On the final night of SPRUKE 2017, I received a call saying, “You won, you won.”

What had I won? I had won a cruise, which was to be an ukulele cruise from Brisbane to Cairns on a P&O ship offered by Hello World Travel at Katoomba.

What a great prize!

After a week or two, I was contacted by the wonderful, Suzanne McBride, who said that they may not be able to fill the Cairns cruise, so could they offer me a 10 night New Zealand cruise on a Royal Caribbean ship in a Ocean View cabin.  I realised that the NZ cruise left from Sydney, so Suzanne said that they would cover the air fares to Sydney.

Wow! How good was that! I accepted their wonderful offer.

My wife, Sue, and I were very excited.

The cruise was to leave Sydney on 6 April, 2018. On 3 April, we were packed and ready to leave when we received the devastating news that the ship had broken down and was heading to dry dock, the cruise was cancelled.

The travel insurance company refused to refund the travel insurance, as this was a Royal Caribbean problem. Poor Suzanne’s hard work was for nothing .

Royal Caribbean refunded the cost of the cruise to the travel company and gave us vouchers for around $3,000 for a future cruise.

After a few months, Suzanne from Hello World (who were now iTalk Travel) contacted us to let us know that a new Ukulele Cruise to NZ was being organised, and asked whether we would like to use our vouchers. We did, so the new cruise was to be a 9-night cruise to New Zealand on a balcony suite leaving 5 March, 2019.

We organised to fly down the afternoon before departure, and stayed at a hotel near Hyde Park.

Next morning we headed to Circular Quay, and we were through customs and on board ship well before midday and had lunch on board.

Our accommodation was on deck 7 overlooking the Opera House.

We went to the compulsory drill and before we knew it we were heading out to sea.

That afternoon we collected our show bags from iTalk Travel which had a number of items in it including special Ukulele Cruise lanyards. As we didn’t know what would be in the bags, my wife had already purchased a lanyard on the way in.

I had booked dining, so we went and had dinner on a pretty rough sea. But the ship was big enough to handle the waves with ease. Sleeping however was a little more difficult as the ship kept rolling us from side to side.

Next day there was a morning lesson and an afternoon play-along, followed by a cocktail party for the Ukulele Cruise members.

Suzanne McBride (iTalk Travel) & Rob at the Ukulele Cruise Cocktail Party

Morning lessons and afternoon play-alongs were scheduled for every sea day of the cruise.

I found that the skill levels were too wide to keep most people’s attention for the whole time, some lessons suited the beginners and at other times, beginners would have been lost.

As for the afternoon play-along, this was one of my most anticipated activities. Unfortunately, every session was oriented to a final day concert rather than a simple, pick-a-song and play it. As I was often tired in the afternoon, I missed the first couple of play-alongs, so when I did attend, I found that the group was actually rehearsing for the concert, and I had missed two rehearsals. I found that to be disappointing.

First stop was the Bay of Islands, and I had decided to stay on board and use some of my drinks package which was only affordable due to $120 of onboard credit. (I would just purchase the coffee card next time). The problem was that most of the bars on board were closed on port days.

Auckland was poring rain, but at Tauranga, the weather was perfect. We had booked to visit Hobbiton and it was magical, perfect place, perfect day.

Rob & Sue at Hobbiton, April 2019

Next stop was Napier where many of the buildings were rebuilt in Art Deco style after a serious earthquake in 1931. Interesting buildings, including an Art Deco McDonalds, and we did a tour which took us up to a high peak where you can see for kilometres.

Last day in NZ was Picton in the Marlborough sounds. It was raining again so I stayed on board.

The highlight was the concert in the main theatre. Playing and singing on a slightly pitching deck was hard work, but oh, so much fun and we sounded great.

Rob performing onboard the Ukulele Cruise ship in the end of cruise concert.

Some of the audience which numbered over 300, suggested that we were better than some of the paid entertainers.

NZ Ukulele Cruise group on stage.

Would I go on a cruise again? Only if it left from Brisbane.

Would I go on an Ukulele cruise again? Probably not, I am not in the camp of those that live to learn and play every waking moment. I am in the more relaxed group that would just like to play well with friends. It was a great prize and overall we are very thankful for the opportunity to have experienced it.