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December 15, 2002 Regal Princess Sydney to Auckland
Since this is the first Aus/NZ cruise of the season and there is a shortage of postings regarding this itinerary, I have taken the time to prepare the following comprehensive review of the cruise and related activity. It is an extensive review, but I have broken it into sections in case you wish to skip around.
I (30 years old) and my wife (27) are from Michigan and this is our 4th cruise. The 1st cruise was Royal Caribbean (E. Carib.) and our 2nd & 3rd cruises were on Celebrity (S. Carib & Mediterranean). We are joined on the cruise by my parents (ages 62 & 65). I am writing the review as we go, from my laptop.
In reading this review please keep in mind the following:
I travel extensively on business
My wife and I travel extensively (mainly in US) on leisure
We generally stay at Hyatts or Ritz Carltons
The last cruise we took was on the brand new Celebrity Millennium, arguably the most elegant ship on the ocean (5 star all the way).
In light of this, I admit to be a discerning traveler and sometimes overly critical.
BOOKING & FLIGHTS
I booked my cruise through cruise.com. Checked 5 different travel agencies; cruise.com was the cheapest by $250 per person. We booked cabins B230 & B231 (Baja deck with balconies); second seating; table of 8.
As you will note below, I booked all shore excursions privately. My wife and I spent over 50 hours determining the appropriate port itineraries and working with private tour companies. I have a separate itinerary of each port, things to do, tour company booked, prices, etc. If anyone needs a copy, feel free to email me at email@example.com
We flew United Airlines business class from Detroit to Sydney. United did a fantastic job on all legs. Overall travel time was about 24 hours. Jet lag was not a real problem since we all got about 6 hours of sleep between LAX and Sydney, and forced ourselves to stay up.
Note: if you fly business class on a 747, asked to be seated in upper deck, it is more quiet.
We arrived in Sydney at 7:30am on Friday (Dec. 13). We went through customs without our baggage, they stamped our passports and there was no line. We collected our bags in under 20 minutes.
Note: baggage carts are free in Sydney airport (they are right next to baggage carousels). Once we collected our bags, we stood in line for another 15-20 minutes to go through an agricultural X-ray inspection. Once that was done, we were let out into the general greeting hall where money exchange, waiting persons and car rental agencies are located.
Note: I exchanged money at airport at rate of $100US=$160Australian. However, they wanted to charge me a $7 fee for converting AMEX travelerís cheques. I thought that was weird, so I exchanged US dollars for Aus dollars. Aus dollars are very similar to Canadian money in look and texture.
I had arranged for the hotel to send a car. The driver was waiting, loaded the luggage and transported us to the hotel. Approx. 10min. ride from airport to city center.
We stayed at the Park Hyatt in Sydney. Generally regarded as the best located hotel in Sydney; it is located right under the Harbor bridge and across from the Opera House. A quick review of the hotel (if you want more info., just email me):
Best located hotel in Sydney
Within walking distance of Opera house, bridge, rocks area, etc...
Meals and other hotel services are expensive, sometimes overly expensive
Rooms were spacious, similar to US hotels
Relatively modern hotel with an old school architecture
Would definitely recommend, and would only stay there if I returned to Sydney (for business or pleasure)
I would rate it a 4.5 star hotel, utilizing US AAA standards (even though AAA does not use half points).
Note: I spotted the Holiday Inn (Rocks) and Sir Stamford (closer to Opera House). They were both in good locations. I think I also saw a Renaissance, good location also.
Since we arrived two days prior to boarding the cruise, we had some time to see Sydney. On Friday, our arrival day, we purchased a Red Sydney Explorer Bus Pass. This is similar to other private city bus passes (e.g. DC or Philadelphia); you pay one fee; there are 24 stops; buses come by every 20 minutes; you get off and on at your leisure. It cost $30Aus per person.
Note: The attractions below give you a discount of 10-20% for showing the Red Explorer Bus pass; so the pass almost pays for itself. We evaluated purchasing a Privileges Card (a discount card you can purchase in Australia), but decided not to; I am glad we did not since the bus passes gave us the same discounts.
There are bus stops near most major hotels. We boarded one block away from the hotel and saw the following sites:
Botanical Gardens: not very impressive, nothing was in bloom. Statutes were nicer than grounds. If you are younger and want to stroll, this would be the place.
Hard Rock stop: Ate lunch at Hard Rock, up a side street, it was deserted. Hard Rock is within walking distance of Hyde Park, there are several key sights around the park, including:
o St Mary Cathedral. Large, nice church; not spectacular but worth a see.
o Walk-through Hyde Park and see the large fountain and tunnel of trees. Both must sees.
o Right off Hyde Park is the Sydney Tower (AMP Center).
