Today we start our cruise but first we pack. This is a good pack, who cares where it is … we have no airline to lose it and the cruise crew is going to bring it to the room, so weight doesn’t matter. We head down to the harbour for some breakfast after storing our bags at the desk. The Aussies do not even do Americano and the Long Black is very strong … need milk.
It is already hot and humid. It is supposed to get to 38C today. And there is no breeze. Our plan is to walk the bridge this morning. No not the climb, not sure that is my thing and at $400 I am not planning on finding out. The view will be spectacular enough from the middle of the bridge on the walkway.
It is even a bit unnerving just walking across with the slight but noticeable bounce of the bridge. Opened in 1932 it is in good shape. While no one died making the Opera House, sixteen men died building the bridge and at the lookout there is a tribute to them.
We get some great shots and when we get back, we deserve a cold beer. Of course, we head to the Fortune of War Tavern as it is the only one of the ‘oldest’ we have not been to yet. It has been in some form of business since 1828. At the bar we meet a young guy from Toronto who arrived yesterday from -35C ... a bit contrast for him.
Back to pick up our bags and the short walk to the boat. Our boat is right in Circular Quay, in the opposite corner from our hotel. We are fortunate for it to be here as it is too big to go under the bridge. Too big is an understatement when we finally get on board about 1:30 just the walk to our room is impressive.
Time for lunch and we join Chris and Margaret from the Gold Coast. A very fun couple who we have a great conversation with … off to a good start with table mates. Then back to the room to find half our bags there so the unpack begins. The room is the largest we have had so there is plenty of storage, but it does take some thought as to where to put what where.
We go out to check the rest of the boat and find two levels of shops, very high end, including Tiffany and Co. Not sure we will by buying anything. At the top Observation Level is something we have never seen before on a ship. The Lawn Club.
This is an outdoor theatre that literally has real grass for you to sit on. On either side are comfortable lounge chairs for a cocktail from the aft bar and in the middle bean bag chairs to just laze out. Very cool.
Time for the muster drill which is actually fun as they have done the whole safety discussion in a James Bond style movie. Then off to our massages. We booked one today as we get 80 minutes for the price of 50. I get a Thai gal and it worries me after my Thailand experience. It all starts out wonderful but in the last 20 minutes it is torture. She finds tension points in my neck and head and really pushed on them … it hurts even the next morning on the back of the base to my head.
On the flip side, Gail loves hers with Olga from Russia. She does an extra hot stone treatment and it seems to really help her leg. So much so that she books a second. I, as much as I love massages, will hold off.
By the time we are finished it is time for Sail away as for some reason we are late. Turns out we had to wait for a tug and then the weather changed dramatically. So much so that we decide to go back inside as it is too cold and breezy. Amazing how quickly it changed, must be the tail end of the brutal wind storm that hit Melbourne yesterday. We find out later from the captain that the winds went from 10 kph to suddenly 35-50 kph and they had difficulty getting us out of the harbour.
Time to come back and change for dinner. We have booked a Speciality dinner at Murano as it is a deal on embarkment day. It turns out to be spectacular. We start with a warm goat cheese souffle and then Dover Sole Veronique. The sauce is delicious and goes incredibly well with the green grapes. I will have to duplicate this at home.
A night cap back at the Cellar Masters. We had a drink here before dinner and Kavish, the Sommelier is great. He is incredibly knowledgeable about wine and has travelled the world. Before dinner he has sold us a couple of wine tastings. One a food and wine pairing in Blu, the restaurant reserved for the high mucky mucks. And the other a wine of the world tasting where you can have as much of you like of a wine if you like it. These are both on sea days.
After dinner we try a few different wines. We had considered upgrading our drink package to the premium, but he suggests unless we are big into Champagne and/or Martinis it isn’t worth it. We are better just to pay the difference on the drinks we choose that aren’t in the package. Plus, he implies he will let us try different wines anyhow and he does. Our new favourite guy!
The next day is a sea day and like most we pretty much just grab a lounger and pick up on books where we left off. In the afternoon we opt for a pedicure as mine is really sad now and Gail has a mucked toe. We do shellac so a little pricier but dries immediately and allows us back on the loungers sooner.
We decide to see the show tonight but go to the early one and then off to dinner. We have a little area with a table to ourselves as there were no sharing ones available and soon after another couple gets the other table. Turns out it is Chris and Margaret whom we had lunch with the first day. 2,800 people and we end up beside people we have already met.
The next morning, we are up early for our 8 am arrival into Melbourne. Six years ago, on a South America cruise we meet two Australian couples and have remained Facebook friends. Dave and Alison, from Brisbane, came and stayed overnight with us last fall. Cheryl and Greg, from Melbourne, have been to Vancouver when we lived there. Now this morning they are going to pick us up at the port and show us around.
