Thursday, March 30, 2017

Where to Next?

We've been talking about our next cruise, like we ever stop talking about our next cruise, and would really love to do a cruise to new ports. This most likely means we will need to fly somewhere as we have pretty much seen all of the ports leaving from Sydney or Brisbane. Obviously there are a few left, especially the ones further out which mean a longer (and more expensive) cruise. We definitely wouldn't rule them out, we don't rule any cruise out. We wouldn't mind doing a Queensland coast cruise either or an around Australia or part way round. There's still Tassie and the south island of New Zealand so I guess we still have a few things to tick off our list before heading further afield!

One of the draw cards to cruising is not having to face airports (for the most part) or the added expense of flying somewhere and staying a few nights. We have done a couple of cruises where we did stay overnight in Sydney and one where we stayed two nights but that was our choice and not a necessity really. It's definitely something we need to factor in if we ever do a cruise from overseas. We have been so fortunate to have done so many cruises and it's hard to pass up a bargain when it comes along but maybe we need to so we can do different cruises and see other countries. I wish we could either win lotto or my business would really kick into high gear and start bringing in decent money!

A few cruises that have caught our eye are:
plus a couple of cruises ex Singapore look good, particularly the Sapphire Princess ones. Oh to dream!

Another one that's been added to the watch list:
Edited to add: The Ovation Singapore to Sydney cruise is currently (11/4) $1670pp quad share in a superior balcony (RCI website, Ozcruising was slightly more). Airfares from $239pp. Still approx $2500pp twin.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ship Comparisons - Do I dare?!

It's so hard to rate and compare cruises and ships as they all have something different to offer. Our very first cruise in 2010 was on the Pacific Dawn and we just thought it was the best thing ever, still do! Now that we have been lucky enough to cruise on a few different brands we can see the difference between them plus the similarities.

Now price plays a big part on what you get and what you should expect. I would expect Princess and Royal Caribbean to be better than P&O in the sense of style and look of the ship as well as the facilities on board. I also think Carnival should be a step up from P&O but I would still expect them all to provide value for money, from food to cabin to facilities. All of the ships we have been on have lived up to our expectations, generally they exceeded them. Yes, even P&O. I hear so many people run P&O down but in our experience we have never had a bad cruise on a P&O ship. I've sailed on the Dawn, the Jewel and the Pearl and loved them all - they all have their similarities and their difference. To start with the Dawn was my favourite just because she was our very first cruise ship but now, having been on the other two P&O ships I'm leaning towards the Pearl. :-)

Food is such a subjective thing so what I like someone else may not but I have to say we have never had a bad experience with cruise food on any of our cruises. Sure you'll have the odd meal that wasn't brilliant or something could have been hotter or cooked a little less or more but overall we give the food a big thumbs up. From P&O to Royal Caribbean, the food is amazing. We did notice a step up in the quality and style of the food from P&O to Princess - the meals on the Dawn Princess in both the main restaurant and the buffet were just superb! Although, in saying that, the pastries and danishes on all three of the P&O ships cannot be beat! On the subject of food, well places to eat, we always found the P&O ships a real pain to get into the main restaurant for dinner. This was very noticeable when there were only 2 or 3 of us. You can't make a booking for the whole of your cruise so have to line up every day or ring up and then you generally only have the choice of really early, 5.30pm or too late for us 8.30pm. As you could book on the way out after your dinner I am guessing that is why all of the decent times were already gone by the time we tried to book. I also think they just don't have enough staff dedicated to the dining room as whenever we have been in there it is generally only half full, even though it's supposedly always booked out when you try to make a booking! You also have to sit with other people which isn't always a bad thing but sometimes it would be nice to be able to have the option of having your own table. This was our main gripe with P&O as we loved being able to dine in the main restaurant for dinner each evening and for the most part we never did this with P&O. The buffet food was still great but it is nice to be waited on :-) All the other cruise lines we have been able to make a booking for dinner for the whole cruise - so much easier. If we decided to not eat in the restaurant we would just pop in and let them know.

The P&O ships are looking a bit dated and tired compared to the Carnival Spirit and the Ovation of the Seas (obviously nothing is going to beat the Ovation seeing as it is only about 1 year old!) but I still love their atmosphere and layout. We found the Spirit to have a less user friendly layout of all the ships we've been on and it did seem a bit darker and not as easy to get around as the other ships. Although mum found the Dawn Princess hard to navigate and was always getting lost. I think having the restaurant in the middle of the ship through her - all the other ships generally have the main restaurants at the back. The Dawn Princess also had its buffet at the front as apposed to the other ships who have it at the back just to confuse mum even more! This isn't a good or bad thing just something to get use to plus by getting lost you burnt more calories trying to find your way ;-)

Hands down the Ovation of the Seas is the most well laid out ship of all the ships we've been on. It is by far the BIGGEST ship we've been on. It is MASSIVE but we never got lost, not once. I was so surprised! I thought for sure I would never find out cabin or take hours trying to get to our restaurant each night but nope, easy peasy. Obviously a lot of thought has gone into the placement of everything from the lifts and stairs to the main promenade and atrium and even the casino. For the most part decks 6 through 13 are just cabins so you really only use the deck your cabin is located on and needn't go to the other ones so it minimises the potential for getting lost.

