You either love cruising or you hate it, and we are one of those couples who absolutely love it! You unpack once and if you find a place you really like, you can come back to it later. We try to take at least one cruise every year. The ... Read More
You either love cruising or you hate it, and we are one of those couples who absolutely love it! You unpack once and if you find a place you really like, you can come back to it later. We try to take at least one cruise every year. The New Zealand cruise we booked two years out while on board the Celebrity Eclipse (a sister ship) for two weeks in the Caribbean. We decided it was time to go check out what everyone had been raving about. The itinerary was fantastic, 14 nights Auckland to Sydney on our favorite class of ship. We'd been through the Panama Canal, Canada, Alaska, Iceland, Europe, and so on. Being from California we were really dreading the long flight to Auckland, and we wavered back and forth the entire two years. Oh my gosh...we are so glad we forged ahead! We flew direct from LAX to Auckland, and then after spending time in Australia, flew direct from Sydney to LAX. The flight really is not all that bad. I started my research about New Zealand about nine months out, and while researching I fell in love before we even got there. To top it off, we got super lucky. Our Cruise Critic thread was quite active, and we had a really great couple who set up an offsite page we could all access for an abundance of information. We could add private tour info to this, and also post info along the way as needed (before, along the cruise, and after the cruise). They kept it (and all of us) organized. A big shout out of thanks to Tom & Barbara!
We arrived in New Zealand a day ahead (not early enough in my opinion). At least two days would have been better. After researching Taxis vs. Uber vs SuperShuttle, I opted for prearranging the SuperShuttle to take us from the airport to our hotel. It could not have been easier! Prepaid conversion cost us $36.40 US from airport to Hilton Hotel. Yes, it might have taken us ten minutes longer than Uber, but the upside was seeing a couple hotels along the way and meeting others who would be on the ship with us. We are social (heck, you have to be a bit social to cruise, right?), so we didn't feel the need for a private taxi or Uber. We stayed at the Hilton Auckland Princess Wharf for its location and membership in their loyalty program. We could walk along the waterfront, to shops and the sky tower. Since we only had the one day in Auckland, we chose to ride the Hop On Hop Off to get an overview of the area. There are two companies that do this, so check them both out. I researched them ahead of time, and my preference was the "Auckland Explorer Bus" as they had better reviews, and the ferry trip to Devonport was included. I can't give the Hilton Hotel enough Kudos! The location is awesome; rooms were modern; staff was friendly; restaurant and bar on site was good. It is literally right where the ship docks, and in the morning when it is time to turn your luggage over to the porters and check in for the cruise, you only have to walk out of the lobby and turn left, walk about fifty feet and you are there!
January 17, 2019 - The day is finally here! We had a nice leisurely breakfast, walked around the corner to a couple of shops to pick up a couple of gifts. Grabbed our bags from the hotel, dropped the luggage to the porters at 11:30 and got in line. Check in for the Celebrity Solstice went smooth. It seemed the lines were moving along fairly fast. We only waited about ten minutes. Once we boarded, we did not want to disembark. We had a full day ahead of us. We had opted for a Sky Suite (Aft 2155) celebrating our 38th Anniversary and wanted to meet up with the Michael's Club Concierge, our Butler, dine for lunch in Luminae, unpack, check out the ship, muster drill, and get ready for our Cruise Critic group Sail away. For us the Solstice class is the perfect size ship. It has a nice selection of restaurants, bars, and quiet space to just hang out and read a book if you so choose. The spa is a nice size, and if you choose to go to the gym it is located in the front of the ship with plenty of windows to look out and enjoy the scenery. Some ships can be so dreary, and Celebrity does a fantastic job at bringing the light in. The artwork throughout the ship is always interesting and fun to look at. We’ve tried all the different staterooms along the way. It just depends on budget and needs. We tend to opt for balconies, and since Celebrity introduced the Aqua Class, we have been quite happy with that. Splurging for the Suite was a real treat. We were spoiled with our Butler bringing us our morning Lattes, tea and scones in the afternoon, escorting us to our show seats on formal evenings, etc. etc. etc. Michaels Lounge was an extra special enhancement. I won’t even go in to detail on that, but one huge perk is tendering days, the concierge escorted us to the front of the line for disembarking. Luminae’s dining experience was superb. By far the best meals, and the best service we’ve had on Celebrity. Our favorite spots to hang out on the ship are Café Al Bacio, the Martini Bar, Grand Foyer for Entertainment, Sunset Bar and Lawn Club, Solarium, Sky Observation Lounge, and if we are looking for something light to eat, we love the Spa Café. A couple of times we grabbed a burger and fries on the upper deck by the pool and just enjoyed some sunshine and people watching.
