Friday, February 26, 2016

CRUISING THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC ON LINERS  

latest cruise Feb 2016

Carnival Legend off Mystery Island, New Caledonia February 2016 (this shot click-expands nicely)


There's a heap of cruises departing Sydney - in fact you can go virtually anywhere on the world's oceans - but the most popular are the relatively short (8 to 11 days) runs around the various islands of New Caledonia and Vanuatu in the south-west Pacific east of of the central-north Queensland coast. 
Um, someone left the N out of VaNuatu. It is 1600 km in a straight line from the NEW CALEDONIA place marker to that of ROCKHAMPTON and just under 2000 to SYDNEY's. 
The cruises tend to takes 2 or 3 days to reach the islands from Sydney; then 3,4 or 5 days depending on how many call-ins around the various islands (New Caledonia has one large island and a hell of a lot of smaller ones: Vanuatu is all smallish islands); and 2 or3 days to get back to Sydney. There can be variations - for instance two Tropical Cyclones (aka Typhoons/Hurricanes depending on where you are) forced an early retreat latest cruise on CARNIVAL LEGEND and so we spent a very leisurely 4 days getting back from New Caledonia. Hell, I think I could have swum faster - but it was all very relaxing and because we were always considerably in front of the storm we suffered no really big seas or strong winds.
Similarly our Oct 15 voyage on CARNIVAL SPIRIT saw propeller problems causing an extra half day to get home.
UPDATE - AUG 16: Carnival Spirit must be jinxed. It had further propulsion problems on our latest trip - this caused us to substitute Noumea for the Isle of Pines on our outward leg to Fiji (Noumea has repair facilities). The plan was to call in at the Isle of Pines on our return leg instead of Noumea, but a passenger medical emergency saw us turning back to Suva shortly after leaving Fiji thereby losing a lot of time and forcing an abandonment of any Isle of Pines visit. Such is cruising. Fortunately the ill baby recovered well and was back in Australia before us.


Island call-ins. Note that I've yet to make Lifou (those darn Tropical Cyclones) and that Espirito Santo is a rare visit for these cruises. Early publicity for our latest trip included Santo but it was dropped, apparently because of inadequate docking/shore excursion facilities. Anyway, those cyclones came from that directiion so no way would we have made it.
For scale - it's about 530km in a straight line between the place markers of PORT VILA AND NOUMEA

Note too I neglected to include Port Denauru and Suva in Fiji, which are sometimes additions to these New Caledonia cruises. Fiji is about 1000km east of Port Vila.


This is a March 2016 cruise on Carnival Legend. I pinched the graphic off Ozcruising's website.
Looks to be an interesting trip - I've backpacked Fiji back in the 90s: hafta get back.
UPDATE - as indicated up-page that's exactly what I did in August 16 on Carnival Spirit. Our outward leg was Sydney-Noumea-Suva - the return was slightly different to the above - Port Denaru-Suva-Sydeny. Was supposed to be Port Denaru-Isle of Pines (can be seen below Mare on the above map)-Sydney.



I've done 4 of the shorter island cruises in the past 3 years, plus 2 slightly longer ones - the first around New Zealand, which is probably the next most popular cruise ex-Sydney - the second extending across to Fiji. The NZ cruise involved 2 sea days each way, plus call-ins every day at 8 different locations around the two islands - 12 days in total. Fiji involved 2 sea days to Noumea and Mystery Island, 2 sea days to Fiji and 4 sea days back to Australia including the medical emergency mentioned- total with stops 12 days.

Much of this page concentrates on the Feb 2016 trip on Carnival Legend to the islands - but I will add information which may become useful to you from other cruises where applicable.


WHY CRUISE?
Some of you guys are probably asking why a long-time backpacker is cruising. Thing is it's so EASY. No mucking around at airports both at Sydney's pathetic excuse fer one or the hassles and scams at airports like Phuket's and Bali's. Check in and customs/emigration/immigration is so much easier. 
EASIER too is access:
Sydney's Circular Quay passenger terminal for cruise liners(properly known as THE OVERSEAS PASSENGER TERMINAL - CIRCULAR QUAY) is only 300m from Circular Quay rail station. This is a 120km 2.5 h train trip from my home town, very relaxing and only costing $aud2.50 (less than $us2) on account I'm a seriously old dude with a geezer's concession. This is the Carnival Legend waiting for us on our latest Feb2016 cruise and was shot from the Quay concourse.


White Bay, from where the PandO cruises usually start is a bit further west - add a $aud25 taxi ride from Central Station...... 


But White Bay departures have the advantage of travelling under the Sydney Harbour Bridge - something I've done many times in small ferries, but....

.....it seems so different in a large ship. 
The P+0 Pearl and Jewel just make it by a few meters - the bigger Carnival boats don't.
Note use of the + instead of the usual shorthand in P&0. For some reason blogger can't handle & - as yu can see.


Relative position of OVERSEAS CRUISE TERMINAL at Circular Quay and WHITE BAY CRUISE TERMINAL.
Straight line distance between the 2 place markers is only 2 km, but you can see that the White Bay based boats have a rather twisted course before they are adjacent say the Opera House.
By the way, if I was an overseas visitor I would much prefer Circular Quay - you can walk to the Opera House, Sydney Harbour bridge, the Rocks historical area and the City - plus the Quay is a train/bus focus for more distant parts of Sydney. Buses for Bondi Beach leave from here - look for 380 or 333 in Alfred St opp wharf 2 - 45 minutes. 
White Bay however is relatively isolated and poorly served with public transport - no doubt the cruise lines throw on buses etc for their exxy shore excursions but if you are like me and prefer to do your own exploring it is a difficult place to exit cheaply/quickly.

But THE MAIN ATTRACTION of cruising is best summed up by an old work mate met on my first cruise - it was her 15th or so. When asked what she liked best, she said "They PAMPER you". Too right - service is the big thing and you don't have to worry about cooking, house-work or most of the other everyday hassles.

I have to add that GOOD VALUE is another thing that appeals to me. You can do these cruises for less than $aud70 ($us50) a day all inclusive - unlimited food, comfy cabin, entertainment, good leisure facilities, heaps of interest activities plus of course you are being transported to a variety of places in high comfort. For Australian cruises Carnival and P+O fares include tips (Oz aint a tipping culture). However, knowing how poorly most of the crew is paid, we usually give at cruise end a small number of modest sums to people who have stood out service-wise.
Note I think ALL UP costs of my recent backpacker trips would mostly be close to $70 a day - some more.
You can of course spend more - on special food, certain shipboard interest activities, shore excursions, gambling etc - but our extra spending latest cruise simply involved booze, a shore excursion bus ride to Yejele Beach on Mare and a simple wifi package for Lady Tezza (note wifi is expensive - ridiculous in this day and age). Plus the afore-mentioned modest tips



THE SHIPS
We have only used 2 outfits, CARNIVAL and P+0. And even more restrictive, they are owned by the one company, Carnival Corporation and plc - this outfit is the largest cruise liner operator in the world with more than 100 ships over 10 brands.
So no surprises that our cruise experiences are not radically different.
But there are several other cruise lines operating out of Sydney, some not owned by Carnival. I hope to be able to report on a few some time in the future.

OUR CARNIVAL CHOICES
We have done 2 cruises on Carnival Legend, and 2 on Carnival Spirit. They are sister ships and tend to be very similar. But not identical.


This is Carnival Legend off Mare. Carnival Spirit is a sister panamax class ship (biggest Carnival that can get thru the Panama canal) and looks more or less identical. At 86000 tons, 294m long and 32m wide, carrying 2100 passengers and 904 crew they are not small, but are nowhere the size of some later-built cruise ships - the above was launched in 2001.
There are small variations internally - Spirit has had the most recent refit (2015) and has a new Mexican style buffet. It also has less ostentatious internal decorations, although both are pretty flash - what Carnival calls its Las Vegas style.


Legend's 8 storey Atrium. Those are lifts at left.
The Atriums's ground floor aint exactly retiring either.
The theme continues right thru the ship - this is one of the stairwells.
If all this seems a bit overwhelming, note it seemed much less chintzy on our second Legend trip. And those legend-based paintings and murals are good value to interpret (see down page).

Differences between Carnival's Legend and Spirit are small.
Apart from a more relaxed decor (but still more blingy than P+O) a more recent refit on the Spirit results in some extra food options - notably a Mexican food bar which on the Legend serves hamburger,chips etc (no worries big time gourmets - these high range options are available in another spot on the Spirit).
Fitness freaks should note Legend has a chin up bar out on the deck in front of the gym, Spirit has no chin up bar.









Chin-ups rule



THE P+O SHIPS
P+0 Pacific Pearl at Napier, New Zealand. It's close in appearance and size to our other P+O choice, Pacific Jewel. These are SMALLER than the Carnival vessels at a 63500/69850 gross tonnes respectively, 247/245m long, 1850/1900 passengers (although they as wide as the Carnivals and have an equal number of passenger decks (11) - the reason they fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge is largely due to their lower funnels). Thing is at all times I thought I was on pretty sizable ships. They are older than the Carnivals - launched 1989. But regular refits mean they are not shabby.


Lines of the slightly larger (well heavier but actually 2m shorter) Pacific Jewel were done by world famous architect Lorenzo Piano. To me, the curved "dolphin like" profile makes it look bigger, sleeker and more modern that Pacific Pearl. Only problem is that Piano had a hand in styling Pearl  (launched abt the same time- um let's say he was less successful.
Setting is once again Mare, New Caledonia.

Decor on P+O is considerably more restrained. This is probably the blingiest spot on the Jewel, its 3 storey Atrium.


More relaxed decor in P+O Jewel's buffet's ocean view section vs....
....Carnival Legend



Differences between the P+O ships

Our two P+O boats differed more internally than the Carnivals.
I thought dining, entertainment, other activities and cabin standards were very similar.


However Pearl had a terrific cicular public lounge area up top forward called THE DOME which.....
....was a great place to sit, watch the the surrounding scene (particularly good on entry/exit to ports and other scenic areas) and to just read. play cards etc. The large central open space was good for the free dance classes, movies, talks from experts on art, craft activities etc, teen discos and so on.


Jewel has a much more longitudinally extensive area up top. However those front panoramic windows have the GYM area (with a spa downstairs) - the public lounge, still called THE DOME, is an irregular rectangle behind on the port side only (those upper rear windows you can see in the pic) and is much smaller and pokier than on the Pearl. On the starboard side are fitness suites (pay for fitness stuff/massages) and the beauty salon. 
I personally don't care if I have a sea view when working out, but I did spend a hell of a lot of time relaxing at the Pearl Dome sea-view front windows.

So obviously another big difference is GYM LOCATION. On the  Pearl it is way down on deck A which is below the first of the passenger cabin decks (1) and mainly has crew quarters and auxiliary ship functions. Side areas from the gym have spa, fitness suites and the beauty salon.
At first I thought hiding the gym down there was not so hot, but it is right at the foot of the central stairway (and lifts) and because I like to do several bottom to top stair climbs after a workout (10 floors mid-ship) I grew to really prefer it - helped largely by the fact it always seemed less crowded than on the Jewel. I think Pearl's gym is slightly larger, but the main reason was that Jewel had a circus high- wire act for the main top deck at the time of my cruise and the performers spent a fair time in the gym keeping fit. On all ships performers from the shows' dance troupes etc also used the gyms, but these people did not overcrowd the other 3 gyms. Some nice eye candy too.
Another mark against Jewel's gym  was that at the time of my trip all the stationary bicycles were in a separate room, obviously for the paid spin classes. Pearl had at least 6 bikes - I never had to wait for one.
A mark against both is that there are no chin-up, pull-up bars - my personal favourite.
A note here - I don't use gyms at home: no time/can't afford them. But this is the thing about cruises - you can try new activities at no cost. And a workout at the gym sure burns some of that excess of yummy food from the buffet.


The Jewel has an adults' only deck out back (the Oasis) with sun-lounges and lounging pods. plus comfy seats under cover back near the bar to right of image. A similar but smaller deck is below this, without bar facilities


The Pearl has a similar set-up, except the main Oasis deck also contains twin spas, very popular with guests. 


If you want a fresh air spa experience on the Jewel there are two between the swimming pools on deck 12 (there is another pool beyond that metal hoop, but it is empty and covered by a net because of rough weather the previous night). Note pools are not huge - no place for laps swimmers.
This area on the Pearl is very similar apart from no spas and a swim up bar at one of the pools.


The rear outside extension to the buffet area above the Oasis decks was a nice place to spend time on both ships. Here Pearl passengers are checking Milford Sound, Fiordland, South Island New Zealand. Nice area.


Differences between Carnival and P+0
MORE FEATURES
Size is obviously a major difference - but I never thought the Carnivals too big or the P+Os too small. 
But the extra space allows Carnival to more fit things on-board like....
.....a 3rd (tiny) pool on the rear adults' only deck. That's a spa in the elevated glass enclosed area end of pool. This deck was a popular area - has lots of comfy chairs under cover and like the P+Os, a bar. Booze prices gave this elcheapo dude a jolt, but I buy bulk from Dan Murphy's etc and I noticed prices were very similar to onshore pubs in New Zealand and considerably cheaper than rip off New Caledonia. Nice point - booze prices seemed constant throughout each ship - so if you were at one of the flash Atrium bars you still paid $aud 7+  for your stubby of beer. For the record, P+O may have been 5-10% cheaper than Carnival. 

I think FOOD VARIETY may have been slightly more on the Carnivals but at no time did I consider P+0's buffet was lacking. FOOD QUALITY was good on both lines as far as I was concerned, both in the buffets and the a la carte restaurants.



Main difference in the buffets apart from decor was that P+Os (Jewel at top) had more pressure on seating - no big deal, but several occasions at peak times we had to search for a spot, often sharing a family table with another couple. Carnival Legend Lido buffet seating at bottom.

ALL THAT FOOD!
The amount and variety of food on the cruise is a blowout. Particularly to The Lady and me who were raised in lower working class families which back in the late 40s/early-mid 50s tended to do it tough - there was often a shortage of food and variety was restricted to the same old cheap staples. So even though our later years were hardly lower working class (bless Australia's free education system) we have remained pretty frugal and no frills. Get into a situation where we can go berserk at no extra cost and I particularly lose some restraint - despite my rigorous daily excercise regime (see down page) I put on 5 kilos (11 lbs) in the 10 days/12 nights on board). 
But our early life-experience still showed - our parents would kill us if we wasted food so we never left stuff on our cruise plates uneaten, unlike 50%+ of other passengers.
My poor old mum would be turning over in her grave. And this is small time compared to the stuff left on other plates.

 Nor did we eat between meals - the amount of grazing when the buffet was closed (for only about an hour between meals after opening 0615 - closes very late) was incredible, and most of this stuff was pay extra. Similarly there would be at least a half-dozen partly finished pizzas on trays outside cabins on my coffee fetching trek each morning. I assumed room service had delivered - some room service items are free, others not. But maybe passengers had fetched these themselves from the pizzeria which like the deli sandwich counter, remains open 24 hours).
BTW - no lack of quantity in the Waterfront a la carte restaurant, and if you want more, ask. Want 2 entrees or ice cream with that fancy dessert? No problem.

SOFT SERVES RULE! 
I reckon a big issue for families with kids is that the Carnivals had a SELF SERVE SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM MACHINE out on the main pool deck, which was immensely popular (and not just with the kids - I love that stuff, particularly when free). The P+0s have a pay per serve ice cream cone place - also immensely popular. 