I have to be honest and say it might be a bit hard going from the Ovation of the Seas back to a P&O ship as the contrast is so big. The newest and biggest ship in Australia to the oldest and smallest ships but I think I could manage! I don't think I would take the kids on a P&O or Princess ship just for the main reason of kid friendly activities offered. Princess seems more geared towards older people and P&O only offer a limited range of on board activities but these are an additional cost. A P&O cruise would be great for the family if we found an absolute bargain and just wanted a week away doing not much but I think if we do another cruise with the kids it will have to be on a Carnival or Royal Caribbean ship.

I could ramble on and on and on so for now I'm going to list my ships (not cruises) from favourite to not as favourite (because I love them all!).

1. Ovation of the Seas - 9/10

2. Dawn Princess - 8.5/10

3. Carnival Spirit - 8/10

4. Pacific Pearl - 7.5/10

5. Pacific Jewel - 7.5/10

6. Pacific Dawn - 7.5/10

The Jewel and the Dawn are the same really but I preferred the buffet on the Jewel (the Pantry but the Dawn is getting this as I type) and the Dome on the Dawn (although they have made the Jewel's Dome a bit bigger and it was lovely).

I also have to note that we had balcony cabins on the Ovation and the Dawn Princess so that did make a difference :-) All our cabins (inside, outside, balcony, obstructed) have been great but obviously having a balcony is a little bit special :-)

Cabins are very similar across the ships with a few differences with layout and size. The Dawn Princess was the smallest but we did have a balcony, the Ovation was the biggest and the other cabins were pretty similar in size but the Spirits layout was better (on our first cruise in the obstructed view inside room) and the bathrooms were bigger with a great layout.

Something else to note is the price. P&O cruises have always been the cheapest. We generally have paid around the $50-$60/day where as on our last cruise on the Ovation we paid $129/day. SO perspective needs to be taken into account when comparing ships and cruises. Of course there are all the extras on board but you choose if you want to spend money or not. In reality you don't need to spend a cent once on board! If you do just budget this in before you go.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Thursday 9 February, Debark day

Debark day, a very sad day indeed as it means our cruise is over and we have to leave our ship for the last time (but not before breakfast!).

Final breakfast in the Solarium
I can't believe that our cruise is already over! Seriously felt like we only just got on and now we have to leave. By the time we opened our curtains at 6am we were already at the OPT luckily we've sailed into Sydney and have been up early enough to take some photos and enjoy the harbour so early in the morning. It is a beautiful harbour.

This is part of the ships Bridge which we got to see on our Behind the Scenes Tour
Our debark time was 8am and we had to be at the Royal at 7.45am so after our cuppa and a shower we headed up to the Solarium for the last time. Shame we couldn't take a doggy bag with us! I took some more photos before heading back to our cabin, freshening up again and making sure we had looked in every drawer and cupboard before leaving our room (I don't wanna go). Just as we got to the Royal our number was called and off we went. I think it was about 7.50am and we were in the OPT collecting our suitcases. Just a note: the only thing that slows the debark process are passengers not doing as instructed. Do not get off the ship before you are called as your suitcase will not be there and do not get off the ship later than you are required to as then your suitcase is in the way! Straight through customs, as we had nothing to declare, and over to Circular Quay to get the train to Central and drop our suitcases off.

We left our suitcases at a storage place under the main part of Central in Eddy Avenue as mum had seen this earlier and the price looked much cheaper than upstairs in the main part of the station. $10 for the day, bargain!

Egyptian Mummies Exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum
10.30am - Powerhouse Museum to see the Egyptian Mummies exhibition. I had booked this before leaving for our trip as I love Egypt and all things old. The museum opens at 10am so we had some time to kill before we could go in and explore. We didn't feel like walking around, we've done enough of that over the last few weeks, so I grabbed a coffee (first coffee in quite awhile) and we sat in the open courtyard near the museum and talked about our next cruise :-)

I loved the exhibition and also quite enjoyed walking around the other exhibits in the museum. We spent about two hours here before heading back to the station to collect our (heavy) suitcases. We thought we might be able to get on an earlier flight but unfortunately by the time we got to the airport our flight was the only flight going to Port Mac!

We were a couple of hours early for our 4.10pm flight so checked in and then headed to the food court for lunch. I had bought a sushi roll on the way to the airport so just bought a Krispy Kreme donut, I'm use to dessert now so needed something sweet! Mum opted for Red Rooster. Busy busy place Sydney airport. The escalator heading up to the check in counters wasn't working and mum and I certainly weren't lugging our bags all the way up them so we went to the lift. A gentleman (I use the term loosely) pushing a wheelchair proceeded to push his way passed all us people with suitcases and give everyone the evil eye. Once we finally got into the lift, they're not very big so it had opened and closed a few times chockers before we could get in, he asked us if we had an aversion to escalators! I promptly told him that only when they weren't working we did. That shut him up. I was over rude people by now.

