The embarkation experience in Sydney was probably our worst experience of embarkation on any cruise. There seemed to be no organisation, and the only guidance was by other passengers, as there seemed to be a great lack of staff around.
When we chose this cruise we knew that there were a lot of sea days ahead of us, so we were prepared to entertain ourselves for long stretches of time. While they had many activities, there could have been more variety.
We enjoyed the ports as we had not been to most of them. The shore excursions were way too expensive for us, so we were able to find local providers at almost all ports. Some ports were a little overrated, such as Los Angeles, where the ship docked at San Pedro and with a 3.00pm all aboard deadline, there was not sufficient time to get into LA and see anything and return in time.
This inside cabin is one of the smallest we have experienced, although the mirrored decor helped it to feel larger than it was. We didn't spend much time in there, as planned, so it worked fine most of the time.
We loved our time in Sydney, and took public transport to get around. We found it easy to navigate and explored the Watson's Bay area getting here by ferry and returning by bus. Sydney harbour must be the best harbour in the world to sail out of.
We did not do any of the ship's excursions, so walked to the port office and got the shuttle into Dunedin 20NZD return pp. It took 30 mins to get to the Octagon where we were met by friendly and helpful information centre volunteers. We connected to the free wifi then walked down to the train station which was quite charming. We also inspected the restored train engine nearby. As it started raining, we didn't walk to the Botanical Gardens, which we were planning on doing, but continued to walk around the city exploring as we went.
We loved this quiet, clean, quaint, French-influenced village on the water. When we arrived at the port, there were various vendors with different tour offerings. We opted for the next bus to Christchurch leaving at 9.30, $50 return each, so this gave us time for a wander around the foreshore.
Akaroa is a pristine little place that was so neat and tidy it was spotless. Small shops lined the beach and as there are only 650 permanent residents it was amazing to see the diversity on offer. It felt like a beautiful little place to spend a few quiet days. We enjoyed a lovely bus trip into Christchurch and walked around the city exploring various areas and the museum before returning in plenty of time to board the ship.
We were fortunate to have a local friend who met us to show us around this beautiful town. The ship docked at Mt Manganui where one could walk to the beach and around the headland walk. There were a number of shops and areas to explore there, as well as in Tauranga itself about 15 minutes drive away. A beautiful area to explore.
The port is right in town, so we walked around to buy tickets for the Explorer bus - $45 NZD each and were on the first bus. It was great to be able to see lots of Auckland, doing both the red and blue routes first up, then exploring areas of interest such as the Museum and War Memorial, Parnell Rose Gardens and into the city to see the Sky Tower and walk down Queen Street.
The bus ticket also included the ferry to Devonport. It was a 15 minute ride and was calm and easy. It was a quaint little place where I walked around in the sunshine, checking out the little shops up the hill and found a lovely coffee shop to immerse myself in its ambience (and wifi). A short ride back to port and to the ship.
The port was right in town, and we were spoilt for choice with many local operators offering tours on Easter Sunday. We paid $50USD each for a 4 hour trip around the island with 6 stops, and in a small air conditioned van with 9 others. We stopped at the Marea, the Botanic Gardens, Waterfall, Venus Beach, and finally a beautiful Lookout. We didn't have time for the 6th stop. It was a good tour so we were satisfied with all we saw. We didn't get to swim though, so this was somewhat disappointing, but we gained a lot of local information on the tour.
The sail into Moorea was truly magical with low cloud over the mountain peaks and a shower out on the water. The port was a tender port, so it took a little while to get to shore. It was Easter Monday, but still we saw many excursions via boat to do snorkelling with stingrays and sharks at a lagoon. We really wanted a drive around the island again as well as swimming so we found a good tour for 3 hours $50USD each. There were only 3 other passengers and we were a very happy bunch of people.
Our driver was great – and open to suggestions along the way. We had started the tour at Opunohu Bay, going clockwise and up to the Belvedere lookout where there was a great view.
We continued around the island which has its largest population in the north. There was not much in the way of shops and only one large supermarket that we saw. We stayed at Papetoai Public Beach where I enjoyed a lovely long swim in the calm waters. I was able to catch a taxi back to the boat for $5USD, then explored the various stall holders at the port before getting the tender back to the ship.
The port is a way from town so there were options of taxis, a free shuttle to Walmart, or a free shuttle that went via Maui Divers jewellery centre, then onto Waikiki or the Ala Moana Center. We took the free shuttle to Maui Divers jewellery centre, and as we were some of the first off the ship, we were in the first groups to go through. It didn't take too long, and then we waited a short time for our free shuttle to Waikiki. I did hear later that this process was taking two hours, so I would not have been happy with that!
Once at Waikiki we caught the Pink Line hop on hop off bus for $2 each and while it was crowded, this line took an hour and went past Waikiki beach and to various hotels and shops. The bus was a double decker soft top, but with no windows up top the rain showers came through a bit. I walked down to Waikiki beach and some of the hotels that front onto it and it was very busy.
It was good to wander around town and the International Marketplace until it was time to head back for the free shuttle. There was increasing frustration from fellow passengers as the buses filled up quickly and the wait was longer than anticipated. However, our bus driver was very humorous, dealing with cranky passengers with ease and comedy. He reminded us of the animal who lives the longest on earth – the turtle – so slow down, it’s better for your health!
The port was once again a taxi ride into town. There were various local operators offering tours from the port, ranging in price from around $50 upwards. I got a good deal for $50USD with a 4 hour tour including the Japanese Garden and harbour area, the rainbow falls, then onto exploring the area of many volcanic eruptions.
We saw the current unsettlement where the steam was rising up from the road and the ground where people had previously lived – lots of activity. We saw damaged houses with rooves covered in lava etc. We saw where the road is now closed with the lava having settled on the road. We went to a lava beach, where the lava had flowed into the ocean to create a new area of land around 30 years ago. We walked out to the ocean to see the lava cliffs that edge the sealine with no sand in sight.
We went on to look at an estate that had been decimated by an eruption maybe 30 years ago, and people have begun to rebuild. Then it was off to the Macadamia Nut Factory, followed by the Pana’ewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens. From here I chose to be dropped off at the Farmers Market in town, where I walked around the historic area, before catchiing a local bus for $1 (pensioner rate) to the Mall and Walmart after which I caught the free bus back to the ship. A great overview of Hilo in one day.
The port is actually at San Pedro, about 1 1/2 hours drive to Los Angeles. As we had to be back on board at 3.00pm, there was not enough time to get into LA and back with space to look around. I walked into the local historic area, but as nothing was open before 10 or 11am, there was not a lot to see. I walked along the waterfront where the USS Iowa was open for inspection (entrance fee) if you wanted to do that. I just enjoyed a little 'land' time, and returned to the ship.