The traffic waiting for the ferry to Tasmania is horrific and Greg can’t get anywhere near the entrance to the port so Cheryl is waiting, and she will call Greg to see where he is parked. We get out about 8:30 and as we are one of the first, we are quickly on our way to their home which is about 45 minutes from the port in an area up in the hills right along side the Dandenong National Park. In fact, their home backs right on the green space so has beautiful scenery.
We go in for a cup of coffee first and Greg informs us that in this neighbourhood you can find some reprobates. We turn around to find Dave and Alison standing behind us. They have flown the 3.5 hours down from Brisbane as a surprise. They said they couldn’t miss the opportunity to see us when we were so close. What a great surprise.
I go out to get some pictures of the backyard and Cheryl shares how in 1997 the fires literally came up and burnt part of their porch as Greg tries to fight it back. Turns out a few streets over Dave was doing the same in their yard, when they lived in Melbourne.
Now we are off for wine tasting and lunch in the Yarro Valley. We get in a car with Dave and Alison and follow the back route through the valley that Greg has chosen. While it seems a long route, we will be taking a main highway back, as all seasoned cruisers they know that we want to have plenty of time to get back on the ship,
The scenery is stunning, forests, farmland and vineyards. We pass through an adorable little town of Healsville where one of Chery and Greg’s daughters live. She has recommended a boutique winery Boat O’Craigo for tasting and lunch. It is set in a valley with picnic tables on the deck overlooking the vines. They have award winning wines that come highly recommended by one of the most famous Australian wine critics. And he is right.
The tasting is fun, particularly when the server gets too busy with someone picking up wine and it comes to a full stop. So, Dave takes it upon himself to keep us in wine. We sit down to a charcuterie platter and then three gourmet pizzas. To top it off two kangaroos leap across the field in front of the vines. How cool!
After lunch on route back we jump in the car with Cheryl and Greg and head to Domaine Chandon, a large winery specializing in bubbly. While we pretty much had the previous winery to ourselves this one is heaving with people. We find a table outside and share a bottle of brut. But all too soon it is time to say goodbye.
Cheryl and Greg are heading home and then the train into town. Dave and Alison are dropping us at the port and then will pick up Cheryl and Greg. The four of them are off to friends, Paul and Etrusca’s for dinner. We had meet them when they came to Vancouver, so we call and look for an invite. Paul laughs but tells us he won’t row us out to the boat. It is too bad we had only one day.
Dave takes us on a route that goes through some beautiful very high-end neighbourhoods and along the waterfront. It gives us another view of Melbourne and it seems lovely. What a great day, we couldn’t have asked for more. Great views, fantastic lunch and wines, incredible surprise and wonderful visit with friends.
We are back in perfect timing. Enough to dump our bags, grab a glass of wine and get ready for sail away. We go up to the lawn and sunset bar and get two comfy chairs. The couple we are sharing the table with turn out to be from Toronto and big-time travellers and sailors. Sharon and Graham are a lot of fun and we sit enjoying the view ands the weather till the sun starts to set which means a late dinner.
This time we get a sharing table and meet a few UK couples talking primarily with Nick and Jayne whom with we have some good laughs. So much so that we find each other the next night hoping to share dinner again.
The next day is blustery to say the least. After breakfast we find a place on the upper deck trying to block as much of the wind as we can. It is lovely temperature, but I have to put my bag over my flipflops as they keep moving across the deck. The glass is highest by the Mast bar, so we sit there and watch as the bar chairs continually shift.
The time changed forward and hour and at 1:30 we head down for our wine and food pairing. As we actually started early, we don’t eat until we see how much food we are going to get. It is really small bites but an interesting exercise where the Sommelier has us try 3 different wines with 9 different foods and vote on which one, we like the best.
We had chicken and tomatoes, both plain and with pesto, olives, smoked salmon, cheese, chocolate brownie and just salt. It is really interesting to try and discuss what we like the best. The sommelier explains that while many wines might work the one that in the end you have no residual wine or food taste in the end is the best pairing.
After a late lunch we head into the Sky Lounge as it has clouded over and looks like potential rain. It is a more formal night, so we shower to get the salt off our skin as in the wind it is really amazing how much you get on you. Then off to the Cellar Master and at 8 out to the area around the Martini bar for the officers meet and greet.
I talk to the Hotel Manager who is from Toronto area and is on an interesting quest this year. He has turned 50 and is trying to do 50 Guinness World Record things. For example, going to the Burg Khalif in Dubai means he covers the worlds highest building, highest elevator and fastest elevator. An interesting challenge.
