All aboard!

Two parents, four kids, eight days and one ship. First-time cruiser Charlie Ferguson took the whole family on board a newly refurbished Azamara ship for a cruise through the South China Sea.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I always wanted to say that. If you've ever had the experience of travelling with teenagers, you could say it too. You know what I mean here. Anyway, I was on the maiden voyage of the newly refurbished 'Journey', a luxury cruise ship operated by Azamara. We were sailing from Singapore to Hong Kong. This was pretty much my maiden voyage too. The last time I went on a ship of any size was when I was in the US Marine Corps carrying my seabag and rifle and walking up the gangplank like the animals going for a ride in Noah's Ark. This was going to be very different and the whole family was excited about it.

Living in Sydney I take the ferry to and from work and I can see the big passenger ships docked at the Overseas Passenger Terminal. What I also see are the massive lines of passengers patiently waiting their turn to board and begin their holidays. Not much is worse than being so excited to start your adventure then having to wait in a massive line. Even more so if you're travelling with kids and teenagers. Well, we were going to have none of that. Checking in was an unbelievable breeze. No wait and plenty of people to assist, it took all of 10 minutes and once we were checked in, champagne in hand and heading to our room. That type of service was unexpected and little did we know, it would be the type of service we would receive throughout our entire trip.

Passenger looking out off the deck

 

The Journey isn’t a big ship by any means. At 180 metres long and carrying 694 passengers, it never felt crowded; plenty of room to roam and even find places to be alone. What was really nice was that there was plenty of nice family time. Being on a ship of that size, the family was always close by and for the teenagers, it was a kind of involuntary confinement. Although, we were told more than once: “I’m going to the other side of the ship and don’t come over there.”

Service was fantastic and the staff super friendly and always eager to assist. It didn’t take long for many of the staff to address me by name. The ship had a range of eating options from casual to the dressier and more formal. With all the great food it was handy to have a newly remodeled gym on board. It was even larger than some gyms at the big hotels. I also took advantage of the yoga classes.

Incredible on board staircase

 

On any cruise, there are always the entertainment and live shows. It was funny to see that some of the staff around the ship were also dressed up in costume singing and dancing that night on the stage. I was really impressed with the quality of the shows and the incredibly talented singers and dancers.

Most importantly, the Journey has two spots to play shuffleboard. I didn’t think it would be a real cruise ship without shuffleboard. When else would I get to play it? So I did. Next cruise I’ll play again.

It’s worth noting also the barista bar that served specialty espresso drinks any time of day and night, Australian café quality.

Room interior

 

Excursions

Of the eight days onboard the Azamara ‘Journey”, three were spent day- tripping onshore in Vietnam

Day trip one

On the third day we docked in Ho Chi Minh at lunchtime. There were several choices for land excursions and we decided to take the one and a half hour bus ride to the Mekong delta. We stopped off at a restaurant for a group lunch and then headed off for a river-boat tour of the delta. It was interesting to see how the locals live and use the river. There are many islands in the river and we stopped and saw honey farms, coconut candy being cooked in huge metal bowls over an open fire and we took a “local taxi” – a horse and cart ride down the main street. We arrived back at the ship at 8pm, just in time for a surf and turf dinner in the main dining room.

Day trip two

We arrived in Ha Long Bay at 1:45pm and decided to do our own thing instead of an excursion as we were going out on a junk boat the next day. The ship has a shuttle that takes you in to town and drops you at a large market on the waterfront. We also found a local produce market while exploring the side streets and got plenty of inquisitive but friendly looks as we seemed to be the only tourists.

Day trip three

On this morning we boarded an authentic junk and headed around the bay for a half-day tour. While we were able to see some beautiful sights and explore a cave, if you really want to see Ha Long Bay you need to spend a couple of nights on a junk so that you can go farther out and not be in the constant company of the many other day trip boats.

Piano room

 

GETTING THERE

Singapore Airlines flies direct from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth to Singapore daily. Return economy fares start from A$984 and business class fares from A$4,205. Flight time is between six and eight hours. singaporeair.com

 

THE CRUISE

This eight-night cruise was a one off, but Azamara operates a similar 13-night Vietnam and Thailand voyage. The cruise visits Bangkok, Koh Samui, Ho Chi Minh City, Danang and Ha Long Bay. Prices start from A$2,739 per person. azamaraclubcruises.com

 

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Weather to go

The Asian climate, one of the most varied due to its great size, is greatly influenced my monsoon winds. In the winter (Dec-Jan) cold monsoons from the Arctic blow into East Asia resulting in extremely dry, and freezing weather conditions. In the summer the monsoons blow in from the seas to the south causing the weather to become hot and humid. Tropical Asian (Phillipines, Thailand) countries experience warm and hot weather throughout the year with East Asia (Japan, Mongolia) experiencing a relatively temperature climate. 

 

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