Legend of the Seas – Phuket (Thailand)

‘Sabai’ is Thai for the state of being well / good / happy; and repeating the word intensifies the expression to describe a wellness beyond words, to mean “not a care in this world”… a state of super chill euphoria!

And that’s the degree of chill-out bliss I’ve come to associate with Phuket after my two previous trips there. But this time round, instead of chilling, I’ll be going on a sea cave canoe adventure. How exciting! The great thing about Phuket is that you can choose to just take it easy and relax, or kick off the sand for some serious aquatic adventures.

8 Dec 10 (Day 3). The cluttered coastline of Phuket's Patong Beach signalled the tourism peak for the island from December to February. We couldn't have been here at a better time.

After the eye-opening tour of KL the day before, it’s time to ditch my city garb for breezy beachwear on the third day of our Legend of the Seas Isles of Southeast Asia cruise. The balmy shores of Phuket, Thailand, was our final and last port-of-call before heading back to Singapore. I don’t wanna go home!

I find it incredibly exciting to be at a radically different place each day. It’s like waking up to a huge present to be unwrapped daily. What’s more, getting to these places by cruise means there’s never a down moment throughout the journey!

Sawasdee Kaa / Khrup! We're all ready to be tom yum-ed by the tropical flavours in one of Asia's best-loved beach paradise, Phuket!

There isn’t a deep port for Legend of the Seas to dock so the big ship was parked some distance away while passengers going for the various shore excursions were ferried to land by smaller boats. I think the ship-to-land transfer takes about 20 minutes and there’s no need for immigration clearance. This is also the best time to get a great shot of the entire Legend of the Seas ship.

Unlike our Port Klang arrival in the early morning at 7:00 am, we were docked off Phuket’s coastal waters at 1:00 pm, which gave us ample time to catch up on rest and have lunch before embarking on another full day of activities.

For Phuket, I’m signed up for the Sea Cave Canoe Adventure tour which costs US$139. It is a very popular shore excursion so do book early with the onboard shore excursion tour desk or you can book it online. The Sea Cave Canoe Adventure lasts from 1:30 pm to 8:30 pm (approx. 7 hours).

There are eight shore excursions offered onboard Legend of the Seas and there’s something to suit every preference be it a leisurely eat-shop-massage tours, cultural explorations of the temples in Phuket, or sea adventures to Phang Nga Bay and its surrounding islets.

As with the land tour in KL, we were issued with a group number and once on land, we just need to look for the respective guide holding our corresponding digits. It can be quite chaotic because there isn’t a proper holding area for administration so you basically have to look for your group number and stick close to the guide.

Again, I was almost left behind as I was taking pictures and slow to report to my group’s guide. Photography can be such a hazard! Thankfully I located them while they were making their way to the coach bus. It’ll be an hour’s drive to a small jetty where we’ll transfer to a boat and take another hour to reach our canoe site.

To get to the sea caves, we took a 1-hour coach ride from Patong Beach to a jetty and took a 1-hour boat ride to a cluster of islets for the canoe adventure.

Basically, our area of exploration will be around a group of islets located off Phang Nga Bay. There are around 120 islets of various sizes littered in that region of the Andaman Sea. According to the guide, we’ll visit three islands (Ko Panak, Ko Hong, and Ko Lawa Yai) and two caves (Ko Hong cave and bat cave).

However, the islands and caves we’ll ultimately end up visiting is dependent on the tide conditions on site. At times, the tide would be too high and floods the passages leading through the caves or there’s not enough water for paddling. What if we are inside the caves and the tide comes in or resides huh?

The hour-long boat ride was comfortable enough although I would think that those suffering from seasickness may want to medicate before boarding. Biscuits, fruits (tangerines, bananas and longans) and an assortment of drinks (mineral water, fizzy drinks and fresh coconut juice) were provided.

All food onboard is included on the tour package so there’s no need to pay anything extra except for tips if you like the services of the staff. Personally, I found the service to be really good and the staff friendly. Then again, it’s Thailand we’re talking about. They’re not called the land of smiles for nothing. So time to just sit back, sip a cold drink and feel the constant wind while the distant islands grow from hazy specks in the horizon to towering cliffs.

I haven't basked under the glazing heat of the burning star in a long time but this day, I'm determined to be a sun stalker!

Along the way, there’s lots of time to just let your mind unwind. It is one of those occasions where you don’t need to consciously tell your mind to quiet but it just does. Even with the hum of the boat’s engine and hoo-ing wind, you sort of stop hearing them as you project your vision far into the horizon, thoughts half-forming and released quickly to the scene before you.

I was half dreaming about what’s it like inside the secret lagoons I’m about to visit.

Our first stop is Ko Hong, which is shaped like a donut with a crust of limestone hills circling to form a recluse pool within. This unique feature of the island is also what got it its name. ‘Hong’ means ‘room’ in Thai. So Ko Hong literally means ‘room island’ to reflect the reclusive chamber it hides within.

Ko Hong is shaped like a donut. The inner lagoon is accessible by a few sea tunnels but most are usually flooded or too narrow for canoes to pass through except for the one openning that's commonly used.

Intersection between what is most likely Ko Hong (left) and Ko Panak (right). I can't quite recall because we passed by quite a lot of islet ranges to the point I can't tell where one ends and the other starts.

Apparently, there’s another much bigger, developed and inhabited island called Koh Hong nearer to the shores of Phuket. It’s easy to get these two islands confused. This Ko Hong is much smaller and uninhabited.

Limestone islets are made of dense layers of calcium bicarbonate compacted together and rose out of the sea due to colliding tectonic plates movements. And depending on the other types of minerals trapped with them, these sea hills may be streaked or coloured a rusty red, grey or black.

All eyes on a whole new world inside Ko Hong. It seemed impossible but the stillness here managed to be of sharp contrast to the calm seas outside.

Our sea canoes were really just inflatable kayaks that looked like three bananas stapled together at the ends. I liked the fact that they’re open-faced so there’s no restriction in movements but sitting on them require skill.

Because there’s no backing like the traditional fibreglass-hulled canoe, I had to constantly straighten my back and hold my core muscles to keep balance and sit upright. A great workout for the abs! But at times, I just gave up holding that stance and just lie all the way down and just admire the passing scenery.

Initially I thought we had to paddle our own canoes but thankfully not. Each canoe comes with a ‘boatman’ and can sit two. I was fortunate to have the canoe all to myself since I was on the tour alone. This allowed me to move around to take videos and photos of the whole experience. And it’s good that they came with a paddling guide too because the wooden paddles were really heavy!

Breaking the silhouette. I'm addicted to photographing the sun that day...

We spent about 10 minutes at Ko Hong’s inner lagoon to enjoy the otherwordly silence and take photos of rock formations that resembled a sitting buddha and the head of a dog. Waterproof bags were issued onboard the boat for us to bring our cameras onto the canoes.

I was tempted to jump into the jade green lagoon waters a couple of times to have a feel of what’s it like but decided not to for fear that my Nikon D90, Canon Ixus 980IS and LG Optimus One decide to join me too. Always try to trap some air in the waterproof bag before sealing it so that if it drops into the water, it’ll float.

As we were leaving Ko Hong, my attention was pointed to this huge boulder that really resembled the head of a piranha or some fierce, prehistoric fish. This gallery of nature is astonishingly stocked with prolific promontories, beautiful cascading cliffs and artful stones. What an eyeful! I felt so small and in constant awe coming sooooo close to the power of Gaia.

Nature imitating nature... Watch out for that monster fish! It is exhilarating to encounter such bizarre likeness of beings especially when they are handcrafted by nature herself.

And that was only our first stop. Next up, we’re going to explore the bat cave and its internal lagoon. I wonder if it’ll be just as breathtaking… To get to it, we had to board our boat again and take a 30 minutes ride there. We’d actually passed by the bat cave earlier before reaching Ko Hong so we were back-tracing.

This is the entrance to the bat cave. Facing the solitude of the sea for the most part of our journey, it's easy to forget that we weren't the only ones exploring the Phang Nga Bay islets.

