Friday, September 1, 2017

Mariner of the Seas - Asia Repositioning Cruise

 Mariner of the Seas - Asia Repositioning Cruise
September 1, 2017

Just the Facts:
Ship: Royal Caribbean Mariner of the Seas
Captain: Claus Anderson
Cruise Director:  Ken
Ports:    Shanghai China - Okinawa Japan - Hong Kong, China - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam - Singapore, Malaysia

This is my 22nd Royal Caribbean cruise, the third time to sail the Mariner of the Seas, and 130th cruise overall.  I am cruising as a solo.  I have never cruised in Asian waters so this a unique cruise for me and I am looking forward to the experience.

Tuesday-Wednesday / Travel / August 29-30, 2017

Pudong area of Shanghai - largest city in the world
I left the ranch at a very early 3:15 am for the Waco Airport and my 4:50 am boarding time on the commuter plane to DFW.  We had some problems and were delayed but I was in plenty of time for my 10:30 am fifteen hour direct flight from DFW to Shanghai China.  American Airlines is using a nice new Boeing 787 aircraft on this route.  Surviving a long flight is getting harder for me to do, but they had an updated entertainment system and wifi available.  First inflight meal was Chinese food complete with chopsticks so the new Asia experience begins right away.  As tired as I was I really couldn’t sleep on the flight although I tried. After three movies, wifi time, and 15 hours of flight we finally landed in Shanghai.  I did the 144 hour Visa that allows you 144 hours of transit in country.  No fee but pretty detailed paperwork requested (hotel, proof of ticket/transport leaving country, etc.).  There were several Mariner passengers on my flight and the airport gave us the wrong immigration forms, but soon all were on their way I assume…I got through among the first processed.  Once through immigration you then collect your bags and your finished.  As a solo I intended to get a taxi share, but made a fair deal with driving service ($52) for private transport for the 45 minute drive to the city center.  I arrived at the Shanghai Marriott City Center about 5:00 pm and checked in strait away.  It felt very good to get an opportunity to relax for the first time what seemed days.  I have a very nice room and took advantage.  After a quick walk around the immediate area, booking a tour, and a nice beer…I cleaned up and finally hit the bed for a much needed sleep.

Thursday / Shanghai China / August 31st / Day 0
My friend at Confucius Temple
I was up early and went to breakfast in the International Bistro where they have an amazing buffet style breakfast with many serving stations.  I wasn't brave enough to do the noodle station that was popular with locals and had wonderful made to order eggs from the egg station, bacon, ham, roasted pumpkin, and more.  Fresh fruits and juices were very nice.  Sweet breads, rolls, and toast were good too.  Interesting discovery that neither Facebook nor the Google sites work in China.  Firewall.  Yes still a Communist country.  I was in the lobby at 9:00 am and met my tour for the day.  Only six in the group in van and all were very nice people, 4 of 6 on the Mariner cruise tomorrow.  Our first stop was Yuyuan Gardens…they were very interesting and I enjoyed them much more than I thought I would.  I guess I was expecting flowers or something similar, but these were five centuries old Chinese tranquil gardens with water, trees, reflection locations, and old temples and buildings.  The gardens themselves and the entire Yuyuan bazaar and Concession area is built in the style of traditional Chinese architecture.  Yes for the first time I feel I am really in China.  Next stop is the Confucius Temple first established during the classic Yuan Dynasty and popular Shanghai location due to the worldwide popularity of the ancient Chinese philosopher.  Next stop was at the Bund,  the colonial-era promenade along the Huangpu River. Very stunning views of old and new Shanghai, including buildings such as the Bund's Old Customs House and iconic skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, Shanghai Financial Tower, Jinmao Tower, and Shanghai Tower.  Amazing area especially in the evening.  After a visit to a Jade shop at the Bund we then had lunch in a local Chinese restaurant and were served family style sampling seven dishes.  It was very interesting, the lazy-susan in center of the table made it easy to share the variety of dishes. The next site was the Jade Buddha Temple, a sacred 19th-century structure built during the Qing Dynasty.  They have numerous golden Buddha shrines but famous for its two exquisite Jade Buddha statues from Myanmar.  There were many Buddhist monks about at this site and areas were you light incense or send money to your ancestors in another life by burning paper money.  Very different and interesting to learn about  Buddhist culture.  I also took a break here and had my first bottle of Chinese Coca-Cola…very good (only .75).  We then drove through the People’s Square, a garden-like square and the French Concession District, once the center of colonial life and now a hip area on our way to the Silk Museum.  At the silk museum we saw live silk worms eating Mulberry and learned about how they make silk during their short life span. It was very educational.  We had a short break at a coffee shop, where I had a proper Diet Coke with ice, before being returned to our hotels.  I was back at the Marriott about 5:00 pm.  After refreshing I considered a return to the Bund for a river cruise to see the city lights, but decided on an easy evening.  I had dinner at one of several restaurants in the hotel: the Man Ho Chinese Restaurant.  I ordered three dishes (I learned that today): A nice Scallop specialty, Sweet & sour pork, and Vegetables in soup.  It was a nice relaxing dinner.  After reviewing the news about the floods back home in Texas on TV I retired early.  It was a great day in Shanghai.

