They Nailed It! Flight Review: Emirates, Sydney to Christchurch

I joined the ‘New Zealand Snow Safari’ tour for solo travellers with Encounter Travel and flew with Emirates, Sydney to Christchurch.

I’d flown Emirates just once before, but it was eight years ago, and although on the same route my memory of the flight was  vague.  I was looking forward to trying Emirates again.  Emirates ‘nailed it’ on all levels of service, comfort, inflight entertainment and their meal service.

AIRLINE & FLIGHT
Emirates Flight EK418

FLIGHT DATE
16 August 2015

THE ROUTE
Sydney, Australia to Christchurch, New Zealand
2160 kilometres (1342 miles)

AIRCRAFT
Boeing 777-300ER

MY TRAVEL CLASS
Economy

THE FREQUENCY
Emirates operates, EK418 Sydney to Christchurch daily

THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Emirates offers their own loyalty scheme called Emirates Skywards. It’s free and easy to join online at www.emirates.com

When you fly with Emirates, add your frequent flyer number to your booking to accrue points, on eligible fares. If you are flying with one of their airline partners you may also be eligible to earn points towards your frequent flyer membership. They have 12 airline partners affiliated with their loyalty programme and include, Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin America, South African Airways and Japan Airlines to name a few.

Also, if you are a member of other partner loyalty programmes with Emirates you can convert these points to miles with Emirates Skywards.

  • For the banks, these include American Express and Citibank – Australia.
  • For hotels, the list is extensive including major hotel chains such as, Crown Hotels, Hilton Worldwide, International Hotels Group, Hyatt Hotels and Resorts, Marriott International and a number more.
  • Plus other partners include select car rental companies and some retail and lifestyle brands.


EMIRATES CODESHARE PARTNERS
Emirates have an extensive network of worldwide flights to over 140 destinations. Also, they codeshare with a few carriers including airlines such as Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin America.  For Australians, they generally have good flights options to many destinations, via their hub, Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

FLIGHT MANAGEMENT & CHECK-IN
I checked in online and printed my boarding pass.

I arrived to the Emirates bag drop queue 2 hours and 20 minutes prior to the flight departure time. I had no wait, and the bag drop off was quick and easy.   The representative at the counter was friendly and welcoming, with well wishes for my travels.

BAGGAGE

Checked Luggage:
Emirates have some generous luggage allowances and it’s calculated based on total weight.

For my economy fare, I was permitted a total weight up to 30 kilograms with total linear dimensions per bag not exceeding (length + width + height) of 300cm (118 inches), per piece.

If you are a higher tier Skywards member you may be eligible for more checked luggage allowances than the standards.
Otherwise, in general terms (excluding Canada, North and South America), it’s 30kg in economy, 40kg in business and 50kg in first class. A note about flights starting from the United States if your first carrier is not Emirates, you will need to check with the carrier for allowances.

Carry-On:
Restricted to one piece of carry-on baggage with a weight up to 7kg (15lbs), that does not exceed 55cm x 38cm x 20cm (22” x 15” x 8”). There is the exception of duty free purchases of liquor, cigarettes and perfume in reasonable quantities are also permitted in addition to the carry-on limit.

If your carry-on is a bag with built-in wheels it must be less than 114cm (45”) in total dimensions (length, width and height).

TIME IN THE AIR
From Sydney to Christchurch, it’s a scheduled 3 hours and 5 minutes.  Our push back from the gate was delayed as our aircraft had been held up when it departed from its origin, Dubai.  Finally, we took off at 10:35am. We caught up a bit of time but still, we arrived later than our scheduled arrival time to Christchurch.

THE SEAT REVIEW
My seat:  29H (aisle, right hand side)
Economy seat configuration is 3-4-3 (in a few rows there are some different configurations)

Total seat capacity for the flight:  364
8 privates suites in first class / 42 seats in business class / 304 seats in economy class

On boarding, they offered two Australian papers to read.

Papers onboard from Sydney

Papers onboard from Sydney

Then, waiting on my seat was a pillow, and earphones. The only thing I missed, which always impresses me, is a bottle of water at your seat when you board. As an average sized female, with a height of 166cm, the seat comfort was good. The head rest had adjustable sides so you could rest your head easily and get extra support.

  • seat pitch is 81cm (32”)
  • seat width of 43cm (17”)

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
Top notch.

