Cunard World Cruise Week Seven Highlights (New Zealand to Sydney)

I travelled around the world in a 12-week trip that started in Southampton UK and ended in Hong Kong. Most of it on segments of Cunard World cruise, first on Queen Victoria and then Queen Elizabeth. This 12-part series covers the journey, experiences and tips – one for each week of the journey. This post covers week seven, you can read the previous week here.

New Zealand to Sydney

Day 42 (21 February) At Sea to Auckland Day Six

Cunard Queen Victoria Tender Boat

Cunard Queen Victoria Tender Boat

Halfway Point….

Today marked the halfway point on my around-the-world trip. As this leg on the Queen Victoria had only a week to go, it started to feel like it was coming to an end. There was a constant flow of messages for guests disembarking in Auckland (of which there seems to be many) reminding us that our voyage would soon be wrapping up.

It also felt like we had entered a different place and time, as the skies cleared, the wind fell from 50 knots to 9 knots, the seas calmed and the sun shone a cheerful 24 degrees. The outside decks sprung to life as the loungers were once again laid out, the netting covering the pools removed and the busy bee deck staff restarted their never-ending job of scraping, painting over rust, varnishing the railings and sanding and varnishing the wooden benches and cabinets that are used to store towels.

The daily program advised that we had passed over the Kermadec Trench through the day. This is one of Earth’s deepest oceanic trenches, reaching a depth of 10,047 metres (32,963 feet). The water looked a lush blue beneath the clam rippling surface.

The calm that surrounded the ship was in sharp contrast to the news coming from the havoc that Tropical Cyclone Winston was causing. It had hit Fiji and it was feared up to at least five people killed, along with reports of homes wrecked, tourists having to cower in hotel meeting rooms and countries like New Zealand arranging support and help.

Kids Clubs

There were very few children on board the ship on the World Voyage legs, with this leg having the most – probably around six. I attributed this to the length of the trip, timing (not in school holiday time) and the cruise line not being an obvious choice for families accounting for this.

Queen Victoria has a Kids’ Club program and venues. They are located on Deck 10 midships and divided into three age groups from toddlers right up to teenagers. I am not convinced that Cunard is the best line to bring children on. There are others that cater specifically for them and have more facilities, programs and numbers. The traveller, especially on this trip, were older and of an age where they generally prefer a child-free environment. There was visible annoyance when the children came along to things like the shows and grew fidgety. The midships pool (Pavilion) is where children could go, while the Lido Pool at the rear of the ship was for adults only.

Day 43 (22 February) Auckland arrival and overnight

Cunard Queen Victoria from SkyTower Auckland

Cunard Queen Victoria from SkyTower Auckland

A sunny day with calm seas greeted us in the morning. By noon islands were being passed and we could spot the mainland of the North Island ahead. As the Captain gave his usual update over the public address system, a New Zealand Air Force place circled low around the ship on a crew-training exercise before swooshing over the ship and heading into the distance. Enthralled guests followed its progress, snapping pictures and video clips on their cameras, iPads and phones.

By 4pm the pilot approached and boarded and we sailed the many miles through the channel marked by buoys into Auckland, passing with horns blaring P&O Australia’s Pacific Pearl that had just vacated the Queens Berth where we would dock.

The city looked modern and gleaming as we sailed in. I filmed a time-lapse video of our sail in: https://youtu.be/fevpYru46PQ

By 6pm guests were able to leave and after all the days at sea, streams of people left as soon as they could. After having an early dinner, we changed and hurried out too. Careful to comply with the many announcements about the strict regulations enforced by the New Zealand authorities on not brining in food stuff, open bottles of water etc. Items that could not be taken from the ship included fresh fruit and vegetables, meat of any kind, prepared meals including sandwiches, dairy products, flowers, seeds or plants and any other consumable food item. Only commercial water, in sealed bottles, could be carried on shore. We left the ship and passed along a line where a sniffer dog checked all bags and people for contraband.

The area around the Ferry Building and into Viaduct Harbour was alive and filled with Cunard guests enjoying the warm weather, stopping to chat to people they knew off the ship to share tips on bars or restaurants they had found close by.

