Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sea Princess around New Zealand

New Zealand is a beautiful country and this trip called at more ports, so a simple decision really.

Did our usual run from Kuala Lumpur to Gold Coast (Brisbane) following Qing Ming to winter in Australia. If our son gets sick of the drive from Brisbane to pick us up, I guess we will have to stop using Air Asia...hmmm.

Had 48 hours to repack and sort things out before being delivered to the cruise terminal at Hamilton on the Brisbane River at the allotted hour to join mayhem. Being Platinum card holders, we got to the counter quickly, but felt for the poor soles who queued for ages. But then comes security and that takes all prisoners and a monster hold-up and crawl through security to find immigration empty waiting for customers.  

If the world is to continue to be intimidated by 0.000001 % of the worlds population who are terrorists such that massive security is required, then lets find a very much faster way to screen than the current methods.

Getting our cabin and settling in a breeze and straight to Horizon buffet for food. We have sailed on various Princess and sister P&O ships, but Sea Princess has, for our taste, the best food. Not a huge variety, but its tasty and well cooked. Sometimes with a quirky twist, like Tamarind and Mango Sorbet. I had to try it and was not disappointed as I loved it.

While on about the ship, she is not so young, but in good condition, spending a lot of its life as a P&O. Ship. Refurbished and relaunched by Joanna Lumley, sort of sets the fun tone of the ship. Cabins a tad small, but larger than normal showers and really nothing to complain about. General staff better trained than the Diamond Princess for example and again the food excellent. The entertainment much more varied and better quality than the Sapphire or Diamond in fact some of the best ever on a ship, including Costa lines and the resident singers and dancers take on the English invasion” something never to forget. The in house band has also won the company gold title for 2015.

 She is a well laid out ship and the only real complaint is the forward lift/stairs are the only ones that do all floors. So it gets crowded and congested. The fact that I have never seen so many grossly overweight...mostly women, walkers and electric scooters on any other ship before doesn't help. This means we kept fit and always used the stairs as they were always empty and was much faster than the usual 20 minute wait for a lift with enough space to squeeze us in.
I actually saw a lift flash overload when there were only 5 passengers!..couldn't fit more in anyway.

Take your own bottled water and /or water flasks as there is no free water, but grossly expensive bottled water only. So flask and fill up at the Horizon buffet. Unlike some Princess ships, the Horizon closes around 11pm, but coffee/tea always available.

Nice casino, not too big and very comfortable pizza restaurant, plus deck-side grill for burgers and excellent pies and chips. Two main dining rooms and again with professional service and excellent food.

Pools and spas just enough and plenty of nooks to pull up a chair to read or slumber. The main deck 7 has a very good walk around outside deck for a stroll or pound off some fat. Way forward on the very top is the “Sanctuary” which nobody seemed to use much, but looks nice and there are some NO CHILDREN areas to hide in.
Auckland after 3 days 4 nights sailing to find our friends waiting for us and to whisk us away to see their beautiful new home 30km from the CBD, then onto a scrumptious yum char lunch followed by too many beers and old stories. Life doesn’t get better than this. We were poured onto the ship for the overnight to our next stop, Tauranga.
Tauranga Port
Tauranga Beaches
Mount Muanganui

Tauranga we visited while on the Sapphire Princess many years ago and boy has it changed. Now with around 80 cruise ships a season, the town around the cruise terminal has grown out of all recognition and now sports wonderful bars, speciality shops, eateries of all types and you can get a beer at a reasonable price and not the hugely overprices stuff on board ship.

I digress here, but why do companies ever allow bean counters to set pricing policy? Bean counter are the only ones left when a company fails and nobody asks why. Its because these people of theory have no idea about marketing what so ever and their ridiculous policies lose money, not make money. The problem with the “charge what the market will bare” policy of bean counters, you can never know what it will bare until you have lost the market...and once lost very hard to regain. The old method of cost plus, covers cost, overheads and a fair profit margin and 90% of the time comes out below opposition. That makes for much higher turnover and consequently profit as the market becomes so much bigger. Was on a Costa ship once, where beer was so expensive that little was sold. It was suggested they try a 2 for 1 happy hour. It worked so well that the next day is was 2 hours. By the 3rd day happy hour didn't stop and the ship made the biggest profits from bar sales they had ever had. They found the bean counter gagged and tied in some back office I think.

