Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Albany

The day started off cloudy and cool but I had plans for the day so off we went.

I had tried to make arrangements for a private tour but the major (only?) tour company in the area, Busy Blue Bus, told me that Princess books almost all of their vehicles. But they did let me know that they offer a 4-hour 22-passenger bus tour that can be booked the morning we dock. It is their The Gap Plus Natural Wonders tour and costs AUD$50. I was told they would have a kiosk set up right where the ship shuttle buses drop off passengers in town, with the tour starting at 9 30.

First, a heads up to anyone going to Albany from the US. The name is NOT pronounced like the capital of New York State, that is 'Awl-bany.' Instead, first say 'Al' as in a man's name, and then follow it up with 'bany.' If you pronounce it wrong you'll get some very strange looks. And the times we did it right, we got big grins and 'great job!'

Anyway, not wanting to be shut out of the tour, we were in town a bit after 8 am and got our tickets. We then wandered, browsed through a Target :) and the day got sunny and warmer. And it is a good thing we got our tickets early. Others from our Roll Call who wanted to take the tour and didn't get into town until 9:00 am found the tours sold out. And, yes, tours. It was so popular, the company put another bus on the same routing, leaving at 10 am.

The tour was a scenic coastal tour. Albany is on a bay and the bus took us around the bay to the other side. Our first stop was this beach on Frenchmen's Bay. The sand was like talcum powder.









Our next stop was an area with WW I and WW II lookouts. The views were beautiful.


Our next stop was The Gap and The Natural Bridge. The bridge overlooks a big gap in the cliffside.

Very exciting while we were there is that we saw lots of whales. If you click on the picture to enlarge it, you'll see them in the lower right corner.

Then we were out on the bridge overlooking The Gap, watching the whales WAY out in the water ... until someone shouted LOOK DOWN! And there were whales right at the bottom of the cliff we were standing over (on the bridge.) For us, very exciting.

Our next stop was a wind farm. This was the closest I've ever been to one of these and I never realized how much noise they make! There were some nice walking trails around the wind farm and we had some beautiful views from there also.











The wind farm was our last stop. We headed back to town seeing Albany across the bay, and our ship at the pier.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Tasmania

Ever since we visited Hobart Tasmania (southeast) 14 years ago I've wanted to come back and see more of the countryside. This trip we had both Burnie (north) and Hobart as ports of call. For Burnie, I booked a private tour and it was great.

I contacted Robyn of Play A Round in Tassie. I believe I was the first one to contact Robyn with the date of our stop in Burnie but by the time the date arrived, there were a total of 9 of us off the ship. To handle this size group, Robyn and her husband rented a minivan, with Robyn sitting in the back to do the commentary while her husband drove. Worked out very well.

There was a shuttle running from the ship to the visitor's center. Robyn and her husband were waiting there with a sign. We were off early so had a few minutes to browse in the center. 















Very interesting, including demonstrations by craftspeople. Well worth a few minutes.














Our first stop was Fern Glade, advertised as one of Tasmania's 60 Great Short Walks, and known for its large ferns. If we were going to see a platypus in the wild, this was the place. While we were not successful in seeing a platypus, we did get to see a wild wallaby. 






 We drove through beautiful countryside.










Koala
And our next stop was Wings Wildlife Park. It had the expected collection of kangaroos, that we could pet and feed, emu, ostrich, koala, Tasmanian devil, etc
Tasmanian Devil
and loads of birds. What caught me most by surprise was that I had no idea there were so many beautiful birds in Australia.









Golden Pheasant































After our visit to the wildlife park, we took a break at the picnic tables there and Robyn brought out some snacks. She had made Anzac biscuits and gave us information on the history behind them. She had also made a delicious rolled pastry which, she told us afterward, had vegemite in it. Then we traveled along the coastline to a park with a beautiful trail and waterfalls.



When we got back on board ship, after sailaway, the Captain came on the public address system. Looks like we are finally going to pay for all that beautiful weather we have had. He told us that we would be running into some high seas due to a weather system in the south seas. It would alter our time in Hobart and perhaps also Adelaide.  The captain asked everyone to make sure anything fragile in the cabin was secured and to be careful when walking in the hallways and on deck once we hit these seas which will be later tonight.

