We decided to look for a cruise either to or from Australia in 2007. After searching several sources we decided to book the 30 day cruise on Dawn Princess from San Francisco to Sydney. Even though it was a year in advance the cruise critic roll call had already been very active with a group that had booked a cruise from Australia to the US that had been cancelled. By the time the ship sailed we had some 100 cruise critic folks chatting on line. I volunteered to obtain meeting space and time on the ship for the group to gather 4 times during the cruise. The group name was DAWN DOWN UNDER and we had some name tags and pins available for purchase. To say this group created a lifetime of memories would be an understatement.
Our portion of this trip consisted of recruiting 6 other local couples to travel with us. These of people we have travelled with in the past at one time or another. The plans for the trip included a 3 day visit to San Francisco and the surrounding area. I had researched a wine tour that several DAWN DOWN UNDER people booked that they told me they enjoyed. Since my sister-in-law who lives in California is dating a native of the San Francisco area we arranged to have a special sightseeing period with them. The highlights included lunch outside of Sausalito, dinner on the pier at Scoma's, walking the "hills" with stops along the way for wine and Irish Coffee. One afternoon we had lunch in Chinatown. We even got to have drinks at the Top of the Mark with a friend who was in town on business. One of the original organizers of the DAWN DOWN UNDER cruise critic group had booked rooms at a small hotel for less than $100 per night that included meal credits. Since this was during the Oracle convention it was an incredible bargain. She also arrange for a tour bus to take us from the hotel to the pier for a nominal cost.
The sail away was picture perfect. After 2 days at sea we had the DAWN DOWN UNDER gift exchange. Some 30 couples from all over the world gathered at 4 PM in the bar reserved for our group. A great time was had by all.
After 5 sea days we arrived in Honolulu. We spent most of the day on board ship as we planned to spend two weeks after the cruise back in Honolulu. We did arrange to have dinner with friends of our daughter who was in the Army in Honolulu. They took us to the time share we would be staying after the cruise so I could drop off some very heavy luggage for them to store until we arrived. We had one couple in our group who convinced us to sign up for something Princess calls Chef's Table later in the cruise. This turned out to be one of the highlights of this cruise.
I just read another review in cruise critic and this is what prompted me to chime in with our highlights. The next port of call was Kona on the big Island of Hawaii. This is a place where we own a time share and have spent time there almost every year. We have a reservation to visit there in October of 2009 for two weeks so we just walked to the local outdoor Olympic size swimming pool and spent the day swimming in the fresh water. At dinner we all discussed what activities we had participated in during the day. Everyone seemed to enjoy their choice of shore activities during the entire trip. We shared photos and stories a lot.
The next stop was supposed to be Christmas Island (Kiritimati) but the Captain explained that the harbor had not been dredged and marked and the docks had not been repaired and refurbished and he was NOT taking a chance of having tenders stuck on sandbars so we did a sail around. We brought along binoculars so we were able to see the deserted beaches with only a few people in isolated areas. The weather was beautiful. The Captain did "spin" the ship around so all passengers could view the small island.
Five days from Kona we were on land again in Bora Bora. This was one shore excursion we felt was worth more than we paid. We did a helmet dive. We were the morning group and I understand that was the best choice. We were up close and personal with sting rays and hundreds if not thousands of beautiful fish. We bought the videos the underwater cameraman took even though we had purchased a top of the line Olympus underwater digital camera which had many still photos. This is one port we would love to visit again for a week or two.
My wife prepaid for all the Pilates classes and went to most if not all of them. I went to a few free stretch classes with her and walked a lot of laps around the deck with her and walked the steps instead of the elevators to keep from gaining too much weight but still managed to go up a few pounds.
The next port was Papeete. We wound up walking around near the ship to an internet cafe because I refuse to pay 75 cents a minute to use the ships internet. We decided on the spur of the moment to take a local cab around the sightseeing spots. A German couple had been waiting for somebody else to join them and share the cost of a sightseeing van. He spoke very good English and in fact worked for the American Military in a place the Army calls K town. His wife spoke very little English. We enjoyed sightseeing at our leisure and got to see a lot of the sights.
Next was Moorea. We took the launch into town and then hired a cab to take us to a nice beach where we could snorkel. We brought our own snorkel gear. He arranged to pick us back up at a set time later that day to take us back to the docks. We met some very nice folks that were staying at the resort next to the beach and snorkeled the day away. Not quite as spectacular as the Bora Bora helmet dive but very nice.
The next port was Raratonga. We signed up for a stroll through the woods searching for the rare Raratonga flycather. Our guide was the Park Ranger. He was a delight. We hiked up and down all the hills but never spotted our bird. Part of it may be because of some rude Germans who insisted on shouting and calling out all along the way. The nicer Germans we met insisted they must be East Germans!! Pretty bad when even your fellow countrymen are willing to classify rudeness as being a trait of a minority group!