On hindsight, tunneling through the bat cave was breathtaking alright. It made me breathless because it stank. I thought the smell was only characteristic of bat dwellings on land where their droppings are trapped on cave grounds but since the sea bats have a natural flushing pool below them, the cave shouldn’t smell. But the air was pretty foul.

Not only that, it was pitch dark inside and for a moment I felt panicky not knowing when the darkness was going to end. We were given torches but the black was so dense, I could only see the small halo projected onto the cave’s ceiling in trying to spot the bats.

The interior of the cave is like a gallery for mangroves. Here you can find the twisted roots of the swamp-dwelling plants forming massive organic sculptures.

As for the bats, well, they kinda blended with the wall so I didn’t find looking at them to be of particular interest and it’s somewhat eerie when your torch catches their eyes and they glowed. It’s as if there’s something sinister above staring at you. Oh, and always keep your mouth closed when looking up unless you want your kisses to smell like the cave.

The best part about this tour was seeing light again. Although the total darkness took some mental adjustments, it was a pretty short paddle through the grotto to reach the internal estuary. It must’ve been low tide during our visit because the water was murky and muddy.

Scenery-wise, the place had a sea-jungle feel with mangroves spearing out of the water amongst a surrounding wall of greens. Eons ago, these islets together with Phuket and Krabi were supposedly traversable by foot but the land was eventually drowned out, creating these sea hills and mountains instead. Their connected past must explain why this species of monkey was found on this island that seem to spring out of nowhere in the middle of the ocean.

Saw this poor monkey with only one arm. Too bad I don't have any bananas to offer it but thankfully someone else did. You can bring bananas and fruits along to feed the island monkeys. There're quite a lot of them.

Following the canoe around the bat cave, we came back onboard and lunch was waiting for us. Well, they call it lunch but having it at around 4:00 pm, it’s more like a very early dinner. Food is served late so have a full meal before coming on this tour. So, what’s for our lunchner?

I love, love, llllloooooovvvvvveeeee Thai food. I don't remember ever having had a bad meal in Thailand and I'm the kind who loves it just as much at the streetside foodstalls as it is in the restaurants. Carrying on the tradition of tasty food, the yum yums onboard didn't disappoint either.

We had quite a spread with chicken cubes stir-fried with cashew nut in spicy sauce, deep-fried fish and vegetable fritters, prawns, whole fish, fried rice, stir-fry mixed vegetable and the white version of tom yum soup.

While we were having lunch, the boat drove us to the nearby Ko Lawa Yai. The boat was anchored some distance to shore so that we could leap right off the deck and swim or paddle the floating bananas to shore. This time we do our own paddling.

I wanted to see Ko Lawa Yai so I borrowed one of the canoes. Man, these things are heavy! And the paddle carved from a single wooden block might as well have acted as a dumbell in the gym. I’ve never felt more strenuous paddling that short distance to shore and I’m an ex-dragonboater! The lactic build-up in my shoulders were so extreme using that paddle, I had to rest mid-way and I would like to emphasize again that the boat to shore distance was very short. At most only about 150m.

Ko Lawa Yai is rather desserted with just one main dwelling in sight. If you enjoy watching grass grow, you will like this place.

On shore, there’s really nothing much to see. I don’t think the island gets many visitors. The beach was nothing to shout about as the surrounding water was brackish without any signs of marine life. The only indication that it is clean was by comparison to the black drift twig flakes floating the length of the shoreline. It’s that kind where once you take a dip, they’ll cling on to your body like loose tea leaves in a cup.

Just me and the sea. How strangely the mix of fear in not knowing what lies beneath the waters and awe of the scene before me brings about a deep sense of calm.

So I shelved the idea of swimming in it and decided to paddle around a bit more. It was a very different feeling paddling here as compared to Singapore because back home, everywhere we paddle, we’re not far from civilisation.

Here, there were no breakwaters, no skyscrapers, no giant ferries wheel, no expressways… just me, my canoe and the stretch of ocean and islands before me. I felt powerless yet very much in control.

By the time we were heading back to Phuket, the sun I was stalking was beginning to assemble his bodyguard of stars with their moon commander preparing a roll call. Our boat was headed in the direction of the sunset and so I chased it some more down its golden path with some parting shots…

I didn't get their names, but this newlywed Singaporean couple were on their honeymoon. When I was about to take their shot, the husband gave his wife a spontaneous kiss! Aww... so sweet! May their marriage be a smooth long sail into the sunset.

Not just the sights, but the people who made this a memorable excursion... Kup khoon khrup to the crew onboard, my canoe guide, and Stephanie and Suzanna form Singapore!

What a beautiful end to a wonderful day of memorable adventures at the sea caves! I'll definitely come back for more in the very near future. In fact, I'm coming to Phuket again from 17 - 21 Feb 2011... Woohoo!

Thank you Royal Caribbean and Omy.sg for the opportunity to sit here and admire this picturesque sunset.

With this account of my amazing experience to explore the oceanic of nature, I’ve come to the end of my blog series on my 5D4N adventure onboard Legend of the Seas, Isles of Southeast Asia cruise. I hope you’ve enjoyed the many chapters that showed you what’s it like and what you can expect from a luxury cruise holiday.

Although I’ve not been on other cruises to compare, I would say that nobody could have done it better than Royal Caribbean. The service is just superb and the ship is simply beautiful.

I would like to specially thank Nicole, Phyllis and Stanley from Royal Caribbean International for picking me to be one of the lucky 10 to experience this cruise; Alvin, Weiding and Jack from Omy.sg for capturing our highs during the trip; and all my new blogger friends who added the spice onboard – Calvin Timothy Leong, Catherine Ling, Cherie Lee, Christine Ng, Estelle Kiora, Eunice Khong, Fong Yee Leong, Philip Lim (Keropokman), and Phan Mui Yee.

THANK YOU ALL for making this such an unforgettable and enduring adventure for me! For more photos from the trip, please click here.

Legend of the Seas – Port Klang (Malaysia)

Darren : “Hello Kuala Lumpur, my old friend! It’s been quite a while that we haven’t met.”

KL : “You used to visit me at least once every year, but I’ve been missing you since 11 August 2008. What happened?”

Darren (apologetically) : “Erm… I love your retail therapy and food, but that’s all you offer. There’s nothing new or happening with you.”

KL (hurt) : “Why do you only seek what’s new with me? Have you ever found out what’s HAPPENED to me? Do you know how I got my name? Why many Hindus come to me? Or the treasure I hold that is the source of national pride?”

Darren (guiltily) : “No, I was too caught up with doing what was easy and never bothered to look deeper. Tell you what, this shore excursion offered by Legend of the Seas, I’m going to choose one tour that’ll let me know more about you.”

KL (smiling) : “Thank you my old friend! Good to see you again. And oh my, how you’ve put on that middle-age weight in the last two years.”

7 Dec 10 (Day 2) - We arrived at Port Klang, Malaysia, and guests are free to stay onboard to enjoy the activities for the day or join a shore excursion.

And so amongst the five land excursions offered by Legend of the Seas onboard the Isles of Southeast Asia cruise with stops at Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Phuket, I chose the Batu Caves and City Experience Tour for a more historical exploration of my old friend in Malaysia. Our gateway to the Malaysian capital city is the cruise immigration at Port Klang.

I went on the Batu Caves and City Experience tour which costs US$89. Space for the various tours are limited and tickets sold on a first-come-first-serve basis so book yours early to avoid disappointments.

Port Klang is the largest and busiest port in Malaysia and among the world’s top 20 ports for transhipment and container traffic. But it felt like the boondocks for a passenger who just alighted from a luxury cruise. The area is pretty sedate and mostly industrial. To get any action, we have to take an hour’s coach ride into Kuala Lumpur.

Yee Leong and I were all set to capture the sights of our KL land tour! But looking at his photos after, he definitely took much more interesting shots. I've learnt to see so many new angles through his photos.

Our land trip will take us to the Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka), Royal Selangor Visitor Centre, lunch at Dorsett Regency Hotel, and KL Tower. Although the tour was quite a rush, it’s a great way to explore some of the top sights in the city with comfort and the convenience of transport. Our tour guide, Elango was also at the top with the history of Malaysia and the places we visited.

