Saturday, January 28, 2012

Flight Fiasco and Diamond Princess, Part 1

David’s first email arrived Saturday, while we were in Auckland, two days before we were to set sail. Because of the winter storm bashing Oregon, his flight had been cancelled, but he was rebooked for the next day. Then came news that he and Cathy had made it as far as San Francisco, but they would still not be able to make the overseas connection into Auckland in time--again because of the weather. By then, he had cancelled their special excursion from Auckland and their first, then subsequently, both nights in our hotel. Although he had booked his primary flights through Princess whose representatives were trying to help them, no regional air service was available through the cruise line. However, our wonderful colleague Susan, who was covering for us, managed to book flights for them from Auckland to Tauranga and also confirmed permission from Princess for their late boarding. So, even though they had built in a two-day travel cushion, they still missed all of Auckland and Tauranga (except for the airport!), and made their first appearance at our group cocktail party gathering the second night of the cruise.

Moral of the story? Insurance. They bought it, and as a result they will be able to file claims for the additional flights to Tauranga and other incidental expenses incurred that were all due to that massive winter storm in the northwest. Please don’t travel without it!

Meanwhile, back on the ship…the rest of us had gratefully settled into our cabins and unpacked for our 12 nights on the Diamond Princess. The largest in the Princess fleet, she’s beautifully appointed with a restful elegance atmosphere and the line‘s signature features: Movies Under the Stars, The Sanctuary, and the Piazza. We have been impressed with our captain, Dino Sagani, from the very beginning. He’s articulate and obviously very sea savvy, a fact that became more important further into our cruise.

Our first stop was Tauranga on New Zealand‘s North Island, where Ben and I booked one of our longest excursions that included the Te Puia Thermal Reserve, and Maori Arts and Cultural Center, and the Agrodome. The “Big Splash” geyser in the reserve could give Old Faithful a run for its money. Eruptions can last over 20 minutes and occur quite often. Our welcome to the Maori (pronounced Mahree) center was quite traditional with a designated “chief” from our tour group and ages-old rules and guidelines enforced, from the removal of shoes and hats to respectful silence when called for during the performance. Things got a bit rowdier, however, when we got to the tongue-sticking-out part, especially when audience members (including one of our own!) took part on stage. The buffet meal that followed was actually quite good with salads, a delicious roasted sweet potato soup, meats and vegetables, and assorted desserts--served only after our Maori hostess had blessed the food in her native language.

I must say that our visit to the sheep farm proved a pleasant surprise. I’d never seen so many different types of sheep in my life, and certainly not on one stage together. They were trained to mount podiums and remain there while the emcee described each one. Then came demonstrations of sheep shearing, sheep herding by two amazing dogs, and cow milking. Quite the show!

Others in our group did variations of the above activities or visited a local farm. It was fun to compare notes at dinner that evening.

Our next ports of call would be Akaroa, the nearest we would sail to Christchurch, and Port Chalmers for Dunedin, both of which I’ll cover in the next blog. As I write, however, we’re sailing over the bumpy Tasman Sea after the cancellation of our scheduled cruise through New Zealand’s famed Fjordland due to approaching storms. Obviously a huge disappointment, but a decision based on the captain’s best judgment for our safety. I guess we’ll just have to return!

No comments: