We had been planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia for a long time. It involved a lot of research. During our land tour travels in Europe and Morocco we had met many Aussies and Kiwis and have kept in touch with many. We researched many ways of visiting both NZ and Australia. Considering the long travel time to them from the East coast, it became apparent that the easiest way was to take a cruise that would include both New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia.
The end of April the year prior to this trip we took a river cruise with Viking. It was their “Tulips and Windmills”, which included the annual Tulip Festival in Amsterdam. It happen to be one my wife’s “Bucket List” items, so we signed up. We were very impressed by the service, food, land tours, accommodations and the 190 passenger and age limitation of no one under 18 years old. So we decided that we would concentrate on a New Zealand/Australian cruise for 2019 with Viking.
Prior to the Viking river cruise we only did land tours. We felt cruising didn’t provide an in depth view or feel of a country’s culture and attributes. However, as we progressed further into retirement it became apparent that land touring became more demanding. Secondly, my wife had several back operations that had limited her mobility. So having a consistent and comfortable “home base” along with comfortable air travel on trips greater than 6 hours became important considerations.
Now that we decided on the trip more research was required to determine dates, air travel, accommodations and tours offerings. The first thing was to determine the best time of year for the trip. Since we are both retired we concentrated on the Southern Hemisphere’s Spring (Sept. - Dec.) or Fall (Feb. - June). We decided on the Fall considering rainfall, temperatures and the fact we were heading North to the equator.
We soon discovered that no cruise line, including Viking, included New Zealand and a complete Eastern Australia itinerary. There was a Sojourn Cruise that started in Bangkok, Thailand and ended in Auckland, NZ. However, after reviewing the itinerary we decided that the tours and time at sea on the Bangkok to Bali leg was something we could eliminate. So we decided to combine two of the three cruise legs with Viking - Auckland to Sydney and Sydney to Bali. The Sydney-Bali leg included a tour to see the Komodo Dragons and the highly publicized resort area of Bali. We wanted to start our trip in Auckland, NZ. Luckily, there was a reverse of the Sojourn cruise on the same ship, the Orion, with legs starting in Auckland and ending in Bali that started the end of February. The Orion was a brand new ship, on its second voyage and the crown of the Viking ships at the time. It had a planetarium, which was not available on another ship on any cruise line.
So now we were down to airline reservations and ship accommodations. As I stated earlier, my wife had back surgeries that effected her mobility, so airline and ship accommodations became important. The ship accommodations were pretty straight forward. A Penthouse Jr. Suite provided the best option of space and services. The suite size on Viking, 425 ft2, comes with a double sink vanity and full shower bathroom and is or is one of the largest on any cruise line. It also had a movable divider between the sitting and bed areas, which allowed my wife get up in middle of the night without disturbing me.
Now for the most difficult part, airline reservations. First of all, not all all of the major airlines provide service to Auckland, NZ. I normally handle our airline reservations myself and use Delta, which has a home base in Atlanta. However, researching schedules and rates I found that the Viking Premium Air service, Business Class, was cheaper and handled the disembarking and airport transfer in Bali. Secondly, we decided to arrive into Auckland 4 days/3 nights earlier than our embarkation date. I made and got confirmed dates to stay at the Wharf Apartments($185 US) for 3 nights thru Expedia. It was a 1 BR with a full kitchen in the center of the restaurant and business district and on the water. It was also located just 3 piers down from our embarkation on Viking. Via the internet I also made transfer arrangements from the airport - $38 US for 2 to our rental.
However, I was unaware that Southeast Asia was a new area for Viking and airfare contracts were not as fully developed as with cruises in the Europe, U.K. and Mediterranean. The first choice provided by Viking Premium Air was absolutely horrible. The flight to Auckland was 33 hrs with a 4 hour layover in Sydney and an unconfirmed final flight to Auckland arriving at 4 pm, losing a whole day. The flight from Bali to Atlanta was even worse. It left at midnight before we scheduled to disembark that day. That flight went Dubai - Boston- Atlanta for a total of 34 hours with a layover in Boston and unconfirmed flight to Atlanta. So after many phone calls and an addition $200 each we got flights to Auckland for a total of 20 hrs. direct and arriving 10 am. The return flight was 23 hrs. So I guess all’s well that ended well. The flight from LAX to Auckland was 13.5 hrs. on a Boeing 787. The lay flat seats on it are the best I’ve flown. I’m 6’2” and was able to be comfortable. The ankle area was not constricted like other airplanes. In addition, a Casper mattress and linens were used.
A Penthouse Jr. Suite provided the best option of space and services for our needs. The suite size on Viking, 425 ft2, comes with a double sink vanity and full shower bathroom and is or is one of the largest on any cruise line. It comes with a dedicated steward and laundering service. It also had a movable divider between the sitting and bed areas, which allowed my wife get up in middle of the night without disturbing me.
The steward assigned to room made our trip an over the top unexpected pleasure for detail. As an example we mentioned to him that my wife had a bad back and brought a mattress foam topper and we wanted to use it when making the bed. He suggested the addition of 2 extra pillow toppers instead. He exited and soon returned with the toppers. Best suggestion ever. My wife had the best sleep in a long time. During the two legs of our cruise he paid particular attention to our normal schedule for meals and tours. He cleaned the room, made beds, attended to laundry service, room meal service, insured a replenished micro-fridge and any other minor problem was taken care of with very little or no prompting.
Yes the room was a significant upgrade, but considering the length of the two legs it was exactly what we needed - a perfectly enjoyable and relaxing trip.
We visited several wineries and really enjoyed the experiences.
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One of the things I wanted to see on the Bali leg. Only I took this tour because it required a lot of hiking. There are several park ranger assigned to protect the tour which offered two walking tours - a short and long tour. Both included the gathering point where Komodo Dragons gather. A short distance after it the group was offered a shorter route back. About half opted for it and the rest of us took the longer tour. The longer tour was more rugged and included narrow trails, hill climbing and at some points hikers had to be very careful of slipping on lose gravel hiking downhill. To be honest it really wasn’t worth the hike. Once we we reconnected with the short trail we saw fauna and wild life, including baby Komodo Dragons scampering around avoiding hungry adults.
This was our disembarking port and many of us were very hesitant as to how Viking would handle this, since there was very detail about it. First the one pier we were to disembark from was taken by another ship, so we had to be tendered there. Getting off the tenders was a little difficult, but handled very well by the attendants. Most of us who had to disembark had late afternoon flights and it was about 10 am. To our pleasant surprise and an expectation of a Viking cruise we were transferred to a 5 star resort and given a great buffet lunch, had access to a changing room and access to all of the resorts amenities. Those included a great beach, several swimming pools and walking trails. Viking had us double check that all our luggage was there and then instructed us when to return for transfer to the airport. The transfer to and at the airport was hectic because of all of the flights leaving from the small airport. Inside it was very organized with easy check in. We were traveling Business Class on EVA Airlines, so we had access to the lounge area. It was comfortable had snacks, light appetizers, soup and drinks.
Melbourne was one of our tour highlights. We had Made. previous email connections with fellow Melbourne Aussies on our land tour of Spain/Portugal/Morocco to have lunch when we made port on our cruise. We dined with 4 couples and had a great time reminiscing.
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Very interesting to see the Koalas and kangaroos in their natural habitat. It was a long bus trip to it but worth it. It came with a meal at the sanctuary.View All 32 Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary Reviews