Ok Tauranga is a wonderful destination now right off the ship. For those who want to feel aches and pains for days to come, climb the 230m Mount Maunganui and be rewarded with truly wonderful views. The climb is advertised as a 40 min an 18 year old rugby player maybe, but not overweight 70. The more sensible will forgo the views and do the walk around the base of the mountain. Tauranga must be popular, these days for locals as I noted house prices similar to Auckland.

On board and overnight again (chasing a Holland American cruise ship) to Napier, where happily we had a berth at the container terminal while the opposition anchored offshore. We had to bus into and out of town, which was easy enough. The Art Deco town of Napier welcomed us with jazz bands, beautifully restored cars, hot rod trikes and super clean and tidy gardens and pedestrian ways. What a lovely town, superbly laid out and one big picture opportunity. House prices less than half Tauranga and a place one could retire to.
Lady Norwood Rose Garden-Wellington

Wellington lived up to its reputation of Hobart beauty and Melbourne weather. Best seen by tour bus, as we did. But the wonderful Old St Pauls church, incredible variety of beautiful flowers of all types at Lady Norwood Rose Garden, The climb to the peak of Mt Victoria and the views through the clouds and the houses clinging to hillsides makes it a unique and lovely city to visit, but would probably have to be very fit to live there. Must top world sales for outdoor cliff face lifts. The narrow steep lanes (can't call them roads) presented a challenge for the coach driver who did a superb job.
The “Bee Hive” and other government buildings are interesting, but like most capitals, there is something soulless about the city.

Next came a real treat at Akaroa. What a beautiful place with safe large harbour and beautiful hills with properties nestled into hillsides. Obviously a tourist town close enough to Christchurch for day trippers. I liked a back packers sign, which offers clean made up beds, hot water bottle, wifi, coffee, bicycle and fishing rod. How good is that? Fresh blue eye cod a chips a specialty and going by the queues, popular.  

The Brits raised their flag first before the French and Germans who would have liked to rise their flags in Akaroa, but by agreement stayed anyway and Frenchmen’s Bay has French shops and French Privateers in costume still roam the streets.
Lack of enough tenders in the water made for long and cold waits which rather spoiled an otherwise delightful day. I felt for the infirm and those with walkers as it must have been most unpleasant for them.

Dunedin now has NZ$15 return bus from Port Chalmers ship birth to the city and frankly we didn’t think Dunedin was worth it especially when there was Port Chalmers to explore. A real seafarers town, with examples of dark basalt stone buildings and the delightful and imposing Iona Presbyterian church. The climb up to the Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell in what was the old quarry and lookout is a must see. Then take the trail to the Scott memorial and you come to the back of a superb and beautifully tendered cemetery. Beyond this is a fairytale valley with lovely houses and yachts, rowing club and the local fishing fleet in the bay. Just a short distance and back to the container terminal and mountains of logs for shipping. Past the train tunnel to Mackies Hotel for a jug of local brew at NZ$10.50 a jug. With our new friends Jennifer and Manfred, we enjoyed the hospitality of Mackies until venturing into the cold wind and security lines to get on board again.

Now a change in plans. A large low pressure system was reported south of New Zealand and the Sea Princess and I gather other ships, decided that the predicted 8+ meter waves expected would not be comfortable for trying to enter the fiords, so the correct decision was made to turn tail and dash north, through the straights and as far north as possible to avoid the bad weather.

We headed North North West till we were same latitude as Brisbane, then headed due West at a crawl as we were well ahead of time. I must say crawl is not the most comfortable speed in a cross swell, but then a cross swell is not comfortable at any time. If I had rod would have put a line in as it was a good speed for it.

Disembarkation was a breeze and we were off the ship, grabbed waiting luggage and out in less than 10 minutes. This was probably one of the best Princess trips we have had and fortunately we will be on the same ship for the 104 day world cruise starting May 22nd. Looking forward to that one.

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