Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Celebrity Solstice cruise (Pt II) - Ports of Call

The Ports of Call we visited on Celebrity Solstice were mixed and varied but all afforded
us a lifetime of memories and amazing images.

If you've come to this blog post and would like to see my beautiful photos of, and read about, my cruise on Celebrity Solstice, please see HERE.


Celebrity Solstice has 2,850 passengers, many of whom book their excursions through the ship. As a result, trying to coordinate everyone each time the ship arrives in a port is a somewhat gargantuan task. The photo below shows the first step in the process.

Passengers who have booked a shore excursion are given a time to assemble in the Solstice Theatre. When you get there with your partner/friend/family/group etc, one of you goes onto the stage to get a sticker, or stickers, for you, your partner/friend/(the rest of) your family/group etc. Then you get comfortable and wait for your number to be called, at which point you head down to the gangway, disembark and get in your coach, car, van etc and away you go. The same process applies if you are tendered ashore.

NOTE - you will need your SeaPass and might need photo ID, so be aware of what to take with you.

I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).

Our ports of call:

Tauranga (NZ) - where I visited Hobbiton, the Hobbit village from the Lord of the Rings movies
Wellington (NZ) - wet and windy
Akaroa (NZ) - French influences and Harbour Wildlife Tour
Dunedin (NZ) - city photos
Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds (NZ) - stunning photos!
Melbourne (Aus) - beautiful Port Melbourne
Sydney (Aus) - where I had a million-dollar view of the Sydney Opera House for 24 hours

I'd been excited about the first port of call and subsequent shore excursion about as long as I'd been excited about the cruise.

That port of call was Tauranga and the shore excursion was a visit to Hobbiton, the Hobbit village from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series of movies. The movies had been long finished, so I didn't expect to see Peter Jackson or any Hobbits running around, but it was going to be interesting all the same.

I booked the tour through Celebrity and paid $149. This included coach transfers to and from Hobbiton (around an hour each way), entry, tour with a guide for the group, and a muffin and glass of ale/ginger beer in the Hobbiton pub at the end of the tour.

Entry to Hobbiton is NZ$75, so you could do it yourself for half price but you would have to get there which would involve a lot of effort - probably hiring a car - and all up you probably wouldn't save all that much. You pay more when you book through the ship but the nice thing about that is the fact it's all done for you. I tried going it alone on my first cruise and it was more bother than it was worth. You get all nice and relaxed onboard the ship, then get all wound up trying to save a few $$$ when you get to a new port.

It's a shame the day I was there the weather was a bit ordinary (hence the umbrellas in some of the photos). Still, it was a fun day, helped by the fact that our tour guide, a 16yo called Aidan, was quite funny, as well as being very informative.
What it's all about - Hobbit holes.
Top left (green door) is the Hobbit Hole belonging to Bilbo Baggins. 
The Hobbit holes aren't very big and many of the extras in the movies were children dressed up as adult Hobbits.
Hobbits need their fruit and vege, and the gardens were planted months before shooting
of the movies began, so they looked authentic.
Photos galore!

Queuing to got a photo.
This was my tour group, but there were several tour groups going through at the same time.
Up close - the Hobbit hole belonging to Bilbo Baggins.
Looking back across Hobbiton, with the large Party Tree, left.
A Hobbit garden - Hobbits love gardening.
More photos.
A tour group makes its way past Bilbo's Hobbit Hole.
The tree standing on top of Bilbo's home is referred to as the 'million dollar' tree and is 100% fake.
Peter Jackson, the director of the Lord of the Rings movies, had it purpose built and placed there.
Looking across the lake to Hobbiton's very own working, operating pub, The Green Dragon Inn.
The stone bridge leading to The Green Dragon Inn, where a muffin and a glass of ale/ginger beer awaited each of us.
Time for a few more photos.
Inside The Green Dragon Inn.
Ale or ginger beer?
Somewhere to eat inside The Green Dragon Inn.

Lastly, sadly, the Hobbit holes that never made it onto the silver screen...

