Number of Cruises: 16
Cruise Line: Princess
Ship: Sapphire Princess
Sailing Date: April 11th, 2005 (Cr
Itinerary: Beijing to Osaka
My first trip to Asia, something my sister and I have been planning for years and haven’t had the best of luck in putting it together. At first, I always thought it would cost too much money. Then around 1999, I started seeing good specials through Renaissance cruises. We booked our dream cruise (complete with balcony) on the R8. A few months before leaving, they cancelled the cruise and just booked us on another voyage of their choosing. Well being working stiffs we could not just take any sailing. We explained this to Renaissance and we could not be accommodated on a sailing that suited us so our trip was not to be.
Then a few years later we noticed Princess had some good sailings to Asia, so we booked again. This cruise was cancelled due to ‘lack of interest’ because it sailed the autumn after the SARS scare so once again, Asia was not meant to be. Princess did make a deal with us for a wonderful sailing on the Royal Princess from Manaus to Rome, which I can say did ‘ease of pain’ of missing out on our special Asia cruise.
On board the Dawn Princess we booked the Asia itinerary once again for April 2005. This was a 16-day Bangkok to Beijing. I began my research, and started reading everything I could on the ports we were going to. As the time drew closer we found out that we would not have the time to do everything we wanted to on one trip. We wanted to spend time pre-cruise in Thailand, as well as post cruise in Hong Kong. The other problem was we had to climb the Great Wall and that was in Beijing. We were not going to have enough time to do all this.
We started looking at the itinerary right after ours, and like an angel out of nowhere, we received a captain’s circle special for a complementary cruise tour in Beijing (including the great wall) if you purchase a balcony stateroom on the 12-day sailing Beijing to Osaka. We took a closer look at this itinerary. It would allow us to see the great wall, Beijing and still gave us enough time to stay a few days in Japan afterwards. All this and it would still only mean being away for three weeks from work.
We booked it and decided to leave Southeast Asia for a future trip. I started studying the new itinerary ports and really became excited at the opportunity to go to Vladivostok and the possibility of seeing Tokyo and Mt Fuji.
THURSDAY, APRIL 7 2005 - DEPART TORONTO
For years I was dreading the flight to Asia. I can take a five hour flight no problem, but once the flight gets to be 10+ hours I start getting antsy. With our planning we looked into the most direct flights from Toronto to Beijing and home from Osaka to Toronto. We flew 5 hours to Vancouver and then Vancouver to Beijing was just slightly less than 10 hours. It wasn’t too painful at all. We did the air through Princess but paid a deviation fee for our chosen Air Canada direct flights.
We purchased our Princess transfers from the Beijing airport to the hotel. The transfer cost about US$35 each and was about a 30 min drive. Cab drivers do not really speak English so unless you have a map or your destination written in Chinese I was not comfortable that I could make myself understood.
I remembered the Beijing airport being quite nice and very easy to navigate. Customs was a breeze and the people were immediately making me feel welcome.
TIP #1: I picked up a great map of Beijing free at the airport just before going into the customs hall on a huge escalator. This map was excellent and I never saw another one like it. Everyone was asking me where I got it, so look for things like this when you are there.
Immediately at the luggage carousel I found a porter and I spoke to him to see if he spoke and understood English. He got our bags and new where to take us when we showed him the Princess logo on our tickets. After he found our representative he then found out where we were to go and get the bus. Now, this is where the tip comes in handy.
TIP #2: Unless you can totally handle your own bags – get a porter.
Where we got the Princess bus was not right out the doors where all the cabs were. We had to go upstairs to a big bus loading area. The Princess representative did not even know where to go. It was our guy that led everyone to the elevator. Of course, he got our bags on the elevator first and he asked people until he found the bus and every one just follow him.
People were dragging their heavy bags themselves. We had four bags, so I didn’t know if $10 dollars was enough, since we went all over the place but he seemed more than happy. Furthermore, since he was looking after getting our bags put onto the bus as we went right on and got the front seats. So I figured that was money well spent. Thinking about him now, I wish we took a picture with him because he was the first local person we met and really set the stage for the others we would meet in China along the way.
