We flew from London to Auckland via Emirates. Everything ran as per schedule and we arrived in New Zealand 3 days prior to the cruise. It took about an hour or so to go through immigration and customs before leaving the airport. However apart from usual bag checks no other checks like temperature monitoring were being carried out at the airport. We were transferred to our central Auckland hotel called Citylife heritage hotel.
We were given a one bedroom suite on one of the top floors of this hotel which had beautiful views of the city and harbour. We had breakfast included at the hotel which was great and there were plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby for lunches and dinners. The hotel was in a great location, situated on the main shopping street, Queen street. Sky tower was 5 mins walk away.
We spent the next 3 days sightseeing around Auckland. Took hop on hop off bus to tour around Auckland, went up the sky tower for great views of the city, took a ferry to Devonport for views of Auckland from Mount Victoria. Also visited museum and botanic gardens.
On our third day, we took a full day excursion to Rotorua to visit Tepuia and Wai-o-tapu geo-thermal sights. Very interesting day visiting these lovely sites and also saw a kiwi bird at Tepuia. On our return back to Auckland there was heavy rainfall which the country desperately needed after a very dry summer. Thankfully this was the only rainfall we saw in our entire trip.
The next morning we did a bit of souvenir shopping on queen street before being picked up by our trasnsfer service to be taken to the dock to check in for the solstice New Zealand cruise. We thought it would take a long time to board the cruise as they were going to do extra checks like temperature monitoring etc. However no sooner we got there, our temperatures were promptly recorded and after getting the all clear, we handed our luggage to one of the porters. We proceeded to the check in area where the queue was minimal and were checked in to board the ship in 10mins. This was one of the fastest boarding we have experienced for a cruise. The whole process from arrival to boarding ship took under half an hour!
As soon as we entered this beautiful ship, we were given champagne and asked to proceed to buffet as staterooms were going to be ready by 1pm. There was plenty of food choice for lunch from pizzas to sandwiches to Indian, Mexican, Chinese, vegetarian/vegan etc. After we finished lunch, we went to tour the ship which was similar to the Reflection we had been on 6 months prior to this cruise. 2 outdoor and 1 indoor pools, 2 tier theatre, cinema, casino, plenty of bars and cafes, around 4 speciality restaurants, outdoor screen by lawn area etc. Lovely ship and everything seemed nicely maintained despite a refit scheduled in 2021.
We were soon asked to proceed to the staterooms soon after 1pm. Our cabin was a balcony cabin on deck 7 on the starboard side of the ship towards the front elevators. Great location for the theatres, Sky bar and cinema. Bit further to walk for dining areas but we got used to it very soon. When we got to our cabin, all the luggage had already arrived which was great! The cabin was once again very similar to our cabin on celebrity Reflection. Lovely bathroom with shower cubicle with glass doors. Good size balcony with 2 retractable chairs and a table. The room had plenty of storage space, a big sofa and a huge flat screen interactive tv. All in all, a very pleasant cabin which was looked after by our cabin steward Joaquín.
The master of the ship, captain Alex, was one of the best captain we have ever had on a cruise. He was hilarious and we eagerly looked forward to his daily announcements. More importantly he kept us reassured and worry-free through out the cruise as we were travelling at a time when the whole world seemed to be affected by the coronavirus. Moreover we saw him regularly saw him and his officers throughout the cruise.
We departed Auckland after 6pm soon after the safety drill was completed. We had lovely views of the city as we sailed toward Tauranga, our first stop. We docked in Tauranga next day at 10.30am. As we had booked a 'Hobbiton film set' tour for 12.30pm, we went to explore nearby area in the morning. we hiked up Mt. Maunganui in the morning where we got lovely views of the ship and surrounding area. Went back to ship for 12.30 whereby we took a coach to see the lovely film set where some parts of Lord of Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed. Spent around 3 hours at this magical place before returning to the ship around 4.30pm. As the ship was not leaving Tauranga till 10pm, we had local Maui performers come and do a traditional show in the theatre and included Haka dance too.
We had a sea day in between followed by 3 consecutive stops. The first stop was Picton in South Island which was extremely picturesque. We had a lovely sunny day and we did a Marlborough train tour to Blenheim which was really a scenic journey passing through many vineyards. We got off at Blenheim and had a few hours to spend in this town before taking train back to Picton. Once we got back, we looked around Picton and the beautiful scenery around the area before taking back shuttle to ship.
The next day we tendered in Akaroa. However the tendering process was very quick and efficient. We did a tour to Christchurch. It was a lovely picturesque journey to Christchurch and we had an excellent tour guide/driver who was very informative. When we got there we toured the city on the colourful trams and although the city is still rebuilding from the earthquake around 10 years ago, we loved the city for its vibrant atmosphere. We returned back to the ship and sailed towards Dunedin (Port Chalmers).
