We arrived in Auckland after a very unpleasant flight on Air Pacific using American miles, uncomfortable seats, bad service and a terrible stop at Fiji airport which was completely disorganized and inadequate. Doing it again we would rather pay than fly on Air Pacific. The Qantas return from Sydney was very comfortable on the new 380 and service was 100% better.
We stayed at the Hilton Auckland on the pier adjacent to the ship-very nice and also convenient for city walking. 4 days was more than adequate for Auckland-there is a tower, a very fine museum, ferry rides to islands, very attractive port area with many restaurants and very expensive food-$20 hamburgers except at McDonald's and $6 coffee.
Boarding for the cruise was fairly efficient even though the ship was completely full-too full. However, everything was crowded almost all the time, dining, shows, buffet-too many people for the space and services. We had to arrive for a show 30 minutes prior to get a seat and sometimes that wasn't enough. Our cabin had a partially blocked window. It was adequate but not luxurious. The Princess arrangement with the closet in front of the bathroom as a room divider works well. Probably the worst feature of the ordinary princess cabin is the tiny bathroom. I really don't know how large people manage?
First port was Tauranga-very pretty-nice weather. We took a tour to the Maori area and show. Some interesting historical information, native dancing but a very informal setting in sort of a plain community center type building.
Second port was Akaroa due to earthquake in Christ Church. Akaroa is a little village on an attractive bay (volcano caldera) ,however, there isn't much to do there. We took a local tour around the countryside to a cheese factory and some scenic overlooks.
Third port was Dunedin-interesting city with Scottish flavor-getting to city involves 30 minute bus ride as ship is unable to navigate to inside harbor. We took a very nice guided city tour of entire area on our own from city tourist bureau. Nearby art museum had a very pleasant cafe on the street where we ate lunch.
While we were in Dunedin, a cold and windy day, the captain of the ship announced that we would not be going any further south as scheduled due to a big storm and that we would not be seeing the New Zealand fjords. That was disappointing but, of course, safety is the first concern. As a result we turned back north to cross through the Cook Strait, the body of water between the north and south islands of New Zealand. The captain said this was 900 miles out of the way. So, we entered the Tasman Sea on our way to Hobart Tasmania. For two days the seas were extremely rough! The captain had to stop the ship because the waves were so high. It was a force 9 or 10 storm with 30 foot waves and extremely unpleasant and more unpleasant for those of us who were seasick for 2 days. This was my 7th trip on a big ship and the first time being sick.
After 3 days at sea we finally made it late into Hobart, Tasmania. The captain gave extra time in port due to the delay, and he did keep the passengers fairly well informed. In Hobart we took a ship tour to the animal
park to see kangaroos and other Australian wildlife. Interesting to see the animals up close-you could pet the kangaroos and koalas, but the park was very
small and the facilities were crude and undeveloped with little muddy paths. You would expect a more developed organized setting for such a large group of visitors.
Next port was Melbourne, nice port facilities, but it was necessary to take a shuttle bus into town. The shuttle services were very inefficient and apparently not prepared to take the number of people needing the service. In hindsight we would have taken a taxi which we did on the return to ship. Melbourne has a free trolley that goes around the city so we had decided to go on our own- good idea except that the trolley and the available buses were so crowded you couldn't get on or off. What should have been a good experience turned out to be mostly unpleasant on a hot day. We did make it to the big market and to Captain Cook's cottage. Melbourne has beautiful parks and I'm sure is a fine city under different circumstances.
Another sea day and then Sydney. We arrived in Sydney early morning and ate breakfast as we glided by the Sydney Bridge and opera house-one of those iconic experiences. The port in Sydney is right at the Rocks and Circular Quay -very convenient for most hotels or a short taxi ride. We stayed at the Sydney Hilton-very nice ultra modern hotel and very convenient for walking around the city. In my opinion Sydney was the best port and most beautiful city. We went to a performance at the opera house, toured around the historical area on our own and went to the botannical gardens -all very attractive. However, be warned restaurant food in Sydney is considerably more expensive than comparable in U.S.
This cruise, in my opinion, has too many at sea days,6. The food was typical Princess food, good and plentiful, but mostly not gourmet. The main show entertainment was very good, however, shows in bar areas were almost impossible to get into. There was a good lecturer on board who has written several books about the history of cruise ships and cruising, John Maxton Graham, and we enjoyed his lectures. Worst problem on ship was overcrowding. If we take another Princess cruise it will not have so many "at sea days" and hopefully will not be so overbooked.