The New Zealand capital city, Wellington, is located on the southern tip of New Zealand's North Island. It sits right on the ocean and is often referred to as 'windy' Wellington. The morning the ship arrived there it was 'windy, wet' Wellington! Even though Solstice docked within walking distance of the city centre, I didn't have an excursion booked and chose to stay onboard. As a result, I got very few photos from our stay in Wellington.
The rather sad sight that greeted me when I pulled back my stateroom curtain
as we arrived in a windy and wet Wellington.
Nice view on a clear day - houses overlook Wellington Harbour.
The view from the bow of the ship - the wood logs were being loaded into the hull of the ship in shot.
The wharf was a hive of activity.
To the right of the logs being loaded onto the ship in the previous photo (you can see some of the logs at left) was
Westpac Stadium, with the Wellington city centre in the distance.

By the time we arrived in Akaroa the day after windy, wet Wellington, the skies had cleared and we were greeted with a glorious day. The name Akaroa is Kāi Tahu Māori for 'Long Harbour' and, true to its name, it is located at the end of a long, natural harbour, so quietly gliding up the harbour to the town of around 700 people, soon after sunrise, was quite spectacular.

Akaroa is located on the east coast of New Zealand's South Island, 84km (53miles) drive from Christchurch, which was the usual cruise ship destination until the earthquakes of September 2010 and, in particular, February 2011, destroyed much of the city. Because Akaroa is so close to Christchurch and has a natural harbour, it has become the chief port of call for cruise ships. It is still possible to visit Christchurch but much of the city is still recovering from the earthquakes.
We were greeted with a much nicer morning than than that which
greeted us in windy, wet Wellington.
Entering Akaroa Harbour - photos to be taken!
The church (Anglican) on the Onuku Maori reserve near Akaroa.
An early morning sail.
Akaroa real estate - nice view!
Akaroa pier with township behind.
With a population of 700, there is no dock for cruise ships.
As a result, cruise ships moor in the harbour and passengers are brought ashore on tenders.
Celebrity Solstice moored in Akaroa Harbour.

I had booked an excursion in Akaroa - an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise. Once again, I booked it through Celebrity, but it was with Black Cat Cruises. The tour was two hours and, initially, I wondered how they were going to fill in two hours. However, the harbour is large and the two hours sped by.
Our tour boat...there were plenty of things to photograph.
Hector dolphins appeared all around the boat.
A Hector dolphin gets up close and personal.

A New Zealand fur seal catching some rays wakes from its slumber to check us out.

Cathedral Cave.
Elephant Rock.

Despite New Zealand being an English-speaking nation and part of the British Commonwealth, Akaroa has a strong French influence and there were French signs and flags flying around the town. Read about the history of Akaroa HERE.
Despite the flag, we were in New Zealand.
The butcher's shop.
The main 'drag' (street) through town.
Harbour scene.
The sign explains all.

Leaving Akaroa was as delightful as the rest of the day...
The late afternoon light on the distant hills.
Farewell Akaroa...

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If you like the photography in my blogs, it's because I am a professional photographer. My photos don't merely show something, they tell a story. And visual stories i.e. photos, are more interesting than pictures that merely show something. 

If you'd like to know how to turn your images into visual stories, I've published a book that takes a whole new slant on photography and 'translates' the art of taking photos into a language we all understand.

To read more about my book and see some of its 100+ visual examples, please click HERE.

***I use all the tips and hints from my book in every photo I take, including those in Travel With Giulio.

*     *     *     *     *

Dunedin is at the southern end of New Zealand's South Island. The word 'Dunedin' is Scottish Gaelic for Edinburgh and I'd heard that the city centre of Dunedin mirrored that of Edinburgh in Scotland, where I'd lived during the 1990s, so I was keen to have a look. I didn't book an excursion in Dunedin and was happy to go for a wander.

As it was to turn out, Wellington had been a blip on the weather radar and the remainder of the cruise was to be done in lovely weather, as was the case in Dunedin. The only blip on the radar in Dunedin was that Port Chalmers, where we were going to be docked, was a 20-minute coach ride from the city centre and the local council wasn't going to be providing coaches. As a result, Celebrity had to organise coaches at $15pp (round trip into the city and return). I'm not sure if the council was meant to provide coaches and couldn't at the last minute but we only found out about the $15 the night before we arrived.

