Australia and New Zealand 2011

 

 

What's covered?

It had always been our plan to make an extensive tour of Australia and New Zealand when I retire and although I have reached the official retirement age, I am not yet ready to retire. As a result this tour was not on the plans for this year until we got a phone call from Malcolm, one of my oldest friends inviting us to join him and Sue on a cruise.

Malcolm and I go back forty five years and he was my best man when I got married. He now lives in Perth with Sue and they had planned this cruise with Malcolm's mother Helen. Unfortunately she had become too frail to travel so in telling us about Helen having to go into a nursing home, Malcolm suggested we take her place on this cruise.

These are the photos of our holiday.

 

September 2012 - Ironically it is on our 2012 holiday, nearly a year after our cruise, I have finally managed to get the photos and the story almost complete. Because of the number of photos, the page may take some time to load.

23 - 24 October - Bangkok

My cousin Alan now lives in Thailand so we decided to break our outward journey there and spend a few days with him. The plan was that he and his wife Chilli would join us for a few days and show us around Bangkok. In the few weeks leading up to our departure, Thailand suffered its worst flooding for several years. On the day of our flight (22nd October) there was a warning that Central Bangkok might have to be flooded as it was getting increasingly difficult to protect the area. We decided to change our plans at that point. We were due to stay three nights and tried to change the onward flight to the day we arrived. That was not possible but we were able to book for the next day and from what we could make out, the flooding would be after that.

Thus we arrived in Bangkok mid afternoon on Sunday 23rd October. We had booked the Amari Boulevard hotel and whilst they could not refund the cost of the two nights we were no longer going to stay, they gave us a further room upgrade and a free evening meal. The change of plan was at our request so that was a reasonable compromise. In the evening we enjoyed the dinner and then retired exhausted. We had the day free so we booked a tour of the Grand Palace. The humidity was high so after returning from that the only other thing we did was to buy a replacement suitcase as the handle of one had snapped. I managed to get the price down and enjoyed the haggling.

25 - 31 October - Perth

Tuesday 25th October

The flight to Perth was complicated by the fact that the plane touches down in Phuket and you have to exit the plane for 45 minutes and then reboard the same plane. It seemed pointless having to disembark and at midnight was not well received by anyone. We arrived in Perth around 8am where it had just finished raining. Sue picked us up and it was a short journey back to Dianella, the suburb of Perth where she and Malcolm live.

After catching up and some refreshments, Sue took us to Cottonwood Crescent Bush Park which despite its name is in the suburbs of Perth and close to their house. There we were to get our first sight of kangaroos including one with a joey in the pouch. On returning to the house Malcolm showed me the Austin 7 he has been restoring over the years and still manages to work on despite now being in a wheelchair. After following a procedure that would now be regarded as complex, it started first time and ran beautifully.

Later we went to the local shopping mall for various items including the essential local Vodafone (cellphone) card! Then after dinner we were taken to King's Park for a magnificent night view of Perth. The park was also the venue for some of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) that coincided with our visit and was attended by our Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

By the time we got to bed, we knew this was the first night we were going to get a really good nights' sleep and indeed we did.

 

Wednesday 26th October

The first thing was a return to King's Park to pick up a camera case that I had left behind! Fortunately a warden had found it and handed it in. Then we went to Hillary's Boat Harbour at Sorrento Quay.

 

 

Thursday 27th October

Malcolm and Sue took us into Perth by bus and train. Having acquired a collection of pens over the years, I made a point of visiting T Sharp and Co, a pen shop that I had read about in a journal. It was lovely to see a real pen shop again as so many are closing down in England but I was amazed by the prices. A pen that I know retails in England at £40 would be A$55 at the prevailing exchange rate, it was priced at A$90! That was not because of the prices at that shop, quality pens seem to be expensive everywhere. Another pen I know to be £250 in England was over A$500. After wandering around the shops for a while we had coffee and then lunch. Then it was onto the ferry across to South Perth where we were able to photograph black swans and pelicans. A drink was called for on our return to North Perth and we found ourselves in The Lucky Shag Bar! Don't get excited lads, a shag is also a type of bird, the feathered variety!

