It’s 3am, Saturday morning, February 25th – I’m up an hour early this morning excited about our arrival in Sydney. I’ve dreamed about visiting Australia since I was a kid – reality is now just a few hours away! We pick-up our pilot at 7am, and are scheduled to be docked by 8:15, about 2 hours ahead of schedule. The Captain said the “sail-in” will be very memorable – apparently Darling Harbor is quite busy, particularly on Saturday mornings. He says we’ll sail directly under the famous Sydney bridge and dock just adjacent to the Opera House – how exciting! As I look up from the desk here and out the window, I can just barely see the hint of city lights. The navigation channel on our TV indicates we are now 53 miles out. I’ve already been up to the restaurant this morning and have a large mug of coffee next to me – Cheryl’s still sleeping – she’s been here before and while she’s excited, her enthusiasm level isn’t nearly as high as mine. Isn’t it normal to get up at 3am?? Cheryl doesn’t think so – nor does the rest of the ship – the restaurants and hallways are empty – what’s wrong with these people?! Cheryl’s Uncle Ron will be meeting us later this afternoon – very much looking forward to meeting him. One item of interest from yesterday – we were playing cards (Hearts) with another couple next to the pool and we heard a groan – we thought nothing of it as it could have easily come from a multitude of sources. Moments later, another groan, but much louder & followed by wild splashing. A middle-age man from China was going down for the third time – he apparently inhaled a lot of water & was drowning. A few men close to the pool jumped in & pulled him on deck – he was OK (thank God) after a few minutes and everyone returned to their activities. I lost my game of Hearts – AGAIN – to Cheryl of course! Last evening before dinner we got together with two couples from Australia and had a few glasses of wine – they will be leaving us in Sydney this morning. One couple is from Brisbane, the other from Melbourne. Both couples are recently retired like us – we met one couple on a tour several weeks ago and the other in one of the lounges. Truly beautiful folks – just as nice as can be! I got such a kick out of just listening to them talk – “bloody” this…”bloody” that…”hey mate”…”straight away I say”!! We’ll miss them, but we exchanged contact information and want to see if we can meet again next year on another trip. Awesome people! In total, 300 passengers will be leaving us this morning, many of whom joined us in Buenos Aires. So, 300 off today, then 100 new passengers will be with us for the next segment from Sydney to Hong Kong scheduled to leave tomorrow (Sunday) at 4pm. I believe there are approximately 620 folks making the entire trip – Lauderdale to Lauderdale. Signing off for now – I want to shower, dress, wake Cheryl & have coffee on the balcony as we get ready to approach the harbor! What an exciting morning!
We are just now arriving in Sydney, navigating Darling Harbor. Within just a few minutes, the Sydney Opera House & bridge will be visible to us. Once docked, we have several activities planned over the next two days - the next update, including a recap of Sydney, will be posted early next week. Have a great weekend!
Pictures of Sydney will be minimal. One, download time on each picture takes anywhere from 5 – 10 minutes average (note: I will download a few dozen once back home), and secondly, there aren’t enough pictures to adequately capture the beauty & personality of the city & its people. As you enter the harbor itself from the Pacific, you begin to see homes, condos, & apartments on both sides of the ship amidst lush parks, playgrounds & beaches. Several small coves & marinas accommodate the residents and their boats - jet Skies, small fishing boats, sport boats & yachts of every size, shape & color. Even early on a Saturday morning, there are dozens of boats out & about – the guide tug boat and harbor police keep our path clear, but curiosity & human nature such as it is, they try to get as close to the ship as possible just long enough to exchange a friendly wave. Well into the harbor, approximately 1 mile, we take a dramatic turn to the right… and there it is…a magnificent skyline dotted with tall, modern buildings – some white, some gold, some silver, and at the base of downtown, the iconic Sydney Opera House! We were sailing in a westerly direction by then, and the morning sun was glistening off the unique tiles on the roof of the Opera House almost as if she was saying, “welcome” – what a sight, what a feeling!! I’m not embarrassed to share with you, I literally had goose bumps. The Opera House sits on the harbors edge and as the waterway narrows, we had to pass right by her – as luck would have it, she was on our left (or port) side and within a stone’s throw of our balcony. No sooner do you catch your breath after the Opera House, we begin passing under the famous Sydney Bridge. I’ve been watching New Year’s Eve fireworks from this bridge since I was a teenager – our smokestacks on the ship will clear the bottom of the bridge by 13 feet, or so the commentator says over the loudspeaker! Wow!! Once clear of the bridge, we immediately turn left into Darling Harbor and pull into our berth. It took about an hour to “clear” the ship with local