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2 days post cruise in Sydney

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I always get good response on forums here, and couldn't find a recent thread to follow. My wife and I will be staying 2 days post a Grand Barrier Reef Cruise June 11th. Looking at suggestions for transport to and from airport.(We will have two 79 yr old aunts with us.) Apartment or hotel in CBD? We would like to kayak one day in the harbor, while they rest, and then a day geared toward them.
Thanks,
Sunnypm

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    The easiest form of transport to and from the airport in Sydney will be via taxi, especially if you will have luggage with you. Regarding accommodation options, it depends on your preferences as well as your budget; Sydney hotel rooms cost as much as hotel rooms in London, New York, San Francisco, etc. If you want to get out on the water, you picked the perfect city to do that.

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    Have a look at Booking.com to see accommodation options. I usually use them as a reference & book direct.

    Many people do prefer a self catering apartment for the extra space & facilities - just depends whether that or full service hotel suits your needs better.

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    We enjoyed staying at the Oaks Goldsbrough apartments while waiting for our cruise to leave. We had a 2 bed 2 bath apartment with a harbour view and it was a great place to stay. Otherwise if you prefer a hotel look in the Darling Harbour area. I thought it was a much nicer area to there rather than the city centre.
    A short walk gets you to the Darling Harbour mall which has shops etc for the aunts to browse in and lots of cafes and restaurants outside. There was a small Coles supermarket somewhere nearby for self catering.
    The airport is not that far so book a taxi or shuttle. I think the hotel desk organised one for us. Taronga Zoo makes a nice day trip.
    Hope you enjoy the Great Barrier reef cruise.

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    May I just say, whatever you do, don't use a shuttle to the Airport?
    Unfortunately, Sydney CBD / inner suburban to & from Airport shuttles are uniformly dreadful.

    I wish they weren't - but they are and best avoided like the plague. Get a taxi. It will be about the same cost for 2 and less if there are more in your party. Door to door, no delays & no fuss.

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    Thanks everyone! I tried to book an apartment, but was turned down even though I offered to pay 3 days for two. I'll keep looking, and will try Oaks Goldsbrough next. We've enjoyed the apartment living we did in Paris and Copenhagen, but understandably they may not want to commit 3 days, if they can rent for a week.

    Taxi it is, as I want the aunts to be comfortable. I didn't think June would be high season, as it is here on the South Carolina coast.

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    Oaks Goldsbrough is a hotel with apartments. You choose how long to stay there not them! Were you looking at Air Bnb? A friend had a very bad experience with them in Sydney. The apartment was so filthy he could not stay there.
    Sydney is expensive unfortunately. There's an Ibis and Novotel in Darling Harbour as well.

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    Take a look at the Adina Apartment Hotels. We stayed at the one near Darling Harbour a number of years ago and found it to be convenient and well-priced (for Sydney).

    The Adina Hotel Sydney (on Kent Street) and the Adina Hotel Harbourside (on Shelley Street) would probably be the best locations for you. They both offer 2-bedroom apartments and they both get excellent reviews on Trip Advisor.

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    Agree with Longhorn.

    Sydney CBD is well supplied with very good commercial purpose built self-catering apartments, where single night tenure
    is quite acceptable ( with the exception of peak periods like NYE).

    Meriton is another group with a number of such properties.

    http://m.meritonapartments.com.au/sydney

    Do have a look at www.booking.com though, there may be others like The York, Quay West or Bond street which may suit you.

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    We spent a few nights last year in a Meriton Apartment right in the centre of the city. No views, but excellent price and very conveniently located.

    Click on my screen name if you want to see the full report.

    Di

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    I've been looking at Flip Key, and tentatively put hold on a studio and boathouse in Birchgrove. Comes with kayak, but if I hear bad stories, Adina looks fine also, as that is where we stayed in Copenhagen. The ferry or water taxi looks like a fun option from the Birchgrove Wharf. The aunts love that idea.

