This holiday was called the Walls & Warriors which started off with a 6 day land tour arranged by Cruise 1st during Chinese Golden week! Followed by a 12 night cruise on the Ovation of the Seas.
We started our journey to Xian from Edinburgh via Frankfurt & Beijing on 1st October. After travelling for a very long time we were met at the airport by a guide from CBT holidays, arranged by Cruise 1st. There were 4 of us on the flight from Xian that arrived around 2.30pm, what we didn’t know was that we would have to wait until every other international flight arrived with all the guests before we could leave the airport & that wasn’t until around 5pm so not a great start but anyway we were on the way to the hotel until the guide informed us that we were getting taken for dinner first & not to our hotel but a buffet restaurant 40 mins drive away from the hotel which we stopped at briefly as 2 passengers demanded to be let off the bus.
We were taken to a restaurant in a lovely building but so were all of the 8 coaches so it was pandemonium. We eventually got back to the hotel about 9pm & then had to listen to the guide tell us about luggage, labels, passports all stuff we really didn’t want to hear as we were all shattered. We were only 2 nights in Xian before getting the bullet train to Beijing but we asked to take out some clothes & leave our suitcase out the following morning so that it could be taken to our Beijing Hotel by courier & not on Bullet train with us. This did not go down well as all we wanted to do was get some sleep before our 6.30am alarm call.
We stayed at the Mingdu int hotel in Xian which was ok, didn’t really cater for international guests.
We obviously came on this trip to see the Terracotta Warriors but as we arrived during Golden week it was extremely busy & I mean thousands of people queuing to get in, pushing & shoving. It was quite dangerous but we went with the mass of crowds & eventually got to see the army so it wasn’t the big wow unfortunately as we couldn’t see right away . We then managed to make our way round & get some pictures. It was the same trying to get in to all of the pits.
Lunch & dinner were provided throughout this trip but we were a bit fed up of Chinese food after 6 days. It was mostly buffets with a couple of meals served to our tables.
The trip on the Bullet train was fantastic, 308km per hour but you wouldn’t think it. A subway lunch was provided for us for the train trip so that was welcomed- no boiled rice in sight!
In Beijing we visited the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Sq, The summer palace & Ming tombs & the Great Wall over 3 days with 5.30-6am alarm calls.
One thing to note if you are going to do this trip, what we wore in the morning we were in for the day & night, not once did we get the chance to return to the hotel to change or freshen up .This trip is extremely tiring but as the guide said we were only there for 6 days & could sleep when we got home!
One point which caused a lot of complaints that were advised by Cruise 1st only a couple of weeks before that it was suggested that we pay the guide £7 per person per day as a tip, this was then spoken about by the guide manager on the first night saying he would collect the next day & this would cover everyone, guides, drivers etc for the 6 days so that totalled £42pp but he would take £40pp.
Well this didn’t go down well at all, some paid all, some paid part & some paid nothing. We weren’t happy about it but paid & will be letting cruise 1st know. The guide manager told us this was their wages; there were 8 coaches so it worked out between £8-9000. This trip was advertised as an escorted tour, everything included so this was really cheeky to throw this in just before we left. We would obviously have tipped the guides & drivers but as a result of this they got nothing further from anyone. This did put a dampener on things & was a hot topic which Cruise 1st could have sorted out at the booking stage & added it into the overall cost of the holiday.
We enjoyed the tour, albeit tiring & the guides from CBT Holidays were very good, our guide Michael was fabulous on bus no 6.
THE CRUISE- arrived a Tianjin port at 11.30am & the terminal was absolutely packed with people, queues everywhere, I had read prior that you needed 2 photo copies of your passport on A4 paper (not enlarged to A4 size), a lot of people didn’t seem to know this so there were a couple of photo copiers & literally hundreds of people waiting to use them. We had to go up an escalator to get departure cards , fill them out & then come back down to wait in a check in queue, the queues were that big they were all merging , not a good start but all in it took us 1.5 hours & we were on the ship at 1pm. We needed to get a Chinese visa prior to travelling at the Chinese Visa centre in Edinburgh £151 pp but the people with the 144 hour free visa were taken aside at the last customs point to have paperwork checked, you had to tell them hotel details were you had been staying before the cruise so have all that info ready if you get the free visa.
