Cruising along the Strait of Malacca

Cruising along the Strait of Malacca
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Aboard the Royal Caribbean's luxurious cruise liner, the Mariner of the Seas

Sheetal Vyas
October 08 , 2014
08 Min Read

A cruise has been on my wishlist of things to do for years, but my dreams were modest. A river cruise down the Godavari at the most, or the backwaters of Kerala. What came my way, however, quite dwarfed that little plan: it was a chance to go aboard the Mariner of the Seas, a rather magnificent vessel from the cruise line Royal Caribbean International for a three-night sailing ex-Singapore. My visions had included a gentle pace, a fort or two coming into view, reeds along the banks, quietude, otters and other creatures going plop in the water. In contrast, this was going to be a fuel-guzzling, industrial-age exercise. On the principle that one must not turn away from the life offered in favour of the life imagined, the day saw me standing at Singapore’s Marina Bay Centre looking up at this cruise liner, ready to sail.

Now why did I say all that and make it seem like this was a second-best choice that I was taking on on sufferance? I confess, just to appear a bit cool and blasé. Because something needs to balance out the gush of ingenuous enthusiasm that will inevitably come when I get into the story. Because, Ladies, Gentlemen, this was such fun!

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The Mariner of the Seas is a little slice of land by itself. Readers familiar with Enid Blyton’s fascinating fantasy of The Faraway Tree will know at once what I mean. At the very top of this tree, various lands come visiting — they could be unpleasant (The Rocking Land) or very pleasant indeed (The Land of Birthdays). The Mariner flitted between several descriptions: Land of Make-Believe, Land of High Treats and, yes, Land of Take What You Want.

With 15 decks in all, this is an insular, moving island that carries everything it needs: the wherewithal to house 3,114 guests over three days and every possible entertainment to keep them engaged. This means arcades, live music, performances, games, restaurants, watering holes, a casino, a spa, a full-sized sports court, a well-kitted gym, a golf simulator, a rock-climbing wall, swimming pools, jacuzzi, movies, shopping and an ice-skating rink. The range, I admit, left me reeling. And posed the problem of what to do and what to leave out.

There was little time on the first day to do more than swipe into my lovely stateroom, take a nap, wait for the luggage to arrive, bathe, acquire wi-fi access, seek out the luncheon and look around curiously at the assorted passengers who were similarly settling in. A substantial number of Chinese from the mainland, the more elegant citizens of Singapore, and a decent number of passengers from India as well. Then, there was a mandatory muster drill that told us what to do in a crisis, and, with a blast of the horn, we were off. The room was a pleasant surprise. I was not obliged to gaze out through a small porthole after all: comfortable, surprisingly spacious quarters, and a private balcony looking out to the sea, with a couple of chairs and a table. I watched as we left Singapore behind, its glass and mirrors glinting in the afternoon sun. It was all good.

Dinner that evening was at the swanky Giovanni’s Table, where they pandered to my vegetarian diet with an array of choices and some wicked desserts. As we sat chatting in the low light, the GPS on my phone, rather than any movement of the ship, informed me that we were making progress along the Strait of Malacca. We would dock at Port Klang early the next day for a shore excursion to Kuala Lumpur.

The next morning, my pre-ordered breakfast was delivered on the dot. I washed toast down with coffee and joined the group for the outing. Guna, our guide, was an informative — and passionate — raconteur. Of Tamil extraction, he had, however, never visited India: he was Malaysian, he told us a little testily. We had only a few hours in KL and I liked the city as much as can be expected on such short acquaintance. We took in the War Memorial and the central administrative district, I walked about the Suria KLCC mall in the famous Petronas Towers, had a delicious Curry Pot lunch and sought out the Chinese street bazaar at Jalan Petaling.

Back on the ship, there was now time to explore the levels. I took the lifts up and down the decks, peeped into the casino, walked along the jogging track, and climbed up a narrow stairway to the Skylight Chapel. This last is a little space right at the top where, as it was reluctantly confirmed by an official, it is possible to get married. They are chary about divulging that nugget, however, lest they be deluged with requests that are bound to sorely strain the Captain’s very busy schedule. Then I went to the Bridge and looked down through the glass at the navigators — men in white shirts with navy-blue lapels, all looking frightfully competent. A write-up informed me that I was “standing just above one of the most advanced navigational bridges on any ship afloat.” There was no wheel in sight, but instead various consoles that make up the Integrated Bridge System.

I went down to the Library, which has a happy system of lending. I took three books, jotted them down in an open book on the desk and issued them to myself. Then, a visit to the Café Promenade that offers a range of light snacks and beverages (all complimentary, which somehow enhances their appeal enormously) for a slice of pizza and a nightcap before heading to my room, curling into the balcony chair and reading into the night.

I have been remiss in neglecting to mention one feature in all this description: the sea. It forms the backdrop, not the focus, of a cruise like this one, but it constantly intruded on my attention. I awoke later that night at some disturbance and went out to the balcony again. Far on the horizon, forks of purple-white lightning lit up the water. It wasn’t a stormy sky, the sea was quiet, almost placid, and yet it went on. I stood for some 20 minutes watching the fireworks and went to bed again.

I gave myself up to more entertainment the following day with a thoroughly enjoyable variety show at the ice rink. Here, I was unexpectedly moved by the performance as well as the lives of the artistes and staff who spend as many as six to seven months at a stretch on the ship. The crew comprises an astounding 1,185 people from all over. I found myself looking at this floating luxury hotel with their eyes. Were they excited still? Was it still glamorous? How soon does the feeling of claustrophobia strike?

I have had my share of travel over the years and I do travel easy: happy to arrive and happy to depart. Oddly enough, it induced in me a pang to say goodbye to Stateroom 8374. We would dock at 6am the next morning, so what could I do to prolong the experience of this cruise? I scanned the daily newsletter. If there was anything to seal the experience, a late-night movie would be it, and bully! — they were playing Argo on Deck 2.

The information

The cruise
The Mariner of the Seas is a 15- deck luxury cruise ship that can carry up to 3,114 passengers. The 3N sailing ex-Singapore (from $395, double occupancy, cruise only; royalcaribbean.com) included a shore excursion to Kuala Lumpur and sailing in the Strait of Malacca. Upcoming sailings from Singapore include a 5N Spice of Southeast Asia Cruise (from $525) departing November 12, a 3N Weekend Cruise (from $580) departing December 19, and a 4N Port Klang & Phuket Cruise (from $650) departing December 22. Contact Tirun Marketing (011- 49061000; tirun.com) for details.

The rooms
There are the interior staterooms, outside staterooms, balcony rooms and sea-facing suites that cater to a range of budgets. Every room offers a television, tele­phone, shower, vanity kit and a hair-dryer as well.

Where to eat
There are numerous dining op­tions onboard. Windjammer Café, with its generous seating and casual buffets, was my default choice, but there is also the three-tier main dining room and buffet restaurant, which serves international cuisine. I loved the Café Promenade for its light eats and reliable supply of coffee. Specialty restaurants include Chops Grille Steakhouse, the elegant Giovanni’s Table for Italian cuisine and Johnny Rock­ets, a 50s-style American diner. There is also room service (free, barring a service charge between midnight and 5am).

What to see & do
You’re spoilt for choice aboard the Mariner. From video arcades to gambling at the casino, live music and performances to fitness and adventure, there is something for everyone. A daily newsletter on board gives you all the lowdown on the day’s activities: you could try your luck at a champagne art auction, join a clamouring group for Bingo, go to the spa, sign up for a session of yoga, take a tour of the ship — or be radical and stay put on a lounger, staring at the sea.

 

 


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