Oasis of the Seas, July 2014

Having Fun With Kids and Grandkids

Elizabeth with Matthew and Danielle

Elizabeth with Matthew and Danielle

I admit it. When it comes to cruising, I am a snob. I love cruising on the luxury lines…Crystal, Regent, Seabourn and Silversea. But when we decided to take my daughter Elizabeth and grandchildren, Matthew, 11 and Danielle 7, on a cruise this summer, we were more concerned about activities and amenities that would appeal to our kids. After careful consideration, we decided on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas—the largest ship at sea—and a 7-night western Caribbean itinerary. This was the same voyage that Alice Travel had arranged for the Paula Deen family sailing—which presented a big bonus, enabling us to “play” along with all their fun stuff. All I can say, we had a terrific time — not just the kids, but Irene and me as well. The ship, the staff, the ports…all of it greatly exceeded our expectations. Danielle_rockwallMatthew_rockwallMy suggestion, grab your kids and experience it—great accommodations, fantastic amenities—flow rider, ice rink, miniature golf, climbing wall, aqua shows, zip line, parades—to say nothing of good food and service and quiet time when you want it. July 19, 2014 - Ft. Lauderdale. Our arrival in Ft. Lauderdale was planned like a military operation. Elizabeth, who lives in Rockville Maryland, flew from Reagan in Washington DC, while we flew from Newark. Elizabeth’s flight arrived 45 minutes before ours in a different terminal. She picked up her luggage and waited for a call from me. We picked up our luggage, hopped in a large cab, picked her and the kids up at her terminal and were on our way to Port Everglades to board the Oasis of the Seas. Check in was a breeze. We boarded the ship immediately, dropped our carry on luggage in our cabins, and went up to the Windjammer Cafe for lunch. By the time we finished lunch, our luggage had arrived in our cabins. The kids wanted to go swimming immediately! We changed, went up to the pool deck and cooled off in several of the pools and hot tubs on that deck. Our families settled in to our spacious connecting verandah cabins. By unlocking the door separating us, we were able to share connecting rooms and verandahs. The Oasis of the Seas is really huge and the amenities and entertainment possibilities truly mind-boggling. The ship was built in 2009 and is 220,000 tons, and 4 football fields long. 5400 guests are onboard and, while it sounds hard to believe, we never encountered any lines on the ship or had any problems embarking or disembarking. It never felt encumbered by so many guests on board. We had dinner in the main dining room each night. We signed up for the early seating at 6:00 pm, and had our own table of 5. We generally showed up at 6:30 and finished eating in plenty of time to leave the dining room before the 8:30 seating. Our waiters were beyond great, attentive and patient with the children. The food was surprisingly good with a terrific choices. July 20, 2014 - at sea – Breakfast was always fun at several different venues on the ship. On days at sea, we ate in the main dining room where there was a choice of a buffet or a la carte dining. Other days we went enjoyed the buffet in the Windjammer Cafe, or found a surprising alternative in the Central Park area of the ship at the Park Café. We thoroughly enjoyed an afternoon performance of the Broadway show Hairspray. We were completely blown away by the professional quality of the performance … beautifully-staged and energetic. Our grandkids enjoyed it as much as we did. July 21, 2014 - Labadee, Haiti - Our day was in port at Royal Caribbean’s private island of Labadee, off the coast of Haiti. After an easy disembarkation we joined the Paula Deen group on the beach for the Deen Family Junior and Family Olympics—a series of fun games for children and adults. Chaise lounges and places to stay in the shade were readily available. Our children had reserved time in one of Royal Caribbean’s water parks and were totally thrilled. The buffet barbeque was very great. We swam and lounged before heading back to the ship.
Aqua Show

Aqua Show

Late in the afternoon, we joined the Paula Deen group to decorate crazy hats. More fun. After dinner we attended the Aqua Show — an extremely professional presentation of diving and synchronized swimming. July 22, 2014 - Falmouth, Jamaica - Before leaving on the cruise, I made arrangements to spend the day at the magnificent Half Moon Resort in Rose Hall, about ½ hour from Falmouth. Elizabeth and Matthew went snorkeling while Irene and Danielle enjoyed the surf. I went on a tour of the property with Arlien Dyer, the sales Manager of Half Moon resort. The 400+ acre property includes lovely beaches, swimming pools, a magnificent golf courses, tennis courts, horse stables, and gorgeous villas. After the tour, we lunched, took out kayaks and paddleboats, and more swimming before heading back to Falmouth and the ship. July 23, 2014 - at sea – a busy day! Elizabeth, Matthew, and Danielle went skating on the ship’s ice skating rink. Oasis of the Seas presents their spectacular parades on the Royal Promenade several times during the cruise. They feature characters from Dreamworks Productions –– Shrek, Madagascar and Kung Fu Panda. Since the Promenade tends to get crowded, our family settled in at the Diamond Lounge to overlook the action from one floor above. In the afternoon we joined the Paula Deen group for Paula’s Paint Party. Here the kids and grownups had their own paint supplies including canvas, brushes, paints and smocks. Examples of Matthew and Danielle’s masterpieces are displayed in my photo gallery. That evening, we attended another one of Royal Caribbean’s fabulous shows … back to the ice rink for Frozen In Time, an ice skating spectacular.
Sea lion show

