Discover New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park on Princess Cruises

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

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We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

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The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

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At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

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We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

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At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

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The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

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Captain Edward Perrin

In a recent article entitled Three Reasons to Book Your Next Cruise out of San Francisco, we wrote about the fun of spending part of a vacation in the famous City by the Bay, and part of it cruising to exciting destinations like Hawaii, Alaska, and the South Pacific. This story is about the cruise we selected to follow our own tour of San Francisco.

Selecting  a cruise

As Mark Twain often noted, it can be a bit chilly in San Francisco regardless of the time of year, so we thought a cruise to some place warm would be the perfect other-bookend for a vacation.

We did an internet search and explored all the cruise line itineraries sailing out of San Francisco on our travel dates, and Princess Cruise Lines had exactly what we wanted – a round trip sailing from San Francisco to the Hawaiian Islands. We made the right choice, and here’s what you can expect if you decide to take the same plunge.

The day before the cruise

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We arrived in San Francisco the day before our cruise departure to Hawaii. We toured our favorite sites in the city, had a nice dinner at Scoma’s on Pier 47, and checked into our favorite and always fashionable San Francisco Hyatt Regency.

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The hotel is directly across from the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, and a very short distance from the cruise terminal at Pier 35. 

Sailing out of the Golden Gate

We settled into our port side stateroom, popped open a bottle of bubbly, and when the ship pulled away from the dock, we proceeded to our patio to watch the San Francisco skyline on slow parade. There was Ghirardelli Square lit up in its entire splendor, and the famous Transamerica Pyramid Building – outstanding among its traditional “square” neighbors.

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We could see the Golden Gate Bridge coming up above the bow, and we bid a fond farewell to old Fort Point as we made our way out of San Francisco Bay and into the vast blue Pacific. All we could think at the time was, “What a spectacular way to start a cruise!

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Next stop – Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii. A future article will describe the Hawaiian ports of call in Hilo, Nawiliwili, Lahaina, Honolulu, and our final stop in Ensenada, Mexico, before returning to San Francisco. Why are cruise ships sailing to Hawaii from US ports required to stop in a foreign port like Ensenada? We will explain in the upcoming article. 

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This story features the many vacation pleasures aboard the Star Princess. Note: The Grand Princess has now replaced the Star Princess on the Hawaiian route out of San Francisco. They are sister ships, so the differences are minimal.

Sweet suites

The Star Princess has several luxury suites positioned throughout the ship. The Grand Suite is 1,314 square feet of pure indulgence, with a walk in closet, large bathrooms, and an over-sized balcony. These elegant digs are for the truly fortunate among us.

Welcome to the Grand Suite

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Grand Suite bath

Grand Princess extended and exclusive balcony

Sweet extras

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Besides luxury accommodations, the suites come with supplementary amenities such as an exclusive Suite Breakfast at the Sabatini’s specialty restaurant – where you can start your day with a complimentary “Good Morning Mimosa,” and select other goodies from an extraordinary breakfast menu.

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We expected the service to be impeccable, and it was.

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Did you know that the famous champagne and orange juice “Mimosa” drink was first created and named at the Paris Ritz in 1925? Its namesake is the mimosa plant, which has bright and frothy yellow flowers.

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There are also afternoon and pre-dinner cocktail and private nosh parties where suite passengers get to mingle and mix with the ship’s officers that drop by.

Care for a quiet dinner for two? Having a lavish room service meal served in a ship’s suite is the height of seagoing indulgence and sublime privacy.

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Suite passengers are also provided with priority boarding, and disembarkation via the Elite/Suite Disembarkation Lounge. While visiting ports that require taking a launch to shore, suite occupants are furnished Priority Tender Disembarkation Tickets – a nice time-saving touch.

Time for dinner

It was soon time for our initial dinner on board the Star Princess. The first night aboard a cruise ship is a casual affair, so after cleaning up a bit, we made our way down to the Portofino Dining Room on Deck 6.

The Maître d’hôtel was busy orchestrating the process of showing the first diners to their assigned tables. Remember when everyone ate at either an “early” or, “late” sitting? These days you can dine in traditional fashion or decide to eat at any time you choose during dining hours. There are advantages to both practices – it is clearly a matter of personal taste.

That’s entertainment

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After a sumptuous dinner, it was time for our opening night of entertainment in the Princess Theatre on Deck 6 and 7. The first show included the entire cast in an extravaganza review. The large two-story theatre was packed, but comfortable, and everyone enjoyed the lavish musical production.

We took a stroll around the Lido deck before returning to our stateroom after the show. Not quite ready for bed, we turned on the TV, and watched our first movie from the library of closed circuit films. It was an oldie,  An Affair to Remember, starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr – a quintessential tearjerker with the plot starting on a cruise ship. What could be more apropos for the setting?

Days at sea

It took four days to reach our first port of call in Hilo. We travelled 2,003 nautical miles (2,303 highway miles) from San Francisco. The time passed quickly.

