Please do not hate me for complaining about having to spend Christmas over in Sydney, Australia…..I know it might be many people’s bucket list to spend Christmas in Sydney…and I am complaining about it? Hear my story first…..
The Great Barrier Reef has been on my bucket list for years but it is probably the furthest place, in terms of flying, from Boston, USA. Flight ticket is always expensive in addition to the premium that airline charges to fly during Christmas – New Year time. Then, from Sydney or whichever international hub in Australia to get to Queensland and a boat out to the reef, we are talking about serious $$$. Early last year, it was all over the news that global warming…warming of the sea water, has led to coral bleaching in many areas of the Great Barrier Reef. It started an urgency for me to go there soon otherwise might be forever gone. The Great Barrier Reef stretches more than 1,600 miles so first is to pick a place. I narrowed down my choices to either Cairns or the Whitsunday Islands. When I saw photos of the famous white silica sand beach – Whitehaven Beach, the Hamilton Island would be a perfect access point to see both in one trip and the island has its own airport that has direct flights from Sydney, perfect! I began my daily search of saver award space to Hamilton Island (HTI). One night I was reading boardingarea.com before I went to bed and saw few posts titled “Great award availability to Sydney on AA!” and I immediately turned on my laptop and checked. Sure enough, there were saver awards from LAX to HTI via Sydney, I booked immediately!!! I kept waiting for BOS to LAX but no luck so I ended up buying the ticket; still much cheaper to pay $234 + 37,500 AA miles to get to Hamilton Island, landing on Christmas Day!
The flight from Boston to LAX was very bumpy (I can say scary) but at last we landed safely and just an hour delay. I planned plenty of layover time in LAX since we need to go from domestic to international and traveling around Christmas time guarantees delay. I found out that the AA flight to Sydney departs from its domestic terminal, not from the Bradley International Terminal. I originally planned to hang out at the KAL Lounge; Jason got the free Priority Select Pass membership from Chase’s Reserve credit card. There was no lounge at AA’s terminal 4 grrr! The nearest lounge was at terminal 6 – Alaska Lounge…..the worst lounge ever; only salad in a small fridge (looked very unappetizing) and cream of broccoli 🙁 45 minutes before boarding, we walked all the way back to terminal 4 to find out that “our pilot is on the way” so they’ll delay boarding for another half an hour! At that point, I started to get nervous because we have a tight connection of 1.5 hours in Sydney to go through customs and transfer to the domestic terminal. Half an hour passed, we started to board…….then boarding was completed….but we were not moving! An announcement from the crew said the pilot is on its way…..what????
We waited for almost 2 hours for the pilot to finally arrive; the excuse was the pilot was on another flight that got diverted due to weather blah blah blah! Unbelievable, poor logistic! Why in the world would you schedule a pilot who’ll be on a 14+ hours nonstop flight from another flight (even if he was just a passenger to transit to LAX). And we all know that Christmas is peak travel period! Our connecting flight departs at 10:15 am so if we missed that, I know there’s another one leaving around noon so I was hoping for the best. During the flight, I talked to the flight attendant to let her know that we have a tight connection and asked if it’s possible for us to get off first, she said there’s nothing she can do because as soon as the seatbelt sign turned off, everyone would get up and clogged the aisle….sigh!
Our flight landed at 10:21 am and an announcement came up with our names to see the crew that they have rebooked us to another flight; the couples sitting on the row behind us were on the same flight. By the time we got off the plane, there was no crew member there, we kept walking toward custom/immigration and finally spotted a flight attendant. I went up to ask and she handed us a paper – the confirmed itinerary for the Jetstar flight departing at noon and that was it, no direction, no extra help! By the time we get through custom and immigration, we had around 40 minutes left and still have to wait for our luggage OMG. The other couple and us ran and ran to the Qanta’s seamless transfer desk and there was a queue there! I went up to the staff thinking to ask her if we can go first since we’ll miss our last flight to Hamilton Island, she said it’s a Jetstar flight so we can’t even use the seamless transfer…are you serious? She told us to walk out of the terminal and wait for the transfer bus to Terminal 2………the transfer bus cost like $6 AUD and took me two tries for my credit card to work at the machine! The bus ride to Terminal was another 10 minutes yikes!!! We arrived Terminal 2 and ran to the Jetstar counter to check our bag, guess what, the lady said they can’t check our bags because it was less than 30 minutes prior to departure! We asked if they can fly our bags on the flight which is next day….she said nope, our bags have to fly with us. What can we do now? Her English was poor, surprisingly, she talked to her coworker and said that was the last flight, the next one would be tomorrow. I asked about accommodation because it was the airline’s fault and she said we’ll need to sort this out with AA….at the international terminal!!
OMG OMG OMG what? Instead of wasting money to head back to the international terminal, let’s walk over to Terminal 3 and talk to the Qantas staff since our original flight was Qanta’s flight. We walked over and saw the couple again, they also did not make it! The Qantas staff was very helpful, they even called AA for us and arranged our accommodation at Sydney Darling Harbour as well as our taxi ride to Sydney city center at AA’s expense. He also let me use their phone to call the hotel and tour company.
