irst, let me calm down!! I was very excited about this trip and I knew it was going to be fabulous, but I had NO idea it was going to be like this.
Sunday, Dec. 5
Arriving at Los Angeles International Airport, we were greeted by and inundated with paparazzi. Everyone was trying to get info on what we would be experiencing in Australia and when and where would we be with the queen of talk.
Once we checked into the hotel, we went to the Ultimate Australian Adventure (UAA) hospitality suite, where there was plenty of gourmet food, Harpo staff, Tourism Australia and T Mobile cell phone representatives. Oprah gave all of us a new water resistant cell phone with a $500 usage limit while in Australia, and free use for three months in the U.S. when we return. We were treated like kings and queens.
Monday, Dec. 6
All 300 Ultimate Viewers arrived from all over the country. We were told to meet in a large conference room. We still didn’t have much info about the trip except that it was going to be unbelievable. We were told that we are leaving for the airport at 6:30 p.m. to board two Qantas 747s.
There was lots of cheering, crying and excitement in that room when they told us that our “trip of a lifetime” was about to begin. Jim and I were also overwhelmed. We were also amazed at how many folks from the Detroit area were going with us. Six of us are African Americans.
We are taken by special buses to the plane. We take off and everyone screams at the top of their lungs with excitement. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!
Tuesday, Dec. 7
We arrive in Sydney after 14 hours in the air. At the airport, Qantas reps are lined up greeting us. There must have been hundreds of them. There were also plenty of Harpo and Tourism Australian folks to navigate us through the airport. We are again warned the paparazzi are outside and to give interviews but reveal nothing.
When Jim and I got off the plane, I noticed that reporters were stopping me. I wasn’t sure why. A reporter finally asked me, “What gave you the idea to wear Australia’s colors?” I had no idea what the colors were when I chose my outfit. I had on green and gold.
When we arrived at the Intercontinental Sydney Hotel, a five-star hotel, the entire hotel staff in uniforms with gloves and a draped towel, including the hotel president, was lined up outside on the steps to greet us. Music was playing and Aborigines were dancing outside. Red carpet was at our feet. It was very emotional with a lot of pomp and ceremony. As we entered, champagne was everywhere and more food! Oh my, the food!
At 1 p.m., there was a briefing and lunch at the hotel and we would finally learn more about what we would be doing. We were put in preselected groups. Jim and I are in the Red Kangaroo group of about 24 people. During lunch we were told that we are leaving on Wednesday for three days to go to the Wolgan Valley Resort and Spa, just voted the BEST hotel in Australia! It’s nestled within 4,000 acres of a private conservation and wildlife reserve overlooking majestic views of the valley. (By the way, the nightly rate is $3,500.)
Day three continues with a two-hour, guided bike tour of Sydney. About 50 of us bike to the Sydney Opera House, Sydney Harbour Bridges, The Rocks and Darling Harbour. The weather was beautiful. At 5 p.m., we went aboard the Captain Cook Cruises’ MV Sydney 2000 for a luxury cruise across Sydney Harbour. After that, we went to the Sydney Taronga Zoo to experience Australia’s unique wildlife, including koalas and kangaroos.
Wednesday, Dec. 8
Jim and I are all packed for our outback experience. OK, it’s not your typical outback experience. We board a luxury Mercedes SUV and head for the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. The famous blue-hazed beauty of the mountains is caused by the fragrant oil emitted from the leaves of thick eucalyptus forests. When we arrive at the resort the entire staff again is waiting outside, lined up, with champagne in hand, along with the hotel manager and president.
They drive us to our freestanding suites-it’s like a small house-each with an indoor-outdoor private swimming pool! I’m told I will experience a wildlife tour, stargazing, mountain biking, horseback riding, a mountain aroma signature massage and a Timeless Signature Wattle Seed Renewal, some type of all over body exfoliation. A six-star hotel! Please don’t wake me up!
While at the resort Jim and I experience some interesting delicacies. The chef used local ingredients, blended with the flavors of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, which make dishes with a truly Australian identity. There’s also a lot of salt in their dishes. The menu included rock oysters, lots of beef and lamb-so tender and seasoned to perfection, salmon from Tasmania, cheeses that melt in your mouth and lots of olive oil. We also experienced Barramundi, a large, white, meaty fish, and John Dory, a smaller white fish. Both were delicious! For dessert we tasted other Australian specialties including Pavlova, a meringue, cream and fruit dessert, and lamington, sponge cakes doused in chocolate sauce and rolled in coconut.
