Thursday, 28 December 2017

Cruise Ship Destination: Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Day 4 - We arrived in Bay of Islands about 9.30am, and the tenders started running just before 10am. We knew what we were doing so we were in no hurry to rush off. We had our tea and croissants on the balcony watching the passing islands as we came into the bay, then we went upstairs to the Windjammer for cooked breakfast. After breakfast, about 10.30am, we went and got our tender tickets and waited until 12.45pm to get off the ship. Priority is given to guests that have booked tours through the ship and of course suite guests, but really more tenders were needed to off load the large amount of people on board. We visited Bay of Islands a little over a year ago on Celebrity Solstice, and they were using tenders and lifeboats to transport guests, and although we there was a queue, the wait was only about 15mins. We have visited Bay of Islands many times in the past, the last being last October (2016, -read a little about the history here), and we visited many of the same places this time also.
So after waiting over 90 minutes for a tender from the ship to Waitangi, we arrived and got straight on a shuttle bus to Piahia. Luckily the local people knew to put on enough buses for the ship passengers. We planned on going to Russell again and knew the process of getting to there. Russell was the original capital of New Zealand. We purchased our ferry tickets, $12.50NZ each return, and after a short queue we were on our way to Russell. This is the view of Radiance from the ferry.
We walked along The Esplanade to Pompellier House, past the museum and the arts and craft market, and then up to the old church with the bullet holes and the lovely tapestry cushions. We walked past the shops and back down to The Esplanade to the old police station and the huge Moreton Bay fig. 
We caught the smaller 'Happy Ferry' back to Piahia and had a walk around the markets, with a stop at the library and the free wi-fi – still very slow and hit and miss.
There is a really good ice-cream shop in the main street - New Zealand ice-cream is the creamiest ice-cream we have ever tasted. Bay of Islands is made up of 144 islands, ranging from small rocky outcrops to small islands. It was named by Captain Cook in 1769. A little further around the bay at Piahia is an old church that is worth a visit.
On return to the ship a Great Adventures tour boat had been utilised to ferry guests back to the ship.