Sea lion show

July 24, 2014 - Cozumel, Mexico - We decided before we left home to spend the day in Cozumel at Chankanaab Park, a 10-minute taxi ride from the port. It was another great day. While Elizabeth and Matthew went snorkeling, we spent time in the pool and the beach and took in the sea lion show. At the dolphin lagoon, we saw the dolphins playing, swimming and interacting with kids and adults (for a hefty fee.) That night after dinner, we joined the fun and surprises at Paula Deen’s Game Night. July 25, 2014 - at sea – On this last full day, Danielle said, “I wish it was the first day all over again.” We certainly made the most of the day. Matthew went zip lining for the first time and loved every minute. We joined the Paula Deen group for autograph signings and photos, played miniature golf, watched another aqua show, more ice cream, and ended the afternoon with another Royal Caribbean spectacular show “Come Fly With Me”. Did I mention that Matthew is a budding magician? He carries a deck of cards with him and thoroughly entertained the dining room staff with his sleight-of-hand card tricks. July 26, 2014 - Ft. Lauderdale - After a leisurely breakfast, we hopped a cab for the short ride to the airport and uneventful flights home. It was a great vacation and, without any hesitation, I would highly recommend the Oasis of the Seas for a family vacation…it offers comfort, good dining, and fabulous entertainment. Trust me, the adults will enjoy it just as much as the kids.
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Bali to Singapore – Crystal Symphony 3-2014

March 1 - We sailed from Bali at 10 am and had a much-appreciated day at sea after four days of touring and sightseeing. March 2 - Surabaya, Indonesia. An excellent day of sightseeing. We were picked up by our guide and driver early in the morning and drove about 1 ½ hours to several temple complexes including Pendopo Agung Trowulan -- an open air pavilion thought to be the main building of the Majaphit Palace and Tikus Temple that was used for ritual bathing and cleansing.
Irene and me at Borabudur

Irene and me at Borabudur

March 3 - Semarang, Central Java Indonesia. Today was for sure, a highlight of our cruise. A visit to Borobudur -- the largest Buddhist temple in the world -- but getting there was an adventure in itself. The drive was almost 3 hours. The traffic was brutal. The Crystal busses had a police escort to get around the traffic, and our private car joined their motorcade. Borobudur was worth the difficult ride; the temple was absolutely mind-blowing. It reminded us of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. The inscriptions and bas relief figures were exquisite. We walked up to the top of the temple, and while the steps were steep, not as bad as Angkor Wat. The whole complex lay covered in volcanic ash for nearly a millennium, until it was rediscovered in 1814. In 1973 UNESCO supervised a ten-year restoration, and today it is a World Heritage site. March 4 - At sea.
Fish market Ujung Pandang

Fish market Ujung Pandang

March 5 - Ujung Padang, Indonesia.
Today we enjoyed some local color. We started off visiting the colorful fish market and the harbor. The other food market was interesting as well. We then drove out to a national park and rain forest -- quite beautiful -- with a magnificent waterfall falling into a river, where locals were swimming and tubing. Lots of children were enjoying the park. The last stop was at Fort Rotterdam, which is now a museum. The Dutch built this bastion in the 17th century. They ruled Indonesia until 1945, when it became independent. March 6-7 - More days at sea and total relaxation. On March 6 we the crossed of the Equator. I had never done it before on a ship and found out that there is a ceremony for first timers from King Neptune. It involves kissing a fish, being doused with make believe paint, and being thrown in the pool. It was quite hilarious, especially when the captain of the Symphony joined the rest of the guests where he had to kiss the fish, got painted from head to toe, and thrown in the pool. March 8 - Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia. Today we enjoyed another Ensemble Experience. Our group of 12 started out with a short tour of the city, seeing the Sabah Foundation building, a stunning 30 story glass tower, several beautiful mosques and other landmarks. Then we drove to the Hari Mari Cultural Village, where we saw various Borneo ethnic groups demonstrating weaving, cooking, fire making etc. Delightfully interesting. We then went back to Kota Kinabalu and enjoyed a terrific Chinese lunch before returning to the ship. March 9 - Bandar Seri Begawan, the Sultinate of Brunei, Borneo. We took a full-day excursion with Crystal today. Brunei is a very wealthy sovereign state, made wealthy by a great deal of off-shore oil. It is ruled by a sultan. We did a city tour passing the sultan’s palace, and saw several mosques. We visited a state museum, which was almost a palace in itself. Lots of carriages and armaments etc. and quite impressive. We went to a magnificent hotel for lunch. After lunch we passed the most exclusive private club in Brunei which included polo fields etc. before going back to the ship. March 10 - At sea. March 11 – Singapore. We took the shuttle provided by Crystal to a very upscale shopping mall. For us, the highlight of the day was being able to visit the Crystal Serenity, which was docked right next to the Symphony. Singapore is a very strict country with many rules and regulations. It was the only country we visited that required us to carry passports whenever we went ashore. It became a joke to see the Serenity that day. We disembarked the Symphony, went through passport control and then customs, where they x-rayed everything. Then we walked across the terminal and went through passport control again and customs again before arriving at the Serenity. We met up with several old friends who were sailing on the Serenity and visited their cabins and public rooms before returning to the Symphony to pack. Our 2 am flight the following morning took us from Singapore to Tokyo and back to New York.
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Sydney to Bali on the Crystal Symphony 3-2014

