Tag-Archive for » River cruising «

Elvis…Far From The Mississippi

It’s 1974. You’re Elvis Presley — many wished that for almost two decades. You’re not at the height of your career, but you’re still packing them in wherever you go. Some people actually are “Elvis Presley”…as impersonators are beginning to pop up. Your country is in an awful war (like there are any other kind), in Vietnam.

Fast forward 42 years.

Elvis is long gone. The impersonators are not. In fact, there are more Elvis look-a-likes than ever. Some of them are even pretty good performers, not just in Vegas and assorted venues ranging from small theaters to street corners.

One is doing it in Vietnam.

His real name is Damian Mullin and he’s an Australian…crikey! He’s the best of Australia’s Elvis impElvis impersonators, having won the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest and he has the seal of approval from Elvis Presley Enterprises, which means The King’s company has a financial interest in the performances in…Vietnam.

The event will take place over eight days in September, on board La Marguerite, a river cruise ship that sails under the flag of AmaWaterways through its Australian partners, on the Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam.

“It’s an opportunity to present something different with a more intimate atmosphere,” said Jodie Quick, director of The Cruise Gallery, the Australian agency that’s selling the tour. “Most music cruises are on larger ships…[this one] gives passengers the chance to travel somewhere more adventurous and exotic with the comfort of Elvis’ crooning!”

The cruise is called Rockin’ the Mekong.

You can only imagine what Elvis would be thinking.

Today at portsandbows.comCelebrity Solstice back to Australia for 2017-18


Carnival Magic
7 nights
January 31, 2016
Galveston (return): Key West, Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $549
Cost per day: $78
www.carnival.com

Southeast Asia Tourist Visas 

It’s likely that more North American cruisers will be visiting Southeast Asia, if not this winter then certainly in the foreseeable future, because more cruise lines from both genres are establishing a stronger presence.

As first-timers to that part of the world this year, we had to be educated about the coming and going to countries we’d never come to or gone from before 2015.

That would be tourist visas.

In our case, we were going on the new AmaWaterways river cruiser, the AmaDara, and it goes up and down the Mekong River in both Cambodia and Vietnam. In terms of customs, that meant coming to Cambodia and going from Vietnam. If you’re particularly nervous about this, the cruise lines will make it as easy as possible for you — through a third party, at a price we didn’t want to pay.

So we decided to go it alone, and here’s what we discovered…

Cambodia: This can be done online at the Embassy of the King of Cambodia. All you Cambodia visaneed is a passport, some time and a credit card. One cautionary note…your passport must be valid for six months from the date you enter Cambodia. The process took about a week. We printed the e-Visas at home. The cost: about $40 US.

Vietnam: Perhaps because it’s a Communist country, this was slightly more complicated, Visa-Bob copybut it’s still an online process and your passport only needs to be valid for one month from when the Vietnam visa expires. Again, the process from submission to receipt of the visas took about a week, and came by mail. The cost: $110.

For both, we paid $300 US. The process was not at all intimidating, contrary to what we’d anticipated.

Had we gone through the third party to get our tourist visas, the cost would have been $412 each…$824 for both.

In the news…

• Financing in place for Royal Caribbean’s fourth and fifth Quantum Class ships
• Fake doctor treated passengers on Aida ships for five years arrested in Berlin
• Contrary to reports, Star Cruises won’t be deploying ships to the Mediterranean

Today at portsandbows.com: Cruise news and views you can use


Enchantment of the Seas
3 nights
May 16, 2016
Miami (return): CocoCay, Nassau
Inside: $201
Cost per day: $67
www.royalcaribbean.com

Friday File: A Taste Of Southeast Asia

When you go to a foreign land and eat local food, sometimes you’re never quite sure what you’re eating, or if you are indeed eating what the locals say. It is a culinary adventure, to say the least, and after visiting Southeast Asia for the first time we better understood why locals eat what they do, we shared many of their dishes and we came home raving about the food of Cambodia and Vietnam, especially Vietnam. Some of the servings surprised as, as they probably will you…

Crickets

When you visit a cricket farm, as we did in Vietnam, you naturally expect to see crickets and you anticipate being invited to eat them. We were — and did…okay, one of us did.

Cambodian soup

The most popular dish on the AmaDara river cruiser was, without question, Cambodian soup and while it was often available throughout the day it was a breakfast specialty.

Version 2

Vietnamese spring rolls are available on this side of the Pacific but the ones at our favourite Saigon restaurant, Quan Bui, were better than any in North America.

Bread

This is not what you think, it’s just the work of a creative pastry chef on the ship, and it definitely tasted better than it looked, although Cambodian crocs are a delicacy.

Tarantula

This is what it you think, a man eating a tarantula. It was at a stop called Spidertown, the tour guide’s is Nyphea and the tarantula wasn’t wiggling…except when he crunched it.

banana, mango, dragon fruit

Dessert is always a welcome respite when you’re eating in adventureland, and this delectable trilogy of dragon fruit (red), mango and banana really hit the spot.

In the news…

• Legends In Concert move from Norwegian Epic to the Pearl
• Royal Caribbean's new catchphrase for marketing — 'Come Seek'
• Carnival latest cruise line to relax carry-on policy for beverages

Today at portsandbows.com: Preview of the new Carnival Vista 


Royal Caribbean Liberty of the Seas
7 nights
November 29, 2015
Galveston (return): Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $430
Cost per day: $61
www.royalcaribbean.com

A French Landmark Back In Saigon

Le Meridien-2

SAIGON — A sign of the times in Vietnam’s southernmost city is Le Meridien Saigon. A member of the Starwood chain and arguably this city’s most modern hotel, it officially opened this weekend, still something of a secret to taxi drivers who haven’t ferried enough guests there in the weeks leading up to the ceremonial opening.

