We headed out early in the morning to catch our 8:55 am flight to Melbourne after dropping off our rental car. We flew with Qantas this time. Everything about the flight was good but they did not allow you to pay for luggage online so we had to do it in person which I thought was a slight waste of time. Not to mention, the cost was a little steep at $50 AUD per piece!
After 2 hours 10 minutes, we arrived safety in Melbourne! We were greeted by rain as soon as we landed. It was about a 30-minute drive to our hotel but time flew by quick as our Uber driver shared with us some interesting facts and useful tips about the city. He told us that Melbourne is a city with lots to do; there are always a festival, event or concert going on in town. When we were there, they were hosting the Formula 1 Grand Prix.
He also told us to go check out the Crowne Casino and the restaurants along Southbank. The Uber driver said driving in Melbourne can be difficult because there are many trams which share the road and they are the only city in the world to use hook turns. Hook turn is a right-hand turn that you do from the left hand lane. I think it is such a stressful turn to make because you have to keep an eye out for cars coming from both directions; it is especially challenging to watch the ones coming from behind you!
We stayed at the Punthill Manhattan which is a service apartment style hotel. These types of hotel are very popular in Australia. Our room was available shortly after we arrived so we went upstairs to drop off our luggage before heading out. The apartment was very spacious with two single beds and a sofa bed. Kitchen and bathroom were large too. There was also a washer and dryer in the bathroom. Cleanliness was good except for some stains in the jacuzzi bathtub. Front desk service was excellent and helpful as well. The location is awesome as it is only a 5-minute walk to the free tram station and just a 10 minute walk to Melbourne CBD with lots of restaurants and a convenient store nearby.
We took the free tram to the Bunyip Tour head office first to pick up our tour tickets. We bought a bundled package which includes the Great Ocean Road and Phillips Island Penguin tours as well as admission to two major attractions in Melbourne. Their tour guides were knowledgeable and friendly. The vans were small but comfortable. The driver came 15 minutes late for our second tour. However, it was nice that they actually had someone working in the office at 6 am who answered our call and confirmed that the driver was on his way. We picked the aquarium and Skydeck 88 for the two attractions. Even though the tram is free, it was clean and well maintained. Many of the locals were also taking this tram. The free tram travels along the main street of CBD but if you have to head out of CBD, you will have to take the paid tram. That was the only time that we took the free tram in Melbourne but it was very user friendly so I highly recommend it.
Our first attraction in Melbourne was the Sea Life Aquarium. There was a long line up for ticket purchase so it was nice that we got to cut the queue with our pre-purchased ones. We first headed to their cafeteria to grab some lunch. The cafeteria is the only place inside the aquarium which serves hot food and they served the typical burgers and fish and chips. Prices were reasonable and food was not bad. In an hour and a half, we were able to go through the whole aquarium. The two highlights for me were the giant crocodile which you could “step on” on a glass floor and seeing the aquarium guests feed sharks in wetsuits inside one of the large tanks. Not much to see in the gift shop so we just took a quick stroll.
Next, we were headed for the Eureka Skydeck 88. While we were walking there, we snapped some nice pictures of the Melbourne skyline and watched the street performance for a bit. The Skydeck 88 was not busy at all when we visited in the afternoon so we were able to leisurely pace around the observation deck. It is the 2nd tallest building in Australia and 15th tallest in terms of residential building in the world. They also have the highest post box in Australia where you can mail out a postcard.
We were ahead of schedule so we decided to check out the Crowne Casino that our Uber driver recommended. He was right. The casino was very extravagant and grand. To go from one end to the other takes about 30 minutes. It was rated by Forbes as one of the finest five-star properties in the world in 2017. A casino, hotel, food court, restaurants, and retail stores reside on the property. It was bustled with people coming from all directions. My favourite was the food court as they have a large selection of cuisines to choose from. They had a stall which sold Chinese food and I was craving a snack before our late dinner tonight. I ordered a chicken thigh and sui mai to share. The food tasted better than I expected and prices were reasonable as well.
After we finished eating, we went outside to stroll along Southbank. Along the river, there were some graffiti murals which were well drawn. They also had a Bangkok Market set up where you can buy Thai food and drinks to try. Since the Formula 1 Grand Prix was going on, there were also some stalls opened selling souvenirs and there were a few racing cars on display.
We then took a Uber to our meeting point for the Colonial Tramcar Restaurant. At first, I was a little concerned about how to find the meeting point as they had to move it due to the Formula 1 race. Luckily, there was already many people gathered there so we spotted it pretty quickly. After they took attendance, everyone boarded the tram. The other guests were well dressed for the event and they all seemed to be locals except for us! Once we were all seated, the host gave us a brief introduction and the tram was on its way! The host came by to serve us drinks and took our order.
We had a 5-course meal that night and you could choose your appetizer, main and dessert. Did I mention that alcohol was unlimited? We only had apple ciders that night though as I was feeling quite tired from our long day and alcohol makes me sleepy! The dining experience is three hours (8:35 to 11:30 pm) and they take you along the city on the tram tracks. Our host had a great sense of humour and we were well entertained for the evening. The food was also very delicious. The course were served promptly but with a decent gap between the courses. The proportions were also very generous so we had food leftover.
The tram was very steady so we did not get motion sickness at all. There were three trams that night and each one sits 24 people. The seats were comfortable and the décor was very fancy. The trams were vintage W class trams built in 1927 and provided 55 years of tram service before they were retired. They were then converted for the purpose of the restaurant in 1981. Although the tram is quite narrow, there is actually a fully equipped kitchen and a washroom onboard as well! The food is prepared offsite but brought onto the tram in raw form. While the tram moves, the chef will cook the food so it is delivered fresh to each guest. I cringed a little when I bought the tickets online as it is expensive ($150/person). However, I had such a great time and the opportunity is quite rare! Book online as spots do fill up fast!
It was past midnight by the time we got back to the hotel. The day has been a long one as we were up since 6 am but it was a great deal of fun! Our first day in Melbourne was a success!