins at a time, but this was a concern for those without. I guess their electronics aren't dual voltage so adapters were no good for charging their phones and cameras.
It's our understanding that the control of the Dawn Princess is a little different than the Sun. Even though the Dawn is permanently based in Australia now, the financial transactions and such are still based in Los Angeles and is still under Princess' control. I believe the Sun is under P&O control. I'm not exactly sure how this affects anything comparing the Sun to the Dawn, but thought it was worth mentioning.
The ship looked in fine condition to me, but I'll be the first to admit I don't pay much attention to those kinds of details. It didn't sink, and that's good enough for me! All the public rooms looked neat and clean, and nothing stood out in a negative way which is a good sign.
Most of the staff and crew were excellent. Our stateroom attendant, Ruel, was quite good and remembered our two special requests right from day one. We had the most contact with the people that run the excursions and they were all friendly and worked hard to accommodate when things went wrong. Ernie was the one that "entertained" us in the Princess theater while we waited to be called for our excursions. Fernando in future cruise credits was very nice and helpful as well. My husband, and several other people, complained about the Captain's Circle Hostess. Perhaps she has been in the job too long, but her personality wasn't well suited to her job, and I'll leave it at that since I didn't experience it first hand.
We splurged and had a mini-suite which was wonderful for such a long cruise. I'm really not sure it's worth the extra money, but we definitely enjoyed having it. We spend a lot of time in the room and this cruise has a lot of sea days. The Jacuzzi tub was wonderful as well.
We got 30 minutes of free internet by signing up for a package on the first day of the cruise. So we got 280 minutes for $100, which worked nicely for me. It gave me 10 minutes a day to check my mail and upload a few photos for family and friends to view. I was so pleased that the wireless internet was available from our cabin and my connection was quite good. It was slower than death on the one sea day I tried to use it in the afternoon, but I imagine everyone was trying to use it at that time. I had no problems in the early morning between 5 and 6am when I typically used it.
We didn't do many of the shipboard activities, but my husband did sign up for the photography classes for $75. He said he learned a little, but wasn't overly impressed. They do offer some computer classes as well, some are free and others you pay for. It's the same with exercise classes. They had the usual shipboard activities like trivia, bingo, lectures, jigsaw challenge, ping pong, basketball challenge and scattegories. There was a movie every day in the Princess Theater, and sometimes one at night in the Vista Lounge. We were a little disappointed they never had any port lectures as most other cruises do. This would have added a great deal to the experience. As for entertainment, we only attended about 4 shows. Those we saw were pretty good but there wasn't much offered that we felt compelled to see. Had they been offered at 7 & 9, rather than 8:15 and 10:15, we may have attended a few more.
We used the self service laundry a few times. Unfortunately one washer and drier on our deck (#10) was broken, and had been at least since the Dawn Princess sailed from San Francisco. Most of the passenger decks (except one) have two washers and two driers. It costs $1 to wash your clothes and $1 for only 12 minutes on the drier. We believe this to be an error due to the conversion from American to Australian, but you should be prepared to pay that much unless or until they fix it. The drier on deck nine was configured correctly and you get 36 minutes for the $1. We brought it to their attention, but to no avail. They insisted 12 minutes per $1 was correct. When it was in American money you got 12 minutes for one quarter.
Although I'm not usually a fan of sea days, I actually enjoyed them this time. Partly because of our nice mini-suite, but also because we are already falling apart in our middle age and the days of rest were often needed. Since we were up early we could usually go for a walk (3 times around deck 7 was a mile) and use the pool and hot tub before it got busy. Although with such an elderly population on the ship, I don't think chair hogs were a problem anyway! We also used the casino and spent $10 to $20 in the slot machines on sea days. Unfortunately the casino had to close down from Darwin to Adelaide. I think it's because Western Australia wanted a piece of the profits and Princess wouldn't give it to them. I'm not really sure, but something to do with Western Australia's rules anyway. They aren't even allowed to hold Bingo either! I really didn't care since we don't typically spend much time or money in the casino on a cruise. In the afternoons we often got together with friends of ours to play cards and that was a lot of fun. Yup, the sea days weren't so bad this time around.
Food & Drinks:
Unfortunately the "Anytime Dining" option isn't offered on the Dawn as of yet. We found the food in the Horizon Court buffet to be quite good overall. I was brave and tried a few things I'd normally pass up, but I'm quite a fussy eater so I like simple foods best.
