Two Days in Hong Kong

Two Days in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is very beautiful! It is the world’s fourth-most densely populated region, has many parks spread throughout, a spectacular waterfront along Victoria Harbour, a cruise port, Disneyland, and hosts the largest number of skyscrapers in the world. It is definitely a sight to behold. In this post, we will discuss our post-cruise two-day itinerary in the Hong Kong regions of Kowloon, Lantau Island, and Hong Kong Island.

Photo Credit: Discover Hong Kong

Mini History Lesson

Hong Kong is located on the eastern side of the Pearl River in southern China. It is not technically its own country but rather a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (HKSAR). Hong Kong was a colony of the British Empire from 1842 until 1997, when the territory was returned to China as a SAR. Hong Kong maintains a separate government and economic system from mainland China. They welcome a whopping 60+ million tourists annually.

Day One

We arrived in Hong Kong via cruise ship. Click here if you are interested in reading our Royal Caribbean Cruise Through Asia post. What a beautiful port!! Pulling in was so picturesque. You have a view of this futuristic customs building with a green roof, the city behind it, and mountains behind that. Total “WOW, welcome to Hong Kong” moment as we pulled into port. We departed the boat early at 7:00am because we wanted to maximize our short time in Hong Kong. Since there is no train right at the cruise terminal, we took a bus to the train station. From there, we took a train towards the area where our hotel was located. We walked a few minutes to the hotel. The block we walked down seemed like nearly every store was selling bathroom fixtures (sinks and toilets).

Photo Credit: Kai Tak Cruise Terminal

The Novotel Century Hotel (238 Jaffe Road, Wanchai, Hong Kong), located on Hong Kong Island, was worth the hour and a half public transit commute. We knew that we were arriving well before check-in, so we packed bathing suits, cover-ups, and flip flops in our carry-ons. The hotel stored our bags, and we went to the rooftop pool to cool down (it was sooo HOT outside) and lounge around. Not much of a view, but the pool was very nice and relaxing. There were only a few other people there with us. The reception desk ended up calling us to check in early. Our room was very spacious with a really nice bathroom. We only had two days in Hong Kong, so we knew that we would not be spending too much time in the room, but it was nice to have space to open our bags, hang clothes, and unpack a bit.

Photo Credit: Novotel

After we quickly settled in, we changed and headed out for our first day. First thing on the itinerary was to visit the Hong Kong Maritime Museum (11 Man Kwong St, Central, Hong Kong) located on Hong Kong Island right on Victoria Harbour. Entry was 30 HKD or $3.83 USD. This was the best maritime museum we had ever been to. They showcased a diverse set of artifacts ranging from art, ship models, diver gear, geographic renderings, and maps. They also had a large exhibit for children that explained where drinking water comes from and how water is cleaned after it is soiled. The museum has a cafe on the top floor if you had wanted to enjoy breakfast or lunch with a view over the water. For the price, this is a must-see!

After the museum, we strolled along the waterfront past The Hong Kong Observation Wheel and AIA Vitality Park (33 Man Kwong St, Central, Hong Kong). It was an incredibly hot day, so we stopped to get ice cream and did not end up riding the Ferris wheel. It did look awesome though. From the top, you probably have an incredible view during day or night. The wheel is covered in neon lights at night. Even if you don’t ride, it is still a great photo opportunity.

We walked to the bus stand near the piers with the intention of going to our next destination. Little did we know, you had to have exact change to ride the bus. We only had large bills from the bank. A really nice local could tell we were confused tourists. She offered to pay for our ride and even made sure we got off where we were supposed to.

We got off the bus at The Peak Tram Lower Terminus. Total price for the tram ride up the mountain to Victoria Peak and back down with 360° view from highest elevation was 99 HKD or $12.62 USD. The queue to buy tickets and get on a tram was really long. When we finally got on the tram, we were lucky enough to claim seats. It was a long ride up the mountain, and with the steep incline it would have been uncomfortable to stand. The optical illusion of tilted skyscrapers was really awesome. Buildings look like they are leaning a gradient of between 4 to 27 degrees. Total mind trip.

When we got to the top, there were many shops and restaurants. We didn’t eat at Burger King, but they have a balcony overlooking the skyline, so we went outside just to take daytime pictures of the skyline view.

Next, we went back inside and found an activity that was totally free: It was many wall murals with twisted perspectives. When you stand next to or on it, it makes it look like you are a part of that scene. We had so much fun in this area.

Next, we had a tasty sunset sushi dinner overlooking the Harbour. We felt the prices were high at every restaurant at the Peak. Obviously, it’s a bit of a tourist trap, but being that you have to pay just to get up there, we didn’t mind spending a little more on food to extend our time. A quick note on sushi in Asia: Sometimes when you order shrimp, they are served totally raw. We don’t find that much in America, so we were a little “shell” shocked (pun intended).

After we finished dinner, we headed up to the Sky Terrace 428, the highest viewing platform in Hong Kong with 360° views of the city. Due to the time of day we picked for this activity, we were able to see the final transition from daytime to nighttime while up here. I think that was the best because we captured daytime and nighttime photos. At night, the city comes to life with every skyscraper lighting up. There is even a light show on several of the buildings. My tip is to pre-download the app so you can listen to the music while you watch. We hadn’t known there was music or an app. At the top of the Peak, cellphone signal was slow so we couldn’t download it. We still thoroughly enjoyed the show even without the music. We stayed upstairs to watch it twice! For the first show, we were a few rows back from the railing. Then, when people left, we took their spots in the front row. For the second show, we had a way better view. It is seriously crowded in the Sky Terrace, so if crowds aren’t your thing, then maybe visit earlier in the day. The nighttime show is the busiest time of day at the Peak.

After the show we waited in a very long queue to get back on the tram down the mountain. By that point, we were fed and got the photos we had wanted for the day, so we didn’t mind waiting in lines, but it was really long. If you can’t stand for long periods of time, then either wear comfortable shoes, or avoid the tram and ride a bus instead. It was really dark going down the mountain, and the view was not as good as during the day, so if you were to ride the tram only one way, then ride it up the Peak and during the daytime.

When we got off, we walked to the train and headed back to our hotel. That was a wrap on a jam-packed Day One!

Day Two

We started our day early because we were headed to Disneyland Hong Kong!! It is on my bucket list to visit every Disney theme park, so of course I couldn’t be in Hong Kong and miss this attraction.

Travel to the park was easy and enjoyable but lengthy. In total, the commute was about an hour from our hotel. We took the orange Tung Chung Line northwest till we arrived at Sunny Bay Station (before the Hong Kong Airport). Some of this trip was below and above ground, so the changing views helped time pass faster. From this stop, we transferred to the pink Disneyland Resort Line that took us directly to the Disney property. The Disneyland Resort Line train is not like the other MTR trains. This train was clearly paid for by Disney and branded adorably. The windows and hand supports are shaped like Mickey Mouse heads, there are bronze Disney character figurines displayed in each car, and the seating is comfortable and plush.

Hong Kong Disneyland is one park that includes seven themed lands: Adventureland, Toy Story Land, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Grizzly Gulch, Mystic Point, and Main Street USA. The iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle is the park’s centerpiece. If you have been to other “Disneyland” parks in the world, or Orlando’s Disney World, then you will note that this park has a similar vibe of lands surrounding a castle. The public areas in this park occupy 68 acres. There are 12 Disney Parks in the world, and Hong Kong Disneyland is ranked second- smallest just above Walt Disney Studios Paris.

Tickets were about 650 HKD, which was approximately $82 USD. We arrived at the Park just as gates were opening. It was a Thursday and didn’t seem as crowded as other Disney Parks we have visited. We didn’t ever wait more than 20 minutes in line for a ride, which was awesome. It was April, so the park was all dressed up for Easter with character eggs all over the park. In comparison to other Disney Parks we’d already visited around the world, Hong Kong Disneyland was very similar. I think the coolest rides for us were Mystic Manor (similar to Haunted Mansion but less scary and no ghosts), Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Car (similar to Thunder Mountain), It’s a Small World (see if you can spot the hidden Disney characters among the regular Small World characters), and the Toy Story RC Racer. Hubby also really liked the Iron Man Experience ride.

We stopped into the City Hall guest services building off of Main Street USA and asked if they gave away free celebratory pins (like they do in Orlando). We were on our honeymoon and brought our “Just Married” pins from Orlando. We figured we could show them just in case they hadn’t known what we were talking about, or if they didn’t give away pins we could wear the ones we already owned. Lucky for us, they did have pins! So the first souvenir we got from that park was totally free. The parks usually have a pin or sticker you can get for free to show staff you are celebrating something: first visit, birthday, anniversary, or wedding. All you have to do is go to guest services and ask.

One silly thing we noticed in every gift shop were character-branded nail clippers. Not sure what the infatuation with nail clippers is all about, but they had walls full, and not just in Disney—they were all over Hong Kong. They were even sold in family packs. How many nail clippers does one family need? haha

There was some construction throughout the park due to an upcoming expansion with additions of Frozen, Moana, and Marvel lands. Disney is also totally overhauling the central castle. It will no longer be the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle, but instead a larger newly-envisioned castle that features elements from many different Disney Princesses. The full expansion is set to be completed by 2023, although some elements will come online sooner than others. I may have to book my next Hong Kong trip for after the expansion is complete!☺

Due to the castle being under construction, there was no nightly fireworks display. We had arrived when gates opened, hardly waited in lines, and completed all the rides, so we decided to leave the park early just after lunchtime. We missed the Lion King show, because the next show was a three-hour wait away. We didn’t want to wait around for hours just to see one show. In hindsight, we should have planned out our timing better and known the show times so we didn’t miss it. I’ve read online that it’s spectacular.

We took the Disneyland Resort Line train back to the MTR Sunny Bay Station, then transferred to the MTR and headed back to the heart of Hong Kong. Since we still had half a day left, we went straight to the Hong Kong Space Museum. The museum was educational, included interactive activities, had several great photo ops, was fully indoors and air conditioned, but it was on the smaller side in comparison to other space museums we’ve been to. We didn’t add on the special exhibit, because there were many school groups in attendance that Thursday and we felt that portion of the museum would be too crowded. We probably spent over an hour in the museum.

After the museum, we took a stroll along the Victoria Harbour waterfront to Harbour City Shopping Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong. There was a wide array of stores, and most were high-end. We ate dinner nearby in McDonald’s. We love to eat McDonald’s once in every country we travel to so we can compare to American McD’s. We almost always feel the quality overseas is better. We also enjoyed McDonald’s in Asia in general, because they had really different menu options compared to North America and Europe.

When we left the mall, it was raining. We stumbled upon the Golden Harvest Grand Ocean Cinema which was close by the mall. The Avengers Infinity War movie had just come out while we were on vacation, and the theater was showing it in English, so we decided to spend the remainder of the evening watching that movie.

After the movie, we walked back to the train and went back to our hotel.


Our flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand, was at 12:15pm the next day. Due to the international flight, we wanted to be at the airport by 9:00am, so we woke up early, packed, checked out, and kissed Hong Kong goodbye.

If you have one extra day in Hong Kong, I would recommend booking a junk boat tour. Royal Caribbean offered this activity as one of their Hong Kong excursions, and we didn’t have the time to fit it into our crazy schedule. It looked nice though.

Overall, we had a short but incredible time in Hong Kong! We were able to fit so many activities into two short days because none of the activities lasted more than half a day. We also didn’t mind waking up early and going to bed late in order to add one more activity to each day. So… is it possible to see Hong Kong in two days? You bet it is!

DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.

Wedit: Film-it-Yourself Videography

Wedit: Film-it-Yourself Videography

Whether you are on a tight budget and on the fence about hiring a professional videographer, or if you have your videographer booked for wedding day but are afraid you are going to miss other memories during your long weekend affair: Don’t fret—Amarvelous Event has you covered! In this post, we’ll talk about Wedit—an alternative to wedding videography—as well as how it works, the pricing, and why this could be a great option for you!

I am a strong believer that you would regret not having video coverage of your big day. You may not watch the video often, but it will be something down the road you may want to have. Maybe you’ll take it out annually to watch on your anniversary, or maybe you’ll show it to your future children. We had family, friends, and coworkers who couldn’t make it to our wedding but watched our 10-minute video reel and loved the opportunity to see our special day. Whatever your reason, don’t regret not having video coverage.

How Wedit Works

Wedit is a system that allows you to cover videography of your entire wedding weekend without a videographer on site. Wait… What?!? You read that correctly. The reason why Wedit is so extremely affordable is because you aren’t paying the salary for someone to be on site at your event all day.

Photo Credit: Wedit

Steps:

  1. Select your package.
  2. The Wednesday before your event, Wedit mails you five HD iPod Touches in the mail.
  3. Pick five people you are going to assign cameras to for the entire weekend (bridesmaids and groomsmen would be killer at this job), or you can distribute the job to as many people as you like throughout the weekend. Maybe a different person each day for each camera.
  4. Go crazy and take as much footage as you like! Each camera holds up to four hours of HD footage, so you may want to stagger who is filming during which hours.
  5. Mail back the cameras by the Tuesday after the wedding.
Photo Credit: Wedit

Editing:

  • You aren’t only limited to the video content from the five Wedit cameras. You can also send Wedit other footage that you recorded, and the editors can add it into the final product.
  • You are not limited to Wedit editors either. You can also edit the content yourself or use a third-party editor.
  • If you selected an editing package through Wedit, then fill out the editing preference form and Wedit’s editing team uses your choices to create a professionally edited video that you will love.
  • Edited videos take about four to six weeks to receive.
  • After your video is edited, it will be uploaded directly to your Wedit account.
  • Should you want small changes, the editors will do one round of small changes.
  • Once you approve your edit, then you will be sent the final video on a USB to keep.
Photo Credit: Wedit

Rights:

  • Your footage is available online a whole year for viewing, download, and sharing. You own the rights to everything you capture and can use the footage as you like.
  • Remember to download all the files to your computer before the year is up!
Photo Credit: Wedit

Cost

I think the main reason people choose not to do videography is due to funds. Photographers and videographers are costly because you are not just hiring staff for event day—They are on-site for eight to twelve hours, capturing the memories, then their job continues after the event as they begin editing the content that they captured! Plus, you are left with tangible photographs and videos that last a lifetime. Of course, photographers and videographers tend to be the priciest vendor.

If you are currently on the fence about paying for videography, then consider that the pricing for Wedit ranges from $374 to $649, and you only need a $50 deposit to reserve your wedding date. That is insanely cheap!

Note: Pricing is current as of the date that this post was published.

Packages

  • Camera Rental Only – Date Hold: $50
    • Add editing later for $349 which is due 60 days prior to your event
  • Camera Rental Only – Pay Now And Save Package: $374 (save $25 when paid in full)
    • 5 HD cameras for one week
    • Online hosting for 12 months
    • Digital download of all footage
    • Prepaid shipping
  • Camera Rental & Highlight Reel: $524 (save $50 when you purchase your full-length video and rental package at the same time)
    • Includes everything from the Pay Now And Save package PLUS
    • 3 to 5-minute video set to a song of your choice
    • One round of small edits
    • USB with finished video
  • Camera Rental & Full-Length Video: $649 (save $75 when you purchase your full length video and rental package at the same time)
    • Includes everything from the Camera Rental & Highlight Reel PLUS
    • 30 to 60-minute video including vows and speeches

Note: Pricing is current as of the date that this post was published.

Wedit Has Thought of Everything

  • Wedit does not require signature for its packages when they arrive. This is awesome, because you will be running left and right during the days before your wedding, finishing last-minute tasks, spending time with family, and having salon treatments. No one has time to wait around for packages!
  • Wedit only ships cameras to the US. However, if your event is out of the country and you or a guest are traveling from the US to get there, then Wedit can mail the cameras to you before you leave. Canadians can contact customer service for other delivery options.
  • If the Wednesday through Tuesday timeline doesn’t work for your needs, then let Wedit know and they can add days, thus allowing you to capture all the moments.
  • The cameras have built-in flash and microphones, so get ready to rock those vows and dance floor reception pics.
  • The cameras allow you to zoom, but Wedit recommends you not zoom as it compromises the quality of the footage. Their editors are able to zoom in on the regular footage without creating a granular look. Just let them know what parts you would prefer closer-up. Gee… thanks, Wedit! You think of everything!
  • Wedit covers general wear-and-tear on the iPods. By signing the contract, you acknowledge that you are responsible for replacement if the iPod is lost or damaged.
  • The $50 that you pay to reserve the date is non-refundable. If you cancel before 60 days of your event, you will be issued a partial refund. If you cancel within 60 days of your event, you are not issued a refund.

Have I Convinced You Yet?

Wedit is a fantastic videography option for budget-savvy couples looking to capture several days of wedding festivities. And Wedit is NOT ONLY FOR WEDDINGS! You can rent Wedit cameras for any event or occasion. If you are interested in booking Wedit for your event, then click here to check out their website and learn more.

DISCLAIMER: Amarvelous Event is part of the Wedit Affiliate Program but has not been compensated for this post.

Two Days in Okinawa Japan

Two Days in Okinawa Japan

Two Days in Okinawa Japan

In my Ovation of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Through Asia blog post, I noted that our ship stopped in Okinawa, Japan, for two days. This was hubby’s and my first time in Japan, and we were pleasantly surprised! Okinawa has a lot to offer despite being arguably less visited by tourists than the mainland. This post will cover our two days in Okinawa. We’ll review the daily itinerary we followed, fun excursions, shopping, and dining.

🗾 🌸 🎌

For our two-day itinerary, keep in mind that we were still sleeping on the ship. Also, since food is included on the cruise, we decided to dine twice a day on the ship while in Okinawa. Our two-day itinerary at port looked like this:

  • Wake up early and have a big buffet breakfast on the boat
  • Depart the ship as early as possible
  • Take a shuttle bus into town (provided by our cruise ship)
  • Complete one big excursion for the day
  • Explore town further
  • Enjoy lunch and snacks off the boat
  • Take the shuttle bus back to the boat
  • Get cleaned up for dinner
  • Dinner and nightly entertainment on the boat
  • Sleep on the boat

We decided to not book our daily excursions through the cruise ship. My hubby speaks Japanese, so we felt confident that we could get around by ourselves. If we had to choose, we wouldn’t pick to be on the ship’s schedule. However, if you would feel more comfortable in a foreign country to have your day organized for you, then you should absolutely consider booking through your ship, or before you even set sail.

Day One

As I mentioned before, Royal Caribbean coordinated a shuttle bus service to ride from the desolate industrial cruise port area over to town. We hopped onto a bus and got dropped off on Kokusai Street. We began our day exploring some of the catch-all souvenir shops on this block. They literally sold everything! In general, this block has a lot of places to shop, dine, and take unique photos.

The next stop on our itinerary was the Shurijo Castle. This attraction is about a 14-minute drive, or a 28-minute public transit ride, from our starting point. We decided to take public transit, because we are New Yorkers and love seeing the train systems around the world. The above-ground Okinawa Urban Monorail (Yui Rail) Prefectural Office Station is conveniently located where the buses dropped us off in the morning, so we went upstairs, used a machine to purchase our ¥300 ($2.73 USD) tickets, and took the train eight stops towards our attraction. The train was small with only a couple of cars, but it was clean, ran smooth, and seemed well maintained. When we got off the train, we had about a 13-minute walk to the entrance of Shurijo Castle.

Shurijo Castle property is full of history. It was built as a palace for the Ryukyu Kingdom. There were years the palace was unused and neglected, then a war ended up destroying most of the property. The property was repurposed as a university campus, and the main buildings were reconstructed based off historical records. Today, Shurijo Castle Park is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a beautiful place to spend an afternoon. We spent hours walking through gardens and traditional buildings (even ones we had to take our shoes off to walk through). At the entrance of the park, we paid our ¥820 ($7.45 USD) entrance fee and picked up a map with an interactive stamp activity. As you walk through the park, you collect stamps from special monuments on your paper. Before you exit the park, if you have collected all the stamps, you receive a free gift. I love free stuff, so, basically, challenge accepted! In the end, we completed all the stamps and received some stickers and coloring books. It was definitely more of a kid’s activity, but ensuring we collected every stamp allowed us to not miss any of the park. There were also some interesting cultural performances and mango soft serve ice cream that we enjoyed while on the property.

After we left the castle park, we were hungry and ready for a yummy Japanese lunch! We made our way back towards Kokusai Street and ate lunch at the Suitenrou restaurant. This restaurant had no chairs, so it was more Japanese than western style of dining. When you arrive at your table, you remove your shoes, step up onto the wooden floor, then sit down to dine. The food was yummy, and the ambiance was nice. For not looking it up and just popping into one of the first places we passed, we got lucky.

After lunch, we walked down the strip towards the First Makishi Public Market. This was off the main block, but it was also a great place to check out if you were looking to dine or shop. We walked around, bought a few souvenirs, and then came across the holy grail of desserts: grandma mochi. Ok, that wasn’t the official name, but they were fresh, soft, huge, handmade mochi sold to us by this adorable older woman—hence our loving name of “grandma mochi.” They were heaven. I eat mochi all the time in NYC, and the ones in the States will never even be close to comparing in flavor or texture to our grandma mochi. We should have bought more and brought them back on the ship with us haha!

We then walked a half hour from the market to Nami-no-ue Shrine and Beach. The shrine is on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Since its origin and rebuild after wartime destruction, people have come to this shrine to pray for many things: bountiful hauls of fish for fisherman, protection of the trade ships coming into Naha Port, safe journeys over the sea, good harvests, peace and prosperity of the nation, mothers praying their sons weren’t called to war, and I’m sure this list goes on. In 1924, the site was designated the official center of religious affairs on the island. The space is super tranquil. There was tree coverage around the buildings, a ceremonial hand-washing station, the sound of water in the distance, and an incredible cliff-side ocean view. You could even see our ship in the distance. There were paths along the beach that led to picnic tables, so if you wanted to pack a lunch, then you could spend an afternoon at this beach. From the sand, the beach does have an overpass highway obstruction, making it seem more like an inlet, but it was one of the closest beaches to the ship. After our shrine visit, we made our way back to the bus pick-up area and headed back to our cruise ship for the evening. If you book the Nami-no-ue Sea and Sky Snorkeling Park excursion through Royal Caribbean, they provide snorkeling gear, guided snorkeling tours of 95 types of coral and 53 species of colorful fish, and a beach party barbecue.

Day Two

We began our second day by again taking the shuttle bus into town. We then grabbed a taxi to take us to our daily excursion. Not sure if all taxis in Japan are this neat, but our taxi doors swung open without any human assistance. That was a shock at first, because NYC taxis definitely are not that high tech, but I shouldn’t be too surprised because the Japanese also have the most sophisticated toilets, so obviously their cars would be sophisticated too haha!

Okinawa World and Gyokusendo Cave is a theme park without rides. There are a few options for entrance tickets. You can buy tickets for the Cave and Kingdom Village, or you could add on the Habu Museum (snake museum). I have literally zero interest in snakes, so we skipped that portion. Our ticket for the first two areas was ¥1,240 ($11.27 USD), which was an insane deal! We had a fun day and took a bunch of pictures. The park itself is a little touristy, but the caves alone are reason enough to visit.

Kingdom Village portion of the park included many different things to do. There is a craft area where you can make your own crafts or buy handmade crafts, a garden to walk through with many different types of fruit and vegetable trees and plants, the Nanto Brewery where you can enjoy beverages on-site or buy some to go (careful, because you may not be allowed to bring them back onto the cruise ship!), Eisa dancing shows, and a restaurant to take a break and have lunch. There are also a bunch of photo opportunities. This is the first time in Asia that we had seen phone stands with a slot for your phone. You put your phone in the stand, set a timer, then pose for your photo. You no longer need an extra person to take pictures or even a selfie stick. So handy! We should bring this concept to America (and all over the world frankly).

Gyokusendo Cave was my favorite part of the park and two days in Okinawa. It’s one of the largest caves on the island, and the second-longest cave in Japan, stretching five kilometers or a little over three miles. The cave was formed over 300,000 years ago but only discovered in 1967! The cave maintains a constant temperature of 21°C or 69.8°F, so it was a nice break from the intense heat we experienced the day before. The stalactite and stalagmite rock formations and turquoise blue pools of water running through the cave are breathtaking. They found dear bones in the cave from a species that has been extinct for over 15,000 years. We also saw small troglobite long-arm prawns in the water.

We spent so many hours in the park that we took a taxi back to the bus area because it was time to get back on the ship to depart.

