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Trip Report Review of Dawn Princess, 13 days around New Zealand

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We loved our cruise around New Zealand on the Dawn Princess. We left on February 24, 2011 and returned on March 9. The cruise was roundtrip out of Melbourne.

Boarding is always a bit tiring, but once we got to our balcony room, it was restful and we had a great view. The ship has beautiful common areas, such as the atrium. The ship is showing its age in some areas. For example, the chairs in the Princess Theater are a bit worn. Additionally, the hallways have had a rather musty smell.

We learned that the vast majority of passengers were Australians and out of 200 total passengers, 1400 were traveling for the first time on Princess. We met many Australians and that was a highlight of the trip.

The slot machines in the casino were a new type to me, and I’ve been to Las Vegas many times. I think they were an Australian style. In any event, I couldn’t figure out how or why they paid when they did, so had no fun playing them. All the better since it saved me money.

The food was good, but not great. It was pretty much what we expected, based on previous Princess cruises. One afternoon, they had a dessert buffet with desserts in the shapes of various objects, such as logs and a carrot. It was very creative and fun to see it all.

They had the usual activities on board, so no one could possibly be bored. We did some and other times just relaxed and read or enjoyed music during the 3 ocean days over and the 2 coming back.

The night we boarded, we attended a production show where we heard Trevor Knight for the first time. He has a voice somewhat like John Denver and sings Denver’s songs, as well as Paul Simon and similar artists. He was a good friend of John Denver and had lunch with him just 2 weeks before his death. We attended two more Knight shows during the cruise until he left the ship in Wellington. I intend to buy his CD from Amazon when we get home. If he is on your cruise, you’re in for a great treat.

There was also a talented singer/pianist in one of the lounges called Tom Franek. He was the most popular entertainer on the ship. The lounge was filled to overflowing every night.

Our ports:

Auckland: an attractive city. But I’m so glad that I arranged a tour with Coast to Coast, a very small (one couple) company that offers a great look at New Zealand and a real, working sheep farm. First, Stuart took us to a rain forest and pointed out native New Zealand flowers, plants, trees and birds. We stopped for wine tasting at Napoli vineyard. Really nice sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and another one I can’t remember. My husband had to restrain me from buying a bottle or two. We had a yummy lunch at a nice restaurant and then went to Stuart and Donna’s house and sheep farm. Donna is part Maori and gave us a greeting in the native language. She took us on a tour through their home, pointing out the “green” systems and unique water system. We went out and gave treats to several of the sheep and then my husband got to bottle feed a lamb. They took us through the shearing barn and showed us the equipment used and then how the wool is bundled for shipment. We also walked through their orchard and finished the visit with tea and uniquely New Zealand cuisine. We got a chance to talk with the two of them about their lives in New Zealand. It was wonderful. Forgot to mention that we were the only “group” they had that day, so it was a very personalized visit.

Tauranga (port city) and Rotorua (town with thermal activity): Tauranga is a town of 120,000 that is very attractive. It’s apparently doubled in population over the last couple of years. It’s become very popular with the cruise industry. Last year about 30 ships stopped there. This year, 53 ships, and next year already more than 90 are scheduled. We used a native Maori company called IndigenousTrails for a trip to Rotorua. Several people have criticized them. But we had no problems, except for the smallest lunch I’ve ever gotten. It was one half egg salad sandwich and one fourth of a muffin. While most tourists visit the main thermal area of Rotorua, with geysers, boiling mud pots, etc., we were taken to a real Maori village occupied by 65 people (23 families) where we were shown how they use the thermal activity, very hot water and steam from the ground, in their cooking and communal (yes, naked) bathing (which they did not demonstrate while we were there). The villagers also gave us a show with native Maori dancing and singing. Was this better than visiting the usual tourist area? I’m not sure.

Napier: Napier is the art deco capital of New Zealand. After an earthquake in the early 1930s (7.8 magnitude that destroyed the town), Napier was totally rebuilt in the fashionable architecture of the time – art deco. We toured the town, nearby Hastings, and the incredible countryside with a small company called Hawkes Bay Scenic Tours. We couldn’t believe how beautiful the hills, small mountains (Te Maku in particular) and valleys were. This tour also included a wine tasting at a vineyard called Crossroads. Good wine and it was a beautiful vineyard.

Wellington: Wellington is the capitol of New Zealand. A shuttle from the ship dropped us off downtown, where we had a long walk to the information/tourist center. I have problems with my knee and legs, so the walk wasn’t very enjoyable. Unfortunately, there were no cabs where they dropped us off. At the tourist center, we booked a city tour that included a stop at an overlook that gave us a 360 view of the city and surrounding areas. Very nice. New Zealand is really beautiful. The drive by expensive Wellington homes was also interesting. Toward the end of the trip, we visited the botanical gardens and enjoyed the rose garden. I wish they had devoted more time to the botanical gardens. I would have enjoyed seeing more there.

Akaroa: We couldn’t visit Christchurch (due to the recent earthquake), so the ship took us to Akaroa, a small fishing port and home to vacation homes for Christchurch residents. It was a very cute little seaside town with a French flavor. It was the first town settled by Europeans in New Zealand and they were French. At one point, we talked with a couple who lived in Christchurch. They still had no water, no toilets and no electricity. Fortunately, her parents had a vacation home in Akaroa and they are staying there with their 14-month-old son until the city gets electricity and water services restored. He is a chef for a restaurant called Salt on the Pier. He was away from the restaurant at the time of the earthquake. He got back to the restaurant as soon as he could. All the dishes in the kitchen had flown all around. He was surprised that no one was hurt. He saw untouched plates of food still on the tables, left there as patrons fled. There wasn’t much to do in Akaroa, but we enjoyed walking around the town and I spent $$$ on a necklace and earrings.

Dunedin: Although we heard this is a Scottish-influenced town, we saw little to indicate this heritage. There was a teenage bagpiper, dressed in jeans and red shirt, outside the train station, but that was about it. We got some nasty rain and cold temps in the morning. So, we decided to take a one-hour city bus tour that left from the information center. It was just right. We had originally thought about going to see the albatross colony, but the weather and time commitment discouraged us. Now I regret that we didn’t do it. During the day, while walking around the streets, we met an American from Michigan who had been in Christchurch visiting his brother when the earthquake occurred. They were in the central business district, which suffered the most damage. They ran to the middle of the street to a grassy divide, got down and covered their heads. When the man looked up, he saw bricks tumbling down from buildings all around him. Also in Dunedin, we saw the beautiful train station and walked through a farmer’s market that was next door. Three little girls were singing songs. They had a sign next to them that said “busking for Christchurch.” We left a donation.

Fiordland: Beautiful fiords here. (They don’t include a j in the spelling of fiord.) Cold outside, so we didn’t stay out on the decks very long. We visited three fiords, or sounds, as they call them – Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds. All were incredible. I’m so glad we got to see this beautiful area.

Disembarking was horrible. Even though we bought the Princess transfer to the airport, they screwed it up by having us disembark too late. We missed the bus we were supposed to take, and had to wait out in the rain for an hour before their next bus came. Two other couples were also given the wrong time to disembark and stood out in the rain with us. We were not happy cruisers!