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    “If I survive this surgery, I want to go see the
    Great Barrier Reef!”
    The gauntlet had been thrown down!
    As if we needed an excuse to travel again?
    But, this was Aunt Karen, and many years ago she had donated a kidney to Becky's mom...a kidney that allowed Betty to live another five years, time enough to see everyone of the grand children born of her lineage. That made this bucket item personal to us, and partial payback of a priceless act of generosity few of us are ever blessed to make.
    Needless to say, Aunt Karen did survive her triple abdominal aortic surgery, and within weeks I had put the wheels into motion to make this trip happen.
    Did I say wheels? It would be more accurate to say, wheels, wings, taxis, trains, and mostly boats! We had decided on a Princess 10 Day Great Barrier Reef Cruise.
    Wings. Wow! Have you ever spent 14 hours straight on a flight? That's exactly what it takes to reach Australia, just from Los Angeles! We were leaving from Columbus, Ohio, so with two stops, that added another 11 hours to the trip.
    Here's the thing. Maybe you've heard about the international date line? Well we crossed it on May 29th, 2016, and for us, there would be no May 30th. That's right, if I wrote a daily diary, like my son Jimmy does, the entry for May 30th would read, “May 30th did not exist this year, please turn to page May 31st, and continue reading. Oh, and don't tell me we gained a day going back, because we did not! Yes, we had a very long June 14th, but at no point did get a bonus June 13th, or ever, ever get May 30th back again. Was it worth it?
    Yes!
    That's not to say it was all fun and games. Well, kind of, because that's how we passed some of the time on the Los Angeles-Sydney leg, 14 hour flight. Our on-board flight entertainment included not only a movie selection, but video Yahtzee! You could actually play any other passenger on the flight and see their score side by side on your monitor. Becky and Karen took advantage of this, as it was limited to two players. I played solo Yahtzee and was only able to compare high scores. In the end, it was Karen and I who got competitive, and we traded high score, on and off, the entire flight. I'm not sure who won the gold, but our high scores were over 500, and I was still playing as the plane landed and taxied to the gate in Sydney.
    One of our worries, and not totally unfounded, was the mobility of Aunt Karen, who was 76 years young, but still gaining strength back from her surgery. We tried to walk about the cabin some on the flight to keep thrombosis in check, but were sometimes thwarted by aisle filling service carts, and passengers waiting to enter those minuscule rest room cubicles. This was a Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Now isn't that an oxymoron, as who can really sleep on a plane? Maybe the pilots and flight attendants can, as there was a second floor with sleeping quarters for them. However, the plane was not completely full, and we were able to jockey our positions around to leave three empty seats together. Starting with Karen, we took a few fitful naps stretched across that lumpy mass of seats.
    Ah Sydney!
    Or at least Sydney international airport.
    Did I tell you Karen's youngest grand-daughter soon to be 20, Rachel, was with us? What Karen lacked in mobility, Rachel made up in speed. This was evened out by the slow methodical immigration workers we had to pass as we oozed our way through to baggage claim.
    All you righteous people who see gambling as a sin? How dare check your luggage on a flight, and expect it to find you on the other end? Mine and Becky's odds have been 1 in 4 four on international flights, a statistic I failed to mention to Karen and Rachel. Well, this time the gambling gods were with us, and all of our luggage arrived fairly intact. That's when speedy Rachel and I lost Karen and Becky on the way to the taxi stand!
    I remained calm, as my mind explored the probability that Karen had fallen in the terminal, and why didn't I look back enough? Leaving Rachel near the taxi stand, I back tracked to the point where passengers are not permitted any further. I let out a muffled, “Arrrghhhh, humphhh!” Now, came some prancing around as I strained to peer pass the tumult of passengers exiting, then back toward the taxi stand, and down the aisles of vendors and rest rooms.
    Nothing!
    No problem, we're only 9500 miles from home!
    I was just to the point of trying to page Becky and Karen, when they showed up at the taxi stand. They had exited further down, after losing sight of Rachel and I, and were looking for us! First crisis averted!
    Taxis! With the four of us, and luggage, we required a maxi-taxi. This basically means a mini-van. Another oxymoron. Rachel had never been in a taxi before, and I'm betting this matched any of the thrill rides she's had at Cedar Point, a roller coaster amusement park. Here’s an odd conundrum to me... Why do taxi drivers go like a bat out of hell, when they're paid for both miles and time? That is to say, a bat out of hell in traffic rivaling NYC. I calmed myself, in the front seat passenger side by comparing dents of other passing taxis. Oh crap, they drive on the left here! That's why it feels so weird not having the steering wheel on my side!
    Any chance of pretending to be from around here, is dismissed when I open my mouth to speak to the driver and say, “Good morning sir!”, instead of, “G'day mate!" Still, I don't think I've been taken, when I fork over $80 AUD, about $60 US. My pre-travel investigations have warned me that maxi-taxis cost more, but less than two separate regular taxis.
    I had chosen a Holiday Inn, in Old Sydney, to spend the night before the cruise, based on pricing. This was because I was not exactly sure what cruise terminal would be used. Two conflicting locations had been reported to me. I braced myself to be disappointed. Maybe we would be in the hood...maybe the rooms would be moldy...maybe it would be another $60 maxi-taxi ride to the cruise terminal?
    Turns out I had nothing to worry about. We arrived around 10 AM Australia time, in a most delightful section of Sydney called “The Rocks”. One of the hotel clerks came out to greet us with a luggage cart and helped us into the lobby. I assumed they would have to store our luggage until rooms were ready.
    “Let me see what we can do Mr. Sundquist. It looks like we have two rooms ready now, if you like.”
    “Hell yeah”, I thought, “We had just been on a fourteen hour flight through God knows how many time changes. Just give me a shower and a place to lay down and I’ll be ecstatic!”
    “Perfect”, I said.
    In the mean time, as I am blown away by how polite and helpful this young woman has been, she goes on to explain, “Did you know you have arrived during our Vivid Light Celebration?”
    “Ummm, what’s that?”
    “All around here, businesses participate in lighting up the city in brilliant colors. The Sydney Opera House is the highlight, and is viewed best from our eighth floor roof pool area.”
    “Fantastic!”