Once we arrived at the Great Wall Sheraton we checked in to the cruisetour desk and got our room. This was all pretty painless. We were on the 15th floor which was the Starwood Preferred floor. I am a member but I did not give Princess my number or anything so I am not sure if the Sheraton looked up the names on their database or we just lucked out. I noticed that only us and one other couple were on that floor. Most people on our tour were on the fifth floor.
Our room was great! It was really nicely appointed, a great size and very comfortable. The large king size bed had great feather pillows and nice bedding and was a relaxing sleep. I was a bit worried since the reviews were sparse and not many positive ones. So if you are staying here – don’t worry your stay will be pleasant.
I remember the hotel having the most beautiful exotic flowers like ginger torches and orchids. Beijing is not a tropical climate so I greatly enjoyed them.
Beijing has a road network made up of many ring roads. The Great Wall Sheraton was located in the NE corner of the third ring road. It was in the right in the heart of the Embassy district so it was very safe. The only thing wrong with this location was there was not anywhere you would want to walk to. There was not a lot around the hotel. This did not pose a problem because taxis were so cheap you could get anywhere for next to nothing. The hotel prices were fairly inexpensive compared to American standards. This is why I was worried it was going to be a ‘flea bag’.
By the time we got into our room it was about 4pm. We knew this afternoon was one of the only chances we got to do some shopping in Beijing so we had planned to get right out there into the trenches and shop! The thought of all the goodies we were going to get recharged us after the long flight. Our plan was two fold, we figured we would be so tired after the shopping we could just flop into bed and fight any jet lag.
As mentioned before the taxi drivers do not speak English so you must get a card from the hotel that has the hotel name in Chinese to get you back. They also have a list of all the major attractions and shopping areas so you merely point to it to tell the driver where you want to go.
The silk market was on the list so that is why we decided to go there first. Just in the weeks prior to us going there, Beijing had started to rip down and attempt to clean up a lot of these older markets. We were concerned our shopping areas we had been researching were not going to be there. Do worry about this, as they have just moved them to new, more mall-like structures.
The doorman arranged a private car to take us to the silk market for about 21cny which was less than $3usd. It was definitely not walkable to the silk market – it was about a 25 minute drive and would be longer in traffic.
The weather was cloudy and threatening rain. This would be the worst day as far as weather was. We were so excited about being there, that the weather did not hinder us.
CHINA exchange rates April 2005
1 CAD = 6.89369 CNY 1 USD = 8.27670 CNY
1 CNY = 0.145060 CAD 1 CNY = 0.120821 USD
NiHao (knee-how) - Hello or standard greeting. Often said twice along with a nod or slight bow
SHOPPING IN BEIJING
We did quite a bit of research regarding shopping. What to buy, where to buy (in Beijing vs. Shanghai – another stop later on in the week).
We walked into the silk market and before us was a myriad of stalls of designer clothing knockoffs, copies and factory overruns. The market was in a very plain looking building of five or six floors filled with stalls.
Top floor – filled with kitsch and other Chinese souvenirs.
3rd floor – bolts of silks and other materials, robes, table cloths, scarves, pillow coverings and anything else you could think of.
2nd floor – clothing, shoes and more Chinese robes and materials
1st floor – clothes, jackets, overcoats, men’s suits, trench coats and anything else designer related that you could imagine.
Basement – this was the best place and we only discovered it 40 minutes before leaving. Here was anything & everything related to leather or vinyl. Luggage, purses, wallets, briefcases and on and on.
We started off buying imitation Goretex jackets. Now they may have been North Face jackets but they are certainly not Goretex. However, we got two winter coats complete with fleece jacket lining for $450 cny. This is about $20usd each. This booth was run by some high bargaining, high powered business women. We really enjoyed bartering with them.
TIP #3: The regular market-shopping rules applied. Try to buy as much as you can from one vendor, buy in bulk and work in a team with your shopping partner.
