We chose this cruise as it fitted in with our annual company closedown in January each year, when we must take most of our annual holiday leave. The price was great for this peak holiday time in Australia. Both the embarkation and disembarkation processes ran extremely well, no queues
All food was fresh and good quality, with the dining room providing gourmet meals each night. We initially asked for extra vegetables with our meal, thereafter a separate plate of steamed vegetables was automatically provided for our table to share each night. Dining room service was excellent. The free food on the swimming pool deck was welcome, we have cruised with other lines three times & always needed to pay for food outside the dining room & cafeteria. In addition, each day a self-serve Mexican food bar was set up on that deck, enabling us to enjoy tacos & nachos - the pulled beef was yummy!
WE dined in the Pinnacle Grill for lunch on two occasions. For an extra US$10 per head for three courses plus tea or expresso coffee, this was most worthwhile. The prawn bruschetta (entree) & seafood in tomato broth (main) were highlights.
We were each able to take a 750ml bottle of wine aboard on embarkation, which we could drink in our cabin. To take a bottle to the main dining room incurred a corkage fee of US$18. When we visited a wine region in New Zealand, we were each permitted to take a further bottle aboard for use in the dining room, without incurring the corkage fee. A good move by Holland America.
The first sitting for dining was at 5.30pm, which meant we sometimes missed dining there due to still being ashore on port days, or missed viewing the ship's departure from ports as we were in the dining room. In hindsight we would choose the later dining option.
Our major gripe was with the cost on internet on board the ship, very expensive. Also quite slow according to those who did use it. Accordingly, we waited for port days to use free wifi at local libraries or cafes. However, in NZ this was not always satisfactory as it appears they are still using 3G, at times we were unable to read incoming emails & text messages, & most times could not send emails, although text messages were fine.
The entertainment on board was first class, ranging from an in-house band, in-house singers & dancers, to guest comedians, musicians, & singers. There were a variety of classes especially on sea days, including a unique series of computer classes dealing with all aspects of Windows 10, & also several computer Q & A sessions .Everyone found these classes very helpful. Other activities included cooking demonstration, DIY cocktails, galley tour, fitness classes, health & beauty talks, excursion previews, just to name a few.
We didn't take any ship organised excursions, mainly due to cost. As we travelled with another couple, we hired cars at two ports to travel further afield, & noticed other groups especially families, did this as well. One excursion I saw advertised privately online prior to the cruise for NZ$50 (Napier town tour 1 hr), yet the ship charged US$69 for exactly the same tour, with the same company, which was double the price (taking into account the exchange rate). This is something cruise ships need to look at closely, to encourage more use of their own shore excursions.
For the cost of our cruise, we would definitely sail with Holland America again!
Quiet, handy to lifts & stairs, well-lit. A little small although we selected a larger stateroom, but was adequate as we were there only to sleep. Lots of storage, plenty of coathangers provided. Some towels were wearing a little thin & scratchy. Choose a lower deck & more central cabin if you suffer from sea sickness, as this cabin is located towards the front of the ship.
Boarding the ship at White Bay was not a great location. We have always boarded cruises at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at central Circular Quay, which is easy to get to as it's well-serviced by public transport, unlike White Bay. Fortunately we disembarked at Circular Quay after the cruise, & caught a train with only a five minute walk.
We hired a rental car for four & drove along the Otago Peninsula, about an hour out of Dunedin. Up close we saw seals & sea lions in the wild, the latter at Allen Beach. The albatross were nesting & the Albatross Centre at the end of the peninsula could not guarantee we would see any in the wild, so we passed on their $50 pp admission fee. From the ship on the way out of the bay we could however see the albatross on the cliff face with binoculars, for free. We had also seen some flying at Milford Sound, earlier in the cruise. On the return drive to Dunedin we took the higher road, for spectacular views over the bay & Dunedin town.
In Dunedin we visited the town centre, although some attractions were closed on a Sunday. Most main attractions are located in the town centre. We visited the Railway Station, The Octagon to view the statue of Robert Burns, the 1880 Municipal Chambers, St Paul's Cathedral, & the 1884 spiral staircase in the Public Art Gallery which are all located in The Octagon area, as was a tourist market for souvenirs.
We hired a car & drove to nearby Blenheim, to visit the Aviation Heritage Centre. Although the museum is probably of more interest to military buffs, it was nonetheless of interest. We saw numerous restored WW1 & WW2 planes & artifacts, including the original cross insignia from the Red Baron's downed aircraft. Lots of background info on him and other notable aviators. The sets containing human models were very lifelike & well executed. The special effects film of the bombing of Stalingrad was excellent. On our return to PIcton we stopped at a roadside orchard to pick our own cherries. We also then stooped at the Makana Chocolate factory, to sample their hand-made & delicious chocolates, before returning the Picton. A quick tour of the streets there, bought some souvenirs, then back to the ship.
