Sydney almost cannot help but make a good first impression when you sail into her harbor. It is one of the world’s magnificent sights. It’s a complex harbor with bays and inlets, small ferries dart about dodging sailboats. The sails of the opera house and the “coat hanger” Harbor Bridge top off the experience.
But sometimes Sydney can make a frustrating impression when you arrive. Fortunately, for us, this was not our first arrival. We had a fantastic sail in five years ago. But Sydney’s recently built White Bay Cruise terminal can conspire to make that first impression not so good.
White Bay is the overflow cruise terminal and I suspect the replacement for the traditional terminal at Circular Quay. As ships get bigger they cannot fit under the Coat Hanger so only the biggest ones get to berth at Circular Quay. Others go to White Bay, on the inside of the Coat Hanger. Many ships can just squeeze under the coat hanger at low tide. Zuiderdam is one of them. So instead of sailing in during the daylight, or better yet, at dawn, the sail in is dictated by the tide. The tallest part of the ship needs two meters clearance under the bridge. When we went to bed we were told that we would cross under the bridge just at sunrise but fortunately Suzi got up at 5:30, looked out our door and cried “Opera House”. I grabbed the nearest thing that I could use to take a picture, my iPhone, which was set for 6AM to make sure I didn’t miss the sail past the opera house and under the bridge. The iPhone 13 is amazing in low light. It saw the Opera House with better eyes than mine. I posted the pics on Facebook and many cruise mates thanked me because they slept through the best part of the sail in.
White Bay is an old commercial port that shipped gypsum and cement. Tourism is a cleaner cargo, less dust, so and the neighbors may like new purposing of the harbor. But I don’t know of many passengers who like it. The terminal is huge and, fortunately air-conditioned, with miles of velvet ropes forming mazes to run through while being processed.
It has new gangways that go up and down with the tide, airport like tubes to enter and exit the ship. When we arrived they weren’t working so there was a very steep gangway to the pier, fine for able bodied, but many cruise mates have wheelchairs, mobility scooters or walkers. It took a good deal of time to get them off the ship. Later that day the airport type gangways up and running.
We were assigned times to clear immigration. Those on Holland America tours or those who request it, get early disembarkation slots. Those of us with no particular plans are assigned later times. We were group 11 (of 12) with an assigned time of 9:45.
Because of the time it took off loading disabled passengers the process ran late. Our 9:45 was closer to 10:30. It was after eleven by the time we cleared immigration. And there was one group after us. The terminal has no shopping, one small snack stand, very little seating and no other amenities. Five years ago when we first disembarked at White Bay, they told us that things would be different when we got back. There was no difference. Sitka can build a terminal from scratch, fill it with shops, and have it staffed with pleasant greeters to give you a map and answer questions. In Sydney, a huge city, there was none of this after 5 years.
There wasn’t even anyone to give us a map. The map rack was empty, and the person directing us to the line for the shuttle bus (there is no public transport to White Bay) said that the tourist people had left, taking all their maps with them, an hour before. The shuttle busses take between 20 and 40 minutes to get to Darling Harbor where we could get other public transport or walk to some places. Given that we took three trips into town, the wait on line to get the bus and travel time we spent about two and a half hours commuting before we could do anything in Sydney. I was sitting right behind the driver on one leg. He had his mobile phone in a bracket and he was reading his Facebook newsfeed during the ride back to the terminal from Darling Harbor. It made me feel safe.
I know these are all first world problems, but if you want to share this, only by letting Sydney know what we think of White Harbor can we get improvement.
The saving graces for White Bay Cruise are the immigration officials who were friendly and funny, and made our entry easy and the Amer, the old Prinsendam, a former Holland America favorite (and which can sail under the harbor bridge whenever she wants, she has a collapsing topmast.) Amer was berthed next to us and many of us enjoyed seeing her. Not a few commented that they wished Holland America had not sold Prinsendam and that we were on her now. I share that sentiment.
Once through the maze of White Harbor Sydney is wonderful. The first day we walked from Darling Harbor to the Central Business District for some shopping, something I do not like but Alaska Airlines had other ideas for how we should spend our vacation. As part of that chore we stopped at the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), a delightful over the top Victorian pile, for “Devon Tea” featuring scones and clotted cream. We got caught in a torrential thunderstorm, the type that brings out the playful kid in me.
We took the light rail to Circular Quay and took a ferry from Circular Quay back to Darling Harbor where we walked among the classic ships moored at the maritime muSEAum. There is a scale model of Captain Cook’s “Endeavor” which looks so small.
On the ferry we saw a group of young boys in khaki shorts, long socks and khaki shirts wearing identical blue baseball caps with a crown on them and identical neck ties, I originally thought they were boy scouts, but with neck ties knotted with half Windsors rather than neckerchiefs. But then we saw older boys with white shirts, blue shorts, and the same ties. Both groups of kids had identical backpacks FULL and heavy. Suzi said, “school kids” to which I added “With too much homework” Each backpack had the same crown as on the little kids’ caps with the motto ”ad majora natus” (Born to greatness.) I looked up the Australia Trademark Office website and found it was St. Aloysius school. Very polite but high energy kids
We went back to Sydney later that night (Different post) and again the next day where we spent more time riding trams and ferries to different parts of the city, explored some of the new buildings and public spaces near Circular Quay (see yet another post) and spent time at the Aquarium, not bad but not nearly as good as the one near the great barrier reef in Queensland. There was a sea cow, named “Pig” that was rescued twice, once as an orphan, and then later when it could not survive months after being released. The aquarium allowed you to walk under and through the tanks in plastic tubes and to watch from above while “Pig” devoured lettuce, not, I think, a natural food for a sea cow.
People in Sydney are particularly kind. When getting on a tram young people would invariably stand and offer us their seats. This is encouraged by signs on city busses encouraging those traveling at student rates to offer seats to people traveling at the senior fare. I think such training pays off in creating a courteous and respectful society. (Ok Aussies are not known as particular respectful but you know what I mean.) One of our cruise mates was riding on a ferry, He is wheel chair bound. He pointed to our ship and some crew members moved his wheel chair around and took his picture with the ship in the background. That points to a kind society.
Corrected to reflect that some passengers reported that wi-fi did work in the terminel.