Holland America Line only does this cruise once yearly, and I've looked a it for 5 years, ALWAYS over American Thanksgiving or Christmas. This year they snuck it in between the two, so I jumped on it! It is definitely a tropical vacation, much like a South Sea Isles, without the foreign languages. Paupua New Guinea kept going from good to better to amazing, then Conflict Islands, WOAH! Each and every port had some amazing choices for shore excursions for those of us who had never been to this part of the world before.
Since I still work and can only get a few weeks off at a time, I flew to Sidney 2 days early to get my bearings. The Four Seasons where HAL put us up was lovely and withing footsteps of The Rocks, lots of eating and drinking, and not far walking from the Opera House and Inner Harbor. The HOHO bus left from across the street, so a fine place for sightseeing the whole city.
Our ship left from "the other harbor" (Port Jackson) which I'm happy it did. The sailaway was incredible under the Harbor bridge and past the Opera House. I had a starboard side balcony, and it was glorious that morning. It is one of the most beautiful of my lifetime.
I was in a SY cabin, 8083, rattled around in there by myself, but if I upgraded to it, they threw in 2 nights Sydney, a Meet & Greet dinner and tour of the opera house (which was excellent) and all transfers for free. It paid for itself, and having a jetted tub and shower was great for those days I hiked up hills in PNG to get the very best views of the islands.
The ship was impecabbly clean, crew was constantly working to keep it so. She is due for a refurbishment in 2019, and parts are showing wear, so a pass. I did notice the upgraded Lincoln Center Stage is now enclosed since last time I sailed her, and the music acoustics was excellent! The 5 musicians, all Scandinavian put their hearts & soul into each piece, everything from Edvard Grieg to Dave Matthews Band! The place to be each evening was the BB Kings Club, dancing and singing. Did not hit the single piano bar on this sailing, though I usually do, so many other choices in entertainment on board. Both of the BBC Earth presentations in the showrooom were standing room only. I didn't attend the other presentations there, but heard from others they were enjoyable.
Only ate in the MDR once, my schedule was so busy with wonderful EXC shore excursions, Martini Tastings (with David and Yoko) at 6:00pm nightly, and many nights in specialty restaurants with new friends. Other nights the Lido just seemed to have the same offerings in half the time. All of the food was tasty, hot, beautifully presented in MDR and Sel de Mer, Canaletto & Pinnacle. By the time I returned home that evening, the recipe for what I had eaten at Sel de Mer was on my pillow with some chocolates. That was a special meal for SURE!What I enjoy about the LIDO is being able to say "a really small slice of lamb, I'm a light eater," because by dinner I'm not really hungry.
There were excellent enrichment programs on board this sailing, in additional to the usual, Aboriginal Marlon gave his informative talks in the Queens Lounge about his culture, WWII history about Milne Bay's importance, History of the Conflict Islands and what to do there. First day at PNG in the Explorer's Lounge there was exchange for PNG Kina (the only currency they use on these tiny islands) and postcards and stamps to mail things home. HAL thought of it all.
I am NOT a Day at Sea person. There were TWO in a row on this cruise and I was a afraid I'd be climbing the walls.I finished two books, it was HOT, too hot to be out on my balcony too much. I almost did climb the walls, except that I discovered Martini Tastings, 3 small glasses, about 12 people around a convivial bar in the Atrium, and fun bar games. We learned to make a few new drinks, never really got too tipsy, but met new friends, and seriously AUSTRALIANS are FUN!!!! David was one of the most fun bartenders HAL has out there.
The ports were in a excellent order, in my humble opinion.
GLADSTONE: This was first time the Noordam had ever called there. Granted it was a Sunday and NOTHING was open, they rolled out the food trucks and made it a fun day for us. There was a huge street fair waiting for those who just walked off the ship. I caught the ceremony the city gave for the Captain and Officers. There was a kilted bagpipe band, dancers, Aboriginal thanking the ancestors, short talks by both parties. The HOHO vans had really nowhere to go, because everywhere was shuttered for the day, except hotel restaurants & shops.
ALOTUA, PNG: The largest of the Islands and most citified. People were everywhere, very busy town. The ship parked quite far from the town center & market, but taxis were plentiful and not expensive I was told. 2 dance groups were on the pier with in traditional costume, many people were filming, paying a bit and talking to leaders in English. I took a shore excursion for a Clay Pot Cooking Class at the Masurina Lodge. It was FANTASTIC! Tables were arranged for us outside, we learned the types of yams, bananas, and other vegetables & spices they use in cooking, prepared the pots with, then toured a small WWII museum of artifacts. When it was ready we sat together and enjoyed the fruits of our labor. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon in Alotua.
