3 Day Chiang Mai Thailand Itinerary – Part 2

This post begins our third and last day of our Chiang Mai, Thailand, itinerary. If you haven’t read about our adventures on days one and two yet, then click here. In this post, we’ll be discussing temple tours and three of the most famous ones to visit while in Chiang Mai: the stunning White Temple (pictured here), the ornate Blue Temple, and the eerie Black House.

🇹🇭 🕉️ 🛐 📿


Quick note: Our trip to Thailand includes photos that some may find offensive. Lots of phallic imagery in this country: soaps, sculptures, paintings, and more. If you don’t wish to see these images, then check back in next week for a new Amarvelous Wedding post instead!


Day 3

We began day three with breakfast at our hotel before we were picked up by our tour bus. Since we were spending the day at temples, I needed to have covered knees and shoulders. I wore my new long wrap skirt I had purchased in Thailand on day one and a white t-shirt. Hubby wore a t-shirt and shorts. For shoes, I wore flip-flops that were easy to take off in and out of temples. Hubby wore sneakers he had to re-lace when he left each temple.

Once on the bus, we began our ride north outside of the center of town towards Chiang Rai (yes, “Rai,” not “Mai”). This was a long trip, so the tour company broke it up with several stops along the way. The first mini-stop was to a natural hot spring. It was a small watering hole that had been developed into a few stands to buy souvenirs, a convenient store, some bathrooms, and a relaxing sitting area shaded by trees with warm hot springs nearby. It was very touristy and felt like all bus companies used the same pit-stop. There were areas you could get pretty close to the hot spring for a photo op, but the water is too hot to touch, so don’t get too close! We spent a half hour here using restrooms and picking up a few snacks and cool drinks in the store. Then, once everyone was back on the bus, we continued on our journey.

Our first stop was Wat Rong Suea Ten, better known as the Blue Temple, although the name literally translates to House of the Dancing Tiger. 100 years ago, there was an ancient temple that stood in this very same spot, but over time it had deteriorated. The land had been known for wild tigers that would frequently roam the temple’s six-acre property. The town decided in 2005 that they wanted to rebuild a modern-day temple on the old property and began construction. Although the main hall is complete, there were parts still under construction (we visited in 2018), but that did not detract from the beauty. The first temple we had experienced in Thailand (on day one) was very traditional with simple coloring and style. In comparison, the Blue Temple is exploding with color and extravagant statues. The temple colors are primarily shades of blues, with pops of neon colors and many gold accents. The main hall has an underwater effect with blue from floor-to-ceiling. Something to note about this temple is that admission is free, but there is no public transit here—so instead of booking a tour, you could rent a car, or hire a tuk tuk or taxi, but I’m not sure if it would save you money in the end. For us, the convenience of being on a schedule and seeing all the temples in one day really worked well for our short trip. Once everyone made it back to the bus, we headed off to our second location.

The next stop wasn’t an actual temple but the Baan Dam Museum, literally translating to Black House. The famous Thai artist and architect Thawan Duchanee designed this property, and it was his architectural masterpiece and home until he passed away in 2014. Although mixed with gardens, the large property has a dark feeling with 40 mixed-size matte black buildings. If there are other colors mixed in, they are colors of nature, creams, and brown shades. The buildings house a very unique collection of artifacts from around the world. The two themes you will see over and over again are animal bones and parts and phallic objects. Vegans and children beware haha! Our tour guide had said the property was representative of death, suffering, human desire, and cravings. Art is subjective, so I am sure others have different interpretations than mine, but I saw natural beauty represented at the Black House. Death is a part of life, and Duchanee does well to honor the animals that came before us. There is an entry price for this museum around 100 TBH ($3.25 USD). The price was included in our tour fee.