All the travelling was done with a single pass that cost around A$9 for the day.

 

 

Friday 28th October

Today was a public holiday so transport all around Perth was free. Again it was a combination of bus and train but this time into Fremantle, the port from which our cruise was due to start the following Monday. HMS Endeavour is currently sailing around Australia and we were pleased to learn it was in Fremantle. Compared with the modern cruise ships, the size was that of a bath toy.

The port sheds each had a letter and the market was in Shed E, giving eMarket!

After visiting the dock area we decied we would go into town and visit a museum on the way. Unfortunately while we were on the first floor of the museum the lift stuck so Malcolm, being in a wheelchair, could not get down for two hours while it was repaired. Typically he was insistent this did not affect us so Sue took us around the town.

 

 

Saturday 29th October

Gill's grandfather had spent many years preparing a family tree. With a surname of Smith and families where ten or more children were not uncommon, it was quite some task and Gill has maintained it. There are Australian connections, the most famous of which was Edith Harler, a senior nursing sister in the Australian Army. In her latter years she had to be cared for in a nursing home where her reputation preceded her and the staff were terrified of her, they were soon taught the correct way to make a bed! However in time they, like people who had worked for her, came to recognise that while she was tough, she was also fair. During her latter years, Edith's affairs were managed by her nephew Philip Bryant and we had arranged to visit him and his wife Kathy for lunch. Their daughter Rosie was there too as well as their son James with his American wife Lisa.

We had a very nice lunch and Philip and Gill exchanged information about the family. Afterwards Philip showed us where Aunt Edith had lived before going into the nursing home and took us back to Malcolm and Sue via some of the nicer parts of Perth where we were amazed by the property prices which were probably at least two and half times more than in the UK for a comparable size and in a comparable location. There was also a complete lack of land around each house, no garden whatever. Given the size of Australia we were rather surprised by how tightly packed the housing is.

In the evening Malcolm and Sue had organised a pre-cruise party with a live band and it was a very enjoyable evening. We were introduced to many of their friends including Ollie and Eric who were to join us on the cruise.

 


The drummer had played with the Beatles in Hamburg before they were famous.

 

Sunday 30th October

Sunday had a real treat in store for me. Malcolm has always been car mad and has many friends in Perth who have restored various classic cars. At the party the previous night Barry Ryle invited Malcolm and me to visit his workshop where he houses and works on his collection comprising a 1938 Rolls Royce, a 1965 2 door Buick Riviera, an Austin 7 Chummy, an Austin 7 Arrow Replica and the car I particularly wanted to see, a 3.4 litre Jaguar XK150. Barry offered to take me for a drive in the XK150 and I wasn't going to refuse that. Part way around Barry stopped the car and asked if I would like to drive it! It was a lovely car to drive and reminded me of just how much cars have changed. Long clutch travel, a very mechanical feel to the gear change and no power steering, although that was only noticeable at low speeds. On the road it was one of those cars that was a joy to drive with better suspension than I expected and an eagerness to get going. I am very grateful to Barry for allowing me that experience in such a beautifully restored and valuable vehicle. I loved every minute of it.

In the afternoon we went to Whitemoor Park which houses that Caversham Wildlife Park and the Western Australia Motor Museum. The wildlife park enabled us to get even closer to kangaroos and to stroke the koalas. My tour of the motor museum was free because of Malcolm's connections.

In the evening we took Malcolm and Sue to Cafe Amaretto in nearby Osborne Park where we met Sue's son David and his partner Nicole. The evening was somewhat marred by the fact that just as we were about to leave for dinner, I checked my emails and found the cruise had been delayed by 24 hours because a number of people had been affected by the Qantas decision to ground all flights. We did not have time to find out the ramifications of that so it was a cloud over us until we returned.

