Chose cruise for fabulous ITINERARY-Beijing China, Busan South Korea, Nagasaki and Kagoshima Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong China, Ho Chi MInh City (Saigon) Vietnam, Bangkok Thailand and Singapore. Weather changed from 60F to 100F, cool to ... Read More
Chose cruise for fabulous ITINERARY-Beijing China, Busan South Korea, Nagasaki and Kagoshima Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong China, Ho Chi MInh City (Saigon) Vietnam, Bangkok Thailand and Singapore. Weather changed from 60F to 100F, cool to uncomfortably hot and humid, and no rain except in Singapore. Some did pre cruise to Xian and Terracotta warriors but said they were worn out! We had 3 days in Beijing at the Raffles hotel, a superb refuge from culture shock! The breakfast was outstanding.
EMBARKATION luggage dump ensure have labels, group numbering broke down, Princess failed to inform we were Platinum grade and so had priority boarding and drinks while waited. Eventually just joined swarm! Luggage arrived at cabin in good time though.
CABIN Balcony was fine with reasonable room and storage. Most days was cloudy and misty so balcony and decks little used. (Unfortunately did not dock in Shanghai as port closed due to smog, so had 2 days in Hong Kong instead. Apparently happens often).
DINING Anytime in Savoy, Santa Fe and Pacific Moon worked well, we obtained a table for two going early-we are not unsociable, but find sitting on a larger table slows the service.Found menu a bit limited especially desserts, so used Horizon Court buffet some evenings as alternative, though sometimes busy. Food and Service standard very good but need to appreciate that an American ship will cater towards American, Australian and and Oriental tastes on this itinerary. However the buffet with plastic cheese, few grapes, spam ham, just one hot pudding disappointed. There were no theme evenings experienced on other cruise lines.We understand the ship was sailing back with all Chinese guests and signage was being changed accordingly.
We avoided speciality dining as we felt the US$25 per person surcharge was excessive, especially as the Sterling Steakhouse and Crab Shack venues were just roped off sections of the Horizon Court.
DRINKS were expensive-after spending US$45 on one bottle of wine and one soft drink with 15% service charge added, we limited our drinking! Appeared that most others felt the same and wine waiters in the theatre particularly were unemployed. The Happy Hour in the Wheelhouse Bar with Buy One get One for a dollar was popular, though the 6-8 p.m. timing did not fit with dining.
ENRICHMENT ACTIVITIES very limited. Just one guest speaker who had very good material, but delivered it too rapidly. Need more speakers over wider subject range.
ENTERTAINMENT only used theatre and piazza. Very variable in quality-Violinist, West End man and lady blues singers very good, production shows very average usual energy with electronic scenery and relatively basic costumes, mime artist failed to connect with audience though to not say a word for 40 minutes is not the easiest thing, Chinese folklore performance amateurish, piazza pianist and group good but not outstanding.
FITNESS AND RECREATION Gym usual average range of equipment, seemed to lack supervision. Enjoyed Zumba but 9 a.m. clashed with breakfast. Missed whist and bridge director. Usual trivia, bingo, knit and natter, art auctions etc.need some innovation if seasoned cruisers are not to become bored. Galley and stage visits were good.
SERVICE largely at an appropriate level without being in your face. For example not too much drink and photo sales pushing. Tipped cabin steward, but found hoovering a bit lacking, then again had 19 cabins to cover.
SHORE EXCURSIONS. Usual problems if you wished to do it yourself. Was there a shuttle or not? Was it free? Where did it drop off? What time did shuttles start, when was last one? Princess only gave some information late the night before. Will try and do a separate review on shuttles and specific ports.
Early ports we did our own thing-trams and taxis were cheap.There were taxis at all ports and could have done all tours much more cheaply than ship's excursions. However due to our ages &5/68, less stress and that holiday feeling, we decided to pamper ourselves and do a ship's trip on one day in Hong Kong, so we got an overview, and did our own thing the next day. Due to distance from port, high temperatures and humidity took ship's trips in Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok so we had an air conditioned coach and were guaranteed return to the ship. Grand Palace in Bangkok wonderful-but found 5 and a half hour round road trip wearing. (Would just do Pattya next time). Traffic meant real risk of not making it back to boat if did a private tour.
