Sunday, 3 January 2016

Cruising 21 December 2015 to 3 January 2016

This cruise was purely about relaxing and the ship was the destination.    We had had a very long hard year so we were not rushing to do anything in particular!

We didn't take as many photos this time as we have done all the ports (except Gisborne before).

21 December - Embarkation Day

After unpacking we immediately went to Sabatinis and Crown Grille to book dinner for one night each.  

Muster Stations - as usual we all had to attend muster stations half an hour before departure.
  • On Princess you must take you life jacket with you
  • You are 'scanned' into the muster briefing, to ensure you attend,  If you don't you will get a please explain letter and request to attend a special briefing.
  • Do listen as although it all sounds boring they do give you other information and tips such as:
    • how to distinguish between port and starboard when finding your cabin - the corridor carpets as different - on the port (left) side the carpet has a red border, on the starboard (right) the carpet had blue border
    • All the lifts except the atrium glass lifts face FORWARD, so you always come out facing the same way
    • The aft lifts - two outside lifts go down to level 6 and up to level 17 but the two inside lifts only go level 7 - 14.  
    • Avoid the Aft lifts inside two around 5 15 pm - 5.45 pm when people are accessing the level 6 Main Dining Room (MDR) Canatello as these two lifts are the only way to access this dining room.   Did not notice any issues for the late dining as we were always eating at that time!
The casual Cruise Critic Sail-away was at the Outrigger Bar, Level 14 outside of the Horizon Court Deck 14.    A small turn out but most enjoyable.

Princess Patter gave a list of Smart Casual nights, Formal Nights (2) and one Country night (which we were not aware of prior).   Cruise Entertainment Highlights (in no particular order as it turns out!)
Drink Packages are advertised.  Beware if you purchased these it is for the whole cruise, not just by 
the day.

Showtime: Welcome Aboard 8pm and 10pm (we did not attend)

22 December - Sea Day 1

Purchased the "Coffee Card" which was AUD 36.00 for 15 premium coffee or teas, plus unlimited normal tea and brewed coffee.    Can be in china cup or takeaway small or large.  We mainly had large takeaway Flat Whites which were very nice and good value.    Available at the International Cafe and most other bars and dining areas through out the ship.

Received a card advising the the Platinum/Elite/Suite passengers pre-dinner hors devres are un the Skywalkers Lounge which is closed for exclusive use between 5-7pm each night  (I am Platinum)
We enjoyed this each night, although there was few participants, possibly due to the number dining at 5.30 pm.

Invited to a Captain Circle event (for Gold and Ruby cruisers) (husband is Gold).  Captain spoke and prize was drawn for one person to win Elite Status for the balance of the cruise and 2 others won a bottle of Champagne.

We chose Anytime Dining, which was in the Bernini Dining Room 5.00 pm to 9.00 pm and Donatello from 7.30 pm to 9.30 pm.. Donatello is Early Traditional from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm.
Some patience is required for the first couple of nights until people get use to this system.

I prefer to dine in the MDR for all meals as I find the buffet difficult in a wheelchair.  Plus the MDR you get waited on, have silver service and most importantly can have different dining companions each night if you wish.

The Head Waiters were great each meal finding an accessible table for us and suitable companions.  We dined in the same area most meals meaning we had regular table waiters whether we were in Bernini or Donatello.

23 December - Sea Day 2 - Formal Night

A quiet day for us as we are still feeling jaded!

Ship interiors areas quite crowded as the weather is not particularly warm and conducive to being on deck or in the pool area.

Spent the day getting to know the ship, finding spots to sit and read or chat to other passengers.

Although we dressed for Formal Night, we dined alone for once and managed to skirt around the formal photo spots.

Again, did not participate in anything or go to any shows.  Except we did turn up for "Technology Workshop" to find it had been cancelled due to technical difficulties and rescheduled for 31 December!

Retired early and watched 'Ant Man' on the stateroom TV

24 December - Sea Day 3 Christmas Eve

Treated myself to a Manicure and Shellac nail polish application in the afternoon, which took an hour.   Nice to be pampered.