We took a taxi (NZ$30 - 20 minutes) to the WETA Cave in the suburb of Miramar, near the airport. This organisation has designed props, costumes, dummies & apparatus for many movies, including the Lord of the Rings series, as well as various museums. While waiting for the tour you can view a film (20 mins, free) in the small shop/museum. Most worthwhile. We caught a public bus back to the city ( #2 - $5 pp, runs about every 15- 20 minutes & takes 35 minutes - head uphill towards the major road, turn right at corner, bus stop is on the other side of the road - only 5 minutes from the WEKA Cave). Back in the city we visited the free & impressive Te Papa Museurm to view the Gallipoli exhibit., then Cuba Street (closed to traffic) opposite Courtney Place, for quirky shops, department stores & numerous places to eat. We then walked along Lambton Quay (CBD, more shops etc) to the Cable Car, which we took up the hill (NZ$7 pp) to the botanic gardens, taking photos from the lookout over Wellington first. At the Botanic Gardens entrance there are free maps to show the return walk & various gardens. We followed the return walk mosaics set in the botanic garden pathways, meandering back down the hill, through rose gardens, past fountains & sculptures, taking pictures at viewpoints. At the bottom there is an historical cemetery, some headstones had toppled during recent earth tremors & were roped off. Signs will direct you back to the city area, waterfront, or alternatively to the government buildings area.
The Art Deco capital of the world. After getting a map from the Information Centre on the waterfront near Emerson Street, we walked to the nearby suburb of Marewa, along Emerson Street which then runs into Tennyson Street & then becomes Kennedy Road. Near the intersection of Kennedy, Thackeray & Tennyson Street, there is a McDonalds restaurant for refreshments, also a large supermarket. The walk to Miramar takes no more than 25-30 minutes one way. Once at Miramar, turn right off Kennedy Rd into Tom Parker Avenue, one of the best for clusters of Art Deco homes, most having been restored. All streets bordering Marewa Park contain such clusters of Art Deco homes. If on foot, return via Logan Ave & Sanders Street for more clusters, many houses in these two streets are yet to be lovingly restored.
Commercial Art Deco buildings are best found in Emerson & Tennyson Streets. Also visit the Deco Centre in Tennyson Street, near the waterfront, for replica souvenirs & guided walks ($). Also in Tennyson Street is the Napier Antique & Jewellery Centre, for genuine Art Deco collectables. This large store is worth a visit anyway, as it is packed with memorabilia from other eras.
Along the waterfront is the Tom Parker Fountain , the small Maori statue of Pania of the Reef, The Sound Shell & Colonnade, & the Sunken Gardens. The latter are set in the previous land level prior to the massive 1931 earthquake. In Marine Parade at the cnr of Herschell Street, is the Hawke's Bay Museum (NZ $10 entry). There is a small but interesting section of Art Deco artifacts, also film of first hand accounts of the earthquake. Also Maori information.
In the suburb of Ahuriri is the classic Art Deco/Art Nouveau National Tobacco Building (Cnr Bridge & Ossian Streets. Visit during business hours to view inside the first two rooms. There are some waterfront eateries along the nearby waterfront in this area. Transport will be needed to visit Ahuriri.
A busy city, spread out so sights are difficult to visit unless transport is available. There is a hop on-hop off bus, although we didn't use it as we had visited the outer Auckland area before. On this trip we self-toured in the CBD, either on foot or using the link buses. The link buses are quite expensive, NZ$6 each time you catch the bus, unless you use your ticket again within 30 minutes of buying it. Bus route maps/timetables are available at the Info Centres or online. We caught the green link bus to The Domain, to visit the Victorian glass houses of the Wintergarden Pavilions, & Museum, both worthwhile. Coffee at the Wintergarden Café overlooking the duck pond was quite relaxing, after the bustle of the city. From the Grafton Bridge viaduct, off Grafton Road near The Domain, there are views over the city & harbour. Back in the city, we spent some time in Albert Park, admiring the formal gardens, fountains, & Victorian merchant houses along Princes Street (now used by the university for classes). Across the road from the Victorian houses, in the uni campus, is the Art Nouveau 1926 University Clock Tower (open business hours only), & the timber Old Government House (exterior access only).
On the cnr of Wellesley & Queen Streets is the lavish Art Deco/Moorish Civic Theatre. Guided tours are available, although we were allowed access to the foyer & ticket areas for photos. On tap in the little café onsite is free water & sparkling water, the basic food on offer has reasonable prices, as does the coffee. Worth a visit. Opposite, in Wellesley Street is the Art Deco Smith & Caughey Department Store.
The Edwardian Baroque Ferry Terminal on the waterfront near Queens Wharf is impressive. Down Queen Street are the Queens & Strand Arcades, with ornate ceilings & glass roofs.
Hotel De Brett at 2 High Street (cnr of Shortland St), has an Art Deco interior. The Corner Bar there is a vibrant mix of colour & Art Deco.
As the port at Christchurch is still closed to large cruise ships due to earthquake damage, our ship docked at Akaroa instead. We spent the day wandering the streets here. The Giants House was the highlight, a garden & sculptures of mosaics, much like Gaudi's work. Unique & well worth the visit. The old timber Church of St Patrick was also worth while. We enjoyed renowned NZ fish & chips on the waterfront, just near the cruise wharf. The French Cemetery, an uphill walk, was rather disappointing when we reached it. It consists of a memorial to numerous former citizens, & the brass plaques of only two mounted on the memorial.
We met NZ friends here who drove us down to Ohope Beach, rates as the most popular beach in NZ. Rather scenic, offshore at a distance we could see a smoking island crater! Area visited by dolphins, whales, but none seen during our visit.