I used to ask how travels go when you're part of a cruise. I experienced it first hand just recently when I joined a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Our port of entry and exit were Hong Kong and Singapore, although we weren't really able to go around because of time constraints. It is possible though to stay and explore these two countries, again up to you or your sched.
Meanwhile, our cruise stops in three cities in Vietnam, namely Hoi An, Nha Trang, and Ho Chi Minh. I learned that it is NOT REQUIRED to go down the ship, you have the option to just stay aboard and avail the amenities. Meanwhile, I think I prefer to take part with the tours (although there are separate fees for this, not yet included in the cruise fare) after staying for more than 24 hours with just the view of the sea. It's a nice welcome to go out and eat foods from the street!
Going out of the ship usually starts early morning, it's the same for the three days we had a tour. We had a quick breakfast in Chic, before heading to the Royal Theater where groups gather for their tickets and numbered stickers (according to tour bus) that we always have to wear on our shirts. One by one, a host onstage will call on the group number, then once called, we go down to Deck 2, tap our SeaPass cards, and then exit the boat to our tour bus.
Make sure to be on time or the tour bus will leave you. Also, no need to get your passports or have it stamped. I checked mine now and saw that it already has a Vietnam stamp on it!
Some useful information about tours while on a cruise, lifted from my Q&A with Ms. Alexa from Royal Caribbean:
Do you need visas for routes with Japan, Taiwan, China, and other countries that require one?
For PHL passport holder, we DO NOT REQUIRE VISA IN JAPAN if the town/cities are just ports of call meaning guests will not start and end the cruise in Japan. For Taiwan ports visa is waived but for all Shanghai and Beijing, China roundtrip sailings, double entry China visa is needed.
Do you get a stamp on your passport during a cruise?
Most of the countries in Asia do not stamp passports for guests doing the shore excursions, however there are still other countries like Vietnam and Thailand where in Immigration officers go to the ship and stamp the passports.
Are you required to go down the ship for every stop?
Going down the ship is optional, the freedom on staying onboard and having the ship all by yourself is possible.
Is it recommended to get a tour, and where? Is DIY travel during these stops also possible?
Should you want to join the tours, you may avail one prior the sailing thru the website or buy tours onboard 1 day prior arriving on the port of call.
There are many ports that has independent car/van for rent for your DIY tours, you just need the address of the port and be at the pier terminal 1hour prior the ship departs.
And finally, here are snippets from the 3-day tour we had in Vietnam as Royal Caribbean passengers.
7 Hours 30 Minutes
Hoi An is a well-preserved ancient Old Town, a historic trading port and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Danang, Vietnam. In this colorful town where every street is decorated with lamps, we had our very first legit Vietnamese lunch outside the ship!
Then the group splits according to priorities, we roamed around the 2000-year-old, pedestrian-only streets, checked out local handicraft shops, art galleries, and beautiful cafes. The speeding and criss-crossing bicycles that outnumbered the pedestrians just shows that we really are in Vietnam already! And with just a few hours out of the ship, my friends and I have already witnessed colliding bikes!!
It's nice that we immediately have Vietnam food by making sure to dine in a local restaurant for lunch!
The charm of Hoi An is its colorful place AND people!
Our last stop was in this pretty birdcage themed cafe! Then we're immediately heading back to our bus for our ship.
5 Hours 15 Minutes
Our time in Nha Trang felt short, but at least we got to see a few of the city's highlights including its spiritual heritage and cultural splendors. We visited Long Son Pagoda with the huge Buddha statue, toured the sacred Po Nagar Cham Towers complex, had lunch by Nha Trang's beach, before ending the trip in a local Vietnamese embroidery shop with live demo.
We docked in the middle of the ocean, and rode small boats heading to the port:
This part of Nha Trang reminds me of Bagan:
And even Busan! Haha!
My favorite stop for this tour was our lunch by the beach. After eating, we went nearer the water, took beach photos, and just enjoyed the sun and sand before we had to go back to our bus again.
Legit Vietnamese coffee is super strong but delicious!!
Vietnamese art appreciation in a local embroidery showroom:
Market stop for a little bit of shopping:
Ho Chi Minh
I've been to Ho Chi Minh in 2010 when there's no Instagram yet! It has been a while that I think I've forgotten most of the places we've been to, so I am glad Ho Chi Minh is also part of our itinerary. French colonial buildings, sky-high cathedrals, sacred Buddhist temples, and local cafes made up this diverse city.
In less than a day, we saw the Notre Dame Cathedral, the late 19th century Central Post Office, had a tour in the Reunification Palace (former home of the President of South Vietnam), Giac Lam Pagoda (the city's oldest Buddhist temple), and finally ending our tour with Vietnamese coffee in one of the many indie cafes in Dong Khoi Street.
I will always be amazed by our similarities and differences. Traveling makes me appreciate humanity more.
One of the best meals we had while in Vietnam! I love the Vietnamese coffee here!!!
Best discovery! Bianca brought us to The Cafe Apartment in Ho Chi Minh, an old apartment building housing all-local and very arty coffee shops! Imagine trying the different cafes here on your vacation in Vietnam!
We picked a coffee shop named Dosh where they serve cute donuts and iced coffee. Medyo mabagal service though, we had to slurp our drink and run to our bus for our call time!
Here are some things and tips I picked up while touring as part of a cruise:
1) Very Important: Do not expect too much so you won't get disappointed. When you book for a cruise, know that you will enjoy it because of the ship and what it has to offer, and not much because of the different stops and destinations. It will be super brief. We only had about 5 to 7 hours for the land tour, and this already included the travel time. Then you have to go back to your ship right away or else it will leave you!!
2) Although I have internet onboard, I made sure to bring a pocket WiFi with me and was able to maximize it during the tours! You need to communicate with your group especially during free and easy tours or when you're in a market where groups usually disperse.
3) As for your pocket money, I withdrew from the ship's ATM which dispenses US Dollars. A lot, if not all of the shops we've been to in Vietnam accepts USD, but will give you Vietnamese currency for your change (medyo sayang). You can also use your Visa / Mastercard, although some shops especially in markets do not accept credit cards.
4) Lastly, just enjoy whatever you can, don't set your standards too high and list so many things you want to accomplish na parang you're on your usual DIY trip. For the first time, medyo nag chill lang ako and just enjoyed what's in front of me and what our tour guide has to offer. Just think of it as a nice stopover, a break from the ship life.
Read more about my Royal Caribbean experience: Ship Tour + Cruising FAQs.
Follow @royalcaribbeanphilippines on Instagram and visit http://www.cruising.com.ph!