Our originally scheduled time in Hobart was supposed to be noon to 8:30 pm. For anyone visiting Hobart for the first time, this is less than an ideal schedule. On our first visit, we had a full day of daylight hours and took an excursion to Mt. Fields. This time it would be hard to squeeze in anything outside of the city during the daylight hours (sunset around 6:15 pm) so we planned on just a visit into town. This worked for us with the new times in Hobart of 11 am to 6 pm, but I'm sure other passengers had to change their plans.

The ship docks very close to downtown in Hobart. We walked off the ship and strolled around the area with our goal being Mawson's Hut Replica Museum. We have cruised to Antarctica and visited two stations there so we were curious to see this one. We found it very interesting and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Antarctica history.

Our original itinerary from Hobart was to take us south around Tasmania and then north on the west side, to Adelaide. Because of the weather, we were retracing our path from Burnie, going north on the east side and then northwest, on to Adelaide. Most of the bad weather was during the night and it did not affect our stop in Adelaide. For us it didn't matter as we planned on staying on board. We had been to Adelaide in the past and the majority of shore excursions I found outside the city was to the wine region, something not tops on our list. We ended up having a very quiet day on board ship and resting up for our upcoming two days at sea.  :)




Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - Melbourne and Puffing Billy

We had cooler weather in Melbourne than in Sydney and it was also cloudy. We had been here 14 years ago and did a DIY tour at that time. Melbourne is very easy to get around. There is a tram that stops right by the port which takes you into the central business district. From there you can ride free buses around the city. 

This time we opted to get out of the city to see some of the countrysides. We tried for a private tour through our Roll Call but there wasn't much interest. So we opted for the ship's tour. I'm kind of a train nut, so the obvious choice was the Puffing Billy excursion.


Our bus took us through downtown Melbourne which, of course, didn't resemble at all the Melbourne we remembered. There had been a tremendous amount of construction and the buildings are all on top of each other as we saw in Sydney. And the traffic was awful.









We made our way to Belgrave, for the beginning of our train ride on Puffing Billy a century-old steam train that continues to run on its original mountain track through the Dandenong Ranges outside of Melbourne. While our ride was limited to a 1/2 hour, it is possible to make a full day of this if you are visiting Melbourne and not limited to the time your ship is in port. (Actually, I investigated doing it on our own using public transportation into Melbourne, and then a train our of Melbourne to Belgrave, the starting point for Puffing Billy but the timing just didn't work with our time in port, from 7 am to 3:30 pm.)


The train is now run by volunteers and we enjoyed our too short ride through some beautiful areas forested with eucalyptus trees.












The railway crossed a lot of roads and we were amazed at the number of people pulled over at the side of the road to take pictures of the train. When we disembarked, we had time to take a look at the engine and then it was time to board our bus.










Our next stop was Grants Picnic Ground in Dandenong Ranges National Park, a 'cool temperate rainforest.' Tea and scones were laid out for us by the park volunteers. 











We had time to take a short walk on one of the hiking trails, see some beautiful birds and visit the gift shop.  Then it was back on the bus for the return trip to the ship. It was a nice excursion and well-run. 
Kookaburra





Parrots (See green one in the background?)



Sunday, November 18, 2018

Around Australia Cruise - Sea Princess - The Ship

This was our first time on this class of Princess ship. She is 20 years old and was refurbished in November 2017.

Basically, she was in very good shape. The only issue we had was with some of the 'soft goods' in the open areas around the ship. They seemed a bit tired and we ended up avoiding those areas. Too bad because those areas looked like they should be nice quiet, comfy areas to sit and read.

That said, except for one small thing, we loved our cabin. We had a mini-suite and on the Sea Princess, the cabin is L-shaped.




The bathroom had a door from the bedroom and a door from the sitting area, with a door between the sink/toilet and shower/tub area.  The loveseat in the sitting area opened into a bed so this, along with the curtain between the bedroom and sitting room, made a perfect cabin for three people.