The breakfast buffet can get old for me real quick, but we did eat a good hearty breakfast on port days and a light one of cereal and fruit on sea days. They always had the omelet bar, fried eggs, scrambled eggs, and would alternate a unique type of egg dish each day. There was always French toast, pancakes and hash browns similar to McDonald's. I'd say whatever you normally eat for breakfast would probably be on the buffet, be it heavy or light and healthy.
The grill by the pool was open from 11am to 6pm and they had hamburgers, hotdogs, knockwurst, bratwurst, chicken burgers, and of course French fries. We ate here twice in the afternoon, but got the French fries several times and they were usually hot and excellent.
The lunchtime buffet (11:30 to 3:30) was typically themed on sea days, like Mexican, Japanese, Tropical, International, Italian, Chinese, etc. We generally preferred the lunch ones to the dinner buffets, which worked out good because by the time dinner rolled around we weren't exactly starving. Some days they had a nice dessert table offered just like at dinner, but not always.
The snack buffet in the afternoon (3:30-5:30) often had some of the same hot dishes left over from lunch time, nachos, plus there was also a sandwich station. They usually had two types of thick pizza, and this is the time of day to get the free ice cream and cookies! I really miss those cookies.
The dinner buffet was usually good enough to find something on there we liked. Some days were better than others, but with a buffet you can usually find enough you are interested in. We never ate in the dining room at all, so we can't comment on that, but it did appear that they offered some of the same dishes on the buffet. And we heard nothing but good things about the food in the dining room. The salad bar on the buffet was always excellent, and if there wasn't enough on the buffet we liked there was always the pizza place or the grill.
We ate at the pizza place (La Scalia) at least four times. They opened for lunch and dinner everyday but closed in the afternoons. They offer a variety of pizzas, 3 pasta dishes, and 2 desserts. It was good, but we preferred the thick pizza on the snack buffet especially if we were lucky enough to get it when it was fresh. We didn't use the Sterling Steakhouse, and that was a $20 per person charge. It didn't appear to do a huge business on this cruise.
The desserts were usually fantastic, and that's what we normally filled up on at dinner time. Typically we'd get at least 4 and share them. They always provide one sugar free dessert and most of those we tried were good as well. They also had ice cream every evening on the buffet as well which I don't think is typical on most Princess ships.
They have another light snack buffet at 10pm, and the bistro from midnight to 4am, but we were never up for those so I have no idea what was offered.
I tried a few different "drinks of the day", although they weren't at a reduced price. Most drinks were $9.95, beer ranged from $4.50 to $7.75, and the virgin drinks we purchased ranged from $2.75 to $4. Iced Tea was free on the buffet. The automatic gratuity on the bar tab was only 10%, not the typical 15%. While I'm thinking of it, the daily automatic tipping charges were $10 a day per person. I brought my own coffee pot on board which was a luxury I'm glad I didn't have to live without. I didn't try to hide it, but nothing was ever said, and it did have an automatic shut off. I have to say, Princess' coffee is not very good, but the main reason I brought my own was because I like to relax with my coffee when I first get up. I won't go on another cruise without a coffee pot, it really made the difference for me.
Some Random Thoughts:
Of nearly 2000 passengers, 1267 were from Australia, 285 New Zealand, 192 UK, 118 USA, and 76 from Canada, with a few other various nationalities. And yes, most were quite old. The term floating nursing home is a good description, although I felt the majority did a great job getting around. We were never out late anyway, but apparently neither was anyone else, so if you are looking for a party crowd, this wasn't it.
I'm not sure if we had any deaths or not, but we had a few medical emergencies where some people had to disembark before the cruise finished. I hope they are all okay. Two men were kicked off the ship for fighting in the laundry room. It can be a vicious place to be!
Rumor has it that one couple were confined to the stateroom for a couple of days due to illness, but never heard of anything further. I did notice that after a couple days on board they got stricter with the hand sanitizer so that may have been very early in the cruise. No other problems that I know of.
We were lucky with the flies in Australia. There were a few ports where they were a little bothersome, but never quite bad enough to pull out the head nets! I think we were quite lucky in that respect. It definitely could have been worse.
Towards the end of the cruise we were given a souvenir coin from the Perth Mint which had all of our ports on it. It's a wonderful souvenir and I'd never heard of such a thing before, but it was much appreciated. Thank you Princess!
