Cold and wet most of the time but Celebrity and New Zealand put on a great show.
How it all started
We arrived in Auckland a couple of days early to ensure we got to experience the full taste and sites of Auckland. The best way to do this was to find a great place to stay which for us was the Barclay Suites located in the middle of the city and walking distance to the Ferry Building which is the centrepiece of harbour activity including where the Celebrity Solstice was to depart in a couple of days.
Our go to tour on the run when we have no time to plan is the city hop on hop off bus. We simply get on board look at the map and plan it out. We also find the staff and drivers so friendly and are keen to recommend places and things to see.
In Auckland with two kids we could not go pass Kelly Tarlton’s SEA LIFE Aquarium where we got to walk amongst snow, penguins and then into an underwater aquarium putting us amongst sharks, stingrays, and seahorses. Whilst the kids were intrigued with the sting rays we spent time learning about the inspirational life of Kelly himself.
When in Auckland, the historic village of Parnell is a must for lunch. Don’t be in a hurry as this little village puts you in amongst the best New Zealand has to offer in fashion, art, boutiques, wine, food, coffee and of course New Zealand’s beautiful ice cream.
Our last stop on the Hop On Hop Off bus was at the Auckland’s Sky Tower that was in walking distance to our hotel. Many travel to the top for a spectacular view whilst others go to jump off from 192 meters above the ground. If that is your thing go for it.
It was not long before the day had arrived that we were to board the Celebrity Solstice. Our boarding time was not until the afternoon however we were able to check in our luggage much earlier. This was great as we had to be out of our hotel by 11am. Down at the ferry terminal there was buzz in the air, people disembarking and people waiting their time.
When travelling, not everything goes to plan and on this day nothing really did. Our 4 year old son had jarred his finger in a coffee shop door just outside the cruise terminal. Not knowing what to do we asked if a Celebrity staffer could assist us with ice and a bandage? This was the best thing to do as Celebrity helped us all the way to our room where we could apply ice and rest in the comfort of the state room.
Once settled and the kids had some rest we ventured out exploring the ship. Our first stop was the registration for Fun Factory. This again did not go to plan as there was some resistance in accepting our youngest into the club as he has a few special needs. Embarrassed for us and Celebrity we requested this be escalated to the manager. Another best thing we could do.
Ivana (Fun Factory Manager) met us at our muster point prior to the safety briefing. This was a very different experience and Ivana eased our concerns, she politely explained their situation and planned a strategy that would work for all parties. From that point both kids were registered into Fun Factory and the rest was history.
The kids could not get enough of Fun Factory. The girls that ran it were great and there was plenty to do and keep them occupied. The older kids can roam in and out as they please and all 29 kids on board were having a great time.
We have been on a number of ships and on each ship we have found our little places that we come to call home whilst on holiday. On Celebrity Solstice we found it in three places. First our afternoons in port were spent at the open aired Sunset Bar with a cool drink watching the sun go down as we cruised out of port.
Our quiet times, were spent in the Cellar Masters where we experienced the finer wines the ship had to offer. These are presented in crystal glasses that chime like a dime whilst you sit back into the comfortable couches. We were constantly left wondering why this beautiful bar was so unutilised that often we had it by ourselves.
For a morning starter and night cap Café Al Bacio gave us our caffeine hit.
Others we spoke to found their home in the solarium. This offers a beautiful heated pool and is child free. Our issue was what everybody else likes about it, that being the only pool that was heated and no kids allowed. A little frustrating for a family given the chill in New Zealand air. However, spas in the public domain made up for it.
Other places for an occasion is the Martini Bar, but beware the drinks come out strong. If you like it this way then go ahead, if not, maybe request a little more ice. Art auctions are held in the Sky Observation Lounge which is also a great inside bar offering panorama views.
The ship is large and many will spend a lot of time in the dining rooms that are beautifully set out. However, we really loved the specialty restaurants and Solstice offered us three of them. These being Murano a French culinary delight, Tuscan Grill an Italian experience and Silk Harvest offering Asian cuisine. Although these restaurants have a small surcharge the value offered is a must. Master Chefs are behind the food, the service makes even the dining room look average and it is a fine dining experience that would be hard to rival. Highly recommended.
We debated about how easy it could be to get fit on the cruise ship if you had the mind-set. The gym is first class, there is running track and early morning aerobic classes. I am sure some have this mind set but for us like many we decided that fitness will have to wait for the new-year.
Entertainment was great however we missed a lot of the main shows as we were preoccupied with other things. In fact we missed the great young tenor Will Martin playing and the word around the ship the next day was that he put on the best show ever seen on a cruise ship. Oh well, we may have missed that one but we were having fun listening to our favourite on board artist being Sean Golden that we followed from bar to bar like groupies.
We did get to see some shows and they did not disappoint with music, comedy, acrobatics and just beautiful theatre ate its best.
One thing that is a must to do is to snug up into a blanket and watch the talents of the girls in the glass shows. They will take you through all the elements of glass making and at the end of the cruise items made are auctioned off for a good cause – we are now proud owners of a beautiful original vase for the good the breast cancer foundation.
It did not seem long before we were entering our first port being the Bay of Islands that encompasses 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula. The tender from Celebrity Solstice took us to the town of Paihia. A lot of people were keen to get out and explore this beautiful destination with some taking shore excursions, others took private tours offered on shore but we were content climbing rocks, running along the beach and having old fashioned fun. My wife needed to connect back to home for work so free wi-fi at the museum was her port of call. By the time the clouds and rain had rolled in we had walked the town, sent the emails, met some new friends and were back on the ship for a late lunch.
