Author: Carmen Critchlow
Date of Trip: March 2013
Check in at the airport went smoothly, took about ½ hour with our bags going straight to Sydney. Our plane was delayed about 2 hours because of ice on the runway in PA, and again in LA for refueling. Despite these delays we arrived in Sydney on time.
In Sydney, we booked a hotel overlooking Darling Harbor, which was perfectly located to visit many attractions, such as the Sydney Sea Life Aquarium, Wildlife World, Madam Tussauds, Sydney Tower Eye, the IMAX theatre and dozens of restaurants. We also had an informative back stage tour of the Opera House, what a fascinating history that building has. We took a leisurely stroll across the Harbor Bridge and enjoyed the great view.
We were lucky to be here in March because on June 30, 2013 the Sydney Light Rail and Sydney Monorail will cease operations and will be removed to facilitate the development of the new Sydney International Convention, Exhibition and Entertainment Precinct at Darling Harbor. The trains are marked “Farewell Sydney”. We were glad to be able to take a ride on a piece of history before it was gone.
The line for embarkation was long, but went along quite quickly, and we were on the ship in about ½ hour. We were greeted with glasses of wine and champagne when we got on board. We did the mandatory fire drill, we did not have to wear or carry our life jackets (these were kept in a crate under the bed, and out of the way), and then we were on our way.
We had a quiet day at sea, and then on to Melbourne our first port of call which we did on our own. We took the free Melbourne Visitor Shuttle (hop on-hop off) and visited the Ian Potter Center, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Fitzroy Gardens, the Melbourne Museum, Queen Victoria Market (lots of shopping here), The Shrine and Royal Botanic Gardens. It was a full day of sightseeing.
We cruised through Milford, Dusky and Doubtful Sounds – all very imposing, beautiful and majestic. We had the perfect view from our veranda, and were able to enjoy these Sounds all day.
Our next port was Dunedin where we took the Dunedin Panorama excursion traveling along the Otago Harbor, pass the Otago University and the Dunedin Law Courts, Otago Boys High School, the First Church, and the mansions of Royal Terrace, High Street and the Octagon. We also visited Dunedin Railway Station, an Edwardian building decorated with beautiful tiles and a lovely glass stained window, this is the most photographed building in New Zealand. We stopped at the Botanic Garden and explored the Rose, Herb and Water Gardens. The flowers were plentiful and very beautiful. Our last trip was to Baldwin Street, the steepest residential street in the world, it was quite a sight.
We were tendered at Akaroa, our next port, and the ride to the pier took about 10 minutes. We took the Harbor Wildlife Nature cruise and the highlight of this trip was undoubtedly the sighting of one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins, the Hector’s Dolphin. We saw many of them and they were frolicking around the boat. The captain of the cruise stayed around for quite a while, so many pictures were taken. We also saw the New Zealand Fur Seal with their new pups, sunning themselves on the harbor’s rocks near the entrance at Seal Bay. A stop was made at Lucas Bay to look at a salmon farm where thousands of salmon from fingerlings to adult fish are farmed in a series of cages. This is where the world-famous ‘Akaroa Salmon’ is raised. We also saw many sea caves, volcanic cliffs, and numerous sea birds. A great cruise with a wonderful and informative commentary by our captain.
We did the Wellington at Ease excursion and from the summit of Mount Victoria we had a spectacular view of Wellington, the harbor, the Tasman Sea and the Pacific Ocean. At the Botanical Gardens we saw the formal Lady Norwood Rose Garden and the Begonia House. On the waterfront we visited the Museum of Wellington City & Sea. The museum features displays, exhibits, maritime relics and artifacts relating to the history and settlement of Wellington. We also saw a very interesting film about Maori folklore. Old St. Paul’s Cathedral was built in 1865, this is a wonderful old wooden building, no longer used as a church, but still very beautifully decorated inside with wood paneling, a lovely sanctuary, and a peaceful atmosphere.
