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Published: February 11th 2014
We can’t all be big party goers and, this was the case for our daughter Natalie, who turned 40 recently.
For years, she had always said, that when the time came, she didn’t want a big birthday bash for her 40th
. Rather, she would much prefer to do something family-oriented, with just us, her family.
A few ideas had been tossed around over the last couple of years when that magical number of “40”, began to loom on the horizon but, no decision had been made.
About 12 months ago, our travel agent daughter, Jenni, had seen a special deal come through for a 3-day cruise on the Royal Carribean cruise ship, “Voyager of the Seas”.
This seemed like the perfect family holiday and getaway for a few days, which would more than adequately fill the bill. No rigmarole of having to request leave for those workers in our family, as the cruise was Friday evening to early Monday morning, - a “Cruise to Nowhere”.
How does that work? How come you are on a cruise ship that doesn’t go anywhere?
Perhaps a little bit of poetic licence is required here. Of course, you do
go somewhere as you don’t stay tied up to the dock for 3 days but, it’s a cruise on the open sea, where basically, you go around in a big circle, not making landfall anywhere and returning to port early on the Monday morning.
Everyone was excited about the idea, including daughter Natalie, the birthday girl.
Within days of the news and the possibility of the cruise happening, we were all booked to go. Being a party of 11, we basically made up our own tour group. 😊
As far as the older, younger children in our family group were concerned, it was doubly exciting because, this was also to be a “DreamWorks” (of DreamWorks movie fame) Family Cruise, having a number of the DreamWorks characters on board that the kids would be able to meet and interact with.
However, as the cruise was still almost 12 months away, we had to shelve our excitement somewhat and get on with the normal day-to-day activities of school, work and the million-and-one other things that made up our daily lives throughout the year.
Eventually Christmas arrived and went as did New Year celebrations followed closely by Natalie’s
birthday a few days later.
We celebrated her actual 40th
birthday with a barbecue at home and a very small gathering of family and several close friends of which, our own family group made up about half the number of those attending, complete with birthday cake and candles for the blowing out of. 😊
Excitement and anticipation about the cruise had really started to build around Christmas time with time now getting close and was really starting to pick up pace with our sailing date now only several days away.
Natalie’s aunt and uncle, Bonny and Glenn, were arriving down from Dubbo the day before we were due to sail and were both very excited about the first cruise they were about to undertake.
They arrived, with suitcases packed and Bonny exclaiming that she was sure that she had packed far too much to take on a 3-day cruise and probably should re-pack and leave half of it at home.
After pointing out to her that, unlike travelling by air, the weight and volume really didn’t matter on board ship and anyway, a girl always needs plenty of choices of what to wear when travelling
whether it be for 3 days, 3 weeks or 3 months, we finally convinced her that what she had packed would be fine.
Whenever any of us travel, there is always some other family member available to take us to the airport, train, ship or any other mode of transport we happen to be taking at the time
This time though, we had something of a dilemma. Because we were all going to be going away together, there was no one left at home to play taxi and the cost of hiring stretch limos; maxi-taxis or anything else that would accommodate the 11 of us, was totally prohibitive. We would have needed a small bus to fit all of us in as well as our bags and baggage.
Finally, the best and cheapest option was to drive ourselves into the city in our own vehicles then leave them for the long weekend in one of the city parking stations near the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. They would be safe and secure and the cost was a fraction of any of the other options we had explored.
Sailing day dawned bright and sunny and excitement
was running high, especially with the younger members of our group, Adam and Erin. Almost 3-year-old twins, Luke and Olivia were a bit young yet to fully understand what all the excitement was about but, certainly knew that something was up, by all the frantic activity going on around them and the pile of suitcases and other bags, filling the hallway at home. 😊
The ship wasn’t sailing until 7pm that night and our group had been given a boarding time of 4-30pm but, we planned to go into the city around lunchtime and all meet up at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at 1-30pm with the hope that we may be able to board a bit earlier.