Let's face it, getting off the ship is never as much fun as getting on. I was a little disappointed that they advertised in the Princess Patter being able to carry your own luggage off in Sydney, but when we went to sign up for it they said no, all luggage had to be scanned through security. When we arrived at the Theater at our scheduled time of 8:20, they were already 50 minutes behind schedule getting people off the ship. I think we docked on time, but it may have been late when they were cleared to let people off the ship. I really don't know. Since we were in the group that didn't have strict plans afterwards, they ended up skipping over us at one point. It was a little after 10 when we finally got off and found our luggage.
Ports & Excursions:
First let me say that if we have a true complaint from this cruise, it was due to some confusion getting off the ship in a few of the ports. One thing we love about Princess is how they have the morning excursions meet in the theater, and they let groups go one at a time in an organized manner. The problem comes in when there is already a huge line of people lined up to get off the ship who don't have excursions. You can debate what is fair, but on one day they led our group in front of the passengers in line so we were on time for our excursion, and on another day we were put in the back and were late. Either way people complained. This is something they deal with daily; they really should have a better system in place.
Brisbane: The Australia Zoo and Sunshine Coast ($119pp):
First we had one scenic stop at the Glass Mountains, but we only got 10 minutes to take photos and really couldn't enjoy the area. They had some pathways that would have been nice to explore. But it was beautiful and I'm glad we made the stop there.
We knew in advance we'd only get a couple hours at the Australia Zoo (Steve Irwin's zoo) but the bus driver said if we prefer to stay there the whole time rather than go to Montville Village, he could pick us up on his way back through. The village was more for shopping and craft type things which we don't really care about, so it worked out well. The zoo was way too big to see in 2 hours. We ended up with over 5 hours and were able to see everything. We went to one show with birds, snakes and crocodiles, and the rest of the time just walked around. We got to pet Kangaroos and Koalas so that was cool, and I finally got to see the Tasmania devil.
There was a shuttle offered from the pier to the Myer Centre on Elizabeth Street but it was $7 each way.
Whitsundays: Great Barrier Reef ($249pp)
We thought we had to tender into port, but the catamaran we were taking to the Great Barrier Reef pulled up right beside us to pick us up. It was about a 2 hour ride out there. At first the water was quite calm but the middle part was pretty rough. Coming back it was a little worse though and we know of one person that got sick. Our boat pulled up to a permanent platform out in the reef that was fully equipped with everything they needed for the scuba divers and snorkelers, including the wetsuits, and a nice little water slide attached. I expected other tours to be out there too but it was just ours so that was nice. My only disappointment was that they didn't offer the helicopter rides and we never found out why.
Brian did an Introductory Scuba Diving and he had a blast with that, and it was about 40 minutes long for $110. We went out snorkeling together, or at least my version of it. I got a boogie board with a peep hole in it, and used the mask but not the mouth piece to look under water. It was hard work but I got to see some of the reef. They had a guided snorkeling tour for $35, and regular scuba for $99.
There were quite a few people that had to get help being brought in because the current took them out, so we just stayed in the area they told us was safer. There were plenty of rescue boats out there keeping an eye on us. They also have a glass bottom boat, and the semi-submersible boat, and both are included in the price of the excursion. They were really awesome too and I definitely saw a lot that way. We enjoyed them both, but if you only take time to do one, we thought the glass bottom boat may have been a little better. The reef really is amazing, especially when you consider we only saw such a small portion of it.
It was after 12:30 when we finished and the boat left at 1. We got the very end of the lunch they served which I didn't think was that great until later when I discovered they'd served lobster and prawns but guess there wasn't any left by the time we got to it. We got some tortillas, lunch meats, chicken, a pasta salad and potato salad. The photos they took for sale were nice, but way overpriced. It was $20 for the first photo, and $15 for each additional one. But if you wanted it on a cd you had to add another $5 more for each one, and they wouldn't sell you just the cd. They could do a better business if they reduced the price. There were about 8 we'd have bought, but not for $165!
Yorkey's Knob (Cairns): Skyrail Rain Forest Cableway, Kuranda & Scenic Railway ($169pp)
There were high swells that day and they had some trouble with the tenders. They used one of the local catamarans as one of the tenders part of the day. We lucked out and got that again on our return to trip because the swells were still bad and the small tenders got stuck out there waiting while we unloaded, and many people got sick. The Captain came on the speaker as we were leaving port. He said a lot of Captains would have bypassed the port entirely, but he felt he could do it safely and knew more people would be disappointed if he skipped it and he felt he made the correct decision. He apologized to those that got sick on the tenders.
