Sunday, June 27, 2010

Shore tours on the way over

We have carefully looked through all the shore tours available on our way to the UK on ORIANA - and have decided upon 10 of them. The only places where we won't do ship's shore tours are the two Aussie ports - Whitsunday Islands and Cairns - and Singapore (which we know quite well)

I know that many people don't like ship's shore tours for different reasons. Many years ago we did some Trafalgar coach tours through Europe - and enjoyed them. I can understand why some people don't like them - but there are reasons as to why we did. One of those reasons is basically just "efficiency" - we only have a short time in these places and we have to pack it all in!!

So - if anybody has any interest  - here they all are!!

1.    Manilla  - Charms of Old Manila 0830-1300

Step back in time as you discover old Manila including Rizal Park, Manila Cathedral and Fort Santiago
Visit historic Rizal Park, where the remains of the country’s national hero, Dr Jose Rizal, lie within the cornerstone of the Rizal Monument. This wide expanse of manicured lawns and spouting fountains leads to the walled city of Intramuros, a medieval Spanish fortress that has become Spain’s most durable monument in the East. Continue on to Fort Santiago which served as headquarters to the military might of the Spanish, American and Japanese colonizers until its destruction in 1945. Experience Mardi Gras as locals dress in costume and make up to perform traditional dances.Proceed to Manila Cathedral, a magnificent architectural feat with its intricate stone carvings, stained glass mosaics and rosette windows. The next stop is Casa Manila, a reconstructed 19th century mansion complete with 16th to 19th century furniture and furnishings. Finally, walk across the street to San Agustin Church, the oldest structure in the Philippines which dates back to 1571 before returning to the ship.

Essential information. There are approximately 30 steps at both Fort Santiago and Casa Manila. Traffic conditions within the city centre are unpredictable and this may affect the duration of the tour and increase the time spent on the coach. The order of highlights may vary to avoid congestion.

2.    Highlights of Ho Chi Minh city 0800-1730 inc lunch

Explore the highlights of bustling Ho Chi Minh City, still commonly referred to as Saigon. Located on the banks of the Saigon River, Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant city full of contrasts. Visit the National History Museum filled with ancient ceramics, traditional costumes and relics crafted in stone and bronze. Afterwards, watch a short performance of the uniquely Vietnamese spectacle – water puppetry. Stop for photos at the neo-Romanesque Notre Dame Cathedral, whose twin spires are a distinctive city landmark. See the Reunification Hall, once the Presidential Palace and where Liberation forces, on 30th April 1975, marked the end of the Vietnam War. After a buffet lunch including typical Vietnamese dishes and a performance of traditional music and dance, continue to Cho Lon, the city’s Chinatown. Enjoy an orientation drive through the colourful streets full of stalls, hidden temples, shrines and pagodas. Visit the Thien Hau Temple, dedicated to the Sea Goddess - Protector of Sailors, before returning to the 3rd district to visit a lacquer factory, where you’ll see talented Vietnamese craftsmen at work.

Essential information. The journey to/from Ho Chi Minh City is approximately 2 hours with a comfort stop en route. There is approximately 3 hours of walking on this tour with steps, and pavements can be narrow and uneven with raised kerbs, so please take care. Mineral water will be available on the coach transfer, but we also suggest you take bottled water with you for the day

3.    Bangkok in a day – 0830-1715 inc lunch

While the pace may be intense on this tour, it allows you to see all the highlights of this fabled city in just one day. Be dazzled by the immense size of the 5½ ton, solid-gold Golden Buddha image, housed in the Wat Trimitr. Witness the bustle of Chinatown and a colourful flower market, before the Emerald Buddha Temple comes into view. Housed in the Wat Pra Keo, this is one of Buddhism’s most magnificent monasteries. Explore the grounds of the Grand Palace and experience the grandeur of an ancient Siamese court where kings and queens used to reside hundreds of years ago. Beautifully situated, the Palace grounds encompass several major buildings, all topped by glittering spires and soaring finials. After your morning’s explorations, an international buffet lunch will be served at a leading hotel. Last, but not least, enjoy a chance to shop for those all-important souvenirs, before returning to Laem Chabang.