Sydney Tower: Typical large tower, take an elevator up, and see the whole city. If it is a relatively clear day, it is a must see. Gives you a good idea of how big Sydney is and how the harbor and waterways work. The price of admission also includes a video, motion ride. It tells the history of Australia, etc. Takes about 20 minutes, it is worthwhile to do.
Queen Victoria Building: This is a short walk from the Sydney Tower. It is a large upscale shopping center. The building itself is a must-see and the shopping is good (expensive though). There is a variety of other shopping establishments around the QV building. A dozen opal stores here; my wife purchased an opal pendant.
Note: Australia is the only place you can find certain Opals. In the states you can find light opals, but the rare boulder and black opals can generally only be purchased in Australia.
Sydney Aquarium & Darling Harbor: Besides Harbor Bridge and Opera House, the must see attraction is the Aquarium. I will not spoil it, but make sure you go through the underground tunnels. The Aquarium is on Darling Harbor, a complex of tourist sites (e.g. Maritime museum), restaurants, shops, etc. You can probably spend 30 minutes just walking around the harbor and its sites. Aquarium is not a must see if you do Kelly T.ís in Auckland, but it is still worthwhile.
Note: 8 Darling Harbor is where the Princess ship leaves from.
On Saturday we focused on the Harbor Bridge and Opera House area:
Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb: One of the top tourists destinations is of course the bridge. A must see. For the able, also a must climb. As you probably have heard, you can climb the bridge, for approx. $150 (Aus) per person. We did this at 9:25am Saturday morning. Thankfully it was overcast with a breeze, since it was a long climb. You can read about the process on their website, but briefly: very professional, 3.5 hour process, difficult climb at times, must do if you are able, souvenir photos, short walk from Hyatt.
Notes: The climb is overdone at times with photos and stops; I got a little sick of it during the last Ĺ hour. Also, if the sun had been shining, it may have been unbearable since you have to wear a full body suit and a variety of gear. Last, you should definitely book this in advance. I booked in 4 months in advance.
Opera House: We did not do the usual guided public tour, since I had booked tickets for the Sydney Symphony orchestra for Sat. night. This and most of the stuff discussed herein can be done completely online; I can provide info. upon request. The Opera House is majestic, especially at night. The whole area around the bridge, opera house and the rocks area is energetic. On the weekend it was packed, but in a good way. There are dozens of restaurants and street performers, etc. Completely friendly, completely safe and completely amazing. If you have a chance, walk this area on a Fri. or Sat. night, it is amazing. So many people out and about, it looked liked the streets of Manhattan on a Monday morning. A ton of great restaurants, including numerous 4-5 star restaurants located in this area.
The opera house itself is nice inside, nothing spectacular. The environment is what is spectacular; the views; the champagne before the concert; the stroll to and from the opera house; the harbor; the skyline and the bridge all lit up.
Official boarding time was 2pm. We arrived about 2pm. There were no lines, they made us fill out an additional form (even though we did express check-in over the internet), so that took five minutes.
Note: The express check-in saved us maybe 1-2 minutes.
Overall, I cannot complain about the boarding process, from the time the taxi pulled up till the time we boarded the boat, maybe 20 minutes. I saw no special lines for Captainís Circle Platinum members or suites.
Scam Alert!!-As we boarded the boat, there was a waiter staffed at a sales booth. They were selling soda cards. In other words, you can purchase a free soda card for $27. Pay once, and you can drink all the soda you would like (Coke, Diet Coke, etc). As we later learned, there is a hitch. First, it only applies to fountain soda, not canned soda. You can usually find fountain soda in most places, but you have to make sure you ask for it. Also, since it is free, the waiters/waitresses get no tip, so they are not always attentive to your needs. The biggest thing is the quality of the fountain drinks [no wonder they give it away so cheap]. I drink Coke and my father drinks Diet Coke; the taste of each one we got was never the same. Sometimes it was so bad, I wanted to spit it out. The quality of the fountain soda is soooo bad, I buy cans and bring them to the dining room (since you can only get fountain soda in the Dining Room). We received refunds on our cards.
DAYS AT SEA & SOME ACTIVITIES
No need to go over every day at sea, since they are all pretty much the same. There is a different movie playing in the theater everyday; nice theater!! There is another movie playing continuously in cabin. Sample selections include Greek Wedding, Sum of All Fears, Harry Potter 1. There are 5-6 channels on the TV that work constantly: CNN Europe, CNNfn, others are Princess channels that play various things.
Note: Unlike some of the modern ships, there is no interactive TV. You cannot review bill, watch pay movies or gamble on the TV. Just an older 12íí TV.
There is Bingo twice a day while at sea ($10 for 1 card, $20 for 3 cards; this will allow you to play 5 games (or 1 sitting)).
There are a variety of trivia games and materials all around. These were fun, you should try it.
1 scavenger hunt; also pretty fun.
Shuffleboard, ping pong, pools, etc. No video arcade and no basketball court.