February 13: Irene and I flew to Sydney Australia via Tokyo on Japan Air Lines. We splurged and traveled Business Class. Flat beds throughout, the service was impeccable, and the meals OK. We arrived in Sydney after 27 hours of traveling, exhausted and completely jet-lagged. We checked into the Westin Hotel -- quite luxurious and convenient -- only a 15 minute walk to the famous Sydney Harbor. After napping for a few hours, we walked to the harbor for a view of the iconic Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Opera House. The weather was a little rainy. It’s interesting how weather plays such an important role in the perception of your travel destination. We had been to Sydney seven years ago with glorious weather and found it one of the most beautiful cities we had ever been to. Not so this time. In any event, we tried to have an early dinner as we had a very early morning tour the following day. However, we arrived on Valentine’s Day (yes, they celebrate in Australia too), and with no reservation to be had, we wound up in a pizza joint and bar in a cellar. Actually, the pizza and beer were pretty good.
Blue Mountain National Park

Blue Mountain National Park

February 15: Since we had visited Sydney before and had seen most of the sights, we decided on a day outside the city. Travel 2, an Ensemble On Location operator, planned a full day tour for us exploring the Blue Mountains, the native wildlife, (including the obligatory koalas and kangaroos), temperate rainforests and towering sandstone mountains as well as an introduction to Aboriginal culture. It turned out to be a wonderful day. Our guide was great. Our small group of 13, hit it off very well. As a matter of fact, several couples on our tour were also embarking on the Crystal Symphony the following day. The highlight turned out to be walking through the Blue Mountain National Park with its deep sandstone ravines, waterfalls and the world’s steepest railway. February 16: We boarded the Crystal Symphony about 1pm and immediately felt at home. Crystal is one of the only cruise lines I know that offers lunch in the main dining room for embarking guests. After lunch and unpacking, we set out to explore the ship. This was the first time Irene and I sailed two back-to-back voyages. Sydney to Bali followed by Bali to Singapore each 12 days long; 24 days being the longest we had ever been on a ship. We did not expect this trip to have as many “wow” experiences as we had on our cruise last year that included Cambodia and India. But the way we feel about Crystal, after 24 days, we did not want to get off the ship! February 17-18: Days at sea and no cruise line offers as many things to do as does Crystal. We especially enjoyed the lectures. Our favorite was Dr. Jay Wolff, a master storyteller and historian, who spoke about the destinations, history, and people that related to our itinerary. There was also a famous author and filmmaker from Bali Indonesia, who scared the hell out of us with tales of headhunters, monsters of the deep and other fascinating experiences he “survived” over the course of many years. A former British ambassador entertained us with stories of British royalty and his experiences serving as a diplomat. During our days at sea, we participated in bridge lessons, dance classes, exercising, walking the decks, and lounging by the pool. Crystal is the only cruise line I know that has a movie theatre, with plush, comfortable seats. We took in several matinees and evening showings of first run movies. It was like being at camp for grownups every day for 24 days. Irene and I were the Ensemble hosts for both cruises. (Ensemble is the consortium of travel agencies that Alice Travel belongs to and of which I currently serve as Chairman of the Board.) There were about 20 guests from various Ensemble travel agencies across the US and Canada on both cruises. Our responsibilities were to host a cocktail party and an “Ensemble Experience” (a private shore excursion) on each voyage … as well as make sure all our guests were having a smooth and totally satisfying sailing. Of course, we were pleased to socialize with many of these guests, join them for dinner, and share excursions. February 19-20: Cairns, Australia (the correct pronunciation is “cans”). The first afternoon, we walked around this interesting little town, which is the jumping off point for Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The following day, we took a full-day excursion with Crystal – the Immersive Rainforest Adventure into the National Park near Cairns. Only seven of us were on the tour. The National Park was quite beautiful and we enjoyed the walk very much. We even went to a lake to see if we could spot platypuses; unfortunately, we didn’t have any luck. February 21-22: Two more restful days at sea. February 23: Darwin, Australia. It was here in Darwin that we had the Ensemble Experience. We started with a visit to Crocodylus Park, considered the best place in Australia to come face to face with the largest reptiles on the planet. Great photo ops. Some of us held out fishing poles with bait at the end of the pole and watched the crocs jump to get the meat. We held baby crocs as well. We visited a small zoo, with many indigenous animals from Australia and then went on to the George Brown Botanical Gardens, which are under control of an indigenous Aborigine tribe. We thoroughly enjoyed the guide’s discussion about the aborigines’ use of the native. Tonight we ate at Prego, an Italian specialty restaurant on the Symphony. I can’t say anything but “superb”! February 24: Day at sea. sailing towards Indonesia, the fourth most populous nation on earth, with over 240,000,000 people. The archipelago is made up of over 17,000 islands. We will be visiting seven of them.
Forked tongue of Komodo dragon