Earlier in the day there had been a popular and well-attended QE2 Past-guests get-together in the Commodore Club, and the Passenger Choir that had been practising since San Francisco did their concert in the Queens Room. That started with a fever reworking of the “Muppet Show” theme into the “Choir Show”.

Day 44 (23 February) Auckland

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Auckland War Memorial Museum

We spent the day self-exploring the beautiful city of Auckland. It was a great day, helped by the bright sun and warm temperature.

Auckland is on the North Island and is the largest and most populated city with over 1.4 million residents. This is around a quarter of the total population of New Zealand. It is nicknamed the “City of Sails” as sailing is so popular as it is surrounded by water and is one of the few cities in the world with two harbours. There are apparently over 135,000 yachts and launches registered in Auckland, which means a third of households own a boat of some description. The America’s Cup sailing competition has been held here twice (2000 and 2003).

It was easy to get around on the Hop-on Hop-off bus and we visited the Maritime Museum, Bastion Point, Auckland War Memorial Museum and SkyCity tower before exploring the Queens Street shops.

That evening in the theatre was the “Haka The Legend Show”. This was a Maori group showcasing traditional Maori songs, Poi dancing and Haka (the men’s war dance). Very entertaining.

“Haka The Legend Show” Maori show

“Haka The Legend Show” Maori show

Listen to my podcast about Auckland: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4319211

Day 45 (24 February) On route to Akaroa

Akaroa New Zealand

Akaroa New Zealand

 A lazy day enjoying the sun and warm weather out of deck!

Camera Club Success

I had more success in the camera club for this sector and won both the Night Scene and People in the Advanced Category. The pictures are below:

Camera Club Winner (Advanced): People

Queen Victoria Muster Drill

Camera Club Winner (Advanced): Night

Honolulu Hawaii Harbour

Honolulu Hawaii Harbour

Day 46 (25 February) Akaroa for Christchurch

Akaroa New Zealand

Akaroa New Zealand

We cruised through a long channel into the bay at Akaroa, a small and picturesque town surrounded by vast hills. The port had become busy since the 2011 earthquake struck Christchurch damaging the port facilities. Cruise lines used it as the base to send tours into Christchurch and other nearby sights. Over 68 ships had called there in the last year, diving the townspeople as some relished the extra trade and activity – while those that had moved here for the quiet and solitude hated it.

Queen Victoria had to tender from the ship to the small docking area to meet our tours. It was busy as there was a Princess ship in as well. We had booked the “Christchurch On Your Own” tour and our bus driver told us about the area, earthquakes and shared anecdotes as he took us the hour or so drive to the city.

Strolling around the centre of Christchurch five years after the earthquake in 2011 was a shock. While I had known it had been a major event and that many people had died, I had not appreciated just how dramatic it had been, the resulting impact on the city and the relatively slow pace that rebuilding had taken.

Over 80% of the centre of Christchurch had been or was due to be torn down and 185 people had died, most of them in the Cathedral Television building that pancaked and collapsed when the earthquake struck around 1pm in the afternoon.

It was an interesting and sobering day. The highlight being the fascinating museum set up to tell the story of the history of earthquakes in the city and documenting the effects, damage and causes with lots of personal stories.

Earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral

Earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral

Day 47 (26 February) Cruising Dusky Sound and Milford Sound

Milford Sound New Zealand

Milford Sound New Zealand

The wind raged at over 50 miles an hour. Spray and mist whipped up off the surface enveloping the ship in a haze. Our thoughts of lying about on the deck as we viewed the Fjordland of New Zealand looked to have slipped away. The Captain warned that there was a chance that the sea conditions and visibility may scupper the plans to cruise through Dusky Sound and Milford Sound.

We learnt from the on-board commentator that the region gets over 6 metres of rain a year, and it rains at least 200 days a year. So the conditions were pretty normal for the area. We did finally make it into Dusky Sound around 1:30pm and drifted through the rain and low clouds that obscured the top the hills. Although the visibility was not brilliant it was an impressive sight, but when we entered Milford Sound around 7:30pm in the evening it paled in comparison.

Milford Sound was magnificent, and again the misty rain made visibility mixed but the rain meant that there were many waterfalls. The guide told us that we were seeing larger ones than usual, at least versus when the weather is drier and brighter. The downside of the experience was that the photos I took were not as impressive as others I have seen from people visiting on sunnier days, but the atmosphere of the event was special and the sights amazing.