Christmas Carols were in the Piazza at 5 and 7 pm.   I joined in for the 5 pm session which helped set the atmosphere for the evening.

Dinner booked in Sabatinis for 6.30 pm.   Beautiful meal and wonderful service.   
I had scallops for entree, DH had calamari, for mains we both had the Veal Rack which was divine   All washed down with a lovely bottle of red wine (we don't usually drink a whole bottle between us in one night but we did this night!)  Dessert DH had the Tiramsu which exquisitely presented and I had the lemon tart which was divine.

Would we go again - possibly, but were disappointed (and pleased) the veal was offered on the MDR on the second last night!

Managed to make it to the 8pm Showtime - Michael McGurk a brilliant Magician, but it was standing room only.

From there we went to the Explorers Lounge and watched the Princess Cruises Pop Singer Heat 1. Apart from a couple of awful singers the rest were of a very good standard.

Our first late night at 10.30 pm!

25 December - Auckland Christmas Day - arrival due 9.30 am departure 7 pm (1 hr earlier than anticipated due to tidal issues at next port of Tauranga

Lovely weather after very mild and windy days sailing over.

Auckland sky line!

Photos taken from Skywalkers - one of the best spots (apart from above the deck with is not wheelchair accessible and open to the elements!!)

Voyager of the Seas (also in Christmas Day making for a lot of passengers with not much to do unfortunately)

It was great to be greeted by the staff in Donatello at Breakfast with a rousing "Merry Christmas"!   Much better than the previous cruises where there was the PC 'Happy Holidays'.

We found our arrival to the embarkation deck put us at the front of the queue!   We expected people to be queued earlier.    One of our Cruise Critic friends did come through to the front as he was unwell and off to Auckland Hospital for scan and investigation for possible kidney stones!   He was first off and we were second and third.   All very easy

We headed for the train to go home for to spend the day with family who were staying during our absence!    Arrived to find the Auckland family there too which was great.   Had a wonderful day with the BIL providing fresh venison for the BBQ!

Took the train back early as I was paranoid about the train being late (only one every hour) or cancelled and risking getting back to the ship late!

Our Sailaway spot was Promenade Deck as it was warm.  Downside is it is the smokers deck (Yuk)

Goodbye Auckland - Voyager of the Seas departed an hour before us.

The 'Slug' on Wharf 10 where we were docked.  Building to the left the cruise terminal.

Dined alone at dinner and had an early night again, although chatting to people on route to our cabin did take an hour!  The joy of cruising.

26 December - Boxing Day - Tauranga

Very early arrival 4.45 am due to tidal requirements

I slept through the whole thing as our cabin felt and heard the thrusters used to dock!  And believe me that is something.

Only just made it to breakfast as the dining hours in the MDR were 7 - 9 not 7.30 to 9.30!  

We eventually went ashore to have a wander through the shops to purchase new sun hats and sunscreen.   Found a nice spot in a park to read and where Pete could get free Wi-Fi.

Free Wi-fi is generally available in most ports

We went back on-board for lunch.  MDR not open on port days so had to settle for Horizon Court for lunch.

After much discussion we decided to go an see the Future Cruise Office about upgrading our next Christmas Cruise, which is Auckland to Auckland, to a Balcony cabin as we are missing having somewhere to enjoy private quite time as an Inside Cabin is not so conducive to pre-dinner drinks etc.   The meeting didn't go so well as we were told that there was no balconies left and the only wait-listing was for aft non-accessible balconies.   We were very unhappy.

Pilot Bay

Mt Maunganui

Heading our to sea

As with each evening we head to Skywalkers for pre-dinner drinks sitting at the bar, with Chester the barman as company. Sometimes we were joined by others from cruise critics who were Platinum or Elite.

Chester - the best barman and Priya a wonderful waitress.

27 December - Gisborne (tender port)

Whilst we were showering the Captain announced over the intercom that he had decided it was not safe to run tenders into Gisborne due to high swells and he was abandoning the port call.

I was very disappointed as I was born there, my father was the Harbourmaster for many years and I was looking forward to seeing my hometown albeit from the ship as wheelchairs were not permitted on the tenders.

