Christmas/New Year in New Zealand with the teenage children
Departed December 23 2008.
Sydney - New Zealand - Sydney
Inside Large Staterooms - 4015 & 4017
2 adults with 2 teenagers (DD 15 & DS 13)
Rhapsody of the Seas delivered it all for our group. Friends asked afterwards, "What went wrong", and we were able to honestly say - "Nothing".
Adults and teenagers all enjoyed different aspects, with lots for everyone to do.
Here is a rambling, and hopefully accurate recollection of our time on board, and off it.
Cruise Objective After years of hectic "family visit holidays", my main aim was to quickly forget what day/time it was, and to just be relaxed. This was achieved by day 4, where I had already forgotten which ports we would be calling at, let alone what I had planned to do in each port. Obviously cruising is for me.
Itinerary We have always wanted to "holiday" in New Zealand - not just visit. This seemed to be an excellent selection, as we had a "taste" of each area of coastal New Zealand. To do it by car would have meant a rushed trip with no relaxation - or just doing a small segment of what NZ has to offer.
Day 1 - 23 December 2008- Sydney. Embark 12 noon
Arrived 11 AM. Long line already formed. Getting on board was a breeze, though a little bit daunting as we were dropped off at the terminal with lots of luggage. Next time we will organize luggage tags (from TA??) before we arrive-this was the only issue for us.
Being in Sydney night 1 suited us Aussies as well as those from OS, as we could leisurely see the sights of this wonderful city without the normal rush. Berthed right next to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, our dining table overlooked the Sydney Opera House, with a view similar to the expensive 5-star restaurants adjacent to the ship.
Day 2 - 24 December 2008 Depart Sydney 6.30 PM Day spent shopping - and being based right in the heart of Sydney was a bonus. Very busy as the last shopping day before Christmas. Seemed the shoppers were mostly businessmen who had forgotten to buy their wife a Christmas present. Sailing through the heads of Sydney Harbour is a wonderful experience - it seems to possess a strong "Aussie-feeling". Similar I suppose to those from US seeing Statue of Liberty etc.
Day 3 25 December 2008 - Cruising Food, more food, and then some more food. DS discovered the Solarium pizza bar was still open at midnight. Different from the normal Christmas atmosphere, but DW had managed to sneak on a few surprise presents so we had a crowded pressie exchange in the confines of 4015.
All the children got to meet Santa, no matter what the age. Santa handed out gifts (RC merchandise), which was well received. Day 4 26 December 2008 - Cruising This was the day that I decided that I could not, or should not, do all the food options on a 14 day cruise and survive.
Day 5 27-Dec Bay Of Islands, New Zealand Arrive 9:00 AM Depart 6:00 PM This was the only port on the trip where we were tendered. Easy disembarkation, well organized by the RCL staff. We were on Tender 1, and when we arrived on shore at wharf 10 minutes from Paihia, the "transit" bus had not arrived yet. This was our first experience of "New Zealand Time", which is even slower paced than "Aussie Time". No problems with this, we just sat back and looked at the scenery for 10 minutes. Some got a little irritated, but then ......... We had pre-booked a jet-boat ride (Exitor) to Hole in Rock at 12 noon via the internet, so we stopped in at the tourist information centre for a look-see. Others had booked other cruise options, such as Dolphin excursions. Our trip was great fun, and luckily for me the waves were not as extreme as some of the more adventurous had hoped for. The scenery was magnificent and the sun came out for a truly spectacular experience. Sorry for those in earlier and later trips where it was raining but that is why waterproof clothing is supplied!!!
There was a helicopter service next door to the information centre, so we parted with NZ$240 for each of the children to go on a 20 minute ride to see the sights - which they loved. Great value tour as the helicopter is straight up and over the islands - no wasted time "getting there". Good to book as you arrive as we could see if the weather was fine enough for a good ride.
Across the road from the centre was a local market which had locally produced handicrafts. Well priced, especially for those from US, who had a very positive exchange rate.
If in Paihia, head up the main street to the "Burger bar/Restaurant" - friendly service, great burgers and lovely NZ wines.
Rhapsody tendered to Paihia, a very small town, which is the "hub" of the tourism for Bay of Islands. We were told of a previous cruise not sure who) had tendered to the township of Russell, which is accessible by small ferry from Paihia. No one at Russell knew they were coming, so the small shop at Russell was over-run and sold out of food by 10.30 am. The tourism operators at Paihia, who could see the ship, and told to expect a couple of thousand people, were left wondering where everyone was. Rhapsody had obviously organized things better.
Day 6 - 28 December 2008 - Auckland, New Zealand Arrive 7:00 AM Depart 6:00 PM We berthed in downtown Auckland and decided to just cruise the city sights. Could have done Lord of Ring Tour, vineyards etc but were looking for relaxation.
