Sea Days and the Philippines

I spent the majority of our first full day aboard the Legend of the Seas lying down. The tail end of Typhoon Haina meant that the captain had changed course to avoid the storm, but the water was still really choppy all day.

We woke up late, and unpacked very slowly (interspersed on my part by lots of laying on the bed) before we eventually showered and had some lunch in the Windjammer Café – the buffet option on Deck 9. After that we found a good spot to settle in the solarium – a pool area with a glass roof (to protect pale Jimi who shouldn’t be exposed to direct sunlight), lots of sun loungers and a small café and bar and stayed there most of the afternoon. We attempted the gym – i.e. I went up with Jimi, then immediately returned to the cabin, though he managed a full (albeit unsteady) workout before we decided to head to dinner. As I didn’t feel up for a sit-down meal we went to the buffet again, but I ended up leaving Jimi to it after about 10 minutes and retreated to the cabin again – staying horizontal was definitely a good strategy. Meanwhile Jimi enjoyed a tasty chilli and some nachos sitting alone in the restaurant, with just the crew for company! When he came back we watched some TV before falling asleep. (Pretty much the most boring day at sea ever).

Luckily though in the night we got close to land and the wind dropped dramatically. The sea stilled. I stopped feeling like I wanted to die. And when we woke up on Friday morning the sun was shining and we could see Manila on the horizon. We were docking later than planned (at 11.00am) because we’d had to sail further to avoid the storm, so had time for breakfast and packing a bag before we docked. We changed (way too much) money at the desk into local pesos before disembarking.

The port was busy – lots of the crew were from the Philippines so had family visiting them on board, and we passed lots of happy faces as we headed out of the port on foot. There were taxis everywhere clamouring for a fare, but as we didn’t have a specific place to head to we kept going on foot, along with some other guests from the ship. We soon got chatting to them – a couple from Australia, and another from England, and together muddled our way to a shopping centre where we headed straight to a McDonald’s in search  of a cold drink and wifi. Unfortunately we didn’t find the latter, but I got a Diet Coke fix which restored my spirit at least.

Jimi and I then bid our new friends farewell and decided to have an explore on our own. The shopping mall was filled with lots of familiar shops (including a new ‘London-style Costa Coffee’) and I had fun dragging Jimi around a bookshop. A man in McDonalds had given us some basic instructions on how to reach Intramuros, the Spanish old-town of Manila so we attempted to set off there. Manila seems to be a city of haves and have-nots – we walked for about 20 minutes towards the old town and saw a lot of poverty, with children begging and washing clothes on the street, while others have expensive cars – Land Rovers with blacked out windows. The streets are quite dirty with lots of litter and open drains (but that may have been partly because the city had just been hit by the typhoon). Along all the streets are stalls with people selling fried plantain or other snacks and boxes of cigarettes. Jimi and I stuck out like sore thumbs!

We walked through Rizal Park on the way to Intramuros, which in the end we found without too much trouble. It was the old walled city from when Manila was first colonised, with wide tree-lined streets and attractive colonial style houses. We enjoyed taking a look at the gardens around the walls of the city, as well as the buildings in Intramuros.

We planned to walk back to the ship once we left the walled city, but found ourselves in a VERY dodgy street, so flagged a taxi down instead (which cost about £3 so a worthwhile investment!) Back on board we went to the Pool Café at the Solarium for some lunch – toasted paninis and salad, before settling in for the afternoon for some reading. When we headed off deck at around 6pm, we could hear a band playing, and realized that there was a local big band set up on the port beside the boat, playing us out. They were great – playing lots of hits like Uptown Funk and Happy, complete with dancers and a flag bearer (who got very into it!) and we stood on Deck 4 watching them for about twenty minutes before going back to the cabin.

As I was feeling better again we headed to dinner at 8.15pm to sit at our set table, which we were sharing with four Australians – a couple, and some friends travelling together. They are all in their seventies and incredibly friendly and chatty – we told them all about moving to Australia and they gave us lots of great advice. Jimi and I hang back after they left to order extra dessert, cheese and coffees (as you do, we can’t be too unrestrained in front of strangers!) before deciding to sample some on board entertainment – allegedly the world’s best juggler, who had a show in the theatre. It was fine, if not spectacular – to be fair it’s hard to make juggling look THAT amazing on a stage, but I’m sure it was very hard. By the time it had finished we just headed back to the room to watch some Friends on TV, before going to be bed.

After Manila, the ship set off for our next stop – Puerto Princesa, but before we got there we had another day at sea. In classic lazy holiday mode, Jimi and I woke so late that we nearly missed breakfast (which ends at 11am) much to Jimi’s disgust.

Luckily the weather was bright and the seas were still very calm, so we changed into our swimwear straight away and headed out on deck to sunbathe. We ate lunch in the solarium again, and read books (or in Jimi’s case, played Football Manager. (He won the league again for the 3rd consecutive season with West Ham, standard)) until the late afternoon when the sun was going down. The sunset was stunning – all purples and golds, and we took some photos on the upper decks before having an impromptu game of mini golf which I WON. Just for the record. (Jimi was disgusted again).

