Sunday, June 16, 2013

First Cruise of life - Costa Atlantica- Singapore- Phuket- Langkawi and back- a travelogue

First Cruise of Life:

After burning a lot of kilometers between roads, trains and flights to multitude of places, I have realized one thing. I am a Beach/ Ocean/ Sea person. May be because the vast expanse of the water bodies opens me up from within and fills me with a warm glow that I have come to love and retain the feeling for some more time to savour the moments.Forests,  Mountains, Lakes, deserts, hills have not given me the same level of happiness as a beach has. Mountains, Underwater and space are places where I have not been thus far and may be someday soon depending on God's grace.

For some time, I had been trying to burn up some nautical miles as well and a cruise had been on my mind for pretty long but the price points from India were prohibitive. The Andaman Sea and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were calling me internally  and I had been postponing it for long.

The spark of ignition came when we saw an ad in the local free newspaper announcing the arrival of a New Cruiseliner called Costa Atlantica starting from Singapore for a limited period and that it was going to beautiful Phuket and Langkawi was a like a vacation between a vacation, at a brilliant price point. This was it.

Tickets were booked and we were all set to cruise.

Tip:  While booking the tickets, be careful whether the On Board Credit is part of the ticket price. Nothing to worry about but check if it is refundable or not. On Costa, it was non-refundable. Anyway, when one goes on board, credit card needs to be registered for the cruise for a cashless reconciliation. For us it didn't  matter because the Thailand Visa and one of the location trips that we opted for on-board was enough for retiring the On Board Credit.

The Days were planned as follows:

Day 1 PM:  Embark
Day 2 AM & PM: On the ship
Day 3 AM: Phuket and return by 1800
Day 3 PM: On the Ship
Day 4 AM: Langkawi and return by 1300 hours
Day 5 AM: On the ship and disembarkation starts by 1300 hours

The Embarkation was pretty well organised but the queue was huge. We had planned that we will embark quickly and enjoy the ship as much as possible and strangely almost all the people who has booked the cruise were thinking of the same thing ;-). So even though there were three hours to embark, the entire crowd reached the counters all at once. But there were also some smart people who came in pretty late and entered the ship without much of a queue. The Costa guys could have given time-slots for the decks and should have planned a better embarkation.

Tip: Phuket, Thailand is visa on arrival but Malaysia has started asking for Visa to be approved earlier. And since it was mentioned that Visa needs to be managed by the passenger, we were worried whether we will be allowed entry into Langkawi. However, during the embarkation, it was mentioned that for Phuket, Visa charges will be SGD 50 per head and Langkawi doesn't need the Visa.This was awesome news for us.

After the immigration, boarding the ship was a different feel altogether.I mean I had seen ships in movies but seeing them from own point of view from the ship itself was a different mixed feeling.

As seen from the Ship deck:

Ship at pier

Any cruise is all about lots of food and a disconnected-from-world holiday. Too many amenities and too
much food that one would be lost for choice. On a lighter note, there is so much walking and so many activities planned in which you can participate that the food becomes a sort of a necessity. They also publish a schedule for everyday called "Today" which gives the plan for the day and this is one of the best things that we liked about the cruise.

Once on board, the entire ship looks like a floating 5 start hotel. One of the hallways on our floor:

Aisle inside ROMA-our floor

Someone had mentioned earlier that once one lands on the ship and head to the rooms, one starts to unpack and misses the float-away from the Marina. So I was planning in my mind to see the float-away even though I didn't have anyone to wave at. The the plan was so made that the first evening was packed. First the General Emergency Drill, then the Magic Show and then the exploring of the ship. They have a three storey lovely theatre called the Caruso theatre.

But before that we went on deck and enjoyed the sunset and the evening. I had seen Singapore from the sky but seeing Singapore from the sea was different.

Singapore at night from the ship

The main lobby:


That evening's Magic and Contortionist show is to become my kid Sonakshi's one of the most savoured moments on the cruise. Some shots from the show:

Contortionist and magic show-1

Wonder how she did this !!!

Contortionist and magic show-2

Contortionist and magic show-3

And she was doing this so fast that it was difficult for me to catch up on my lens...

Day 2: We planned lots of swimming and jacuzzi and loads of food.

Tip: There is a place called Squok Club which is like a kid's club and acts as a brilliant free creche if parents have to enjoy the cruise just by themselves. The creative activities like cake decoration, puzzle games, sketching etc form the second most memorable element in Sonakshi's mind. But the spoiler here is that too many parents want to drop their kids there and hence there is always a big queue there. go 15 mins early to beat the queue.

One of the amazing sights was a bit of rain. A small fishing boat may be was just about to enter a screen of torrential rain

Fishing boat just before rain sweeps over it

The evening after a lazy day had in store for us Captain's cocktail and a show which I am glad I didn't miss. The show was called "Solid Gold". This was amazing. Some shots from the show:

Day 2- Show-1

Day 2- Show-4

Day 2- Show-3

Day 2- Show-5

Day 2- Show-6

Since we were spoilt for choice, we did what we did best. Choice by elimination. On an MBAish kind of a note, a choice is always by elimination- Even a choice by selection is a veiled choice by elimination.

Choice by elimination it was for the food, for the programs, for the was as if we had enough to last us a good deal of time if we made the best of now.

Day 3: Beautiful Phuket Calling

We had the full day at Phuket and we had a choice to make between Phi Phi Islands and Phang Nga Bay. We went with the latter.

Tip: There are many other beautiful places in and around Phuket. We had chosen the Costa organised Phang Nga Bay trip because it seemed hassle-free while booking and we are glad that we did so. It was thoroughly enjoyable
Tip: If you are going to Phang Nga bay, carry some polythene bags with you if you are carrying a bigger lens. They give waterproof bags when one goes into the bay but these may not be sufficient if you plan to carry your video cams along with your cameras along.
Tip: Also carry some small change in bank notes because you may have to tip the canoe guides after the canoe trip into the bay.

Sunglasses, sunscreen SPF>50, loose clothes, skimpier the better...because they will get wet...No need to carry water

A brief about the bay:
Phang Nga Bay (Thaiอ่าวพังงาRTGSAo Phang-ngaThai pronunciation: [ʔàːw pʰaŋ.ŋaː]) is a 400 km² bay in the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and the mainland of the Malay peninsula of southern Thailand. Since 1981, an extensive section of the bay has been protected as the Ao Phang Nga National Park. The Park is situated in Phang Nga Province, at 08°17'N 098°36'E.
Limestone cliffs with caves, collapsed cave systems and archaeological sites are found about Phang Nga Bay. Some 10,000 years ago, when sea levels were lower, one could walk from Phuket and Krabi.
I had read in school about the stalactites and the stalagmites and had never seen them myself. I was told we go into those caves...

The trip organised by Costa was very well arranged and provisoned.

Some shots from our boat taking us to the Bay:

Beautiful Phuket-2

The Andaman sea was playing pranks ...some places one gets to see deep blue and some places algae green...the colours of the sea and the bay were breathtakingly beautiful even in the harsh sun

Beautiful Phuket-3

A small beach...feed on the green colour :-) and don't be fooled that the whites there are sand...those are very small sharp shell pieces with limestone rocks on the beach with very little sand... on one of these islands, I cut myself from a sharp careful and take care of your loved ones...

Near Phang Nga Bay-Phuket

Now the boat which you will be using to explore the caves will have boarding on the first floor and the floor below will have canoes loaded which will be used to explore the caves. One doesn't have to row but just feel the eerie atmosphere near the bay and savour the beauty around.

Canoes- Phanga Nga Bay

Beautiful Phanga Nga Bay-1

The lunch will be served on the boat while returning to the ship. No worries on Visa because Costa will have taken care of that already. All you need is the costa card.

Once you are back on the ship, a brilliant show awaits you again called "Visions in Motion"...Oh what a show...

Aerial Show

Day 3- Evening Show-1

Day 3- Evening Show-2

Day 3- Evening Show-3

Day 3- Evening Show-4

Day 4: Langkawi

A brief about the place:  The Malay word for eagle is helang - which is shortened to "lang". Kawi means the marbles and mountains... It was given the title of "Langkawi, the Jewel of Kedah" in 2008 by Kedah's Sultan Abdul Halim Mu'adzam Shah as part of his golden jubilee to impress on tourists that it was part of Kedah.

Another reference states that the name is a combination of two Sanskrit words, “Langka” (beauty) and “Wi” (innumerable), which means ‘The Place of Immense Beauty’. True enough, this island was also once known as the ‘Land of Bliss’ dating back 2,000 years ago.

For Langkawi, we didn't take the Costa trip but managed on our own. The Cable car is the place where Don had been shot and is supposed to be one of the star attractions of Langkawi for its sheer height.

The breathtakingly beautiful Langkawi from the second viwing tower is awesome.

Tip: The journey from the pier to the hills takes around 45 mins and the queue is long. Go for the express queue at the cable cars.

Some shots from there and more can be found on my facebook page...

Overall it was an awesome experience much so that we have already started planning the next one...this one needs to have snorkeling and diving...Bali may be...Lets see...

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