S.E.A Aquarium, Sentosa, Singapore

During our Singapore holiday in January 2016, we visited the amazing S.E.A (South East Asia) Aquarium in Sentosa, Singapore. It was an amazing experience for our family.

The aquarium was a short stroll from our accommodation in Sentosa, the Festive Hotel.

The aquarium was filled with massive tanks of all sorts of sea creatures!

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My husband was in his element. He loves showing nature and animals to our kids.

At first we were saying this aquarium is similar to Sydney Aquarium, however it wasn’t long before those comments stopped. This place was truly epic!

There were tropical fish, freshwater fish, sharks, touch pools, a lot of interactive parts. A shipwreck, a HUGE glass walled fish tank. The girls enjoyed glow in the dark fairy floss! IMG_0377

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Have to also share this t-shirt we bought Miss H at the aquarium!!! LOL

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If you come to Singapore, this aquarium is definitely worth a visit. Allocate about 2-3 hours to visit here. Lots for the kids to see and interact with.

Universal Studios Singapore

Once off the Mariner, we embarked on our week long adventure in Sentosa, Singapore. Our first mission was laundry! We had to go on the mainland to find a coin operated laundry or risk paying more than $100 to have things washed! The cruise didn’t have a self-serve laundry and neither did our hotel. Apart from this and a mix up with our transfer off the ship, it was the only thing I could fault about our stay!

Anyway, once disembarking off our ship, we checked into the Festive Hotel in Sentosa.

It’s central to everything in Sentosa and we got given monorail passes for the duration of our stay. The monorail gets you around the island, it’s the main form of transport.

So needless to say, first stop was Universal Studios Singapore! Was a short 5 min stroll from our hotel…

I don’t have a lot of photos from this day. We were on a lot of rides!

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The girls loved the rollercoasters! One of them was in Far Far Away land (all Shrek-themed rides). In the middle of the day, it started to pour rain, but this did not stop the ride running and they rode the rollercoaster in pouring rain! They loved it (my husband, not so much!). IMG_0321

As Miss O had a fractured toe, getting around was an issue. So we hired a “stroller” for her. Turned out to be a blessing! We were able to store all our stuff in it and not have to carry it around. Plus it didn’t stop Miss O, she went on everything!!

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We had a fab day. After the park closed we went to the Hard Rock Cafe Sentosa for dinner. Universal Studios is located next to a whole area where there are shops and restaurants all nearby. A bit like Downtown Disney in California. The Hard Rock was just across the road from the park. Was lovely to not have to think about anything. Then a short walk later we were back in our hotel!

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Phuket, Thailand

Our third port on our Mariner of the Seas cruise was to Phuket in Thailand. I have to say, before we arrived we had heard beautiful stories about Phuket as well as scary ones. I think after visiting I would advise to stay in the resorts, Patong Beach was very interesting.

Our ship was tendered for this stop. I had heard nightmare stories about the tendering process off ships. As we were booked on a ship tour for this stop, we didn’t have that experience. We waited a little while but it was not a bad process.

Our day was slightly hampered by a mishap that happened the night before. My younger daughter slipped over by the pool. We didn’t think much of it at the time, but the next day she was still whinging and hobbling around everywhere, and eventually we discovered she had fractured her toe. Parents of the year! Must say though the ship’s doctors were excellent and she even had an x-ray on board and was given meds (Panadol/Nurofen) at no charge!

So first stop in Thailand was the Chalong Temple. Being New Years Day, it was busy. Was very ornate inside. Miss O  braved her foot pain and climbed to the top with me.IMG_0230

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Next stop was the Island Safari. It’s a place where they do elephant rides and there was a monkey show. I have to say I wasn’t impressed with the monkey show. I did not like how they treated their monkeys and kept them on leashes and inside cages. The elephant show however was a different story. We enjoyed watching this. My eldest daughter got to play soccer with an elephant. She fared badly LOL! Stick to netball H!

 

After the show we got to feed the elephants some bananas and then have a ride on them. Was an interesting experience.

I’m still dubious about how the elephants are treated behind the scenes, but I didn’t see anything bad while we were there.

After the safari we were taken back to a cashew nut factory. We got to try a few. Was very nice!

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The tour ended in Patong where I got to have a look around while hubby took the girls for a paddle in the beach. The electric wires here are crazy!!

Overall, I was a bit underwhelmed. Maybe because I didn’t go to a resort and saw the public beach. I think I needed more time here to take it all in properly.

