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Home > Member Reviews > DrKoob's Port Reviews of Sydney (Australia), Melbourne, Auckland

DrKoob's Port Reviews of Sydney (Australia), Melbourne, Auckland
Celebrity Century cruise in January 2012
Member Name: DrKoob
Cruise Date: January 2012
Embarkation: Auckland
Destination: Australia & New Zealand
Member Review: DrKoob's Celebrity Century Review
Sydney (Australia)
Port Rating: 5+ out of 5+
After one more sea day we arrived in what I now believe is the most photogenic city in the world, Sydney. We sailed in early (5:30 am) on Wednesday morning and our plans were to spend three full days here, flying out early on Saturday. In our heads we had some idea things we wanted to see but the only thing we had scheduled was a tour of the Opera House on Thursday afternoon that we had already purchased tickets for.

Being awake for the sail-in meant getting up around 4:30 so I could shower and be on deck by 5:00 as we entered the harbor. Sydney Harbor is huge if you look at it all the way out to the headlands near Manly. We had no idea how big it was until we went to Manly on Friday morning. Coming in the dark meant it was very hard to tell exactly where we were as Century traversed the harbor. But when she came around the corner and we could see the Opera House shining in her own lights it was amazing. I started right then taking pictures of a building that I would probably photograph 500 more times in the next three days. It is truly an amazing work of architecture and every time I looked at the building, it looked different depending on the light and the angle.

After taking pictures on deck for about an hour I went down to make sure Kathleen was awake so we could start our Sydney adventure. I found her still in bed and asked her if she liked the view outside our cabin. I opened the curtains and there was the Opera House, filling the window. The cruise ship terminal for big ships that can't go underneath the Sydney Harbor bridge is right at Circular Quay the hub of all Sydney activity and directly across from the Opera House. It is an amazing view to wake up to.

After a quick buffet breakfast onboard, we were off the ship and took a $20 (AUS) cab ride to our hotel, The Vibe. We had looked at lots of hotels in advance and would like to have stayed closer to the waterfront but I have this thing about hotels. I hate to pay more than $200 a night to stay in a hotel that isn't offering me something incredible. Don't get me wrong. We have stayed in some world-class, amazing hotels but I was lucky enough to get them all at a huge bargain. Like grabbing a wonderful room at Edinburgh's Balmoral the night after the World Cup Soccer matches for less than $150. Or finding an internet special for the Hong Kong Langham. But I could not find a single hotel near the waterfront (that we could stay in) that was under $275 a night. So I went to Trip Adviser and found a high rated hotel, near the city center and within walking distance of Sydney's superb transit system and the Vibe fit that bill perfectly. We paid less than $150 a night, it was a very nice room (see the pic) in a boutique type hotel (we love those rather than chains) and we could walk to the subway which took us everywhere in under 10 minutes.The rooms were clean, had all the needed amenities and I would not hesitate to go back and stay at the Vibe again.

When we arrived at the hotel it was about 8:45 in the morning and we did not expect to have rooms ready and they weren't. But we checked in and checked our luggage and headed out to catch the Sydney HoHo (Hop on, Hop off) bus.We had to walk about three blocks to the main railroad station, grabbed a 24-hour ticket and grabbed the first bus of the day. We highly recommend starting any visit to the city this way. It is well worth the money to see the city and get a feel for where you are. Even though we could hop off, we stayed onboard for about two-thirds of the tour and got off again in an area adjacent to the cruise ship terminal known as The Rocks. It is a great little part of Sydney that is full of fun shops and cool restaurants. We spent the morning looking at art, souvenirs, street entertainers and people still trying to get off the ship (see my note about embarkation on the Our Cruise page). We grabbed lunch at a little garden spot that we can also highly recommend. It is hard to find but really good. You can find it about one street up from the cruise terminal (The Swagman's Post Courtyard Cafe). It doesn't look like much from the outside but when you go through you find a beautiful little courtyard that is shaded from the sun and serves some great sandwiches and salads at reasonable prices.

