In February and March of 2024, three couples took a vacation to Australia and New Zealand together. The Silverns (Meg and Reid), the Whitelaws (Gina and Kim), and the Zechiels (Jessica and David).

Days 1 & 2, February 13th-15th - People start to arrive in Sydney, Australia

David and Jessica spent Tuesday, February 13th, taking care of chores and packing. We caught a ride to LAX with Gina. She and Kim will meet up with us in Sydney the day the cruise departs. Because our flight doesn't depart until 10:30p, and our flight crosses the International Date Line, we leave on the 13th and arrive on the 15th! It's as if Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday didn't exist this year.

Gina arrived at our house promptly at 6:00p and we were soon on our way. The drive to LAX was easy and we had no trouble unloading at Terminal 4. We checked our big bags and made it through security with our TSA Precheck. Then killed time at Gate 43 waiting for departure. Gina texted that she got our car home safely.

We boarded the plane just before 10:00p. This is one big plane, and it seemed to be packed to capacity. We are in row 27, seats D & E. The woman on my right impresses me as a white-knuckle flyer. This is a fifteen hour flight. We will try to sleep, but who knows?

First movie: "Haunted Mansion". They served dinner, David had the chicken. Next movie: The List. Save your money and time, don't watch this movie.  David then actually managed to fall asleep for about four hours. David woke up and they were serving breakfast. Afterwards David watched "The Princess and the Frog", a Disney musical. It was better than expected. After that David tried to watch a BBC documentary about the planet Mercury, but drifted off to sleep again! 

Jessica watched "The Color Purple", "Sixteen Candles" and "The Holdovers". We would not describe ourselves as "rested", but better than we felt on our trip to Egypt. It had something to do with leaving at 10:00p. We still have about another 90 minutes in the air before arriving in Sydney.

Jessica surprised me by producing a Valentine's Day card for me out of nowhere. Thank goodness she didn't try to put ashes on my forehead! Something special needs to be done for her on this trip.

The stewardesses (ahem, flight attendants) came around again and served second breakfast. Jessica had the scrambled eggs, David had the fresh fruit plate.

It seems the Aussies are very serious about you declaring anything of a food nature you might want to bring into their country. Jessica brought some beef jerky along, we will see if we still have it in the airport.

A very smooth landing! On the ground in Sydney! We were so early, we had to wait to get a gate for the plane. Then wait to exit the plane. Wait to go through customs.  Wait to go through border control. Walked a quarter mile to find Meg and Reid waiting at the airport McDonald's.

We then walked another quarter mile in the other direction for a taxi. Our hack, Kingsley, was an excellent driver, and took us on the route recommended by Google Maps. We arrived in good stead at the Tank Stream Hotel and quickly checked in. Our room is on the 14th floor, Meg and Reid on 15. The room is comfortable, with air conditioning and lots of storage space.

Our Greeter, Bill, was supposed to meet us at noon and walk us around the downtown. Jessica decided to take a quick nap before meeting him. The nap was cut short when Meg and Reid asked if we would like to join them for lunch. As we hadn't eaten in about 90 minutes, we said, "Sure!" Right across the street from our hotel is the nicest food court seen anywhere! You enter from a couple of different directions and join a circular corridor which has various ethnic food stalls on both sides. There must be about 20 places to choose from. Jessica and David shared Chinese from a place that reminded you distinctly of Panda Express. Meg got a roast beef sandwich and Reid got some ethnic beef dish on noodles. 

Jessica, Reid and Meg with Greeter Bill

We are now back at the hotel and have met up with Bill the Greeter. He introduced himself and started to take us on a walk around Sydney, being sure to point out places and things of interest. This included the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House.

Meg, Reid, Jessica and David in Sydney Harbor

Then we started walking up hill. Once we got near the top of the hill, we entered a pub that has it's tables on the third floor. People ordered beer and soft drinks to take a load off. We left the pub, turned right, and marched a couple of miles over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Very good views of the harbor and the Opera House. At the far side there was some discussion about walking a lot more, OR, taking the ferry back across the harbor to a point very near our hotel. The ferry faction prevailed 4-0.

THe harbor, the Opera House and Overseas Cruise Terminal from the bridge

Jessica and Meg on the Harbor Bridge

On our way to the ferry, we sat down and debated the relative merits of various systems of government. When it was time to get moving again, we walked to the ferry port, which was about halfway back to central Sydney. The ferry showed up after about 15 minutes. Everyone just swiped a credit card to "buy" a ticket, but there was no ticket or receipt given, and nobody checking as you boarded or later onboard. When we disembarked we had to swipe our cards again to get out. This amounted to about $0.65 per ride.

We walked a little ways with our Greeter, then he pointed and said our hotel was thataway. We all shook hands, and David wanted to tip him, but he refused! Jessica said he wouldn't even let her buy his drink in the pub! 

We walked another six or seven blocks to our hotel, then took naps before dinner. At 5:30p we decided to visit the hotel's dining room. They gave us a private table in a small room off the main room. Jessica got a salad and beer batter fries. David got the whole chicken. Very tasty and a very pleasant meal.

We went back in our room at 7:30p, and got a good night's sleep.

Day 3, February 16th - Sydney, Australia

This day started earlier than we had anticipated. We went to bed exactly at 8:30p local time, and set an alarm for 7:00a. In the deepest sleep, David woke to a LOUD alarm ("BEEP BEEP BEEP"). David asked Jessica to quash the alarm, but she was stumbling around in the dark looking for the source of the sound. David finally found the light switch about the time the alarm started to "WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP" and exclaim "EVACUATE EVACUATE EVACUATE"! Oh, crap! But Jessica knowingly said to me, "I read about this place online. This isn't the first time this has happened. One poster wrote that it happened four times in one night!" About this time the alarm ceased. We calmed down and turned off the lights. About a half hour later an announcement was made over the PA that is was a false alarm. We managed to drift back to sleep. This morning, at breakfast, Meg and Reid told of getting all the way dressed before the alarm stopped. The story given by staff is that someone was smoking in one of the public lavatories and set off the smoke alarm.

We got up at 7:00a this morning and met Meg and Reid at the hotel's complimentary breakfast buffet. The food was, surprisingly, quite good!

We then started our day of touring by walking to the Hop-On Hop-Off bus stop. The bus arrived on time and, with the tickets pre-purchased by Jessica, it was all aboard. There are 34 stops in a circular route, each with a point of interest. They have nice headphones (for most languages) and hand out maps of your itinerary. The Aussies are sure proud of their heritage. 

We made a loop on the bus, getting off where we got on. From there it was a brief walk to the Sydney Opera House. We met our tour group at the Welcome kiosk. The Opera House is at least as impressive on the inside as it is on the outside. We were taken up many flights of stairs to see theaters and the inside of the main concert hall. Because there was a worker-bee testing microphones in the main concert hall, we were asked not to take pictures due to "privacy concerns" (this, however, did not stop Jessica). David sent an e-mail to the PR department asking that they have their minions wear Covid masks in the future so pictures may be taken. This reminded us very much of Segerstrom Center near us. It would seem they got some of their ideas from the Sydney Opera House. Back in California, Gina was trying to get tickets online for the Opera House tour for when they arrived, without luck. She texted Meg, who walked over to the ticket booth and acquired the tickets necessary for Kim.

