A Travellerspoint blog

October 2010

Wedding in St Thomas

How I Combined my 2 Loves and Enjoyed MY DAY

I hate Weddings. Well......not all weddings. Just the expensive (you could make a down payment on a house) kind that are overblown and so chock full of activities that after it's all over, you don't remember a thing. I have been IN those kind of weddings and I swore that my wedding would be different.....it would be memorable and fun.

My husband and I got engaged on the island of St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands, during a Bar Association Conference I was attending (he came along for the ride and networking). When it came time to pick a place to get married, we looked at each other one day and came to the same conclusion; we would go back to beautiful St Thomas, get married, enjoy ourselves and invite family and friends to go with us.

Easier said than done? NO, IT WAS VERY EASY! Since "keep it simple stupid" is one of my mottos, we decided that it would be easier if we got married during an Eastern Caribbean Cruise that stopped in St Thomas. The Grand Princess was a brand new ship and she was going our way during the time we wanted to go. The Marriott Frenchman's Reef resort on St Thomas and Weddings in Paradise would handle all the details. All we had to do was choose a wedding package, the flowers and the music and we were good to go!

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Getting a license was easy. The US Virgin Islands is part of the United States so we applied for the license by mail. All we had to do was pick it up at the courthouse in St Thomas right after the ship docked on the island the day of our wedding. My Mom LOVED the idea. She would not have to do a thing and it would only cost her cruise fare and a plane ticket to Ft Lauderdale where the ship sailed for the cruise.

December 6th, our wedding day arrived. We had spent 2 days at sea on the cruise relaxing and getting over our 'wedding nerves'. After the ship docked in St Thomas, we caught a cab to the courthouse where we were the first people in the door. We got our license with no problems at all. The minister who would do the ceremony had faxed us our vows ahead of time, so we left the courthouse to meet him at the Frenchman's Reef Resort. My Mom and our friends attending the wedding met us at the resort after we picked up the license. The ceremony was set for 10:30am and it was already a beautiful and sunny 75 degrees. The wedding coordinator met us in the lobby and quickly took my fiance and I in separate directions to get ready.

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My Mom and my best friend and bridesmaid Yolanda, helped me get dressed. All too soon I was headed to the site of the ceremony, a gazebo overlooking the ocean. The music started and I heard my favorite song playing. I looked out over the ocean and started walking toward my fiance, now husband. The ceremony and vows were lovely, I remember every word. The reception that followed took place on a terrace overlooking the beach and sea. We ate cake, drank champagne, and enjoyed our friends and family who traveled across the ocean to see us get married.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon (after changing clothes) shopping in St Thomas before we boarded the ship again to set sail for 5 more days of cruising the Eastern Caribbean. That was 10 years ago. I remember it all like it was yesterday without having to watch the video or look at the beautiful photos. My Wedding in St Thomas was exactly what I wanted it to be and I would not change a thing!

Posted by Gerriv 18:40 Comments (2)

From Auckland to Sydney: Touring Sydney, Going Home

Seeing the sights and sounds of Sydney

PART VIII

Day 19-Sydney, Australia (1/20/05)

Our last full day in Sydney began as the others had, with bright sunshine, a blue sky and a warm summer breeze. Mom and I had a great (and filling) breakfast of bacon, eggs, grilled Portobello mushrooms, toasted French bread and coffee at the Harbor Kitchen. The restaurant’s wall of windows was open wide and the relaxing sound of the ocean complimented the gorgeous harbor view.

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Today we decided we would use the Sydney Explorer bus system for seeing the sights. The Explorer was a hop on, hop off bus system that visited 26 different attractions and featured full onboard commentary on each site. The first stop on the circuit was conveniently located a few steps from the Park Hyatt so we didn’t have far to go to get aboard. We left the hotel around 9:00am and caught one of the buses about 5 minutes later. As luck would have it, there were empty seats near the front of the bus with wide picture windows that were perfect for viewing.

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The Explorer route took us up George Street, past the Museum of Contemporary Art to City Center, the central business district. City Center has an amazing array of things to see such as the Sydney Town Hall, St. Andrews Cathedral, with it’s stunning gothic architecture, the 250 meter Sydney Tower and Hyde Park. One of the city’s finest 19th century buildings houses the glorious Queen Victoria Building. Filling an entire city block, the QVB as it’s called, has 5 levels of Sydney’s best international shopping with contemporary fashion, food, art, jewelry, antiques, and authentic Australian gifts and souvenirs. Other great shopping centers include the Pitt Street Mall, the Victorian-era styled Strand Arcade and the duty and tax free DFS Galleria.

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Moving on from City Center, we rode through Chinatown and the China Gardens before stopping at Darling Harbour. Located on the west side of the city, Darling Harbour is home to some of Sydney’s top attractions and water side restaurants. The IMAX Theatre, Sydney Aquarium, Sydney Convention Center and the Harborside Shopping Mall are located along the waters edge at Darling. A few blocks from Harborside is the popular Star City hotel and Casino, which has a 5 star hotel and 14 restaurants and bars.

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Before having lunch at Harborside, Mom and I decided to visit the Star City Casino to see what Australian casinos have to offer. The casino was very large and somewhat quiet and not very busy compared to casinos in the States. We were quite surprised to find primarily 1 cent video slot machines at the casino, but we enjoyed playing a few of them for an hour or so before we left to eat lunch and do some shopping at Harbourside Mall.

Harborside was busy and crowded for a Thursday afternoon. The place reminded me pretty much of every other mall that I had visited at home except that this one was on the water. There were parents and kids everywhere and finding a place to eat was somewhat of a chore. We finally snagged a table in the food court for a quick meal. Needless to say, we did not stay long after eating lunch. We did find a bookstore on the way out were we found some great books on Aussie Slang and other goodies.

