1st January 2020 – Today is a travel day from Taipei to Hong Kong.
It’s not nice to wake up early on News Years Day any year but at least this time there was no hangover. We were out the door of our tiny accommodation and on the train bound for the airport in plenty of time. The rail system is highly efficient so we had no hassles and parted ways with trusty our MRT cards. Taiwan has been at least as good as we hoped (except maybe the weather along the east coast – but it is winter) and we would recommend it to anyone thinking of going somewhere bit different. We loved the ease of everything, the friendly and kind people, the food, the towns and cities, the scenery and sites, the modernity and innovation alongside some quaint and traditional practices. Everything that we booked or arranged went without a hitch, even in places where no one spoke English and no signage in English was evident. Taiwan is a lovely place and now a special place for us, having spent Christmas and NYE 2019 on her soil. But it is time for our next adventure.
We arrived in HK to a very quiet airport, thanks to the recent protests that have taken places in the halls we walked through. No one is allowed into the airport unless they are travelling, with a passport and a ticket. Eventually we secured a couple of expensive metro passes and based on the advice from the transport officer, jumped on a bus. This seemed contrary to the transport map which was suggesting we take a train but it soon become apparent that the central station and perhaps others, are not being used in this time of unrest. Our journey was long but eventually we disembarked and found our hotel, rising above a shopping centre. We spent the evening wandering shops, getting some dinner and watching the rioting on the TV. There was very little evidence of it on the trip to the hotel but we are now factoring in some extra time in the morning to get to the docklands to embark on the next part of our holiday.
January 2nd to 9th 2020
Cruising the South China Sea on the Spectrum of the Seas.
I’ve never really had an urge to go on a cruise. I’ve done short trips on boats, like Halong Bay for 2 nights, but this is proper cruise. On a ship. The price was what attracted me so I suggested it to Mr Bolo as a Phu Qoc style part of our holiday, that is, a rest-and-do-nothing week.
Out of our hotel in plenty of time we then had a short wait for the Grab that eventually turned up. Hong Kong is of course in the grip of rioting so public transport is not really an option despite the fact we have cashed up travel cards. Apparently the riots hotted up again last night, after some peace for the new year. There wasn’t any evidence this morning, so we safely made it to the ship. And what a big MF of a ship it is. I have never seen anything like it. It even dwarfs the Ovation of the Seas, the huge ship we went to Freo to have a look at when it was docked there.
After a relatively short time we were on board and in our home for the week. We deliberately chose an outside cabin with a slightly larger floor plan so we had a lounge as well as the bed, and a balcony so we can go outside. The whole space was very nice and more than sufficient, as we didn’t really intend on being in the room a whole lot. After unpacking, knowing we don’t have to repackage for a week, we ventured out. Our 7 days followed much the same routine so rather than a day by day description, here are the highlights and the low lights.
The only hangover despite an endless drinks package was incurred as a result of night one. Keen to get my money’s worth I mixed my drinks between gin, cocktails and champagne and woke the next day feeling like I should have on New Year’s Day. Rookie mistake. Apart from that one day, we handled the drinks well. The package we weren’t sure about proved to be a great idea as we had fresh coffee and bottled water included. Our mornings all started with good coffee made fresh by Denzil, who called Mr Bolo “007”. Later in the mornings we enjoyed both hot and cold coffee in the leaf and bean cafe. I even tried the cold lemon coffee, which was sour and tart but not undrinkable. Around the pool we were able to have endless sparkling water, something I absolutely love and also chose at lunch time. As for the alcoholic beverages, nothing was off limits. We tried everything and enjoyed it all. A highlight would definitely be the robot drink maker that we referred to as Bionic Barry. The sheer novelty was awesome but the convenience was fabulous. Many times on our way back to our room we would swing past and mix a bevvie to take onto our balcony. So, did we get our moneys worth from the drinks package? Absolutely.
So, I hear you asking where to drink? We enjoyed a poolside cocktail in the undercover pool area. I was drinking a blended Margarita, a very nice alcoholic slushie. We picked up a bevvie to take into the Royal Theatre and also enjoyed drinks in 270 before, during and after shows. We also tried the Schooner Bar and the Music Hall, both of which served a nice mix. Lots of options but I think the robo bar and then drinking it on our balcony was my fave.
