Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Agony and the Ecstasy: Highlights of Asia and Review of Millennium

I took my sweet time writing the recap and review of this trip. I needed to mentally recover and not come across as too negative. We had many great experiences over this three week trip but there were also some disappointments. While trying not to complain or sound crabby, we soldiered on and made the best of challenging situations. Many of the low points were out of our control and while we did not exactly embrace the chaos, we tried to find a "happy place" to get us through the rough spots.

So much goes into planning for a trip like this that there are bound to be some bumps in the road and obstacles along the way. The following is a brief recap of what was outstanding and what we would perhaps prefer to forget.

Outstanding Experiences

* The weather - Sounds simple but pouring down rain and steaming city pavements can hamper any resilient traveler. We were so lucky during this trip to experience fantastic weather. The temps in the UK were cold as expected for December but we had clear skies. Shanghai and Hangzhou even in early December were delightful during the day. At night the temps would drop but bundling up was fun too. Southeast Asia, known for being wet and humid was never sweltering and it was actually quite comfortable to walk around in all the cruise ports.

* Christmas Decorations - The amount and diversity of the Christmas lights and festive scenes was fabulous. In Shanghai, Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon and Hong Kong we were delighted with the spectacular and creative illuminations.

Christmas Lights Orchard Road, Singapore

* Hotels - I have an admitted weakness for swanky hotels. Our accommodations were stunning during the entire trip and made up for our rather drab stateroom on the cruise. It is hard to designate one hotel as our favorite. The Waldorf Astoria in Shanghai and the Siam Kempinski in Bangkok were two standouts.

Queen Double River View Room  Waldorf Astoria Shanghai

* Flights - Hands down our flight on Cathay Pacific from Hong Kong to San Francisco was fabulous and leaves the rest in the dust.

Cathay Pacific Business Class (Seat 18A)
*Shopping - There was were so many shops but so little time! Shanghai had the most stylish and unique shopping. Singapore had a great selection and many reasonable brands like Zara. We had fun during our shopping tour in Saigon. The shopping in Hong Kong was expensive and also intimidating. It was hard to compete with the young 20-somethings showering the city with cash.

Khai Silk on Dong Khoi, Saigon

* Food - Food, glorious food! Where to start? Off the ship we had some great meals. From yummy dumplings in Shanghai to crispy spring rolls in Saigon, we did not go hungry. With the exception of the food in the ship's specialty restaurants our meals on Celebrity Millennium were below average and at times uneatable.

* Guides - Both of our private guides with Viator were fabulous. We loved having the special attention and the price was so reasonable.

Wish We Could Forget

There were times during the cruise where patience was a virtue and when a complimentary Xanax would have been welcomed. I won't go through an entire litany of grievances about our Celebrity Millennium cruise. By reading the blog that is pretty well covered. On a high note, our room was clean and quiet. We enjoyed the specialty restaurants and had made it to Hong Kong safely.

Basically, the lack of organization on the ship. disappointing food and inadequately trained staff made this cruise unsatisfactory. Celebrity used to provide value for the money. Unfortunately that no longer appears to be the case. We also felt under appreciated and taken for granted. Regrettably we have decided not to cruise with Celebrity and  take a "leave of absence" for a while. Other lines like Crystal and Oceania will be where we will look to sail on in the future. I have even reconsidered Princess but only on their smaller "R" class ships. There will be more about this at the end of this post. You can read my full Cruise Critic member review of the Millennium cruise here:

Highlights & Lowlights:

*Cruising Highlight - The smartest choice I made was booking the Halong Violet for our overnight junk cruise in Halong Bay. The Violet and Halong Bay were outstanding and the highlight of the entire cruise. The Violet was beautiful, our room was a palace and the views of Halong Bay were unforgettable.

*Best Ship Excursion - There wasn't one. We booked two ship excursions. One in Hoi An and another one in Halong Bay for day 2. The Hoi An "On Our Own" tour should have been stress free and an enjoyable way to experience this town. However, having the passengers negotiate the departure time with the guide was challenging and put us all in a bad mood. The guide marching us down the streets of Hoi An just to show  us the Chinese market didn't win any points either. Our second ship excursion "Shopping & Countryside" tour which was on the second day in Halong Bay was both agonizing and disappointing. It was more memorable for what we did not see than what we did see. No actual trip to the Yen Tu Pagoda, no shopping and no farm. It was a disaster.