This is when we visited the 328 meter Sky-Tower, where grown men weep from fear of heights and not the place for me to visit for relaxation. Was it the glass-floored elevator that worried me most, or the glass floored section of the 320m high viewing deck, or the cafe where one could enjoy a cup of coffee whilst viewing those who choose to jump off a perfectly safe structure with only a thin steel cable attached to them. Following that experience I needed a good lie down so we went back to Rhapsody about 3PM.
Day 7 - 29-December 2008 - Tauranga, New Zealand Arrive 6:00 AM Depart 5:00 PM We pre-hired a car from a major company who offered full insurance. Other companies supplied cars dockside but we were not willing to take the risk with a large excess. We wanted to do our own thing and stop where we were having fun.
We drove to Rotorua, which is an easy drive for those used to driving on the left, though roads twist and turn through the hills. We saw the thermal springs and mud-pools, along with a Maori cultural centre. We then experienced the "Zorb", which is a large (about 3 meter high ball), which you climb into along with a few buckets of fresh water, and then you are rolled down a big hill. Definitely one for the young ones, and it looked a similar experience to being in a front loading washing machine. Another adventure from the people who brought you bungee-jumping and jumping from seriously tall buildings.
Day 8 - 30 December 2008 - Napier, New Zealand Arrive 11:00 AM - Depart 6:00 PM Napier is a wonderfully quaint town. It is known as the "art-deco" town - as it was wiped out in the 1930's by earthquake, and completely rebuilt with many of the major buildings, and houses done in this style.
Great wine-tasting and architectural tours, though we chose to relax over shopping, coffee and wine-tasting at a local bar. (I loved the New Zealand coffee shops!)
A big thanks to the tourism people from Napier - they really turned it on for the ship. From the free shuttle buses all day with very interesting commentary, to the farewell featuring vintage cars, jazz band and locals dressed in "1930's outfits. They obviously respect and appreciate the tourism dollars.
Day 9 31 December 2008 - Wellington, New Zealand Arrive 9:00 AM Depart 6:00 PM It is known as "Windy Wellington" and it did not disappoint. Most walked from the docks into the city centre for a trip on the cable car, which featured spectacular views. This was followed by a visit to the NZ Museum, "Te Papa Tongarewa", which heavily features the Maori and Islander cultural heritage. A truly great interactive museum with admission by donation. Followed by a New Years Eve celebration on board - I have been told I had a good time.
Day 10 - 01 Jan 2009 - Christchurch, New Zealand Arrived 7:00 AM Depart 6:00 PM First stop on the South Island, after a reasonable stable crossing. The ships shuttle is the way to go here as the port is about 20 minutes from the city centre. Quiet on New Years Day, but the major sights were still open.
We went to the Antarctic Centre next to International Airport - which was very worthwhile. We booked in for the extra "Backstage Pass Tour" which was really interesting as we got up-close with the penguins.
Then it was off to the city centre to look at the beautiful architecture, especially the Christchurch Cathedral - reminiscent of English cities.
Missed the Gondola ride as DS & DD were busy checking MySpace and chatting to friends back home via internet. Day 11 - 02 January 2009 - Dunedin, New Zealand Arrive 7:00 AM Depart 6:00 PM Dunedin is another great port - another one of the NZ "mini-cities" towns that are very beautiful. We got a local bus (NZ$2.20) from Lyttleton Port, which dropped us at the Cadbury Chocolate Factory (Closed on that day!!!) We walked for 5 minutes to the tourism centre, and booked a tour of Lanarch Castle - well worth the effort. Scenery was breathtaking. Others raved about the Albatross Tour, Vintage Rail Tour, Gondola etc.
Day 12 03 January 2009 - Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound, Milford Sound, New Zealand First Sound 8:00AM Depart Last Sound 5:30 PM Dusky Sound, which is only accessible by the sea, is unbelievably beautiful. I personally felt Doubtful was even more beautiful, and then it was off to Milford, which was the icing on the cake. Those who were on the cruise who had experienced Norwegian Fjords said they were as beautiful as anything they had seen.
We were told that the Sound's are best when raining, due to the waterfalls. We experienced sunshine, rain, and hail - so we got to see all the variations.
I did not know what to expect from the Sounds, as I was unsure how far we would be able to travel into each one. I was astounded by the way the Rhapsody slipped into each Sound, and easily navigated itself through, which was made possible by the extreme water depths within each Sound.
For those who have been to Milford Sound via the "road option" - yes we easily made it past the large waterfall near Milford, did a quick "U-Turn" and headed out again. Unbelievable is the best word to describe that day. My 13 year old son even acknowledged the beauty of the area - and then he headed back to the teens club.
Everyone I spoke to said it was best to finish on the Sounds, because after that, everything else seems a little ordinary.
Day 13 - 04 January 2009 - Cruising Day 14 - 05-January 2009 - Cruising Day 15 - 06 January 2009 - Sydney, Australia Arrive 6:30 AM Off the boat, into the Hotel apartment, surfaced after completing 13 loads of washing to do some sightseeing.
