Day 3 - Melbourne (Dec. 23)
The Rhapsody pulled into Melbourne at around 7 AM as scheduled. We headed up to the WJ to see how much we liked it and found it much too crowded for our tastes. It offered fairly standard breakfast items including eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits and gravy, and cold selections like cereal and fruit. There is also an egg station that will make eggs/omelets to order, though it seemed to be fairly busy.
As when coming into Australia in the air, quarantine regulation was very strict and you are told not to take any ship food ashore or face a heavy fine. Bags were given a one-over in the terminal building by a customs dog. I know a lot of people try to pack snacks from the ship for excursions and day-trips and, while they might get away with it in Caribbean and Mexican ports, I definitely wouldn’t try it here.
Also in the terminal building was an information desk staffed by volunteers. Not really having a plan, we stopped to talk with them and they gave us a map and some ideas of things to do. There is a public tram into town that stops about 300 yards from the terminal building that will take you right into downtown Melbourne. They sell public transportation tickets at the terminal, with an all-day pass costing us $6.80 AUD (cash only) each. They also have discount tickets available (called “concession” tickets), though for seniors, for example, you need an Australian senior card … no go on the US driver’s license. J
. You can also take a city bus from the terminal downtown, but it is evidently slower as it has to contend with much more traffic in its lane. The bus, however, is much closer to the terminal than the tram, so if you have mobility issues it may be your chosen mode of transportation. Besides public transportation, there are also several walking routes. Leaving the terminal area, you can turn either way and walk several kilometers along the harbor. You can also walk on a bike trail that follows the tram line all of the way into town, but that is at least a 1-hour walk, so it might not be advisable unless you want a bit of adventure. We opted for the tram which seemed the easiest route. There were volunteers stationed on the tram platform to show you how to validate your ticket (and make sure you had a ticket).
The tram ride into town was fairly brief (10 minutes) and then there were multiple choices where to get off. We got off on one of the Collins St. stops and wandered around a bit. There is obviously quite a lot to do in Melbourne (museums, shopping, eating, arts, etc) so we decided upon none of the above. We actually ended up getting on one of the free tourist busses that make about 13 stops around the city. We boarded in front of the visitor’s center and rode the bus all around the city, checking out the different shopping and cultural areas. The bus had some automated narration as well as a driver that would throw in some interesting facts along the way, as well. An entire loop on the tourist bus takes about 1.5 hours and you can get off at any stop you wish and pick up a later bus (they supposedly arrive about every 30 minutes at the designated tourist loop stops). There was also the City Circle tram route that was also free, but it makes a smaller circle around the city than the bus does. Of course, if you purchase the one-day transportation pass, you can get on any of the for-fee busses to take you to specific destinations such as the zoo or the beach.
All-aboard was at 4:30, so by the time we made it into town and circled around it a bit, it was already going on 1 PM. This didn’t really leave us a lot of time to do in-depth exploring, so we headed back to the ship for a late lunch and a little less-crowded ship time. Trams back to the port were well labeled (109 – Port of Melbourne) and as the ship is at the terminal stop, you don’t really have to worry too much about missing it. I noticed upon our return that the terminal building no longer had any volunteers offering information, so keep that in mind if you decide not to explore until the later part of the day. There was a single, small souvenir store in the terminal that looks a little dreary on the outside, but had cheaper prices on Australia souvenirs than anything I saw during my four days in Sydney.
Entertainment onboard for the night included the 70’s Dance Party (with the ever-popular, pseudo-Village People) and a production show called “Piano Man.” I can’t really comment on the party (never really go to them except on Voyager-class ships when they are on the promenade) but I did attend the production show which was fine. I think they put on a pretty decent show given their resources, though you have to enjoy the source matter, which in this case included Billy Joel, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Barry Manilow mash-ups. I have to admit that I have grown a little tired of these type of shows where you get lots of little pieces of songs with many of the songs fundamentally altered (to be duets, etc) but the singers and dancers on Rhapsody are good for the most part.
Note: Clocks were to be turned ahead one hour tonight.
Day 4 – At Sea (Christmas Eve)
Our first of three sea days to get over to New Zealand also happened to be Christmas Eve. The crew appeared to be in a festive mood around the ship with many wearing Santa hats. Some passengers also got into the spirit of the season, while others suffered a bit from the rocky sailing in the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand. Personally, I did not find the motion too disturbing or any more extreme than bad conditions in the Caribbean, but I believe there are many first time cruisers aboard and some ran into problems. You can always tell when it is going to be a rough day when sea bags are velcroed to the stairwells. The ship felt a bit crowded today as it was too rainy and windy to spend any time outside (deck 5 outside promenade was close for most of the day).