And I’m glad to be exploring with Yee Leong who has a very keen eye for photography and a natural ability to get his human subjects to share with him their stories. For Yee Leong’s excellent Chinese post of our experience, please click here. We disembarked the ship at 7:30 am to begin our tour which ended at 4:30 pm (8 hours)

Our first stop was a 15-minutes browse of the Independence Square, a.k.a. the Padang, a.k.a. Dataran Merdeka. The day was overcast and gloomy. A perfect weather to explore a shelterless tourist attraction but the photos are gonna need a lot of colour enhancements with Photoshop to not look like black and white shots.

To compensate for this problem, Mui Yee, who took another land tour package to explore KL but had the Dataran Merdeka in her itinerary as well, used Photoscape to create some fancy colouration effects to enhance her photos. I’ve not tried the program, but according to her, it’s a freeware. So you may want to try it out to enhance your holiday pictures, especially on a grey day. To check out Mui Yee’s creative use of the program, please click here.

The Independence Square was formerly known as the Selangor Club Padang before being renamed as Dataran Merdeka on 1 January 1990.

The Dataran Merdeka is the place where Malaysia first celebrated its independence on 31 August 1957 and has since been the usual venue for the country’s annual National Day Parade. There are a number of historic landmarks around the square but we didn’t get to visit except for some quick photos of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (which currently houses the offices of the Malaysian Ministry of Information, Communications, and Culture) and the St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral.

Influenced by the Indian Moghul style of architecture, the stately Sultan Abdul Samad Building is a key historical landmark that watches the Independence Square by its side.

Behind the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is the meeting of two rivers. This convergence is of great importance to KL. If you would like to find out why is it important, read to the end of this post. (I know, the length of this post is a test of patience!)

If I had more time, I would definitely love to explore within the buildings and the other historic remnants in this district but we were herded back on the coach as quickly as we alighted. Elango apologised for the rush because we definitely have to be back at Port Klang by 4:00 pm as the ship has paid for docking charges till 5:00 pm. Maybe in my next trip back, I’ll make it a point to come back for more.

After about a half-hour’s drive, we arrived the main attraction of our tour… the sacred Hindu mountain temples at Batu Caves. I’ve been here once when shoulder pads were still cool so I don’t have much recollection of the place. But I was sure my childhood memory didn’t record this gigantic golden statue standing guard at the foot of the caves!

Entrance of Batu Caves temple with a 42.7m statue of the Hindu deity, Lord Murugan inciting a majestic gold welcome. Such splendour!

Batu Caves is famous for being one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India dedicated to Lord Murugan. The limestone mountain that houses the caves is said to have risen from the sea (because of seashell fragments found within the rocks) and estimated to be around 400 million years old.

A Hindu devotee offering a kavadi (burden) in sacrificial thanksgiving or as a form of penance-making. Milk or rice is usually used as offering in these silver pots.

Every year during the Hindu festival, Thaipusum, Batu Caves becomes a hive attracting more than one million devotees and thousands of tourists. Even during the off-peak period, Hindu devotees still comes here for prayers and devotional rituals such as this elderly man carrying a simple kavadi on his head.

It was heart-warming to see that he wasn’t making the spiritual journey alone and his family was there to climb the steps with him, holding him, supporting him, till they reached the main temple at the inner cave. I saw all these not because I stalked them but our paths crossed a couple of times both on the way up and down. Perhaps we are destined to meet.

Beware the monkeys at Batu Caves! They will find an opportunity to snatch your food or any loose knick knacks hanging loosely around you especially plastic bags that look like they contain food.

To get to the caves, we have to climb 272 steps to the top. It sounds daunting but it is definitely not a suicide mission. I’ve seen quite a few elderlies traversing the stairway with much greater ease than I did. But having said that, don’t expect this to be a walk in the park either. Especially when your every move is being watched by bandit monkeys!

If you keep moving, it’s fine. But when you stop to rest for a while, be vigilant of your belongings. The monkeys have the audacity to come up and snatch half-eaten food right from your hand. I don’t understand how someone can eat while panting from the climb but that’s what one lady was doing. Mid way up, she decided to stow her remainder food away and as soon as her hand came down with the plastic containing her chow, a monkey snatched it.

That happened just a few steps ahead of me. Seeing that, I slowly turned to look at my right side, the side closest to the forested slope and saw two monkeys staring at me. I took some photos of them, tightened my grip on my camera and ascended the steps ever faster.

Entrance to the cave temples and shrines. Batu Caves is a system of limestone cavities with the highest temple being built about 100m above ground level within it.

Entering the vaulted cave is like being transported into another world. It's simply breathtaking.

The rather steep stairs weren’t the only challenges I faced at Batu Caves. The other big headache was trying to get the exposure right due to the extreme lighting conditions within the cave.

With my half-past-six camera handling knowledge. It took me quite some time to get my settings right. Then a few steps in, my settings have to change again.

The caves have got potential for quite some nice shots because of the contrast created by Hinduism’s very colourful expressions against the stoic serenity of nature. But alas, I need to brush up on my photographic skills before being able to best capture that lively tranquility.

If I go again, I’ll need to acquire an external flash and bring my tripod along. But thinking about climbing those stairs with so many equipments… *shudder*

The main cave temple at the inner sanctum of Batu Caves. It looks surreal sitting under the natural skylight of the limestone cave.

Apart from technical and equipment inadequacies, time wasn’t on my side to experiment during this tour. We were given one hour at Batu Caves and if we didn’t report back to the coach on time, it will leave without us and we have to catch a cab to our next destination.

I think I was about a minute or two late and they weren’t kidding about leaving me behind. Thankfully, Yee Leong stopped the coach and I managed to get on. Thanks a lot buddy!

From one of nature’s wonders, we were transported to a wonder of man’s artistry in the form of elegant pewter wares. Our next stop was the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre. It’s about a 15-minutes ride from Batu Caves.

I find the location of the centre and factory somewhat peculiar. Out of what seemed like a largely residential estate stood the home of this iconic Malaysian export. The unsurpassed quality and aesthetic calibre of Royal Selangor branded pewter echoes far and wide. But where the swanky, ultra-hip centre is situated, one wouldn’t expect to find it within such a nondescript neighbourhood.

Royal Selangor Visitor Centre - Home of the largest tankard in the Guinness Book of Records.

Doesn't it look like we're entering some futuristic vehicle for space travel? But it is in fact a time machine that 'took' us back to the beginnings of pewtersmithing in Malaysia.

Royal Selangor was founded in 1885, a period where the tin mining industry was thriving in Malaysia. Since pewter contains about 85-99% tin (according to Wikipedia) alloyed with other metals, the adoption of this very malleable metal as the tin industry’s other sibling is only natural.

One of the most interesting artefacts at the centre’s Pewter Museum was the ancient tin currencies shaped like animals! And they weren’t small and handy change, no they weren’t, but could literally be used as assault weapons. I wonder how do the ancient people lug them around? I sure don’t want to be a rich man in those days!

I was expecting to get that 'factory smell' when enerting the production area but I was surprised to see how clean and speck-free the working area was. No weird smells at all.

We were shown the various stages in the making of a pewter cup. Apparently, pewter can keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold for a longer time.

Try your hands at making a pewter-ware the traditional way in the centre's School of Hard Knocks. For a fee, visitors can get a taste of what's it like to be a pewtersmith using traditional tools.

The tour lasted an hour I think. It’s too long in my opinion. I can’t help feeling that the extended stay was so that us tourists can find something to buy. I was browsing and re-browsing the showcase for so long after the heritage and factory tour, I almost whipped out my credit card to purchase some Lord of the Rings figurines. Thankfully I was able to resist their spells because I’m not a collector although they look great and were on discount.

As a whole, this part of the tour was pretty educational and interesting. The fine craftsmanship and details accorded the pewter products were very enticing to own a piece and they were priced within reach. However, I felt we could’ve accorded some of the time here to stay longer at Batu Caves. Then again, that’s just my preference. You cannot please everybody.