Food/Service I am on a 6 month diet following a wonderful time at the "manipulative" hands of Josephine, the world's most wonderful waiter. By day 2 she knew exactly our food preferences and was suggesting suitable dishes for each of us. I use the plural as she often delivered a second entrEe or main course, "Just in Case".
Josephine was instrumental in making our cruise memorable. It is a rare day when DW suggests that we "top-up" the tips, but she did so on a few occasions for Josephine. Our children have even made comments re the poor service, compared to Josephine, we have received since the cruise.
I made the mistake of telling another cruiser how good Josephine was. He was quite put out, and immediately rebutted with how his waiter was even better. Great RCL service was not just experienced on our table.
Windjammer food was good quality - do not expect 5 star though. It has a reasonable variation considering we are on a ship with over 2,000 passengers. I loved the Omelette Bar for breakfast, where DW had her 2 fried eggs done just the way she likes them, and you could choose from selection of ingredients for your Omelette. Noticed on New Years Day the most popular one was "Omelette with everything Mate".
Heard a few complaints re the very important and life threatening food issues - such as "I like my muffins toasted for longer - I complain every day and they will not listen to me" etc etc. I wonder what they would be like on a tour of an "exotic" country. Life is an adventure - live it.
Lunch in the dining room on sea days featured the "Salad Bar". Great quality salads including prawns (shrimps), smoked salmon etc. Chef prepares them how you like them - very popular as a "light-option" whilst retaining quality ingredients. Diet suggestion - do not do the Caesar Salad every day and think you will lose weight.
Our room service attendant (Akmed?) was very efficient and friendly. New to this position, he handled it extremely well, and even managed to put up with DD's & DS's instant daily mess in their cabin.
Dining Table We had a great group of people on our table, ranging in age fro 13 to early 70's. Phil & Barry from Melbourne, who are known as Felix & Oscar, along with their lovely wives "Isles" and "Ginnie", Martin from Germany, Rob from Queensland made up the table along with DW, DD, DS and I. Interests and experiences were diverse, which made great conversations over the 14 nights. Their company made dinner and experience, not a chore. The children loved dining with us, and enjoyed the stories from the "oldies", mainly because they are made to feel welcome.
Alcohol Prices. The big whine recently has been the alcohol prices, as they are in US dollars. RCL is not responsible for the Aussie $$$ crash against the $US. They also have done their menus months ago, and they are for all of their boats - therefore impossible to easily change. Therefore - all drinks on the menu are expensive when converted to Aussie Dollar.
RCL have responded with many 2-for-1 offers , Beer offers and "Drinks of the Day". These are publicized on the Daily Compass and are great value. We purchased Rum based cocktails for US$8 for 2 drinks - very good value.
Our dining companions had a daily timetable (Thanks to Felix)of which bar to be at to get the specials. A good way to save cash, and try some new drinks.
Duty Free RCL were offering about 20% off list price - and easily beat the other duty free shops we looked at for alcohol. My DD saved money on perfume. Purchased large bottle of her favorite perfume for less than small bottle normally costs. We also saved money on a Guess handbag. These were apparently essential items that she "needed", so at least I saved some $$$.
Things I would like to see to make this trip even better •More New Zealand wines and food. The area is known for its fantastic wines and food, at reasonable prices etc etc. Why not include more local wines and feature some NZ specialty food, even for just 1 night, or a NZ specialty dish each night. •Better Internet access. Currently, forget it. Use internet cafe's in New Zealand. NZ$1 for 15 minutes was normal pricing we saw. Everyone with a laptop, which we had, were trying to get Wi-Fi - and complaining of cost/speed. •Upgrade to Royal Suite. Well, you gotta hope!
Things I learnt. •If you believe "It is all about ME", then maybe cruising is not for you. RCL have to take into consideration what the majority of passengers want. They have the experiences of the millions of passengers that have cruised with them. •Too much underwear is never enough. •No one should (but some might) complain if you wear the same outfit twice. •Do not leave your black dress-shoes at home. Brown deck-shoes look stupid with a suit. (I refuse to show anyone my formal "portraits" as I looked stupid! •Do not be amazed by the behavior of anyone. •Some people are never happy. •Some people are way too loud. •Hire a tux and shoes on the boat if you want to go formal - especially on a long cruise (3 formal nights). Saves packing tux, 3 shirts, formal shoes. •You need to sit back, let it flow, have fun, talk with those at your dinner table, say hi to people you have never met before and make the most of it. •A cruise is always better than being at work. •RCCL will always drop the price just after you pay final payment, or sell out if you decide to wait for cheap rates to come out. •DW and DD are always right, even when wrong (knew that before the cruise, but just had it clarified again) •And finally, Josephine is the best waitress in the world - no matter what anyone else thinks.
That's it - I can thoroughly recommend this cruise, but then, there will be some that are unhappy - as there always is.
I'm happy - but I'm back at work.
DW has just emailed me an itinerary for April 2009 Galveston to England cruise - she must have had a good time too.