Day 1

Greetings from Sydney!  I am going to do my best to keep up with this trip blog “live” this time, and update as we go.  We are spending our winter school break in the Australia this year, on an Adventures By Disney trip.  It is an 11 day trip that will take us to Sydney, Uluru, Cairns, and the Gold Coast.

Our travels started from Washington DC where we flew United from Dulles Airport to LAX, and then LAX to Sydney.  We tried to upgrade the flights with miles, and sat on the waitlist for 8 months, only to find out on the day of travel that they had sold all but two of the 48 business class seats and the two available upgrades would go to people with higher mileage status.  So economy plus it was.

I had a window seat in my flight from IAD to LAX and it turned out to be a surprisingly lovely experience.  Our flight left at 3pm, which meant that we got to experience about 4 hours of sunset as we flew west.  The flight route took us up over Michigan where we saw the snowy Great Lakes, and later over the snow capped Colorado Rockies pink with a sunset glow, a great aerial view of the Colorado River winding through the Grand Canyon with purple skies behind, and then Las Vegas and Los Angeles by night.  Of note: United is now doing these flights with “use your own devices”, so we had a combination of iPads and laptops playing the movies along the way.  Luckily we had the foresight to download the United app to the kids’ iPads before we left.

We had opted for a 5+ hour layover in Los Angeles to reduce the risks of missing the flight to Sydney.  As is turned out, both flights left on time and arrived early, so it wouldn’t have been necessary.  But luckily we had banked some free United Club lounge passes to use during the layover and at least had a comfortable place to hang out.  We got some soup and salad there and recharged all of our devices.  My 12-year-old, who enjoyed reading, also had great luck finding good books at the little bookstore near the United Club.

For the flight to Sydney we also had United Economy Plus seats.  (We purchased a United Economy Plus subscription of the this past year and have used it on all of our trips, including my husband’s business trips.  It worked out to be a great deal).  I had booked the flight very early so I got some of the coveted row 16 (first row of economy/bulkhead) seats with more legroom than anyone actually needs.  They are narrower than the average seats, though, since they have to fit the pop-up screens between the seats.  Luckily I had my rather thin daughters on either side of me, so the middle seat wasn’t too bad.  The flight was very long and sleeping was difficult with the very small recline allowed with economy class.  But I think we all got about 6-8 hours of rest.

Our flight arrived about 30 minutes early into Sydney, and while the process of Immigration and customs was a little confusing to us (there were kiosks they advised us to use, and the adult passports seemed to work in them but not the kids, so we had to go through the regular line anyway), we made it through so quickly that we had to wait about 30 minutes for our driver provided by Adventures by Disney.

The ride to the Shangri-La Hotel took about 40 minutes.  We arrived in Sydney on a Saturday morning, having completely skipped over Friday with all of the time changes along the way.  It was about 10:30am and our rooms were not ready yet, but we were able to meet up with our Adventures by Disney guides, Kacey and Suzanne.  They advised us that we could use the hotel spa’s shower facilities to shower and change, and then leave our luggage with the bell services until the rooms are ready.  While that wasn’t really what I wanted to hear after 24 hours of travel, the spa’s facilities were very nice, complete with shampoo, conditioner, body wash, lotion, combs, shower caps, and blow driers; and I think that it actually saved us a little time with all 4 of us being able to shower at the same time, vs. taking turns in our two hotel rooms.  Of note: Disney books a maximum of 3 people per reservation for this tour, so we booked our family of 4 in two reservations and have two rooms.  The Shangri-La gave us two adjoining rooms, one with a king bed and another with two doubles. It was a perfect setup for us.  The rooms also were fully equipped with plenty of toiletry items in case we had forgotten, including toothbrushes, toothpaste, hair ties, sewing kits, and shower caps; they also had robes and slippers.