After Royal Selangor, we were brought to a photographic spot for the Petronas Twin Towers en route to lunch. I’ve seen and photographed the strapping skyscrapers on numerous occasions and in my view, much better vantage points so I didn’t go shutter crazy at where we were brought to.

We spent a few minutes to get some “I’ve been here” shots before proceeding to lunch. I was famished because I had a very light breakfast prior tour to avoid needing a place to ‘bake’ while on the road. It was a short drive to our lunch venue – Dorsett Regency Hotel.

The hotel’s visage was screaming for a makeover but the interior was cozy and comfortable. Too cozy perhaps. The dining tables were kinda small to sit four. Food-wise, the selection and taste got my thumbs up. Although the food portion was cozy like the tables, the spread was decent for such a petite buffet dining area.

There’s the usual cold dish section with boiled prawns and fresh oysters (although they barely refilled it after the first round), meats section, vegetable stir-frys, Western, Eastern, desserts, etc, but my favourite were the Thai Mango Salad and this do-it-yourself steamboat section.

The exterior of the hotel beguiles this quaint little buffet restaurant that is unpretentious and offers some pretty great tastes. My only groan is for it to please refill the prawns and oysters. After the opening presentation, those two items didn’t look like they ever got replenished. Erm… this is a buffet right?

Our last stop was the KL Tower, formally known as Manara Kuala Lumpur. It is a telecommunications tower built atop Bukit Nanas to improve the quality of telcomm and broadcasting transmission.

Needless to mention, we’re here to get a 360 all-round view of the KL skyline. The view alone is worth making the trip!

Completed in May 1996, the KL Tower was the tallest structure in the city standing at 421m before it was overtaken by the Petronas Twin Towers in 1998 with a height of 451.9m.

Elements of Islamic art and architectural flavour adorn the KL Tower. Look out, or should I say up, as you're entering the lift lobby to admire the Muqarnas-inspired ceiling design.

The dazzling glass ceiling at the centre of the lift lobby adds some star power to this Malaysian icon. The best way to photograph it is to set the camera on self-timer mode and place it on the floor to capture the widest angle possible.

On the Observation Deck, digital audio-visual players are issued and act as a personal guide to point out interesting sights and the different viewing angles.

A parrot is an unusual find at a modern tower but the inclusion of an Animal Zone on the ground level illustrates the developers' eco-mindfulness.

During the development of the tower, special care was taken to protect the forest reserve of Bukit Nanas. Apparently, a special retaining wall was constructed around a 100-year-old Jelutong tree at a cost of RM430,000 to preserve it. I wanted to look for the tree but the Animal Zone and its parrot distracted me. I welcomed the distraction. It’s nice to also admire the biological architecture of nature.

There’s no better way to conclude a visit to KL than a panoramic bird’s eye view of the bustling city. The cityscape must look even more stunning at night. And although I can’t see the estuary which KL got its name from from up at the Observation Deck, I understand now the name of my friend… ‘Kuala’ means the confluence or mouth of a river, and ‘Lumpur’ means muddy.

It was so named in 1857 by the Malay chieftain, Raja Abdullah, who was out looking for a new tin mine and came across this crossroad where the Klang and Gombak rivers met. Today, the confluence is no longer muddy but a paved intersection of two waterways that can be seen from the Sultan Abdul Samad Building I mentioned earlier.

Darren (jubilantly) : “There my friend, I know the origin of your name now.”

KL (pleased) : “Well done, Darren. I’m glad you took the time and effort. And I think climbing those 272 steps has shed some weight off you.”

Darren : “Hahaha… you’re always such a tease. But that’s what I like about you. I have to go now. I’m off to visit another long time friend of ours, Phuket.”

KL : “Take care my friend. Great to have you again and don’t let me wait another two years to see you. Bon voyage onboard Legend of the Seas and send my love to Phuket!”

Legend of the Seas – I Need Clones

After the previous post about the foods that are bound to kidnap all plans to diet, this entry will form the blueprint for your escape from the clutches of those seductive cuisines. So join me to find out what are the things we can do onboard Legend of the Seas. A friend claimed he never understood why people would enjoy a cruise holiday because it’s boring and there’s nothing to do.

I think he must be vacationing on a sampan (a row boat found in Southest Asia). Either that, or he’s a boring person to begin with. How can you see vibrant colours with a pair of dark shades permanently ‘protecting’ your mind? Release yourself in order to have fun!

And there’s no better way to taste freedom than being at the highest point of the ship. Legend of the Seas comes with an onboard rock climbing wall that takes you to the pinnacle of adventure on the high seas. I’ve done rock climbing at SAFRA Yishun before but climbing while sailing takes the thrill to a whole new level!

Christine and I both climbed the middle section which was the toughest part of the wall. Old guy vs young gal... who will win? Gender or age?

The difference between climbing on land and the sea is this… the view. With the Yishun wall, the scene is static when I look down or around. Onboard, I could see the ship leaving a long trail on the ocean that stretches to the horizon. With the wind blowing in my face, I felt some kind of spiritual rush.

But regretfully, I didn’t spend too much time at the top to enjoy the view because the others were waiting to have their turn. Plus I was having a hangover from partying at the Viking Crown Club last night. Moreover, my arms were straining to hold my new weight caused by the buffets in the last two days.

The middle wall looked easy but it was not. I did regular rock climbing at SAFRA Yishun for a couple of months some years back but even with that background, I still found it a challenge to reach the top.

Anyone can sign up to rock climb except very young children but you have to register the day before with the administrative desk. There’s no extra charge for this activity. The wall is located on Deck 9 and it’s hard to miss. It has 3 parts – left being somewhat easy, middle is the hardest, and the right is the easiest to climb.

A pair of climbing shoes will be on loan and if you’re icky about wearing shared shoes, you don’t have to worry. The disinfect every pair on-the-spot after it’s being worn and unlike those funky smelling ones at bowling alleys which also feel like stepping on mouldy cabbage, the shoes here are clean and dry. Christine even wore her thin lace socks with the shoes! Will foot fetishists please thank me for the photo below?

Climbing Tip : The correct method to rock climb is to push up with your legs and not pull with your arms.

Talking about Christine, she’s one iron beauty. We were the only two in the group who conquered the middle wall. She did it first and I tried after. I was told it’s a hard climb but I thought to myself, “A petite girl can do it, how hard can it be for a bigger guy?” Well, this is one instance where size doesn’t matter.

Christine said I ‘cheated’ because I’m taller so it’s easier to negotiate the wall. I beg to differ. That middle section was quite something. I fumbled a few times before I managed to get an inch off the ground and half-way up, I wanted to just give up! But I pressed on because I don’t want to lose face in front of everybody. And we were being videoed. So die die must reach the top and sound the bell. The satisfaction of making it this time round was much greater.

Rock climbing is definitely a MUST-DO on Legend of the Seas. As for who is the better climber between Christine and me, well, the effortless charmer wins… and I’m referring to her, not me! LOL. I’m so shameless.

For those who don’t like strenuous activities or the gym to burn off calories, here’s an alternative… shopping! I shared in my preview post about the price match guarantee when you shop onboard but as we were given a tour of the shops and boutiques, I realised that the value of shopping here goes beyond the promise of a good price.

Let guys take you shopping? Why not?! Associate Hotel Director, Dean (back), and Retail Manager, Vedad (front), showed us the best buys.

Almost everything can be found on Legend of the Seas from fashion and accessories, to sundries, to branded personal care products, watches, cameras, jewellery… and there are daily spotlight bargains at the shopping foyer that will cause the wallet to haemorrhage.

My biggest excitement on the tour was seeing the precious Tanzanite for the first time. I’m heard about it and seen photos but not in real life. Why does this gem holds such fascination for me? According to what I’ve read, Tanzanite is one of those rare crystals that has very strong triclinic qualities, which means that the gem when viewed under different light, has a different colour.

Not quite the fictional Heart of the Ocean in Titanic, but the rare and highly-sought Tanzanite can be found onboard. The mining of this gem can last only one generation, which means supply is limited.

In this photo, the Tanzanite set in the ring appears blue. But when I saw it at the showcase, it was actually purple in colour! This gem is derived from the mineral zoisite which ranges in colour from blue to lavender / lilac to purple.