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

New Zealand Cruise Days 2 and 3

Days 2 & 3 were sea days, so we had time to explore the ship, food, entertainment and get into 'our' shipboard routine.
We ordered room service breakfast which was ok. It arrived on time and we appreciated the fact that they made a phone call to advise us that breakfast was coming. We did order some room service most mornings. RCI now only have free room service for continental breakfast, all other orders have a $7.95US delivery fee.
The first morning we ordered toast, bagels, fresh fruit, cereal, and tea. Toast was burnt, bagel was good, fruit was good, cereal – well we didn't order enough milk, guess we assumed if one ordered cereal it would come with milk (it doesn't), tea was good with lots of hot water but only one tea bag each and only 5 sugars in total for the three of us.
Over the two weeks we ordered most mornings, but after the toast was either burnt or only toasted on one side so we stopped ordering toast. Most times it was tea and croissants, muffins or bagels. We couldn't order Vegemite, so we had our stash of Vegemite for breakfast. I think US ships underestimate the importance of Vegemite to Australians, especially at breakfast. We didn't order fruit after the second day as the plate of fruit, which was very good and varied, wasn't what we liked. The banana was huge, so it was better for us to pick up a banana or two at the Windjammer for the afternoon snacks. As well as the Vegemite, we got a few extra teas, sugars and hot chocolate (couldn't order hot chocolate in the continental breakfast either).
After room service tea ordered for 8am in the cabin we would go up to breakfast in the Windjammer. Again, breakfast is served in the Cascades restaurant and at the Park Cafe. Although the Cascades breakfast menu looked good - see photo left - we really need to get up earlier to try the Cascades. Cascades is open for breakfast from 8am -9.30. However, we would head to the Windjammer and their breakfast was wonderful – the best meal of the day. Windjammer is open for breakfast 7am - 11am.
Windjammer on Radiance is the only ship that I've come across that makes perfect poached eggs, although to have eggs Benedict one needs to go to two different stations to get the eggs, sauce and muffin. Sad, I know 😀. After the first few mornings when I had scrambled eggs, I would have eggs Benedict, hash browns and crispy bacon. Sometimes I had to go to another station to get the crispy bacon and hash browns, but by week two they were on the same station as the poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. I also like to try the different foods, and liked the English fried bread.
As I said, I enjoyed breakfast in the Windjammer and would often run into our dinner staff which was good as we could chat. As part of our drinks package we had fresh fruit juices. On Explorer and Voyager we could get those juices all day, and I would enjoy the fresh orange juice in the mornings. However, on Radiance it is only at breakfast. As I like my juice I got into the habit of taking my drink cup to breakfast and getting one or two fresh orange juices and pouring them into my cup to drink during the morning and early afternoon. Glad I didn't opt for a Royal Replenish drinks package, as it would not be worth it for me on the Radiance. We will talk about the drinks in another post. Breakfast is also available at the Park Cafe from 6.30am - 10am.
For lunch there was not a lot of choice, although we didn't try the restaurant as we were busy with other activities, maybe we should have. Lunch is available at Windjammer buffet 11.30am - 3pm; Cascades 11.30 - 1pm; Park Cafe 11.30am - 6pm (for snacks); Cafe Latte-tudes 11am - 11pm (for snacks); Boardwalk Dog House 11.30am - 6pm (hot dogs); and Brasserie 30 - no idea where that is 😲- 11.30am -1pm. There are also two specialty restaurants open for lunch at extra cost. Peter would always find something, roast, curry (there was always curry), salads. Jonnie is happy with his rice and Asian lunch. Me, well ... I really don't think I am fussy, but I like what I like. If we were all eating lunch at the same time in Windjammer, I would have a small bowl of chips and gravy, wasn't too bad. I tried the pizza, which was ok, but one couldn't have pizza every day. One day there was beef and black bean which was really good.
A good thing about cruising on a 'food freighter' (thanks Mickey Live for the term) is that one can try different things. Jonnie would always have ice cream and a cookie for dessert, and Peter wouldn't have any and I usually didn't, EXCEPT one day I felt like some sweets. I always love fresh fruit, and one day they had chocolate mousse cake and 'pavlova'. The Pavlova was a marshmallow meringue with a dob of cream and piece of peach. They all tasted lovely, and I had each separately at other lunch times.
Most of the time I had lunch at the Park Cafe or Cafe Latte-tudes. Each day they had tuna salad sandwiches and croissants with Camembert and ham, both of which I like. Radiance also has afternoon tea in the Windjammer, 3.30pm - 4pm, and we went twice, but it really wasn't worth the visit. Limited sandwiches and left overs from lunch.
Cafe Latte-tudes and Park Cafe have snacks most of the day.
Dinner in the Cascades Restaurant was always wonderful. The staff were very attentive, as were most of the staff on the ship. Cascades has a different menu each night, although, like Solstice, has a constant menu each evening. Jonnie would often have the chicken breast dish on this constant menu, and on other RCI ships and Celebrity Solstice I also had the 'constant' chicken breast dish. It is a good thing that I didn't on Radiance as the menu choices were good, and I was trying different things. Last cruise on Voyager, one of our dinner companions ordered the cold soups each night and they looked so good that I wanted to try them this cruise. On Voyager the cold soups came in lovely little glasses. On Radiance it came in soup bowls. Very different. The first night the soup was watermelon and raspberries with mojito foam and pistachios (right), tasted lovely. 
The following nights it was served in a glass and was actually two servings. They were really like a fruit smoothie, and tasted good, but not for dinner. I probably won't try them again.

The food was really good and the service exceptional. I often had two appetizers and a main meal (called an entree on board), and rarely a dessert, except for ice cream and sherbets (sorbet). Sometimes I just had the two appetisers. The mains (entrees) were large, and I often couldn't eat a whole one. The staff were disappointed when one didn't finish a meal, and one couldn't order a small meal, so sometimes it was better to order two appetisers that I liked.  
Desserts were popular at the table, and although I didn't often order, others did.

Many nights a dessert was named something different, but was really the same dessert.

Overall we liked the Cascades food. I had a very tasty sweet potatoe and pumpkin quiche one night (vegetarian - I often had vegetarian) and the following day in the Windjammer they had the same 'pumpkin pie' for lunch.
Overall, the food was great in the Cascade dining room and so-so in the Windjammer. Did we go hungry? NO, it is a food freighter, there is plenty of food, just not a variety.
There was a lack of availability of tea, coffee hot chocolate, water late at night - only room service or walking to the pool area, (the opposite end of the ship), and although open 24 hours, I didn't want to walk there late at night, and it was sometimes very windy. Voyager had a small kettle in the cabin and it was often used for both late night tea/hot chocolate, and early morning tea - instead of room service. We wish all cabins had a small kettle.

