Cruising Through the Rainforest of New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park

The “Other Down Under” destination of New Zealand is on the Bucket List of many Americans — and justly so. Problem is, New Zealand is a long way from anywhere U.S.A. Consequently, most tourists want to see as much as possible on their first visit. Our suggestion for an orientation trip to New Zealand – book a cruise.

The rationale

A cruise will visit several ports on the two islands of New Zealand, which is a great way to get a taste of the entire country – and all without packing and repacking. And, if you fancy an endless array of delicious gastronomical delights included in the price of your vacation, all the more reason to choose a cruise.

On our fourth trip to Australia and New Zealand we blocked out time for a voyage on one of our favorite ships, the Golden Princess.

There is not enough space in this brief article to adequately describe all the picturesque ports-of-call we visited in New Zealand, so let’s just concentrate on one very special destination…

Fiordland National Park

Established in 1952, New Zealand’s largest national park (3 million acres) was formed over the eons by gigantic glacial flows that gradually crushed and moved the earth into the sea leaving deep navigable canyons of water in the South Island coast.

The park fiords are lined with steep cliffs from which giant fingers of gushing water emerge to crash-dive into the sea below.

This park is extraordinary because of its almost incomprehensible size and unsurpassed isolation. Much of the flora and fauna found in the rainforests of the park are just as they were many thousands of years ago.

Entering the park

On the previous night, the ship’s captain alerted us that we would be entering the park at the break of day.

100_1572We woke about 5:30 and walked up to one of the observation decks just as the sun started to peek over the majestic mountains on our port side.

100_1596The sea was quiet, and there was a veil of still mist in the air.

100_1567At first we could only hear, but finally did see, our first waterfall. There were “oohs,” and “ahhs,” aplenty.

Watch for the bears

DSC02269We had a naturalist on board who narrated our passage through this otherworldly wilderness. He jokingly entreated the passengers to keep a keen eye out for bears along the nearby rocky shoreline (there are no bears in New Zealand). A fellow passenger retorted, “Bears hell, look out for dinosaurs.” It’s that kind of place.

100_1619At sunset we left the park for the open sea.

That evening at dinner, we joined a group of passengers celebrating the experience of spending a day cruising through time. None of us will soon forget the primitive beauty of Fiordland National Park.

If you go

The New Zealand Department of Conservation administers the fiords, lakes, mountains, and rainforests of the Fiordland National Park. Check out their website here.

100_1629The next sailing with our exact itinerary on the Golden Princess will be January and March 2017, but you needn’t wait because Princess has other ships that cruise throughout New Zealand. Check out other dates and itineraries here.

Happy travels!

If you have an interest in cruising, the authors suggest reading their four other articles involving Princess Cruises and the Golden Princess.

A Table Rendezvous with Italy’s Chef Ottavio Bellesi on the Golden Princess

The Sweetest Suites for two on the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess

Princess Cruise Ship Rescues Canadian Yachtsman

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“Get out there, but be prepared.”

Whenever we travel, we are protected by Allianz Global Assist travel insurance.

You can plan your trips with Google Maps.

The opinions expressed in our articles are the journalists’ alone, and have not been reviewed, endorsed or approved by any entity.

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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The Dining Delights at a Princess Chef’s Table

©Travel Photo Interact – Place your cursor over any photo to enhance it – click to enlarge.

09-13-053-26-IMG_3489Dining at a Chef’s Table should always be a titillating treat of tantalizing tastes. Traditionally, a Chef’s Table is located in the kitchen – where the guests can watch, and “ooh” and “ahh” as the Chef and his/her team work their culinary magic. That was not how it was at the Table of Chef Ottavio Bellesi aboard the Golden Princess – and here’s why.

From the beginning

49-02-IMG_0156Soon after boarding the Golden Princess in San Francisco, we had a meeting with the ship’s Maître d’ Hotel, Neville Saldanha, to discuss our dining preferences.

After learning that we were writing about the cruise, and knowing that food is always a popular subject with prospective passengers, Mr. Saldanha suggested that we make reservations for one of the two Chef’s Table events planned for the sailing. We quickly agreed, and a few days later our invitation was in our stateroom mailbox.

A dining we did go

On our assigned night, we gathered just outside the galley entrance with the four other lucky couples that would share our table. There we donned freshly laundered white lab coats and were led into the sparkling kitchen.

03-03-043-03-IMG_3455Our first stop was the sink, where each guest was required to wash his/her hands before proceeding into the galley’s inner sanctum.

05-07-047-16-IMG_3472After the salubrious ceremony, the Maître d’, Neville, introduced us to our grand host, Ottavio Bellesi, the Executive Chef of the Golden Princess. Together, they described how the evening would unfold.

18-26-013-032-IMG_4016First, a toast of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut to celebrate the event.

20-28-015-046-IMG_4030Then appetizers like Lobster Margarita with Avocado and Mango, and Fontina Cheese and Black Truffle Mini Quiche.

22-30-017-050-IMG_4034While noshing on our hors d’oeuvres, we will watch the artistic galley staff create ice carvings, and ingenious fruit and vegetable table settings.