Friday / Shanghai China / Embarkation / September 1st / Day 1

Communist Party Monument in Peoples Square
I slept well, but was up early although I did get 8 hours (8pm-4:00am) sleep.  I updated my review (although I can not upload it) and communicated with home since it was afternoon there.  I packed then I went for another very nice buffet breakfast in the International Bistro about 7:30 am and it was already busy.  About 8:30 I took a walk to Peoples Square just a few blocks from the hotel.  This was the former location of the Shanghai Race track, but when the Communists took control in 1949 they closed the track and built some governmental buildings and a very nice urban park area in it’s place.  Also the location of a new modern theater, an underground transportation hub, and the famous Shanghai Museum.  It is now considered the center of Shanghai…now the largest city in the world.  About 11:30 am I checked out of the hotel applying all the Chinese Yuan (money) I had only saving enough for the taxi (104Y or $16) to the port.  I enjoyed the hotel and service very much.  The taxi to the cruise pier took about 40 minutes so arrival time was good just behind the initial rush.  There was multiple security checks and visa inspections including examining passports twice.  I have never shown my documents and ID so many times in my years traveling. Some was government repetition, some ship security, but I was always moving along from station to station. Last stop is final Chinese immigration were you give them a card you received at entry.  Then walk on to the ship.  About a 45 minute process using the VIP lanes.  I proceeded to my cabin to drop my carry-on bag and backpack, but ended up resting for a while before heading up to the Windjammer for lunch.  I then began setting up and customizing my cabin for the cruise.  I love the location as I have a aft corner balcony on deck 8.  It’s a bit of a walk to the elevators but the balcony makes up for that inconvenience.  I went to boat drill and sat with the folks who couldn’t stand on outer decks…they do not have readers to take or verify attendance as most do now.  Due to heavy river traffic sail away is delayed until 7:30 tonight so a change of plans from my private balcony sail away party with the complementary beers delivered to my cabin as a D+ benefit.  I was heading for cocktail at the Diamond lounge but popped into the Concierges Lounge on deck nine first, my thinking was I could get a proper Cosmopolitan.  Yes they were pretty much serving proper and custom cocktails, not just from the Happy Hour list.  I met interesting guests so a happy time until 8:00 pm dinner.  I’m at a 6-top table with three other solo cruisers in the Top Hat & Tails dining room (MDR) and it seems like a good fit.  Dinner was much better than the lunch today.  I ordered Escargots Bourguignonne; the Strawberry, Kiwi, and Pineapple Medley; and the Mojo-Marinated Grilled Pork Chop entree.  For dessert a Carrot Cake and Vanilla ice creme.  Service was a bit off, not bad, just different.  The head waiter admitted that previous cruises had been all Chinese guests and this cruise was the first International guests for a large number of the wait staff.  Our table waiters were both Chinese and probably among those he referenced.  Very nice and accommodating but had to ask for bread, accompaniments, ice in tea, etc.  It was an enjoyable meal though and I soon retired to the cabin for needed sleep.  A nice first day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Saturday / Day at Sea / September 2nd / Day 2
