This cruise met all of our expectations - and our expectations were high! This is not a review of the Regal Princess. When I search for cruise reviews, I am looking for information about the ports, which is what you will get here. The Regal was lovely and clean. The food, service, entertainment and management of the ship were all to our satisfaction. Our inside cabin was more spacious than most, with lots of drawers and enough closet space. We are not demanding passengers and just enjoy the overall cruise experience. You can find a great review of this ship with pictures at http://members.tripod.com/PARNAMI/RegalPrincess/
We booked our own air between Houston and Los Angeles and made the flight one day early to avoid any possible complications. We arrived in LA in the afternoon and called for the free shuttle to take us to the Double Tree Hotel in El Segundo, very near the airport. A couple we met on our first cruise (to Alaska, the first week of August 1999) live in the area and came to the hotel to have dinner with us that night. We had a nice visit and caught up on all the cruises they and we have taken in the last 2 ½ years.
The next morning we spent all day with VIP tours for a good look around LA. It was a good way to spend the day, as our flight for Sydney did not leave until 10 p.m. This was a Saturday and the hotel caters to business travelers, so they let us have a late checkout (6:30 p.m.) which allowed us to shower and change after the tour and before heading to the airport. Princess booked us LA to Sydney and the return Auckland to LA. Our flight was on United - 14 hours to Sydney.
While in Sydney we stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental on Macquarie Street - very near Circular Quay, the Rocks area, Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Lots to see within walking distance. It was a very nice hotel (some famous folks named Clinton stayed there) and we would recommend it. We ate 2 or 3 times at a 24 hour restaurant called City Extra at Circular Quay. The food was delicious and the prices were very reasonable. City Extra also has a computer for internet access that was available when we wanted it at $2 AUD for 15 minutes. We also took the recommendation of a previous cruiser and ate at Phillips Foote on George Street in the Rocks. At this restaurant you select and cook your own steak. They had a salad bar and also had hot side dishes to go with the steak. Good food - nice atmosphere. They only give you one plate (we asked for a second one and were told no), so keep that in mind when filling it. We did it the American way and ate our salads while the steak was cooking - then had to use the same plate for steak and vegetables. It looked like the locals finished their cooking, then loaded salad etc. all on the plate at the same time.
The public transportation system in Sydney is excellent. We used Sydney Day Tours and took a half-day city tour and a full day tour to the Blue Mountains. The Blue Mountains were beautiful! We enjoyed seeing the three sisters, walking in the rain forest and riding the world's steepest rail. The only problem with the full day was that it took about 2 ½ hours each way and we only had about an hour and a half to explore the area and eat lunch. The scenery to and from was not especially spectacular. We did see some evidence of the recent fires. It is hard to say whether or not we recommend this tour - guess it depends on if you mind the long bus ride both ways. The city tour was a good overview and probably worth the time & money as an introduction.
We took the ferry to Manly (fun to visit - nice beach), returned after dark and had an especially beautiful view of the harbour lights. We also took the ferry to Darling Harbour and went to the aquarium. The tour of the Sydney Opera House was very interesting. No opal this trip, but we looked. Got some great buys on T-shirts in Sydney (approx. $4 US each for the grandkids - $5 for the adults). These are the embroidered souvenir shirts - very similar to the ones offered on sale aboard the ship for $17. ATMs are easy to find and are the best way to get the little cash you need. Visa or MasterCard are accepted nearly everywhere. Look for change purses made from kangaroo scrotums. They are not a great bargain (about $10 AUD most places) and are not very useful - but are something to generate a giggle as a gift.
We talked to several folks who had taken the pre-cruise tour with Princess and enjoyed it, but were sorry to not have had much time in Sydney. Several said they wished they had just come to Sydney early. Most felt that the Great Barrier Reef was the highlight of their pre-cruise tour. We saved quite a bit doing the three days in Sydney on our own, rather than getting Princess pre-cruise hotel package and transfers. For example, the cab fare for airport to hotel and hotel to ship was a total of about $20 US. That was instead of the $50 US Princess transfers for the two of us. Also, our hotel and SDT tours were much less expensive than those offered by the cruise line. Three days was not enough to see everything, but we covered a lot.
Embarkation went smoothly on Thursday and we began our 14-day cruise on the Regal Princess. Friday was at sea, which we appreciated as an opportunity to rest after our long flight and busy days in Sydney. This was the first of only two formal nights.
Saturday we found ourselves in port at Melbourne. We booked private tours for most ports, but did take a shore excursion offered by Princess in Melbourne. We booked Puffing Billy Train and the Aussie Homestead. We were not disappointed and had a fun day. Karen and Larry who were joining us later in the cruise for private tours of Dunedin and Auckland were also on this excursion. Puffing Billy was only about a 20-minute ride (enough). We toured Warrook Homestead where we were served a good lunch and then we toured the working dairy farm, milked a cow and drank the fresh milk (very sweet and rich). We saw a dog work a flock of sheep and a sheep sheering. We also fed kangaroo, gave a bottle to a calf, walked among the shy wallaby and saw some native birds.