After lunch we walked over to our departure lounge and waited (and waited). We were flying with Virgin, it's either Virgin or Qantas when you go to Port Mac. Virgin were having difficulties with their system, it had crashed, so that delayed flights and then they had to manually check people in. A Melbourne flight was cancelled and then more flights were delayed, ours included. We ended up changing lounges, thankfully it was just next door, and left an hour late. Virgin talk up how much better they are than other airlines but truthfully I didn't see any difference to Jetstar or Tiger and neither of these airlines have been late when I've flown with them (touchwood!). We got a cup of tea (which mum and I both were dying for - we miss our cabin!) and a lemon bikkie. We had only just taken off when one of the passengers started to order a scotch and coke. The flight attendant had to politely tell him he couldn't get out of his seat until the plane was level and the seat belt sign was turned off. It made me think of dad and him waiting at the airport for us not being able to have a beer or three after bowls :-)

The flight was smooth, I was hoping we'd flying over the harbour so I could get a photo of our ship but we were on the wrong side of the plane, of course! We did see the Guns n Roses plane while we were taxiing along the runway at Sydney.

Guns n Roses plane at Sydney airport
Back home, well back to mums home I've still got a 5 1/2 hour drive ahead of me on Sunday. Mum and I threw all our dirty washing (in the bin) in the washing machine ready for tomorrow and then sat down with a glass of wine. Not quite the same as on our balcony on the Ovation :-)

It was an absolutely amazing trip and cruise and the most spectacular cruise ship I have ever seen or been lucky enough to be on. The negative reviews I read before hand where the complete opposite of what mum and I thought. We never had a bad meal. We never missed out on anything we wanted to do. We never had to queue for long. We never met any unhelpful staff. Surprisingly we never got lost! Our room was spacious, modern, well designed and decorated. The balcony was a good size and we didn't have any issues with our view or the overhang from deck 14 above us (as I had previously read) and we thought the bathroom was great. The only thing I guess that mum missed was the clothes line we've had in other bathrooms but she just used some coat hangers and put them on the back of the chairs on the balcony.

All the shows we saw were sensational, in particular The Dream - just spectacular!! We had prebooked these so had no issues getting in to see them. I spoke to a couple of people who didn't have a booking and they said they managed to get in to see them also.

We never encountered any huge queues or line ups for anything. Obviously there are going to be queues, there are 4,000 passengers, but for our part we were quite surprised how minimal they were and how quickly everything was processed. Right from boarding to getting on and off the tenders and at ports to when we got back to Sydney and left the ship. I think this might have been the quickest embark and debark we've ever had and possibly even for the tendering etc. No complaints there!

The restaurants were all wonderful and our main restaurant The American Icon Grill was near on perfect, from arriving and never having to wait more than 5 minutes to be seated, to the waiters, the decor and ambience and the food (oh my, the food!) everything was perfect! We enjoyed our dinner in the Solarium Bistro but did prefer The Icon probably the main reason was the starters and dessert were buffet style and we got so use to being waiting on it was a bit tough to get our own ;-) Also there were quite a lot of seafood starters which mum doesn't eat but the quality, for the most part, was excellent. I did have a few very well cooked prawns in amongst my starter but it certainly didn't ruin my meal. It's a lovely place to sit and very light and airy, we had a 6.30pm reservation and the sun was setting around 8pm so it was a beautiful place to see the sun set over the water. We often had a window seat or near window seat in the Icon so again got to watch the sun go down. They would close the blinds when it was very bright but you could still see through them a bit so didn't make it dark at all. I find it very hard to understand how anyone could not like the food on this ship. They are very picky if that is the case and I wonder what they were expecting or what they normally eat?? Anyway, for us we give the food a 5 out of 5. Yes there were a couple of things we didn't like but that just comes down to taste and not quality. Although I do have to say the pizza we had in Sorrento's wasn't very nice. I think it had been sitting there for quite some time, maybe a freshly made pizza would have been much nicer but we weren't that hungry and only wanted a slice or two.

The facilities and activities on the Ovation are second to no other ship we have been on! Incredible ship with great public spaces both inside the ship and on the top decks. The Seaplex was fabulous and such a great area for sports and all kinds of activities. All of the pools, especially the Solarium as this is the ones we used, were great. Lots and lots of deck chairs, there were millions of them! We absolutely loved the Solarium pools. Great to just sit in them and laze away the day. Easy to get in and out of using the steps and big enough to not get too crowded.

The incredible Ovation of the Seas!
I think I could go on and on about the Ovation but I'll just say Well Done Royal Caribbean - this is an amazing ship and I hope it keeps coming back to Australia and possibly even stay longer! I also hope I get to go on her again (and again!).

Thanks mum for yet again another wonderful cruise, thanks for wanting to go cruising with me and putting up with. When's the next one???

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Wednesday 8 February, 6th and final sea day

Oh no, this is our last day on board the incredible Ovation of the Seas! It's hard to believe that we are nearing the end of our cruise. 12 nights just isn't enough!