Friday, 22 December 2017

14 Day New Zealand Cruise Day 1

We love cruising and can do it more often now that we have the time to do it. We don't always have the money, but will always look for last minute deals and specials, that way we can pay it off and enjoy the cruise without owing anything. However, one issue we do have with Royal Caribbean is the booking process, both on line and on the phone. We have now had three cruises with RCI and each time the booking process has been less than impressive. The customer service staff are very pleasant and give one the impression of 'helping' but in reality they really don't care, and that is a shame because the experience on board their ships is wonderful. This cruise we booked via the phone and the very pleasant customer service, and booked the cheap airfare package. The lady on the phone told me what to do and said to put 'air2sea' in the voucher area to get the cheap fares. Well, I did this and nothing happened, no specials, no airfares, no customer service. After numerous emails and many, many phone calls nothing was resolved other than RCI wanting to charge us an extra $2000 for the 'cheap' airfares. The airfares ended up costing us $510 with baggage and meals. We probably would have booked this cruise anyway, as we had family and friends traveling on the same cruise, but the incompetence/incorrect information made for a bad experience prior to enjoying the cruise, and we did enjoy the cruise. We tried to link our reservations and wanted to stay in cabins nearby but that took months to do and even then we were one deck apart and at opposite ends of the ship. So with the that said, here we go. We fly down the day before the cruise and stayed with my sister in Sydney.
Day 1 - We caught ferry from Rose Bay to Circular Quay and took iconic photos. Here is our first sighting of the ship, Radiance of  the Seas.
We dropped the bags at bag drop off and joined the short queue to board the ship Radiance of the Seas. Once on board we headed to deck 11 and the Windjammer Cafe for lunch and our first drink of the cruise. Have to love drink packages. I ordered a mojito and asked not to have a frozen one and YAY a real mojito, the first real one on RCI. Windjammer on this ship has a similar food layout as Celebrity Solstice, but not so many seats, although there did seam to be more seats than RCI Voyager or Explorer. 
So lets talk about lunch outlets on the Radiance.
There are many lunch outlets on the ship, most at the stern (back) of the ship, including Windjammer on deck 11, which is by far the largest. Not only is there inside seating but outside seating as well. Some days it was a little too fresh to eat outside. The food was ordinary for lunch. A lot of curries and Asian food, which Jonnie enjoyed each day. Peter always found something to eat if we ate there for lunch, but I tried the pizza it was basic and sort of tasty. I did have beef and black bean one day which was lovely, but the rest was hit and miss. When in Windjammer I mostly had French fries and gravy and a Vegemite bread roll. The chips (fries) like the pizza were hit and miss. The bread rolls were always lovely and fresh. After previous trips on RCI I knew that Vegemite would run out by the end of the trip so on the first day I took an extra 3 sachets, just in case. Happily they didn't run out and the last two days I was using my stash. Vegemite is not offered in the continental breakfast, so Jonnie and I used my Vegemite stash and replaced it at 'real' breakfast.
The Dog House, deck 11, which serves gourmet hotdogs and has seating just outside the Windjammer was well patronised. Jonnie had 'second' lunch here, including the first day. It was good that there was this extra seating 'overflow', not only for the Windjammer but also for the pool area. This Dog House section, although open, is protected by windows on the side.
Also on deck 11 at the bow end of the ship was the Park Cafe. This is where I ate lunch, or late lunch most days. The Park Cafe is situated in the adults only pool area and serves mostly 'healthy' food, …. well it serves soup, salads (including fruit salad, which was yum), a choice of three sandwiches, and two pies. I love tuna salad sandwiches, so that's what I ate most afternoons.
Deck 5 had the Latitudes Cafe and also had the same sandwich selection as the Park Cafe, so depending where I was I would get my tuna sandwiches from either Deck 5 or Deck 11.
Deck 4 Cascades Restaurant also provided lunch between 11.30am and 1pm, and although we did plan to have lunch there to try it, we never had time to do it. Some specialty restaurants are also open for lunch for extra $$$.