On our return I telephoned Royal Caribbean and pointed out their email was rather light on useful information! It explained why we were being delayed and how long but there was nothing to say what was going to happen when we did sail. Were we going to be a day late everywhere? That would have rendered our Sydney Opera House tickets worthless! Were we going to make up the time during the longer hauls between ports? Were we going to miss some of the planned stops? Absolutely nothing about that. By telephoning a number given in the email, I got through to someone who told me the departure had been delayed! I pointed out that I knew that much from the email and that what I wanted to know was the knock on effect. Nobody had stopped to consider that anyone might ask that, unbelievable! In fairness the lady readily acknowledged that information must be known to someone and after quite a wait she came back explaining the second stop had been cancelled and the ship would be back on schedule by the time we got to Adelaide. See Tour Arrangements and Credits for more about Royal Caribbean, whilst this part was badly handled, once the cruise got under way, things were much better.

 

31 October - 18 November - The Cruise

31 October - Day 1 - Fremantle

Because of a planned change of computer systems, the cab company would not take advance bookings so Malcolm had made a direct arrangement with one of their drivers to pick us all up in a maxi taxi designed to accommodate his wheelchair and all six of us going on the cruise. The taxi would also take some of the luggage with the rest being taken by a friend. The friend turned up, the taxi did not. Knowing the ship was leaving a day late meant there was no need to panic as whilst we were asked to board as planned, we know the ship was not leaving port. Fortunately we were able to organise a suitable replacement cab.

Our previous cruise was with Princess Cruises and there our luggage was taken from us, we went straight through customs and were quickly checked in. twenty to thirty minutes at the most. Check in for this cruise was the opposite experience! The queue to get through customs snaked around the cafe area and then led into another queue for check in. The whole process took over two hours in a hot shed and the general view was that this was the worst cruise check in anyone had seen. It was simply woefully inadequately staffed. Then within fifty yards of those two checks, we were again asked to produce passports at a point where there was no other way to get there than via Royal Caribbean's own check in!

All we did today was unpack, have a very good dinner and then wander around the ship.

 

 

1 November - Day 2 - Fremantle

We had breakfast in The Dog House! No, the men were not in trouble, The Dog House is in fact a cafe serving hot dogs and suchlike and during breakfast time it is used as an overflow area. It suited us well as it was easier for Malcolm in his wheelchair. Then Malcolm, Eric and I went into Fremantle to get a Vodafone dongle (much cheaper than the ship's wireless connection) and various other items.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a classical guitar soloist in the Centrum, an area of the ship that is open from Deck 3 to Deck 13. After that there was a mandatory lifeboat drill which was managed very well. Then, a day late, we set sail.

The evening entertainment was Donny Ray Evins who sang many of Nat King Cole's songs.

 

 

2 November - Day 3 - Albany

Malcolm had arranged for his friend Jim Robertson to take us around Albany. Jim is a retired farmer who had grown grain in recent years after sheep farming became unprofitable. He moved to Albany when he retired.

Malcolm and Sue stated in Albany while Jim took Eric, Ollie, Gill and myself around. First we went to the local museum hoping to see some information about Edith Harler, a distant relation of Gill's, but that exhibition had been removed so we then went off to Whale World at Frenchman's Bay. This had been a whaling station until it closed in 1978. The guide gave an interesting tour explaining the whale catching operation and how the oils were extracted and their uses. Now, quite apart from the ethics of catching whales, there are synthetic substitutes available.

From there we went to The Gap and The Natural Bridge before heading off to Mount Clarence, a war memorial, after which we returned to Albany to meet up with Malcolm and Sue and their friends Barry and Lilly who they had arranged to see. We had coffee outside a very nice cafe before returning to the ship.

Sincere thanks to Jim for taking us around and making the most of our day in Albany.

The evening entertainment was Jonathan Neale, a magician, and Liane. Not my favourite entertainment but he was good.

 

 

3 November - Day 4 - At sea

To make up for the delayed sailing, the planned stop at Esperance was cancelled. A shame as Sue had once lived there so we would have had a very good guide!

The evening entertainment was the show Piano Man, a tribute to the music of Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Harold Evan and Barry Manilow. An excellent production.

 

4 November - Day 5 - At sea

The evening entertainment was Jennifer Fair in "From Brightman to Bocellie and Piaf to Pavarotti". Later there was another show, the comedian Ian McLaren who was also very good.