We took a bus to the Kuranda Skyrail. The line was long for the skyrail and we had to make a change along the way, and that line was very long too. There was a trail there we didn't dare to take the time to walk. There was another possible stop to get off and view Barron Falls, but they suggested staying on the skyrail until the last stop because we'd be viewing the falls later, so that's what we did. I wish we had more time to explore everything. The ride up there was beautiful, and the best part was there was no rain. I don't know how much more lucky we could get.
After we finished the skyrail we had free time to explore the town of Kuranda. It was a nice little town with plenty of shops and restaurants. For lunch we finally settled on a place called Banjo's and we shared a pizza.
We met up with the bus at 1:30 and they took us to the Kuranda Railway station and we took a train for about 90 minutes. We made one quick 10 minute stop which is where we got to view Barron Falls. It was quite impressive, and along the way we also saw a couple of other much smaller waterfalls. Again the scenery was beautiful. It went over many bridges and through several tunnels.
There was a free shuttle from the pier to the Cairns Central Shopping Mall.
Darwin: Litchfield National Park & Surrounds ($99pp):
The ride to our first stop was about 90 minutes which seemed to go pretty fast. The scenery was good although it was rather warm. The first thing we did was stop at the Termite mounds which are an amazing thing to see. Some are massive that they call Cathedral termite mounds, and the Magnetic mounds are smaller and look like cemetery headstones.
Our second stop was Florence falls and although there was an overlook to get photos, you could walk down to the bottom if you wanted to take 200 stairs. The stairs wasn't so much the problem, the time limit was, but we did it anyway. As soon as we got down there we pretty much had to turn around and head back. On the walk back up though we saw some wild Rock Wallabies, they are the cutest little things. By the time we got back to the top, we were all drenched in sweat. It was a nice day, but boy was it hot and very humid.
Our third stop was lunch, at Monsoons Café, but it was an outdoor restaurant. It's not what any of us wanted at that point! Air conditioning would have been welcomed. We had to order fish or steak in advance of arrival. I wasn't thrilled with either choice, but most people seemed to enjoy the meal. I got enough to eat with some potato and macaroni salad offered.
Our last stop was Wangi Falls which was absolutely beautiful. Such a shame they told us there were no changing rooms and few people wanted to wear their swimsuit on such a long ride. We only stuck our feet in the water. This should be fixed on the excursion descriptions. The other amazing thing we saw there were trees filled with bats, and I mean loaded with bats!
The bus ride back was longer, plus the air conditioning wasn't doing its job. Not only was it two hours back to Darwin, the driver gave us a short city tour as well so that was another 30 minutes on the bus. Then the line was very long to get back on the ship, but part of the time we got to wait in an air conditioned terminal. We really enjoyed everything we did, but the long bus ride each way sort of takes away from the experience. Another popular excursion at this port is the "Jumping Crocodile Cruise," but I think we picked the right one for us in spite of the bus ride.
There was a free shuttle bus at the port that would take you into Darwin if you didn't want to do the 15 minute uphill walk into town.
This is one port where we were able to sign up for 3 excursions, but there were lots of problems with transportation issues, and I guess we were lucky we still ended up with 2 of them. The morning was hectic and wasted for us, but I must say the Princess staff tried real hard to work with us and get us on other excursions. I was a little disappointed that we missed out on some of the city highlights, but we were quite happy with the two we took. Broome was a beautiful place and very unique.
The "Broome Coast by Scenic Hovercraft" was our first excursion ($149pp). That was pretty neat and we got a good look at the coastline. Had I known I was going to end up with only 2 excursions, I may have done things differently. We made a stop to view the actual dinosaur footprints which was the benefit of this particular excursion. We were supposed to see those at Gantheaume Point on our canceled tour, but come to find out people only saw the replicas at the top, rather than going down to the bottom. The Red Cliffs are beautiful as well and we saw them up close, and the hovercraft was a new experience for us so I am by no means sorry we took it.
We made arrangements to meet at Cable Beach for the "Cable Beach Camel Safari" ($119pp) so we could be out doing our on thing in between our excursions. We took the free shuttle to the Visitor's Center offered by Princess, thinking maybe we could find a private tour, but we didn't. We just walked into Chinatown which is where all the shops are. It was a hot day that's for sure, but otherwise beautiful.