I had won a dinner in the Lido Alternative Dining venue in the Empire Casino the night before, and we dined there while cruising through Milford Sound at a table next to the floor-to-ceiling Windows. At regular intervals during each sector the casino held such raffles. During the trip they handed everything out tickets based on different criteria (e.g. Getting a Blackjack, three 7s on a slot machine or based on the number of player points accrued while using the machines). The prizes were bingo tickets, Lido Alternative Dining and Verandah Alternative Dining vouchers. It was “Bamboo” on this night, which was an Asian set menu of sushi, wontons, soup, crispy fried duck pancakes, three dishes for main and then pineapple sorbet and panna cotta. The venue lets it down, as there is no escaping you are in the Lido, although the staff tries hard. But to really work it needs a better venue.

Day 48 (27 February) En route to Sydney Day One

Sydney Australia

Sydney Australia

The sun was bright, wind slight and yet the seas were heaving. Although not as choppy as the day before, a large swell of up to 5 metres was surging in from the south making the transit across the Tasman Sea not as clam as I had expected. It was a strange sensation as I associate ship movement with storms and having the sun reflecting off the sea brightly and quite a bit of motion was fairly odd.

The realisation of ending the voyage in Sydney started to feel real across the day. It started with receiving the disembarkation details, the end-of-voyage survey and a reminder letter from the Casino to cash out funds on my cruise card. These were not linked to my on-board account, and so had to be withdrawn separately.

It was also the day that Australian Immigration, who had boarded in New Zealand, processed all the guests (and presumably the crew at some point too). Half the decks had to attend in the morning and the others (which included ours) in the afternoon. They had set up in the ConneXions meeting room. It was a fairly smooth process with about twenty minutes waiting in line. Although we had to attend in person there was little real checking although we had to complete the arrival forms. Guests staying on the ship for the Australian leg completed both the Arrival and Departure forms and left their passports with the ship.

Crew Talent Show

In addition to the regular shows in the Royal Court Theatre (which tonight were held at 7pm and 8.30pm and were a quick-change act) at 10.30pm the Crew Talent Show was held. It was a packed theatre with both crew and passengers and there were around nine acts including singers (Elvis Presley impersonation, Frank Sinatra crooner and a few other singers), two dance acts (including a very aerobic and impressive breakdance), magician and two sketches that are always included in crew shows which is the Doctor’s Surgery and “If I was not on the seas” song. It was a fun and very entertaining evening with a very energetic and supportive audience who cheered, clapped and roared for the acts. Our sommelier in the Queens Grill restaurant (Dejan) did the Frank Sinatra crooner number.

Queens Grill versus Princess Grill Restaurant

I asked our waitress (Liezl) what the key differences were, partly sparked by us asking to have Caviar again as a starter. She told us that in Princess there is a per person surcharge of around $35 if they order caviar, while none in Queens Grill, and the a ‘la Carte menu is smaller and excludes items like Chatebriand, Beef Wellington and Lobster Theramdor. Princess Grill can order off menu though as well.

Day 49 (28 February) En route to Sydney Day Two

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Today was the unenviable job of packing up after seven weeks of not having to think about it as we travelled thousands of miles to many countries. Unpacking and packing only once is a big plus for cruising, especially versus land-based trips visiting lots of places.

Gratuities Dilemma

Cunard automatically charge gratuities to the bill. In Queens Grill this come to $27 per double occupied cabin. However, we always end up tipping more and had built it into our budget for the trip and brought the dollars to cover it. We gave extra in envelopes with thank you cards to our two waiters, the Maitre’D and our butler and assistant butler. It does make it fairly expensive and an additional cost, but the hardworking team made this trip so enjoyable and we stuck to our plan. It also feels like they expect this above the auto-gratuities. But maybe that is just our English guilt!

Day 50 (29 February) Arrival into Sydney

Sydney Opera House at dawn

Sydney Opera House at dawn

The Captain had told us that the pilot would embark at 5am and help guide the ship into the port in Australia. Our estimated time to be tied up and docked was 6.30am. As it is such an iconic and famous harbour, he had told us that they would open Deck Five, usually reserved for crew, between 5am and 7am to provide a perfect viewing platform, as they had done during the transit of the Panama Canal.