Casino, small card room and small library.
Internet access is not an internet cafe. You go to pursuerís desk and ask for a wireless laptop. They give you 1 of the 4 they have, you sit down in lobby and you can access email and internet. It was $7.50 for 15 minutes; once you got connected, it was reasonably fast. There is usually a waiting list at prime times. I tried to go late at night or right before dinner.
Laundromats are on a variety of decks. Believe it or not, they can get pretty crowded; never used them but saw a number of people who did.
Fitness Center is small. 5 treadmills, a couple of bikes and weights. The treadmills are based upon 30 minutes sign-up sheets.
Note: The fitness center is packed in the mornings, so go to the fitness center and sign-up for a treadmill ahead of time. You can only sign up 1-2 days in advance, but if you are diligent (and you are since you are taking the time to read this), you can get the times you want.
Spa & Hair salon are small and old. They have the usual services.
Note: On the first day, they give free tours, take one. This will enable you to decide if you want anything and to sign-up for it on the spot. You are not going to lose out if you wait a couple of hours, but if you wait to the 2nd day, the good slots will be gone. For example, my wife likes to get her hair done on formal nights. Well there are only 2 hairdressers or so onboard. There are 750 ladies on the ship, many of them would like to get their hair done on the formal nights; you get the idea. We went the first thing, first day and signed-up for the premium times every formal day. We do not run around and try to be the first for everything, we are just well informed and plan a little ahead.
This is the only ship stop where we did not have an organized tour. It turned out well since Melbourne has a pretty extensive public transportation system.
Getting to town
We docked approx. 10-25 minutes from town. It takes 10 minutes in a taxi or 25 minutes in a public tramway that makes a dozen stops. You can use either method or use the Princess shuttle van for $4 per person each way. It will take you to the center of town. The Princess shuttle van was available in each port for the same price, so I will not reference it again. [never took it, so cannot tell you how it was, but heard no complaints]
We chose to engage a taxi since we were going to the Zoo first, which was on the outskirts of town. We did the following activities:
Melbourne Zoo: We took a taxi from ship to Zoo for about $25 (Aus). The taxis were metered. The Zoo was Fantastic. We have only been to US city zoos, so Melbourne zoo was a surprise. The animals are all within 10-20 feet. Notable exhibits include Kangaroo, Koala, Elephant and Giraffe exhibits. I cannot compare it to Sydney Zoo since we did not go, but I know Melbourneís is definitely worth seeing. We skipped the animals we usually see in the States and focused on the main Australian ones. Took about 1 hour.
Victoria Markets: We then caught a public tram to the Victoria Markets.
Note: In each port, as you exit the ship, the city sponsors a free information booth. The booth provides this type of information and maps. They are not a scam and they are not trying to sell you anything.
Note: Tram costs $5 (Aus) per person and you can ride all day. It is confusing, because you pay on board. But not to the driver. You have to have coin money and you purchase a ticket from an automated machine in the center of the tram. It is on the honor system. So we only had enough for 3 people, no one ever stopped us (I later got more money at the next stop to buy the 4th all day pass).
Victoria markets were cool. It was an upscale flea, produce and fresh meat/fish market. It was larger than anything we have at home. It was a treat to see. You can also find some good bargains. I am the farthest thing from a flea market shopper you will find, but it was fun to walkthrough; especially in the fruit and meat/fish departments. It was clean and nothing too gross was sold.
Downtown Melbourne (Shopping! & Lunch): I have been to many large US cities, including Chicagoís Miracle Mile, but I have never seen anything like Melbourneís downtown shopping area. Granted, we were there two weeks before Christmas (on a Tuesday), but it was the busiest downtown I have even seen. This could rival Manhattan on a Monday morning. The shopping district in Melbourne is very similar to Chicago. Long stretches of streets packed with stores of all kinds including large department stores.
I just hope it is crowded when you get there. Who cares about shopping, just walking around and experiencing it all (1/2 way around the world) was worth it. Melbourne is what US city shopping used to be like. There are very few suburban malls in Australia, instead everyone goes downtown to shop.
The shopping area did not have many sit-down places to eat. There were a number of them closer to the Parliament/Hard Rock Cafe area. Have to take a tram up the street.
Rialto Towers Observation Deck: A couple long blocks over from the shopping area is the business district (not officially called that, but it appeared to be where the high-rise office buildings were). One of the office buildings houses an observation deck. Again, you can hop a tram to it. I think it is a must see. Typical observation deck that gives you a 360 degree view of the city. As you will see, we did these in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, all well worth it. Gives you an appreciation of how big each city is and the beautiful waterways each city has.
After that, we took the tram back to the ship. 25 minutes and 12 stops. Should of taken a taxi for a 10 minute ride. The tram does not take you directly to the ship. It dropped us off about 10 minutes walk from ship. Princess has a small shuttle bus from tram stop to ship; this was different than the Princess shuttle going into town. This one was free, but it was too full for us to take it. So we walked.