12-19-006-008-IMG_3989Followed by a brief tour of the kitchen to look over the shoulders of the culinary crew preparing and plating the meals for the sitting dinner passengers.

24-35-024-076-IMG_4066All the above will culminate in a procession into the main dining room where our specially prepared, multi-course dinner will be served.

Chef led tour

13-20-007-011-IMG_3992Right on schedule, Chef Bellesi began to lead our walking tour of his vast stainless domain.

06-08-048-20-IMG_3479During our sparkling wine toasts, we realized THIS Chef’s Table was not to be like any other we had previously experienced. Not only would it be conducted by a great Italian Chef – but one who was also an extraordinary entertainer with a gift of contagious laughter.

Chef Bellesi’s cheerful laughter was so genuine, and totally disarming – that there was no escaping his charm. Within minutes, he had all of us wrapped around his little finger, and totally absorbed in his every word.

14-21-008-013-IMG_3994To make the situation even more hilarious, Neville, the Maître d’, was the perfect comic foil for Ottavio’s Italian-accented antics. He was Martin to the Chef’s Lewis, Abbott to his Costello, and Hardy to his Laurel. The ad hoc comedy team of Bellesi and Saldanha had us in stitches throughout the evening.

We learned and we laughed

32-53-066-36-P1000796Our two hosts exhibited a high-knowledge of food and wine. The chef added to the group’s understanding of the evolution of Italian cuisine from the basics of simple fresh ingredients to contemporary flavoring techniques.

Italian chefs often work with fewer ingredients and less elaborate preparations than others, making the quality of the ingredients of paramount importance. Chef Bellesi explained how the composition of Italian-style grand cuisine becomes richly enhanced when blended with traditional Italian techniques of “cucina casalinga,” or home cooking.

On to the table

25-36-026-084-IMG_4074A notable aspect of Italian dining is that the first course is frequently a filling dish like risotto or pasta. So it was at our table as we were presented succulent marinated poached Halibut atop a generous portion of Porcini Mushroom Risotto.

26-40-029-099-IMG_4091Soon after an Amalfi Lemon Sorbet…

28-45-031-104-IMG_4096came the Lobster Thermidor…

30-49-035-114-IMG_4106and a Filet Mignon Rossini, accompanied by a delectable truffled herbed Rack of Lamb, Mustard Hollandaise, Rosemary Jus and Lemon Butter Fondue, Roasted Parisienne Potatoes, and Sautéed fresh market Vegetables.

35-56-037-123-IMG_4115The above preceded Potted Stilton with Port Wine reduction and Walnut Bread, and all was finished-off with a delicate Marble Chocolate Semifreddo with a Raspberry soft center, topped off with a meaningful coffee and Chef Ottavio’s…

38-60-041-138-IMG_4131home made Biscotti & Amaretti. What an incredible feast!

Not an easy task

29-47-033-110-IMG_4102A Chef’s Table is an elaborate undertaking that puts a strain on a kitchen’s resources and staff. In restaurants, the event often takes place after the nightly kitchen rush.

10-16-056-42-IMG_3529In that regard, we found our lavish affair to be a testament to Chef Ottavio’s ability to create, organize, and coordinate the serving of our event – while his galley team was seamlessly providing superb service to the main body of 1,000+ passengers in the busy dining room around us. Amazing!

36-57-039-128-IMG_4120Abetted by many of his key staff, Chef Bellesi personally crafted our special Chef’s Table menu, and remained involved in the preparation and presentation of the feast from appetizer to desert.

34-55-036-118-IMG_4110Along with the ship’s Maître d’, the head Sommelier was there to describe the exactly paired wines that were selected for each of our courses.

31-52-067-34-P1000793At the end of our fabulous gourmet adventure, each participating couple received a hard-cover copy of, “Courses – A Culinary Journey,” autographed by Neville and Ottavio, along with a group picture – and the ladies departed with a rose. This was an affair to remember.

46-71-059-Chef WB-JBConsidering the investment in food, wine, supplies, and key staff time, we cannot fathom how Princess could make a profit on what each of the ten guests paid for the evening’s Epicurean enjoyment.

We rarely mention prices in our articles because prices change, but we found it amazing that our 3-hour gourmet spectacle cost us less than US $100 per person. Certainly, all the participants will talk about their bon vivant adventure with friends and family for years – and that may just be what Princess has in mind.

If you ever have an opportunity to participate in a Chef’s Table on a Princess Cruise ship – by all means, take it!  Seating is limited so apply early to avoid disappointment.

40-64-080-46-P1000926

39-65-079-38-P1000917And if the uber-funny pair of Bellesi and Saldanha should happen to be on your ship, absolutely do not miss their afternoon cooking demonstrations.

42-62-082-53-P1000933There is so much more to them than cooking.

For more information about Princess Cruises click here.

Happy travels and bon appetit!

Suggested reading regarding Princess Cruises by Wayne and Judy:

The Sweetest Suites for Two Aboard the Golden Princess

Luxury Cruising from San Francisco to Hawaii on Princess Cruise Lines

Three Great Reasons to Book a Cruise Out of San Francisco 

Saved by a Princess on the Tasman Sea

© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff

Photos © Judy Bayliff

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