Once we made our first purchase there was a taste for blood and there was no stopping us. Here we bought silk pillow covers, some vintage Chinese 50’s era advertising posters, Tommy Bahama shirts, knockoff designer wear and some kitschy souvenirs. If you are interested in further shopping information you can email me at: StingrayNZ(nospam)@aol.com Just remove the (nospam) from the address please.
This was the first place we got taken. We bought the ‘little red book’ of Chairman Mao’s teachings on the souvenir floor. Near the end of our trip when Beijing was a world away I went to read some passages and noticed…..the book was in @#$%#& French!
TIP #4: make sure you check everything you buy!!! Check clothes for holes or the wrong sizes (hence the second….and last…time we got taken)
When we had more bags then we could carry we went outside to find a cab. To our surprise it was already almost 9pm, dark and pouring rain. There was only one cab waiting and he wanted $150 cny, out of principle we said ‘no’ but thinking back it was only about $12usd. There were so many pedi-cabs but we could not ask them to peddle us a minimum 20-minute drive away in the pouring rain. We decided to cross the road to a busier street to hail a cab. Well, it was a Friday night and pouring rain and hailing a cab was just as impossible as hailing a cab in Manhattan on a Friday night when it is pouring rain!
We eyed a McDonalds and decided to go in there to get out of the rain and have something to eat. We had a Big Mac to test out the quality control and for only a few dollars we both ate and rested our weary bones.
Afterwards, we walked and walked and finally stopped at another hotel thinking we could catch a cab. We finally did but even at this hotel it was hard to get a cab. At this point it was teeming rain and we bonded with the non-English speaking driver because all of us were nervously giggling at the times when we could not see the road in front of the car!
TIP #5: Make sure you point to the meter to alert the driver to turn it on or who knows what you may be paying at your destination.
I remember the fare on the meter barely changed and I thought it was broken. In fact, it was just really inexpensive. The fare was barely a few bucks and there were two of us paying so we doubled it and gave it to our friendly driver. He was so shocked that he was refusing it. When we insisted he thanked us like we gave him the world. I thought he deserved it and quite frankly, we were just happy to get back to the hotel.
SATURDAY, APRIL 9 2005 - DAY 1 CRUISE TOUR BEIJING
Getting up on time was no problem because of the jetlag. In fact, most people were up at 2am and wide-awake. Breakfast was between 6 and 8am. We arrived down around 7am to find no seats and no food. So from then on we went to breakfast after the mad rush but just before we had to go out to the buses.
Our first stop on the cruise tour was the Forbidden City also called “Palace Museum”. It is right in central Beijing and was the Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing (pronounced Ching) dynasties. Construction of the Forbidden City began in 1406 and emperors rules from here for nearly 500 years.
My reflections on this are mostly overwhelming and awe inspiring. These words I will probably use to describe many of the things I would see in Beijing.
This massive walled palace was meant to protect the emperors however, it is said that some emperors felt it imprisoned them. You cannot imagine the size of this walled city. Even though the day I visited there were thousands of tourists, it appeared and felt uncrowded. It occupies an area over 720,000 sq. metres and has 9,000 halls and rooms.
There was a lot of work being done and scaffolding covering buildings. I imagine there will be much more of this restoration before the Olympics in 2008.
After seeing The Forbidden City, we went to Tien’namen Square which is right across a huge boulevard from the walls of the Forbidden City. Tien’namen just seems a little more infamous in my eyes as my generation watched protests that took the lives of tens of thousands of protesting students. I was so affected by this visit, as I too, was a student during the days of these protests and could only imagine the oppression felt that would cause those to give up their lives.
The square was actually nothing as I pictured, even though this was the one place I was most familiar with. The layout, the size, the placement of the buildings and the feeling of it all, was not at all what I expected. This is one of the reasons travelling has become my passion. You can picture something in your mind and then you get there and it is not what you imagined at all.
Be very aware of your possessions in the square, I did get the feeling of many pickpockets and thieves that would grab a purse, bag or camera and disappear into the crowd. We bought some souvenir picture books and I was very nervous taking out my money.
There are all sorts of things you can buy from people wandering around so make sure you have some small bills handy in your front pockets. We ended up buying four books on different Beijing sights for around $3 usd each. Usually I buy the same type in Europe for about $8 or 10 each so I was happy to get them at that price. I found that generally the peddlers in the tourist areas (Tien’namen Square, Summer Palace, Great wall etc.) they bargained in $usd but they would take any currency. This way I found it easy to do some fast bargaining because I knew what I wanted to pay in dollars vs. converting CNY on the fly.
After seeing the square and buying my books we boarded the bus and went to a big restaurant for lunch. At the provided lunch and dinners on the cruise tour we did eat Chinese food and I always enjoyed it. I noticed most people were interested in trying everything that was offered. There were a few that did not want to try anything and I suspect they went on a forced diet for the few days we were there. Meat and potatoes were definitely not on the menu.
In the afternoon we went to the Temple of Heaven, also right in downtown Beijing. Here the peddling was rampant, it reminded me a little of Jamaica. There were two factors that made it unpleasant but I still can’t figure out which one was more against the law. Firstly, they all took US dollars which is definitely black market. Secondly, this was the only place they sold Olympic souvenirs. Obviously they were not authorized and the gear was not authorized. I would have preferred to buy the authentic Olympic wear but there were no stores or stands that sold it. Here the peddlers seemed to be giving this stuff away so if you’re going to buy wait until you are coming out and back to the buses because the prices really drop. I’m talking six hats for $3 or $1 each. They are not well made but by any means, but we all bought them anyway. T-shirts we bought at first for $5 ea and later the prices dropped even lower. Check everything very carefully for flaws. I thought my shirt looked black but it was actually navy blue. I have washed it a few times to date and it washes quite well and everyone loves it. I love my shirt, but I probably would not have gone through the black market garbage I had to go through to get it. I would just wave the people away and be on my way.
The Temple itself was very grand but by this time I had enough and was ready to see something else, like the pearl market.
After leaving the Temple, we headed back to the hotel and had a free night. We again took advantage of our free time by shopping the fabulous markets of Beijing.
We went back to the hotel, got some money together and headed to the pearl market. It is located basically right across the street from the Temple of Heaven, but our guide would not let us stray from the group and it seemed we all had go be delivered back to the hotel together. Our guide did arrange for a ride for us back to the pearl market. We were met by one of the managers of the pearl selling establishments upstairs at the market. She relentlessly kept showing us very expensive pieces of jewelry. Even if I was interested in buying any of this stuff, it was way out of my price range. We finally convinced her to show us something under $50 dollars and I did end up buying a pair of earrings I liked. She just didn’t seem to understand that we were interested in buying just plain stuff for a few bucks here and there not thousand-dollar pieces of jewelry. So if you are interested in such pearls you can get anything you want at the pearl market.
I believe through the last few months, they have been clearing out a lot of the older outdoor markets. I read in my Toronto newspaper travel section the original silk market and others are now cleared out. As much as I read people liked these older markets, I think I really preferred the new ones they were clean and well laid out. Even the pearl market I found to be too much. Picture hundreds of stalls with everything under the sun piled 20 feet tall. One area was clothing, another area was scarves, electronics, Chinese kitsch. You really needed a clear head for this place and after a full day of touring we needed easier shopping or we would have been defeated.
Some of our best purchases at the pearl market were silk scarves which we thought were only ‘silk-like’ but my sister saw the exact ones here at home for $49 each and my sister bought six for $2 at the Pearl market. We also bought some really cute wine bottle covers for 3 for $1. In our China town here in Toronto, I saw them for $5 each. We gave one to our beloved travel agent on a wine gift and it looked really great. It was like a little Chinese silk robe on the bottle. I wish I bought more because I realized only when I got home how cute they were. While we were at the market there were literally hundreds of thousands and you really had to go through them to look for runs and flaws. The more we asked “do you have more like this?…..the woman went away and came back with hundreds more. This was about the point my sister turned to me and said I’ve had enough. I said I would leave but to only go back to the silk market and she would have to brave it out!