In flight entertainment, ice.

In flight entertainment, ‘ice’

Their inflight Entertainment is called ‘ice’.  Maybe they want to rethink that name? It stands for ‘Information, Communication, Entertainment’.  But for me, it instantly conjured thoughts of the drug Ice, and the battle to kerb its horrendous impact on society.

That aside, they have an impressive entertainment line-up of on demand entertainment, with over 2000 channel of movies, TV shows, music and games. The screen is seat back and is it’s a digital widescreen.

‘Film Club’ is Emirates inflight entertainment magazine, with over 200 movies including the regular Hollywood line up, foreign films and the classics.  It’s easy to use with a touch screen option or you can use the hand held device from the console.

Plus, they have an inflight magazine, ‘Open Skies’.

THE SERVICE
A commendable inflight service.   Service was prompt and delivered with a smile.  It was a short flight so there was not a lot to judge but my experience was pleasant.

ABOUT THE MEAL
The flight included a main meal and beverage service, including alcohol.  I opted for a vegetarian meal, booked in advance. Yum! Great option.

Inflight lunch meal, Sydney to Christchurch, EK418

Inflight lunch meal, Sydney to Christchurch, EK418

TIP: If you have special meal requests, remember to request them before you travel, and at least 48 hours in advance.

It was an early lunch service. The main meal was a vegetable ratatouille with couscous and mashed peas (I love peas, so I was happy). The starter was a hummus with a lemon wedge, and dessert was scrumptious.  Tea and coffee were offered, following the meal service.

ABOUT THE ARRIVAL, CHRISTCHURCH
Christchurch Airport services domestic and international flights and is one of the main gateways to New Zealand’s South Island.  On our flight, we were handed the Customs and Border Protection form for arrival to New Zealand.

At Customs Control
The baggage collection area at Christchurch is not large. Bags came out in a reasonable time frame and clearing customs was a quick and orderly process.

TIP: New Zealand, like Australia has strict customs regulations. Be sure to accurately answer the questions on the declaration form and declare items that are restricted, to avoid financial penalties.

The Arrivals Hall
The arrivals hall is small but it has all the conveniences you may require including a few ATMs, car hire desks and mobile phone stores. There’s an ATM that dispenses major international currencies also.

The two mobile phone companies were;  ‘Vodaphone’ and ‘Spark’. Both offered great value plans for purchasing a local New Zealand SIM card for calls and data (be sure to check your phone is not ‘locked’. If it’s ‘locked’ then another SIM card will not work. You need to check this with your provider at home).

Airport to City Transfers
Super Shuttle is a major provider of airport shuttle services in New Zealand. If travelling solo, it’s a lot better value to book the shuttle as taxis are around NZ45-50 to the city centre. The shuttle is only NZ24. My vehicle seemed very new and the driver was a wonderful welcome to the town, with some interesting facts and figures to share. 

THE VERDICT
Excellent! Would I fly them again? Yes

A SIDE NOTE
Although my tour started from Christchurch, a lot of travellers to New Zealand in winter are coming across to ski from Queenstown or Wanaka.  On my last visit many years ago I booked a flight Sydney to Queenstown. However, we never landed in Queenstown as the weather conditions meant that flights were diverted, and in my case to Dunedin. Since I’ve mentioned my story I’ve heard others report the same experience. This meant a long, and cold bus transfer from Dunedin to Queenstown. It took a bit of the shine of the trip.

There’s a few reasons to consider Christchurch as your arrival point;

  • the drive between Christchurch to Queenstown (about 6 hours drive time) is incredibly scenic
  • flights into Christchurch from Sydney can be considerably less than the direct flights to Queenstown.
  • avoid any chance of a flight not landing in Queenstown due to poor weather conditions.
  • Christchurch needs the tourist dollar. It’s still got a long way to go to make i’s way back to its pre-earthquake status, back in 2012

A Solo Traveller, interested in New Zealand?
Some solo traveller trips to New Zealand coming up:

New Zealand Adventure, 10 days 30 December 2015 – 8 January 2016 for ages 30 to 49 years
New Zealand Highlights, 16 days 6 – 21 November 2015 for ages 55 years & over 
New Zealand Ultimate, 11 days 30 December 2015 – 9 January 2016 ages 55 years & over

My review is subjective, based on my own experience and it does not give any guarantee that you will have the same experience or opinion as me.

