My name is Mark Lindsay. On March 25, 2001 my wife, Marie, and I sailed on the Regal Princess from Singapore on a 15-day cruise to Beijing.
This review is based on our personal experience and tastes. We are semi-retired Seniors so our reported experiences may not necessarily be what you would find on a similar cruise. This was our eleventh cruise. Previously we have been on Princess twice; Royal Caribbean four times; Costa twice; Norwegian Cruise Line once; and Holland America once.
PRE-CRUISE AND EMBARKATION After a long 25 hour flight from Raleigh NC by way of Detroit and Tokyo we arrived in Singapore at 1 am. We cleared customs quickly and retrieved our bags from Northwestern. The Princess people seemed to be in a fog and passengers were wondering where to go. Finally we were asked to leave our luggage to be stored overnight and sent to the ship in the morning. We were transported by bus to the 5-Star Westin Stamford Hotel. It was beautiul in every way. We had a balcony from our 44th floor room overlooking the city and ocean. We were told next morning that we could go through the embarkation procedure at the hotel thus save time when we got to the ship. Wonderful idea, but again Princess did not have the people in place to handle the job efficiently. When we did get this paper work completed we walked around the beautiful area surrounding our hotel. At 1 pm were transported by bus to the Regal Princess where we walked on board by showing our pass. Unfortunately one of our bags did not make it. All of our formal wear and most of our semi-formal clothes were in the missing garment bag.
ITINERARY We chose this cruise because of the itinerary. We had wanted to use RCI's Legend of the Seas which we had sailed on previously and liked. Princess offered a better array of ports such as Bangkok, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Nagasaki, Viet Nam and Beijing. We sailed at 6 pm for Kuantan, Malaysia, a small seacoast town with nice beaches. After a day at sea we docked at Laem Chabang, Thailand, then took a 40 mile bus trip to Bangkok. This was the highlight of our whole vacation. The beauty of the Grand Palace and its many temples was overwhelming. The tour included a boat ride on the picturesque Chao Phraya River and a Thai lunch followed by folklore show at the Culture Center. This tour was excellent.
After a full day at sea we landed at Phu My, Vietnam and took a bus to Ho Chi Min City (Saigon). The street vendors and bicycle taxi operators just would not take "NO!" for an answer. We retreated to the Rex Hotel and went to the beautiful rooftop cafe for lunch. We remained in the lobby waiting for our bus to return to the port. Sorry, we cannot recommend a tour of Saigon. The next day we docked at the coastal resort town of Nha Trang on the East coast of Vietnam. The exquisit sand beach bordered by palm trees stretches for five miles. Unfortunately the peddlers and beggars were pests, ruining our visit to this lovely spot. After a day at sea we sailed into picturesque Hong Kong, docking at Kowloon Island. A bus tour took us to Victoria Peak for the impressive view of the harbor. We stopped at Stanley Market where Marie bought a string of pearls for US$300. Then our tour continued with a lovely Sampan ride through Aberdeem fishing village. Hong Kong, like Singapore, is very clean, friendly and a shopper's paradise.
After two restful days at sea, we sailed into the large and busy port of Shanghai, China's largest city. We took a tour that started with a visit the what must be one of most beautiful museums in the world. It is fairly new and an architectural marvel. We then went to the luxurious Park Hotel for a traditional Chinese lunch. This was served at tables for ten with a rotating lazy Susan in the middle of the table. Waitresses brought a steady stream of tasty entrees along with free wine and beer (excellent Chinese lager). Soup is served at the end of the meal followed by fruit dessert. Everyone remarked how pleasantly surprised they were by the beauty, cleanliness and friendliness of Shanghai. It is a booming metropolis with much building going on. Next came to quaint port town of Nagasaki, situated on a natural harbor. It has a European atmosphere with the Dutch section and Portuguese section, etc. We visited "ground zero", the spot over which the second Atom bomb was dropped in 1945, ending the Second World War. We visited the touching Atomic Bomb Museum that gave a very unbiased account of Japan's militarism that led to their invasion of China and their attack on Pearl Harbor. It also showed grim pictures of the devastation by the Bomb that killed over 80,000 residents.