The Port of Tauranga was the only port we had planned prior to boarding the ship. Although we did not need to plan much. The team from Zealandier Tours helped us plan a tour to Rotorua that considered both adults and kids.
Zealandier had organised a great tour and everything they said was delivered with a smile. However, as previously mentioned some things just don’t go to plan and we arrived in Rotorua on the wettest month in ten years and this day was no exception. The rain seemed to just get harder as the day went on. However, the show went on.
First stop was Kiwi 360 where we got to taste the beautiful kiwi fruit, kiwi fruit wine and kiwi fruit juice.
Then we headed to Whakarewarewa thermal region and maori village and by that time the rain had set in. Unfortunately, the main spring was not blowing strong but the steam rising from our feet was an experience we had not felt before.
Drenched, cold and Hungary, the locals led us to the warmth and demonstrated the traditions of love and war of the Mauri culture through their dance and songs.
Leaving the Mauri village we headed toward something for the kids – The Agrodome Farm. We arrived just in time for the famous sheep & dog show that introduced us to all the varieties of sheep, showed us the tricks of shearing and by the time we had left we understood why the dog remains a man’s best friend.
The day concluded with a quick tour around Rainbow Springs, home to native animals, trees and the iconic Kiwi bird. Unfortunately we did not see the Kiwi Bird as they had turned in for the day but I caught a snap of a picture leading into the entrance – Also, no photography allowed around the Kiwi birds.
In Wellington we noticed a sign saying that cabs will do a tour if asked nicely. So for $60 we took a taxi tour through the streets, along the waterfront, the parks and the board walks of Wellington taking in all the main attractions in just over an hour.
We then got dropped off at the museum Of New Zealand – “Te Papa” where we met the family of the Tyrannosaurs. The most famous member of the family being the big nasty T.rex This was a fun interactive multimedia exhibition of a time that once was.
Our most beautiful port of call was Akoroa. Here the sun was out, water glistening and the Celebrity Solstice looked at home.
A lot of people were off the ship early as they had organised day tours to Christchurch and other adventure places. We decided to take our time and explore this historic French village nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano. We were not disappointed as it was one of the most beautiful ports we had visited. Colonial architecture, galleries, craft stores, churches and cafés were all in walking distance of the ship. A free town shuttle takes you from one side to another but beware, you may walk quicker than it comes.
There are also many local tours you can do once off the ship. This ranges from coaches, through to vintage cars and jet boats.
Dunedin was our final port in New Zealand before heading toward the Sounds and back into Australian waters. On recommendation by the Celebrity shore excursion crew we had booked the Natures Wonders 8-wheel drive all terrain cross country tour.
This was an exhilarating experience being fast, bumpy, dusty, a little wet but a whole lot of fun.
These 8 wheel drive all terrain vehicles allowed us to get up close and personal with a breeding colony of wild New Zealand fur seals basking on the rocks, in the grasses and swimming in pools. A purpose built walking track led us to the nests of the little blue penguins and we even got to spot the rare and shy yellow eyed penguin.
The highest point of the nature wonders farm is 201 meters above sea level that offered beautiful views of the Otago Peninsula. Again the weather was not in our favour but again the show did not stop.
Following Dunedin it was off to the Sounds. Dusky and Doubtful sounds were in the morning and again rain had dampened the experience just a little. However, by the time we had reached Milford Sound the sun was out and waterfalls were everywhere. I must have taken 100 pictures of this place but not one illustrates the true beauty of this magical place. For that reason alone we will be back.
Customs were on board the ship to have us all ready to get off the ship in Hobart. This was a little bitter as it signalled that our time on board was coming to an end. However, there was still plenty of sights to be seen in and around Hobart.
What camera gear should I take?
This was a hard journal to write as the images should be better and I have a lot to blame but it all stops with myself.
In my bag included:
I have very little gear for my travels. More and more I find that I do not get the shot that I have in my mind because of limitations. However, plenty of travellers get away with their I-pad’s these days.
With the wet weather my go to lens being the 17mm was out and so was the 45mm prime as these are not water resistant. So it came back to my trusty E-M5 and 12-50mm kit lens giving me a weather proof kit with a focal range of 24-100mm (35mm equivalent).
I found this setup to have a lot of limitation in the New Zealand landscape with beautiful wild life. If you are serious in capturing all the beauty New Zealand has to offer, I would highly recommend having a weather proof body and lenses capable of an extra wide focal range (8-24mm) for the vast landscapes and also a telephoto (300mm+) to get in close to the wild.
Locking yourself into one lens may lead to disappoint.
Key tips that made our experience great:
- There is no harm in asking the Celebrity staff anything. They are there to help.
- When things do not go to plan just make it work as the show must go on.
- The beverage package is great value, the classic was included in our booking fee. This can be upgraded if you like finer wines and cocktails.
- Do not settle for the dining room and treat yourself to a fine dining experience at one of the specialty restaurants. My favourite was Murano, whilst my wife is an Italian fan and we went to Tuscan Grille twice.
- Be careful when you go to the art auction, you may just fall in love with a piece and bid in the spare of the moment.
- Be kind. The crew and staff are there to help and make it great for all.
- Get out enjoy the ports.
- Then again just do nothing and have it all done for you. Loving Celebrity.
- Last but not least take advantage of the on board deals for your next cruising adventure.
On this trip I had so many pictures that I am still going through. This is just a sample of the ones picked from thumbnails. Safe Travels.
Enjoy and feel free to share your travels with us on shutterjournal.com.