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A 2-line World Cruise--Around the World on Amtrak, Crystal, and Cunard

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Day CS28, Thursday, February 20, 2020, Northern Explorer train to Wellington

Crystal Serenity is in Tauranga.  Queen Mary 2 is at sea from Fremantle to Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:55 and set at 8:13.  The moon rose at 3:14AM and set at 6:14PM, although I did not see any of the events.

There was once a grand Strand Station in Central Auckland but it is now a luxury housing facility.  The Northern Explorer runs out of a pair of converted containers in a corner not close to anything and the main pedestrian access is via a narrow trail.  There was only one bench in the station that held about 6 people although some people were sitting out on the platform.


The train arrived as I was walking up the trail.  There are 3 coaches, café car, baggage car, observation car, and the locomotive.  It is not a very long train.


Checkin started at 7, 180 people lining up to see one agent who issued boarding passes but the process moved more efficiently than I expected.  I was assigned to the first coach, in a group of 4 seats and table in the middle.  The other 3 were a group of women from the South Island who had been to Auckland for the (cancelled) Elton John concert.  One of them had a bad cold that I hope I can avoid.


We pulled from the station at 7:45.  It was over an hour before we passed out of the area served by the commuter rail network.  There were several stops where people who could get off the train and stretched.  They weren't well announced and I only got off at the first one.  It was Hamilton, about 10:15, and the station appeared to be a lot nicer than the one in Auckland.

From Hamilton we continued south through mostly agricultural lands and an occasional hill.


We started climbing about 11:30.  The vegetation became a bit thinner.


We continued to climb, getting a bit steeper.  The summit was about 2600 feet.


There is a National Park where the train made a stop with white capped mountains in the distance.


For this part of the journey the open observation car became quite busy.


We continued through a plateau, crossing a number of canyons (or the same one several times), and an occasional village.


I was not thrilled with the cuisine on the Northern Explorer but did ok.  I found a bag of "Proper Crisps" and a very nice ice cream bar (Kapiti).  Dinner was a microwaved macaroni and cheese dish.


The temperatures had been high enough that the train was slowed due to possible expansion and warping of the rails.  Our 6:25 arrival into Wellington turned into about 7:05.  It was another 15 minutes for my checked bag to come out of the baggage car.

Wellesley Boutique Hotel is about a 10-minute walk from the train station.  The front desk closed at 8 (I had late arrival instructions) but I arrived just after 7:30.  It's quite eclectic with an elevator that uses a hand pulled sliding wooden outer door.  I found it a bit awkward while carrying my bags.

I was pretty well pooped out and did not accomplish a lot in the evening.

My parting shot is a wish that Auckland could have provided something a bit more in keeping with the train's prominrnce as a departure facility.



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Day CS29, Friday, February 21, 2020, Interislander Ferry/Coastal Pacific Train Wellington-Picton-Christchurch

Crystal Serenity begins a 2-day call in Napier. Queen Mary 2 is at sea from Fremantle to Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:50 (totally cloudy) and set at 8:30.  The moon rose at 3:56 and set at 7:28.

It was kind of a dreary morning in Wellington.  I took a short walk to the supermarket in the train station but didn't buy anything and then checked out of the hotel about 7:20.  I became a bit concerned about time since they said "be there by 8AM" but there was no worry.  I arrived at the shuttle bus station in the train station about 7:40 and found the bus would not leave for another 15 minutes.  I arrived about 8:05 and the luggage check line was still long.  I planned on carrying everything on board and there was an alternate line that was very quick.  I was on board probably 8:15.

There are several places to get food on the Kaitaki.  One deck above us (deck 😎 there is Local Heroes café aft, and the largest of the facilities, the Ocean view eatery.  On deck 7 there is Hector's Café, and right next to it a lounge.  The QC lounge has reserved seats and is a private area with coded entry.  It was $20 but included a $15 voucher for the café.  An awkward feature of the lounge is there was a double latch which required both hands to open.  I bought a fruit cup with my voucher but when I tried to open the door it went crashing to the floor.  A café guy said forget about it, he would clean it up and about 10 minutes later delivered a replacement to my seat.


