Seventeen days, five countries, packed once.
Planning the trip of a lifetime for our 25th wedding anniversary, my husband and I were overwhelmed with choice. How to celebrate this milestone achievement? Did we want a romantic village getaway, a bustling city adventure or a tropical island indulgence? We wanted it all and we couldn’t narrow it down. Not having travelled much, we wanted the perfect holiday and were going around in circles, trying to get too much out of one trip. Or so we thought, before one conversation opened a whole new possibility where we could, indeed, have it all—a cruise!
No, we’re not retired.
I know what you’re thinking. How old is this couple, married for 25 years? Well, I’m late 40s and my husband, let’s just say he’s a few years older than me but very youthful. And yes, I had the same thoughts. Are we too young to start cruising? It’s a dull, slow holiday for those just passing the time, right? Well played, cruising grey nomads, well played. By letting us believe it’s an older person’s holiday they have protected this monopoly they have on cruising. But no longer; I’m onto you now!
Where to begin.
So, having decided on a cruise, the next step was how to go about planning our adventure. We could’ve spent numerous hours trying to organise this trip ourselves but, with no knowledge of the cruise lines, the destinations or exactly how to coordinate it all, we were not confident.
Enter travel designer Karina of Kaleidoscopic Travel. Having a travel designer take care of all the arrangements from flights, city stays pre and post cruise, transfers, stateroom selection, insurance and advice right down to printing the luggage tags, meant we could focus solely on what to pack and how we would spend the glorious days and nights ahead. (Think of it as having a trusted friend do all the planning and preparation for you.) Oh, and did I mention their service is free?!
Destination, destination, destination!
Spending time to research your destination and think about your travel needs is a must. We identified a cruise that would take us from Hong Kong to Singapore, following the coastline and visiting Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, over seventeen glorious days. Far East Asia offered everything we were looking for: tropical beaches, cultural experiences, quaint villages, big city life, shopping, fine dining, street food—all the things we love and wanted from our celebration.
So, with Kwells firmly in hand, we enjoyed two hectic days in Hong Kong prior to embarking on our dream trip. And what an adventure! With a capacity of approx. 1900 guests, Holland America Line’s MS Westerdam was exactly as described and delivered more than we expected. Being one of the smaller cruise ships made it an excellent choice for a less crowded, more personal experience. Think of it as having your own chef, room steward, concierge, tour guide, barista and bartender on holiday with you. In addition, we had access to a multitude of onboard facilities including beauty and spa salons, gym, movie theatre, lounges, casino, entertainment, training (yes, I attended a free Microsoft workshop)—I could go on. And, after forgetting to take my sea sickness tablets for a couple of days, I realised I didn’t need them as it was beautiful, calm waters.While cruising is not a cheap holiday, we saw and experienced far more than we could have planned ourselves and did so in a stress-free and organised environment. Complimentary shuttle services and tenders were freely available; we never waited more than 20 minutes to disembark.
Most land days we explored the cities and ports on our own, taking local transport to any sites beyond walking distance, and on a couple of days we took advantage of tours organised through the cruise line. Returning to port at the end of some long, hot days exploring, it was sheer bliss to be greeted by ship stewards offering cold beverages and damp face towels. We packed as much as we could into our days which meant the somewhat lacking nightlife wasn’t an issue for us. We did take in a couple of shows in the Mainstage and Blues Club but, largely, we were exhausted from our full day outings and happy to retire early most nights.There were five sea days during our trip, and we used these to totally relax, recover from the past days’ outings and spend quality time together doing absolutely nothing. Glorious! Our biggest decisions were where to eat and was it G&T time yet. We did chat with other passengers but didn’t feel obliged to; it was entirely our choice how much, or how little, we interacted with others.
Halong Bay was the most magical and picturesque place I have ever laid eyes on. Waking up to the incredible scenery as we sailed between the limestone islands, I felt like I was in a movie set and can see why it features in a few blockbusters. I fell in love with Hoi An even though we barely touched the surface of this historic town showcasing its multicultural influence blended with local Vietnamese culture. This is one downside to cruising, not having enough time in each place. It captured my heart and, albeit briefly, was our romantic village getaway.
Bangkok well and truly met our bustling city adventure. Being a couple of hours from port, we took an organised tour which was well worth it to see the busy city life, crowded markets and temples. Offering our lotus flowers to the giant reclining Buddha, I prayed to be blessed with patience—and more opportunities to travel. And finally, Koh Samui rounded out our tropical island indulgence with a fabulous buffet lunch of local cuisine right on the magnificent white sand under the shade of the palm trees. What a finale!
That’s a wrap.
Would we cruise again? Absolutely. Did it meet our expectations? It far exceeded them. Could we have seen and experienced all this as easily on our own? Definitely not.
Seventeen days, five countries, packed once.