Our last night at the resort we are treated to a barbeque or what the Australians call “the Barbie.” This is the most popular way for Australians to cook. The Barbie was during sunset in the Blue Mountains. As we ate, the kangaroos came out and played in the bush. They served lamb, beef, grilled chicken and everything was tender and falling off the bone.
Saturday, Dec. 11
We are back at the Intercontinental Hotel in Sydney. Again paparazzi are everywhere. This time there are even more. But why? We just found out that Oprah is making her first appearance in Sydney.
We are told to dress up and that we will be going to the Royal Botanic Gardens, which is right across the street from the hotel. I put on my nicest outfit and Jim put on his nice shirt and jacket. We go to the lobby of the hotel with the other Ultimate Viewers and are told to get in our groups. Five minutes later something very strange happens.
Cory, the leader of our guides, came up to Jim and me and let us us know that we will not be going to the Gardens with the others. We will be the last to leave. They tell us not to tell the others in our group, and they will soon put us in a private area to wait for our special bus. Jim and I were so nervous. Had we done something wrong? We wait and wait and wait and realize that there are only four others waiting with us to leave for the Botanic Gardens. Finally they tell us on the private bus that Jim and I have been selected to walk the RED CARPET with OPRAH when she arrives at the Botanic Gardens!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oprah’s executive producer explains that Oprah will arrive in a few minutes and we are to walk with her down the carpet and participate in the international press interviews with her. They wanted us to stay very, very close to Oprah during all the interviews so that we were in the shots. The red carpet was very long and there were about 15 different media reps waiting to interview her.
While waiting for Oprah, I get a chance to talk to Andre Walker, her hair stylist, and her makeup artist, whose name I can’t remember. (He told me his mother lives in Farmington Hills.) Andre said he loved my hair and the cut! I was thrilled! He was very, very friendly!
Oprah arrives in a black luxury car, approaches the six of us and her executive producers introduce us one by one. Oprah smiles and hugs us. She asks if we are having a wonderful time. Of course, we are glowing and agreeing. I was surprised that Oprah is not as tall as I thought. She seemed to be about my height, around 5’4″.
She said, “Come on Jan, let’s get it going.” I was surprised she remembered my name. We arrive at the first reporter. The cameras are everywhere. Oprah answers each question with grace. The interesting thing was that all the reporters asked pretty much the same questions like, “Why Australia?” Her answer: I’ve never been to Australia, the people are friendly, you speak English, etc… At one point she even starts singing “This is how you do it…” and motions the six of us to sing along with her.
I have to tell you, walking on the red carpet with Oprah was the icing on the cake for me. Jim and I are still trying to figure out why and how we were selected, but I am happy that we were.
After the red carpet, we are instructed to join the other 300 Ultimate Viewers on the beach at the Sydney Harbour. They attacked me and Jim with questions about WHY we were on the red carpet with Oprah. I didn’t know what to tell them, but our Rock Star status went up 10 fold. After a group photo with all 300 of us with Oprah, we were led into the LAVISH outdoor tent. It had white draping with beautiful, cushioned seating and chandeliers everywhere. Food included prawns, lobster, caviar, beef, lamb, oysters on the half shell, grilled chicken, champagne, wine. Heck, everything!
After an hour, Oprah gave a speech which had all of us in tears. She said, “You Ultimate Viewers are here with me on this trip because of divine intervention. I know your stories. I read all of them and I know why you were selected to be here on this journey with me.” She was amazing and mesmerizing! After her 15-minute speech, the emcee asked all of us to join Oprah on the beach. After we all gathered, the Sydney Harbour Bridge lit up a big “O” in honor of Oprah, and then fireworks lit the Sydney sky. It was spectacular. After that, we went back into the tent and danced the night away.
Monday, Dec. 13
At 8 a.m., we joined the other Ultimate Viewers on the Sydney Harbour for sailing. We went aboard one of 20 yachts and viewed Sydney’s stunning harborside icons, secret beaches and islands. The captain of our boat let Jim steer while the others and I assisted with the sails. At one point, all of the sails went up at the same time on all 20 sailboats. Each sail had Oprah’s logo with “THE FAREWELL SEASON” on them. It was an amazing sight. Oprah sailed with Russell Crowe and our new friends from Southfield, Alicia and Emerson Merkerson. Jim and I had never been on a sailboat before. It was exhilarating!