After checking out the beautifully decorated lobby of the hotel (they have a huge gingerbread train) we set out to explore the nearby area.  The hotel is located in The Rocks District, very close to the bridge and the Circular Quay.  Suzanne suggested that we check out the Rocks Market, since it is only open on the weekends, so we headed that way.  By the time we got outside it was almost noon, so my kids were starting to ask for food, and we first wandered down to the Circular Quay to catch a first glimpse of the Opera House and find a place to eat.  A Giant Carnival cruise ship was parked, blocking some of the nicer views of the bridge, but the Quay was such a nice, bustling place to explore.  We ended up eating outside at the Rossini Cafe, with a nice view of the water.  They had some typical Italian food, with seafood mixed in.  My older daughter and I shared a fish and chips, my husband tried a seafood risotto, and my younger daughter got a pizza.  I haven’t quite adjusted to the exchange rate yet, but I think it was a pretty pricey meal.  The main dishes were about 33-45 AUD.  The food was average but the view was nice, and the service was great.

After lunch we wandered through the Rocks Market.  It was a delightful place, especially with it being right before Christmas.  I thought it was rather like walking through an in-person version of Etsy.  Lots of nice handmade items, and a good variety of things to look at.  I picked up a rose gold koala necklace, some holiday ornaments, and some greeting cards.  My husband found a leather belt, and one of my daughters picked up some handmade kangaroo earrings.

We were scheduled to meet up with our Adventures by Disney group at 3pm, so we headed back to the hotel.  We have the smallest ABD that we have had on any tour to date.  There are are only 4 families, and two guides.  There is a 5-year-old boy on the trip, but all of the rest of the kids are teenagers except my 12-year-old, who thinks she is a teenager as well.

Our first activity as a group was a trip out to Taronga Zoo.  The group met in the hotel lobby and walked to the Circular Quay where we caught the ferry to the zoo.  The ride to the zoo was scenic in itself, and then when we arrived at the zoo, we took a funicular up to the zoo entrance.  We got some time in the gift shop while waiting for our guide, and then took off on a private tour of the Australian animals at the zoo.  There were several nocturnal animals inside of buildings, which I found didn’t work well with my just-arrived-this-morning exhaustion, and I preferred the outdoor exhibits.  The most exciting to me was the exhibit where you can walk with the wallabies, emu, and kangaroo, and there is no separation between you and them.  Our guide was able to get one of the wallabies to hang out with us so we could pet him and pose for photos.  We also got nice views of a few koalas.  The aviary was another highlight of the visit.

After the tour we had our welcome breakfast there at the zoo.  Since we have a small group, everything is a little more intimate, and we all fit on 2 tables.  We did introductions and enjoyed a nice meal of beef, chicken, fish and veggies.  We ended the day with a bus ride back to the hotel.

Day 2

We started our day with a buffet breakfast at the Shangri-La.  The breakfast was a pleasant surprise.  There was everything from eggs, bacon and hash browns to Japanese noodle soup, with a good selection of fresh fruit, cheese, breakfast meats and pastries.  We had free time in the morning, as the group was meeting at noon.  We met with the guides to get some ideas, and decided we would head to Victoria Building in search of some authentic UGG boots. The shopping district was beautifully decorated for Christmas and it was fun just to walk around the streets and the indoor malls.  We found the UGGs we had been looking for one sale (it’s summer here, so I assume they are out of season), which combined with the exchange rate made the quite a bit cheaper than they would have been at home.  We also stopped in a book store and picked up some local fiction.

The store windows at the David Jones department store were particularly fun to see along the way to Hyde Park.  After stopping to see the park, we headed back to the hotel and had just enough time to drop off our purchases before meeting up with the group.

The group met up in the hotel lobby and the once again walked down to the Quay, where we boarded for a lunch cruise of harbor.   The boat had a lot of people already on it and eating when we boarded.  We had two tables once again for the group, and the food was buffet style.  After eating, we headed outside to get some views of the harbor, while the kids and guides played some games at the table.

After the cruise we walked over the Opera House and met up with our guide.  Each of us was given a headset and receiver, and the tour guide spoke to us through those.  There were a few opportunities to take photos along the tour, but most of the theaters and backstage were off limits for photos.  We learned the history of the building and about the types of shows that occur in the many theaters.  Of note: the opera house is not at all handicapped accessible.  There are a lot of stairs, and no elevators.

