New Zealand Discovery 17-31 January 2012
The long flight
MSP-LAX 4 hrs., 3 hr. layover, LAX-SYD 15 hrs.
The new Delta "economy comfort" seating was worth the extra cost.
Dinner was actually v. good and movie selections were excellent.
Ambien helped provide 5-6 hrs. sleep. Not a bad flight at all.
LAX to SYD was actually more comfortable than MSP to LAX.
Sydney Pre-Cruise Days
4 days (if we had a do-over, we would add more days in Sydney)
Hotel: Simpsons Hotel in Potts Point. Small boutique hotel that is more
of a B&B. Top Tripadvisor.com ratings. We thought it was excellent and
did not mind the location. We are walkers and walked all over Sydney.
Some of our Sydney highlights included:
Royal Botanic Gardens
Googee Beach to Bondi Beach walk
Watsons Bay, Whale Beach, Palm Beach, Newport Beach
Circular Quay and Opera House/Harbour Bridge, Darling Harbour, The Rocks,
Parramatta River and Sydney Harbour Cruise with Peter Cook
Pitt Street Mall, Strand Arcade and QVB shopping districts
Gray Lines Grand Blue Mountains all-day tour with a stop at Featherdale Wildlife Park
On the first day of our arrival we learned of the Costa Concordia disaster.
Tuesday, 17 Jan. Embarkation without a hitch
Enjoyed leisurely breakfast and a morning walk to Darling Point before taking taxi to Circular Quay, where we arrived at 1:00 p.m. Breezed through registration and boarded
the ship, dropped our carry-ons in our cabin and had lunch in the Lido. Great harbour views from the top of the ship. Beautiful evening sail away out of the harbour with gorgeous views. Assigned seating for main (8:00 p.m.) dining at a table of 6 with wonderful tablemates from U.S. and U.K.
1400+ passengers, largest number from Australia followed by U.S. and U.K. with New Zealand and many other countries represented. 220 passengers had already sailed 2 weeks through the Fiji island area. There were 70+ children and one Australian wedding party of 50.
Captain: Peter Bos (very cautious and a bit dramatic in his announcements)
Cruise Director: David Griffiths (Australian, 3 yrs. experience with Disney Cruise Line)
Hotel Manager: Rene' Tuinman
Our cabin: 7063 - Verandah Suite, upgraded from BB to AA, under the Lido
deck with some chair noise mornings and evenings but
never disturbing our sleep.
Wednesday 18 Jan. & Thursday 19 Jan.
Our scheduled sea days crossing the Tasman Sea.
Somewhat rough seas with ominous weather reports from the Captain.
Friday, 20 Jan.
Rain off and on while sailing Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound.
Dolphin and whale sightings. Smooth sailing in the sounds but the Captain announced that we would be unable to make the Stewart Island (Oban) tender port due to projected
weather conditions. All excursions were cancelled.
Saturday, 21 Jan.
Bypassed Stewart Island and sailed to Port Chalmers/Dunedin a day early.
Free shuttles available for transport to Dunedin. We walked around town and enjoyed seeing the beautiful railway station.
Sunday, 22 Jan.
We had an 8.5 hr. Wildlife Cruise & Penguins excursion out of Dunedin. Nice harbour cruise with Monarch viewing albatross and seal colonies, Marine Center visit, then
Nature's Wonder area for lunch and then transport by ATVs to seal colony and yellow-eyed penguin area of the coast.
Monday, 23 Jan.
Captain announced that due to high winds we would be missing the second tender port of Akaroa and all shore excursions were cancelled. So another sea day and we arrived in Wellington at 5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, 24 Jan.
Beautiful sunny day in Wellington. We did the Scenic Coast by 4WD excursion up Hawkins Hill and along the beautiful coast and Red Rocks Reserve. This was the best coastal scenery of the cruise. Absolutely beautiful.
Wednesday, 25 Jan.
Napier, with art deco buildings and dockside jazz band and antique automobile club.
Another beautiful day. We took the Wineries of Hawkes Bay excursion, visiting 3 different wineries and sampling 5 different wines at each. Very pretty drive and an excellent tour.
Thursday, 26 Jan.
Tauranga. We did the 9-hr. Hells Gate & Rotorua Highlights excursion, with a very scenic drive on yet another beautiful day. Having just visited Yellowstone Natl. Park in October, we were less than impressed with the Hells Gate Geothermal park. We were able to view kiwis at the Rainbow Springs Nature Park. The excursion highlight for us was the Mitai Village Maori cultural show and hangi lunch. We thought it was just excellent and it exceeded whatever expectations we had. The last stop was at the Agrodome for a sheep show, shearing and sheep dog herding demonstration. While entertaining, we could have done without this one. Rotorua is a beautiful area and well worth visiting. I highly recommend a Maori experience.
