Saturday, December 07, 2013

Rhapsody of the Seas cruise (Pt II) - Ports of Call

The ports-of-call on my 11-night Rhapsody of the Seas cruise (November 19-30, 2013) were, in order, Sydney-Newcastle-Cairns-Willis Island-Airlie Beach-Brisbane-Sydney.

Or, putting it into terms for those not familiar with the geography of Australia...Sydney-up the east coast of Australia-down the east coast of Australia-Sydney.

Included in this post is the shore excursions available on the cruise. These are all in $US and the itinerary may change over time and with each cruise. These are to give you an idea of what was available.

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

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).

SYDNEY (departure)

The cruise started and finished at Circular Quay in Sydney. I arrived in the Harbour City 24 hours before I cruised, so got to photograph very little of the city other than Circular Quay. Some might say Sydney's best feature is the harbour but this city is Australia's true international city and goes far beyond just a pretty harbour.

Sydney is Australia's biggest city, with around 4.5-5 million inhabitants. Despite being our most populous city, it isn't the capital city - that honour falls to Canberra, a few hours down the road from Sydney but too far for a day trip. Like most cities, Sydney sprawls and western Sydney is almost a city in itself, with an estimated population exceeding 1.5 million (2008 figure).

If Sydney is famous for three things, they are its harbour, bridge and opera house. I might be biased but this 'combo' (translation - combination) is stunning! If you are lucky enough to be docked at Circular Quay, you will be sandwiched between the bridge and the opera house with a million-dollar view up the harbour. You will also be right next to the city centre. Talk about prime real estate!

If you are docked at Circular Quay, the view from your ship will be the
Harbour Bridge to the left, the Opera House to the right... 

...and the city centre between the two.
Circular Quay is the central railway station for Sydney's ferries, so accessing anywhere
around the harbour is only a few minutes walk from the ship.
*This photo was taken soon after sunrise, hence the lack of ferries.

On a clear morning, this will be the view from your ship.

The best way to go about showing you Sydney is to provide you with links to a selection of websites, including some of my favourites -

Official Sydney website - with lots of everything to do and see in Sydney.

The Rocks - If your cruise ship is docked at Circular Quay, you will walk off the ship and right into the heart of The Rocks and its colonial architecture, dining, boutiques and a whole lot more. It's one of those places where you walk about and get lost so you can find your way out again. And it's hard to get lost because you're right under the Sydney Harbour Bridge - the biggest point of reference in Sydney.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge climb is one of the main tourist attractions in Sydney. The Rocks is at one end of the Harbour Bridge, so the bridge climb begins/ends very close to where the ship is docked at Circular Quay.

If you're not afraid of heights, strap on the harness and go climbing.

Kings Cross - otherwise known as 'The Cross', this inner-city area is interesting for what some might say is all the wrong reasons. Traditionally the sleaze capital of Sydney (therefore Australia?), it is at the same time fun, interesting and a little bit scary.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels - Probably Australia's most famous pie shop...make that 'shops' because, apparently if you're onto something good, franchise it! The original Harry's is at Woolloomooloo, not all that far from Kings Cross. By the way, for American readers, especially, when Aussies refer to pies, 99% of the time they mean a meat pie. And not a family-size meat pie - something more 'handy'. You've got your 'dogs, we've got our pies. As for the name, Harry's Cafe de Wheels, read HERE.

Hop on-hop off bus tour. The name says it all.

Doyles on the Beach at Watsons Bay offers a stunning view back across the harbour to the city. You can dine at the restaurant, which is a few metres from the end of the jetty where you get off the ferry and pay seriously upscale prices for (seriously delicious) fish'n'chips. Alternatively, stop at the fish'n'chip stand at the end of the jetty where you can pay regular fish'n'chip prices, then sit on the grass or park benches along the waterfront with pretty much the same view. The only downside to this is dodging the fearless seagulls.
*A lovely way to get there is by ferry. Plan your ferry trip HERE and choose 'From' Circular Quay and 'To' Watsons Bay.
**Bookings at the restaurant are essential, even during the week.

The Blue Mountains are located to the west of Sydney and have national parks, stunning scenery, bushwalking, fine dining and quaint towns. If you're able to, the train journey gives you the chance to see Sydney up close, as well as admire the scenery once you get to the Blue Mountains. The train timetables can be seen HERE (in the 'Select a line' drop down menu, choose 'Blue Mountains' and 'Select a direction' choose 'Central to Bathurst').

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I had to find a reason to use the two photos below...sometimes staying on the ship and admiring the view is just as good as getting out and about. The location is among the best you will come across in the cruising world and sometimes enjoying the ship and surrounds is enough. Anyway, I was watching the goings-on around the ship and saw this bloke, who I'm assuming is a tourist, taking a few selfies using various Sydney Harbour backdrops. These were highly organised photo-shoots involving a tripod on which to rest his camera. Not once did he ask anyone to take a photo for him, which makes me think he was either a tourist who couldn't speak much English, a photographer himself, or...I'm not sure which.


