My DH and I first sailed the Sun Princess in August 2000 on an Alaska inside passage from Vancouver to Anchorage. I must say she has aged very well, and should return from her two week drydock in April sparkling.
We did the 13 night roundtrip from Sydney to New Zealand with 7 ports of call, 1 day of scenic cruising in Milford Sound and 4 sea days. New Zealand has been a must do on our list of places to see, so this was a perfect opportunity. We got an excellent price on a guaranteed BE cabin and were happy to be upgraded to Caribe 540 on deck 9. We also used Delta frequent flyer miles to travel business class the 14.5 hours from Los Angeles to Sydney. The new "pods" on Delta are great and I'm not sure I could do a long flight in coach again.
We arrived in Sydney on Thursday, Feb. 4th and stayed overnight at the Four Points Sheraton at Darling Harbour. We book this through Princess and the accommodations were very good. Excellent bed and friendly, helpful hotel staff. The location couldn't be better, across a pedestrian bridge, down some stairs and you are right on Darling Harbour with an acquarium, Captain Cook's harbour tours, a Sydney Explorer hop-on, hop-off bus stop, and lots of restaurants. A quick walk across the pedestrian bridge and you are at the Maritime Museum. A short walk up from there is the new casino.
The only annoying part of our adventure was the transportion to the cruise terminal was 45 minutes late. Princess did kind of drop the ball here, only a brief letter stating the time we should have been picked up but no location of where at the hotel. But the bus finally arrived and it was literally a 3 minute ride from the hotel to the terminal. As we are platinum members we had priority checkin so were on the ship in no time. We did board during the rush hour so the wait for xrays was about 15 minutes. One of the things I like about Princess is that your cabin is ready immediately, no lugging carry ons around the ship while waiting until 1:30 or 2:00 for your cabin.
Did a quick refresher tour of the ship to get our bearings then went to the Lido buffet for lunch. Sailaway was at 4:00 p.m. and what an experience sailing under the famous Darling Harbour Bridge, past the Opera House, down the channel and out to sea.
Our first two days were sea days crossing the Tasman Sea. I've read reviews about the horrible weather that can come up on the Tasman, but our crossing was relatively smooth. There were some swells, although we didn't think they were that bad. Had a rougher sea in the Baltic Sea several years ago.
Our third day was scenic cruising of Milford Sound and Fjordland National Park. We were extremely lucky with the weather in Milford Sound. The sun came out and we saw some magnificent scenery. Very rugged with the highest peak being about 9,000 ft. Mountainous, not straight steep sides like you find in Norway. I heard that about 5 out of 6 times the weather is foggy and cloudy and a lot of the time the ship can get in.
There were 7 ports on this cruise - Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, Tauranga, Auckland, and Bay of Islands. All of the tours we took we booked through the ship.
Dunedin - Took the train up Tiarie (spelling) Gorge and then a bus trip to Larnach Castle. The weather on the coast was cloudy and rainy but as we went inland on the train it was sunny and in the 70's. The car we were in was built in 1914 and was the oldest car on the train. The car staff were all volunteers. One of the staff in our car had actually ridden the train into Dunedin to go to school and then home on the holidays. He had some good stories about the "old days" on the train. The tour included snacks, water, soda, and a very nice boxed lunch. Probably wouldn't have done the one that included Larnach Castle if I were to do it again. The castle was very nice, but this side trip didn't leave any time to actually see the down.
Christchurch - took a half day dolphin watching excursion to see the endangered Hectors Dolphins. We were lucky to come across some following a fishing boat that was net fishing. They follow the net and get the small fish that swim through the net. These dolphins are about half the size of the ones that we are used to seeing in the States.
Wellington - took the ship's provided bus into town and walked around. A nice feature of New Zealand is that every town has an ISite for tourist information and to book independent tours. The one in Wellington was great with public restrooms, a small cafe, souvenir store, and lots of information. We took the cable car up to the Botanical Gardens and had a lovely walk around. The rose garden was beautiful - even that late in the season. The cable car was $5.00 round trip and the botanical gardens were free. Much cheaper than the ship's tours.
Napier - Our first really sunny day and one of our favorite ports. This is a small town that was totally devastated in a February 1931 earthquake. They rebuilt the town in the Art Deco style and have carefully maintained many of the buildings. The town provides a free shuttle bus to and from the pier. The town was gearing up for their big Art Deco weekend that was taking place later in the week. Many people were wearing 1930's clothing and, for the old car enthusiasts, there were lots of antique cars on display. It is a very picturesque place. A good place to walk. The Marine Parade is a 1-2 mile walk along the sea shore with great views of the South Pacific.
Tauranga - We did a tour to the Maori Thermal Reserve in Rotorua and had a stop at an agricultural station. Got some great pictures of the thermal geysers going off. The tour included a very nice buffet luncheon and a Maori cultural show. It was well worth the money. Guess I didn't pay attention to the information on the website because the agricultural station came as a complete surprise. There was a performance showing the various kinds of sheep that are raised in New Zealand, a sheep dog exhibition, and a cow milking demonstration. Lesson learned - when asked a question by someone, don't answer. The MC asked if anyone had ever milked a cow and without thinking I said that I had. The next thing I know I'm up on stage with several other people giving a demonstration. My husband thought the whole thing was hilarious.
Auckland - We took the hop-on, hop-off bus for a tour of the city as the day was very rainy. Got a good overview of the city. Did stop at Kelly Tarleton's Antarctic world which had a very good presention on Shackleton's ill-fated expedition. The penguin exhibit was excellent and for a small place it had a very good acquarium.
Bay of Islands - this was the only tender port. We did the dolphin discovery cruise. This was one of the best tours we did. Saw a large group of dolphins. They were coming right up to the boat and swimming around. Then went to the famous Hole in the Rock. Our boat was one of the smallest ones out that day and our captain did take us through the hole. Because of the currents this is up to the captain's discretion so we were very lucky to experience this event. The other boats were cheering us as we came through. Afterwards we walked around Russell and then took the ferry back to Pia Hia (spelling) where the ship was docked.
Two more sea days back to Sydney and an overnight stay again at the Four Points Sheraton then the awful realization that we on a plane back home. Ugh.
I do need to say a few things about the ship and it's crew. This was our 9th cruise with Princess. We have found them to suit us and our style. Can't say we've ever had a very bad experience, but the crew on this ship was the best. Robert our cabin steward was attentive and cheerful but not intrusive. We had late seating in the Marquis dining room and our staff was wonderful. Thank you to Sharon and Enrico, both from the Philippines. Most of the time we have found head waiters to be pretty nonexistent except for one stop by the table and a check in on the last night for tips. Our headwaiter was Karoly, from Hungary. My husband is a vegetarian and the ship was apprised of this. Karoly was right there from the first night checking if everything was satisfactory. He would bring out the next day lunch and evening menu's to see if there was something that would please my husband. If not, he would make something up special. He even went so far as to get some of my husband's favorite cheese and would have brought a plate of it every night if requested. That is service. Needless to say, all of our crew members got special tips.
We had scheduled a meet and mingle with some other Cruise Critic members for the first sea day but only myself, my husband, Carl and Jane showed up. Oh, well. Everyone else was exhausted and missed it. We did have a good time with Carl and Jane and loved talking to them at various times around the ship.
I know this is long, but it was a 13 day cruise. I highly recommend this itinery and ship. My only regret is that we only had two days in Sydney. Oh well, now I have an excuse to go back to Australia.