It was first dicovered in 1967 in the hills of Tanzania, East Africa, and was initially named blue zoisite. That sounded like ‘blue suicide’ so its name was changed and named in honour of where it was found. Legend of the Seas is part of the Tanzanite Foundation, a non-profit organisation that safeguards the commercialisation of this gem due to its rarity.

Christine looked like she was ready to pawn her dress to shop until she saw the bargain. It took her some time to get over her incredulity then she wasted no time charging to her SeaPass Card.

Possibly the best buy onboard besides duty-free booze are these gift boxes containing watches and jewellery with accompanying male and female accessories. They look really good, of high quality and expensive but cost only US$39.99 for 2! My apologies to people who bought them as gifts and claimed them to be of higher value. I’ve exposed the real price here.

This T-shirt says it all about my cruise experience! There are other designs and cost 2 for US$20. Quite a good deal to remember the vacation by.

I’m not naturally inclined to shopping so I didn’t buy much except an expandable sling bag for my Sea Cave Canoe Tour and two Royal-Caribbean T-shirts to commemorate my virgin trip on Legend of the Seas.

Food is not the only thing of variety onboard the ship. There’re just as many facilities and activities to fill everyday. I didn’t include everything into my series of posts because some of them are best experienced and not talked about (eg. learning the waltz and line dancing, partying at Viking Crown Club, sunset jogging on Deck 9, gymming with the waves, etc).

The other part of items I left out were those I wanted to do but didn’t have time. Like the main title of this post suggests, I need to clone myself to do eveything! Amongst the stuff I didn’t do but intended was catching a movie.

The latest Hollywood blockbusters are screened at the Anchors Aweigh Lounge and That’s Entertainment Theatre according to a schedule printed on the Cruise Compass, a daily programme guide. Since I didn’t get to catch the movie experience, I got the ladies to create our very own movie fun! Try identifying the shows we were trying to portray…

My leading ladies... Can you guess the TV series / movies? Hints : (Top pic) Theme song was sung by Jack Jones; (Bottom Left) Ah Jack and Ah Rose; (Bottom Right) Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore.

A missed movie can be watched on DVD or be acquired through the most widespread ‘crime’ of modern history – cyber priacy. What’s too colourful not to be missed are the ‘live’ shows and musicals at That’s Entertainment Theatre on Deck 4. The Welcome Show on the first night and musical performance of Absolutely Fab on the second night were a visual treat.

Broadway-style 'live' acts and musicals at That's Entertainment Theatre are not to be missed!

Cozy up to a loved one on the comfy seats or get up for some fun during the humourous and interactive show on welcome night.

To keep the element of surprise, I shan’t divulge too much about the shows but they’re big on entertainment value. The Welcome Show was a one-performer spectacular that would normally require the combined talents of a troupe.

Helmed by world champion juggler David DiMuzio, the segment saw him performing jaw-dropping juggling stunts and he even wrote and sang he songs on his show. Except for one song, 月亮代表我的心.

World Champion Juggler, David DiMuzio juggles many talents and helms a one-man show that is in a class of its own.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking… this ang moh guy can sing in Mandarin! And he’s better than many of my Chinese friends! You can hear him perform the song in his self-made video below. If you love his singing, you can visit daviddimuzio.com for more of his original compositions.

On the second night, That’s Theatre presented their adaptation of familiar songs that would have you singing along in no time. What’s interesting about the show was that even though the stage was pretty small, they managed to create the illusion of a changing backdrop with the creative use of lights and simple projection panels.

There're two seatings for the show so check the schedule for your preferred time. The theatre can sit 800 per show.

Make a date with That's Entertainment to be swept away by beautiful voices and world-class performances.

Absolutely Fab is not the title of their performance but a description of the good-looking cast. I think everyone would concur that Legend of the Seas has got an attractive multi-national staff team onboard.

As for kids and teens, there are dedicated playrooms onboard to distract them while you free yourself for some pampering. There’s the Video Deck, Optix Teen Center and Ocean Club room for toddlers, and they’re all located next to each other on Deck 10.

The video arcade was deserted during my visit because I think the kids were more attracted to the pool and water features on the sun deck.

Wanted to take more photos of the Ocean Club Ocean playroom but the female staff inside didn't allow it. I can understand that some parents don't like their child to be photographed but the room was empty.

Nothing much to share here because obviously I’m over-age but thought I’d include this part for parents to have a rough idea of what’s in store for their kids. You can check the Cruise Compass for a listing of guided activities at Club Ocean.

Apart from all the fun and games, there’re also lessons to be learnt onboard. On top of dancing instructions, there’s the cake making demonstration, wine and martini tasting session, napkin folding workshop, seminars on health and beauty, etc. But possibly the most interesting of them all would be the Towel Folding Demonstration. During my trip, it was held on Day 4 of the 5D4N Isles of Southeast Asia cruise.

Thrill your loved ones and friends while on vacation by learning how to fold adorable towel animals such as dog, elephant, turtle, and monkey during the towel folding demonstration at the Centrum on Deck 4.

As you’d probably seen in my earlier post, you would be welcomed back into the room by a very cute towel pet each day.

Many would try to figure out how they were folded only to end in frustration so this demonstration teaches you how the towel origami is done. There are more than a dozen designs but they only showed four. In the video before, I shared the steps to make the dog, elephant and turtle because Youtube only allows a maximum of 10 minutes per video.

I still have footages of how to create the monkey so if you’d like to know, leave me a comment here. If many of you want to learn it, I’ll post the video. Else, I take it that you prefer to go onboard the ship and learn it in person!

The demonstration is pretty popular so go early to reserve a place as the big towels need a big surface for folding. A big bath towel, medium face towel and small hand towel would be issued at the venue so you don’t have to bring your own. Here’s the video on how to make three of the towel pets.

It is 9:00 pm on 31 December 2010 as. In a short while, we’ll step into the new year. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you, your family and friends a very blessed 2011 filled to the brim with all things good. May it be a smooth sailing year for everybody! :)

Legend of the Seas – Gourmet Pageant

When I started creating this entry about all the activities one can do onboard Legend of the Seas, I wanted to talk about the eating, sports, shopping, entertainment and partying. But when I finished compiling all the dining photos and talking points, I realised the topic on food alone could fill an encyclopedia. If I added on the other parts, this entry could cure insomnia.

Not that those experiences are not exciting, but all at one go may cause sensory indigestion. Talking about indigestion, I had my first one in years onboard the ship. A good friend of mine nicknamed me “The Vacuum Cleaner”. I contest that title because no doubt I eat a lot and I usually finish up everything left on the table because I hate to waste food, but I don’t eat trash.

The problem while on Legend of the Seas is that honestly, the food is pretty darn good. And it is served all day long. All you can eat. Anytime. And that’s what I did. Vacuum cleaner mode on full power. You can imagine my impending peril. By the fourth day, I got indigestion. My gastric juices were all topsy-turvy and my stomach did the camel. But instead of water, it stored all the food I ate the previous day and refused to stool. I had to sayang (pat lovingly) it and say, “It’s okay, I know the food is good, but don’t hold on to it, let them go!”

Apparently, I was talking to a mule because I continued to feel bloated in the last two days. I couldn’t eat anymore. It was a torture. There was all this great looking food lying around, spreading themselves… the hot savouries playfully veiled by sexy steam, the pastries dressed in light, fetish-inducing translucent sauces, some of the food were so fresh, they postured stark naked… seducing my mouth. Yet my appetite chose to be celibate.

I suspect it was due to my gorging on gourmet cheeses the night before. There were so many, so tasty, the amount I had might have just drained a cow dry. Moral of the story? Too much of a moo-ood thing is baa-ad. Gosh… I’m speaking like a cow and sheep. I think all that beef and lamb is still in me. “It’s okay, I know the food is good, but don’t hold on to it, let them go!”

Having read my ordeal, let this post be a warning. Beware of the seductive food that’ll bring about a high on the taste at the three food outlets of Legend of the Seas – Windjammer Cafe, Romeo & Juliet Dining Room, and Pizza & Burger Bar. Like delicious sirens, they will lure you to become gastronomically promiscuous.