Spot On! Flight Review: Virgin Australia, Sydney to Los Angeles

I joined ‘Mayan Magic, Mexico & Guatemala’ tour for solo travellers. I flew with Virgin Australia, Sydney to Los Angeles, before making my way to Guatemala City on a Delta Airlines flight direct from Los Angeles.

I’ve flown Virgin Australia internationally before, a few years back, Sydney to Abu Dhabi. There were a lot of similarities and no surprises, which I say as a good thing. I was hoping it was going to be as enjoyable as I remembered from last time, and it didn’t disappoint.

AIRLINE & FLIGHT
Virgin Australia VA001

FLIGHT DATE
1 March 2015

THE ROUTE
Sydney to Los Angeles, direct.
Just over 12,000 kms.
AIRCRAFT
Boeing 777-300ER

THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Virgin Airlines operates their own loyalty scheme called, Velocity. When you fly with Virgin Australia, add your frequent flyer number to your booking to accrue points, on eligible fares. If you are flying with one of their partners you may also be eligible to earn points towards your Velocity membership.

VIRGIN AUSTRALIA CODESHARE PARTNERS
It means you have access to a large network of flights when you book with Virgin Australia with access to their partner flight routes, like Delta Air Lines, Air New Zealand, Etihad and the list goes on.

MY TRAVEL CLASS
Economy (booked using points from my Velocity membership)

THE FREQUENCY
Virgin Australia operates, VA001 Sydney to Los Angeles.

FLIGHT MANAGEMENT & CHECK-IN
There’s no online check-in, so it’s just check-in at the airport.

I arrived to the queue for check-in about 2 hours and 45 minutes prior to the flight departure time. It was a reasonable queue and the wait to check-in was about 20 minutes. As I’ve always experienced flying with Virgin domestically, it was the same with the international flight check-in; the representative at the check-in counter was friendly and welcoming.

TIME IN THE AIR
From Sydney to Los Angeles, it’s a scheduled 13 hours and 50 minutes. We pushed back from the gate, just ten minutes after the scheduled time. Our arrival was about 10 minutes earlier than the scheduled time, so in fact, we caught up some time.

THE SEAT REVIEW
My seat: 29H (aisle, right hand side)
Economy seat configuration is 3-3-3 (but 2-3-2 near bathrooms)

Keeping in mind I am reviewing the comfort factor as an average sized female, with a height of 166cm (won’t be giving away my weight however), the comfort was good. The head rest had adjustable sides so you could rest your head easily and get extra support. The evening flight included a pillow and large blanket which covered me from top-to-toe (I’m 166cm tall).

Economy class, seat back
When you board, there’s an eye mask & pen already on your seat (but no inflight socks). Also, the earphones are much better than before.

The cabin design, fresh trimmings, cleanliness and colour scheme also had to the sense of comfort and space.

Total seat capacity for the flight: 361
There’s 288 seats available in economy with a pretty standard arrangement for seat pitch, recline and width:

• seat pitch is 81cm (32”)
• 15cm ( 6” )recline
• seat width of 47cm (18.5”).

Business class is up front (turn left when you board), then premium economy and then economy (turn right)

Visit SeatMap on Virgin Australia website.

BAGGAGE

Checked Luggage:
For economy, it will depend on your fare class and Velocity member status, so check your ticket. It’s either one or two pieces, up to 23 kilograms (50lb) with total linear dimensions per bag not exceeding (length + width + height) of 140cm, per piece.

Carry-On:
For economy, international long-haul flights with Virgin Australia, for all guests it’s up to 7kg of carry-on baggage on board and not exceeding a total linear dimension of 115cm.

TIP: IF you have other flights on your trip, check their luggage limits, as this can vary airline to airline. In particular, internal domestic flights may have limits of 20 kilograms, or even less for small aircraft.

INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT
Impressed.

Known as ‘Red’, it’s the seat back in-flight entertainment system with 22.9cm (10”) screen. What impressed me was the range of movies and the number of recent releases. There was a choice of about 25 new release movies and so many other movies. Plus, there were TV series, games, music and the flight map. All operated by an easy to work out, touch-screen and handset control.

There was also their inflight magazine, Voyeur.

I didn’t use it, but there’s an in-seat USB port, as part of the in-flight entertainment system; a really handy feature if you’ve forgotten to charge a device (that has a USB charge connection).

