Our “summer vacation” came quite late this year but we did not expect that most of it would be spent at sea. Our official residence for the five-day adventure was the Royal Caribbean Spectrum of the Seas, which is regarded as the biggest cruise ship in Asia.
The cruise ship had its maiden voyage back in 2019, with a guest capacity of more than 4,000 cruisers. We got a stateroom that had a balcony, which was perfect as it affords us with a view outside while sailing to two different Southeast Asian destinations: Penang in Malaysia and Phuket in Thailand.
We started our adventure at the Marina Cruise Center in Singapore. We flew to Singapore one day ahead to make sure that we got on board as scheduled at 2 p.m. on Day 1. We would not want any flight delay here in Cebu to ruin our vacation. Upon completing the check-in rituals, we were officially aboard the ship and immediately headed to the Windjammer Buffet Restaurant for late lunch. We proceeded to our stateroom, where our bags were already delivered and procured our set sail passes. These cards were not just room keys but were also required whenever we went off the ship for the stops at Penang and Phuket and back to it. So, we kept them handy all the time.
After taking a quick rest, we immediately went to the open air pool area on Deck 15, where the crew hosted a sail-away party with dancing, ice cream, pizzas, cookies and hotdogs for everyone. It was just a fitting way to kick-off the Southeast Asian adventure.
First stop: Penang, Malaysia
Penang welcomed us with a brief downpour on the afternoon of Day 2. What excited me about the first stop was actually setting foot right in the middle of Georgetown City, which is a Unesco Heritage Site. This former trading hub is steeped in history, manifested in the neoclassical buildings from the British colonial era and its Chinese shop houses.
Heritage interweaves with modernity in Penang, which makes it an Instagram-worthy place to visit. It is interesting how the colonial-era buildings were well preserved and some have undergone adaptive reuse to make it more relevant to the residents by actually making it more functional to them.
We had a short getaway from the city itself as we headed to Penang Hill, which is a colonial hill station located 821 meters above Georgetown. It is now a hill resort, which offers a breathtaking view of the city while feeling chill with the cold temperatures. Our van had to drop us off at a terminal where we had to ride “jeeps” to go to the topmost part. After going through the challenging road on the steep parts of the mountain, the Baguio-type feel of Penang Hill was worth the visit.
Before heading back to the port and returning to the cruise ship, our van driver brought us to Coffee Tree, one of the leading coffee beans and drink manufacturers in this part of Malaysia. We tasted different “flavors” of coffee and bought some for pasalubong and of course, our own consumption.
After more than four hours in Penang, we were back on the ship for our multiple-course dinner at the Main Dining Hall and capped the night with a magic show at the Royal Theater.
Second stop: Phuket, Thailand
It was a cloudy morning when the ship arrived in Phuket. The service crew, who gave us our tender ticket for our boat transfer to the main port, told us that we all “looked so floral” with our “tropical” attires and that we would fit perfectly when we got to our destination of the day in southern Thailand. Phuket is known for its world-class beaches, and we thought wearing something “beach-y” would make a great OOTD (outfit of the day).
While waiting for our boat to fetch us from the ship, we spent time playing trivia games at the Star Moment Lounge, which is a place for karaoke inside the Spectrum of the Seas. After about a 10-minute boat ride from the cruise ship, we reached the port and had some of our many exchanged to the local currency. We booked a big van for around 2,700 Baht to take us around the city. However, the rains fell again, so we had to cancel our plans of making that trip to the beach.
Even with a revised itinerary, we did not allow the downpour to dampen our trip. We still had a rich dose of local culture as we visited the Sri Bhurapa Orchid cashew nut factory, where we had an insight on how these nuts were prepared for selling. You see, cashew is considered a native product in this region of Thailand. The factory was established in 1943 and is the first cashew factory in Phuket. We also had a taste test of the different flavors of cashew nuts sold there and had a hard time choosing what flavors to take home. I bought barbecue and chocolate flavors.
What is an international trip without indulging in some of its architecture? We dropped by the Wat Chalong temple, which is considered to be the largest in Phuket. Built in the 19th century, its real name is Wat Chaithararam. The intricacies of the ornaments on its roof and walls and slender building profiles of Thai Buddhist architecture makes these temples important architectural works that define the unique culture of this Southeast Asian country. After we took our group photos and prepared to leave for our next destination, we heard the sound of firecrackers, which is known to be done by Buddhists as a show of thanksgiving for answered prayers.
Since our beach date was cancelled, we decided to spend the remaining time in the city’s lifestyle center, Central Phuket. It was a huge mall with most of the shops selling well-known clothing brands and beauty products. Their food court also sells local delicacies that even when it was raining outside, we still had access to these tasty stuff. We immediately tried their sticky rice with mango, which is similar in taste to our local puto or glutinous rice but presented in eye-catching colors. Instead of hot chocolate or sikwate, coconut sauce is poured over it.
After about an hour strolling around the mall, our driver picked us up and brought us back to the port as a light downpour sent us off back to the cruise ship.
Days 1 and 5 were designated as “Cruising” days. That means more time to enjoy the different amenities inside the cruise ship. Guess what is the most popular activity for everyone while cruising inside the ship? Well, it’s eating. With 19 dining options, one would never go hungry inside the ship. The most popular among these dining areas is the Windjammer, which is located on Deck 14 and offers a buffet with a wide array of food, from appetizers to desserts and refreshments.
The Dining Room was also a favorite destination for a more formal ambiance while indulging on ala carte meals. This was where we met two Filipino waiters, Anthony and Mark, who spoiled us with the best offerings of the night. These two restaurants, along with 270 Café, are among the dining places where cruisers could go almost anytime during the day to grab something to eat without emptying the pockets.
Well, after packing in those calories, you get a chance to shed them off a bit in their Fitness Center or play a game of basketball or table tennis at the Seaplex. One can also drive bumper cars here and even take part in a mini volleyball tournament, if there is one scheduled.
For thrill-seeking junkies, one can book activities onboard such as the Flowrider surf simulator or RipCord skydiving simulator for a fee or perhaps indulge in some sightseeing inside the NorthStar observation capsule for around $20. It is best to book ahead since most of these activities get easily filled up. If you just want to sit back and relax, especially in the evening, there are various entertainment and shows in the Royal Theater, Music Room and 270 Café.
Cruise vacations are excellent ideas to bond with family outside the country and visit multiple destinations. Fortunately, our neighbor Singapore has its cruise center, where cruise ships, like the Royal Caribbean, seek berth. The Marina Cruise Center, which is near the Marina Bay Sands, is one of the largest in Asia. There are also promotional rates available if you book earlier. Start getting in touch with your travel agencies and who knows? you might find yourself sailing off to a great adventure in your next vacation.