Re-boarding the Explorer Bus we traveled on past the King Street Warf, a new development with lots of bistros and bars, toward the eastern suburbs of Sydney. We rode through Kings Cross, an area of Sydney known for its stylish restaurants and hotels as well as wild mixture of prostitution and crime, before we entered the Royal Botanic Gardens where we saw the Art Gallery of New South Wales, and the Australian Museum. The historic Macquarie Street and the popular lookout point, Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair were so congested with traffic that we weren’t able to see the spectacular views of the Sydney Harbor, Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.

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One of the most interesting things that I noticed about Sydney after riding through it’s city streets for several hours was that the streets, sidewalks and parks were amazingly free of trash and other unsightly hazards that one might expect to find in such a large city. Even in the less touristy areas, everything in view appeared neat and clean and inviting. Sydneysiders could really see their tax dollars at work; I wish I could say the same of my hometown.

Mid-afternoon found us back at the hotel for a break from sightseeing. We relaxed in our room for a while and then headed back out for a walk through the Rocks to the DFS Galleria for some duty and tax free shopping. Failing to find anything to our liking at the Galleria, Mom and I headed back down George Street toward the hotel, stopping along the way to buy more souvenirs. After picking up a delicious take away meal from the Harbor Kitchen, we spent our last night in Sydney packing and watching television before turning in for the night.

Day 20- Sydney to Los Angles, California (1/21/05)

Our flight to Los Angeles was scheduled to leave at 1:00pm. We decided to leave early for the airport because we were not familiar with the Sydney Airport and we wanted to have plenty of time to get through airport security and check in for the flight. Mom and I said out goodbyes to the hotel staff, thanking them for the wonderful hospitality, and got a cab to the airport about 9:30am. The drive to the airport took us through downtown, and as we looked around this marvelous city for the last time, I could not believe how quickly the time had passed since we arrived three days earlier. There were so many sights left unseen, so many things left undone. I was very sad to leave such a wondrous place, but at the same time, I was looking forward to going home. Rather than suffer through so many mixed emotions, I simply resolved to return someday to this land that I had come to love. I was leaving, yes, but not forever.

The flight to California was uneventful. We were served a great meal and lots of snacks and wine. I made a new friend of my seatmate, a native Australian who lives in New York. Cynthia and I talked a blue streak for half of the flight before day turned into night as we crossed the International Date Line and we all went to sleep.

Our plane arrived in Los Angeles at 7:00am on a bright and sunny morning. The Embassy Suites hotel shuttle picked us up after we collected our luggage and went through Customs and Immigration. After checking in to the hotel, Mom and I enjoyed the free cooked to order breakfast and went to bed. The rest of the day passed quietly until we went to the lounge for the free Manager’s Reception. We met a married couple in the lounge who were setting sail on a Princess cruise to the Mexican Riviera the next day. We told them how much we enjoyed our Princess cruise and wished them happy sailing before we headed back to our room for the night.

Day 21- Los Angeles to Montgomery (1/22/05)

After 21 days and a few hours, our Delta Airlines flight brought Mom and me home to Montgomery, Alabama. My husband Reginald was at the airport waiting for us and I was glad to see that he and everything else that I loved was OK. It was hard to believe that this incredible, life changing journey was really over. The trip had been more than I could ever have expected or even imagined. This ultimate adventure had truly been a blessing, and for that I have to thank my best friend, role model and mother, Joanne, who dared to think that such a trip was even possible and then make it happen. When Mom booked the cruise over a year earlier, I never really thought that we would actually go, much less that it would be the experience of a lifetime that it was. I had been to a part of the world that I never thought I would ever see, and for that, I am truly grateful. Thanks Mom, for taking your eldest child with you on your journey to the Land Down Under. I owe you one!

THE END!

Posted by Gerriv 14:36 Comments (2)

From Auckland to Sydney Part VII: Sydney Day 2

Exploring Sydney, Australia

PART VII

Day 17-Sydney, Australia (1/18/05)

Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, is home to almost 4 million people and is the oldest city in Australia. The site of the first British penal colony on the continent, this cosmopolitan, high-tech city has two of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Harbor Bridge, completed in 1932 and the Sydney Opera House, which opened in 1973. Sydney also played host to the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Over 200 nationalities are represented in the population, with just 6 percent being indigenous Australians.

Circular Quay (pronounced “Key”), Darling Harbor and The Rocks are popular areas for shopping, Aboriginal Art Galleries, museums, 5 star hotels, restaurants, nightlife and theater. The famous Bondi Beach is the place to go for sun, sand, dining and festivals.

Upon leaving the Sapphire, Mom and I entered the cruise terminal to go through Customs and collect our luggage. Anticipating the usual struggle to find our bags in an endless sea of other passenger’s luggage, I was pleasantly surprised to find two Port Authority employees waiting just inside the terminal to find our luggage for us and help us load it on to hand carts. I could not have been more shocked at this courtesy, especially when the porters tried strenuously to refuse the tips we offered them for helping us. “Please, Madam” one of them said, “It really is not necessary!” I found out later from a Sydneysider (a local resident) that the minimum wage in Australia is $12.00 an hour and employees get time and a half for overtime. There simply is no need to give tips to supplement an employee’s income in Australia.

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I chose the Park Hyatt as our hotel because I was informed that it is “the place” to stay in Sydney. Located at Circular Quay, near the Rocks area, the hotel sits at the foot of the Sydney Harbor Bridge and across from the International Pier where the Sapphire Princess was docked. A 5 star hotel, every room at the Hyatt has a balcony facing the water and the hotel is in easy walking distance to many of the major Sydney attractions.

