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14 Things to KNOW Before Booking an Overnight Cruise in Milford Sound

14 Things to KNOW Before Booking an Overnight Cruise in Milford Sound

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Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, and an overnight cruise is an ideal way to explore it – which makes the whole experience twice as amazing! 

It’s that nature getaway you crave, with an unspoiled landscape and abundant wildlife. Although there are day trips to Milford Sound, an overnight cruise is the best way to fully relax and take in the scenery. You’ll enjoy comfy accommodations as you sail past waterfalls and animals. You can even paddle kayaks or jump in for a swim!

If you have the time and budget, I promise you won’t regret it! I had taken plenty of day cruises on Milford Sound before trying the overnight one. If I had known just how amazing it was going to be, I would have done it WAY sooner!

And if you’re planning a trip, I want your experience to be just as wonderful as mine. So, I’ve written everything you need to know before booking an overnight cruise in Milford Sound. Read on for all the details, from the best cruise options to what you can expect once onboard.

1. About Milford Sound

View from our bunk room looking out at Milford Sound on a Milford Sound overnight cruise in New Zealand
View from our bunk room looking out at Milford Sound!
Bailey looks out the window while eating on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
Enjoying the view and food!

Milford Sound is a stunning fiord on New Zealand’s South Island. It was formed over millions of years by the erosion of glaciers. It’s located within Fiordland National Park and is surrounded by towering mountains.

It’s known as the wettest place in New Zealand due to the high amount of rainfall it receives each year – around 6,400 mm (252 inches). In fact, Milford Sound is one of the wettest places in the whole world! I can attest to this as it rained several times when I visited. But honestly, the rain only added to its magical beauty!

For thousands of years, Maori people have visited Milford Sound to fish, hunt, and collect jade stones. The first European to visit was John Grono, who did so in 1823. Today, it has become one of the top places to visit on the South Island for many reasons.

Milford Sound is home to amazing wildlife, including dolphins, penguins, seals, and even whales. It’s also a great place for birdwatching, and you might even spot the New Zealand kiwi (which is sadly endangered). Surrounding the sound, you’ll find cascading waterfalls, lush rainforests, and tall mountains.

Although Milford Sound feels very remote, it’s just a 3.5-hour drive from Queenstown. There are many scenic stops between Queenstown and Milford Sound. If you’re driving, budget extra time to enjoy the views, lakes, and waterfalls before you get to Milford Sound

Milford Sound is also about 120 km (75 miles) from Te Anau. The drive from Te Anau to Milford Sound is equally stunning and easily one of my favorite road trips on the South Island.

There’s a small village that’s also called Milford Sound at the end of the highway, just before you reach the fiord itself. Here, you’ll find a visitor center, cafe, and the Milford Sound Lodge.

2. When is the best time to visit Milford Sound?

A boat travels right up to Stirling Falls in Milford Sound
Oh, the waterfalls!
Two people cheers with views of a waterfall in Milford Sound
Cheers to a quiet Milford Sound!

The best time of day

The morning and late afternoon are the best times to visit Milford Sound – which is why I loved this overnight cruise! I got to enjoy both times of the day without feeling rushed.

In the late afternoon and evening, Milford Sound is so quiet because all of the daytime tourists have left. The soft light creates a really peaceful feel, and you feel like you’re thousands of miles away from civilization. It really is magical! 

Meanwhile, the morning is perfect for photography, and again, it’s really quiet. When I went, I made sure to wake up in time to watch the sunrise – which was truly spectacular. 

The best season

You can technically visit this destination any time of the year. I even wrote a guide on visiting Milford Sound in the wintertime.

However, the best season to do a Milford Sound overnight cruise is the summer.

You can do a day cruise at any time of year, but the overnight ones cease operation during the winter. The overnight cruise season generally runs from September to May, and this awesome tour I chose only runs from December to April.

I personally loved doing the overnight cruise during the summer because it’s a bit warmer. Plus, I also got to swim in Milford Sound. The water would be way too cold for this in the winter – it’s still a bit chilly in the summertime!

Related Read: If you’re visiting in the winter, don’t worry! You can always opt for a day cruise in Milford Sound. Plus, there are plenty of other fun wintertime activities in New Zealand!

3. What is included in the overnight cruise package in Milford Sound?

beef entre served to us on a Milford Sound overnight cruise in New Zealand
From food to…
Bailey kayaks in the rain on a Milford Sound cruise
…kayaking in the rain!

Whichever cruise you opt for, you’ll get dinner, breakfast, and light snacks. I did this overnight cruise which had an amazing 3-course plated dinner, but some boats have buffets instead. Either way, you’ll be well-fed!

