A Week in Sanya, Hainan, the “Hawaii of China”

Sanya is a city in the southern portion of China’s Hainan Island, known as the “Hawaii of China.” This was our eighth stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world. We were officially in the latter half of our trip and planned to spend a relaxing week in the south of China, soaking up the sun. Continue reading to learn about how we booked the trip, language, currency, transportation, our hotel, food, small town visits, downtown visits, and an excursion to a breathtaking park.

How We Booked

First, I’ll dive into a mini education for those couples reading this that are engaged…While you’re engaged, you have the opportunity to attend many events, such as wedding expos and venue expos. A wedding expo is a general expo probably hosted at a conference center in your town that will feature many different venues and vendors. A venue expo is hosted by a particular venue, and they usually showcase their preferred vendors. The latter is mostly for couples who are already booked or interested in booking that particular venue. These are free opportunities to learn more about venues and vendors. Often, there are door prizes that you can enter into just for attending the event or booth prizes that you can enter if you speak to the representative running that booth. My point in telling you about these events and prizes is that you should take advantage of all the wedding perks you can.

We happen to have won our week-long stay in Sanya as a door prize at a venue expo! Well, we particularly won a week-long hotel stay for a company that had properties all over the world. We knew we’d be in Asia, so we searched their website for an eligible Asia hotel during our dates and found our hotel in Sanya. You do still pay taxes and fees (and likely airfare) when you win trips like these, so it’s not totally free, but it’s significantly cheaper than if you paid the full price.

If you are looking into booking Sanya and aren’t limited by a prize trip (like we were), then you may consider booking closer to the downtown area. Although we were in a quiet resort-lined beach area, we did need to taxi about 23 minutes to get to the main hub on Jiefang Road.


Overall, the main languages in Sanya are Hainanese, Putonghua, Cantonese and, believe it or not, Russian. We learned that a lot of people who live in Russia also vacation to this island, being that it’s a tropical paradise pretty close to home. We even saw signs in Russian when in town.

The first challenge we had experienced in Sanya was that no one working in our hotel spoke a lick of English. It was extreme culture shock, because everywhere that we had been thus far in Asia did speak some English, and Hubby speaks Japanese. It took some patience, and both the front desk receptionist and us using a translating app, but we eventually successfully communicated.

Don’t let lack of speaking the language deter you from traveling to new places. With technology these days, you can communicate easily enough. However, we do always recommend you learn a few pleasantries in the foreign language such as “please,” “thank you,” “hello,” and “goodbye.” We also recommend you learn emergency words such as “help” and “police” just in case. But hopefully you’ll never use those.


We forgot to use an ATM at the airport to take out Chinese Yuan (the primary currency on the island). We still had some Yuan leftover from our visit to Beijing, but we were running low. So we took a taxi into the downtown area to find an ATM. We stopped into several small banks, and our cards wouldn’t work in the machines. We recognized the Agricultural Bank of China, and that bank allowed us to withdraw. But for a hot second, we thought we were stranded in China with no money or even enough cash to taxi back to the hotel. Very stressful. Long story short, definitely pull out cash in the airport ATM where there is bound to be some English speaker who can answer questions if you experience problems. Not all stores will accept credit cards in China, so it’s essential to carry enough cash on you for your stay. For reference, at the time of writing this post, $1 USD is around ¥7.15 Chinese Yuan—a great exchange rate!


The Sanya airport is very small. It’s actually two buildings: one for domestic and one for international flights. Arriving into Sanya was easy. We hopped into a taxi, and our hotel was only twelve minutes from the airport. Upon leaving Sanya a week later, however, we did have some confusion as to which building to be dropped off at. We figured that since we were heading to Japan we should go to the international terminal, so we got dropped off at the larger modern international building. But they made us change buildings, because our flight stopped briefly in Guangzhou, China, and they therefore treated our flight as domestic. Ensure extra time in case you too have to switch buildings. We had to schlep our luggages across the whole terminal, down a couple flights of steps, across a small street, and into the next building.

The domestic building seemed like it was the original airport building. Although smaller and older, it had a charming vibe with wood accents. Though small, it still had an airport lounge with some snacks and beverages, which we were grateful for. Beware that if flying domestic (or if you have a domestic layover like we had) through China, you will go back through a screening process when you land, and any foods and liquids (even purchased in the previous airport) must be discarded. We had packed a few snacks and waters from the Sanya airport lounge, and when we landed in Guangzhou they were confiscated.

Taxis were available easily at the airport. We recommend you print out all of your hotel/excursion paperwork so you can show the address to your drivers. Communication may not be easy, and having the printout will allow drivers to see the exact place you are trying to go. Once at the hotel, because it is located outside of downtown, taxis will need to be called by the front desk. Once you are in the downtown area, you can find taxis all over. Even at the park we visited, there was a taxi line at the exit.


We stayed at the HNA @ International Asia Pacific Convention Center Sanya, located in the Sanya Bay Resort District. This area was resort after resort lining just across the street from the beach. When we booked the hotel online through the prize company, the photos looked great! And although the hotel ended up being very nice, it looked absolutely NOTHING like the photos online. So that was a minor shock upon arrival.

Our hotel looked nothing like these two photos that were on our final booking paperwork

They originally gave us a great room, with the exception of the two twin beds. For our honeymoon, that just wasn’t going to fly. So we went back downstairs and used the translation app to say that we wanted the beds together (hand motions and all). They gave us a new room with a king size bed, but now it was a small room with a partial wall and street view instead of the spectacular view that we had before, overlooking the large pool area. This second room should have been a utility closet or something. So we defeatedly went back downstairs and said we would just take the original room. Hubby was awesome and did some rearranging of the furniture, and boom, a king size honeymoon bed!

Our room was very nice! I believe this was the largest room of our six-week honeymoon. It had a separate desk and sitting area, spacious bathroom, closet, mini fridge, newly created king size bed, a balcony with chairs, and a great view. Had we been on a higher floor than the second, we probably could have seen the ocean view over the tree line. But even without an ocean view, our room was perfect because we had a pool view. It also became convenient when one of us went upstairs to grab something and we could talk to the person below to see if they needed anything before heading back down.

The lobby was spacious. We took the stairs most days instead of waiting for the elevator, because we were only on the second floor. The downstairs had a bar, a small convenience store, and a restaurant. The back area included the largest hotel pool I’ve ever seen in my life. It was so large that even with everyone swimming, you were never too close to anyone else. There was plenty of space for kids in shallow waters, exercise laps, and waders like myself getting carried around by the wind on my float. Lounge chairs lined the pool area. I do feel they could have supplied more chairs as only some had optimal sun vs shade ratio. We had to get downstairs early to claim our chairs, but after learning that on our first day, we were fine. There was also an outdoor portion of the restaurant and fountains leading to the beach across the street.

Once across the street, you are literally in the sand. The beach was never too busy. As the whole area has resorts lining the beach, it was private. I am an avid seashell finder, and when I am at any beach I am scoping the sand for pretty shells. We started to find a bunch of shells and were picking them all up. Then we realized there were small creatures living in them and dropped them back into the water. We found very few shells without small crabs and snails inside. So, although the beach in this region has nice shells, you will be hard-pressed to find something you can bring home. After seven days, we probably only had a sandwich bag full. There was definitely a noticeably higher level of waste in the water than we had experienced at any other beach around the world. But we saw lots of jelly fish in the water at the time of year we visited (May), so we didn’t go in anyway. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying daily sunset walks on the beach.


On our first night at the hotel we ate dinner at the poolside restaurant. There was a talented singer who performed nightly, which created a nice ambiance. But we ordered a beef dish and literally got a plate full of small bones with no meat on it. We couldn’t even tell what part of the animal it was because it was in such small pieces. Beef at all? Questionable. We felt like we were being pranked. We tried to eat it, laughing the whole time at the scenario. Even in Beijing China, we hadn’t had difficulty ordering because all the menus had photos next to each dish. Here, too, there were photos, but nothing was in English so we weren’t even sure what we ordered! We left a bit hungry that night but with good laughs. Other nights that we ate dinner at our hotel, we took a cue from the Russian tourists and ordered meat kebabs. Those were great!

Super Skeptical about the kebabs after our first dining experience…but they ended up being great!

On the second night, we ventured to a neighboring hotel’s restaurant. Our goal in exploring the neighborhood had honestly been to find an ATM. The hotel was a Sheraton, so we figured maybe the American brand hotel would have an ATM that our cards would work in. It didn’t. However, we learned they had a buffet and decided to eat there for dinner. This buffet was about $30 USD per person. For China, that was expensive, but they had great food. Our favorite was the endless supply of grilled lamb chops. Nice ambiance again with live entertainment and outdoor seating under the moonlight. Ended up being our nicest and most romantic dinner.

The next day, we went to the front desk to ask about things to do in the area and grocery stores to buy snacks. We tried using the translating app again to communicate. Then a friendly pilot from an airline company came over and introduced himself. Apparently, his company puts the pilot and flight attendants up in the hotel overnight all the time, as it’s so close to the airport. He knew the area like the back of his hand. He explained that local small-town food shops and restaurants were in walking distance just a few blocks away. We were so excited to meet another English speaker and grateful that stores were so close we could just go out and explore.

We followed his directions exactly: walk out of the hotel to the main front road, turn right, walk down to the first stoplight, cross the street to the left, walk down a block, cross a small bridge, and then that upcoming strip of stores was our destination on Taoyuan Road. It was about a ten-minute walk and well worth it! We found many grocery stores. For beverages, we purchased large bottles of water and juice. For breakfast, we got fresh fruits like different varieties of mangoes and bananas, muffins, buns, and yogurt. For lunch, we got instant ramen bowls. There were so many flavors to choose from that each day it felt like we were eating something different. We also purchased a ton of snack foods like crazy flavored chips (the steak flavor was my ultimate favorite), cookies, candies, etc. All the food was extremely affordable, but the ramen was our best purchase. It was so hot outside in May that we also purchased ice creams and ate them as we continued our walk.