On the whole, we thought the pearl market was too overwhelming to pick through and we preferred the silk market.
We went outside and caught a cab. With our card that had all the destinations written in Chinese, we pointed to the silk market and motioned to the meter. Once he turned the meter on we were off.
As it was we were quite a distance away from the silk market our driver took the freeway. As the driver went to exit the freeway, it was all barricaded off. I can’t understand Mandarin but I could see he had no idea why the exits were blocked. He tried each exit as we drove down the freeway and they were all blocked off. OK what was going on? We took the long way around and you could feel something weird was happening. We saw a pack of marching soldiers – something big was going down. I could see from the driver’s reactions that this was not too common. We finally got to the silk market.
First, we had to nourish up so we went back to the McDonalds around the corner. It was just like home and a third the price.
We went back to the market and bought more jackets from our friends right at the stall right inside the front door. We went downstairs to check this floor out – since we didn’t get to it the other night. We went down the escalator and my eyes almost bulged out of my head! Purses, bags, leathers and luggage! I wanted so many things and knew I only had time to make one deal.
Oh Yeah! We found out later on…. (back at the hotel) that there was a huge protest at the Japanese embassy due to some new history books that were being used that were re-writing history by not claiming atrocities that took place.
SUNDAY, APRIL 10 2005 - DAY 2 CRUISE TOUR BEIJING
The weather in Beijing was a very pleasant low to mid 70s. At the Great Wall it was about 10 degrees cooler and a great temp for climbing.
The drive to the Great Wall at Badaling Pass from Beijing was about an hour. I have a list of places in the world that I have to see in my lifetime. The great wall has been on the list for a long time. In fact, one of the selling points of this cruise was that it began in Beijing so we could see it. During the drive the landscape outside Beijing turned Mountainous. I new we were getting closer. With my eyes peeled out the bus window, I suddenly got a look at a walled structure, then, I saw it in the distance, The Great Wall of China! A structure that is said can be seen from space.
Once we got to the area where we could have access to the steps to start climbing up I became very excited with emotion and almost could not believe I was there. I just took my time and stopped often and kept looking out over the expanse and enjoyed my walk. I noticed there was a dusting of snow on the ground but not on the steps. I found out later that due to the snowfall the day before it was almost impossible for the others on the cruisetour that had gone the day before to climb the wall.
At this area of the wall, there is a very commercial area and a garrison type structure that you buy your tickets before you start your climb. At this point there are two directions in which you can go up the wall.
TIP #6: Where you stand to buy the tickets (if you are facing that direction) you can either go to the left or the right. There are pluses and minuses to both directions. The left is steeper and harder to climb and because of this, less crowded. Our guide recommended us to go this direction because you could tell the other side was already getting very crowded. We took his recommendation and I was glad we did.
We wanted to get a picture on a camel, just as our friends did on their visit last fall. We thought that was so odd to have a picture taken on a camel on the Great Wall. The day we were there the camel was not there. We went all the way to top of our section and no camel! Actually, the camel was there, it was on the more crowded side, so we missed it.
Choose your side accordingly. If you are not interested in buying the picture on the camel I would take the recommendation of Edward, our guide and stay to the left side. It was not hard to climb and I think having less people make it easier as it is hard to walk up steps behind crowds of people.
Wear layers so you can peel them off as you become warmer from climbing. You may also want to bring gloves so you can grab onto the railings and walls even if they look grubby. In fact I wore my gloves for most of my time touring in China.
At the top of the section we were climbing, they have someone you can buy a souvenir certificate of your accomplishment. They even have a laminating machine so it stays protected. You cannot say the Chinese are not enterprising.
For those who do not want to walk up, there are sitting areas you can sip tea and of course, shop. We spent about 1.5 hours at the great wall, which is about the minimum time you need here.
The great wall or as they call it the ‘long wall’ was built for protection against Mongolia. It is a true symbol of the tireless spirit and wisdom of the Chinese people in ancient times.
After visiting the wall everyone was in the greatest spirit. We drove through the Yan mountains and their terraced slopes toward our stop for lunch. We went to the Yulong restaurant that was attached to a ‘friendship store’ where you could visit a cloisienne (sp?) museum, change currency and shop. The good thing about this shopping stop was all the prices were marked so you got a good feeling of what things cost. Keep in mind everything here however, is probably twice as much as in the markets. If you were making any big purchases such as pearls or rugs I would buy them here because you have the confidence nothing is fake. We bought some pearls and I love mine. They were freshwater, but still a great deal. In Japan, they would have been far too expensive for me to justify buying.
TIP #7: Remember to check to make sure pearls are real you must rub them against each other. Real pearls will feel like sand paper and rough. They should not be a smooth texture when you rub it against another pearl on the strand.
The lunch was very enjoyable, however, I loved all the Chinese food we had on the tour. There were some who barely ate a bite. We had about 2 hours here total.
After the shopping and a fantastic lunch we were fueled up for some more treasures from the dynasties. We visited the Sacred Road, a burial place of 14 emperors. For the most part we just walked down the road and admired the gorgeous statues. We spent about 40 minutes here and then we had to get back to get ready for our banquet dinner with our Chinese hosts.
Regardless of the time we got back I was so bagged I had to have a shower to wake myself up or I would be afraid I would sleep at the dinner table. We had to leave 40 minutes to drive there even though it was only a few miles away because the traffic is so horrendous. The banquet was at the Beijing hotel and it was beautifully ornate in Chinese tradition. Everyone on any of the Princess cruisetours attended the banquet as well as all the guides and hosts. The grand ballroom must have held over 1000 guests. The night was a real treat, not only was the food phenomenal but there was a classical orchestra from the symphony and they had a soprano and a tenor from the opera. The performance was one I will never forget and the voice of the tenor made me very emotional. After dinner, there were many performances from children dance troops and they were so cute.
On the way back to the Great Wall Sheraton, I would say most people were sleeping on the bus from such a fun-packed day.
The hotel I noted as having the best location was the Grand Hotel Beijing. This is the hotel where we attended the Princess Banquet. Our guides said this hotel was the oldest, the best & very famous. It was over 100 years old and had a very long history. That would be the location I would stay at if I were to go to Beijing again
MONDAY, APRIL 11 2005 - LEAVE BEIJING TO XINGANG
This morning as every morning we were out at the bus by 8am. We said goodbye to our suitcases as they were going straight to the ship and the next time we would see them would be in our stateroom.
Today we were visiting the Summer Palace. It was located on the outer edges of western Beijing and the Monday morning was chalk full of hustle and bustle.
The Summer Palace was a palace of gardens used for entertaining for banquets, meetings, opera and other performances of the arts. The emperor went from Forbidden City to Summer Palace by boat down the rivers and canals. They never spent the night there, even thought the place had many palatial buildings and was unbelievably huge. The opulence reminded me of the palaces of the Czars in St Petersburg Russia.
The Summer Palace had a huge expanse and was on the shores overlooking a beautiful lake. It was very busy with tourists, pickpockets and peddlers.
We finished with a boat ride on the lake and then we were off to eat. Again!
This time we would visit central Beijing to the famous Quanjude restaurant that specializes in no other than Peking Duck. There were many courses and the duck comes towards the end of the meal so make sure you save some room. It is roasted and is enjoyed with a thick brown sauce. I enjoyed the meat but the skin was very fatty.
After lunch we took this opportunity to walk around the area of the restaurant as it was on a very busy Beijing street. The best part of the area was in behind, there were mazes of back alleys, almost a city within a city that you would never see from the street. This alley community seemed to me to be what the real Beijing was all about. These are the types of areas that are being demolished for newer buildings and huge high rises.
We then boarded the bus for the last time and headed for the port and the Sapphire Princess. The port’s name was Xingang and was in the city of Tianjin. Tianjin is the third largest city in China after Beijing and Shanghai. It was a 2.5 – 3 hour drive to Tianjin mostly rural areas. Tianjin is 120 km from Beijing. Tianjin dates back around 600 years to 1405, same time period that forbidden city was built. Our tour guide Edward lived in Tianjin and commuted to Beijing everyday. He told us that within ten years, Beijing and Tianjin would be connected as a huge megalopolis. Unbelievable!
I remembered people complaining about Princess having check in at the Renaissance hotel on the CC boards. In fact, this was a great idea, as the port area where the ship is docked had no facilities for check in and people to be comfortably processed. In fact, the Renaissance hotel Princess check in was one of the most organized and pleasant experience in almost 20 cruises. For those that were complaining because they did not want to do a Princess transfer, I’m not sure, but I don’t think you could just hail a cab a get into the port as they are all blocked off. I often think people forget this is still a communist country. If you are planning to get to the ship on your own make sure you investigate this.
We were finally boarding the Sapphire Princess and it already felt like we had done so much and been away so long….
Once we were welcomed on board we went to the room and unloaded our clothes from the tour days in Beijing and did laundry. The laundry rooms were pay machines but there was a change machine and a place to buy detergent and dryer sheets. We figured our stuff would be washing/drying during the muster drill.
We took a cabin on Caribe 735 on the port side. We paid a little extra to get the larger veranda that the Caribe deck offered. We choose the port or starboard side according to itinerary, often it turns out to be a port side balcony. We like to think it is POSH (Port Outbound Starboard Homeward). We had never sailed on the grand class of ships on Princess. We were not sure how the terraced balconies would be. This was also the biggest ship we have ever sailed on. The Celebrity Constellation or Radiance of the Seas would be the largest ship we sailed on to date.
We sailed at 7pm just as we were finishing up our laundry and sailing out of Xingang on a very misty and cool night. Air temp was 57.2F and the seas were calm. We sail through the Bo Hay Bay setting a east/north easterly course toward Dalian.
Usually on a longer or particularly special sailing like this, we would go see the Maitre D’ to check our table location and size. This time we just didn’t get a chance. We showed up and had a table for 8, which is a size we enjoy. This is the only time this has happened so far but the table dynamics were not great.
We are the kind of people that enjoy a lot of banter and fun at the dinner table. Both of us also look to the waiter for recommendations on almost everything. In fact, one of our favorite waiters we had was on the Constellation and it came to the point where he told us what we were eating for almost every course. They have tried all the dishes they see them all the time, not to mention they see what it looks like on the first seating so they know what looks good. He would often say “don’t get the lamb tonight because tomorrow it is much better” and so on. I would order the pasta and he would smile and say ‘beef it is!’
Our waiter on the Sapphire was a little too serious and refused to commit to a recommendation. If I ask what to have, I am not going to come back and complain to them later for making a recommendation. I asked him about a dressing for the salad and he said he does not know me well enough to recommend. However, if I go to a restaurant at home they have not seen me before and they still make recommendations. I asked him what one (dressing) he likes and he said ‘I don’t eat salad’. I asked him what entrée is the best tonight? And he replied, “everything is good tonight” Ok we all know some things are better than others. He then said he does not feel comfortable making a suggestion. OK fine I get it.
After dinner, I mentioned the experience to my sister and it was bizarre as she had pretty much the same conversation with the waiter. I felt since we paid a lot and this was a 12 day cruise, we should look into some other options. Having the same waiter and tablemates is the precise reason we do the traditional seating at dinner. The next day we decided we would go see the maitre d’.
TUESDAY, APRIL 12 2005 - DALIAN, CHINA 8am – 5pm
Temp 50F / Fresh Breeze / Overcast / Smooth seas
A Distance of 196 nautical miles from Xingang. NOTE: 1 nautical mile = 1.15 Statute miles = 1.85 Kilomteres = 6,076 feet. We traveled at an average speed of 18.8 knots. Before you get completely awestruck by my knowledge of our nautical course, I’ll credit that to the ship’s navigator.
I woke up just after dawn and very excited about our first day of the cruise. There was a morning dawn I will never forget. The sun was a particularly odd shape because of the haze and clouds, it was a bright orangey-red and completely exquisite. A good day to be alive!
