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December 23 - 27, 2023

Cruise Disembarkation Day

Disembarkation day had arrived. Traci and I headed to the Windows dining room at 7:15 AM for our final breakfast aboard the Norwegian Spirit. We were assigned the 8:45 slot for disembarkation but I guess the process was running ahead of schedule. When we arrived at the Atrium at 8:30, the 8:45 slot had already been called. This was the third time on this cruise that I thought we had arrived early or on-time only to find out the activity had already begun. I double-checked to make sure my phone was in-sync with the ship time. It was. Anyway, this was not a major concern - just unexpected.

Disembarkation was easy. We were at Sydney's White Bay Cruise Terminal. This was not the terminal I expected. I had assumed we would be docked near the Rocks neighborhood where I saw cruise ships docked during our first visit to Sydney back in 2018. We had booked the Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay for our 4-night stay which is in walking distance from the Rocks neighborhood. The White Bay Cruise Terminal is not in walking distance; therefore, we needed transportation to the hotel. We ended up using Uber which cost slightly less than a taxi and more than 50% less than the ship transportation that dropped you off at a central location where it was still necessary to pay for your own transportation to the hotel.

We had stayed at the Sydney Harbour Marriott during our 2018 visit to the city. This time, the lobby was much busier than I remembered. One of the employees told me that the reason for the busyness was because it was cruise ship season. There were people like Traci and me who were checking into the hotel after disembarking from a cruise and there were others who were checking out to embark on a cruise. The employee told me that this scene would repeat almost every day from December to April. The staff seemed to be keeping up with the crush of guests. Furthermore, the Marriott was generous. There was always free candy and water in the lobby. Sometimes the staff would serve complimentary ice cream in the lobby.

It was around 10 AM when Traci and I were finally checked into the Marriott but of course our room was not ready at that time of the morning. Being lifetime Platinum Elite members of the Marriott loyalty program, we were invited to take advantage of the hotel's Executive Lounge. They were still serving breakfast at the time. Their breakfast buffet was impressive with eggs, pastries, drinks, meats, etc... I was not very hungry at the time since I had already had a hearty breakfast on the ship. Traci and I just grabbed some soft drinks and headed out to explore the city.

We had already seen a lot of the tourist sights in Sydney during our 2018 visit. We checked with the hotel concierge for some recommendations of what else to see. He recommended taking the tram to Chinatown. Traci and I did not see this section of the city during our first visit. We caught the tram from the Circle Quay stop which was just a block from our hotel. The ride to Chinatown was rather nostalgic because I recognized many of the sights from our first visit such as Queen Victoria Building shopping center, Westfield Mall, and various street names. It was quite obvious when we arrived in Chinatown because of the foreign text on the businesses and restaurants. There was also English text though.



Traci and I entered a large building called Paddy's Market. The first floor was a market with vendor stalls selling everything from food to electronics. We enjoyed the stalls that offered tastings. We tried flavored macademia nuts which were delicious. We had an odd experience as we were strolling through the market. A massage vendor spotted us about halfway down her aisle. She excitedly said, "Ooh!" as she hurried towards Traci. For years Traci has complained of tightness in her neck and shoulders. The lady seemed to sense it even before she reached us. She then began massaging Traci's neck and shoulders while trying to convince her to lay on the table for a $12 (approx. $8 USD) massage. Both Traci and I were laughing at how the lady seemed to zero-in on Traci trouble spots. Traci was not ready to receive a massage but the lady would not take "No" for an answer. Traci tried to get out of the situation by saying she needed to go to the restroom. The lady told Traci to follow her so that she could show her where the restrooms are. Here is where things got creepy. The lady followed Traci into the restroom and waited for her! Finally, Traci gave her a firm "No". We were able to make our escape.

The upper floors of Paddy's Market was a modern shopping mall with chain stores, specialty stores, and a food court. There was also a very crowded grocery store with many aisles of Chinese noodles, snacks, and other food with Chinese labeling.

From Paddy's Market, Traci and I wandered the streets on this bright, sunny day. The Chinese Garden of Friendship looked like a nice shaded place to explore but we were not sure if it would be worth the entrance fee so we kept walking. We eventually ended up at Darling Harbour where there were a lot of people out and about. Children played in fountains. There were many shops, museums, and restaurants in the area.