There are usually some extra activities available, like kayaking in Milford Sound or a boat trip on the tender. I definitely recommend you take advantage of this! Being in a kayak or a small boat lets you explore the fiord more in-depth and get closer to the shore.

You can also go swimming in Milford Sound, but be warned, it’s cold! When I visited, the water was just so beautiful I had to jump in. It was a bit of a shock, but fortunately, the beautiful surroundings were (almost) enough to distract me. 

Some overnight cruises also have a hot tub available on the outdoor deck, which is especially great at night. If that’s something you’re after, book this Milford Sound overnight cruise. Trust me, there’s nothing quite like soaking in the hot tub with a glass of wine (and an insane view!).

Aside from these items, you’re usually responsible for your own alcohol and transportation to and from the port. However, you can add transfers from Queenstown or Te Anau for an additional cost. And if you want to explore the area longer, I’d recommend staying in the Milford Sound area for a few days!

4. How much does a Milford Sound overnight cruise cost?

Bailey looks out on a cloudy Milford Sound on a day cruise
I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of this place!

If you’re planning a trip to Milford Sound, budgeting is a big factor. And prices can vary quite a lot for a Milford Sound overnight cruise, depending on the cruise you take and the time of year. 

The lowest price I could find was through Real NZ. This company charges $499 NZD per person at the end of September or the beginning of May. But from October – April, they usually charge $699 NZD per adult or $349 NZD per child (for a bed in a double occupancy cabin). 

I chose to book this overnight cruise in Milford Sound through Viator for $1,149 NZD per person. This is the most expensive overnight cruise, and you have to book in pairs. But in my experience, it was well worth the money!

It’s a small boat with fewer people. This means you get an intimate experience and get closer access to parts of the sound. Plus, the food and the hot tub are hard to beat!

The cruises vary a lot in terms of accommodation, food, and the quality of the boat. This is one of those situations where you get what you pay for. I’ll go into more detail and compare the two options further down … so keep reading if you’re unsure which to book!

But if you want the best option regardless of cost, I’d book this overnight cruise on Viator!

Related Read: For those that also want to see Milford Sound from above, check out the best Milford Sound flights here (including my personal favorite!).

5. Do you need to book a Milford Sound overnight cruise in advance?

Stirling Falls in Milford Sound, New Zealand
Stirling Falls!
Bailey plates up some snacks on a Milford Sound overnight cruise the day we set sail
You better get to the cheese before I do!

Yes! 

I’m not the only person whose bucket list includes a Milford Sound overnight cruise! These boats book up months in advance – and I’m not talking a few months, either. Sometimes, they sell out over 6 months in advance!

So if you’re keen to do a Milford Sound overnight cruise, I recommend you book one as soon as you possibly can. I booked this cruise online well in advance and was really happy with the whole experience!

At first, I was hesitant to book so far in advance. However, I kept missing out because the tour kept selling out! But as soon as I set foot on the cruise, all my fears were put to rest, and I had an incredible time.

It’s such a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So if you know you’d like to go, you can check availability and book the same cruise I did here.

6. What are the departure and arrival times for Milford Sound Overnight cruises?

The main saloon on an overnight Milford Sound cruise in NZ
The main saloon!

Milford Sound cruises depart around 4 pm, but you’ll need to check in at 3:30 pm. I made sure to give myself plenty of time so that I didn’t worry! 

The cruise will arrive back at the Milford Sound Terminal between 8:30 and 9 am the next day, which gives you about 16 hours to enjoy the Milford Sound. I made sure to get up at sunrise, so I didn’t sleep through any of that precious time. 

If you’re paying for the transfer from Queenstown, expect to leave around 8:30 am on the day of your cruise. And if you’re getting picked up in Te Anau, you’ll leave around 12-12:30 pm.

Related Read: If you prefer a shorter, roundtrip tour from another city, you have options. Check out these Milford Sound tours from Queenstown as well as these tours from Te Anau.

7. Is there overnight parking for the Milford Sound Overnight Cruises?

Yes, there is. If you’re going on a Milford Sound cruise, overnight parking is free.

In fact, your cruise company will have a designated area in the parking lot – but they might have limited spaces. So if you’ve rented a car for your New Zealand travels, get there early to snag a parking spot! Otherwise, you might end up having to pay after all. 

To find the free parking, you’ll need to find the Milford Sound Visitor Terminal and then enter the “bus only” area. Yep, even though you’re in a car – don’t worry, no one is going to reprimand you! 

Then, look for the bus stand that’s mentioned in your booking confirmation. You should see the name of your cruise company posted. 