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The ride to the hotel took 5 minutes tops. As the taxi driver pulled up to the entrance, I noticed two sharply dressed bellman wearing black suits, waiting out front to welcome the new guests. “G’day, Welcome to the Hyatt” our bellman said as he loaded our bags onto a cart. We entered the hotel lobby to see décor that I would describe as understated ultra modern elegance with marble floors, chrome fixtures and a wall of windows overlooking the harbor. I looked around, searching for the front desk to check in and didn’t see one.

A pleasant looking young woman, also wearing a black suit, approached us and asked if we were checking in. I told her yes, and she ushered us to 2 upholstered chairs in front of an office style desk near the wall of windows. Pamela retrieved my reservation from her desktop computer and told us that she was going to be our Personal Concierge during our stay. Seeing that it was still pretty early in the day (about 10:30am) Pamela informed us that our room was not quite ready and asked if we wanted to get something to eat at the restaurant while we waited. Mom and I decided to take a stroll around the area and get an early lunch.

Leaving our coats and hand luggage in Pamela’s care, we walked through the rear Lobby door out into the warm summer sunshine. This side of the hotel had a boardwalk that faced the inner harbor area of Circular Quay. We could see the Sapphire docked at the pier and several benches near the water that were empty. Taking a seat on a bench near the dock, we looked over copies of the “The Australian” and the “Sydney Morning Herald” that I had picked up in the hotel lobby. I looked up at the Harbor Bridge at one point, and saw some “crazy people” doing the Harbor Bridge Climb to the summit of the structure.

Around 11:00am Mom and I walked over to the hotel restaurant, the Harbor Kitchen & Bar and had a delicious fresh seafood lunch. Our server was a nice young woman who was eager to help us decide on some local dishes that we wanted to try. We took in the view of the Sydney Opera House and the ships in the harbor as we ate, finishing off the meal with some wonderful Australian chardonnay.

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Our hotel room was all that I had expected and a lot more. The door bell and mailbox at the entrance was our first clue that the room would be out of the ordinary; the leather headboards, plasma TV, bar alcove with wine glasses and walk in closet made it all the more impressive. We loved the large bathroom with its marble floors and porcelain sink set in dark cherry wood cabinets. The view from our balcony was what made it worth the extra money. All of Circular Quay, the Rocks buildings, the Opera House, the Sapphire docked at pier and the Sydney city skyline was laid out before us. It was exciting to know that this was the scene we would see everyday without having to leave our room.

The Bell staff had delivered our luggage before we arrived, so we decided to unpack before we did any exploring. It soon became obvious that we were going to have some real problems getting all of our “stuff” back home on the plane, so Mom came up with a somewhat drastic as well as costly solution. We called the Business Center and had a 20 kilo packing box sent to our room. After loading up the box with lots of non essentials, we had it shipped back to Alabama. It was literally like have a great weight taken off of our shoulders.

Around 3:00pm we decided to take a walk around The Rocks area. Our first stop was at the Tourist Information Center. The sheer volume of information that we found on things to do in Sydney and the surrounding areas was mind blowing. There was no way we could see everything there was to see in just three days. We picked up brochures on city tours, harbor tours, shopping areas and day trips to the Blue Mountains and Hunter Valley Wine County. We next headed up to George Street, one of the main shopping areas. We found a small convenience store and a Deli where we bought sandwiches and bottled water. The owner of the Deli was like all of the Aussies we had met so far, warm, gregarious and funny. We laughed out loud several times at the things he said while he made our sandwiches. He got a kick out of teasing me about asking him what was on the chicken and avocado sandwich (chicken and avocado, of course).

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Our first day in Sydney ended on the balcony of our hotel room. At 6:00pm we watched the Sailaway of the Sapphire Princess for the last time. As the horn sounded signaling the ship pulling away from the dock, I felt another pang of loss; there she was, leaving without us. I could hear the sound of the Men at Work song “Land Down Under” blasting from the ship’s PA system on the top deck. Mom and I took more photos and I took shots with my video camera. “What a great time they are going to have” I thought as the Sapphire sailed out of view, but then again, so would we.

Day 18-Sydney, Australia (1/19/05)

The second day of our stay in Sydney began at the Harbor Kitchen for breakfast. I had spent most of the evening before pouring over all of the brochures that we had picked up and I chose a morning harbor tour called a Coffee Cruise as a place to start exploring Sydney. The harbor cruise berth was a short walk from the hotel and our Concierge had made reservations for us that morning.

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The Coffee Cruise was a wonderful 2 hour scenic cruise of the gorgeous Sydney water front. We saw waterside views of the Toronga Zoo, Manly Beach, Bondi Beach, Fort Denison, the palatial waterfront homes and beautiful marinas of Middle Harbor, the Sydney Aquarium and Watson’s Bay. The trip back to the dock included a buffet of pastries, cookies, muffins and other sweets served with coffee and tea. I was amazed to see how many homes were built on the water. Apparently, even Sydneysiders with modest incomes can own a home with a view of the ocean. There was a lot about this city and the lifestyle of its inhabitants to admire. I couldn’t wait to see more.

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Mom and I returned to the hotel around noon to take a break from sightseeing before heading out in the afternoon to visit the Sydney Opera House. The walk to the Sydney Opera House took us past shops, sidewalk cafes and restaurants, the Museum of Contemporary Art and the ferry and transportation hub of Circular Quay. We took photos of the high-rise city buildings and did a lot of “people watching”. The ferry hub and train station is a gathering place for all kinds of people, including Aboriginal Indians showing off their unique musical instruments and native clothing. We also found a wine shop with great prices that we would return to after visiting the Opera House.