Very calm seas as we sailed down the Yangtze River last night, but it was rocking once we reached the East China Sea in the morning hours.  Captain says some influence of a typhoon out to sea.  I went to the MDR for a very enjoyable breakfast early then spent the rest of the day updating this review and spending time on the balcony.  Nice chairs and large table on balcony so I can work on the computer or have a drink or meal out there enjoying the sea air and view.  Note photo that there always a combination of sea and shade so perfect.  I did eat lunch in the Windjammer but brought dessert back to eat.  I got some Chinese Coca-Cola Light and watched the sun set from the balcony too.  Very nice.  It was now time for cocktails in the Concierges Lounge  and thy have been very nice.  The feature show in the theater tonight was Gallery of Dreams as well as other entertainment throughout the ship including the Captain's champagne toast just before dinner.  Same four guests at dinner tonight and the servers did a much better job serving tonight including bread and tea readily available.  For dinner I ordered the Bay Scallop Gratin, Royal Shrimp Cocktail, and the Carved Filet of Beef Tenderloin.  All were very good.  After dinner I retired to rest before an early meet time for a private excursion tomorrow.  It was a nice first sea day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Sunday  /  Okinawa, Japan  /  September 3rd / Day 3
Shuri Castle Throne Room
Choppy seas until we neared Okinawa.  I woke very early so I ‘live’ streamed the University of Oklahoma’s opening football game that began at 4:30 am local time.  I was able to watch most of the entire first half of the game.  Excellent win for the Sooners and pleased I could watch from the South China Sea. I had early room service breakfast as I needed to meet my excursion group at 6:50 am. We have 20 in the group organized by a nice Aussie and we were among the first off the ship.  Our bus was late arriving, but we finally got away to our first stop the Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters.  Here there is a museum and a series of tunnels that was used during the Battle of Okinawa.  Very interesting exhibit and the unique thing is that my uncle Bill was here during the battle.  Same uncle who got the bridge tour on the Voyager of the Seas a few years ago when he began to open up about his Navy WW2 service (radar man on bridge). I took a photo of the American fleet display and will pass along several photos to him as we are lucky enough to still have him at the age of 97.  Here the tour operator exchanged buses so we now have a larger and nicer bus.  Next stop was the Shikinaen Garden but the heat of the day made the walk around more difficult for many.  Not impressed with the Gardens but I did get a Coca-cola from vending machine. The next stop is the featured historical and tourist site on the island with a world heritage designation: Shurijo CastleShuri Castle is a Ryukyuan gusuku and between 1429 and 1879, it was the palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom.  I visited the exhibits, displays, and impressive throne room.  There was a lot of walking but I enjoyed my visit here.  Final stop was the Okinawa Prefectural Museum, a modern art gallery and exhibit hall, I actually spent most of our hour time in the tea room enjoying a Orion beer.  I may note that there are few buildings in Naha that predate 1945.  The bus dropped us off in the Tsuboya district at Kokusai Street for shopping or eating.  I did find Lucky’s, a small restaurant that features one of Okinawa’s new unique dishes: Okinawa Tacos and Tacorice.  I ordered three tacos customized with avocado and lime (like home) and a nice cold Orion beer. Excellent…best part of the day by far.  We were back at the ship between 3:30 and our 4:00 pm sail away.  It was shower and rest once on board.  I almost skipped going to dinner, but another wake up shower, and I was off to find my new regular friends at the Concierges Lounge.  We had two new guests join us for dinner and it was lively.  Tonight I ordered the Gourmet Meatballs, Jalapeno Potato Soup, BLT Salad, and the Grilled NY Strip Steak.  It was a good dinner.  The feature show in the theater was vocalist Conner Bogart, but I retired by 10:30 to the cabin.  It was a most interesting day in Okinawa and the Mariner of the Seas.