PAY?
 When there is so much yummy free food? Yep, plenty did, including at a joint near the lower deck lounges on each ship selling fabulous looking cakes and pastries - but no more fabulous looking to me than the free pastries and cake up at the buffet.  A pay coffee shop also did a roaring trade (sure, those coffee machines in the buffet might not hit the spot for a true coffee freak - I wouldn't know the difference between good and very average coffee but Lady Tezza does) and you would not believe the crowds in the lolly shops. Gourmets who want to step up from the free a la carte restaurants have several pay options for a fancy meal. Dunno how good they are - I thought the free restaurants served pretty good food with great service.

MORE FUN AT CARNIVAL'S A LA CARTE
You can expect Carnival's restaurants to be bigger, but in fitting with the FUN SHIPS theme of the line, the wait-staff put on some short entertainment each night which proved immensely popular.
The Carnival Spirit and Legend have 2 level a la carte restaurants called Waterfront - lower level for permanent bookings, upper for casual. These also are open for breakfast and lunch for people who don't fancy the buffet. Dinner menu has a good variety of new dishes each night and as said above, I thought the food itself pretty nice.
Towards the end of dinner, fabulous maitre d Silvestru (at right on table top) would announce song or dance. He led by example....
....busting out all the moves (great dancer and this guy is middle aged).
Wait staff joined in....
....soon followed by many diners. Sounds corny, but very enjoyable. Sorry about the quality of some shots, but I took them while doing the the Macarena


BIGGER, BETTER GYMS
Carnival's gyms were much larger - makes sense on a bigger ship but I'm thinking disproportionately so. Gyms spread over 3 levels at top front of vessels. Those windows below face forward, give ocean views.
Lowest level has some bikes, cross trainers, a few workout machines. Chin up bar is out on the front deck near windows - Carnival Legend only. Spirit does without. So do P+O Jewel and Pearl.
Mid level has this central spa (very popular) plus......
.....more bikes and a stretch/floor-exercise area
Top level has more machines and a free weights area at the far end. The latter is a bit small and was the only place I had to divert more than a few times to other machines to wait. 

COOL WATER SLIDES
The Carnival Legend and Spirit each have the Green Thunder free water slide. 
Note how Green Thunder goes past the side of the ship and over the water, 12 storeys up. Tube is transparent but I have to say I was going so fast I didn't notice where I was (this attraction is mainly for kids, adolescents and geezers like me with the emotional age of 11). I pinched this shot from a disney cruise blog - looks like they got it from WHITEWATER WATERPARKS AND ATTRACTIONS.

Take off zone for the Green Thunder - attendant gets the all clear, presses button and standing platform drops away. Young lady, who obviously likes the buffet, looks (from arms-crossed stance) like she is worried that the initial free fall will take more than her breath away. Just kidding - crossed arm stance is safest/fastest way to travel in tube both male and female.
The take-off platform for Green Thunder is the highest place on the ship passengers can reach - aft you can see a smaller open water slide for younger kids and less brave people....
....forward is a nice elevated sunning area, never crowded on my passes-by. At the next lowest level out of frame towards the camera is a nice fairly spacious wading pool very popular with parents and toddlers. P+O Jewel/Pearl have a smaller toddlers' wading pool on an aft deck just above the adults' only level.

BETTER FOR KIDS?
Well the free water slides are certainly a plus for Carnival. Both Carnival and P+0 have supervised kids' clubs which pre teens seemed to find very enjoyable. For teens they also have special areas and activities but it seemed to me Carnival's were more conspicuous. But I didn't get the idea P+O was lacking here - lotsa teens on our P+O trips and they never seemed bored.


Kids (and others) will like the zip-lines on the P+0 Jewel/Pearl. Trouble is this is a paid activity - as was the walk the plank and climb the funnel on the same ships.

SUB-THEATERS
All the ships we have been on have had main theaters which for twice nightly performances of shows plus other occasions where mass seating is required. 
Carnival Legend Folies theater above - seems to me not too much bigger (if at all) than those on the P+O boats - seats maybe 800. All performances both Carnival and P+O we have seen feature professional production, great lighting etc, very loud, good choreography to this amateur viewer, singers vary from very good live to ditto mimed.

However Carnival Legend and Spirit have a bonus - a smaller sub-theater (Firebird Theater on Legend) one deck down for more performances and activities requiring less seating - maybe 250 people. Doubles as movie theater during daylight hours+ small focus groups (art lectures etc). We found the comedians after dinner very good value.



GUESTS
Yeah, I know. You are thinking cruise liners are the domain of old dudes. I'm a geezer myself (except most times I don't feel I'm a geezer on account I'm so fit and cut I could go a posse of pole dancers and not break sweat) and there has never been a shortage of geezers on the ones I've done - but the thing is, these short trips out of Sydney seem to be very popular with families - and my latest Feb '16 cruise had plenty of young people in the age range 18-22 on account it was about the last one to these destinations they could do before university kicked off for the year. More later.

These are the cohorts you can expect to see more on these short cruises than in society as a whole:

OLD DUDES - yep, you got the silver nomads spending the grand-kids' inheritance big time. Now you may be a grand-kid. Get over it - you will be old one day. Thing is, OLD DUDES are pretty relaxed travelers - they are always good for conversation (maybe a fading art in these days when everyone under 35 had his/her head stuck in an electronic device), tend to hit the sack early and so aint gonna crowd up those late venues, and have learned that a sense of give and take in life is a winner (so are less judgmental: aint no big deal some young dude got smashed last night - met a sweetheart and went to her cabin, had a huge workout of the recreational kind, hit the sack and cut the ZZZZZZs so hard he did not hear the constant PA announcements looking fer him on account his brother thought he were so affected by alky he went over the rail  - thing is old dudes say: done that or seen similar - WTF).
Disadvantages of OLD DUDES include they tend to overuse the lifts, can be a bit slow getting on and off ship's tenders, may have emergency medical episodes which change the cruise schedule (but see my stuff on young Jarod above and  down page). And not all are as relaxed as yer humble correspondent and most of his ilk about the ZZZZZing Jarods of this world.

YOUNG FAMILIES - this is normally the next biggest cohort, tending to represent abt 25% of guests (maybe more). Kids range from toddlers thru to teens.

YOUNG ADULTS - maybe 15%. Got a fair age range here - university students in their late teens thru to early/mid 30s. No shortage of young couples and honeymooners.

THE CHINESE - although less than 10%, this is still disproportionately higher than the Chinese share of Australia's population. No mystery - tourists from mainland China and Hong Kong to Australia total over 1 million per year - if only a small proportion of these realise an excellent way to enhance their visit is to jump on one of these trips, that still represents a fair number of people. And by the proportion claiming not to understand English, it seems most are not Chinese-Australians. Thing is, $70 to $100 per day is pretty small cheese to the average Chinese daily expenditure when visiting Australia - and the Chinese have always had a nose for good value.
Similarly, I reckon this would be a good deal for backpackers and other budget travelers - 4 sharing a cabin with all the inclusions would work out way cheaper than staying in a dorm plus food transport, entertainment etc in Oz. So I tend to keep an eye out for these people - there have been some, but sadly, few seem to be have onto this good deal during the past couple of years.

THE SERIOUSLY OBESE - another group over-represented (but I'd say less than 5%** of all passenger). Gotta consider that for value-seeking huge dudes the cost of food must always be a big deal - and on a cruise they can eat like champs and it costs no more than that thin girl pecking at her plate next table. Plus a really big dude puts on an extra 5 kilos and no-one notices, unlike yers truly, who pre-cruise looks like an overtrained, underfed greyhound (Lady Tezza prefers ferret to greyhound. Um, ain't a ferret a member of the rat family?)

**yeah, I know obese people take up more than 5% of Australia's population. But we are talking the SERIOUSLY obese here.

PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES - another over-represented group. The all in one nature of cruise ships plus the ease of moving around (the lifts are plentiful and fast, the corridors non-crowded) probably appeals. And I have an idea the staff, who gives deadbeats like me excellent service, step up even more for people with problems. Note that trips with visits to a lot of places having "debarkation" directly onto wharves rather than via ship's tender will see more people with movement disabilities.


