Stern's Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World, Stern's Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Stern's Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel Barges, and The Indispensable Guide to Foreign Words and Phrases--by Steven B. Stern (Sponsored by Stern's Travel Guides, Ltd.)
Imagine a business class
flight on Singapore Airlines, luxuriating in a romantic villa with a swimming
pool on a cliff overlooking the sea, 14 nights on a 6+star cruise traveling
throughout Southeast Asia, visiting historical cities, and serious shopping in
Singapore and Hong Kong. Does this conjure up a dream vacation? Well, read on!
Our Singapore Airlines flight arrived in Bali late morning and
we proceeded to check in to our incredible villa at the Four Seasons Jimbaran
down 35 acres of terraced hillside and tropical landscaped gardens to a wide
expanse of sandy beach overlooking Jimbaran Bay is this uniquely beautiful
resort. The 147 luxuriously appointed villas, each with its own private plunge
pool and floral gardens, are built into the hillside to afford incomparable
views and total privacy.
Our deluxe 2,152 square-foot villa was fully air-conditioned,
with marble floors, vaulted ceilings with ceiling fans, an outdoor garden, and
private 85 square-foot plunge pool.
Additional features included a separate, open-air, semi-protected
living/dining area with a refrigerated mini-bar; a wardrobe-dressing area with
a private wall safe; a romantic bedroom with a canopied king-size bed, writing
desk, oversized TV and DVD player; and a bathing pavilion with a soaking tub,
indoor and outdoor showers, a
. private toilet compartment,
robes and slippers and numerous other amenities.
In addition to the variety of restaurants serving Indonesian
and Western cuisine, available to guests were tennis courts, equipment for
snorkeling, windsurfing and sailing, an infinity swimming pool and a health
club with exercise and weight equipment, spa treatments aerobic classes and
Food and service were exceptional. Although you could call for
a driver and buggy to drive you from place to place, the abundance of steep
stairs and paths with no railings makes this resort a questionable choice for
those with disabilities or problems getting around.
Our Villa at Four Seasons Jimbaran Bay
must for visitors to Bali is a visit to artist colonies for wood carvings, as
well as attending a Balinese dance performance. We fit in these typical
Balinese attractions prior to our transfer to our next two nights at the Conrad
Hilton, a large, full facility hotel-resort located on Nusa Dua beach. Two days
here were part of the pre-cruise add-on
for passengers traveling on the Europa 2.
The four days we had in Bali gave us ample time to explore the
beauty and culture of the island. Now, it was time to board ship and commence
our fifteen night cruise through Southeast
The 500-passenger, 42,350-ton Europa 2, debuted in 2013,
destined to be one of the most beautiful and luxurious ships at sea. This all-suite ship has the largest space per
passenger ratio in the industry. The seven categories of accommodations range
from 301 to 1,006 square feet.* All have
large verandas and free -of -charge mini bars (stocked with soft drinks, water
and beer) and are tastefully furnished with a great deal of storage and every
possible facility and amenity one finds on ultra-luxury cruise ship. Spirits
are only in the mini-bars of the more expensive suites, and there is a charge
for all drinks taken outside of your suite (a bit surprising for a luxury ship); however, champagne was served throughout the
ship to all passengers on numerous occasions.
Our Grand Ocean Suite with veranda
Although most passengers are German speaking, many cruises,
including ours, are multi-lingual. Announcements and written material are
offered in both German and English. The entire staff speaks English as do most
of the passengers.
We were delighted with our 560 square-foot Grand Ocean Suite
with its separate lounging area, whirlpool tub and rain shower with steam, free
spirits and soft drinks, 24-hour butler service and an hour of free Internet
unpacking, we toured the ship with our
hostess who was designated to assist English-speaking passengers.. We learned
that guests could choose among eight restaurants offering Continental, German,
French, Italian and Asian cuisine, as well as the indoor/outdoor Yacht Club, an
amazing buffet-style restaurant featuring literally hundreds of
Outdoor area in Yacht Club
The French cuisine at Tarragon was our
favorite and the venue we chose for our first evening aboard. After the
imaginative amuse bouche, we chose escargot, steak tartar, and oysters
Rockefeller for starters, a pallet cleaner of mixed berry sorbet sprinkled with
champagne and vodka, a main course of dover sole covered with chunks of
lobster, a main course of dover sole covered with chunks of lobster, and a
lemon tart with a mixture of pastries for dessert. A bottle of premier cru
Chablis made a perfect accompaniment.