 

George Town, Penang, Malaysia

Our second port on our Mariner cruise was the town of George Town in Penang, Malaysia. It was advertised as a food lover’s paradise! My husband however was not convinced and was refusing to try any of the food (because of the hygiene he says). So as a result, we didn’t book any shore tours. We had (mistakenly) read that we could leave the kids in Kids club for the day while we were in port…but when we got to Kids club we found out this was not the case as they had set sessions of only a couple of hours and we had to collect the girls after each session. So in the end they came with us.

Getting off the ship was reasonably easy, with one exception…. the “vultures” that are the taxi drivers and local tour operators who are trying to get all the passengers to take their cabs. They stand at the exit and yell at you for business and it was to the point of touching. They don’t take no for an answer either. They were rude and it was horrible. In the end my husband was quite nasty to them. If there’s one thing I absolutely hate, it’s hawkers.

Once we got off the ship, we set off to find the free bus that goes around town for a look. Found the bus and went around. That was okay. We didn’t find the town terribly exciting. We ended up at one of the shopping centres. At this point hubby was frustrated with nothing to see (and he hates shopping!), kids were annoying and at this point we were almost ready to go back to the ship. We decided to catch a bus to go to Penang Hill. We caught the public bus up. The trip was really cheap (about 2 Ringgit each) but it took about 40 mins.

When we got to the top, we almost decided not to go up, the queue was a mile long! Time was running out and we were wondering whether we would have time to stay. In the end we discovered there was a “fast lane” option, you pay a little extra but it meant skipping all the queues and getting on the next train!

So up the hill we went…

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The train up the hill. It’s quite steep going up, similar to Victoria Peak in Hong Kong.

The views from the top were spectacular. I spy a cruise ship!

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There were monkeys here too. This one scared the living daylights out of the girls when it kinda jumped at them. They were a little more wild than the ones at Batu Caves.

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Although my hubby and the girls didn’t eat, I wasn’t wasting my opportunity! Up the top there is a food court and so I tried a laksa and chicken nuggets. Was very nice.IMG_0210

 

Meanwhile the girls got airbrush henna tattoos

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We had a lovely time in the end and I am so glad we ended up going up the hill. I wish we had started here so we could have more time. When we got back to the bottom we decided to skip the bus and take a taxi back to the ship. We really should have done this in the first place. The driver was lovely and not a maniac like the guys on the port. I had heard Penang makes good coffee so I asked him where to get good coffee and he took us to a “factory outlet” type place where you can try and buy coffee and tea sachets. There was both tea and coffee here, as well as chocolate. Was very nice. The only criticism was I wish this place sold a variety or sample pack of different coffees/teas to take home, I would have liked that over buying one packet of 20 in the one flavour! In the end I bought a pack of lychee tea and some chocolate. I’m not much of a tea drinker but it was really nice (and sweet, I like my sweet drinks).

So my husband didn’t think much of Penang but I didn’t mind it so much. I would like to have tried more of the food…might have to do this one day without my husband or kids!

Kuala Lumpur

Our first port of call on our cruise on Mariner of the Seas was Kuala Lumpur. When I started looking into going on this cruise, one of the first things that worried me about this port was the fact that the actual city of Kuala Lumpur is quite a distance away from the ship’s port (called Port Klang), it’s at least a 90 minute drive, and traffic could hamper this.

I looked at the shore excursions on offer. With 2 adults and 2 kids the cost was going to blow out to over $A400 and I just couldn’t justify the cost. My husband was not keen to go to Batu Caves at first, I had to do some real convincing.

I was reading a review of the Mariner on another website and the lady had hired a driver for the day for much cheaper prices than the ship, so I investigated further. I found a recommended drivers thread on TripAdvisor and decided to book a local driver who could drive our family around for the day. This ended up costing around the same price as it would for ONE person to do the ship tour. (around $A150 for 6 hours). It was a risk, because if we were late the ship wouldn’t wait for us (whereas they would have waited if it was a ship tour). I took the risk. It paid off for us.

Our driver’s name was Gopi and he was lovely. He was waiting for us at the dock. We got away before all the buses did and the drive into the city was about 90 minutes. First stop was Batu Caves, which is actually past the city from the port.

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My eldest and I at Batu Caves.

Batu Caves is a limestone cave that is also a Hindi temple. There are 272 steps up to the top of the cave. At the top there is a shrine to Lord Murugan. The statue at the bottom is the tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world.