Sample of passengers on latest Feb16 cruise - here checking Carnival Legend's departure from Circular Quay. Note there were fewer families on this cruise on account of very early in the school year. The SERIOUSLY obese and people with disabilities probably find it a bit hard to make it up to these crowed areas.



CARNIVAL LEGEND CRUISE - FEBRUARY 2016


1400 - emerge from Circular Quay rail station - destination dead ahead

1405 - inside Overseas Passenger Terminal adjacent ship. Not supposed to take pix here (security) so this is the only one I have - shows check-in line. Moves quite quickly, mainly due to Carnival (and P+O at White Bay) employing lotsa check-in staff, unlike those airlines at airports. Also helping is our self-nominated check in time-envelope (1400 to 1430) - cruise companies not too keen on people arriving earlier than nominated but no problems about later providing you beat the cut off time - 1630 from memory. Bags dropped off to baggage handlers prior to line.
At desk passengers are allocated cabins (many booking services allow you to pre-choose), issued with CRUISE CARD which acts as key and charge-it card on board and arrange link between their bank credit card and the cruise card (we do this online when booking). Cash payers need to arrange this with CUSTOMERS SERVICES once on board.

1430 - thru security and emigration (also much quicker than at airports) and about to cross to ship.

1431 - shute drops us onto deck 3 - just thru that door is an electronic machine which records your arrival using the CRUISE CARD.  You do this each time you embark and debark (their term) the ship. There is another security check - but the Cruise lines seem more interested in checking for people bringing on-board booze, prohibited jugs and cooking implements etc. But I'm sure if the customs scan missed your AK 47, they would confiscate that too.



1435 - arrive at deck 1 sea view cabin. Pretty typical of all 5 of our cruises' cabins - I don't think any was preferable. Well featured, sufficient room, comfy beds (most can be reconfigured into twins) - we always ask cabin steward (who typical knocks and introduces him/herself in the first hour) to replace bed doona with thin blanket), aircon always on but can be adjusted over small range. Okay bathroom with lotsa towels etc behind left partition mid pic immediately above.
Deck 1 port side has immediacy of water and million dollar views of Opera House etc. Note those lighting slots on Carnivals are excellent for drying damp washing in aircon flow - pack some old-style wire hangers with hooks, Carnival's clothes hangers are the slotted types). Of course you can do your washing/drying/ironing at a pay laundry on the stateroom deck plus there is a pay valet laundry service.


This is a floor plan of our Ocean View stateroom. Bathroom looks pokey but not particularly so in practice. 
Of course there are many other cabin choices - variety can be see at this site.


IMPORTANT POINT - pack into your shoulder bag whatever supplies and clothing you think you will need in the first few hours on board - delivery of your bigger luggage items often takes several hours. Don't freak if you have an early booking in the a la carte restaurant - dress code first night is always dress as you arrived.

A BALCONY CABIN
On a previous Carnival Legend cruise we were upgraded from sea view to a balcony cabin, deck 7 starboard. This was very similar in size and layout to the deck 1 cabin shown up page - the small balcony was okay, nice place to spend time entering/leaving/in port - but we personally thought it not worth the extra money normally asked by Carnival.

TUCKER TIME!
1500 - haven't eaten since breakfast so up to the buffet (the a la carte restaurant is also open for more discerning guests but we prefer the buffet's mind boggling choice at lunch and breakfast - not that dinner there has fewer choices). On departure days the buffet tends to stay open for luncheon until 1600 or later, meaning it is never too late to grab a bite to eat....
 ....go across to one of the port windows and......
....check out the Sydney Opera House, plus....
....the never ending passing parade of ferries and harbour-cruise boats.


As said up page, you can do this from your cabin too if it is port side. Even better if you have a balcony. Our deck 1 cabin didn't have a balcony but the sea view window was less than 10m above the water - when one of those larger ferries in the preceding shot went past it was actually higher than this viewpoint. Pretty cool in big seas too - one wave submerged the window. Waterproof of course - you begin to understand why deck 1 doesn't have balcony cabins.
What gets me is that the nearby area has hotel rooms where you will pay $300+ a day for similar views, and plenty of ultra expensive restaurants, none of which have the elevated deck 9 outlook of the pics 2 and 3 up.

CHECKING THE SCENE.
After luncheon it is the over an hour before the SAFETY DRILL, which gives plenty of time to wander the ship and check the scene.


City and the Quay look good.....


....as does the coat hanger.


Aft on the adult's only (SERENITY) deck the pool has no takers at this early hour, but if you look carefully (click to expand on PC) you can see 4 or 5 happy souls sprawled in the spa - coctails in hand I noticed at the time.


Behind the previous shot's camera, the bar is doing a good trade. Nothing like getting in the mood early. Lady Tezza drags me away.


Kids not slow to hit the water at the twin pools main deck (a similar set-up behind camera).


SAFETY DRILL TIME
1700 - our muster station is on forward deck 3, which is way better than a previous departure on Carnival Spirit when we were on the other sunny side of the ship with poorer non Opera House/water views. That sure got hot in the crowded 20/30 minutes it takes to demonstrate emergency procedures. Tip - delay arrival after first summons to minimise time spent here - but don't delay in cabin so that cabin stewards have to roust you to drill - and suffer glares from earlier arrivals like yours truly
Note, unlike the P+O cruises, passengers don't have to take bulky life jackets from cabins to the drills.


DEPARTURE TIME
1830 - there is no hooting of the claxon (city noise controls), jolt or increase in noise level - until I noticed the surrounding scenery sliding by I was unaware we were underway.


Goodbye city and Overseas Terminal as we back away from berth.


Goodbye Opera House.


Sydney Harbour is pretty narrow here (which may have something to do with why they built the bridge at this spot) and the reversing Legend goes a fair way across before the stern thrusters and assisting tugs start to turn it through 90 degrees.....


....so that the stern goes pretty close to being under the coat hanger. Then the pilot throws it into forward and we are off towards the heads.
Now Legend is nowhere near as long as some other ships which use the Overseas Terminal - backing out must be a pretty tight manoeuvre for them.



Sydney Harbour is very picturesque - these show a later-in-the-day departure on our previous (November 2014) Carnival Legend cruise (strong westerly winds had delayed our reverse out of the Quay on account the pilot feared we might be blown across onto the Opera House).

Back on the latest cruise - time approx 1715. HEADS AHOY! - that's the entrance to the open ocean  - South Head on right, North Head left. 
The convoluted nature of Sydney Harbour comes out much better on large ships than say from harbour ferries where it is harder to see where you are going : it isn't a straight shot from the Quay to the Heads - we are actually looking at our immriate goal over the SIDE RAIL of the LEGEND which is heading directly for Manly Cove at the time of shot. Did a zig to miss a shoal marked by that buoy mid pic. Other shoals, small islands and headlands have forced several course changes.

1930 - OPEN SEA! 
The zig-zag course can be seen from just outside he heads - Circular Quay is actually behind that headland far right of pic - approx in line with that small vessel whose wake is furthest right - which you may see better if you click-expand.

1935 - goodbye pilot, seen here transferring to pilot boat which has followed us since cast off. Here he had no trouble getting off - on the previous Legend trip, big seas made the process a 10 minute+ ordeal

1945 - by now it's time for dinner at the second setting in the Waterfront (a la carte) restaurant. We find the first setting at 1730 is a bit early, particularly after a late lumch first day. 
Note if you have nominated a permanent table when booking cruise you don't have to show up every night - nightly attendance varied markedly: highest on formal dress nights (not too formal - few dinner suits, not a lot of dress suits, ladies seem to relish the chance to dress up, rest of diners go for cruise casual but not too casual) and theme nights like South Seas, Mexican and Wild West (again - cruise not too casual is okay if yu didn't pack the sombrero etc).
Second level of restaurant from which this is shot is for walk-ins and one-off bookings.

2145 - all the bustle of the first day has left us feeling a bit tired so after a tour of the lounge/casino deck we hit our cabin for an early night - to find our cabin steward has left this cute critter on our bed.
Wally leaves a new creation each night - here's a sample.