Monday / Day at Sea / September 4th / Day 4
Smoother seas overnight and I slept very well although still waking early.  I did some internet work and went out on the balcony as we sailed so very close to the northern tip of Taiwan about 7:30 am.  Then it was to the MDR for a nice proper breakfast, this morning I had Eggs Benedict.  I attended the Cruise Critic meet & greet at 10:00 and won a water bottle and highlighter in the raffle.  I enjoyed two very nice hot teas as I have a bit of a sore throat this morning.  I’m going for an alcohol free day today and I did bring my Mexican antibiotics.  So the plan is just rest today.  A bit warm and humid on the balcony today so...I went up to the Windjammer for some lunch and once I returned I watched a show on Netflix then closed my eyes for a nap about 3:30 pm.  I didn’t wake until 3:30 am so a very looooooong restful nap.  It was a successful rest & recovery day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Tuesday / Hong Kong / September 5th / Day 5
Fantastic views of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
Smooth seas overnight and I was up very early and hungry.  I went up to the Windjammer about 7:00 am for the first time. They have a wide variety of breakfast selections.  I had a small amount of various items including: steak & eggs, bacon, Canadian bacon, ham, fruit, and more.  Then prepare for the day and watch us sail into Hong Kong harbor from the balcony.  It is a cloudy and humid day.  We have a later arrival time of 10:00 am and are docking next to my one of my favorite ships: the Voyager of the Seas.  I booked a Highlights Tour with a private group so we only had 9 guests and a nice bus for the day.  We were off about 11:00 am and after passing through the Cross Harbor Tunnel from Kowloon to Hong Kong island we were on our way to our first stop, a Sampan ride in Aberdeen Harbor, the harbor used to be a fishing village, but now the location of floating city and huge floating restaurant.  Next was the obligatory stop in the Jade & Pearl market area, but a good place for a ‘happy room’ (WC) visit.  We then drove to the Stanley Market area passing through the more exclusive areas a bit removed from the city bustle.  Originally just a small market for the British residents it has become a large open-air market, but I made my way to the waterfront that has a variety of restaurants and I really enjoyed Cali-Mex where I had Tacos then a very nice beer.  We passed the lovely Repulse Bay and saw the beaches, exclusive clubs, and residences on our way to Victoria Peak.  This was my favorite site and most popular for most visitors to Hong Kong.  Victoria Peak offers wonderful viewing areas of the numerous skyscrapers of the city of Hong Kong and harbors.  A not to be missed site on a tour of Hong Kong.  We took the Peak Tram, a funicular rail, down the mountain and that was an experience as well. We met our bus then passing though the prime financial district of Hong Kong on our way to the harbor where we took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon.  This was a short, but very nice ferry ride between the two parts of the city with great views of the harbor and huge high rise towers.  Walking to the bus we visit the Clock Tower and see the Cultural Center, Time Ball Tower, and historic Peninsula Hotel. Final stop of the day is the Ladies Market a series of stalls along a narrow alleyway with a variety of goods for sale.  I spent my time watching the locals in the park.  With apartments so small children need a place to play so most neighborhoods have small communal parks.  We were delivered back to the ship about 6:40 pm.  It was a great tour with good people and hit the sites I wanted to see... so a great touring day in Hong Kong.  I had enough rest yesterday that I felt good and prepared for dinner strait away even having time for two Cosmopolitans in the Concierges Lounge.  We had five at dinner tonight, including our Scottish friend who joined the cruise in Okinawa.  Our waiters have improved each night and are now wonderful.  Tonight I ordered: the Pasta Carbonara as a starter, Boston Lettuce Salad, and the Baked Sea Bass entree.  The service was better than the food tonight.  They had a special MoTown performance in the theater, but I retired early.  It was a wonderful busy day in Hong Kong.