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The great Sydney Opera House is one of the great performing arts centers of the world. It is an awe inspiring sight from a distance, but close up it appears almost other worldly. The unusual roof is covered with over a million ceramic tiles, and the building features five live performance halls. What Mom and I were not prepared for was the dauntingly large number of steps that had to be climbed to reach the front entrance. Mom had been having knee trouble for a while, so we knew we could not enter the building from the front. After a bit of searching, we found another entrance into the building but we had to settle for a view of the grand foyer and a visit to the gift shops because tours of the Concert Hall and Opera Theater were booked until the next week. So, after finding some nice SOH souvenirs and having the Aussie version of a hot dog and coke at the café, we left the Opera House hoping one day to return and take in a performance in one of its grand venues.

Walking back toward the hotel we found a great souvenir store where we bought small gifts and T Shirts to take home. We also discovered a McDonalds on a street corner and decided to buy some burgers to take back to the hotel room for later. The wine shop at the ferry hub had great bargains on Australian wine, so we bought a couple of bottles and headed back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the late afternoon on the balcony enjoying the warm summer breeze, watching the ships sail in and out of the harbor and the throngs of people moving through the Quay. As darkness fell around 8:00pm we savored our wine and cheeseburgers (a fabulous combination when you’re hungry) and settled in for the night. We had one more day in Sydney. Tomorrow we would see and savor as much as we possibly could before heading back to the States and home.

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End of Part VII

Posted by Gerriv 11:53 Comments (0)

From Auckland to Sydney Part VI: Sydney, Australia

Welcome to Sydney, Australia

PART VI

Day 16-Final Day at Sea (1/17/05)

The title of the Princess Patter for that day brought a lump to my throat. It read “FAREWELL!” in bold capital letters across the top of the page. It was the last newsletter of the cruise. The thought that this wonderful voyage on this marvelous ship was ending, made me sad. As if sensing the dismay of the passengers at reading this greeting, the Cruise Director, Alastair went on to write that there was still a fun-filled day at sea ahead of us and that the cruise was by no means over. Funny, it did not feel that way to me.

Mom and I spent the day packing and watching the Disembarkation Talk on TV. The weather was warm and sunny and our last hours on the ship went by all too quickly. Between looking for and buying the last shipboard photos in the photo gallery and trying fruitlessly to stuff all of our new purchases from the gift shops into our luggage, we were really tired by the time the dinner hour rolled around.

After dinner, Mom and I went to the Princess Theater for the “Monday Night Live” comedy show. We ran into two of our new Aussie friends at the theater. After trading e-mail addresses, we made promises to each other to stay in touch after we returned to our respective homes. We made a lot of new friends on this cruise including our wonderful cabin steward, Roberto, who had taken such good care of us during our voyage. I would miss his sunny disposition and his cheerful “Hello Miss, Hello Madam” greeting every morning. We had really been spoiled on this ship. Alastair even joked during the comedy show about how we would all go home and wonder why our cruise cards didn’t work in our front doors and why our beds weren’t made up for us everyday. I would certainly miss the way Roberto turned down our beds every night, and left chocolate candy on our pillows. Yes, we had definitely been spoiled.

Our last day on the Sapphire ended early, we put our bags outside the cabin to be collected and transferred to the pier. I wanted to get up in time to see the ship sail into the harbor of Sydney, Australia, the final destination of our trip. I set the alarm for 4:30am, so that we would not miss what was sure to be the spectacular sight of two of Australia’s most famous landmarks, the Sydney Opera House and the lights of the Sydney Harbor Bridge.

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Day 17- Sydney, Australia (1/18/05)

I almost missed it completely. The sight that I had been waiting to see since we left home; I almost missed it! Thank God, I made it outside in time. The alarm had not gone off, but something told me to get up. It was 4:00am, and I decided to look outside to see if we were approaching Sydney Harbor. I stepped out on the balcony and didn’t see anything but small distant lights in the darkness. I walked back inside the cabin and went to the bath to throw some water on my face so that I could wake up. I walked back to the seating area near the balcony door and picked up my video camera so I would be ready when the time came. I figured I had at least another 15 to 20 minutes of waiting; Mom was still asleep.

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After a couple of minutes, I decided to look outside again. Mom told me later that she heard an “OH Sh—t!” that woke her up. I was so shocked at what I saw, that I had almost dropped my camera on the deck. I could not believe what I was seeing; right in front of me was the Sydney Opera House slowly passing by as the Sapphire moved into the harbor. After fumbling with my camera for precious seconds, I finally started filming the incredible view. This symbol of Australia was absolutely gorgeous! All lit up in the darkness with its unusual roof line looking like snow capped mountain peaks. I had seen many photographs of it before, but never from this vantage point, looking straight through the front windows of the building.

As I panned my camera around the harbor I noticed that Mom and all the passengers on the port side of the ship had come outside and were taking photos. The ship slowly approached the International Pier and you could see the tall high-rise buildings that made up the Sydney skyline. It was so beautiful. I had almost missed it! The thought gave me chills. Once the ship docked at the pier, we decided to get some more sleep. Sydney would be waiting for us in the daylight.

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Later that morning we got dressed and took more photos of the harbor area. We were scheduled to leave the ship around 9:30am, so we decide to have breakfast for the last time in the Horizon Court on Deck 14. From the highest decks on the ship we could see the Harbor Bridge and the hotel where we would spend the next three days, the Park Hyatt. When we finished eating, we returned to our cabin for the last time to collect our carryon luggage. I noticed right away that the name plate near the door had been changed from our names to the names of the soon to be new occupants of our mini-suite. The thought of someone else sleeping in “our” cabin did not sit well with me at first. I hated leaving what had really been a home away from home, but it was time to move on. Sydney was waiting to be discovered. With one last look around, we left the Sapphire Princess for the last time and stepped out into sights and sounds of Sydney, Australia.