After lunch and a few drinks we went to look at our cabin. We were on deck 7 aft. In a balcony cabin 7126. First impressions we were a little disappointed. The cabin appeared small for three, although it would be fine for two. The balcony overlooked the roof of deck 6, which meant that we couldn't look down. I would be most disappointed in this ship if we were doing the Alaska cruise, as many of the ice chunks would be missed from the cabin balcony. We wondered how Jonnie was going to fit in as the lounge was only a two seater and if it extended out to Jonnie's bed we would have to climb over it to get from one side to the other. Then we discovered the pull down bunk that was over our bed. That was a little strange, but worked well during the two weeks. Although other guests complained about the same set up, we thought it was a good way to accommodate three people. Most of the cabin was similar to other RCI ships. The fridge worked very well, still not cold, but much cooler than other fridges in either RCI ships we have been on. However, the bathroom was smaller and the shower curtain simply did not work. The floor was always soaked after a shower. Luckily we don't spend a lot of time in the cabin, and when we do it is for resting or sleeping. Overall at the end of the cruise we were happy with the cabin although the bed needs improvement. As in all cabins the bed is made up of two large singles. In our cabin the beds were of different sizes, which meant there was a large lump running down the middle of the bed, and the mattresses were so hard it made it difficult to sleep the whole night. Usually the mattresses are great on the ships, but not this time. If it happens again we will ask to get it changed, and hope the cabin attendant doesn't get into trouble as it is not his fault. Our cabin attendant was wonderful, always saying hello to us by name and making sure everything was good.
After the show one night I felt like a hot chocolate, but as it was after 11pm and most bars and facilities are closed, the only option was to go to the self serve drinks station on deck 11 or room service at a cost of $7.95US delivery charge, so I went without. If there was a small kettle in the cabin, like on Voyager, I would have been able to make my own.
Each cabin has a flat screen TV with many channels dedicated to the excursions offered on the ship and Royal Caribbean ships and shopping. Some channels show repeats of the same shows on a loop. However, the news channels were up to date with both local, Australian and US news. The channels changed depending on where we were. We would put on the position channel first thing each morning.
Anyway, first day always goes fast. Many cruisers head to the eateries as we did, many go to their cabins to unpack. We didn't have time to unpack until the morning of day 2. We walked around the ship, well some decks, as first day is always good to get photos as most people are either eating, drinking or in their cabins. Like the adults only swimming area, The Solarium....
...and the pool room in the Colony Club.
We went up to deck 12 for 'Sail Away' that was very low key on Radiance.
However, the view leaving Sydney is always spectacular.
By the time we were out of the heads it was 7.50pm and dinner was 8pm. Dinner in the Cascades Restaurant was always good. There were not many people there the first night, in fact we never saw it full on any of the nights and we went all but one night. That was strange considering we had great difficulty trying to get our family members to sit with us for dinner as we were told the 8pm sitting was full. Our dinner companions were a lovely family from Mackay – QUEENSLANDERS!!! - although they were originally from England.
I was determined this cruise to try the cold soups, which I did. I don't think I will be trying them again. I had them for 10 of the 14 nights, and except for the vichyssoise (which I have always liked), they all tasted like smoothies. Here is an example of the menu.
After dinner we went to the comedy show in the Aurora Theatre, Chris Radburn who was funny.  He followed the Cruise Director Rob McNally. As we were late getting to the theatre we sat at the back upstairs - a long way from the front. That gave us time to work out where we would sit other nights. We decided on the left hand side in the middle at the front. The Aurora theatre is large and very comfortable. The seats in the area we always sat were comfortable and placed so that it was easy to see over the person sitting in front. Drink service is also provided. Unlike other RCI ships we have been on there is only one bar in level 4 and 5 of the theatre.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