Having sailed out of Sydney on the Queen Mary 2 two years before, I toyed with getting up early and finally decided I would as I cannot predict the future and it may be the only time I ever get the chance to see a sail into this gorgeous city.

I set my alarm for 5am on retiring and all too soon it started buzzing and shrilling. I hurried onto the balcony to check on our progress and was surprised to see we were much further away than I had expected. I assumed we were running behind schedule. It took me about twenty minutes, by which time I was properly awake, to realise that while I had remembered to change my watch back an hour onto Sydney time, I had though (of all nights) forgotten to change my iPhone – which acts as my alarm. Over the last 50 days we had changed the clocks to account for our movements across time zones at least 14 times – and on this last night I had failed. So it was now just after 4am and I was too awake to go back to bed. I had set up my GoPro to record a time lapse of the arrival, in the knowledge I would have to edit out an hour of the journey at least!

Once time caught up and we actually got to 5am the city buildings became visible and lit up in the still dark night, I could make it the arch of the top of the much-photographed Sydney Harbour Bridge. We followed a guide boat with brightly coloured flashing lights through the entry path and soon the Opera House appeared. A flurry of flashlights sparkled along the length of the Queen Victoria.

It amazed me how people cannot get their heads (or the ability to change their camera settings) around the fact that a camera flash of a landscape is a useless activity.

We slid slowly through the still harbour waters and turned even slower in towards Circular Quay and our docking location at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. There were two cruise ship terminals in Sydney with this being the most spectacular, and convenient, as right in the heart of the harbour with the Bridge and Opera House in short strolling distance.

Watch the video I made of our arrival into Sydney: https://youtu.be/loH1Jz9fF_s

We went to our final breakfast on this part of our around-the-world trip and it felt a bit like those days when leaving school, university or a job one had been at for a long time. Lots of hugging, photo taking and promises to keep in touch.

It was then on to the Britannia Restaurant on Deck Three, which was the meeting place for Grills guests as well as Emerald level World Club members. Just after 8am we were called and told we could find disembark and headed for the exit on Deck Two off the lobby. In the halls our cases were waiting and it was a quick process to collect them and hand our immigration cards in and leave. Outside there were busses loading guests, taxis and people being greeted by friends.

Our 49 days on the ship was complete and this part of the overall 82-day around the world trip complete. It felt like it had flown by, although looking back we did and saw a lot. It was off to the Four Seasons Hotel for three nights before heading to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast of Australia before heading to Hong Kong to join the Queen Elizabeth for more of the around-the-world trip.

Sector Three Entertainment

On the third sector of the World Voyage from San Francisco to Sydney they following were the speakers, guest entertainers, themed balls and production shows:

Cunard Insight Lecturers:

  • Celebrity Speakers:
  • Bill Bryson, the well-known celebrity travel writer. He spoke on “Notes from All Over: Adventures of a Travel Writer”, “A Really Short History of Nearly Everything” (based on his award-winning science book), was interviewed by the Entertainment Manager and did book signings.
  • Gerald W Abrams, producer of 73 movies and mini-series (and father of JJ Abrams) spoke about “The Art of Making Movies” and was interviewed by the Entertainment Manager.
  • Insight Speakers:
  • John Brinkley, Geologist who, due to Hawaii being created by volcanoes and volcanic scenery spoke about “Volcanoes”, “Hot Stuff” (origins of volcanoes).
  • Dr John Long, ex-Secret Service agent, spoke about “President Ronald Reagan and Rancho del Cielo” (his ranch and how it was protected, the assassination attempt etc.), “Recovery at the Ranch”.
  • Bob McElwee, a referee for the NFL for 27 years spoke about “The Crazy World of NFL Officiating”, “Inside Comic Moments in Sport”.
  • Connie Kirker, spoke about “Traditional Arts in the South Pacific”, “Food and Festival Traditions in the South Pacific”, “Where Do We Come From? What are we? Where Are We Going?” (Artists inspired by the South Pacific and the post-impressionist Paul Gauguin who spent time here), “Margaret Meade and Robert Louis Stevenson Find Love in Samoa”, “Arts and Culture in Auckland: The City of Sails” and “The History of the Tattoo Culture”.
  • Richard Atkins spoke about “My Love Affair with Fast Cars and High Performance Engines (anecdotes about working on the technical side with famous racing drivers), “Some Fast Ladies in a Man’s World: Lady Racing Drivers 1900 to 1939”, “The Bentley Boys And Girls” and “British Engineering at Its Best” (story of JCB gaining the world speed record for diesel cars) and “The Story of C and D Jaguars at Le Mans”.
  • Dr Denny Whitford, Oceanographer and retired US Navy Captain, spoke about “Ocean Waves. From Cat’s Paw to Perfect Storm”, “Whales. Giants of the Sea”, “Tsunami”, “Who Owns the Oceans” and “Coral Reefs”.
  • Stuart Tipple, lawyer to the Chamberlains (dingo baby case) spoke about “The Chamberlains and A Miscarriage of Justice”.
  • Simon McKeon, Chairman of AMP Limited, Former Australian of the Year and World’s Fastest Yachtsman on “An Ordinary Bloke – With Extraordinary Good Fortune” and “Sailing Three Times The Speed Of The Wind”.
  • Frank Feest, Geography Graduate and Royal Navy Commander on “Akaroa – A Little Bit of France in New Zealand”, “Sydney – Australia’s First City”
  • Ross Kerr who works for the New Zealand Fjordland spoke on “Fjordland National Park World Heritage Area” and then provided commentary cruising through Dusky Sound and Milford Sound.
  • Stuart Usher, spoke on “A Most Reluctant Hero – The Story of Captain Charles Upham VC and Bar”.

Guest Entertainers:

  • “The Brit Tones”, a four-piece male harmony group. I did not go and see their first show as suspected they were a clone of “Troubadour” we had seen on previous sector but did see them as part of a variety show and were impressed with their voices and slick performance.
  • Jon Courtenay, a comedy pianist. Very funny and accomplished.
  • Gary Arbuthnot, Irish flute player who I had seen previously on Cunard and P&O who plays a mixture of stage and screen music.
  • Halau Hula Olana in the Hawaiian Hula and Music Show. Local Honolulu dancers from 6 to 30 years of age performed two shows on our stop in the city.
  • Tony Daro, stand-up comedian from the USA who has written for shows like “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno”. Very American and with references that probably were lost on the mostly British audience.
  • Zach Winningham, US-based singer performed “60s and 70s Rock and Roll and Country”.
  • Brett Sherwood, Master Magician. Performed many tricks seen before and by others on the ship but did with great wit and style.
  • Lovena B Fox, recording artist and musical theatre actress originally from Vancouver Canada. Powerful voice and very entertaining, as she sang a range of songs from Dionne Warwick through to “Happy” and “Uptown Funk”.
  • Elektra, violin duo.
  • Haka The Legend. Maori group from Auckland showcasing traditional Maori songs, Poi dancing and Haka (the men’s war dance).
  • Will Martin billed as “Hit Recording Artist. New Zealand’s hottest musical export”. The description did not do him justice. He was brilliant.
  • The Bluejays. A 1950’s Rock ‘n Roll Band billed as “UK’s most authentic vintage Rock ‘N Roll band” performing hits like Rock Around The Clock. We did not go!
  • Francisco Yglesia, former member of the group “Los Parauayos” and Paraguayan Harp player.
  • Soul Mystique, dance and quick change act.

Cunard Royal Theatre Singers and Dancers Shows:

  • “Singers in Concert”, the four Royal Court singers along with the combined Royal Court Theatre Orchestra and Queens Room Orchestra.
  • “One Way or Another”, the second outing for the new show that had premiered at the start of the World Voyage.

Themed Balls:

  • Black and White held on the first Formal Night.
  • Hawaiian Ball, held the night before arrival in Honolulu.
  • Valentine’s Ball (as was 14 February!).
  • Neptune’s Ball (linked to Crossing the Equator).
  • Carnival Ball.

The journey continues

Keep following the trip with the week eight article (to come) and get all the content from the trip at tipsfortravellers.com/bigtrip2

 

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