The entertainment was especially good this cruise with the Celebrity Singer & Dancers, and variety of entertainers on board. We were really excited to see the daily entertainment throughout the ship included two girls Alina & Lia, known as the “Lighthouse String Duo” (one plays the violin, the other the cello). We had seen them before on a New Years Eve Cruise. They are talented musicians who play classical and popular music on their electric strings. Their energy is captivating!
January 18 - Oh my gosh. The weather is fantastic! Our arrival into the Bay of Islands brought us calm waters and blue skies with beautiful poofy clouds. I don’t think I’ve seen such beautiful green rolling hills and valleys. Beautiful blue water. The coastline is dotted with islands .... wow ! Everything is spotless!!! Cute rural towns. I’m in love! I’m dying to put my feet in the water to check the temperature! Today’s excursion was a ship excursion “Glow Worm Caves & Te Waimate” We went to see the glow worms at the Kawiti Cavern, along with an afternoon tea at Te Waimate Mission House. Unfortunate that we are unable to take photographs of the glow worms, as they do not allow it. But .... wow it was super cool! A must do if in the area. The aft stateroom is paying off right now as we pull out.
Today, February 19 had to be one of our best excursions ever! We arrived in Tauranga, NZ at 8:00 AM and joined the tour arranged by a fellow Cruise Critic member with Carolyn & Terry (husband/wife team) of Custom Day Tours. Our van had five couples from Cruise Critic. Terry (our guide) stopped along the way for us to watch the river rafters coming down Kaituna River. Then we were off to Rotarua. We see an active geothermal area (Te Puia) which includes 2 of 8 spontaneous geysers in the world, bubbling mud pools, a Maori welcome, and lunch & much more!!!! Then we were on our way to the Redwood Forest and a Kiwi fruit orchard for tasting. Pictures can’t even tell the story. What a fantastic day. Back to our stateroom to enjoy the sail away jet skiis were riding the wake as we left port. Glory our Butler had delivered a beautiful platter of cheeses and prosciutto along with a bottle of wine on ice. Nice!
Our first Sea Day was busy starting with the Cruise Critic get together in Cellar Masters. One of the best groups we’ve connected with over the years. We attended a private glass blowing show for Suite guests by the new company Celebrity has onboard (they took over Corning’s spot). Tonight is our first of three Evening Chic nights.
In Wellington I arranged a small group tour for 13 of us. It was a six hour driving tour with Michelle that would have many stops and photo ops along the way, including lunch at a funky very busy whimsical restaurant along the waterfront. We rode the famous cable car, went up to Mount Victoria for stunning views, saw the Parliament building, Weta Cave - Home of Lord of the Rings, Art Deco Roxy, Old St Paul’s Cathedral, and the incredible Te Papa Museum! Yes, Wellington topped Tauranga!!!! Wow!
As we pulled in to the Port of Picton we were treated to the beautiful scenery and waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Our excursion was a ship tour “Explore Marlborough Wineries by Bike’. Great exercise and visited three wineries. The last one Mahi being the best! We had a fabulous lunch of baked salmon, warm potato salad, and a cold corn salad served by their chef Marcia. Yum! The Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays of this Marlborough region are so flavorful. Mahi even had a fantastic Pinot Noir. This was such the great day!
Akaroa! What can I say? It just kept getting better and better. We love the Countryside of New Zealand. The Akaroa hills remind us a lot of the rolling hillsides as you drive through Cambria to the coast in the spring time, or Santa Ynez if the hills were green all year and dotted with pine trees here and there. The homes along the coast are modern architecture, and the homes walking up into the neighborhoods are a bit more modest but modern wooden with metal roofs. Flowers are incredible!!! The trees and flowers are what we have in Santa Barbara, but more vibrant in color and healthier!!!! It’s peaceful. The climate is dryer than ours which surprised us. Used more lotion. Great for the hair ...... lol. In all of our travels we think this is that special spot! Wish it wasn’t so far from family. Could we bring a piece of New Zealand home with us? Including their government! Safest Country in the World!! Today we were doing our own thing. We walked along the seashore to the Light House (something we have a thing for), and then weaved our way through the neighborhoods up to the Giants House. Oh my gosh. We highly recommend “The Giants House”! It is not anything like it sounds. Be sure to look it up online. It is something you can do on your own, and we highly recommend you do so you are not rushed for time. We shared a light lunch up there (egg salad sandwich, crust was cut off cut in quarters and delicious fresh lemonade). Afterwards we walked back down the hill to town and did some shopping along the waterfront before returning to the ship by tender.