Darling Harbour



It was quite a walk from Darling Harbour back to our hotel. I was proud of myself when I managed to lead us there from memory based on our last visit to Sydney five years ago. Our room was ready when we returned since it was well after the time estimate of 12:30 PM. We had a corner room on the 23rd floor (2322) that had a view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This was considered an upgrade.

Sydney Harbour Marriott Hotel at Circular Quay

our room


view from our room


We went to the Executive Lounge to see what food they were serving. I was only expecting finger food but they were offering much more. Soup, salad, seafood, chicken, cold cuts, desserts, bread, etc... There was even spring rolls and dumplings. There were alcoholic and non-acoholic beverages. All these offerings were enough for us to make a meal. In fact, Traci and I did not eat at any Sydney restaurants this time. We had breakfast and dinner in the Executive Lounge during the rest of our stay.

After dinner, Traci and I walked down to the harbor area. Our destination was the famous Sydney Opera House to see the projections on its exterior. We kept missing them the last time we were in Sydney. This time, we made sure we got there on-time. The 6-minute show is free and was shown at 8:30 PM, 9 PM, and 9:30 PM daily. Traci and I were underwhelmed. The projection had an Aboriginal theme complete with Aboriginal music playing through speakers. Traci and I watched the entire show but found the floating symbols, patterns, and drawings too abstract for our comprehension.

Although the projections were not our cup of tea, we still had a nice time strolling the harbor in the pleasant evening weather. We also enjoyed admiring the Sydney skyline. It is beautiful at night.

light show on the Sydney Opera House


Sydney skyline


Traci still had energy after our walk. She really wanted to take the train to see the Christmas lights at St. Mary's Cathedral. I felt bad about telling her that I did not feel like going that evening. It was after 9 PM I was too sleepy to deal with figuring out transportation and maps. I promised we would go another evening before leaving Sydney.

Christmas Eve

The next morning was Christmas eve. Traci and I had to be at the Executive Lounge when it opened to at 7 AM so that we could eat breakfast before our 7:25 AM pick-up by the tour company I booked. I booked the Blue Mountains Deluxe Tour from Sydney by Viator online based on a recommendation from a couple we met on our shore excursion in Moorea two weeks prior. Traci and I managed to gobble down our breakfast and meet the tour bus in front of the hotel on-time. Our driver made stops at other hotels around Sydney to pick up other passengers before starting the tour.

There was no commentary while we were riding in the motorcoach. I spent the time tapping my foot to the 80's music playing softly on the radio. Our first stop was the Sydney Zoo in Eastern Creek (not the Taronga Zoo located near the Sydney Harbour). I had forgotten that this visit was part of the tour. I am not much of a zoo person. Over the years, I've become spoiled by seeing animals in the wild on safaris and visits to national parks. Seeing the animals in captivity was less exciting for me. Nonetheless, as our group entered the zoo, we were given a cup of feed for feeding kangaroos and an emu. I did not feed any of the animals. The highlight was when one of the kangaroos managed to escape the enclosure and hop down the walkway.

We were taken to a pavilion in the zoo for a short presentation on Aboriginal culture. We were shown some hand-made tools and a sack for carrying a baby. The best part of this presentation was the young man playing the didgeridoo. He was very talented. He could even imitate animals with the instrument.

Sydney Zoo

Traci feeding an emu


Aboriginal demonstration




very talented didgeridoo player



We were given some free time to explore the zoo on our own. There was an opportunity to pay to have your picture taken next to a koala that was in a deep sleep. You were not allow to touch the koala. Traci and I did not have our picture taken but a few people from our group did. You will not see many cages at the Sydney Zoo. The animals are enclosed in large environments similar to their natural habitats. We saw lions, cheetahs, giraffes, zebras, and much more. The zoo also had some attractive animated Christmas displays.

From the zoo, we were driven to the famous Blue Mountains of Australia. We were taken to Echo Point which is supposed to be a great lookout spot for seeing the famous Three Sisters rock formation. Unfortunately, we were there on a incredibly foggy day. We saw nothing. The fog unveiled a partial view of the Three Sisters for a brief moment but that was it. Traci and I decided to walk some of the trails in the area with our remaining time before we needed to be back on the bus but again, the fog made it difficult to see anything.

Foggy Day at Echo Point in the Blue Mountains



Three Sisters rock formation


As Traci and I were walking towards our bus, we ran into our bus driver who said, "There you are. I thought maybe you had gotten lost."

