A first time cruiser's perspective on Asia
I was fortunate to experience cruising in the Far East recently on board Royal Caribbean's Mariner of the Seas® , a ship that's part of Royal Caribbean's Voyager class fleet able to carry over 3000 passengers. As this was my first cruise, I didn't really know what to expect, I'd heard stories from colleagues and friends before, but the enormity of a vessel like this only became reality when I stepped onboard and looked up to the top of the atrium where the lifts carry passengers between the 15 decks of the ship.
Our group had a 25 minute transfer from Changi International Airport in Singapore to the Marina Bay Cruise centre where our cruise departed from in the late afternoon.
There was plenty of time to find our cabins (which were very spacious and included all the amenities that you can expect from a 4-star hotel) and enjoy lunch before going up to enjoy the skyline of Singapore getting smaller as we headed out towards Vietnam.
Our first day at sea on route towards Ho Chi Minh City was spent enjoying some of the activities onboard the ship, like the 30 ft high climbing wall, miniature golf, table tennis and basketball. There was also a very informative lecture on our next port of call that gave us all the necessary info in order to plan our first day back on land. Throughout the day new release movies screened on the top deck, and the gym and running track was also available if you indulged a bit too much on the multitude of on board dining options.
That evening our captain welcomed all the passengers in the royal promenade - a unique lifestyle experience at the centre of the ship with various shopping outlets, pubs and restaurants, and our group dressed up and enjoyed a 3 course fine dining meal in the formal dining room afterwards.
By sunrise we had docked at Phu My port in Vietnam, which is located about 90 minutes away from Ho Chi Minh City. Being a bit more adventurous we opted to take a taxi from the port to the city instead of going on one of the day tours on offer by Royal Caribbean. It's quite easy to plan days in port using smart phone applications like Google Maps and Tiposo's Vietnam Travel guide
Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam and is sometimes referred to as the Paris of the Orient and this is visible in the architecture of some of the attractions in the city, like a replica of the Notre Dame cathedral and the post office, which was designed by the same architect as the Eiffel Tower, Gustav Eiffel.
The city has got various markets and you can find anything from clothing to exotic drinks and food to even electronics and bags at reasonable prices. As with any big city nowadays there is also the more modern side with shopping malls filled with boutiques and little French patisseries. Once we were back on board we enjoyed dinner at Johnny Rocket's, an American diner-like speciality restaurant serving all the classics like malt shakes and apparently the best burgers at sea.
Our last 2 days on board the ship en route to Hong Kong started with a great breakfast each morning at the Windjammer Café, the buffet restaurant that's open most of the time whilst sailing. The second lecture about Hong Kong was again extremely valuable for when we started planning our next day in port. The available afternoon entertainment included 3D movies as well as theatre and ice shows which were both very professional productions. Before we arrived in Hong Kong the Dreamworks Experience took place in the Royal Promenade - a parade which included characters from Dreamworks animated movies, like Madagascar and Shrek.
When we disembarked the ship in Hong Kong, we took a free shuttle from Kai Tak Cruise terminal located in Kow Loon to one of the nearby shopping malls where we bought tickets for the metro network (MTR). Once again this city is very easy to get around when you have a general sense of the places that you want to visit.
The official MTR Tourist app was also very handy when we wanted to get to stations close to attractions like the Avenue of Stars and Chi Lin Nunnery. Hong Kong is a shopping paradise and has numerous markets and shopping streets where you can buy anything from toys to tailored suits.
Cruising Asia gave me a small taste of what this continent has to offer and I'll definitely be back to experience more.
A few quick tips for cruising Asia (or just cruising in general)