 

 

5 November - Day 6 - Adelaide

With an early arrival in Adelaide there was no rush to leave the ship. We had breakfast aboard and then caught the train from Outer Harbour into Adelaide. The plan was to get the circular bus 99c which would give us a free tour of Adelaide. After waiting half an hour the bus arrived with a broken ramp so Malcolm would be unable to board. The driver advised catching the opposite direction bus so we crossed over and shortly afterwards a very different bus arrived, proclaiming it was the world's first solar powered bus. The driver was very helpful and explained he went a different route but it was also a circular tour so we boarded. The broken ramp on the first bus proved to be our good fortune as this was a better route and the driver also pointed out key points. The tour included the better residential areas where again we were surprised by the prices and the lack of ground around the houses.

If you are interested, more information about the bus can be found here.

We got off the bus at Adelaide Zoo as that was the nearest stop to the Botanical Gardens. Part way around these beatiful gardens we sat in a lovely shaded area to enjoy some refreshments. By the time we left the gardens it was getting very hot so we dived into the South Australia Art Gallery to enjoy the art on display, and the air-conditioning! Gill was feeling the heat so we split up and returned to the ship while the others spent a short while in the market.

The evening entertainment was Bob Howe who played electric guitar and was very good.

 

Never mind give up my seat, I'll buy dinner for anyone who meets these criteria!

 

6 November - Day 7 - At sea

The evening entertainment was Ash Puriri. Ash had real presence on stage and was a real showman. He gave very good impressions of Louis Armstrong and Stevie Wonder, then finished with an impression of Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma. He surprised everyone with how good he was at them all and especially with Nessun Dorma.

 

7 November - Day 8 - Melbourne

We had been warned there was a chance of rain today and the weather as we docked was dull, but how it changed into another glorious day. What we wanted to do was Puffing Billy, a steam train ride about an hour out of Melbourne. However, we learned it would be half an hour to the city centre and an hour to the start of the ride. Doubling that up and allowing for connections we decided the timing back to the ship was just too tight. Eric and Ollie were meeting family so Malcolm, Sue, Gill and I caught the tram into the city centre. Then Gill and I went off on a short river cruise to Herring Island and rejoined Malcolm and Sue at the National Gallery of Victoria. From there we found our way to the Eureka Skydeck 88 where we were told there was an excellent view of the city but we decided that whilst the claim would be true, the price was a bit excessive for the amount of time we would spend there so we gave that a miss.

We needed to cross the river to get back to the city centre and were not sure of the best route. We were somewhat walked out so we grabbed an accessible taxi intending to go to the Queen Victoria Market, claimed to be the largest open air market in the southern hemisphere. En route we discovered it did not open on a Monday! Instead the driver took us to the shopping area where we had a wander around The Block Arcade before returning to the ship.

As we boarded the ship Sue was telling me how she had once left a bracelet in a customs tray. A short while later I turned around to find she had vanished, guess what she had done!

The evening entertainment was two acts. Matt Clark and Bruno Lucia. Matt was one of the singers from Piano Man and was first on stage but the better performance was Bruno, a comedian who had everyone laughing. Unfortunately later in the cruise Bruno repeated the act which did not go down well.

 

 

8 November - Day 9 - At sea

I normally wake naturally around sevenish and rarely sleep after eight. I woke up at 10am! After a very light breakfast we played crazy golf with Malcolm and then went for a late lunch. The afternoon was spent watching a film - The Help, quite an appropriate title given my work.

The evening entertainment was City of Dreams, a show given by the Royal Caribbean Dancers and the Radiance of the Seas Orchestra.

 

 

9 November - Day 10 - Hobart, Tasmania

We booked the Historic Hobart, Wildlife and Port Arthur trip. The first stop was Bonorang Park Wildlife Centre. Here the koalas could not be touched but there were many kangaroos and some with joeys in the pouch. Then it was on to Port Arthur where our excellent guide was an American who had brought his family to Tasmania because he and his wife loved the island. Then there was a cruise around the waters of Port Arthur and to be honest I would have skipped that given the option and spent more time around the penal colony buildings. It left us with little time for refreshments and a walk around before the coach returned. We just had time for a flying visit to the museum and the Separate Prison (for those who behaved badly). The driver did manage to make up some time on the return journey for a quick tour around Hobart but it was all rather too rushed. A shame as it could have been an excellent tour, especially if the coach had been designed for people with legs!