Many different activities were offered throughout the day, from exercise to bingo, as is usual for sea days. A few special activities were thrown in for the holidays including some holiday craft making. Unfortunately the reindeer racing could not be held on the pool deck, though it may be rescheduled for tomorrow. The trivia sessions have been very well attended and highly contested with a typical score of 13-15/15 needed to win. The first few sessions of the cruise were quite easy, but they have gotten progressively harder as the days have gone on.
There were several big events held especially for Christmas Eve. First of all, the show tonight was a Celebrity showtime show starring Rhonda Burchmore. This announcement made many of the Aussies very excited, though I’ll admit that coming from the US, we’d never heard of her. Her show was quite good and was basically a singing/lounge act. After that, there was Christmas caroling in the centrum at 10:30 PM on Christmas Eve. The entertainment staff and quite a few of the officers showed up to sing and people joined in from decks 4-8 in the centrum (though the bottom deck only seemed to be the one where people received song books). At the end of the caroling, those of us up on deck 8 helped the crewmembers drop white balloons down into the centrum for the “Let it Snow” finale. A Catholic midnight mass was also offered in the main theatre for those who wished to participate.
I sailed on the Navigator in November of 2008 on a cruise that ended on Thanksgiving. I was cruising solo on that cruise and wasn’t too interested in the ports, so I spent quite a bit of time talking to the various members of the cruise director’s staff. When I went back on Navigator in February of this year, I attended the opening night parade and one of the staff, Lara (spelling?), picked me out three rows back while she was performing and welcomed me back onboard. Sure enough, guess who was running trivia today on Rhapsody? I went up for a sudden-death play-off during Name That Movie Tune and when I went up, Lara still recognized me and remembered my name … not too bad considering the amount of people she interacts with each cruise … so either I’m just completely memorable, or I’ve been cruising way too much ….
Days 5 and 6 (Christmas Day and Sound cruising)
Christmas Day was our second consecutive day at sea and the conditions were much like the first … cold, wet, and a little rocky (though not as bad as yesterday). It was a bit of a “lazy” day for most it seemed, especially with all of the late activities on Christmas Eve. Santa arrived in the morning and handed out presents to children in the centrum while they sat on his lap … though I noticed quite a few adults sneaking onto his lap, as well. Holiday trivia was a fun time, though I really was kicking myself for not remembering some of the answers from my Christmas cruise last year. The weather once again canceled any pool deck activities, though reindeer racing was eventually held in the centrum. The pool deck BBQ was supposedly moved into the WJ, though I could see no evidence of BBQ there. There was quite a spread in the WJ for lunch, however, with New Zealand mussels (in shell) and huge dishes of large, peel-and-eat shrimp. Dinner was our second formal night and also had special menus that featured turkey and plum pudding. There was a special holiday production show at night, though I did not attend. I heard it was fairly standard, Christmas-y fare.
Note: Clocks were to be turned ahead another hour tonight.
December 26th was technically our third consecutive sea day, though we spent much of the day navigating through three different New Zealand sounds. We arrived at Milford Sound at around 7:30 AM (listed for 8:00) and stayed until about 9 when we turned around and navigated out. After that, we visited Doubtful Sound (11:45 AM – 1:15 PM) and Dusky Sound (2:00 PM – 3:30 PM), both of which are one-way passages that return to the sea without a turn-around. The weather continued to be cool, rainy, and windy. These conditions made being out on deck a little harder, though they did make for some spectacular waterfalls coming down off of the ridges. We stuck completely to the deck 5 promenade as that offered at least some cover from the rain. Quite a few others had the same idea and the railings were quite crowded near the doors though you could always find your own space if you traveled a bit down the deck. I’m not sure how crowded the pool deck was, but given the conditions, those people would have been soaked. We just would walk from side-to-side to take in the different views. There wasn’t much wildlife visible, though we did see a large pod of dolphins entering Milford Sound as well as what looked to be a seal. Otherwise the sounds were quite beautiful though not quite distinguishable to my eyes. You’ll have to wait a few weeks for me to get a good Internet connection to be able to upload my photos.
The rest of the day was pretty much organized around the timing for entering the sounds with quick breakfasts and lunches taken in the downtime. The headliner show tonight featured Glenn Amer who is a singer and a pianist. We stopped in for a bit of a song and then left … the music was quite old and not really to my tastes. I finally noticed in the Compass that they have been playing full movies in the afternoon in the main theater, so that is an interesting way to spend a sea day if you are so inclined. After today, I’m going to have a lot more tour reports as I’m doing all of my ship-organized tours in New Zealand.
Next up: Dunedin, Christchurch