THE SERVICE
It was a delightful service from the flight attendants (thanks to Emma, my flight attendant that I saw the most of). Emma had a beautiful smile throughout, and she has to have had the best red (‘Virgin trademark’) lip gloss I’ve ever seen.

ABOUT THE MEALS
International long haul flights with Virgin Australia offer complimentary food and beverages, including alcoholic beverages.

It was an 11:40am, so lunch was the first meal served and breakfast was prior to arrival.

Lunch was better than I’d ever expect on an economy flight. I’d rate it as the best inflight lunch I can recall for an economy class fare. And, good on you Virgin Australia for offering three choices; a chicken cacciatore, braised beef and a vegetable lasagne. I took the vegetable lasagne option. Not sure how they did it, but the vegetables were perfectly cooked, when too often on flights meals just quite aren’t the same as on the ground. I like a vegetable lasagne when there’s just a tiny bit of crispness still left in the veggies and that’s just how it was. It was topped with a light cheese and cream sauce with breadcrumbs and layered with a fresh tomato sauce. It was accompanied with a small side, of a Greek salad and a white mouse dessert, crackers and a piece of cheese.

Veggies cooked just the way I like them!

Veggies cooked just the way I like them!

Breakfast, a choice of two; a vegetarian option and then a regular breakfast offer. The regular option included chicken sausages and scrambled eggs. I don’t think eggs can ever be done well with inflight meals and the chicken sausages have never been something that appealed….so, needless to say, I took the vegetarian option. It sounded unusual as I’d never thought of an Asian flair for hash browns. It was Thai inspired hash browns, baked beans and asparagus and it was pretty tasty.

Following the meal services, tea and coffee were offered.

If you get hungry on flights, there’s no need for alarm. There’s a mid flight snack; on my flight it was a ‘toastie’ with a cheese and tomato filling plus they keep snacks out; small packets of crisps and pretzels plus some soft drinks.

And, any airline wins me over when they put a bottle of water in your seat pocket before boarding so you don’t have the long wait between boarding and the drinks service once you’ve taken off. During the flight, jugs of water were available to either top up your bottle or fill a glass, plus the flight attendants came by a few times offering water.

ABOUT THE ARRIVAL, LOS ANGELES

Los Angeles International ‘Tom Bradley’ Airport (LAX) is the gateway to a mega network of flights across the states and onward international connections. On your flight, you are handed a US Customs and Border Protection form to be completed by each person, or one form for a family who live at the same address.

At Customs Control
When a flight has you arriving that equates to a body clock time of the wee hours of the morning, the customs and baggage procedure is daunting and I always prepare myself for a long wait. I was pleasantly surprised of how orderly it was to pass customs at LAX. The queue for foreign passports was probably only about 20 minutes and I was greeted with a friendly welcome from the custom’s officer (not my memory of the last time I passed through border control at LAX).

Collecting my luggage was as equally as painless, and before I knew it I was curb side, working out how to get my free hotel shuttle to my hotel nearby to the airport.

TRANSFERS
In the airport, signage is clear to direct you to the exits for taxis, rental cars and shuttle. Just look out for the sign ‘hotel shuttles’. Once I stepped out of the arrivals hall, then, I didn’t find which direction to walk for the courtesy hotel shuttles and had to ask. Had I have kept walking, I would have come across it. It was further on than where the taxis pulled in, so if in doubt, ask.

THE VERDICT
Excellent.  My review says it all. Would I fly them again? Yes, without a moment of hesitation.

A SIDE NOTE
My connection Los Angeles to Guatemala City was with Delta Airlines (partner airline with Virgin Australia) but the connection is not great; arriving at 6:30am to Los Angeles, then flying out just before midnight the same day. But, if you have the time, I think it works pretty well. Definitely get a hotel in Los Angeles for the transit time as the time difference meant I was feeling very flaky, shortly after arriving to the hotel. In my case, I winged it and booked the one hotel night only. I booked the hotel stay for the day I arrived. This meant that arriving at 6:30am, the hotel didn’t have to check me in until 3pm. I struck it lucky and was checked in by 9:30am. In hindsight I think next time I’d like to know my room was ready and I’d book the night prior. Remember also, to add a mention of your arrival time in your hotel booking. If you are arriving early it may help get an early check in or likewise if you book the night prior of an early morning arrival, then you don’t want the hotel thinking you are a ‘no show’.