We didn't even get up to breakfast before we had left Poverty Bay, so didn't see anything.    Had breakfast with a couple who joined us a number of times in the morning which was great.

As I was still feeling 'ticked' about not upgrading the cabin next year I went to the Internet Cafe to double check.    We were right, there were plenty of cabins.   Rightly so we were quite angry, but we found a queue at the Future Cruise Office so didn't pursue.      When we got back to the cabin late afternoon Gloria had left a very apologetic message saying there was a glitch with her computer and she had checked again as 'things didn't sit right' and found we were correct and she would be happy to sort out.    Which we did the next morning.  Booked C301 for 21 December 2016!

Spent the day socialising, reading and following the usual daily routine.

28 December - Wellington

Beautiful day dawned in Wellington.   A warm day when sunscreen and a hat a must.

Well organised tent when you disembark where you can purchase shuttle bus tickets and speak to volunteers about options.   Map available etc.

The wharf shuttle buses run into Brandon Street, just of the main strip - Lambton Quay.   Wheelchair accessible buses available but not all unfortunately so we had to wait, but not long.

Once in Lambton Quay we went to the bus stop to find out what bus would take us to the National War Memorial, as we wanted to see the Great War Exhibition.   Bus 11, however they were operating Sunday timetable as it was a public holiday.   Next but was 49 minutes away so we decided to walk.

Found the footpaths in Wellington in quite bad repair so it was a bumpy ride so we stopped by Te Papa to use the toilets.   Te Papa at 10.30am was PACKED and the queues were huge!  

From there went straight up Taranaki Street to the War Memorial, and the No. 11 Bus passed us one block from the War Memorial!

Enjoyed the Great War Exhibition, but again it was busy but not as packed as bad as Te Papa.   Exhibition was put together with / by Peter Jackson and was very interesting.  Wish we had time to read all the information, but it got to the point of information overload!

There was a nice cafe at the end of the exhibition so we stopped for lunch.

Entry is by way of donation unless you take the guided tour at $10 pp.   We inquired why cruise ship did not promote.  Answer "Cruise ships want 30% commission"!!!

The walk back down Tory Street was interesting.    Whilst we were waiting at traffic lights a man crossed from the right using a 'blind stick' so I advised him there was a wheelchair in front of him.  He was most grateful and stopped and chatted while we waited from our lights to change.    We ended up walking a block or so with him and found out he was a local partially sighted chef off to see a fellow chef to discuss new ideas.   Turns out he owns two restaurants in Wellington!      Always interesting talking to random strangers!

Dinner was 7.00 pm in the Crown Grill.    Most enjoyable.  The steaks were to die for!  Highly recommend.   You have the option to have a lobster tail with your steak which we accepted - rather nice.   Two other couples we had become friendly with were also there.

29 December - Akaroa (tender port)

No going ashore today for us.

Peter decided to have a 50 minute deep tissue massage ($149 inc gratuity).   He was feeling a little sore from lifting me on and off the portable commode and toilet.    The masseuse gave him a good work over and found knots he didn't know he had!     Worthwhile.

Quiet day reading and relaxing.

Had dinner a little early so we could go to the show in the Vista Lounge -'The Scottish One' David Moore who was very popular in the Promenade Lounge most evenings.  Great show - packed lounge.
30 December - Dunedin

Once breakfast was over we found the day was grey overcast and cold which called for a warm jacket,    We were docked a reasonable distance from the cruise ship Free Wi-Fi and Cruise Info tent as there was a logging ship in port loading from the berth we have docked at on previous cruises.

Decided to go ashore to the tent, check emails using onshore free internet and then go into Port Chalmers for a coffee and walk around.

The tent was busy as it was so cold, although the wi-fi are was hardly being used.   People were organising private tours etc.    There was also a shuttle bus into Dunedin.   Peter decided shorts and a tee shirt was not enough so left me to go back to put trousers on and a jacket.   As he disembarked the rain started and just got heavier.   We waited in the tent until it eased off and then made a dash back to the ship!!

One bright spot was receiving an email from Air NZ to say our cheeky bid to upgrade to Premium Economy for our flight from Melbourne to Auckland had been successful!