Friday, 27 Jan.
Auckland with some light rain. We took the ferry to Waiheke Island for the Wondeful Waiheke excursion, which included a visit and sampling at the Goldies Vineyard and a coach tour around the island.
Saturday, 28 Jan.
Waitangi. Our final stop in New Zealand on fortunately a clear sunny day. We took the Catamaran Cruise to Cape Brett excursion, which was excellent. It was worth the price just to watch dozens and dozens of bottlenose dolphins swimming alongside the catamaran.
Very scenic sailing out to the point at Cape Brett and the Hole in the Wall formation, where we were able to sail through the Grand Cathedral Cave. There was a drop-off option in Russell but we returned to Waitangi and then took the free shuttle to Paihia, a nice little village with many shops and food venues. We enjoyed a Saturday art fair and wished we had more time to spend in Paihia.
We had dinner in the Pinnacle for Le Cirque night. I was somewhat underwhelmed. The meal was nice, but no nicer than on other Pinnacle nights IMHO. Service was satisfactory - I've had better and I've had worse in my Pinnacle experiences. As in the MDR, the Pinnacle stewards seemed overextended.
Sunday, 29 Jan. & Mon. 30 Jan.
Time for our scheduled 2 sea days crossing back over the Tasman in what grew to be rather treacherous seas. In our dozen or so previous cruises we had not experienced seas quite as rough as these. There were dining room spills, many vacant tables at dinner, and cancelled showroom finales. The captain issued numerous warnings to exercise caution when opening and closing bathroom doors, walking on decks, etc.
The wind was so strong I could not budge our verandah door. Fortunately for us, we did not become seasick and never missed a meal. Felt like we earned our sealegs on the second day of the crossing.
Tuesday, 31 Jan.
Sailed into a calm Sydney Harbour in time to watch the sunrise and docked at 6:00 a.m.
We had no plane to catch and were in the next to last group to disembark. Silent disembarkation was flawless. We took a taxi to the Holiday Inn Sydney Airport where our room was again available at 10:00 a.m. We took a short walk up the block to the Mascot train station and headed back to Circular Quay at a round-trip cost of $4.50 each, one of the best bargains of the trip. We spent the entire day walking in Sydney, again to the Botanic Gardens, Hyde Park and the downtown shopping areas and then caught the train back to the hotel.
Wednesday, 1 Feb.
Enjoyed a wonderful buffet breakfast at the hotel and then caught a shuttle to the SYD airport ($6. ea.). We arrived 2 hrs. 15 min. prior to our flight time but should have allowed at least 3 hours. The Delta line was long and slow (45 min.), followed by a long line through security. Leaving was definitely more time-consuming than arriving. Our flight departed at noon, SYD to LAX 14 hrs., 6 hr. layover at LAX, LAX to MSP 4hrs.
Leaving at noon did not work as well for sleeping and the return flight was less comfortable. After arriving home we experienced severe jet lag for 3-4 days. One of our friends had said "flying west is best, flying east is a beast," and that turned out to be true for us.
Reflections on Dining and Entertainment
I would rate our 14 evenings of dining room meals as very good to excellent overall. Our wine steward was the best I've had on HAL. On sea days we had both breakfast and lunch in the main dining room as the Lido tended to get crowded. On the port days we either took room service or ate breakfasts in the Lido, which was fine and we had a few lunches in the Lido and one late cheeseburger lunch at the pool grill. I had the Admiral Wine Package which was satisfactory. I was told upfront that a few of the advertised wines were out of stock but the wine steward was very accommodating in
providing me with "upgrade" bottles of reds in place of the unavailable labels.
For entertainment, on the top of the heap in terms of popularity was Piano Man Glenn-Michael. The guy packed them in the Piano Bar, always standing room only for every performance. The venue should have been moved to the Crow's Nest. Alternating in the Piano Bar was guitarist Michael Simons, who we were able to hear and he was very good. The Neptunes in the Ocean Bar sounded good for dance music. I was a little disappointed in the Adagio Strings this cruise. They were all young Russian women, none of whom seemed able to crack a smile the entire cruise. We usually enjoy pre-dinner cocktails in the Explorer's Lounge but chose to go to the Crow's Nest instead.
I was pleased to see that the Crow's Nest on the Volendam as on the Zaandam still remain exclusive without the Library/Cafe intruding on the space as they do on the newer class ships. There was a DJ in the Crow's Nest after dinners who was adequate but horrendous when he attempted to sing Karaoke. The HAL Cats - suffice it to say that they are appropriately named. The casino never seemed crowded this cruise.
Sorry for the rambling and drawn-out review. Overall the Australia and New Zealand cruise was a wonderful experience in two very beautiful countries. The only piece of advice that I would offer is that if you are going to travel this far for a cruise, do allow yourselves opportunities to see more of Australia pre or post-cruise.