On our first trip to this strip of stores, we found a small family-owned local restaurant to stop in and eat lunch. They had pictures posted of all the food, so we felt confident when we ordered. We got a beef noodle dish and a chicken dish, and both were delicious! The gentleman who owned the shop literally hand-made the noodles in front of us, folding the dough over several times until it became many layers, stretching out the layers until they were thin strings, then cutting the long strings into delicious, fresh noodles. On another occasion, we ate at a Chinese fast food chicken and burger joint. We didn’t know the name, but they had a picture of a Ninja Burger as their logo. They sold fried chicken sandwiches that we really liked. We ended up visiting this restaurant a few times during our stay, as it was convenient, reliable (not a plate of bones!), and had a scene of young people our age eating there due to free Wi-Fi. We also saw on the map app on our cell phones that there was a dumpling joint nearby and tried to eat there, but it seemed to be closed permanently.

In the downtown area that was a taxi ride away, we found a bunch of stores, restaurants, and fast food options. The day we were walking around that area, we found Pizza Hut and decided to stop in to eat. Even though that chain is somewhere we could eat in America, it was totally different than America, because they had very unique flavors for pizza. Hubby’s pie was actually a square cheese-stuffed crust segmented into four flavors: pineapple ham, pepperoni, vegetable, and Korean BBQ pork with eel sauce. I got a personal pan pineapple ham (my favorite). On another trip to the downtown area, we also got McDonald’s. I know, we kept choosing American fast food in China, but honestly after the plate of bones on the first day, a real meal was more than welcome. On the taxi ride to the downtown area, you will also pass some really cool buildings with some creative architecture. Pleasant surprises everywhere you look in Sanya!

Day-Trip Excursion

This honeymoon stop was totally supposed to be about relaxing and no excursions, and although Hubby would have been pleased to spend a full seven days tanning poolside, I was going stir crazy only a few days in. We did some impromptu online searches for things to do in the area and found the Yalong Bay Tropic Paradise Forest Park. We got ready for the day, took a taxi into town (Jiefang Road) to a large grocery store for snacks and water bottles. Then we hailed another taxi and drove about 35 minutes to the park. On the way there, we kept researching and learned that by the time we arrived we would only have two and a half hours to explore before they closed. Oh well, we were already on our way!

Upon arrival, you purchase the ¥158 CNY ($22.10 USD) ticket and then get ushered onto a small open-air bus that takes you for a ride up the mountain. When we got off, we went on a great hike up steep rock steps until we finally came to a large canyon with a rope footbridge. It was a breathtaking view. A bit crowded, but if you have patience, you can get some less obstructed shots. After the bridge, we continued on our hike to some treehouse lookouts. Although we had a great day, we wished we had known about the hours of operation prior to visiting, because we would have made an earlier start and had a full day there. The park definitely has a lot more to offer than we experienced. Plan your day accordingly. Even writing this post, I looked up the park again and realized they have a transparent-floor illusion bridge. Can’t believe we missed that!!

My Biggest Regret

Whether lounging poolside, walking along the beach, taking a taxi into town, or at the park, everywhere we looked we saw couples with professional photographers doing photoshoots. This was a popular activity in Hainan because of the tropical lush greenery and blue water vistas. I wholeheartedly regret not going over and trying to communicate with them to see if we could set up a photo shoot. They had been at our resort daily, so it would have been convenient, and with the exchange rate it probably wouldn’t have been too expensive. The photographer at our resort brought a see-through kayak, a surf board that said “engaged” on it, and some other props. Often, the photographer placed the couple, stepped back to get himself ready for the shot, and then his assistant did the final touch before the photo was snapped. This could have been something like drifting the kayak out into the pool to make them look like they were in the middle of the water or splashing water at just the right spot. The photos were completely staged, but I’m sure they looked beautiful in the end and would have been a unique souvenir of our time in China.

Pro Tips

  • Hainan is a tropical place, and small creatures may find their way into your room. Therefore, avoid leaving any open food out. There was a time we went out for dinner and came back in to find a small animal (of an unknown variety still to this day) scurry out of the way when we flipped the lights on. I screamed, and it was gone. Maybe a large mouse or shudder very large spider. I couldn’t even sleep in the room that night until Hubby completed a full inspection of the place and confirmed he couldn’t find it. I guess however it got in, it got back out. We never saw it again, because from that point on we wrapped up everything and put it into the fridge when we were done with it.
  • We found a store that sold general items, and I picked up a large donut pool float. Our resort had floats for rent, which were such a waste of money because they rented per hour! So I was extremely happy when we found these floats. It came deflated and they filled it with a machine when we purchased. After we got back to the hotel, we realized it was beginning to deflate—just our luck! But we are in China, so there was no option of returns. A hole in my new donut float! I was devastated. Haha We took the float to the pool to see where the bubbles of air were coming out, and then get crafty and covered the tiny hole with a sprinkle size piece or duct tape. In the end you can hardly tell that we did a repair because it blended in so perfectly with the design. We already had duct tape on hand because our brand-new luggage broke earlier in the trip, and we had to buy duct tape to tape it back together until we got back home to return it. The float was a total splurge, because the price was about what I would have paid in America, but I will say that it significantly increased my poolside enjoyment, and over a year later I still have it. So well worth the money! Don’t waste money on renting from your resort.
  • You will find the most unique purple seashells in Sanya. Beware that even when no animal seems to be living inside, if you take it from the beach, it will smell like something died in it. Purple is my favorite color and I was taken aback by the beauty of these shells in varying shades from lilac to plum. I took two back up to our hotel room and ended up relocating them to the balcony until I finally ditched them back on the beach. Stinky little things! Pictures below show the snail type animal that would normally live in this shell.