From my seat I could see one of our sister ships, the Kaiarahi (bottom) passing from the channel.  There was a small open area along the side on deck 7 and a larger one aft on deck 8.  The smallest of the ferries (Aratere, top) passed us while we were entering sheltered waters closer to Picton.  I ventured out on deck occasionally but the weather did not really cooperate.  The Kaitaki has wifi but it was extremely slow, almost like the worst of the Serenity before it was fixed.  Wifi at the Wellesley had been excellent but I had not yet finished my blog post and was able to do that very slowly from the ferry.


We arrived in Picton about 12:30 right next to a Le Boreal ship.  It was about a 5-10 minute walk to the train station where crew was ready to check me in, although the incoming train had not even yet arrived.  I was among the first to arrive for checkin.


I was assigned a window seat in a part of the train with conventional seating.  While the train has no wifi there is a power outlet at each seat and I took advantage of that to recharge after the ferry which  had wifi but no power outlets.  While the Northern Explorer was jam packed the Coastal Pacific was less so and I had the row to myself all day.


We left Picton at 2:15.  The first couple hours the landscape was mostly agricultural with an occasional river or rolling area.


We followed the Pacific Coast until after 5.  It was very rocky with a significant surf and seals galore, and we passed through a number of tunnels.  There was also a lot of work on the adjoining highway, possibly still some repair work from earthquake damage.


We passed a number of rivers including the Waiau, a braided river with ever changing channels amongst a wide rock bed.  I hadn't realized that this type of river is quite rare, occurring only in New Zealand, Alaska (especially Denali), and the Himalayas Mountains.   


The Hurunui was another nice example of a braided river.


The sun was getting quite low in the sky just after 8, and made a nice final appearance through the clouds.


We had traveled with some heat restrictions but still pulled into the Christchurch station (forgot about my camera but it was the nicest of the stations) just a couple minutes after our 8:30 schedule.  My shuttle to the Arena Motel didn't show up but it was a short taxi ride.  It appears to be pretty much a one-woman operation and she shuts down about 9.  After I got to my room I discovered I needed but didn't have a wifi password so I am off line until Picton and the ferry.  Other than that it was very nice.


It was actually getting late anyway with an early train Saturday and I didn't do much except go through photos.

My parting shot will be a wish for additional recovery from the Christchurch earthquake.  This has been going on far too long.



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Day CS30, Saturday, February 22, 2020, Coastal Pacific/Interislander to Wellington

Crystal Serenity concludes a 2-day call in Napier.  Queen Mary 2 is at sea from Fremantle to Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:57 and set at 8:17.  The moon rose at 4:58 and set at 7:49.  I saw just a tiny bit of morning color while sitting in the train in Christchurch and the sun was behind tall buildings when it set in Wellington.

It was a bit earlier to the day than I would have liked and really no time to experience Christchurch (I had a lovely visit there in 2003) but the hotel shuttle to the train station was at 6:30.  I left the room at 6:20 and the lights were just going on in the office.  I was at the station at 6:30, the darkness just starting to lift.  There were 2 clerks waiting to issue me a boarding pass, and I checked one of my bags through all the way to Wellington.

The train was set up in reverse to the other 2 with the observation car at the back.  My seat was in the last coach, next to the observation car.  This train was only about half full.  We rolled out of Christchurch at 7 and I did not see obvious earthquake damage although we did not pass through the downtown area.  I did see a large vacant area that may have not been vacant before the quake.

There were a couple of things I saw on the northbound trip that I wanted to photograph on the return but with no heat restrictions we went by just a bit too fast.  There was a "Peace Hall" and a nice collection of vintage railway equipment that is also part of a scenic train trip.  As we crossed the braided river I did get a photo of a couple of old houses provided by the railroad to workers in remote areas.  They are now vacation homes.


A number of people got off the train at Kaikoura.  Apparently the northern section is used as a day trip by people starting in Christchurch in the morning, doing whalewatch tours and other things in Kaikoura, and returning to Christchurch in the evening.  There were a many seals on the rocks on the beaches north of Kaikoura.


The northern part of the coast had less surf with black sand beaches and was popular as an area for oceanside camping.