Sunday we were at sea. We like sea days sprinkled in among the ports and always take advantage of them to relax and recharge our batteries. The naturalist on board was excellent and we went to hear each of her talks about the wildlife in Australia and New Zealand. Princess offers a nice variety of things to do if you want to keep busy. If you have any interest in the casino - don't miss to opportunity to get $15 in chips for $10. Also, go for the slot lesson to get your free bingo card. (no lesson required - they just give you the card). We took advantage of all bargains offered--watch the Princess Patter.
Hobart, Tasmania is lovely. We had a private tour to the Huon Valley, which is south and West of Hobart and is beautiful. Look for wood products in this area. The forestry service has constructed a walk 60 feet up, traveling through the treetops for some spectacular views. They call it the Air Walk. It rained while we walked but we all agreed it was appropriate to rain in the rain forest. We then went to Talune Wildlife Park. Most cruise passengers who went to a wildlife center were at Bonorong. We avoided the crowds by going to Talune, which is only slightly smaller. As a result we had lots of interaction with the animals. Many folks had not fed the kangaroos before we arrived so they were happy to see us and eat from our hands. We watched the platypus, cuddled a wombat that slept on the couch in the office and patted koalas and a Tasmanian devil. Stuart, our driver, took us through Battery Park and Arthur's Circus. We returned to the ship in the afternoon for a quick late lunch and then had time to check out Salamanca Place, which is just next to the pier where the ship docked. Mike and Renee, a couple we met on the message boards pre-cruise and 2 ladies, Mary from Fla. and Mary from NY, who we met on our SDT tour from Sydney to the Blue Mountains, joined us for the day. We all enjoyed this tour, our driver and each other's company.
Two days at sea followed Hobart. The next day we were at Fjordland Park, New Zealand. We were up early to claim our deck space, which turned out to be totally unnecessary - but we did see a magnificent sunrise! The day quickly turned gray and misty and the park was not as spectacular as we expected. There were a few pretty waterfalls (not enough recent rain for more) and some really nice scenery. This park, on this day, did not begin to compare with the awesome beauty and the feelings we experienced when viewing the glaciers of Alaska.
Friday, February 1, 2002 we arrived at Dunedin, New Zealand at 8:00 a.m. Dunedin was one of our favorite ports and it is absolutely beautiful! Brian Templeton of Elm Wildlife Tours picked the four of us up on the pier at 8:45 and we began a fabulous day. We saw lots of wildlife, rolling green hills dotted with sheep and stunning ocean views. First stop was the Albatross Colony - very interesting! Then we went to the Elm Wildlife Conservation Area where our four-wheel drive vehicle and we climbed up and down to see lots of fur seals, a hooker sea lion and a few yellow-eyed penguins. We stopped at Larnach Castle and toured the grounds, but skipped the interior. We wanted to have time for a stop at a family farm and shop called Clifton Wool 'N' Things. Ian and Pat Robertson grow colored sheep - sheer them, make their own wool yarn and they knit - weave etc. with the naturally colored wool. They have some beautiful things to sell at very reasonable prices. Wish I had bought a sweater vest she had there! It is a nice little place to visit - for a look at real farm life in New Zealand.
In Christchurch we had booked a full day with Vintage Motor Touring Co. Len Rickard and his 1947 Rolls Royce met us on the pier. What an impressive car (everything, including the paint job, is original) - and all ours for the day! Len gave us a comprehensive tour of the Christchurch area and we enjoyed it. Beautiful gardens everywhere! We would recommend that others book this for just a half day (include Mona Vale). Then be dropped off at the Arts Center - very near the Botanical Gardens, Cathedral Square and most other Christchurch city sites you would want to see. Catch a taxi back to the ship. Len took us to those places, but we would have preferred to be there to wander the area on our own.
We had a really fun "soft" adventure in Wellington. John McKinney picked us up at 8:00 a.m. We were off for a morning city tour - including a stop at a pretty Wind Garden. John did a good job showing us and telling us about his home city. The real adventure began at 10:30, when we returned to the visitor's center where we picked up one other person who had booked the Red Rocks Seal Tour. This was great fun! We went for a sometimes-scary four-wheel drive ride to a beach where we had tea while visiting with the fur seals. We definitely recommend this tour with John. I am super chicken, and I am so proud that I did this - kept my eyes open the whole time too! John had us back to the visitor's center (nice cyber cafe there) by 1:00. We walked to the museum then caught the double decker bus for a ride around the city - got off near the railway station and walked the short distance to the pier. Wellington is very easy to explore on your own. Go for the adventure and do the Red Rocks Seal Tour! He goes out at 10:30 and again at 1:15 or so. You would have no trouble getting to the visitor's center to meet him at 10:30 if you don't want to do the morning tour with him.