MY LA STOP OVER HOTEL
I stayed at the Sheraton Gateway, Los Angeles. A generously sized room with a super comfy bed…..I was in heaven for the few hours of sleep I did get. The hotel has a Starbucks and A restaurant, and if you are up for it, the hotel is nearby to the public bus that can take you to Santa Monica for a bit of shopping time.

A Solo Traveller, interested in Mexico & Guatemala?
Check out my tour that I joined with Encounter Travel (which happens to my travel company).

A similar tour is on again in 2016.
Mayan Magic, Mexico & Guatemala, 2016 for Solo Travellers

Note: My review is subjective, based on my own experience and it does not give any guarantee that you will have the same experience or opinion as me.

Cruise Review; Voyager of the Seas

This week, I was lucky enough to have the chance to experience Voyager of the Seas, the Royal Caribbean ship that’s come to Australia for her second season. It’s also her first season here, since her mega refurbishment, with enhancements to cabins, bars, restaurants and more. I had been on her before the refurbishment, so I loved discovering the differences.

A view of Voyager of the Seas

A view of Voyager of the Seas

Some of the highlights are

  1. her new claim to fame, ‘FlowRider’, the surf simulator on deck 13
  2. their brand new inside cabins with a virtual balcony and
  3. the new specialty dining restaurants including Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table.Voyager of the Seas is also the ship with its own ice skating rink for performances by world class skaters!

Top reasons why I love Voyager of the Seas

  • She’s big but not too big – offers a great variety for the longer cruises but she’s still a size that makes it reasonable to get around to discover all that the ship has to offer
  • ‘Sapphire’ the impressive 3 storey a la carte dining room with quality menus, changing every night
  • The ‘Windjammer’ buffet restaurant is a modern décor with a variety of choices including good healthy selections
  • For something different, ‘FlowRider’, the rock climbing wall and a mini golf course, are fun and something a lot of us may never try at home; definitely not just for the kids
  • The Promenade – it’s the main arcade through the centre of the ship with shops plus Café Promenade and The Pig & Whistle, an English style pub theme
  • The adult only retreat ‘Solarium’ with a pool and jaccuzzis
  • There’s a variety of drinking holes including, Schooner Bar, The Pig & Whistle and R Bar
  • An impressive state-of-the art fitness centre.

I could go on…….

THE TRIP
A one night sampler from Sydney, out to sea and back the next morning. I had the entire afternoon and evening on board.

THE SHIP
Voyager of the Seas, Royal Caribbean Gross

Tonnage 138,000
Length 1020 ft
Max Beam 157.5 ft
Draft 29 ft
Cruising Speed 22 knots
Cabin Total 1557
Passenger Capacity At double occupancy 3114

MY CABIN REVIEW
Ocean view balcony cabin, category E1. I was in cabin 6592 on deck 6. This category also has cabins on deck 7 and 8. There’s a higher category, D. The difference is more cabin space, otherwise the cabins are comparable in their fit out.

My balcony cabin, category E1 on Voyager of the Seas

My balcony cabin, category E1 on Voyager of the Seas

It was seemingly spacious, including the balcony that was a good size, fitting a small round table and two balcony chairs. The size quoted on their website is stateroom size: 8’X20’4″ and balcony size: 47 sq. Storage is good; two sets of cabin draws, small cupboards above the desk area, a good quantity of clothes hangers in the cupboard plus more shelf racks in the cupboard.

The bathroom also has cupboards and an under bench storage area for larger items. In regards to minor detail, I liked that the shower had a sliding door, rather than a curtains. I’ve never had any luck with showers on ships that have curtains as I’ve always managed to drench the floor when taking a shower. It was good not to worry about this.

Desk and drawer space, category E1 balcony cabin, Voyager of the Seas

Desk and drawer space, category E1 balcony cabin, Voyager of the Seas

Each stateroom has a safety deposit box, tv, kettle and a small selection of teabags plus a mini bar fridge.

TIP: your cabin attendant will store your main luggage bag under the bed (given it fits). It’s a great place to keep your bag out of your way and keep the clear, to leave more floor space. There’s enough space to unpack so I recommend doing this and stowing your main luggage away. The beds was of reasonable comfort. However, it doesn’t rate as well as a 4 or 5 star hotel bed.