A couple of hours drive north of Sydney is Newcastle, Australia's second oldest city (behind Sydney) and seventh largest city, with a population of just over 400,000.

Newcastle and industry - coal in particular - go hand-in-hand and it is the largest coal exporting harbour in the world. However, the city also has a thriving arts and café scene, great restaurants and chic bars, and boutique shopping precincts. What's more, it came in ninth in the 2011 Lonely Planet guide to the top 10 cities of the world, alongside others such as New York City, Chang Mai, and Tel Aviv.

Newcastle, it seems, is a happening place - Newcastle tourism website.

If that isn't enough, roughly 50km west of Newcastle is one of Australia's renowned wine regions, the Hunter Valley. 'The Hunter' is close enough for a day tour and Rhapsody of the Seas offered one (as would many cruise lines that stop at Newcastle).

I'm not exactly sure why Rhapsody stopped at Newcastle, as it's only 160km (100 mile) north of Sydney. The ship left Sydney in the late afternoon and docked just after dawn, so it must have crawled up the coast at only a few knots.

The morning we arrived it was a tad foggy, but that soon lifted. 

Our berth and welcoming party (below) at the Newcastle cruise terminal,
which is close to town as the crow flies but a longer distance by road.
Your best bet is to have a look at the Newcastle Port information HERE.

 The Newcastle Ocean Baths and Merewether Baths. More info HERE.
(Photo courtesy of The City of Newcastle)

Christ Church Cathedral overlooking the city. 

Fort Scratchley, guarding the ocean entrance to Newcastle.
(Photo courtesy of The City of Newcastle)

Fort Scratchley farewelling Rhapsody of the Seas. 

Locals get some exercise overlooking Bar Beach, a suburb of Newcastle south of the city centre.
(Photo courtesy of The City of Newcastle)

Passengers on Rhapsody of the Seas look across to one of the
industrial areas of the port as the ship leaves.



Putting it into geographical terms, Cairns is around 1,700 km (1,050 mi) north of Brisbane. Still unsure? About 2,700 km (1,700 mi) north of Sydney.

Cairns is a small city - around 150,000 - and it acts as the starting point for people wanting to visit the Great Barrier Reef and far north Queensland. It's safe to say Cairns relies heavily on tourism and you certainly get this idea just by wandering around town. There are probably more backpackers and travellers per square metre in Cairns than most Australian regional cities - or cities for that matter.

Looking from Rhapsody of the Seas down towards the centre of Cairns in the distance. 

Some of the many boats that head out to the Great Barrier Reef on a daily basis.

Many of the people cooling off in the (man-made) lagoon next to the ocean are backpackers and travellers.

The Esplanade Boardwalk - very popular. 

Markets in the centre of town. 

Some of the wares for sale at the markets. 

Cairns is also popular because of its tropical climate and, as well as the Great Barrier Reef off its shores, tropical rainforests surround the city. The climate also means Cairns has two seasons, wet (Nov - May) and dry (June - Oct), and its annual rainfall is exceeds two metres (80 in), most of which falls during 'the wet'. Temperatures vary from around 25 °C (78.3 °F) in July to  31 °C (88.5 °F) in January.

I was in Cairns in November - the start of the wet season.
When I saw these clouds forming behind Rhapsody of the Seas (in shot) and I didn't
have an umbrella, I made haste for the ship. It's a good thing, too, as it poured! 

Clouds hang over the mountain range directly behind Cairns. 

Some of the locals taking shelter ahead of the pending downpour.

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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.

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If you want to 'go it alone' and organise your own thing, a list of tours and things to do in and around Cairns can be seen HERE.

One of the most popular non-Great Barrier Reef destinations close to Cairns is the Skyrail Rainforest Cableway over the rainforest, which leads to the town of Kuranda. You can either return on the Skyrail or start/complete you journey by train from Cairns to Kuranda or vice versa, with some spectacular scenery along the way. Rhapsody offered this as one of its shore excursions and I daresay all cruise ships stopping off in Cairns will offer this excursion as part of their on-shore itinerary.

The shore excursions offered by Rhapsody included a return journey on the Skyrail
that takes four hours and costs $99pp/adult or $79pp/child (4-14).
(Photo courtesy of Skyrail Rainforst Cableway)

Alternatively you can begin your journey on the train and return on the Skyrail.
This takes six hours and costs $175pp for both adults and children (4-14).
(Photo courtesy of Skyrail Rainforst Cableway)

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



This isn't a port of call in the true sense of the term but it's been included because it's one of the more unusual destinations you will visit...well...pass by.

