How to plan the perfect trip to cruise around Australia on the Queen Mary 2

Sensational Sydney

If you want to explore Australia and experience both the cultural and natural wonders of this enormous country, the Queen Mary 2 is the way to do it. During this year’s “World Voyage” the QM2 cruised into eight ports from Sydney to Perth, including Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Margaret River, Whitsunday Island, and Kangaroo Island. What’s exciting about the Queen’s annual adventure is that, with just a little planning, you can join the ship almost anywhere in the world and see your choice of countries and cities. We chose a ten-day, roundtrip, Sydney to Sydney cruise.

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Royalty, VIPs & movie stars

The Queen Mary 2 is the flagship of the Cunard Line and she is, without exception, the most luxurious passenger ship ever built. In 2004, Queen Elizabeth II christened this floating palace named after her grandmother. The queen proclaimed, “I name this ship Queen Mary 2. May God bless her and all who sail on her.” Countless VIPs have been welcomed onboard during the QM2’s 14 years at sea, including Presidents Donald Trump and George H. W. Bush, French President Jacques Chirac, Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Hollywood luminaries Uma Thurman, George Lucas, Lenny Kravitz, Ed Sheeran, and Helen Mirren. The latter won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth II in the movie The Queen and inscribed a painting of Her Majesty in the ship’s casino, “From one Queen to another.” Last year, Aussie star Hugh Jackman, Rebecca Ferguson, Zac Efron, and Zendaya celebrated the premiere of their movie, The Greatest Showman, with a dinner dance on the ship in New York City and everyone onboard joined the party.

Majesty of the high seas

Cunard launched the original Queen Mary in 1934, and it was considered the grand dame of ships, carrying Hollywood royalty such as Marlene Dietrich, Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable during the heyday of transatlantic ocean travel. The glamour and allure of cruising in true luxury lives on in her successor. In fact, today this bastion of seagoing extravagance is glossier than ever, after recently undergoing an extensive $132 million stem-to-stern refurbishment. The ship famously allows pets on board, employing a kennel master to mind dogs and cats, and they didn’t forget Fido and Fifi in the QM2 renovation, adding more kennels as well as a kennel lounge where owners can hang out with their furry friends.

Book a posh grill suite

The QM2 has multiple sailing options, with a category for everyone. That said, the two top choices are the Queens Grill and Princess Grill Suites. These staterooms are the ultimate in luxury — with both seating and dining areas, walk-in closets, and spacious private balconies with chaises longues for lounging. Queens Grill guests have their own personal butler, too. The service is unparalleled: we had an attentive butler, tour director, and concierge that finessed our every wish. Everything is so impeccable, you might want to consider staying on forever. Some lucky guests come close, signing on for the World Voyage from New York to New York for a total of 133 days.

Down under

It’s a loooong flight to Sydney, a total of 22 hours in the air, with a stop in L.A. Do yourself a favor and splurge for first class seats with a flatbed. We stayed at the Park Hyatt because of its location on Sydney Harbour. Be sure to reserve a room with a terrace overlooking the Sydney Opera House, the city’s major contribution to international architecture and art. This is the city’s top hotel, where all the stars stay, among them Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Kate Hudson. Elton John stays so frequently he keeps his own piano there.

The Hyatt’s bar and restaurant also have terrific views of the harbor, naturally. The chef is Etienne Karner, who trained in Michelin-starred kitchens in France before landing in Sydney. Order the sumptuous tasting dinner which includes the signature dish: kangaroo tartar with quail egg, truffle mayo, radish, and sesame crisps. This goes beautifully with a 2016 Hans Herzog Pinot Gris or a glass of Champagne.

Spend a day or two seeing Sydney before boarding the QM2. Our cruise started and ended in Sydney, so we had plenty of time to see the top attractions. Here are the best.

The Sydney Opera House

Our Hyatt balcony overlooked the Opera House, which is arguably the eighth wonder of the world. We got up early to see the dawn break over the landmark, an unforgettable moment, and we promptly had Jonathan, the hotel’s prize-winning concierge, book a tour to see the inside.

A UNESCO World Heritage site

Jørn Utzon, an unknown Danish architect, designed the building in 1955, winning an international design competition. Weirdly, Utzon’s world-famous sculptural design was initially rejected by the judges, but finally the renowned architect Eero Saarinen convinced the panel to choose it. Construction began in 1959, but wasn’t completed until 1973, thanks to a string of snafus, including cost overruns; the final construction costs totaled $79 million. In 1966, payment problems forced Utzon to resign from the project, and he left Australia and never saw his completed masterpiece. He passed away in 2008, a year after it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2007.

Despite its name, the Opera House has multiple purposes and presents many types of performances in addition to opera, including symphonic and popular music, and classic and experimental theater. We took the 4:30 pm tour, the last of the day, and simply stayed, had some Champagne, and saw Limbo, a sexy cabaret act.