David and Jessica about to tour the Opera House

The Opera House main concert hall interior

The self cleaning tiles that make up the roof of the Opera House

We then picked up our tickets for the harbor tour, and had lunch in Wahlburgers (which seems to be owned by the Walberg family). Pretty tasty, but this entire country seems confused at the concept of refillable soft drinks. We followed the directions on the Harbor Cruise website to their location, but only found ourselves at a private apartment complex. When we finally found the actual Harbor Cruise location and asked about the address on the website, we were told that they gave that address because it was the closest address to the port that Uber would take people to. No warning that it was a couple of streets away from where you actually wanted to be.

Right at 2:30p, we all piled onto the ship for the harbor cruise. We got a table near the prow on the main deck. This boat has its own wet bar, and Reid graciously bought a round of drinks for the table. This harbor tour takes about 90 minutes, and the guide talks non-stop during every moment. There is no shortage of wealthy and famous Aussies who have owned a waterfront home. We saw some ships retired from the Australian Navy and a lot of very expensive yachts. It even took us under the Harbor Bridge. A very nice, very relaxing little cruise, with perfect weather!

Sydney cityscape from the harbor, showing the Sydney Eye and Fort Dennison in the foregound

We walked back to our hotel for a brief rest before heading off to the Sydney Tower Eye, a very tall building with an observation area on top. At 6:00p we all walked a few blocks south on Pitt Street. This is where your adventure to the top of the tallest building in Sydney begins. They have built a shopping mall into the lower five floors of some older buildings. Enter from the street, find the correct elevator and take it to the 5th floor. Exit and wander aimlessly until you see some signs saying "This way to Sydney Eye". Follow the signs for quite a while through a number of switchbacks, then to a security station where they confiscate your tiny pocket knife. Then down another corridor to a special bank of elevators that only take you to the top, at 879 feet above ground level. We made a tour around the perimeter (a wonderful view), and just as the sun was setting, the clouds rolled in. At times you could see nothing but white out the windows.

Jessica in the Sydney Eye tower

We rode the elevator back down, and on the way out we passed through the mandatory gift shop. Jessica found a squishmallow koala and a squishmallow kangaroo that she just had to buy for the grandkids. From there we walked back to try and have dinner at the fantastic food court next door. But! there was an apparent rave being hosted there and the restaurants were all closed. We defaulted to the hotel restaurant, which was just about to close. David got the beef sirloin. Jessica got the chicken pâté. Meg got the pork belly, and Reid had fish. A very tasty meal. At 9:15p we all said "goodnight" and went immediately to bed. We have another big day tomorrow.

Day 4, February 17th - Sydney, Australia

Without the middle of the night alarm, we slept much better. Up around 7:00a to shower and dress. Then we met Meg and Reid in the dining room for breakfast. The exact same fare as yesterday, but still tasty and filling. 

Today we are taking a walking tour of "The Rocks". We started by walking about a block from our hotel to the tram stop and boarding the next tram bound for Circular Quay. This is very convenient, because instead of having to purchase a token and pass through a turnstile, you just tap your credit card to get on and tap it again to get off. You are billed on how far you travel. There is a $200 fine if you are caught on the tram without tapping on. 

From Circular Quay we walked about two blocks to "The Rocks Walking Tours" and checked in easily with our guide, John. While waiting for the tour to start we met another couple taking the same tour, who, it seems, were from Pennsylvania, but now live in Melbourne. They suggested that while in Melbourne, we visit their zoo.

So, our "Rocks" tour started, and John took us to a neighborhood built into sandstone cliffs. When the original convicts were sent to New South Wales, one of them was a mason. He was given a pardon by the governor and promoted to chief brick person. Houses were built into the cliffs using carved stone and bricks. This area was remarkably poor (really slums). The rat problem was so bad, that a bounty was offered for captured rats. This started an underground economy of breeding and raising rats for profit.

Tour guide, John, explains the living conditions of criminals in The Rocks

We saw many sights. There was an interesting three-sided statue that honored the soldiers, the settlers, and the convicts. Each of these is represented by a negative relief. We saw the oldest cottage in Sydney (Cadman's Cottage, built in 1816), and we saw the Doss House, an early hotel built to accommodate the masses of the Australian Gold Rush. Our guide, John, is a wealth of information! He brings the past alive with interesting stories and presentation. 

Jessica and the statue for soldiers, settlers and convicts

The oldest cottage in Sydney, Cadman's Cottage

After the tour we stopped at an Italian restaurant that seemed to be populated by a 100% Asian staff. We got a large pizza and some garlic bread to share. When we came in, we were the only customers in the place. In the next 10 minutes it completely filled up. The garlic bread wass tasty, and the pizza was excellent! The restroom was upstairs, but the staircase was so steep, it should be called a ladder.

We left the restaurant and went to the cruise port to see how early Gina could check her luggage (she's flying in tomorrow morning). From there we walked to the Hop-On Hop-Off bus stop and caught the Red Line. We took that to the junction with the Blue Line and made the transfer. This gives us a new set of points of interest. We rode for over an hour seeing places like Bondi Beach.

Bondi Beach

Our original plan was to ride the blue Hop-On Hop-Off bus to Stop 25, where it would be a short walk to the L2/L3 tram line that ran past our hotel. However, when we got to Stop 24 (out by the Central Railway Station), the driver announced "This is the end of the line, everybody out!" It turns out that this evening is the annual Gay Pride/Mardigras Parade in downtown Sydney, and between the excessive number of revelers and protesters on the streets, there wasn't going to be any bus service. We spoke to a representative from the bus company and she suggested that we could walk down the block, cross the street, and we would find a tram station. And, she was right! Not only was there a station, but it was closer than the station we planned to use was from Stop 25. We had to ride the tram a few extra stops, but that was no big deal.

We returned to our hotel and relaxed before dinner. It looks like we will be having Greek this evening. We talked to the front desk and they suggested two different Greek places. The first one was in the building that the Sydney Eye was located in. As we had been there just yesterday, we decided to go to the other place, which was located in Circular Quay. We took the tram and walked to the place indicated by Google Maps. No one there had ever even heard of a place called Greek Odyssey! So, we wandered around and settled on an upscale seafood restaurant. It's 6:30p in the evening (their summer) and the sun was warm enough that we opted to eat inside. I'm convinced a restaurant could bring in landmark business if they were the first in Australia to offer soft drink refills.

Jessica and David, and Meg and Reid, both ordered the fish and chips to share. We also got side orders of rice, corn on the cob, and a green salad, along with drinks. The food was really good! When paying the bill, David told the guy about the missing Greek restaurant, and he said he thought it was a movable food cart that appeared at times. That at least, answered some questions.

We took the tram back to the hotel, and everyone agreed to get a good night's sleep. We join our cruise ship tomorrow.

