|Four intrepid cruisers set out on the Holland America Line’s mid-size ship Volendam for this luxurious way to explore a part of the world which was new to us. Here we are, left to right: Mike your author, Renée my dear wife, Pam our friend and frequent cruisemate, and Connie our cousin and also frequent cruise companion.|
|This cruise had been Renée's dream for many years. HAL Volendam is a ship we know and love and we were happy to be booked on her again. Although we had previously cruised Southern Australia and New Zealand, the itinerary around Northern Australia and up through Indonesia is different and unusual.|
THIS PAGE is Australia: Pre-cruise Sydney, Brisbane, Hamilton Island, Cairns, Great Barrier Reef, and Darwin.
PRE CRUISE SYDNEY
|The flight from SFO to Sydney was a looooooong 14 hours. Most of us got some sleep on the plane and were not too exhausted when we arrived in Sydney in the morning. Our driver from OMNICAR met us and took us to the Hotel Stellar where we were able to freshen up in the very comfortable rooms. |
Then we caught a cab to Circular Quay where we had sandwiches and chocolates at Quylains. The Quay is full of tourist attractions and street performers. We were entertained by these musicians on the didgeridoo.
|Then we boarded the harbour cruise vessel Captain Cook for a tour past all the famous landmarks and beaches of Sydney.|
There are also many restaurants to choose from. A wonderful seafoood dinner at Searocks on Circular Quay finished out the afternoon.
|The next morning we were met by our driver from Omnicar for a quick tour of Sydney before boarding the ship. The famous Bondi Beach was one stop.||We drove to Mrs. McQuarrie’s Chair, one of the most famous views in Sydney. From here there is the sweep of the “Coathanger” Bridge over to the well known icon of the Opera House. Just to the left of that we could see the Volendam waiting for us!|
|Our driver dropped us at the famous Opera House for the inside tour. Our guide Alex was outstanding and clearly loved his job as he took us from backstage into the various concert halls and gave us an extensive education in the architecture and uses of the Opera House.|
|Then it was time board the ship. HAL Volendam is a favorite ship. We had cruised to Alaska on her before, so we knew her well and loved her! Embarkation was very easy and soon we are on board and at the wonderful buffet.|
|Sailing out of Sydney Harbour past the Opera House is a special sight. Just days before sailing the Upgrade Fairy had waved her magic wand and placed us in a balcony cabin. A balcony is nice to have, but honestly on this trip the high humidity limited our enjoyment of it.
We received a notice that for the first two days, there was no self service in the buffet. Supposedly this has resulted in a 60% decline in illness aboard. It is a slight inconvenience in the buffet. Sadly, though, the necessity of assigning so may of the waitstaff to the buffet resulted in a noticable decline in service in the dining room for those two days. However, after staffing returned to normal we had our usual outstanding HAL service.
|This cruise begins with a day at sea, which is a very good way to start a cruise! After a leisurely breakfast in the dining room, we went up to the Crow’s Nest for our CruiseCritic bulletin board Meet & Greet. It was fun to meet the people whose postings we had been reading for months before the cruise!
The Cruise Director Jimmy joined us and gave us some nice “inside” information as well as providing champagne and mimosas for us! He is a very personable guy and did a great job on this cruise.
|In the afternoon the Culinary Arts Center presented a nice cooking demonstration, with Executive Chef Daniel making Shrimp Bruschetta and Steak Diane. He is another very personable guy and we enjoyed his presentations during the cruise.|
|The first port of call as we headed North along the Australian coast was Brisbane. Here Pam and I were booked on the ship’s tour to the Koala Sanctuary. This is a very nice place with over 100 Koalas, as well as many other animals.||They have a sheep dog demonstration which is very interesting. The shepherds are very dependent on their dogs, and by means of hand signals and whistles can instruct the dogs to do almost anything.|
|One of the most fun events here is the wild lorikeet feeding. There are large flocks of these pretty birds in the area, and at certain times the staff brings out feed for them. They are beautiful to watch and fun to feed.||I was also delighted to see some of my favorite creatures, fruit bats or “flying foxes.” They are a different and interesting animal, although local farmers consider them quite a nuisance.
We enjoyed the Koala Sanctuary a great deal. The remainder of the excursion consisted of the Sights of Brisbane, which are frankly about as exciting as the sights of Peoria IL. My suggestion to future travelers would be to take a cab or even a city bus to the Koala Sanctuary.
|Renée meantime was on the ship’s Rainforest Adventure excursion. They boarded their 4WD vehicles and went into the bush.||There they visited this delightful waterfall and saw many local plants and insects.|
|They next stopped for lunch at a bush ranch and an opportunity to try their skills. First she learned to use a bullwhip.||Next was a “bush telegraph,” also known as a bullroarer.||And finally, the chance to throw a boomerang!|
|Another relaxing day at sea followed. We dined at Canaletto’s, the no-extra-charge Italian restaurant, which was delightful as always. On day 5 we were anchored at Hamilton Island, where we were booked on the ship’s tour titled “Daydream Island Transfer and Lunch.” We disembarked into a waiting catamaran, which took us on about a half hour trip to the dock at Daydream Island, a major resort.|
|One of the features of the resort is a series of shallow lagoons with fountains, waterfalls, and many species of saltwater fish, from “Nemo” clownfish through parrot fish and surgeon fish to some very large rays and sharks.|
| It is very nice to wander among the lagoons and observe the sea life swimming past. Notice the giant sting ray in the water here.
