Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Next Great Adventure

I promised I would talk more about our next trip, so here it is.  When we were on the Nieuw Amsterdam, about a month ago now, we had the option of booking a future cruise.  The price would be the same as booking it from home, but the incentive was a low deposit and some free shipboard credit to use on the next voyage.  The other perk was that if the price did go down after booking, they would actually give us the new, lower price, since we had booked on the ship.  They had several brochures with various itineraries all over the world.  We really wanted to do a Mediterranean cruise, but they usually only run those in the summer and the fall.  Since I am still low on the seniority roster at work, it is easier for me to get vacations in the winter.  We looked through some of the other brochures and found several Australia and New Zealand cruises that looked interesting, and so we asked the future cruise representatives about those.

Cruise itinerary.  Image by Holland America Line.
The cruise we ultimately settled on is a 14-day New Zealand cruise, on the Oosterdam, which will sail from Auckland, New Zealand, to Sydney, Australia.  Stops include Tauranga, Napier, Wellington, Lyttelton (near Christchurch), Port Chalmers, then some scenic cruising in Fjordlands National Park, before heading west, to Australia.  In Australia we stop in Hobart, on Tazmania, and Melbourne, before our final destination of Sydney.  We made sure to book a room on the starboard side of the ship so that we will be able to look at the coast as we travel down the west coast and around the southern end of New Zealand.  We are both very excited for this trip, although right now neither one of us knows what to expect really, since we have never been anywhere even reasonably close to New Zealand or Australia!  It is about as far from home as we could possibly go, and still stay on the planet!

Flying there is going to be a bit of an adventure in and of itself, because of how far away New Zealand and Australia are.  Right now, we cannot book plane tickets that far out.  Most airlines do not take reservations more than 300 days in advance, but we have been using arbitrary dates in the beginning of next year to get an idea of prices and itineraries available.  The shortest series of flights, as far as time is concerned, would take us from Billings to the west coast, and then to an eastern Asia city, and then to Auckland, with a similar itinerary on the return trip.  Most trans-Pacific flights leave from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, and go to either Sydney, Hong Kong, Tokyo, or Seoul.  From any of those cities, it is another flight to get to Auckland.  The return flights available from Sydney are similar.  But the big disadvantage is that all those flights are extremely long.  It would be nice to have a first class seat, just because economy for three hours is not enjoyable, never mind 15!  So we looked at first class tickets, and just as we expected, they are so expensive it is a wonder anyone flies that way!

After looking at flights on several websites, I got to thinking, which is usually dangerous, but I remembered an old friend, who often went to the Middle East for work, telling me he only flew on Emirates Airlines.  I had never heard of them, but the way he talked about them, it sounded pretty nice.  He always went to places like Dubai and Baghdad and Islamabad though.  Just for kicks, we looked at their website, to see where they flew from the US, and to see if they went to Sydney or Auckland.  As it turns out, they will be flying out of Seattle at the start of next year, and they fly to both Sydney and Auckland.  Their only hub is in Dubai, as they are the national airline of the United Arab Emirates, so we put in our itinerary, just out of curiosity, using arbitrary dates again.  They are undoubtedly a luxury airline, so much so that economy passengers get a complimentary four course meal and free snacks and drinks.  Even the alcohol they serve is free, which is unusual!  They also have free phone service and email and television and movies, for everyone on the plane, as well as separate lounges and bars, on the plane.  Figuring it would be as much as a first class ticket on any other airline, we put in the itinerary on the website, not really expecting much.  It processed for a few seconds, and then found us an itinerary from Seattle to Auckland, with an overnight layover in Dubai, and a return itinerary from Sydney to Seattle, with a shorter layover in Dubai.  As we looked through the itinerary, we figured the price at the bottom would be five figures.  As you can imagine, we were quite surprised when we got to the bottom of the page, and it was $2,000 lower than the next cheapest airline!  So, provided those prices hold up, which they have so far, we will be flying Emirates on this trip.  We may come back feeling like other airlines are pretty lame!

After looking over the itinerary and realizing that we will most likely be flying Emirates, we realized we will have about 18 hours to kill in Dubai.  Going to Auckland, the plane lands in Dubai in the late afternoon, and then the flight to Auckland does not depart until the middle of the next morning.  I have always wanted to go to Dubai, and now we will have a little time to look around.  We will get a hotel near the airport, which weirdly is also right downtown, but we should have some time to go exploring.  I have known a few people who have traveled to Dubai, and they have all said as long as you stay in the city, it is pretty safe, but it can be expensive.  Once you get outside the city, it is the middle of the desert though.  I've been studying Arabic in my free time, so that I'll at least understand the basics, even if I am not a fluent speaker by the time we arrive in Dubai.  Also of interest, we will be flying over the North Pole on our way to and from Dubai, from Seattle.  That flight will depart Seattle northbound, and go almost directly over the geographic North Pole, then head south over Siberia and the Middle East, before landing in Dubai.  The total flight distance from Billings to Auckland will be just over 16,000 miles and take a total of 35 hours of flight time.  Having a night to break it up a bit ought to make it more bearable though, and having the Emirates economy, with all the amenities, food, and a little more space, ought to make it easier to deal with being on an airplane that long.  Still, I am sure by the time we get to New Zealand, I'll be glad to be back on the ground!

Milford Sound, which we will see on the cruise.  Image from Wikipedia.
As far as the cruise itself goes, we honestly do not know what to expect.  I know surprisingly little about New Zealand, and only a little more about Australia.  All the pictures I have seen are beautiful, so we are excited for that.  We have been told that Fjordlands National Park, where a day of the cruise will be spent, is the second most beautiful place on earth, after coastal Antarctica.  There were some pretty impressive photographs of that area in the cruise brochures on the Nieuw Amsterdam.  For Australia, I do know we need visas, and we will be tying up across the harbor from the landmark Sydney Opera House.  I'll probably be up early taking pictures of all the sights as we enter the harbor there.  Actually, I really cannot imagine we will get back to that part of the world often, so I'll probably be up most of the trip, taking pictures and enjoying it!

Sydney skyline.  Image from Wikipedia.
As far as Australia goes, I do not know much about that either.  It is fairly well known, ad a destination goes, but I still do not know a lot about the place.  The cruise stops in Hobart and Melbourne, and ends in Sydney, which are three of the larger cities in Australia.  Sydney is obviously the biggest.  Just as with New Zealand, Australia was also once a British colony, but beyond that, my knowledge is a bit lacking!  I have been reading up on Wikipedia and looking at maps to try to get a feel for where we are going, but I know that just is not the same as actually going there and experiencing it.  Reading about cultures just does not compare to being there and actually experiencing them.  No doubt, it will be a very interesting trip, and we are both looking forward to it a lot!

No comments:

Post a Comment