Forked tongue of Komodo dragon

February 25: Komodo Island, Indonesia. We had all heard stories of the Komodo dragons and we were really looking forward to seeing them. This day turned out to be a highlight of the trip. Komodo Island is an Indonesian National Park and requires a guide accompany visitors. We tendered to the island and were separated into groups of about 25. A guide and a security person were assigned to each. We were given instructions to stay on the trail. As a matter of fact, we were told that if anybody was menstruating or had exposed cuts, they could not go on the excursion, as the dragons have a strong sense of smell and can smell blood from miles away. As we were walking along the trail, I had the uncanny feeling of being in Jurassic Park, expecting a dinosaur (hopefully not a raptor) to jump out at any moment. We stopped along the way, and saw an owl, a snail, several butterflies and were wondering if there really were Komodo dragons at all. We finally reached a clearing and a dried up water hole and there they were! About eight or ten of them -- maybe 12 feet long and really ugly, with forked tongues which they use for smell. We watched them for about ½ an hour before walking back on the trial to our tender and then back to the ship. That night we ate at Silk Road, the Nobu Japanese restaurant on the Symphony. Another great success! February 26: Lombok, Indonesia. For most of our tours in Indonesia, Irene and I decided to use another Ensemble On Location tour provider: Top Indonesian Holidays. We splurged and had our own private guide, with driver, and a very comfortable air-conditioned SUV. It was a smart decision. Every day turned out to be extraordinary. The guides were great. They showed up on time. We were able to choose our tours in advance of our trip. But what is so great about having a private tour is the flexibility to change destinations or return to the ship earlier or later.
Lombok

Lombok

On the island of Lombok, we visited the summer palace of a raja at Narmada, built in 1727, which includes an artificial lake. It’s a beautiful site with a temple that is still used today to celebrate special holidays. We then visited the stunning Lingsar complex with a beautiful pond and gorgeous structures. Lunch was at the Sheraton by the pool. That evening, after dinner we went to the Galaxy Theatre for one of Crystal’s fabulous musical productions. In my opinion, Crystal has the best entertainment at sea. February 27-28: Bali, Indonesia. One of the most celebrated islands, known for its beaches and temples, this was definitely a highlight of the cruise. One of the joys of doing a back-to back sailings is not having to pack the last day and disembark early the next which gave us two full days to enjoy beautiful Bali. We knew we wanted to spend some time on one of Bali’s beaches, and we were advised to go to Finn’s Beach Club, about 45 minutes from the port. It turned out to be the wrong choice. Finn’s is a club for day-trippers, and while the location on a magnificent point is quite beautiful, getting there turned out to be a problem. To get from the club to the beach, required using an inclinator (like an elevator that holds about 4 people) that carried us over the sheer drop of the cliff and down to the beach. Getting to the inclinator was a walk down about 75 steps. Then once we got off the inclinator, we had another 45 steps to the beach. The white sand beach was very pretty but there was a lot of coral underfoot. The ocean beach, too, was beautiful but rocky. After lunch at Finn’s we had to get back to the top. It was one thing walking down, and quite another walking up all those steps. We were picked up late in the afternoon to head out to Pura Luhur Uluwatu, one of the six most important temples in Bali. An extraordinary work of art, the temple is perched literally at the southernmost tip of Bali, hundreds of feet above the sea the cliff of Pecatu. After a lot of walking we arrived at the spot with the most breathtaking scenery. A fire dance was performed in the amphitheater by a group of locals. The sunset was spectacular.
Rice Terraces worker in Bali

Rice Terraces worker in Bali

The following morning, we drove north towards the famous rice terraces of Bali. Extraordinary. These fragile terraces are now protected by the government. People were working the fields by hand – creating a lovely landscape. We also visited a rural family compound where several generations of one family lived together. It seemed primitive to us, but the families seemed happy. We saw several cages of roosters, and found out that in Bali, cock fighting and betting is very popular (and certainly not illegal). We left our car and walked several hundred yards along the rice fields, which stretched for miles before us. After, we drove back to the city of Ubud for lunch. It was another memorable day and we were off to the second leg of our journey.
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India and the Taj Mahal

April 18- Irene and I were met by the representative of Zutshi at 6AM as we disembarked the Regent Seven Seas Voyager. We had to pass through immigration again and unload all our baggage, which was then put through an x-ray machine. After everything cleared, we had to reload the car and were on our way to the airport. Arriving at the Mumbai domestic airport, our Zutshi representative helped us check in for our flight (and saved us a great deal of money, as our luggage was over the weight limits, but he worked it out with the Air India rep.)
Rambagh Palace