Unfortunately, we are unable to join Nick and Jayne’s tables, so plan for the next night. Instead we get a sharing table with 4 others including Steve and Sherry who had been at our table the previous night. It is another lovely evening.
The next day after breakfast we hit the gym for the first time and then grab a coffee for the Grand Theatre. It is Super Bowl Monday ...yes at home it is Sunday but here it is Monday. The ship has arranged a party on the big screen with burgers, hot dogs and nachos and two bars set up in the corners. There are ice sculptures for both team’s logo and the Super Bowl LIII logo. Giant team cakes and a real party atmosphere. I would say over 300 partake and it is fun to watch like we are in a bar.
Sadly, as those of you who watched know it was a bit of a snore plus in the end, I owe Gail $3. Let’s see if she can actually collect!
Gail goes off for her massage, once again hoping it will help with her aching leg. I read for a bit and then change for dinner and head out for a glass of wine. Gail eventually joins me, and we have Kavish open the special Pinot Noir he told us about yesterday, which we have decided to buy. It is not like any Pinot we have tried, dark burgundy in colour and very full bodied, almost a Cabernet Sauvignon. Apparently, it has been in French Oak for 8 months, which it makes it really delicious. Will save the rest for tomorrow or the next day.
We find Nick and Jayne and after a bit of a wait get a table in the dining room. Not sure why we had to wait so long as there were many empty tables. I just get the feeling they are a bit short staffed on this cruise.
We have a great dinner with the two of them with many laughs. Heading our separate ways after dinner as it is a bit late now and we come into Milford Sounds around 7:30 am tomorrow. Gail goes to finish the last 40 pages of her book, but we have run into Sharon and Graham, so I join them for a nightcap. I have to say that so far, we have really met some fun people.
An early rise just before 7:30 and into our gym outfit and out to the outer deck. Sadly, it is raining pretty steady and the clouds are low with a fair bit of mist. This makes for slightly creepy but cool viewing but not great pictures.
Milford Sound is a series of narrow fjords with towering cliffs and lush green terrain. This is the first of three sounds we will enter today, all part of the Fjordland National Park. It is part of the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site, a real haven, apparently for wildlife. It is really too bad about the weather, but we are told by a New Zealander this is typical, in fact it is like this about 300 days of the year!!
Of course, without regular weather like this we would not have the huge array of cascading waterfalls. Even though we can’t see the tops of most of the cliffs you can see far up, and the water is crashing down from very on high. Quite Spectacular.
We back out of the narrow sound and hug the coastline of Southern New Zealand headed for Doubtful sound by midday. The cold mountain water flowing from the cliffs creates a marine ecosystem of both fresh and saltwater in this area. This is home to both fjordland and blue penguins but in the choppy waters a sighting is unlikely, which turns out to be true.
We actually enter via Thompson Sound and do a U turn route exiting the wider Doubtful Sounds. We start by heading up to the 12th floor in front of the fitness centre and find Graham and Sharon. It is a great view from here as you can quickly move from side to side to get the perfect shot. Right now, it is not too windy and there is a hint of sun poking through, but we can see much danger ahead.
It doesn’t take long before we think our rain ponchos are in order and they are difficult to get on as the wind has picked up. Alas they are going to a waste of time as it becomes pretty obvious that this is going to be a torrential downpour, and everyone heads for the hills.
We escape inside just in time as the skies open up. So much so that the water is pouring off the roof the solarium and pooling on the deck making it a tricky maneuver to get to the other side and lunch. It is Chinese New Years, so it is all decorated and the main course of the day are Chinese specialities.
The weather has improved somewhat and while it is still cloudy the rain has stopped. The mountains here are much craggier and the seas dotted with little islands. There are not as many waterfalls but some good ones and we can see them better.
We end up being joined at lunch by a couple who summer in Osoyoos ... small world. As we exit the sounds the sun comes out, blue skies appear and the seas calm. Let’s hope this is more of what is to come.
Last, we come to Dusky Sound, the largest of the fjords. The entry into Dusky is wonderful, again the lush hillsides, craggy mountain tops and blue skies. Sadly, once again, it doesn’t last long, and we find ourselves out on deck for short periods and then the mad dash into the fitness centre.
We had been told by our sommelier that here we will see a particularly wonderful waterfall and it comes along side about half way through. This means braving the elements for the good snapshot. It is pouring with rain and the wind is hollowing but I get a great shot of Gail looking a little overwhelmed.
As we venture out of the sounds and into the open seas it turns to blue skies again. I guess the high mountainsides have contributed to keeping the bad weather inside the sounds.
Tonight, we share a dinner table with a new group of Aussies and people from the UK. All very fun and interesting as we share our travel histories and ideas. A nightcap with Nick and Jayne and then off to what has been planned to be an earlier night but for which we didn’t quite make it.