The Traveling Steve's

Touring the Sydney Opera House!

G’day Mate! Welcome to Sydney and our guided tour of the Sydney Opera House! We will also be touring around a bit on our own to the surrounding areas at the Circular Quay Marina and Rocks area located close-by here, with views of the Sydney Harbor “Coat Hanger Bridge”!

Before heading to Sydney, Steve (DOS) and I booked a “Mobility Access tour” online, of the Sydney Opera House, scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 2:45pm. While I would have preferred to have taken the more in-depth “Backstage Tour” of the Opera House, it is only offered once daily at 6:30am, and involves walking up some 300 steps in very narrow confines , which at this time I’m unable to do physically.

I scheduled the “Mobility Access tour” for the Opera House, as I’m using a transit wheelchair this trip for when I know I will be walking long distances, such as in and around the Opera House area, although I can stand and walk short distances. There are a number of other tours available in multiple languages, school tours, architectural tours, etc, some of which are much more limited in days and times, so it is advisable to book online ahead of your visit. You can print your ticket, and/or simply save it to your smart phone, and they will scan the bar code when you take the tour.

The “Mobility Access tour” was wonderful for us, as it was much a smaller group experience than the regular one hour, non-mobility tour, and moved a bit more slowly (due to the need for elevators vs steps etc), yet still covered a huge amount of the vast building spaces (including inside and outside of the Opera House) with some outstanding views of the city from the intermission terraces, and front entrance. Our tour also felt a bit more private than the regular and much larger Opera House tours, as our’s had only six people (including us) on this tour.

Our small group sitting on the third row of the empty Joan Sullivan Theatre. Joan Sullivan Theatre is the second largest Theater at the Opera House complex seating 1,507.

While we didn’t go backstage, we did get to see the view of the orchestra pit and some of the stage up close from our third row seats (handicap accessible) of the Joan Sullivan Theatre (formerly called the Opera Theatre) we toured. (There are five theaters all with their own rehearsal space and Joan Sullivan Theater is the second largest venue at the Sydney Opera House with a seating capacity of 1,507.) The tours are flexible obviously as the Opera House complex is a live performing arts venue, and something is going on all the times, such as the day we were there when one of the theaters was occupied so we couldn’t have a look in it.

Looking down into the orchestra pit from the third row at the Joan Sutherland Theatre.

We did get a fantastic overview and insight of the workings of the Opera House, its unique history, diversity in theatrical performances held there, and an appreciation for how massive the facility really is, and all of the work that goes into the many productions there. We actually got (in my opinion) a much better tour experience being a small group, as we saw other larger groups that were touring the Opera House from the balcony areas vs our front row tour of one of the major theaters.

We started the day with the breakfast buffet at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency Sydney, not to be confused with the ultra-luxurious (and ultra expensive) Park Hyatt Sydney located in the Rocks area overlooking the Opera House, and underneath the “Coat hanger” Bridge, where we would later have lunch. The Hyatt Regency where we stayed is a wonderful hotel with extra friendly staff and luxurious accommodations, though on a different level than the Park Hyatt in the Hyatt hierarchy chain, and in this case due to its location overlooking the Opera House. Fortunately a huge perk staying at either Hyatt is the complimentary Australian breakfast buffet daily for DOS and I, due to my Hyatt Globalist status, which is priced at AU $42 a person.

As we arrived into Sydney last night, we got our first daytime glimpse of the view of Darling Harbor from our long, but narrow balcony. While we did not have a view of the Sydney Opera House as we were located away from Circular Quay, the view of Darling Harbor was fantastic!

The view from our Suite at the Hyatt Regency Sydney, overlooking Darling Harbour.

Narrow, but long balcony from our room at the Hyatt Regency Sydney, overlooking Darling Harbor.

That’s me – Steve Uno! On my way to breakfast after taking a couple pics of our morning view from the balcony.

After breakfast, we took an Uber from our Hyatt Regency Hotel to the Opera House drop off point, which was a short drive and around $20 Australian (AUD). Once at the Opera House/Circular Quay area, we walked around quite a bit (well actually with Steve (DOS) mostly pushing me in the wheelchair, taking quite a few photos of the Opera House, Sydney Harbor Bridge (“The Coat Hanger Bridge”) and the Downtown Sydney skyscrapers.

It was a beautiful day weather-wise, which was quite a change from two days ago we were told, when heavy winds and storms swept thru the area, causing flooding in places. The Royal Caribbean (RCL) Brilliance of the Seas was in port this day, so we took some pics of that ship too, as the Brilliance is docked where our Princess Cruise ship, the Majestic of the Seas, (just across the water past the Circular Quay marina from the Opera House) would leave from in three days.

While DOS and I have not sailed on the Brilliance of the Seas, we did sail on one of its sister ships, the Serenade of the Seas, to Alaska about 10 years ago and really enjoyed the smaller size (compared to today’s mega-ships) of this vessel and it’s extensive use of glass with plenty of light shining thru the ship, providing plenty of open views of the seas. Many of RCLs newer ships, as well as most newer mega-ships in general have gotten so big it’s easy to forget you are on a ship, and lose focus of the sea itself with all of the new attractions they offer.