If you've spent any time in Edinburgh, Scotland, these street names
will ring a bell. The city centre of Dunedin didn't mirror that
of Edinburgh but the street names did.
Looking down Stuart Street in the CBD towards the Dunedin Railway Station.
The Dunedin Railway Station, with gardens in bloom.
Inside Dunedin Railway Station.
Station platform at Dunedin Railway Station.
The Cadbury chocolate factory is right in the middle of the CBD.
A gold chocolate mountain inside the Cadbury factory tours office.
A nice old fire station in the CBD.
 I wanted to wait for a fire engine to leave on an emergency (to make the photo more interesting) but Dunedin
was a safe place that day and none were forthcoming. Maybe if I'd gone in and asked...
The First Church of Otago (Presbyterian) in the Dunedin CBD.
Statue of one of Scotland's favourite sons, Robert 'Rabbie' Burns.
Obviously the seagull cared little for history.
More wooden logs, right next to Solstice.
A bagpipe player farewells passengers as they board Solstice after their day in Dunedin.
Passengers make use of the deserted pool decks and get in some laps on the jogging track
during our stay at Port Chalmers, where we were docked during our stay at Dunedin.
Iona Church (Presbyterian), Port Chalmers, can be seen in the distance.
Celebrity Solstice, right, docked next to P&O's Pacific Pearl at Port Chalmers.
Passengers watch the Pacific Pearl as we glide out of Port Chalmers and say farewell to Dunedin.
That lone figure on the dock is the bagpipe player, who kept playing as we disappeared into the distance.
A cheer went up when he broke into Waltzing Matilda.
A boat crosses our wake as Solstice heads out to sea.
At the entrance to Otago Harbour, on which Dunedin lies, is a large albatross colony, one of which
can be seen circling over a building on the headland.

***Follow me on SOCIAL MEDIA for more fun, interesting cruise news and information.

Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds
Even though Solstice stopped at Milford Sound to pick up some of the passengers who had embarked on an overnight excursion from Dunedin to Milford Sound (stopping at Queenstown along the way), technically these weren't ports of call.

Without having conducted a poll, it's probably safe to say that just about everyone on board was waiting for the day Solstice cruised through Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds. Milford Sound, especially, is one of those tourist destinations everyone raves about. I didn't know what to expect, so was a bit like a babe in the woods.

Dusky Sound (and Acheron Passage)
We entered Dusky Sound quite early - around 7.15am. The sun was still just below the horizon and as we made our way into and down the sound, it began to rise over the horizon. The morning was clear and the light was fantastic, so from my standpoint as a photographer, I was like a kid in a toy shop. Even though I viewed Dusky Sound from my stateroom balcony, I didn't know which way to turn. With that in mind, please humour me as I repeat a story already told in this post...

I'd ordered room service and it arrived just after 8am. It was quite chilly out, so I grabbed a few of the breakfast items that could stand being out in the cold for a photo shoot (I also ordered an omelette) and put them on the balcony table with a far more interesting backdrop than a less-than-tidy stateroom! I kept the omelette inside so they wouldn't go cold. 

However, the scenery was so amazing that I kept grabbing mouthfuls of omelette between racing outside to take photos of the sun rising over Dusky Sound. So, when you look at these beautiful photos of Dusky Sound, keep in mind I probably had a big mouthful of omelette!
7am - we approach Dusky Sound.
The first rays of sunlight hit a distant peak.
Wisps of cloud hang over Dusky Sound.
Everyone comes out for a look.
The Sun breaks through.
New Zealand is known as the land of the 'long white cloud'. I'm not sure if this is what they had in mind.
Day breaks over Dusky Sound (could possible be Acheron Passage).
Please excuse the dishes - photos were being taken (explanation below).

The whole way through each of the three sounds, the webcam on the Bridge could be viewed through the stateroom TV's (above). At the same time, one of the onboard guest lecturers, Milos Radakovich, gave a commentary about the sounds. This worked really well, as the real thing was happening 'right outside my door' but I had the informative, documentary version on the TV. As much as anything, listening to Milos was fabulous because the day we went through the sounds was the best day of the season and Milos tried so hard to make us realise how luck we were.