2200 - 0100 - WHERE'S JAROD?
But hitting the sack doesn't mean sleep. At 2200 an extremely loud pa announcement is piped into the cabin looking for Jarod, some young bloke who has gone missing. Apparently his brother is frantic. This is repeated at ten minute intervals. At around 2345 the ship's authorities become so desperate (they think he has gone overboard)...
Where's Jarod? (image https://chandralynn.wordpress.com/ )

....they announce all people should return to cabins (so lounges/bars, casino, main deck movie etc are shut down) where a crew member will do a cabin check. This seems a lengthy process - it is a good 45 minutes before someone knocks on our door and does a quick check.
At around 0045 they announce Jarod has been found! 15+ minutes later the captain comes on and thanks us for our forbearance (this seems overkill - all people want to do is sleep - but later in the cruise we get the understanding that the captain is a very caring individual).
 We are not told where Jarod has been found but the gospel according to passengers is that he was located asleep in some secluded spot up on the main Lido pool/buffet/adult's on deck. BULLDUST! I am not a good searcher but I could have found him anywhere up there within an hour - multiple skilled crew a lot faster. I reckon he had crashed in someone's cabin as outlined up page, woken to find an imminent cabin search and decided to go hide somewhere he thought less reprehensible. Walking with a group of friends it would be easy to move from cabin to main deck.
Passenger gospel on punishment - confined to cabin for 24 hours. I would have thrown his ass in the brig and unloaded him in Noumea to fly home. Retrospectively, maybe that's a bit harsh. Naturally the ship is awash with Jarod jokes for the next few days - the ship's paid comedians particularly have a ball.
Go Jarod! (just kidding - image http://www.grindtv.com/)

Next morning we notice channel 13 on the cabin screen which shows ship location and course indicates we actually turned back for an hour or so, looking for Jarod in the sea. I should have taken a screen shot.
Just kidding again....I modified this Google Earth image



DAYS 2, 3 AND 4 - AT SEA
On previous trips it has taken 2 sea days to reach New Caledonia, but our first destination is Mystery Island which being one of the southern most islands of the Vanuatu chain, is a bit further north.

0545 - COFFEE TIME.
As soon as I wake up I grab our carry-on insulated drink holders with lids and climb the stairs from deck 1 to deck 9's buffet where several 24 hour coffee machines are located. The stair climbing is part of my fitness/weight control routine, but I always catch the lift down (speed plus dodgy knees - except when I'm with Lady Tezza who does not catch a lift the whole cruise: what a champion!)

0615 - WALK THE DECK
To burn a bit more energy I next climb to deck 10 which has a good walking route right around the ship - this takes about 5 minutes per lap and I do 5. First day there are only about half a dozen walkers but as the cruise goes on there are a few extra each morning - excessive food guilt is kicking in.
Part of deck 10 walkway above the main pool deck - is less crowded early in the day unless entering port. In inclement weather there is an sheltered outer deck on level 3 (the emergency muster station deck pictured upstage). If blustery I find walking the corridors good value - particularly deck 4 which goes right around the ship without the need to backtrack.

After the walk I go up one level to the small running track and do another 4-5 laps, unless my knees cry quits before this. If that's the case, I hit the stairs for a few 10 storey climbs.

0700 - BREKKA!
When I get back to the cabin, Lady Tezza is busting for some eats, so we climb up to that wonderful Lido buffet, where I put back all the weight I have just burned off. And then some.

Pastries for brekka - yes please! This is something I never do at home, but I don't have anything cooked at home breakfasts either. I give both a big time nudge - why? Because I can, and because it involves minimal effort and zero extra cost.

0915 - HIT THE GYM
I wait an hour or so for brekka to settle and then go to the gym to burn it off. I find the gym tends to be less crowded in the few hours after/during key eating times. "During" because when I finish my 45 minute gym session plus another 20 minutes climbing the stairs from deck A (below deck 1) to deck  10, I cruise along the Lido deck (9) to the coffee machines and find the Lido Buffet full of breakfasters - stone the crows trendsetters, what have these dudes been up to to make fer a late 1045 brekka? Don't mention Jarod on account this is the scene every day of the cruise.

1215 - LUNCHEON
Another coffee and then back to the cabin. Doesn't take too long before Lady Tezza (who has probably hit the gym herself) starts agitating fer lunch. Not that I need to be agitated with all that gorgeous food up there. So we cllimb on up from deck 1 to 9....
....grab a sea-view table....

....and hit the serveries.

WORK THE GYM/CLIMB THE STAIRS PART 2
I wait long enough for lunch to digest and then it's back to the gym - I try to visit the machines I missed first session. I figure even if they are ones which develop body areas I'm not interested in, they probably burn more energy on untrained muscles.
After the gym I hit the stairs for 4 or more deck A to 9 climbs (down in the lifts to preserve my poor old knees) and then do maybe 2 laps of deck 4.
This is finished around 1530 - time for another coffee from those great machines in the Lido buffet and then back to the cabin for another shower plus maybe a short session of clothes washing.

1645 - BOOZE + BOOKS
Best time of the day - grab a beer or glass of wine from the bar on the rear adult's only deck, find an empty seat and do a bit of reading. 
Despite a higher proportion of co-eds on this trip, eye candy around the rear pool is disappointing - too many young women these days are having a serious love affair with those serial seducers Krispy Kreme and Maccas. Not so members of the Lido Theater's dance troupe who trim up nicely.

Sometimes the rear deck is a bit too hot or windy - in that case I go searching for The Lady who can usually be found head in book in one of the quieter aircon lounges down on deck 2. Lotsa places down there I can get a beer - so no complaints.

ALL THOSE LEGENDS
On the second sea day I get distracted by the artwork in the deck 2 lounge. Carnival Legend is full of murals, paintings and sculptures depicting past legends:


Each landing on the stairway has a huge artwork - I think this has something to do with a babe called Diana, sneaky tricks and that city in north-west Turkey. Was its local name Ilium?


Just about every spare surface in the corridors features a mural - I reckon this has something to do with good old Jason....
....and I seem to remember a sword called Excalibur.


But what legend is this? 
BTW it seems to me those old time painters had a dodgy fixation on 12 year old girls.

And what's going on here? Don't like the look on that bloke's face. 
Um, I just worked out that's Adam (okay, so I'm a bit slow) - looks like he's thinking of committing a big time sin in about 2 seconds. Well before the apple. How does that work?


Speaking of sinful plans, should an angel be considering what he's got in mind? At least the sweety looks less alarmed than Eve in the previous shot. 
This was a huge mural covering the back wall of one of the lifts. Once again, what legend?


Each cabin has a legend-themed painting. Now I figure this one above our bed is Roman based - but I'm darned if I know the particular legend.

1830 - PRE DINNER ENTERTAINMENT
Most bar/lounges on the ship have some sort of entertainment going on from about 1700 thru to very late - so while waiting for the Waterfront restaurant to open for the late setting we go down to deck 2 and see what's going on.


The Atrium  lounge is a favourite - mainly because the singing duo (TAKE TWO) there is totally excellent over a huge range of stuff. This is shot pre-dinner day 3 - Meet the Captain opportunity. 


Captain GUISEPPE CAZZANO  patiently shakes hands, chats and poses for pix for over an hour. This is pretty standard for captains each trip - but this guy goes the extra yard. I have never seen a captain showing up in so many various parts of the ship at different times....


.....Here he is walking thru a deck 2 lounge later in the trip. The young lady to his right collars him and he spends at least 5 minutes talking to her and her friends.


Meet the captain is a chance for people to dress up a bit - once again the ladies don't disappoint. These young sweethearts are posing for one of the ship's photographers - a great chance for me to freeload on the setup.

1945 - 2100 DINNER
Dinner as usual does not disappoint - dining room staff entertainment day 3 is themed Love is in the Air - here guests dance away while maitre d and staff member belt out a rather good rendition of "Volare"

2100 ON
On account we are geezers, I have to admit most nights we simply did another quick tour of the lounges and casinos and then went back to our cabin. However night 2 we checked out the show in the Folies theatre - see comments up page (later in the trip same time/place sees a rather mediocre illusionist) and get back to the cabin real late for us at 2345 to find.....