Day 5, February 18th - Join the Cruise

We got up this morning and met Meg and Reid for breakfast. Same fare, still tasty. After a leisurely meal we returned to our room and packed up everything, taking special care to check all drawers and the safe. We once again met Meg and Reid in the lobby where we attached our Princess luggage tags. From there we walked to the L2 tram and rode it to Circular Quay.  From there it was a short walk to the Overseas Passenger Terminal.

David and Jessica walking to the cruise terminal

We dropped off the luggage then joined the queue for boarding. There were quite a few people here and the line was poking along. After perhaps a half-hour wait, the line started moving quickly. We had to show passports four times, show our New Zealand visa, our Princess medallion a couple times, then get undressed to pass through security (in David's case, his hat and belt).

We met Meg and Reid in the Good Spirits Lounge for drinks and to set up the Internet. We then went to check out our cabin. This ship lacks built in USB ports (which we have seen in the past), it's a good thing we brought our own chargers. We visited the excursion desk and canceled our excursion in Hobart (we are going on one Gina arranged instead). We also visited the future cruise deposit desk and bought four of 'em. Jessica and David went back to the Good Spirits lounge where we met up with Kim. He had just finished touring the Opera House. After a while Gina appeared (she opted to shower after being on the road the last 24 hours). Then Meg and Reid returned and everybody exchanged travel stories, and consumed drink after drink.

Jessica and David returned to their cabin and found their luggage had been delivered. We unpacked everything, called our steward and asked that he tape over the light sensor, and that he replace all of the hard liquor in our Elite drinks package with Coca-Cola

After that we met Gina, Kim, Meg and Reid for dinner in the Concerto dining room. The menu seems to be as good as ever. About this time the ship departed Sydney, and everyone was careful to put their phones in airplane mode. The dinner was delicious! After, Jessica and David attended the comedy show in the Princess Theater. We laughed exactly once. I'm afraid Aussie comedians, at least this one (Chris Radburn), have a long way to go.

From there we went and sat on the Promenade, but before the next trivia game could start, Jessica declared she was having a tough time staying awake. We came back to our cabin. The laundry had been taken. There were extra hangers in the closet that we had asked for. The hard liquor had been replaced with Coca-Cola. However, the sensor that turns on the hall light when there's motion had not been disabled. Jessica does not like that light at all! She called housekeeping again to request something be done about this light, but this was 40 minutes ago and no one has appeared. The guy finally showed up and taped up the sensor. We think we can now go to sleep.

Day 6, February 19th - At Sea

We slept a little late this morning. Despite agreements of everyone to meet for breakfast, we got separate messages from Kim and Gina, and from Meg and Reid, that they were up early and decided to do breakfast on their own. While David was showering, Jessica placed an order to have two lattes delivered to the room. They had still not been delivered by the time we were ready to leave, so Jessica used the chat app to give them our new location in the dining room.

We agreed to share a table for breakfast with two other couples, one from East Yorkshire in the UK, and the others from Chicago, IL. Very nice people. While there, David's phone vibrated and he saw that there had been a charge of $65.47 on his Citi Visa from Princess Royal Chats. David had no idea what this charge was all about and showed it to Jessica. The strange thing is that any charges of this nature should not be made without explicit approval, and even then they should be applied to our shipboard folio, not directly to a credit card.

We were running late for 9:30a trivia, and we met up with the others just in time to score 18/20 and place 3rd (if the others would have used David's answers we would have scored 20/20).

From there Jessica and David went to Guest Services to get an explanation for this strange charge. The girl was very friendly and helpful and explained that the timing of this charge and our latte order was just coincidence. This charge was simply a hold on our account and was applied to every passenger.

Relieved, Jessica and David joined Meg and Gina on deck 16 for games and reading time. David is trying out a new book series called "The Infinity Engines", this first volume is called "Arachronist". Still to early to tell if it's any good.

At 3:00p Jessica and David met Meg and Reid for high tea. Another couple from Rochester, NY joined our table. They were very nice people.

Another round of trivia, we scored 22/24 (23 was good for first). As this is a formal night, Jessica and David went to our cabin and put on our Monday best. Dinner with everyone in the Concerto Dining Room. David got the sirloin, and it was as good as any steak he had ever had. After the meal, Gina promoted a future cruise to... Antarctica! Jessica is dragging her heels on this suggestion (which is fine with me, because I don't want to pay that kind of money to see ice out my window. I'll open the freezer door if it comes down to that).

Jessica and David listened to the "Yes-No Game Show", where contestants are asked a series of questions to which they may not answer "yes" or "no". There were several winners, but they all hesitated to such a degree that we would have flunked them.

We then attended the "Tricky Twisted Trivia" contest, where they trotted out all of these very old posers (such as, "Some months have 31 days, some have 30 days, how many have 28?", or, "What starts with an 'E', ends with an 'E', and contains a single letter?"). There were about 30 of these types of questions. we knew, or guessed correctly, 28 of them. Both Meg and Gina were called upon and gave instant, correct answers. 

We stuck around for Movie Poster Trivia. Jessica, Meg, Reid and David scored 18/20, good for third place. Headed back to our cabin.

Day 7, February 20th - Melbourne, Australia

Jessica woke David early to have breakfast with Meg and Reid in the FoodJammer. After, we all went down to deck 5 to meet up with Gina (Kim has elected to stay on board today). We disembarked and walked and walked and walked until we reached the taxi stand. We hired a driver, Raffi, and he drove us through downtown Melbourne (indicating points of interest along the way) to the Melbourne Zoo with no issues.

David and Jessica see the Australian animals

This is a very pleasant experience! We first saw the ring-tail lemurs, then the gorillas, then a pygmy hippopotamus. We had a very nice walk through the bamboo forest. Next was the black-handed spider monkey. We saw cassowarys, kangaroos, koalas, emus, and wallabies, along with other native-to-Australia birds. Next were the peccaries, these are wild pigs you don't want to mess with.

The Black Handed Spider Moneky

A koala minding his own business

Then came the giraffes and baboons. A short walk later revealed dingos and lions! There was a reptile house with pythons and tree frogs. They are supposed to have two snow leopards in this zoo, but despite a very nice enclosure (with lots of views) the snow leopards managed to keep out of sight. We did manage to see the Sumatran Tiger.

The tree frogs look fake, but are very real!

We walked to another reptile house, this one had many snakes, lizards, iguanas, crocodiles, etc. There was a cobra that was most impressive.

Then we saw the platypus! What a strange creature! They had a very nice display in which the platypus could swim while you watched through the glass.

Best picture of a swimming platypus

All throughout this park there is a constant electronic chirping taking place. David decided that he must ask someone in charge what that noise is all about. We thought it might be some sort of deterrence to keep predators away. So, he asked one of the zookeepers about the sound, and the keeper assured us that it was the call of the Bell Miner (miner is an alternate spelling of myna) bird. Even as he explained this, David had his doubts, it sounded like an annoyatron or a loud smoke alarm with a low battery.

We also saw a white ibis, a bird the locals call a "bin chicken". These fowl are very common, and they tend to dig in and spread around the contents of your garbage bin, hence the name.