Similar to the airlines, the cruise lines also operate a “bag drop” whereby you can leave your large luggage at the appointed area for your cabin allocation and, it will be delivered to your stateroom by the ship’s personnel.
This is great as you then don’t have to drag your big bags around with you whilst you are waiting to board. You can leave them securely with ship personnel and go off and do other things, have lunch or a
coffee if you want, until it’s time to board.
By now, it was about 2pm and, we were all present and accounted for except for Justin, Natalie’s husband, who was meeting the rest of us there as it was a working day for him and he had meetings in town, but, like most things, these had taken a bit longer than first envisaged.
Natalie, always having a Plan B up her sleeve, had foreseen something of this nature occurring and, had given Justin his boarding documents the night before, just in case he was delayed.
As we still had some time to spare and couldn’t board just yet anyway, I (Jan) wanted to go for a walk around the Quay towards the Opera House as I wanted to get a photo of the ship and, there was no way you could do that from where she was docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. She was so huge, that you had no hope of fitting her into the frame of your camera from where you were standing as she towered above you.
The kids were just about jumping out of their skin by this with the excitement
of it all so, Aunty Jenni and I took them for the walk with us, to burn off some of their excess energy and to give them something to do whilst we waited to board.
The “Voyager of the Seas” is a huge ship. “13 decks of excitement”, is how they describe her. Far too big to fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, she had to berth at Circular Quay, overhanging the end of the OPT (Overseas Passenger Terminal) and, dwarfing everything else around her.
School holidays; tourists and other weekend visitors to Sydney, the harbour-side was a hive of activity as we wound our way through the throng of people enjoying the sunshine, the buskers and street theatre along the quayside.
We made several stops along the way, to rest the twins little legs by stopping to have a look at the busy harbour traffic of ferries; rivercats; water taxis and other craft, coming and going. In doing so, we also had to be particularly careful because with the crowd of people around, it would have been very easy for us to become separated and the kids to become lost.
By the time I could
fit the whole ship into my photo, we were ¾ of the way around to the Opera House but, now, not only could I fit the ship into the screen on my camera but the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well. What a great comparison photo!
Photos taken, we then headed back again towards the ship to see if we were now able to board and, as luck would have it, we were waved straight through towards check in.
We made quite a group on our own as we made our way into the terminal building with the twinnies looking ever so cute walking along with their own little bags – Luke pulling along his little “Thomas the Tank Engine” roll-y bag containing his precious cargo of cars and SuperHero figures and Olivia with her little pink backpack over her shoulders that she was most adamant she was going to wear on her back and not carry and, wouldn’t let anyone else carry it for her either. Miss Independence! 😊
Formalities taken care of, paperwork processed and “SeaPasses” issued, (which are your ID and your onboard cruise card that opts for money), we were finally off on our
A final security check at the end of the concourse and, with one final step, we were onto the deck of this mighty ship that was to be our home for the next 3 days.
Of course, this momentous occasion had to be recorded and, a short way along the deck, the photographers were there, waiting to oblige.
After this, the next thing we had to do was then to work out where we had to go to get to our staterooms.
This was a mini-adventure in itself and was part of the excitement with the kids almost bursting at the seams in anticipation as to what they would be like.
Jenni had organised our booking so that we were all together in adjoining staterooms with Natalie and Justin and the kids having interconnecting rooms. Erin and Adam were almost beside themselves when they discovered that their beds pulled down from the ceiling, into bunk beds that they had to climb up the ladder to be able to get into. And ….. even had their own reading lamps and everything!
By the time we had arrived at our staterooms, our bags were waiting
for us at the door so, it was a quick tour of our rooms, everything else quickly stashed away (unpacking could come later) and then it was off, as we had a whole ship to explore!!