Essential information. There is approximately 2 hours of walking during this tour including many steps at the temples. Comfortable, non-slip shoes are recommended. Photography is permitted within the Palace grounds, but not in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. You’ll be refused entry if you are not appropriately dressed. Please wear tops with sleeves and full-length trousers or skirts. Shoulders, knees and ankles must be covered. Open-toed or open-heeled shoes are not permitted. The Palace grounds may be closed at short notice due to royal functions. Journey time to Bangkok is approximately 2½ hours. Thai Baht are recommended as it is not always possible to pay with US$

4.    Ko Samui – Around the island 0830-1600 inc lunch

Make the most of your time in Koh Samui by travelling around the Island visiting Temples, Buddha and Chaweng Beach. Your scenic drive visits Kunaram Temple, a home to its own Buddhist miracle: a special building holds a mummified corpse of its most famous monk, who died while sitting in meditation. The monk’s body is housed in a glass coffin. Continue through Hua Thanon Village on to the coconut plantation, where monkeys have been specially trained to harvest the ripe fruits in Samui’s coconut plantation. Enjoy watching a demonstration of this ancient art as the monkeys scale coconut palms to pluck coconuts for their handlers.
The Temple of the Big Buddha is a famous meditation centre that boasts a massive sitting Buddha. Situated on the small rocky, Fan Island, the wat has become a major meditation centre for local residents and foreign visitors. The temple centrepiece is a massive, 39 foot high sitting Buddha erected in 1792. Lunch will be served at a local hotel before visiting Chaweng Beach. There are plenty of stalls and shops along the stretch of Beach Road, which sell souvenirs, t-shirts, handicrafts, paintings, as well as international-standard hotels. Approximately 1½ hours of free time are available at your own leisure.

Essential information. This tour involves approximately 1½ hours of walking over mostly flat ground. There are over 20 steps to climb at the Big Buddha Temple and shoes are not permitted in the temple hall.

5.    Best of Kuala Lumpur – 0830-1630 inc lunch

The city of Kuala Lumpur is a seemingly endless array of sightseeing opportunities. Upon reaching Kuala Lumpur, the first stop will be at the National Museum. Showcasing traditional Malay architecture, the museum exhibits colonial eras, Malacca Sultanate and Malaysia today after 50 years of Independence. A stop will be made at the National Mosque, which embodies a contemporary expression of traditional Islamic art, calligraphy and ornamentation. Located adjacent to the National Mosque, is the impressive Old Railway Station, one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. Independence Square is the former playing field of the Royal Selangor Club, and the place where many celebrations take place during Independence Day. From here, continue onto the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers for a photo stop. For a chance to purchase a memento of your visit, a stop will be made at a handicraft centre selling a wide range of local crafts and souvenirs. Enjoy a buffet lunch before visiting the KL Tower, one of the city’s greatest landmarks. Take an express elevator to the Observation Deck, from where you’ll have a panorama of the city below.

Essential information. Total walking time is approximately 2¾ hours. Comfortable, non-slip walking shoes are recommended. Photography is not permitted inside the Museum. The drive to Kuala Lumpur will take approximately 1½ hours, depending on traffic

6.    Mumbai – City sights 0800-1300

See Mumbai’s most prominent landmarks and become acquainted with this city of contrasts.
This tour shows you many of the city’s landmarks, including Mumbai University, the Rajabai Clock Tower, High Court Building, the Parsi Towers of Silence and Victoria Terminus, to name but a few. You’ll travel along Marine Drive to the Hanging Gardens and Kamala Nehru Park, where you can enjoy an excellent view of the city. Next is a photo stop at Dhobi Ghat, an open-air laundry where local people come to wash their clothes in troughs. Visit Mani Bhavan, the place where Mahatma Gandhi once lived. This simple, 2-storey building, now a museum, displays a series of small dioramas and photographs, which recount the Mahatma’s life story. At the city’s most famous temple, Jain Temple, you will marvel at the ornate sculptures and paintings. Your tour ends with a visit to the Prince of Wales Museum, where you can see one of the world’s largest collections of Indian paintings, followed by a brief photo stop at the famous Gateway of India.
Essential information. This tour involves approximately 1½ hours of walking/standing, including numerous steps. Comfortable, non-slip footwear and a sunhat are recommended. Leather items are not permitted inside the Jain Temple and footwear must be removed; please bring socks to wear.

7.    Sharm-el-Sheikh – St Catherines monastery  0730-1630 inc lunch

Your unique opportunity to visit the monastery that is thought to have been built around Moses’ Burning Bush.
At St Catherine’s Monastery the most sanctified building is the church with the chapel of the Burning Bush from which God spoke to Moses. The chapel is dedicated to St Catherine, the legendary martyr of Alexandria, who was tortured for her Christianity. Her body disappeared and, according to legend, was transported by angels to the highest mountain peak in the Sinai. Three centuries later some monks of the Monastery, following a dream, found her body and placed it in a gold-plated sarcophagus, which now stands in the Basilica Choir. The Monastery holds some of the world’s best preserved and priceless ancient manuscripts and icons, some of which are actually on display in the church. A buffet lunch, including refreshments will be served at a deluxe beach resort on the shores of the Gulf of Aqaba.

