Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fiji and Auckland, Pre-Cruise Travel

We’re off again, this time to the land Down Under, a trip that has long been on our bucket list. First, however, I must say a few words about the Costa Concordia tragedy. All of us in the travel industry grieve for the lives lost and passengers affected by this terrible incident. At the same time, we must also say that despite what happened to that ship as an apparent result of one captain’s actions, cruising remains a safe and wonderful way to travel. We have received reassuring emails from virtually every cruise line, including Costa as to the extreme safety precautions that are always mandated, and we have absolute confidence in all of them. Like you, we will anxiously watch to see how the Costa case unfolds.

For our trip to the other part of the world, Ben and I wanted to break the flight up a bit, so we planned accordingly. First, we allowed time in Los Angeles for a drive up to Chatsworth and a visit at AMA Waterways headquarters. Thank you, Angie, for the tour of your wonderful river cruise company! It was a treat to meet many of the staff members who have helped make are association with AMA so enjoyable…and to stretch our legs a bit.

At LAX later that evening, we met up with five of the seven couples traveling with us to Fiji. The other two couples would join us in Auckland, although one didn’t make it on time--but that’s another story to follow in my next blog! The cool thing about this group is that we know them all, but from different walks of life: one couple from our Aviano Air Base days in the 1970s; another from two Air Force assignments in the 80s; one from my years at the Institute of Texan Cultures; and the rest from Ben’s work at Southwest Research Institute. Why do I mention this? Simply to express the joy this cruise business has brought us in renewing and continuing friendships made over the years. A gift and a blessing!

The Fiji stopover made a huge difference in our flight time and stamina. The flight from LAX ended up being just 10 hours long, not much further than flying to some European airports from San Antonio, (notwithstanding that international dateline crossing thing, of course). Ben had booked us on an Air Pacific flight that stopped there anyway, and we were only charged about $100 per person for the two-day deviation. Good move. One important thing we learned was that Air Pacific limits carry-on bags to 15 pounds and DOES weigh them. Some in our group ended up checking another bag; others needed to reorganize.

Ben had found and booked a lovely hotel for us about 30 minutes from the Nadi airport, the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa. Although beaches are better on some of the 300+ other islands comprising this country, the stretch of beach along this hotel row (Wyndham, Sheraton, and Hilton) was pretty darn nice, too; plus, it was very convenient for this quick stay. Our plan included daily breakfast, and the hotel offered several dining venues for other meals.

For our full day in Fiji, several of us booked a Captain Cook cruise to a private island where we could sun, swim, snorkel, dive, kayak, and eat a delicious beach BBQ lunch. Another couple opted for a tour of an orchid farm and traditional village. A great way to get over jetlag!

Finally, we were off on the remaining three-hour flight to Auckland and our two-night stay at the Crowne Plaza downtown. The hotel location put us within walking distance to the port, the Sky Tower (the tallest man-made structure in the Southern Hemisphere), and various restaurants and cafes, pronounced with one syllable here. One of our group found a delightful seafood restaurant called Kermadec overlooking the harbor where we all dined that first evening on local specialties. An excellent choice.

For our full day in Auckland, we purchased tickets for the Hop On-Hop Off Explorer Bus which took us to the Big 14 attractions in the city with the option to visit any of them at our leisure. (Admission fees applied.) Those spending time at the Auckland Museum attested to impressive collections. Ben and I decided to focus on Kelly Tarlton’s Antarctic Encounter &Underwater World, Bastion Point & Mission Bay Lookout, Trinity Cathedral, and Parnell Village, where several of us enjoyed a delightful lunch in this quaint district.

Later in the afternoon, Ben and I rode to the Sky Tower’s main observation deck for a cocktail and magnificent city views. Another couple managed to snag last-minute dinner reservations, which proved to be very limited. All of us witnessed some of the brave souls dropping from the top of the tower to the ground. Not me! Nor did we sign up for the bungee jumping ride outside our hotel that created a slingshot-like experience for those sitting in the baskets provided. So, did you know that bungee jumping was born in New Zealand?

Following our cool and cloudy first day in New Zealand, embarkation day dawned sunny and mild. After a quick breakfast at a nearby café, Ben and I decided to walk down to the pier to check out our ship. What a beautiful a sight she presented on her last day in Auckland for the season! We boarded with six of the seven other couples in our group later that morning to begin 12 nights sailing to ports in and around both New Zealand and Australia. Stand by for the story of couple number eight!

No comments: