Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Voyager of the Seas cruise (Pt II) - Ports of Call

The ports of call during my Voyager of the Seas cruise were as follows -

Singapore (not a port of call but I boarded Voyager there)
Pattaya (Laemchabang port), Thailand
Vũng Tàu (Phu My port), Vietnam
Port Hedland, Western Australia
Fremantle, Western Australia (not a port of call but the ship disembarked there)


To read about/see Singapore, read my full Singapore post HERE.

I have discovered that this post runs slowly if viewed on Internet Explorer. It's best viewed on Google Chrome or Firefox (not as fast as Chrome).

Here are some photos from when I boarded Voyager of the Seas in Singapore...
My first sight of Voyager of the Seas through the taxi windscreen as I approached the cruise terminal at Singapore.
Inside the cruise terminal at Singapore.
There were issues with some of the passengers disembarking, so those boarding were delayed and it took me
around two hours to finally board. The terminal was completely full of people queuing back and forth, as those at the
head of the queue had nowhere to go. The cruise terminal had only recently opened and they
were also in the process of training staff. 
All in all it was a bit of a shambles but I think it was a 'perfect storm' of events that day and I am sure things 
have improved. If the efficiency shown during my stay in Singapore is any guide, this will be the case.
And for those new to cruising who are dreading what they have read here, be assured the
boarding process usually takes less than half an hour. 
Diamond Princess sits opposite the Voyager of the Seas at the cruise terminal at Singapore.
Action on the dock before we sailed from Singapore.
Passengers line the rails to watch Voyager leave Singapore.

Pattaya (Laemchabang port), Thailand

Laemchabang is an industrial port and the largest port in Thailand, located around two hours outside Bangkok. Voyager arrived at Laemchabang in the afternoon and left the following evening. I decided to stay close to the ship and went on a tour to the Pattaya Elephant Village, a 45-minute bus ride from Laemchabang, the day after we arrived (some of the tours were much longer and one even included an overnight stay in Bangkok). 

My tour, all up, took around four hours and cost $79 each ($59 for children). It was interesting and great to see the elephants up close. Being able to feed them was a highlight, as was the chance to go for a ride on one. Also, the bus ride at either end gives you the chance to have a brief look at how Thais live.

The fact we were so far from anywhere meant that most, if not all, of the tours were pre-booked through RCI. Over time I've found that, even though you often pay more for tours booked through RCI, the benefits outweigh the risks - the risks being that you don't know what you are getting if you go it alone, and, more importantly, if an RCI tour runs late, the ship waits. If you go it alone and get stuck, the ship sails. Also, RCI-booked tours take a lot of the hassle out of having to find a tour onshore. I used to laugh at the notion of following someone with a numbered paddle, but it takes much of the hassle out of your tour experience, especially when life on the cruise ship is so hassle-free.
Follow that paddle...

Here, in photos, is our stay at Laemchabang and my tour at Pattaya Elephant Village. I'll let the photo captions do the explaining...
Arriving in Laemchabang - it's industrial!
The buses were lined up waiting for us.
As always, markets pop up whenever a cruise ship is in town.
The Pattaya Elephant Village.
You can buy bunches of bananas for around $4. These are Asian elephants and they LOVE bananas!
Word got out that the kid had bananas!
The guide at the Pattaya Elephant Village talks to us about elephants.
One of the elephant handlers chills out.
Boarding an elephant pre-ride.
Taking an elephant for 'a dip'. The kids were lining up to get dunked!
Part of the tour was a quick visit to a silk worm farm.
The guide at the silk worm farm tells us about the process of silk production.
A woman weaves silk at the silk worm farm.
Surprisingly, there was no silk garments on sale at the farm.
One of the crew members takes a break during our stay at Laemchabang.
The markets were even open at night, one stall using car headlights as a their light source.
When it rains in Thailand, it really buckets down. Here's a 'before and after' - about five minutes apart.
Powerlines, Pattaya style (Bangkok is the same, so maybe it's a Thailand thing).
Pity the poor linesman who has to sort out this mess!

Vũng Tàu (Phu My port), Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We arrived at Phu My as dawn was breaking and left in the early evening.

Like Laenchabang, Phu My is an industrial port very much in the middle of nowhere (and around two hours from Ho Chi Minh City). I also decided to stay close to the ship and went on an RCI-booked bus tour of Vũng Tàu, the closest city. Friends did go on an all-day tour to see the Cu Chi tunnels used by the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, and they said it was really interesting (nine hours, including three hour bus trip each way, adults: $89, children: $79).

My tour lasted around four hours and cost $58.95 ($39 for children). We stopped at the Whale Temple, a 30-metre high statue of Jesus overlooking Vũng Tàu, the White Palace and the Bay of Boats. Like Laemchabang, the bus trip into Vũng Tàu was around 45 minutes. The tour itself was okay and, in hindsight, I would have been happy remaining on the ship. I didn't really feel like I saw anything overly amazing that made the tour stand out and, like Pattaya, much of the interest came from seeing  the everyday life from the bus window (see the 'tyre-changing' photo below). Having said that, it didn't help that the day was hot and extremely humid and this made the going very uncomfortable.

One of the things I noted (as did many of the older passengers also on the tour) was that the tour 'brief' stated that you would need to be able to walk around 100 metres. This turned out not to be true. The statue of Jesus alone was at the top of a hill. The bus parked below the statue and the walk up to the statue involved a couple of hundred steps - most of them quite steep. The statue could then be climbed and this involves ascending an internal spiral staircase of a further 129 steps. We had half-an-hour there and only a handful of the tour group attempted the climb. Most of the tour group, who were advancing in years, remained in the air-conditioned bus. There was plenty of other walking, too, that far exceeded the 100 metres stated in the brief.

Here, in photos, is our stay at Phu My and my tour of Vũng Tàu.
Voyager of the Seas makes its way up the Thi Vai River in the pre-dawn light to the port at Phu My.
A local fisherman watches the Voyager of the Seas make its way to dock at Phu My.
Over 50 buses wait on the dock at Phu My as Voyager approaches at dawn.
With Voyager docked, a passenger surveys the scene.
A bus driver has his breakfast as he waits for his tour to begin.
Vietnamese immigration officers wait on the dock next to the temporary market that had been erected for the arrival of Voyager.
Downtown Vũng Tàu.
Whale bones inside the Whale Temple.
A local relaxes inside the Whale Temple.
The 30-metre statue of Jesus overlooking Vũng Tàu. I got about 3/4 of the way up the hill, saw these
final steps and couldn't face going the rest of the way, as we only had half-an-hour there and it was hot and very humid. 
Those are people on the shoulder of the statue.
Other than the White Palace, this group of hawkers followed us pretty much everywhere on mini-motorbikes, selling stuff like
'silk' apparel, wallets, shirts, sunglasses and souvenirs. There were also quite a few beggars.
An eight metre statue of a reclining Buddha at another temple.
The White Palace.
A room in the White Palace (those are tusks the man is photographing).
One of the tour members photographs the Bay of Boats. This was our last stop of the tour and was a very quick one.
The heat and humidity had take its toll and only three of us got off the bus to take photos. 
We were delayed 15 minutes when we got a flat tyre. One of the best things on the tour was watching the bus pull up
at a roadside mechanic and seeing him go about the process of changing the tyre - a touch
of real life Vietnam going about their day as normal.
The mechanic's wife and small child even came out for a look, adding to the reality of the moment. 

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Even though the buses weren't there, the markets remained.
The buses return and the passengers queue to get on board Voyager.
The tour buses continue returning into the evening. 
Voyager departs Vietnam.

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Port Hedland, Western Australia

Port Hedland is on the far north coast of Western Australia. It has a population of over 20,000, many of whom work for or have strong links to the mining industry, as Port Hedland is the largest bulk export port in the world, with total trade through the port reaching 247 million tonnes in 2011.

For those who only know Western Australia only through its capital, Perth, Port Hedland is a 1,600+ km (1,000 mi) drive via the shortest i.e. inland, route. While our other ports of call were around two hours drive from Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City respectively, Port Hedland is a flat out, non-stop 18 hour drive from Perth.
Port Hedland - mining, mining, mining...

Despite being so remote, cruise ships do stop in Port Hedland - especially those doing circumnavigations of Australia. The welcome for Voyager of the Seas was pretty special and we had two tug boats giving us a watery guard of honour and a helicopter buzzing the ship (I wasn't sure if it was a TV crew or not). Maybe Port Hedland does this for all the cruise ships that visit but I like to think it was because Voyager was the largest cruise ship to come to Australia.
Passengers get a vantage point to view the welcome.

There were tours available but I decided to walk around town and have a look. This turned out to be a good decision, as I was getting over a cold and intent on finding a chemist and getting drugged up. The ship docked right next to the township but it was a working port and having 2-3,000 people wandering through it wasn't feasible/legal, so a fleet of buses ran all day taking passengers into town and then doing a circuit out to a shopping centre and back to the ship. 
Voyager of the Seas gets an escort from four locals as it approaches Port Hedland.
Passengers enjoy their breakfast in Windjammer as Voyager passes by the bulk carriers sitting off Port Hedland.
The town of Port Hedland with some of the port/mining infrastructure behind.
The Port Hedland Port Authority control tower with the township behind.
The red earth of Port Hedland - also prevalent throughout much of outback Australia. 
Some of the 247 million tonnes that passes through Port Hedland is loaded onto a bulk carrier.
Enormous piles of salt on the dock at Port Hedland.
The fleet of buses wait to take passengers into town.
The Marapikurrinya Markets.
Voyager of the Seas was easy to see from most places in town.
Many of the locals line the shore to farewell Voyager of the Seas.
These two went that little bit further to say goodbye.

*I'm just going to jump in here and ask/suggest a couple of things...

Firstly, if this post has inspired you to book a cruise on Voyager of the Seas, can you send me a quick email and let me know - - so I can tell Royal Caribbean what a great job I do promoting their cruises.

Secondly, if you want to book a cruise on Voyager of the Seas, you can do so via 'Looking to book a cruise?' at the top right of this post. These posts take around 100 hours to produce and I don't get paid to do them, so making a booking through this blog ensures I get a little something back.

Fremantle, Western Australia

Fremantle, otherwise known as Freo, is a city located just south of Perth. However, the term city shouldn't be construed as highrise and the like. Freo is very much at the bottom end of the city scale. Think large town by the sea (no disrespect to Freo). 

Fremantle and Perth have almost become one and the same and there is no discernible break between where one ends the next starts. A train line runs between the two and, if the train stops at all stations, it's around a 45-minute trip. Freo is a great place to stay if you visiting Perth, because are close to Perth yet you feel far removed from the hustle and bustle of city life when you are there.
Fremantle - taken from my suite the morning we docked (that's a Perth bound train).

Fremantle is a delightful place. It's maintained many of its colonial buildings and heritage yet has an almost cosmopolitan feel - buzz - to it. Many fabulous restaurants and cafes line South Terrace, the main drag through Freo, as well as the many sidestreets and the waterfront.

On the subject of food, I had some of the best meals I've had in a long time while I was in Freo. The food on Voyager of the Seas was great and plentiful but this was something else. The first place was The Monk Brewery and Kitchen on South Terrace in the heart of Freo.