    “Yes, Mr. Sundquist, Vivid is in it’s 7th year, and just a fabulous time to visit Sydney. By the way, some of the best coffee and pastries are available just outside our side door at the Fine Food Store. Is there anything else we can do for you, Mr. Sundquist?” Mind you, this is all in that particular accent everyone recognizes as down under. Yet for some reason, she delighted in our American accents!
    You would think that we would sleep forever after checking in and getting that shower, but after just a few hours of napping on a glorious bed, excitement and hunger beckoned us. We checked out the 8th floor rooftop pool area. Wow, that Sydney icon, the Opera House! Now...what better way to introduce ourselves to Australia, then to get some authentic food. Shrimp on the barbie, meat pies, emu, fresh seafood, or even, uggh…Witchetty Grubs? No, it was a good old-fashioned hamburgers that won the battle waged by our olfactory senses. Who can blame us? They were hearty and good with onion rings, and right across the street.
    Unfortunately, whilst we grubbed down, the menacing clouds were gathering strength and started to spew their moisture filled contents on us as we began to exit. Once again Australian hospitality to the rescue, as I borrowed three large umbrellas at the front desk, and squired us all back safely to the hotel.
    In a little while the rain stopped and we ventured to the rooftop pool again. Darkness had fallen early, as it was winter in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Sydney Opera House came alive in color. It was like watching an I-max movie, except somehow it filled every nook and cranny of the iconic roof lines!
    The time change had taken it’s toll on Aunt Karen and Rachel, and they retired for the evening, but Becky and I being seasoned travelers, or maybe just a little crazier, had to have more! We scrambled down to street level and proceeded to where the action was. One building had a scene of different colored paint dripping down in endless fashion. Another was interactive. Some teens where dancing in front of the projector, but instead of blocking the light show, they cast shadows alive with contrasting color bursts. Movies were appearing on the columns of the harbour bridge. In still another place, microphones were set up and by speaking or singing into them, you could affect how the light moved and changed. Truly, “VIVID” was an apt name for the celebration we saw.
    Time to celebrate now, with a little gelato and maybe some freshly made chocolates? Evidently the student worker who dipped my mint and coffee flavored gelato concoction felt generous tonight, or maybe the sooner it was gone, the sooner he went home? Nevertheless, Becky and I endeavored to persevere as we made sure none of it was wasted. The chocolatier, though serving less generous portions, served out plenty of native knowledge about the ports we would visit on our cruise.
    Lest you think everything in our travel goes so well, read on.
    I still wasn’t sure exactly what dock our cruise ship would meet us at in the morning, so I set an alarm for 5 AM, which was it’s scheduled arrival time. That would give us plenty of time to regroup if I was wrong. Well, it appeared I may have been wrong. That time passed, and all Becky and I observed were some early morning rain showers. Not a good omen…
    Oh, and I hadn’t really conveyed my misgivings to the rest of the party. Up to this point, I was enjoying the adulation of my fellow passengers for preparing our trip itinerary so splendidly. Who would want to crush their expectations? Not I!
    Once again the travel gods were with me, as I lead Becky to the rooftop for one final look.
    There she was, the Sun Princess, in all her regalness heading straight for us...or rather for Circular Quay!(pronounced “circular key” by the way). She was not going to go under the Harbour Bridge toward that other distant terminal! Oh goody, “I’M NOT DEAD YET!”
    As a matter of fact I was feeling pretty darn good right then. Not only was the Sun Princess coming to a terminal close to us, the very dock was less than a city block away! Ok, there were some steps to deal with, but really, I couldn’t have planned better!
    We were a little fearful there wouldn't be enough food opportunities on the cruise, so before we boarded, we stepped just next door to taste some of that “best coffee and pastries” we'd been advised about. If you’re looking for something close to American coffee, just order a “white coffee” and even though your accent will betray you, maybe at least they will think you are an expat. We finally also did get some authentic Australian food, by way of a Lamington. It’s an individual golden delicious pound cake surrounded by a layer of chocolate and coconut.
    But, now it was time. Our ship was ready for boarding. We did not want to miss it! Juggling ten pieces of luggage and Aunt Karen, we bounded down weather worn concrete steps to the passenger terminal.
    I always stand in awe that these giant ships are able to float. The Sun Princess towered fourteen stories out of the water, and another seemingly meager three stories below. By the way, our food fears were unfounded, because as soon as we boarded the Sun Princess, we toured the buffet and international cafe. Duh, there was plenty of food! What were we thinking?
    Caution! Avoid the “Pasties”, a thick hearty beef stew, encased in a questionable crust. Something better left in England, where it belongs.
    Cruising gave us respite from worries about Aunt Karen’s mobility, as elevators did the major work of moving us between decks. Once our luggage was ensconced in our state rooms, we joined the rest of the passengers for the safety drill. It’s a bit better than the airlines can manage, because at least we have life jackets. You never hear of an airline attendant ever offering parachutes, now do you? But, we looked pretty comical as we all donned our bright orange jackets, with the pathetic plastic whistle and glow light attached. And please, don’t tell me to hold my nose and life jacket, then calmly step off. Don’t you know what adrenaline running amok does?! I’m jumping, far away as I can!
    Luckily, there was no need to use our newly learned skills. Our biggest challenge was just navigating the hallways after a few drinks. Drinking commenced promptly at sail-away, but we were not the most tipsy challenged. After a few drinks, one middle-aged lady remarked, “Bloody ‘ell! I’m ‘avin a ‘oliday away from my family!” And with that remark, we sailed out of Darling Harbour and toward the Tasman Sea. A sea sailed 300 years earlier, where Captain Cook at first missed the entire continent of Australia, but discovered New Zealand. Now, we would now hug Australia’s shore for 1200 miles, less than one tenth it’s circumference.
    Sun Princess carried just over 2000 passengers, of which 80 were from the U.S. We were definitely in the minority, with the majority being Aussies. This was further revealed in the entertainment. Ever hear of the popular TV show, “Hey There”?
    No?