The top section of the route, near Blenheim, was mostly vineyards, and I got a nice look at the Coastal Pacific as we rounded one curve.


We were scheduled to arrive in Picton at 1:15 but it was actually a little before 1.  I got a nice overview of Picton as we approached the town.


The train station is directly across the street from the Picton visitor center.  I posted my reports for Friday from the center where the wifi was faster than on the ferry, and also picked up a couple of maps.  

I was thinking I had been to Picton on the Symphony in 2018 but it was nearby Nelson, so this is my first time in Picton.  While there are 3 Interislander ferries I was on the Kaitaki for both trips.  A ferry from the other company was at  the dock where the LePonant ship had been on Friday.  I guess now I will be as surprised as anybody about where Serenity docks tomorrow.  

As nasty as the weather had been for my crossing to Picton, conditions were near perfect for the return voyage.  I spent most of my time on the sun deck (deck 10) where for most of the voyage even the wind was just a light breeze.  There is a U-shaped passenger area on the deck although most of it is operational crew space.  There are probably 50 chairs on each side of the deck.  The deck is just painted steel, and the chairs are also.  If cruise ships had more of these chairs there might be fewer complaints about chair hogs.


We sailed at 2:15 and about 3PM Captain Harvey announced the weekly crew drill.  A bit unusually, while he pre-announced the drill each of his announcements was made exactly as if it was a real emergency, nothing like "For exercise......", and then after the message came back a few seconds later with "This was part of our crew drill, no passenger action is necessary".  When we reached the abandon ship stage, a crew member was stationed in my view preparing to activate the life rafts.


When I went down to get ice cream, a jazz combo was playing in one of the lounges.


While the winds had been calm in Cook Strait, they picked up as we entered Wellington Harbor and I spent much of my final time inside.  We docked at 5:45, baggage came to the carousel just after 6, and the shuttle to the train station left about 6:15.  I was in a rush in both of my previous stops at the station but did stop for photos on my final visit.  It is pretty nice and stately, and has several suburban lines running in addition to the Northern Explorer.


My final overnight stay was at Rydges, close to the train station, and a more conventional hotel than any of the other three.  


My parting shot comes from a blog from someone on the QM2 World Cruise.  I think Cunard may have been a bit lucky in their timing of their Asian ports but did exactly the right thing moving from Hong Kong and Singapore to Australia.  Still, people on QM2 are quite outraged, mostly because cabins on the segments announced at the last minute are selling for very low prices.  Some times, no matter what a cruise line does, they just can't win.



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Day CS31, Sunday, February 23, 2020, Rejoin Crystal Serenity, Wellington

Queen Mary 2 is at sea from Fremantle to Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:53 and set at 8:15.  The moon rose at 5:56 and set at 8:21.

While up at 5 I didn't leave my room until about 7:30 and was surprised to find quite a nasty rain.  I checked the hotel's breakfast (passing on a $30 buffet) and made my way to McDonalds for hash browns and a not very good coffee.  It was very close to the train station and I had noticed an underground tunnel there, I walked on that and in the shelter of a couple of train platforms, eventually finding a covered passage to the Sky (Formerly Wespac) stadium which was about halfway to the port.


I had intended to visit St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in town but the rain put those plans in jeopardy.  The service was at 10 and I decided to leave the hotel at 9:30 and either make my way to the church or the ship.  The rain had cleared so I dropped my big bag at the hotel desk and headed for the church.


After the service I picked up the bag and headed for the Crystal Shuttle stop.  I think 2 years ago it had been at the train station (very convenient for Rydges) but this time it was the information center, about a half mile walk in the direction opposite from the ship.  It is theoretically possible to walk to the port but it involves crossing a busy motorway and is strongly discouraged.


I was back onboard about 12:40 and headed up to lunch before checking out some of the lectures I had missed while on the train.  Captain Richard Hayman is still on board and I started with his talk on the New Zealand ports.  Next was Jill Bruce with a talk on "Pacific Region Geology and Volcanoes".


The interdenominational worship service with Pastor Ed Voosen was at 5:15.  After the service I got my first real look at the Waitaki which I had seen extensively from the inside but never a good look at the ship.


