I left home at midnight, 13th Feb, with the temperature at zero and arrived 26 hours later in Singapore at 30degrees after a long Etihad flight from Heathrow to Singapore via Abu Dhabi. As I left the airport for my transfer to the hotel at 10am, 15th Feb (2am UK time), I was struck by trees and flowers everywhere, not just outside as we drove through extensive parklands, but even inside the airport, in the streets, and even on the balconies of buildings in the city. Everywhere was all so clean and tidy.
At my hotel I found I had been allocated a small windowless interior room but it was clean with good facilities. I was extremely tired and desperately wanted to sleep but I really wanted to go out and explore the Chinatown area where the hotel was located as I had other things planned for the next two days that I would be in Singapore. Actually I was a bit disappointed in Chinatown; it was all a bit too clean and tidy and the numerous restaurants not particularly cheap in my opinion. Feeling rather delicate, I confess I ended up in a KFC in a nearby shopping mall before returning to my hotel for a very early night (very late by UK time!).
I slept well and was out and about relatively early. Whereas yesterday it had been hot and sunny in Singapore, today was largely overcast but still very hot. I walked to the Marina Bay area to see some of the best known landmarks of Singapore. First, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel with the amazing curved boat-like structure straddling the three tower blocks of the hotel. It is possible to go up to the observation deck of the hotel but I decided not to do this as there was much else to see in the area. I walked along the bay-front around by the very striking ArtScience Museum with views across the bay of the Singapore Flyer (big wheel) and then into the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ where I spent the rest of the day.
The most striking features in Gardens by the Bay are the amazing artificial tree-like towers called supertrees. There are about 18 of them in three groups with an aerial walkway connecting two of the larger towers. Then there are two huge conservatories; The Flower Dome and Cloud Forest, which are a bit like those at the Eden Project in Cornwall, and an extremely wonderful Floral Fantasy display in another building. In fact there was so much to see in the Gardens by the Bay, even though I was there for most of the day, there was much I did not get around to seeing (partly because due to jet-lag I spent a fair bit of the time resting where I could). But despite my need for sleep I stayed for the evening light show with the supertrees which was well worth seeing.
After that there was supposed to be another free light and water show, claimed to be the largest in SE Asia, at the bay front before the Marina Bay Sands Hotel. It was on my way back to my hotel so I stopped at the main viewing area where quite a few others were also waiting for the start time. But I was surprised there was not a larger crowd until eventually someone spotted a small notice at the front of the viewing area to say the show had been cancelled owing to coronavirus! I was annoyed that the notice was not more prominent and that I had delayed unnecessarily getting back to my hotel for the sleep I craved.
For day 3 in Singapore I went to Sentosa island which is a resort island off the west side of Singapore. To get there, first it was a two stops ride on the MRT (mass rapid transit) system which I found to be very efficient. Then there were several ways of getting to the island. Most expensive and most spectacular is a cable car from the mainland to the island but I had plans for a much more spectacular cable car ride later during my forthcoming cruise. There is also a monorail but I had learned from my advance research that it would cost S$4 (Singapore dollars) to go to the island but was free for the return journey! So I saved that for my return and took the free board-walk access to the island. The whole island is virtually a theme park with a Universal Studios resort and many paid attractions such as an Aquarium, a Mega Zip line, bungee, Skydiving, VR and 4D rides, etc., but most of the attractions that appealed to me were free. But once again after a cheap Malaysian lunch, tiredness took over me so I spent most of the afternoon relaxing on the beaches on the South side of the island. Owing to the 8 hour time difference between UK and Singapore my body was telling me it is time to sleep! It was also too hot to be very energetic. I found a shady spot where I could sit on a rock with my feet in the sea which cooled me beautifully.
Again I fought my tiredness to stay for a free light show that evening with two of the small islands off one of the beaches. However, this time I was somewhat underwhelmed by the display and wished I had gone instead to see a light and water display involving cranes (called Crane Dance) on the other side of Sentosa island.
The next day was embarkation day for my 7 night cruise on the Costa Fortuna. Costa is an Italian cruise line (nothing to do with coffee!) and that really is the root of why I was not as enamoured with the ship as I was with Cunard’s Queen Victoria that I had cruised with in January. It was all too Italian! The passengers were mostly Italian and German with relatively few English. The décor was a little tacky, lacking the elegance of the Queen Victoria (sorry, Kathy and Sheila, two ladies I befriended who got a little tired of my going on so much about how I preferred the QV!).
But though I don’t think I’ll cruise with Costa again, I did thoroughly enjoy the cruise and don’t regret it in the least. This was at least partly, perhaps mainly, due to the friendship that developed with the afore-mentioned ladies, Kathleen and Sheila. I met them on the second evening when I asked to be seated at a different table for dinner each evening. They seemed to take to me immediately and I know we have established life-long friendships. I know many people say they will keep in touch with those they befriended on holiday but never do, but Kathy and Sheila insist this will not be the case with us. Sheila, who is a veteran of 40 cruises, said she had never given her contact details to anyone on a cruise before but she did with me.
