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Sky Princess, Moorea
Sydney Opera House
Lido Lunch in Auckland
Maori Cultural Show
Guard at President's home,
Suva Police Band
Squalls over Niuafo'ou, Tonga
Robert Louis Stevenson's Study
Aggie Grey's Hotel, Apia, Samoa
Sky Princess , Apia, Samoa
Harbour in a volcanic crater
Lagoon at Matira Point
Cook's Bay, Moorea
View of Cook's Bay
Sky Princess in Papeete
Cruise Watch Home Page
©Susan Milne, 2000
SYDNEY TO TAHITI
MARCH 29, 1999 - 17 DAYS
By Susan Milne
Note that Sky Princess later sailed as Pacific Sky for P&O Cruises Australia/Carnival Australia. The vessel was sold at the end of 2005 and will sail for Pullmantur of Spain in the future.
Following a season of Austral-Asian cruising, Sky Princess repositioned for the Alaska season. Sydney to Papeete, Tahiti was the first segment of her Trans-Pacific voyage. Continuing our series of cruises in the footsteps of Captain James Cook, this cruise would take us from Sydney, across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand calling at Bay of Islands, Auckland and Tauranga (for Rotorua), north to Suva, Fiji, then east to Tonga; Apia, Samoa; Pago Pago, American Samoa; and 3 islands in French Polynesia, Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti. Few ships call at so many South Pacific ports. It was a rare itinerary on a unique vessel.
Captain: Michael Fatchen
Built in France at a cost of $156million, Sky Princess made her inaugural sailing in May, 1984 as Sitmar Cruises Fairsky. Princess bought Sitmar in 1988 and Fairsky became Sky Princess. The last steamship to be built for passenger service, she is known for her magnificent hull design. In combination these features create a smooth sailing experience (although vibration was noted on Aloha deck aft.)
The most notable feature of interior design is spaciousness. At no time do you feel confined. Even on the lower decks, the alleyways are wider than average and ceilings do not encroach. Cabin space is generous. The third/fourth passenger bunks pull down from the ceiling giving additional space above the bunk. An excellent ship for those with any claustrophobia or seasickness concerns.
Sky Princess offers an unusually great selection of family staterooms with 16 categories able to accommodate triples and quads. Our inside triple (Cat.JJ cabin C193 on Caribe deck) was very spacious with plenty of closet space. Showers are enormous. A tip for inside cabins; leave the TV on the view from the bridge and it can act as your window during the cruise – something we couldn‘t do 20 years ago. Something unusual in the cabin was a call button for the stewardess, which also served as a bedside night-light.
The suites are found on Sun Deck including 10 Cat. AA suites with private balconies and 28 Cat. A mini-suites.
A more traditional interior design means there is no grand atrium focal point of the ship but a very open purser's area. The Horizon lounge is relaxing and forward facing. The curtains are left open at night so you can watch the moon and stars and the shadow of the bow. This was a spectacular vision as we sailed from Auckland in full moonlight. On our sailing, there was a problem with the air conditioning in the beautiful library, with its wood cases, and readers found the nearby Horizon Lounge an ideal haven. Numerous public lounges are found on Promenade deck with a lovely inside promenade starboard with picture windows all along. Unfortunately, the unusual-at-sea leather sofas built into the ship have been removed from the Piano Lounge and it now features freestanding chairs and tables, easy to rearrange as necessary for the various quizzes held in this lounge. A few of the leather sofas could still be found in the adjoining Melody Bar. Also on Promenade deck are several well stocked shops and the photo gallery.
The show lounge has large columns, which can obstruct your view. It accommodates one sitting of passengers comfortably but when the local folkloric shows came aboard and everyone attended, it was difficult to find a seat. The stage is quite large and the shows well presented.
Many recent movies were shown in the very comfortable theatre, which is at the bottom of the ship in a converted hold.
The Savoy and Regency dining rooms are situated on Aloha deck. Open seating in both was available for breakfast and lunch with assigned dining for dinner. The semi-circular booths by the windows and inside the dining room are unusual today. The large picture windows afforded excellent sea views while dining. An outdoor buffet is found on Promenade deck aft with indoor seating in the Verandah Lounge. (There were plans to enlarge and cover in this eating area but I did not notice any change when Sky Princess called in Vancouver this summer after dry dock.) 24 hour tea and coffee is available by the lido pool with glass enclosed seating. A self-service breakfast and sometimes lunch were also provided here.
A disappointing feature of Sky Princess is the shortened promenade, which does not wrap around the bow. There is also no forward facing deck space except right at the top on observation deck. This can only be reached by climbing a stairway which made it inaccessible to some passengers.
This was Sky Princess, our home for 16 nights on a 4,600 nautical mile journey.