Two days later we ended our cruise by docking at Xingang and being bused to Beijing. Like Shanghai, Beijing was a pleasant surprise. Instead of the picture we had of filth and chickens running the streets, we found a modern city with wide avenues, beautiful friendly people that made us welcome and another Five star hotel, the Sheraton Great Wall. For two nights we were pampered with thick,white terry cloth robes, three telephones in the room, great restaurants, and good shopping nearby. Our tour started with a visit to Forbidden City complex, home of the rulers of China from the 1200's until 1211. We stopped a Tiennenman Square to snap pictures. The following day was a busy one with a 1 1/2 hour drive to the mountains north of Beijing and the awesom "Great Wall". We layered our clothing as we were warned about the cooler temperature and winds at the higher elevation. Our guess: "wind chill factor of 32 degrees". After walking a few hundred yards and taking some pictures of one of the man made marvels of the world we retreated to a warm hotel for hot green tea and another Chinese lager. Included was lunch at this hotel and it turned out to be the best Chinese food of the tour.
On the way back to Beijing we stopped at a "Friendship Store" run by the China Tourist Bureau. No real bargains but interesting merchandise like giant Chinese vases for $3000; A 30 foot long hand-painted Chinese screen for $30,000, etc. Even full-size replicas of the Terra Cotta Soldiers.
We ended the day at the huge, lakeside Summer Place complex. It was back to the Sheraton for an excellent Italian dinner then off to a theater for a great show by the world famous Chinese Acrobats. Only $15.00 each to see this non-stop, fast paced show of amazing contortionists, acrobats, and jugglers. This was their last show before beginning a world tour.
THE SHIP We had expected to see a rather drab, aging ship. Instead the Regal Princess is bright, well appointed and easy to get around. I understand a major refitting was done during the past year. The carpets and all furnishings throughout the ship were like new. Our outside stateroom with balcony was on Baja deck. It was about 170 sq. ft. with a king-size bed, ample closet and drawer space. The bathroom was small but larger than average shower stall. The balcony was tiny, about 5' x 12'. We used it the first morning for breakfast which arrived prompltly at the requested hour of 8 am. Because the temperature ranged around 95 degrees with 95 per cent humidity we got little use of the balcony until we reached Hong Kong. From there the temperatures dipped to low to mid-50's and very windy. On this itinerary I do not recommend spending extra for a balcony.
THE STAFF Everyone from Captain Vito, who was very visible and friendly, to the officers, waiter, assistants, deck attendants, stateroom attendants, pursers, and cruise director's staff went out of their way to give the kind of service we wanted and paid for. Without exception the service was excellent.
ENTERTAINMENT We love to finish dinner (main seating) then go the showroom for entertainment. The Regal has a group of singers and dancers that have been on the ship since October. They put on three production reviews that were very professionally done. Other acts included a good comedian and a good juggler then a banjo player and a violinist that we did not care for. The seven-piece Princess Orchestra was top-notch. Regal has a larger than average dance floor so the ball room and dance pro's took advantage of the good dance music that was played each night prior to Showtime. Other high quality musicians played in various bars and dance clubs as well as in the dining room during dinner and later in the atrium.
LAND TOURS Princess probably knows more about moving people efficiently than any other cruise line. They organize their tours well, and label their buses, guides and even their passengers for fast, efficient loading and unloading of conveyances. They hire good local tour guides and offer interesting tours that generally give reasonably good value. The hotels and restaurants that they use are First Class which was important in some of the countries we visited.
SHIP'S HOSPITAL On the second day I was one of many that caught a bug and had to visit the hospital. Three nurses there were very efficient and the British female doctor quickly and accurately diagnosed and made me well within 24 hours.
WE HAD A GREAT TIME. Our missing bag arrive in Raleigh 3 days after we arrived home We gave the the Princess a 7 out of a possible score of 10. We will use Princess again!