The island of Hainan, in China, and the city of Sanya specifically, was a complete surprise to us. We booked it on a whim, having never heard of it before. We planned on sun and relaxation and got so much more. Everything since even before wedding day had been a whirlwind, and this week of lounging poolside allowed us to reset. Staying off the beaten path allowed us to explore and dine like locals. We also learned some valuable travel lessons that we’ll keep with us forever. We highly recommend Sanya!

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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


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!

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4 Day Beijing Itinerary – Part Two

Welcome back for Part Two of the 4 Day Beijing Itinerary! If you missed Part One, which covered Day One and Day Two, you can access it here. I wanted to provide as much detail as possible, so I split this itinerary into two posts. In Part One, I covered jet-lag, our hotel, Tiananmen Square, Zhongshan Park, tasty bites, transportation, security, and restrooms. In Part Two, we’ll dive into a full-day Great Wall excursion, historic sites, and scrumptious foods.

Day 3

We spent the entire day with a tour booked through our hotel concierge. We were going to see the Great Wall, so we asked the front desk if they had a recommended tour company, and they handed us a whole binder of different tours we could pick from. The day began early with a 7:30am hotel pickup by shuttle van, where we learned we were the only two on the tour and lucked out with a private tour for the day!

Our awesome tour guide, Maria, spoke four languages including Chinese, English, Japanese, and Russian. Our first stop of the tour was to the Jade Museum, where we got a brief introduction to jade stone. We learned how it is cut and sculpted, how to tell real jade from fake, the supposed health benefits of wearing jade, and the cultural significance of jade to Chinese history, then we explored many different colorings, shapes, and sizes of jewelry and home furnishings that we had the opportunity to purchase. We were not really in the market for jade jewelry, but we do collect Christmas ornaments from everywhere we travel around the world, so we ended up making a small purchase of a few jade trinkets hanging from a braided string. There was something for everyone’s taste and price range. I recommend waiting to make souvenir purchases until a day with a tour group. They build in a few opportunities to make purchases that are authentic and unique to China than just walking down a random street in China and making a souvenir purchase of something not as authentic.

The next stop we made was to the Ming Dynasty Tombs. Unfortunately, it was disrespectful to take photos inside the tomb, so we don’t have any. Maria came inside with us and gave us an explanation of the importance of the feng shui geography of the tombs, the architectural significance of the buildings, and the artifacts and clothing on display in the tombs. There were exquisitely preserved gold crowns and headdresses, plus Emperor’s silk robes sewn with gold dragon embellishments.

After the tombs, we were headed to the Great Wall. Maria gave us a couple of options on which portion of the wall we could visit. There was one spot with a tram lift you could ride instead of walk the wall, but there was an additional tram fee that we would have to pay, on top of the price of the tour. Otherwise, there was a portion you walk up, but it was more basic and not much to look at. Thirdly, the option that we chose and that Maria recommended, the Junguang portion of the Great Wall had a steeper incline but had other buildings near the Wall, making it a more unique and picturesque location. We went to Junguang and spent 90 minutes on a self-guided walk. It was a serious physical challenge walking up this steep portion of the wall. There was a point I felt we were walking straight upwards. There may have been less strenuous portions of the wall to visit, but this one was so beautiful. Our view was mountains with the expansive wall winding through the hills and valleys. Every once in a while, there was a watch tower lookout. We only witnessed a tiny portion of the Great Wall that stretches 13,170 miles across China (including over 30 million steps). It’s incredible to think that people built it so many years ago, and once completed they worked on the Wall daily, walking the many miles and climbing thousands of steps. I was winded after my first flight of steps! I was a bit terrified going down and needed to hold the guard rails for support and fear of falling. There was a small gift shop at the bottom of the Wall where we purchased a silly “I have climbed the Great Wall” medal that we turned into another Christmas ornament.

Hubby put together this collage and lined up the mountains in the background

When we left the Wall, we headed to a nearby restaurant (translated in English to The Golden Hand Spoon). The restaurant doesn’t show up on Google maps, but I can provide you with the coordinates, if you are even in Beijng and near that portion of the Great Wall, because it’s 100% worth it to go: 40°14’16.4″N 116°08’08.9″E. Maria made a call to our lunch restaurant to place our order and have the food ready for our arrival. About 15 minutes later, we arrived at the restaurant for a family-style meal of two dishes. Our chicken dish was kung pao chicken, a chicken dish with peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers in a sweet and slightly spicy sauce. The vegetable dish was Di San Xian, a three-vegetable dish which included fried potato, eggplant, and green peppers in a savory, garlic, brown oil sauce. Both were served with white rice. This was surprisingly the best meal we had on our honeymoon and also the best Asian food I’ve ever had in my life (still to this day). The portion was so large that even though we ate at 1:00pm, and the food was excellent, and we had worked up a massive appetite on the wall, we still couldn’t finish it all. We ended up asking to take home the rest (which we ate later for dinner in the hotel, and it was even delicious cold).