Wednesday / Day at Sea / September 6th / Day 6
Ice Under the Big Top
Smooth seas overnight and I had a nice sleep but woke very early…as seems to be the norm this trip.  We turned our clock back again so this is our third time zone, Indochina time, on this cruise and 12 hours off Texas time.  I stayed up and updated this review then went to breakfast in the MDR at 7:30 am.  They served huevos rancheros, but nothing like we would serve in Texas.  I had ordered pancakes as a reserve so a good breakfast.  I attended a short Bridge tour at 10:30 am that was for D+ guests, but I have had an extensive bridge tour, as mentioned previously, on the Voyager and it is basically the same bridge and equipment on both ships.  I went to the Windjammer for lunch then to the studio for the afternoon ice show: Ice Under the Big Top.  It was a very good show and the ice show is not to be missed if sailing on any Royal Caribbean ship.  I went to the Concierges Lounge when it opened at 4:30 to exchange the beer in my cabin for Coca-cola and actually had a wee snack as well sense the appetizers and h'orderves all looked so nice.  Once back at my cabin I decided to ‘take the night off’ and skip the C&A party and dinner especially since it's formal night. I had snacks, cokes, candy, cookies, and a selection of movies from Netflix.  Very relaxing evening and the sunset was nice as well. An advantage of all my cruise experience is that I do not have to do anything and not feel as though I am missing something on a cruise. (make sense?) It was a great relaxing sea day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Thursday / Day at Sea / September 7th / Day 7
View from deck 10 elevator lobby
Smoothest seas so far overnight and I slept very well.  I was up early enough to update review and begin uploading photos then down to the MDR and breakfast at 7:30 am.  It was Chocolates on the specialty menu so I just had a nice basic Egg breakfast with bacon, sausage, toast, potatoes, fruit plate, and hot milk.  I have enjoyed the service in the MDR for breakfast.  I moved out on the balcony about 9:45 and enjoyed a coke and the sea breeze.  I received an invitation for lunch for the D+ guests at noon today.  Dining with an Officer it is called and held in the Top Hat & Tails Dining Room.  It was a very good lunch, I ordered the Seafood appetizer, the Filet of Beef Steak, and Fruit with Ice Creme for dessert.  Senior officers came by greeted the all the tables.  The afternoon on the balcony was fantastic…cool with the breeze and as clear as we have had so far this cruise.  One of the feature production shows was tonight in the theater:  Center Stage featuring the Mariner of the Seas production singers and dancers.  They also had a special Ice Skating show for Crown & Anchor members this afternoon.  I went to the Concierges Lounge for Cosmopolitans and visit with cruise friends.  Then to dinner in the MDR, I ordered the Minestrone Soup, Lasagna Al Forno (as a starter) and the Aged Manhattan Strip Steak as an entree.  I was also served an special order Chinese dish of Angle Pasta and vegetables.  One of my favorite dinners.  An early wake up tomorrow so I retired after dinner.  It was a very nice sea day on the mariner of the Seas.

Friday / Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam / September 8th / Day 8
City Hall & Ho Chi Minh statue
Again I ordered room service as a wake-up call as I meet a private tour group at 7:00 am.  It went very smooth and all in the group were off the ship among the first, but we had to do the long 10+ minute walk to the port gates to meet our tour.  The group of fifteen were on the nice bus and on our way to Ho Chi Minh City at 7:30 am.  It’s about an 80+ minute drive to the city but went quickly especially since the bus had wifi.  Our first stop was at the famous Rex Hotel located along one of the main squares at the City Hall. (photo right)  We went up to the rooftop bar for iced coffee (I had a nice Coca-Cola) and enjoy the view.  The City Hall was built by the French in 1902-1908 in the French Colonial Style and has a unique history.  Driving in the city one is amazed at the number of scooters and motorbikes…much more than seen in China.  We then drove through Cholon, HCMC’s Chinatown, passing the huge Binh Tay Market…guides are smart NOT to let tourist wander there.  We did stop at the Thien Hau Temple first built in 1760 to the goddess Mazu. The roof is decorated with small delicately fashioned porcelain figurines expressing themes from Chinese religion and legends (see my photo album).  I purchased incense to hang and burn in the alter area.  Very interesting temple and more personable than the large ones in Shanghai.  Next stop was for lunch at Pho 2000 known locally as the place President Clinton stopped for lunch.  Our guide was the guide for Chelsey that day.  Pho is a very traditional Vietnamese dish basically a noddle soup with vegetables and beef or chicken with spices.  They also serve spring rolls and choice of beer or soda.  A fast, easy, and very good lunch.  We then went across the street to the Ben Thanh Market a great spot for souvenirs, food, jewelry, crafts, and more. We then drove through the high end shopping areas, hotels, and restaurants to the War Remnants Museum located in the former United States Information Agency building.  The name was originally the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, but has been changed several times to the current name.  A large display of war ordinance and exhibits of the war are featured as well as propaganda.  We than drove to Reunification Palace passing along the way the former residences of both General William Westmoreland and Ambassador Henry Lodge during the war years.  The palace was built in the 1960’s on the site of the former French colonial palace and it surrounded by beautiful parks and grounds.  It is open as a museum but we only visited the grounds.  We stopped at a Lacquerware facility but only a happy room visit for me.  Last stops were the Notre Dame of Saigon and the Central Post Office located across the street from each other.  Both built by the French, the Cathedral from 1863-1880 and the Post Office between 1886-1891.  Beautiful architecture at each and both historic buildings in HCMC.  We were then off on our 90 minute drive back to the port but we stopped and the guide bought everyone a beer or soda midway back.  Of all the tours I have experienced in 130 cruises this one was in the top five if not the best.  Transportation, all the sites, all admissions, lunch with beer, coke at hotel, extra beer, and guiding services. Cost $36 US.  It was an excellent tour at a value price.  If you travel to Vietnam-contact Zoom Travel at dungzoom@gmail.com.  Upon arrival back at the ship and cleaning up I went up to the Diamond Lounge on deck 14 for the first time.  They had the usual Diamond guest set up and it was very nice.  I ate on deck 4 of the MDR with a friend this evening and it was nice company and a good meal. Didn’t seem to be as many at dinner probably due to a late sailing.  I ordered the Royal Seafood Salad, Three Cheese Tortelloni (as a starter), and the Slow-Roasted Prime Rib as an entree.  All very good this evening.  I retired after dinner.  It was a fantastic and busy day in Ho Chi Minh City today.