Rambagh Palace

It was a short 1 ½ hour flight to Jaipur and again we were met by a Zutshi rep and driver. We were whisked to our hotel, the Rambagh Palace. And what a palace it was! We were greeted by at least six people -- one threw rose petals, another held a large umbrella over Irene (to keep out the sun, of course, as we walked the 10-ft. to the lobby.) Drinks and exchanges were done in the lobby and then up to our room. But this was not a room -- it was a magnificent suite! I have attached some photos to show you the size and beauty. The furniture alone was worth the night’s rate. (And of course Irene was thrilled that there were two full baths and we didn’t have to share.) After a quick lunch, our guide met us in the lobby and we were off sightseeing in Jaipur. It is very difficult to describe the chaos of driving in the streets of India, and Jaipur was no exception. The story goes that you need three good things to drive in India: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck. The cars are share the road with cows, camels, donkeys, Tuk Tuks, wagons, scooters, bicycles, pedestrians, vendors and assorted other animals and humans. There are no lines separating lanes in the road; nobody would follow them anyway. While we did see a few accidents, we were amazed we did not see many more.
Amber Fort

Amber Fort

Jaipur is called the Pink City, as much of the city center is filled with palaces and forts that are made of pink sandstone. We passed the Hawa Mahal, the most recognizable monument in Jaipur with five stories and 152 windows, with hanging latticed balconies. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a memorable picture because the building was covered with bamboo latticework as it was being renovated and reinforced. Our next stop was an outdoor astronomical observatory, with many instruments that are in use today, even though it was built in 1728. The City Palace is magnificent and we explored it.
snake charmer

snake charmer

The craziness of India is everywhere. As we were walking in a square, a snake charmer approached us, pulled out a canvas bag, then a basket and a flute, and plopped down. A huge cobra came out of the basket under the influence (hopefully) of the charmer. Irene was horrified and pulled back quickly. I stood by realizing the man expected money. I was not going to walk away without giving him something, because I was afraid of what might have happened if, after watching his act, I walked away without paying. The street markets were colorful and lively in every sense of the word. Clothing, magnificent flowers, housewares, and everything you could imagine were on sale. The most interesting were the stalls we saw where brides and their mothers were shopping for wedding dresses. After a long day, we went back to the Rambagh Palace to rest before dinner. I forgot to mention that while we were having lunch that afternoon at the hotel, the sous chef of the Indian restaurant approached us. He found out we had a reservation in his restaurant for dinner that night, and wanted to know what he could make for us. We told him we did not like very spicy food. He asked us if we like chicken beef, fish and other dishes. When we sat down for dinner that evening in a spectacularly beautiful restaurant, we never saw a menu. The dishes just kept coming out. The food was wonderful and the service beyond belief. The sous chef kept coming out of the kitchen to see how we were enjoying the meal. The following morning after breakfast, we were met by our guide and driver, Dev, and off we went to see one of the highlights of Jaipur, the Amber Fort. It was quite interesting and the views were extraordinary. From Jaipur we set out on a 5-hour journey by car to Agra. On the way we stopped to visit Fatehpur Sikri, the imperial city of the Mughal dynasty between 1571 and 1584. The architectural grandeur of this deserted city cannot be described in words. I hope my photographs do it justice. Late that afternoon we arrived in Agra and our hotel, The Oberoi Amarvilas. Another palace! First and foremost, every room overlooks the Taj Mahal. Of course, we did not have a room, but another magnificent suite (all due to Zutshi). The grounds, gardens and swimming pool were stunning. We showered and met friends from the cruise for dinner at the hotel and early to bed, as we wanted to get to the Taj Mahal by dawn.
Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

One can’t drive to the Taj in a car as the city wants to keep pollution to an absolute minimum. Our alternative transportation -- a golf cart. The Taj Mahal is sheer poetry in marble. This monumental labor of love of a great ruler for his beloved queen took 22 years and 20,000 people to build. We were fortunate to arrive so early in the morning, as the crowds were not bad. We had several hours of leisurely walking, resting, looking, sitting, contemplating the awesome wonder of the world. We returned to the hotel for breakfast and then packed up the car for the drive to our last stop in India -- Delhi. On the way we visited the fabulous Agra Fort and stopped at a factory where all sorts of tables and other items are made using semi-precious inlaid stone in marble. We saw artists at work, and did buy a table for our home. Our friend, Akshay, one of two brothers who own Zutshi, suggested we stay at the Oberoi in Gurgaon, only 15 minutes from the Delhi Airport. Believe me, this is no “airport hotel”. It was gorgeous. We had a real treat in store for us that evening as Akshay and his brother Ajay, invited us for dinner at his house in Delhi. It was very special! First of all, it was not a house but a farm on 2 ½ acres with magnificent gardens, a swimming pool and tennis court. But the beauty of the home is not what made the evening so special. Both families were there, including Ajay’s 17-year-old daughter and Akshay’s 1-year-old son. Both wives were there as well. They were so hospitable, we felt like part of the family. The food and drinks were wonderful. We hated to leave, but we had an early day the next day, our last day in India before returning home. After breakfast we met our guide for a whirlwind day of sightseeing in old and New Delhi. One of the highlights was visiting Rajghat, the last resting place of the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandi. On to the Jama Masjid, one of the largest mosques in India. Then to Qutab Minar, one of the finest stone towers in India. The India Gate and Humayun’s tomb both proved to be very interesting. Irene and I boarded a cycle-rickshaw for a ride in the crowded market of Chandini Chowk with tiny narrow streets and shops and stalls on both sides. We returned to the hotel to pack, have dinner and were on our way to the airport for our 12:30AM flight to Paris, and our return home. I can’t say enough about what a great job Zutshi did for us during our last days in India. Accommodations, guides, drivers, sightseeing — everything was exceptional and went off like clockwork -- just perfect. I heartily recommend this company for anyone interested in visiting India. Our agents at Alice Travel look forward to working with you to plan an extraordinary trip to one of the most interesting places on earth, India. This blog does not do justice to all the experiences and beauty we saw on our 28 days in Thailand, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. Yes, it did turn out to be the “trip of a lifetime”!
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Regent Seven Seas 2013 – Cambodia to India