After lunch we were back to our sightseeing and wound our way back to the HoHo bus which took us back close to our hotel where our room was now ready. After getting settled in we were back on the road headed back to finish the HoHo bus trip. We had done the "red route" in the morning that took us all over the urban part of Sydney and now we were going to switch over to the "blue route" and see the suburban/beach cities part of Sydney. Our first major stop was Australia's most famous beach, Bondi. Now I am not a beach person so I don't often get excited over beaches but this one was beautiful. The water was a brilliant blue and since it was summer vacation time Down Under it was jammed. We took some pics from the bus and continued the rest of the HoHo tour.

Our final hop off from the HoHo bus was at the Queen Victoria Building. This beautiful, old relic that has been painstakingly restored is now a very cool shopping mall. The shops were closed but the building was open and we were able to look through the entire building taking pics without a whole lot of other people getting in our way. This took us to about 6:45 pm and we were getting pretty tired after a day in the sun so it was time for a quick dinner and then to head back to the hotel for some much needed shut-eye.

The next morning we were up early and took the subway back to the Circular Quay to catch a ferry to the Taronga Zoo. First we did a quick breakfast at Starbucks and then on the ferry. If you are going to the zoo you can buy a combo pass that will get you a round trip ferry ride, zoo admission and a bus or gondola ride to the top of the zoo itself for only $51 (AUS) per person. A real bargain.

Normally we don't do zoos when we travel. The wildlife sanctuary that we had wanted to visit in Melbourne had a huge collection of Australian animals and we really wanted to see their native animals and birds in their natural habitat. But since we had missed that, we decided to hit the Taronga Zoo instead. We had also heard that there were amazing views back to the city from the zoo so we had high expectations for this zoo experience. We have been to the San Diego Zoo many times (never together) and kind of look at it as the zoo that all others are compared to. Not anymore. Now it's the Taronga Zoo. Besides amazing views they had something we had never seen in a zoo before. I am sure you have been in zoos that have aviaries filled with birds that you walk around inside of, with the birds. Well Taronga has enclosures like aviaries that not only have birds in them but animals. We found ourselves in an aviary-like enclosure with kangaroos, wallabies and emus. Amazing. We even got to pet a wallaby when helped by a very friendly zookeeper. The rest of the exhibits were just as good as were those incredible views. We spent the entire morning there before heading back to the Circular Quay by ferry. An amazing morning.

After a quick lunch at a restaurant on the Quay we walked up towards the Opera House. We had purchased tickets for the 4:00 pm tour and we had about 90 minutes to go. Even though we were pretty tired and hot we decided to hang out until 4:00 near the Opera House. We walked up to the booth where we were to pick up the tickets for the tour we had purchased online and the wonderful man inside said that we could do the 3:00 pm tour if we wanted to, so we said YES! The Opera House tour is superb. We got a great guide who took us through the entire Opera House and it is as spectacular (if a little 60ish dated) on the inside as it is on the outside. The tour runs about an hour but ours lasted longer as it was the last one of the day for our guide and we really appreciated the extra time and info he passed on to us. We would highly recommend this tour. Buy your tickets ahead of time, online and you will save some money.

After our tour we took the subway back to the hotel and while Kathleen cooled off, I looked around for a restaurant nearby we could go for dinner. My iPhone did a great job of finding us a 50+ year old Greek restaurant within easy walking distance. Greek is my favorite food to eat out. And from their menu I found that they had my favorite food in the whole world---OCTOPUS! And it was outstanding. Now, finding this new Greek place wasn't easy. It's called Diethnes Greek Restaurant and even with the address you still have to look carefully because it is in the basement of the building. But it was worth searching for. Kathleen's lamb was as good as my octopus (well, almost). After dinner we walked around a little to explore and then back to the hotel where we were watching our local Seattle news online. They were broadcasting a huge ice and snow storm that was going on back home. It was almost surreal seeing the ice and snow at home while the temps outside our hotel hovered in the high 80s with plenty of humidity.

The next morning we were up early again and back to Starbucks at the Quay and then we were off to Manly. We really had started the day by buying a full-day pass which gave us access to all the subways, monorails, busses and ferries. The pass cost $30 AUS and was really worth it. After our Starbucks breakfast we were off on the ferry to Manly the furthest out community before you leave the harbor. Our tablemates Andrew and Helen had suggested it to us and we found it to be a charming community where we could take a short walk from the ferry landing across to the ocean side of the village. Kathleen decided she really needed to put her feet in the Pacific in Australia so she dropped her shoes and while I took her picture, she did some wading. After she had cleaned off her feet and had her shoes back on we walked around the village before taking the ferry back to Sydney proper. When we arrived at the ferry terminal at Circular Quay (all ferries seem to start and end from there) we switched over to a ferry that took us to Darling Harbor, the one place we still wanted to see. There you find the Maritime Museum and a lot of other tourist attractions. We walked the entire area and grabbed lunch there. Can't really recommend the restaurant. Food was OK but service wasn't.