It’s super easy to find the right place to park, so don’t stress about it. But again, I do recommend getting there nice and early in case there’s a high demand (especially if everyone on your cruise decided to drive!). Plus, it’s really not a chore to wait a little longer when you can gaze at the beautiful Milford Sound. 

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8. What are the best Milford Sound overnight cruises?

Fiordland Jewel

Bailey inside the main deck on our Milford Sound overnight cruise
Getting comfy in the Fiordland Jewel!
Bacon and egg breakfast on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
The breakfast was soo good!

I took the Fiordland Jewel Overnight Cruise and absolutely loved it! 

This cruise operates from December to April, and it’s the most luxurious option out of all of the Milford Sound cruises. It was a splurge, but I’ve always wanted to take a Milford Sound overnight cruise … so I decided that if I was going to do it, I was going to do it right.

And boy, am I glad I did!

The Fiordland Jewel only takes 20 passengers at a time, so there’s loads of space, and it never feels crowded. Each couple has their own king-sized cabin with an ensuite bathroom, so there’s plenty of privacy. 

I think my favorite thing about the cabins was the huge windows! We had amazing views, which is what cruising on the Milford Sound is all about. 

Plus, you get a 3-course plated dinner with the Fiordland Jewel Cruise rather than a buffet. There’s also a cooked and continental breakfast. Snacks are included too, so you won’t be hungry. Alcohol isn’t included, but there’s a bar on board with pretty much anything you could ever want to drink. 

Bailey looks out the window at the views from a table on a Milford Sound cruise
Wine and my one true love … Milford Sound! Or is it the other way around?

After dinner, you get to watch underwater film footage that’s been captured during your afternoon on the boat, which is amazing to see. I started to slip into a bit of a food coma, and watching the underwater world was the ideal post-dinner activity!

This Fiordland Jewel Overnight Cruise also has a hot tub on the outdoor deck, which guests are allowed to use. Since there aren’t that many people on board, you actually will get to use it! I went for a soak in the evening, and it was the perfect way to end a glorious day.

Kayaking and tender boat rides are also included in the price of the cruise, so you can get right up close to the fiord. I had so much fun kayaking on these calm waters. It’s one thing to look at them, but it’s another to experience them firsthand.

This cruise costs $1,149 NZD per person, including everything I’ve mentioned above. If you don’t have your own wheels or a rental car, you can also arrange a transfer from Queenstown or Te Anau for an extra fee of $240 NZD per person.

For this cruise, you need to check in at 3:15 and board at 3:45, so keep that in mind! Honestly, I wouldn’t be late. It’s worth getting there early to soak up every single second onboard.

The Fiordland Jewel Cruise does sell out well in advance. So to secure your spot, check availability and book online here!

Real NZ Overnight Cruise

A cruise with Real NZ travels through a wet Milford Sound
The Real NZ overnight boat!

The Real NZ Overnight Cruise is the more affordable option. It’s not quite as luxurious, but you still get to witness the beauty of the Milford Sound. And at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing! 

It also runs for longer than the Fiordland Jewel, starting operations at the end of September and finishing at the start of May. So if you’re traveling in late spring or early autumn, this option might be more suitable for you timing-wise. 

The cabins on the Real NZ boat are simple and comfy. However, they don’t have floor-to-ceiling windows, so the views aren’t as spectacular. They do have en-suites, though, so you still have privacy. 

You still get a 3-course dinner, but it’s a buffet rather than a plated meal, and there’s a cooked breakfast in the morning. Again, the dinner buffet doesn’t include alcohol, but you can buy drinks on board. So no worries, you can still sip some fancy local wine while gazing out at the Milford Sound!

There are kayaks and tender boat rides available, so you can get up close to the fiord and have your own private adventure. There’s also a specialist nature guide to teach you more about the wildlife you’ll spot along the way. 

This cruise cost starts at $699 NZD per person, although you can get a discounted rate of $499 NZD at the very start and end of the season. 

To check prices for your exact dates, you can head to the Real NZ website by clicking here.

9. Why I recommend the cruise with Fiordland Jewel over Real NZ

The main salon on a Milford Sound overnight cruise where you have dinner and hang out
Such a cozy spot!

So. Many. Reasons!

Honestly, doing the Fiordland Jewel Overnight Cruise was such an amazing experience, and I have no regrets about choosing it over going with Real NZ. In my opinion, it was totally worth the extra money.

Again, this is such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I figured if I was going to do it – I was going to do it right!

Fewer people

There were only 20 passengers onboard the Fiordland Jewel so it was a more intimate experience. 