The Regent's Seven Seas Voyager is the perhaps the best ship for exploring far away places on a long voyage. There are several reasons. First is the size of the cabin. The basic least expensive cabin measures a full 350 square feet including a large verandah. Our particular suite had a spacious walk-in closet affording us adequate space for our 18-days worth of clothes. The huge bathroom had two sinks and a large shower. A curtain separated the bed from the sitting area, allowing one of us to sleep while the other read. More important, Regent includes most shore excursions in the fare, which saved us a healthy amount of money. We booked excursions on line months before sailing. Several were wait-listed but fortunately or us, the ones we wanted opened in time for us to be on them. Excursions were well-planned and executed, usually with manageable groups of between 20-25 people on each bus with a guide. We have been on other ships where the size of the groups was much larger. As always, Regent’s food was excellent. Most mornings we had breakfast in the Lido area, which while self-serve, is still elegant with linens on the tables. It was quick, with plenty of staff around to get coffee or other food items. Ordered items like eggs and pancakes were delivered to our table. Lunch was served in several venues. Many times we ate in the main dining room. The Lido was available for lunch as well. Although it is supposed to close at 2:00, it often stayed open much later to accommodate guests arriving from shore excursions. There is also an outside buffet. Sometimes they featured specialty buffets highlighting foods from the area we were sailing. We enjoyed most dinners in the Main Dining Room. It was open seating from 6:30 till 9:30, which meant eating whenever and with whomever you wanted. We often joined an open table with guests we did not know, but quickly got acquainted. The menu was large and varied. We never struggled to find items we wanted for each course. There are two specialty restaurants on the Seven Seas Voyager. Prime 7 is a traditional steak house for steaks, chops and seafood. Signatures is a wonderful French restaurant. Regent doesn’t charge an additional fee for dining at these specialty restaurants. Irene and I ate twice in each and enjoyed these meals very much. Prior to sailing, we check the dress code and read that every night was listed as “elegant casual.” When we got on the ship, we found out that there were two nights called for elegant casual or formal and many men wore suits or tuxedos. I did not bring a sport jacket or blazer with me and never felt uncomfortable wearing a long sleeve sport shirt with dress slacks for dinner. Regent Seven Seas knows how to make sailing relaxing! The service on the ship was superb -- from our room steward and stewardess to the dining room staff -- frankly on the entire ship, we felt the service exceeded our expectations. The entertainment on board was greatly improved since the last time I sailed Regent. The musical shows were good. The Cruise Director, was himself very talented, with a great singing voice and ventriloquist skills. Silhanoukville schoolApril 2 - Silhanoukville Cambodia. We selected to do the location “in depth”, which turned out to be close to six hours and included lunch. We visited a local school, walked through a village and visited people in their very simple and rustic houses. We saw the first of many Buddhist temples. We drove to a pretty beach resort for a buffet lunch. April 3 - Day at Sea. We were pleased to find out that there was a bridge instructor on board. Turns out to be Barbara Seagram, from Toronto, whom I know. She and her husband Alex were great and had lessons for both beginner and intermediate players on the days at sea, as well as several port days when time permitted. We were surprised at the number of guests who played bridge. Sea days included duplicate games which were always well-attended. The weather was very hot throughout our trip, between 90-100 degrees, so many times the pool area was too hot to sit at. Surprisingly, the pool itself remained comfortably cool and refreshing. April 4 – Singapore. This was the only port on the itinerary Irene and I had been to before. This time we visited an interesting food market, the war memorial, and another temple. We lunched in a very pretty golf and country club, before driving back to the ship. Singapore is an amazing place. Spotless and very prosperous. Kuala Lampur Hindu TempleApril 5 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Malaysia is predominantly a Muslim country. We visited our first mosque, aptly named The Blue Mosque. On to a Buddhist and then a Hindu temple. We stopped in front of the King’s Palace for a photo op and continued to Independence Square and the war monument. Two of the highest buildings in the world are here -- the Petronas Twin Towers … magnificent architectural buildings. April 6 – Penang, Malaysia. This was the only rainy day we encountered on our cruise, but it did not stop us from exploring. A Buddhist temple and museum were part of the excursion, but the highlight was Chew Jetty, a series of rustic shops and dining spots off the road and jutting into the sea. There were