Windjammer Cafe – All Day Long Buffet

Located on Deck 9, Windjammer Cafe is open from 6:00 am to 9:00 pm daily. There’s no dresscode and you can stroll in for a meal anytime. I have a theory why this restaurant is called Windjammer. You’ll be eating so much, get heavy and the wind can no longer sway you with its force. You jam the wind. Go in as kite, come out as windjammer.

Initially, I thought ship food would be like airline food… defrosted, pre-heated, wrapped in aluminim foil and taste like doing housework with your tongue. But far from it. The food is prepared fresh onboard and the most amazing thing is that the spread changes 4 times a day, everyday!

It’s a different set of food for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner; you can sample the world all in one place… Italian, American, Mediteranean, Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese… they are bound to turn your belly into a globe.

My favourite at Windjammer Cafe is this Vietnamese Pork dish. The unexpectedly juicy and tender meat was drizzled with a brown sauce that has an aromatic smoked garlic flavour. Yumz!

Dessert lovers are headed for a sugar rush here. I don't have a sweet tooth but even I relented to these irresistible temptations.

Food blogger Catherine told me the black stuff on the sandwiches are poppy seeds, but the sandwich chef claimed they are mustard seeds. But whichever plant the seeds belong to, this sandwich sure blooms in the mouth.

The best thing to do at Windjammer Cafe is to grab a seat by the window and enjoy your meal while looking out into the horizon. I could never seem to get a window seat but that could be because I’m there during the peak dining period. All the food is included in the fare except for wines and beers. A 250ml bottle of white or red costs US$5.00.

Romeo & Juliet Dining Room – Fine Wine & Dine

Located on Deck 4 and 5, this lavishly decorated restaurant is open daily according to a schedule. Refer to the daily Cruise Compass publication for the meals that R&J would be serving. But dinner is always served here and there’re two seating times – 5:45 pm and 8:00 pm. The seating time is printed on the SeaPass Card along with the assigned table number.

R&J favours the smart-casual dresscode and on the night of the Captain’s Welcome Ball, formal wear is required. While packing for this trip, all of us were unsure how formal we need to get. The advice was gowns for ladies and suits or tuxedos for men. Aiyoh, very mah fun (troublesome) leh, still must pack suit.

Here's an example of what we and some of the guests wore to give you an idea on what to bring for formal attire.

But the experience was worth it. We all felt so glamed up sipping champagne (in my case, gulping down the bubbly wine) under the the twinkle of chandeliers. Our Captain’s Welcome Ball happened on the second night at Anchors Aweigh Lounge and dinner was served at R&J thereafter. Oh, one pointer though… there’s no iron onboard so press your gowns and suits before boarding. Or hang them in the bathroom the moment you get on. When you take a hot shower, the steam and moisture will work to soften the creases.

Again, the 3-course menu changes every night the wow-factor here is that if you don’t like what you ordered, you can order another. Regardless of whether it is the appetisers, main courses or desserts, you can keep ordering till you get bored of hearing your own voice. There are two words to describe a dining philosophy like this… SATISFACTION GUARANTEED!

However, there’s more to R&J than the satisfaction of taste. Eating here goes beyond fine wine and dine. It is the pleasure of being cradled by the nape of pampering. The serivce is just so… so… please accept my inability to describe it be the best compliment to its excellence.

Each table has one or two dedicated waiters depending on group size. We’re at Table 47 served by Dong Biao and Antonio who didn’t just serve us dinner, but humour and a level of attention most personal. While Antonio joked with us and posed for a photo with Catherine holding the table vase, Cherie was surprised beyond words by Dong Biao who brought her a cup of honey water because she told him that she was having a sore throat during dinner the night before.

I should’ve told Dong Biao I’m broke. I wonder if he’ll serve me a plate of cash… LOL.

The added fun of having a sit-down dinner at R&J was of course the company of my newfound friends. It’s funny how I’ve never met all of them (except for Catherine who I met during our Singapore Blog Awards Hong Kong trip), but we didn’t feel like strangers. I guess blogging broke down our barriers.

Then again, blogging has developed a nasty habit in us. The thing about having a meal with bloggers is that we taste the food with our cameras first. We must appear so comical to Antonio and Dong Biao. Each time they put a plate on the table, we zoom onto it like piranhas with cameras and we won’t eat until everybody has taken a good shot. Then again, you can’t blame us, the food on Legend of the Seas are all supermodels in the culinary world.

Pizza & Burger Bar – Quick Snack On-the-Go

Located on Deck 9 within the Solarium, the Pizza & Burger Bar is open till 2:00 am and serves hotdog as well (I think frankfurter is better description because these things are quite huge). I didn’t try the food here so I have no comments. Besides, I’m already constantly stuffed at Windjammer Cafe and Romeo & Juliet Dining Room.

Midnight hungry go where? Just drop by the Pizza and Burger Bar on Deck 9 anytime for a quick snack till 2 am or order 24-hour room service.

After the gastronomic ride across all three main food joints, let’s dive underbelly to where it all happens. The 10 of us went on a Kitchen Tour on the fourth day and although it was complimentary for us, guests can take the visit too by purchasing the Savor cookbook (US$26.90) which has a collection of onboard recipes. Our tour was hosted by the Executive Chef, Suresh Balal. I overheard someone commenting that the master chef is quite a dish himself.

During the tour, we got an inside look at the huge kitchen which spans two floors and divided into various sections such as hot foods, cold dishes, bakery and desserts. There are a total of 120 kitchen staff onboard to prepare a mind-boggling 12,000 meals every day! Woah! Guess I’m not the only one who’s overeating.

If only the camera can 'eat' the scene and recharge its battery. I ate soooo much onboard, I got indigestion on the last day. The ship is to blame for serving LOTS of sumptuous food so it is not my fault that I overate.

My favourite part of the tour was the area where all the day’s menu is lined up for tasting by the chefs. If a dish passes the taste test, it becomes a standard to be served. If not, adjustments are made at this stage before being subjected to taste test again.

Presentation is also a big deal and the display dishes serve as examples for replicable quality. Like beauty queens on a pedestal, the food of Legend of the Seas has to go through a gruelling process to ensure high standards in both aesthetics and substance. No wonder my mouth and stomach were so seduced!

Beautiful, grogeous meals. It's a pageantry of food onboard the Legend of the Seas where beauty and quality take centrestage.

Legend of the Seas – All About the Ship

Your personalised SeaPass Card is all you need for expenditures onboard, and to get on and off the Legend of the Seas.

6 Dec 2010 (Monday) – Time to raise the sails of adventure! Our cruise was set to depart Singapore at 5pm but most of us checked-in at 10.30am. As the cruise was fully booked, we want to avoid the long queue closer to departure time. If you don’t check-in earlier, you’ll have to be there at least 1.5 hours before the scheduled departure.

The cruise can take slightly over 2,000 passengers so you can imagine the hold up if everybody boarded at the same time. If you’re booked on the Legend of the Seas Isles of Southeast Asia cruise, my advice is to check-in early. You get a headstart onboard and begin your vacation before everyone else!

Use the Online Check-in function at Royal Caribbean’s website before your trip to quicken the registration process on departure day itself. But you have to check-in online at least 3 days before your cruise. I tried to check in 2 days before the departure and “the computer says… No.” (If you’ve watched the Little Britain series, you’ll get the drift about this catchphrase from one of its characters, Carol Beer. She’s the epitome of bad service! Google her.)

Boarding is at the Singapore Cruise Center (SCC) at Harbourfront. After you’ve checked in, you’ll be issued with a SeaPass Card. It is the all-access card that opens your room door, pays for expenses onboard, and allows you to get on and off the ship for land tours so you don’t have to bring your passport along. Your photo is taken the first instance you board the ship and stored in the card for security and identification.

The warmth of the Royal Caribbean’s check-in counter staff would make you feel like your mood has taken a refreshing vacation already, but I can’t say the same for the SCC staff coordinators at the immigration clearance. Whenever I hear people complain that Singaporeans are rude and give bad service, I would don my boxing gloves to spar with my encounters of excellent services.

