Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What a day! Why you should book a hotel the night before you cruise...

If you have cruised before or about to take your first cruise, and you are not embarking in your home town, then you have probably read somewhere or been told by your travel agent it is a good idea to have at least one night pre-cruise accommodation. 

The cynics among us may think their travel agent is just trying to add to make a buck or two by booking a hotel (when, really, there isn't much to be made from hotel bookings and the internet is awash with amazing hotel booking sites). Take it from me (Nat), travelling the day before to meet your cruise has a number of benefits:

  • Waking up not far from the port means less travel during that day, resulting in a much more calm, relaxed embarkation day.
  • A great excuse to enjoy a different city/port - in my case it was Sydney, a place I love for many reasons (namely friends and shopping)
  • Not stressing that the early morning flight you booked on the day of embarkation doesn't get delayed or cancelled...does that ever happen?

The answer to the last point above is YES! 

I recently had an 8.25am flight departing Brisbane for Sydney (flights leave hourly). Thinking that was ample time to mosey on down to the beautiful harbour city, where I was set to steam away on a 2-night cruise from Sydney back to Brisbane on the Dawn Princess (8pm sail time), I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the airport lounge, grabbed a takeaway coffee and went to wait at the gate close to boarding time. This was mostly a work trip, as I was attending a conference on board, but I was still excited to have my first taste of cruising with Princess Cruises.

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The Dawn Princess sails under the Sydney Harbour Bridge on her way out of Sydney Harbour.
(Photo by yaruman5/Flickr)

I met up with a fellow work colleague and we did mention in passing that the plane we thought was ours was late coming in and unloading...then the announcement - "Passengers for Jetstar flight...there has been a slight delay due to engineering issues which our engineering team is working on. We have a new departure time of 9.30am."

Ho hum - here we go. Not majorly stressed or worried at this stage, I just sat back in my seat, picked up my book and was actually pleased I had time to finish my coffee (I'm a slow coffee drinker!). 9.30am rolls around and by now the area around the gate is rather crowed with passengers who are beginning to become anxious. At this stage a departure time before midday would still afford us time to make check in on the Dawn Princess with very little stress. Luckily the Dawn Princess had a later then normal check in (7pm) cut off due to its late departure from Barangaroo Wharf in Darling Harbour.

As 9.30am came and went we were given a new departure time of 11am - cue a chorus of moaning and groaning from the sea of delayed passengers. Of course, not all of them were on their way to Sydney to cruise back to Brisbane like us, though we were soon to find out the cruise passengers numbers of those delayed with us was higher then I imagined. Nevertheless, flight delays are never fun. Common sense did prevail and the moaning was shortlived because no-one wanted to be on a plane with 'engineering issues'.

Confidence in the fact we were going to be moving any time soon quickly disappeared with the following announcement - 'Ladies and Gentlemen on Jetstar flight...unfortunately...' - and that's when the flight was cancelled. 


We - all 300 of us - were instructed to go down to the check in desks and form our own 'special queue' where we were to receive a $100 voucher for travel at a future date on the airline, as well as new flight arrangements. In my haste to try to work out what my colleague and I should do next (we were on the phone to our workplace trying to secure flights on other airlines), I missed the opportunity to take a photo of the organised chaos that was our 'special queue'. 

A Jetstar plane at Brisbane Airport
(Photo by DeeKnow/Flickr)

I don't envy ground staff at airports full stop, having witnessed over the years some of the awful behaviour and situations they have to deal with. This day was no exception. We soon realised there were many cruise passengers (with their bags diligently tagged with Princess luggage tags) in the queue who were all very nervous about making the cruise on time. Within moments there was a further announcement stating that there would be no more flights on Jetstar, or their partner airline, until after 5.25pm!

In order to spare you the excruciating next six hours my work colleague and I endured, let's just move this along quickly...

Our attempts at getting on to a rival airline's flights (leaving at midday or 1pm) was quashed due to the fact we could have paid the same price to fly to Singapore! We were then sent on a wild goose chase to find transport that would get us to a regional airport on the Sunshine Coast - an hour and a half away. The 'goose' came in the shape of a bus, which we duly missed (that's if it is even possible to miss something you can't find in a construction zone). 

As we were doing our own impersonation of the Amazing Race around Brisbane Airport we came across a number of fellow cruise passengers that had had enough and were heading home. They'd decided it wasn't worth their while to fork out twice the amount of money their 2-day cruise cost...just to get there! It might have been worth it if they put on a buffet and a main dining room on the plane...

For us, we had to get to Maroochydore Airport on the Sunshine Coast...and we did, after another goose/bus chase around the Brisbane Airport saw us on a shuttle to the Maroochydore Airport. At this stage it dawned on us we were starving! After a mid-trip bus change (seriously!) we found ourselves in a quaint airport, with a snack and a glass of wine. Then we looked at the Departures Board...yep, it said our flight had departed. Luckily this was a false alarm - it was still another hour until we were even meant to be departing. Despite the day's events up until then, we managed a good chuckle.

What greeted us at Maroochydore Airport!

Finally we were on our way (true!) and, secretly, at this stage I was just wishing for my bed - or a hammock on a remote island. We finally touched down in Sydney (4.45pm) and leapt into a taxi, whereupon our 'comedian' of a taxi driver tried to convince us the Dawn Princess had already set sail. We humoured him.

Arriving at the wharf, all I can say is that it was the smoothest embarkation process I have ever been through - because we were pretty much the only ones checking in! Chatting to the check in staff, who were incredibly sweet and friendly and had obviously heard the dramas us and other passengers had been through, we found out there were still 200 passengers that hadn't checked in. We finally boarded just before 6pm and headed straight into the muster drill.

Moral of the story?

I learnt the hard way and now know this will be the last time I ever try to catch a ship the same day it is departing! Any excuse for pre-cruise shopping and stress free travel is enough to warrant a hotel bill.

Bon voyage!

Nat & Giulio

*If you did stay in a hotel the night before cruising as a result of this post, please tell us! 

What greeted us when we finally arrived to board Dawn Princess just before 6pm (yay!).

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All photos by Nathalia Rayfield (unless otherwise stated)
Text and photos edited by Giulio Saggin
© Use of photos and text must be via written permission

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