I really don’t like big, overcrowded cruises – it has never been my style. The Milford Sound is so quiet and peaceful, which made the experience feel extra special. Plus, it’s better for getting to know other passengers!

Plated dinner with fantastic food

Our main meal of crumbed fish on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
My main dish!
A cheese and meat platter on an overnight cruise in Milford Sound, New Zealand
The cheese platter!

The Real NZ Cruise has a buffet, whereas the Fiordland Jewel Cruise offers a 3-course plated dinner.

While there’s nothing wrong with a buffet, I would definitely choose a plated meal every time – and I was proved right! The food was so delicious and made my experience even more special. And when you’re stuck on a boat with no other options, I always feel like it’s best not to take risks with the food.

Smaller boat

Whether you’re taking a daytime or an overnight cruise in Milford Sound, a smaller boat is always better.

The Fiordland Jewel Cruise is on a much smaller boat. This means you can get way closer to the wildlife and natural features of Milford Sound, so you get to see more and feel closer to nature. You see a lot more this way and definitely get a deeper appreciation for where you are.

Huge windows in the rooms

Bailey sits on the bed of our Milford Sound cruise with magnificent views out the window
What a view!

One of my favorite parts of the Fiordland Jewel Cruise was the view from my room. Honestly, the windows in my room took up almost the entire side of the wall!

I felt like I had a first-class seat to all of the action in the Milford Sound. It was absolutely incredible – I mean, imagine sitting in bed and seeing penguins, seals, and beautiful scenery right outside of your window!

Plus, if you’re someone who likes to retreat to your room once in a while, you won’t miss out on the scenery!

You’re already paying a lot

Look, an overnight cruise on the Milford Sound is going to cost you a pretty penny either way. In this situation, I felt like it was kind of “go big or go home.” I was already going to spend hundreds of dollars on a cruise anyways.

Since this was something I’d wanted to do for so long, I really felt like it was worth it to spend a few hundred more to get the best experience possible.

If you agree with this sentiment, I wouldn’t hesitate to book the Fiordland Jewel Cruise. Seriously, you won’t regret it!

The hot tub!

The hot tub on the back of our Milford Sound overnight cruise with views of the steep cliffs in Milford Sound, New Zealand
Not a bad place for a soak!
Bailey in the hot tup on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
You bet I was in there a while!

Ok … so one of the big reasons I fell in love with this overnight cruise was the rooftop hot tub! The best part was, the cruise was so small there was almost always no one in it – winning!

Of course, you may be on a cruise with other hot tub enthusiasts like me. So, don’t count on having it to yourself like I did! But that being said, it could be nice to mingle and enjoy the experience with other guests.

If you’re a hot tub aficionado like me, you’ll want to book the Fiordland Overnight Cruise here!

Related Read: For another unbiased comparison, check out my blog about Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound. They’re both gorgeous, so if you have enough time, you should visit both!

10. Is a Milford Sound overnight cruise suitable for children?

Waterfalls on the steep cliffs of Milford Sound
Who wouldn’t love this!?

Let me start by saying there were no kids on my cruise, and I can’t say I was mad about it. But definitely – kids love the cruise!

The cruises are super safe, there are family-friendly activities on board, and it’s an amazing chance to make memories.

The Fiordland Jewel Cruise has a minimum age of 5, and there’s no discount for kids. They also don’t provide cots. However, the Real NZ Cruise offers a 50% discount for kids and will provide cots if necessary. Plus, infants under 2 can go for free.

11. What is available to purchase on a Milford Sound overnight cruise?

Bailey poses for a photo on the top deck on a Milford Sound cruise with a wine in her hand
I had wine in my hand most of the cruise!

You can buy alcoholic drinks or other soft drinks on board. There are lots of different local wines and beers to try, which is something I really appreciated!

New Zealand has some amazing wine, as well as a great craft beer scene. You may as well treat yourself to a glass (or two) on board.

I personally had a few too many, but as the saying goes … when in Milford.

Related Read: To check out more locally brewed beer, read about the best places to drink craft beer in Queenstown!

12. What if I have dietary requirements?

Both cruises cater to people with dietary requirements, albeit in different ways. 

Meals on the Real NZ Overnight Cruise are self-service buffets, so you just have to choose the options that fit your particular needs. 

However, what I loved about the Fiordland Discovery Jewel Cruise was that the chef will create a totally different meal for you. But make sure to let the company know well in advance (I recommend doing so when you make your booking, just to be safe). This means that no one has to miss out! 

