We are a couple in our late 40's travelling with DH sister and BIL (who were new to cruising). I have Muscular Dystrophy and mobilise using a walker most of the time, but outside the home, I use a portable powerchair called a Puzzle Chair. This was our 2nd Cruise together and my fourth, but it was 14 years since our last cruise, it was to be completely different.
The Christmas/New Year Cruise on the Diamond for 12 nights went down the eastern coast of Australia across to the Fiords of New Zealand and then up the eastern coast of NZ. Colleagues of DH did this itinerary in early 2010 and raved about it, and once we saw the ship docked at Auckland, we thought 'this is the cruise - let's head away from a decent break, relax, see Australia and NZ from a different perspective including seeing the Fiords for the first time'. I have been to all our ports before, and DH, SIL & BIL had been to all but Hobart. It was more about cruising for us than sightseeing.
Prior to Embarkation:
Sydney - we stayed at The Menzies which is very central and located opposite Wynyard Train Station. Although we did not use the trains, if you arrive by plane you can get the train to Wynyard from the airport which would be convenient. We have 3 days prior in Canberra staying with family. We had the only disabled accessible room at the hotel, and it was very well laid out and the bathroom worked very well. The restaurant was very expensive, but SIL had found a great cafe a couple of door up the road which did wonderful breakfasts - the Bircher muesli was to die for! And Eggs Florentine was pretty good also.
We actually went for a stroll down to Circular Quay to see what and where to go. Before we even got very close to the ship Ian and Geraldine (CCer's from Perth) spotted us! When we got to the embarkation area, we immediately received all the information we needed, and we decided to send the boys back to the hotel to retrieve all the bags! Julie and I waited in the Special Needs area, where there was plenty of staff waiting to whisk us on board. While waiting Pete (KiwiPete), Norma and family (CCer's for Kerikeri NZ) arrived. Pete was the 'leader' of our Roll Call. The luggage porters of the wharf worked extremely efficiently and once the boys returned with the luggage, we were speedily taken through embarkation. The first crowd had already gone through, so there were no queues, and all the staff were most helpful. Being disabled meant we were assigned a staff member to take us all the way through right to our cabin - C302, a Handicapped Cabin (HC) with Balcony. SIL & BIL had an inside cabin across the corridor. The whole process took about 20 minutes. And we were in the Horizon Court for lunch before 1pm.
Stateroom - Deck 10 - C302, a Handicapped Cabin (HC) with Balcony
The stateroom was perfect. Our steward Pitchet arrived soon after to make his introduction. Throughout the cruise our room was always neat and tidy, and all done in a flash. As our room was our "Wine O Clock Place" for the four of us, Pitchet usually attend three times a day, which was most appreciated. We had no complaints at all about our stateroom. We were handy to the lifts. Although we did hear noise from the corridor it was never intrusive, and we did not hear the lift bells at all. The laundry was a fair walk down the corridor, and we could just get the chair in there, but it was too small really for me to do the laundry! At the end of the cruise told us there was a laundry on Deck 9 by the lifts!
Dining - Anytime:
Our TA allocated us to Anytime dining which was a very wise choice. No time constraints on when or where to dine. We found eating between 6-00 and 6-45pm suited us and we were never turned away from the restaurant or given a pager to wait. I quickly worked out that my powerchair fitted under the round tables in all the restaurants and the Restaurant Manager's were always able to accommodate the four of us without an issue.
We did try to book Sabatini's (Speciality Restaurant) on the formal night and it was totally booked out, and on New Years Eve we tried to book Vivaldi's (one of the four Anytime Dining Rooms), but they were only taking walk-in's and no more bookings, so we opted to Santa Fe at 6.20pm. Dining earlier meant we could get into the shows at the Princess Theatre at 8.15pm which was good, as the 10.15pm show was too late for us, although we did do that show on New Years Eve in a bid to stay up! We didn't bother with the Speciality Dining in the end as the food in the Restaurants was very good.
We found the food fantastic wherever we dined on the ship. I found the Horizon Court a bit intimidating of the first day, but towards the end of the cruise I got use to having someone other than by DH helping me. We would alternate between the Horizon Court and the International Dining Room for breakfast and lunch. Both were always good opportunities to dine with others, and met new and interesting people. We did have pizza one night on the balcony and on the last night burgers and chips!
I had read a lot on the board about the coffee being awful - but it was fine. The only time it was an issue was in the Horizon Court, if it had been sitting for a while, then it was not as hot. Otherwise when it was served in any of the restaurants by the waiters it was hot and perfectly acceptable. We certainly couldn't see the need for a coffee card, and when we did ask for and paid for a Flat White, it was truly awful - they had no idea how to make it!
From a wheelchair users point all the disembarkations from all the ports was easy. Mostly via Deck 4 midships, and there was always staff on hand to help, although having a powerchair meant the only time I did need assistance was at Tauranga. The gangway at Tauranga was very steep and I had two staff in front ensuring I didn't topple. We were the first off, as it happened, which in hindsight was good, as it did take a lot longer to get me off! So if you are in a chair, it is all very easy.
• Melbourne - the buses and trams into the city were accessible, but as there was four of us, and there was a huge crowd (2 ships in port) we opted for a taxi each way. Pete & Norma found the tram very crowded using their chair.
• Hobart easy walk into Salamanca Markets, which were on for Boxing Day. We were met by family with whom we spent the day.
• Dunedin - for NZD15 / USD10 there was a local bus into town. Most buses were accessible, and if not one wasn't far away. My first ride in my chair using a bus, and the access was very steep, but there was assistance with getting on, thank goodness. We had the same driver both ways and he had a very heavy foot on the trip in which was very uncomfortable for me.
• Christchurch - for NZD15 / USD10 there was a local bus into town. All the buses were accessible and newer than Dunedin, so there were no dramas and the rides were comfortable.
• Tauranga - DH Pete was acting Tour Guide/Driver for the day, as we had hired a 12 seater Van to take 10 other CCer's on a trip to Rotorua. We hired the van from Rite Price Rentals who deliver all their vehicles to port, so it is very easy to pick up and return. The van was very comfortable and cheap to run (we used less then NZD$25 in diesel). Those on board said it was a better van than in Dunedin, but the aircon didn't work, which meant in the 26C heat all the windows were kept open! That did not spoil the day. We had an absolute ball, and got back to the wharf with 15mins to spare!
Fiordland - Cruising through the five Fiords had to be one of the highlights of the cruise. Spectacular! The day was overcast with patchy misty drizzle, but that did not affect the day at all. It was cool on deck, but I just had a wool cardigan on. We were going to order the Ultimate Balcony Breakfast, but instead created our own! We ordered Room Service Breakfast for 4 and a bottle of Asti Spumante which was more than sufficient for us all.
One stand out factor was the wonderful CCer's on our Roll Call.
We had a great bunch on board and we had a lot of fun. KiwiPete organised the Meet & Greet in Skywalkers on Day 2 At Sea, which was well attended, and included a number of officers. I organised a Luncheon on Day 7 At Sea, and we had the Santa Fe Dining Room to ourselves!!! We had a Secret Santa gift exchange and could make as much noise as we liked. There were about 45 of us, and 10 waiting staff! Also on two Sea Day's we had an area set aside for us at the Afternoon Tea in Pacific Moon Dining Room - big thumbs up to the Cruise Director for organising this and printing in the Princess Patter.
Will we cruise again! Definitely - no question. We have no complaints and had the most fantastic holiday ever. We have converted SIL & BIL. The trick will be to find a cruise with the same ratio of Port Days to Sea Days. I really enjoy Sea Days, as it is the chance to relax and 'kick back'.