Other Activities

Okinawa is known for having gorgeous beaches. Its beaches went viral a year ago from a Buzzfeed article showing spectacular crystal clear water and white sandy beaches. Although this beach is part of the Okinawa Prefecture, Ishigaki Island is a boat ride away from Okinawa island proper. They may offer tour boats that would take you over there for the day, but we didn’t look into it. There are plenty of other beaches on Okinawa’s main island that are accessible by car: Araha Beach, Tropical Beach, Nishihara Kirakira Beach, and Ten-no-hama Beach.

  • Royal Caribbean offered these combo excursions that you might be interested in booking through the ship:
  • Shuri Castle and Churaumi Aquarium excursion: This aquarium is part of Ocean Expo Park and is the second-largest aquarium in the world. According to Japanese tourism websites, this is also the number-one aquarium in all of Japan. The 77 tanks with two-foot thick acrylic glass windows boast floor-to-ceiling views. They themed the aquarium with only animals that can be seen off the coast of Japan. Some of those species even include very large manta rays and whale sharks.
  • Best of Okinawa excursion: Includes entrance into Shurijo Castle, time to shop on Kokusai-Dori Street, and Shikina-en Garden. This garden is located on a small hill just next to Shurijo Castle. It’s 23,000 square meters (or about 248,000 square feet) and features a heart-shaped pond.
  • Shurijo Castle and Gyokusendo Cave excursion (both of which we toured on our own)

Overall, I’d say that Okinawa really surprised us. My hubby speaks Japanese, and this was our first time in Japan, so the two days we had here were special to us for several reasons: We were able to cross a country off his bucket list, see a new country to scratch off of our scratch map, be in awe of Okinawa’s beauty, and be blown away on how easy it was to go explore on our own. We investigated Royal Caribbean’s excursion offerings then created our own itinerary. In the end, we were able to see our favorite parts of these excursions and save a bit of money by organizing it ourselves and not going on a guided group tour. Even though we slept and ate breakfast and dinners on the ship, we still had plenty of time in Okinawa to explore and get a feel for the culture. I will be publishing a future post about other cities in Japan that we visited on our honeymoon (not part of our cruise), so keep an eye out for Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo posts!

DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.

Zola: The Unconventional Wedding Registry

Who doesn’t love gifts—am I right?! Well, get excited, because as soon as you pick a wedding date, you can begin the super fun task of setting up your wedding registry. This post is going to focus specifically on Zola registries: what makes a Zola registry unconventional, why it could be a great fit for you, and the options available to pick from. After you finish reading, you’ll be ready for your online shopping to begin!

I’ll begin by saying that if you are on the fence about registering at all, then think again. Your wedding and the parties leading up to that special day are going to be moments of celebration! People who can afford to will want to shower you with gifts. A registry is a helpful tool that will guide your guests to understand items you need and want. It will also give guests a glimpse into your general style. Should they “go rogue” and buy something not on the registry, at least it will match the rest of your home. Don’t leave people in the dark, or you might be gifted a lot of vases, picture frames, and candles. Nothing wrong with those items, but if you received eight vases, then you may regret not having registered.

Photo Credit: Zola.com

Not Your Mother’s Registry

Zola is a one-stop shop for all your registry needs. I can make the comparison of Amazon online shopping versus brick-and-mortar department stores such as Macy’s or Bed Bath & Beyond. The reason Amazon has grown in popularity over the years is because they have it all! When you go into stores, they often have a more limited variety than their online shops. And who doesn’t love shopping in their pajamas from the comfort of their couch!

If Amazon is so great, then you may be wondering why I’m not writing about their registry. The reason why is because Zola has taken online registries to the next level.

Video Credit: Zola

Zola offers some of the same great benefits that other companies offer:

  • Hundreds of brands and items to choose from
  • Free shipping and returns
  • Desktop login access
  • 20% post-wedding completion purchase discounts
Photo Credit: Zola.com

But then Zola takes it to the next level and offers:

  • Alternative gift options: This is probably the best part. You can put everyday items such as dinnerware on your Zola registry, but all companies offer those things. Maybe you don’t want or need as many actual possessions like formal china. Nowadays, many couples are already living together and have some of the items they want for their home. Instead of home goods, think alternatively and ask for these offerings:
    • Gift cards: Register for newlywed date-night gift cards, or Lowe’s or Home Depot to begin your home improvements, or Petco or Petsmart so your pet can also be pampered. There are SO MANY gift card options to chose from. You can’t go wrong.
    • Experiences: You can add monthly subscriptions for wine, cheese, or coffee, sign up for meal-planning dinners such as offered by Blue Apron, take cooking classes, or even go on a dinner cruise date-night. There are too many options to list, but you get the idea.
  • Honeymoon funds: The sky is the limit with this one. First, decide where you want to honeymoon (and be sure to read our post on How to Plan an Epic Honeymoon!), then create gifts for airfare, hotel, dinners, and entertainment. If you went a little overboard with the wedding and forgot to budget for the honeymoon, you can still go on the trip of your dreams! Plus, people will LOVE buying you a special honeymoon experience you will cherish forever.
Photo Credit: Zola.com
  • FREE wedding website: Yes, you read that correctly. Zola gives you access to create a free wedding website. Guests may misplace or lose the invite that you mailed them, but they’ll still be able to visit your convenient website where they can reference all your wedding information. You could do a website on your own, but you will have to pay for the domain and hosting.
Video Credit: Zola
  • 5-star user-friendly app: Seriously, this app is awesome! You can add gifts, track gifts that were purchased, and work on your website right from the app!
Photo Credit: itunes.com
  • The lowest cash fund fees around at 2.5%: Some items can be purchased directly from Zola just like on department store websites. However, when asking for items that can’t be purchased in a store, Zola works more like a cash fund. People see the gift is $100, they buy it, and the money gets rolled into your Zola cash fund. Whenever you like, you can deposit those funds directly into your bank account. Zola charges a 2.5% fee, but that is a lower cost compared to what other companies charge for the same service. Also, knowing they subtract 2.5% off your gift, Zola offers the option of just adding 2.5% extra on top of every gift you list. That way, the guest is paying 100% for your gift, and you aren’t paying out-of-pocket.
Photo Credit: Zola.com
  • Contribute-what-you-wish payment options: This is so neat. On Zola, you can request really pricey gifts like vacations and furniture. This payment option allows you to specify which gifts can be split, meaning multiple guests can chip in and pay what they want towards the item until it’s 100% purchased. One of our most expensive gifts was a six-day cruise through Asia (read about it here!), and four of our wedding guests chipped in and purchased it for us.
Photo Credit: Zola.com
  • Guest list assistance: Zola gives you a place to collect addresses and track your RSVPs.
Photo Credit: Zola.com
  • Wedding checklist: Zola provides you with suggested to-do items as well as lets you fill in your own to create one master list. If you have downloaded the Zola app, your phone will push notifications when it’s time for that to-do item to be done.
Photo Credit: Zola.com
  • Invitation and save-the-date: Zola offers options that can be designed right from their website to match your Zola wedding website. They also offer free guest addressing and shipping!
Photo Credit: Zola.com