After the tour, we were again on our own for the evening.  We stopped on the way back for some gelato and then to the hotel for some downtime.  We discovered some shows that are available on Netflix Australia that we can’t get back in the US (like the newest Star Trek), so relaxed a little in the room before heading back out the evening.

Our evening plan was to head to the Sydney Observatory.  We had pre-purchased tickets through their website before departure and hoped for clear skies.  We ended up with a cloudy evening, but the visit was still worthwhile.  We got to look through both the oldest telescope in Australia (we found a star that wasn’t covered in clouds) as well as a newer one that was only 3 months old.  We got to see how the observatory’s copper domes worked, and then go to a video presentation of about the universe and a visit to their cozy planetarium to learn about the stars in the southern sky.

Day 3

This morning was more “on your own” time for our tour, so we had prebooked a Sydney Bridge Climb.
I used Expedia to book, which appeared to have save me a little bit on the rates, and allowed me to pay in USD and avoid any exchange fees.  We booked the 8:45am full climb, which enabled us to have the hotel’s buffet breakfast before heading out, but still be back in plenty of time to grab some lunch and be ready for the 2pm meeting time for our next group activity.

The Bridge Climb building is on the same street as the hotel, and just short walk.  We arrived 15 minutes early as suggested on the tickets, and they were able to put us on an earlier climb to reduce our wait time.  We got dressed in our climbing suits (as they suggested, we only kept our underwear on underneath.  I was worried about that being odd, but it appears that the suits are nicely washed between clients (they are like a thin parachute-type fabric).  They gave is baseball caps with their logo on them, which also clipped in and we could keep as a souvenir.  All glasses we secured with straps, and we had to leave everything else behind in our lockers, including watches (no step tracking for me!).  We were outfitted with the climbing belt and a headset/receiver which we used to hear our guide.  They put us through a short trial set of ladders, and then looped us into the wire and we were on our way.  The pace was slow enough that it was easy for everyone to keep up.  There were some tight spots that I think might be a little tough for larger people, but otherwise I don’t think you have to be in super shape to make the walk.  We stopped along to way and our guide told us some history of the harbor, including some military history from WWII.  We walked up the opera house side to the flags at the top, and then back the other side.  There were some water fountains and misting machines along the way which helped with the heat.

We finished the tour on time, and then headed back to the hotel.  We had about an hour and half to freshen up, eat lunch, and meet up with the group for the next activity.

My husband and I grabbed an outdoor lunch at the pub down the street from the hotel, the Glenmore.  We sat ourselves at one of the streetside tables and waited there for a while until we realized that we had to go order at the bar.  We ordered and paid right at the bar, and then were given a number to take back to the table, and they bring the food out.  I had the burger and my husband had the calamari and Spanish hotdog.  All of the food was excellent, and much more reasonably priced than the food had been at the Quay.

Our afternoon excursion with the group was to Tabruk Sheep Station, which is about a 1 hour 10 minute bus ride from the hotel.  When we arrived we were greeted by one of the working dogs, Candy.  The dogs were very friendly and the kids enjoyed getting to hang out with them.  We learned about the lifestyle of drovers, and sampled some bread made over the fire in their version of a Dutch oven along with Billy tea.  We learned how to crack a whip (yes, it is possible to hurt yourself with your own whip–but there was no blood), feed the animals, see how the dogs herd the sheep, and see a sheep being sheered.  Our time at the station was broken up a little by a passing thunderstorm, and the dogs were not as on top of their game as they normally would have been due to the fear of the thunder.  The facilities there can handle up to 200 people, so we felt like VIPs being in a group of only 16, including out guides.  We had dinner there as well, which consisted of steak, beef sausage, and ham.

By the time we arrived back at the the hotel in the evening (around 8:30pm), we were too exhausted to pack our bags, so we set our alarms for early the next morning to give us time to make our 7am bag pull and 7:30am departure to the airport.

The adventure continues in Uluru (read more here).


This trip review is from our Adventures by Disney Australia trip.  I book my ABD trips through Archer Luxury Travel.  My camera for this trip was the Fuji X-T20 with with the 100-400mm lens for wildlife and the 18-55mm kit lens for around town (as well as my trusty iphone 7).

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