Willis Island and its population of four people and hundreds, if not thousands, of sea birds, is a weather monitoring station about 450km (280mi) off the north Queensland coast. Many cruise ships travel to Willis Island in order for their cruise to be deemed 'international', even though Willis Island is part of an external Australian territory.

The act of dropping anchor (the anchor literally has to touch the seabed and then get hauled back up) next this tiny patch of land in the middle of the ocean means the duty free stores on the ship can remain open throughout the cruise. Quite a few cruise-related forums also state cruise ship casinos can't be open within Australian waters unless the ship visits a 'foreign' destination (including someone who wrote - "...this comes from my brother who has worked in casinos all his life both on the seas and on land...").

Just about the entire shipload of passengers turned out to have a look, so, to make things a little bit more interesting, a weather balloon was released during our brief stay. It wasn't big and I'm sure many missed seeing it but it was released nonetheless and then Rhapsody was on her way.

For such a tiny 'destination', Willis Island drew a lot of interest. 

Blink and you miss it - the weather balloon (that orange dot) is released soon after the arrival of Rhapsody.


Cairns was as far north as we went and marked the point at which we started heading south again in the direction of Sydney. Airlie Beach was our next port of call and, despite being classified as north Queensland - as opposed to far north Queensland - the humidity seemed just as bad as Cairns.

That aside, 'Airlie' is like Cairns in that much of its economy revolves around tourism. However it is much smaller, with a permanent population of around 8,000. The number of backpackers and travellers in town swell that number greatly and the ratio of backpackers/travellers per square metre is probably greater than that of Cairns (Airlie isn't a city, so I can get away saying this on a technicality).

Airlie Beach nestled among the trees. 

The main drag (street) - lined with many backpacker hostels, shops, eateries, bars and other touristy stuff.

 The man-made lagoon (above and below) - filled with travellers and backpackers.

*The man-made lagoons at Airlie Beach and Cairns are there as much as anything because swimming in tropical waters can be, shall we say, hazardous to the point of killing you. Some of these hazards can be read about HERE and HERE.

 The markets are on every Saturday...and whenever a cruise ship rolls into town.

Any ship visiting Airlie moors offshore and you tender ashore. A shuttle bus service was provided from the marina where we got off the tender to the centre of town for $14 return, but I discovered you could walk into town from the marina along a lovely pathway that hugged the coastline. This takes around 20 minutes. The hot, humid conditions when we were there meant this option wasn't viable for everyone.

Airlie is like any other tourist town, with shops and stores that love the trade brought on by the influx of a couple of thousand people from a passing cruise ship.

Rhapsody of the Seas moored off Airlie Beach. 

The arrival of another tender full of passengers.

You could get a transfer into town...

...or walk along the waterfront path.

Airlie Beach puts on a lovely farewell.



'Brissie' is my hometown and Australia's third largest, and fastest growing city, with a population of just over two million and climbing. Its climate is the envy of many other less-warm Australian cities and during winter many 'southerners' head north to holiday and/or visit their Brisbane relatives.

Winter is when Brisbane is at its best and daytime temperatures regularly hover around the low-mid 20 degrees C (68-77 F), while night time temperatures rarely dip below 10 degrees C (50 F). Days are usually clear and dry. Summer is when Brisbane is at its most uncomfortable and the accompanying humidity which, while not as bad as Cairns or Airlie Beach, is still uncomfortable for many (readers from northern Australia will scoff at this). The humidity also means the summer months are usually much wetter and the average Jan/Feb rainfall is nearly four times greater than July/Aug.

Brisbane is also very 'leafy' and trees and parklands are in plentiful supply.

It was only after Expo '88 that Brisbane-ites realised they had the perfect weather for outdoor dining and Brisbane's café scene has exploded in the years since then. The city has also taken advantage of the fact it has a very large river running through it and the river has become an integral part of Brisbane's identity. Throw in its cultural precinct at South Bank and South Brisbane and you have an up and coming city that, while still discovering itself, is embracing everything life has to offer. Imagine an 18yo heading off into the world and that's pretty close to where Brisbane is.

One of the best ways to see what Brisbane has to offer is via my City Sights bus tour post, which can be seen HERE. One of the shore excursions offered by Rhapsody of the Seas is a 'coach tour of Brisbane' (see shore excursions below), which sounds a lot like what can be seen on the City Sights tour. The advantage of taking the ship tour is the bus picks you up from the ship and you don't have to get into the city and find where you have to get the City Sights bus etc, then find your way back to the ship.

Spending some time on one of the many CityCats and ferries operating on the Brisbane River, which meanders through the city and many suburbs, is also a great way of seeing the city from another angle. There is also a free CityHopper ferry service that operates along the city ferry stops.