The girls didn’t whinge too much about the many steps because they were distracted by the fact that there are wild Macaque monkeys everywhere wandering around the steps. As cute as they look, be careful because if you have any food in easy reach they go for it.

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The monkeys at Batu Caves are everywhere!IMG_0124

At the top!

Batu Caves was interesting. The girls found the place intriguing and kept taking pictures of the monkeys. They seem to be renovating/rejuvenating the caves so maybe this will help conserve it more as it was a little run down in places. It was good exercise and interesting to see the Hindu people worshiping and making offerings etc.

Next stop was the Petronas Towers. These are the tallest twin towers in the world. Gopi our driver took us for a quick photo stop first at KLCC park:

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I had pre-booked tickets online for us to go up the towers themselves. The ship’s tour had not included this so we were really lucky! I am so glad I did this! If you do this, pre-book your tickets or buy online because they apparently sell out early in the day.

The whole towers “experience” goes for about an hour. First stop is the Skybridge, which is a double-decker structure 42/43 floors up that connects the two towers together.

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KLCC park from up above.IMG_0152

We were on the Skybridge for about 15 mins before we went on up to the Observation Deck on Level 86 in Tower 2.IMG_0160

Views from the Observation deck. You can see Tower 1 in the foreground.IMG_0173.JPG

Underneath the towers/next door is a shopping mall called Suria KLCC. We popped in there for a little look. I wish I had stayed longer (it looked cheaper than Singapore and had more of my kind of shops!) but we were conscious of time and that we had to meet our driver.

We decided after that to go back to the ship. We enjoyed our day in Kuala Lumpur. We only saw a taste of what is there, but who knows maybe one day we will visit again!

Mariner of the Seas

This post is to give you more of a detailed overview of the ship my family cruised on…Mariner of the Seas. I went on this cruise as part of my holiday to Singapore and Hong Kong.

Mariner of the Seas is a Voyager class ship owned and operated by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines. The ship mainly operates out of Asia and does cruises within Asia from Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

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The solarium pool (adults only) on Mariner.IMG_0075

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The Royal Promenade (don’t mind the look on my daughter’s face! LOL).

There were a few high-end shops here. I am not really a designer label shopper (I look, but don’t buy!) so it was interesting to watch everyone go crazy when they had “sales” on designer handbags and watches. If you look carefully towards the top of the photo, there are a bunch of windows overlooking the promenade. Some of the staterooms have windows that look over the promenade instead of the ocean. If you get an inside room, this is most likely the view you will get. Good for watching the Dreamworks parade though, and as I was on a New Year’s Cruise, it would have been awesome to have a room watching the countdown to 2016…but alas!

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The Dreamworks Sailaway parade

IMG_0093The front windows of the ship

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Putt Putt golf at sea (was rather breezy when we took this!)

There is a lot to do on this ship. As well as the usual pools, casino, theatre, bars and so on there’s a gym, video game arcade, ice skating rink, rock climbing wall, inline skating track, basketball court and more.

Food – You will never starve! Lots of options. Most are included in the cruise, but some restaurants you pay a per person charge to eat at.

Each passenger is allocated a dining room they can eat at each night for formal dining. There are set dining times, or you can book My Time Dining and come at a time that suits you (but you have to prebook this). The food here is really nice, and there is a fair bit of choice. You can choose between around four or five dishes for each course of your meal. The menu also had Asian options, every day there were different things to choose from. Plus there is a kids menu (although that didn’t change every day). When you go to formal dining you sit in the same area and have the same wait staff each night. Our waiters were Nur and Subhang (Bangbang), two lovely guys from Indonesia. Regan was our barman from India.

Some of the lovely food from the dining room.

If you aren’t into formal, there’s the Windjammer buffet. Breakfast was held there every day, but you could go up there anytime for lunch or dinner as well. Being in Asia, there were Asian and Indian food options in the buffet, and also an Asian-only food buffet attached to Windjammer called Jade.

On the Royal Promenade there is a cafe on it that serves cakes and snacks (wraps, pizza slices etc), as well as brewed coffee and tea. You can also get what RC call “premium coffee” there (cappuccinos and lattes etc) but you have to pay extra for those.

The ship has room service so you can order food into your room if you wish, I think they only charge late at night. A number of times we would go to the bar/cafe and buy drinks then take them back to our room.

There were a few paid dining options, but we didn’t do any of these. Chops Grille, Giovanni’s Table (Italian) and Johnny Rockets (burgers).