There were just 4 at the shared table.  I chose the vegetable soup, grilled chicken breast and berries for desert.  We finished just before the show started.


The evening entertainment was violin virtuoso and Crystal icon Ian Cooper.  That may be a bit of a misnomer as Cooper now has an electronic cello, and he might better be called a violin-cello virtuoso.  The cello is actually just about the size of a violin and is played violin style.  Dance team Curtis and Beverly also had a show in the Stardust Club but I did not attend.  Sunset came during Cooper's show but there was still some nice color in the sky when I left the Galaxy Lounge.


All aboard was 9:30 but at 9:45 we seemed to still be waiting on a tour.  Things did move quickly though and about 10 minutes later the gangway was rising from the tarmac.  I was a bit surprised with the late departure but Louis actually did sing at 9:57.  It was only on the outer decks and the volume seemed to be quite low.

Today's parting shot will be a story.  Before the evening show Rick recounted on an incident in Nome on the first Northwest Passage cruise.  We were waiting on an entertainer flying into Nome when the departure time.  Captain Vorland said "Doesn't matter if it's a guest or entertainer or what, we need to leave".  A few minutes later he asked Rick who the entertainer.  When the answer was Ian Cooper Captain said "Hold the ship".  Some people are just that good.




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Day CS32, Monday, February 24, 2020, Picton

Queen Mary 2 begins an overnight call in Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:57 and set at 8:17.  The moon rose at 7AM and set at 8:52PM.

It was a beautiful day although it started out a bit early.  As I went out on deck we had just left the open waters of the Cook Strait and were starting our approach to Picton.  We were on quite a different course than the one the ferry took, going to the west of Arawapa Island.  The ferry generally uses a shorter passage to the east (red line with the 2 green dots).  We were west of the island (blue line) a longer but straighter route.  It would have been nice if we could go in one route and out the other but I expect we are too big to use the shorter route.  The Seabourn Encore was also in port and used our route as well.  I did notice the Waitaki following our course in the evening so it may not even be suitable to the ferries in certain wind conditions.


It was clear but sunrise became a matter of passing the appropriate dip in the hills of Arawapa Island.


There is a berth for one cruise ship in the center of town but the Encore had it and we docked at Waimahara wharf in Shakespeare Bay.  It was not far from town but we were not permitted to walk, even to what appeared to be a store 100 yards from the gangway.  It was not a very attractive dock as we were surrounded by large stacks of logs.


I went into town just before 11.  I had decided while waiting for the ferry that my primary goal for the day would be visiting the Edwin Fox.  In her life she served a variety of purposes, carrying convicts to Australia, troops in the Crimean War, and bringing immigrants to New Zealand.  Built in 1854 she sailed as a passenger ship in those roles for about 20 years and then as a refrigeration ship for lamb carcasses for another 15 years.  She is among other things the last surviving ship to have carried convicts to Australia.  Restoration started in 1999 but she is still mostly a ruin.  I assume the navigation area is simply a re-creation in an available space, and we could walk down into the dry dock basin to view the exterior close up.


Passages for passengers were quite harsh, even for those in first class but pretty brutal for others.  An exhibit showed replicas of the bunks used in steerage, and the even smaller stacked cells for convicts.


After the Edwin Fox I took a little walk around town.  The fire station looked quite nice.  High Street is the main commercial street.  I stopped in one of the supermarkets and bought some apples (currently only available only through room service on the ship), and chips and a Kapiti boysenberry ice cream bar, one last time for my usual train lunch.


I was booked for the 3:30 magic show with magician Charles McFarland.  It was mostly "mind reading" tricks.  McFarland also spoke of the change in the relationship with the Magic Castle.  Until recently cruisers got an invitation for an evening at the exclusive Magic Castle in Hollywood.  McFarland said some of those invitations started showing up on E-Bay and some people complained about paying hundreds of dollars for the ticket and not getting what they wanted.  He said those issues were the reason for the change in policy.

All aboard was 4:30 and I we started preparations to leave a little before that.  Louis sang at 4:40.  I decided to stay on deck for the entire sailout.  The first couple of bays were relatively substantial, likely Waikawa Bay and Whatamango Bay (both served by roads and then some smaller clusters of cabins with small docks.