A White Ibis ("bin chicken") going after the trash

We last visited the water portion of the park, which included all sorts of fish and rays, along with a nice assortment of the cutest penguins. After about three hours, we decided it was getting warm, and the concensus was to wind it up and head back to our ship.

The cute penguines, each with his own armband

We looked into getting a cab, but decided to go with an Uber instead. The driver, Ravi, was born in India, but raised in New Zealand. He was very friendly and returned us in good stead. Jessica had to fold herself up like a pretzel to fit into the very back

We walked back on board and got a bite to eat at the International Cafe. Then we all went to trivia where we scored 17/23. The winning team scored 23/23, and I'm convinced that they have heard these trivia questions previously. "What was 'Chilean Sea Bass' originally called?" This is not something you pick up during a typical lifetime of collecting random information. 

Dinner this evening was for only five of us, Reid decided to eat on his own. Gina has gone ahead and booked an Antarctic cruise for her and Kim. There was something on the menu this evening that Gina said she had no idea what it was. It was "Gosht Saagwala" and the description was entirely in a foreign language. David Googled it and decided he would try it out, as it sounded delicious. It was actually very good, and he's glad he decided to give it a try.

Jessica and David took in the big Broadway show called "Encore" in the Princess Theater. It was excellent! These folks can sing and dance. There are three female and two male vocalists, six female and five male dancers.

The cast of Encore in the Princess Theater

From there we went to Princess Live! for the "Rock the Room" game. Going into this, we didn't know what to expect. You can tell how chagrined David was, when told that he found himself dancing the Macarena in front of a roomful of people! It was fun, but he wouldn't want to do that again. Jessica was having a blast. 

We joined Meg and Reid afterwards for "Movie Misquotes" trivia. An example: "We came. We saw. We cut it's grass." Correct the quote and name the movie. Here's another: "As you fish." We scored 35/38. The first place team (the same team that was perfect earlier today) scored 38/38.

When we returned to our room, we found the clothes that we submitted for laundering had been returned. This is like having Dobby the house elf at your disposal. One could get used to this kind of treatment. It's now after 10:00p and we have had a big day. Tomorrow is a sea day.

Day 8, February 21st - At Sea

Jessica and David were up around 8:00a to meet Meg for breakfast in the formal dining room. We all met Kim, Gina and Reid in the Vista Lounge for morning trivia. We scored 17/20 (the winning team scored 20/20). Meg thinks that something is "afoot".

Princess no longer gives out individual prizes for the trivia contests, instead they give out tickets, which can be combined and exchanged for prizes at the end of the cruise. After a particularly difficult trivia, where the second highest score was perhaps 9 out of 20, a woman in the back claimed to have scored a perfect 20, and wanted six tickets (one for each member of her party), the assistant cruise director asked that each member of her team come get their own ticket. They never showed, and after that they requested that people exchange answer sheets for grading. After that there were no more "perfect" scores.

The others went off to play games. David took a chair on the Promenade to read. One of Jessica's games was to hide rubber duckys that she had gotten from her "Buy Nothing" group around the ship for others to find. A crew member told Jessica that the crew was excited to find the duckys and had collections of them.

At lunch time Kim and David shared a table with four Australian sisters and two of their husbands. Very nice people who seemed overly concerned with US politics. 

We went to Logo trivia, scoring 17/20 (20/20 needed to win).

Then off to high tea with Meg and Reid. Quite tasty, the scones are very good.

Then back in Princess Live for more trivia with Kim, Gina and Jessica. We did dismally, scoring 13/21. First place scored 21/21 (another perfect score!).

Jessica and David sat on the promenade and played her phone games together.

In what seems like no time at all, it's time to eat again! Everyone to our regular table for dinner. David got the grilled barramundi.

Jessica, Reid and David went to the Princess Theater to see singer Nathan Foley. This guy put on a high energy show that had the crowd on their feet dancing and singing along.

After the show, Jessica wanted to return to our cabin, but the night was still pretty early, so David took his book to the Promenade to read some while she hit the hay.

David came back to the cabin to find Jessica sleeping and read some more.

Day 9, February 22nd - Hobart, Tasmania

Up at 7:00a to be ready and breakfasted by 8:00a. We grabbed a bite in the FoodJammer. David got the best tasting bowl of granola he had ever eaten!

At 8:00a we disembarked. After a few false starts we hired a maxicab to take all of us to the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary. It was about a 30 minute drive. Our driver, Michael, kept up a running commentary of our trip, but because of his thick Aussie accent, we could pick up, at most, 50% of what he said. This was counterbalanced by the fact that he was hard of hearing, and could probably make out only half of what we asked him.

We arrived at the Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary right around 9:00a, showed our tickets, and were inside in two shakes. They have a wonderful menagerie of native fauna! All the employees are helpful and friendly. We were able to feed the kangaroos! We saw wombats, Tasmanian devils, echidnas, along with a large host of smaller rodents, snakes and different birds (including Kookaburra) up close and personal. You can do the whole place in two hours.

Kangaroos everywhere at the wildlife sanctuary

A friendly wombat

The Tasmanian devil looks cute, but has a nasty dispostion

A pair of Kookaburra birds, known for their distinctive call

Tow echidnas, porcupines with pointy snouts

By 11:00a we had seen it all and we called Michael the cabbie to pick us up and return us to our ship. He arrived shortly, and on the way back drove us through the central business district of Hobart, explaining some of the city's history. 

We ran the gauntlet of souvenir shops coming back on board. Some very nice stuff, but all pretty expensive, even in Australian dollars.

Back on board, Jessica and David got a bite from the International Cafe. We then got dessert at the Gelato bar. It was very tasty. Jessica wanted to get cleaned up before dinner, so we came up to our cabin. While she got ready, David dozed.

At 3:30p everyone showed up in Princess Live! for afternoon trivia. Our team finally won, scoring a perfect 20/20. There was only one answer that we guessed at, and Jessica came up with it. The interesting thing about this trivia is that all the answers rhymed: "Seoul, roll, pole, toll, control, soul, hole, oriole, droll, coal", etc. Jessica came up with "arteriole".

This evening is Kim's special birthday dinner in the Crown Grill. We have had some good meals onboard, but this was the best so far. Everything about the meal was exceptional, from the appetizers to the dessert. David got the Porterhouse and was the best he has ever tasted. Everyone said they really liked their meal.

From there we went to the Majority Rules game, where we usually guessed the right answer, then talked ourselves out of it. We finished way back in the pack.

Jessica and David then took in tonight's entertainment in the Princess Theater. The guy, Joel Salom, was a comedian and juggler. Plus he had a robot dog do part of his act. It would be super if he was as good of a comedian as he is a juggler. His act was certainly novel. 

We change our clocks tonight to GMT+12, so you will be four hours ahead for the next couple of days.

While walking back to our cabin the ship was pitching enough that everyone was staggering down the halls. Even now it's creaking quite a bit.

Day 10, February 23rd - At Sea

We slept in this morning, skipped breakfast and went straight away to the Vista Lounge for trivia. These questions were more difficult than usual. We scored 17/21, good for first place. We should have scored more, as we were unable to come up with the number of flats in B-flat major. Jessica was chagrined. She says John (or Noah) needs to teach her the circle of fifths. Also, when asked for the capitol of Samoa, we provided the capitol of American Samoa!

