WHO: Ben & Sam
WHAT: Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas 12 Day Cruise around the North & South Islands of New Zealand
WHEN: December - including Christmas Day, 2017
WHERE: Departed Circular Quay Sydney and headed across the Tasman Sea and stopping at Bay of Islands, Auckland, Tauranga and Rotorua, Dunedin and explored Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds.
Have a laugh, leg race, and an Instagram moment on the world's steepest street in Dunedin - Baldwin Street.
Quietly drifting through Fiorland National Park and Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds is an awe-inspiring experience never to be forgotten.
The wonderous and mysterious Moraki Boulders in Waitaki is about an hours drive from the Dunedin stop and absolutely worth the visit.
OUR TRIP REVIEW
As a bit of scaredy-cat flying, I find cruising one of the more gentle ways to travel and one of the most fun when you find a liner to suit you.
Previously, I did the turn of the millennium South Pacific cruise with P&O as a 16 year old kid with 40 other people in a family group who weren't my actual family and it was one of the funnest things of my life at that point, despite a few, umm, spews! Ben and I then did a Carnival Cruise to a few different stops in the South Pacific in 2014 which was equally fun, but was a bit 'too' child-friendly for us. We found this one on the Ovation also quite kid-busy, but were warned by a young hip travel agent that if we chose anything else we would be bored. Looking back, if that's the word I needed to use to get a 'quiet' holiday, I would have.
But, it was Christmas holidays after-all, and it was something different for us to be away from our families and free reign rebels on a boat across the pond at that time of year. We got entertained instead of needing to do any and although I missed my mum's salads and Pa's epic seafood lunch, it was fuss-free, easy and a very American-style of festive instead.
THE SHIP ITSELF
We booked a balcony room (and wouldn't do it any other way) and loved sitting out there when we needed an escape from everyone else. It was particularly nice to have our own balcony on many of the destination departures to wave goodbye to the lovely locals. Side note: I got teary a lot from the hospitality and warmth of the genuinely beautiful people of New Zealand but more on them in a minute.
The rooms were lovely and clean and the most spacious we've had, and for some reason, we got Swiss chocolate and champagne in our room on arrival - and they were bloody delicious! We also got a glass of bubbles as we boarded which promptly got everyone in the spirit of things.
A HEAD'S UP
If you've never been on a cruise before, I'd liken your expectations to a small casino hotel. The bathrooms are small though and probably the place you'll feel any swell the most (makes showering fun for sure, but just focus on washing and exiting ASAP)! And you'll do a ton of walking and be surrounded by people at any time of day, and a lot of said people consuming alcohol at any time of day.
Make a beeline early for events you want to see (I'm obsessed with all the dancing shows - incredible performances, costumes, music, stage sets and theatrics btw) and try all the restaurants on-board, even if you have to pay for them. The standard dining rooms aboard Ovation were nice enough, but I thought I'd found heaven on earth when we went to Jamie's Italian. Wow. Go on an empty stomach!
Also, if you're perhaps a little bit precious like me (who knew?! lol) in terms of cleanliness, waste, and excess for the sake of excess, you may want to avoid peak hour at the buffet...or just avoid it altogether. Ben loved it. I would rather starve than have anyone cough over the only 'healthy' bay marie I was about to select from. Or haggle for a seat, any seat, only to have old mate right next to me audibly chew and slop through 3 piled plates to my one whilst complaining about that very food he was so grossly 'enjoying!'
THE BEST BITS
It was definitely the country and the people in it that made this cruise for me. We chose this particular route as a recon of sorts to what will one day be a much more thorough exploration on land of NZ, and I relished every day off the boat!
All the onshore stops were amazing and each had something so unique and gorgeous to offer. The Waitangi Treaty Grounds and cultural show is a must-do in Bay of Islands - I cried my eyes out and fell in love all at once. I highly recommend the hop-on hop-off bus in Auckland to see as much of this very liveable, very picturesque city as possible. We loved the food, wine and boutiques of Parnell and the walk and wicked views from the green and grassy dormant volcano of Maungawhau/Mount Eden.
We were lucky enough to group up with a great bunch of people who were veterans of this route and who organised our very own tour days in Tauranga (Rotorua mainly) and Dunedin at a fraction of the cost and way more personalised. I'm not even sure if that's allowed, but we had the best time checking out the boiling mud pits, lazed for hours in anti-ageing muscle-relaxing natural pools, eating all sorts of kiwi fruit infused delights, and getting chauffeured around in a limo on Christmas Day.
The final 'stops' were the most serene floating tours of the Sounds of Fiordland and wherever you were on the ship, the views would stop conversations and hearts too. Much, much chillier than the rest of the country (you're essentially at the bottom of the world) there was everything to see from snow-capped mountains, caves, and tiny seaside villages, to giant flowing waterfalls, luxury accommodations and private boats to ogle. Sometimes the ship would be so close to the mountains on all sides it felt like we were collectively holding our breath so as not to disturb the serenity...and so we could turn on a dime to get back out!
ONE MORE HEAD'S UP
If you're a little sea-sensitive, I'd head back to your cabin for a long nap as the Foirdland pilot disembarks and the ship heads out of the stillness and into the rough. There was quite literally a line in the sea of calm meets crazy and that was our cue to down a few motion sickness tablets and drift into Lord of the Rings-esque dreams. There was about 12 hours of pretty huge seas, which I'm sure is super fun if you're a stable-stomached photographer catching the cracking waves on camera, but is very much a blur if you're not. But that was the worst of it. It is quite a chug home to Sydney from there - 3 days at seas - but this is a great chance to wind down, and for us, was a chance to hit the gym, spas, get a fantastic consultation from the onboard health practitioner, and make plans for the new year on a happy natural high.
We will definitely be going back to New Zealand sometime soon and would absolutely go back to each place to explore even more as well. As far as the ship goes, it was the best I've been on so far, but I am looking forward to something a little more luxe - perhaps in the Caribbean itself, around Asia, and in and around Europe, including those famously fancy river cruises!
Happy exploring everyone, and here's to Mother Nature and our ability to see her
and meet all her unique inhabitants in this amazing way.
WATCH THE VLOG
Footage from #theadventuresofbenandsam aboard the Christmas Cruise around New Zealand
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