This was surprising to us because according to my phone we had arrived back at the bus on-time. It was not until we were on the bus that I noticed that the clock on the bus was fast. This caused a problem because as we were being driven to our next stop, someone in the back of the bus yelled out to our driver, "Wait! I don't see the family that was sitting across from me."

Our driver pulled over and did a roll-call and sure enough, the family was not on the bus. It took a while for the driver to find a good spot to turn around on the narrow streets but she was eventually able to make it back to Echo Point to retrieve the family who had missed the bus.

Now that everyone was present on the bus, we were driven to the nearby town of Katoomba for lunch. There were several small eateries that lined one of the streets of the town. We were given 45 minutes to choose one, eat lunch at our own expense, and then be back on the bus. I was sure to set my phone alarm based on the time I saw on the clock on the bus. Traci and I chose an eatery where we each ordered fish and chips from the counter and dined at one of the tables. The meal was cook-to-order and the service was friendly but I thought it was expensive for such a basic meal. Our meal came to $38 AUD (approx. $25 USD). Furthermore, I was charged 50 cents when I asked for a packet of ketchup.

As Traci and I were walking back to the bus, we ran into Joe and Tracy from Texas who we met on the cruise. They were doing a similar tour with a different company that seemed to be visiting the sights in the reverse order as ours. We chatted for a few seconds, took a selfie, and then hurried back to the bus to avoid being left behind.

Our next stop was Scenic World. It is a tourist attraction that provides exciting ways for tourist to experience the Blue Mountains from peaks to valleys. We had to take the Skyway, a sky cable car, that crosses the valley to get to the main building of Scenic World. This was a distance of 1,260 feet at a height of 886 feet above the valley floor. I image this would have been a very scenic voyage if it were not for the blinding rain. I heard there was a cool waterfall to check out from the Skyway but we basically saw nothing. I was surprised the Skyway was still running in these conditions.

The main building consisted of a souvenir shop, restrooms, and an eatery. From here, you could decide how you wanted to explore the Blue Mountains. Traci and I took the Scenic Railway. It was built in the late 1800's for the Katoomba coal mine. It is the steepest railway in the world. It has been used as a thrill ride since 1945 to take passengers to the Jamison Valley a little over 1,000 feet below. Traci and I were caught off guard by the speed at which the train descended. If it had been just a little faster, we probably would have felt that drop feeling in the stomach you get when riding a rollercoaster. I thought it was going to be a slow, scenic ride. Nope. In fact, most of the ride was through a tunnel. I loved it!

After our thrilling descent to the Jamison Valley, we walked the boardwalk through the forest to get to Dinosaur World. I really enjoyed this attraction. There were animatronic dinoaurs scattered throughout the forest that roared and moved. It was impressive.

We hurried on because it was getting close to the time we needed to be back on the bus. We still needed to take the Scenic Cableway to get to the main building on top of the mountain and I had no idea how long the wait would be to board. Fortunately, the wait was not too bad. We made it to the main building with 15 minutes to spear. As we were heading to the parking lot to board our bus, the sun finally decided to make an appearance for the first time that day. Up until then, our visit to Scenic World consisted of using an umbrella to deal with weather that ranged from light rain to all-out downpours.

Scenic World

crossing the Jamison Valley in a sky cable car


crossing the Jamison Valley in a sky cable car


animatronic dinosaurs that move and roar


I enjoyed Scenic World despite the rain. I do not think the 2 hours we were given was not enough time to explore everything the attraction has to offer. Traci and I could not do too much wandering or exploring. We always needed to take into consideration the uncertainty of wait times for cable cars on this crowded day.

It was an hour and a half ride to the Sydney Olympic Park, our drop-off point for the tour. The park contains a ferry terminal. Each person was responsible for their own transportation back to their accommodation. As Traci and I were exiting the motorcoach, we noticed that the ferry we needed (Circle Quay) was in the process of boarding. We quickly bought tickets from the kiosk and hurried to board the ferry. Otherwise, it would have been a 30-minute wait for the next one.

The ferry ride between Sydney Olympic Park and Circle Quay which included a transfer at Darling Harbour took about an hour. We spent the time talking to a couple from Maryland who we recognized from the cruise. We had fun talking about past vacation adventures and our experiences aboard the Norwegian Spirit. Speaking of the Norwegian Spirit, we happened to see it departing the Sydney Harbour as our ferry was approaching Darling Harbour. We waved to the passengers and crew.