    Neither did we. And who amongst us can recite all the verses to “Waltzing Matilda” and “Tenterfield Saddler”? Well, 1800 Aussies grew misty-eyed as they sang along every time. Lest you get me wrong, I believe I will also now grow misty eyed at the playing of “Tenterfield Saddler”. It’s written by Peter Allen, born in Tenterfield, New South Wales. For us non-Aussies, he also wrote songs made popular by other artists, “I Honestly Love You” and “The More I See You”. A play based on Peter’s life is called, “The Boy From OZ”.
    I have to confess my ignorance here, because when Aunt Karen first mentioned the Great Barrier Reef, I pictured a narrow band of coral, maybe thirty feet across, and visible at all times from the shore. Well, after two days at sea we anchored off of Arlie Beach, where we would still have to take a two hour catamaran ride to just part of the reef. By golly, she is half the size of Texas!
    Here’s just a few facts from gbrmpa.gov.au:
    *includes some 3000 coral reefs, 600 continental islands, 300 coral cays and about 150 inshore mangrove islands.
    *is between 60 and 250 kilometres in width
    *has an average depth of 35 metres in its inshore waters, while on outer reefs, continental slopes extend down to depths of more than 2000 metres
    *The breathtaking array of marine creatures includes 600 types of soft and hard corals, more than 100 species of jellyfish, 3000 varieties of molluscs, 500 species of worms, 1625 types of fish, 133 varieties of sharks and rays, and more than 30 species of whales and dolphins.
    Thankfully, we saw nary a shark nor jelly fish, although they prepared us for jelly fish by furnishing us with full body scuba suits. This was done at a permanent floating platform that had a glass room viewing area beneath the surface. It also had two docks, a second floor with lounge chairs, and produced it’s own power via a wind turbine. One lucky or unlucky person stays 24 hrs a day, to tend and protect all these goodies.
    Did I say scuba suits before? Well, Becky, Rachel, and I snorkeled, while Aunt Karen viewed the reef via stationary and mobile glass viewing areas. But...on the catamaran ride over, we were informed of a separate scuba dive available. Usually you would have to become certified in a lengthy process to scuba dive, but with two certified instructors we could bypass that with underwater escort by them.
    Aunt Karen, “No!”
    Becky, “No!”
    Rachel, “No!”
    Sunny, “Hmmm?”
    OK, I thought, “Is this safe?” “Maybe.”
    “Am I brave enough? “Maybe”
    “Am I stupid enough?” “Hell yeah!”
    I signed up!
    Now...plenty of time to chicken out before it was a done deal. We snorkeled first, and that actually made me braver. I’d done that before, and the sights here were much, much better than Key West. We were swimming in a huge virtual tropical aquarium. “Wasn’t that deep blue colored fish about three feet long? “
    “Yes, it was!”
    “Weren’t there many colored coral displays?”
    “Yes, there were!”
    “Isn’t that current taking us away from platform?”
    “Yes, again!”
    “Ok, wait, am I really going to scuba dive?”
    “Yes, I am!”
    I was at the end of the dive list, but now it was almost my turn. Two young women were in my group, so I really had to act brave in a nonchalant type of way. We watched the next to last group as they hesitantly sat, geared up, with their heads just under the water.
    A man about my age lifted his head out of the water and said,
    “I can’t do this!”
    One of the instructors attempted to calm him saying,
    “Sure you can! Just try one more time!”
    Back under the man went, just a little deeper. Up again he came, this time shouting,
    “NO, NO, I CAN’T DO THIS!!” This time, he was promptly allowed to leave.
    I’m thinking, “OK, Sunny, yes, YOU...CAN...DO THIS! Just remember to always breathe through your mouth! You can’t allow yourself to look bad with all these people watching and listening!”
    The instructors helped us strap our air tanks on. “Hey, this equipment is a lot heavier than I thought! How am I going to keep from sinking?”
    “Wait! I mean, WEIGHTS?” “Do I really need these around my waist?”
    We walked down metal grated steps into the bowels of the floating platform. Alright, not so bad! We get lighter from the buoyancy of the water. They spritz a mask for me with anti-fogging solution, and I affix it tightly to my face. The air nozzle I have in a death lock with my teeth. It’s not going to slip out of my mouth! I lay my face in the water...not so bad. The instructor signals us up and tells us to sit on the next level down. This would put our heads maybe a couple of feet under water. Our heartbeats pound, but then return to normal.
    We’re ready to go!
    The instructors take our arms, and we swim out from underneath the platform. Sunlight pours over us, and everything underwater reflects it back.
    “Yes, it’s beautiful, but keep breathing through your mouth, Sunny!”
    I do...and I know I’m going to be fine. At most, it’s only about 20 feet deep here, too shallow to get the bends. I know even if I panic, I can shed the weight belt, pop to the surface and gasp for breath if need be. I’m fine and really enjoying the dive.
    Remember that three foot fish? Well, he’s a friendly bugger, maybe because they do feed him. Government regulations keep them from dispersing any more than a kilo a day of fish food in this area, but “Big Ole Blue”,a Maori Wrasse, is king of the jungle here. I’m sure he always gets his share. Anyway, seems he loves to snuggle up to divers and have his belly stroked.
    “Oh no! Will I ever be able to enjoy seafood again?”
    I’m getting a little tired of breathing through my mouth, as it’s feeling rather dry. I’m not disappointed when they lead us back under the platform, and we climb the stairs to open air.
    A buffet lunch awaits us, including some large cold boiled shrimp. Yes, I have some of that, but am secretly glad there is no fish on the table.
    “Did we see the Great Barrier Reef?”
    “Yes, we did!”
    “Will we ever see all of it?”
    “No, probably not...”
    On the catamaran ride back, there’s more to see, as parts of the reef stick out above water at times. We can see waves tamed, as they meet the reef in the distance, and protect the East coast of Australia. Flying fish pop out in schools, here and there. The best part? We have plenty more of Australia to see!
    In two days, the Sun Princess docks at our northern most destination, Port Douglas. From 20 feet under the sea, to 50 feet above the rain forest canopy...that’s the beginning of the next part of this journey. It's the Skyway Rainforest Cableway, a 7.5km ride above the treetops to Kuranda. There are two stops along the way, where you can get out and take a leisurely strolls underneath the canopy.
    I enjoy skytrams, but there’s always those nagging thoughts:
    “What actually keeps the cars on that cable?”
    “What happens if the power goes out while we’re halfway across?”
    “Why does this car sway so?”
    “I wonder how hard it would be to grab a tree branch on the way down, and if I did manage to, would there be any giant snakes to greet me?”
    You laugh now, but wait until you’re hanging a couple hundred feet above the ground, and you hear crunchy noises at every joint in the cable system!