The evening entertainment was Kevin A Legend, an impressionist singer. Whilst some of our party thought a couple of his acts were OK, I thought it was the poorest show of the cruise.

 

 

10 November - Day 11 - At sea

The evening entertainment was the singer Karen Becket who sang a number of songs from various musicals. She was very good and definitely one of the better performers on the cruise.

 

11 November - Day 12 - At sea

Today was Rememberance Day and at 11am a one minute silence was held in memory of those who gave their lives.

The evening entertainment was the pianist Bernard Walz who was another of the better performers on the cruise. We thoroughly enjoyed a range of numbers from this very skilled player.

 

12 November - Day 13 - The Sounds (Fjords)

Captain Claus Andersen showed his skill and that of his crew bringing this huge ship so close to the side of Milford Sound, amazing work on their part. Then we went on to Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound, again admiring the skills of the crew whilst in awe of the scenery.

The evening entertainment was A Cast of All Stars featuring Matt Clark, D J Bucciarelli, Bernard Walz and Karen Becket. An excellent performance.

All to much for some people!

 

 

13 November - Day 14 - Dunedin

This was certainly one of the most enjoyable days of the cruise. It started well with the easiest departure from the ship with Malcolm able to take his chair down a good ramp on to the quay where we had been able to get the taxi organiser to get permission to bring our taxi alongside. If you have anyone who cannot get out of a wheelchair, this is as easy as any access will get.

Our taxi driver Annette was very good at getting Malcolm on board and secured and got us to Dunedin Station in plenty of time for the Taieri Gorge Railway trip that we had booked direct rather than through the ship. She was even happy to waive payment until the return so that we were free to choose paying in cash or by card. We had understood Malcolm would not be able to come on the train as the ship's tour had commandeered the only accessible carriage. We had not counted on the determination of one lady member of staff who went to great lengths for us. She found a couple of men and a couple of strong girls who first of all tried to use various ramps to get Malcolm in the goods wagon as it did have a window. None were quite right so they physically lifted the chair and Malcolm in! Then of course Health and Safety reared its ugly head and someone ruled that passengers could not travel in this wagon. Not to be deterred, it was then decided that we were going to have to resort to a previously discounted solution and lift Malcolm into a special narrow chair. The staff of the Taieri Gorge Railway were just amazing and we are most grateful for the lengths they went to for us. It was tiring for Malcolm being moved in this way but he did enjoy the day and was glad he could stay with us. When we returned, Annette had got the taxi on the platform almost alongside our carriage and after the railway staff had got Malcolm off the train, they and Annette got him back into his chair.

Unlike the ship's tour we were able to go the full length of the line to Middle March, a small town of just a couple of hundred homes, where we enjoyed a little wander around and some refreshments before the return journey. After the train trip we paid Annette extra for a tour around Dunedin and that was worthwhile.

The weather forecast was for low temperatures with a 50% chance of rain. The sun shone the whole day so coupled with Malcolm being able to get on the train, it was a very enjoyable day.

The evening entertainment was Black Tie. Described as a cabaret group, it comprised two brothers and their wives who entertained us with some wonderful singing and solos on piano and cello. The brothers were Con(stantine) and Uri. Con's wife Susie played cello while Uri's wife Valerie played piano. Susie saw Gill admiring her dress made by the brother's mother and they had quite a chat. The brothers were Australian of Russian parents, Valerie was from Sri Lanka and Susie was described as being of convict stock!

 

14 November - Day 15 - Akaroa

When we booked this cruise the planned stop was Christchurch but the people there had suffered an earthquake causing terrible damage and the port has not yet reopened to cruise ships. Access ashore was by tender but the ship's crew were able to lift Malcolm in his chair into the tender boats and we were all so glad they could. Akaroa is small but beautiful. We wandered into the side roads and found traditional wooden houses with the most beautifully tended English style gardens. The people were so friendly. We just greeted one man who was taking his rubbish bins back in and next minute we were having a chat about how he got to Dunedin, where he was from and so on. He told us he was an artist and when he saw the interest shown by some of our group, he invited them in to see his work. Further on a lady stopped her car just to have a chat.