Gift Options to Pick From

Zola covers all the essential wedding registry categories and then some: kitchen, tabletop, bed & bath, furniture, home, weekend, experiences & gift cards, and cash funds!

For our wedding registry, we used both Macy’s for regular household items (I loved the Macy’s brand Hotel Collection), then we used Zola for things that Macy’s didn’t offer and our honeymoon. We did both Macy’s and Zola because we had a Macy’s credit card, and they offered great bonuses and free gifts. In the end, you have to weigh out all the options and decide what registry or registries are best for you. It is okay to have more than one, just make finding them convenient: put links for both registries on your wedding website, and then people will know they have options.

We took a six-week honeymoon around the world to London, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Japan (you can read about these destinations on the Amarvelous Honeymoon blog). Without adding honeymoon activities onto our Zola registry, we definitely wouldn’t have been able to do as much or stay away for so long. Gifts that our friends and family purchased off our Zola Wedding Registry (click the links to read our Amarvelous Honeymoon blog posts about those activities!):

Our guests preferred purchasing us experiences over household goods. You can see this from the list of gifts on our Zola registry that were not purchased:

  • Large dining table
  • Two armchairs
  • Four side-chairs
  • Dining room bench
  • Harry Potter bedroom set from Pottery Barn
  • iRobot vacuum cleaner

In the end, the only thing I may have done differently with our registry was select more honeymoon items for our Zola. Of course, we cherish, enjoy, and use the household items that we received, but the memories that we made while on that trip were so special. Plus, we were able to share those experiences with our guests by posting daily on social media and tagging them. An example of this was the day we visited elephants in Thailand. We tagged the few people who chipped in on that gift. It felt good to show our friends and family how much joy their gift had brought us.

Photo Credit: Zola.com

The only negative I have for Zola is their new slogan “Registry and wedding planning made easy.” Their new commercial has two friends talking over coffee. One says, “Your wedding was so perfect, how did you do it?” And the other simply responds, “Zola.” Although Zola is an excellent one-stop-registry-shop and included wedding website, I don’t think that having a Zola registry means your entire wedding is planned. Their new campaign is a bit misleading, because you will still need to hire wedding professionals to ensure your vision comes to life. But it’s true that Zola can help organize you in the early stages.


In closing, there are a few things to remember:

  • Register. YOU NEED A WEDDING REGISTRY. Don’t leave friends and family guessing what to get you.
  • Sign up for a Zola registry because they are the BEST. Click here to start your registry now!
  • Put on your peejays, cozy up with your fiancé(e), and enjoy an evening of online shopping.
  • HAVE FUN! Besides your cake and food tastings, selecting items for your wedding registry should be one of the most fun wedding planning tasks. Think of traditional as well as out-of-the-box registry ideas—because you can!

DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.

Ovation of the Seas Royal Caribbean Cruise Through Asia

As you may have gathered from an old post of mine, “Why a Cruise Should Be Your Next Vacation,” WE LOVE CRUISING!! Naturally, when hubby and I were deciding where to go on our honeymoon around the world, we knew that we wanted to cruise part of it.

This post will explore the next leg of our honeymoon on the Royal Caribbean Ovation of the Seas 6-night repositioning cruise through Asia. We began in Tianjin, China, the closest port to Beijing, spent two days at port in Okinawa, Japan, and ended in Hong Kong. We’ll discuss what a repositioning cruise is, the three ports of call, the service on the ship, and the ship itself. All aboard!

Repositioning Cruises

There are two kinds of cruises: traditional (or round-trip) and repositioning. A traditional cruise takes you from point A to B and back to A, so you start and end in the same port. A repositioning cruise moves you from point A to B, which allows you to start and end in different ports. If you are lucky enough to have your hometown also be a port of call, then you most likely would do traditional cruises to avoid paying extra airfare.

However, I think there is a time and place to consider a repositioning cruise. If you are adding a cruise onto a vacation like us, then a repositioning cruise may be a good idea! We needed to get from north China (Beijing) towards Thailand, and we had two options: pay for airfare or pay for a cruise. We looked up cruises and found the perfect option that gave us six nights of adventure, plus we had the opportunity to stop into Okinawa, Japan, and end in Hong Kong. For the price, it was a no-brainer. For the minimal day fee, we basically paid for hotel, food, and entertainment on the ship and completely avoided travel costs!

Photo Credit: OzCruising

Ports

Tianjin, China: As far as travel goes, it takes a couple of trains and a taxi to get from Beijing proper to Tianjin, but it wasn’t too difficult or costly. RCL, other cruise lines, and tour groups offer shuttle services, but they can be costly and then you are on their schedule. We did it on our own, and even with the language barrier we got by without any issues. We were really impressed by the immaculate gardens in Beijing and the last long stretch of street leading to the cruise port was no exception. The port was located in an industrial area with nothing else around for miles, so the tree and flower lined streets helped to soften the look. The lines to get on the ship were insanely long. Not sure if RCL didn’t have enough people working that day, or if all the cruisers just showed up at the same time, but we waited hours standing in line to get on the ship. It was not the best first impression. Read my Beijing Part One and Part Two blog posts if you are interested in learning more on what Beijing has to offer. Some excursions at this port include Great Wall tours with lunch and shopping, followed by transportation to either the airport or to your hotel.