The ship is still rocking and rolling this morning. Everyone walking down the passageways looks like they are drunk, staggering left and right. A look out the window shows gray, high seas.

Kim showed us the birthday video that everyone made for him. Something like 186MB in size! He reminds me a little of Lou Gherig.

David, Jessica, Meg, Reid, Kim and Gina moved to the International Cafe to get a bite to eat.

We (Meg, Jessica, Gina and David) played a couple rounds of Codenames. Jessica and David lost the first one when David picked the death card, although we came back in the second game.

Everyone down to the Alegro Dining Room for lunch. Talk returned to the Antarctic cruise, and, a proposed cruise of Japan!

David, Meg, Reid, Gina, Kim and Jessica at lunch in the Alegro Dining Room

David took a seat on the Promenade and continued reading his book. At 3:30p Jessica collected us all for Super Tough Trivia. We scored 9/20, winning was 11/20 (two teams). Some of these questions were difficult, others were impossible. Do you know where the Beatles' first US concert was held?

After, Jessica and David got a scoop of Gelato in the shop off of the Piazza. Simple and delicious.

Everyone but Reid for dinner (he saw something in the buffet he wanted to try). David had the lamb, and it was outstanding. That's like three meals in a row that have each improved on the previous meal!

After dinner Jessica and David went to the Princess Theater to see Ollie Mulkeen, a brass player and vocalist. He played the trumpet and the flugelhorn. He is pretty talented, and sure got the audience whipped up (though think jessica may have dozed off during his performance) .

Then we raced to Princess Live! to play "The Living Room Battle". This was a bust.

We stuck around for "Musical Connections". The name pretty much says it all. They played three songs and you had to find the connection. The assistant cruise director, Liberty, had a bit of a 'tude. She didn't tell how the game worked, and when someone asked how the game was played, she announced that she had already explained (but David had been there for a while, and didn't hear the rules). Further, when asked if the connection might be a common artist, she emphatically said "no", but that WAS the connection in several. David managed to score 14/20, despite not recognizing many of the songs.

We stayed for the "Before They Were Famous" game (Jessica really likes looking at young pictures of famous people). This was more involved than just pictures, you also had to identify the movie that the young person starred it. On one, it showed Heromine Granger from Sorcerer's Stone, and David said, "Isn't that Emma somebody?", and Jessica assured David her name was NOT Emma. One of the few David was right on. Anyways, Jessica got us to second place on her own.

We are setting our clocks ahead again tonight. We will be on Auckland time (GMT+13) until we return home (the same time as Hawaii, just a differnt day!).

Day 11, February 24rd - At Sea

We lost another hour of sleep last night, waking around 8:45a, getting cleaned up, and meeting the others in the Vista Lounge for morning trivia. We scored 17/21, only good for third place. If anyone asks you in the future, "How many vowels are in the Greek alphabet?", the answer is "5".

Jessica and David went up to the buffet and got breakfast. The granola on this ship is surprisingly good! Jessica then joined the others to play games, while David took a seat on the Promenade and read his book. 

Jessica, Kim and David went to the sushi restaurant for lunch. Reid also showed up, but left when he found out that they only had raw fish on the menu. We all got Sapporo beers and had the lunch platter. Very tasty, and just the right amount.

David, once again, retired to the Promenade to read and Jessica was off playing games with Gina and Meg.

Everyone but Reid showed for 3:30p trivia. We scored 7½/23. Pretty pitiful (the winning team had 11). More reading on the Promenade. 

Then it was time for Movie Poster Trivia at 5:00p. Jessica and David were the only representatives from our group. The game (name the movie title) was played in three segments. 1) you see the poster without text, 2) you see a portion of the poster, 3) you see the poster with parts of it and text blocked out. We did OK in parts 1 & 2, but we were perfect (10/10) in part 3, and won that round by 2.

Everyone in the formal dining room for dinner. Another good meal. David had the pot roast, Jessica had the salmon and the goat cheese quiche.

Jessica and David tried to take in the show in the Princess Theater, but the 7:30p show was sold out. Instead we attended the "Sky is the Limit" show in Princess Live! People are given a topic and have to list as many things as they can. For instance, types of milk (whole, skim, 2%, coconut, almond, etc). This show involves a lot of shouting and audience participation. 

The Sky's the Limit show in the Princess Theater

We then went back to the Princess Theater to see the big show. Once again the theater was crowded, but we managed to get seats. This was a high energy show of singing and dancing! Very professionally put together. 

Back to our cabin around 10:30p. Tomorrow is Fiordland National Park (famous for its fjords). 

Day 12, February 25th - Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

Up early, as our ship is supposed to be entering the first fjord around 7:30a. We grabbed a quick breakfast in the buffet. A lot of people are on Deck 16 to get a good look at the towering walls as we navigate between them. It's very pretty, with many waterfalls. In places the clouds are low, obscuring the mountain peaks. When the ship arrived in the fjord, the locals sent out a pilot boat with someone to guide our ship safely within the fjord, as well as a local expert on the area to offer commentary on what we were experiencing. 

It is remarkably peaceful in this fjord, that is until a low-flying tourist plane went overhead. We spent well over an hour in the first fjord, mostly treading water and slowly turning in place. 

Early morning beautiful, peaceful fjord

One of the spectacular waterfalls

Everyone present for 9:30a trivia. We scored 18/20 (should have been 19, but we answered "Baker Street" instead of "Abbey Road (Jessica's choice)" when asked about the most stolen street sign in London). 18 was still good enough for first place.

David fetched his book and got a nice seat on the Promenade. We are currently sailing to the second fjord. It's a very pretty day.

David, Jessica, Meg and Reid had lunch in the buffet. Everyone then visited Meg and Reid's cabin to sit on their balcony and watch the second fjord go by. The balcony is nice, but I'm not certain it is worth the extra cost. There are lots of places on the ship that afford a nice view for free (although they are less private).

Jessica, Gina, Kim and Meg on the Silvern's balcony

Crusing the fjords in New Zealand

David read more of his book on the Promenade. Everyone but Reid showed for 3:00p trivia. We choked, scoring 12/20. 16 was the winning score.

The ship entered the third fjord. The scenery is simply fantastic. While out on deck we FaceTimed John and the grandkids (what fun!). It started to cool down considerably, so we moved into the Crooner's Bar with a good view out the window, and enjoyed Baileys coffees.

We were all at dinner in the formal dining room. Another good meal. The crème brûlée was especially tasty.

We saw the big production show in the Princess Theater. It was a singer, named Lisa Woodbrook. She can really belt! During the show, Jessica dropped her phone on the floor. When the show was over, David used his phone light to locate her phone AND... someone's VISA card! The woman sitting on the other side of Jessica had been watching us, and when she saw the card, she checked the name, and it was hers! Had Jessica not dropped her phone, this woman could be frantically searching for her credit card, not knowing it was on the theater floor.