Whilst we were doing this, Natalie was getting a bit anxious and keeping an eye on the time which was marching on as Justin hadn’t yet arrived and had to be aboard by 4-30pm otherwise, he would be left behind as the Captain had to give the passenger manifest to the Port Authorities at 5pm and, it was now 4-20pm.
A huge sigh of relief when he turned up a few minutes later, making our party complete.
With all the excitement of the day, we were all starving by this as we hadn’t had any lunch. We had planned on having something to eat when we got to Circular Quay but, circumstances hadn’t allowed us time for that so, then thought that we would get something on board.
No – that didn’t work either, because, by now, it was around 5pm and everything was closed in preparation for sailing even though this was still a couple of hours away. All
we managed to get was a cup of coffee and some drinks for the kids and a couple of little tit bits for them which we just had time to get down before we had to attend the boat safety drill. Our muster point was B13 up on Deck 4.
Because of the kids in our party, when booking our cruise, we had opted for the early dinner sitting at 5-45pm. Something for which we were very grateful for today as, not having had any lunch, we were all starving by this.
We were part-way through our dinner when sailing time came at 7pm so, Nat, Justin and I took all the kids outside so that they could see us leave Sydney Harbour on this, their very first cruise, as we didn’t want them to miss any of the departure process.
We watched the deck hands throw off the lines that had us secured to the quayside at the terminal whilst the little tugs (in comparison to the size of the ship itself) nudged us out from the dock.
Sydney is situated on one of the most beautiful harbours in the world and, because we were
sailing, we had a front row position to all the stunning views that surrounded us on all sides.
We took some great photos of the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge as well as the city itself as we left and slowly began to make our way down harbour. We could even see all the people doing the Bridge climb who waved down at us as we edged out from the OPT and made our turn towards Fort Denison and the Heads (the entrance to Sydney Harbour) some distance away.
We were just about to go back inside to the dining room, as our main meals had arrived by this, until Justin said that he would like to stay until we went past the Navy base at Garden Island, which we were just approaching.
After 14 years in the navy, it must have brought back a lot of memories for him as we sailed past. How many times had he viewed that same scene when leaving and then returning home again after yet another deployment? And … how many times had the rest of us stood on that wharf, waving him goodbye as his warship left or,
waiting with great anticipation for our first glimpse of him again, as his ship came alongside after months away?
Back into our restaurant, “Carmen”, on Deck 3 to continue our dinner until, we were getting close to Sydney Heads which Jen wanted to see as we went through so, back out again – Nat, Jen, Adam, Erin and myself. By now it was nearing sundown and we were able to get some quite spectacular photos of the sun on the cliff faces of North Head as we sailed past and into the open sea.
When we arrived back at the table (again!), Justin had just received a photo on his phone that had been sent to him by a colleague of his who was doing a “Roar and Snore” (spending the night) at Taronga Zoo tonight and, she had sent him a photo of our ship going past the zoo as we sailed down harbour. Must say, we (the ship) looked pretty impressive. 😊
Finished dinner just in time for the next sitting at 8-15pm then went off for a bit of a wander around the ship to get our bearings a bit.
We went right
up to Deck 12 to get Adam and Erin registered for “Kid’s Club” then wandered outside for a look around.
We found the mini-golf course and all the area which is the “Kid’s Club” during the day and off-limits for adults. It looked pretty cool too. 😊
By now it was a bit after 9pm so time for all the kids to go to bed. Even Luke (at almost 3) said, “can I go to bed now, as I’m tired?” 😊
Not long after this, we all headed back to our own rooms as we were meeting Natalie and Jenni to discuss our plans for tomorrow.
Our first full day on board so, plenty of time to explore the ship today but, first things first – it was off to breakfast.
Even though all of our meals were available for us in the dining room, this morning we decided to check out the “Windjammer”, the buffet-style restaurant.
