We flew from Sydney to Auckland via Air New Zealand and stayed three nights at the Sofitel property Grand Windsor in Queen St. We had breakfast included and there were plenty of restaurants and cafes nearby for lunches and dinners. The hotel was in a great location. Highly recommend day trip to Waiheke Island (and we would stay overnight when we visit NZ again).
We travelled with another couple who had never cruised. This was our fifth cruise with Celebrity (have not travelled with others as we like Celebrity). Our friends were super impressed with cruise life and would agree with the comments that follow.
Cruise embarkation smooth and quick; temperatures were checked upon boarding which gave us confidence they were taking the coronavirus seriously.
We thought the ship was well maintained noting it is scheduled for refit in 2021. We were in Aqua Class and like to be aft - we were in room 1653 (rear, port side, bed near bath layout). Really liked the aqua spa shower; good size balcony with 2 chairs, footrests and a table. The room had plenty of storage space, a big sofa and a huge flat screen interactive tv. Surprisingly spacious and our cabin steward Achmad did a great job. Our friends were in 1584 (bed near balcony) and were impressed with the size and layout of room.
Tauranga - we booked a Viator tour which took us to Rotorua and Hobbiton. Our guide was Peter who was informative and a good driver. A great day! Rotorua was fascinating and Hobbiton where part of Lord of Rings and Hobbit trilogies were filmed was very interesting.
Picton - we did a Viator tour for the Marlborough train tour to Blenheim. Scenic journey passing through vineyards and then stopping at Blenheim for a few hours to spend in this town before taking train back to Picton. We enjoyed the train trip but were a bit lost in Blenheim as it was not the quaint country town we were expecting. In hindsight we should have done a wine tour.
Akaroa - tendering process was efficient. We did a Viator tour to Christchurch and our guide was Scotty was great. Had lunch in the Riverside Market and would have been happy to spend more time here. We had a pie from The Butchers Pie Shop which we would recommend trying. We hopped off at the far end of Akaroa and walked back to the tenders.
NZ prime minister then announced that all cruise ship ports in NZ would be shutting next day but we were lucky and able to disembark at Dunedin where we joined a Viator tour - sights of Dunedin, Larnach Castle and Speights brewery with Russell. Surreal because this was the last tour for these guys and they were trying to work out what it meant for them. We really enjoyed the short stop at the railway station (most photographed building in all of NZ), Larnach Castle and the very informative tour of the brewery with generous tastings available and the chance to pour your own beer.
Fjordland area (Dusky, Doubtful and Milford sounds) - very lucky the sun shone and we had a spectacular day. The captain rotated the ship 360 degrees at Milford sound so every side of the ship could get views of the falls. Lots of dolphins sailing alongside the ship from time to time.
We missed Eden due the closure of Australian ports but were given onboard credit for missing that stop and hence the shops were busy. We arrived in Sydney the night before disembarkation which gave us an unexpected and spectacular view of our beautiful harbour and the chance to see it at sunrise.
We dined mostly in Blu, Murano, Tuscan Grill, Silk Harvest and Sushi on Five. We avoided the Ocean View Cafe and MDR just because they tend to have people sit closer together and we liked the spaciousness of the other restaurants. We loved all our meals and could not fault the presentation, flavour or choice. And the service of the teams in those restaurants was flawless. We had the premium beverage package which was great. Just surprised the choice in the restaurants was quite limited. But we ended up trying wines we wouldn't normally drink.
Enjoyed the theatre shows. We loved the Australian singer and violinist. The production shows were well done 'Rock city', 'Broken strings', and 'Euphoria' (our favourite).
Spa - knowing the world was being locked down I had my hair coloured, a massage, facial and legs waxed - now the spa is expensive but I was happy with the service I got and it means I don't have to worry about any personal maintenance for 2 months or so!
Disembarkation ran very smoothly and we were off the ship by 8am in Sydney and being local home by 9am to commence our self isolation for 14 days as required by our government. Pleased to say we have now completed it and we have not had a hint of illness.
Captain Alex was a bit of a comedian and did a great job with his announcements. Overall we loved our cruise and are especially appreciative of the Celebrity Solstice team that made it safe and special. The crew were always cleaning and made sure everyone used hand sanitisers regularly. Knowing the world would change when we disembarked was surreal. A cruise is a great way to see NZ and we hope to do the trip again.
Surprisingly spacious and we managed to store everything without making the cabin feel like it was a trip hazard. Very comfortable bed. Bed near bath is this cabin. Aqua spa shower was fabulous and we would pick this class room for the shower alone! Balcony pleasant as we always like to have fresh air.