Usually, we try to book our own tours and guides wherever possible. The Asian itinerary proved to be difficult to do this. We were also very concerned about navigating on our own and the language barrier. There was very limited information on CC regarding these ports and I found it hard to locate guides. So I hope my review will aid you to do more things on your own.
In Dalian we thought the kite flying looked like a fun option. We did a bit of a walking tour first. It was actually more walking than a tour as the students were not that comfortable narrating what we were seeing. In fact, the walking part of the tour could very well be done on your own. Unless there is something specific in the list of tours you want to see you could very well just walk around the city on your own. The only thing was, it was a far walk into the town from the port (maybe 30 minutes) before you start seeing anything interesting. The ship being large must dock at commercial ports. There is a huge monument of a soccer ball (football). Walk towards this monument and then just walk around the main streets. Take note of landmarks to find your way back. Most people do not speak English.
This day was very windy and cold so the walk was good to keep us warm. After the walking part of tour, but before the kite flying, we stopped into a small basement bar. It was very unusual and weird. We all had a drink and some odd snacks consisting of small cakes and black eggs.
After the bar stop we went to the kite flying park. This made the tour all worth it. The park was up on a hillside and overlooked the entire city and the cherry blossoms were still in bloom. It was breathtaking! We picked out our kites and had about 1 hour or so to fly them. My kite had the face of the dude from the famous Peking opera. After the kite flying we returned to the port. It seemed when there were students hosting the tour they may be 3 – 5 of them so bring smaller bills to tip – just in case. We usually give a $5usd or $10 and we had no money to split between them. These students are mostly college students who are majoring in English. Many of them were studying to be interpreters. They work on a completely volunteer basis so tips were very welcome.
The Dalian student guides mentioned how Dalian was a small city in China. With a population of six million, that makes it twice the size of Toronto, the largest city in Canada - where we come from. Dalian is the 3rd largest port in China, with Shanghai being the first and Tianjin being the second largest. We were lucky enough to visit all three on this itinerary and being on such a huge ship we were always berthed at the commercial piers.
After we left Dalian, Sapphire Princess rounded the Huanbai Zui Cape and entered into the Yellow Sea at a southeasterly course headed for Shanghai.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 13 2005 - AT SEA
Temp 62F / moderate breeze / sunny / slight seas
The days at sea are all about relaxation for us, after all this is our vacation from very busy careers. My sister and I are usually on the same page. This makes things very easy. We usually sleep in. On most sea days, if it weren’t for the lecturers I would barely be out of the room by mid morning.
On this sailing we were very lucky to have a lecturer from NASA. His first topic was on the investigation into the space shuttle accident. I won’t tell you the findings – you’ll have to go to the lecture series. He was an excellent speaker, very knowledgeable and well spoken. Sometimes you get lecturers who are very intelligent but very dry and boring. You know the types from the university lecture hall – I wonder why no one went to class?
Today was the planned day to meet our CruiseCritic group at the wheelhouse bar. We already knew one of the roll call members, a friend of ours from a previous Princess sailing. When we arrived, only Barbara was there which was great to see her however, unfortunately there was no one else there from the roll call. Afterwards, when I returned home there was a posting to the original roll call message board from a couple who said they arrived at the meeting time and no one was there. This was very unfortunate, because we were there and we even sat for a bit and stood around the bar. There were very few people in the wheelhouse bar and no one seemed to be looking to meet a group. So I am quite surprised by the post.
We made plans with Barbara to eat at Sabatini’s for brunch. Sabatini’s was the alternative Italian restaurant on board that has an extra fee. I had heard from these boards that the dinner was excellent and very much worth the money, but just too much food to consume at night. They do have a brunch and it was excellent. Sabatini’s was a highlight of our on board experience. The brunch really became popular as the cruise went on and it was often booked. Brunch is only available on sea days so get in there early.
The other onboard item that quickly became our favorite was the lecturer from NASA. We always made sure we were up and ready to attend his lectures on Space and other related topics.