For today I have prebooked a behind the scenes ship tour which mum and I are really looking forward to. Meeting time is 8.45am at the Shore Excursion lounge so no big sleep in for our final day. After brekky in the (can you guess??) Solarium we headed down to deck 5 with our waiver form ready for the tour. The waiver form was quite amazing, I wish I had of taken a photo of the wording and how RCI really wanted to cover anything and everything that could, maybe happen to you on this tour. Somewhere amongst it all had 'from the beginning of time to the end of time' so they were taking nothing to chance! We didn't hurt ourselves so they needn't worry about us suing them :-)

Our meeting place for the Behind the Scenes Tour - deck 5
There were quite a few people doing the tour, the form had said that it needed a minimum of 6 people otherwise the tour wouldn't run. They didn't have to worry about numbers, I think our group was around 20 and then there was another group or two after us. After our forms were checked and we signed our life away we received our 'VIP' card and headed off on the tour. All up it took around 2 hours and was so well worth doing. All of the staff and crew that spoke to us and told us a bit about their areas and what goes on were great. We started off in our restaurant, the American Icon, with a talk from one of the head food and beverage people and then went on through to the galley and bakery etc where we met the head chef and the head baker. The head baker said the hardest part about his job is the taste testing every morning, as he patted his ample belly :-) The bakery smelt amazing! After this we went through to more of the kitchen area and had a glass of orange juice or champagne or both and some chocolate coated strawberries which we had seen the guy preparing earlier. After this we saw the huge fridge and freezers plus the food storage (we certainly weren't going to run out of beer!), the staff living zones (there are two staff to a cabin with some getting their own cabins) and buffet, the Engine Control Room, the Recycling Centre, the laundry and their funky ironing machines and then up to the Bridge. Before going into the ECR we had to be scanned and then again before we went into the Bridge. Safety is very important don't want some nutter trying to sink the ship (or turn it back around to NZ!).

The bakery! It smelt sooooo goood!
The information we received and where we got to go within the ship was great. I think we were all amazed at how small the control stick is that actually steers the ship. Teeny tiny! We were all standing near the control panel, there are three panels with the main one in the centre of the Bridge and then one on either side where the Bridge sticks out. These ones are used when we are docking, makes it much easier to see if we're about to hit the dock! I assumed that the control panel we were standing next to had been disabled, I could just see me accidentally bumping into it and spinning the ship around! There are no weapons allowed on board the ship even if police or armed forces come aboard, they have to leave these behind. After our guide had finished telling us this she started to explain what some of the buttons and knobs are for on the control panel. She started off saying 'and these are for launching the missiles' you should have seem some of the passengers faces! One guy started to say 'so you can't bring guns on board but you have missiles' when the penny dropped and everyone realised she was indeed just joking! Very funny. I'm sure this will spread rumours abound ;-)

I don't think they were going to run out of icecream!

The Bridge
We were able to take as many photos as we liked and of everything we saw we weren't allowed to take any videos. The captain wasn't on the Bridge when we were there, I think he was in his cabin (which our guide said she couldn't tell us where it was but it wasn't too far away) preparing for his talk a little later on in the Two70 lounge. After we had all asked any questions and taken all our photos our tour was over and we headed back out to the main area on deck 12, great for us because we were just below our cabin. One of the ladies realised as we came out to the lifts that we were on her deck and not far from their cabin. It's amazing what a different perspective you get when you're using stairs and corridors you don't normally, you lose where abouts you are on the ship.

So back to our cabin for a cuppa on the balcony :-)

Our final lunch on the Ovation was at Windjammers. We sat out the back, still inside, as it was so busy an even our usual spots were full. I had found a table but was a bit hidden so mum didn't see me, I sure her going outside and was waiting for her to pass the window so I could wave to her but she came back in just as a table became free so sat there. At least I knew where she was and went over to her. I remember on the Dawn Princess one time we lost each other and ended up sitting at different tables trying to look out for each other. When we did finally meet up we realised we were almost next to each other - how did we not see! (or maybe mum just wanted to eat by herself!). We didn't have any dessert even though it was very tempting as we walked back passed it to head out to the lido but we couldn't resist a final icecream. They had run out of chocolate though :-(

Seeing as it was our last day we had to pack our suitcases ready to leave outside our cabin for collection. You could do a self assist, which means you take your own suitcase off the ship, but we'd rather just collect it on the dock the next morning. 10pm was the latest you could leave you bag outside the cabin, not a problem for us.

We joozed ourselves up and headed down to Vintages for a farewell, cheers to a great cruise drink. They had run out of the wine we had been drinking but offer us another one for the same price. Excellent. We took a few photos in the funky chairs opposite Vintages, thinking we're looking so glamourous, but when we printed them out it just looks like mum's busting to go to the toilet and I've already eaten a huge dinner! I'm glad I looked at it after dinner!

Our final dinner in the Icon certainly didn't disappoint, as if we thought it would! We did end up with a table full of bread rolls as both our waiters brought us a basket. We did love them but there are only so many rolls you can eat in one sitting. I had a seafood pie for starters and is was so goooood, I'm still dreaming about it.