Saturday / Day at Sea / September 9th / Day 9
Balcony Time
Smooth Seas over night and best sleep of cruise, I actually slept until 8:00 am that was actually 9:00 am with the final time change…we are on Singapore time.  We are catching some weather this rainy morning and that helped the sleep.  I decided to skip breakfast and updated my review and actually watched part of the Oklahoma State football game live (Friday night broadcast).  I considered the steak house for the premium lunch special ($19) offered today, but went to the MDR for lunch at opening @ 11:30 am.  I had a wonderful salad that they make custom for you and ordered the Gnocchi and a Steak Sandwich.  With dessert it was a very filling lunch.  The weather cleared for the afternoon so I was able to wash and hang out my ‘excursion’ shirt. Fantastic short sleeved travel shirt that is ideal for summer travel. I did remember to pick up my passport about 4:00 pm then I went to the Concierges Lounge for Snacks and Coca-cola at 4:30 and took them to my balcony for a great afternoon treat.  Perfect weather to sit on the balcony on this last afternoon of sailing…perhaps one of the best balcony days in a long while…not even the call of free cocktails motivated me to move.  I did go to the Concierges Lounge once dark for a cocktail and say farewell to the regulars…then to dinner.  For I ordered the Broiled Sea Scallops (2), French Onion Soup, and the NY Strip Steak from the everyday menu.  Key Lime Pie and Apple Strudel for dessert.  The Scallops and Key Lime Pie were good, the rest just so so.  After dinner farewells I retired to the cabin to pack.  I have decided to do the self debarkation so I will take my bags as I leave the ship in the morning.  It was a very nice final day on the Mariner of the Seas.