    We made it to the first stop safely, and I have to say the best part was the view of the Cairns coastline, as we climbed high up the hillside. Looking down at treetops? Not so much! We heard some bird calls, but maybe they were just being piped in like Disneyworld? I suppose not, but please just show me a kangaroo up here, so I know I’m really in Australia!
    Not this trip...
    But the walk at the first stop was pretty amazing. There were some very tall trees still unscathed after 3000 years. A well laid elevated boardwalk ensured that we could view them without doing much damage to the ecosystem. We had left Aunt Karen on a bench near the tram, and in 20 minutes we were back, but so were 40 other visitors waiting for the next skytrams. A little scarier was the fact that the first section of cableway had been stopped for at least 15 minutes. Workers glanced back with puzzled looks, even as they herded us in a tram for the second section. We’ll never know why, but it didn’t help when our car stopped a few times for what seemed to be eternities, actually, only seconds, on the even steeper slopes up ahead. In the meantime, we were distracted from our fears as we finally saw some wildlife in the form of Ulysses butterflies. They were electric blue, and the largest species of butterflies in all Australia.
    The second evidence of wildlife we saw were the faces of the tourists at the next skytram stop. We had decided to sit tight, and they gave the most frantic looks as they realized we were not disembarking. “Please let us on!”, they seemed to be thinking.
    As my dad often said, “I can feel for you, but I just can’t reach you!” That’s what I thought as we turned our faces to the final stop, Kuranda!
    Kuranda, where we would to take a scenic train ride back toward the cruise ship. Less scary? No, not really. This was an old train on an odd gauge track.
    “What century was this built?”
    “Never mind! We’re almost past the gorge, and even if this railroad trestle fails, surely there’s time to jump to the relative safety of the river below. Must be a good 4 feet of water to break our 300 foot fall!”
    Once on the other side, the rickety train stops, and we pile out to look back at the immense "Barron Falls". No wonder this was the last section of rail to be built! It's not hard to imagine the dangers involved building railroad track in almost thin air!
    Time to take pictures!
    I find some metal fence that’s not so crowded with tourists, and focus my camera on the scene. About that time I hear, “Hey mate, isn’t that a ‘bloke’ diving off one of those cliffs?”
    "Wow, he must have good eyesight, all I can see are the cascading falls, and I'm using my telephoto lens. But wait, maybe there is someone standing there now."
    “Yeah, I think there is a ‘man’ standing there.”
    “No, I’m tellin’ ya there’s a ‘bloke’ over there!”
    “Uhh, yeah, it’s a ‘bloke’, ‘mate’!”
    By this time I think he’s more upset with me speaking American, than by the foolhardy ‘bloke” who might kill himself. Luckily I’m saved by the whistle, and we re-board the train in separate cars. I keep reminding myself that it’s me that has the accent here, when out tour guide pipes up.
    “Vee vill now travel bahk to zee bus, for zee remainder of zee treep.” OK, we’re not the only ones with accents. I was prepared to get accustomed to the Aussie accents here, and you would think the tour groups would accommodate the majority of guests.
    But, no, it doesn’t work that way!
    Evidently, the ‘powers that be’ take great joy in making the masses strain to understand directions. Ergo, on this holiday that was 95% Aussies, the cruise safety messages were sent over the intercom with the heavy Napolese accent of the First Officer. OK, nobody listens to safety messages anyway! But, imagine yourself sitting in the cruise ship theater, watching fellow passengers squint their eyes and cup their ears as they hear this tour guide gentleman explain:
    “You may purr-chaz’, your tee-kaats’ for the ka-booom’- more-ann’ one-zah u ann shore.”(Translation:You may purchase your tickets for the catamaran once on shore.)
    Now, I understand the puzzled looks I receive when trying my broken Swedish in Sweden!
    By the way, our guide in Kuranda for the skytram and train ride was a fine Austrian lady, and was very upset when the native Australian bus driver did quick interpretations, when she would step away. Go figure…
    All kidding aside, the rickety train ride was one of my favorite tours. When you’re passing through scenery like this, no words are necessary!
    There’s much more I could say about the Princess Cruise itself, but it could be summed up mainly with sleep, play, eat royally and repeat! I know most people either hate it or love it. We love it!
    OK, there can be a few bad weather days where the ship rolls too much, but captains are good about steering around, or pushing through at night to minimize any discomfort. We are absolutely enamored with pack once, see several places from our moving hotel room. In particular, I also like having a balcony that sometimes just looks out on a seemingly endless sea!
    Some of the best and worst times we spent in Australia were post cruise, because we had more time to find fun or get in trouble left to our own devices. Case in point was the Airbnb I had found on the peninsula of Balmain. I originally booked it, after perusing at least twenty other places, because I believed it would be near the cruise terminal.
    Wrong!
    This worked to our advantage pre-cruise, as Princess used the terminal across from the Sydney Opera House, but post-cruise we were now on the wrong peninsula. Check-in wasn’t until 3 PM, so we had some time to use up. We delayed disembarkation as long as we could, but by 10:30 we were on the dock with a ton of luggage. Anywhere we went was going to require lot of walking, which was not good for Aunt Karen.
    After parking ourselves on a long bench, I decided to go in search of a rental wheelchair. The information center attendant gave me a quick recommendation that was only a four blocks away.
    Perfect!
    Or maybe not...
    When I arrived at the shopping center, a grumpy employee(must have been an expat) informed me, “That pharmacy has been gone at least a year!”
    I wandered out and found another information center. This girl took my cause up, and started making phone calls for me. Voila! Another pharmacy, actually even closer to the dock, had just the ticket. They were even open Sundays!
    In 15 minutes and for only $15 AUD a day, I was walking out with a bonafide wheel chair. Well almost! After threading my way through a Saturday morning ‘flea market’, and arriving to the strains of, “What took you so long?”, I proudly unfolded my prize. Trouble was...one tire was almost flat, and there was a foot rest missing on the right side.
    “No, I’m not trudging back up the hill again!”
    It wasn’t a huge problem, as the footrest on the left side was adequate, and Karen could rest both feet there. I have a picture of a bumper sticker that says, “If something can go well, it will!” That’s what happened next.