Tauranga, we did on our own. Just a short walk and there is Mount Maunganui – which marks the entrance to the Bay of Plenty – this we saw from our veranda, but was so much more impressive close up. A short stroll to the shopping center, and a magnificent beach, where we spent most of day just relaxing.
The ship’s décor is contemporary, light and bright. My husband loved it so much that we have already booked the Solstice to Alaska for June 2014. Even with 2,850 passengers we never felt crowded and never experience a single long line. The public areas are spacious and this feeling is enhanced by tranquil lighting. The food is the best we have had on our previous 6 cruises. A very wide variety of very favorable foods, and this is the first time that I have seen Indian dishes on a cruise, I love Indian food, so I was in heaven. Not a lot of repetition and that was such a relief as we have experienced that on previous cruises. Ice cream (really delicious) pizza, steaks, seafood, pasta, sushi, salads (including octopus), soups, meat carving stations, hot or cold sandwiches, were on the menu. I especially loved the hot, crusty garlic bread; I had a slice every night. Enjoyed the 10 choices of ingredients you can have in your omelet and it was ready in the shortest time I have ever experienced. The Mast Grill served burgers, hot dogs and fries. I could go on and on about the food choices. We had dinner once in the Grand Epernay dining room, and it was OK, but the rest of our meals were at the Oceanview Café and it was terrific.
Our cabin was very spacious and comfortable, with a veranda holding two lounge chairs and a table. The bed was very comfortable and higher than normal; allowing more luggage storage beneath and the headboard has an inconspicuous little cabinet that’s perfect for purses and small items. The large flat screen TV offered a variety of movies and TV shows, as well as news channels, so we knew what was happening back home in the US.
In the bathroom, the shower stalls are larger than the cruise ship norm, with a curved shower glass door, and have little foot rails that make it easier for women to shave their legs. There’s also a nice collection of little drawers, cabinets, and other nooks for storing toiletries.
We went to a few shows and they were really good. Full Tilt: A Cappella, Sonic Groove, the Jazz Quartet were very talented, as was the Solstice dancers and singers, and their “Cirque du Soleil” type show was very impressive.
We loved the Lawn Club area, featuring a full ½ acre of living grass where you play croquet, putt, have a picnic or just wiggle your toes in the cool blades of real grass. Comfortable chairs were there for you to relax and enjoy the view.
A wide variety of music was heard in the Oceanview Cafe from Indian, Country, Soul, Jazz to Spanish. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The iLounge was spacious with lots of computers, and an IT tech was there 24-7, unlike my last cruise when no one was there, lots of iLearn classes were also offered. I used my iPad and was able to log in every time with fast internet connections.
For those passengers with late flights, Celebrity took us to the Crown Plaza in Auckland for the day, with our luggage going straight to the airport. There were beverages and snacks available when we arrived. This was wonderful as we were able to leave our hand luggage at the hotel and explore Auckland. There was a schedule so you know which bus, and at what time to board to get to the airport in time for your flight. Our entire set of luggage was together when we arrived at the airport. Nice touch Celebrity, nice touch.
Be sure to check with the airlines before you leave home regarding luggage. We saw several people ditching items rather than pay Air New Zealand’s exorbitant baggage and weight fees. We were told that we were only allowed 1 bag per person (we had 2 bags pp) and the extra bags would cost $200 per bag, their website said $70.00. After expressing our outrage, she checked our reservations again, and said that whomever booked the reservations did the right thing (whatever that meant, and why didn’t she see this the first time), she even called over the reservationist next to her to see our reservations, because it was the first one that was done correctly all day, we did not even had to pay for our extra bags. (Thank you Lord, and Celebrity, who booked the air for us).
We invariably select our cruises for the itinerary and we were not disappointed. We had a fantastic cruise, lovely ship and great ports. Like I mentioned before we have already booked another cruise on the Solstice.