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Days at sea can be quiet or exciting – it’s your choice. You can shop endlessly in the myriad Ship’s Boutiques or…

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Having your teeth whitened is another option, as is enjoying sundry Spa indulgences, snoozing by one of the Pools, and chatting it up while enjoying the entertainment at your choice of the many Bars and Lounges. There is also the opportunity to watch Movies outdoors or indoors, peruse the Library, read, and of course – eat.

The ship’s master

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On one of our days at sea, we had an opportunity to interview the ship’s captain. At the time of our sailing, the master of the Star Princess was Edward Perrin who hails from Dorset, England. As is usually the case, Captain Perrin was most congenial and very willing to share stories about his ship and experiences at sea.

We always ask sea captains what they like best about their jobs. Captain Perrin revealed that he most enjoyed the ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives – both crew, and passengers. He gave an example of an elderly couple who saved all their lives to take a cruise. They approached him with the problem that they had no more money to spend while on the cruise. Captain Perrin summarily wrote a list of “free” things the couple could do on their cruise vacation. They were elated, and the good Captain was equally gratified – it made his day, and he has never forgotten that wonderful feeling of satisfaction.

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Where passenger services are concerned, an important member of the crew is the Hotel General Manager. On the Star Princess, that was Terri Lynn Cybuliak, and she greatly contributed to our fun discussion.

As we have mentioned in previous cruise articles, ship’s captains are contracted to be masters for months, not years, and therefore transfer from ship to ship quite frequently. Keep an eye out – you may very well find Captain Perrin at the helm of your next Princess cruise.

Attention on the bridge

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After our meeting, Captain Perrin invited us to join him on the bridge. The ship’s bridge is always manned 24-hours a day by two officers working four-hour shifts in a three-watch system. It is interesting to witness the vast array of sophisticated systems that run these mega ships in a controlled and quiet atmosphere.

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The control seats on this oceangoing Star Wars style bridge are very comfortable.

Dining in the specialty restaurants

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All the food aboard the Star Princess, and most other cruise ships for that matter, is quite delicious. It is amazing that seagoing chefs can prepare thousands of assorted meals daily, and do it with such finesse.

People always ask, “If all the sit down meals are included in the price of the cruise, why would anyone pay extra to eat in a specialty dining room?” The answer is quite simple – intimacy – and a little something extra special for an important occasion.

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Each specialty restaurant has its own kitchen, so there is just a touch more attention to detail in the food preparation and presentation. The waiters have fewer tables to attend, and the overall experience is that of eating in a truly fine restaurant. The extra charge is never extravagant, and the experience is worthwhile.

Avoid disappointment, reserve your specialty restaurants early.

Our recommendations

Throughout the years, we have enjoyed many cruises, and Princess Cruises is one of our favorite lines. It provides first time cruisers with an enjoyable introduction to cruise vacationing, and it offers seasoned cruisers a nice selection of accommodations and amenities. Whatever your wallet dictates, a Princess Cruise will provide good value for your vacation dollars.

If you go

San Francisco International Airport is about 20 miles and a $65 taxi ride to the Cruise Terminal or Hyatt Regency. Your travel agent or Princess Cruises can also arrange transfers to and from the airport, but if there are two passengers involved, we recommend taking a cab, it’s a lot less hassle. 

To contact Princess Cruises click *here* the SF Hyatt Regency *here*

A final note

The San Francisco Cruise Terminal is presently located at Pier 35. That will change when the America’s Cup Headquarters pulls up stakes from Pier 27 sometime around September 2013 – after the US (hopefully) wins the Cup.

After a quick facelift and the addition of a new park at the site, the vastly improved cruise terminal at Pier 27 will be capable of handling larger ships, and will come with expansive views of the City including Telegraph Hill and Coit Tower, the Ferry Building, and the Bay Bridge.

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Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/

If you do spend additional time in the San Francisco area, you might like to read these other stories by Wayne and Judy. Click on the subjects below. 

Discover a luxurious hideaway in the California Gold Country

Enrich your San Francisco vacation with a stay at the Inn at the Presidio

How to have the most fun on a scenic coastal drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles

Napa Valley is a great getaway

Calistoga is not just another pretty town

A California boutique hotel in charming Half Moon Bay

Cavallo Point: San Francisco’s exciting and historic Golden Gate hideaway

The best whale watching tours out of San Francisco

Everybody loves the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco

The Sausalito houseboat community

Three Great Reasons to Book a Cruise Out of the Port of San Francisco

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Reason #1 – San Francisco is an outstanding port city with great cruise itineraries

Imagine spending a vacation touring the fabulous attractions of San Francisco and then boarding a luxury cruise ship bound for another remarkable destination like Hawaii, Mexico, or Alaska.

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If you have sufficient time and money to both explore the many sites of San Francisco, and then sail off on a cruise that begins with drop-dead gorgeous views of the City by the Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge – that’s a combo vacation that is hard to beat.

How the bayside of San Francisco became a tourist Mecca

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Soon after the infamous 1989 earthquake, the City made a very wise decision to remove the always hideous and then dangerous freeway that separated the iconic Ferry Building from the rest of San Francisco. Before that time, except for the stretch between Fisherman’s Wharf west to the old Presidio military installation, the bay front was not a place favored by tourists.

