Cruising Through South East Asia
Lily Fong and Gwen Wong gathered 50 of their friends to join them on the Celebrity Cruise Line’s Millennium ship to tour through exotic Southeast Asia in January 2013. They were told the ship had been sold out months in advance. I decided to join along to see what all the buzz was about.
Taking a daunting 20-hour flight to Singapore via Singapore Airlines I must say was not an experience looked-forward-to but I must confess it was a very enjoyable ride with beautiful. Ladies draped in their native costumes answering to everyone’s needs and desires. I was enthralled or should I say mesmerized by my individual screen on the back of the seat in front of me and watched four movies, various TV shows and news, never feeling hemmed into a giant metal tube, and the time went much faster than I ever thought. The Thai hostesses were forever bringing us snack foods to everyone who was awake throughout the flight. The Magnum ice cream bars were my particular favorite.
Singapore has become a cruise destination of South East Asia, and The Celebrity Cruise Line’s majestic Millennium cruise liner stood proudly at the Singapore Marina Centre pier as we eagerly boarded with 2,200 other passengers in a very well organized fashion. Although the ship is over 10-years old, it’s elegance is still visible with its blue glass domed Metropolitan two level dining room , and its Chihuly glass chandelier near the entrance to the ship’ s specialty restaurant Qsine. One of our cruise ship experience highlights was dining at this unique restaurant where the menu is on an iPad and one indicates his dessert choice on a Rubik’s cube. From my iPad I could choose any or all of the 20 food offerings to be shared with my fellow gourmet lovers Dr. Edward Chow and wife Loretta and Roger Eng. Through our selection process, Culinary Tour Guide Mimi Starivlah helped us choose such exotic small plate offerings such as Disco Shrimp, sushi lollipops, lava crab, meatball trilogy, lobster escargot and our all time unanimous favorite, Painter’s Mignon, a tender piece of heaven! As Hotel Director Darren Tiller told us, this unique dining experience has won the hearts of the over 900 guests. Americans on this cruise as well as other adventurous diners in search of a new fun way to dine. We had the pleasure of dining with Darren and his Associate Touch Ung on the cruise Formal Night as arranged by Captain’s Club Host Bruce Van Der Boon, the three key staffers who, they shared, have the goal of making sure everyone on board is happy, safe and secure on their cruise vacation.
Cruises and Beyond Tour Company directors Sherri Barber and Colleen Tanaka had worked with Lily and Gwen Wong in arrangements for the over 50 cruisers in this group, including the following: Marcon and Susan Joe, Fay and Margaret Der , Anna and Gene Wong, Bob and Judy Lee. Many of these happy cruisers had traveled on many cruises together before and it was wonderful to see the camaraderie and good times they were enjoying with each other.
Leading a popular Quigong class many mornings was Domingo Tiu which was faithfully attended by Lily and King Fong, Mary and Gene Lee and Song and Sue Wong. Enjoying the music available in lounges throughout the ship were Dawson and Esther Lee, Gwen and Harold Wong, Bob and Rosemary Kim, and Tony and Melissa Yau.
Others we enjoyed meeting on the cruise were Lee and Virginia Ping, Jackson and Mayo Yu, Daniel and Pinkie Lee, Bob and Judy Lee, Ottoman and Cecilia Wong.
Excursion Director Luc Trembly, who has worked in this field for over 15 years admits he always loved adventure so considers himself lucky to be doing something he enjoys doing. Although he admits this cruise had many new destinations with challenges for some of the passengers due to long distances from port to major city sight , he liked the challenge of trying to find the most interesting and varied types of excursions for his clients. My personal favorite excursion with Luc’s recommendation was taking an open air motorboat cruise through the surrealist landscape of limestone stacks of Phang- Nga Bay National Park, see James Bond island where scenes where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed, and visit Panyi Village, a small water village settled over 200 years ago near Phuket, Thailand.
