Cruise Articles - Celebrity Solstice Cruise
Sydney, Australia to Auckland, New Zealand

Cruising from Sydney to Auckland

by Roger Allnutt

As the boom in cruising gathers apace in many parts of the world the number of cruise ships/companies including Australia and New Zealand in their schedules continues to grow.

Celebrity Solstice and Sydney Harbour Bridge
Celebrity Solstice and Sydney Harbour Bridge

One of the most recent to join the rush is Celebrity Cruises with the Celebrity Solstice cruising in the region over the 2012-13 summer season in the southern hemis

I joined Celebrity Solstice for a 13 day cruise from Sydney to Auckland via Melbourne and a number of New Zealand ports. With a full complement of 2850 passengers and around 1500 crew travelling on the Celebrity Solstice it was like holidaying on a floating five star hotel. Despite the numbers I never felt a sense of crowding. Interestingly there were passengers from about 50 countries (most from the US) and staff from over 60 countries. Very international.

The sleek, white 122,000 tonnes Celebrity Solstice is a beautifully appointed ship with every facility that you would expect on a ship launched in 2008. Most staterooms have spacious balconies and are well sound-proofed. The cabin staff are excellent and kept our cabin spotless throughout the trip.

Stateroom on Celebrity Solstice
Stateroom on Celebrity Solstice

The ship has two main dining areas the Grand Epernay(on two levels) which was used for most passengers either at set evening sittings or you could choose, as we did, a ‘select’ option where you could choose the time of dining and whether you wanted to sit separately or join with other passengers. The choice of food was very wide with daily specials alongside a more regular menu. For someone who doesn’t over-eat (hopefully) the serves were large.

Although breakfast and lunch were also served in Grand Epernay our more usual choice was the relaxed Ocean View Restaurant with open seating allowing the option to meet and get to know other passengers. Again the choices were incredible and it was hard not to over indulge. A popular alternative for lunch was the al fresco hamburger bar located near the pool deck.

In addition there were five other restaurants, more exclusive and for which an extra charge was levied. These were popular with many passengers and ranged from French cuisine (Murano), an Italian Grill to and an Asian restaurant (Silk Harvest). On the cruise there were only two formal nights with the dress code smart casual for other evenings.

There was certainly no shortage of bars, a total of fifteen in all and these did excellent business although I noted there was none of the excessive drinking I have seen on some other cruises.

The Celebrity Solstice offers an incredible range of activities to cater for all interests. The ship has three pools (one under cover) plus whirlpools, and there was an ample supply of deck chairs for lounging round the pool or just relaxing for some quiet reading. The areas round the pool were also used for daily Zumba classes.

There is a well-resourced gym that was usually very busy, and in addition there were facilities for sports like table tennis and golf putting. Next to the gym there was a large range of spa and wellness facilities including hairdressers, masseurs etc. Very popular with the ladies.

Pool Deck - Celebrity Solstice
Pool deck on Celebrity Solstice

For quieter activities the ship offers a library and card room, computer access (expensive) as well as meeting and smaller areas for such things as church services and even AA meetings. There must have been a number of Catholics on board as a priest held daily mass. Bingo and quizzes, wine and spirit tastings featured on the daily activity program.

Musically the ship was well served with a number of different groups including singers and a small band used to accompany some excellent shows. My favourites were a string trio from the Ukraine and a superb jazz quartet from Argentina – the pianist Christian Jerez was fantastic. My only complaint was that these smaller, more intimate groups were often placed near noisy bars or passageways.

The ship has a large theatre seating around 1000 people and each night there were two shows. I enjoyed the shows featuring singing and dancing by the ship’s ‘troupe’ (a tribute to Broadway show was memorable) as well as an amazingly dextrous Australian pianist but was less taken by the comedians and magician. Just not to my taste but always well patronised.

Nearby the casino and gaming machines were always busy, sometimes even during the day but the big action was at night. There were a number of shops selling the usual clothing and jewellery and a range of souvenirs as well as duty free alcohol for when you left the ship. Toward the end of the cruise a couple of ‘sales’ were held and many passengers stocked up on watches, bags, scarves and other smaller items.

Apart from the opportunity to relax while the ship was at sea – and on my cruise the weather was mainly fine and hot – a highlight was the days spent at port and the opportunity to explore the relevant cities or join excursions further afield from the ship.

The cruise was from Sydney to Auckland with stops at Melbourne, Dunedin, Akaroa, Wellington and Tauranga as she sailed around New Zealand. In addition the ship spent time in the three majestic fiords on the south west coast of the South Island. Apart from Akaroa the ship was able to berth while a tender system was used at Akaroa. On all occasions passengers were moved off the ship for excursions in a quick and orderly fashion with priority where necessary for those booked on early morning departures for tours.

The tours offered through the ship were not cheap and in some places passengers found that independent entrepreneurs at dockside were offering similar tours at a lesser price. Many others just took the opportunity to explore the local scene by catching the shuttle buses into the city, taking local transport or in a couple of cases such as Wellington and Tauranga just walking in the city.

Pool Deck - Celebrity Solstice
Celebrity Solstice

Some of the day tours I felt were too long for the time allowed and I heard a few passengers say they were ‘exhausted’ after the day tour. However for many it was a once in a lifetime chance to see the magnificent alpine scenery on the South Island or the hot water springs and Maori culture at Rotorua inland from Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty in the North Island.

The cruise was fortunate to have pretty good weather for the time at Milford, Doubtful and Dusky Sounds, the majestic fiords of the South Island. It rains a large majority of the time around the sounds so to see the spectacular scenery on a clear day was a bonus. About 100 passengers took a special add-on from Milford Sound to travel through Te Anau to overnight at Queenstown before rejoining the ship at Dunedin.

Other highlights included the chance to explore the bustling Melbourne CBD or see some Australian fauna like kangaroos and koalas at local sanctuaries, the Royal Albatross colony and Larnach Castle at Dunedin, the shops selling wonderful jumpers made from fine merino sheep and possum wool, the French influence at Akaroa, Te Papa Museum and the lovely Botanic Gardens reached by cable car at Wellington and the hot springs and geysers at Rotorua (from Tauranga). At Wellington our ship was moored next to the Queen Mary 2 which had around 3500 passengers so the city was really buzzing that day.

For more information on Celebrity Cruises including itineraries and prices check the website

Roger Allnutt is a freelance travel writer based in Canberra, Australia, and a long-time member of the Australian Society of Travel Writers. He travels widely around the world researching material for publication in newspapers and magazines in Australia, New Zealand, US, Singapore and other parts of the world.

Roger is happy to accept commissions and can provide material on many parts of the world. He can be reached at [email protected]

His other interests include food and wine, classical music and theatre and playing tennis.

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