authorities and we were turned loose for two days! It may be a function of my limited foreign travel but if I were asked today to list my top few cities, Sydney would rank among the very best. We took a shuttle bus a few blocks to the center of downtown and just started walking & exploring on our own. Sydney is absolutely stunning. The city is clean – pristine. The buildings range from modern skyscrapers to historical landmarks – all very well maintained. The people – I just can’t say enough about the people. Everyone we came in contact with – taxi drivers, bus drivers, policeman, waiters, waitresses, store cashiers, bartenders – EVERYONE – extremely polite, clean, helpful, grateful, respectful. We asked for directions several times from local residents in neighborhoods – you’d think we were all old friends! Why can’t everyone get along like this??!! Again…stunning in every respect. Darling Harbor itself meanders for several miles – there are dozens of cafes, coffee shops, bars & nightclubs – overflowing with both residents & tourists all day & late into the night. We stopped at one sidewalk bar for a cold beer and just watched people go by for the better part of an hour. Drinking age in New South Wales is 18 (not sure about the balance of Australia) – but even these young adults were well-mannered & well-behaved. I even had one young man approach me and compliment me on my shirt! The marketplace, which is just adjacent to Sydney Bridge, sports hundreds of small shops & stands with quality merchandise. One Australian staple is known as a meat pie – these are much like an American chicken pot pie, but much smaller…about the size of a White Castle hamburger, and they come in several flavors – chicken, beef, Mexican, vegetable, etc. You eat them just like you eat a hamburger or donut. I didn’t realize it, but there’s a knack to eating them properly – you DON’T make a mess! I guess it just takes practice – with the first bite of my beef pie, the gravy was oozing out of the bottom & both sides – I had it smeared on my hands, mustache & chin, and ended up finishing it with a fork!! Practice makes perfect – I’ll try again when we arrive in Cairns! We double-backed to the Opera House – walked completely around the exterior (quite a distance) and up the steps. Neither of us are opera fans so we had no interest in the shows, but the facility itself is absolutely incredible. We probably walked 20 – 25 miles on Saturday – returned to the ship, showered, and prepared to meet Cheryl’s Uncle Ron at a nearby aquarium at 5:30. We must have crossed wires because we somehow missed each other after a 45 minute wait – hopefully we’ll meet him next year when we return. There was a nearby wild animal park so we got tickets and spent a couple hours with the Koala Bears & Kangaroos – first experience! Before returning to the ship, we attempted to find a drug store downtown. In Australia, these are known as Chemists. We found several such places but unfortunately they were all closed. Once back to the ship, we ordered room service (cheeseburgers & fries) and just collapsed for the day. We were up early Sunday morning – had breakfast in the main dining room and prepared for our tour departure at 9:00. This tour took us approximately 30 miles south of the city to yet another wildlife sanctuary – more Koalas & Kangaroos but up close & personal. We actually entered an enclosed Kangaroo area with about two dozen “Roos” – we were able to pet them, feed them, sit with them, etc. They are actually quite good natured, but CAN BE mean if provoked. There was one Japanese man who was teasing one of the Kangaroos – he was dangling food over his head and just as the “Roo” went to grab it, the man raised the food a little higher out of reach. Apparently, Roos are very impatient, or maybe this one was hungry for breakfast because after the second time, the “Roo” kicked the guy between his legs and hopped away! Although the guy was obviously in a little pain, we found it quite funny and felt he deserved it! Cheryl snapped at the guy and told him (loudly) not to tease – I don’t know if he understood Cheryl’s English, but he sure understood the Kangaroo!! We then proceeded to the former Olympic Village on the harbor front and caught a water taxi back to the ship, about a 12 mile, very scenic trip. It was then “all aboard” at 3:00 – with 100+ new passengers boarding for the trip to Hong Kong, we had to have another lifeboat drill (now our 3rd) so once that concluded at 3:30, it was up to top of the ship for a sail-away party from 3:45 – 4:30. The usual live band, drinks & appetizers. It was back under the Sydney Bridge, past the Opera House and around two corners, the wind from the Pacific was pretty strong (& cool) so we retreated to a “neighbors” cabin for some fine red wine, cheese, crackers, nuts, and more wine. By then, it was after 7:00 – we changed clothes for the show at 8:00 (a comedian/magician) and by 9:15, we called it a day. For those of you who have been to Sydney, you can appreciate my generous praise & comments. For those of you who haven’t been to Sydney – put it on your bucket list as I did, and make it a destination at some stage – you won’t regret it! The ONLY negative I can think of, is that Sydney (and I believe Australia in general) is very expensive. Minimum wage is $14.