On our way back to the shops and restaurants we saw Con and his wife Susie (from Black Tie) and they came over and had a chat with us before we went off to lunch. I enjoyed some Green Lipped Mussels (larger than the usual mussels and with a green edge to the shell)

The evening entertainment was an illusionist so we decided to skip that and go the a jazz hour given by the ship's orchestra. Very enjoyable.

 

The first thing we see is a London bus!

The missing arm on the right is the result of the earthquake.

 

Coffee was a work of art.

Opposite the coffee shop I found a small museum.

Five years ago, the artist restored his house from being from a wreck similar to what you see above and here. The loft is used by him for painting and by his wife for "artistic needlework".

 

Opposite views of the same road. What an outlook.

 

 

The French origins of this town retain their influence.

The local internet cafe.

 

 

 

Even the ultimate French car.

 

15 November - Day 16 - Wellington

Only a limited number of the shuttle buses are accessible so we were lucky the one waiting had a ramp. We decided to go the the cable car first before the queue got too long and that proved to be a good move. The queue for the cable car later was long and the queue at the other stop for the shuttle bus afterwards was long and badly organised.

The cable car gave us excellent views over Wellington and lead into the Botanical Gardens. We spent an hour or so there before going back down and onto Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum.

The evening entertainment was Tango Buenos Aires starring Carolina and Gabriel. Their dancing was truly excellent and I think they got the longest applause of all the performances.

 

 

16 November - Day 17 - At sea

A leisurely day and the third and last of the formal dress dinners.

During the day there was an opportunity to go back-stage and during the formal dinner the catering crew of the ship paraded the dining room to well deserved applause. Before dinner we went to Rita's Cantina for pre-dinner margueritas.

The evening entertainment was Rat Pack's Back. Three singers singing Rat Pack numbers rather than impersonating them.

After that, there was a special supper where the chefs showed just what they could do. A magnificent display by any standard.

 

 
 

 

17 November - Day 18 - At sea

For the first time we decided to go for a waiter service breakfast and realised we should perhaps have done that on the other At Sea days. Service was slow but it did make an occasion of the meal and I was able to have one of my favourite breakfasts, kippers.

The evening entertainment was a show presented by the Royal Caribbean Singers and Dancers and the Radiance of the Seas Orchestra.

 

 

18 - 22 November - Sydney

18 November

Arrival was very early and we departed the ship at 07.30 and queued about twenty minutes for a taxi just to find our hotel was walking distance from where the ship was docked! With fewer cases we could have walked to the Holiday Inn. We got Malcolm's equipment set up and although the accessible room wasn't perfect for him, we found acceptable solutions to each problem. With that done, Malcolm, Sue, Gill and I set off for Manly Beach and Darling Harbour while Eric and Ole did their own thing.

In the evening the four of us had a meal before setting off for the Sydney Opera House where we met up with Eric and Ole for the ballet The Merry Widow. The Opera Bar is outside on the waterfront and we were amazed by the number of people there.

Things weren't quite so good when we got back to our rooms as they were at the front of the hotel and we discovered the building opposite was a night club playing loud music until 1am and the area remained noisy after that.

 

 

19 November

The hotel manager was sympathetic to the noise issue as doubtless we were not the first people to have ever complained about it. We were told the contents of our room would be transferrred while we were out. Unfortunately we later found that while the room was indeed quieter, the air conditioning was not working and it was just too hot to sleep in! As it was late and we couldn't face moving everything there and then, the manager accepted my suggestion that we simply move our night stuff to another room and that worked. The next day the air conditioning was fixed and all was well. For anyone else considering this hotel, the location is good for the The Quays and The Rocks. The rooms themselves were standard Holiday Inn but unless you are used to city noise, make sure you are put somewhere other than the front.

During the day we met up with Lis, a friend of Malcolm's, who would guide us around. First though we had to get a memory stick large enough to store all the photos everyone had taken so that Malcolm could take them home. Lois, Malcolm and I went off to do that while the others went direct to Bondi Beach. When they got there the place was heaving as it was fine Sunday. Gill's ankles swoll badly and the heat was just too much for her. I only learned of this while we were en route to join them so it was agreed that as soon as we all met up, Gill and I would return to the hotel while the others enjoyed the beach, they were of course all quite used to the heat. The traffic was so bad it was an hour before Lois, Malcolm and I got to Bondi!