The Cruise Experience
We had a free day to explore Sydney from our hotel, the Old Sydney Parkroyal, in the historic Rocks district. This delightful hotel is a converted warehouse, as are most of the shops and restaurants in this area at the foot of Sydney Harbour Bridge. From the roof patio where the swimming pool is located, the view of the harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House is magnificent. Old Sydney Parkroyal proved to be an ideal base, centrally located with an excellent information centre nearby where the circle Sydney tour busses start their route. For those with limited time, a day pass on these busses, which take you to all the major sites, is an excellent way to see the city. They also drive over the Harbour Bridge and through the harbour tunnel.
The international cruise ship terminal is located in the Rocks, a 2-minute walk from the hotel so we looked forward to awakening to a view of our ship. When we got up on Monday, however, there was no ship to be seen. It had docked at Darling Harbour so after a leisurely morning around the Rocks, we had to take a cab to the ship. Boarding was quick and easy and we were soon enjoying the welcome aboard buffet lunch served in the Regency dining room.
Sailout & Tasman Sea
The next two days were spent on the Tasman Sea heading for New Zealand.
We encountered the remnants of the hurricane which had swept across Australia
to the south island of New Zealand. The long swells of this region
were high and our crooked wake revealed how difficult it was to steer a
steady course. The skies
Passengers could sign up for bridge tours during the cruise and one of those days was during the Tasman Sea crossing. It was good to see an actual wheel on the bridge alongside the latest satellite navigation equipment. Officers were a mix of British from P&O and Italian from Sitmar.
Ferns were immediately apparent throughout the landscape, many growing like trees, giving a prehistoric appearance to the terrain which otherwise resembles the rolling hills of Great Britain. There are 156 varieties of ferns in New Zealand and they are a menace to gardeners and farmers. The silver fern is the national plant and is the symbol of New Zealand sports teams including the All Blacks.
Roads are exceptionally well maintained and quiet. I thought it would be a good place to hire a car and have a leisurely driving holiday stopping where you please along the way.
Good Friday, we were docked in Auckland and most businesses were shut, as we had been warned. Our tour to the museum was replaced with a ride to the top of the tower from where we had a superb view of the volcano, Rangitoto Island and the city environs. The America's Cup race will be held in Auckland in 2000 and already boats from the participating yacht clubs were preparing for the race.
Tours while in Auckland included city sights, harbour cruise and Rangitoto Island and a day trip inland to the Glow Worm Grotto.
The following day we docked near the volcanic cone at Mt. Manganui, the port for Tauranga and Rotorua. Mt. Maunganui is also a resort town, situated on the Bay of Plenty with miles of magnificent, empty, white sand beaches (reminiscent of the Indian Ocean beaches in South Africa.) It was spectacular.
The drive to Rotorua, New Zealand's thermal capital, took us past many kiwi fruit (sisspray) farms. Again the roads were not busy and the scenery was green and rolling with lots of ferns. Rotorua is a unique city where steam can be found rising out of the ground almost anywhere. The thermal activity is put to good use as homes have built-in steamers and there is a geo-thermal electrical station at nearby Wairakei. The activity is widespread and takes the form of bubbling mud pools, steam rising from the ground (parts of the golf course were boarded off due to steam) acid pools and geysers. The best display of these phenomenon was at Whakarewarewa, where Maori guides greet you with the traditional welcome and take you on a tour of the area. You can walk the trails or ride on an electric trolley around the grounds. The geyser activity was spectacular with several going off at once.
Other attractions on this day tour were the Trout farm and bird sanctuary where we saw a Brown Kiwi, New Zealand's national bird, and a visit to a sheep farm for sheep shearing and sheep dog demonstrations. Lunch was exceptionally good – roast lamb at the Lake Plaza Hotel on Lake Rotorua with a Maori folkloric show after the meal. It was one of the fullest and most rewarding days of the entire cruise. Rotorua is unique in the world.
Sailing for Suva, Fiji
Arriving in Suva, a Cable and Wirelsss ship was at anchor nearby. The palm clad hills looked very lush and this was confirmed as we drove around the island. The vegetation is thick. Suva is the capital and largest city in Fiji. There was a market near the ship and we were walking distance into town. Most of the tours offered visited cultural attractions. Our city tour took us to the museum (which contains artifacts from the Bounty as well as exhibits of Fijian history) situated in the beautiful botanical gardens, the parliament building, President's home and a private garden.
Before we sailed from Suva, the police band, smartly dressed in red and white uniforms, marched up and down the dock playing a variety of traditional band and modern popular pieces. It was a colourful and moving sendoff.
Tin Can Mail, Tonga
In the 1920's, a unique method of mail delivery was instituted whereby the mail from the ship was sealed in large biscuit tins. Two or three islanders would swim out to collect the tins. Nowadays, they come for it in a small boat. On our visit, they had run out of gasoline, so they had to paddle out. The rain was heavy with the squalls and it was difficult to get Sky Princess in very close to the island. Eventually we were in position and the small boat came out to meet us. We gave them fuel along with the mail tins.