The sad part was the next flight was the following morning at 10:15 am arriving at 11:50 am and our boat to the Great Barrier Reef departs at 9 am! I booked this special tour called “Reef Sleep” months in advance with Cruise Whitsundays because they only limit to 9 people to stay overnight at their pontoon while the rest of the day trippers depart at 3 pm. I called them to explain our situation and see if we can reschedule to the following day, they said their Reef Sleep is completely booked for 3 months 🙁 They could only reschedule us to the same day return tour on the next day and no refund of the difference in price…..$440 AUD versus $240 AUD per person! $400 AUD gone and a once in a lifetime experience gone awww! I booked the tour the first full day in the island thinking in case of bad weather or something (like we did in Kauai that our helicopter tour was cancelled), I will have the next 3 days to rebook if needed. However, this taught me a lesson. I guess my strategy from now on will be book important tour in the middle day!!!
Anyways, so we ended up having to spend our Christmas in Sydney which I did not anticipate so I had no plan. The taxi took less than 20 minutes to get to our hotel, Novotel Sydney on Darling Harbour and it cost $35 AUD that was covered by the taxi voucher (charge card they called). We reached the hotel around 1:30 pm and it took a while for them to sort out the paperwork and also the $100 AUD food credit for us two. The room was not luxurious or anything but clean and comfortable for the night. We had half a day so we tried to make the most of it. First, we grabbed a map and decided to walk to check out Sydney’s Chinatown. The curvy road and under the bridge of another highway above and also constructions were going on made navigation (even the GPS) confused. We managed to cross over a railroad and ended at the Chinese Garden of Friendship. It is a nice green open area; big contrast to all those high rise buildings.
We reached Chinatown and luckily Jason had T-mobile which had okay 3G data to search Yelp for shaved-ice restaurant/cafe. Meet Fresh, right at the gate of Chinatown, showed up. We went in and I asked the cashier before I order if they take credit card, no cash only! Then, we searched for the nearest Westpac (Bank of America alliance) ATM to get money. The curvy roads made us off track again, we just couldn’t locate this ATM at Town Hall Square, 483A George St! We made a few loops and still couldn’t locate it so we searched for the next one at George St. I took out $300 AUD and went back to Meet Fresh. I ordered the mango shaved-ice and Jason ordered the homemade signature tofu pudding totaled $19.20 AUD around $13.75 USD quite expensive!
The tofu pudding was pretty silky and smooth. My shaved-ice wasn’t as good as the ones we had in Snowdae in New York City. This one was more dense, slushy, and icy and not as creamy. But it was refreshing to relief the heat….I wasn’t expecting Sydney to be that hot!
They are so many restaurants and not much souvenir shops almost similar to London’s Chinatown. We searched for supermarket but no luck; only small convenient store. We were shocked on how expensive drinks are, even at 7 Eleven!!! A small bottle of water was $2 AUD; smaller than the average size! A 1-liter Coke was like $5 AUD, crazy! We walked around Chinatown and got buns for breakfast the next day. Afterward, we walked back to our hotel room, took a shower to freshen up before heading out again to….of course the famous Sydney Opera House! By no means we are theater, play, or opera people; we are more attracted to architectures to take photos so I figured the best would be seeing it on the water. We walked back to Darling Harbour and to Pyrmont Bay to wait for the ferry to Circular Quay (close to the Sydney Opera House).
The fare was like $6 AUD per person, we treated this like a harbor cruise 🙂
The ferry made a few stops and then we saw the Harbour Bridge – another icon! Right underneath it is the Opera House!
To be honest, the Opera House looked much smaller in person than in photos!
Lots of tourists were taking selfies with those two iconic architectures of Sydney.
The ferry stopped at Milsons Point Wharf and we thought it would be a better location than Circular Quay since we could see it across the harbor; we immediately got off 🙂 And as soon as we got off, it is the entrance to Luna Park, how cute is that gate!
Milsons Point has a nice walking path and little park for good views of the bridge and Opera House. I could imagine how busy this will get during New Year’s Eve for Sdyney’s famous fireworks.
That was the ferry boat:
Lighting wasn’t great at that time of the day….late in the afternoon, most of the building was in shadow.
We followed the walking path to the other side of the bridge for the “sunset” view.
Then, we walked back to the ferry station…
Holiday ferry schedule:
At the station, nice pose Jason!
We caught the ferry back to Pyrmoth Bay and walked back to the hotel….time for dinner! The hotel restaurant was closed on Christmas Day and the only open is the bar where we can order food.
Photo with the Christmas tree first, afterall, it was Christmas haha!
The bar area was quite nice and there are outdoor seating with nice view of Darling Harbour…it was too cold to sit out at night. We were doing our math to take the most of our $100 food credit……our Christmas feast yummy!
The food quality and quantity were surprisingly tasty for a hotel bar/restaurant!!! They were beyond our expectation. We couldn’t finish the food so we packed the mini burgers for tomorrow’s breakfast. The bill came to be $100.50 which I paid $0.50 out of pocket upon checking out 🙂
That was our story of our unexpected Christmas stayover in Sydney. We are not big city people so Sydney did not impress us; the reason why we planned to head to Hamilton Island right away but “thanks” to AA, we got stuck in Sydney. A side note, after we got home, we did not receive any communication or apology email from AA. I had to send them a complaint via their feedback page but they were quick in responding the next day and apologized and offered us a $300 per person travel voucher. At least they acknowledged their fault and did something about it!