Note: Since Melbourne is a big city and they have metered taxis such as New York, it does not cost much to hire a taxi within the city. Sure it might cost $20 for 3 cab rides, instead of $10 worth of tram tickets, but sometimes it is worth it; especially if it is hot day. The Trams come every couple of minutes, but you have to wait for them in the middle of the street with the sun glaring down.
Sydney & Melbourne City v. Rural: In almost every port, due to the tight timeframes, you have to make a decision of what to do. Mainly, do you want to see the city or do you want to do a rural excursion/adventure. For example, in Sydney we could have went to see the Blue Mountains, in Melbourne we could have seen the Yarra Valley. In both instances, we chose to see the cities and we were not disappointed. You will see plenty of lush hills, valleys and mountains in New Zealand and Hobart. I would suggest focusing on the cities when in Sydney and Melbourne.
We hired a driver and van from SVR limousine for the day. Our driver was named Ralph. It was worth every penny and more. Ralph was great and made the experience all the more special. He was not a driver, he was a tour guide. He knew everything about his home and all the workers at our main stops. If you go with SVR, you have to ask for Ralph.
The following are the key sights we saw:
**Bonorong Wildlife Park: Go here first. You will read about this in your Princess brochure. Many of the Princess buses will go to this main wildlife park, sometime in the day. As described below, the best part of the park is feeding the animals. So go in the morning when they are awake (not too hot) and hungry.
Although we docked at 8:00am, we did not start until 8:45am (the time I booked the van for). I did this type of delay in each port, just in case ship was late. Probably a mistake since the ship was always early or on time. If you can get up in the mornings early, I would suggest an early start.
Bonorong is by far, hands down, the best wildlife park/zoo we had ever been to. It is not a zoo, it is a wildlife park. We arrived at the park, just as one of the Princess tours arrived. The park is not huge and they only house animals found in Australia, but that is exactly what we wanted to see. The animals are in pens (not cages) about 5-10 feet away from you. There were 3 zoo employees that followed the visitors around, and pulled the animals from their pens. The only way I can describe it is that Bonorong is like a farm petting zoo in the States. In the States, you can go and pet horses and feed pigs and goats. In Bonorong, you can do the exact same thing with Koalas, Kangaroos and Wombats. The zoo employee got out a Koala, and held him in his arms for 20 minutes. Everyone got to pet it and get a picture with it. They did this with 3 other animals as well.
Next, we went to the dangerous Tasmania devils cages (I am not kidding, they are dangerous). No petting, but the zoo employees follow you and get a bucket of dead rabbit. They feed the devils right in front of you (7-10 feet away). We got to see 2 devils fight over the food. Sounds gross, but it was awesome. Like nothing you would ever see in a US zoo.
Last and best were the multiple Kangaroo and Wallabie pens. When you enter the park, they give you a bag of feed for these animals. Once you get into their section, the animals are essentially roaming free around you. So you hold your hand out and feed them. Yes, you crouch next to a Kangaroo and feed it, while your wife takes a picture. You can also touch them all you want.
IN MY OPINION, BONORONG IS THE #1 MUST SEE OF THE ENTIRE TRIP.
Tahune Valley: Next we set out on a 1.0 hour drive to Tahune Valley and the Forest Airwalk. The Tahune Valley is breathtaking. Comparable to some places in the US, but nonetheless breathtaking. This valley is known for its apple, cherry orchards and timber. So I found its foliage and products to be similar to Northern Michigan, but nonetheless beautiful.
We ate lunch at a great place, right on the river that runs through the valley.
Tahune Forest Airwalk: It is a pretty good hike from the valley (30 minutes). We traveled on curvy, small lane roads. Fully paved of course. It was built by the national park service. It is a must see in my mind. They have a website so you can read more about it, but essentially, the park service built a metal walkway 100-150 feet up from the ground in the middle of a forest. This area has very large, tall trees. You walk among them for about Ĺ mile. The scenery is beautiful forest and river scenery. The best part for me was just being on the Airwalk. It is an engineering marvel that cannot be found in the US (at least no where I know of).
You have to walk-up about 160 steps (pretty steep) to get to it. There is also a handicap golf-cart option instead.
Salamanca Place: We were tight on time. It sounds like we did not do much, but we stopped and saw many smaller things along our way. I am just discussing the highlights. We ended our journey across from the ship. Salamanca Place is with 100 yards of the ship. Although we only have 30 minutes to shop, it was some of the best, if not the best tourist type shopping. They had wool stores, artist galleries, wood carvings, etc. High end, reasonably priced. Remember, the Tahune valley is known for its timber. So we were able to find some very nice Australian wood products.