*Favorite Harbor View - Shanghai. While Hong Kong is traditionally celebrated for its glorious harbor, we were mesmerized by Shanghai and the views of Pudong.

Shanghai view of Pudong

*Worst Experience: Getting sick at the tail end of the cruise. I think I picked up my cold in Vietnam. I was sick for the last 4 days on the ship with congestion but thankfully no cough. That all changed when I got home on December 24th. While traveling and being sick was a challenge, when I woke up Christmas Day I had completely lost my voice. I could barely whisper. Two days later my voice gradually came back but it was all downhill from there. Coughing, a temperature of 102 for 4 days, aches, sweating, chills...I thought it was the end. While the words Florida and Doctor may be an oxymoron, I had no choice but to go to Urgent Care. One hour after sitting in the waiting room and seeing the physician (who turned out not be a real doctor) I got a prescription for z-pak and an antibiotic that did nothing. I was back at Urgent Care two days later, waited three hours to see the doctor coughing away the entire time and spreading my Vietnamese flu around the room. This time I saw a real doctor and he tested for pnuemonia (negative) and flu (also negative). Stymied he also tested for TB. That was negative too. A prescription of Levequin and a strong cough medicine had me on the mend in less than 48 hours. I don't remember ever being so sick before.

*The Proof of the Pudding is in the Tasting: This was our first experience with a private tour organized through the Cruise Critic Roll Call. Our fellow passengers in the group were very nice. The problem was mostly with the tour company, Smile and the aggressive salesmanship and weak performance of the guide. I know the RC private tours are popular to save money but it was not for us. We won't be doing this again.

*Best evening show: Impression West Lake. The performance on the West Lake in Hangzhou was magical and so worthwhile even when freezing watching it outside in the cold.

Impression West Lake, Hangzhou

*Most disappointing hotel: Four Seasons West Lake. While the staff were nice and helpful the hotel itself seemed very sterile and with its long white corridors more closely resembled a Swiss health clinic.

*Best Dinner -This is a hard one. It is a tie between Aqua Tokyo in Hong Kong and in Lost Heaven in Shanghai.

Dinner Aqua Tokyo, Hong Kong

*Worst Dinner: The Peking Duck at the Four Season Hangzhou. I still feel sorry for our unfortunate duck who was sacrificed for this horrible dinner.

*Best Lunch: Morning Glory in Hoi An. The tea rose dumplings, pancake and springs rolls were all yummy.

*Worst Lunch: The snack served on the Turbot Jet on the return to Hong Kong from Macau. Mystery tuna, soggy bun, gelatin cabbage. Need I say more?

*Best Dessert: The ice cream at Fanny's in Saigon was so fresh and light. Absolutely delicious.

Fanny's Ice Cream, Saigon

*Most terrifying moment: There were two! 1) Trying to cross the street in Saigon the first time. There were so many motorcycles but they magically know how to go around all the pedestrians. 2) Having the taxi almost drive away with our luggage at the Singapore cruise terminal.

*Favorite Museum: The Queen Sirikit Textile Museum in Bangkok was enchanting. Not only were the gowns and outfits amazing to look at but the building's interior was remarkable and greatly enhanced the experience.

*Most interesting Buddhist Temple: The assortment of buildings at Bangkok's Grand Palace was unparalleled. The Lingying Temple in Hangzhou is a close second but we did not have time to see all of it.

*Surprises - The amount of squat toilets in very modern Singapore was a stunner. I would never have imagine that Takashimaya in Singapore would not have modern facilities

*Wish I had more time for: Shopping in Bangkok's amazing malls & Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

*Most over-hyped: The shop at the Jim Thompson House. It was too commercial for my taste. They hardly sold any clothing and the items in Singapore were actually more appealing than those in the main shop in Bangkok.

*Where I would go back to in a minute: Shanghai

*Won My Heart: The Toto toilet at the WA Shanghai with the motion activated lid and electronic gizmos was like making a new best friend. Just walking by the lid would pop up as if to say "hi".

Toto Toilet, Waldorf Astoria Shanghai

*Favorite Cruise Terminal: Marina Bay Cruise Center in Singapore. Gorgeous, Gleaming, brand new, excellent staff. What is not to like?