Princess had a shuttle bus to Cable Beach from the Visitor's Center for $7 per person each way, but somehow we ended up on the regular bus system and it was only $7 for the both of us. Cable Beach is gorgeous. It would have been nice to go swimming there but it was the beginning of stinger season. Seeing the camels come walking up the street and onto the beach was quite a sight. We followed them and eventually met up with our group. What a blast that was. We were both excited that it actually worked out, especially after it being canceled and rescheduled twice! We were quite impressed with the whole experience. They only charged $10 for the photos they took, which is more than reasonable, plus they took photos of you with your own camera. The 30 minutes went fast, but in the hot sun I guess that was enough time. The staff that ran the operation were all wonderful.
Exmouth: The Best of Exmouth ($149pp):
We made a mistake in this port by signing up for 2 excursions instead of taking the full day tour to the Yardie Creek Gorge. The itinerary was changed on the second one we signed up for (Canyons of Cape Range) due to a washed out road and it ended up sounding similar to our first excursion so we canceled. Upon closer examination I do believe it would have been very similar either way, so keep that in mind. The Best of Exmouth was a very good tour though. It was a very pretty drive on our way to our first stop which was Charles Knife Canyon and we could also see water views as well. Our second stop was Vlamingh Head lighthouse which had beautiful views just about every direction you looked, but seeing Ningaloo Reef was the main view. We were supposed to stop at the Jarabi Turtle Center, but since we were running late they skipped it. Tendering took too long because we couldn't get any closer to shore than we did. I'm just happy we didn't miss the port! Our last stop was Turtle Rookery Beach, or they sometimes call it Turtle Bay. This is where we had a few minutes to swim if we wanted, and there were quite a few turtles in the water there. Most of them were mating. It was a nice area and the water is gorgeous. I think only one couple out of the 13 on our bus went swimming. They fed us a snack of banana and date nut breads with coffee and/or tea. When we got back to the pier around 12:30 we decided to take the free Princess shuttle to the town of Exmouth and do some shopping. That didn't take nearly as long as we hoped. There really wasn't much of a "town" and it's not really equipped to handle a cruise ship population. But it's a wonderful port with lots to get out and see. They bring buses in from other areas to help out with all the tourists.
For day 1 in Fremantle we seemed to dock on time, but we were still 30 minutes late getting off the ship which screwed up our excursion "Perth City Highlights" ($69pp). Our guide was from Austria and was sometimes hard for me to understand. Our first stop was in King's Park in Perth, which was really pretty, but I really wanted to do the treetop walk and we didn't have time. I specifically asked him because I was going to run ahead and do it myself rather than stay with the group, but there was a miscommunication I guess because I thought we were headed to it as a group. He only gave us 30 minutes in the park, and yet we didn't leave for nearly 50, so people that did go off on their own were not happy about that either. They came back in 30 minutes and had to wait for us. It's also a shame we missed the flowers in bloom. He said we were 4 weeks too late for that.
Our next stop was Cottlesloe beach which was really pretty too. We got another 30 minutes and that was just about enough time to run up the beach and get photos and check out a couple stores. Then we stopped at a lookout that had a nice war memorial on it with views all around as well. We went to the old Fremantle Prison and saw a little bit of that. They offer tours but we definitely didn't have time for that.
When we got back to the ship we ate a quick lunch and then took the free tram to the city center to walk around Fremantle. What a neat little city, but the streets roll up at 5pm. We were exhausted by then anyway. If we had more time, we would have taken the pay trolley tour where you can hop off and on at your leisure. There is also a free bus system here, and the train station is a close walk from the ship, so getting around is no problem. And the ferries are close as well.
We had debated on doing the Perth City highlights that included the Swan River cruise but wanted time around Fremantle. I think either tour is probably worth the time, even if we were a little disappointed in our guide.
Day 2 in Fremantle was the trip out to "Rottnest Island" ($199pp). This was a full day excursion that was excellent for the first half of the day. After a 35 minute ferry ride, we met a bus that took us around the island for nearly 2 hours. We only had one scheduled stop but right off the driver saw Quokka's on the side of the road and he pulled over to let us get out and take pictures. They are the little marsupials, like Kangaroos, that gave the island their name…..people thought they looked like rats and "rats nest" eventually evolved into rottnest. They are the cutest little things.
We had lunch at the Rottnest lodge and hit it lucky that they were having a buffet. Normally they just have salad and pasta and that's what you get. After that we had free time until we left at 4:30, but we had scheduled the semi-submersible boat at 3. We'd had a letter from Princess saying the semi-sub was no longer included in the price of the tour. But then they told us if we kept our receipt, they would reimburse us for it. I have a hunch that future cruises won't include this in the price so be aware of that. It was $22pp, and not worth paying the extra for in our opinion unless you are really into seeing the shipwrecks. In our free time we walked around a little bit and saw more Quokka's and this time I went up and pat one. They don't seem to be afraid of people so I guess they are used to them being around.