Service was great. All the staff spoke English really well. Many of the staff also spoke an Asian language and were from an Asian country (I did manage to find the one Mauritian guy though!). Staff were friendly and helpful. I had brought the wrong plug for the ship (yes RC Fans Facebook group friends, even after seeing the post a million times I still stuffed up!) and I was loaned a plug I could use on board (I gave it back when I bought one).

Money – Everything is charged in US dollars. I spent half my cruise carrying my phone around with my currency converter app on! RC actually use a cashless system on board. When you embark you are given a SeaPass card. This card is your room key, ID (because RC look after your passport while you are on board) and credit card. You pay for everything with this card and then it gets charged to your account. At the end of your cruise RC can charge it to your credit card (and you can choose beforehand if it charges you in $US or your home currency) or you can pay cash at the end. During the cruise you can put on your TV in your room and you have an itemised statement showing what you have bought and how much you have spent.

Kids Club – I can’t really talk too much about this. My girls only went once the entire cruise for about 2 hours. When they did go, they enjoyed themselves. I think they liked the time apart from their sister, as the groups are arranged into age groups. We were happy to sit by the pool relax with a drink and watch them swim, they loved the pool too!

Port Days – We had 3 days in port. We got off each time but you don’t have to. Port Klang and George Town the ship was docked, so getting on and off was not a big deal, but in Phuket the ship was tendered (anchored offshore) and you have to get on a smaller ferry to get to the port. I had heard mixed reviews about the tendering process. In the end we had no issues. There was a process and we got off reasonably quickly.

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The Mariner tendered offshore in Phuket.

So there you have it! As much as I can remember right now about the ship itself. I highly recommend cruising, we had such a great experience.

Kerrie

 

 

Singapore Flyer and Gardens By the Bay

When we first arrived in Singapore, we spent the first day checking out the city. We got on the Hop on hop off bus and went exploring.

First stop – The Singapore Flyer. This is the giant ferris/observation wheel basically. It’s the biggest one in the world! It takes about half an hour for the wheel to go around once. We had some great views from the top around the wheel. On a clear day apparently you can see as far as Malaysia and Indonesia.

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The Marina Bay Sands Hotel (next time I’m in Singapore I am so staying here!). Apparently the rooftop infinity pool is awesome!IMG_0034IMG_0026IMG_0027

The Grand Prix was held here a few months back.IMG_0046IMG_0040

After the flyer we got back on the bus and went to Gardens on the Bay. These gardens are beautiful. We had planned to go to the children’s garden and have a play in there (it has a water play area), unfortunately we were there on a Monday and the children’s garden was closed. We didn’t know and we were very disappointed! Still, it was beautiful to walk around in the garden. I would have loved to see it at night (another reason to go back!). By the time we left the gardens though, we were hot, sticky, sweaty and hungry!

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We got back on the bus and ended up back near our Orchard Road hotel at the Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch! The kids’ meals came in a guitar-shaped plate, which my girls loved!

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If you are visiting Singapore, Gardens on the Bay and the Singapore Flyer are must-do’s to get a good overview of the city and its beauty. (don’t go to the Gardens on a Monday if you have kids…. 🙂 )

My fabulous 40th Birthday Holiday!

What a summer! My family and I have had the most fabulous December and January break! Asia was an intriguing and wonderful experience.

I’ll try and post more about each place I went to, but overall, for me my absolute favourite thing about my trip was the cruise I went on. I was really nervous (yet excited) about cruising. I had heard so many fabulous and not so fabulous stories about friends and family who had completed cruises and I was curious to try one. As this was my first cruise, I was adamant I didn’t want to do a long cruise, and that I didn’t want to visit the South Pacific (as my husband and I had been to many of the places already…that said, maybe we will do a South Pacific cruise down the track, if we go with a group of people). I was worried about seasickness. I can get carsick (dizziness), and I have been quite nauseous before on smaller boats in choppy waters, so I was super prepared for it all.

The cruise we went on was Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas, which left from Singapore. The ship is absolutely massive (and it’s a mid-size boat in their fleet! Yes, there are bigger ones!). Mariner has 15 decks, 2 swimming pools, a 9 hole putt-putt golf course, an ice rink, a mini basketball court, a rock climbing wall, a Royal Promenade (think like a mini shopping mall) that runs through the middle of the ship with shops, a cafe and even an English pub just to name but a few of the facilities on board.