Doubtful Sound (and Thompson Sound)
Solstice entered Doubtful Sound late morning - around 11.30am. I, along with just about the rest of the passengers, had moved onto the top decks for a better view. The sounds are quite sheltered and conditions in Doubtful Sound were calm and peaceful. Then as we were exiting via Thompson Sound, we could see a line across the water where the wind started. The wind must have been hitting Thompson Sound at just the right angle to turn it into a wind tunnel, which it was!
By the time Solstice was approaching Doubtful Sound, some of the passengers had staked their claim
in the Sky Lounge, so they could watch the scenery in comfort.
Getting closer - approaching Doubtful Sound.
The cameras were out on force.
What a view!
We weren't the only ship visiting Doubtful Sound - a small tourist boat can be seen in the distance.
It's such 'big' scenery (or so I thought, until we saw Milford Sound).
More photos!
Here comes the wind (Thompson Sound).
A few minutes later...bit windy!
Leaving Thompson Sound.

Even between the sounds, the rugged coastline was visible from the ship (below).

Milford Sound
Milford Sound is the one everyone talks about. It's claimed to be New Zealand's most famous tourist destination and was judged the world's top travel destination in a 2008 international survey.

Everyone onboard could sense they were seeing something special and, despite the decks being crowded, barely a sound could be heard, such was the respect shown to this natural wonder. It was as if this huge cruise ship and it's nearly 3,000 passengers were sneaking up on someone.
Approaching Milford Sound there is no indication of the scale of what is about to unfold before you.
A tourist boat is dwarfed by its surrounds.
As Milford Sound unfolded before us, everyone on deck started to go quiet.
Another tourist vessel moves through Milford Sound.
Some of the passengers gather on the bow of the ship to take in the view.
A waterfall cascades into the waters of Milford Sound.
Standing room only! You could almost hear a pin drop.
A tourist vessel enters Harrison Cove near the end of Milford Sound.
At the end of Milford Sound is the township (bottom right) that goes by the same name.
A light plane takes off from the airstrip at the township of Milford Sound.
Despite being so remote, an airstrip is needed to handle the volume of tourists.
Looking down Harrison Cove.
Looking back down Milford Sound.
The peaks of Milford Sound loom over three tourist boats.
Snow on the peaks.
Tourist boat, left, waterfall, right.
A tourist boat gives its passengers a thrill by edging close to the base of a waterfall.
Solstice farewells Milford Sound - still time for one last photo.

Melbourne is Australia's 2nd largest city, with an urban population of around 3.7 million. There is a lot to say about Melbourne but I'll let the following links do the talking:

Melbourne is located on Port Phillip Bay and Celebrity Solstice docked at Port Melbourne, so we were quite close to the CBD. I know Melbourne well enough (my family are from there and many relatives still live there) and didn't go into Melbourne proper, deciding to spent the day around Port Melbourne, an area I didn't know well.
The sunrise greets us in Melbourne.
Soon after, three hot air balloons drift over the Melbourne skyline (that's the Spirit of Tasmania in the foreground).
The Spirit of Tasmania departs soon after we docked.
Melbourne put on a glorious day for us!
Port Melbourne is a residential area, too, and bikepaths run along the shorefront.
Hire a bike and go for a ride. Read how HERE.
Melbourne is famous for its trams - they are an integral part of the public transport network - and Port Melbourne
is the end of one tram line. That's Solstice in the background.
Looking down Bay Street, Port Melbourne, with the Melbourne CBD in the distance. 
Street scene, Port Melbourne.
A man reads the newspaper in the sunshine while enjoying his coffee at a cafe.
Some of the quaint, colonial-style Port Melbourne residences.
Trees line the middle of a residential street.
Paths stretch for kilometres along the shorefront.
Celebrity Solstice docked at Port Melbourne.
Melbourne is on Port Phillip Bay, a large but enclosed body of water, so there are no surf beaches.
Jetty close to the ship.
Solstice was docked right next to cafes and restaurants.
Solstice departs Melbourne, not long after The Spirit of Tasmania arrived.
It had left Tasmania that morning, just as its sister ship was leaving Melbourne.