It was 5:30 when we got back to the ship. The bus tour was done before 1 so this could have been a half day tour if we had done it on our own….something to think about for those of you who like to schedule stuff on your own. On a nice day we would have had time to swim, but it was too cool for that.
We disembarked and embarked about 300 people on the second day in Fremantle.
It was quite cold in Bunbury for our "Wild Dolphin Swim" ($229pp) but we got in those wetsuits just the same and headed on out on the boat. It was an excellent tour and the guides were great, as were the volunteers. So long as there was enough interest, they had a photographer come out and take pictures of you in the water and they'd mail you the cd later. For $35 we thought it was a good deal since the profits go to Dolphin research. The CD is jam packed with other excellent photos as well.
We saw oodles of dolphins everywhere we looked, but had to wait until they weren't feeding. We weren't allowed to swim towards them; we had to let the dolphins come to us. They came close a couple of times, but never swam with us. We changed locations three times, but they just didn't seem to be too interested in us. I only got in the water once, but Brian went in all three times. It was definitely cold, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't try to go in. They served us muffins and cold drinks on the boat, and then after we got to order a hot drink at the café which was also included.
We were due back at the ship at 12, but it was 1 before we got there and we had to meet for the "Bunbury Vintage Tram" ($49pp) at 1:50. We rushed to shower and grab a bite to eat. The tram was actually borrowed from Fremantle, and was a nice little overview of Bunbury with one scenic overlook stop. I wish we had more time for exploring. Princess offered a shuttle into town for $7 each way.
Albany: City Highlights and Torndirrup National Park ($99pp):
Albany was cold and overcast the whole morning and it did drizzle on us a little at our first stop, but thankfully it never rained. Our tour guide was one of the worst we've ever had, but the tour was excellent in spite of her. She seldom spoke and when she did it was like she was reading from a manual. She gave no guidance at all, not even to tell us when to be back on the bus.
The first stop was Middleton Beach where we could walk up to Ellen Cove and the bus picked us up at the top of Rotary Hill. It was an easy enough walk over boardwalk and pavement, but it was uphill. If the weather had been nice the views would have been fantastic. Next we stopped at a Mount Clarence at the War Memorial. Our next stop was the Princess Royal Fortress, where the weather started making an improvement. By the time we got to our next stop at the Windmill farm, it was actually gorgeous outside, still quite cool, but beautiful. Apparently this stop was not on the itinerary but I'm glad we went. There was a short walk to a coastal overlook from there as well and it was definitely my favorite scenic stop of the day. Lastly we went to Torndirrup National Park to view the Gap & Natural Bridge. There are some nice views there as well.
After the excursion we caught the free shuttle bus with some friends into town for some sightseeing and shopping. This was a wonderful town with lots of historic and unique buildings, and we walked to see the "Dog Rock" formation. Our tour said we would see it, but what they didn't say is that we'd see it as we drove by. It's just a rock, but for some reason I had my heart set on seeing it.
As I mentioned there was a free shuttle bus into town. For those of you who like to do your own thing, there weren't any companies offering tours as you left the ship, but there was something set up in town for people wanting to take tours. It was on the main street near where the shuttle bus dropped you off and close to the "Mokare, A Man of Piece" statue.
Adelaide: Private Limo ($699 for full day, up to 6 passengers):
We shared the 6 seater limo with our friends from Ohio, Randy & Vera. We were very surprised to see it was actually a limo, complete with champagne, water and soda. Our guide was Alan and he was a little quiet at first but warmed up after a little bit. He asked where we were going and I pulled out my list. We had time for just about everything but decided to skip on the waterfall because we didn't really know where it was, and had heard there may not be much of a waterfall when we got there.
This was the morning they actually led us to the front of the crowd waiting to get off the ship, perhaps because we were such small groups. Sadly the morning hours were much more overcast which is when we did most of the scenic photo type stuff. Alan took us to three beaches and we drove through Adelaide as well. It was windy at times and we needed sweatshirts most of the early part of the day. We stopped at Colonel Light's Lookout (Montefiore Hill) which was an okay view but trees blocked a lot of it and the sun wasn't really out yet. Then we headed to Mount Lofty where the view was more impressive and the sun was trying to make an appearance.