But with the SCC, I had to take my gloves off, and eat them. I almost wanted to call the Singapore Department of Natural History… because I thought the ill-mannered buffoon was an extinct species. I didn’t know they were employed by the SCC to terrorise tourists. Thankfully the smiles of Royal Caribbean staff made me a new pair of mittens and heat up the euphoria of a holiday again. I can spar once more. This time with a stronger punch!

Ship Facts : Maiden voyage - 16 May 1995, Cruising speed - 24 knots, 11 passenger decks and elevators, 2,076 total guests, 726 international crew, 2 bow thrusters, 2 stabilisers.

The title of this chapter is called “Flesh of the Titan” because Legend of the Seas is the biggest ship I’ve ever seen and been on. Moreover, the following segments will attempt to flesh out the environment and physical details of the cruiseliner and give a closer look compared to my earlier preview tour. It is all about the physical aspects of Legends of the Seas such as the onboard look-and-feel, Ocean View Stateroom review, and the possibility of getting seasick.

Plus I’m not very imaginative and ripped off my chapter’s title from the movie, Clash of the Titans. The show features quite a lot of sea, has massivebiggiganticnormoushuge experiences, and numerous adventurous quests. That pretty much draws a parallel and sums up my Legend of the Seas adventure. Except that this is not make-believe.

One of the most magical view is to watch the stern and open deck light up against a backdrop of magnificent dusk blue hues.

When I told my friends I’m going on a cruise holiday with Royal Caibbean, I got two kinds of reactions – those who have been and still raving about the experience, and those who have not been and remain skeptical that being stuck on a ship can be fun. Before this cruise, I belonged to the latter. After this trip, well, the amount I’m blogging about the experience speaks for itself!

Beautiful day and night, I pretty much ran amok shooting the great looking interior and seascape on the open decks.

Here’s a listing of all the ship’s facilities so you know what to expect and prepare for them. In upcoming chapters, I’ll talk more about the activities I managed to cover in these places.

Dining : Romeo and Juliet Dining Room, Windjammer Cafe, Pizza and Burger Bar

Chill Out : That’s Entertainment Theater Lounge, Anchors Aweigh Lounge, Viking Crown Lounge/Nightclub, Schooner Bar, Champagne Terrace, Champagne Bar

Adults : Casino Royale, Card Room, Conference Room

Kids and Youths : Adventure Ocean Youth Area, Optix Teen Center, Video Arcade

Fitness : Day Spa and Fitness Center (gym), Solarium, Jogging Track, 2 Pools, 4 Whirlpools, Rock-climbing Wall, 9-hole Miniature Golf

Others : Library, Beauty Salon, Boutique Shops, Art and Photo Gallery, Medical Center

Attendance for the muster session is COMPULSORY. The number for the muster station is printed on the SeaPass Card. My station was 14. In Cantonese it sounds like 'sup say', which means 'surely die'. *CHOI!*

Before the ship leaves the port, all passengers MUST attend the muster session, which is a safety drill to know what to do in case of emergency. Just like the pre-flight safety demonstration onboard the planes. The muster time is 5.30pm and there are annoucements and staff to guide guests to their respective stations. Attendance is recorded so there’s no skipping it. After the short session, it’s anchors aweigh!

One of the first things that struck me about Legend of the Seas is the abundance of art onboard. The interior of the ship is one huge canvas where oil paintings, installation art, sculptures of various materials (metal, glass, resin, porcelain, etc) and ship furnishings gather to take guests to a different world.

The rich, mahogany-wooded and mostly neoclassical European decor accentuated with gold fixtures and trimmings made me feel as if I’m living in some tastefully opulent château. What an instant status upgrade! So glam and atas (high-society)!

Paintings, sculptures, installations and figurines both realistic and abstract decorate the whole of Legends of the Seas. Walking from deck to deck is like visiting an art gallery or museum.

The taste in decor reflected the heritage of the ship’s birthplace – St. Nazaire, France. With Paris being regarded as one of the top art capitals in the world, it’s no wonder there’s LOTS of hull culture.

I thought one interesting thing parents could do with kids is to have an art hunt challenge onboard. Set a time and each go around the ship to identify the names of paintings or sculptures and make a list. Most of the pieces come with a title and name of artist. The family member with the longest list wins and it could be an interesting way to get kids interested in arts and culture.

The art of Knowledge... This theatrical pair of jesters welcome passengers to the library but are themselves a focal point for closer study. But don't take the fools lightly for they have played pivotal roles in literature and history. I identify with them. I'm a modern clown.

The Legend of the Seas offers many different room types to cater to different budgets and group size. We were hosted in the twin-sharing Ocean View Stateroom. I found out from other passengers staying in the same room type that if we were to pay for it, it would cost S$700+ per person. The fare includes 4 nights’ room stay, all meals, onboard entertainment and usage of facilities.

This is my roommate, Philip Lim. He is the biggest enigma in Singapore's blogosphere who's been posting under the pseudonym 'Keropokman' for years but few knew what he looks like. Until now. His rationale is that keropok (crackers) when exposed will lose it's crispiness and become soft. Guess I just turned him really Limp with this exposé then.

Previously, I thought cabin rooms on cruises are no bigger than a swallow’s nest and since I experienced claustrophobia before, I was both delighted and apprehensive about being one of the selected bloggers to experience Legend of the Seas. So you can imagine my relieve when I found the room to be spacious and comfortable. In fact, the moment I came aboard, I had clean forgotten about my unfounded fear of tight spaces.

I share Christine's concern of claustrophobia before coming onboard because I used to suffer from it. I even turned back a fully boarded Cathay Pacific flight while it was taxiing 7 years ago because I had a panic attack. No idea why I developed it but I saw a shrink for a year. Now I'm fine but the idea of enclosed spaces still irks me at times.

The best thing about a cruise is that your room is always near. You can pop in anytime to enjoy some personal respite or get out of sweaty gym garb, refresh, and be ready for a formal dinner all within minutes.

I love the convenience although I’m hardly in the room much because there’s always something to do and see onboard. Except for the second last day when I was mostly room-ridden due to an upset tummy. More on the cause of my stomach woes later.

However, there’s one thing that took some getting used to in the room. Bottled water is not complimentary like land hotels and is chargeable. It costs US$4.55 for a 1 litre bottle of Evian drinking water! But there is a travel kettle in the room and water points can be found at the dining areas and sun deck of the ship (Deck 9).

We are surrounded by water everywhere yet it is the most prized commodity. It is a good idea to bring bottled water onboard although I didn’t do that. And not once did I go thirsty. Toothbrush, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner and body lotion are also not provided so remember to bring your own. If you forgot your toiletries, no worries, you can always purchase them from the gift shop onboard.

This is Lulus, my room's housekeeper. He does more than just make up the room but he makes up my day with an ever cheery smile and warm greeting every time I see him.

What I love most about the room is my cabin steward, Lulus. You’ve seen the wreck Philip and I leave our room in and each time we come back, everything is back in order with a towel pet waiting on each of our bed.

What’s impressive is that I think the rooms on Legend of the Seas get made up several times a day. It seems like each time we got out and came back in, the room is in order. And to top it off, Lulus is one of the warmest staff I’ve came across in my many years of travels. The other crew onboard are friendly too but there’s something different about Lulus. There’s a certain sparkle in his voice when he greets or talks to you. A fire that can only be fuelled by sincerity.

Another main concern that either makes or breaks a cruise holiday is the propensity to turn green and throw up overboard. I don’t have motion sickness and I’m not keen to develop seasickness from this trip. If you’re wondering just how stable is Legend of the Seas, watch the video at the end of this post. I’ve devised an experiment to pitch the ship’s balance against mine… when I’m sober!

Inside Legend of the Seas' nerve center during the Bridge Tour. I am Captain Poserwannabe. Dare to take my ride?

To help us understand the ship better, the 10 of us were given a Bridge Tour where we got to visit the ship’s control room and meet Captain Sverre Ryan and Fei Liu. I was surprised at the stark contrast in appearance of the navigation centre to the rest of the ship. Here, it’s the case of the Monday blues everyday!