....this cool dude waiting to greet us.



DAY 4 - MYSTERY ISLAND

Mystery Island is most people's idea of a tropical island - it is a coral cay, an ex atoll whose central lagoon has been filled (or in this case, partially filled) by wave/wind deposited detritus from the reef. 

 Mystery Island is pretty tiny - the land just to its north is a south western peninsula on a bigger island of Aneityum, which is in the far south of the Vanuatu island chain.




Aneityum (at left) is pretty mountainous whereas Mystery island is typical of coral cays which rarely get more than a few meters above sea level.
I reckon this is the main reason MI has no permanent settlement (the story goes it's haunted) - it would not be too great during the huge waves and tidal surges of a tropical cyclone. Lack of running water is another problem. So "locals" live on the bigger island and move across to sell beers, food, touristy souvenirs, hire snorkels etc when the cruise liners arrival. Hell, there is even a rough grass airstrip to enable access from further afield.


This beach in the island's south-east is probably the best, but there are sections of sand all around the island except at the very south end. A walking track does the circuit - took me about 40 minutes. 
Note weather conditions are important - I have been here in late October and November - despite being in the sub-tropics, the SE trades and sea temps during Spring are not quite warm enough to make it pleasant on this exposed side of the island - the western lee side is a better idea. Latest trip was in mid-summer February - the trades still blowing but were welcome as a cooling agent in this hotter period. Water temp very nice.


There are a number of good snorkeling spots, but a popular one where a lot of the paid snorkeling trips go is directly to the left of the camera in the previous pic. The boat center-background is one of the snorkel trip craft - if you click-expand you will see heads in water to right of it. I swam out - it is about 250m - coral and fish were pretty good without being fantastic. Water pretty shallow.
Close to shore there were enough fish and small coral patches to make it interesting for novices.


Waiting to be tendered back to the Legend (note tender transfers are free). Mystery Island is a good anchorage - the liners can get close and the island's reef gives good protection from the SE swell so that transfers are relatively quick and stable - in 2 visits we have got off the ship each time, unlike nearby Isle of Pines (1 in 3)

CHANGE OF PLANS - ENTER THE TWIN CYCLONES!
As we pull away from Mystery Island circa 1600 the captain come on the pa - 2 Tropical Cyclones (TC Tatania and TC Winston) are heading our way from the north, so we are no longer going in that direction to Vila, nor will we stick around too long in the present general area. After visiting Mare a bit to the south tomorrow we will give the next day at Lifou a miss - instead we will head further south to Noumea in New Caledonia.
I'm not a big fan of Noumea, really liked my one previous visit to Vila and was looking forward to my first visit to Lifou. However Tropical Cyclones can be very nasty - Winston later kills 40+ people in Fiji - so no doubt we are doing the right thing.


This is one of the synoptic charts put up around the ship. It is for Feb14, 4 days after we leave Mystery island, situated just off the chart above New Caledonia, which can be seen about 2/3 across the chart at the top. 
TC Tatiana can be seen at left and TC Winston at right - their predicted courses well below New Caledonia and heading south (although Winston will soon veer to the east towards Samoa, the Cook Islands and Fiji). Fortunately for us both cyclones were well off the chart to the north when we left Mystery Island and the captain 
Gazzano made sure we stayed to their south by not dallying in Noumea for more than a day and a night.
Note our original schedule had us in Noumea on the 14th - so the Cyclones would have already passed. Thing is, tropical cyclone paths are unpredictable - there is nothing to stop one of these babies changing its supposed course and going right over Noumea. And even when at a medium distance, winds and seas can get pretty fierce.


DAY 5 - MARE


Mare, 250km south-west of Mystery island, is much bigger, but relatively small compared to the main island of New Caledonia, Grand Terre (closest point abt 110km further south-west).
Its population is mainly indigenous kanaks - abt 7000. 
Cruise ships tend to anchor in a very protected (from the prevailing south-east trades) bay just off one of the main villages, TADINE. We are running 3 out of 3 here as far as success in getting off the ship is concerned.
YEJELE BEACH is one of the more popular and less expensive shore excursions - it is a relatively short bus trip from the landing area.

Speaking of shore excursions, there is as usual a selection. But Lady Tezza and I are cheapskates and have gone for Yejele Beach on 2 of our 3 visits including this one, On our middle visit we elected to just hang around the Tadine landing area.


Yejele Beach is a typical tropical beach - whitish coral based sand which is okay underfoot, an offshore reef which cuts any ocean swell (the cruises always warn of tricky currents: I haven't come across any although I have never gone out near the fringing reef which must be 300m from the sand), some trees in back of beach for shade lovers, and some okay (but not mind blowing) patches of coral (those darker areas in the water at left above the people) with a few interesting fishies not too far off the sand. It does face the trade winds but this is a plus if your visit happens to be in the warmer months.
It only takes about 15 minutes to reach from the Tadine landing area and the locals seem to have a good supply of buses and other transport to minimise any delays to and from. I think the ship charges $aud20 return for tickets.
In back of the beach locals run the usual businesses - beers and food, trinkets, snorkel/fins and beach chair hire - hair plaiting for pre-tweens thru early 20s chickens seems particularly popular.


Back at the landing area the locals have set up a market selling the same sort of things. Like at the beach, Aussie dollars are okay. 
There is a village school in this area but the main village is about 800m inland and up a bit on the limestone plateau which covers most of the island (Mare is a raised coral atoll). 


There are some nice sheltered coves with clear water and easy access into the sea adjacent the landing pier - on our second visit I was quite happy to spend a lot of my onshore time snorkeling around this area - coral and fish good enough to wow novices although hard liners will not be overwhelmed.



DAY 6 - NOUMEA
Noumea is the capital of the French overseas territory New Caledonia, and is situated on the biggest island of Grand Terre.


The main islands of New Caledonia. Grand Terre is not exactly small - check scale line. I think it the 3rd biggest in the Pacific after both islands of New Zillund. It is surrounded by a huge barrier reef which is can get 30+km from the shore, creating the world's largest tropical lagoon.

I'm not whelmed with Noumea. We have visited 5 times - twice for fly-in holidays back in the 70s, and 3 times in recent years on these types of cruises. The place is very expensive. French colonial types tend to be even more arrogant and pretentious than those at home (no doubt they think we Aussies are loud mouth yobbos. Not wrong mes amis) and the indigenous kanaks, although not snobbish, are nowhere near as friendly and outgoing as say the Vanuatu locals. 
The town itself, although having plenty of chic shops, restaurants, bars etc reminds me a bit of Wollongong NSW circa 1980. There are plenty of hotels and a few swish resorts but tourism in New Caledonia is not a big deal these days - the place earns most of its income from nickel mining. No doubt the locals feel they are on a winner here and high wage levels (and thus ridiculously high prices for goods and services) seem to bear this out. But the competitiveness of the nickel industry is propped up by the usual European Union primary industry subsidies (and thus unknowing French and other EU taxpayers).


Ships of CARNIVAL LEGEND size are forced to tie up at the container terminal. Dock security requires use of those shuttle coaches (no charge) to go across to the small cruise terminal which is the white building under the tiny black arrow just to right of top center. Fortunately this only takes a few minutes. Slightly smaller liners like P+O PACIFIC JEWEL can dock right alongside the terminal.

The terminal has places selling shore trips, some at a discount to Carnival prices, an upstairs market area selling touristy clothing and trinkets, a ridiculously expensive cafe (I saw a fellow passenger pay $aud14 for a toasted ham sandwich - at least they accept Aussie dollars like a lot but not all places in town) which has all the ambiance of downtown Pitt St Sydney 1968, plus slow unreliable BUT FREE! wifi.
Just past the terminal is a waterfront cafe/bar which is a nice but exxy place to spend time and across the road a medium size supermarket which is an interesting place to check out (can't take food or booze back onto the ship).