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The freeway teardown was the continuation of the amazing renaissance of the San Francisco waterfront that began in 1978 when the ever-popular Fisherman’s Wharf was joined by a new and exciting Pier 39 to its east. West of the piers, in 1994, tourism benefited from the conversion of the beautiful Presidio into public use land.

It just kept getting better

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Next, in 2003 the historic Ferry Building was brought back to its original glory and reintroduced as the centerpiece of San Francisco’s waterfront. Taken together, the city did a brilliant job of revitalizing the San Francisco Bay scene. This area, once run-down, is now safe and alive with entertainment, walkers, joggers – and tourists from all over the world.

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Embarcadero Avenue, which runs all along the new waterfront offers visitors and residents outstanding views of the Oakland Bay Bridge*, Treasure IslandAngel Island, and Alcatraz. Go further west along the water and enjoy Ghirardelli Square and the Presidio National Park.

The new Bay Lights

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*Very recently, the world’s largest L.E.D. light sculpture began illuminating the 1.8-mile western span of the Bay Bridge with 25,000 surging lights. Created by artist Leo Villareal, the new nighttime light extravaganza has added to the joy of tourism and living in San Francisco – another blessing for a city with so many blessings.

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Beyond Ghirardelli Square, there is the Marina Green with its vistas of the famous St. Francis Yacht Club, and Golden Gate Bridge. Try your hand at kite flying in sight of the historic Palace of Fine Arts, and Coit Tower.

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The icing on the cake of the entire waterfront refreshment was the construction of the spectacular AT&T Ballpark – home of the SF Giants – right on the bay where boaters anxiously wait to fish out home run balls beyond the park’s right field wall in McCovey Cove.

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These are only a few of the bayside attractions – the vacation paradise of San Francisco offers so much more!

Reason #2 – The New Cruise Terminal in San Francisco

The America’s Cup Challenge finals will take place on San Francisco Bay in September 2013. The headquarters for the America’s Cup is in a new and modern two-story glass and metal structure on Pier 27.

The America’s Cup will remain a tenant until October 2013, after which the building and area will be restyled to become San Francisco’s new Cruise Terminal – and what a terminal it will be. There will be ample room to accommodate today’s jumbo ocean liners and to handle over 2,500 passengers arriving and departing the terminal.

Cruise lines and destinations

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At the time of this writing, familiar cruise lines such as Princess, Holland America, Cunard, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, and Oceania all book cruises sailing from San Francisco.

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Typical destinations are Alaska, Hawaii, Mexico, and the Panama Canal, but cruises also depart for Asia, the South Pacific – and the world.

Reason #3 – Super selection of pre and post cruise attractions and lodging

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Many vacationers prefer to arrive at the cruise port a day or more before their ship sails, and some like to exercise their land legs after a cruise and before flying home.

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There is no better city for either occasion than San Francisco – the assortment of tourist activities and excellent hotels and restaurants is legendary.

About our cruise

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We took a 15-day round-trip cruise from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruises. For our part, we did a pre-cruise stay at the fabulous Embarcadero Hyatt Regency Hotel* at the foot of Market Street and directly across from the Ferry Building. This Hyatt is an iconic venue that is very close to the cruise terminal. More about that wonderful Princess cruise and the SF Embarcadero Hyatt Regency experience in upcoming articles.

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*Starting in May and through the end of July 2013, Alcatraz Cruises, and the Hyatt Regency San Francisco have partnered to present the traveling show “Alcatraz: Life on the Rock.” This is a museum quality display about the history and stories of Alcatraz Island. The exhibit will appear in the Embarcadero Hyatt’s famous grand atrium lobby. If you are in San Francisco this summer, be sure to check out this terrific exhibit.

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Further, we also stayed at the newly converted officer’s quarters that is now the upscale Inn at the Presidio. This is a must-do if you enjoy luxury accommodations mixed with volumes of fascinating military history. You can read the story and see our pictures of the Inn at the Presidio *here*.

A little tight for now

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Until the spring of 2014, the location of the San Francisco cruise ship terminal is at Pier 35. It is small and in need of a facelift.

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Because Pier 35 is located on the busy Embarcadero, and lacks sufficient handling capability for large ships, it is more difficult to arrive and depart that terminal. However, the San Francisco cruise terminal administrators do an admirable job of working around a tight situation.

As mentioned above, the good news is that the new facility at Pier 27 will be available for passengers in the spring of 2014, and Pier 35 will become a backup terminal. We look forward to that improvement.

Summary

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A holiday in San Francisco followed by a round trip cruise out of the port of San Francisco to another great vacation destination like Hawaii or Alaska – is the stuff getaway dreams are made of, and we highly recommend it.

If you go

Click on the title for information about Princess Cruises , the San Francisco Embarcadero Hyatt Regency, and for the Inn at the Presidio.

See our Examiner photo gallery for this story *here*.

Happy travels!

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff

You can see the world with Google Maps. http://maps.google.com/