Arriving there around 9am, it appeared that everyone else had the same idea too, as the place was jam-packed, table space at a premium and certainly no available space to seat the 11
of us so, a Plan B was implemented by finding a couple of tables beside the pool area nearby which meant only a short walk back to the “Windjammer” or the “Island Grill” to get our food.
Working in relays, several of us minded our table space whilst the others headed off to get their breakfast and swapping roles as the others returned.
There was a huge variety of food to choose from – fruits, yoghurts, hot food – eggs, hash browns, bacon, waffles, pancakes, Danish pastries, etc, etc. You name it, it was there somewhere. A lot of American-style food (well, it is an American line) but, lots of other types of food as well.
Whilst waiting at our table for the others to come back, and, as luck would have it, Luke and I spotted some flying fish as we were looking out of the panoramic windows beside the pool. This was a bit of a ploy on my part in asking him what could he see, to distract him from crying after having gotten into trouble from mum, Natalie, when he wanted to see what would happen when he squished one of
the small, foil-wrapped pats of butter on the table top. 😊
It was very pleasant sitting there having our breakfast and just people-watching. However, things to do so, around 10-15am, Jen, Nat, Erin and Adam, with the twins in tow, went to buy our tickets for Bingo which was starting at 11-15am.
As this was their first cruise, Glenn and Bonny decided that they wanted to do their own thing and go off and have a wander around the ship with the decision to meet up with us later in the afternoon.
Tickets purchased for Bingo, the rest of us went off to win our fortune. Needless to say, none of us did although, on the last game, Justin & Ted got to within two numbers and me, three. We were that close to winning $1,076. First game prize was around $617; second around $690; third, $701 with the last prize being OUR $1,076. 😊
Bingo over, Justin took the twins back to their stateroom for their sleep whilst Nat, Jen, Erin, Adam and I continued on our exploration of the ship and headed up to the Promenade where all the shops were, for a meet-and-greet
with “Shrek” and “Princess Fiona”, of the “Shrek” movies fame.
Jenni had given Natalie a massage on board the ship for a Christmas/birthday present so, she had to leave to keep her appointment before “Shrek” and “Fiona” made their appearance, so Jen and I remained in the queue of parents and kids, all waiting their turn to have their photos taken with these first two DreamWorks characters we had encountered so far.
After photos, the kids had decided that they wanted to go ice skating which was on Deck 3 so, off we went to get this organised.
Booked in for the 3-30pm session, they had about 20 minutes skating time which, Natalie said later, was enough as she had forgotten how uncomfortable ice skates are, as by this, her feet were hurting a treat!
Although novices at ice-skating, they managed quite well without too many bumps or bruises although, Adam was very tentative and worked his way around the railing with mum’s help whilst, Erin, with Aunty Jenni’s assistance, was just starting to get the hang of it all when their session time was over.
However, plenty of other things to do and, as
time was marching on and it was a formal evening tonight, being the Captain’s Welcome Dinner, it was now time to go and begin to get ready and get ourselves spruced up and into our party clothes.
These days, you seem to have so few occasions to get really dressed up so, before leaving home, we had made sure that we had packed our suits, collars, ties and evening wear, to make the most of the occasion.
Another reason we wanted to be really dressed up was because, again, we get so few occasions to have some formal family portraits taken on the equally rare occasions when we are all actually together in the same spot at the same time. Also, on those rare occasions when we are, usually, one or the other of us, is always on the other end of the camera so, are missing from the photo. This would be a good opportunity to have some professional photos taken of all of us together, in our best bib and tucker!
Being ready a little bit before we had to go into dinner, gave us time to have several group photos taken of
all of us as a family group.
As this cruise was Natalie’s 40th
Birthday celebratory cruise, before leaving home, her travel agent sister, Jenni, had also organised a birthday cake for her. A quick word to our Maitre D at dinner when the time was right, soon had everything organised, and within a matter of minutes, the arrival of the cake at our table – a lovely vanilla sponge with a jam and cream centre, iced in white with Natalie’s name in pink on top. Then, he and several of the waiters, came and sang “Happy Birthday” to her at the table as they presented her with her cake.
