TO CRUISE, or not to cruise?
That was the question my wife and I faced when trying to decide what to do over the holidays.
We've both done a fair bit of exploring, but never on the high seas, and tales of norovirus and sea sickness meant we had given it a wide berth. But as more and more of our family and friends returned from their own voyages with happy tales, we decided to take the plunge.
We decided to push the boat out on a 12-day cruise around New Zealand.
We chose the Kiwi route because we wanted something close and familiar - and it offered lots of stops along the way, including the Bay of Islands, Tauranga, Wellington, Akaroa, Dunedin, Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds, Hobart and Sydney.
We flew in to Auckland three days before setting sail. This gave us a chance to explore the capital, which we thoroughly enjoyed, especially the impressive redevelopment around the docks.
Bay of Islands: As this was our first port of call we chose to go with the travel agent's tip and booked one of the pre-advertised excursions. Our day out included a visit to the kauri tree forest and scrambling through the nooks and crannies of a glow worm cave.
Tauranga: Here we elected to do one of the ship's specialty excursions. You'll only hear about these once you're onboard. It included the chance to explore Rotorua's active volcanic craters, bubbling mud pools, spouting geysers and the people who choose to live, work and play among it all. One of the highlights of the trip.
Wellington: Here you can walk off the ship and be in the city centre in half an hour. We chose to do our own thing. We made our way to the closest information centre and in a short time were on our way to Zealandia, a protected natural area in the city where the area's original fauna and flora is being restored. We returned to the city via Wellington's cable car and spent a few hours exploring the city's restaurants and shops.
Akaroa: This is a small, picturesque French village nestled in an extinct volcano and here we also chose to follow our noses.
Dunedin: A short bus trip from the docks and you are in the centre of Dunedin. Again we chose to do our own thing and in this instance we had to retrace the steps of long-dead relatives. That done, we returned to the city to catch a short steam train ride along the coast. The return leg goes right past the harbour and we hopped off, stopped in a few of the village's knick-knack shops before returning to the ship.
Dusky, Doubtful and Milford Sounds: There's not the option to get off the ship here. But there's no need to. You find a comfortable spot on the open deck and take in the vistas as the ship noses its way through New Zealand's spectacular world heritage site.
Hobart: Hobart was the one destination that lived up to its reputation. It was raining. But we didn't mind this as we'd had spectacular weather on the rest of our trip. This wasn't our first visit to the Tasmanian capital so it was an easy choice to do our own thing. Breakfast came first. No shortage of great eating spots here. Then a visit to Salamanca markets before going to the always brilliant Museum of Old and New Art.
Sydney: The highlight of the Sydney leg came before we'd even arrived in port. The Sydney to Hobart journey meant a day at sea and we chose to tour the inside of the ship. This included the bridge, the engine and anchor room, the staff quarters and the kitchen.
Food, glorious food
Cruises are notorious for the amount of food available. Buffet, restaurants and cafes. We tried out all options. From the buffet to the posh French number with a $50 cover charge for just walking through the door. The food was great, plenty of variety in formal or non-formal settings. You won't go hungry.
1/ If you can afford it, go for the cabin with balcony. We were pleasantly surprised with the size of the room, balcony and bathroom. It's also a perfect escape if you do want to get away from the crowd.
2/ To reduce the effect of rough seas, get a cabin in the middle of the ship.
3/ Do your own tour of the ship as soon as possible. Locate the entertainment section, the best place for coffee and do a run through of the various restaurants.
The drink packages. Palaver! Not being big drinkers, we found this to be a tedious issue. Whenever ordering a drink - yes, even bottled water or coffee - you had to present a card to determine if you had to pay extra for that drink.
Creaking cabin. Yes, creaking is not just the domain of old pirate ships. Modern-day vessels do it too. The good news is it is only audible in rough seas, so when it's plain sailing your room is a quiet as a hotel suite.
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