Sunday / Singapore / Debarkation / September 10th
MerLion in Singapore
I was up early, finished packing, then went down at 6:30 am for a nice final breakfast in the MDR.  I was able to watch most of the first half of the Oklahoma vs. Ohio State football game too. I did do self debarkation so went down to deck four about 8:15 am and was off the ship in about 30 minutes.  I took a private car (S$58) to the Historic Fullerton Hotel as it was the faster and easier thing to do.  The great news was that I was able to check in and get a room strait away.  I did book a ‘Heritage Room’ so that may have helped.  Wonderful huge room with a balcony on the river.  Great internet too, but unfortunately I was unable to stream the rest of the football game live due to U.S. copyright and I’m using foreign internet server.  I was able to follow in real time on Game Tracker and it was exciting for OU fans.  After the game about 11:00 am I went for a walk among the historical sites in the vicinity of the Fullerton Hotel (originally the Post Office) including the Old Parliament House, Victoria Theater and Concert Hall, and national Gallery (former City Hall & Supreme Court).  Most were built in the 1920’s by British interests. Singapore has too seasons: Hot season and rainy & hot season with an average humidity of 90-95%…steamy.  Also true about being strict about smoking & chewing gum…no gum sold in Singapore. I booked an after noon tour through TourEast and was picked up about 1:45 for a 2:00 pm tour. It was a type of orientation tour Singapore.  We met in Chinatown and our first stop was at the Merlion, half lion and half sea serpent…the symbol of Singapore.  Next stop was at the Thian Hock Keng Chinese Temple a very interesting Temple with shrines to Mazu and Confucius.  Next stop was an hour at the UNESCO National Botanical Gardens an old (1859) and historic Garden dating back to the development of the rubber trade.  I had a nice sandwich while there.  Next stop was Little India and it being a Sunday it was packed.  Mostly men as they work as laborers and come to Indian market on Sundays.  Fruits stands, groceries, barbershops, and restaurants, doing booming business. To be honest that’s as close to Indian as I want to experience.  I was returned to the hotel by 5:30 and cleaned up for the evening. I did an evening cruise on the river and harbor…amazing views of skyscrapers and area from the water.  I then went down to Boat Quay where individual merchants used to have their business…all now quaint restaurants and bars along the river.  I went to a place called Harry’s Bar for a Kronenbourg 1664.  The bartender spend five years as a bartender on cruise ships and made me a nice Singapore Sling.  Small world.  I returned to the beautiful Fullerton Hotel for the rest of the evening and rest.  While I was showering, the maid came in for turn down service:  mat on floor with slippers, water bottle and glass on bed table, TV remote in holder by bed, and a little bear with orchid on pillow.  Sweet.  A very educational day in Singapore.

Monday / Travel / September 11th
I was up at 5:00 am and met my driver at 6:00 am for the trip to Singapore airport.  I like the early flights as customs and immigration was very easy with fewer people.  I was boarding my 4 hour Hong Kong flight by 7:40 am without a problem.  My first time to fly on Cathy Pacific a very nice airline.  Hong Kong airport was a smooth transit as well and I boarded my 14 hour American Airlines flight to DFW about 2:00 pm.  After several movies, three meals, and a very sore bottom we arrived in Dallas/Fort Worth about 4:30 pm still on Monday with the 12 time zone change.  My Waco flight is at 5:35 so it will be very tight.  I had to retrieve our bags, go through customs, recheck bags, go through security again, then terminal change to catch the flight.  I made it…everyone was boarded and I was last on the airplane but I made it and arrived in Waco by 6:30 pm.  Unfortunately one bag did not make it to Waco from DFW.  Nineteen air hours and about 24+ hours in travel time, but overall very pleased with the long travel day.

Cabins - Crew
I had cabin 8690 an aft facing balcony cabin located on deck 8 on port side corner.  No aft elevators on Voyager class ships so a hike to the mid elevators, but the great aft view from the balcony makes this cabin worthwhile. Typical Royal Caribbean room plan. It’s fine for two people, spacious for one with small couch, button type safe, two electrical outlets on counter/dresser, Telephone on side table, Chair at Dresser, Hair dryer in drawer, and a small flat screen TV.  There is an empty refrigerator and as a D+ guest I had Cookies and four Heineken beers on embarkation. The bed and bedding were great. Good shower pressure and water temperature too. The ships crew I encountered were very friendly. My cabin steward was great, the cabin was always clean. The cabin came with a kettle that I’m sure the British and apparently Chinese appreciate.  I actually asked to have it removed for more space.

Dining / Food / Bars
I thought the Windjammer on Lido deck was only average and not as good as I have experienced in the past. The MDR food and service became better as the cruise progressed.  LOVED the Concierges Lounge and Diamond lounge.  Room service charges ($7.95) now for anything beyond a continental breakfast…too much for a solo traveler.

General
IMHO I don’t think the overall quality standards on this ship are up to usual Royal Caribbean standards.  Perhaps because it was based in China? I know they were transitioning to International guests with menus, signage, and more.  Hopefully a dry dock scheduled for her soon.  That said I really enjoyed this cruise very much...primarily due to the ports and something NEW and different for this old cruiser.

HiGHLIGHTS OF THE CRUISE

Ho Chi Minh City private tour
Experience of Shanghai (hotel, the City, tour, food)
Mariner of the Seas Concierges Lounge
Hong Kong and private tour
Fullerton Hotel in Singapore
Balcony Time


 ~~~  click photos to enlarge  /  click links for more information  ~~~


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