Now to the food options. The all-you-can-eat, no-booking-required, fight-for-a-table Windjammer was most often our go to. By day 2 we worked out that in the interests of some normal eating habits, we would make a choice on the type of food before our meal and stick to it. Carvery. Italian. Asian. Indian. Gluten free. Noodles. Salad. Breads. Dessert and ice cream. And people everywhere. A couple of days we missed all other options and had pizza. This is available near Windjammer 24/7. And a good option actually.
On 3 nights we ate in the dining room. This is a restaurant style of experience, with 3 courses and waiters. It was nice enough but being a twosome our seating was less than optimal, tucked in a corner facing the kitchen. The menu also rotated and after the 3rd night we had tried it all and the formality was more than we needed. The other food option we tried was the cafe 270 where we got a nice breaky on a couple of days and were able to sit quietly with a great view out the back of the ship. We didn’t choose to pay for any meals so we can’t comment on any of the restaurants but I don’t think we missed out. In reality we ate more food than we needed, as you do when it’s all “free”.
To work off some of the food we made sure we got 10,000 steps everyday. We rarely took the lifts, opting instead to take the stairs. Our room was on the 7th deck and everything we wanted was anywhere between the 16th deck and the 3rd deck. Loads of stairs. Each day we did laps of the 15th deck, around and around on the running track. We did try to run it once but the hard surface killed my legs so we walked it instead. Unfortunately none of the pools were designed for laps and the gym was really small so walking was our only option.
As for things to do on board, we saw each of the regular shows. The main event was a show called the Silk Road that was quite cirque de sol -ish. We definitely enjoyed it and had some awesome seats for that, but I’m not sure we needed to see it more than once, as some people did. We also attended the Big Welcome Party (hence the hangover) and the Vistarama Fireworks party on the last night. Also in 270 we really enjoyed a great screen show where the screens not only showed the show but also danced. Hard to explain but we watched a marble roll across 5 screens that followed the marble up and down and even around, not just across stationary, aligned screens. We also went along and watch the adults only Crazy Quest. It was about as silly as it gets, with Fang, the Cruise Director, telling teams what they needed to do or present to him. For example “a female member of your team, with your team number, needs to bring me a set of dentures”. You can imagine how that went. On most nights we also went to the Royal Theatre and saw some awesome performances including Showgirl (lots of legs), Gold Art Duo (aerial wonders), Joe Enock (a magic show), the Australian Beatles (a Beatles tribute band, completely lost on most of the audience) and David diMuzio (a funny muso who does diablo). My only real comment about the shows was the relative difficulty getting a seat. Despite the many signs saying that minding seats was not allowed, many people sent one family member to mind many seats. For the most part it doesn’t really matter but what happened was the rest of the family wouldn’t show up. So it looked like there were no seats, people left disappointed and then as the show started seats were clearly available. We did witness one argument between 2 people that was very heated. Although we couldn’t understand a word of it, it was clear that gentleman A thought that gentleman B had no right to mind all those seats for others. As it turned out, it was for the Australian Beatles show that most people left very early on …
Our cruise stopped at Okinawa (Japan), Ilocos and Subic Bay (both in the Philippines). Pre-cruise we decided not to book the tours in case we thought better of it later. Actually, the tours where hugely expensive. As it panned out, we stuck to our plan and didn’t go on pre-arranged tours. In Okinawa we did go onshore and caught the bus to the shopping centre. I hate shopping at home so I wasn’t keen to do it there either but we did wander the daiso and we did get a gift for The Drummer but then we took off into the streets in search of a geocache or two. I would like to say that after walking miles and searching for ages we bagged a stack of caches but although the first part is true (we walked miles and searched for ages) we didn’t secure our first Japanese cache! It was not for lack of trying.