Spanish Chorizo - Pan cooked with olive oil, paprika, Spanish onion and cornichons, served with fresh, crusty bread $17

Sticky Pork Belly and Seared Scallops - Slow braised pork belly is tossed in palm sugar, served with seared scallops and a Thai style salad $22

Both were sensational but the pork belly crackling had caramelised so it was that little bit crunchy. In short, it was to die for!
LtoR Sticky Pork Belly and Seared Scallops, and Spanish Chorizo.
That's a pint of one of their beers - can't remember which - that is brewed onsite. It was a fabulous, brew, too!
The Monk Brewery and Kitchen - well worth a visit!

The other place was Tabella, an Italian restaurant on South Terrace in the middle of Freo:

Pane al Aglio - Crusty Italian garlic bread $7

Spaghetti al pomodoro e Basilico - Spaghetti with cherry tomato, fresh basil, garlic, shallots & Napoli sauce $22

Gnocchi al Ragu' - Homemade potato dumplings with shredded slow cooked beef $25

The garlic bread tasted like the bread was made on the premises and I was right. The best way to describe it was 'full-bodied'. The mains were delivered to the table by Tanya, who had made the gnocchi, and I smiled and warned her that my nonna used to make her own gnocchi, so she had a lot to live up to (the joke was well-received). Once I tucked in, I wasn't disappointed! Even better, I saved some of the garlic bread to mop up leftovers...thinking about this as I write is making me salivate.
Wine being poured at Tabella.

Of course, any meal wouldn't be complete without dessert and I found Dolce Vita Gelato, also on South Terrace in the centre of Freo. I made two trips there and both times ordered two scoops - one pistachio and the other hazelnut. Delicious!

* Before we move away from food, I popped up to Perth for a few hours and had a fabulous wagyu burger for lunch at The Boheme in the Perth CBD...well worth it if you're in the neighbourhood!

Freo is also a tourist destination in its own right, with, among others, the Fremantle Prison (tours available), the WA Maritime Museum (housing the victorious America's Cup 12 metre yacht, Australia II), numerous art galleries, the Little Creatures brewery and, as mentioned, many great eateries. You can also catch a ferry across to Rottnest Island and, if you're an AC/DC fan, there's a statue of Bon Scott beside Fremantle Harbour and a memorial to him at the Fremantle cemetery (Scott spent much of his childhood in Fremantle after emigrating to Australia from Scotland with his family).

Like the other ports of call, I'll let the photos do the talking...
South Terrace during the day, purple pot plants and all. 
South Terrace at night.
The Fremantle Prison - in use up to 1991.
The WA Maritime Museum.
The Oberon class Submarine HMAS Ovens at the WA Maritime Museum.
Voyager of the Seas docked in Fremantle.
The Little Creatures Brewery on the waterfront at Fremantle.
If you stand facing the Little Creatures Brewery, a couple of hundred metres to the right and still
on the waterfront, is a statue of former AC/DC lead singer, Bon Scott.
At the Fremantle Cemetery, about 4km (2.5 mi) from South Terrace, is the Bon Scott
Memorial Entrance (on the corner of Carrington Street and Leach Highway).
Just inside the gate is a memorial plaque.
The Fremantle Markets, once again on South Terrace in the heart of Freo.
Inside the Fremantle Markets.
They are only open on the weekend and I was there during the week, so this is a photo I took in 2008.
An old steam roller on the footpath outside a house. It seemed to fit right in with Freo's heritage and didn't look out of place at all.
This was the view the morning we docked in Freo. I'd packed for tropical weather, as most of the cruise was going to be in that
part of the world, and had assumed that Fremantle/Perth in November would be 'kind of the same'. I had to put my luggage out the night before in order to be collected and only had the clothes I thought I'd need i.e. shorts and T-shirt. 
Then I saw this bloke dressed for an Antarctic expedition, and the flag permanently parallel with the ground
 courtesy of the wind, and I knew I was in trouble!

To see and read about Voyager of the Seas, go to my indepth review/overview - with great photos and tons of information - of this spectacular ship HERE.

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I hope this post has been of some help and I'd love to hear any feedback or questions you might have -

Until next time...Bon voyage!


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