The only place I had an issue with was the bathroom. As you can see where my husband is washing up, the sink area is small. Just to the right of the toilet are two small, triangular-shaped shelves (you can see the edge of one in the picture ... glass shelf with gold-colored rail) for storage. Essentially, very little storage space. But we adjusted ... kept minimal in the bathroom and the rest we put elsewhere. Plenty of tabletop space in the cabin with a desk in the sitting area and another in the bedroom.

Looking through door to toilet, then through door to shower/bath






We had a long balcony, with sliding doors in both the bedroom and the sitting room although the upholstered chair in the sitting room was in front of the door and would need to be moved to get out onto the balcony that way. Besides the table, there were two chairs with footrests. I'm sitting on the second chair to take this picture and there is another 'cutout' - opening - to my right like you see in the picture where my husband is sitting.


And some pictures around the ship.


Sailaway


Beautiful wide promenade deck which many passengers made good use of. We did too.

Loved the lounge chairs with the comfy cushions. :) And I don't think we ever had a problem finding two together. (I have to admit I was amazed at the number of people who never stepped outside during sea days.)


Opposite side of the atrium from Crooners

Near the Patisserie

Atrium

Atrium

Rigoletto MDR

Princess Theater

Library

Internet Cafe

Vista Lounge

Horizon Buffet


Wheelhouse Bar

All service was excellent except for one of the waiters at Crooners who acted like he had better things to do than take my order. No problem. I just came back every day or so with the same order just to bother him.  :)

We were disappointed with the lack of variety of the menu in the main dining room. Over 28 days it got very repetitive. Lamb was offered a lot. Very little chicken on the menu unless it was part of a pasta dish. Sometimes there were two fish offerings, which I usually don't eat. That said, I did have the 'available anytime' Tasmanian salmon and it was excellent. But one night my husband and I were reduced to ordering the Aussie Burger off the 'available anytime' menu which I think is a pretty poor option for the MDR.

And only two nights were we offered Chocolate Journey. (For non-Princess cruisers, these are Norman Love chocolate designer desserts that are to DIE for.) This was a 28-day cruise! We sailed the Med last year (21 days) and they were offered about every 3rd or 4th night. The only reason I can think of is that there were a lot of short segments within those 28 days. But still ... And lobster tails also only one night.

That said, the food we had was good to excellent. We were happy with the buffet, although sometimes it took a while to find a table. And the room service we ordered twice came very fast and was 100% correct.

Oh ... if you are a lover of Princess chocolate chip and double chocolate chip cookies, they are still available at the dessert area of the buffet but most times you had to ask for them.

As for activities, there is no shortage. My husband and I love trivia and there were at least three per day ... two in the Vista Lounge during the day and one in Legends in the evening. On sea days there was an additional one in the afternoon. Sometimes there would be another one in the evening.

During the sea days, there were your typical classes i.e. health, fitness, etc. There were culinary displays and, of course, the opportunity for lots of shopping. But we also had lectures about Australia and WW II and they were very well attended. We had a memorial service on the open deck when the Sea Princess passed near the site of the sinking of the HMAS Sydney II. And that was extremely well attended.






The Princess Theater was always filled to capacity for the evening shows. If you wanted a seat, you had to get there 20-30 minutes before show time. We are not big show people but we went to a couple. Generally, the song and dance from the Princess performers were good but people complained it was too loud. We enjoyed the individual performers and comedians and many times they would do a second performance in the Vista Lounge the following night. That's where we usually went because the after dinner timing worked out better for us and there was never a problem getting a seat. (Our tablemates went to all the shows in the theater and enjoyed them. They also spent their evenings in Crooners and enjoyed the music.)

Did any of this affect our cruise? No, not really. We know as travelers that there are times you have to adapt. And adapt we did so that things worked for us. Our cabin was comfortable. We loved the balcony. The ship was easy to get around. We had a great cabin steward and waiter and assistant waiter. We never had an issue with lines. In the end, I always ask myself if this is a ship I would sail on again. Absolutely!