many of such jetties off the road and we had to be careful not to get lost. Very picturesque. Phang Nga BayApril 7 - Phuket, Thailand. This was a highlight of the cruise! First we visited a rubber plantation to see how rubber was farmed, then on to spectacular Phang Nga Bay, where we boarded our own boat for a 2 ½ hour cruise around the bay with its magnificent limestone cliffs and caves. One of the islands, a needle-formed limestone rock in the sea, is called James Bond Island, because it was a location for “The Man With The Golden Gun”. Lunch and shopping concluded a great day. April 10 - Trincomalee, Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is an island off the coast of India that was devastated by the tsunami that struck in 2004. The huge loss of life and massive destruction is just now being addressed. We visited a Hindu Temple and then the beautiful resort hotel for lunch and free time, enjoying the pool and lounging around before heading back to the ship. April 11 - Galle, Sri Lanka. This was the only port on the cruise where we were supposed to tender into, but the waters around the ship proved too rough, and the captain decided to pull anchor. So we had another welcome day at sea. April 12 - Colombo, Sri Lanka. A full-day of sightseeing in Colombo, the surprisingly modern capital of Sri Lanka -- museums, temples, lunch, bazaars and forts. April 13-14 - Cochin, India. Instead of the Regent tour, we decided to use the services of our friends from Zutshi Tours, the Ensemble On Location supplier in India. Immigration and customs in India are very thorough, and in some cases time-consuming. Passengers had to go to a lounge on the ship with their passports to receive landing cards and pass Indian officials inspection. We had to do this in three Indian ports. Cochin SynagogueWhen we disembarked the ship, Irene and I met by our lovely guide from Zutshi and off we went. At one time, Cochin had a large Jewish population. There is still a working synagogue, which was closed the day we were there because it was Saturday. There were many shops on Jew Street, which we visited, as well as a Jewish cemetery, an old Dutch church and cemetery and a catholic church. The highlight of the afternoon was walking the promenade on the sea and seeing the old Chinese Fishing Nets and fish market. Many locals who were walking the promenade seemed very curious about us. It was yet another remarkable area with great photo opportunities. The ship overnighted in Cochin and the second morning we went with another couple on the Ensemble excursion. We revisited many of the sights we saw the day before and enjoyed lunch in the most luxurious hotel in Cochin. Irene and I then left with our guides and drivers to visit Don Bosco Sneha Bhavan. This is a school founded by a Catholic priest who rescued 75 orphaned boys that were found on the streets. He schooled and sheltered them here, until they are about seventeen. Ensemble Travel had a donation for the school, which Irene and I presented to the priest. The boys performed songs and dances for us. It was a very moving experience. April 15 - Mangalore, India. Today we drove to Karkala and visited the Monolith stone statue of Lord Gomateshwara. Then we drove to Soans Farm and to the Thousand Pillar Moodbidri Temple. April 16 - Goa India. The most interesting part of this stay was seeing the fruit market. While the rest of the group went jewelry shopping, Irene and I, joined by Barbara and Ira Feingold, friends and clients, decided to walk on our own in search of the fruit and vegetable market. We spent some time there and then had some difficulty finding our way back to the bus. We made it just in time to avoid having to figure out a way to get back to the ship. Elephanta CavesApril 17 and 18 - Mumbai, India. This was our last port on the cruise. We knew we had to get off the ship very early the following morning to get to the airport for our flight to Jaipur, but did not want to waste the day packing. We decided to explore the Elephanta Caves. We departed the pier and drove towards the arch, the Gateway to India. On the way passed the Taj Hotel, where, in 2008, terrorists attacked and murdered many guests in the hotel and in other spots in Mumbai. It is little wonder why security is so tight all over India. We boarded a boat for a lovely 1 ½ hour glide to the island where the caves are located. It was quite a hike to get up to the caves -- over 120 steep steps. Small shops (really stalls) lined the way and monkeys were all around us. Chair-carriers took non-walkers up the steps in a seat. These rock cut caves date from the 5th to 8th centuries and are filled with stone sculptures. We had never seen anything like them. Our excellent guide spent a great deal of time explaining the history and traditions. Many people shopped in the stalls on the way back to the boat which took us back to Mumbai. Packing and dinner ended the day. It was sad to leave the Voyager. We met many friends and shared memorable experiences. But we were excited to get started on the last leg of our journey -- Jaipur, Agra and the Taj Mahal and Delhi.
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Cambodia Pre-Cruise Highlights – Regent 2013