End of Part VI

Posted by Gerriv 11:30 Comments (0)

From Auckland to Sydney Part V: Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne, Australia

PART V

Day 15- Melbourne, Australia (1/16/05)

The state of Victoria and its main city, Melbourne (pronounced Mel bun) has a unique distinction in Australia; it was founded by free settlers, not convicts. Melbourne was the capitol of Australia until 1927 when the city of Canberra was established. With a population of over 3 million people, Melbourne is home to 70 percent of Victoria’s population. Melbourne is big on culture and art, high fashion, expansive parks and friendly, sports minded Australians.

We docked at Station Pier, a 25 minute drive from downtown. The first things that I noticed looking at the city skyline were the tall skyscraper buildings in the distance and the high-rise condominiums lining the beachfront area near the pier. Mom and I left the ship at 9:00am to board a bus for our tour called “Leisurely Melbourne”, a guided tour of the city with photo stops along the way. Our driver and guide was a very friendly and absolutely hilarious young man named Cliff, who right from the start was determined that we all loosen up and have a good time. His running commentary about the sights of Melbourne was sprinkled with lots of “Aussie Slang” words that were often nonsensical and very funny when defined for the “Yanks” on board.

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The first part of the tour was a drive through the city streets which included views of the Business District and the ethnic shopping areas of Little Italy and the Greek restaurant row. We drove through “Paris End” with its exclusive fashion boutiques and famous shops like Versace, Louis Vuitton and Ferragamo, and then traveled past the State Parliament House and the Victoria Courts buildings.

Our fist stop of the day was the Fitzroy Gardens where we got a chance to stretch our legs and admire some of the most beautiful gardens I had seen yet. Mom and I walked through the Conservatory and along the pathways of the park. You could see the tall buildings of downtown through the canopy of trees. It was a warm sunny morning, with a bright blue sky that set off the scenery in a wonderful way. We took lots of photos and then headed back to the bus. Cliff was waiting for us; full of wacky comments and eager to take us on to see more of the city.

Melbourne places a high priority on two things from what I could see; parks, lakes and green spaces for the inhabitants to enjoy, and sports, sports, sports. Cliff drove us past more sports arenas than I have ever seen anywhere. We saw Rod Laver Stadium, the stadium where the Australian Open was set to begin the next day and several other sports venues where “Aussie Rules” football is played and the Special Olympic Games were being held. There were lakefront areas for picnics and bike riding, and we saw sections of the Yarra River where boat races were staged.

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Close to noon we stopped at the Royal Botanic Gardens for a bite to eat at the Café and to shop for souvenirs. The gardens were gorgeous with a large lake and beautiful plants and flowers. Mom and I had coffee and scones in the café and bought some postcards and souvenir pins. When we returned to the bus, Cliff told us that we would be making a stop at the Shrine of Remembrance next for a “sticky beak” (a quick look around) and then we would head back to the ship.

The Shrine of Remembrance is a memorial to Australia’s war dead. It is a majestic building, similar in style to the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. The plaza in front of the Shrine has a large stone carving with an eternal flame and there were tall steps leading up to the entrance of the memorial. I climbed the long set of stairs into the Shrine and was immediately drawn to a marble case set into the floor of the building. There was writing carved in to the stone, and to read it I had to bend over the edge. The gold lettered writing said” Greater Love Hath No Man”. It was a moving tribute to all those who had given their lives for their country. One of the Shrine guides told me as I left the building that the case with the writing was set into the floor so that everyone who read it had to bend over and bow their heads in respect to all who had died.

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I spent much of the trip back to the ship quizzing Cliff on the meaning of some of the Aussie Slang words that we had been hearing. I learned that guys (men) are called “Blokes” and girls are “Shelia’s” and everyone is called “Mate”. “Lippy” is short for Lipstick, “Bikky” is short for Biscuit and a “Cackleberry” is an egg. According to Cliff, Australians love to cut words off at the end and add a “y” or “ie” as a kind of shorthand. I found the whole subject fascinating and vowed to find a book on it before I left Australia.

At Sailaway Mom and I stood out on the balcony as the ship pulled away from the pier. As we watched the shoreline, we saw a familiar sight, only this time, in Australia. All along the dock were hundreds of people waving good bye to us. As a group, we and the other passengers of the Sapphire Princess waved back, happy to have had such a delightful day in a delightful city. We had only scratched the surface of Melbourne, and I knew that I would have to return one day to see what I had missed. I plan to be ready when that day comes. I will have a full repertoire of Aussie slang to show that I really can speak the language. Now it’s on to Sydney, our last port of call.
END OF PART V

Posted by Gerriv 09:34 Comments (0)

From Auckland to Sydney Part IV: Hobart Tasmaina

Beautiful Hobart Tasmania

DAY 13- Hobart, Tasmania (1/14/05)

The Sapphire Princess arrived in Hobart, Tasmania on a bright sunny morning. Hobart is the capital of Tasmania, and the second oldest city in Australia. A lovely little city of about 129,000 people, Hobart is known for its hospitable air and colorful cityscape. The view from our balcony looked like a picture postcard with deep blue water, red and coral colored rooftops and the majestic Mt. Wellington in the background.

Before we could leave the ship, we had to be checked by Australian Customs in the Princess Theater. After presenting our passports to the officials, we walked down the gangway out in to the warm sunshine to board our tour bus for the “Richmond Wine and Wildlife” tour. The itinerary would take us to a wildlife park, the historic village of Richmond and a winery for wine tasting and lunch.