After the restaurant, we stopped at Dr. Tea, a government-run tea shop. We experienced a tea ceremony and had the opportunity to learn and taste four to six teas commonly drunk in China: Jasmine, Oolong, Fruit, and Pu’er (an aged tea). Also available, which we didn’t taste, were ginseng Oolong tea and white tea. We purchased a few kinds of loose tea to bring home. On our drive back to our hotel in Beijing proper, we drove through the Beijing Olympic Village and Park and saw the home to the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the future home, and active construction site, to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Apparently, senior tourists are also taken on an excursion to the hospital for a foot massage, but as we were on the younger side Maria said we shouldn’t go, so we took her advice about that. Looking back, though, I don’t know why we wouldn’t want a foot rub after such an exhausting walk on the Great Wall haha!

So all of that was included in the tour: The private English-speaking tour guide, transportation, jade museum, the Ming Tombs, Great Wall, the best food of our lives which fed us for lunch and dinner, and Dr. Tea all for $55 USD per person, plus tip. That was an insane deal.

Pro Tips:

  • Haggle the pricing at the Jade Museum. There was a point where we asked to see lion figures, and they showed us a set of two small lions. It was totally out of the budget we were looking to spend on jade. When we said that to our sales specialist, he immediately took 20% off the price without us asking. So there is some flexibility here.
  • Not many countries do to-go boxes or doggie bags. That’s an American concept. Although we knew this, the food was too good to leave behind left-overs, so we asked anyway. Keep in mind some restaurants may not have designated boxes and may re-purpose containers to give you the leftovers.
  • We learned that tipping is not customary in China unless to a private tour guide and driver and in other special circumstances. We tipped around $30 USD to our tour guide and $11 USD to our driver. We tipped a bit on the higher range, as it was a private tour and they spent the whole day with us as opposed to rescheduling us to a day with other guests.

Day 4

We began our day at Holiland bakery for breakfast again. This time, we got these mini flavored cheesecakes. They were available in several flavors, and during our stay in Beijing we probably tried them all. I can’t even put into words how good they are. Each box was packed with five mini cheesecakes. The store gives samples, so feel free to try all the flavors (like we did) before you buy a box. They were so delicious that we bought two extra boxes and put them in our hotel fridge so we could take them with us the next morning when we were leaving the hotel early to head to our next destination.

For our fourth day in Beijing, we decided to visit the famous Forbidden City and Palace Museum in Central Beijing. The property was constructed from 1406 to 1420, consists of 980 buildings, covers over 180 acres, was declared a World Heritage site in 1987, and was listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world. I mean, how impressive is that?? There is a $9 USD entrance fee, as well as long lines to purchase tickets and go through security, but it was well worth the wait. We really enjoying the architecture and gift shops (which were aplenty). We purchased a custom hand-painted small glass ornament. The artist’s technique was unique, because he used a fine brush and carefully painted inside the glass ball. I also purchased a beautiful pearl and crystal hair comb. Souvenirs seemed to be more traditional and authentic in the Forbidden City, so this would also be a great place to shop. The site gets very crowded, which could potentially be avoided if you arrive first thing in the morning when they open at 8:30am.

After we finished at the northern part of the Forbidden City, we crossed the river and entered Jingshan Park. The park covers 57 acres with the artificial hill, Jingshan “Prospect Hill,” being the focal point. From this higher peak, you have a magnificent view of the Forbidden City. We were up there before sunset, and it was spectacular lighting over the red buildings with yellow clay tile roofs. Jingshan Park and Zhongshan Park were both very different but beautiful in their own way. If you have time to experience them both, I’d recommend it. I think I preferred Zhongshan Park because it was more of a garden with traditional buildings sprinkled in, whereas the focal points of Jingshan Park are the buildings and view of the Forbidden City.

We exited Jingshan Park on Jingshan East Street then walked north towards Jingshan Back Street and North on Di’anmen Outer Street. We were just aimlessly walking around until we spotted this gorgeous white bridge overlooking a waterway with the sunset glowing over the water in the distance. It is called Jinding Bridge down from Qianhai Nanyan road.

The bridge discovery led us to a large lake surrounded by a promenade, restaurants, and nightlife, so we decided to enjoy our final dinner in Beijing here. We continued to walk north up the lake and stopped into Nuage restaurant. I had hoped we could have Peking duck for our final meal, but the restaurant we chose only served a large full duck. Being that we weren’t that hungry, we missed out on that opportunity. The dinner we did have was okay but not as good as our Great Wall meal.

After dinner, we walked to the nearest subway, because after three days straight of scaling the Great Wall and walking all over town, my legs were exhausted! We took the train back to our hotel and packed up.