Back to our cabin and we put our suitcases out making sure we had clothes for tomorrow. Wouldn't that be embarrassing if you forgot and had to wear your pj's off the ship! We sat on our balcony for the rest of the evening wishing we were doing back to back to back cruises! Pretty much how all our cruises end. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Tuesday 7 February, 5th Sea Day

Heading back to Sydney :-( but before we get there we've got some iflying to do!! Both mum and I were a bit nervous, well mum was a LOT nervous so our morning start to the day was even quieter and slower than normal ;-) Mum didn't want to eat too much for breakfast, just in case! She still hadn't had her eggs benny yet but didn't want to risk it this morning.

Our flight was booked for 11am and they ask you to be there about 15 mins or so early to get checked in. I guess this allows for them to fit in any standby people if you don't turn up. We turned up! After checking in and getting a time wristband we went and sat outside on a deck chair to psych ourselves up and take a few before photos. It's go time!

Ready as I'll ever be!
We had a safety and instructional video to watch first, this went for about 4 minutes and then we got suited up. Very fetching, I didn't look dorky at all! Now with our suit, helmet, ear plugs and goggles we were ready to fly (mum, not so much).

Looking (good) confident!
Up to the iFly and before I knew it I was flying! I was first to go in and it was so cool, absolutely fantastic and so much fun!! The flight lasts for about a minute or so (except for mums) and is amazing. Loved it!! To start off you stand at the door, put your arms above your head and let yourself fall. The instructor is there to grab you around the waist and get you centred and balanced, well as balanced as you can be when air's blasting up at you! There is a guy taking photos so the instructor makes sure you face him for at least some of the flight to get some gorgeous photos, cheeks flapping and all. Because it is so noisy in then, hence the ear plugs, you're giving hand signals ie straighten your legs, lift your arms, lower your arms, get me out of here (that was thumbs down!) etc If the instructor thinks you're balanced enough and sort of in control he'll let you go. Such a cool feeling and I didn't even crash! I was sure I would crash into the sides and then flip over but I was very controlled, woo!  After you finish you grab hold of the door and pull yourself down and plonk your feet back on the ground and then go and give everyone a high 5!

Up next, mum! She just couldn't make herself go in, no matter how much encouragement the instructor (Ivan) gave her so she sat back down, shaking and a bit teary. One of the other flyers came over to comfort her! There were three others in our group so the two guys had their go and then Ivan waved mum back over. This time he literally pulled her in!! She did it! You can't hear anything but you could certainly see mum was screaming. She managed to stay up with the help of Ivan but then started to freak out a bit so the air controller guy gave Ivan the thumbs down and mum was out. I think she lasted 30 seconds but she did so well!! She even managed to give everyone a high 5 when she got out, all but a little shakily! She did get a round of applause :-) Later on after we had gotten out of our fetching onesies mum said a lady came up to her and said how well she had done because she had chickened out. We went and had a look at our photos and had to get some of them. Unfortunately because we were both booked into the same time slot we didn't have anyone to take any photos of us from the observation area so needed to buy a couple of photos to prove that we did it!! Mum said she was definitely getting some after that!

We did this!!! Scratch it off your bucket list mum ;-)
With shaky legs we headed back to the cabin for a well deserved cup of tea although I think mum might have needed something stronger!

Mum's never leaving our cabin again! Well, maybe to go to the buffet ;-)
 How smooth is the ocean??

I can't image the sea ever gets any smoother than this, incredible!
After settling her jelly legs we headed to Windjammers for some nourishment. My go to was either the pasta/salad section, conveniently located opposite the dessert station, or the toasted sandwich station. Mum varied her meals a bit more but had a burger a couple of times as well as nachos and a roast roll (not all in the one sitting!).

With bellies full (again) we went for a walk around this amazing ship, trying to take it all in. We watched the iFly (yes mum, you did do that!), the surfers and then headed into the Seaplex to check out was what happening. 

Should I have a hot dog??
Dinner once again was fantastic even with a post it note in my soup. Ha ha. The waiter was putting pepper on my soup when a post it note dropped in instead. He was soooo apologetic and immediately replaced my soup for me. It was quite funny actually :-) He said he'd written a message for himself (a certain beer for a guest) and had put it in his pocket where he keeps his little pepper grinder. He's accidentally picked it up when he got his pepper grinder and it's fallen into the soup. He assured me the next night when I saw him that he had no post its in his pocket :-)

Delicious Mushroom Soup post it note not included ;-)
As we were heading back to Sydney we were getting back the couple of hours we had lost when we went to NZ. It's noted in the Cruise Compass plus Inyoman also left a larger note so we wouldn't forget. It was great getting this hour back as it meant that tomorrow wasn't so early getting up. It's amazing how early it makes getting up in the morning when you lose a couple of hours! We'd get the other hour back the following night just in time for our arrival in Sydney the following morning.

We got a Cruise Compass every evening with what was happening the next day.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Monday 6 February, Auckland - New Zealand

11.25am - Auckland Bridge Climb!! Mum is not looking forward to this at all, she's been trying to prepare herself and keeps saying 'I've got to conquer my fears' but I don't think it's helping.

