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Showing posts from February, 2008


Our first ever cruise was on the Mediterranean (back in the pre-blog days), and at least view-wise, it spoiled me for all our other cruises. Every morning when we'd wake up, outside the ship would be a new, beautiful view. And while New Zealand and Australia didn't come up short on beauty, the port-side views were all fairly industrial. That was until Sydney, where the ship was docked at Circular Quay, between the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Sarah made the point that it's good that we went from Auckland to Sydney and not the other way around, because every deck-side view after this would have been a terrible disappointment. There were no tours this today, it was just the two of us wandering around the city. We started off heading towards the Harbour Bridge . Some folks (I'll call them 'fools') can opt into a full scale bridge climb, where you walk along the catwalk to the summit of the bridge (no cameras allowed, but they're gracious enough to take


N ewcastle is a coal town (formerly coal and steel), and it's relatively new to cruise traffic. Back in the day, it was the place that they shipped the especially difficult prisoners, too crafty or dangerous for Sydney. I think it's cleaned up a little since then. In the morning, we had a wine tour of the nearby Hunter Valley; three stops, each with it's own style. First was Tempus Two ; classy, ultra-modern--what the locals call 'very swish.' The property is just huge. The grounds were designed as an auditorium, and concerts are held throughout the nicer months. Hip artists that have played recently include: Elton John, Rob Thomas, Styx,... Foghat ,... one of the guys from Nelson. The place was beautiful, though. But the wine? Me. Di. O. Cre . Almost absent of taste. But half the people on the cruise loved it . "I'd give this wine a GOLD!" some lady shouted over a wine that tasted like... yellow. It tasted like the colour yellow. Winery two was a pl

Fifth day at sea

Our last day at sea was Valentine's Day. Which we celebrated by... sleeping a lot? Not an eventful morning, as I remember. Not entirely true--I did go to the gym. That's my romantic gesture: maintaining the taut body of a twenty year old. Totally. So, nothing until lunch and then after that we went to one of the lounges to participate in a few trivia games. First was Tribond trivia, which we rocked but did not win. Then He Said, She Said, which was a match-your-partner's-answer type game (we spectated that one). Lastly it was Battle of the Sexes, an ongoing trivia game that had been going on for a few days. Sarah had been scouted for her prized trivia smarts because the girls were down by four. And the word got out. Some totally random guy overheard Stephanie from Georgia talking about bringing in a ringer from the night before, and he brought up a fake announcement for the Activities staff to read, saying that "Sara needs to go to guest relations immediately." A


We came into Australia later than intended. Because of the rough conditions in days prior, El Capitan decided we should take our time crossing the Tasman, thus fouling up a lot of shore excursions and plans in general. Safety by damned, I say, but that’s why I’m not Captain. We had an excursion booked for the morning, but it got bumped to the afternoon, so after disembarking we took a tram into downtown Melbourne. Unlike the thwarted expectations when landing in Auckland, Melbourne looked and felt like it should: it looked like the place we’d crossed half the world to reach. And I struggle with why it felt right in a way that New Zealand didn’t. Where Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch seemed as though entire buildings had been shipped directly from the UK, Melbourne had a more distinct style—like they’d started with the same source material but improvised upon it. Our visit into the city itself was brief, just a few hours. We had time to wander the wide streets, browse through a

Fourth day at sea

Celebrity does a beautiful meal, they keep the ship spotless, the staff is uniformly excellent—but the one place they fall terribly short is in the entertainment section. The stage shows are okay—assuming they’re showing a pianist, or a singer, or some other hired-for-the-night entertainment folk. But anything that stars The Celebrity Players is absolutely to be missed. This is where bad musical theatre grads go to die. They hit the steps and the notes they should, but there’s a high school earnestness about them, and the productions are just terrible. A Broadway Review! An Off-Broadway Review! A Review of Rockin’ Advertising Jingles! A Nursery Rhymes Review! So, so, so not good. And Celebrity’s TV programming is just shit. There are about ten channels, which include Front of the Ship Cam, the Navigational Info channel, Mercury Today! (a rundown of events on the ship), the Buy Our Cruise DVD channel, CNN, three music only channels, the Direct-to-DVD Movie Channel, and a chan

