Thursday, February 13, 2014

The 4th Unlock the Past History/Genealogy Cruise - Part 1

What a Cruise!.. Part 1

Although I had harboured (metaphorically) grand designs to blog frequently from the cruise ship, Voyager of the Seas, and although I dutifully kept account of the daily activities and conference talks, my internet connection behaved so badly that I eventually gave up and simply enjoyed the cruise, the conference and the days spent in the ports we visited. Now, safely (but not entirely steadily) back on land, rather than present a precise day by day recount post cruise, I have decided to write an overview and my own thoughts regarding the nine days I spent on the 4th Unlock the Past History/Genealogy Cruise from February 4- February 13, 2014. The cruise took a large and enthusiastic group of genealogists and historians from Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide and Hobart and I am certain I can speak for everyone, when I say that we returned with heads overflowing with new information, enthusiasm to put into practice new technological abilities, new friends, and for me particularly, an inability to stop rock and rolling! ( and I don't mean the partying kind). 

Image : wikipedia

Tuesday, February 4th, dawned grey and wet on the heels of perfect blue skies and sunshiny weather. Sydney failed to bedeck her spectacular harbour in fine weather on our day of departure but the rain did not dampen my enthusiasm to embark upon not only my first Unlock the Past Cruise, but my first EVER cruise! When I arrived at the Cruise Terminal at Circular Quay to board the Royal Carribean Line Ship, Voyager of The Seas, any thoughts of disappointment that I would  not be sailing out of the magnificent Sydney Harbour in glorious sunshine were quickly replaced by sheer awe as I gazed upon the magnitude and grandeur of this huge vessel. 

Voyager of the Seas at Circular Quay

Despite the wet weather, the view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge as the ship  pulled slowly way from the passenger terminal was exhilarating to say the least. Standing on deck 12 (of 15 decks ), I felt as though I was eye to eye with traffic on the bridge. I have been boating on the harbour many times, but it is certainly the first time I have been privileged  to appreciate such a magnificent view from a ship of this size.

Photo taken from deck 12 as we left

As we left behind the shores of Sydney Harbour and headed out to sea through The Heads, through quite rough and choppy water,  I struggled to gather my sea legs. Few people braved the windy, wet weather out on deck to watch us pass through The Heads.

Deck 11 was almost deserted in the rough weather

Inside the rocking (far more than I had expected) ship, I could not help but be reminded of my ancestors who voyaged in the past, to distant places, in ships no where near as glamorous or as comfortable as the one I was on board. Voyager of the Seas carries over 3,000 passengers and boasts entertainment which includes an ice rink, rock climbing wall, mini golf, basketball, a large casino as well as numerous bars, restaurants, swimming pools and a conference centre. With some time to spare before our 8 pm Meet and Greet in the Lounge known as Cleopatra's Needle, I acquainted myself  with the many luxurious decks of this ship, all the while wondering what the voyages of forebears had been like for them. 

The most recent ship on board which an ancestor of mine arrived in Australia, was the Largs Bay in 1923. Built in 1921, this passenger/ cargo steamship must have seemed very modern to my grandfather at the age of 19 years when he traveled from Scotland to Brisbane, Australia with his parents and seven of his eight siblings. 

Image wikipedia, creative commons

With some time to spare before our 8 pm 'Meet and Greet' in Cleopatra's Needle, one of the ship's numerous lounges,  I meandered through the ship  acquainting myself with the many decks and places to entertain or pamper oneself. There is no doubt that Voyager of the Seas is certainly much more luxurious than the passenger ship La Rochelle on which my courageous three times great grandmother sailed to Australia from Hamburg on, as a young unmarried woman of 22, in 1862. I wondered what my Christiana Siegler would have thought of a ship with such indulgent extravagances as a beauty spa for facials, manicures and hot stone massages, a large hair salon, movie theatre, state of the art comfortable staterooms, parades and non stop entertainment.....I have a new found admiration for the long voyages my ancestors made from Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Scotland and England with none of the above mentioned hedonistic pleasures and often in the most confined and unsanitary conditions. 
I regress..... but after all, I am a genealogist and  I am reminded that but for the courage of ancestors I would not be enjoying the opulence of a ship such as Voyager of the Seas.

La Rochelle Image: StateLibQld.

One of the staircases on board Voyager of the Seas
The Promenade on deck 5
At 8 pm on the first night aboard, all members of our large (around 240 people) group met in Cleopatra's Needle for an initial get together. Many were, as was I, finding the rocking of the ship difficult to get used to, however, once we were all seated with a wine or cocktail or any fortifying drink, spirits ran high and the conference was undoubtedly off to an excellent start. Represented were were family historians and historians from all states of Australia, from New Zealand, the UK, Africa, and America. Group photographs were taken and these included, speakers, geneabloggers, members of Genealogists for Families (Kiva) among others.

Meet and Greet in Cleopatra's Needle

Meet and Greet
The meet and greet was an opportunity to catch up with friends, to be introduced to new like minded people and to finally put faces to names well known in the vast world of social media. I was pleased at last to meet in person, Thomas MacEntee from Chicago, USA. Thomas is well known in the genealogy world for his  Geneablogger fame and  I have chatted to him on Facebook and have long admired his enthusiastic and knowledgeable presence in the areas of genealogy, technology, social media and blogging. fellow bloggers and Twitter friends Jill Ball better known as Geniaus , Pauleen Cass, ( Cassmob, whose blog is Family History Across the Seas), Jackie van Bergen, Kerry FarmerShauna Hicks , Helen Smith were among people I always enjoy catching up with at genealogical events and I quickly realised that I was travelling in excellent company.  There were many cries of 'Oh that's YOU!' throughout the evening (and the entire voyage) as people who had only known each other by social media names, met for the first time in person. That is one of the great benefits of conferences, and where better to cement friendships, make new friends and share knowledge, than a nine day cruise along the eastern coastline of Australia, following literally in the 'wake' of many of our own ancestors' voyages. 

The first day ended in anticipation of an interesting conference to begin on Day 2, which boasted a wide range of topics and excellent speakers from all around Australia, in addition to overseas guest speakers including Chris Paton (Scotland), Jane Taubman (UK), Kirsty Gray (UK), Jan Gow (New Zealand) and Thomas MacEntee (USA). 
Conference centre on board Voyager of the Seas
Thankyou to everyone involved with Unlock the Past for organising  these genealogy/history cruises and for the enormous amount of planning which must go into such events.  I for one, am hooked!

Part 2 coming soon.....


  1. You have to smile...we were so anti-cruising and are now devotees thanks to real-life meeting of friends and great learning opportunities, all in a luxurious environment. We'll have to do it again, but where?

  2. Western Australia in January sounds good to me Sharn and Pauleen.

    BTW Thanks for a meaty recount, Sharn.

    1. haha Jill, looks like another meaty blog is added to your list.
      Great work Sharn, I'm still getting around to mine.

  3. One of the greatest place to be is at Scotland. Corryvreckan cruises is one of the most awesome unique cruise experience that I had.

  4. Amazing! I had cruised twice during Vivid Sydney Festival and turned out astounding! I wish to cruise again somewhere outside Sydney. Any suggestions??