Day 5

We woke up extremely early on our final day in Beijing. Holiland cheesecakes in hand, we took a local train to Beijing South Railway Station, where we boarded a bullet train to Tianjin Station. This was both our first times on a bullet train, and we were so impressed by the ultra-fast speed. Our photos basically came out blurred, but the videos showed just how fast we were traveling. From there, we got on the Jinbin Light Rail to the cruise port. From this station, we still needed to hail a taxi to drive us to the actual cruise ship, but I imagine that the taxi drivers see tourists and know that they need rides to the port, so it was much easier to grab this taxi than it was grab one from the Beijing Airport to our hotel on Day 1.

Photo Credit: JEC

Pro Tips:

  • You shouldn’t drink the tap water in China. Stock up on large bottles of water. Be careful eating foods that include unboiled water, or even things like fruits and vegetables that are raw and washed in tap water.
  • Be careful hand-washing clothes in China. We thought we were buying clothes soap from the store, but it ended up being bleach. A lot of my yoga pants are made of spandex, so they didn’t get ruined, but I did get bleach stains on a cotton shirt of mine. Whoops! BYOS (bring your own soap) haha or at least make sure that you’re buying laundry soap and not bleach.

So that was the end of our 4 day Beijing China itinerary. Some of the highlights included relaxing down-time to recover from exhausting jet-lag, walking the Great Wall, eating the most delicious Chinese food of our lives, strolling through two immaculate gardens, and marveling at the history of the Forbidden City and Ming Tomb. I absolutely loved Beijing. Of the cities we visited in China, Beijing was my favorite. If you are planning a future trip to Beijing, I hope our experiences and pro tips aid in your planning. Going to Asia for the first time, we learned a lot. The remainder of our six-week honeymoon was in Asia, but the next stop was a cruise to Japan and Hong Kong. Keep an eye out for the next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post that will cover our Royal Caribbean Cruise through Asia!

Screenshot from our phone the day we walked the Great Wall

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4 Day Beijing Itinerary – Part One

Hello, fellow travel lovers, and welcome to my 4-Day Beijing Itinerary! I’ll be splitting this itinerary into two posts, as it is just way too much content for one. This was hubby’s and my first time in China, and Beijing was the second stop on our six-week honeymoon around the world. On our honeymoon, it was a goal to cross off several of our bucket list items. I had wanted to see one of the new seven wonders of the world, so walking the Great Wall of China was mostly what prompted Beijing being added to our itinerary, and I’m so glad we went.

In Part One of the Beijing blog posts, I’ll be covering what we experienced over the first two days, including a serious case of jetlag, our enormous hotel, Tiananmen Square, an incredible garden called Zhongshan Park, tasty bites, transportation, security, and restrooms.

Beijing China Zhongshan Park

We were visiting in late April right after our wedding. Most likely, spring is the best time of year to witness the flowers in full glorious bloom, like we did. Although mid-day it was warm, we still carried light jackets around with us, as early morning and evening had a chill in the air.

Spring has sprung in Beijing China Zhongshan Park

Travel Day

For the second leg of our honeymoon, we were flying from London to Beijing. Our Aeroflot flight left London Heathrow Airport around 1:25pm with a two-hour stopover in Moscow, then onto Beijing. We crossed over several time zones on this journey, so the day was fully dedicated to travel. The London-to-Moscow flight takes about four hours, plus three hours were lost due to the time difference. Then the Moscow-to-Beijing flight takes about seven-and-a-half hours, plus we lost five hours due to the time difference. We arrived in Beijing around 9:00am the next day.

During our stopover in Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport, we were in Terminal F and used our Priority Pass to pop into the Classic Lounge. This lounge was more traditional in fashion with striped wallpaper, etched mirror art, elaborate drapery, leather seating, and darker mood lighting. There were a couple large rooms allowing many people to sit, which made this one of the larger lounges we visited. Overall, the lounge was cozy. There were food, beverages, and alcohol, but the food was nothing to write home about.

Pro Tip:

  • Print out reservations for flights, hotels, and activities. With the language barrier, it made it easier to pull out the piece of paper and give that to the assisting local. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable giving someone my cellphone for them to look at.

Day 1

We landed in Beijing, collected our luggage, then headed through the airport towards the taxi exit. This was one of our principal mistakes in Beijing. We’re New Yorkers, so we’re used to taxis, but this was an awful experience. It wasn’t a regulated system like in NYC. Several taxi companies persistently tried to get us to ride with them, and everyone quoted us different prices. The commonality was that they were all ridiculously high prices. There was also a clear language barrier. We walked back and forth from one line to the next and finally just settled on the first company we spoke with, because they quoted us the cheapest rate. We only had two small roller carry-ons and one large shared luggage, but the companies charged us more because we needed a bigger taxi for only two people. It was so frustrating and an unpleasant first impression of China. I recommend you avoid the taxi situation altogether and ride the train to your hotel. I’ll talk about trains later in this post.

Our hotel was the Jianguo Garden Hotel (17 Jianguo Men Nei Road Dongcheng District Beijing 100005 China). It was massive, with a spacious lobby, indoor swimming pool, and several restaurants inside. The lobby also smelled faintly like flowers and soap, not too strong while still being pleasant. Our room was a decent size, and the bed was comfortable. For the activities that we planned to do in Beijing, it was a prime location where we could walk to most things or effortlessly hop on a train to get to the farther away locations. For under $100 a night, I wouldn’t change anything about our selection.