*Best Buffet: Evening buffet in the Clipper Lounge at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong. Amazing!

Mandarin Oriental Evening Buffet
*Favorite purchase: The folding silk boxes I bought in Hong Kong were beautiful and also so easy to pack. They made great gifts.

*Favorite Afternoon Tea: Cliveden House in Taplow, UK. It was wonderfully presented and delicious.

That about wraps it up for this last adventure. We saw some amazing places and met lots of great people. I wish the cruise would have been better but you win some and you lose some.

It has only been a few months since our return. In early January I cancelled a cruise on the Celebrity Infinity to the British Isles for August 2013 I had booked during the spring. I was very happy to get my deposit back and even happier not be cruising on a Millennium class ship.

I have been looking for a replacement for this cruise and may have finally found one. While I am not a huge fan of Princess they have something that may work perfectly. The Ocean Princess will be sailing the British Isles this summer on 8 day runs. The ship is a medium size ship with just 700 passengers. Itinerary for the British Isles includes an overnight in Edinburgh and visits to Dublin, Milford Haven (Wales) and Guernsey in the Channel Islands. I put a deposit down last week. I also sent a request to Princess to disembark in Guernsey where we can overnight and then the following day take the ferry to Saint Malo, France. Yes, I know, I am making this into another adventure!

I will have to make a decision by early June if we will be doing this cruise but currently it looks like a go. The only other impediment would be the cruise takes place in late August which is hurricane season. Princess has the "cancel for any reason" insurance so we could still pay for it without worrying too much.

Next week we will be going to Miami where we have been invited to have lunch and visit the Oceania Riviera. I have been drooling at the thought of cruising on Marina or Riviera since they were both launched. Very much looking forward to this opportunity! Will post a full report when we return.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

SFO Airport and the Journey Home

Sometimes the best part of a trip can be when you get to go home. I know this sounds contradictory.  As exciting it is to visit new places and have some great experiences, after a week I start to miss the dogs and my daily routine. In fact sometimes after planning a trip and doing all the research, booking hotels and tours I feel almost satisfied not to go at all. Sure would save a lot of money! I have so much fun in the planning stages that at times the actual experience doesn't live up to the hype. There have been many high's and low's on this trip. We did our best to roll with the punches but I am very happy to be starting our journey home. Traveling with a cold has been a challenge during the tail end of this trip. Mother is not sick yet which I am very grateful for.

I appreciated a good night sleep and the Hilton beds were very comfortable. We woke up well rested for our early 7:45 am departure from SFO. We dressed quickly and brought the luggage down to the Hilton lobby to wait for the shuttle.

Being half awake I think there were about 7 other people waiting for the bus. As promised, the glistening shuttle bus arrived right on time. The bus interior was very luxurious with large leather comfy seats. We made a pit stop at the Marriott to pickup a few more passengers and then we disembarked at the first SFO stop which was Delta Airlines.

The bags were still wrapped from Hong Kong but we removed some of the tags. We had checked in with Delta online so just needed to deposit the two hardsided bags. We are traveling in business class for this segment to Atlanta.

I am down to two small bags plus a bag from the Ming Fook Tong tea store.

Tea Set

I definitely need to make a point of traveling lighter next time. Having multiple small bags is annoying. The combination of hot and cold climates made packing a little more challenging this time.  In addition, I  purchased a few items that I had to squish into already tight spaces.

Hungry and unaware of what Delta had in store for us meal-wise, we decided to try our luck with breakfast at Perry's in the airport. The restaurant was busy but they seemed to be well organized. We were seated at a table and after taking our order we were asked what time our flight was departing.

I feel like I am getting sicker by the minute and may have a temperature. I am very congested and it is amazing with the long flight from Hong Kong that I can still hear anything. I have become the "tissue queen" and have been collecting and disposing of them  like they are going out of style.

Breakfast was taking a while but we still had plenty of time and did not need to rush. The food finally arrived and I regretted not ordering something a little less colorful so early in the morning. If you ever wondered where the pink slime originates, it comes from Perry's at the San Francisco airport!

Corned Beef Hash

The corned beef hash was hot but not very tasty and was a little too unsightly to enjoy. I kept moving it around the plate with my fork hoping unrealistically that somehow it would improve. Mother had toast and coffee.