Third day at sea

Our Monday (which was your Sunday—and how messed up is that?) was the choppiest day we had so far. The Tasman Sea can be rough, but this day it was especially bad. A lot of the crew had dead-eyed smiles pressed to their faces, and admitted to feeling more than a little green. Knock wood: so far we’ve both felt fine. In the morning, we had to pass by the Australian Immigration Inspection. It was fun to watch all the folks trying to form a straight line towards Immigration and getting tossed against the walls by the rockin’ ship. We made an interesting discovery when we got to the front. A few days prior, at the British/Snoop Invasion, there was a crew of four youngish folks dancing up a storm all night. They were decent dancers (and thirty years younger than most of our fellow cruisers), so we assumed they were staff from the on-board shows. Turns out they were Australian Immigration. Not a terrible job, that: get on board in Dunedin, rock out for a few days, stamp some passports, then

The Sounds/ Second day at sea

It’s over a thousand nautical miles between New Zealand and Australia, which means that you’re locked on board for three days straight while the ship crosses the Tasmin Sea. Day one involves cruising the sounds. There are three: Dusky, Doubtful, and Milford. After dropping it like it was hot all last night, we slept in later and missed Dusky. We caught Doubtful though. In an attempt to stay just obese and not morbidly obese, we worked out as we passed through Doubtful Sound (what the kids call ‘multitasking.’) The weather got ugly after this. Rain started coming down just as we entered Milford—the prettiest of the three and also the only one we decided to photograph—so I’ve got about two dozen pictures of fog, with vague land forms behind it. Beautiful to see, though. Again, what we pictured when we thought of New Zealand: Mount Doom sized peaks on either side of you. We went out to a bar again that night. It was Country Western themed, with a band that stayed more or less on target. B


In Dunedin, we have our second private tour. It’s remarkable for Sarah, because it’s a rare instance where she hasn’t done that much research on the port. Six folks were looking to fill seats seven and eight for a tour, we knew basically where we were going, we signed up, and that was that. The company running the tour was Arthur’s Tours and our tour guide was none other than Arthur himself, decked out in yellow tartan hat and vest. He was an older gentleman, probably just the other side of sixty, but he was very spry and he drove like a bat out of hell. After what I’d written about New Zealand not being what I thought it would be, Dunedin was the embodiment of that ideal: luscious greenery, rolling hills, pastoral homes, and sheep everywhere. It’s like Scotland, but with slightly different accents. (Kiwis sneak a lot of Rs and extra vowels in their words. “Oan your roight, your should be aible toer see sheep.”) There were two quick stops off the top—one on a hillside overlooking the


We expected Christchurch to be a sleepy little town and we weren’t entirely disappointed in that regard. It’s a cross between Kingston and Stratford (Ontario), with the addition of red British phone booths. We started that morning waiting for the shuttle to town, and chatting with Gary and Andy from Regina (also from Cruise Critic). While we were wine-touring and Art Deco walking, they were zorbing and checking out cities by segway. Not that I didn’t enjoy our method of shore excursion, but I’d just like to say that those two are a couple of lucky sons a bitches (and I mean that in the nicest way). This was another big shopping day, but at least a successful one. We picked up souvenirs for a few nieces, cousins, parents, babies yet unborn, and various attractive strangers. We’re not huge souvenir people, generally speaking, but when you’re this far from home you’ve gotta bring some crazy shit back. Christchurch has a large market square, bracketed by a Cathedral on one end, and the mo