    Becky rolled Aunt Karen on to the Opera House, and right into one of the nicest security guards you could ever meet. He promptly offered them one of their wheelchairs to use, and while they were off ‘smelling the roses’, he pumped up the low tire on our rental chair, tightened some loose bolts, and gave the wheel bearings a squirt of oil! Only in Australia!
    Sydney has some unique mass transit options that include trains, buses, and water ferries! I purchased what they call an ‘Opal Card’ (named so because the Opal is a gem indigenous to Australia). It was good for any of the means of transport, and on any given day, it will cease charging for fares after a limit of $15 has been reached. Well, on Sundays, it’s an even better deal, and stops charging after a limit of $2.50. We took advantage of that! Mind you that’s AUD so in American, it was $11.25 weekdays, and almost nothing on Sundays!
    The ferry at pier 4 would drop us off at a dock just ¼ of a mile from our Airbnb. That sounded good, and we had a very pleasant ride in the harbour, past the opera house, and just 2 stops later we were docked in Balmain. Ooops! Balmain is rather like the hills in San Francisco. We were now confronted with 18 well worn stone steps to reach the top of the quay. Definitely not handicap accessible! Later, we met a local lady who saw us arrive, and had quipped to herself, “My, my, they’ll never make it!"
    Well make it we did, and with luggage and Aunt Karen in tow, we ambled on to our Airbnb. I was excited about this. There were 21 different pictures posted on their website about our place to stay. It had a dock house right on the harbour where Becky and I would sleep. Another bedroom, part of the main building, would house Karen and Rachel. A separate updated bathroom would serve all of our needs, as well as a kitchen with fridge/coffee/cook-top stove and assorted utensils. There was a lovely small yard with a 6 person table for alfresco dining. Yes, 21 lovely pictures, in all, of this beautiful setting.
    Know what there wasn’t a picture of?
    The stairs.
    Picture a medieval castle, and the stone passageway that leads to the dungeon. Nestled in between two brick and stone houses was the stairway to our little Shangri La. Once again, worn stone steps, 23 in all, down a space so narrow I had to carry our luggage thrust out in front of me. No need for a railing, because my shoulders literally bounced from side to side on the stone walls as I descended. A fall may have left me wedged there forever to starve to death!
    God bless Aunt Karen for being a trooper through all of this. She didn’t shrink back at all, despite the fact that previous falls had broken both of her arms in several places! Becky and I decided, “If this doesn’t kill her, it will surely make her stronger!”
    As worn out as we were, we wanted to keep up with our tradition of eating, as we had on the cruise! Rachel, Becky, and I went in search of food. There was no level ground walking anywhere! We started out going downhill and past a park with a baseball field, but we had no choice but to go back up hill to find a grocery store or restaurant.
    Lo and behold, Woolworth’s! This was not the Woolworth’s we knew in the States, but a bonafide grocery store. Good enough! None of the restaurants opened until 5 PM, and, “WE MUST HAVE FOOD!”
    We stocked up with goodies, cereal, bread, milk, and most importantly, half and half for our coffee. As a second thought, I bought a bag of frozen peas to keep everything cool. Not quite enough to eat, so we also stopped at a bakery, and a carryout pizza place, before returning to Aunt Karen.
    Hills would continue to be our bane in Sydney. The very next day we had earmarked for the Sydney Zoo. They make no bones bragging that it’s built right on the side of a hill! “No worries!”, though, “You takes the sky tram to the top, and walk down, mate!”
    It’s Sunday, and we want to take full advantage of that $2.50 Opal Card. Time to nix the wheelchair now, as it’s just going to be a nuisance. I’d left it at the top of those dungeon steps, and it was still there this morning. The good news is that after telling my sob story about the flat tire and missing foot rest, the pharmacy clerk gladly refunded the rental charges. Then, we hopped on the ferry at Circular Quay toward the zoo.
    Funny thing about that $2.50 deal on Sundays…EVERYONE seemed to know about it, and they packed us on that ferry like sardines. I kept looking down from the second level, expecting the water to start flowing over into the ferry. But, at length, we were all on, and chugging across to the Sydney Zoo.
    Poor Karen, it looked like we were going to have a long walk, or another set of stairs. That’s when I spotted an elevator to the sky tram platform. It was behind a locked gate door. I waited until all the sardines were queued up the hill, and then went back to the security guard to chat about our dilemma.
    “I have a key to the gate!”, he says.
    I’m thinking, “Yes, I was counting on that, but was waiting to ask until the crowd thinned out.” Sneaky me.
    He unlocked the gate, and up we went to the front of the line. Thanks, Aunt Karen!
    Whenever I go to the zoo, I wonder who is actually watching who? The animals have it pretty good here. They have free room and board, and get to watch all us Homo Sapiens parade by for free. We have to pay! At one point there was even a caged playground for the tykes. The zoo keepers are not fooling me!
    Now, it’s time to see the kangaroos. “Hey, we’re going right inside their caged area!” Not much to fear, as they are lazy during the daytime, and except for a few young ones, they were splayed out in the sunlight, like fat cats waiting on their next free meal.
    Bill Bryson recounts that, “Of the world’s ten most poisonous snakes, all ten are Australian!” They are all here along with Wallabies, Tazmanian Devils(really quite cute), Kangaroos and Koalas. You have to pay extra and make a reservation to get your picture taken with a Koala. “Sorry, Rachel!”
    Three ferry rides total today, and we’re headed back to Balmain. There’s actually a second dock closer to restaurants, and it says it’s handicap accessible, so we hop off there.
    Hah! Accessible? No steps, but there’s a sidewalk in front of us that goes straight up. Guess who trots up to see if he can find a cab to pick us up. Hint, hint, ‘he’. I’m the only guy in our group!
    Huff, puff, huff, puff! Amazing how hard it is to find a cab when you really need one. A tour bus operator confides to me, “Oh no, we don’t go down that hill! Try in front of Wooly’s. You might catch a cab there.”
    Suddenly, all the cab drivers are foreigners, and they don’t go down that hill either. Finally someone takes pity on me, and we drive down that hill to find that Aunt Karen and company have made it half way up. They’re more than willing to join me in the cab! This true blue Aussie cabbie finds us a corner pub/restaurant, and our troubles are forgotten.
    9500 miles from home in this tiny suburb of Sydney Australia, and where is our waitress from? The minute she started taking our order I said,
    “You’re not from around here...are you?”
    “No, I’m from California.”