By the time we left the Black House, I was famished. It was a super-hot and humid day, and by now we had spent a few hours either on the bus or exploring at each stop. I was so ready for lunch. We all got back on the bus and headed to our next location. Lunch was conveniently located across the street from the final temple. Sure, it was included in the price of our day, but I did not care for the lunch choice. Being so hot outside, my body could have used a retreat into some air conditioning. However, the restaurant was totally open walled and exposed to the outdoors. I hate nothing more than being hot, so this was already a bad start. We all sat and ate family style, and I was underwhelmed with the food offerings. We had the best Thai food at the cooking class on day one, so when comparing this food to that, day three was inferior. The restroom situation was also not that great. Overall, I wouldn’t go back to the restaurant. The area had a bunch of places to eat, and I would have selected a place with air conditioning if I had a choice.

We crossed the street and were standing in front of Wat Rong Khun, the famous White Temple. Opened in 1997, this was the oldest property we had been to. The original Wat Rong Khun had also been deteriorating and in bad shape when local artist Chalermchai Kositpipat decided to rebuild the temple with his own funds. A great portion of the project is completed, but there are still portions under construction that aren’t expected to be completed until 2070! This was my absolute favorite temple of the day. Every structure is white on a backdrop of the blue sky and green grass. The super-white buildings and statues look almost angelic from a distance. Some structures to note are “the Bridge of the Cycle of Rebirth,” which you use to walk up to the temple; the Gate of Heaven guarded by two statues, one representing death and the other Rahu; Ubosot, the large white building with fragments of mirrored glass embedded into the façade; and the Golden Building for restrooms. You’ll see a slew of stunning exterior photos below, but the artist doesn’t let guests take photos inside the temple, so we don’t have any photos indoors. At first, we thought that was due to a sign of respect for the place of prayer, but after being inside, we felt the paintings may be the reason why. Upon entry, turn around, and you are greeted with an incredible colorful mural sprinkled with well-known cartoons and superheroes. Just my own thoughts here, but maybe the no-photography rule has something to do with copyright laws? We purchased these thin sheet metal ornaments that you are supposed to hang on the property to add to the newest artistic walkway. However, we collect Christmas ornaments, so we figured we could use that as a memento. I felt I could have stayed at this property all day. Every turn you saw something new and beautiful. Even the bathroom area was beautiful! Based off my pictures below, and my rosy cheeks, you can probably tell how hot I was feeling. By the end of the visit, I was doing everything in my power to cool down: I had tied my hair into a top bun, had a wet towel around my neck, a cold-water bottle on my forehead, heavily utilized my paper fan, and purchased ice cream to consume while we were waiting for the rest of our party to make their way to the bus. Heat stroke, anyone? Definitely plan ahead if you are visiting in the hot season. Admission fee is a minimal 50 TBH ($1.63 USD), but they do accept additional donations. Again, the fees were included in our overall fee for the excursion.

We rode the bus back towards town and were exhausted! We got back to our hotel and took a break to wash laundry while we lounged poolside for a bit. When the wash was done, we hung it up then changed to go out for the evening. We headed to Rachadamnoen Road for the Sunday night street market and walked around from tent to tent and purchased a bunch of souvenirs for family and friends. If you are ever purchasing multiple items from one vendor, then try to work a deal into the pricing. They are usually flexible to throw in something for free.

I stopped along the way and got a foot massage while hubby kept exploring nearby. There are so many massage shops to choose from, and they are all priced similarly. I’d recommend to just pick one that doesn’t have a wait. After such a long day walking around, it was rejuvenating, and a 90-minute massage for 461 TBH ($15 USD) was expensive for Thailand but well worth it. Massages in Thailand are much cheaper than the US though! I should have gotten one a day. Don’t make my mistake.

On the bus ride back from the tour, we had run into some other Americans who told us they had been in Thailand for a couple of weeks so far and ate a lot of street food without getting sick. They recommended purchasing something directly off the grill and not to purchase something that looked grilled but had finished cooking and sat out after. As New Yorkers, we already play street food somewhat safely when in the States. Of course, we were going to play it even more safely on the streets of a night market in Thailand. We hadn’t intended on eating dinner at the market that night, but keeping in mind our new friends’ advice we felt more confident to eat some grilled snacks along the way. We didn’t end up getting sick, so I was glad that we took a chance and tried some grilled meats.

