Celebrity Century - New Zealand/Australia - January 2012
This January, I was fortunate to host a cruise far from home. My lucky seventh hosting opportunity was most certainly a lucky one in my book.
The cruise was my first on a Solsticized ship. For those unaware, Celebrity Cruises has taken their older fleet and added a series of features that were pioneered on the Solstice class of ships. Celebrity Century, the oldest ship in the Celebrity fleet, was 'Solsticized' several years ago. The smaller ship was cozier, welcoming, yet still sufficiently roomy. Next year, though, the trip will be upgraded to The Solstice herself!
We started and ended in a pair of fascinating cities - Auckland and Sydney. Auckland feels like a mid-size city from an American's perspective but it is still vast with many varied things to do. Sydney is a remarkable, first rate city that is a must see for anyone. Both are worth a few days and with the cruise starting in one and ending in the other, a stay in both frames the trip beautifully.
As always, the first night we held our welcome party. This party is always an enjoyable experience with everyone getting to know each other.
Nightly thereafter, we met for drinks before dinner to catch up with each other, share our experiences from the day, and relax before dinner.
At dinner, I shared the next day's events with everyone. We also shared a mid cruise party and closed the trip with a final party giving everyone a last chance to enjoy each others' company and say goodbye.
The highlight of the trip, however, for me was a very special occasion.
For the first time in the history of Celebrity Cruise Lines, and I believe the entire Royal Caribbean family, two of our guests held a same sex commitment ceremony onboard. I had the honor of meeting this fine couple, helped them craft the service, and worked with the fine staff of the ship including the Captain to make this a truly special occasion.
Everyone onboard was a pleasure to work with in planning the ceremony and the Captain could not have been friendlier or more supportive. The happy couple invited our entire group to join them and I ordered a wedding cake to mark the occasion.
Each port on this trip is unique and special. New Zealand is a truly beautiful country. Due to rough seas, we missed the first port of Taraunga, but I always enjoy days at sea and considered it a treat, especially at the beginning of the cruise when everyone is looking to unwind. New Zealand ports of call included Wellington, Dunedin, Napier, and Christchurch. Among other sites, we saw sheep being sheared, hides being tanned, and chocolates being made from scratch. A highlight for several of us was the tasting of all tastings. A beer and hard cider house offered more than 15 choices and each of us were given six six ounce glasses filled to the brim. I was the first one done with all six in our group (and I think I was the smallest among us)!
Christchurch was a bittersweet stop. For those who may not be aware, Christchurch suffered two significant earthquakes with the last 18 months. I was shocked to find out that there were thousands of smaller quakes since the first major one. the best way to understand what has happened is to imagine a downtown the size of say Hartford, CT that is completely fenced in with metal fencing with everything inside requiring demolition. I had been to Christchurch before and peered through at the city I remembered. The guest house we stayed at and our favorite restaurant were inside the planned demolition zone. However, the visit was uplifting as well! The city had taken shipping containers and modified and assembled them to create a makeshift shopping district so the locals and the visitors could shop, eat, and congregate.
Christchurch is a lovely city with great people and they will rebuild it. I look forward to seeing its progress during future visits. Napier, another stop on the trip, provides a useful model for Christchurch. It too was destroyed by earthquake, in their case back in 1931. The entire city was rebuilt in Art Deco, the style in vogue at the time. Napier wouldn't be a shadow of what it is today without the earthquake and subsequent rebuilding, and I have no doubt Christchurch will do the same in her own way.
This was the first of my hosting opportunities where I brought my husband along for the ride. Was great to have him along, he enjoyed meeting our guests as much as I did, and he was always there snapping pictures. We took one day off during the trip to enjoy the ultimate excursion. It was an overnight sightseeing adventure in and around Queenstown, New Zealand. For Lord of the Rings aficionados, this was the region where the films were shot. It is every bit as beautiful as you would expect. Highlights included beautiful scenery, the quaint town of Queenstown, the historical mining town of Arrowwood, and some of the most amazing waterfalls you could imagine. This tour left the ship in Dunedin and returned before the ship left Milford Sound. We also tried the cooking with the Executive Chef experience along with two of our guests. It was a wonderful and unique learning experience.
Back onboard, I always try to give my guests "something extra". To that end, I arranged three on-board tours - The Bridge, Backstage at the Theatre, and the Galley Kitchen. The galley kitchen tour is far more interesting than it probably sounds. I encourage everyone to go when they get the chance. All three tours went very well. The backstage tour was our best ever. Three cast members, two of whom were gay, talked with us and answered questions for over an hour. I invited the cast to our closing party and everyone had a great time.
The sole Australian port after crossing the Tasman Sea was Melbourne. It is a wonderful old city with a Victorian core and much to do. Be sure to bring medication if you tend towards sea-sickness. This crossing was one of the rougher ones I have done. I now have definitive proof that neither my husband nor I get sea sick!
This is one of the most unique cruise experiences you are going to find.
Taking the trip with the comfort of Pied Piper makes this a comfortable experience as well. From the ports of call to the events onboard to the Commitment Ceremony, this is a trip full of great memories. That's what Pied Piper is all about.