YOUR LUGGAGE

  1. At the Overseas Passenger Terminal in Sydney, your checked luggage is dropped off prior to the check-in process.
  2. Look out for the designated area. For my cruises, it’s always been on the south side of the terminal, ground level.
  3. Remember to print out the paper luggage tag that’s issued with your e-documents. It must be affixed to your luggage prior to checking in your luggage.

TIP: you will need tape or staplers to attach the tag to your luggage.

CHECK-IN PROCEDURE
Once you’ve booked your cruise, a link to the online check in procedure is available. I strongly recommend taking this option to check-in online. It removes the lengthy process at the check-in counter if you have not checked-in online. Once you’ve completed the process, the final step is to print your ‘Set Sail Pass’. This is the equivalent of a boarding pass.

TIP:  Once you are within 3 days prior to sailing you can longer check-in online. Also, if there are 2 people in the booking, both travellers in the booking must complete the check-in process before either person can print their Set Sail Pass.

At check-in at the terminal, you must have in hand your Set Sail Pass, passport and the credit card you used at the time of completing the check-in. They will need to sight this credit card for verification.

Staggered Ship Check-in Times, Sydney
The ship has staggered check in times which are determined by deck level. The higher the deck, the earlier the check in and so on. Once you have your cruise documents take note of the check in time that relates to your deck level of your cabin on the ship. In the past, I’ve seen it stated on about page 4 under the heading ‘Embarkation’.

ENTERTAINMENT
Every night and through the day you can find entertainment and activities on board. Each evening the ship has a show in their main theatre, La Scala plus there will be skating performances in Studio B and other events around the ship, including shows by the entertainment crew along the Promenade.

TIP: Read the daily newsletter ‘Cruise Compass’ that gets delivered to your cabin at the end of each evening. It’s got all the details of the on board activities for the next day. Also, you can usually get an advance copy from the Purser’s Desk around 7 or 8pm each evening.

ONBOARD DINING EXPERIENCE
With just a day and a night on board, unfortunately I couldn’t sample it all. Dinner was at Sapphire, the main dining room and I took breakfast in the Windjammer buffet restaurant. It was a similar experience to my other cruises with Royal Caribbean; a high standard with quality produce.

My meal choice, Surf & Turf @ Sapphire

My meal choice, Surf & Turf @ Sapphire

Chops Grille, Specialty dining restaurant on board Voyager of the Seas

Chops Grille, Specialty dining restaurant on board Voyager of the Seas

I also sampled a scrumptious red velvet cake from Chops Grille, another speciality restaurant that’s a new addition since the refurbishment.

THE SERVICE
The service was very good during my one night cruise experience. We had the most delightful waiters for our table. They were very personable and attentive. I’ve also cruised with Royal Caribbean four other times prior, and I’ve always found the service standard to be very good.

ABOUT DISEMBARKATION
The ship has this down pat. On my overnight cruise it was even easier than a regular cruise as everyone just had carry-on luggage and no checked luggage.

However in review of standard disembarkation, it’s easy. I’ve experienced this a few times on another Royal Caribbean ship, Rhapsody of the Seas. Your cabin attendant will delivery luggage tags for your bag to your cabin. The night prior to disembarkation you need to have your main luggage outside your cabin in the evening. Usually the time is by 10 or 11pm as a guide. Generally, disembarkation is early, between 7-9am at Sydney. You will be allotted times for disembarkation depending on your cabin location.

TIP: if you need to get off first thing to meet a flight, arrange this a few days prior at the Purser’s Desk.

ANSWERS TO SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

  • Yes there are theme nights on board, but it’s more about the entertainment rather than the dress for passengers. Typical nights would be tropical, country, 70’s night etc. This is when the show is themed, as are the cruise ship entertainment crew. There’s no real need to dress in theme, unless you want.
  • There are a mix of casual, smart casual and formal dining evenings. On the format dining evenings, it’s perfectly acceptable for gents to wear business attire rather than black tie (ie, suit with tie)
  • Onboard expenses are all charged in USD
  • Drinks package can be purchased in advance on their website, once you log into your member account or on the first day the ship displays the drink packages options and you can sign up on board.
  • The ship is cashless; you use our sea pass card to charge expenses to your personal account
  • The power points are as per the USA – you need adapters if you have items that need changing with Australian adapters.
Guest services desk, Voyager of the Seas - book shore excursions here

Guest services desk, Voyager of the Seas – book shore excursions here


THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Royal Caribbean loyalty program is called Crown & Anchor Society. After your first cruise, you can sign up on their website to become a member. My particular favourite is that you get priority boarding at check-in. This is a big plus as an Australian cruiser departing from Sydney where the Overseas Passenger Terminal is somewhat lacking as a facility. If the queues are long, you simply head straight up to the front and look for the member check in area that fast tracks you through the process.