Sailing into Auckland Harbour mum got up early to get some photos and to see this dreaded bridge. After seeing it she said, oh it's not that high. I'll hold her to it!

The tenders getting ready for us!
The Ovation is way to big to dock in Auckland so we have to bob around in the harbour and tender to shore. We're not very far away from the docks so the tender trip was only about 5 minutes or so and once again ran very smoothly (well, smoothly isn't a great word to use for the return trip but I'll talk about that later ;-) )
Mum trying not to think about 'the climb'
We wanted to be off the ship reasonably early or at least in the queue to get off to make sure we had plenty of time to get to our meeting point for the climb. We were off in heaps of time and had a couple of hours to explore Auckland before getting the shuttle bus to the bridge. It turned out that the pick up area was just up from the tender drop off point and we had to walk right by it, excellent as we thought we might be cutting it fine coming back. This was why I had been trying to contact my sister just to ensure we had enough time to do the climb and get back to the tenders as the last tender was 3pm. It turned out we had plenty of time, I think we got back just after 2pm. No need for all the worry we had of missing the ship. We did take our passports with us, just in case!

I've been to Auckland a couple of times, the last was with nan in 2001 but I didn't remember anything about it! There was only one building that looked familiar. I think I'm getting old or I just don't pay enough attention! There is a lot of construction and building work going on at the moment so it's not looking that lovely. Part of the dock area has been all done up and this looked great so I'm sure once it's all done the whole city would look much better. We walked to the Skytower and then back to the wharf. The Skytower is very tall and if you are silly enough (which my cousin is) you can jump off it! I told mum we would do this on our next visit - not a chance was her response and I have to agree!

Skytower which we are NOT jumping off.
We walked backed to our meeting point to get our shuttle to the bridge. It was about a 10 minute drive. There were eight in our group with two of them also doing a bungy jump! No thanks, I'll stick to just climbing it not jumping off it!

We suited up and go our safety harness and helmet on and then head across the road to the bridge. Our guide said that was the most dangerous part, crossing the road!

Spoiler alert, mum hated it. She made it, very slowly, but she did not enjoy it one bit. Sorry mum, I will never make you climb another bridge ever again. Promise.

This is mums 'thank gawd that's over with' face!

I have climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge (with my gorgeous niece) and this, sorry NZ, doesn't compare. It was great to do and interesting to hear the history but no where near as spectacular or exciting to climb. For the most part you are walking along the bottom of the bridge, not really that high up but still high and over the water. This is what mum hated and didn't think she would be able to do. She had said after the climb that at one stage she'd said to me, in almost a cry, that she didn't think she'd be able to go any further (this wasn't too far into our climb) but I didn't hear her (honest!) plus there wasn't anything you could do. We were hooked on until the end. About half way across the bridge we came across the bungy pod. This is tucked away under the bridge and you can't see it unless you're in a boat right under the bridge or have walked to it like we did. Apparently that was one of the stipulations for when they applied for the bungy, it had to be well hidden. The two people doing the bungy were unhooked and led up some stairs to the bungy pod and 5 or so minutes later one of them jumped off the edge, It looked scary as hell, no way I could ever do that. Not that I want to. After they had both jumped they came back down, got clipped back on and off we went. This time we were starting to head up the bridge. This part mum didn't mind as much because she couldn't see the water, we were now above the road. It's not really a very high bridge and when you're above the roads it doesn't look high at all. Mum could handle this part but was starting to freak out a bit about going back as we had to walk back across the open walkway over the water. After some photo's and looking around we headed back. Mum just went as fast as she could to get it over and done with. She was still slower than everyone else but much faster than heading out! Once back we took off our onesies and went and had a look at the photos, of course we have to get them. We look so good in our miners suits! Mum needed visual proof that she'd climbed the bridge (we weren't allowed to take our cameras) as she had told her work mates she was doing it and they wouldn't believe her without photos! Good job mum, you did well. You may not have conquered you fear of heights but you never have to climb the bridge again or go up in the North Star so it doesn't really matter.

Heading for the tenders and our ship - yay says mum!
Back onto the shuttle and into town. We had been so worried we'd be late and miss the last tender but we were back in plenty of time. There were quite a lot of people waiting for the tenders, which we had expected, but all in all it didn't take too long to get onto a tender and head back to our beautiful ship.

We were almost at the ship when a rogue wave hit our tender and I swear we almost tipped over. It was quite scary. We rocked and rolled for a little bit until the driver could gentle turn us a bit to stop us. It didn't last for long but long enough to freak most of us out. The silly lady sitting near us had stood up after our tender had pulled away and was so lucky not to really hurt herself. I'm sure she had a few bruises. Stupidly enough though, once the tender stopped rocky she stood back up. The crew told everyone to SIT DOWN we will go row by row starting at the back. This was us! Of course other people stood up but again the crew told everyone to SIT DOWN and not to stand up until he said. He was thinking of our safety and after what had just happened I wasn't standing until I was told! Some people just don't care though, these are the people I hate cruising with (or doing anything with) they do what they want, when they want too bad about anyone else. I was so glad the crewman was very forceful and made sure everyone did as HE said. Well done.

