How would you explore Southeast Asia for two weeks? You may think of booking a hotel room in each city, getting around via public transportation and taking short flights from city to city to see it all. But there’s another great option: cruising! It takes less time to plan, it’s cost-effective and it still allows you to experience the local flavor—in less time.
As you know from reading last week, I recently went sailing in the region for two weeks with Holland America. My little sister came with me on the 1432-passenger Volendam. We discovered Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore on a new 14-day Asian Adventure itinerary; and experienced seven different ports of call: Singapore; George Town, Malaysia; Phuket, Thailand; Thilawa (Rangoon), Myanmar; Langkawi, Malaysia; Port Kelang (Kuala Lumpur), Malaysia; and Malacca, Malaysia.
Here are a few of the best reasons to cruise with Holland America in Southeast Asia:
1. The Volendam is its own authentic experience
Passengers experience Southeast Asia through the many activities offered on the ship. These include everything from lessons on how to write Chinese characters and Burmese dance to slot machines and bridge tournaments.
There’s plenty for kids to do at the children’s clubs. You can also lounge around at the two pools and hot tubs or work out at the fitness center. Don’t forget a spa treatment (nothing says zen that a pedicure watching Singapore go by at sunset).
Evening activities include five lounges and Broadway-style production shows. The piano man was our favorite for evening entertainment!
2. Authentic culinary experiences
There were so many food options to choose from! Everything from fresh red snapper with coconut-lemongrass reduction, squid balls and Singapore-style grilled chicken satay on a crispy, sweet-and-sour-flavored noodle salad to traditional favorites like steak and lobster. They even had a taco bar and a gourmet burger station at the pool.
Asian Market Night was a highlight. One evening per cruise the ship’s pool deck transforms into a market with food stalls everywhere. Executive Chef Peter Kofler was seen making his rounds, chatting with guests and recommending food for them to try.
3. Myanmar—on a unique Southeast Asia itinerary
With Myanmar now more accessible to Americans, Holland America’s inclusion of this mystical location makes the itinerary more special. In fact, many passengers told me that it was their main reasons for coming aboard on this itinerary. (I’ll discuss the itinerary in more depth in my next post!)
4. You tend to mess up less
I’ll be the first to admit I love an adventure and planning travel myself. It’s fun to have adventures and even get lost and go the wrong way because often you end up somewhere even better than you tried to go. But I’ve also regretted the decision to not plan out my day. I might end up stuck in the middle of nowhere just when I start getting hungry or when the only hotel options make sleeping in a tent look better! Onboard the Volendam, the cruise director puts together a helpful presentation with tips and things to do before docking in each port.
Holland America also offers some great excursions with awesome local tour guides. I definitely recommend doing at least a few of them, like “Siam Elephant Safari in Thailand,” “Bago The Ancient Mon Capital,” “Shwedagon Pagoda by Night,” and “Local Life in Thanlyin Village.”
5. You unpack and repack your suitcase once (plus big closets)
One of my biggest gripes about traveling is packing up my life each day in a tiny box. So you can bet I’m fond of unpacking and repacking my suitcase once! Each room aboard the Volendam also had a lot of closet space for storing everything.
6. Say goodbye to customs in every new country
Cruising with Holland America streamlines the customs process for passengers. Trust me: When you’ve been stuck in endless customs lines before, you see the value in this. The ship made the process as simple as swiping our Holland America cruise card and walking right into Myanmar from Thailand.
7. You’re not responsible for getting yourself around
The ship takes you to your next stop. What’s not to love about not having to learn the bus system in a foreign country or navigating a complex subway network? If you still crave an adventure, be adventurous when you get off the ship in that particular city. You can always opt to explore on your own once in port.
8. Rooms with an ocean view
If you’re like me and really value a good view from your room, let me say it’s just incredible waking up every morning to the ocean right outside your window. I recommend paying the extra money for an outside-facing stateroom but if you end up with a stateroom without window, it will take you 30 seconds to walk upstairs for your ocean view. Either deal is pretty sweet.
9. Cover more ground in a short amount of time
We fell asleep in Thailand and woke up in Myanmar. For those of you who dread the commute from city to city, the cruise ship cuts out the waiting time. It also has plenty to keep you entertained!
Whether you have only two weeks off or are trying to make the most of your one-week tour, you can see a lot more on a cruise since the ship usually moves to a new port at night. Sometimes that means you can’t spend a night in that city but, if you were out all day, you’ll be pretty tired anyway.
10. Qualified medical staff nearby to help in case of emergencies (or non-emergencies)
We sailed with people of all ages but predominantly the demographic skewed older. They were the best people to sail with. It was like a big family onboard. Many people wanted to talk and share experiences!
Having equipped medical personnel with you every step of your journey should offer peace of mind to people of all ages. The staff is even helpful in assisting with your smallest medical needs like sunburns and allergies.
11. Room service, especially before early morning excursions
Not all cruise ships offer room service included in the price. My sister and I found it really helpful on the early mornings when we needed coffee the moment we got out of bed. And I’m not a morning person (yet), so I’m sure she enjoyed my pleasant demeanor once coffee was in my system. We were able to get ready more quickly and save time without having to worry about going upstairs to eat breakfast in a hurry.
12. Informative, helpful and friendly crew
Everyone from the waitstaff and the housekeeper to the shore excursions team worked hard to make sure our stay was perfect. They were always around if we needed something (and even when we didn’t!). It’s pretty safe to say we looked forward to going to dinner each night knowing we’d see our crew friends.
If a cruise ship, hotel or airline can make us feel that special—they’ve truly succeeded.
Want your own Asian adventure?
The Volendam sails the Asian Adventure itinerary again December 22, 2015 and February 16, 2016. Check out hollandamerica.com for more information on the cruise line, its fleet and other awesome itineraries.
All photos credited to Caitlin Martin.