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!

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…. 🙂 )

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

Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Gardens and L’Aventure du Sucre

On a beautiful Saturday morning, the family went to visit the famous botanical gardens at Pamplemousses, just north of Port Louis. We paid the entry fee and then paid extra to have the guided tour. Our guide, Ariane, was very knowledgeable and was able to tell us many interesting facts about the plants and flowers in the garden.

Having said that, the gardens themselves, although pretty, were nothing spectacular. I was here in 2000 and the gardens were much nicer even then. Apparently the government is not putting in the money to maintain the gardens as they did before so as a result the garden has fewer trees and plants. When I was here before the water lily ponds were covered.

IMG_2752The girls were encouraged to climb the coconut trees!

IMG_2772The water lily garden

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IMG_2784IMG_2787The gardens had tortoise and deer enclosures.

Afterwards we went across the road to L’Aventure du Sucre. It’s an old sugar mill which has been converted into a museum. We ate lunch at the restaurant, Le Fangourin first and although we had a reduced menu (there was a wedding reception being held there later in the day) we were served a delicious creole style meal (and complimentary cocktails as part of our admission fee) and the kid’s meals were massive!

IMG_2792The complimentary cocktail I received with my admission fee…it had rum, sugar and lemon juice.

IMG_2799Mum’s coffee came with 4 different sugars to put in it!

The museum itself had a lot of detail. It explains the history of sugar mills in Mauritius and also shows the sugar making process step by step. Although I think it had a lot of info, I think the museum needs more interactive exhibits and less reading. Plus all the bits aimed at the kids were not in English, which was a shame.

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At the exit there was a souvenir shop as well as sugar and rum tasting. They had a rum kit you could buy… you buy the bottle, then you add sugar, vanilla sticks and coffee, then you let it soak for a day before drinking it straight. Was really nice but I don’t think I would drink it that often!

Glass Bottomed Boat

Our family was lucky to experience a couple of hours out offshore on the coral reef. For 2000 Rupees (about $AU65) all 6 of us got to go out on a glass bottom boat and if we wished, we could snorkel amongst the fish and corals. Basically to get one of these experiences you walk along the beach and there are the different vendors along the beach trying to sell their business. My dad (being from Mauritius and he still has a very thick accent…locals generally get cheaper prices than the tourists) negotiated the price for us.

The boat picked us up from the beach in front of our bungalow.

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Miss H (age 7) and Miss O (age 5) both had a go at snorkeling for the first time. The masks and snorkels were a bit big for them so they didn’t last very long. O was a little scared of the deep water and putting her head in it.

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My hubby had a great time looking at the fish and snorkeling. He even went under the boat for a photo under the glass bottom!!

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Was a great experience for the girls, they loved looking at the different corals and fish. Well worth the money!