Back on board and on our balcony for sailaway - bye Auckland, it was sort of fun hey mum ;-)
Another great day (wasn't it mum??) and our last port before arriving back in Sydney. We left Auckland at 4pm and once we got out of the harbour it was full steam ahead. The captain had said that to get back to Sydney on Thursday, taking two days, he needed to pretty much go flat out the whole way, this is why we left Auckland so early. The captain also thanked all the passengers and crew for a very good tendering service and said it was the best one to date. Again, I have to say how well run the tendering was on all of our ports. Incredible organisation to get so many people off and on with relatively little waiting and queuing. I am sure there will be people complaining of queuing for tenders but seriously, what do you expect with a cruise ship so big. 4,000 people and our biggest queue time was maybe 15 minutes with wait time for our tender number maybe 20 minutes (if that) I think that's pretty much as fast as you could possibly go!

Luckily there were no cruisers on the other side of the bridge!
Dinner tonight was in Silk, same menu to Icon just different decor. The food, as usual, was delicious. We prefer the decor in Icon but the waiters were great. The couple that sat at the table next us started by saying 'I have a headache'. I knew they weren't going to be happy, cheery people. They then decided to tell us how they didn't like any of the food or the ship in general and all the other ships they had been on that were so much better. Well cheers to you! Luckily we were going to a show so left soon after our main meal - I don't need to listen to people like that! We were loving our cruise!

This is more like it isn't it mum?? Next time I'll book a fancy restaurant not a bridge climb!
The show was in the Royal Theatre at 9pm which I had already booked. The Dream. It was beyond amazing! The sets were just incredible!! So impressive! Everything about the show was wonderful, we both really enjoyed it! If we had of seen it earlier on in the cruise I probably would have tried to book in again! A definite must see!!

Royal Theatre waiting for The Dream to start

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Sunday 5 February, Tauranga - New Zealand

Sailing peacefully into Tauranga

Tauranga was a lovely place to sail into. Beautiful blue water. The area that we docked in was amazingly narrow with very shallow water plus the huge Emerald Princess was already docked when we arrived. The captain sure earned his money today - leaving was even more impressive!

It's not very deep or wide!
As we were able to dock at this port it obviously meant we could just walk off the ship with no need of the tenders. Again, this ran super smooth and we didn't need to queue for long getting off or back on. We enjoyed sail in from our balcony and then had a leisurely breakfast up in the Solarium. As we had no set plans for today we didn't need to rush off the ship so just left when we were ready. The ship actually docks at Mount Manganoui so the town of Tauranga provided free shuttles over to Tauranga. We didn't end up going, ran out of energy and time, but it was about a 20 minute trip.

The Emerald Princess docked in front of us.
We were going to climb to the top of Mt Manganoui but after walking around it, which took about an hour or so, we decided that was good enough. It was a surprisingly (well surprisingly for me) hot day so we used that as an excuse not to do the climb. Walking around it was still enjoyable with lovely views. There was a sign saying that seals live around here but we didn't see any, we did see a large birdy though. Don't know what type but I did get a photo.

Not Oscar

A lovely walk around the base of Mount Manganoui
After finishing our mountain walk we wandered down the beachside, very busy and not just because there were two cruise ships in. Although I'm guessing we added a lot of extra bodies - two HUGE ships in at once in a small town, you're going to notice it. There were a lot of locals and visitors going by the amount of traffic on the roads. The lovely beach area was on the opposite side to where the ship docked, probably about a 10 minute walk give or take depending on how many wrong turns you took. I had seen a Burger King just after getting off the ship so thought we'd head there to see if they had free wifi. We finally found it, the place was bigger than we had thought, and hooked up to their wifi to check in with my sister and see if I could finally get my message to her regarding our Auckland bridge climb. Yay, it went through! After a quick catch up mum and I made our way back to the ship and Windjammers. I still can't get over how big it is!

Yummy lunch with a view
We had a lovely lunch in Windjammers with the Mountain as our back drop. We certainly could get use to this! (and we did) The ship was scheduled to leave at 8pm with the last passengers on board by 6pm. I'm not sure if it is due to the tides or having another ship in but it was great to have such a long stay in the port. Meant there wasn't any need for rushing about, a very relaxed day indeed.

Stairs leading up to Deck 15 from the Windjammer - Emerald P's butt in the background
After some more exploring of the ship, people and ship watching we went back to our cabin to chill out a bit and then freshen up and get ready for dinner. I had made a reservation at the Solarium Bistro for dinner tonight, something different, and thought tonight was a good night to do it seeing as our departure time was relatively late.

Dinner in the Solarium Bistro
The Solarium is a wonderful place to sit and enjoy the views and sun, it was a stunning evening (and day). It's not quite an a la carte restaurant as the starters and dessert are buffet style but the mains you do order from a menu. You also don't seem to have to dress up as the couple behind us had shorts and thongs. We did enjoy our meals but both agreed we preferred The Icon both for food and the fact we get waited on from start to finish. We're so spoilt!