A note about the service Down Under. We found it underwhelming, but we had known that going into our trip. On the flip side you don't tip Down Under unless you want to. No one does. And it is so unusual that when we did leave a nice-sized tip for our waiter at the Greek restaurant (he was super) he followed us out the door to thank us profusely. I would say that most of the time the servers were the least friendly Kiwis or Aussies we met. Some were almost surly while every other Kiwi or Aussie we met were among the friendliest people we have ever met.

After lunch in Darling, we jumped back aboard the ferry and back to Circular Quay, switched to the subway and headed back to the hotel. Kathleen was just done in after three days of trekking all over Sydney with no real rest. I, on the other hand wanted to hit beautiful Sydney one more time. So while she relaxed and surfed the web I took off on a two hour trek to see some sights I had missed that were pretty much only accessible by walking. I wanted to walk all the way out to an area known as Mrs. Macquarie's Point which had another different but great view of the OperaHouse and the Bridge. I know, how many pictures can I take of the bridge? The answer to that question is NOT ENOUGH! I walked through parks, St. James Cathedral, the Royal Botanical Gardens, Government House and finally back to Circular Quay where I grabbed the subway back to the hotel. We walked to a nearby cafe for dinner and then back to the hotel to pack for our flight home early the next morning. A quick note about getting to the airport. We had heard and read that the cost of a cab to the airport was about $30. Our cab ride was $50. So beware. Thankfully I still had $100 AUS in my pockets so I was able to pay him. I am still not sure if he ripped us off or everyone else was just mistaken.

That was it. An amazing visit to an amazing city. We loved Sydney. I would have to say that it now ranks in my top five favorite cities in the world along with Barcelona, Venice, Hong Kong and Seattle. I would love to go back. I should mention that while many things are a great value in Sydney food and drink are spendy. Drinks that cost $8 at home might be $18 in Sydney. Just a note. It is a great city to get around in and a great city to photograph. The people are amazing and we would go back in a minute.

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Melbourne
Port Rating: 3.0 out of 5+
A shortened Melbourne came about because we had really rough seas for about a full day coming out of the New Zealand fjords. This meant that we arrived at noon in Melbourne, Australia when we were supposed to arrive at 8:00 am. We had planned to do a full day tour with Melbourne Hosted Tours. We had contacted David and he had set up a tour where the main destination was the Healsville Wildlife Sanctuary outside Melbourne followed by a quick tour of the city on the way back to the ship. Our buddies Mike and Carol had been to the Sanctuary on their trip so we wanted to go there as well. But the day before when we were still at sea we heard the announcement at lunch (many people didn't--a major screw up by X as far as we were concerned) that we would not be docking until noon the next day, I e-mailed David and asked him to set up an alternative tour. He was quick to get back to me and tell me he would refund us half our pre-paid tour funds and take us on a city tour of Melbourne (or as the Aussies call it, Melbun).

When we arrived we got right off the ship with our group of 10 and David was waiting for us with the van. We drove out of the port and he took us on a four-hour tour. The three big stops were St. Patrick's Cathedral (where we couldn't get in because there was a mass in progress), the cottage of Captain Cook's parents (skip this in the future) and finally Melbourne war memorial honoring the nation's war dead.

On the way we got to see some of the different parts of the city. The tour kind of wound up being what a friend would take you on if you were visiting their town. The cathedral and Captain Cook's parents cottage were pretty much OK and the war memorial was outstanding. A truly great monument with great views from the top as well. We were there for a very powerful demonstration of what happens on 11/11 at 11:00 am. Make sure you see that.

After that we were back in the van, a little more driving and back to the ship. It was sad to have only seen that little of Melbourne but looking back on it, the lateness and us missing the wildlife sanctuary made it very important to us to go to the zoo in Sydney which we might have skipped if we had just been to a wildlife sanctuary. And the zoo in Sydney is something special. More about that below.