Photo Credit: China Highlights

Okinawa, Japan: The cruise was originally supposed to stop in Jeju Island, South Korea, as well as Okinawa, Japan. Unfortunately, RCL pulled Korea off of our itinerary the day after President Trump’s infamous “fire and fury” threat to the leader of North Korea. Totally speculation if both incidents were related, but it was curious timing. RCL ended up giving us two full days in Okinawa instead, with an overnight at port to make up for the change. That was really awesome, because they could have just kept us at sea for that day. There was plenty to do in Okinawa, so my next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post will be on how to spend two days in Okinawa, Japan. Stay tuned! For now, I’ll just explain the port. The ships are a bus-ride away from town and shopping. There is literally nothing near the ship except other ships. RCL and other cruise lines coordinate charter buses to shuttle everyone into town and back. The system is easy enough—just make sure to get back on the right bus. Some excursions at this port include Shuri Castle, Gyokusendo Cave, Churaumi Aquarium, and Nami-no-ue Sea and Sky Snorkeling Park.

Hong Kong: What a beautiful port!! Pulling in was so picturesque. You have a view of this futuristic customs building with a green roof, the city behind it, and mountains behind that. Total “WOW, welcome to Hong Kong” moment as we pulled into port. Since there is no train right at the cruise terminal, we took a bus to the train station. From there, we took a train towards the area where our hotel was located. Some exciting excursions at this port include Disneyland, the evening light show at Victoria Peak, dim sum culinary classes, and iconic junk boat tours. Just like Okinawa, we’re going to dedicate a post to Hong Kong—stay tuned for that one too!

The Ship

Ship Overview: Ovation of the Seas is part of RCL’s Quantum-class. It made its maiden voyage on April 17, 2016, so the ship is still pretty new, and it shows! There are eighteen decks (sixteen are passenger-accessible). Maximum occupancy of the ship is 4,905 passenger-guests and 1,500 crew.

Photo Credit: Cruise Mapper

Art and Decor: Something we’ve observed on Carnival ships is how cheesy the decor can be. RCL’s Ovation of the Seas, however, was really nicely decorated. Maybe it’s because the ship is only a few years old, or maybe it’s because of the modern artwork around every turn. The color scheme and modern touch in the staterooms was appealing too.

Our Room: Our room was absolutely wonderful. This was our first time ever in a balcony room. We actually went from interior rooms straight to balcony and skipped window rooms, so we felt totally spoiled for our honeymoon and don’t feel like we could ever go back to a non-balcony room haha! It was nice tanning, watching the sunset, and having coffee in a robe from the privacy of your own room and balcony. Our favorite part, though, was keeping the door ajar and listening to the waves while we slept. Talk about peaceful. The room was so spacious too. We had a bathroom, king-sized bed, sofa, and desk. Not a complaint as much as an observation, but we really didn’t need that much space—I actually wish the ship was designed with smaller rooms and deeper balconies so that we could have laid flat on lounge chairs without tanning obstructions (shadows) from the railing.

Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean

Service: Before we left for our trip, RCL had sent us several emails to explain that this cruise was going to be “under the Culturally Enriching program.” At the time, I didn’t know what they meant. I get a lot of emails from RCL with random sales offers, so when receiving emails from this sender, and not asked to log in and do anything with my reservation, it just seemed like more junk mail. In hindsight, I see now they were trying to prepare the Westerners for the culture shock.

We did have an incident with someone trying to break into our luggage before it got to our room on day one. We dropped off our bags at the Tianjin port curbside, and by the time they were delivered to our room the lock had been busted on one of them. We waited in the Guest Services line for a long time to put in a complaint with security and file a full report. Unfortunately, there are no cameras at the Tianjin port, so there was no way to see who did it. Security on-board was nice, but our first day was awful due to this experience, and our brand new luggage that we received as a wedding gift was ruined.

The stateroom housekeeping was on point! We brought several branded “bride” and “groom” items (like sunglasses) on the honeymoon. Housekeeping dressed our towel animals with them daily, which was both clever and cute. Sometimes it’s in the small details that the guests can be wowed.

Dining: We found the dining to be underwhelming while onboard, but it wasn’t for lack of built-in restaurants or dining halls. In fact, the ship has six main dining areas (American Icon Grill, Chic, Silk, The Grande, Solarium Bistro, and Coastal Kitchen). It has six signature restaurants (Wonderland Imaginative Cuisine, Jamie’s Italian, Amber & Oak Pub, Chops Grille, Izumi Japanese Cuisine, and Chef’s Table). It also has eight laid back dining options (Windjammer Marketplace, The Café @ Two70, Seaplex Dog House, Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop, Sorrento’s, Café Promenade, La Patisserie, and Vintages).

The problems we experienced were that RCL did not have every dining area open, they had limited hours, the restaurants for extra purchase were totally booked up, and everywhere else on the ship served the same food. Literally all four of the main dining restaurants served the exact same menu every night. So you weren’t going to American Icon Grill because you wanted American cuisine and Silk because you wanted Asian cuisine. The only reason you would have to choose one restaurant over another was because of ambiance. It was basically authentic Asian food everywhere you turned. Nothing against Asian food—but our dining experiences on cruise ships usually offer us incredible variety. There are often so many good options on a menu that we don’t know what to pick. However, on this cruise, there were some nights when we sat down for dinner and couldn’t even find one thing that we wanted.

Unfortunately, by the time we realized how terrible the food would be, all the extra cost restaurants were totally booked, and we had no other options. I will admit that we have never felt the need to pay extra to experience excellent food on a cruise ship. Usually, for the cost you pay to be on the boat, you eat like kings. I would recommend if you are interested in dining at one of the more exclusive pay-as-you-go restaurants, that you book before you get on the ship.

We met a few Australians on the ship, and they all complained about the food too. One “Diamond Plus” couple had been on the maiden voyage of Ovation and said that the experiences were night and day. As first-time RCL customers, we explained how surprised we had been with RCL’s low standards, and the couple urged us to give RCL another chance (in another part of the world). So perhaps the food situation is better when they sail through other regions?

We connected with the dining manager in one of the restaurants. I guess he had received many complaints from the Western guests. He told us if we were unsatisfied with the options, that we could put in a request for something. That night, we ordered steak (not on the menu), and he made it happen. Service was very good, and you could tell that they were trying to appease all parties. I still feel like there shouldn’t have been any moments when I felt hungry and unsatisfied, but I am definitely open to give them an opportunity to redeem themselves.

