*At the time of publishing, all guests have been notified that HAL’s world cruise will conclude and guests will disembark in Fremantle, Australia. No further updates have been given.
“Every cruise ship in the world is coming to Australia,” a local tour operator told us in Sydney, adding that due to the coronavirus, Australia is getting calls from cruise ships diverted from Asia.
We were definitely spending more time in Australia. This year the Amsterdam’s World Cruise had been scheduled to devote 10 days in the island-continent, including scenic cruising in the Great Barrier Reef and calls at three ports plus an overnight in Sydney. But due to the coronavirus, our Australian itinerary was expanded by another nine days with calls at four additional ports including an overnight in Fremantle.
We were very happy to be in Australia and enjoyed our two-day stay in Sydney, Australia’s largest city with five million inhabitants. The starting and ending point of many cruises and a popular port of call on world cruises and other extended voyages, Sydney always makes the lists of the world’s most scenic harbors – along with the likes of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Hong Kong, China. Without a doubt, one of the planet’s best natural harbors, Sydney Harbor – its official name is Port Jackson – has such world-famous sights as the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Most cruise ship passengers make it a point to be up on deck for their ship’s arrival – we always do, but if we oversleep, the sail-away from Sydney offers another opportunity – to take in Sydney’s landscapes with modern skyscrapers and its seascapes with ferryboats and sailboats in the harbor. Our ship made it easy to enjoy the early morning panoramas of our arrival by offering narration in the Crow’s Nest by Glenn Michael, our port lecturer, and serving juice, coffee and “Opera House” rolls (pasties to fortify those who skipped breakfast for the busy day of sightseeing ahead).
A good way to get around to various attractions while still enjoying Sydney Harbor is Captain Cook’s hop-on/hop-off boat. We got its two-day sightseeing pass to get to such places as Circular Quay, from where we enjoyed strolls to the Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The boats also go to such popular sites as the Taronga Zoo and Luna Park with its amusement rides.
Most visitors start their tour of the city at the Sydney Opera House with its white sail-like forms – it is arguably as much of an icon of Australia as a kangaroo. One of the 20th century’s most distinctive buildings and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Opera House hosts some 2,500 events annually, according to Sydney Tourist Board materials. Designed by Danish architect Jorn Utzon, it has 10 roofs – the highest one reaching 221 feet above the sea – with tiles that gleam in the sun and are self-cleaning, so always shimmering.
The Opera House has various venues for concerts, opera, ballet, theater and more, and was completed in 1973 and opened by Queen Elizabeth II. Tours are available inside the Opera House including a backstage tour. Many ships offer evening excursions to catch a show at the Opera House so passengers can experience its excellent acoustics – Carmen was on the night we were in Sydney.
Another spectacular sight in the port is the Sydney Harbor Bridge, opened in 1932 and reportedly the world’s widest long-span bridge and the highest steel arch bridge standing 429.6 feet above the harbor. Locals humorously call it “the coat hanger.” Visitors can walk across it, and the intrepid can sign up for a tour to climb it – there are hundreds of steps, and a breathalyzer test is required before climbing. Most cruise ships that visit Sydney offer this experience as a tour.
Those who wish to get acquainted with Australia’s fabulous fauna have some options including the Wild Life Zoo Sydney in Darling Harbour with such fascinating critters as platypus, koala, kangaroos, wallabies and other Australian fauna (we went there via the Captain Cook’s sightseeing boat as we had never seen a platypus). Also at Darling Harbor, adjacent to the Wild Life Zoo Sydney is the SEA Life Sydney Aquarium with a Day & Night on the Reef exhibit with awesome reef creatures including tropical fish, sea anemones, stingrays, sharks and more. Another big highlight for us at the aquarium is the penguin habitat with King and Gentoo penguins.
Yet another attraction that we took in at Darling Harbor is Madame Tussauds Sydney with lifelike wax figures of everyone from Spiderman to the Queen of England. You can have your photo taken with Superheroes, Albert Einstein, the British Royal Family and many more and sit down to “breakfast” with Audrey Hepburn.
Other Sydney “musts” include the Taronga Park Zoo with one of the country’s finest collections of animals and an Animals Encounters program whereby, for a fee, visitors can enter some animal enclosures and have their photo taken by a professional. But note that holding a koala is against the law in New South Wales, where Sydney is located.
The Sydney Tower, the city’s tallest structure at 1,014 feet high, has been an iconic, sci-fi-like building since its opening in 1981. A Merlin Entertainments attraction, (the folks that brought us, among others, the Orlando Eye and the London Eye) it offers panoramic views of Sydney and surrounding areas. The Royal Botanical Garden is a lovely spot to visit with an abundance of local and exotic plants, guided tours, aboriginal experiences and more – a walkway on the southern side of Circular Quay leads to the garden (this walkway, by the way, also leads to the Sydney Opera House and a northern walkway leads to the Sydney Harbor Bridge). The Rocks is the place where Sydney was founded and hence it has great historic significance. It is a jumble of cobblestone streets and cul-de-sacs with cottages, sandstone terraces and old pubs, and the place where convicts from England settled in the 18th century. It also has museums and galleries and many lively cafes, shops and stalls selling souvenirs.
Beach lovers can check out Bondi, a suburb of Sydney, with a very popular beach with legendary lifeguards and great surfing. And Manly, one of Australia’s most popular seaside destinations, seven miles from Sydney, is also great for a day of sun and surf. Captain Cook’s boats stop at Manly. The weather was a bit too cold for us Floridians to enjoy the beach this trip, but we have loved both Bondi and Manly during previous visits.
On our way to Sydney from our New Zealand ports, we enjoyed one of our World Cruise most important events: the Captain’s Dinner. This year the fine dining event was held in the ship’s formal restaurant with lovely orchids and silvery roses decorating each table and a menu that included a trio of “amuse bouche” items including a “mojito” sphere, asparagus panna cotta and crab and cucumber remoulade; a petite green pea soup with crab, a baby beet salad, and land and sea choices for the main course as well as a dessert featuring custard with New Zealand honey and caramel ice cream. A vodka and champagne cocktail, and red and white wines were served compliments of Capt. Jonathan Mercer, master of the Amsterdam.
Some quick superlatives on the way to several other Australian ports:
- Most scenic: The sail-away from Sydney with views of the city’s skyline, the Opera House and Harbor Bridge.
- Most fun: Seeing the fabulous Australian fauna at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo and the penguins at the SEA Life Aquarium.
- Most delicious: All the dishes of the Captain’s Dinner.
- Most insistent: Crew standing next to hand sanitizer dispensers to make sure we sanitize our hands on the gangway and at the dining room.