After we checked into the hotel and unpacked our bags, we were famished. So we decided to have lunch at one of the conveniently located hotel lobby restaurants. After we paid and sat down, we realized it was a buffet. Whoops! Language barrier. We enjoyed an assortment of delicious buns, dumplings, soups, meats, and fish. Then we went back up to the hotel room and fell into food and time zone-induced coma. We literally “napped” the rest of the day away haha! I always love an overnight flight, because you can sleep on the plane, save money on a hotel for the night, and not waste the daytime flying. However, with such a big time jump, there was no saving our bodies from shutting down. We were still on London time, and it was technically 5:00am for us. Also, when flying from Moscow to Beijing, the plane was empty so hubby and I both got a row of three seats to ourselves! I opened up the trays and got some work done, so I didn’t sleep much on that second flight.

When we woke up from our nap, it was about 9:00pm. We definitely had not anticipated sleeping that long. We were groggy, but we got up, got dressed, and went out on an adventure to find dinner. Most places were closed because it was already late at night. We found a mom-and-pop restaurant called “Old Beijing Steamed Stuffed Bun” in English a few blocks away and decided to eat there. Thank goodness for photos on the menu, because nothing was in English nor did they speak English. We ordered what looked like a wonton soup and a chow mein. They were absolutely delightful, and the total was $4 USD for both of us to eat!! With full bellies, we strolled back to our hotel. We explored a little more along the way, but it was drizzling, so we didn’t stay out too long. Then we went to bed so we could seize the day tomorrow.

Pro Tip:

  • Build in jetlag time. We were pretty flexible with our Beijing schedule because we knew as our first stop in Asia we would suffer with jetlag. Don’t feel sullen about a nap, just schedule it in.

Day 2

We woke up early, officially on China time and not exhausted from jetlag. We left the hotel and headed towards a local bakery called Holiland that we had seen while exploring the night before. We enjoyed a delectable pastry breakfast including bread with red bean paste, an orange marmalade bun, a hotdog bun, and an egg crème pie. Mmm! Seating was limited, so we went outside and ate in the nearby park. Holiland is a definite MUST for your dining in Beijing! You’ll see we ate there a number of times, as we loved it so much.

The next adventure for the day was our first subway ride in China. We are subway pros, because we live in NYC and public transit is a way of life for us. However, after our Beijing subway experience, we learned that subways in China are far superior to NYC (we would later learn that the same could be said about Hong Kong and Japan—the subways in Asia are fantastic). We entered the subway at the park where we had stopped to eat breakfast. There was an airport-style bag check and walk-through metal detector machine before you can enter to purchase tickets. For our first time buying tickets at a machine, we couldn’t find the English button (spoiler alert, there WAS a button and we found it the next time we rode). Hubby can speak Japanese and also read a little, and the characters are similar to Chinese, so thankfully we successfully navigated through the computer kiosk to buy two tickets for where we needed to go haha! If you don’t speak or read the Chinese language, then just try harder to find the “English” button than hubby and I did lol. Other than that, the signs underground were in Chinese and English. All announcements played in Chinese, followed by the English translation. We rode the train for two stops before we reached our destination. Overall, a very easy system once you figure out how to purchase a ticket. We found subways in China to be safer, cleaner, more on time, and accommodating for multiple languages than the trains in New York.

When we exited the station at Tiananmen East stop, we were escorted into more security lines. This time, all locals were showing their IDs and we had to present our passports with Chinese visa proof. Good thing we brought them around with us! Had we not packed them in our day bags, we wouldn’t have been allowed through to our attraction. It was random luck, because we would normally keep them secure in the hotel safe. From that moment on, hubby and I decided to securely carry our passports on us while exploring Asian cities for the remaining five weeks. We went again through bag check and metal detectors and then were able to walk through to Tiananmen Square.

Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world. It’s massive. The center has monuments and statues surrounded by intricate garden work, then the exterior consists of museums and government buildings. A sight to behold. We walked around to see the Monument to the People’s Heroes, Reliefs in Monument, Workers Statue, and Tiananmen Tower. If you have the time, you could experience some of the surrounding museums and buildings like The National Museum of China, The Great Hall of the People, and Mao Zedong Memorial Hall too.

Across the street, north from Tiananmen Square, you can walk through the underground passageway that leads you to the entrance of Zhongshan Park (or “Central Park” in English). Entry fee was 10 Chinese Yuan (CNY), or about $1.58 USD, per person to enter. This is an absolute must-see in Beijing. The gardens were really spectacular and some of the most beautiful that I had ever had the pleasure to experience. We captured dozens of stunning shots. The primary flowers were tulips of all varieties and colors, with waterways, bridges, and traditional buildings mixed in. We easily spent two hours walking through the property, taking photos, and admiring the scenery. We also purchased a couple of unique souvenirs at the gift shop.

I would recommend packing snacks or a lunch. There were plenty of shaded spots with benches and tables where groups had picnics. They did have a café towards the back of the park, but the only food they sold were hot dogs on a stick (no bun) and corn on the cob on a stick. We were trying to play it safe with our digestive systems and waited till we left the park to find a restaurant.