Dunedin - Really a beautiful arrival into the channel. We chose the ship tour “Scottish Experience, Castle & Brewery”. The unexpected bonus to this tour was stopping at the famous Dunedin Rail Station on the way to the Brewery for a photo op. We toured the 141 year old Speight’s Brewery and tasted fabulous beer! Toured New Zealand’s only Castle, the Larnach Castle. Along the way our guide pointed out many highlights and shared many interesting historical facts about Dunedin. Beautiful countryside again!! Great tour, but really wish we had more time at the Castle. Too much time was spent on lunch at the Castle, and not enough time to explore the beautiful gardens!
Cruising the Fjords – Wow….what a day! Our arrival to Dusky Sound was a welcome sight off our aft balcony. Then on to Doubtful Sound. The best of all was Milford Sound. It was stunning! We were invited to the Heliport for this portion of cruising the Sounds. The Captain pulled up close to waterfalls, and later did a 360 degree turn on the cruise out of the fjord. For that portion we went back to our stateroom to enjoy the waterfalls super up close!! Photos….photos….photos!
Sea Day was a Lazy Day
We took a Backstage tour of the Production shows put on by four of the cast members. Attended a fabulous concert by the two girls Alina and Lia.
Another Sea Day – this one was fun and a bit busy. We attended a fabulous talk about the Antarctic, then a Bridge Tour so different than what we experienced before.
The afternoon the Solstice theatre was standing room only for an impressionist from Australia. He was so da## funny. Later we went again to listen to our favorite girls on the strings!!”Lighthouse String Duo”. For those of you who like “duelling banjos” or “duelling pianos” these two girls take it to a whole new level !!!!!!
Day 1 in Hobart Tasmania Australia we first went through Immigration process prior to exploring the city. Even though the line for immigration was very long and we were standing outside for a good portion of the time (wear a jacket, as it is cold!!!), the process was fairly quick. We decided to do the Hop On Hop Off Bus for a 90 minute narrated tour of the highlights but did get off at the botanical gardens. The Japanese Gardens were absolutely beautiful. The botanical gardens are free and it was a holiday so there were many families with children having picnics throughout the park areas. The Hop On Hop Off is just a short walk from where the ship docks. Easy to do on your own. In the evening we had a ship excursion called “An Evening With the Devils”. It was an after hours tour of Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. We were able to feed the kangaroos and pet a Koala, and see all sorts of other animals. We also got to see the Tasmanian Devil!!!!
Day 2 in Hobart we got up early. Glory, our Butler delivered breakfast to our stateroom as we had an early excursion to Port Arthur, one of Australia’s most notorious penal colonies developed in the 1830’s. I’d say this is a must do in Hobart, especially if you have an overnight. We chose to do this as a ship excursion on the second day as we knew we’d have to be back on board early and figured “let them be responsible for getting us back on time”. Worked out perfectly. We packed in a lot while in Hobart.
January 30 - Last Day at Sea – Lots to do on the daily schedule. Lots of goodbyes to be said. My hubby attended a cooking class where one of the chef’s prepared alligator and kangaroo in the fry pan using butter, olive oil and lemon. We met with a Cruise Vacations Associate, and booked two more cruises.
We will miss tossing our towels on the floor morning and night; having our bed made for us daily with chocolates on our pillow every night; scrumptious meals served to us with smiles; nonstop entertainment......but when we wake tomorrow we shall be sailing into the magnificent Sydney Harbour and setting our sights on the world famous Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge! According to Captain Tasos, we should be arriving into port about 5:15am.
January 31 - We’ve arrived in Sydney. Set our alarm for 5:00 am so we’d be up and dressed for the arrival into the magnificent Sydney Harbour. Wow! What a sight it was. The skyline is spectacular. Like no other. Disembarkation went off without a hitch. Our bags were easily spotted. The lines to exit went fast.
The only hiccup we had was at the very end after disembarkation. We needed a taxi to take us to our hotel in Sydney. There were no taxis, and there was a long line waiting for one. When we asked for help, we were directed to walk straight up the street and cross the street to where there would be another taxi pick up area. We were wheeling two bags each. This was not an easy task. We could not find the spot she told us to go, and it turned into a total fiasco. We walked for blocks. We should have stayed in the taxi line at the port (or, in hind sight I should have prearranged transportation). I had no idea it was going to be that difficult to get to the hotel that was only one mile away. We have never had a problem getting a taxi in a port on departure.
But, best cruise ever!!!!!!! Ship was beautiful, and clean. Captain, and all the staff were friendly, helpful and fun. The entertainment was fantastic! The dining was fabulous. We tried them all, except Silk Harvest. Murano was very good, Luminae the favorite of course.
Ports of Call were absolutely the best. As said.....Perfect Destination, Exceeded our Expectations! Thank you Celebrity.
We love New Zealand! This is definitely a place we would like to go back to and spend more time.
Note: Since we’ve been home, he’s been preparing most of our fish, chicken and steak over a propane flame like the chef (but outside) instead of our barbecue. Oh my gosh, its so much more flavorful, and moist! Read Less