After the Regatta, we enjoyed a waterside brunch with Oprah and Gayle. Oprah gave another moving speech. We again got up close and personal with Oprah and Gayle.
After lunch, we are told that there is a surprise coming and to be ready to leave the hotel at 6 p.m. sharp. We have no idea what is going on. They just tell us to wear comfortable shoes. We get on our bus and our guide tells us to quiet down and to listen to the pop down video on the bus. It’s a message from Oprah. She says, “I want all of you to join me at a concert tonight with Jay-Z and U2.” Everyone in the bus is screaming and crying.
The concert is off the chain!!!!!! The stadium holds about 60,000 and we have our own Oprah section. When we arrive, Jay-Z is already performing. I heard that Kanye had already appeared, but we missed him due to traffic. Before U2 came on stage, they showed Bono and Oprah walking out together on the HUGE stadium screens. Everyone in the audience went crazy. Bono went on stage with his band and Oprah joined us in the audience. It was like a dream.
Tuesday, Dec. 14
This is the BIG DAY.
The walk from the Intercontinental Hotel to the Sydney Opera House takes about five minutes. However, today is different. It’s Oprah’s Day. Thousands of people are on the street. It’s 8 a.m. and the paparazzi are everywhere. So are the helicopters. Three hundred fifty thousand Australians entered a lottery for 12,000 tickets for the taping of two shows. The first 6,000 started arriving at the Opera House at 1 a.m.
As we walked to the Opera House, Aussies were cheering and waving us on. We took our seats in the special sections right up front with the rest of the Viewers. When the show finally started, Oprah came out and walked through the audience to get to the stage. The cheering level was at an all-time high. Australia loves Oprah!
The guests included Jay-Z, Bon Jovi (who performed for us) and Russell Crowe. And, she gave everyone- all 6,000, including the Ultimate Viewers-a beautiful one-of-a-kind Australian pearl and sterling silver necklace with a tiny black diamond. Value: $650. I got one and Jim got one. Jim is giving his to my mother. (He’s a good son-in-law).
The second show featured Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman and her husband Keith Urban, Bono and Olivia Newton John. Hugh scared Oprah and rest of us when his on-stage entrance via zip line from the top of the Opera House malfunctioned. I think he forget to put on his brake. He crashed into the one of the stage lights and injured his eye. I seriously thought for a few moments that Jim, my husband, who is a physician was going to have to go up on stage to attend to him. But the paramedics finally showed up, but not before one of them gave Hugh a big hug. That was too funny!
About 20 minutes later, Hugh came out with tape over his eye. The audience cheered him on. Then, another audience surprise. Oprah gave all 6,000 of us another necklace. This time, it’s a silver and pink diamond necklace. This one we won’t receive until next year. Since Jim gets one too, he’s giving his to my adopted mother, Joyce Watkins of Clinton Township. She boo-hooed on the phone when we told her she was getting it.
After a rousing and moving rendition of “I still love Australia” by the Qantas Children’s Choir and Hugh, Keith, Olivia and Nicole and the lifting of the Australian flag by the Ultimate Viewers, it was all over.
The farewell supper in the northern foyer of the Opera House was very emotional for us Ultimate Viewers. We were all still grasping with “Why were we selected to be here and how did all of this happen?” Words cannot describe our emotions. Oprah told us over and over again during this trip that we were plucked out to be here in Australia and we deserved it.
All 300 of us agreed that our friends and family members will never understand what we experienced on this trip, nor will they believe us. The extravagance bestowed upon us was over the top, but it was extravagance with a conscience. We were all grateful to be there, and so was Oprah. She made us feel that anything is possible and whatever you put out, especially if it is positive, you will receive back.
Yes, I drank the Oprah Kool-Aid. She is an amazing woman. Oprah said we were her students and that we have now graduated. But right before we left Sydney, Oprah was still teaching us.
As we were about to board the plane heading back to L.A., something wonderful happened. Our flight was delayed, or so we thought. It was delayed on purpose because Oprah Winfrey, this Black woman, this billionaire, who in her own words said she was once a little Negro child, came to the airport to say goodbye to us before we got on the plane.
I was touched. What class. What grace. What a woman. What an experience of a LIFETIME!
I’ll never forget this. Thank you, God. And thank you, Oprah!!
JANICE COSBY BRIDGES IS THE VICE PRESIDENT OF MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS FOR ST. JOHN PROVIDENCE HEALTH SYSTEM.