Monday was our final day at sea. We had the second formal night as well as the Captains Circle party this night. Everything began to wind down and the end came into sight - darn. We started our packing in the afternoon. The Regal does not participate in the automatic charge to your shipboard account for tips. You can charge them if you want to - just go to one of the bars and they will charge your tips and give you vouchers to put in the envelopes. If you want to give cash - just do that and you will not have any tips charged unless you ask them to.
If you like beaches, you can find some lovely ones in Tauranga. We took our second shore excursion of the cruise here. This was a difficult choice! Many people go to Rotorua and those who did really enjoyed their day (in spite of the rainy weather)! We did the Longridge Farm and Jet boating. We drove by some of the local attractions, had a tour of the Kiwi farm and then the main attraction - the jet boat. It was really fun - we were on a beautiful river and doing a 360 in a jet boat should be on everyone's list of things to do. They had raincoats and passed them out to all the folks who climbed in to the boats - after we got out. We were on the river just as the rain began and we all got pretty soaked. I did not hear any complaints - everyone had a good time!
Bay of Isles is absolutely beautiful. We had the perfect weather for our day there. We did not plan anything for this port - just thought we would play it by ear when we arrived. This was the only tender port. There are lots of things you can book on the dock just where you get off the tender. We took a ferry to Russell and explored this small town easily on our own. We considered doing the Mack Attack (a boat through the "Hole in the Rock", but decided just to soak up the beauty of the area. After taking the ferry back, we walked around and found a cyber cafe, had a great rum raisin ice cream cone and caught the tender back to the ship. This would be our last night on the ship and it was time to finish packing. They asked for most of our luggage to be out before dinner and the rest just after dinner.
Disembarkation in Auckland went a little slower than we had expected. Arrangements were made for Peter Sardi with Backalory Travel to pick us up at 8:00 a.m. We gave this information to the purser's desk, but through a series of goofs - we got tags that were not going to get us off until 10:00. At about 8:45 I went to the purser's desk and told him we had a tour operator waiting for us. He gave us a color tag to disembark right away. That worked out nicely as we were going off between colors and walked right through customs with no problems or lines. There had been some folks trying to take fruit & other forbidden food items off the ship - upsetting the local officials somewhat, and causing things to slow to a snails pace for awhile. We found our luggage and Peter right away. Karen and Larry, who we met on the cruise message boards prior to the cruise, spent the day with us on our Elm Wildlife Tour in Dunedin and joined us for the day to tour Auckland. We mistakenly planned to meet them on the pier instead of on the ship, resulting in a later start for our tour. Peter has a very nice, new, clean 11-passenger van. The four of us and our luggage traveled very comfortably for the all day tour. He is a really fine and knowledgeable young man. He planned a good itinerary for us and we enjoyed our day. If we had all been able to get off the ship earlier, we may have done the Kelly Tarlton Antarctic center - that is the only thing we missed that we'd like to have seen. He dropped us, with our luggage, at the airport about 6:00 p.m. for our flight home at 8:45 p.m. He then dropped our new friends at their hotel - they were flying to Sydney the next day. This was a far better way to spend the day than sitting at a hotel hospitality room, or at the airport. The shore excursions Princess offered for our time schedule were pricey and did not fill enough of our waiting hours. Peter will also meet clients at Tauranga, or take them to Rotorua. He is originally from Hungary - but speaks very good English, is now a NZ citizen and was able to give us as much or more history and description of New Zealand and the Auckland area than any one else could have. We definitely recommend using him as a tour guide.
Auckland airport was comfortable for the few hours wait for our flight home on United. It was 12 hours Auckland to LA. We arrived in Los Angeles at 11:35 a.m. that day, so we got back the day we lost going to Sydney. Our flight to Houston was scheduled for the next day. We went right to Continental and they were able to put us on a flight for home at 4:00 that afternoon. It was OK to spend a few hours sitting at the airport in order to get on home, so we cancelled our reservations for the hotel and settled in for the wait.
Australia and New Zealand are beautiful. The people are fun and friendly. We asked the price of real estate (a bargain!) at each of the ports - in New Zealand especially. Of course we were only dreaming, but what a lovely dream. We remain convinced that cruising is the best way to see all parts of the world that are accessible by water. Cruise enthusiasts know what I'm saying. First time cruisers - if you have found your way to this review, you are doing your research (part of the fun) and you are about to have a fantastic experience! If you would like a list of tour guides we used and web sites for places we visited, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I 'd be glad to send them to you.
Many thanks to Barbara, Glenn (Aussie Traveler), Neil & Chyrl, Jim, Carmine, Bob & June, Ellen and David & Doris. Each of them had posted on one message board or another with questions and/or answers about this itinerary. They were all so kind to answer my email asking for information and recommendations. Every one of them gave me valuable advice that I used in my planning and that I have saved to a word document (without their email addresses) and shared with at least 10 other cruisers. There are not many Australia/New Zealand reviews - but it is becoming a more popular itinerary (rightfully so) and there will probably be more turning up. In the mean time, they were wonderful to spend the time to send me lots of good information.