main dining room, Weltmeer offers a daily changing menu including vegetarian
dishes. The dress code is casual during the day; however in the evenings
jackets (not ties) are suggested for men in all restaurants other than the
Tarragon Restaurant on Europa 2
10,000-square-foot wellness center included the Ocean Spa with eight treatment
rooms offering numerous massage, beauty and relaxation treatments, three
varieties of saunas, a relaxation room, whirlpool, an ice room and specialty
The spa areas is very
impressive and open to both gendersâ€”clothing optional. Needless to say, we were
among those passengers that elected to keep our clothes on. In general, the Germans are less hung up
about nudity than the Americans. Also there is
a well-equipped fitness area with cardio and fitness equipment, as well
as a room for palates and spinning.
over sized swimming pool has a retractable roof and is surrounded by both
indoor lounges and outdoor lounges facing the sea. The ship carries twelve
Zodiacs, and a fleet of bicycles used for a variety of tours. For golfers, there are two simulators,
allowing guests to play various famous courses, along with supervision by a
our cruise there were many children of all ages. The cruise line encourages
families providing seven family suites, programs designed for children and
teens including cooking lessons and special excursions.
There are numerous lounges and bars with dance
music in the evenings, a theater for performances and lectures, but no casino.
Entertainment on German ships is a bit different from that found on vessels
mostly frequented by English-speaking countries.
two evenings there was a performance by the famous German Roncalli Circus,
which was greatly appreciated by the German audience, however not so much to
were no American or English TV stations and only two movies were in English. We
kept abreast of the news with the US and International papers delivered daily
to our suite.
been on the go for four days in Bali, we appreciated a relaxing day at sea. For
breakfast at the buffet-style Yacht Club, we could order a variety of egg and
specialty dishes in addition to the elaborate buffet of cold and warm
offerings. During the day, we made use of the fitness center, the golf
simulator and the pool and spa. We were
pleased to be able to retrieve our e-mails on the tablet that was
provided in our suite. Information about the upcoming tours was provided by the
personnel at the tour desk. Lectures were in German, however the excellent on
board lecturer met with the English-speaking guests for a private session (all
eight of us).
following day we arrived in Semarang, Java at 7 a.m. and stayed until midnight.
The ship offered tours to the Borobudur Temple complex along with a typical
Indonesian lunch and a visit to Mendut temple (129eu); to Yogyakarta and the
impressive 9th century
Prambanan temple complex in the valley of the kings with lunch(139eu); a
tour of Semarang with a visit to the Kwan Im Pagoda(75eu); and to the Railway museum and train ride(144eu). Only
the latter tour was in English. Exploring
Semarang on our own, we found the city crowded and dirty.
last stop in Indonesia was MenyawakanIsland where all passengers enjoyed a day at the Kura Kura beach resort. The ship
orchestrated an amazing barbeque lunch bringing everything needed ashore. This
may have been the most participated and enjoyed event during the cruise.
we now had a two day visit to Singapore, we checked into the Singapore Hilton
for an overnight stay. This gave us more time to explore this interesting and
beautiful city, the cleanest in Southeast Asia.
were a plethora of attractions and not enough time to visit them all. The most
popular were the Sky Park atop the Marina Sands Hotel and the near-by Gardens
by the Sea.
Sky Park is noticeable from afar since its roof looks like there is a giant
canoe sitting across and connecting two buildings. This architectural marvel
provides 360 degree views over Singapore. There is an infinity swimming pool
atop the hotel and upscale shopping at the lower levels. At night there is a
13-minute sound and light extravaganza that transforms the bay into a spectacle
of dancing colors and fountains. Unfortunately non-hotel guests must pay $20
just to go up the elevator to the top of the small observation point and are
not allowed to tour the entire rooftop.
Marina Sands Hotel
From the hotel it is a short walk to the
Gardens By The Bay, a beautiful 250-acre futuristic nature park. The park is
filled with 200 species of plants and flowers, observatories and unusual super trees. There are two music and
light performances each evening casting a glow over the park. During the
afternoon we took an audio tour on an open air bus around the park.
Gardens by the
Another evening attraction is the Night Safari located next to
the zoo. Here there is a tram that takes you around the park with the option to
do a walking tour. For bird lovers, there is the Jurong Bird Park and an
additional attraction is China Town.
We enjoyed taking the cable car from atop Mount Faber over to
Sentosa Island, a unique adult play ground. One can stay on the island in one
of the various hotels, several on lovely man-made beaches. Here we visited
numerous attractions including a reproduction of Orlandoâ€™s Universal City, an aquarium and a
monorail ride around the island.
