We arrived in Hong Kong in the evening and easily found a taxi to take us to the hotel. It was approximately 290HKD with two large bags. The Marco Polo Hong Kong Hotel was located within the Ocean shopping centre which is adjacent to the Ocean Terminal, so we were able to walk through Lane Crawford from the hotel lift to the ship. A word of warning, although we were previously told we could leave our baggage on level 2, it was actually on level 1. The difficulty was that the only way to get downstairs was on an escalator, which, with two large bags and two sets of hand luggage was both dangerous and stressful. Once downstairs it was approximately 250 metres from the terminal, outside to drop the bags off so comfy shoes are a must. Also, once checked in, you will not be able to return to the shopping centre until the end of the trip.
The service onboard was phenomenal! Our waiter Mario and Assistant Waiter Dewi were both wonderful and lovely people. One tip is is to try and learn how to say thank you in your waiter’s home language, it really makes a big difference and goes a long way.
A disappointing aspect of the cruise was the Cruise Compass. While it seemed like it was full of information and activities, in reality the information given was often either inaccurate (winter-type weather reports), irrelevant (maps not of the port and where the ship was), and/ or insufficient(i.e. how to do it on your own).
Mustering was a little rude after coming from Princess. Don’t go early to your station, we were standing in a line for 30 minutes in the heat which was painful - wear comfortable shoes. The food was not great across both the buffet and dining room. DO NOT EAT AT THE BUFFET- I was sick for days.
There was an overwhelming majority of mainland Chinese tours on board, so the bi-lingual crew were fantastic, but it became frustrating when the adult only pool regulations were ignored by families with small children. Culture differences were evident.
The first port of call was Sanya, China. We chose to do the Sanya City Highlights Tour.
First stop was to a pearl shop, for those interested in purchasing pearls and who are familiar with how they are farmed and processed should stay on the ground level and have a look around as we only had 30 minutes here.The pearls were Sea Pearls that came with a guarantee and were relatively very cheap compared with fresh water pearls in Hong Kong and better quality than those found in the markets in Vietnam. The store accepted credit card as well as US cash.
Next stop was to a mountain where we were ushered onto a queue for an open shuttle to go up the mountain, which was a little frightening. After the shuttle, we were informed that it was another 30 minutes to go up and down the mountain. We were a little surprised because the tour was marked as suitable for all levels of fitness, however, this exercise was clearly an activity for agile people.
Next was to the beach. We were warned by the tour guide that handbags should be worn across the body and valuables kept safe. There is a hotel across from where the bus will stop where there is a clean Western bathroom which was fantastic. The hotel also has drinks which we needed given the heat. I would advise getting a small amount of RMB(this was the only stop where we required it) with $10USD worth, we were able to purchase one Sprite, a bottle of water and a cocktail. The tour will provide you will bottled water but it was not refrigerated and in such heat, a cool drink was necessary. Our guide had been told a different finish time to what was advertised as the ship’s leaving time. So watch the clock, a coup was staged so were on board before the specified time, luckily no one seemed upset about missing the local fish market as we are unable to bring it onboard and I have heard stories of people getting sick.
Hue/ Danang was the next port, where we chose to just go to the local market at the port itself. There were several little stalls with products ranging from silk scarves, kimonos, paintings (ink, silk and embroidery), pearls (white and pink) and other knick knacks. Multiple small denominations of USD was the best method of payment. Here, their poverty was very clear, so we chose to not bargain as $8 for an original oil painting is well worth the money. Local ladies at the market loved the white-ness of my skin and liked to touch it. In context, Asian cultures value white skin because it means you are wealthy enough not to have to work in the sun and have a darker colour, so I would advise more conservative clothing.
Chan May Port was the next stop with access to both Ha Long Bay and Hanoi. There were several security concerns at this port across shoes, taxis and boats, with both crew and passengers.
Firstly, if someone asks to shine your shoes, keep walking and if you are taking photos with the ship or bay in the background please be careful and very aware. Despite saying that I did not want a shoe shine, they insisted and took my shoes off me, took them away, cleaned and re-soled them, before demanding USD$25 to get my shoes back!! It took about 10 minutes of negotiating, yelling, and a friend going to security at the tender before I got them back.
Secondly, always agree on prices before you get into a taxi. The first man at the port offered $15USD per person (3 people) for 2 hours in a taxi to the market. It was a new car with leather seats, air con, air bags and a GPS screen playing a local music video station and our driver was wonderfully safe. He dropped us off, then walked around with us and helped us translate, despite his lack of English skills.