We "finished" breakfast and went to the gate around 7:10 am and boarded the plane shortly thereafter. I specifically chose this flight because it is a wide-body (767) and using a combination of miles and cash could sit in Business Class.

We have flown Delta regularly both domestically and internationally and prefer it to the other U.S. legacy carriers. However, perhaps due to our over the top experience yesterday on Cathay Pacific we were in for a bit of a let down. Apparently this aircraft continues on from Atlanta to Frankfurt but I was surprised how old it looked. The seats were weird and my mother's hardly reclined. The IFE was very limited and the screen was like a postage stamp. We did have more space than in Economy but for Business Class it wasn't so great. We have flown in Business Class on Delta to Rome, Barcelona and Madrid and I don't remember it looking like this.

There was a young couple in the center row near us who were flying to Atlanta and then to their final destination in North Carolina. Somehow the headrest of the girlfriend's seat became unhinged and she couldn't reattach it. Doesn't sound like a problem except for the metal spikes that were now protruding out. She sat on her boyfriend's lap while maintenance was called to assist. In the interim the co-pilot attempted to fix it before help arrived. After 10 minutes of fuddling with it the headrest was in place and we could now depart.

The safety demonstration was strange. We could hear it but there was nothing to look at. The flight attendants weren't even in the aisle demonstrating the life vest, seatbelt or pointing out the exits.

We taxied out but did not get very far. I could feel us slowing down and looked outside and saw we had pulled over to the side and were not headed to the runway. It was either a mechanical or security issue, neither of which would be good. The captain came over the PA to tell us that unfortunately the left engine (which I could see from my seat) was not working properly (he said it was line problem) and we would have to go back to the gate to see if they could fix it. It started to rain a little while we were parked at the gate.

Waiting for the engine to be repaired

While at the gate we waited anxiously to hear if we would have to deplane or if they could fix the problem. After about 35 minutes the Captain said they were going to test the engine again. We waited about 20 minutes until he reported that the problem did not appear to be occurring again. He said they had to complete some paperwork and then we could takeoff.

By this time the rain had stopped and the sun came out.

Cleared for takeoff

After the paperwork was done and we taxied again it was 2 hours later. This meant we and several other passengers would miss our connections. At least it is a nice sunny day and seemed great for flying. I thought it was odd that they did not conduct the safety demonstration a second time. We just taxied and took off.

Departing SFO Airport
I had inserted my Earplanes when the door was shut as I experienced some pain when we descended the night before on the Cathay flight. Using the Earplanes meant I could not hear that well or use the headphones for the inflight entertainment. Instead I spent time looking out the window at the beautiful scenery.

Beautiful view of California

The flight from San Francisco to Atlanta is 4 hours. It felt a lot longer though. With the exception of the pilot and co-pilot, the flight crew seemed very odd. There were two older ladies working in our section that were pleasant but it felt a bit like...well a nut house! The older granny-type woman was plying the young NC couple with liquor throughout the flight. They didn't look like big drinkers although the girlfriend definitely had a strong preference for Bailey's as evidenced by the 5 little bottles on her tray.

When the other female attendant asked my mother if she wanted something to drink she didn't ask if she wanted something alcoholic. I was pretty much oblivious to this and only heard about it later. I was trying to watch the limited offerings on the IFE. They announced over the PA earlier that you could use wifi enabled devices. However it was soon obvious that the wifi was not working. No one cared to mention that this was the case. I kept trying but finally gave up.

They served a meal which I declined and I just tried to snuggle into my seat against the window for the remainder of the flight.

About and hour before we arrived in Atlanta my mother and I talked about how we should get home. Our connecting flight to Florida was on AirTran. Delta was therefore under no obligation to compensate us or assist us with rebooking. I was worried that if we missed the flight our ticket was worthless and we would need to buy a new one. I have never missed a connecting flight before so this was a new experience. As it was Christmas Eve I was worried we would be stuck in Atlanta and might have to drive home or fly to an alternate airport. One of the flight attendants told us to speak with the Delta representative when we landed. If my brain was not so clogged and floating around my congested head I would have known that this was a waste of time.