After dinner at the Executive Lounge of our hotel, I made good on my promise to Traci that we would check out the Christmas lights at St. Mary's Cathedral. We followed the hotel concierge's advice to take the train from Circle Quay to the St. James stop and then make the short walk to the cathedral. Upon arriving at the St. James stop, I realized we were at Hyde Park where Traci and I had walked several times during our 2018 visit to Sydney. We did not need to take the train. We could have walked to the cathedral from our hotel in about 20 minutes, which was nothing when compared to the amount of walking we did during our stay in Sydney.

The light show at St. Mary's Cathedral was awe-inspiring. It was crystal-clear animations projected onto the cathedral accompanied by majestic music playing through large speakers. The animations ranged the Twelve Days of Christmas to Nativity scenes. In addition to the projections, there was a Christmas market in front of the church. The whole area was suffocatingly crowded. Each time the traffic lights changed, a huge crowd of people would attempt to cross the street in the face of a huge crowd coming from the opposite direction. It reminded me of a medieval battle scene of two charging armies. It was chaos. The traffic cops would do their best to get people out of the streets so that the cars could proceed when the light turned green.

One noticeable difference from our first visit to Sydney was the demographics. Just about everyone we saw this time appeared to be of Asian descent - tourists and employees.

Traci and I managed to find a spot across the street where we could admire the projections with slightly less people and not too much obstruction. The presentation was truly impressive. Traci and I later got up the courage to navigate the crowd to cross the street to the Christmas market. The market seemed to be closing for the evening. We continued inching our way through the crowd and up the steps of the cathedral. Guards were letting only a few people at a time enter the crowded building. Traci and I decided to abandon the idea of seeing the inside of St. Mary's Cathedral. However, as we were walking around the side of the building, we happened to notice an entrance where there was hardly any people. We entered the church and glanced at the grand achitecture. We did not stay long because I thought maybe Christmas Eve Mass was in progress. We saw people taking communion.

Christmas Eve at St. Mary's Cathedral




crossing the street


Traci and I had begun to make our walk back to our hotel. We stopped near the Christmas tree at Martin Place. It is Sydney's largest Christmas tree. It contains more than 100,000 LED lights. There were musicians playing Christmas music in the area. There were so many people on the sidewalk and in the square that it was difficult just taking a step without stepping on someone's foot. In the chaos, we somehow ran into the couple from Maryland who we met on the ferry earlier that day. They recommended that we have a look at the Christmas displays in the windows of the David Jones department store. Traci and I set off to do just that.

Christmas Eve in Sydney



Getting to the David Jones department store was not fun. It had begun to rain heavily. Not only did we need to deal with crowded sidewalks and crowded crosswalks while holding an umbrella, but we then had to deal with avoiding large puddles. I thought I knew the way to the store from memory but after walking around for a while and still not seeing it, we decided to duck into a walkway through a shopping center. Even though the shopping center was closed, the Wi-Fi was still available. We used it to find directions to David Jones on Google Maps. We were only 2 blocks away. The animatronic Christmas displays in the windows of David Jones were a cute detour on our way back to the hotel.

Animatronic Window Displays at David Jones Department Store



I was happy to be back in our hotel room after a long but enjoyable day of sightseeing. The Marriott continued to impress me with their hospitality. There was a box of Christmas chocolate left for us in our room. A little after midnight, I sent a text to my siblings and cousins on our family group chat so that Traci and I could be the first to wish them a Merry Christmas. Because of the 16-hour time difference, it was still Christmas Eve on the east coast of the U.S..

Christmas Day

It felt strange to be in a different country on Christmas Day - in a hotel room no less. Traci went for a jog and then we had a delicious breakfast together in the Executive Lounge at 10 AM. The Marriott had a small gift for everyone. It was a scroll that made a small pop when pulled from both ends. It was similar to the pop of a toy cap gun. The smell even took me back to my childhood. The scroll converted into a paper crown.

opening a gift scroll that converts to a paper crown


We relaxed in our room for a while. I watched a televised Christmas parade that took place in the city of Perth on Australia's west coast. Traci and I went out for a walk. The seasons are opposite in the southern hemisphre so instead of it being cold in December, it was a hot, sunny Christmas day. It still did not feel like Christmas because stores and restaurants were open for business. Traci and I walked a path that began in the Sydney Harbour area and continued past the Opera House and along the coast. We came back through the lovely Royal Botanic Garden. According to Traci's watch, we had walked three miles by the time we came back to the hotel.