13. What to bring on a Milford Sound overnight cruise?

Bailey looks out from the bottom back deck on Milford sound cruise as another boat travels behind us while it's raining
Watching other boats on the Milford Sound

Layers

You can experience four seasons in one day at Milford Sound. And trust me, I definitely did on my overnight cruise!

As such, you should make sure to bring some layers with you. Besides, the temperature can drop quite a bit at nighttime. I recommend some light layers for the daytime and then a warmer layer for the evening.

As well as layers for warmth, I recommend bringing a waterproof jacket for kayaking or tender boat rides, as you’re likely to get splashed!

Camera

Milford Sound is one of the most insanely beautiful places I have ever seen. I promise you, you’re going to want to bring your camera! Bring the best one that you own. You can use these pictures to make your friends insanely jealous on social media. 

Daniel jumps off our boat on a Milford Sound cruise in New Zealand
Go for a swim – if you dare!
Small gift and towles on our room on a Milford Sound overnight cruise
You don’t need towels!

Swimsuit

If you’re brave enough, you can go swimming in the chilly waters of the Milford Sound, so bring your swimsuit. Even though it was cold, I loved it. I mean, it’s such an iconic place that you can’t really turn down the opportunity for a dip, right?

Plus, if you do the Fiordland Discovery Overnight Cruise, there’s a hot tub. So you’ll need your swimsuit for a warm, relaxing soak! 

Change of clothes 

If you’re staying overnight, you’ll obviously want some clean clothes for the morning. Plus, you may well get wet while kayaking or from spray when you’re on deck. It’s definitely worth bringing some clothes to change into.

Also, you might want something nice to wear for the evening dinner – although, don’t worry, it’s not exactly a black-tie event.

Bailey looks up on Milford Sound on a Milford Sound cruise
Come prepared for any weather!

Ear plugs

If you’re a very light sleeper, then you might want to bring some earplugs. The cruise stays still overnight, but they switch the engines on to begin sailing again early in the morning. I’m talking about pre-sunrise! They’re not super loud, but if you’re sensitive to sound, then you might be thankful for your earplugs.

That being said, the sound could work in your favor! When I went on this overnight cruise, I decided to just get up when the engines were switched on and watch the sunrise. It was the perfect alarm clock.

I had wanted to do a Milford Sound cruise for so long that I was determined to make the most of every second – I didn’t want to miss out on anything for a few extra winks of sleep. It was most definitely worth it! 

Cash for tips

Tipping in New Zealand is a gray area. A lot of locals will tell you they don’t tip, and in some places, that’s true! But in parts of the South Island like Queenstown and Milford Sound, I’ve discovered that tipping is much more common, probably due to tourism. 

At the end of my overnight cruise, I tipped the boat staff. I wasn’t obligated to, but I had such a fantastic experience that it felt worth it. 

It’s up to you whether or not you want to tip, but if you do, bring cash! 

14. Is a Milford Sound overnight cruise worth it?

Bailey smiles at the Camera on a Milford Sound cruise with a waterfall in the background
Obviously yes!
A close up fo a waterfall in Milford Sound
And it’s not hard to see why!

A big, resounding YES. A visit to Milford Sound is totally worth it – and the overnight cruise is a spectacular way to see this place.

There are so many fun things to do in Milford Sound. However, cruises are the ideal way to explore this area. I have done four daytime Milford Sound cruises. The overnight one was my 5th, and it was by far the best! It really was the experience of a lifetime.

In fact, I can honestly say that it was the most amazing experience that I’ve ever had in New Zealand – and that’s really saying something! 

So if you’re looking for a bucket list experience that will leave your jaw on the floor, book an overnight cruise. And when you do, let me know how your trip was and if you loved it as much as me!

And if you trust my opinion, don’t hesitate to book this Fiordland Jewel Overnight Cruise here. It’s worth every penny, and you’ll remember it forever!

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on the back of a Milford Sound cruise
Thanks for reading!

Milford Sound is a stunning place and one of my favorite destinations in New Zealand. After trying many Milford Sound tours, I’d say the best way to experience it is on this Discovery Jewel Overnight Cruise. You’ll get to see the water at its calmest – in the late afternoon and morning. Plus, there are fun activities, delicious food, a hot tub, and comfy accommodations!

If you found my guide helpful, check out my other blogs about New Zealand. I’ve lived here for several years and love sharing what I’ve learned. And below, I’ve linked to a few articles that might come in handy. Thanks for reading!

12 Things to Know BEFORE Booking the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

The BEST time to visit Queenstown – Comparing the 4 Seasons

22 Free and Cheap Things to do in Wanaka

21 BEST Beaches in New Zealand (that you don’t want to miss!)