My DH and I live in Kissimmee, FL and have cruised HAL several times before along with a couple of the other lines. We are in an "almost retirement" state of mind! We flew to LAX and boarded VAustralia for the overnight flight to Sydney. It was an excellent flight. We were able to book Business Class, and this enabled us to have lay-flat seats which were made up into a bed by the flight attendents! It was great to get some sleep on the long flight over. Comfortable pj's were provided so you didn't have to sleep in your clothes. I especially liked the "ladies only" bathroom! We arrived in Sydney at 6:00 AM, quickly made our way through customs and took a taxi to the hotel.
We booked a room at the Intercontinental Sydney, right by Circular Quay. This was an excellent location, within walking distance of all the ferries, rail and "The Rocks" area. We were able to get right in our room and get settled.
We spent 4 nights there, and found a great cafe on the water that had free internet. While in Sydney we used the Hop On/Off Bus. It was a great way to see the sights. Also, we took a day trip to the Blue Mountains using Sydney Tour R Us. This was excellent and a nice change from the warm weather in Sydney.
We boarded the Volendam on Sunday AM. It was the easiest and quickest embarkation we have ever experienced! On the ship in less than 15 minutes and were able to go straight to our room. I had booked a balcony (A) guarantee and we were upgraded to a Deluxe Verandah. Only found out about this at check-in and what a "suite" surprise. Absolutely loved the extra room and the free laundry!Our cruise critic group met the first morning at sea so we had a chance to get aquainted. The staff on the Volendam had a reserved space along with drinks and snacks already set up for us. They really went the extra mile to make us feel welcome.
We were treated to a relatively smooth sailing across the Tasman Sea for 2 days and arrived a Milford Sound in a light mist. There were hanging clouds on the mountain tops along with spectacular waterfalls. Suddenly the clouds cleared and the sun cast a whole new light on the Sound. What a sight it was! An absolute highlight of the trip.
Here's a quick rundown of the ports:
Oban - we went ashore - by tender - and booked a quick boat ride over to Ulva island for a great nature walk.
Dunedin - Booked an all-day tour with other Cruise critic members with Back to Nature Tours. I highly recommend this tour!
Christchurch - Another Cruise Critic booking with Discovery Tours this time. Went out to Arthurs Pass and then back to Christchurch for a city tour. Excellent!
Wellington - Took the available shuttle bus into town. Rode the cable car and then wandered through the Botanical Gardens. It was in full bloom and well worth the time. Also, there was inexpensive internet and phone cards available in the cruise terminal.
Napier - Again, took the free shuttle into town. There was an info center with tour companies set up outside to book tours. Grabbed a 3 hour tour that included a winery for tasting. Beautiful art deco themed town.
Tauranga -Booked with Carlton Tours for an all day tour including Te Puia. Terrific day - highly recommend them.
Auckland - Did the Hop On/Off bus here on our own.
Bay of Islands - Another tender port, then a shuttle over to Paihia. Were able to book with Explore NZ for a boat tour of the islands and the Hole in the Rock. Don't miss getting out on the water here! Another highlight of the trip.
The Volendam staff were some of the most friendly we have had and the service was excellent everywhere. We ate in both the Pinnacle Grill and the Canaletto.
Don't miss either - well worth making a reservation. The upcoming dry dock is needed for some of the chairs and other soft goods. However, the ship was well kept, always clean and lots of gorgeous fresh flowers. All in all a fantastic ship, great ports and a Captain who kept us well-informed daily.