So another quiet day on board.

By about 2.30 the weather had cleared but it wasn't worth venturing into the town.  

We watched sail-away from the Promenade deck as there was a lone bagpiper playing to departing passengers.    And we enjoy watching the gangways being disassembled and removed.  All Aboard time was 4.30 pm, but there seemed to be a lot of discussion taking place between crew and the dock staff.    Then there was an announcement for a passenger to contact Passenger Services immediately - it all became clear, one passenger missing!    After about 20 minutes a van pulled up and out gets a lady carrying four large "Farmers" shopping bags!!! (Farmers is a local department store which has amazing Boxing Day Sales)   A lady next to us exclaimed "you have got to be kidding!"     Everyone on the Promenade Deck clapped - the passenger was very 'non-plussed' as if it was no issue.    We figured that as this was the last port for 3 days and the passengers passport was probably on board they could not sail without her!!!

We decided on an early dinner so we could go to the Show "Steve Larkins Mercury Rising, The Salute to Freddy Mercury".      We sat at a table for 8, the first two, then three women joined us somewhat reluctantly followed by another couple.     First time on any cruise we had table companions who we didn't care for.    They ordered every course, left the table for some time at one point and one sitting the furthermost away from me insisted asking personal questions about my disability loudly.     The couple were not impressed either and in the end the four of had to excuse ourselves and leave before dessert to enable us to get seats at the 8 pm  show!

The show in the Theatre was very good and a full audience, although some of the oldies left as it wasn't quite their thing!   Steve Larkins is a bit of a comic and used comic licence altering the words to some of the songs which they obviously did not get....

Once that finished we raced to the other end of the Promenade Deck to the Vista Lounge fir the 9.15pm Melodramatic Musical Murder Mystery.      It was fabulous.  I don't think we have laughed so much in a long time.   It was put on by the Entertainment team.

Our latest night so far!

31 December - Fiordland Cruising (formal night)

Our favourite part of the cruise, although this time in reverse:
Dusky Sound
Breaksea Sound
Doubtful Sound
Thompson Sound
and lastly the most famous Milford Sound.

During the day a Department of Conservation did a commentary on the ship's PA which is very informative, but somehow we didn't hear much in Skywalkers.

Photo's tell the story

Notice the people on all the decks.

By late afternoon it was so warm people had removed jackets and jerseys, tee shirts etc and were sunbathing!!

Watching "The Invisible Touch Tour" - Genesis on MUTS while cruising out of Milford.  Our departure was delayed slightly due to two Medical Evacuations into Milford.

Formal Night, so we planned to met up with Anne, Larry and Lynda for dinner at Donatello's at 7.30 pm.   Found them having formal photos by the dining room.    Formal Nights can be crazy with Photo sessions set up all over the place - mostly located in the slightly bigger spaces but completely impeding the flow of foot traffic!    And there were always queues for photos.

After dinner we decided to head for a show, only to find we had misread the Patter and the shows were all held earlier than normal as it was New Years Eve.   Plan B - find a lounge to spend the evening.....  Quite a few options but everywhere was really busy and the air conditioning seemed to have been turned up warm!  The Vista Lounge had 'Rocking and Rolling' so we sat near the entrance where we got air flow from people going out on to the deck to smoke.    By 11.15 we had had enough and called it a night.

Surprisingly we did not hear anything from the Vista Lounge in our cabin when midnight came.

1 and 2 January 2016 - Sea Days

Two quiet days at Sea.

Day 1 we decided to start packing as we found on the last day it was hard to catch up with people on the last day as we were busy packing.   Not that it took long.

The maintenance team came in both days to work on the removal and re-gouting of the bathroom which had deteriorated and the bathroom was leaking through to the bedroom.    NOTE: this was our request.   We wanted them to fix it while we were on board so it was fixed for the next passengers.   The staff did appreciate this.

Spent some time with friends who were still going to the Art Auctions and bidding.  I thought they had done their dash, but no!     The Auctions took over the Explorers Lounge on Sea Days which was a bit of a pain.    The Lounge was closed for set up in the morning and at 12.30pm it opened to viewing and the auction started after than and generally went through to 3.30 - 4 pm!