We got back to our hotel, brought our newly-washed-and-hang-dried clothes back to our room, and, after such a long day, just crashed.

Day 4

With all of our clothes cleaned and a bunch of new souvenirs to pack, we had an alarm set to wake up early and pack up the room. It didn’t take too long, because we were basically living out of our suitcases. We brought our bags downstairs for the front office to hold while we crossed the street to enjoy breakfast for the last time. We took our time while eating, because although we have airport lounge access they only had a lounge in the international terminal. Our next stop was to Phuket, Thailand, and it was a domestic flight, so we only needed to be at the airport an hour in advance. Our flight was scheduled for 11:35am. The front desk called us a taxi. We left the hotel around 9:45am and got to the airport by 10:00am. The airport is super small, so we got through security and to our gate very quickly.


Pro Tip: Domestic flights within Thailand are super cheap! With flights being so affordable between cities, you should take advantage of seeing more than one city while in Thailand. There are other options to take a train or a bus between cities, but the flights are so quick that it’s the most time-efficient option.

Our first two days in Chiang Mai were spent exploring town, taking a cooking class, and enjoying a day with rescued elephants. Our final day in Chiang Mai was jam-packed with temples, each one more unique than the next. Overall, I think it is possible to see Chiang Mai in a minimum of three days. There were many other tours or activities you could do while in Chiang Mai, but I feel we experienced a great mix of shopping, food, temples, and nature. Stay tuned for our future Thailand blog posts on Phuket and Bangkok!

DISCLAIMER: Any brands listed above are not sponsors.

3 Day Chiang Mai Thailand Itinerary – Part 1

Thailand, here we come! Next stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world was Chiang Mai, Thailand. We had heard wonderful travel stories of elephant sanctuaries and beautiful temples in the jungles of northern Thailand, so we knew we had to add this city into our itinerary while we were visiting. In this post, we’ll be covering our three-day itinerary, including transportation, where to stay, guided tours, and the best Thai food in Thailand.


Quick note: Our trip to Thailand includes photos that some may find offensive. Lots of phallic imagery in this country: soaps, sculptures, paintings, and more. If you don’t wish to see these images, then check back in next week for a new Amarvelous Wedding post instead!


Day 1

Transportation

We departed Hong Kong at 10:35am and flew on Air Asia airlines to Chiang Mai International Airport arriving at 12:20pm. The flight was $272 USD for the both of us. There is a one-hour time difference between these cities.

Photo Credit: Google Maps

Chiang Mai International Airport is small. Maybe I am biased, because we had an issue upon landing, but I don’t think the customer service was very good. When our brand-new (wedding gift) hard-shell Samsonite luggage came down the conveyor belt, it had a massive crack in it. That crack happened sometime while our luggage was in the care of the airline and/or airports (Hong Kong or Chiang Mai). Air Asia Customer Service offered us two options: to receive a comparably-sized non-brand-name luggage as a replacement or a small sum of cash so we could go purchase our own luggage in Thailand. We didn’t enjoy either of those options, because our newly destroyed luggage was valued at way higher than the two replacement options. When we expressed our dissatisfaction, they offered us a third option to fill out a form from the airline company, which we did. SPOILER ALERT: Samsonite is a fantastic company and they replaced our luggages. We got the same model, but in soft shell this time.

Pro Tip: Duck tape is your broken luggage’s best friend. We found a 7-Eleven store that sold a roll, and we taped up our luggage. It looked unsightly, but it held the luggage together for the rest of our trip. We were only halfway done with our six-week honeymoon around the world and had several more flights to go.