We paid an extra fee here for their glass bottom boat tour of the island, which was pretty much a waste. Visibility was poor but I am not sure that we would have seen much even with better tides.
We were served a “BBQ” lunch which was a very standard buffet, not even up to the standards of the Lido on the ship. Essentially, this excursion provided nothing except its title, transfer and lunch. This excursion went for a very high price and I have to say that for the cost it was one of the most disappointing we have ever been on.
|Meantime Connie was on a ship’s excursion which took her on a sailing trip and had a wonderful time sailing the Great Barrier Reef.|
|The day in Cairns dawned rather overcast, but still warm and humid. Here we were booked on the ship’s excursion to Rainforest Station. The bus took us up a rather breathtaking winding road into the Kurala range.
Arriving at the station, our first experience was riding the ducks. These refurbished WWII vehicles first took us on a steep trail through the rainforest, passing by termite nests, tree ferns, spider webs and even a snake hiding in the brush.
|Then we plunged down into the muddy water, and continued through the canopy of trees. There were many bearded dragons climbing on the trees, and more interesting flowers including the King Orchids.
A torrential rainstorm required the deployment of the roofs of the ducks, but it only lasted about 10 minutes, and gave a rather eerie misty look to the river voyage.
|Our next stop was the wildlife area where we saw kangaroos, crocodiles, birds, lizards, and this fine yellow dog Dingo!||This was followed by a visit to the Aborigine Cultural Center. There our genial instructors taught us to throw spears, try to get boomerangs to come back, and play the didgeriedoo.|
|Finally we were treated to the traditional aborigine dances, including some of their special dances where they skillfully represent the beasts and birds they hunt.||After the dance we had the opportunity to meet the dancers, and they explained much about tribal life and told us about the totem clan system.|
|Once again Connie decided to be independent and went off on the ship’s excursion to the pontoon raft floating on the Great Barrier Reef. She opted for a 10 minute helicopter ride and got marvelous views of the Reef!||She also enjoyed snorkeling the reef, but only after being fitted out with a “Stinger Suit” due to the presence of jellyfish in the water.|
|We then had three lovely days cruising the Great Barrier Reef area. The weather was partly sunny, warm, and very humid. A nice breeze blowing make it cool enough to be a wonderful time to relax on the balcony and watch the ocean and the reef go by. We passed many islands and atolls, and the varying depths of water gave a constantly changing range of colors.|
|We had the delightful experience of “Cooking with Jimmy” the Cruise Director. During his preparation of Lobster Spring Rolls, it became very obvious that the main talents of a Cruise Director are in the area of entertainment and not of cooking!|
|The middle day of the three days at sea was the second formal night of the cruise. This gave us an opportunity for some pictures of a portion of the magnificent artworks and floral arrangements around the ship.|
|The days at sea continued in a lazy fashion, with time to visit the library, sit on the balcony, play trivia (Jimmy is a demon trivia master), and indulge in the dining room, buffet and grill.
A highlight was the galley tour. This spotless expanse of stainless steel is amazing to see, and the chefs at work were an interesting sight.
|Renée attended another hands on cooking class and got to assist in the preparation of Filipino specialties. The Culinary Arts Center had a lot of great events during the cruise.|
|In Darwin the big event was the Jumping Crocs, a ship’s excursion. We traveled out upon the muddy brackish river and it was not long until we started sighting saltwater crocs.||The croc approached warily and looked the bait over.|
|Then -- a mighty leap!||And only a ripple on the water showed where he had been. This was an exciting experience, but the heat and humidity were beginning to take their toll.|
|When we got off the boat we found Max, our driver waiting for us with a very large olive python. Renée was brave enough to meet the snake, and was fascinated by the strength of its rippling muscles. As usual, you notice who stood back and took the picture.||Then we had time for a beer at the Humpty Doo Pub. Several regulars were sitting at a side table and I am sure they were not entirely fascinated with being descended upon by two buses of tourists.|
|That night was the Indonesian Crew Show, always a big event on HAL! Some of the crew are great dancers and singers. But the highlight is the Kecak Ramayana Dance. It begins with Hanuman the white monkey and his troupe in the forest.||Then Prince Rama and his beautiful Princess enter, pursued into the forest by the Evil King.|
|The Evil King is defeated by Hanuman the Monkey King, and everyone lives happily ever after.||Then comes the grand finale with all the actors joining in playing native musical instruments. The entire show is a delight and obviously the Indonesian crew members love performing in it.|
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