The food section is very important to me because it was the most negative aspect of the trip, so I’ll end it with a closing comparison. We both thought the food at the buffet was tastier and more variety than the offerings in the dining rooms. It’s definitely the opposite on other cruise lines. If comparing all other Carnival Cruise Line dining experiences we’ve had to this experience on RCL’s Ovation, we feel the dining rooms in Carnival are superior.

Included Activities: Below, I have outlined all of the free activities onboard the Ovation of the Seas. Something that irked me a bit was that a few of the BEST activities this ship has to offer were at an additional fee specifically when this ship is sailing in China (which we were). Not sure what that rubbish is about! We already paid a bunch to be on the boat in our balcony room… no way was I going to drop several hundred more on a few activities when the ship was loaded with other free things to do. And I am not exaggerating when I say hundreds. They wanted $600 for FlowRider®!!

Each night, an itinerary for the next day is delivered to your room. Some of the activities are reserved for special themes or party nights, while others are offered daily. Nevertheless, there is something for everyone, and I did feel that there were more offerings than on other ships. The only downfall on activities would be that while they tried to make the vacation inclusive to the Asian community, some activities were not listed as “Mandarin language only” (like other activities were) and I would show up to participate but they did not have an English translator for me. So I would just leave and go do a different activity. It would have saved me from walking from one side of the ship to the other, and not being late to the next activity, had I known in advance, but it was a minor inconvenience compared to other things.

  • North Star® 360º elevated view above the boat (Fees apply to China sailings)
  • FlowRider® surfing (Fees apply to China sailings) – In other regions, this activity is included but private session fees are: $69, $345, or $552
  • Ripcord® by iFLY® skydiving simulation experience (Fees apply to China sailings)
  • Adventure Ocean® children’s activity and babysitting program (After 10:00pm: $7/hour)
  • Splashaway Bay℠ waterpark
  • Rock climbing wall
  • SeaPlex – from skating rink to circus school to bumper cars, this is the largest sporting activity zone on the seas
  • Solarium adults only pool lounge with an incredible view at the front of the ship
  • Silent Disco party where everyone wears headphones and can tune in to the station they want to dance to
  • Fitness center
  • Running track, sports courts, table tennis, pool tables
  • Outdoor movie nights
  • Nightlife, Karaoke, Salsa dancing
  • Pools, Jacuzzis
  • Dance classes, Learn a language class, Towel folding class, Origami class, Scrapbooking class, Guest lectures, Wine tastings

Shows: Holy smokes, the shows were incredible!! The second we got on the ship, we received great advice from a crew member that we should reserve show tickets ASAP if we were interested. We went straight to the guest services counter and locked that down. Some theatres in the ship are large, but others are small and sell out. There were two shows in particular that required pre-reservation. We’re glad we didn’t miss out.

  • Live. Love. Legs. (Reservation Required)
  • Pixels (Reservation Required)
  • Original theatrical productions
  • Live bands
  • Game shows
  • Two70® lounge with daily and nightly entertainment

At-Cost Activities: And, of course, there are some more exclusive activities where you can pay to play. I am more a BINGO person myself, but (unless I missed it) this ship didn’t offer it. Sure, it would be fun to see behind the scenes, have a spa treatment, or win big in the casino, but don’t feel like you have to pay to enjoy yourself. Notice the disparity in pay for activities to free activities. There is so much to do onboard!

  • Sushi-making class
  • All-access tours
  • Spa
  • Casino
  • Shopping
  • Arcade

One thing Hubby and I each felt this RCL ship was missing:

Hubby: Hubby really enjoys the dining model where you sit with the same people every night, in the same dining room, at the same mealtime. RCL seems to be more freestyle and lets you go where you please. They also tend to only seat you with your party. So this party of two on our honeymoon sat alone for every meal. Yes, it’s our honeymoon, but we were vacationing for six weeks! It’s also nice to have a conversation with other people every now and then. We found ourselves talking across the table to folks that sat next to us almost every night haha. I’m sure freestyle is great for some people, but not us. We like the structure of knowing when to eat and where to go. We also enjoy meeting new people and hearing how they spent their day and what they enjoyed on land and at sea. On past cruises, we’ve even connected with our table buddies on social media and have remained in touch.

Me: I was really looking forward to laundry facilities. Who does laundry on vacation?? Haha THIS GIRL, when she’s on a six-week honeymoon around the world! We had avoided doing laundry on land, because we figured (incorrectly) that it was available on the ship, like Carnival Cruise Line offers. Ovation didn’t offer this DIY facility, so we had to pay A LOT to have housekeeping launder all our clothes. I should have looked this up in advance, but I just assumed it was like all other ships we’d been on. Since then, I’ve heard from friends and family that other RCL ships also don’t offer a laundry room.

One thing Hubby and I each loved on this RCL ship was:

Hubby: The shows! Quality, effects, lighting, props, and talent were all superior to other cruises. It was also impressive some shows were bilingual and inclusive of multiple languages. The cast was so talented. For a special performance, RCL brought onboard a group that was locally famous, and they were incredible. Special mention: Almost equally as important as the shows were the Belgian waffles with strawberry topping mmmmm. Actually, all breakfast options and the self-serve buffet-style restaurants were generally pretty good on this ship.

Me: Cruise ships often have photographers out each night so you can take photos dressed up before dinner. Most of the time, photographers are stationed in front of cheesy backdrops, which RCL does have, but they also have roaming photographers that take pictures in front of nice areas in the ship. If you like a particular fountain, then the photographer can shoot you there, for example. Hey, if you have a nice-looking ship, flaunt it! Only a ship that is attractive could afford to do this.


This “Culturally Enriching” cruise through Asia didn’t turn out exactly how we envisioned our first Royal Caribbean Cruise to be, but we still had a good time and love cruising. The staff on board alleviated the tensions by listening to what was making guests (usually fellow Westerners) unsatisfied and making accommodations. We were blown away by the ship itself, the entertainment, and the balcony stateroom. Even though the food was overall underwhelming, some dining options were still good. Everyone I know raves over RCL cruises. I can’t say that our first experience was how our friends say that theirs was, but I am really excited to cruise with Royal Caribbean again—just maybe not through Asia next time!

DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.