We arrived in Sydney 5 nights prior to getting on the Volendam. I booked 5 nights at the Four Points Darling Harbor by Sheraton. The room was available for us when we arrived at 10AM. It as a nice room facing the harbor. The rate included a breakfast buffet which was excellent. That night there was a lot of noise, slamming room doors and kids talking. I reported it to the front desk and said they'd change our room later that day, if we put our belongings together. They did so, and put us on an upper executive floor including champagne and chocolates. We no longer had any difficulty with noise.
We loved Sydney, bought the Red Bus On and Off ticket and began to explore. We took the Opera House tour which was exceptional. We went toBondi Beach for lunch, went to the Sunday Market at the Rocks and Paddy's Market to buy Uggs for the grandchildren. The only negative part on Sydney was the cost of dinners which could be at least $90.USD without wine. We saw La Traviata at the opera house and Wicked the musical, which we had missed in the states, both were exceptional.
We embarked at the ship about noon and stood on line for a while since it was quite busy. It was hot and humid in Sydney that day so that made the line seem longer. We got on board and went for a great lunch at the Lido Buffet. It was excellent and continued to be so for the 14 days. Another thing I liked is that there was a grill out at the pool and you could get burgers, pizza or tacos and Free ice cream all day. My husband and I have been on at least a dozen cruises and this was the first where the bar waiters didn't ask you a hundred times if you wanted a drink. They were also not pushy in the photo studio, except I think the prices were a bit high there. We had Free Style dining and always sat at a different table with 6-8 other people. It was great getting to know so many others. I am on a low salt diet and the dining room gave me the next days menu each night to choose what I wanted so they could prepare it specially. It was all delicious. We ate breakfast and lunch at the Lido and although it was crowed we always seemed to find a spot and share a table. We only took 2 shore excursions with HAL. The first was in Melbourne, Kangaroos and Koalas in the Wild. It was 4 hours, and we did see them. the second was when we disembarked in Auckland. We went on a City excursion and then had free time in the city for lunch and shopping. They had a Large room at a hospitality center where ther was plenty of coffee and tea. Again, everything was very well organized. When we arrived at the airport a truck arrived with all our luggage.
In Dunedin I arranged a tour with Mark of Awesome Tours which was a great day. He was very friendly and knowledgeable. $165.pp.NZD In Christchurch I had booked The Inside Story with Terry Thompson. It was supposed to be a half day tour, but he spent 5-6 hours with us to be sure we saw all of his city. In Tauranga, we booked Carlton Tours #145.ppNZD and went to Te Puia, it too was an excellent day where we learned a tremendous amount about NZ and it's culture. I would recommend all of these operators. They were at the dock waiting for us in the morning and got us back to the ship in plenty of time to sail. For those afraid to take a private excursion, the reviews I heard at dinner about the HAL tours were excellent. All the other ports we took the ship's shuttle into town and did our own thing.
The entertainment on board was good, My husband even sat with me and didn't ditch me and go to the casino. The casino and gift shop employees were very friendly and accommodating, without being pushy. All in all it was a wonderful cruise and we will definitely book another in the near future. From the beautiful fresh flowers everywhere,the 2 for 1 happy hour each night, large comfortable clean cabin and bathroom, exceptional dining and staff, our cruise was wonderful. The ship was immaculate and all the staff warm and friendly. The only problem was we packed too many clothes and the weather was a bit too hot and humid for me!