One last thing about Melbourne. David, our guide from Melbourne Hosted Tours was wonderful despite of everything about our lateness. When we were late getting in he quickly rearranged our schedule and put together the best tour he could. He also quickly got us a refund (it was credited to my VISA account before the end of that day) while our Tauranga company (Mt. lassic) took more than three weeks to get a refund for our missed Bay of Islands tour. If you are going to tour in Melbourne, David is your guy and should be your guide as well.

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Auckland
Port Rating: 4.0 out of 5+
Our embarkation port for our cruise was Auckland, New Zealand and we had decided to fly in two and a half days early so we could explore a little before we embarked on our cruise. We are glad we did. There is no way we were going to fly all that way and not spend a little pre-cruise and post-cruise time.

Auckland International Airport is one of the easiest airports we have ever been in as far as arriving in a foreign country. It's a small airport and getting off you are greeted by what have to be the friendliest customs agents in the world; making jokes and efficiently getting us through with a minimum of hassle. I can say that from landing to customs to baggage pickup to ATM to just outside the door and boarding a shuttle to our hotel was less than an hour. And to our hotel, less than 90 minutes total for all of it. Amazing.

We can suggest that to get into the city, you do as we did and take the shuttle. It's much cheaper than a cab and they store your luggage on trailer pulled behind the shuttle which is a great idea. Makes it so much easier for them to get your bags when they get to your hotel. Cost was less than $40NZ for both of us together.

Our hotel was the Celestion Waldorf Apartment Hotel, located within walking distance of downtown and the port but just off the beaten track enough to cut down on any noise that sometimes comes with either of those. When we arrived it was way before check in but they had a room ready for us and it was a very nice room. The name says "Apartment Hotel" and they are serious. It was a complete efficiency apartment with a bedroom, bathroom, spare room with a couch (that we used to dump our luggage in) living room and kitchenette. The service was good, the room was clean and if we had any complaints or a warning there would be two. One, we were on the 12th floor and hadthe worst water pressure ever. It just piddled out. I should add that other fellow cruisers who were staying in the same hotel but on a lower floor had great water pressure. Secondly, be careful if you stay there. There is tile in the bathroom and the kitchen area (as well there should be) and the rest of the room is carpeted. But there is steel moulding that runs around in between them. Whatever you do, don't step on either of these in bare feet. YIKES! That hurts bad.

As soon as we got settled into the hotel, I had to go to a camera store to purchase a new lens. On the final minutes of our flight I wanted to take pics of the New Zealand coast as we were landing. As I was taking my 18-200 Nikon lens out of its case, the lens hood snagged on the inside of the case and, without much effort, it broke off the front part of the lens making it fairly unusable. Since this was my main lens I was going to shoot three weeks worth of photos with, this was a catastrophe for a photo nut like me.

So that meant I needed to get to a camera shop to either get that lens repaired or replaced. I found two excellent shops within walking distance of the hotel and left Kathleen to get settled and set out on foot. To make a long story short, both told me it was a fairly easy repair but had to be sent to Nikon to do it and would take 2-3 weeks. So that meant buying a new lens. Neither store had my current Nikon. Both were back ordered on it for months due to the floods in Thailand where the Nikon factory is located so that meant buying a different lens. Normally I would spend weeks researching before I bought a new lens. But one of the stores was WONDERFUL. I soon found out that was just the way people were in New Zealand. He sat me down at his computer, told me to go to any photo review site I wanted to and read reviews on the Tamron 18-270mm zoom that was the nearest to my 18-200 Nikon that he had. All the reviews were great so I bought the lens. Thankfully it was less expensive than a replacement Nikon would have been and to top it off, I like it better. My first thought had been to repair the Nikon lens when I got home and then sell the Tamron on E-Bay or Craig's List. But now I have decided to repair the Nikon and sell it. All pics taken for this trip were taken with the Tamron unless specifically noted. The only other cameras we had were Kathleen's point and shoot and our iPhones.