The first thing I noticed about Hobart was how pretty the city was up close. As we rode through the streets of downtown, it was evident that the citizens and local government worked hard to keep the environs clean, neat and well landscaped. The streets and buildings were well maintained as were the homes that dotted the waterfront and hillsides.

After passing through downtown, we headed out into the suburbs and surrounding countryside. Here I felt like we were headed into the wine regions of northern California as there were rows and rows of grape vines covering the landscape. Our first stop was Bonorong Wildlife Park, a sanctuary for injured wild animals that are cared for and then returned to the wild. We saw wombats (so ugly there’ cute) wallabies (small kangaroo) fierce Tasmanian devils and the adorable koalas (not bears, they are marsupials). It was great to get up close and personal with such unusual animals.

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The next stop was the village of Richmond, where we stopped to visit the historic Richmond Gaol (pronounced “jail”) and got a history lesson on the treatment of prisoners in the early 1800’s. Upon leaving the gaol, we had time to walk the village streets to shop for souvenirs at the quaint shops and store fronts. At lunchtime we returned to the tour bus for the short ride to the Meadowbank Winery where we enjoyed wine and a meal.

Meadowbank was as beautiful as the wineries I’d seen in Napa Valley, California. The tasting room and dining room had hardwood floors, high ceilings and a wall of windows that overlooked the vineyard for what seemed like miles. The employees greeted us with a glass of their latest Chardonnay to sample. Oh my, was it good! Two other wines were offered as we seated ourselves at large round tables in front of the windows.

Our food, served family-style, consisted of authentic Tasmanian fare of beef with chutney, roast chicken with green salad, an array of delicious cheeses and fruit, fresh homemade bread and small sweets made with chocolate and berries. It was a delicious meal in a delightful setting. I could have stayed there the rest of the day.

The tour bus returned us to the dock around 3:00pm. Our tour guide, a wonderful retired banker, had done everything in her power to show us the delights of her hometown. Mom and I felt that she had succeeded in that effort. Hobart is now one of our favorite places on the planet and we definitely let her know it.

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We watched SAILAWAY through the windows of the Horizon Court restaurant over dinner on deck 14. The scenery lasted for quite awhile before finally fading from view. Our first “taste” of Australia definitely left us wanting more, so we looked forward to seeing our next port of call, Melbourne, Australia.

DAY 14- Day at Sea (1/15/05)

When I opened the curtains to our balcony on this next to last sea day I was pleasantly surprised to be greeted by warm sunshine. The cruise was slowly coming to an end and it was nice to be able to spend sometime outside without having to wear a sweater or a jacket. It was finally beginning to feel like summer in this part of the world.

We passed the day organizing our clothes and souvenirs, doing laundry, and preparing for the 2nd and last Formal Night of the cruise. I bought outrageously expensive pictures from the Princess Photo gallery and spent time out on the balcony soaking up the “rays”. We had dinner (lobster, yum) in the Sterling Restaurant and enjoyed the show “Ports of Call” in the Princess Theater.

After dropping some (more) money in the Grand Casino, I went to bed. Mom, who wasn’t’ at all sleepy, stayed up long enough to see the Champagne Waterfall in the Atrium. She told me later that everyone was dancing and drinking and having a grand old time. I hated to miss it but I wanted to be up bright and early when we docked in Melbourne the next day.
END OF PART IV

Posted by Gerriv 09:12 Comments (0)

From Auckland to Sydney Part III: Dunedin

Dunedin, Fiordland National Park and Sailing across the Tasman Sea

PART III

DAY 9- Dunedin, New Zealand (1/10/05)

An overcast sky greeted us as we arrived at the dock in Port Chalmers, 7 miles from the city of Dunedin. Dunedin was settled by Scottish pioneers and is the fourth largest city in New Zealand. Even with the early morning cloudiness, the dark green hills and valleys, Victorian buildings and churches were a lovely sight to behold.

Our tour this day was somewhat different from the others we had chosen. “Town & Country by Train” was described in the tour package as a “trip back in time” and that statement was so true. At 2:00pm we stepped off the gangway to sunshine (Yeah!) and boarded a vintage train for a ride along the coastline of northern Dunedin. The Taieri Gorge train had been reserved exclusively for Princess Passengers so we had the cars to ourselves.

Mom and I chose two seats with a table by a large picture window. The table had been set for a meal and beverages. As the train started off down the track, our coach hostesses served us our choice of orange juice, champagne or both (mimosas). With our mimosas in hand, we watched the harbor and parts of the city go by as we traveled along the railway line. Over the next 3 hours we were treated to beautiful countryside and dramatic coastline views while listening to informative commentary from the train engineer. The emerald green water of the ocean and the white sandy beaches extended for miles and large ranch-styled homes could be seen along the hillsides.

Afternoon Tea was served halfway through the trip at a turnaround point. We had a choice of tea or coffee and were given finger sandwiches, tea cakes and scones to eat. A pretty yellow flower was included with our meal. I saw those flowers on the jackets of many passengers after that trip (including mine). It was a nice reminder of a lovely afternoon.

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SAILAWAY was also very different on that day. From inside our cabin, we could hear the sound of music from outside. When we went out on the balcony, we could see a Bag Pipe band in full Scottish regalia serenading us from the dock. The music was lovely and very moving as well. What an appropriate sendoff from a wonderful city and beautiful country! As the ship moved slowly out of the harbor, we could see hundreds of people lining the shore, waving goodbye. We all waved back as the largest cruise ship to ever visit New Zealand headed toward the Tasman Sea and Australia.