Noumea has a nice setting on a hilly peninsula meaning there is no shortage of bays and surrounding water. Watersports are naturally a big deal - particularly wind surfing and diving.

Carnival has a host of shore excursions you can do in and around Noumea. Diving, snorkeling and visits to small offshore islands seem attractive but Lady Tezza and I know that longish fast boat trips in this area tend to be a uncomfortable (the distance of the barrier reef offshore means the SE trades can kick up a fairly big chop within the giant lagoon) - plus the cost of nearly every excursion whether offshore or on is beyond our cheapskate budget.
There are some attractive rain-forest and waterfall locations in the hinterland around Noumea but they are pretty exxy shore excursions. Ditto most of the guided site-seeing trips around Noumea itself.
So we settle for the cheapest shore excursion possible - a ticket on the hop-on, hop off bus which goes every 10 minutes or so from the small cruise terminal mentioned above to the far end of Anse Vata/return. Other popular stops are at the Marina markets, the Aquarium and Lemon Bay. People wanting to visit one of Noumea's casino will find one in the Chateau Royal resort just north of Anse Vata and at Hotel Le Surf on the headland near the aquarium. 

We know much less expensive and frequent town buses go where we want to journey, but they start/finish in "the city" a bit of a walk from the shore terminal.


We have just hopped on the ho/ho bus at Anse Vata. This area has some okay restaurants and bars, but not as many as the nearer to ship Baie des Citrons which is the local name for Lemon Bay. Later at the ship the captain tells all we are staying in port overnight (normally we would leave abt 1800 that evening) and Carnival will run a free shuttle to Lemon Bay all night for people who want to party.
Lemon Bay has a beach - it tends to be much more sheltered than Anse Vata but there is less sand.


Lady Tezza and I spent an hour or so at the small beach just past Anse Vata outside Chateau Royal resort where we stayed back in the 70s. As you can see, the beach is nothing to write home to mum about, particularly towards full tide. But this area is sheltered from the SE trades, unlike Anse Vata in background.
I grab my face mask and swim about 400m offshore. The water is pretty clear, doesn't get much more than 2m deep. The bottom has mostly sea grass with a few very small clumps of coral. I see few fish.

Anse Vata is probably the best close to ship beach in Noumea, but by world standards is not all that good. At least there is more sand in this shot than at the Chateau, but this was taken on our 2014 visit, closer to mid tide. Anse Vata's orientation means it really picks up the SE trades - this makes it a popular wind surfing beach but we found the wind chill on this blustery, overcast September day was sufficient to need us wear jackets. 


This is just past the Chateau beach/250m behind camera in the pic 2 above this - if you round the small point the area is nicely exposed to the prevailing trade winds and is another popular wind surfing location.


DAYS 7, 8, 9, 10 - AT SEA SYDNEY BOUND
After clearing Grand Terre's barrier reef abt an hour after leaving Noumea at 0600 day 6, we make a bee line fer good ol' Sydney town. We are not exactly in a hurry, having 4 days to do what normally takes 2 - the captain goes just fast enough to keep us a safe distance in front of TC Tatiana.


Might need to click expand image for labels to be clearer. 
TATIANA (white path left of center) soon veers left and then heads back north almost to its starting point, where it blows itself out.
WINSTON (yellow path) on the other hand, keeps on keeping on. As said up page, it soon turns east away from us - but it keeps going to near Samoa (it is 2600 km in a straight line from the GRAND TERRE place marker to that of SAMOA), where it turns back west, cleans up Fiji on 19/20 Feb with 325kmh winds and heavy rain (over 40 people lose their lives), and gets back to the south of GRAND TERRE around 25/26 Feb. Ironically CARNIVAL LEGEND is doing its next cruise at this time and a ship tracking website shows it has once again scurried for home early when it should be in Noumea. 
WINSTON keeps going, veering north towards the Queensland coast. In late Feb it eventually loses some power and is downgraded from a TC to a Tropical Depression - finally it hits the far north Queensland coast on the 3rd of March - lotsa rain but no wind damage. Next day the L has disappeared - it has finally blown itself completely out.


WINSTON'S path thru Fiji


Nearly a week later it is south of New Caledonia again


Late on March 3 is the last I see of ex TC WINSTON (image top right - sorry I couldn't crop the above further but the primitive photo editor on my version of Windows would not allow).

I enjoy the slow cruise back over the next 4 days - quickly settling into much of the same routine as the early sea days outlined above. To me, cruising is about being on the ship more than the destinations.







GOOD NEWS
On the first of these sea days the captain tells us Carnival has decided to compensate us for the cut in destinations by giving each passenger a $aud250 credit on any Carnival cruise taken in the next 18 months. Not a bad deal for people who can schedule it - we certainly can, and it represents at least 25% discount of what we normally outlay.
Some people start to spend their $250 early - passengers comment about the pick up of business in the casino and bars.


DAY 11 - HOME


The captain said we would be passing thru Sydney Heads abt 0600 so imagine my surprise to wake abt 0530 to find the Sydney Opera House sliding by our window. I rush up to deck 10 for some pix - those lights in background belong to another cruise liner parked mid harbour - this is unusual; looks like it was out of luck for a tie up. Sydney is pathetically served for bigger cruise liners which can't fit under the Harbour Bridge. And only has about 3 pier spaces for those which can.


The coat hanger looks okay....


....as does the cruise terminal.
In a couple of hours we will be "debarking" thru there - and 3 hours later back at Chez Tezza by the Sea.


MISSED DESTINATIONS
I can't show you anything of LIFOU on account I've never visited. But PORT VILA I can - called in there on our November 2014 CARNIVAL LEGEND cruise.




The ships tie up in a very sheltered part of Vila's harbour - locals who are the friendliest and least pushy of any in this blog set up the usual services and stores along the road leading to the ship.


The waterfront street in downtown Vila has a number of bars - this one had live music and reasonably priced local beer ($sud5 compared to $8 in Noumea) - note the ship in center background abt 3 km from downtown - I walked it in abt 45 minutes but there were taxis (both road and water types) for $aud5 each way.
There is a nice waterfront park a bit closer to the boat than the above - has some markets and a nice bar/cafe type place.


Despite being the largest town and capital of Vanuatu, Port Vila is pretty small at around 45000 people. Downtown is tiny - a couple of blocks of low rise. 
The place gets most of its money from tourism, export of primary products and as a tax haven.
That beach near the ship is okay although there are some resorts near town with nicer beaches you can visit on some of the paid SHORE EXCURSIONS. A range of other excursions similar to those at/out of Noumea are offered.


Vila has the lowest duty free prices I've seen ANYWHERE - here one of the duty free stores in town is delivering to the Legend. The ship impounds these until "debarkment" in Sydney. The ship claims it can match any price in town - I haven't put this to the test.

ANOTHER TROPICAL CYCLONE!
I feel sorry for the lovely people of Port Vila and Vanuatu - the place was cleaned up badly by TC PAM in March 2015. This caused a lot of damage to the tourist infrastructure which saw a big drop in visitors, exacerbated by the refusal of most airlines to keep using the damaged local runway in recent months.
Quite a few cruise liners cancelled call-ins for some time which would have hurt the businesses pictured above. I reckon our cancellation latest trip must have been an added blow - at least TC WINSTON and TC TATIANA missed Port Vila.


ISLE OF PINES

This wasn't on our itinerary this trip, but was part of our 3 previous cruises into this area.

The Isle of Pines is abt 2/3 the size of Mare, and if you check the map up-page you can see it abt 50km off the eastern-most tip of New Caledonia's big island, Grande Terre. 
We first visited in the 70s, flying in after Noumea for a 4 day stay. It is a real nice island, but unfortunately the cruise ship anchorage is nowhere near as protected as at Mare, Noumea, Port Vila or Mystery island, which lessens the chance of successfully landing - we have only managed 1 in 3 on our cruise visits. Not for want of trying - on our November 2015 call-in, the captain of CARNIVAL SPIRIT manoeuvred for at least 40 minutes to different parts of the bay trying to find calm-enough water to make tender loading safe for the old and infirm. November 2014 on CARNIVAL LEGEND was much the same. This must be heartbreaking to the locals who would have already set up their tents and stalls in the landing area - plus of course all those engaged in sightseeing, snorkeling and diving trips - there is the usual diverse range of paid SHORE EXCURSIONS.