Port Arthur: Did not have time to see this, since this is an all day excursion, but I heard good things about it prior to cruise. I cannot tell you if anyone on then cruise liked it, but I was tempted to go there. As described later, my tablemates were Australians, so they did not do many excursions in port (since they had seen most of it before). This only allows me to provide you insight to the areas we saw.
You dock in Port Chalmers. The ship sails into and out of one of the most beautiful harbors in the world. It is by far the most beautiful harbor I have ever seen; it exceeds Sydney and Christchurch. If the sun is hitting the hills of the mountains just right, you do not need to get off the ship. If you came to New Zealand to see the rolling hills you see on TV or in Lord of the Rings, just go to your balcony. Once you have seen this harbor and the surrounding area, you can fly home. That is how I felt. The Otago peninsula (discussed below) which borders one side of the harbor is the most amazing 10 mile strip of land I have ever seen in my life. I have been to Hawaii 4 times. [My wife thinks Hawaii is better, but agrees it is close]
We booked an all day tour and van with Arthurís Tours. We got Arthur Lindell himself. The city and tour were amazing. The Dunedin stop was by far the BEST; no comparison. I cannot get into all the details of each tour, but similar to our driver in Hobart, Arthur made our Dunedin experience special. Arthur is type of guy that everyone in the town knows, and he knows everyone. At every single stop I discuss below, Arthur knew every employee by their first name, and they all knew him. At times, I kid you not, he ran the tours (even if there was an employee guide). They deferred to him since he was elder and had done it more times than them. Arthur was the perfect guide for this Scottish/English town.
Dunedin Downtown: It is a city of 130,000 people, but it is pretty large. No skyscrapers or anything like that, but a pretty sprawling little town. It has several colleges and universities in town. So although permanent residents might only be 130,000, there are another 25,000 or so going to school. Dunedin has chosen to save and preserve almost all of its original buildings. So the architecture is good viewing. The colleges, universities, churches and railway stations are beautiful; almost must sees, but not quite. You should drive through town just to get a feel.
Royal Albatross Colony: The Otago Peninsula contains 3 must sees: Royal Albatross; Penguin Place and Larnach Castle. We started with the Royal Albatross colony. The colony is home to a rare type of large albatross. The albatross inhabits a small stretch of land at the end of the peninsula only when they are procreating and raising young (just so happens that is summer time and cruise ship time).
Note: You need to book in advance. This is another reason we loved Arthur. He was the only tour operator in our whole trip that quoted us a price that included all admissions. We did not have to do anything, he even made reservations at Royal Albatross and Penguin Place.
I would list Royal Albatross Colony as a must see because the albatross are incredibly large flying birds that that you will not see anywhere else in the world. The guided tour takes about 1 hour. The main part of the tour is climbing to a cliff side observation deck, to look over upon the colony. This requires a decent amount of uphill walking; I was winded and mom had to rest. Dad took a neat little handicap cart uphill; sort of like the power carts in the grocery stores. Since you go to an observation deck and not a zoo, you can never tell what you might see. The real treat is to see them fly. We saw four different flights; which was special. Two flights while on the observation deck and two while drinking tea at the coffee shop. Arthur has a keen eye, and can spot them from far distances. This is an example of where Arthur knew more than the tour guide.
Penguin Place: Imagine World War I trenches in France. A farmer owned a farm where penguins decided to nest. These penguins are rare yellow-eyed penguins. They are not cold weather penguins and they build inland nests. Therefore, the proprietors have constructed a series of trenches that weave in and out of the penguin homes. They camouflage the trenches so you are able to observe the penguin activity in their natural habitat. Again, like nothing I have even seen in the States. (This was my wifeís favorite excursion of the entire trip).
As you walkthrough the trenches, you also walk through sheep pastures (do not step in you know what), rolling hills and cliff lined oceans. For me, this was the best part. Walking among this majestic sea cliff, overlooking rolling pastures; it was breathtaking.
Note: This involves extensive walking over uneven ground and a decent number of steps. With average physical condition, I would say anyone over 65 should think twice. Mom made it OK, but Dad had difficulty.
Larnach Castle: I will skip the details on this one, since they are highly publicized in Princess materials and Frommers. But the key here is to go inside and climb up to the roof, you will see why William Larnach chose to build his grand castle upon a hill in the middle of nowhere (at least it was nowhere back then). The castle itself is spectacular if you like wood carving, but the view from the top is worth the price of admission.
We ate lunch in the grand ballroom. Not so grand and the food was not so grand. But it was convenient.
DUNEDIN WAS UNANIMOUSLY OUR FAVORITE STOP OF THE ENTIRE CRUISE
We booked an all day van and driver through Holiday New Zealand, a large NZ travel agency; they sub booked us with a local tour opertor. The driverís name was Gordon. Gordon was good and friendly as could be, but I would not call him a professional tour guide. Gordon was more of a driver that knew things.