It sounds like a cliché to speak about “a trip of a lifetime”. So many travel ads make this claim. But in Irene's and my experience (which we certainly can boast a lot of), we DID take our “trip of a lifetime” on the Regent Voyager from Bangkok to Mumbai in April 2013, with a pre-trip to Cambodia and a post-trip in India. The planning for this trip took over one year to complete. We booked our air on Delta, using Amex miles, for Business Class seats on the first day the itineraries opened up, 10 months before the actual departure. The cruise was a 17-day sailing from Bangkok to Mumbai on the most luxurious Regent ship, the Seven Seas Voyager. Irene and I were assigned the fortunate “task” of hosting for Ensemble Travel, acting as onboard representatives for guests who booked with any Ensemble Travel agency in the US or Canada. We had always wanted to explore Siem Reap Cambodia and the magnificent temples, most especially Angkor Wat. The timing of this cruise permitted us to do just that prior to the voyage. We utilized the services of Trails of Indochina, the On Location supplier for Ensemble Travel. We could not have been happier with our choice. From the Concierge Services at each airport in Bangkok and Siem Reap, to the terrific hotels, to the private car, driver and guides throughout, each experience turned out perfectly.

Our hotel was exquisite

We stayed at the Sukhothai Hotel in Bangkok, a virtual jewel and an oasis of beauty and tranquility in a city of crazy traffic, hustle and bustle. We arrived in Bangkok very early in the morning and met with our guide in the early afternoon to begin our exploration. We had been to Bangkok before and decided to explore sights we had not seen before beginning with a visit to the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest teakwood mansion in the world. It was dramatically beautiful and very interesting. Second stop was the Thai-style house of Jim Thompson, the legendary American businessman who came to Thailand at the end of World War II and rediscovered the Thai silk industry. His house is now a museum filled with fascinating Asian antiques and historical memorabilia. Sofitel AngkorThe following morning we took a short flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. A representative of Trails of Indochina met us and quickly took us through immigration and customs to our hotel, the Sofitel Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort. It is a stunning property with lush gardens and a magnificent swimming pool. (Unfortunately, the temperature was in the high nineties every day, and the pool water was more like a hot-tub than a swimming pool.) We lucked out and were able to get a large suite, which turned out to be the same one that Angelina Jolie shared with her children, so my latest claim to fame is sleeping in the same bed as Angelina Jolie! After a quick lunch, we were off with our private guide and driver to our first visit to the temples of Siem Reap. We visited the picturesque temple Ta Prohm, overgrown with fig trees that gave it a haunting and exotic atmosphere. These incredible roots have grown and entwined with the temple’s huge stone blocks (since the 12th century ), resulting in feeling like we were in a “forgotten city”. We then went on to another temple complex, Angkor Thom, with its beautifully crafted central towers and outlines of human heads etched deeply in the stone.
Steps to Angkor Wat

Steps to Angkor Wat

Angkor Wat did not disappoint...

The following day, we departed our hotel early in the morning, to beat the crowds and the heat to visit the crown jewel of all temples, Angkor Wat. We were not disappointed. The vastness of the 12th century temple complex seemed at first overwhelming. But as we examined the site with our expert guide, we grew to appreciate this best-preserved temple with its fascinating decorative flourishes and extensive bas-reliefs. Irene and I climbed to the top of the complex. Climbing up turned out OK, but climbing down with its very steep staircases, was very challenging.
Sunset on Tonle Sap Lake

Sunset on Tonle Sap Lake

Late that afternoon, we left our hotel for a short drive to Tonle Sap Lake. There we boarded our private Sarus, a traditional wooden boat, and embarked on an adventure to discover the floating villages on the lake. The images of life along the lake were fascinating. The lake was very shallow and a few times, the captain had to get into the muddy water and literally pull the boat to deeper water. At day’s end, we were rewarded with a stunning sunset.
Banteay Srei

Banteay Srei

The following morning we drove about 1½ hours from Siem Reap through the Cambodian countryside to a temple complex called Beng Mealea, a sprawling temple constructed in a distinctly Angkor Wat style in the early 12th century. Today the temple is largely overrun by vegetation and the stone walls are crumbling, but it all adds to its charm in a unique way. We then headed to Banteay Srei. We had heard about this complex from friends in the travel business and were told not to miss it. The advice was right-on. The red-stone temple is one of Angkor’s most significant structures, walls are decorated with elaborate carvings, which have been preserved remarkably well. It was quite hot when we left Banteay Srei for a simple but delicious lunch in a traditional wooden house. After lunch we headed back to the Sofitel for a needed rest. That night we were invited to have dinner with a sales executive of the Raffles Hotel in Siem Reap. This traditional, luxury hotel with its beautiful pool and grounds turned out to be a wonderful ending to a fabulous three days in Cambodia, three days Irene and I will never forget. The following morning we flew back to Bangkok and were met at the airport with a representative and driver from Trails of Indochina and off we went for the 1½ hour drive to the port to board the Regent Seven Seas Voyager for the next part of our Southeast Asian adventure.
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