One of my earliest experiential travel stories was about cruising as an option for honeymooners. I distinctly remember that I had got in touch with several cruise companies including Royal Caribbean for the same. And many years later, I got an opportunity to take my first cruise with Royal Caribbean courtesy Singapore Tourism Board and Tirun Travel Marketing!
After exploring Singapore’s vibrant food scene and enviable sights, I was looking forward to boarding my cruise at Marina Bay Cruise Centre (MBBC), said to be one of Asia’s busiest and largest cruise terminals. Do note that you will need to do an online check-in into the ship in advance and this closes 72 hours prior to your boarding the ship. You will receive a SetSail pass at the end of the process that you will need to print out and carry with you along with your passport to save time from filling long forms while you board the ship. To ensure you can embark without hiccups ensure that you carry regular suitcases for checkin as backpacks and irregular shaped bags are not allowed for checkin and you will need to lug your bag. If you arrive at the port of departure at least 2 hours prior to ship sailing time, you will have enough time. Remember also not to carry any dairy products, raw grocery and opened snacks in your bags as Public health and Safety guidelines on board prohibit these items. The checkin formalities are a little long but you are directed at each stage and finally your passport is taken from you (so do not panic, this is normal) and you are given a Sea Pass Card. This card is not just your room key card but also what you can use to make purchases on board as well as the place where your on board ship credit is stored. So take care of it and ensure you have it with you at all times on board. Also if you time your formalities in such a way that you reach closer to 1:00 p.m. you will have your rooms ready to occupy!
The Mariner of the Seas
Built at Kvaerner Masa-Yards, Turku, Finland, the Mariner of the Seas is a huge ship. Well it is 1020 feet long, 157.5 feet wide and has a 29 feet draft! With 15 passenger decks, 16 passenger elevators, 4 bow thrusters, 3 propellers, 4 stabilizers it can host a whopping 3807 guests and 1185 crew members. The Main Dining Rooms can seat 1889 guests in all. There are a total of 1557 Staterooms and 939 of them have an Ocean View with 775 rooms having balconies. There are 618 Interior rooms that face the Promenade and 569 Staterooms with third/fourth berths. 26 staterooms have wheelchair access and all staterooms convert to Royal king size bed configuration and have private bath, vanity area, closed circuit, flat panel LED televisions, electric mini-bar, hair dryers and individually controlled air-conditioning. The other amenities on board include the Vitality Spa & Fitness Center, Beauty Salon, Solarium, Three Pools, Six Whirlpools, Sports Court, Rock-climbing Wall, Nine-hole Miniature Golf Course, Golf Simulator, Ice Skating Rink, In-line Skating Track, Jogging Path, Outdoor Movie Screen , Video Arcade, Peek-a-Boo Bridge Boutiques, Art & Photo Gallery, Medical Center, Royal Caribbean Online Internet Center, Michael Kors Boutique, Coach Store, IWC Boutique, Logo and Destination Store and a General Store. Well that certainly packs a punch and there is so much more on board that it will leave you feeling quite overwhelmed.
A royal parade welcome with Dreamworks characters like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar amidst a song and dance routine that resembled a carnival of sorts that had all guests on their feet was the perfect way to start this memorable sojourn. Meant to be a family destination, there is much you can do while on board. If you wish to relax, treat yourself to a seaweed wrap or a hot stone massage at VitalitySM Spa or simply unwind at the pool. Health watchers can work up a sweat at ther state-of-the-art fitness center or sign up for Yoga and Tai Chi classes or simply run on the outdoor track. If you feel more sporty, rock-climb your way to an amazing view, ice-skate in the middle of the ocean, play mini golf on a green that overlooks the sea and shoot some hoops at the basketball court. There is no dearth for entertainment options and Royal Caribbean’s original productions will leave you asking for more. Whether it is a Broadway style show, ice skating display or musical performances by the live bands, each experience is different from each other. The ice skating show is especially recommended as it is spectacular and mind blowing. If you are travelling with kids check out the Royal Babies and Royal Tots® interactive playgroups for children of 6 to 36 months. The Adventure Ocean® Youth Program for children aged 3 to 17 years old has a series of activities that are segregated by age groups so parents can do their own thing while the children enjoy under supervision. Shopaholics can check out the branded, duty-free shopping on the Royal Promenade and you can also try your luck at the Casino Royale. In fact a cruise compass is placed each day in the room that details all activities happening on board on a specific day with the time and venue so you will never miss what you want.
The stay includes meals at two of the restaurants, Windjammer Café (that has a long buffet) and Café Promenade (that has snacks and short eats apart from coffee). You can also enjoy multi-course meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Main Dining Room or opt for 24-hour room service (complimentary until 12 midnight, chargeable thereafter) . If you are looking for fine dining options head to Chops Grille and tuck in premium cuts of steak and fresh seafood. If you love rustic Italian flavours served with a contemporary twist, Giovanni’s Table does not disappoint. Or if you crave comfort food, get good old-fashioned hamburgers and fries at Johnny Rockets. Whatever you choose one thing is clear, there is a lot of choice as far as food is concerned. In fact if you are part of a large group, the Chef’s on board will cater to specific meal preferences too.
The cruise I took was a 4 night experience where the ship docked at Port Klang in Malaysia and at Phuket. We decided to take the day excursion to Phuket Thailand’s largest island and explored Patong. The day long excursion was a great way to explore sights like Karon Beach, Phuket’s largest Buddhist Temple and a performance by the lady boys of Simon Cabaret, Asia’s biggest transvestite cabaret show! The television in the room has a channel where a detailed destination video plays so if you have a visa you can even explore the destination on your own. However it is recommended to make a booking in advance so that you can be part of a conducted group tour that makes the experience more fruitful and convenient!
Behind The Scenes
Since I was travelling as part of a media contingent, we were lucky to also do a Bridge Tour with one of the second in command Captain’s of the ship where we were taken to the Captain’s deck that has not just the best view of the ocean but a great learning experience of how the ship is navigated through the sea. The tour was so interesting that the close to 20 minute session seemed to have disappeared in 2 minutes! We also had a kitchen tour with Executive Chef Anil George from India who took us through how the entire kitchen works with clockwork precision akin to a factory shop floor to dish out all the meals. Well coming to think of it the kitchen dishes out 14000 meals, 17000 rolls and 32 types of desserts every single day. The 130 chefs on board use provisions worth a whopping USD $60000 every day!
The cruise vacation was a revelation in more ways than one and I can safely say that you must try a cruise vacation as it is simply like no other. And watching the beautiful ocean and soaking in magnificent views with stunning sunrises and sunsets is a luxury like no other. So it’s time to get, set and sail!
This post was made possible thanks to Lonely Planet Magazine India who invited me for this wonderful experience.