Everyone on board was given special Tin Can Mail envelopes to send home (and they did arrive safely, eventually). It was a surprise call, one of those exciting events that can only happen on a sea voyage.
International Date Line
Apia, Samoa -
The parliament building is out of town and was a stop on the island tour. Agriculture is a major industry here with coconut, banana and other plantations covering the countryside. The Polynesians bury their family in the garden so shrines are seen outside the homes. There are many buildings with no walls, the climate being so favourable all year round, only a roof is needed.
The most famous place to stay here is Aggie Greys, a hotel since 1933. Many celebrities and writers have made this their home while on Samoa. Still family owned, it is decorated in genuine South Seas style and looked very welcoming. Definitely a good base for a Samoan vacation.
One of the reasons we chose this cruise was the call at Apia, where we could visit Vailima, home of the writer, Robert Louis Stevenson. Forced to leave Scotland for health reasons, Stevenson spent the last 5 years of his life here. His beautiful home sits high on a hill outside Apia and is now a fascinating museum filled with photos, furniture and memorabilia. In the study, there are original pages of Stevenson's writings and first editions of Treasure Island, Kidnapped and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson was a good friend of the Samoans who called him Tusitala, "Teller of Tales". Stevenson was given a Samoan Royal burial on top of Mt. Vai, beside his home. His wife Fanny was later buried beside him. You can walk 45 minutes through the nature sanctuary to see Stevenson's grave and enjoy superb views of the island. Visiting Vailima was certainly a highlight of this cruise.
Once again, the police band played as we set sail. We have been impressed by the quality of the musicianship heard during our visit to these islands.
Pago Pago, American Samoa
The port of Pago Pago (pronounced Pango Pango) sits in the crater of a volcano. The steep slopes of the crater are lush green and surround the town. With no coral reef, the surf pounds the many beaches which fringe the island.
Several large fishing boats have run aground along the shores of the island and the harbour. These boats brought their catch to the tuna cannery in Pago Pago harbour which is the largest in the world.
We stopped for tea at infamous Sadie Thompson's, featured in Somerset Maugham's short story, Rain. It is now a restaurant and bar.
A market was setup at the foot of the gangway making shopping for crafts
very easy. Musicians and dancers entertained us throughout
Tours here included an island drive (it is just 25 miles around the island) land rover safari, glass bottom boat and lagoon cruise, snorkel safari and shark feeding, scuba dives and a cultural show. Vehicles were available in Vaitape for those setting out on their own. There was a shuttle from the ship to Matira Point and another to Bloody Mary's, the bar and seafood restaurant made famous by the musical South Pacific.
In Bora Bora we encountered the only cruise ship of our voyage. It was
Society Expeditions' ms World Discoverer, a 3,153 ton vessel built
specially for expedition and adventure cruising. Passengers were
enjoying water sports from the stern as it sat close to shore
Moorea, French Polynesia
The hotels in French Polynesia feature thatched, over-water bungalows. You can watch the fish from a window in the floor and climb down your private ladder to swim in the lagoon. The ideal tropical getaway.
As well as circle island drives in the open air “le truck“, a cultural show, snorkeling by catamaran, 4WD adventure and motu islet cruise were offered in Moorea. Again there were cars and motorbikes for rent.
At sunset we sailed out of Opunohu Bay, the mountains silhouetted against the sky – another sublime moment in Moorea.
From the ship it was easy to walk around town, visit the colourful market and do some shopping. Taxis and car rentals were available at the gangway but are very expensive in Tahiti. Better to take the local transportation, le truck, to get around. Tours of Tahiti available from the ship included stops at the Paul Gauguin museum (which houses only 2 of his paintings), the Museum of Tahiti and her islands, Point Venus and an island drive.
Point Venus is the site where, on Cook's first voyage, the Astronomer, Charles Green tracked the transit of Venus across the sun on June 3, 1769. It is now a park and beach with a lighthouse and monument to the missionaries who came to Tahiti. From Point Venus you look back to Matavai Bay where the ships of Cook's expeditions and Bligh's Bounty anchored. On the road back to Papeete, at Tahara'a Hill, is another spectacular view of the Bay, looking back to Papeete with Moorea in the distance.
Disembarkation and Flight Home
Princess uses Tower Air for charters to and from Papeete. Scheduled air service is so infrequent to Tahiti that it necessitates the use of charters. The United Nations and the U.S. military frequently use Tower Air for charter flights. We did not know what to expect and were pleasantly surprised. Legroom was much more generous than on scheduled carriers and food and service were very good. It took only 8 hours to fly to Los Angeles and 3 hours from there to Vancouver.
Cruising is an ideal way to experience the beauty of the South Pacific islands. Happily, over the next 2 years, opportunities to sail in this region will increase as Silversea, Renaissance, Radisson Seven Seas, Crystal, Cunard, P&O, Princess and Orient Line plan Trans-Pacific or French Polynesia cruises.
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