Mr. Wong

After the show, we had a late dinner at the Cantonese hot spot Mr. Wong where the food and the people watching are excellent. Tucked away down an alley, it’s very popular and reservations are a must. We had a delicious dim sum, Peking duck with all the trimmings, and for dessert a decadent fried vanilla ice cream with butterscotch. Divine.

Sydney Harbour & Bridge

In the morning, we hired a speedboat to take us around Sydney Harbour, which is the center of life in Australia’s biggest city. We kept an eye out for native daughter Cate Blanchett, who has been known to pilot a small skiff around the harbor. Alas, we didn’t see her. The Sydney Harbour Bridge, affectionately known as “The Coat Hanger” thanks to its arched design, is another memorable icon of the city. Opened in 1932, the bridge took eight years to complete. High-wire artist Philippe Petit crossed the bridge on a tightrope in 1973, but you can legally cross it on foot via a pedestrian walkway. It’s an easy stroll of about 30 minutes, with magnificent views. You can also ride a bicycle across. Those more adventurous — and not afraid of heights — can scale the top of the bridge on a guided “bridge climb.”

Bondi Beach, Icebergs Club

Bondi Beach is one of Sydney’s top sights and the most popular of the many stretches of golden sand rimming this sunny city. It’s only a few miles from the center of town, and easily accessible. Here you might see Justin Bieber, Liev Schreiber, or Naomi Watts body surfing.

Our driver dropped us off at the end of the clifftop coastal walk, a spectacularly scenic route that we strolled until we found Icebergs, Bondi’s top beach club. The place has killer views of the crescent-shaped beach and endless blue water. You can check into the club to use the facilities, including the Olympic size saltwater pool. The restaurant is usually totally booked, but we snagged a table in the bar; we didn’t have a white tablecloth as do tables in the main dining room, but the burger was juicy, and the views were just as fabulous.

Boarding the QM2 — timing counts

The QM2 had dramatically moored in front of our balcony at the hotel; looking out at the ship and the Opera House together was a rare privilege. Time to pack and board!

The QM2 runs like a Swiss clock so we were able to check-in effortlessly and seamlessly. Be smart and check ahead to find out when guests will finish disembarking and boarding from early flights. This is usually between 9:30 am and 2 pm. Presto smooth boarding at 3 pm allowed plenty of time to explore the ship before she sailed at 9:30 pm. Uniformed porters brought the luggage to our stateroom, which had another perfect view of the Opera House. It doesn’t get old.

Exploring the QM2

The staff unpacked our cases while we explored the ship, which has a Canyon Ranch Spa, a gigantic movie theater that plays current blockbusters, the only planetarium at sea, a Vegas-styled showroom that features elaborate musicals, multiple gourmet restaurants, tea rooms, a Champagne bar, a ballroom with a 12-piece orchestra, a disco, a gym with a killer view of the horizon, five outdoor and indoor swimming pools, and seven Jacuzzis. There are also games galore, including shuffleboard, ping pong, paddle tennis, backgammon, bingo, bridge, and way too many other activities to list. Additionally, the QM2 boasts the largest library at sea, with breathtaking ocean panoramas; an hourly schedule of things to do, including lectures by famous authors, actors, and scientists; classical concerts; piano and harp recitals; a long list of fitness classes, including yoga, stretch, and circuit training; and gambling in a fully equipped casino. Daily laps around the deck (three times equals one mile), leisurely naps in a deckchair under a colorful plaid wool blanket from Scotland, and a nightcap in the Commodore Club were just a few of the things to look forward to.

The sail away

We ordered Champagne on our balcony, so we could watch the changing light and the sunset over the famous roofline “sails” of the Opera House. Sailing out of Sydney Harbor past the Opera House on the QM2 is one of the most memorable visual experiences you will ever have, akin to watching the mist lift to reveal the Taj Mahal from the presidential suite at the Oberoi Amarvillas in Agra or seeing the Pyramids for the first time. With the stars and moon lighting the way, tiny tugboats guided us out of the harbor. As the ship rounded the Opera House, the “sails” seemed to blow in the wind, and with lights ablaze it was a sight to behold and treasure forever. It’s Australia’s Eiffel Tower, London’s Big Ben, and New York’s Empire State Building. You need to experience this.

At sea

On our first night at sea, Captain Peter Philpott invited us to a cocktail party to meet the ship’s officers. This was also the first of four formal nights, so don’t forget to bring your jewels as this black-tie ritual is very much alive on the QM2. We quizzed the captain about what we could expect to see in New Zealand, our ultimate destination. I can’t wait to tell you all about it next.

This article originally appeared on TravelSquire.

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