Also some the newer ships have so many decks even with a balcony the water is way down below, or in some cases the balconies face inwards now overlooking a boardwalk or park area and not the actual sea. We have an aft view balcony on our upcoming Princess ship which offers an unobstructed view of the sea and the ship’s wake which we enjoy viewing. Anyway, it’s always exciting to see a ship in port, even though we weren’t sailing that ship or even that day. Here’s a closer up view of the Brilliance of the Seas a bit later when we headed over to the Rocks area for lunch.

The Steve’s on the other side of Circular Quay (Rock’s area) with the Brilliance of the Seas showing docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal forward, with the Opera House on the other side of the U-shaped Harbor in the far ground.

As we had a few hours before our tour started, we had time to enjoy the historic “Rocks” area of Sydney,” (link from Sydney.com tourism site) which was on the other side of the Circular Quay ferry docks, and under the “Coat Hanger” bridge.

The Rocks area is the original settlement area of Sydney, and it has its own nefarious history with the original convicts being shipped here. Today the area is full of shops, bars, hotels, and on the weekends hosts a local craft market as well.

We had lunch at the Park Hyatt Sydney, an ultra-deluxe 5 star hotel (with prices to match), which has been there for years (even the first time I came to Sydney in 1993), and is located under the “Coat Hanger Bridge” in the Rocks District. Although it’s right on the water, the front entrance entails a walk around the giant low-lying property via the nice boardwalk area overlooking the Opera House across the water, and the Overseas terminal to the right of the property.

The lunch was a nice a leisurely break for us after walking/wheeling around on our for quite a while. We ate inside the hotel, (although they do have outdoor seating), which offered nice views overlooking the Overseas Cruise Terminal where the Brilliance of the Seas was docked and Downtown Sydney, although we were seated a bit to far back to see the Opera House from where we were seating, so we took a selfie as we left, just outside the restaurant for location perspective.

Our Sydney Opera House tour met at 2:45pm, with a check-in time of 15 minutes prior, and we again made the trek around the U-shaped harbor area, arriving there half hour early, mainly to find the backstage area entrance as well as get a seat in the Backstage Lobby area while we waited for the tour to start.

As our tour was the “Mobile accessibility tour” of the Opera House, we met at the actual Stage Door Entrance, the large and secure entrance corridor where all of the workers, cast and crew etc, come and go throughout the day. We did have to ask a couple of the many uniformed volunteers how to get to the stage door entrance as the multi-level Opera House is so large. There are several cafes along the Opera House walkway, as well as numerous pieces of artwork and photos detailing the construction of the Opera House, and queues and signage in many places, both inside and out.

There is a security check-in at the Stage Door Entrance, and we were given temporary sticker badges for the tour, while the regular staff had bar-coded badges they swiped in as we watched many people come and go while we waited. Security was friendly and one of the men even commented on my G’day hat, but they were very security conscious (with surveillance cameras everywhere) and we saw several police officers come and go while we were waiting, among the other workers, which offered a more secure feeling to the vast structure, thus ensuring everyone was safe.

Me by the Opera House with my G’day Mate hat.

Our accessibility tour only had six guests, including DOS and myself, plus the tour guide, so it was quite an intimate tour which offered us additional time for questions and photos due to the small size. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about the Opera House, having worked there for many years, and the tour was combined with a short video, as well as touring each level (via elevator) of the Opera House. There are lots of steps at the Opera House, both inside and outside at the entrance, and while there are a few elevators, if you’re on your own for a show and are mobility challenged as we were on this trip, there is a video on the Opera House site providing accessibility information. On the tour there were no photo restrictions, with the exception of the security area and first floor secure loading and storage areas.

On the tour we are told about the interesting history of the site of the Opera House, the contest for the best design, the planning and ultimately the construction (and over-budget cost) of the Opera House and many more interesting facts linked in the next paragraph. The Opera House was designed with huge sail-like structures that appear as one superstructure, but are actually 3 separate buildings, which can only be noticed that way from directly on site up-close, or a-far, such as the gardens overlooking it across the water, or by air, and probably those brave souls that take the Bridge Climb across the Harbor Bridge.

The Sydney Opera House, opened on October 20, 1973 by Queen Elizabeth II. It was originally budgeted at 7 million dollars, although at completion the cost had swelled to 102 million dollars (sound familiar to all you project managers out there?) Here are some interesting pieces of trivia linked from the Sydney Opera House’s web site.

The accessibility tour was scheduled for an hour, but even with our small group it ran closer to an hour and a half, as our wonderful guide took her time with us, and genuinely enjoyed showing us and enlightening us about the Opera House and all that it has to offer. I highly recommend this or one of the other tours of the Sydney Opera House when you are in Sydney, with pre-booked online reservations a given. The Sydney Opera House is truly an amazing work of art, engineering, and technology, both inside and outside, and contains 5 theaters, with the two largest theaters: the Concert Hall and the Joan Sullivan Theatre seating 2,679 and 1,507 respectively.

Of course no good tour could not end anywhere but the gift shop inside! Actually it’s a fairly modest-sized gift shop, but we had to buy a souvenir booklet about the Opera House, as well as those dreaded magnets DOS collects everywhere, adding enough weight to topple our refrigerator one day!

We took so many photos while we were there in and around the Sydney Opera House, some of which are included in the gallery below. Enjoy the beautiful Opera House tour pics!

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