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DAY 10- Fiordland National Park, Day at Sea (1/11/05)

Leaving the mainland of New Zealand, we entered Dusky Sound, part of Fiordland National Park. This part of the Tasman Sea is lined with 6000 and 7000 foot mountain peaks, some capped with snow. What was so stunning about the mountains was that they raised high into the sky and went down straight into the ocean. I had never seen anything like it before.

All day long we sailed through the park. With a bright blue sky and deep blue water as a back ground, the green tree covered mountains were a sight to behold. As we entered Milford Sound in the late afternoon, we saw a waterfall rushing out of the side of a mountain and lots of smaller ships cruising by. Our cabin television showed views from the ship’s deck cam as the voice of a local guide described each vista and told us about the history of the area. We were told to keep an eye out for dolphins and fur seals but we never could see them. There were too many things to look at and photograph. Our cameras got quite a work out that day! Of course, pictures could never come close to seeing the real thing.

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DAYS 11 and 12, Crossing the Tasman Sea (1/12-13/05)

The first day crossing the Tasman Sea was “a little rough” as some would say. The weather was chilly and rainy. The sea waves were high. Many of the Aussies on board told us that this was normal but we were all hoping for better conditions later on. The movement of the ship didn’t bother me at all. I have very good sea legs, but Mom had a tough time the first day.

We developed a routine during the crossing that worked pretty well. Our mini-suite was very spacious and comfortable (we had a bathtub and two TV’s!) so we spent a lot of time relaxing and reading or watching movies in the cabin. After room service breakfast, we’d go to the internet café and send messages home. My husband Reginald got a daily report on our activities and I got comfort from knowing everything was Ok at home. The rest of the day we spent at the indoor Lotus Pool or at a wine tasting (my favorite) or some other onboard event mentioned in the Patter that day.

We had “Anytime Dining” so we ate at a different restaurant almost every night and then we went to the Princess Theater or the Explorers Lounge to see a comedy show or musical production. The entertainment options were endless and changed every 3 to 4 days. All the shows were very good and they kept us out of the casino, which was not.

The best part of the Tasman crossing was the chance to meet and talk to a lot of great people including several Australians. At almost every meal we would strike up great conversations with our fellow passengers that would be entertaining and fun. We learned a lot from our new Aussie friends and I think they learned a lot from us. Before we knew it the sea days came to an end and we were heading into our first Australian port of call, Hobart, Tasmania.

END OF PART III

Posted by Gerriv 12:51 Comments (2)

From Auckland To Sydney Part II: Auckland, Wellington

Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch

PART II

DAY 6- Auckland to Wellington, Day at Sea (1/7/05)

Our first day of this 12 day cruise was a sea day. We had a chance to relax, unpack and explore the Sapphire Princess. This was my 4th Princess Cruise and this ship was brand new and as striking as the other ships that I had sailed on. I love the big Princess ships with the “small ship feel” design that insures that you never feel crowded, even with 2800 passengers and 1100 crew on board. After breakfast in the 24-hour buffet, Mom and I walked all over the ship and I took shots with my video camera.

According to Alastair, the Cruise Director, there were 1000 U.S. Citizens (Yanks), 900 Australians (Aussies), 400 New Zealanders (Kiwis), 300 British citizens (Brits) and around 200 people of other nationalities on board the Sapphire. We were a floating international city.

The day went by quickly with 5 restaurants, 4 pools, a Spa, a library, internet café, casino, shops, a movie theater, and several lounges, bars and showrooms. Obviously, there was plenty to keep us busy and entertained. The activities included a Scholarship at Sea program where passengers could take classes on various subjects for free or for a small fee. The “Princess Patter”, the onboard newspaper, listed all of the onboard activities for each day and included information on each Port of Call.

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DAY 7 – Wellington, New Zealand (1/8/05)

Wellington is the Capital of New Zealand. A picturesque city of about 350,000 people, it has beautiful green trees and hillsides and the most gorgeous flowers I have ever seen. The day started out warm and rainy but by the time we left the ship for our afternoon tour, the rain had ceased and the sun had come out.

Our tour was called “Intimate Wellington” and intimate it was. We boarded a mini bus with about 10 people and 2 wonderful guides, and set off for an insider’s look at the city. We traveled the city streets and neighborhoods all the way up to the top of a large hill where we had a great view of downtown and the harbor. San Francisco, California came to mind as I watched the cable cars travel up and down the steep hillside. We visited the Parliament Building (we sat in the Special Committee members chairs!) and walked on the floor of the Senate with a very friendly and knowledgeable Parliament guide. It was fascinating to learn about New Zealand’s Parliamentary Democracy and how the European culture melded with the native Maori Indian culture to form a representative government. I found it astounding that all of the top government officials were women!

The Colonial Cottage Museum gave us insight into the early days of Wellington and we enjoyed Afternoon Tea at a lovely restaurant that overlooked the center of the city. We ended the tour with a walk through the beautiful Lady Norwood Rose Garden which featured over 100 different types of roses. The Begonia House showcased other gorgeous flowers and interesting souvenirs. Overall, it was an excellent afternoon.

Once again, SAILAWAY came at 6:00pm. As we stood out on our balcony and watched the Sapphire slowly move away from the pier, I thought about all that I had learned about New Zealand’s capital and I looked forward to seeing our next New Zealand port of call, Christchurch.

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DAY 8 –Christchurch, New Zealand (1/9/05)

The Sapphire docked at Lyttleton Harbor, 6 miles from Christchurch. The city was planned as a Church of England settlement and it is known as “the most English city outside of England.” We could see the English influence in the architecture of the buildings, the sheep-dotted hillsides and in the street names such as “Worcester”.