Once I had the new lens I was headed back to the hotel and Kathleen joined me and we headed back downtown. We decided to go to the Skytower (Auckland's highest landmark) so I could take pictures from the top. What a HUGE disappointment. Once we paid for a full pass to all levels and went up the elevator we found that there was no place you could go to take photos without taking them through the glass that made up the sides of the tower. And that glass was dirty. In contrast, the Space Needle has a deck where you can take open air pics. The least they could do is clean the glass. I got pics, but nothing I really liked. The Skytower is also in a kind of seedy part of town.

After descending from the tower, it was almost dinner time so we headed down the hill to the waterfront area to find someplace to eat. We had been eating fairly fancy food on Cathay so we decided to go for a burger. We settled on a very unmemorable restaurant with a view of the yachting museum and Kathleen had a burger and a beer which she liked and I had a burger and margarita which was the worst margarita I had consumed in years. It tasted like it was made from a mix. I wish I could remember the name of the restaurant but it was so bad, I can't.

We were exhausted from the trip so after dinner we headed back to the hotel where we both slept 10 solid hours and needed it.

The next day we had decided to take the Auckland Explorer Hop-on/Hop-off bus (HoHo) around Auckland and after a Starbucks breakfast we were at the first stop (The Ferry Building) in time to take the first bus. The tour is a good one and if you start with the blue tour, you will cross with the red tour at the Auckland Museum. We rode without getting off (nothing really interested us) to the Museum and switched busses there to the red tour that went through Auckland's outlying suburbs. Except for seeing the stadium where the All Blacks's play rugby (New Zealand is rugby CRAZY!) this part of the tour was fairly uninteresting as well. When we finally rejoined the blue tour back at the museum, the 2nd stop was our favorite part of Auckland, the suburb of Parnell. Parnell bills itself as "Auckland's Creative Quarter" and it is a wonderful and quaint area of shops and bistros that we truly enjoyed walking through and spending money in. We can highly recommend the one shop we found quite by accident (as it is off the main street) named The Elephant House. It had an amazing selection of native crafts, great souvenirs and the Kiwis who ran it were hilarious and fun. It was a great shopping experience. After that it was time for lunch. Parnell is filled with great places and we settled on a tiny Italian place called La Bocca. They had some lunch specials that looked great (one with grilled calamari for me) and a superb selection of New Zealand wines. Again, this is another place we can recommend highly for lunch. We really wished we had found Parnell and been able to go there the previous night for dinner as there were so many excellent restaurants we would have liked to have tried that would have been better than the touristy stuff near the waterfront.

After lunch we jumped back on the HoHo bus and finished the blue tour winding up in the Wynward Quarter. From there (after stopping for water and gelato due to the temps in the warming sun) we walked back through the Viaduct Harbour, across the waterfront and back to our hotel. The photo at the top of the page was taken in the Wynward Quarter on some enormous chaise lounges they have installed. Suffice it to say, Kathleen needed the rest here. It had already been a long day...and we had evening activities planned.

We had plans for the evening so we needed to shower and get ready to go to dinner with 8 new friends we had met through our Cruise Critic thread. Many of them we would be doing shore excursions with later on the cruise. We had made plans on line to meet at a nice (but touristy) restaurant in Viaduct Harbor. The dinner was fun (the food was just "alright" for the price) and it was great to meet these folks we had been corresponding with for so long. After dinner, it was a cab back to the hotel so we could pack in preparation for our embarkation on Celebrity's Century the next morning.

The next morning I was up way before Kathleen so I took my camera and headed to the waterfront to give my personal welcome to Century, one of our favorite ships. I was amazed at how close I could get to take pictures considering how protective we are in Seattle. I could almost walk up to Century's bow and touch her.

To sum up our visit to Auckland I would have to say that we just weren't that impressed. In New Zealand we liked Wellington better. It's much more enjoyable to visit. Maybe if we had gone out to some of the outlying islands we would have liked it better as some of our fellow cruisers did. But those sounded like they were pretty much wine tours like we were going to do in Napier so we passed. But as it was, the area covered by the HoHo bus and that was within walking distance of our hotel, was very touristy with jacked-up pricing and tacky, touristy shopping. If we return to New Zealand (and Kathleen says we must) then Auckland will just be our point of entry as there was so much more we LOVED about this incredible country.

I should also say that in retrospect, we did visit Auckland first and finished this trip with a visit to Sydney, Australia which would make most other cities pale in comparison. My advice to you would be to go there, spend lots of time in Parnell and make your own comparisons.

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