Our first visit to Australia and New Zealand was in October 2015, when we cruised from Sydney round both Islands of New Zealand, returning to Sydney. Unfortunately, storms prevented us from visiting Fiordland, Dunedin and Akaroa on that ... Read More
Our first visit to Australia and New Zealand was in October 2015, when we cruised from Sydney round both Islands of New Zealand, returning to Sydney. Unfortunately, storms prevented us from visiting Fiordland, Dunedin and Akaroa on that occasion, with two days spent in Wellington, an unscheduled port, instead. Despite the long journey from the UK, when we spotted the Celebrity Solstice cruise from Perth (Fremantle), along the south coast and on to South Island NZ, finishing in Sydney, we thought it too good to miss, with the Southern Autumn offering a different season for our visit and, hopefully, better weather for Fiordland, which is the major attraction on this and similar cruises.
We always spend a few days at the departure port to avoid the risk of missing the ship! Perth was enjoyable, with beautiful weather. Our travel agent provided a taxi to take us to Fremantle and we were on board Solstice before lunch, after a very swift embarkation process, with our Concierge Class room being available at around 14.00.
The required safety briefing for us took place in the Art area, with very little seating and a limited view of the small screen, where an adventure-style film, presumably aimed at young people, rather failed to bring across the important safety points which would have been much clearer in a traditional presentation and was somewhat insulting to adults, in my opinion.
This was our first voyage with Celebrity. Our room was fairly centrally placed, on deck 10, not far from the library area, which provided a useful land mark! We were between the two projecting areas and found the overhang above us useful in providing shade, although we were limited in our view of the stars on some clear nights. We chose the port side of the ship to place us on the landward and sunny side during the cruise. The view was slightly spoilt by the window cleaning gantry off to the right above us, but otherwise everything was fine and we had a good degree of privacy.
Solstice has a central atrium, reaching to deck 14, with glass fronted lifts and an interesting living tree in an enormous pot suspended in the space. Live entertainment took place at times on the lowest deck, deck three, which also housed the Customer Relations desk. Unfortunately, the live entertainment could be devastatingly loud, making communication difficult with the desk staff as well as being extremely unpleasant. The noise reached high up through the atrium space and we were thankful to be far enough away not to be disturbed.
We choose to eat all our meals in the self-service area on deck 14, mainly because we like to watch the world go by and also because we like the relaxed atmosphere. The area is often quiet in the evenings, but not always so. A concern was the fact that the hand sanitisers were placed near the entrance, but a good distance from the serving areas, meaning that a return to the sanitiser took longer than on most ships, where they are available next to the food area. They were manned at busy times by a member of staff, who also dispensed the sanitiser as you passed, but in the evenings it was up to the individual to use them, and not everyone did. We were told that the particular liquid in use on Solstice took time to dry and could not be placed close to the food area. On one occasion, we asked if French Onion soup was on the menu during the cruise and we were assured it could be requested from the MDR on any evening. We tried this and it was not so simple, but we did eventually receive our excellent soup! Generally, there was a good choice of food at various stations and usually no long queues. The staff were quick to clear tables and remove trays. The bar staff also were friendly and helpful.
Because we don’t use the entertainment facilities and only used the bars to order our drinks with our complimentary package, plus preferring to eat all our meals in the self-service facility, our experience of the ship was fairly limited because we could access most places quickly from the central area. We did enjoy the hot tubs in the evenings, when it was quiet, and the promenade area on decks 15 and 16, with the interesting Hot Glass Show, but the lack of a lower, covered promenade area on the lifeboat deck was somewhat disappointing. Only a small public area was available on that deck. My general impression of Solstice was that it was somewhat characterless, but very pleasant nevertheless.
We had on-board credit and put it towards a Wifi package, which covered the whole cruise. The Wifi was excellent with high speeds and we made the most of the facility to post photos to our family and friends, at home in the UK with the Beast from the East.
Our first port of call was Adelaide, where we took the train into town to visit the Botanical Gardens. Afterwards, we waited for an overdue free bus to tour the town, but got off after ten minutes as we had hardly moved in the heavy traffic and thought we had better return to the ship!