After a rest, Gill and I went around the market at The Rocks and enjoyed some needed refreshments. In the evening we all met up for dinner at a nearby restaurant. All was well until we came to pay and found all our cards declined. Odd as they were all fine the next day wherever we went so it had to be a problem with their card service provider. Fortunately we did have enough cash with us.

 

20 November

After breakfast I helped pack Malcolm's equipment and we said our farewells as Malcolm and Sue had an early afternoon flight back to Perth. Eric and Ole were flying later in the day but as they were at another hotel, we did not see them.

With our farewells said, Gill and I decided to head off for the Taranga Zoo via a Captain Cook's cruise. It was actually a nice way to end the holiday as quite apart from the zoo being in a lovely location and well worth a visit, it gave us a chance to wind down from all the fun of our holiday and to get ourselves ready for the return to normality.

 

 

21 November

Airport and home!

Tour Arrangements and Credits

Trailfinders

From the outset we found Trailfinders service to be excellent. You could ask to speak to the same person to save explaining things again and they would call back promptly if that person was not available at the time.

The test came when the flooding started in Thailand. Inevitably there were a number of calls and our contact explained things based on the local information they were getting and from that we stayed with our original plan right up to the day of departure. On that day, the news we were getting was significantly different and our contact was not in the office that day. Another person listened to our concerns and then said she would make enquiries and get back to us. She did so very promptly and explained that whilst things had not changed at that point, they were aware the situation was changing so it was understood we wanted to change our plans. Ideally we wanted to land in Bangkok and get the same day connecting flight but that was already fully booked. Trailfinders got us onto the next day's flight and it was all dealt with very easily.

There was not one single contact with Trailfinders where we were not entirely happy with the outcome.

Diethelm Travel

Trailfinders arranged for our transfer to and from Bangkok airport using this company. They were waiting for us and we were escorted to the taxi and helped with the luggage. At the hotel they came in and stayed until we were fully checked in, just in case anything was wrong. On the return journey they took the bulk of our luggage and again stayed with us until we were checked in. They were excellent.

Royal Caribbean

There are three areas where I feel Royal Caribbean did not serve us well. However, I am pleased to say the cruise itself was excellent.

Boarding the ship

I have described the boarding of the ship above so suffice it to say here that the setup needs some serious review.

Delayed sailing

As you can read above, the start of the tour was delayed by one day. There are two ways of looking at that.

I have every sympathy for the people caught up by the Qantas dispute and some of them had endured terrible journeys. However, I like to think that had I been one of them, I would not have wanted my problems to impact on the majority.

We had planned to meet someone in Albany on Day 2 of the cruise and fortunately we were able to move that meeting. Had that not been possible, we would have flown from England to have had that meeting wrecked. Had we planned to meet someone in Esperance, a similar outcome might have occurred. Royal Caribbean seemed to be more concerned about their contractual obligations to the 200 than with everyone else.

Communication

Only people who had registered an email address with Royal Caribbean could be contacted immediately and Royal Caribbean did do that. What they did not do was explain the impact. That gave us several hours of concern until we could contact them.

I then expected that on checking in I would be told of the delay as the check-in staff had no way of knowing if I was aware of the change of plans and should have assumed I was not. I also expected notices as I boarded. Finally I expected to find a letter in the cabin explaining the change of plan.

In fact it was not until 7.30 in the evening, hours after we had boarded, that the captain announced the change, which was news to many passengers. In my opinion the whole matter was a communications disaster.

The cruise itself

Here I am please to report that things improved considerably. We were happy with our stateroom (cabin) and the staff were all friendly and helpful. The layout of the daytime restaurants was good as food was separated into logical areas rather than being in one line. This reduced queueing and worked well. For evening dining we were able to request a specific table each evening that was accessible to Malcolm in his wheelchair.

There were many activities during the day when "at sea" or for those not wanting to go ashore. The evening entertainments were all good and some were excellent.