Brisbane has become increasingly sophisticated over the years yet the Queensland capital still retains its laidback charm. Bustling ferries ply the waters of the Brisbane River and the weather lends itself to outdoor pursuits. If you love the beach, this is the ideal jumping-off point for the Gold Coast and Surfers Paradise which are just an hour away, and the Sunshine Coast, which is two hours to the north. However, the extreme south end of the Great Barrier Reef begins 370kms (about 230 miles) north of the city, so this is not an option for a day out.
The city makes good use of its river as a travel artery and visitors will find the CityCat ferries and other local boat services an ideal and affordable way to reach the most popular museums, botanical gardens, wildlife parks, historic neighbourhoods, lively shopping precincts and riverfront plazas with their variety of restaurants and cafes. Both riverbanks have picturesque walkways that venture far beyond the city limits.
For those who would like to spend the day exploring the city centre, nearly everything is within walking distance, and conveniently placed bridges and small cross-river ferries link both sides. Jaunty red ferries plying the city reaches of the river are free to ride. If you get lost, ask one of the friendly locals for directions.
Cruise ships dock at two different riverfront locations, depending on the heights of their funnels or signal masts. Ships that can clear the Gateway Motorway Bridge, downriver from the city centre, dock at the Brisbane Cruise Terminal, Portside Wharf. Those that are too lofty tie up farther downstream at a freight terminal.
The Australian sun is very powerful, and it's essential to liberally apply sun block on beach days and when spending a lot of time outdoors. Wear a hat, too.
The local currency is the Australian dollar. The largest coin denominations are the tiny, gold-colour two-dollar pieces and the larger, gold-colour one-dollar pieces. (We know that seems backward, so pay extra attention when counting your change.) Check oanada.com or xe.com for the latest exchange rates. The smallest currency is a silver five-cent piece so all prices are rounded to the nearest five-cent increment unless you are paying by credit card. ATMs are located throughout the city and in main shopping areas, such as the Queen Street Mall.
The language is English with an Australian accent. The locals pronounce the city "Briz-bun" or simply say "Brizzie."
Aboriginal arts and crafts are unique souvenirs to bring home in the form of paintings, sculptures and decorative accessories. In addition, items like trays, coasters, mugs and tea towels that display Australia's unique animals -- kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, cassowary birds and emus -- are popular buys. GoMA and the Queensland Art Gallery both have attractive gift shops featuring unique Australian souvenirs and gifts.
--By Tiana Templeman, Cruise Critic contributor