This blog is all about boats. From huge cruise liners to small canoes, It’s all here. If you are afraid of flying and sea travel is your thing then read on. Very often we hear that the journey is more important than the destination, and if you are one of those that believes in this, then taking a cruise to your holiday destination can be more enjoyable than being stuck on a pressurized metal tube up in the air for hours. And you also get to sleep on a proper bed instead of being cramped onto a small economy class seat, especially on long haul flights.
Just last March, we decided to go on a short cruise from Singapore to Phuket on Royal Caribbean’s Ovation of the Seas. This is also one of the largest cruise liners to make an inaugural port of call to Singapore. The cruise to Phuket lasts for 5 days. Leaving Singapore in the evening, we spent 2 nights at sea before reaching Phuket on the third day just before dawn. The port call at Phuket is for the whole day before leaving in the evening again to go back to Singapore. It’s another 2 nights at sea before reaching Singapore in the morning.
Going below decks, there are the usual shops and restaurants for passengers, and entertainment outlets for all ages.
Personally, I find that spending too long a time on the ship does get on my nerves. There is only so much you can see and experience in a day before getting bored. Anyway, that is me. For others, the slow pace of waiting for the next port of call can be a blessing in our super fast paced world where everything is in a rush. It harkens to the days before planes were invented and sailing ships were the only means of transport to faraway countries. Sea voyages took months compared to the mere days it takes now.
Time does pass quickly if you try out some of the activities onboard. Although with the huge number of passengers (4,000 plus on our cruise), it meant that long queues for popular activities and restaurants during meal times was a frustrating experience. Thankfully, rides like the North Star, Florider and iFly require advanced reservations, so you don’t have to queue for a couple of hours just to ride them.
Spending 2 nights at sea is somewhat manageable and on the third day we found ourselves anchored off Phuket’s Patong Beach.
Phuket is the largest island in Thailand and also probably the first to be commercialized for tourism. As such, most of the island is well developed with a full range of hotels, shopping malls and luxury apartments being constructed, even now. Looking around, you won’t see any traces of the tsunami that hit the island in 2004. If you want to get away from the crowds, you would have to leave Phuket for the other islands around it.
For most tourists, getting away means taking a boat to Phang Nga Bay or Phi Phi Islands which are close by to Phuket.
For each port of call, several types of shore excursions are offered and depending on your interest, you can choose which ones you like. Otherwise, it’s also perfectly ok to go onshore without joining any organized tours. You just have to be mindful of the timing to return to the ship otherwise it will sail without you.
For myself, I chose to go with the sea caves canoeing tour. I’ve been to Phuket decades ago and much has changed, but this time I decided to try something a little more adventurous instead of the usual sight-seeing. There are other tours that will bring you to see cultural stuff like temples and shopping trips.
For joining a particular shore excursion, each passenger was given a number and we were to look for our guide who was holding a sign with our number on it after we landed on the jetty. Well, I was in group Number 1 and I had to find someone holding a sign with the Number 1 on it. After finding my guide, we waited for the whole group to assemble before walking to the bus which will bring us to another jetty from which we will depart for the sea caves.
Phang Nga Bay is a shallow bay consisting of 42 islands. The islands are mainly limestone and over the years, erosion has formed a system of caves in some of these islands. One of the more famous islands in Phang Nga Bay is James Bond Island as it is usually called. This is a limestone stack that sticks out of the sea and was featured in the old James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun.
Today we were going to canoe through some of these caves. How exciting!
After the lunch onboard the boat, we came to our last stop of the day which was to swim at a beach on one of the larger islands.
After the beach swim we headed back to Phuket, and the bus brought us back to Patong Beach. The shore excursions are well organized and will bring you back to the cruise on time. We got back to Patong Beach by 3pm and even had some time for a 2 hours Thai massage since the last timing to board the ship was 7pm. Getting back on the ship is simple; just go to the jetty and show your cruise pass to be let onboard any of the waiting tender boats.
One thing to note is that fresh fruits and meats are not allowed to be brought back onto the ship. So forget about bringing onboard that Thai mango glutinous rice dessert, or Thai coconut that you wanted to eat in your cabin. Re-entering the ship is like going through immigration and customs at the airport with X-ray scanners and metal detectors. So any contraband items will be confiscated.