Unfortunately for me, both ladies live in Australia and both are married (but travel together without their husbands). Kathleen was originally from Glasgow (and still has a strong Glaswegian accent) but has lived in Australia for many years running a business with her husband and employed Sheila. The two ladies have become extremely close friends, as they now have with me. I was most touched by this.
First day at sea
The first day of the cruise after embarkation day was spent at sea. I spent some time getting to find my way around the ship, which was not easy due to a very confusing layout. I’m usually pretty good with my sense of direction but throughout the voyage on this ship I kept getting confused about which was the way to the fore or aft of the ship. I visited the Spa as there was a free sauna and several free trial offers of various treatments including a massage. I got talked into having a full massage session by a very nice Filipino masseur who also took to me and I’d go to see her for a chat most days after that.
Langkawi – The fall!
Our first port of call was Langkawi, which is an island off the Malaysian coast. Although Costa does arrange excursions for all our port calls, it is usually much cheaper to do your own thing. And on the port side we were inundated with taxi drivers trying to persuade us to go with them to visit some of the local tourist attractions. I was on my own as Kathleen and Sheila don’t generally rise until around midday but I wanted to make the most of my time ashore. Whilst negotiating a taxi, I met a couple of Turkish ladies from the ship with whom we could share the taxi. However they wanted first to see an Eagle statue at the main town on the island but, impressive though that was, I was more interested in going straight to a cable car to the top of the highest mountain at the opposite end of the island. It is the steepest cable car on earth and very long; I was most impressed when we finally got to it.
There is a stop more than half way up where there was a viewing platform. It here that disaster struck! I fell! I had been taking photos and looked around for the Turkish ladies, saw them to one side and turned to go to them. But I did not see a low bench below my line of sight and tripped over it. Normally I would have just stumbled and walked away but as I fell forward the strap of my rather heavy handbag fell off my shoulder and effectively trapped my upper arms against my sides, stopping me from saving myself. It all happened in slow motion. I remember thinking; I’m falling, why can’t I stop myself, I’m going to hit the deck, then thump, my forehead hit the deck and my glasses made a deep gash in the bridge of my nose. Miraculously the glasses did not break. There were lots of people around and they all ushered around to help me. Someone gave me a bottle of water and out of nowhere a Malay first-aider attended to my wounds. But whilst my facial injuries were spectacular and received all the attention, what concerned me most was the severe tingling sensation in my arms right down to my fingertips. I think I had suffered whiplash. No one could see this. There was no visible sign of injury in my arms but my upper arms were very sore where the strap of my handbag had restrained them.
After awhile the tingling in my arms subsided and I felt able to continue. I took the last leg of the cable car ride to the very top of the mountain with one of the Turkish ladies (the other had been too afraid of the height on the first leg). Unfortunately the one who stayed with me was the one who could not speak English!
After a little time at the top viewing platform, the lady with me wanted to return as there was little time left with the taxi we had booked, waiting for us at the bottom. But I particularly wanted to see the Sky Bridge which is the longest free span curved bridge in the world spanning a deep valley between two of the mountain peaks. Somehow I communicated to the Turkish lady to go back to join her companion and get the taxi we had booked whilst I would carry on and take a later taxi back to the port. I’m really glad I did this as the Sky Bridge was really something I would not have been happy to miss.
Kathy and Sheila where shocked when they saw my injuries at dinner. Sheila, who was well-stocked with medical supplies, gave me pain-killers and sleeping pills which proved invaluable when I went to bed that night as the pain in the back of my neck and shoulders was particularly bad when lying down. Two weeks later as I write this, I still have whiplash pains including some soreness in my upper arms but not nearly as bad as that first night.
But none of this stopped me enjoying the rest of my cruise except that I was unable to wear make-up and thus dress-up as I would have liked for the evenings. I had also lost half of my false fingernails in the fall. However the evening dress-code on the Costa Fortuna was much more casual than had been the case on the Queen Victoria. I missed that and had very few photos taken of me for the rest of the cruise.
Sailing overnight, next morning we found our ship anchored in the bay off Patong beach on Phuket Island, Thailand. It was the only time we needed tenders to reach shore as we were able to walk off at all other ports we visited. On reaching shore, once again many taxi drivers plied us with offers to take us to the main attractions. I particularly wanted to go to Phang Nga Bay Island, better known as the James Bond Island, because of the amazing rock formations that had been featured in The Man with the Golden Gun movie. Again I teamed up with a couple (a German with a Swiss girlfriend) to share a taxi.
The trip involved a long 90 mins drive by taxi to the Thai mainland north of Phuket island, then longboat and canoe, visiting three small islands. It was all a fabulous experience and the towering rock formations undercut by the sea were amazing. Unfortunately I missed the best view of the iconic rock that is featured in most photos of the James Bond Island because the couple I was with did not want to pay the extra to land on that island as we had been told everything was included. I didn’t realise until our longboat moved on, that the best iconic view of the rock was from the beach of this little island. So I was rather disappointed that I had travelled so far to see it and only had a fleeting poor view of it from the sea side. But at the next island, the canoe experience was most enjoyable. We were paddled by our guides, the couple in one canoe and me in another, through an open cave giving us close-up views of how much the sea had undercut the rocky cliffs.