SHOPS ON BOARD AND SALES usual expensive stuff. The extensive retail offering of malls and markets onshore satisfied any retail needs!
OVERALL enjoyed culture shock experience rated very good, but cruise average. Prefer RC and P and O, but Princess has better itineraries. Entertainment and onboard activities need improvement. A cruise for over 55's not families!
Need small notes in local currency otherwise faced queues waiting at terminal ATM's or banks. Good quality notes best and watch switching scam by taxi drivers and traders, as are fakes about. Generally main attractions do not accept credit cards, or US Dollars (except in Vietnam).
BEIJING Flew BA direct overnight so managed to fit in visit to Temple of Heaven on first afternoon. Metro cheap but used Taxis also very cheap but need not just Pinyin (anglicised names) but Chinese characters to indicate destinations, even then some were illiterate so pictures of places even better! Pollution bad-a mask essential.Need a good hotel as a refuge! Raffles was nice and central, Concierge John Spooner was most helpful. Scale of city massive, all seemed a bit regimented with loudspeakers and armed soldiers in evidence. Did a whole day private tour Badaling Great Wall in morning as gets busy-used cable car 100 Yen each, then to usual expensive jade jewellery factory, and in afternoon Tiananmen Square, followed by Forbidden City, all quite demanding. Wangfujing Street usual western shops and malls but not on scale to be seen later in cruise! Distance to ship lengthy would advise a private transfer.
A number of ports now required variably your passport, a photocopy (supplied by the ship, a landing card/visa, a customs declaration. Found this a bit of a nuisance, but essential to visit these places.
BUSAN South Korea. Yeongdo terminal is 3 miles from city where metro and Ho ho bus can be accessed. Princess supplied a free shuttle but did not start till 12.30 p.m. Shuttle drops off near BIFF Square near Nampodong metro stop, and picks up on same side, fairly early 4.30 p.m. as ship left at 6 not 7 as published. Use lights to cross over road and go straight to 6 storey Jagalchi Fish market a must see! If then come out of market front and turn right can visit modern Lotte department store. City walkable. Underground cheaper stall shopping if go down to metro subways. Due to short time in port did not risk taking metro/bus out to Beomosa (mountain) and Haedong Yonggung (seaside) Temples. Ship had expensive tours to these places. Could do if took taxi from ship to nearest metro station.
NAGASAKI Japan. Docked at Matsugae terminal. City walkable off ship. Was unclear if could get streetcar Day Pass Y500 without visiting a large hotel or the Rail Station, but there was a desk selling them in the terminal. Decided to walk (slight rise) to Glover Garden 600Y first, (assuming correctly that many would head first to the Peace Park). Was an oasis with Puccini and culinary links, and 9 large expatriate houses to visit. Escalators helped! Walked down to Ouratenshudo-Shita streetcar stop and caught to Matsuya-Machi stop-thence at main street take escalator diagonally opposite up to Peace Park and sculptures. (You will see the hypocentre park to your right, leave till later). Then walk down to hypocentre park, can also visit museum, but having done Auschwitz we were moved enough. Then back on street car to Dejima stop -can tour the reconstructed Protestant Seminary, is also a mall opposite. Can walk or take streetcar back to ship.
KAGOSHIMA JAPAN. Princess night before "a local independent shuttle service will operate drop off near Hotel Sunflex. Will commence at 9.45 a.m. and last one 4 p.m." (All aboard 5.30 pm.) We went down at 9 a.m. and was already running! Was free. The Princess map was useless not showing the Hotel Sunflex. In the event was down from Tenmonkan shopping arcades, where can pick up local tram and City Bus tour.
We bought a Welcome Cute extended 1 day pass Y1000 in the terminal which covered trams/buses PLUS the Sakurajima Island Ferry and Island View bus etc. We walked to the Sakurajima pier, ferries frequent, but alighting from ferry queues for hourly Island View bus meant once on do not get off! Unfortunately the volcano was shrouded in mist.
Walked back to where shuttle dropped us visiting a dolphin display and hot spring foot onsen on way! Lastly took one route on the City view bus, but was single decker and sat down could not see much as people were allowed to stand. Queues for shuttle back to ship, but cleared quickly.