We were pretty tired after an exhilarating day in Dunedin, so we tried to take it easy in Christchurch. We mainly stuck to the city and environs.
Drive in and out of City: Christchurch is not as beautiful as Dunedin, but its harbor is a close second. You dock in Lyletton, a 20-45 minute drive (depending on route) from Christchurch. On the way into Christchurch, we took the longer high roads. Views were great. On the way back, we took the lower beach roads, again great view. There is a perfect look-out point directly over ship and harbor.
Mona Vale: If you are in Christchurch, I think this is a must see. It is going to depend on blooming cycle, but Mona Vale had a beautiful rose garden and a majestic position on the banks of the Avon. You can also catch a punt from Mona Vale. A Punt is like a gondola in Venice. Mona Vale is free to the public, so take a look.
Botanic Gardens: Highly publicized and rated high in Frommers. I was not overly impressed. Part of the problem is that it is too big. Unless you want to wander for 1.5 hours, you only see a little bit. If this is your thing, wander to your hearts content. You can also catch a punt in the gardens.
Arts Center: Transformed an old school into Arts and Craft workshops and stores. Can get art, pottery, wood and wool products. This was a nice stroll and right across from the main entrance to the Botanic Gardens.
Antarctica Center & Haggalund Ride: If you are hanging out in Christchurch, then this is another must see. It gives you a good feel for what life is like in Antarctica. Also, the center is located on the same grounds as the US Antarctica headquarters. Christchurch is where all of our scientists come to and go from.
When paying for admission to the center, buy a combo that includes a Haggalund ride. Suitable for all ages, it is a 15 minute ride outside the complex. The Haggalund is the vehicle used to travel in Antarctica and the 15 minute ride is through a manmade obstacle course to give you an idea of Antarctica conditions; pretty neat.
There is a pretty extensive gift shop and cafe here. All the sites have these, but I note this one for its size and your ability to eat a cafe type lunch here.
In summary, Christchurch was nice and probably would have been nicer if we ventured out of the city more, but Dunedinís landscape and the drive into and out of Christchurch provided us ample countryside experiences.
We went here instead of Wellington, since it was a Christmas cruise and Wellington fell on the 25th. If anyone wants to know more about Tauranga or Rotorua, just email me.
Wellington Note: Based upon my research of Wellington, since I thought we were going there, Te Papa Museum is a must see.
Jet Boat Riding: We did a Jet Boat ride in Tauranga. They are all over NZ. I highly recommend it and my parents thoroughly enjoyed it as well. Like a jet ski, but it is a jet boat. We got a little wet, but not bad. Wear some type of sunglasses. Got a little windburn on face.
We booked a van and driver through Craig Harris. Our driver was Craig (might have been a 1 person operation) and he was a driver with knowledge, not really a tour guide. Again, he was friendly enough and professional, but not a full blown tour guide.
Kelly Tarltonís Antarctica & Underwater Experience: Most people would say this is a must see and I agree, unless you went to both the Sydney Aquarium and the Penguin Place in Dunedin. We saw both of these, and Kelly Tís was sort of a combination of the two. But the penguins were different and viewed more like a zoo. You should definitely got Penguin Place in Dunedin, but unless you are really into aquariums, either Sydney Aquarium or Kelly Tís alone should be enough.
Sky Tower: Another tower. Typical setup; ride elevator to the top. A couple different features are glass floors at the top and a tower jump. You can jump off the top connected to a cable. It did not look as good as bungee jumping, but they say the thrill is the first step.
Viaducts/Americas Cup Area: You may be in store for a real treat. Depending on when you are in Auckland, the Americas Cup may be going on. Make sure you check. Either way, Auckland is home to the Americas Cup and all of the race operations and teams. There is an area in the harbor that houses all of this, along with outdoor cafes. It is nice to see the different operations and boats. Boats are hidden, but depending on the day you might see one. We saw the NZ team head3ed out to practic in the harbour.
Mounts: Do not know what else to call them. Auckland was created by a series of volcanic eruptions. Therefore, all through the city and suburbs, there are former volcano mounts that now serve as great look-out points. The sheep eat the grass so they do not have to mow it.
Parnell Street: Good, higher end shopping. We purchased some NZ made crystal/glass products.
SHIP, CABIN, FOOD AND ENTERTAINMENT GENERAL COMMENTS
Overall Ship Comments
As you probably know, Regal is an older ship. Also somewhat smaller with only 1,500 passengers. I will not bore you with my complaints and the differences between Celebrity new ships and the Regal Princess. Instead, in summary, the appearance of the Regal Princess, the cleanliness of the room, the artwork, design & color scheme are equal to a high end Holiday Inn or a low end Marriott or Sheraton. Similar to a 3 Star AAA hotel. In comparison, the Celebrity Galaxy (not overly new) is a 4 to 4.5 Star AAA hotel and the new Millennium is similar to a 5 Star AAA hotel.