Cruise director Steve Gayda kept the cruise patrons so busy with activities throughout the days and wonderful evening shows, that although I knew I was in a little city of over two thousand people. I never had the feeling of being too crowded. At the very busy Aqua Spa, Manager Melanie offered many health and wellness seminars and classes and always had a busy fitness room. A veteran of nine years in the spa business, overseeing twenty persons acting as masseuse, beauty therapists, fitness teachers, and an acupuncturist, Melanie set me up for the popular Bamboo massage where the masseuse uses bamboo rods to do rolling heat massages in this manner. Although Masseuse Mina told me my stress came from my sitting job as a writer, settling painfully in my shoulders and lower back, her deep tissue massage was indeed soothing and most satisfying to a tired body supposedly relaxing on a vacation – ha!
Other exciting moments on this 13 day cruise, according to Frances Quon, Ken and Josie Kwong, Alice Lee and nature lover husband Calvin, was going to Indonesia ‘s Komodo Island to see the famed Komodo dragon in the wild. It is said their poisonous bite is deadly so although they seemed like lethargic crocodiles, guards with long sticks kept the tourists at safe distances away. Others like Tommy and Rose Wong enjoyed the long scenic ride to see Bali’s volcano away from the much too congested area of Kuta Beach, which has been closed off from view by a 7 foot cement wall from the road parallel to the beach. Such a shame to hide the beautiful beach from the tourists on buses and taxis eager for the sight of famed Bali’s beaches. If you truly want to enjoy the lovely lush green countryside and many ancient temples, one must leave the tourist area and travel into the inner part of Bali to enjoy the quiet serenity of this once unspoiled by tourism beautiful island, the Bali I saw when I first came 40 years ago.
Celebrity Cruise’s Millennium staff are very friendly, and especially notable for me was my waitress Ayse and Head Waiter Bobby Ajay who never forgot our names and checked to see if all of our meals met with satisfaction. Because nothing can be perfect when serving en masse two thousand people, when I did express my dissatisfaction at some of the dishes they were quick to offer other choices with a smile and genuine concern. Guest Services Director Jacqie DeGuzman deserves the most unsung hero award for trying to keep all of the patrons happy with their cabin services , and fend off to solve any and all problems brought to her attention which she did capably in a calm manner needed for this job. She said keeping people happy makes her happy and I saw her facing insurmountable passenger problems with nary a frown. More power to trying to satisfy a couple thousand people who anticipate and expect the perfect cruise they have dreamed about….oh my! Her guest services staff and she were always busy forever answering questions, addressing problems, and overseeing the disembarking and safe return of all the passengers via tenders to the various ports which were sometimes up to half an hour from ship to shore. Internet service was tragically spotty sailing in these areas, which led to much passenger frustration, but hey – didn’t we do without in the old days of non-communication, and weren’t we content then to be away from the outside world? I had to keep telling myself that every time I joined the other impatient internet fanatics.
I personally enjoyed the liberty of doing and eating as much or as little as I wanted on this Celebrity cruise, the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia cities such as Penang, Phukett, and Kuala Lampur again after more than 20 years previously, and meet the new friends along the way. Again it was fun to go around the world and see how other people and places in the world live simply in our modern world.. Thanks Celebrity Cruise Line, Gwen Wong and Lily Fong for wonderful memories – Bon voyage!
WHAT TO SEE
Congratulations to City Lights Theater Company of San Jose which is celebrating its 30th anniversary season with CHING CHONG CHINAMAN by Lauren Yee featuring Lawrence-Michael Arias, Anthony Chan, Monica Ho, Anna Lee, Nick Louie and Chiho Saito. In their small but mighty theater in downtown San Jose, the show closes on February, rush down to see this new funny comedy about the Wong family of Palo Alto who seem to be as American as apple pie. I question that promo statement as they seem rather dysfunctional in my mind, but the problems they face and how they cope make for comical turns and twists in the plot.
What got some laughs from the audience was that ambitious daughter Desdemona who strives to get into Princeton, got her only C in calculus as she admittedly is not good at math, and neither is the young man from China who she asks to do her homework for her.
American theatre to the public.