Derrick, our Head Waiter looked after us extremely well and also had a good rapport with Adam, Erin and the twinnies and, was also a bit of a character.
At the end of our meal, just before we were leaving, he came and did a couple of magic tricks at the table for Adam and Erin. One was with a disappearing coin and, the other was a trick done with 5 toothpicks bent in half and placed with the V-shape towards the centre which, they had to try
and form into a star without touching the toothpicks.
This had them perplexed as they tilted the plate, jiggled it around etc but, couldn’t work it out. Derrick came back a few minutes later and asked them if they would like him to show them how it was done.
All he did was to carefully drop about half a teaspoon of water into the centre of the toothpicks and, gradually, you could see the toothpicks move slightly until they formed a star shape. It was uncanny. 😊 Both Adam and Erin say that they are going to try this trick again when they get back home. Erin said that she should do it for a science project at school. 😊
After dinner, it was the twinnies bed time whilst the rest of us went to “La Scala” theatre to watch tonight‘s live show, “Music by Pictures” which was music from a lot of movies over the ages with footage of some of them being shown on a large screen on the stage, whilst the singers performed some of the songs from that particular movie.
Another full day on board today.
early start this morning amidst great excitement for the younger members of our group as, we were off to the DreamWorks Character Breakfast at 7-45am in the main dining room.
We’d had to book for it, which Jen did on Friday night after we’d boarded, as the breakfasts are very popular and to make sure we were able to take the kids for the experience so that they wouldn’t miss out.
It was a normal breakfast but, with 3 of the DreamWorks characters –“Shrek”, “Princess Fiona” and “Puss ‘n Boots” - who came out and mingled with the diners and came to each table so that everyone could take as many photos of their kids with them as they wanted.
It was a great way of doing things as then you didn’t get a whole bunch of people all crowding around the characters, all trying to get photos at the same time and all getting in each other's way.
After breakfast, a few of us had different things that we wanted to do so, went off to do our own thing - Justin went to the gym for a workout; Erin and Adam went to the
Kids Club; Glenn and Bonny had opted for a more leisurely breakfast so, hadn’t joined us at 7-45am and Jen, Nat, Ted, the twins and myself had a bit of a wander about the ship, ending up in the tiny tots playroom where we let Luke and Olivia have a play for awhile.
Then it was off for another turn at Bingo to try and win our fortune - which we didn’t – whilst Glenn and Bonny babysat the twins for their midday nap. At least, with so many of us in our group, there was never any shortage of babysitters. 😊
Later on in the afternoon, we had all planned to go and watch the Ice Odyssey show at the ice rink which was to start at 2pm.
We had planned to be there by 1-15pm as we knew there would be a big crowd so, Jen, Ted, Erin, Adam and myself were the advance party to go in and get some seats.
The ice show went for about 45 minutes and was excellent. There were 12 skaters in all of great expertise and, after the kids efforts with Jen and Nat yesterday, they could
really appreciate just how talented the skaters were. Two couples especially - one couple doing a solo act of skating and balancing with very difficult skating movements which had the girl swinging from the guy’s arms with her head only inches from the ice as they skated around. Any false moves, or slight misjudgements, could have ended in serious injury.
With the aid of a trapeze secured to the roof, the second couple, did a trapeze and skating act with the girl doing most of her moves on the trapeze with the guy doing the skating, at times, balancing and holding the girl whilst she made some very difficult, almost gymnastic moves, as he held her. There again, if either of them had made any wrong moves or misjudgements, he could easily have injured her with his razor-sharp skates.
It was a very professional and spectacular show with the skaters coming from all over the world – the US, Croatia, Italy, Brazil and Canada.
Previously, we had all decided that we would go and have a game of mini-golf after the ice show and also told the kids that they could go for a swim and also
go on the water-slides so, after the show, grabbed our hats, sunscreen and swimming costumes for those who wanted to swim and set off.