Our hotel was a 15-minute drive away from the Chiang Mai International Airport, and we utilized the airport taxi stand. Our driver rode over a curb and popped his tire before we even left the parking lot haha. So we got in a new taxi and were finally on our way! Between the broken luggage and the taxi, our first hour in Thailand was eventful.

Where to Stay

Old City is the best area to stay within Chiang Mai, Thailand. It is a cube of land surrounded by a canal located in the heart of Chiang Mai. This area is walkable and has many hotels, restaurants, entertainment, shopping, and small temples. Additionally, most tours that provide transportation will only pick you up from a location within the Old City borders. Being that we were booking two days of tour groups, it was essential to stay in Old City.

Photo Credit: Thailand For Visitors

We stayed at the Somwang Boutique House near the west border of the Old City cube. This was a beautiful, charming three-floor boutique hotel with lots of outdoor seating areas. It checked off all the boxes on our travel wishlist, and, in the end, it worked out really well for us.

  • Washing Machines: We were traveling on a six-week trip and wanted to wash our own clothes as much as possible. Do-it-yourself laundry facilities within the hotel were high on our “must-have” list. The washers were on the top floor with many cables hanging to dry clothes on. We purchased laundry soap at the local store, washed all our clothes upon arrival, and then again before we left. We of course brought all our delicates back to the room to hang dry, but shirts, pants, and bathing suits dried outside on the cables. It was actually really nice putting clothes in the washer then hanging out poolside while they washed. It didn’t matter that the hotel didn’t have dryers, because it was so hot outside that the clothes air-dried very quickly.
  • Pool: It is super HOT in Chiang Mai in the summer. We visited in early May, so we only looked at hotels that had a pool. In hindsight, this pool was in the center of the U-shaped hotel, so most of the day the three-floor building shaded the pool, leaving the water a little chilly. There were other hotels that had a pool on the roof or in an unshaded area. If you can find a hotel like that, the water will be warmer. But like I said, it was so hot that even the brisk water temperature was a welcome relief to my boiling blood. (Can you tell I don’t like being hot? Haha)
  • Included Breakfast: On a long vacation, it’s nice having one meal a day included by the hotel. Eating out three meals a day is not only costly, but it can be exhausting trying to find a spot. This hotel offered a really nice breakfast just across the small street in a separate building. Every morning, they served from 7:30am-10am, and if you had to leave the hotel earlier than 7:30am, then they could prepare you a breakfast to go if you let them know the day before. They offered a buffet of continental breakfast items such as breads, fruits, and juices, then you could sit down at your table and order your hot breakfast items such as eggs and sliced meats. It was nice being able to eat something while the rest of your breakfast was made to order. It helped with getting us on the road for our tours faster.

There were two downsides to our hotel:

  • The room had no storage space. We understood that in a boutique hotel the room may be smaller, which we were totally fine with because we planned on being out all day anyway and hardly spending any time in the room. But guests still expect a closet to hang clothes or drawers to fold and put them away. With the exception of a couple wall hooks, we ended up living out of our suitcases. We made do for our three days here, but had we been staying longer it would have been annoying not having the space.
  • Being only three floors, there were no elevators. Our room was on the second floor. We had a large suitcase, two carry-ons, and two personal bags. The staff was friendly and helped us bring everything upstairs.

After we checked into the hotel, we quickly dropped our bags in the room and left to walk around and explore. The roads are small, and there are hidden gems everywhere. One road had an entrance to a stand market where I picked up a sheer white scarf with blue elephants on it. The next road had a large catch-all store where I purchased a wooden hand fan (so hot).

The next road had a small temple that we decided to explore called Wat Phantao. I knew that Thailand’s temples had certain clothing etiquette, but I hadn’t anticipated on our first day that we would just stumble upon a temple in the heart of the city, so I wasn’t prepared with attire to cover my shoulders and knees. Fortunately for me, there were some very friendly monks that worked at the temple entrance that would loan visitors skirt wraps and shirts for free so they could enter, and they even helped me tie it on. The temple had a tile floor, dark wood walls, a peaked light and dark wood slatted interior roof, and gold ribbons hanging as accents. There was a gorgeous gold Buddha at the far side of the building. The gold color really popped on the dark cherry walls. The sides of the building had donation urns set up. We walked the grounds, then continued on exploring the city.