I know I may sound overly critical, but in my mind there is no excuse for rust, dust in rooms, dirty drawers that I have to wipe out myself, etc.
With this said, I certainly would not say the ship is unclean. I felt very comfortable sleeping and eating in the ship. The only area of the ship that is truly unclean, and unacceptable, are the public restrooms. The Level 7 restrooms between the dining room and theater are horrible. So bad that the ladies have to go back to the room. For anyone that has cruised before, you know this is unacceptable, regardless of the cruise line.
As many commentators pointed out, the Regal was refurbished a couple of years ago. Obvious improvements are new carpet, redesigned (and redecorated) dining room (still loud), lobby and buffet area. These areas are nicely appointed and are similar to a 4 Star Hotel.
Last, Princess changed their tipping policy and I think it shows. They include a basic tip automatically now. Whatever the reason, the people were not overly attentive. For example, on Royal Carib. and Celebrity they heavily advertise the drink of the day and bar waiters compete for good tips. So although it could get annoying, there was always someone waiting on us on those cruises. This one was raise your hand and try to get someoneís attention. No one was overly rude, but not overly helpful.
As with all topics, please email me with any questions about such things as pool, lounges, etc.
Overall Food & Dining Room Comments
As an FYI, we asked for late seating table of 8. They gave us late seating table of 10. It turned out alright since 2 people never showed up. The four of us were joined by 2 Australian couples (they were unrelated).
Dining room was nice, but a little noisy. Waters were generally calm, so did not notice engine noise or rumble.
The dining menu is nicely laid out, best I have seen. Specifically, they have a dietary portion, a vegetarian portion, a daily selection portion, and an always portion. The always portion is items you can always get, such as chicken breast, steak, fettuccine alfredo, cheesecake. So if the daily selection was not to your liking, you could get something off the always available section.
Again, comparing it to AAA ratings and restaurants, the overall dining room food was similar to a $15-20 meal at home, maybe 3 Stars out of 5. To provide some examples:
Salad dressings tasted like Kraft; actually they were worse than store bought.
Steaks came medium rare or well, no in between. This happened consistently for all of us. You order medium well, it comes dry and well. You order Medium, it comes bleeding.
Every third night or so, you would have a notably good dinner. Nothing to write home about, but good.
Soups were hit or miss. Cold soups usually good.
Ice cream is poor, extremely poor. There is no ice cream bar and when you get it in dining room, it has ice crystals in it (like it has sat too long).
A couple notably good items you should try:
o Spinach turnover appetizer
o Italian buffet (on Christmas day, they gave us special Italian buffet, normal cruise might not get it)
o Lobster of course
o Red snapper
o Fettuccini Alfredo (one of the always items) is good
o Honey mustard dressing is edible
o The birthday and anniversary cakes. If someone has one at table, they bring small cake. They were both wonderful, it you like chocolate.
o Lamb, lobster and seafood skewer were also good.
o Cheesecake was very good.
o The chocolate desserts were usually good. Some of the non-chocolate desserts were horrible.
Last note about food, trust your waiter/waitress. Our waitress had about an 80% hit ratio (i.e. things she recommended were good 80% of the time).
Pizzeria: Great pizza, for a cruise ship. Unlike other ships, Regal has a separate sit-down pizzeria. It can get crowded around lunchtime.
Note: You can not get pizze in your room and you cannot take it out of pizzeria.
Hamburgers & Hotdogs: Like all cruise ships, they have the typical burger and dog station. Only had it once, was not impressed.
Wine Note: You can bring your own bottles of wine to the dining room. They will charge you a $10 uncorking fee, even if you uncork it. If it is not gone, they will store it overnight. There is the usual wine tasting during cruise for $5 per person. The ladies did it and said it was fun but wine was nothing special.
Buffet Note: The buffet at lunchtime is packed. The area is too small, so seats are scarce. When cruising the Caribbean, people will eat outside. But with this area and the design of the ship, the wind it too strong on deck, so everyone crams inside. This includes people eating the regular buffet, salad bar or hamburger bar. We tried to stay away from it as much as possible. We usually went to open seating in the dining room.
Our waitress and asst. waiter were from Thailand. They were nice and pretty efficient. They lacked personalities and were nothing to write home about. Also, they consistently placed meals in the wrong spots. Sounds picky I know, but on a cruise ship (if you have been on one before), that is not normal.
The first night our waitress said anything you want, I will get for you. Sounds great right, well action speaks louder than words. If it was not easily accessible, you do not get it. For example:
When I had soda problem in dining room, I asked for a can of coke instead of fountain drink, they said no.
Every night they have cheesecake on the menu. At lunch in dining room, my wife requested it, they said no. All they had to do was go into the fridge and get a piece.