This park is where I experienced my very first crouching bathroom, an experience I later learned is unavoidable in China. Most outdoor spaces with public toilets and even some restaurant toilets are in this style. If prepared, you can avoid the culture shock. Each stall has a door that you can lock, a hole in the ground, a flushing system, and a garbage pail. There are some tiles that show you where to place your feet. You crouch down and “go” in the hole. There is usually no toilet paper in the stall. Some bathrooms have a communal paper dispenser to grab your paper before you enter your stall, some have an attendant that charges you for paper, or you can bring your own. Some bathrooms have a bucket of water with a scoop or a water hose you can use to wash yourself with if you don’t have paper. If you are a Westerner (like myself) and are used to the dry feeling afterward, carry a tissue or toilet paper with you. Almost all bathrooms in China had signs that said to not flush the toilet paper, as it clogs the pipes. There is a small trash pail that you are supposed to put the soiled toilet paper into. Not all restrooms have soap, so definitely always carry around hand sanitizer.

Donghuamen Street had countless shops and restaurants. We found lunch at Beijing Dawanju Restaurant. We ordered a ramen soup and a beef and kale to share. Chinese chopsticks are larger and rounder than the sushi chopsticks we use in America. Took a few extra tries for me to successfully pick up a piece of slippery, sauced-up kale haha! Lunch was tasty for finding this place on the fly.

We continued down the road until (Wangfujing Street and Donghuamen Street) and came across a massive intersection where all four corners were shopping malls. We entered one of the malls by the Apple store. This mall was six stories high, with additional levels underground. We only completely walked through five floors before I caved to stop for an ice cream. We were so physically exhausted after the mall, that we walked back to our hotel for a short nap.

We kept things simple for dinner and ate at the same mom-and-pop restaurant as Day 1. We got two totally different dishes so we could experience new foods. I got pork dumplings and my hubby got a vegan peanut sauce lo mein. Again, dinner was scrumptious and cheap. We found that restaurants off the beaten path, where locals would eat, were more affordable than those in touristy areas. After dinner, we went back to the hotel to relax and watched TV on the only English station we could find. We learned Will and Kate had their baby, and we missed the London celebrations by two days. It may seem weird, but we actually put on the world news every night to stay connected, as there is no Facebook and Instagram in China (they are blocked).

Pro Tips:

  • We prefer to walk around more than taking underground public transit, because you discover a great deal more while up on the streets, but it is a necessary adventure to ride the subway in Beijing at least once.
Beijing China Zhongshan Park tree lined walkway
  • The trains in China are exceptionally clean! Very unlike NYC. How do they keep it so immaculate, you ask? There is a 500 CNY (about $75 USD) fine if you are found eating or drinking during your commute! Hubby and I did not know about this rule and did eat on a train on Day 1. We saw people staring at us but had assumed it was because we looked foreign. The next day, I saw the sign about the fine. Ends up those locals were probably looking at us because they don’t normally see people eating on the trains. Thank goodness we didn’t get caught! Best practice is to not eat and drink on the public transit in China.
  • Stow your passport inside your bag or inner jacket in a secure pocket. Never leave passports with only one zipper of defense.
  • Discuss a train separation plan before your trip. Even a group of people experienced with subways could get separated on the platform. Some platforms have wall barriers between the platform and the train, and most train doors automatically close. Hubby and I had agreed that if we were ever separated, the person on the train would get off one stop later and wait at the next station. Then the person who missed the train would get on the next train and meet the first person. Decide these things in advance, because not everyone has cellphone signal overseas and those overages would be astronomical, plus you may not even have cell signal underground to get in touch. We had one close call where hubby almost missed the train. His body was halfway in the car and the doors closed on him, which caused a bruise. The Chinese subways are not playing around with automatic doors to keep the train running on time (very different from NYC).
  • Military soldiers are everywhere. They walk around in uniform or are stationed at security and metal detector checkpoints to enter transit or attractions. We didn’t spend lengthy amounts of time in security lines, but if your schedule is tight then add in buffer time for security. Another funny security instance was how we were being observed by an officer as we ate breakfast in the park on Day 1. Even though they were watching us, I felt safe while walking around. Just always be respectful. Never break any laws or litter, and you should be fine.
  • Had we planned our day better, we would have known that the Palace Museum at the center of town and other museums are all closed on Mondays. Wanting to always maximize our time, we were initially a little bummed when we learned that we had to visit this area of town twice during our short trip. In hindsight, you really do need two days to see all of this area of town anyway (and have neither day be a Monday). There are two large parks, and the area by the palace is massive.

Wow, what an exhausting and yet incredible first two days in Beijing! It’s worth noting again that you will be jetlagged, so account for a day of recuperating. Don’t plan activities on your first day. If you can even stay awake, you’ll be a zombie and miserable. We’ve done several international trips before, but this was the worst case of jetlag we ever experienced. Although jetlagged, we had an awesome time during our first two days in Beijing, and the final two days get even more jam-packed full of activities. Keep an eye out for the next Amarvelous Honeymoon blog post that will cover Part Two of this Four-Day Beijing Itinerary!

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