Departing Melbourne in the afternoon, the onboard sailaway party begins and it's time to set sail to New Zealand. The first stage show of the cruise commences at 7:30pm in the Princess Theatre, entitled ‘Let Me Entertain You’.
The first two days heading across the Tasman are sea days, however there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied. It’s an early start when Golden Princess calls into Fiordland, with a 7am arrival time at Milford Sound. The ship will spend the day sailing through Thompson Sound and Doubtful Sound before heading towards Port Chalmers.
The first landfall is Port Chalmers. Leaving port at 9am, the tour begins by heading down State Highway One towards the Moeraki Boulders. The walk to the beach is a little steep and will take about 15 min to complete. After the Moeraki Boulders it’s over to Oamaru to view the Blue Penguin breeding colony. There’s time for lunch and a quick tour of the Steampunk Museum before heading back towards Dunedin and the ship.
The second port of call is the small village of Akaroa, where most of the tours available are wildlife encounters. The sleepy village was founded by the French in 1840, and still boasts a French cultural flavour.
Wellington is the next port, where you can catch the three and a half hour Te Papa Express which culminates in a visit to Wellington’s highest peak: Mount Victoria. Then it’s on to Te Papa Museum followed by to the Botanical Gardens, boasting a beautifully lush 51 hectares.
This is followed by a shorter visit to the Art Deco city of Napier, departing at 1:30pm. A tour on the Hawkes Bay Sampler takes in the region’s local wineries.
Tauranga is next, where guests can take an educational tour of a Maori village. The group is welcomed into the meeting house for a question and answer session, before heading over to watch traditional dancing and enjoy morning tea.
Finally it's Auckland, with departure at 1:30pm. Thankfully the ship docks very close to the city centre and it's only a short walk to discover local high street shopping.
The great thing about this cruise is that there is always something to do. The schedule is full of activities, but relaxing by the pool is always an option. The restaurant staff take the time to build rapport with diners. The ports are beautiful and offer many sights to see; the locals are warm and friendly.
Another highlight of the cruise are the production shows. From ‘Let me Entertain You’ to ‘Stardust’, ‘Born to Dance’ and ‘British Invasion’, the shows cater to all musical tastes - there is truly something for everyone.
Where the cruise falls short is the customer service in other departments. The gift shops and jewellery stores really lack in this area. A simple greeting when entering a store goes a long way, and quite often this didn’t happen.
I felt the same when it came to the photography department. Photographers at backdrops waiting to take photos seemed disinterested and didn’t engage with guests. In the photo gallery, guests are left to their own devices, and any interactions felt forced and uncomfortable.
The Effy store holds a lot of ‘ free’ events to entice buyers, however the friendliness feels forced when there are constant requests for customer feedback forms. It's a little off putting to have staff begging for feedback. I feel like they could scale back the fairness a little and make the experience more personal.
The ship offers a number of tours, however when queried about the tours, the Shorex staff seemed to lack any product knowledge and were unable to assist on tour information. This was a little disappointing and makes it a challenge to book tours.
Overall, this Princess Cruises sailing is a fantastic way to see New Zealand and gives you a wonderful sample of all that this country has to offer.