Every since getting here, we’d both had a sense of… not disappointment, but let’s just say thwarted expectations. It’s a long haul to New Zealand, and I always expect that the farther off your destination is, the more exotic it’s going to be. But the country wasn’t as different as I expected. It’s a former British colony; I live in a former British colony. And while it has its own brands and chains, it’s very English in influence. Of all the stops we’d had at this point, Wellington was the least exotic. It has a downtown like any major city, with walls pasted over with concert posters and buskers on the street—and one in every fifty people you see is a crazy. So it feels like home. It’s a walkable port, so we strolled on down to Te Papa Tongarewa - the Museum of New Zealand. It’s free (bonus already) and a beautifully put together building. The main floor is all about geology and biology. Animals extinct and still in existence, the shifting of the continents over time, fault lines and


Giant fault lines hide beneath most of New Zealand, and the country has had a number of bad earthquakes over the years. The worst was in 1931. Napier, the city we toured this day, was torn to shreds by the earthquake. Terrible for those living in the ci ty at that time, excellent for the rest of us because the city was rebuilt in the style of that time—Art Deco—and it has been preserved in such a state ever since. Later in the afternoon, we had a wine tour booked, so for the morning we (Sarah) planned to just walk the city and take in the sights. The visitors centre offered various guided tours, but cheaper still was a five dollar, self-guided Art Deco walk, so we went that route. Sarah (Sarah) guided us through the city. The City of Napier has gone through great efforts to preserve its Art Deco style, so we had the chance to view the various sunbursts, ziggurat, and overlapping rectangular patterns common in Art Deco design. In the end, so much Art Deco i s a little a-snoring (it ain’

First day at sea

Our first day at sea was choppy from morning until night. Luckily, it’s a big ship so it wasn’t really nauseating ( hello Bermuda! ). We had three parties in total, all of which I dreaded, but I enjoyed every one of them. And not just for all the free booze. First was the Cruise Critic party where we already knew a good twentyish people in attendance. Beyond that, we also ran into Bob (of Bob and Martha)—someone that Sarah’s parents had toured with on their Med cruise. Party two was the Captain’s Club party. We sat down with tablemates Melissa and Garrick, discovering that he and I share a love of novelty T-shirts (Fantasy Football—a wizard throwing a football; the Department of Redundancy Department). The lady beside us, dripping twenty-five grand worth of jewelry (possibly costume jewelry—jury’s still out, there) befriended us. Her name was Belinda, from Florida by way of Tennessee, but basically she was a pre-breakdown Blanche Dubois. Super Southern; critical as all get-out. “What


At eight o’clock, we met up with the group of folks we’d had drinks with the night before to start our private tour. There were eleven of us in total—nine Yanks and just us two Canucks. Our driver was Les, a guy who I thought bore a strong resemblance to (and this is the only time I’ll make this claim) Paul Hogan. Some years ago, he was an advanced care paramedic from Auckland, and he was lured to Tauranga because there were no paramedics here with advanced care training ( psst… Colleen. Overseas job opportunity .) Since retiring (ha ha), Les currently splits his time between teaching, working as a private event paramedic, organizing fundraising campaigns for Variety children’s charities in NZ, and running tours. There’s really not much in Tauranga proper, so the tour took place about an hour away in Rotorua. In retrospect, it was a damn full itinerary. We started at Kiwi 360 , an orchard that grows—that’s right—kiwis. Kiwifruit are grown on the vine, and the vines are trained to form


Despite an inauspicious start, everything has turned out well so far. On Friday, our first of three flights was set to leave Montreal around 11:15. Not wanting to add to what was going to be a bejezused long day of travel, we drove out from Ottawa the night before and stayed at a hotel just outside the airport grounds. Regardless of our (Sarah’s) good planning and our (Sarah’s) travel keenness in general, the weather was not our friend. My peeps in the GTA know what I’m saying. Twenty plus centimeters of snow across most of Ontario meant flight cancellations galore. We were lucky though, we were just delayed… long enough to arrive in Chicago at precisely the same time our Chicago flight was set to leave. Fortunately, there were enough folks on our flight who needed the same connection (all fellow cruisers), so they held the next flight for us. Four hours later, that flight landed in Los Angeles—and let me say right now that LAX is the most ghetto airport I’ve ever seen in a developed c