Believe it or not, we were not finished walking that day. Our DMV friends, who we met on the cruise, were staying at a Meriton Suites hotel located in Chinatown. Their suites had a kitchen. They cooked dinner and invited Traci and me to take part in the Christmas feast which started at 4 PM. During the mile and a half walk to get to their hotel, Traci and I ran into Joe and Tracy from Texas who we met on the cruise. Just like we did when we ran into in the Blue Mountains two days prior, we chatted and took selfies together.

We had a great time dining with our DMV friends. They prepared a meal of seafood, lamb chops, salad, cabbage, and a variety of desserts. They served wine. They even squeezed homemade lemonade. Afterwards, we chatted, laughed, and shared pictures from the cruise. We had such a good time together. Traci and I did not get back to our hotel until almost 10 PM. We were so appreciative of our DMV friends for making our first Christmas abroad memorable.

Christmas dinner of shrimp and lobster


Boxing Day

The next day, I woke up at 6:30 AM. Although it was December 26 in Sydney, the 16-hour time difference meant that it was still Decmber 25, Christmas Day, on the east coast of the U.S.. I called my siblings to wish them a merry Christmas. These were free calls because I used my Google Voice phone number which works on Wi-Fi. The Wi-FI at the Marriott was fast. The phone calls were very clear.

Traci went jogging and then we both went to breakfast at the Executive Lounge. After brekfast, we bought Hop-on, Hop-off Sydney Big Bus Tour tickets from the hotel concierge. The tour has a Red Route that makes stops at the city's major sights like the Opera House, the Rocks, Darling Harbor, Barangaroo, Hyde Park, museums, and more. Traci and I did this route first on the upper level of the double-decker bus. We had no intention of getting off the bus at any of the stops since we had experienced many of them during our first visit to Sydney. Our goal was to listen to the commentary and find out if there are any other sites we should consider visiting. The Red Route took about an hour to complete its circuit. Next we did the Blue Route circuit which makes stops on its way to and from Bondi Beach. That route took almost an hour and a half. We did not exit the bus. We just enjoyed the commentary. From the bus, we could see that Bondi Beach was very crowded.

Hop-on, Hop-off Sydney Big Bus Tour



Bondi Beach


We finished our hop-on hop-off experience at the Central Station stop. As we were exiting the bus, we ran into a couple we met on the cruise. They are from the French-speaking Caribbean island of Guadaloupe. We were happy to see each other again. I was especially grateful for another opportunity to speak French.

We headed to Pitt Street to begin our walk back to our hotel. Pitt Street and the surrounding streets are full of all kinds of stores. December 26 is Boxing Day in Australia. It is celebrated in other parts of the world such as Canada and the UK. This was our first experience with the holiday. It seems similar to Black Friday in the U.S.. Since arriving in Sydney, we had seen commercials and other advertisements for Boxing Day sales. Our walk on Pitt Street was evidence that these advertisements were working. The streets were crammed! There were long lines just to get into some stores. Walking on the sidewalks and crossing the streets was a challenge because there were so many people. Traci went into a few stores that did not have lines. I am not sure what she was looking for. I normally waited for her outside the store if I could find a spot out of the path of the crowds.

sidewalks crowded with Boxing Day shoppers


Back at the hotel, we had our 'last supper' in the Executive Lounge and then began the process of packing for our trip home. We needed to make sure our two suitcases were each under 50 pounds. I made use of my Space Bag we brought with us to smash down our laundry so that it fit nicely into the carry-on duffle bag we brought with us.

Last Day of Vacation

The next morning, Traci went for her last morning jog in Sydney. We had our final breakfast in the Executaive Lounge. I decided to give the Australian bread spread Vegemite another try. We tried it during our first visit and it was awful. At that time, an Australian lady recommended I try it with butter. Traci and I tried it on bread and butter this time. It was still disgusting. Yuck!

We rolled our luggage to the Circle Quay Station which was about a block from the Marriott so that we could take the train to the international terminal of the Sydney Airport. The train was about half the cost of a taxi and probably faster because it did not have to negotiate street traffic.

At the airport, we hung out with Sam and Annette, our DMV friends from the cruise. They had the same Sydney-to-San Francisco flight and San Francisco-to-Washington Dulles flight as Traci and me. It was a long, uneventful trip home. The flight from Sydney to San Francisco was a little over 13 hours. We had about a 2-hour layover which gave us enough time to go through customs and then board our flight home which took just under 5 hours. What an amazing vacation! Main Page


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