I stopped at the Trident Grill about 5:30 for an on-deck dinner, ham & cheese, fries, baguette, and pineapple for desert.  We dropped off the pilot around 6:30 as we entered the open water of Cook Strait.  


Captain Vorland's final (he goes on vacation in Sydney) welcome party was held in Palm Court at 7:45. I stepped up to deck 13 for the sun set off the South Island about 8:00.


The evening shows (8:45 and 10:00) featured a duet of pianist/singer Chris Hamilton and tenor Shimi Goodman.  Both have been featured artists in the Galaxy while I was off shore.


My parting shot will be a wish for a safe and pleasant Mardi Gras.  While not a religious (almost anti-religious) day with Christian overtones it seems to be a holiday that most everyone can enjoy.  May it be the best.



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Day CS33, Tuesday, February 25, 2020, Akaroa

Queen Mary 2 concludes an overnight call in Darwin.  The sun rose at 6:59 and set at 8:23.  The moon rose at 8:00 and set at 9:24.

I'll start with another of the ship's photos.  This is the embarkation photo in Auckland and the hat was one of the prizes for trivia on the morning show.


I started the morning with a load of laundry and it was just about finished in the dryer when the sun came up.  It was mostly cloudy but there was a small open band behind us and that's where the sun was.  We shared Akaroa with the Maasdam and she was about 20 minutes ahead of us in the bay as I rounded the corner on the promenade deck.  My walking on the ship was roughly 6 times around the ship or 1 ½ miles.


I spent the morning on the ship taking the tender after lunch at 12:30.  It was a fairly long ride on the tender, about 1 ½ miles.  There was a good sized wharf there with a landing for the Serenity's tenders on the left side and the Maasdam's on the right side.


Akaroa is a small village and resort with a permanent population just over 600.  It is one of the gateways to Christchurch, a 90-minute drive away.    France started a settlement there in the 1830's and many of the street names are still French.  One of the exceptions is the main street along the waterfront, Beach Drive.


There are 2 small commercial areas separated by a narrow ridge which is also a park.  Much of the ocean front is a wide sandy beach.


I walked to the start of the second of those areas where there was a monument to the 2 world wars.  I returned along the second street from the ocean which turned out not to have much of interest.  My total walk was a little over a mile.


Before returning to the ship I stopped for New Zealand ice cream  (Deep South) at a shop just across Beach Drive from the tender pier.


There was a Mardi Gras celebration at 5:15 in the Crystal Cove with music by the show band along with Ian Cooper on the violin, Assistant Cruise Director Raphael Derksen on the trumpet, and Special Events Coordinator Grant Tharp on the trumpet.


Listed departure time was 6PM for the Maasdam and 7PM for Serenity.  I had planned to stay on deck for the Maasdam's departure but when I looked out at her at 5:45 a tender was still heading back to town, probably for a late tour return.  I decided not to wait and headed down to the shared table.  It filled quickly despite one of the regulars not returning from her tour until 5:45.  I chose the chicken consume, pasta, and berries for desert.  It's just as well I didn't wait as the Maasdam passed our window just after 7.  We started to move as desert arrived, probably about 7:20, and I had about 10 minutes to return to my room before heading to the show.


The featured entertainment was a double bill with Icons in Concert at 7:45 and 9:45, and the dance team at 8:45 and 10:45.  I missed sunset by about 15 minutes but there was still nice color in the sky when I emerged from the Galaxy.


As a parting shot, Crystal has just announced the changes in itinerary due to Coronavirus.  Singapore will be skipped and the next segment break will be in Bali on March 17 rather than Singapore March 20.  Seems to me disappointing but not disastrous for those now ending in Bali.  I hope those planning to embark in Singapore who must now embark 3 days earlier in a different port will not be too badly affected.  I do prefer Cunard's response skipping Asia altogether.  Coronavirus is as much an epidemic of fear as of disease and I'm pleased to be on a ship which has  not been anywhere near the epidemic, minimizing the chance of a port deciding out presence is an unacceptable risk.



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