Mariner

Why I liked my cruise so much was not only did I NOT get seasick (yay!), crusing took the stress out of traveling to various places. You can get on and off the boat very easily when in port and you don’t have to think about hotels, luggage, immigration etc. All you have to worry about is not losing your SeaPass (the card they give you on the ship) and getting back to the ship on time (and if you are on a ship tour you don’t have to worry too much about that either). On a sea day, there is a lot to do for both adults and kids, so you can’t get bored. Almost all the food (including snacks) are included so you can eat at almost any time what you like (a dangerous thing!). The only thing not included were drinks (apart from coffee, tea, water, iced tea and juice at breakfast), but as we aren’t heavy drinkers the costs were not excessive and the drink prices weren’t too bad.

The destinations we visited on our 5 night cruise were:

Singapore (our cruise started and ended here),

Port Klang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia (KL is about an hour away from the port itself),

George Town, Penang, Malaysia,

Phuket, Thailand.

We had one day in each port (apart from Singapore) and one day at sea.

The rooms are compact, but surprisingly adaptable and spacious. We had an ocean view room on Deck 2 (next time we will probably get a balcony) We did freak out when we got to our room, because it looked like this when we checked in:

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We were wondering where the girls were going to sleep! Thankfully our stateroom attendant pointed out that each night he comes and pulls the beds down from the ceiling each night. It’s rather clever actually. You can see the mechanisms in the photo below and you can also see where the beds are hidden in the first pic.IMG_0114

This was our tiny yet useful bathroom. We had a shower too it was on the right hand side of the picture, but you can’t see it too well. You can see a bit of the shower screen!IMG_0177

The experience on board was amazing. The staff were efficient, friendly (and all spoke English well) and nothing was a problem for them. I’m hoping to post more about the ports etc soon. I am now a cruise fan! We are already looking at another cruise to go on in 2017!

 

Bois Cheri Tea Plantation

Our family embarked on another road trip from the north to the south of Mauritius. First stop on this day was the Bois Cheri Tea Plantation. Bois Cheri is Mauritius own brand of tea, with many different varieties. I am not much of a tea drinker (much prefer coffee!!) but I was curious to know the process of how tea is made. The tea making factory is not operating every day but the packing facility is, however in the guided tour they show you the whole process so you can see what happens.

The tea once picked is brought in large bags to several rooms where the leaves are dried for 24 hours.

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The tea leaves being brought in.

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The tea drying room.

The leaves are then chopped, dried and the fibres removed. Then the tea is put through a sieve for refining (how refined the sieve is depends on the type of tea) and then they are left in a silo for 3 months to mature. Then flavours (such as vanilla) is added to the tea before bagging and packing.

IMG_2957The girls were fascinated by the packing machines. They had never visited a working factory before.

After the tour, we then had to drive a short way through a very bumpy road (but very scenic) to the tasting room, where we could try all the different teas made by Bois Cheri.

IMG_2961H enjoyed playing tea parties…but wasn’t a huge tea fan!

I ended up buying a couple of packets of the vanilla tea to take home, still not much into tea, but the vanilla tea was rather nice!

Our day continued on as we visited Souillac and La Vanille Crocodile Park…but that is another post!

East Coast Drive

My family and I had beautiful weather for our drive to the eastern side of Mauritius. Mauritius is a small place, so to give you an idea of the size, to drive directly from “The North” to “The South” is about 90 mins max. On this day we drove from our base at Trou Aux Biches (in the North) across to Belle Mare (in the East).

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Belle Mare Beach

Along the way we saw some beautiful scenery. The one disappointment in this drive was driving through Trou d’Eau Douce, where we wanted to stop for a photo, but our car got literally bombarded by people offering deals to take us on boat rides across to Ile Aux Cerfs. We continued on and got beautiful views of Lion Mountain on the way. Lion Mountain is a Sphinx-like mountain peak.

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Lion Mountain

We ended up in the town of Mahebourg, which is in the South East of Mauritius. Mahebourg has markets on a Monday so if you are keen for some bargains and souvenirs Monday is the day to go. We did a little shopping at the markets and had lunch, where we decided to have a non-traditional option for a change (KFC). We then drove for about another 10 minutes to Blue Bay, a beautiful beach near Mahebourg and the girls had a swim and an ice cream! The soft serve ice cream was different to what I am used to, it had cherry-flavoured coconut sprinkles on it…tasted like Cherry Ripe….yum!

IMG_2937Swimming in Blue Bay Beach