It’s one cruise point per night of sailing and double points if you purchase a suite. Once you have 30 cruise points you move from the first tier, Gold to the next tier, Platinum. In total, there are 6 tiers to their loyalty program. Click here to link to the run down on the tiers You can find out more about the member benefits on their website.

CRUISE ITINERARIES
Voyager of the Seas has New Zealand and South Pacific cruise itineraries this season and the next. Her season commences from Sydney in October across the summer. Her final cruises are March for 2014-15 season and April for the 2015-16 season.

Departing from Sydney, there’s anything from 3 night samplers, a 7 night domestic cruise for their 2015-2015 season, South Pacific and New Zealand cruise itineraries.

THE VERDICT
It’s got all round appeal. From solo travellers, couples and families, and all generations there’s something for everyone. I rate her as a solid 4.5 star experience. Would I cruise again on her? Yes.

For solo traveller tips, check out my book, The Solo Traveller’s Compass, How To Travel Solo But Not Alone

 

Why Some Solo Travellers Feel Like Misfits

In your 20’s or even your 30’s it’s easy to travel solo when you know there’s a well-trodden backpacker path or companies like Contiki and Top Deck catering for your age group and your ‘single’ status. But what are the options for the mature solo traveller?  Too often, mature travellers feel they don’t belong on cruises and tours and it’s one reason why some solo travellers are missing out.

Years before starting my travel company for solo travellers I lead two different tour groups across South America.  In my first group, there were only two solo travellers in the group – everyone else was part of a couple. It was the same again with my next South American group. It raised the question – where were all the other solo travellers?   This was the first time I had an inkling that maybe solo travellers were missing out, but the big question was why?

Looking at the Facts

In first-world countries, like Australia, there has been a significant change in the number of people without partners and one-person households, compared to earlier generations.

  • The proportion of one-person households increased from 15.7{dbaf2e7ad635742df68cdb033ed9e5d8f2b0fe75523a319dfe91dee73a0e34a0} of households in the 1976 Census to 24.4{dbaf2e7ad635742df68cdb033ed9e5d8f2b0fe75523a319dfe91dee73a0e34a0} in the 2006 Census (as reported by the Australian Bureau of Statistics)
  • By 2026 it is predicted that one-person households will increase to 30.2{dbaf2e7ad635742df68cdb033ed9e5d8f2b0fe75523a319dfe91dee73a0e34a0} of the population.
  • Then, once we add single-parent families to the equation, the size of the solo traveller market is even more significant.

Many ads for tours and cruises could make any tentative solo traveller feel like a misfit, albeit, it’s unintentional.  Just think about some of the European river cruising ads on TV right now, isn’t it always images of happy, mature couples? It’s much the same when it comes to the ads for some of the big tour operators, attracting the over 40’s traveller; lots of happy couples but where are the solo travellers in these ads? So, why is it that some of the big cruise and tour companies seem to be ignoring the solo traveller when it comes to their advertising campaigns?  Is it just tradition that’s the root of the problem and these companies have ignored the shift towards the growing size of the solo traveller market?

On the upside, there are companies in more recent times that don’t ignore the solo traveller, inviting them to join them, making a point of it on their websites and promotional material. I’m a fan of G Adventures and for active solo travellers, World Expeditions.

And, of course, there’s always Encounter Travel, just for solo travellers.

Solo travellers are no longer a minority. If you are one, and not inclined to ‘go it alone’, join a tour group…… there’s always someone you can turn to and say: ‘how amazing is that’, and share the experience. It’s a case of doing your research and finding those travel companies that are attracting other like-minded solo travellers.


The author, Justine Waddington is the founder & owner of Encounter Travel, an Australian company that exclusively creates resort, cruise and tour groups for solo travellers.

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