We then went to the gym (!?) before getting changed for dinner in the restaurant with our new friends. After dinner we had a drink in the bar, and chatted to Jill and Russell – the Australian couple that we had met the day before in Manila, and arranged to have dinner with them the next day. They are staying in a suite, so we planned to meet them there first for a drink so we could see what a super luxury cruise stay would be like!

We didn’t go to bed too late, as the next morning we had a 7.30am meet in the theatre for our excursion into Puerto Princesa. Jimi and I grabbed a quick breakfast from the buffet (it was chaos! Everyone was there!) before heading to theatre, where annoyingly we ended up waiting for about an hour for the ship to dock and clearance to be given.

Puerto Princesa used to be a Spanish port, rumoured to be called the ‘princess of ports’ because the sea is so deep, allowing lots of big boats to dock there. Our excursion was to the subterranean river, nearly two hours drive away, and one of the ‘new’ seven natural wonders of the world (I think there was some sort of vote). Because the roads were quite narrow, our small group of 8 people had a minibus and driver to take us to the river. First thoughts of Puerto Princesa were that the roads (and drivers!) were insane. As well as the Jeepneys we saw in Manila (aluminium stretch Jeeps, used like taxis with open sides and back), there were lots of locals on Tricycles – motorbikes with small covered side-cars, which were zipping in and out of traffic. Our minibus driver was absolutely mental – we overtook most of the other buses, often at speed, usually only just avoiding head-on collisions with other traffic and there was a terrible moment when we nearly killed a child (we just beeped and luckily they jumped out the way). Apparently we found out later that one of the other buses ran over a dog, so we should probably have counted ourselves lucky…

We made it to the ferry port, which was a very casual affair – a covered waiting area with some picnic tables, and lots of locals trying to sell us things like sunglasses, or dead butterflies in picture frames. We had to wait about 15 minutes before we boarded a catamaran style ferry boat, with bamboo outriggers for balance. They only held about 8 people each so we went with our minibus party.

The journey took about 20 minutes across the bay, and we docked on a beach, having to jump into the water about waist height, which was unfortunate as we had worn trainers – luckily we had time to slip them off. The beach was very pretty – white sand and palm trees, giving way to jungle behind.

Unfortunately it was incredibly disorganised on the island, so we had no idea where we were meant to be going! Eventually someone in our group took charge, and after picking up our audio headsets we walked a short way on a path through the jungle before reaching a river and small dock. It was really busy with lots of tourists so it took a while before we could get on a boat, with stylish helmets to wear. The boat was steered by a local guide, who took us into a large cave, which the river flowed into. The cave was impressive – the river stretches for 8km but only the first couple of kms are navigable by boat. It’s pitch black other than the torches from the boats, and the rock formations are incredible, though everyone liked to say it all looked like Jesus. Or the Titanic. Our boat driver kept humming Celine Dion…

There are lots of stalagmites and stalactite formations, but (in my opinion more excitingly) thousands of bats which swoop overhead. We were told to keep our mouths firmly closed throughout! The tour took about 40 minutes, and when we reached the shore again there were MONKEYS there! I got very close to one with a video camera and then it snarled at me and I FREAKED OUT. But still cool to see. On the walk back to the beach we also spotted a massive monitor lizard – a bit like a komodo dragon, though not as big (still about 4ft long though!)

On the boat back to shore it poured with rain and we all got soaked. The end of the tour took us to the Sheridan Hotel resort for lunch, which was a bit pants though the hotel looked nice with a pool and a private strip of beach. We got wifi there which was a bonus so Skyped home, before getting back in the DEATH minibus again for an even more exciting wet-road ride back! (At one point all four wheels locked as we went round a bend. THRILLING TIMES.)

Back on board we spent some time in the solarium (i.e. napping, though Jimi is keen to say for the record that he finished a book!) before getting ready for dinner. Mum and Dad had ordered a bottle of prosecco to our room when we arrived on board, so we took that with us to Jill and Russell’s suite for pre-dinner drinks. They’d also got a lot of snacks and cheese together from the special bar that suite guests can access, so we admired their room while quaffing chicken wings and some hot-dog canapés.

The suites are big, about double the size of our room, with a balcony large enough to fit two sun loungers! And they get real toiletries in the bathroom. A level of luxury we can only dream of. We went to the restaurant and sat together for dinner, which was great – especially as Russell had ordered Crème Brulees the day before which the chef had made for the table for dessert. They were the best dessert we’d had so far and apparently the best dessert Royal Caribbean do – a top cruise tip for all you readers!

After dinner we said goodnight, and headed back to our room to watch some American Football on ESPN. And I know you’ll be pleased to hear that Jimi and I are getting closer to understanding the rules…

More soon!


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