We were advised by the captain that night that NZ prime minister had announced that all cruise ship ports in NZ would be shutting next day and if anyone entered the country from a foreign country including Australia, they would have to self isolate for 14 days. Hence anyone wishing to get off at Dunedin would be allowed to. This was our last NZ port anyway so we didn't miss any of the NZ ports. However due to the self isolation policy, around 180 guests left the ship in Dunedin.
In Dunedin, we had a tour booked to see sights of Dunedin and visit Speights brewery. This was an excellent tour as it covered quite a few areas of Dunedin like botanic gardens, the railway station (most photographed building in all of NZ) and also a very informative trip to the brewery. After the tour of brewery we were given lots of good sized samples of various beers to try. Returned back to ship after 4 hours and then went around Port Chalmers Local area to have a look at this lovely small town.
The next day we were visiting the national fjordland area (dusky, doubtful and Milford sounds). As we were not docking there, we were allowed to visit this part of New Zealand. It started off a bit overcast when we cruised through dusky sound but weather kept improving through the day and by the time we got to Milford sound, it was very warm and sunny. The captain gave us a surprise by rotating the ship 360 degrees at Milford sound to view one of the gorgeous waterfalls there so every side of the ship could get great views of the falls. We also saw lots of dolphins sailing alongside the ship once again pointed out by the captain and cruise director. During the sail into other sounds, we also saw seals and plenty of different types of birds. Had a great day visiting all the sounds and our trip to NZ wouldn't have been complete without without visiting these sites.
We were supposed to have 2 sea days before docking in Eden. However Australia announced they would be closing all ports to cruise ships. Hence we missed Eden but were given onboard credit for missing that stop. So we ended up with 3 sea days. We were slightly concerned whether we would be allowed to disembark in Sydney but we needn't have worried as captain Alex announced that we were given permission to disembark in Sydney and would be arriving there the night before. However wouldn't be allowed to leave the ship until the scheduled day of departure.
So apart from missing Eden, we didn't have any other itinerary changes and were very lucky that everything ran smoothly and no one fell ill onboard. The ship staff were always cleaning around the ship and made sure everyone washed their hands and used hand sanitisers regularly.
We dined in main dining room on level 4. Although we were on anytime dining, the hostess Carla (who remembered our names daily) always ensured she was gave us table by the window with the same waiter every night. One of the best hostesses we have seen on a ship. Our head waiter Rejoy was excellent and ensured all our needs were promptly met. His assistant Goolfee was great too but was moved to one of the speciality dining rooms later. However his replacement was great too. Wine steward Paul gave us a good selection wines daily. Since we had outstanding service in main dining room, we didn't need to visit any of the speciality restaurants. However those who visited some of them like Murano, had a great time. Food was great and loved all the choices on menu.
All the shows in theatre were great. There were some guest presenters like a British magician, Australian singer and a violinist. All were very talented and enjoyed their shows immensely. The production shows were brilliant and loved all 4 of them. They included 'Rock city', 'Broken strings', 'Amade' and 'Euphoria'. The singers and dancers did a great job and we got to see how they work and train on one of the sea days when we were given a complimtary tour of the backstage areas.
The cruise director Kelly did and excellent job and together with her assistant Patrick, they ensured everyone was kept entertained during the various parties on the ship. Loved the balloon launch night and st. Patrick's day party. However disappointed that Abba night was not held in foyer as the charm was lost when it was held in sky lounge.
There were quite a few talks, trivial, games and shows organised on the sea days to keep us occupied. However apart from one film shown in theatre on first sea day, no other films were shown in theatre during the cruise which was slightly disappointing. Films were shown on the screen by the lawn and at celebrity central but these are not ideal venues for film screening. Hence I would recommend solstice to show more films in theatre like they had done on our previous cruise on Reflection.
Disembarkation ran very smoothly and we were off the ship by 8am in Sydney. We were at the airport by 11am and luckily our flight went on time later that day. Sadly lot of flights were cancelled as the world prepared to lock down due to coronavirus.
On the whole, I would highly recommend this cruise to anyone who wants to visit and see sites and sounds of NZ in a relaxed way. We were immensely lucky that everything ran smoothly from start to finish and captain Alex and his team did a marvellous job to keep us safe and entertained through out the trip. Hoping the world can get over this virus quickly and cruises and travel can restart soon. Happy cruising!
Large cabin with good size balcony (with 2 retracting chairs) and lovely bathroom with shower cubicle. Glass doors rather than curtains. Large interactive tv and sofa