Apparently, everyone else had the same idea too, regarding the mini golf as, every man and his dog were there and with no adult golf sticks available, only a few available for the kids so, we had a very-quick, makeshift, round with some very unorthodox rules applying, as the twins were also involved, and with the sticks being almost a tall as they were, but, everyone still had fun, even though it was a very hot afternoon and, absolutely baking out in the open. Needless to say, we didn’t waste any time in finishing the round.
Then it was off to cool off on the waterslides, only to face disappointment on Adam and Erin’s behalf, to discover that, they were closed. It seems that they are only open for 3 hours a day – from 12pm till 3pm! How crazy is that? And, how ridiculous?? Couldn’t work that one out at all. And, nowhere had we seen stated that this was the case. Why aren't they open all day?
Anyway, there is always
a Plan B so, they still managed to have fun back at the little kid’s water slides, which now, the twins could also participate in using and also spending some time in one of the smaller swimming pools in the Kid’s Club section at the stern of the ship.
It was whilst the kids were enjoying cooling off in the water that some of us had been standing at the railing on the ship, just gazing down into the water, that we saw a school of sharks (is that what you call a group of them?), whilst the ship was stationary at the time. We could clearly see them swimming around below us as we counted about a dozen of them, whilst they appeared to be feeding. A bit more excitement for the afternoon! 😊 We had also seen some dolphins yesterday but, they were further away from the ship.
Late afternoon by now and, we had thought of going to “Johnny Rockets” – a 50’s-style milk bar (or, malt shop, if you are American) for dinner but then opted for the dining room again.
After dinner, Erin and Adam opted for the Kid’s Club again till
9-30pm whilst Ted and I babysat the twins and the others went off to one of the bars upstairs to listen to some music.
Natalie and Justin came back a bit after 10pm to relieve us then we went back with Natalie to join Jen, Erin and Adam to watch the DreamWorks pageant at the Promenade at 10-30pm.
Basically, it was a street parade which had a lot of the characters from the movie, “Madagascar” taking part – “Alex the Lion”, “Gloria the Hippo”, “King Julian the Lemur", 2 of the penguins etc. They also had "Kung Fu Panda", “Shrek”, “Princess Fiona” and “Puss ‘n Boots”, whom we had seen this morning at breakfast.
We all lined the “street” of the Promenade which was packed. Late for kids to stay up but, it was quite a good show but it was like “Madagascar” on speed! Noisy and fast-paced for about 25 minutes but, very colourful and entertaining and the characters were very good and played to the crowd and the kids. A lot of fun. They also had a number of Chinese characters, Pinocchio and other assorted characters in costume.
This ended just before 11pm. There
again, we did have difficulty with the scheduling of the parade – why would you have something like this on so late at night? Far too late for all the kids.
Anyway, show over, it was then back “home” again to pack up for tomorrow’s departure. The ship is due in at 6am and, we have opted for “self-assist” which means that we can leave of our own accord, taking our own luggage with us. We have a departure time of 7-10am but, apparently, this is quite flexible, if you are disembarking yourself.
Up at 5am to finalise our last minute bits and pieces of packing and, with a peak out through the curtains into the pre-dawn light, discovered that we were already well inside The Heads and halfway down-harbour with lights twinkling everywhere along the foreshore and the Harbour Bridge looming right in front of us.
Ready by 6am for our last breakfast on board which seemed funny to be eating it as we gazed out of the dining room windows straight into the windows of the terminal building at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay.
We had had a
wonderful 3 days aboard the “Voyager of the Seas”, in perfect sailing weather on smooth seas but now, it was once more, back into the real world.
As we thought back over the fun times we had had during our last 3 days - at this point, I think we all silently added our own 41st
Birthday Wish ….. next time, for it to be longer and on a Cruise to Somewhere …..
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