Then we were off to Cleland Wildlife Park which was the highlight even though we really didn't take the time to view the whole park. Our first goal was to get to the Koalas to actually hold one, and we almost missed out on that. It ended at noon, and we were in the wrong line, but we got there with about 10 minutes to spare. We were all thrilled we got a chance to do it! They charged $15 for a photo but you could also use your own camera after. After all the wildlife parks we'd been to, I couldn't believe I actually got hold a Koala, and he was a big and heavy one too!
After that we fed the kangaroos. One was a little frisky, but wasn't quite closing the deal if you know what I mean. I guess the female finally gave in because they hopped off together almost like they knew they wanted privacy. We really didn't need to see any more! We also saw the dingos and the Tasmanian Devil and skipped the rest of the park. The driver said we had enough time to spend about an hour in Handorf, so once we got there we split up to do our own shopping and sightseeing. Alan said it would be an hour drive back to the city so that was a good time to bring out the champagne. We all agreed this was a nice way to take a tour, and no more expensive than taking the ship excursions, especially for a full day.
We still had time when we got back to the ship and headed out in search of the beach a cruise critic member had told us about near the ship. It was windy, but we enjoyed the walk and seeing the beach, even if it wasn't exactly beach weather.
Melbourne: Puffing Billy and Dandenong Ranges ($69pp):
Our excursion ended up being quite a disappointment, and it's the only excursion I really wish we hadn't taken. We did do some scenic driving on the way, and the area was absolutely beautiful, but our first stop was the train, and that's it. It took longer to get there than it took for the train ride which was supposed to be an hour. We were on the train for less than 30 minutes. We didn't stop at Grant's reserve to feed the Rosella as was listed in the tour description. The guide was a good one though, and he was talkative most of the time. He pointed out various buildings around Melbourne and would have shown us more on the way back to the ship but a lot of us wanted off in town. We told Ernie, the tour director, about the discrepancies and he made a note of it, but it's hard to say how long before they make changes online, if they ever do. It's just something to be aware of before you book.
The city of Melbourne was neat though. There is so much to do. It was a nice day, but cool, but the clouds started rolling in with a chance of showers. We weren't sure if going to the tower for the 360 view was a good idea or not, but it was pretty nice at the time so that's where we headed. It came with a 20 minute movie but we didn't take the time for that. The views were awesome, but the windows were filthy. They had 3 areas where you could go outside, but there were bars there you had to stick your camera through to get good photos.
We walked around the waterfront, shopped, and got photos of the area and the buildings. At one point we were going to take the free tram that goes around the whole city, but it was packed and we would have had to stand up so I got off. It would have been nice to do though but at that point we weren't sure we'd have enough time to wait for the next one. I wish now we had spent the whole day in the city.
The ship offered a free shuttle down to the tram. I do think there were some free shuttles taking you all the way into the city when we arrived though, but I wouldn't swear to it, so be on the lookout for that possibility. You'd still have to take the tram back to the ship though.
Burnie, Tasmania: Cradle Mountain National Park ($239pp): What a wonderful day it turned out to be. I can't believe it didn't rain on us, and it was actually quite warm at times. When the tour guide warned us it rains 2 out of 3 days up in the park, and said we'd be lucky to be able to see the peaks of Cradle Mountain, I figured our odds weren't very good.
The day wasn't without its problems though. It started off really bad with lines to get off the ship running around to people's staterooms. This is the day we went to the back of the line and our tour was surprisingly only 20 minutes late getting started. We passed lots of beautiful scenery and stopped at a nice area to do some short nature walks in the rainforest. There was the "Enchanted Walk" which was supposed to take 20 minutes but we figured we could do it quicker than that. We couldn't, and by the time we finished the first walk we only had 6 minutes left. It was only a 2 minute walk to the Pencil Pine waterfall so we rushed like crazy to do that, and I'm glad we did it, but we hurried for nothing. Our guide, Lisa, said the mini-buses were delayed by 5 minutes (they needed smaller buses to take us further into the park). By the time the buses arrived, we came up 4 people short on the headcount. We waited and they looked for them, but after 25 minutes we went ahead and hoped someone would find them before our way back through.
Because of that additional delay our time to view Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake were very limited. It was beautiful though and we were more than able to see the peaks of the mountain which is often not the case as it rains so frequently there. We stopped at the Waldheim Chalet on the way down, but they didn't let us out of the bus, probably because we were still running behind. Our last stop was the restaurant where we were given lunch. The 4 people we'd left behind had been brought there. They are German and don't speak a lot of English and didn't understand the instructions I guess. They were found sitting on a bench on the Enchanted Walk. Lunch was quite good, they had steak, chicken kabobs, baked potato, hotdogs, salads, and several good looking desserts. It was an hour and a half ride to and from the mountain, but it was worth the ride. The clouds had started coming in and it cooled off quite a bit. It even sprinkled a little. We got back on board 10 minutes before the "all aboard" time and had a Scottish band on the pier giving us a farewell.