Our mid-morning tour was called “Christchurch Sights & Shopping”. The “motherly” guide and friendly bus driver took us to the Christchurch Arts Center where we walked around an open air market and sampled a delicious slice of “pizza” with ham and tomato. Local artisans showed off their handmade jewelry (a lot of Jade and Opals) soaps, leather goods and artwork. I took video of a couple of (surprisingly good) street musicians and enjoyed the festive atmosphere.

Mom and I spent time and bought souvenirs at the Canterbury Museum and took photos of the Botanic Gardens. Other stops included a local knitwear factory, wine tasting at Larcombs Winery (great Pinot Noir) and a delicious (and filling) lunch at a local pub. I bought 2 bottles of wine at our last stop to take back to the cabin. We ended the day back at Lyttleton Harbor and thanked our guides for an enjoyable day.

The visit to Christchurch was truly a joy. Now it was on to our last port of call in New Zealand, the “Kiwi city with the Scottish heart”, Dunedin.

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END OF PART II

Posted by Gerriv 12:26 Comments (1)

From Auckland To Sydney:

My 21 Day Adventure to the Land Downunder

PART I

I have often been asked "How did a lawyer from Alabama find her way to New Zealand and Australia?" Well, it's a long story so I thought I would tell it here. It was one of the greatest adventures of my life and I rememember it like it was yesterday.

So, here goes:

Day 1- Montgomery to Los Angeles (1/2/05)

One day, after watching the Olympics in Sydney for 2 weeks, my mother told me she wanted to visit Australia. I thought the idea was far fetched at first, but then I thought, why not go? So, I booked a 12 day Princess cruise and after a year of careful planning, we (My Mom and I) began our journey leaving Montgomery, Alabama at 5:30am on the day after New Years on a Delta Flight to Los Angeles, California via Atlanta. We arrived in LA around 10:00am to pouring rain and cold weather. A free hotel shuttle took us to the Embassy Suites North, less than a mile from the airport. The hotel was nice and they had our room ready for us after a short wait. As the weather was pretty miserable, we stayed in the suite and relaxed until 5:30pm when we went to the complimentary Manager’s Reception in the Lounge. We had snacks and some good wine and then went to bed.

Day 2 and 3- Los Angeles to Auckland (1/3-4/05)

Our flight to Auckland, New Zealand was scheduled for 8:30pm on Qantas Airlines. We arrived at the International Terminal with all of our luggage (about 8 bags in all, way too much, never again!) around 6:00pm. Check-in was a pain because of all the security, but we found porters to help us and the Qantas staff was nice. We finally got to the gate around 7:30pm.

The advice I was given to fly on Qantas was right on target; it was a great flight (for 12 hours) even though the plane was full. The flight attendants (mostly good-looking men) served us a great meal with a bottle of wine or what ever we wanted to drink, (this was coach!). They served us ice cream sandwiches and even more goodies and snacks after dinner.

Each airplane seat had a personal entertainment center where you could watch first run movies and TV shows as you chose and we were given a sleep mask, socks and a tooth brush to use during the night. After watching a movie, I took an Ambien sleep tablet (also recommended) and went right to sleep for about 5 hours. When I awoke, the flight attendants were serving us a hot breakfast and we were within an hour of landing at the Auckland International airport at 6:00am New Zealand time.

Day 4- Auckland, New Zealand (1/5/05)

After being processed through Immigration, we collected our bags and got a taxi to the Auckland Hilton hotel. Auckland, the largest city in New Zealand, is very beautiful. It is very green and clean with a pretty, picturesque countryside and small quaint houses that we could see on the drive into town. The Hilton hotel was right on the water at the Harbor. A luxury hotel, it had very modern décor with lots of windows were you can see the ocean from every vantage point. Our ship, the Sapphire Princess would be docking right outside our balcony the next morning so we did not have far to go to get onboard.

After having (another) huge breakfast in the dining room, we checked out our hotel room (excellent) changed clothes and went out to explore Auckland, the City of Sails”. I must note something different I noticed right away about this city. The people there are unbelievably friendly and helpful. They were SO NICE to us it was unreal! Even though we did not see many African Americans and only a few people of color;

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we were, for the most part, noticed for being American Citizens and we were treated very well.

We visited the Tourist Information office and then strolled around downtown (very pretty). We viewed the Sky City Tower, the trendy Viaduct area and the America’s Cup Harbor. After taking lots of photos, we ate lunch at the Harborview Restaurant on the balcony overlooking the water. The fresh seafood was fabulous as was the dessert and the Lawson’s New Zealand Chardonnay.

Mom went back to the hotel after lunch and I walked around downtown. I found the shopping center, Queen Street, a long avenue with Designer stores and shops everywhere. At the Louis Vuitton store, I found a new style of their handbags that I had to have. I paid for the bag (duty free) and the clerk (a very nice woman) held it for me to be sent to the ship when it came into port. Finally exhausted from exploring, I headed back to the hotel.

With the 17 hour time difference finally catching up to us, Mom and I called it a day and relaxed in our room. The next morning at 5:00am, we got up just in time to see the Sapphire Princess pulling into port just outside our balcony door. What a huge ship! She was 115,000 gross tons of pure beauty! We could hardly wait to get onboard later in the day.

Day 5-Embarkation and Sailaway (1/6/05)

Unfortunately, it rained most of our last day in Auckland. I did manage to take some photos of the Sapphire docked next to the Hilton and I bought 2 bottles of New Zealand wine to take aboard the ship. Embarkation turned out to be a major pain. Waiting in a long line to check in definitely dampened our mood, but at SAILAWAY at 6:00pm the sun finally came out as the ship left the pier and Auckland faded into the background. Now, it’s on to Wellington, New Zealand the next port of call.

END OF PART I

Posted by Gerriv 16:43 Comments (4)

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