KIRIWANA: This lovely island we tendered in to a nicely laid out beach full of stands where the natives sold their goods. There is a food stall in the middle to buy drinks and a few food items, but I didn't try it. Lots of people want to show you the island, but plenty of signs to show you the way. Not much in the way of beach chairs or mats, but lots of shade to the both sides off the tender pier. Bring what you need from the ship. Be willing to barter a bit. Save some Kina for tomorrow! Take a boat ride if you dare, the boats are sturdier on Kitava.
KITAVA: Island Paradise! Clear water, bring a snorkle. Beach chairs to rent far to the left off the pier. You can walk in and see the coral and fish here, it is the best of the 3 islands of this PNG group. You can hike up to Captain Cameron's grave (5 Kina to go inside), worth the hike, the view is spectacular. There is another small island off the island, and for 10 Kina you have get a boat to take out out and drop you off, hopefully bring you back. Talk about deserted island! I'll try to post the pic!
CONFLICT ISLANDS: Exceptional stop. The main island is a wanderers paradise. Yes, there are rooms, where I assume there were guests staying. There was a huge converted tuna processor, now a glass bottom boat. I took the Beach Picnic Shorex. Walked across the island boarded a Zodiac like skiff that took us to a larger, maybe 40 ft pleasure craft, drove us to a small, deserted island, where the skiff again met us, took our gear to shore, in twos. Beach chairs in the shade, pre-ordered picnic coolers with drinks, water, blankets, utinsils, everything needed for hours of absolute peace and quiet. At the prescribed time, our skiff returned us to the bigger boat for the return trip. I then went to the TURTLE RESCUE, which wasn't much to see, but very informative. The release of our own little guy/gal Crush was so envigorating, I wept a little, hoping he would survive and prosper in the wild.
YORKEYS KNOB/CAIRNS: Unintended port for me, I changed my Great Barrier Reef excursion to go to the rainforest on the Kuranda Rail, and it was great! Exciting piece of history, with a tour guide in each rail car. Ours was really funny, and the narrative was historic and interesting. We stopped a few places for photos of the waterfalls befor arrival at the town. A few hours there, then return on the Skytrain, a cableway over the amazing rainforest to the forest floor, and a short bus back to the ship.
ARLIE BEACH: Here the Whitsunday Island Tours boat picked us up right off the ship and took us out to the Great Barrier Reef dive platform to snorkle the Reef. It was a long, wavy trip and they were quite prepared with seasick bags, patches, pills and help for anyone experiencing symptoms. They served a delightful tea service, hearty lunch, and snack on the way back. We were outfitted with EVERYTHING, from stinger suits, snorkle gear, fins, everything except sunscreen and swimsuits. It as a great day, although I could have done without the sea swells, but that wasn't their fault, and they did everything RIGHT to handle that.
BRISBANE: Beautiful Brisbane. Wish I had more time here. Took the excursion to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, it was much more. We toured the city both ways, seeing the highlights, spending about two hours at the sanctuary. It took about an hour in line to actually HOLD a koala, and $35 AUD for photos. Then paid $2 aud to buy kangaroo food and went into the enclosure where there were SO many roos, and you could be there as long as you wanted. I spent the rest of the time there!
This was a wonderful itinerary for any Australia virgins. I will go back when I have more time after retirement. I thought the flights would be more grueling, but Delta flies the Boeing 777, which makes a huge difference in jet lag, that circulation system is amazing!
Very roomy Signature Suite with double balcony. Floor to ceiling windows, there is a full jetted tub, separate shower, small and shower curtain tends to cover the drain at times, so beware. Two vanity sinks and ample storage beneath the sink, there are two closed, mirrored cupboards, handy for getting a back view of the hair. The hallway has a good, full sized mirror, and a curtain for private dressing if the bathroom is occupied. Handy corner for storing a Pack & play or stroller, folded, if you bring one. One floor length closet, one half closet with shelves, and one, because of the safe, shirt length closet with shelves taken up with life jackets (you could shove under the bed). Two big under bed drawers, one vanity with drawers on both sides, writing desk with drawer on one side. Full sized sofa (bed) with storage at both ends. Did I say there is ample storage? Umbrella and binoculars included. Two lounge chairs on deck, 2 chairs and table.