On the 1st we dined with Deb and Chris and after dinner went to "Life's a Lemon" by Maggie - a comedy show (R18 rated) in the Vista Lounge - very funny.  She also sung and was good.

On the last night we dined with Deb, Chris, Jill and Colin - all from Cruise Critic Roll Call.   I booked a table for 7.30 in Anytime Dining so we could get a table for 6 which was accessible.   The Maitre'D was most obliging and said it was not a problem.

From left Margaret, Colin and Jill (seated) Deb, Chris Peter (standing)

After dinner we went to the International Crew Show.  While the Theatre was filling the entertainment crew were handing out balloons!   We sat next to a lovely couple in the wheelchair row from England who were on a 42 day trip down under.    The balloon fun before the show was good but the show was a real disappointment compared to those on previous cruises.

During the balloon fight there was an announcement over the PA reminding passengers that balloon fights were not permitted in the Theatre!!!  This was met with much laughter.

Bags out between 7 - 10pm

3 January - Melbourne Disembarkation

Got up early and had breakfast in the Horizon Court just as the hot food was coming out and before there was too many people.    Watched the Spirit of Tasmania loading passenger cars.

As we had an 11.50 am flight we were the second disembarkation group and being Platinum we could gather in the Vista Lounge.

When they finally announced about 7.10 am disembarkation could commence they called about the first 5 groups!    So by the time was walked to the disembarkation point, it was chaos.     People trying to get to lounges / dining rooms for their meeting places and people trying to disembark.    No one was checking the disembarkation tickets so it seemed a free-for-all and no line for wheelchairs or walkers!   A complete shambles.

Once ashore we handed our Immigration card to one guys collecting them and that was it.   No passport checks or anything - weird.    Don't recall any border dogs even checking hand luggage.

We took the lift down to the pier to the where the luggage was being set out.   Quickly found our bags but the trolleys were miles away down the pier where known could see them!

There didn't seem to be any sign posts and directions to get a taxi was poor.    Most passengers were walking off the pier (perhaps they should make them walk on too!   Found the taxi queue and the guide told to go past the long queue to the front where there was a queue for maxi taxi's and wheelchair users.   Got into a Taxi within a few minutes and we were off to the airport.

Amazingly we got to the airport by 8.15 am and the airport was chaotic too!  First stop was to find a toilet as I was busting - not easy but we made!     Once that was dealt with the next mission was to find Air NZ Check-in.   Fortunately there are quite a few Airport Guides and we found check-in was not starting until 8.50 am, so we had a bit of a wait.     We were second to check-in at the Premium Desk and off we went!

Immigration and Customs was crazy with queues everywhere.   Pete beat me through and when they finally checked me through they closed down two lanes!   Then the lady doing the pat down and chair inspection broke the under-chair mirror!  

From there we had to make our way through the maze of shopping - awful layout, then to find the Koru (Air NZ) lounge as we had complimentary passes.   Found the lift down as out of order so discovered a goods lift but it didn't go all the way down so needed to take a second lift (the one out of order) or escalator down to the Lounge.   Fortunately there was a staff member who found out the lift would be ready within 10 minutes.

Getting into the Lounge was bliss!  Away from the noise and somewhere quiet to have a coffee and a snack.

The Premium Economy trip home was great - we are converted to the 777 pods!


Anytime Dining

We like this dining as we get to meet different people each night, can chose to dine alone if we wish (we don't normally) or can chose to dine with 'new' friends.

Main Dining Room

My preference for all meals as I dislike the Horizon Court.    Nice to sit with people and chat whilst eating over breakfast, lunch and dinner.    Often ending up having breakfast with the same people more than once.   Food is nice, served hot and the waiters are great.

Horizon Court

Pet hate.   Hard for someone in a wheelchair to see the labels for what is on offer, cannot always see the food on offer very well, people dislike wheelchairs (what's that about), then you have to find a table.   It is noisy, tables can be hard to find, often sitting in draughts from doors opening and closing all the time.   I just don't like it!