The ship actually stayed two days at Phuket and I had intended to go ashore again the second day but I stayed on board because I was suffering bad diarrhoea and did not wish to stray far from a toilet! It was a quiet day on board as most passengers had gone ashore.
After another overnight sail we arrived at Penang, another island off the coast of Malaysia. The British colonial past was very much in evidence and even the name of the town, Georgetown, was very British. However there were some extremely ornate Buddhist temples and mosques, one of them housing the world’s 3rd largest reclining Buddha. I had an interesting three hour tour with an extremely pleasant and laid-back Indian taxi driver.
The next morning we found ourselves in Port Klang which is pretty non-descript but Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, was a 90min plus (depending on traffic) drive away. This time I took the only excursion I had with Costa as the alternative of making my own travel arrangements were rather complicated and too risky. I did not want to risk being stuck in Kuala Lumpur unable to get transport back to the ship before it sailed that evening.
It was a good day. The Costa coaches dropped us off in the main shopping district of Kuala Lumpur leaving us with several hours to do our own thing until the appointed pick up time in mid afternoon. Again my advance research stood me well because I knew all about a free bus service that would take me to most of the points of interest. First was the famous Petronas twin towers which have a bridge linking them part way up (again featured in a James Bond movie). It was closed the day we were there but I was not bothered as time was limited. I walked on towards the KL Tower, stopping on the way for lunch in a ‘hawkers’ market where I had a chicken curry for just 5 ringgit (less than £1).
The walk to the KL Tower was more strenuous than expected and I was exhausted by the heat when I finally reached it. The KL Tower is the 7th tallest free-standing communications tower in the world and I had planned to use my remaining Malaysian currency to go up to the observation tower. But this time my advance research had let me down as the cost was rather more than expected and more than I had left. Instead I walked through a nearby ‘Eco-Park’ which afforded some good views from the tree-top walkways.
By then I was too tired to continue and caught the free bus again back to the coach pick-up point with plenty of time to spare.
Last night of the cruise
That evening was the last night of the cruise and it proved to be something special and very emotional. I met Kathy and Sheila as usual for dinner, and part way through, all the restaurant staff gathered to sing and wave serviettes. They had done this before on previous nights but this time it was a real party mood and everyone got up and danced around the tables. We entered into the spirit and really enjoyed this very Italian party.
After dinner, again as usual, we went to see the nightly show in the theatre. To be honest the standard of entertainment generally was not great and a few evenings we had sneaked out part way through because it was sending us to sleep. This last night the show had a particularly Italian flavour and again I sneaked out to do some packing as I had to leave my case outside my cabin door by midnight ready for disembarkation next morning. But after quickly hurling most of my clothes (many unworn on the trip) into my case, I re-joined Kathy and Sheila. I soon found then in one of the many bars and lounges on board as I knew their favourite haunts. Most had music of some sort but mostly the music was more suitable for ballroom or samba which did not appeal to us. However this last night we found one where we could really get up and dance and had a thoroughly good time using our drinks packages to the max.
At the end we had a very emotional good-bye as we knew we were unlikely to see each other the next day. We vowed to stay in touch and they have convinced me we will meet again one day. They even said they will come to my Dumbleton Days event next year (they can’t this year). Well we’ll see – it’s a long way to come from Australia.
Disembarkation and Jewel
I had to leave the ship by 9am the next day. But my flight home was not until the evening and I did not want to traipse around Singapore lugging my heavy case which I picked up at the cruise terminal after it had been taken from my cabin last night. So I took the MRT to the airport where I would spend the day until my flight.
Changi airport at Singapore is not like any other airport I know. It is a most attractive airport with many attractions to keep visitors occupied. It has been voted the best airport in the world several years on the run. I dropped off my case at early check-in so I could explore the airport unencumbered. There are floral and other displays, all over the terminals and a separate domed structure called the Jewel with the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. This was most impressive and I only wished my flight had been later so that I could see the light show that takes place after dark. Besides the usual multitude of shops and restaurants, the Jewel has many trees at all levels with several forest trails through them, and at the top-most level is a canopy park with many floral displays and entertainment features.
Finally it time for my flight in two legs via Abu Dhabi back to Heathrow. The flights were through the night which was extended by 8 hours because of the time zones. But I cannot sleep on flights and after a 4¼ hour coach journey to Nottingham, and a further few hours waiting for and travelling on a local bus to finally get home, it had been nearly 40 hours since my last proper sleep on board the Costa Fortuna. It took several days before my body adjusted sufficiently to accept that I did not need to go to bed in the middle of the afternoon!
It had been a wonderful holiday and I cannot wait for my next cruise. But before I book anything I am going to wait to see how the coronavirus thing pans out. This had not been something to worry me at all on my travels, except that with a ship of a few thousand passengers and crew, someone else might catch the virus and we would all get quarantined. The ship had hand gel dispensers at all restaurants, there had been thermal cameras and hand gel dispensers every time we left and returned to the ship, and similarly on land, at most public buildings, MRT stations, airports (except Heathrow!), etc., throughout my trip.
For many more photos and a video of the last night on the Costa, please click here.