Our next stop on the walk back to our hotel was a travel agent company storefront. We had only booked our elephant excursion in advance of our travel, because we were informed that they sell out quickly. Other than that, we hadn’t booked other excursions, so we stopped in to see what they offered. Our goal was to book a day at the famous White Temple. The travel agent offered a combo Blue Temple, White Temple, and Black House package that included lunch and transportation. We booked that for one day. They also offered a cooking class with the Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre and had a few additional slots available that very evening, so we booked that too.

We quickly headed back to the hotel to be ready for our cooking class hotel pick-up. A little after we arrived, they showed up in a tuk-tuk van. We were the first hotel pick-up. We stopped at two more hotels that picked up a group of three women, and then two men. We introduced ourselves as we rode along to the first destination and learned that they were from England and Australia and were all taking a gap year between high school and college (so my husband and I were a decade older than everyone else in the class haha). The first stop was a local grocery store to pick up all the ingredients for the cooking class. The hilarious guide cracked jokes and taught us about all the essential Thai cooking ingredients, allowed us to taste several spices and mini dried shrimp, then gave us another five minutes to explore the store on our own and purchase anything we wanted before meeting back in the tuk-tuk and heading to the cooking studio.

The cooking studio was basically a house. You entered the main door to a big courtyard. The cooking school took place in the courtyard and a small air-conditioned building in the back. Everyone was provided an apron and was allowed to select between a few dishes to cook. Everyone made spring rolls as appetizers, then hubby and I each selected different soup, protein dish, and noodle dish options so we could taste several dishes. They also provided everyone with white rice. We had so much fun cooking and learning new techniques. We loved that since everyone had their own cooking station and was only cooking single-serve portions for themselves, you could leave out whatever ingredients you didn’t want. For example, my dish was supposed to include mushrooms, but I don’t care for them so I just left them out! When we finished cooking, we brought all our hard-earned food into the air-conditioned room and feasted on (no exaggeration) the most delicious Thai food that I have, still to this day, ever had in my life. As a parting gift, the cooking school gifted everyone with their own cookbook. All the recipes we cooked were included, plus some extras that we didn’t make.

After the class, with full bellies, we were ready for some dessert. We wanted to keep exploring and walk off some of our meal, so we skipped the shuttle back to our hotel and instead continued our walk around town. We came across this wonderful street and indoor market named Anusarn Market with what seemed like hundreds of stalls selling all types of goods. I purchased a long skirt similar in style to the one that the monk had tied on me (just a whole lot cuter). We haggled down the price a bit because the stand I liked the print at the most had a higher price, so we made a deal. We continued on until we found ice cream cones. Even in the evening, it was so warm that the cold treat was just what the doctor ordered. We ate our desserts as we strolled back to our hotel. We took a night-time dip in the pool to end our first day in Chiang Mai.

Day 2

Day Two was dedicated to an all-day excursion at the Elephant Nature Park. We knew coming to Thailand that we wanted to see elephants up close and personal. It took some research, but we decided on this specific park because they did not allow riding, and all the elephants were rescued from terrible conditions and were being nursed back to health. The proceeds of ticket sales are used to save elephants from extreme conditions and bring them to a peaceful retirement. How can you say no to that?

