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Show the kids the world – on a cruise

November 11, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

We decided when the twins were quite small that the best way to show them the world was courtesy of a cruise ship. The reasons are simple enough – we could pinpoint the destinations we wanted them to see, we only needed to unpack once, and given the ever growing appetites of the boys, cruising is easily the best value way to explore…particularly in Europe.

Finally, I hate driving outside of my comfort zone – and that goes double for heading off on the wrong side of the road.

Fiona and I had cruised many times before – mostly on smaller, luxurious ships operated by Seabourn, Silversea and more recently SeaDream. I can thoroughly recommend all of them  – but they are not designed or priced for the family. After a long hard look at what was available back then I chose Royal Caribbean – and to this day we have not been disappointed. Despite the fact that the ships have got bigger and bigger over the years, standards have remained surprisingly consistent. I lash out and buy a grand suite with balcony that is easily big enough for the four of us – even now when the boys are adults. As well as a king – two single beds are made up for them each night. I can’t imagine being in an inside cabin with no view – but if you are happy to just use the room for sleeping – it is a very cheap option.

Last year in February we headed for Singapore and Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, a mid size Voyager class ship still big enough to accommodate 4,000 people! The seven night itinerary was a bit bland – Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi, Penang and Phuket in Thailand – but it fitted everyone’s busy timeframe – and brought the family together. Seven nights is really the minimum time for a cruise by the way – it is simply not worth all the effort for three or four nights.

Boarding was quick and easy – after plenty of bungles (Dubai last time round for example) RCL has got its departure act together. You arrive at the terminal an hour before your deck is ready – that was 10.20am for deck 10. People on lower decks were still arriving after 3pm.  Luggage is left at the dock and is delivered to your cabin later…but remember don’t pack an iron or any booze or it will be confiscated. We always head for the Windjammer café the moment we board  – it’s home to a huge smorgasbord of freshly cooked delights. Hundreds of different combinations of food are constantly being refreshed. Asian dishes, fish and chips, a steak, roast of the day, salads, deserts…the list goes on and on – along with your weight unless you are careful. Service is immaculate – plates are constantly picked up and tables wiped down.  Outside on the main deck enjoy a cone of yoghurt ice-cream – or two. Either side of Windjammer are to specialty restaurants – the Chops Grille and Giovanni’s Table – both highly recommended. You pay extra for the treat – but it is well worth it. Other food outlets include Johnny Rockets for a huge hamburger served by a singing waiter. There are two sittings in the main restaurants downstairs – the ambience is 5 star. The kitchen copes amazingly well with the challenge of producing quality food for so many each evening.  We prefer My Time Dining – you pay a little extra but are not tied to a set time. So, food is everywhere along with activities. Want to dine in? There is a special dinner menu for suite guests – Asian inspired starters like Paneer Palak – indian cottage cheese, sizzling vegetables and spices followed by Mutton Rogan Josh.

Go for a swim, play table tennis, sunbathe, go for a run around the deck, watch a movie, try ice skating, climb the rock wall, play basketball, mini golf, have a massage, see the show in the theatre each evening, go line dancing, try pilates, try your luck in the casino, dance the night away or join a karaoke party. Or, simply go shopping. Entertainment during our cruise included Ice Under the Big Top – the only circus ice show at sea. If you travel in a suite you can enter the exclusive concierge club. The goodies include free drinks each evening.

Port Kalang is a long way from Kuala Lumpur and as we had been there before we stayed onboard for the first stop. We had a day stop in Langkawi and a snap decision was made as lunchtime neared to visit the local cable car and skybridge … something new for us.  We only had a few hours before we had to be back onboard so it was with trepidation we departed and began the wrangle to negotiate for a taxi driver to wait outside the entrance and bring us back. After 25 minutes driving we arrived and opted to pay triple the price each of around RM100 in order to jump the cable car queue. We were on the longest free span mono cable car in the world within moments as a result. This is about a 15 minute ride…it’s smooth, silent, sometimes daunting especially when the low lying clouds cut us off and we no longer felt connected to anything. At the top we discovered that the skybridge was another long queue and a different skycab ride away.  I swallowed hard and looked around for options.  There were stairs. We decided it couldn’t be that bad could it?  Well the flights of stone staircases are so steep, some people were nearing tears as they clambered their way back up. It took us about 15 mins of solid stepping down with the worry of whether we would get back in time looming like a demon in our minds.  But finally we made it and the longest free span and curved bridge on our planet delivered views that were spectacular as we floated above. It didn’t bear thinking about at the time that we were suspended from a single pylon that had us hovering 100m above ground level. The bridge swoops out to fly its visitors across the dramatic landscape and it’s fun that you can’t see the end. Again, this isn’t for the faint-hearted and glass panels are fun for people like me who are not terrified of heights, but for those who are I suspect it would be heart-stopping. Heading back to the taxi required real courage as we had to face the steps of doom again.  There’s a railing but I feel this journey is fraught with potential accident. It was a great experience though and we didn’t regret a moment. I should point out that the ship has a series of tours available at each port – you can book through the TV in your cabin.

Next came George Town, capital of Penang.  The ship berths near the old town and it’s good fun strolling about the streets. Unfortunately just about everything was closed but we did rediscover a great coffee/internet shop – be sure to try Coffee Affairs, 21 Lebuh Bishop.

Finally, we arrived at Phuket, one of Thailand’s main holiday resort areas. The ship could not berth here so anchored and guests were taken ashore by tenders. All the usual activities were in full swing as we strolled along the foreshore – tourists were soaring above on parachute rides, too many jet ski boats were making a nuisance of themselves, the deckchairs were full of mostly fat and sunburnt Germans and street sellers were busy flogging everything from sun glasses to massages and cool drinks. After few hours in the heat we were happy to head back to our airconditioned cabin and watch the action from our balcony. The last few days of the cruise were spend relaxing at sea – a favourite time for me. Nothing pleases me more than watching the world slip by from the balcony of a ship – an icy gin and tonic nearby.

It wasn’t a cruise of discovery this time round for us – but it was family time at its best – far way from the real world of jangling mobile phones, never ending traffic, and bank managers.

Written by : Ian McIntosh

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