Essential information. It can be very crowded in the Monastery due to the restricted opening hours, and the areas visited may vary from the above itinerary. Visitors to St Catherine’s Monastery will need to respect the quiet and calm of this Holy site and dress accordingly: no shorts, and shoulders and knees must be covered. Comfortable, non-slip walking shoes and a sun hat are recommended. Photography is permitted inside the Monastery (excluding the chapel), however videos are not allowed. There is a considerable amount of walking over uneven surfaces and steps. Journey time to and from St Catherine’s Monastery is 3 hours each way; coaches are equipped with toilets.
8.  Piraeus – A taste of Athens 09300 -1530 inc lunch

See the Acropolis, shop in the famous Plaka and enjoy local entertainment during lunch, which includes wine.
Your scenic drive will take you to a vantage point to capture one of the world’s most recognisable sights, the Acropolis. Witness spectacular views of the monuments of the Acropolis and the Parthenon, the pride and joy of Athens. Overlooked by the mighty monuments of the Acropolis, is the famous shopping district of Athens, the Plaka. Its mazy and cobble-stoned pedestrianised streets hide numerous plazas. You’ll have approximately 1 hour to wander around this shopping haven. After free time in the Plaka, enjoy lunch of local and national dishes accompanied with Ouzo, Metaxa Brandy and wine. During lunch you will be entertained by local dancers and a folkloric show. View the impressive Old Olympic Stadium, (traffic permitting) built for the first modern Olympic games.

Essential information. The Acropolis is viewed from a point at the lower entrance, reached by climbing approximately 30 steps. The Plaka will be explored on foot from the Acropolis, resulting in a walk of approximately 20 minutes, over some uneven ground. The Acropolis is undergoing extensive restoration and parts are covered in scaffolding. The order of highlights may vary and free time may be after lunch.

9.  LISBON -  Sintra, Guincho and Cascais  0900-1300

The picturesque villages of Sintra and Cascais have a unique charm all of their own.
Hailed by poets for the great beauty of its surrounding mountain range, Sintra Village is renowned for the view of the old Royal Palace, perched on the highest peak. One of Portugal’s oldest settlements, occupied by both Moors and monarchs, whose castles and palaces add charm to the village. Enjoy free time to explore at your own pace.

Enjoy a photo opportunity at the Praia do Guincho and capture the magnificent views and the most westerly point in Europe – Cabo da Roca.

Cascais, originally an old Portuguese fishing village, has now become a popular holiday resort. Set alongside the picturesque Bay of Cascais, lovely early 20th century homes mingle with modern buildings, creating a delightful atmosphere. You’ll have some free time to wander along the streets, enjoy the views or browse in the local shops.

The return drive will be along the Corniche bordering the River Tagus, passing by the well-known village of Estoril.

Essential Information. The streets of Sintra are steep and cobble-stoned, and care should be taken. Highlights may operate in reverse to that described above. Shops in Cascais are closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Oriana shore tours

A little bit of excitement here on Friday. A list of all the shore tours available for all the ports we visit became available from P&O. We had already seen an incomplete list - but no prices. Now we know what we will be up for so can do some more planning. Pricewise - they are not TOO bad. I think that we will be benefiting from the good AUD/UKP exchange rates (hope they last). The most expensive tours averaged around 75 UKP - not so long ago this would have equated to about $200 AUD, but right now it only is $130AUD. Considering that such a tour involves a full day (up to 9 hours) and what appears to be a GOOD lunch, the price appears to me to be much better than the shore tours that P&O Australia have. We are planning to take 10 tours - some of the Asian ports are quite a long way from the associated city, eg Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh city and others are sufficiently "alien" to us that we prefer to travel safely in "numbers" eg. Sharm El-Sheikh. We were going to take a tour to Fatima in Portugal - rather than wonder the streets of Lisbon - but after reading quite a bit of negativity about the site, we have decided to see Sintra instead. This will allow us to get out into the Portuguese countryside a little - and we should have time for a few hours around Lisbon as well.  We will have to wait a couple of months yet for the Arcadia tours. Hope they come out before we depart on Oriana. By the way, we don't pay for these tours until the end of the cruise - they are added to the other costs we spend while on board and presented as an overall account at the end. What did we used to do before Credit Cards??

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The practicalities of this Blog

I am told that the Internet service on board these cruise ships is usually very slow - and expensive (like around 50c per minute). So how I go about posting updates as we cruise along needed to be thought about.

I have discovered that I am able to send an email to the Blog - with what I want to report plus 2 or 3 photos attached and it automatically updates the Blog. I can also get it to automatically send a copy of the latest update to up to 10 email addresses of friends/family. Now, THAT is very effective. I have tested it out and it seems to work well. I am going to carry my laptop onto the ship when we board - it is wireless compatible so I should be able to log into the Ship's wireless Internet. We can take as much luggage as we like on this trip - no weight restrictions at all. EXCEPT, when we get to the UK, we then have to lug everything to London. Usually we get the Underground from Heathrow into London. This time we will probably get the train to Waterloo and get a black taxi from there. We have never been in a London taxi before .