    She had relatives in Brisbane, but evidently didn’t know quite enough about Australian food to explain the menu. At least we were in the same boat.
    The food, whatever it was, contained beef, pork, and portobello mushrooms, and was excellent! Or, maybe it was because I washed it down with Guiness? Decadent Yorkshire pudding and a gelato trio topped the meal off. Now, it was only a short walk to the main street to hail a cab. Blessed relief from having to walk up and down some more hills!
    Or was it?
    Cripes! After we had made it safely back to Shangri La, I realized I’d left my jacket and passport on the back of my chair at the pub. Oops, “I hope I left a decent tip. I’m going to have to go back!”
    Aunt Karen said, “Oh my, I left my shopping bag from the zoo there also.”(It contained a stuffed bat.) Becky volunteered to go with me, and off we climbed. Maybe it was the travel gods guiding us, but we decided to cut down the left side of the park this time. We were rewarded by an unexpected view of Sydney’s skyline at night. It was made even more spectacular as there seemed to be no lights along our path. I don’t mind stumbling in the dark, as long as I’m being entertained by a light show on the horizon.
    We were in uncharted territory for us, though. The map showed that this might be a shortcut to the pub, but I was starting to have my doubts. Three times, against my male instinct, I stopped to ask passers-by that my directions be confirmed. Even on this small residential peninsula, no one was from around here! This included a shop keeper who knew nothing about where the Royal Oak Pub was, and yet it turned out to be only two blocks from his shop.
    “Male instincts exonerated!”
    My tip must have been adequate, because when we arrived back at the pub, all was safe with my passport and Aunt Karen’s bat. Crisis averted.
    The next crisis was not so easily mitigated.
    Lesson learned: Do not overestimate the ability of hours in a day to shrink in proportion to plans made.
    Things started out peachy. We were going to get full use our Opal Cards. There was enough value left to ferry over to the downtown train depot, take the train ride to Katoomba, and visit the Three Sisters. No, we were not going to a convent, but to the Blue Mountains, a place not unlike our Grand Canyon, with the “sisters” being huge rock formations.
    Well, we hadn’t counted on the ferry having limited service, because this Monday was not a normal workday, but the Queen’s birthday! The adjusted ferry schedule would make us miss the early train.
    “No problem, I’ll call a cab!”
    “As soon as I get cell phone service that is...”
    Earlier I’d taken the precaution of signing up for international dialing on a per diem basis, for just such an emergency. It wasn’t working…
    Do you feel the day shrinking already?
    Somehow, I was able to call a Verizon help number, and the operator helped me through the tedious steps to reset my phone to make local calls in Australia.
    Details, details!
    Success! I was able to call that cab. Yes, they knew where the ferry stop was! Yes, they knew the route to the train station! Now, the indeterminable wait. Such a wait that Rachel had time to climb a tree, get some photo ops, and basically read the entire unabridged version of Gone With the Wind. Or at least it seemed that long!
    We wouldn’t make the early train to Katoomba, but taking a cab drive ensured that we would definitely be an hour and a half early for the next train.
    This was the beginning of the line. We got beautiful seats. People boarding after us asked me if this was the train to Katoomba. My reply was always,
    “I’m sorry! I ain’t from around he-ah!”
    Assuredly, it was the train to Katoomba though, and eventually we rolled out of downtown Sydney for open spaces! Then we stopped at each and every station along the way….. Eventually, the stops got further apart and we were in the Blue Mountains!
    My feeling is that a place like this should be soaked in for the better part of a day. One should arrive at sunrise, and watch all day as different light changes the colors of the stratified ridges. Maybe pack a lunch, bring a game of Scrabble and throw oneself down in a grassy place. Observe and enjoy the company of fellow travelers…
    We had approximately an hour and a half before we had to catch the last train back to Sydney!!
    Aunt Karen and Becky probably did best, and just enjoyed a lunch close by. Rachel and I? No! We had to attempt seeing the Three Sisters. Hadn’t we come this far?
    At least there was a bus across the way that would get us to a viewing area fairly quickly. Our Opal Cards even worked for this outpost public bus. When we got there, a crush of tourists had our exact same idea! The Blue Mountains were a beautiful sight even from the crowded parking lot. To the left side we found a sign directing us to the Three Sisters.
    “20 minute walk”, it seemed to challenge.
    “I think we can do better than that!”
    Rachel agreed...
    Lesson 2: It’s much quicker walking down hill!
    And, that’s what we did at first...spectacular views, just as nice as the Grand Canyon, along the way. Then the path got narrower, and there began to be steps. Now, we were deep in, and there was a section of grated stairs that must have taken the park service forever to install. They hugged the walls of cliffs. We barely had room to squeeze by hikers coming back up. Down, down, we descended past fewer hikers, that for some reason were sweating and breathing heavily. Still, the views were ever expanding!
    Uh, oh! Realization sinks in. We should be heading back, but now it’s, “Up, up, up!”
    “Oh, that’s why those hikers were sweating and breathing hard!”
    I only thought those words, because I was too out of breath by now to speak them to Rachel. Somehow we made it back to flatter ground as I said, “I think we can still make it.”
    We were back in the parking lot, and Rachel stepped over to the edge to take a few more pictures. She turned back toward me, and I turned to walk back to the bus stop. I thought she was following…
    “Great! The bus is just getting here, we’ll make it in time to meet Karen and Becky for the train ride back!” I said to no one, because Rachel was NOT behind me.
    “There’s still time. She must have stopped to use the rest room.” I assured myself.
    “Maybe she passed me in the crowd, and already got on the bus? Yeah, that’s it!”
    No, she wasn’t on the bus.
    “OK, another bus is due shortly. We’ll just take that one.” It came and went.
    “I’d, I’d, umm, better go back and look for her.”
    Starting to get little anxious here.
    “There she is! About half way back. This excuse better be good...”
    Rachel says, “I thought you were behind me, and I was waiting on you...”
    “WHAT! WHAT!!!!!” I screamed!!
    In my thoughts…
    “Oh, OK”, I said.
    So, we made our way back to the bus stop, but when I looked up to see when the next bus was coming, I was in for a rude awakening. Bus drivers take lunch breaks here. The next bus arrival would not be until 5 minutes before our train departed.
    “We better start to walk.” I managed weakly…
    It was uphill. We started with a quick pace. I checked google maps, and it displayed 28 minutes to the train depot on foot. Too much time!