Time had to be allowed for the marvelous shopping along
Orchard Road and for a Singapore Sling at the iconic Raffles Hotel. That
evening we had a spectacular meal at Cosmo, an upscale restaurant with
French and international cuisine on Orchid Road near our hotel.
While we were ashore exploring the city on our own, the ship
offered passengers a plethora of tours covering the above sites and many more.
The shipâ€™s tours ranged in price from 35eu to 135eu with most under 100eu.
After another relaxing day at sea, we arrived at Ho Chi Min City
in Viet Nam (formerly Saigon) for another overnight visit. Most of tours were
in German. Those in English included:
We took the free shuttle bus into town and picked up a local
guide who orchestrated our day of sightseeing and shopping. Most important, he
helped us avoid the thousands of motorcycles when attempting to cross the streets. Traffic is a
serious danger in this city.
also visited two other ports in Viet Nam, Da Nang and Halong Bay with sea days
in between each stop.
in Da Nang and nearby HoiAn,
many of the tours were in German. Those also
in English were: an all day tour of the city including lunch and a visit to the
former imperial city of Hue and the Thien Mu Pagoda(109eu); a bicycle and walking
tour of the city of Hue(89eu); a day of snuba and snorkel at Cham Island
(169eu); a visit to the Ba Na Hill amusement park with a cable car ride in the
mountains, lunch and time to explore the amusements (109eu); a visit to the old
town of HoiAn on your own (39eu); and an
excursion to HoAn at night (30 eu).
Having navigated Ho Chi Minh so well on
our own, we elected to try again in HoiAn. Again we lucked out when our taxi driver
proved to be a wonderful guide. HoiAn was a town inundated with souvenir shops and
tourists. Local paintings and other art forms were available at very low prices.
were excited to visit beautiful HalongBay, one of the
most spectacular seascapes in the world,
with its interesting rock formations, islands and caves. Two tours were
offered, one cruising across the bay with a visit to a cave, and the other just
cruising around the bay (67eu).
Also offered during the cruise were special tours for
children, teens, and families, as well as several bike excursions.
On the fifteenth day of our voyage, we
disembarked in Hong Kong early in the morning.
For passengers having afternoon or evening flights, the ship
offered a day room at the Marco Polo
Hotel which was located very close to the cruise terminal and a giant shopping
proceeded to check in to the Conrad Hotel on Hong Kong Island for a three day,
two nights visit. Like typical tourists,
our main activity was shopping in some of the thousands of stores spread throughout
the city. Having been to Hong
Kong many times over the years, we knew pretty
much what sites and activities we wished to take in during our stay.
you have never been to Hong Kong before, I can make the following
recommendations as to what to see and do.
First, you should take one of the dozens of organized tours offered in
order to become more familiar with the city and where things are located. Those
wishing to do this on their own can take the â€śHop On and Offâ€ť bus tour. It makes 20 stops covering diverse attractions
spread throughout the city. You just get
off at those that interest you and then hop on the next bus that passes.
Some major attractions include: the tram
ride up to the sky terrace on Victoria Peak (the worldâ€™s most iconic
funicular); a night cruise on the Aqua
Luna, a red-sail junk boat in Victoria Harbor located next to the cultural
center; a stroll through Hong Kong Park and Kowloon Park with their gardens,
ponds and pagodas; the Kowloon street food tour; tasting the Chinese
specialty, dim sum at one of the dim sum restaurants; bargain hunting for
just about everything at the Stanley Market; and, of course, some serious shopping in one of the hundreds
of shopping areas and malls. There are dozens of other possibilities you will
find in the guide books.
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon
Red Sail Junk Boat
our flight home, we had time to reflect on our extraordinary trip. Often when
you are traveling from one place to another, there is no time to truly
appreciate what you are experiencing. In
Bali, we were enchanted with the beauty and culture of the island, as well as
our luxurious accommodations. We loved
the sightseeing and shopping in Singapore and Hong
Kong, and the cultural excursions in Vietnam.
only disappointment was our business class flights on Singapore Airlines. After
reading so many glowing reports and their high ratings, we were surprised to
find seat configurations uncomfortable,
much of the food not palatable, and the service not up to what we have found in
business class on other airlines.
highlight of the trip, without a doubt,
was cruising on Europa 2, the most beautiful ship afloat with superb accommodations
and exceptional service and dining. This is why, since her inception, I have
given Europa 2 Six+Stars in Sternâ€™s
Guide to the Cruise Vacation.
Guide to the Cruise Vacation, Sternâ€™s Guide to European Riverboats and Hotel
Barges and Sternâ€™s Guide to the Greatest Resorts of the World