Sydney is Australia's one truly international city and Sydney Harbour is one reason why.

The wonderful thing about my cruise was that Solstice arrived in Sydney on Wednesday morning and we all had 24 hours onboard before disembarking on Thursday morning. Solstice was going to be docked at Circular Quay, between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House - possibly the most prime real estate location in Australia!
Full moon over the Sydney Harbour Bridge - 5.43am.

Solstice slipped into Sydney Harbour under the cover of pre-dawn darkness. I'd hoped she would dock around 9am, so I could be on deck to see her pass through the heads to Sydney Harbour but it wasn't to be. Sydney Harbour is a busy place during peak hour and having a big old cruise ship lumbering...gliding through the harbour would have caused no end of grief.
The million-dollar view from my stateroom balcony starts off with a million-dollar sunrise!
Good morning Circular Quay and Sydney!
I spent my day in Sydney at Watsons Bay, with an equally amazing view.
In the distance is North Head. We are at South Head (Watsons Bay still) and between us is the
entrance to Sydney Harbour.
The Sydney Harbour Bridge climb - if you're not afraid of heights, this is for you!
I have a fear of heights, so can't tell you anything about it.
Seriously? Can the million-dollar view get any better???

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I hope this post has been of some help and I'd love to hear any feedback or questions you might have. Likewise, if this helped you to decide to book a cruise on Celebrity Solstice, please tell me! TravelWithGiulio@gmail.com

Until next time...Bon voyage!


Once again, if you'd like to see photos of, and read about, my cruise on Celebrity Solstice, please see HERE.

See and read about more of my cruise experiences/reviews.

Love photos of cruise ships? Have a look at my 'Ship Spotting' photo gallery.

And will you be looking for a good book to read on your next cruise? If so, then how about one - or more - of my three books? Have a look and see which you might like.

If you like what you have seen here, follow me on SOCIAL MEDIA for more fun, interesting cruise news and information.

All photos, video and text by Giulio Saggin (unless otherwise stated)
© Use of photos/video/text must be via written permission


John Harlow said...

Very well presented as usual guys, thank you. Looks like you had pretty good weather for NZ and I am sure you would take what you had any day.

Travel with us! said...

Thanks John. Wellington aside, the weather in NZ was great and, yes, we'll take that any day. The Solstice post proper is coming soon...

Shon Ford (Cruise Man 3000) said...

This is so amazing! You have more than talent in media arts - you're gifted! Keep up the great work!

Travel with us! said...

Thanks Shon. I (Giulio) love photographing everything there is to photograph on/about our cruises. It's relaxing and rewarding being able to share the photos with so many people and let them experience what we have.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a marvellous blog. It has eased some of the worries I have had about this cruise and given some ideas on what to see and do.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a real informative blog. Absolutely loved that everything was considered even down to what to pack.
I was considering between a NZ cruise and a Hawaii to Syd on Celebrity for 25 anniversary but couldn't decide. This has certainly helped.
Was your cruise a return cruise from Syd? If not any suggestions where to stay before or after in NZ. We've never been there and it looks so beautiful.

Keep up the great work. Thanks.

Travel with us! said...

Hi Anonymous,
Thanks for your comment and we're glad our blog was such a help.
We flew to Auckland (from Brisbane) and boarded the ship there, then cruised around NZ and back to Aus, disembarking in Sydney.
Our cruise 'deal' included flights, so we flew on the day of boarding. On our first cruise - Radiance of the Seas - we had two days/one night in Auckland and really liked the city (even though cities tend to be alike). It is right on the water and is known as 'the city of sails', which gives you a little idea of what being 'on the water' entails.
Another good thing about staying in Auckland is that you don't have far to travel before/after your cruise.
We hope this is of some help, but if you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to ask.
Giulio & Nat

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for this blog. I'm from Barcelona and i will travel with Solstice on January 2016
Great blog¡,