We woke up, had breakfast at 7:30am at the hotel, then got picked up by bus. The Elephant Nature Park was just over an hour away from our hotel. Upon arrival, we were in awe. There were a bunch of other buses and tourists there, but the property was so large and full of lush greenery, that when we split into our smaller guided groups, it didn’t seem touristy. We were literally in a valley in the middle of the jungle with the Mae Taeng River flowing on the exterior border. It was an elephants’ paradise. The main building was a place for visitors to line up and throughout the day feed the elephants by hand. We held pieces of melon and bananas in our hands, and the elephants would stretch out their trunks to each get a fresh piece. I found it fascinating that they ate the whole piece—rind, skin, and all!

On our guided walk around the park, we were introduced to each elephant by name, told their back story of where they were rescued from, and if they were currently on the mend and healing from an ailment. The park had rescued elephants of all ages, from old to young. Some of the elephants on property even had their own baby elephants. They even had two different species of elephants in the park.

By midday it was so hot, but we got a cool-down with a rain shower. I had worn a one-piece bathing suit and shorts to the park that day, because I knew it would be hot, so I didn’t mind at all that we were getting wet. Bring on the rain! During the rain, we had a lunch break. All the groups headed up to the main facility for our included buffet lunch. Our tour group had been at the far side of the park and arrived last, so some dishes were completely gone. I liked what I had eaten, but I wish we had been able to see what the other dishes were. They were probably the more popular ones, and that’s why they ran out. Oh well! In the time that we were heading back to the dining hall, and hardly any groups were out, our tour guide let us take individual photos with some elephants. I’ll take close-up interactions with elephants over Pad Thai any day haha!

After lunch, we walked around some more and watched the staff wash the elephants. That had been an activity the website said we could participate in, but before we had left for Thailand they emailed us and said for the safety of the elephants they had changed their policy, and guests were no longer allowed in the water. I had been looking forward to getting in the water with the elephants, but when I saw how rough the baby elephants were playing, holding each other under the water, I was relieved we weren’t in there with them! We purchased a mango smoothie and a Thai iced tea from the café, then we got back on the bus to our hotel.

The Elephant Nature Park offered other kinds of tours too. They had tours where you could sleep overnight and then volunteer and be more hands-on and work at the facility. We were on our honeymoon and wanted to fit in other activities while in Chiang Mai, so that option didn’t work for us. They also have a dog sanctuary where you can go for the day and do similar activities that we did with the elephants.

After we arrived back at the hotel, we took a dip in the pool to cool down. Then hubby did some laundry while I headed out to a nail salon a few blocks away called 2SiS Nails & Spa. We had gotten married three weeks earlier, and my gel manicure was not looking pretty, especially after a day with the elephants. It was the tiniest nail place I’ve ever been to. Basically just one woman and two chairs. It took her almost two hours to strip my gel manicure and do a new manicure and pedicure. I hadn’t anticipated it would take that long, but I was glad I did it.

Once she was done, hubby met me, and we walked back towards the hotel to John’s Place Tapae Gate restaurant just at the corner of our block. We went to the upstairs balcony overlooking the canal below and sat at a booth. So many things on the menu sounded good. We ordered the same soup we had the night before at the cooking school, Pad Thai, battered and fried shrimp, and a mango sticky rice for dessert. The people at the booth next to us were looking at us and laughing a bit. We had not really known why, until we got our food. When the server was coming over the people turned around to us and said “big!” and that’s when we realize just how large the portion sizes were at this restaurant. The soup was like a whole pot’s worth. The fried shrimp was a whole plate of fried shrimp among other battered and fried foods like onion rings. The Pad Thai was a big heaping pile. And the mango sticky rice was also really large for a dessert. Haha whelp… no way of knowing we were significantly over-ordering. We had such a long day we were probably ordering with our eyes. We ate as much as we possibly could then headed back to the hotel.


Our first two days in Thailand were jam-packed with shopping, cooking, elephants, and swimming. Even though we got off to a rocky start with a broken luggage and a busted taxi, things significantly turned around, and we were loving our time in Thailand!! Stay tuned for the rest of our 3 Day Chiang Mai Thailand Itinerary: Part 2 will be released in two weeks!

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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!

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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!

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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