There was a free shuttle provided from the pier to the Visitor's Centre because there is no walking allowed on the pier.
We had a school of dolphins swimming with us this morning, and boy were they active. It was pretty exciting watching them. The Captain pulled into port an hour early (11am) as he was trying to avoid high winds that were on the way. There was a light rain the whole morning. Our excursion "Hobart City Sights and Panoramic Views" ($69pp) would normally go to Mt. Wellington for the view, but with bad weather they take you to Mt. Nelson. So that's where we went and there wasn't any view there either, it was just fog and mist so we didn't even get off the bus. He drove around Hobart though and told us about the buildings. Hobart is another unique looking town with great historical buildings.
We stopped at the Tasmania Botanical Gardens and at first we debated on just spending our hour in the restaurant, but it was only a very light mist so we put on our ponchos and walked around. They really were beautiful gardens and it never rained hard. We were due back at the bus at 4 and we came up one person short, and they didn't come back for 15 or 20 minutes. I thought we were headed back to the ship but since the skies were beginning to clear a little they decided to take us to another place called Rosny Point Lookout. We got to see a nice view even if the sun wasn't exactly shining. It was a great improvement to the earlier cloud of fog!
In the evening we had signed up for the "Penitentiary Chapel Ghost Tour" ($79). In spite of it down pouring during dinner, we lucked out again. It was cold and windy, but never rained during our excursion. We were indoors for the biggest part of it anyway. Our guide took us through the old building and told us the history and stories of things of tourists have had happen to them. None of us experienced anything spooky, except for the guide himself. He was a perfect guy to do the tour. It was interesting and fun for something different.
Day 2 in Hobart was the "Huon Valley & Tahune Airwalk" tour ($159). It was looking like a beautiful day, but we knew it was supposed to rain in the afternoon so we wished they'd get us right to the airwalk but that wasn't their plan.
Once again the scenic drive was beautiful, and we had a good guide and driver that made it even better. Our first stop was an Apple Museum where we saw a demonstration and got to taste some apple products. It doesn't sound exciting, but the couple that run the place were quite entertaining. The man was from the US. Next we stopped at a restaurant for morning tea with a big plate of "mini snacks" for lack of a better description. A little fruit, sandwiches, and stuff I don't even know what it was. Then we had free time to wander outside the area which was fine, but I kept thinking I'd much rather be at the airwalk before it started raining. Of course the rain came in just as we were getting to where we needed to be. It wasn't bad, but at times a light steady rain. Brian and I geared up in our rain suits and trekked on in spite of it. As I figured, it hadn't rained there earlier. It was still fun, but would have really been enjoyable on a dry day. We had enough time to take a 10 minute nature walk as well, and then had to meet at the visitor's centre where we were supposed to have lunch at our own expense. They ran out of prepared food and said it would be a 45 minute wait for sandwiches or coffee so the bus driver rounded up everyone and we headed off to our next stop. Apparently they've had that problem before.
On the way we heard a banging noise under the bus, and it kept happening. When we finally stopped, the driver couldn't see what our problem was, but called ahead to get another bus on standby in case we had a major problem. We were in Geeveston at the Forest & Heritage Centre. We didn't care too much about that, except we did enjoy the town which was filled with carved wooden statues. After we left is when the rain really came down and it got quite foggy too. They were going to take us the "scenic" route back to the ship, but joked we wouldn't be able to see anything so there wasn't much point! We got back to the ship pretty much on schedule and it was still pouring. I must admit I was quite relieved to see the ship because I was getting a little nervous at the possibility of the bus breaking down.
I know this was a long review, but there was a lot to write about. This was an awesome vacation. Although there were some minor disappointments and frustrations along the way, we really couldn't have asked for too much more. We lucked out with our flights and the weather for the most part. We got to stop at every port, and just really enjoyed the whole experience. I was worried that 28 days on a ship would be too much, or that some of the ports would be just space fillers while going around Australia. But I can honestly say there isn't one port we stopped at that I didn't leave wanting to see more of. I could see me doing this cruise again someday. Australia is wonderful, and each port offered something unique and special. I don't know when it will be, but we will definitely return to Sydney and Australia someday.