At both ports in the Philippines we went ashore but neither was suited to wandering around. Ilicos was a tiny village in a beautiful location. It felt very voyeuristic being there and we caught a tender back within a very short time and spent the rest of the day around a deserted pool, sipping cocktails and reading. In Subic Bay we opted to walk up the beach, thinking that it looked very inviting and that we would get our steps on land. Unfortunately it was as though the welcoming party had cleaned the immediate beach but completely neglected anything more than 25mbeyond the front of the ship. The rubbish was thick and the sand was dirty (and it was very hot) so once again we went back on board and lazed around the pool.
Because we didn’t spend anything off the ship, we decided to try everything on board. Some things were complimentary like the fencing (which I enjoyed very much and would like to try again) and the dodgems (which I avoided so as not to hurt my back). We had a crack at shuffle board, swam in the pools and Mr Bolo soaked in the spas. If you had kids on board, especially teens, they would be entertained and out of your hair all day. We didn’t go to the Casino or do any on board shopping and didn’t join the seminars or attend the many of the indoor activities like morning suduko or napkin folding but we did have a go at some trivia and a quiz. We didn’t dance the night away but we did come away vowing to learn to dance for next time.
Of the things that could be paid for, we took a ride in the North Star, flew in the iFly and bounced on the Sky Pad. We took the North Star just on sunset and had an awesome trip high above the ship. I don’t like heights at all and will admit I found this a bit scary but it was worth it. Because day turned to night while we were up there we got to see the pool and deck lights from an entirely different perspective. The arm did not extend out over the water because we were steaming out at sea but now I can say I have been in that globe that I envied when the Ovation of the Seas when in Freo.
The iFly was easily our favourite thing that we did on board and we will do it again at home in Perth. I was really nervous and the young people in front of us who were also nervous seemed to make me worse. They also really struggled to fly and that made me think it would be hard. But when Mr Bolo got in there and aced it I realised that I couldn’t let him beat me. So I adjusted my attitude and followed the directions of the instructor to the letter and had a blast. The moments you get in there go incredibly fast but our instructor was awesome and because we both got the hang out it quickly we did things like flying low and spinning round. The Sky Pad was a fun trampolining experience with VR goggles on where we had to bounce into candies and chocolates as we bounced through an animated street scene. We grew up on a trampoline but this is a better experience with the harness and bungy cord stopping you from getting that jarring feeling as you hit the mat. I didn’t want to get off this and again the time was up very quickly.
What we didn’t do was the Flow Rider boogie boarding or stand up surfing but if The Piper had been there he would have never gotten out of that water.
There were a lot of interesting personalities on board and we were well looked after by many of them. Captain Fleming kept us well informed via his PA system, of the ships travels. We tried to guess his nationality, with me thinking he was of Asian descent. Turns out, he’s Danish. Who would have thought it, given that name? Then of course there was our ever-present cruise director, Fang. He was a tall, bald, feminine (just my observation), immaculately dressed man who compered every show or event. He was everywhere, all the time, also organising the disembarkation at the ports. I have no idea when he slept! Our room was perfectly serviced by Khathika who did everything from make the bed to leave fresh towels twisted in the shape of various animals. He was also a wealth of information and always appeared to be just outside or door waiting to ask us if we were ok, where we had been, what we planning to do and if we needed anything.
Just as I finished my book, The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness and Murder, our cruise came to an end. We had no idea what we were getting into when we signed up and as the departure date got closer we also were informed that our was a Culturally Enriching cruise meaning English would not be the language predominately used on board, and that shows and activities would be in the dominant language (Chinese). This was not something that was disclosed when we booked back in August. As we boarded, I think we honestly thought we may have done the wrong thing in booking the cruise. Our reality was just the opposite. We had a great time. There was very little that was wrong across the week and we did everything we wanted to do, as well as spending a lot of time relaxing. I don’t know if we will ever cruise again (life is too short and there are too many things to do to waste time doing something twice) but we don’t regret doing this cruise. As an aside, the only language we heard spoken on board, at shows, during activities, over the PA and in the corridors was English. Maybe there weren’t as many Chinese people on board after all. I wonder if it has anything to do with this disease that we have been hearing about on the news, that appears to be slowing closing down China, the Novel Corona Virus?
To join us for the next leg of our journey. a trip into the wilds of Borneo, click here.