We then went to Liar's Club in Princess Live! People give made up definitions to strange words (like "puckfist", "blatherskite" and "wiskititti" [which can't be found anywhere]). The best thing said was a story told that included an "Aussie Kiss", which, it was explained, is supposed to be like a French kiss, but "down under".

Jessica and David played some phone games to decide if we were awake enough to stay up, or should head to our cabin. We stayed up and joined Meg for the Up-Middle-Down game show. Ours was the first team called. This game is 90% luck and 10% trivia. The trivia questions here are very easy, but on each of your 12 turns you have a 33% random chance of losing one of your three lives. We bombed out the third time at about step 8.

When we returned to our cabin the laundry elves had paid us another visit. think that's my favorite benefit of having Elite status on Princess Cruises.

Day 13, February 26th - Dunedin, New Zealand

We slept well. David caught up with Jessica in the Vista Lounge for morning trivia. This trivia was Princess Cruises themed; all questions were about Princess. Jessica managed to get 11/20 correct all on her own. 

Meg, Reid, Kim and Gina left early to catch a train. After trivia, Jessica and David went to the buffet for some breakfast. David was so looking forward to the granola they have there, but this morning they were sold out. After talking with people of ever increasing importance (and being told that, yes  they had granola on board  but it was stored in the hold, and unavailable), settled for the raisin bran. Not nearly as good.

Our tour doesn't leave until almost 1:00p, so we went to the Promenade and played phone games. Around 12:30p we got a small bite at the International Cafe. 

We disembarked and found the line to our bus. We are part of group #25. After a short wait (spent talking with a couple from Northern California), we boarded the bus. Dunedin is known as the Edinburgh of New Zealand. You can see why: the climate is about the same, and it was populated with Scottish immigrants. Everyone here refers to themselves as "Kiwis".

Our driver provided commentary about the founding of this area. Port Chalmers was named for a Scottish reverend who moved his flock here for religious freedom. Our first stop was the Dunedin railway station that was built in 1904. This place has a lot of history, and appears to be an active station today. In fact, the train we saw in the station is the same one Kim, Gina, Meg and Reid were on earlier.

Railway Station Exterior

Railway Station Interior

We reboarded the bus and started gaining altitude, then arrived at Larnach Castle. We toured the "castle" (which was really a very large house built by a very rich man for his wife and six children). The staircases are all spiral (the last one [that leads to the rooftop] being quite narrow, with room for traffic in one direction at a time). This place was built around 1860 and would have been palatial at that time (or even today, for that matter). Large gardens surround the grounds

Larnach Castle Exterior

A docent at Larnach Castle with the butler's mirror

The view from the top of Larnach Castle

As we left, our bus driver was there to pick us up right on time. He took a circuitous route back to the ship, referring to points of interest along the way. One of the things the Kiwis are proud of, is the world's steepest road. Apparently there is an annual foot race on this road that attracts runners from all over. One look at this road, and you wouldn't want to live on it, much less run on it. Baldwin Street - you can look it up.

The steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

We were back on board by 5:00p, just in time for dinner. The rotisserie chicken was very tasty. David is afraid he's being spoiled by the dinners on this cruise.

We went to the "I'll Take Trivia for $100" game show (a poorman's Jeopardy!). We were doing really well until the last two questions: "What do you call a group of eagles?" and "Who was the first women's UFC champion?" Had we gotten either of these correct we would have kicked trivia butt. Jessica did correctly identify a demisemiquaver as a 32nd note and the five note scale as pentatonic

Jessica and David went to the Princess Theater to see the hypnotist, despite the fact that she's certain that we have already seen this guy on a previous Princess cruise. His name is David Knight, and we have seen him before. He put on an entertaining show. One of the people he hypnotized seemed to be completely under, the other eight or ten volunteers, it's hard to say.

We were back in our cabin by 10:45p. Tomorrow is another sea day.

Day 14, February 27th - at Sea

David stayed up reading last night. This morning Jessica woke David for trivia. We met all the others in the Vista Lounge at 9:30a. We scored 18/20, 19 was necessary for first.

Jessica and David went up to the buffet for breakfast. Today David was able to find the granola! It's very tasty! David would like to find out what brand they use, he really likes it.

Jessica went off to play games with Gina and Meg. David took a seat on the Promenade and read his book.

Around noon Kim found David reading and suggested sushi for lunch. We enjoyed a nice selection of rolls, sushi, edemame and salad (plus a Sapporo). Kim and David discussed their medical maladies (MS and cancer) and concluded that getting old sucks, but beats the alternative. After lunch, we both retired back to the Promenade to read.

Everyone present for 4:00p trivia. We scored 15/20. The "winning" team scored "only" 19 (Gina thinks they would have a tough time telling people they scored 20, as a couple of the questions were very tough ["What country's flag has a white, 12-pointed star?", or "What is the 12th anniversary gift category?", or "What is the 12th element on the periodic table?", or "What is 12 in binary?"]).

From there we went to the Platinum and Elite reception in the Vista Lounge. The had a very nice selection of sushi and other appetizers. And, since we were still not full, we all went from there directly to dinner in the formal dining room. Jessica and David both got the lamb.

Instead of ordering dessert, we all went to the Gelato station after dinner. David got the Peach Melba, which is one tasty dessert.

Jessica and David then attended the Buddy Holly tribute in the Princess Theater. David thinks the guy played every one of Buddy Holly's hits, plus one more from Elvis. It was a high energy show, and the guy did not dawdle with conversation filler; he kept playing the next song.

From there Jessica and David went to Princess Live! to see the "Can You Survive" game show. Meg and Gina joined us. This was a bizarre team competition that involved trivia and physical challenges. Jessica and David agreed this was pretty lame as games go.

Jessica says because we have to get up early in the morning to visit Wellington, we are heading back to our cabin at 9:15p, a pretty early evening.

Day 15, February 28th - Wellington, New Zealand

Up early to go on our excursion to the Storm Coast of Wellington. We took about a 90 minute bus drive along the Wainuiomata Coast to a sheep ranch called Pencarrow Lodge. Most of this coastal road was two lanes, about half of it was unpaved and very close to the ocean. A big wave could send water across the road.The scenery was quite beautiful. You could see goats on the mountainside. Ours was the first (of three) busses to arrive at the ranch. The folks here are very nice, and prepared a tea/coffee/cookies reception for all the tourists. We met another couple from California at one of the tables.

Pencarrow Lodge, vinyard and sheep farm

We walked around the ranch (which has vineyards and sheep). It's a very brisk, cold and windy day. The owner, Don, gathered everyone together and gave a 45 minute talk about running a sheep ranch. He seemed particularly proud of his sheep dogs. When the talk was finished he took us over to a paddock that had about a dozen sheep in it. He would whistle and the dogs would herd the sheep around on his command. These dogs were amazing! One dog, "Speed", would corral all the sheep, then get this look on his face that said, "Don't try to move, I'm watching you!" Finally, Don took one of the larger sheep and sheared it completely right in front of us. An interesting demonstration. At the end, Don even came on the bus to wish us "farewell".