One night I wanted bťarnaise with my steak (they had bťarnaise the night before); they said no.
Agree with other readers, largest cabin on any cruise ship I have been on. This comment may be deceiving though. It is larger by about 50 sq ft., not much. Ample hanging and drawer space. Note: You cannot fit your empty luggage under the bed like other ships, so ask your cabin steward to stow it.
The room has:
TV, no VCR and no CD player (not expected, just pointing it out)
Hairdryer near desk. There is a desk next to bed to be used as a makeup table. So the hairdryer is at the desk, not in the bathroom.
One additional electrical outlet near desk (e.g. for curling iron).
Refrigerator. It is empty; which can be good or bad. Other ships have fully stocked bars. This one does not, but the pro is that you can store alcohol, fruit and water in the fridge.
Screwed up temperature control. A major complaint would be temperature. The general ship was always too cold, everyone agreed on that point. So even though it was 85 F outside, you could not wear a short sleeve shirt to the dining room since it was too cold. In the room, there is only 2 settings, hot and cold, no mild. There are multiple settings, but the thing was erratic. Parents said the same thing on other side of ship. You put it on hot, it goes up to 80 F. You put it on cold, it goes down to 60 F. It is tough to find 70 F, especially at night. The problem is that the fan constantly runs. Unlike a hotel room, you cannot shut the fan off.
Our cabin attendant was the #1 employee on the ship. He was great, always attentive, knew our names, and very professional. I think he could have cleaned the room better, but his attitude made up for it.
Overall Entertainment Comments
Horrible would sum it up well. Do not get the wrong impression, I had a great cruise and a great vacation, just certain things sucked. The on-ship singers and dancers were beyond bad; as my father put it, a high school theater group could do better. The guests entertainers varied:
Banjo player was extremely boring
Magician that dressed up like Chaplin was ok
Juggler/comedian was FANTASTIC
Did not listen to bands and lounge music much, but no one was a stand-out. Some stood out in a negative way, but none good. Please also remember that we had 4 unrelated persons at our table that pretty much agreed with us on the entertainment front.
Tuxedo Note: Father and I pre-rented tuxedos through Princess. They arrived in cabin on Day 1. Fatherís fit fine, mine was way off. Cabin steward exchanged it for correct size within 1 hour. I would say the majority of people did not wear tuxedos and some didnít even ewear suits; this is in marked contrast to Celebrity.
Art Auction Note: Same as all cruises, they have art auctions the days at sea. This one is run by Princess directly, not a third party like Park West Gallery. We came as buyers. This is a great way to buy inexpensive art, so we had our dimensions and color schemes ready etc. Unfortunately, we found Princessí art selection to be lacking in comparison to Park West. Park West was on Royal Carib. and Celebrity. We bought nothing in the end.
LAST FEW DAYS AND DISEMBARKATION DAY
Luggage: They want you to put your luggage out by 10pm the night before. We did not get ours out to 11:20pm, it was no problem. Experienced cruisers know they could probably stretch it even longer.
As with all cruises, they unload your luggage for you.
Disembarking Order: Typical color code, based upon flight time. We disembarked leisurely at about 9:20am. I would suspect all colors were done being called by 10:00pm. They went efficient.
Tipping: A $10 gratuity is automatically charged to your stateroom every day, per person. Since I received Excellent service from my stateroom attendant, I gave him an additional tip. I did not tip the restaurant staff and did not see many envelopes being given to the restaurant staff the last night.
Baked Alaska: The traditional Princess Baked Alaska parade came on the last night. It was delicious.
Captainís Gala Dinner: 2nd from last night was lobster night, you automatically get 2 tails. Dad ate 4, they were pretty small. Go to the champagne glass event after dinner; it is neat to watch and they go all out.
Auckland Airport: Very modern airport. Lots of shops before and after customs. There seems to be a lot of different security/customs and ticket check points. None were very crowded the day we went, but I would not cut it close. There is plenty of shopping to keep you comfortable. Also, if you have access to the United Club, take advantage of it; it is fabulous. I also spotted a Diners Club lounge near the United gates.
You have to pay a $22 (NZ) departure fee, per person. They will explain it at airport.
Princess Photos: If you have been on a cruise before, you know about photos. The photo staff takes photos of you all over the place. Then they are available for purchase later. Actually, my wife and I love it. We never have time to take formal pictures at home. So we have multiple ones taken on the formal nights, then at the end of the cruise, sort through them all, and pick the best one. The downside is that an 8x10 is $21.95 (US).
GST: For any of you that are familiar with Canada and Europe, Australian and NZ both impose a 12% Goods & Services Tax (GST). NZ GST is non-refundable, so no need to comment further; just know you cannot get any of it back. Australian GST is refundable only if you spend more than $300 at any 1 single retailer. If you qualify, then you need to inquire further how to get your refund.