Melbourne was our next port, where we met up with family and enjoyed a tour of the Diamond Valley Railway with my cousin, a founder member of the miniature railway group. By the time we had enjoyed lunch and visited my cousins’ homes, our planned tram ride in the city had to be abandoned, but we made the 16.30 deadline at the ship with 20 minutes to spare! Concierge Class passengers were invited onto the Helideck for the sailaway, a very windy location that afternoon, but the views of Port Philip Bay and the strong currents, The Rips, were worth facing the stiff breeze.
The forecast for our visit to Fiordland was looking good, as bad weather frequently prevents entry into the Sounds. However, late in the evening of our departure from Melbourne, the Cruise Director made an announcement directly into staterooms, an unusual procedure other than in emergencies. Unfortunately, a passenger had been taken seriously ill after our departure and needed to be taken back to Melbourne. Other methods of evacuation were not possible, we were told. Consequently, the morning of the next day found us leaving Port Philip Bay once again and we were informed that the time lost meant our scenic cruising in Fiordland was cancelled.
This being the highlight of the cruise, most passengers were far from happy about the cancellation, although the needs of the passenger concerned, who apparently was recovering, were not disputed. It was felt that at least one of the Sounds might still have been a possibility, but a film made by the Captain and the Cruise Director, shown all day, explained the decisions made. Our conclusion is that Fiordland is best visited by land! We had spent time in Doubtful Sound in 2015, but were still very frustrated by the second missed visit.
Thus we had an extra day at sea, on top of the eight sea days already in the itinerary, so Dunedin was a welcome chance to go ashore, especially after missing the port in 2015. Again we visited the Botanical Gardens, with an extensive aviary, then the delightful Chinese Gardens. The shuttle bus from Port Chalmers should have cost 20 US$, but the charge was removed with no explanation. The sailaway was another spectacular journey.
Akaroa was a tendered port, another missed in 2015. We had booked an independent trip with Akaroa Dolphins for midday, thinking that we might not make the earlier boat, but email messages informed us that forecast bad weather meant that our boat was cancelled and offered us places on the earlier trip. Tickets are required to take the tender boats, but we were still able to disembark in plenty of time. We were lucky enough to see a good number of dolphins, better than the four seen the previous day! The weather did indeed deteriorate and the tender boat back to the ship provided some unfortunate passengers with several cold showers, as waves washed through the open door.
Our only port in North Island was Wellington. This time, the ship had to dock further from the town following earthquake damage after our previous visit, but once again the shuttle bus was unexpectedly free of charge. From the town, we went by free shuttle to Zealandia Wildlife Park, which we visited in 2015, well worth visiting for the bird life as well as the setting. There are also Tuataras to spot in a protected area. The shuttle returned us to the top of the Botanical Garden, where a “cable car” or funicular can be taken down to the town, but we walked down through the gardens.
Picton is a pleasant small town. The ship docks in a nearby harbour so once again a free shuttle bus was needed. The bus driver mentioned the EcoWorld Aquarium, where Tuataras can be seen at close quarters, so we called in after visiting the Craft Market and enjoyed the Little Blue Penguin, almost ready to be returned to the wild, as well as the other inhabitants and especially the Cook Island Tuatara we were allowed to touch. Cook Island Tuataras live in temperatures which dictate that their eggs are female, so they are not threatened. On the other hand, Brothers Island Tuataras live in warming areas which means they produce males and are threatened, with very few females left. EcoWorld has two males but cannot introduce a female until one male proves to be dominant over two years. These two have not decided the issue yet. Nothing is fast in a Tuatara’s life.
The sailaway through Queen Charlotte Sound was once again a wonderful experience. We enjoy cruising for the scenery and the wildlife we encounter along the way and we were not disappointed, being treated to visits from dolphins on several occasions, but you have to be looking, of course.
We prefer to self-disembark, carrying our suitcases, so we were off the ship around 07.00, having watched Solstice enter Sydney Harbour in the dark, and we had deposited our cases in the Shangri-La and were out enjoying Sydney by 08.00. In the evening, we watched Solstice depart, while we still had several days left to reacquaint ourselves with Sydney. Read Less