*If you are going it alone and intend using public transport while in Brisbane, you might want to look at getting a go card, the electronic way of getting around that is much cheaper than buying paper tickets, which are slowly being phased out.

To see more of what Brisbane and SE Qld has to offer, have a look at my 'Brisbane/SE Qld - see, eat and sleep suggestions' page on this blog.

For more Brisbane info, have a look at the Visit Brisbane website.

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Brisbane is also an hour from the Gold Coast (south) and Sunshine Coast (north), where you will find great surf beaches and fabulous cafes and restaurants. Both have thriving arts scenes, especially in their respective hinterland regions (Mount Tamborine behind the Gold Coast and Montville & Maleny on the Sunshine Coast). Both are close to great bushwalking, where you can see Australia's natural flora and fauna (you might even see a kangaroo or a koala in their natural surrounds).

That said, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast are quite different.

The Gold Coast is the mecca for beach tourism in Australia and is our sixth largest city (it's really a long stretch of suburbs/areas linked together) with a population of around 600,000 people. There are plenty of great cafes and restaurants and places to splash your money around. If you're feeling lucky, there is Jupiters Casino and, when you win big, you can always stay in one of the penthouse suites of the highrise apartment blocks overlooking the beach, or head for the six-star Palazzo Versace. If theme parks are your thing, then head for the Gold Coast, where you will find DreamworldSea WorldMovie WorldWet'n'Wild, and the Australian Outback Spectacular.

The Sunshine Coast is far more down beat. There are far, far less people and, as a result, everything is done on a 'less-grand' scale. It would be fair to say the Sunshine Coast is a little more relaxed than its sibling down the road. There are no highrise apartment blocks lining the beach and you won't be able to win it big at any casinos because there are none. As for theme parks, there is Australia Zoo - where Steve 'Crocodile Hunter' Irwin once roamed (and is still owned and run by his wife, Terri, and family) - on the Sunshine Coast hinterland and Underwater World is at Mooloolaba.

Highrise apartment buildings stretch into the distance along the Gold Coast.

When it comes to where your ship will dock in Brisbane, there are two cruise terminals. One of these is the Multi-user Terminal (Fisherman Islands). Larger ships, such as Rhapsody of the Seas, can't fit under the Gateway Bridge and dock at the Multi-user Terminal, which is part of the Port of Brisbane, a working port located at the entrance to the Brisbane River and around 40-45 minute drive from the Brisbane city centre (longer during peak hour). There is no public transport, not even within walking distance, and all commuting is done either via your organised tour bus or by shuttle bus ($25 return) into the city. Taxis are available at the pier but a ride into the city will set you back around $60-$75.

Entering the Brisbane River, our berth at the Multi-user Terminal can be seen
in the distance at the far right of the photo.

The Multi-user Terminal up close. It's not very pretty but it is better than some of the
working ports we've visited on cruise ships.

On the other side of the river to the Multi-user Terminal is the Brisbane Airport.
The Brisbane skyline is in the distance.

The other cruise terminal is Portside, which, in comparison to the Multi-user Terminal, is a stone's throw from the city centre and far more 'hospitable' than the Multi-user Terminal. My Portside post also has links to many of the theme parks and other sights around Brisbane and South East Queensland.


SYDNEY (arrival)

We arrived back in Sydney soon after dawn on November 30. Cruise ships time their run into Sydney Harbour so they arrive before the peak hour rush of ferries and other water vessels going about their daily routine.

 Rhapsody of the Seas enters Sydney Harbour not long after dawn.

Technically Sydney wasn't a port of call but there were a couple of mini-tours available the day we arrived in Sydney for those with afternoon flights, in order to prevent them having to wander about the city with luggage, or sit at the airport, for hours.

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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 Rhapsody of the Seas, please tell me!

Until next time...Bon voyage!


If you'd like to see photos of, and read about, my cruise on Rhapsody of the Seas, 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...

Well done on another informative and comprehensive blog. We took the same cruise last year and had a fantastic time and really enjoyed the train/skyrail tour to Kuranda. We had such a great time that we flew to Cairns again this year and we were there at the same time as the Rhapsody. Cheers

Travel with us! said...

Thanks John. It's always great to get another cruise post out there and receive the feedback. We have a 2-night cruise on Queen Victoria at the start of March and will be doing a mini-blog post for that. Looking forward to that!

Tropical Life Style said...

Whoa. A great adventure! The advantages of travelling are to take a cruise and see the beauty of the world. We travel a lot and move from town to town. I never experience riding on a cruise and makes me think to try one as a sea adventure for a change. Great photos!

Travel with us! said...

Hi Tropical Life Style (great name!). We have always been 'travellers' - discovering cruising has opened up many more adventures... so many types of ships to try and amazing itineraries out there!