Alternative to above was to take taxi from port to Wakita City tram stop, tram then takes to Tenmonkan and on to Sakurajima ferry.
SHANGHAI Smog closed Wusongkou port, apparently happens often. Ships horn going most of night! So never landed.
Had found impossible to find out if was a FREE local Port Shuttle-even contacting local consular officials to no effect. The night before Princess said "Today a bus service will run from the pier to Huangpu Park on the Bund. Commence approx. 9.30 a.m. last one 7 p.m. Cost US$8 each way".
If adventurous could take taxi (16 Yuan) at port gate to Baoyang Road metro station on Line 3 with a 18Yuan day pass! Bus 9 is 2 Yuan if taxi too dear! Cheap and easy into Shanghai.
HO CHI MIN CITY (Saigon) No shuttle, only one to local town by local authorities to Bia Ria market 8.30 a.m. start, 4.30 p.m. end. Now getting hot! Took ship's trip for comfort. Visited lacquer factory-expensive but wonderful items-small ones could be bought on local markets heaper. Bin Than market inside but lots of bargains. Toured city seeing sparse cathedral, remarkable Eiffel built Post Office, City Hall, Rex Hotel and Reunification Palace. While ladies shopped at Dong Koi Street I took a taxi to the Jade Emperor Pagoda, dark and dingy with lots of incense but being used!
HONG KONG said would be tendered. Never found out where would be tendered to but assumed one of Central Piers on Hong Kong island.
In event first day docked at Kai Tak Kowloon terminal with free shuttles to Hollywood Plaza Mall or AMP Mall in East Kowloon, probably provided by retailers. Could access Diamond Hill metro from Hollywood mall, or Kwantong Road metro from AMP Mall.
We went to Hollywood Mall then took metro to Sha Tin stop, at front of station down ramp on left along to and left a short way along Pau Tau Street, then sharp left down an alley by a sports court to a sign to the 10,000 Buddahs monastery. 500 steps up but despite wild monkeys worth it. On return near Hollywood mall vsisted the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden.
Second day docked at Container port (ship moved in the night!) with shuttles to Kowloon Ocean Terminal. Went on ship's trip to quickly get an overview of Hong Kong Island-Victoria Peak and cable car (more mist!), Aberdeen and a sampan harbour cruise, Stanley Market narrow and busy, City skyscrapers.. Good value and relaxing.
In afternoon went to Ocean Terminal mall.-then took MTR (bought a Sold Octupus card for MTR etc. travel from station customer services desk-not available from machines, (got a senior discount and deposit balance refunded) crossed to Hong Kong island using Star Ferry, visited IFC Mall and lastly returned to Kowloon and walked Nathan Road and Temple Street night market. Ensure you remember where the shuttle dropped off as these malls all look the same-spent a worried half hour trying to find the drop off point!
BANGKOK Again took ship's trip but 3 hours there and 2 and a half hour's coach back was very wearing with temperatures 100F+. Meant we had to be on the coach by 7 a.m. due to likely traffic problems.However the Grand Palace was outstanding, as were the Temples of the Emerald and Gold Buddah's. Chao Praya river trip a little disappointing as tour operator had to cut it short as some heat affected members used a bus rather than walk to the pier, which was delayed by traffic. Excellent lunch at Royal River Hotel included. A long day.
Was an independent free shuttle to Pattaya 45 minutes distant start 8.30 a.m. end 4.30 p.m.
SINGAPORE Disembarked shared transfer by Wang Express who also returned us efficiently to the airport 2 days later. HIghlights were Botanical Gardens particularly the National Orchid Collection-take taxi to gate near Gleneagles Hospital, as is a big area! Also Gardens by the Bay trees lit up to music 7.45 and 8.45 p.m. each night with a sky walkway not to be missed. Cheap Chinatown market and Marieammen living Temple also good. Stayed at Pan Pacific Orchard hotel-very good breakfast and service. Handy for Orchard Road shopping extravagance with malls galore! Highlight though was afternoon tea and a Singapore Sling at Raffles-not to be missed.
Overall a wonderful trip, but not sure want to return unless is cooler and less humid! Read Less