Deck 5 evening stroll
After we finished dinner we walked down to Deck 5 and went outside and walk along the deck taking happy snaps as I went. This is where the tenders hang down but there are still plenty of areas to see the view. We could see that the Emerald was still there so was curious to see who was leaving first. We thought she would seeing as she had arrived first plus she was already facing the right way. We had to turn around so would need all the room we could get!

Two70 Lounge - with the Emerald Princess getting ready to leave
We went into Two70 lounge as it was a great vantage point to see the Emerald. We were parked back to back. I noticed a tug so went over and had a look and sure enough it was hooked up to the Emerald already to go. Once we saw her moving out we hightailed it to our cabin, this is when you really notice how big the ship is! We were at the other end of the ship 7 decks up! We though the view from our balcony would be amazing watching the Emerald leave and it was. She pulled out from the dock and then reversed up right next to us before heading out. Very cool to see!

By Emerald Princess (I hope we get to sail on you!)
Now it was our turn. On paper if you saw this and how small the area was and how big the ship is and how shallow the water is you would say, no way jose. Absolutely incredible manouvering to get us out and spun around with out hitting anything or running aground and it's just so smooth! Truly impressive!

I'm spinning around! Perpendicular to the dock. (that's a big word Jacq!)
New roomie! I 'think' it was a koala ;-)

New roomie

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Ovation of the Seas - Saturday 4 February, Bay of Islands - New Zealand

Exciting day, we're at our first New Zealand port - The Bay of Island and there are many, many islands! We enjoying sailing in on our balcony and watched the tenders being setup and lowered. After a quick shower we were up to the Solarium for breakfast. We didn't have anything booked here so there was no need to rush down for a tender ticket. They did advise if you didn't need to be off early to wait a bit so there wasn't any huge queues.

Bay of Islands

Bay of lots of Islands

Tender tickets were collected from just outside the Two70 lounge and then we were asked to wait in the main lounge areas or decks, deck 4 and 5 for our numbers to be called. Not everyone listens to this and get in the way as they wait on the stairs but that's quite normal. Some people just think they can do what ever they want, when ever they want. We didn't have to wait too long for our number to be called and it was pretty quick after that to get onto the tenders. The Ovation has a dedicated area on deck 2 for tendering and debarking so this saves so much time with the tendering process. It's laid out very well and very easy to navigate. The staff were happy and helpful and made sure we were all safe getting onto the tender, being on the tender and getting off the tender. Of course, once again, there are people who choose to do their own thing and ignore the staff but the staff did a great job. The trip wasn't very long, maybe 5 minutes or so and there were shuttle buses waiting for us to take us into the main town of Paihia. We decided to walk into town, which was about a 20-30 minute easy walk along the water. It was NZ's Waitangi Day (I think it goes all month so not really a 'day') so there were heaps of police and people about. Waitangi Day is to commemorate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 - New Zealands founding document.

The tender getting ready for us
The weather was perfect, much warmer than I had expected. I ended up getting a bit burnt even though I was trying to make sure I had sunscreen on all the time. A lovely port and town, super busy with all us cruisers but everyone we spoke to were very friendly and helpful.

Heading into town - we chose to walk and not catch the shuttle bus
Found the town
I found a free wifi hotspot near the cute local library and managed to get hold of my niece. After wandering through the markets we headed over to the wharf to catch a ferry over to Russell (it's not an island). The ferries were super busy but we didn't have to wait long and ended up on the fast ferry. It was about a 7 minute trip over and a bit longer coming back as we caught the Happy ferry after a bunch of (bloody) cruisers decided to push in front of everyone. So rude! I just don't understand why people think this is ok and why they are more important than anyone else. Anyway, onto Russell we went. A sweet little town with some gorgeous houses, very expensive gorgeous houses. We did some walking around and happy snapping before resting on the grass over looking the bay and watching all the boats and ferries and swimmers and stand up paddle boarders. The only thing that was missing was an icecream. Mum has an aversion to buying things especially food when we're on a cruise and stupidly I didn't have any money with me. Well I did but I had spent it on the ferry. Not to worry, there was plenty of food back on board the ship!

Caught the Fast Ferry to Russell (it's not an island)

After catching the Happy ferry back to Paihia we slowly walked back to the tenders and made our way back to our wonderful ship.

On the Happy Ferry back to Paihia
I can see why they call it the Bay of Islands

 We'd certainly worked up an appetite so weren't we lucky that we had a three course meal ahead of us. Although, you could technically make it as many courses as you wanted. Two starters, two mains, two desserts, heck why not three desserts! We didn't go that crazy, three courses was sufficient. (ok ONE time, ONE time I had two mains but that wasn't me that was our waiter :-)) and tonight we also both had a scoop of ice cream with our dessert which I guess is TWO desserts BUT we didn't have dessert the night before so just balancing it out ;-)
American Icon

Yum yum yum
 The waitstaff and chefs did a bit of a show for us all. So lovely to see them enjoying themselves.

Show time