Our balcony cabin on deck 7 was ready as soon as we stepped onboard & luggage was in the corridor, always look around as sometimes not right outside your cabin.
The ship is huge but easy to navigate. As this ship was built for the Asian market the shops are very high end, Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Cartier etc. With the usual sales? In the Royal Esplanade most days. 2 days at sea greatly welcomed to recover from our hectic 6 day trip & get used to our new surroundings.
We had pre booked drinks package, North Star (complimentary on this cruise) & Ifly also complimentary. The bar staff were amazing & would make you any cocktail, not pre made like some cruise lines. We enjoyed the food, ate in Windjammer a couple of times, such a vast selection of food if you can’t find something you like in there well there is something wrong with you. Also ate in American Icon & Silk both my time dining restaurants. We had also bought the 5 night dining package so ate in Wonderland (strange but worth a try) Chops Grille, Izumi & twice in Jamie’s as that is the best restaurant on the ship! Two 70 lounge was good for breakfast & lunch & Sorrento’s for late night pizza.
We visited Okinawa, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam & Singapore. Okinawa- shuttle bus into town then walked to the market. We then got a taxi for $8 to the former hq of the Japanese Navy- Underground tunnels. We also rode on the Monorail to Shuri Castle then back to the main street to get the shuttle bus, plenty of shops here & easy to get around by yourself. Taiwan- shuttle bus into Keelung then we shared a cab to Taipei as we had pre booked tickets for Taipei 101. One thing I will say is why do Royal Caribbean take you to container ports then charge you to get off the ship? $10 or $20 for a shuttle bus to the nearest town i.e. Keelung which is still half an hour from Taipei. Shuttles from these ports should be included, felt a bit ripped off. Taxi to Taipei actually was $20 for 4 of us so we should have just got a taxi from the port, we got the train back & it cost a couple of pounds.
Hong Kong - free shuttle to nearest mall (Diamond Hill i think) then easy to get underground over to Hong Kong & star ferry back, went to ladies market before returning to mall to get shuttle to ship.
Ho Chi Minh- RC tour - Panoramic bus tour- good value.
We had a fabulous private tour in Chan May with Andy Hoi an tours to Ba Na Hills & the golden bridge. The ship didn’t even offer this as an excursion although the bridge is only months old so that is maybe why.
On the ship we enjoyed Martin the singer in the Amber & Oak pub, he had us partying every night, there was a good band called Kinetic in the Music Hall. Other acts like the comedian & the balloon guy didn’t go down too well & we are not big INXS fans so 4 nights of that wasn’t our cup of tea. There was a 70’s party in 270 1 night, the place was packed then they stopped the music at 11.40pm & told us to go to other venues that were playing slow music! I was disappointed that there were no deck parties even on the beautiful night we were leaving Hong Kong & the deck was packed they had a film on which was so inappropriate, Jurassic world I think with dinosaurs roaring spoiled the beautiful sail away. Pixels was the only show we had to book & I loved the Vegas style show in the theatre, Live,love,legs.
Unfortunately we had 2 medical emergencies on the 2nd last night & one of our passengers passed away. The other had to be taken off the ship which meant we had to turn back to Vietnam & we were 5 hours late in getting to Singapore, this was ok for us as we were going to a hotel but the queues were enormous at guest services trying to sort passengers out. The last night actually ended up like a proper party night as we were told we could stay in our cabin until 11am on departure day & all venues were open for breakfast & lunch. Lots of people stayed up late because of this & we had a thoroughly enjoyable last night (sorry for the man who took ill).
As a result lots of passengers decided to self disembark with luggage at 12 noon. This wasn’t handled well by the staff & the queues to get off the ship were not managed at all until it was brought to their attention before a fight broke out!
We had a fabulous trip& met some fabulous people, the ship is very modern & some people in our group did not like it, said it was like living in a shopping centre, I missed the theme nights & deck parties (didn’t get to wear the Hawaiian frock!) but overall the staff & food were very good.In fact the staff were excellent. We enjoyed the bionic bar that was included in the drinks package as were the coffees in Two70 lounge & the cafe on the esplanade.
Sorry for the long review but this trip is happening again next year on Quantum so maybe help some people.
Balcony cabin was lovely, bed by the balcony doors.Looked after by Joel.Deck 7 is above the lifeboats so no obstruction at all.