The next stop was American Samoa. The on board lecture was done by a very knowledgeable woman who had been there when the natives would shower the cruise ships with flowers from a gondola that travelled from on side to the harbor to the other high up in the hills on either side of the pier. The gondola is now just a rusted out pile of machinery. We had bowled with friends back home from Somoa and enjoyed seeing the sights. We walked all over. We stood outside one of the churches where we heard the children singing beautiful songs. As we left the church we saw a group of men preparing a fire pit to cook the meal after church. They had fish and breadfruit in the pit covered by wet leaves. They were dressed in the native dress (men in skirts?. We have photos standing around the firepit. We did a little shopping with US dollars.
In Suva Fiji we opted to join several DAWN DOWN UNDER folks for a trip about an hour away at a resort with a nice beach. They had fresh water swimming pools. You could also rent boat rides and other activities. They had a nice open cafe with decent food and drinks. They arranged for a group of strolling musicians to parade around and serenade you. A nice lazy day. We did see lots of poverty on the ride out and back.
The New Zealand stops were Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and the Fjordlands. We opted to take a hop on hop off bus to see the museum and other sights in Auckland. Windy Wellington we ate a wonderful lunch at the revolving restaurant in the highest building in New Zealand. What a view. We stopped to buy a couple bottles of New Zealand wines. We walked and took a cable car up the mountainside to a beautiful garden area. Christchurch was one place I had visited almost 40 years ago while I was single and in the Army. All I saw was the golf course and the airport! This time our group opted to visit the Antarctic center. It made for a very enjoyable day. We then strolled along the tiny river that runs through the center of Christchurch. What an unspoiled English speaking spot. I would love to revisit and spend more time there. The gardens are incredible. Every home has a flower garden. The weather was perfect. Denedin was a place our group booked a train trip out and back. We were late finding the train and got separated from out friends but got reunited at the various stops. The countryside was rugged and beautiful. The people were as friendly as anyplace in the world. This was the most expensive excursion we took but was fairly priced for all we got. Food and drink and sightseeing. The Fjordlands weather was perfect which we understand is unusual. It reminded us somewhat of the inside passage in Alaska in spots.
Our arrival in Sydney came after a very calm crossing from New Zealand which is unusual. We had created a land travel package that included 3 nights in a hotel in Sydney with our friends and sightseeing to the Blue Mountains and around the harbor on a sightseeing boat.
Now to describe "Chef's Table". One other couple in our group booked the same night as us. They are good friends we have travelled with often and in fact the wife is probably my wife's best friend. The other 6 people who joined us met at 7 PM with the Maitre De Neville. He gave us white smocks to wear in the kitchen and introduced us to our wait staff for the night. One of the best waiters on the ship if not THE BEST. As soon as we arrived in the kitchen we were given a champagne flute and the first of several appetizers. Almost before we could take our first sip we were informed the champagne was NOT up to the standards of the Maitre De! He immediately had a better champagne served. We were introduced to the head chef who remained with us for the next 3 hours. We watched the kitchen in action preparing to serve literally more than one thousands diners. When we left the kitchen area we were escorted to a table for 10 that was our home for the next 2 1/2 hours! We watched as dish after dish of food was presented to us and the Maitre De poured a variety of wines to match each dish. A whole lobster tail was an appetizer! The chef and his assistant prepared veal in front of us. We were offered a variety of sauces for the meat. Dessert was over the top. We were given photos that were developed while we dined. Each couple received a special hardbound cookbook from the chef. The chef pulled up a chair after dinner and drank an Alaskan beer!! He said it was almost as good as some German beers. (The ship had done an Alaska cruise just before the repositioning cruise). It turned out there had been a crew turnover of about 75% between the Alaska cruise and the repositioning cruise.
Some other memories of this cruise include the fact that buying a coffee card was the best deal on the ship. You were entitled to a set number of specialty coffees (lattes, cappuccinos etc) but unlimited fresh brewed coffee. The coffee anyplace else on the ship was a poor excuse for coffee.
We attended many of the lectures given by a young man from Tazmania. He entertained us with his jokes and lecture style. One of the best lectures was given by the ships Captain. He used slides from the Hubble telescope to take us on a journey through the Universe. The woman who provided information on each port of call was very good.
The ship offered a variety of entertainment to satisfy almost all tastes. We were offered almost too many choices of activities during the entire cruise. Even the sea days could be filled with a variety of activities but of course you could choose to do nothing!!
The average daily cost of a repositioning cruise is such a bargain that we may look for noting but repositioning cruises in the future.