    “Maybe we should try jogging?”
    Again Rachel agreed, and off we charged. It was still uphill…
    Downhill a little, and then back up a hill.
    “Am I going to have a heart attack in Australia?” I squelched all those thoughts. Not a cab in sight! Checking Google maps again. Ugly!
    I call Becky.
    “WE’RE, gasp, gasp, NOT, gurgle, gurgle, GOING, huff-puff, TO MAKE IT!”
    We’re close, though. We drop down into the beginning of the station. We have 5 minutes to find our train! We race through a tunnel, up some steps.
    We’re there, we’re there!
    Pshew! The train is not on time! Catch our breaths, wipe our brows. Tap our Opal Cards to signify we’re departing Katoomba station. Find Karen and Becky. Great! They brought us food!
    The train’s here! We board. We’re Sydney bound!
    Doesn’t sound to bad, does it? I forgot to mention that we have a dinner cruise booked when we get back.
    Famous last words…“I think we have plenty of time!”
    Earlier, Rachel and I had tapped our Opal cards to signify we had boarded in Kattomba. Aunt Karen and Becky, not knowing if Rachel and I would make it, had not done so. Oops! We would have trouble exiting the train platform.
    How can a machine be so confused? We knew from whence we came, why not this turn-style?
    “I know! Let’s just exit two at a time!”, said Becky.
    This seemed like a grand idea, up until Rachel’s back pack got trapped in the closing gate. I tried to strong-arm it open to no avail.
    We were stuck like kids with their hands in the cookie jar!
    “Oh no, here comes the security guard!”
    We were eventually forgiven of our American stupidity, because, that’s the only excuse we had. You’re probably thinking, “All’s well that ends well?”
    Except, we had also booked an evening dinner cruise. We had just time to use the rest room and head to the harbour. Luckily, we could catch Sydney Light Rail just a 100 feet from the restrooms! We were informed that Pyrmont Bay stop was closest to the Captain Cook Cruises, and were elated when we made it there in good time.
    Unluckily, “closest” was used loosely! We were excited when we saw Captain Cook billboards directing us to the docks, but it changed to dismay as we saw the bridge we needed to walk across. It was 1000 feet long! I ran ahead to secure the tickets. As I hit the escalator on the other side I thought, “All is good. There’s Captain Cooks vessel just to the left of the escalator!”
    Wrong again!
    The sales clerk informed me, “Your ship is at dock 6. That’s around the corner to the right. Sheesh! I knew Aunt Karen was already hurting, just getting across the bridge. And still, that shrinking time was confounding us again!
    Back up the escalator I ran, to break the bad news. Oh, my! At this time, Becky and I got on either side of Karen and supported her as we walked. We had to slow our pace, but time was relentlessly ticking along. I looked at my watch and thought, “OK, we might make it.”
    Then, Karen declared, “(Expletives deleted) Are we only to dock 2? I need to stop and rest a minute!”
    I thought, “Why did we return that wheel chair!” Becky and I stared enviously as some parents pushed their baby buggies by. I thought about trying to borrow a two wheel hand cart from a nearby restaurant.
    I continued to think, “Well if we miss the cruise, we just eat at one of these lovely dockside restaurants, and take a cab back to Shangri La! If that’s the worse that happens, we can handle that.”
    We started and stopped a couple more times. It was time for the cruise to depart.
    “Thank you travel gods. The line had been long and they were not finished boarding! Yes, 'If anything can go right, it will!'”
    I think we even got priority seating because of Aunt Karen, and had a table just steps from the entrance! It was one of the best meals we have had, and the price included complimentary champagne, wine, and beer. The coup de grace was the Vivid Light display seen this time from on the harbour. Truly, our suffering was over.
    When it was all over, we were all to glad to take a cab once more, and prepare for out journey home the next morning. I awoke early, and staged our luggage at the top of the dungeon stairs, and the maxi taxi actually arrived five minutes early!
    My tale would end here except for one more caveat. The long haul back to our first stop, San Francisco, was a shorter flight because of tail winds. The seating was more full, but maybe because we knew what to expect we endured it better. Here’s the kicker though:
    Immigration!
    Gawd, what an awful mess that turned out to be. First, we got in the wrong line, as I was dissuaded to use the electronic kiosks, because it looked like all foreigners stopping there. Signage left a lot to be desired. But, as we got halfway through, we were indeed directed to the now empty kiosks.
    Trouble was, Becky’s hairdo had changed considerably from the time her passport was last renewed. The damned machine didn’t believe it was her! After that delay, I saw an unattended wheelchair, and pounced on it. We had Aunt Karen safely on board, and were free wheeling it to our next gate.
    That’s when Rachel says, “Isn’t that my suitcase on that conveyor?”
    At this point, any grudge I held against her for making us late coming back from the Three Sisters in Katoomba, melted away. I had assumed our luggage was checked all the way back to Columbus.
    It was not!
    So, we collected all our luggage, as we learned we would have to undergo more TSA screening. Seems no country trusts any others. Really, it was not too bad, as these agents were helpful getting getting our luggage moved through.
    We also had to have our bodies rescanned, just like it was our initial flight. Because Becky, Karen and I have TSA pre-approval we got separated from Rachel. Then, with Karen in a wheelchair we got delayed one more time.
    Somehow, we all got reunited before our final flights, and we arrived in Columbus safe and sound. Gadzooks! Rachel was off running to find her patiently waiting boyfriend in luggage claim. We followed shortly to be greeted by Becky’s sister Beth, and...surprise! Her sister Barbara and husband Jack.
    They were en route to New Hampshire the next day!
    My words, “Hey, we could join you! We’ve not had enough travel!” No, we did not, but I’m ready for the next adventure.
    Now!

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    Sunnypm, Thanks so much for one of the best, most hilarious trip reports I've ever read! And I've read a lot!

    Your "sunny" disposition shines through & I'm so glad you & your delightful family had such a good time here. Great that Vivid Sydney was on while you were here - and that you missed most of the wet weather while you were cruising

    I know most of the places you went well & the pictures you painted are priceless. Being a Sydney local, I don't think it's particularly hilly, but have trudged up from Balmain wharf often enough to know that "how much further?" feeling all too well ;)

    Thanks again - you've made my morning :)

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