This is the region where the tenders land - a nice spit area in the island's south-west, coincidentally where our resort back in the 70s was located - with frontages to both bays (a riot by indigenous people during the independence push of the 80s burned it down).
When ships are due, locals set up their tents and stalls along that clearing where the spit is narrowest. Both the beach and that small island vicinity (right of lower-center) are popular with people off the ship.

Area around small  island has no lack of swimmers and snorkelers. I grabbed my face mask (don't take snorkel and fins - too bulky) and did a circumnavigation. Some okay coral and a few fish but some parts very ordinary - a lot of dead coral on the other side of the island.
Water surprisingly un-tropical at around 21 c - but this was November: sea temperatures always lag the atmosphere's by 2 to 3 months. Air temp at this time very pleasant.


Plenty of nice shaded areas on spit adjacent island. I got the impression well over half the passengers had decided to spend time close to the tender landing area rather than pay for one of the SHORE EXCURSIONS.
Interestingly (at least fer us); Lady Tezza and I found some ruins of our 70s resort near here.


Across on the other side of the spit, "Kuto Beach" was pretty nice. This has fine white sand a la the Bounty ad.  (maybe the overcast washes out a bit of the white). If you click-expand you will more clearly see (mid shot) the pyramid roof of the Hotel Kou-Bugney which seems to be a boutique place built in the bush behind the beach since the riots.


This cool beachfront bar/cafe was abt 300m up the beach from the previous pic. I'm assuming it is part of the nearby boutique resort. Quite a few cruise passengers were swanking it out on the deck above the sand - I resisted: partly because I thought the combination of New Caledonia and boutique resort would ensure eye-watering prices - partly because nearby storm clouds warned it would be a good idea to retreat to the tenders. Indeed it was.



THE BIG DADDY (so far) - THE NEW ZEALAND CRUISE
I can't leave this page without some stuff on the most enjoyable of my 5 cruises to date.
I have already said that to me, cruising is abt being on the ship - not where you visit. But that is maybe not quite right if where I visit is new to me. Thing is, I have never been to NZ and I found the various places we checked out very good value. Plus the ship itself, P+O Pacific Pearl was pretty sweet.


2 days at sea from Oz, then a call in each day the 8 locations shown, then 2 days at sea to get home.

HIGHLIGHT - MILFORD SOUND


Our first sight of NZ - the narrow entrance to Fiordland National Park's Milford Sound.
0600 arrival plus fairly high latitude means people are well rugged up despite it being Spring.

Spectacular scenery is a given....

 ....well this IS New Zillund.


Milford Sound is a "cruise by" location - passengers stay on board. We head up the Sound for abt an hour, chuck a U-turn (pretty tight squeeze - bigger liners have more difficulty and are more likely to cancel if strong winds make the turn iffy) near the inland end and cruise back out. The above shot is on the way out - by this time the sun had broken thru and it was a bit warmer.

After Milford Sound we head south - an hour or so later we turn into DOUBTFUL SOUND, which has entrances both north and south allowing us to cruise right thru - followed by the similar but longer DUSKY SOUND. Both are pretty good (saw some whales in the latter) but not as gob-smacking as Milford.

NOTHING FANCY AS USUAL
Our other stops involve getting off the ship. At all, there is a good array of paid SHORE EXCURSIONS available, some to iconic NZ tourist places like Rotorua and Canterbury, but I was content to simply get off the ship and wander around, checking the local scene. Thing is, I intend to do a fly in visit to NZ soon which will give more time to check the well known spots at my leisure.

A really nice thing about most stops was that not only were there shops, museums, pubs, houses etc to speck out, but also a VIEWPOINT within 40 minutes walk of the ship.....


....such as PORT CHALMERS
(these panorama shots usual click-expand nicely).


....WELLINGTON. 
Not only did this area give a nice outlook - it was a high income area. Checking out the houses was interesting - rich Kiwis tend to keep the fabulous old timber homes of the early C20th in good condition rather than replace them with modern stuff or remodel the hell out of them as in Oz.
Note the bigger ship (GOLDEN PRINCESS) parked in front of PEARL; - it had intended to cruise MILFORD SOUND soon after us, but cancelled according to passengers. GOLDEN PRINCESS at 109,000 tons is a good 50% up on P+0 PEARL - it's 290m length (same as CARNIVAL LEGEND/SPIRIT) is an extra 45m on PEARL which probably accounts for its difficulty in the Sound. Interestingly it is only 4m wider but 2 decks higher.


....NAPIER.
Free shuttle from ship to nice downtown area - abt 10mins. Several high areas for good surrounding views.


....TAURANGA
If you like trekking you'll love Mt Maunganui and its 360 degree panorama. Took a little more than afore-mentioned 40 minutes to get up here from the ship. Maybe 60.


....AUCKLAND.
The Sky Tower is worth the modest cost/wait. Make sure you go to the second (higher) viewing area.


Auckland's Sky Tower is less than 20 mins walk from the cruise terminal. Thrill seekers can bungey jump from the tower. I'm a bit of a thrill seeker, but too tight on the wallet.

THE ONLY PAID SHORE EXCURSION
The Bay of Islands is NZ's version of Australia's Whitsundays. I know from many visits to the latter that the only way to appreciate such places is to do a small boat cruise.


Highlight for me of the many islands observed was Hole in the Rock at Motukokako Island - we didn't get to pass thru on account of the swell and chop that afternoon. Even in good conditions it would be a bit of a tight squeeze. Lady skipper said morning cruises are usually calmer.


I think for many others the dolphin watching was tops. These guys apparently wait around for the cruise boats and put on a show (for a bucket or two of fish of course).




Back to the ship...,
....and back (after 2 days) to Oz.

Note - Lady Tezza has no like of smaller boats and so elected to tender ashore to Paihia - where she did the usual wander around/check the scene. She said Paihia was a typical charming small NZ landing town, not unlike Port Chalmers and Akoroa. She reckoned I would have particularly liked the display of old cars (NZ is the home of original condition/restored classics) - warning: this was a Sunday visit. If your cruise comes in on a weekday quiet a few of the old car guys nay be at work. 


WHERE NEXT?
Well we have to fit in another Carnival cruise sometime in the next 18 months to redeem our $250 each compensation for missed places.
And we'ed like to try another cruise line, preferably to another location. PRINCESS has some attractive Fiji trips which look promising.
I have a hankering to try one of the giant super-liners. There are a few visiting Australia in 2016, but Lady Tezza shows little interest in cities afloat.

Whatever we chose, I'll do a bit on it below.


ATTENTION: I THINK FEW PEOPLE WILL READ THIS PAGE. THE WAY GOOGLE WORKS WILL THROW IT UP WAY DOWN THE LIST FOR PEOPLE LOOKING FOR SHORT CRUISE INFO OUT OF SYDNEY.
GOOGLE SNAGS ME A LOT OF READERS LOOKING FOR STUFF ABT THAI/INDO/MALAYSIAN BEACHES AND ISLANDS - BUT I FIGURE MOST WILL NOT BE INTERESTED IN BIG SHIP TRIPS INTO THE SOUTH WEST PACIFIC.

NEVERTHELESS, IF YOU SEE MISTAKES OR HAVE ADDITIONAL INFO, PLEASE POST IT BELOW. BUT IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, PLEASE ASK THEM IN THE FORUM WHICH CAN BE ACCESSED VIA THE INDEX LINK TOP RIGHT OF THIS PAGE. I RARELY CHECK INDIVIDUAL PAGES LIKE THIS WHEREAS I VISIT THE FORUM MOST DAYS.