But I guess you don’t need an elaborate interior when nature provides all the decorations through the picture windows. Too bad the day of our visit was overcast. I can foresee how beautiful a sunrise or sunset in the horizon must look with such an unobstructed panoramic view.

During the tour, we saw the monitoring system that keeps the ship in balance by storing and releasing water in response to changing weight distribution. We also asked the captain if he’s ever sailed into a terrible storm or has Legend of the Seas met with any emergencies before. His answer is a series of firm and sure “No”s. Well, that’s good enough for me to know we’re in safe hands.

But I’m not too sure if the ship is safe from me… heh heh heh…

There's no quack about the serious equipments and navigation technology here. Looks like Donald is shocked that I'm in control. I wonder what will happen if I turn the steer... hmm.

Legend Of The Seas – LOTS to Do!

What stories does the Legend of the Seas (LOTS) behold? Join me on a nautical exploration onboard this 70-tonne cruise ship!

The last time I took a cruise holiday was when wavy perms and baggy pants were in vogue; and Enya’s Orinoco Flow urged all to “sail away, sail away”, bringing about a revival of the Celtic voice in New Age anthems. Point is, that’s a long time ago. My cruise memory dates so far back, it has become somewhat of a personal legend where I have a consciousness about it, but I cannot prove it happened because there are no details for recall or photos of my encounter.

So when I’m invited to join a bloggers’ contingent on a half-day tour of the Legend of the Seas cruise liner, I wasted no time in signing up. And here are my first impressions of the ship on this very short visit…

LOTS to Explore!

When I first saw the cruiser, I was wow-ed by the size of it. But it is still considered a baby compared to the biggest ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet – the soon-to-be launched Oasis of the Seas which weighs in at 220 tonnes. If LOTS is already so massive, I can’t imagine the size of its new sibling.

The Romans call him Neptune, the Greeks revere him as Poseidon. No magical seafaring legend would be complete without the likeness of him.

Owned by the multiple award-winning cruise operator, Royal Caribbean International, LOTS sailed its maiden voyage in 1995 and has gone through refurbishment recently.

LOTS of class in terms of decor and furnishings. The ship's interior is an interesting blend of grand European fashion, Renaissance art, and contemporary fixtures.

If you ‘smell’ something fishy about my camera angles, that’s because I’m using my new fisheye lens which I bought to coincide with this half-day excursion. Been wanting to get a fisheye lens for the longest time and this is the perfect excuse to get it despite the chagrin of my dieting pockets. I hope it’ll turn out to be a worhtwhile investment.

This is the central axis that runs through various deck levels of the ship.

According to the ship’s cross-section plan, there’re a total of 11 decks that house a myriad of activity areas for children, youths, adults and the whole family. Facilities include various lounges, dining rooms, a casino, library, day spa and fitness centre, solarium, theatre, shopping arcade, and sporting nodes on the sun deck. More about the ship’s highlights here.

LOTS to Chill…

This is the first time I’m meeting so many bloggers on a face-to-face basis. There were more than 50 of us! I really enjoyed the fellowship and opportunity to learn from many of them in that short time. They were so friendly and helpful, it felt as if this wasn’t the first time we met.

The Anchors Aweigh Lounge is where one can relax to live jazz music or hold a private function in a spacious, yet cozy setting.

Before the tour started, all of us gathered for a briefing at the Anchors Aweigh Lounge. Even though the lounge wasn’t operating, I can imagine sitting in the cushy emerald couches, sipping a cocktail and just relaxing to the sounds of smooth jazz.

LOTS to Shop!

One of the things that surprises onboard was a mini shopping ‘district’. It’s a district because there weren’t just one or two shops but a collection of shops selling all kinds of stuff from clothes to skincare products to souvenirs to my favourite… booze!

Shopaholics can go wild at the shopping arcade where there's a price match guarantee. If you can find the same item on land at a cheaper price, they'll match it.

Prices onboard the ship are in US dollars and there’s even an ATM machine for cash withdrawals. However, a cashless system is in place where expenditures onboard are charged to a tap card (called SeaPass) issued to every passenger. The expenses are consolidated and charged to the credit card or settled in cash upon disembarkation.

LOTS to Contemplate

For the bookworms, there’s a well-stocked library offering various genres ranging from popular novels to biographies, children’s books, periodicals, and self-help titles. Looking at the bas reliefs of literary intellects surrounding the library, I already feel so smart without even touching a book!

There are no fools in knowledge or no knowledge in fools?

Can you imagine sitting on the large leather sofa with an interesting read, your favourite music plugged into the ears, drinking wine and see a different scenery each time you look up from the book and let your imagination be projected onto the seawater?

LOTS of Comforts

Having watched enough of seafaring disaster movies, I’m convinced that living quarters aboard all ships are the same. They are crammed, claustrophobic pigeon holes. That has always been my impression, so since I have a dislike for confined spaces the size of all the seven seas added together, going for a cruise vacation was never enticing.

But having seen the different rooms that hoi pollois like me can afford, their roominess ain’t too bad. They weren’t the sardine jackets in my head. The room comes with attached bathroom, sofa seating area and a small television.

The cabin rooms were not as small as I imagined them to be and looks very comfortable. Pretty girl not included.

There are also oceanview rooms where you can wake up to dancing waves outside your window and rooms with a balcony to sit and just let your thoughts unwind over the vast expanse of sea and sky. The prices for the various room types are listed on Royal Caribbean‘s website, but as a rough guage, it costs about S$500+ per person for a 3 nights’ cruise around Malaysia.

You can also choose different routes that can last between three to nine days around Asia. The cruise will make stops at key ports around the region and you can take land tours to explore the area.

With ultra posh decor and interior furnishings, the Royal Suite would tease even Neptune out of the waters.

Although the rooms were in the midst of being prepared and tidied, I could see that when done, the common cabins would be clean, decent and good enough for a comfortable stay. But if you print money for a living, then it’s definitely worth splurging on the luxurious oceanic suites. The most grand of them all is of course the Royal Suite which comes with a piano in the living room! Imagine your darling playing the piano and crooning Titanic’s love theme ‘My Heart Will Go On’… *choi!*

LOTS of Fun!

The swimming pool could be considered the crown jewel of every cruise liner and the one on LOTS sits like a gleaming aquamarine under the glorious sun.

Apart from the pool and outdoor jacuzzis, the sun deck also comes fitted with a jogging track, mini golf course, floor games and get this, a rock climbing wall! It must feel awesome to be on top of the wall and looking out to the ocean at such a high point.

I can sooooo see myself baking on the open deck for hours and lazing the hours away, never mind that the UV rays causes skin damage and premature aging. No point having youthful looks but no youthful activities!

This visit to LOTS is an event organised by Omy.sg and amongst the bloggers who did the half day tour and blog about it, 10 will be chosen to go on a 5 days 4 nights Isle of Southeast Asia Cruise. If you see more posts about the cruise in upcoming weeks, you know I’d made it. Else, I hope this post gave you a good idea of what’s it like to enjoy a holiday aboard LOTS.

LOTS to Eat!

But of course, the facilities, the rooms and the sun deck are just mere enablers to experiencing the greatest part about LOTS. It’s the service. It is excellent beyond words and the place to truly taste it is at the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room.

Mutton's tastier than this lamb shank I had. The meat slides right off and retains the nice mutton flavour that is simply baa-arvellous.

Don’t get me wrong, the staff at all the other sections be it our tour guide James or the many housekeepers I came across were all courteous and very ready to greet with a smile, but it was at the dining room that I had the immense pleasure of experiencing the full extent of it.

I think the service was more delicious than the food although I did enjoy every bite of my lamb shank. The eating experience was well seasoned with a service standard that’s 5-star to say the least. Other than the Romeo & Juliet Dining Room, there are a couple more eating outlets and a buffet-style restaurant. The buffet spread had as many choices as there are creatures in the sea.

I hope this blog has given you a useful glimpse into the Legend of the Seas should you consider a cruise vacation. I would like to thank the organisers for this opportunity to add a new experience to my memory, and this time, I have photos and a record of it.

Take a break from land tours. Why not take a vacation at the oldest manifestation of nature… the sea? Have a great flow… :)

For more photos of the outing, please click here.

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