80th Birthday and Highway One home

A mid morning start to go the short hour and a half to Tea Gardens to catch up with family and celebrate three family birthdays. We stayed at the Country Club again, as we are members and can stay two nights with or without power for free. The meals are great in the club, but this time we only had drinks and snacks (and coffee for Peter) as the evening meal each night was with family at their holiday units.
We didn't do a lot of sight-seeing as time was enjoyed with family. 
 We did frequent the local Ice Cream Shack.
It had great coffee and chocolate milkshakes, and the kids loved the variety of old style lollies.
I did have time to visit the local quilt shop and bought a couple of scrap bags for my hexies. We had a wonderful time, as we always do with family, but after two short days we all made our way in different directions to head home. You can read about our previous visit to Tea Gardens here.
Our first stop was to Bulledelah to top up with water, and visit the dump point then up the Pacific Highway to Coopernook. This is another place we have been to before, not far from our favourite caravan park at Croki.
Coopernook is 24 km north of Taree, and the pub is located on the old Pacific Highway, on the Lansdowne River. It was established as a river port in the 1830's, when settlers began to arrive. it was proclaimed a village in the 1890's. The name Coopernook is derived from the Aboriginal word for 'elbow', reflecting the elbow of the river where Coopernook was established.
The hotel was built in 1928, and five years later a two lane steel bridge was constructed. Behind the hotel was once a golf course, and beside the hotel was a working dairy farm that closed in 2014. This is the boundary fence between the hotel and the dairy farm.
In 2006 the town of Coopernook was by-passed in 2006.
There are over 300 km of waterways in the Manning area, and Coopernook was one of many shipping ports along the Manning  River and its tributaries. This is all that remains of the old wharf.
We had time 'up our sleeves', so decided to spend two nights at Coopernook. Here is our van the second day. The dairy farm is behind the van and the site of the old golf course is in the background. There were three other vans the first night, and only a backpacker camper the second night. Camping is free for patrons of the pub.
We had a drink the first night, and lunch the second day. Lunch was great. 
I had fish and chips - of course - and Peter had steak.
After a walk along the river to the old wharf, we headed to a new camp in Coffs Harbour. We have often stayed 20 minutes north and south of Coffs, but never in Coffs itself - too expensive - however we saw on Wiki-Camps a sports club near the airport that has $10 a night camping, so thought we would try it. We only stayed one night as we had to get home by Thursday, and it wasn't bad. There were many vans already there, so all the shade had gone. Luckily it wasn't a hot day. We had a lovely dinner at the sports club and watched a little of the footie practice. Great place to come back to and spend more time exploring Coffs Harbour.
Leaving in the morning, and not quiet sure where we would stay the last night of this trip, we continued along what I consider to be the loveliest part of the highway, soon to be by-passed. We pass many old farm buildings and wind our way along the great rivers. I think once the new highway is opened we may still use this road occasionally. 
We had a look at a few different free camps on the way north, and stopped for the night behind the Billinudgal Hotel. Again, there were already a number of vans there and a lot of backpacker campers. We had a drink at the pub, spent two minutes walking up and down the main street (it is not very big) 😃, and spent a quiet night. This is the back of the pub, and the view from the van.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Continuing along Fossickers Way to the Hunter

After leaving Bingara, we continued down the Fossickers Way to Tamworth, and Spotlight – well, they had batting at a half price sale. We had some lunch and then drove a further 54km to Wallabadah First Fleet Memorial Gardens. There were already a few vans there so we couldn't get beside the river. We found a level spot, paid our $10 donation, had a walk around the gardens and was attacked by the local magpie.
We wondered why the memorial was so far away from where the First Fleet landed. Apparently it was the idea of a First Fleet descendant who lives in the area and is supported by donations.
We stayed one night and decided to spend the next two nights in Cessnock, in the heart of the Hunter Valley. We set up in the Cessnock Showgrounds and headed to get some groceries. We stayed here in the showgrounds last January, in hot 40+degree temperatures, and bush fires. This time it was bush fires plaguing the area, and many areas around N.S.W. We did see some smoke in the far distance. 
The following day we headed 30 kms to the historic town of Wollombi. Last January we didn't have time to explore the village, but on this day the aim was a walk around Wollombi and buying some nice Hunter Valley wine for my Auntie's 80th birthday party.
A local winery in the main street of Wollombi had a centenary quilt on display - bonus!
Wollombi has many early sandstone buildings. The towns name is said to be an Aboriginal name meaning meeting place, or meeting of the waters. There are a number of Aboriginal sites in the area, but most are not marked or sign-posted. We only found two markers and both were a general 'indigenous lived in this area'. The development of Wollombi is linked with the construction of the Great North Road from Sydney by convict labour, including my ancestor Isaac Perrett. It was at Wollombi that the road continued on to Patrick's Plains – now Singleton, and branched to the north-east to Maitland and later joined to the Newcastle road. There are many small caves on the sides of the road that were used as shealters to both the local aborigines and the convict workers.
The road was started in 1826 and completed in 1831. There are bridges and walls still remaining from the convict times, but again lack of signage meant that we could not find any. Some of the land was granted before the road was built, but after 1830 many more acres were granted. The village of Wollombi was set aside in 1833 to serve the travelling public along the Great North Road. The first inn in Wollombi was the Governor Gipps in 1840. George Gipps was the Governor of the Colony from 1838-1846.
St Michaels Roman Catholic Church was built in 1840, and was moved to its current site after the 1893 floods.
The police station and courthouse were built about 1866 and today are used as a museum.
We visited a few wineries and a micro-brewery before heading back to the van for the night. A lovely area, the Hunter.