John puts his dogs through their paces

The bus driver narrated the trip up and back. We saw the wreck of a good sized ship on the side of the road (the side away from the ocean). The storms along this stretch of the coast can get so severe that ships that had previously sunk are washed well up onto the shore.

A very old shipwreck washed ashore on the other side of the road

Our return along Storm Beach and the quait lighthouse

On our way back to the ship we passed the USA embassy (apparently the only embassy in New Zealand with a giant wall around it). They triple checked your ID when coming back to the ship. David supposes that they don't want any stowaways. We were back onboard about 1:00p. We dropped off our jackets in our cabin, then went up to the buffet for lunch. After lunch we stopped for Gelato, 

We attended 3:00p trivia, scoring 15/20. First place was 19. David finished his book last night (he cannot recommend it) and decided to donate it to the ship's library. He picked up a James Patterson paperback in exchange. Jessica wanted to take a nap before dinner, so she's sawing wood in the cabin.

Jessica and David met Kim, Gina, Meg and Reid in the Vista Lounge for the Platinum and Elite reception. There was all manner of finger food available. David had a double helping of the glazed nuts. Everyone but Reid was present for dinner. After a big lunch and the Elite reception snacks, David opted for just two different soups for dinner.

We then adjourned to Princess Live! for Riddle Trivia. Reid opted to see the production show instead. We scored 19/22. Another team "scored" 22/22 to win. We notice that other teams do exceptionally well when people are allowed to grade their own answer sheets.

From there Meg, Gina, Jessica and David went to the Vista Lounge to see the comedian, William Caulfield from Ireland. He was funny and polished. The crowd loved him. Unfortunately, all of his material was 60 years old. and David had heard all of the punchlines in his youth. David really feels he got ahold of a joke book published in the '50's, fleshed them out and made them first-person.

It's 9:30p and Jessica is fading fast. That's all for today. Tomorrow is another sea day. 

Day 16, February 29th - At Sea

We got up in time to attend trivia in the Vista Lounge with Kim, Gina, Meg and Reid. We scored 17/20, two teams scored 18 to tie for first.

Breakfast in the Horizon Court. David really likes their granola. Jessica went to take a tour of the ship's galley. David found a seat on the Promenade. 

Everybody present for Pub Lunch in the Allegro Dining Room. David got the fish and chips, along with the bread pudding. David took his new book, "Guilty Wives", (purportedly by James Patterson) to the Promenade to read, but fell asleep sitting there. The others came by and invited him to go listen to the choir (an ad hoc group made up of passenger volunteers) that were performing in the Piazza, but since they can be heard from here, decided to stay put.

Everyone but Reid present for 3:30p trivia. We scored 15/20. Two teams scored 17 to tie for first. Here's one of the questions: In Shakespear's Romeo and Juliette, what does "wherefore" mean?

We got dressed up for formal night and attended the Captain's Circle Reception in the Vista Lounge (as your Aunt Lori would say, "A free alcohol opportunity!") From there we went to our usual table for dinner, only to find out that there's a special February 29th cocktail available (called the "Leap Day" [invented about a hundred years ago, mostly vodka]), and, it's lobster night! This promises to be another success. The meal was delicious! 

David then found out that Jessica had booked them on a cruise to Antarctica! 

Jessica, Reid and David went to the Princess Theater to see the live show, "Colors of the World". This was quite a production. I'm certain that we saw it on an earlier cruise. Great singing and dancing.

Jessica and David then went to the Marriage Match Game in Princess Live! David went to sign them up, but they were not selected. Based upon the questions, we would have done well. One of the questions was, "If it was the law that your husband had to select a second wife, who would he choose? It can be anyone, someone you know, or someone famous." All three contestants dodged the question by refusing to answer it.

We then stayed on for "Movie Madness Trivia". Jessica and David scored 42 out of 48 (we would have scored 44, but she insisted that Francis Ford Coppola was not the director of Godfather III). Anyway, 44 was good for first, we came in tied for second.

Meg texted us saying that she could see stars in the night sky from her balcony (moisture in the air obscured them the last couple of nights). Jessica and David went up to deck 17 aft, found a dark corner, and could see a bunch of unfamiliar stars and constellations.

We were back in our cabin by 11:00p. Tomorrow is Tauranga. More to follow.

Day 17, March 1st - Tauranga, New Zealand

Up early for our excursion to Tauranga. First stop was Horizon Court for a quick breakfast. Then down to the meeting point in the Symphony Dining Room.

We checked in and were assigned to group Purple 10. A little after 8:00a we found ourselves seated on the bus.  We took about a half-hour drive to a Māori village. The tourists were separated into two groups by sex. We were then "greeted" by a Māori warrior who, dressed in full regalia, slowly marched toward our group brandishing a large, pointed stick, and chanting something unintelligible. After that we were invited to sit (still segregated) while a couple of the village elders addressed us, with heavy emphasis on ancestors and ancestry. After this we all shook hands, and the segregated time was over. They invited us into their large hall where they offered tea and other drinks (along with the obligatory souvenir stalls).

We had our pictures taken with the warrior, then entered their sacred ancestral meeting house (where you had to remove your shoes to enter). We met Judy from Colorado during this time. The interior is covered with large wooden carvings alternating with intricate weavings. They described the reasons for various decorations throughout the house.

Jessica and David pose with the Māori Warrior

Soon we were boarding our bus for our next stop. This was a school where the students performed native music and dancing. Several styles, including a complicated stick throw, and a session where they screamed at us. They had a dance involving pompoms that Jessica took part in. Then they asked the men to take part in the haka (which reluctantly David did). They then gave a demonstration of what can only be called local martial arts. This was followed by more singing and dancing. This was followed by a Māori version of the Hokey Pokey. For this we learned the Māori words for various body parts ("nono" is your tush).

Studens doing the "Haka" dance for us

Everybody back on the bus heading back to our ship. We arrived without issue, passed through security quickly, then dropped off the coats, purse and wallet in our cabin.

Next we were off to lunch at the onboard Italian place on Deck 6, Alfredo's. Both Gina and Meg liked this restaurant, but warned that the portions were huge. We split a meal that started with antipasto, then pizza, and dessert. Everything was delicious, especially the bread pudding dessert! 

Jessica and David walked up to the Promenade on Deck 7 to read. We all got together for Trivia, scoring 14/20 (16 was winning). After a short break we reconvened for Movie Soundtrack trivia. This was fun, even though we only scored 16/22 (18 was winning).

Everyone present for dinner in the formal dining room. Gina was tasked with redeeming all of our trivia winnings. Jessica and David got one last Peach Melba at the Gelato shop, then headed to the Princess Theater to see the Going Away show. They had the commedian we saw the other day, he's still funny, if not original. Lots of singing and dancing, plus they brought a good portion of the crew onto the stage so we could thank them.

The Going Away Show featuring the staff in the Princess Theater

We shot past our cabin to start packing, but didn't stay long. We ran to Princess Live! to see the Hollywood Hiccups show. The assistant cruise directors stage comedic scenes from famous movies. They did about a dozen, each funnier than the last.

