In my last post, W1702 – Wet, wet, wet, I described a very, very wet day spent by my girlfriend Carol and myself on a shore tour to an island wildlife refuge. That evening I was very unusually due to head out off the ship again, this time to attend a grand gala dinner.
In common with most other cruise ship companies, Fred. Olsen operates a loyalty scheme called the Oceans Club, with rewards based on the number of nights you spend on board ship on each of the cruises you take totalled together. If you have sailed for 30 nights or less you are a Blue member, 100 nights or less a Silver member, and 101 nights or more you are a Gold member. Needless to say with the large number of cruises I have done I am already a Gold member – I am currently on 346 points, which will rise to 453 at the end of this cruise. The main benefits of Gold membership is 5% discount on cruise bookings made at least six months before departure, and 5% discount on shore tours booked before sailing (now you know why I book my cruises well in advance).
On this very long Around the World cruise there was an extra benefit – for the Gold members who were going all the way around from Southampton to Southampton there was an invitation to a grand gala dinner at a hotel in Auckland. There were over a hundred of us who qualified for an invitation – from my usual dinner table there was my friend Robert, and Carol’s Aunt & travelling companion Annie, as well as myself – but sadly for me not Carol herself as she is only a Silver member.
A fleet of three coaches took us from the quayside to the hotel, along very wet roads which were partially flooded in places. Our route took us over Auckland Harbour Bridge, a landmark I had photographed as we sailed into port the previous day:
The bridge was originally built with four lanes for traffic. Owing to the rapid expansion of suburbs on the North Shore and increasing traffic levels, it was soon necessary to increase capacity. In 1969, only ten years after opening, two-lane box girder clip-on sections were added to each side, doubling the number of lanes to eight. The sections were manufactured by a Japanese company, which led to the nickname ‘Nippon clip-ons’.
Our hotel venue, The Wharf, was located almost underneath the bridge, right on a bend in the water. The dining area was circular, with tables on two levels overlooking the waterfront:
There was a vast chandelier in the centre of the ceiling, but we all said it would have looked so much more impressive had it been better lit:
Before the meal started, we were given a traditional welcome by a group of Mãori musicians and dancers who performed up on the balcony. They performed several pieces, including of course the Haka – from my table downstairs I had a good view of them apart from reflections on the glass front to the balcony:
We then very much enjoyed the first two courses of our meal which were delicious – they even impressed the Fred. Olsen Executive Chef who happened to be sat at our table, and who was very good and interesting company. The waiters and waitresses were beautifully choreographed, delivering the plates of food to everyone at a table at the same time. The only surprise was the main course, which was either a fish or lamb dish, but it appeared to be completely random which dish you received. I was given the lamb dish which was lovely, others reported the fish dish was equally good.
Before our desserts we were very much entertained by the second cabaret act. Two strips of material hung from the ceiling of the room, and a very lithe and athletic young lady performed an acrobatic display using them. She climbed apparently effortlessly to the top of the strips, and proceeded to strike various poses, many just dangling from the material just wound around her arms or legs. Twice she brought great gasps from her audience as she apparently plummeted downwards, only to stop herself just a few feet from the ground. At the end of her routine she received a well deserved ovation from her audience:
We then received our desserts, and I was given a diabetic one as earlier requested. There was plenty of wine and beer flowing for those who drank, and soft drinks for those like me who don’t. Coaches were laid on at differing times to return us to the ship, so that we could choose how late to stay. Feeling tired after the wet and soggy tour during the day, and not being a drinker, I elected to take the first coach back to the ship.
It was a great night out, very well organised, with great food and entertainment. It was well worth doing all those cruises needed to qualify for the evening 😉