Modernity aside, it has all the things that are right about being in Ho Chi Minh City, the more modern and politically correct name, starting with its location. 

It towers over the Saigon River, providing fascinating views of traffic ranging from tankers to speedboats that negotiate between the water hyacinth plants that rise and fall with the Le Meridien-6tide. Around the corner is a quirky little street called Ngo Van Nam, home to restaurants like Quan Bui, recommended to us and home of the best food we’ve had in five days here since leaving the AmaDara after cruising down the Mekong River.

The hotel is staffed by the happiest, warmest and ridiculously friendliest people — and Le Meridien-4there are many of them, at every turn trying to help you out — you could hope to encounter in Southeast Asia, or anywhere else for that matter. There’s never a door unopened, nor a question unanswered, nor a business issue without a solution.

The rooms have all the current computer-driven necessities and gadgets, like energy-saving keys to the lights and electronic blinds to allow you to over-sleep, if inclined. That’s necessary, given the size of the windows that allow natural light to pour into the spacious rooms.

There’s a plethora of good eating in Vietnam, and this hotel has the most extensive dinner buffet we’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever.

While its facade smacks of modern architecture, everything inside has a taste of the French heritage that for 100 years was so much a part of Saigon, from the artwork decorating the walls to the music played on the sound system filtering into lounges and restaurants. Surprisingly, perhaps, French can be heard from the staff, as a second or third language…Vietnamese and English being the other two.

When the French left here — or were driven out — half a century ago, it’s unlikely they’d ever have foreseen one day a hotel called Le Meridien would be such a part of the Le Meridien-7landscape…right down to the French pastries in a shop off the lobby. The service is so personal that guests are cautioned when leaving the hotel about what and where is safe and what and where isn’t, and when you take a taxi the people at the front door know what cab you’re in and where you’re going — they give you a card with the hotel address to make sure the drivers know where your “home” is.

It is, after all, still new to the cabbies.

In the news…

• More than 12,000 cruisers yesterday in Vancouver from three Alaska ships
• Room service charge of $3.95 from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. on Celebrity cruises
• Free safaris among Oceania perks for North Americans cruising to South Africa

Today at portsandbows.com: Carnival's immersive shore excursions


Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas
11 nights
October 23, 2015
Dubai, Goa, Cochin, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore
Inside: $424
Cost per day: $38
www.royalcaribbean.com

A River Cruise With A Purpose

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Almost every year, at least, we are reminded of the Holocaust. Seldom, if ever, are we reminded of the “Cambodian Holocaust.”

Need a refresher?

It was the mid ‘70s. It started as the Vietnam War ended, in 1975. It was a grass-roots rebellion headed by Pol Pot and it was intended to improve life for all Cambodians. It turned into four years of murder.

Until we ventured into Southeast Asia to cruise the Mekong River with AmaWaterways, AmaDara-xxwhat little we knew of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge we’d long forgotten. In more than three days on (and off) the AmaDara, we learn more than we expected…probably more than we want to learn.

The conventional wisdom has always been that the Khmer Rouge killed two million Cambodians…and Vietnamese who lived in Cambodia.

Nyphea“That,” says Nyphea Khun, the articulate and intelligent tour guide hired by Ama, “is how many deaths were registered. The population of Cambodia went from about eight million to about four and a half million. What happened to almost two million people? Did they just disappear?”

There is a lost generation in this warm and now-friendly country. Children grew up without knowing how to be mothers, because they had none. Grandparents didn’t exist. The knowledge base was undermined — Khmer Rouge soldiers were instructed to kill anybody they thought was educated. A simple thing like wearing glasses was a death sentence.

We meet one educated survivor, in the small village where he lives, not far from here. His name is Oum Son Thon and he survived by pleading ignorance…more ignorance than pleading. He messed up his hair. He escaped into the countryside. He developed callouses on his hands, to look more like a worker, doing what he was told and pretending to be a Oum Son Thonsimple man with no education. He told the Khmer Rouge he was a worker and didn’t know how to write.

He was, in fact, a teacher. 

Somehow he survived. By 1993, after the “outside world” came to Cambodia’s rescue, Thon returned to his village, by then a shadow of what it had been. He had one shirt and one pair of shorts. He taught, for free. Eventually, four of his students graduated from university. Today, he is 81 and he regularly tells his story to passersby, like visitors on a river cruise.

Had we not been on the AmaDara’s inaugural cruise from Siem Reap to Ho Chi Minh City, we’d never have met Oum Son Thon, who speaks no English. We’d never have met Nyphea Khun, the guide. We’d never have learned about the Cambodian Holocaust.

That would have been our loss.

Tomorrow: Prison and The Killing Fields

In the news…

• European rivers Danube and Elbe still struggling with low water levels
• Carnival promotion until Sunday: $40 to spend on board per day per room

Today at portsandbows.com: River cruising in the U.S.


Celebrity Constellation
3 nights
January 4, 2016
Fort Lauderdale (return): Nassau, Key West
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $86
www.celebritycruises.com

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