Assistant cruise directors reenact "Lion King" for our amusement

We ran back to our cabin to pack. Jessica realized that we had sent a load of laundry in for cleaning several days ago, and it wasn't back yet. David went hunting for our cabin steward, Jimmy, and he went to look into it. A few minutes later the laundry arrived, just in time to be packed up.

We got everything packed up and outside our door by 9:15p (technically 15 minutes late), but checked after a little while and it had all been picked up.

We are up early tomorrow to take one last tour in Auckland, then start the flights home.

Day 18, March 2nd - Auckland, New Zealand and the Voyage Home

Up and showered early. We needed to breakfast, disembark and join our tour group by 7:30a. Our tour ends at the Aukland Airport where we fly to Brisbane, Australia, and then home.

We are completely packed up. Jessica had placed an order for two lattes to be delivered to the cabin, but she just received a notification that the order was canceled.  David wasn't too surprised, as the entire staff is busy with the shift change. We went up to the Horizon Court for breakfast. David got one more bowl of granola, coffee and OJ.

We met up with the others in the Princess Theater. We are group Cream 2, the others are 1 & 3 (the same tour, different busses). We sat for quite a while before they called our group. Getting off the ship was straightforward, but then we encountered a very long line to pass through New Zealand customs.

We finally reached the front of the line, and the passport check went very smoothly. We then went to claim our baggage. We immediately found the two large ones (the ones with AirTags), but couldn't locate our carry-on. After looking in several places for some time, it was located in the area it should have been in all along. While it has a red face, the face was hidden from view and easily overlooked.

Next we proceeded through border control where they confiscated our beef jerkey (that Australia had allowed in). We then proceeded to the bus where we joined Kim and Gina. When they loaded luggage onto the bus, they left our bags for another bus to transport. We were told that we will meet up with our luggage at the airport.

We then received a text that our flight from Auckland to Brisbane has been canceled. We hoped we wouldn't miss our connection to Los Angeles. We stopped at the Auckland Museum, but, because of our late start, had very little time to explore. They have wonderful exhibits, and I'm sure you could spend days there.

Very long, very old seagoing canoe and a Māori meeting house

David with ancient game pieces that look like chessmen

Back on the bus and headed for the airport. We passed through a really long tunnel, we would guess a couple of miles in length. At our current pace, we should get to the International terminal before noon local time. Our canceled flight wasn't scheduled until 4:35p, so we should have ample time to book something else. The driver has opted to take an indirect route, supposedly to ensure the bus with our luggage arrives at the same time we do. On top of all that, the door of the luggage compartment on left side of our bus has sprung open and is threatening to dump the bags on the roadway. We have pulled over while they decide how to handle this. Apparently a hinge on the door is broken. We have been sitting here for a while. After about an hour, another bus arrived and everyone transferred to the new bus. We are on the road again. GPS says 25 minutes. It said 15 minutes before we took the detour from Hell.

We arrived at Auckland Airport and the bus with our luggage was waiting. David chose to crawl into the cargo area underneath to dig out our bags, and we found them all. We entered the terminal and found the Quantas counter. We explained our situation and they were on top of things. They apologized, said that we had been rebooked on Air New Zealand, that they would pay for our airport meal, and that we would be flying to Melbourne instead of Brisbane, and that we would be flying Quantas (QF95) to Los Angeles, instead of American Airlines.

We checked our two big bags through to LA, and printed out two sets of boarding passes. We then passed through immigration (again) and security (where we kept our shoes on, but Jessica was caught trying to smuggle her cell phone through the detector). We found the information board, and next to our flight it said, "Relax". We decided to cash in our meal coupons and enjoyed expensive (but delicious) hamburgers (the line at the McDonald's was ridiculous, I'm glad we had sit-down).

While there we tried to charge Jessica's cell phone, but without success. It just wasn't charging. David mentioned this to our group, and Gina (who was already waiting at Gate 6) invited us to try her portable charger. We walked to Gate 6, and when this worked, we determined that the weak juice in the USB chargers of the airport was not sufficient for an iPhone. Gina kindly leant us one of her batteries. She also gave us over NZ$14 in loose change. Jessica is trying to find a way to spend it as this is being written. She came back with one small box of Jelly Bellys, and two small packs of honey roasted peanuts. Airport prices!

We finally saw that our flight was going to use Gate 18. First off, there are only 18 gates in the Auckland International terminal. Next, from where we met Gina at Gate 6 to Gate 18 is longest distance you can travel without leaving the terminal, a minimum of a half mile, and probably closer to a mile. We finally arrived to see the plane being boarded and to hear the "last call" for passengers to Melbourn. Without hesitating we jumped in the line. When Jessica presented her boarding pass, the machine let out a terrible "beeeeeeeep!" It turns out they were boarding flight 125 to Melbourne; ours is 129 to Melbourn, about 90 minutes later. Properly chagrined, we are cooling our heels in the Gate 18 lounge for now.

They called our flight, filling the plane from back to front. We are in row six and were among the last to board. We have seats 6D and 6E. The seat 6F is unoccupied! No one to climb over us during this (short) flight. We left the ground around 7:15p, headed for Melbourne, Australia. Watched the first four episodes of "True Detective" season 3. Very noir. The show keeps flashing from 1980 to 1990 to 2020 carefully revealing bits and pieces of the story arc. The airline food on this flight was respectable. 

The flight set down in Melbourne without issue. We followed the signs to "International Transfers", we were the only two passengers going through security, and it was very quick. We then had to march to Gate 20 (once again the furthest gate). We arrived with a half hour to spare.

When they opened up Gate 20 and started checking passports and boarding passes, Jessica had grabbed the boarding pass from the previous flight. We quickly provided the correct one but they told her she had been randomly selected for additional screening. I don't yet know what this entails, as they are still giving her the third degree. They just asked for her backpack so they could examine everything in it. OK, she's back. They "claimed" her passport photo didn't look enough like her.

Day 19, March 2nd - Melbourn to home

We boarded, and luckily, the third seat in our row was again vacant. And! This plane has "True Detective" season 3 available.

David resumed viewing it again once the safety video was over. Watched a couple more episodes, then tried to sleep. Jessica spent her time watching "Killers of the Flower Moon" and Part 1 of the most recent "Mission: Impossible" movie.

Only slept a couple hours. Finished "True Detective", a really well done series. Flight was uneventful, on the ground at LAX at 5:27p. We arrived so early, we had to wait briefly for an available gate. Off the plane fast enough. Because of Global Entry we breezed through customs. But, our AirTags showed our two big bags were still in Melbourne. We had to check with the Quantas rep, who confirmed their location, then go to the special room to file a formal claim of lost luggage. They said they will FedEx the bags to our house.

Emerging from there to pillar B8, we texted John and he and the grandkids arrived moments later to pick us up. Noah and Emma told all manner of crazy jokes and riddles to us in the car. We all decided to stop at El Pollo Loco on Century Blvd on the way home. This meal hit the spot.

We gave the grandkids the plush toys we picked up in Sydney. They seemed very happy with them. John got us home in good stead (however, Emma was sacked out by this time). Now just waiting for our luggage! A wonderful vacation!

P.S. The luggage arrived Tuesday morning, right to our door.