My mother walked up to the flight attendants to ask about what do about our missed connection. She was also upset that she was not offered a glass of wine and mentioned that too. About 20 minutes later, the head flight attendant came to our seats and apologized for not mentioning that alcohol (wine) was included in the drink selections. She insisted she meant ANY kind of drink during the initial beverage service. That however was not clear at the time. My mother has dry eyes and they tear up when she is tired. While the flight attendant was speaking, mother's eyes kept tearing and the flight attendant kept apologizing and said "please don't cry!". My mother kept saying "that's okay". They attendant would repeat again "please don't cry'. Mother would say "that's okay". They were just going in circles and it seemed like it a very bad dream. I thought I was going insane.

With tears streaming down mother's cheeks, the flight attendant seemed a little shaken. She offered to give us both miles to compensate us for our libation grievance.  I said jokingly "okay 50K miles would be great!". That didn't fly but she did bring the hand held device and we each received 2000 miles. It was a pittance but was still appreciated. After we got home I wrote to Delta about our entire flight experience. I mentioned the improper safety demonstration, poor seats, missed drinks and no wifi. I also added that it appeared that one of the flight attendants was serving a young couple too much alcohol.  I received an apology and an additional 7,500 miles.

We landed in "Hotlanta" and after deplaning waited a couple of minutes to speak with the gate agent. Naturally, he immediately told us to to go Airtran. We looked at the monitor and our flight had not departed yet so perhaps we could still make it! Of course we would have to sacrifice our checked luggage and figure out how to get it home later. I did not look at the gate location on the monitor. I used what it said on the boarding pass. Unfortunately I realized too late that the gate number had changed and we needed to go to a different gate in the opposite direction. When we arrived, they had just closed the door and we missed the flight by minutes. However, we still needed to claim our bags so this was actually not that tragic.

We went to the AirTran customer service counter which was near gate C17. It turned out there was no need to worry as the agent put us on the next flight that would depart at 7:00 pm. Our original flight departed at 4:35 pm. It was now almost 5:00 pm by the time he printed our new boarding passes. He gave us great advice that mother should stay in the concourse with the little bags and I should go to baggage claim to get the two cases from the Delta flight. The agent advised that since it is Christmas Eve there could be a lot of people traveling tonight and I should hurry.

I took that advice whole heartily. I left the bags and my jacket with mother and just carried my small purse and boarding pass. The Earplanes worked great and I experienced no pain and could hear fine. I was worried about not having enough time, so sprinted  like the devil through concourse C to the train and then to the baggage area. I asked where the Delta luggage was and found the numbered carousel. Apparently we were not the only ones who had not claimed our bags as about 15 bags were on the now motionless steel belt. My bag was heavy at the beginning of the day, but adrenaline had kicked in and I quickly wheeled my bag and mother's simultaneously through the terminal like a speed demon. I arrived at an almost deserted AirTran counter to deposit the bags. I must have sounded like a babbling idiot because I was speaking rapidly to the agent on about checking two bags... that my mother was in the concourse...and we missed our flight, blah, blah, blah. The nice AirTran employee looked at the boarding pass and me and said "no problem you are in Business Class and can each check a bag for free". Phew! I was worried since mother was not there she wouldn't accept her bag. She tagged the luggage and I continued my run through the terminal and to security where there were hardly any people. Yeah! Whizzed through and called mother while I was on the train headed back and reported "mission accomplished". I looked at my watch and was amazed that it only took 20 minutes from the time I left Concourse C to when I returned on the train. I thought it would take at least an hour.

I called the petsitter and gave her the good news that we would be home tonight. I had called earlier in a panic when we landed in Atlanta and told her I did not know if we would make it home so if she could feed and "water" the dogs I would appreciate it. I didn't expect anyone to stay overnight since it is Christmas Eve.

Darlene, our petsitter was happy to hear we would be make it back but added that one of her helpers was willing to stay with the boys if we couldn't get a flight. We are so lucky to have such great petsitters. Extremely relieved, we went to the AirTran gate to wait for our flight. Mother was hungry and I really did not want to stop to get anything when we got home. We went to the Chik-fla counter and each ordered a sandwich which we brought back to the gate. I was very lucky my voice was still working. I would quickly find out the next day how difficult it would have been talking on the phone with the petsitter and in person with the agents as my illness worsened.

I have never flown on AirTran before or a 717 Boeing aircraft. So this was going to be a first. I was very impressed by the service from the moment we went to the customer service desk. The rep at the bag checkin was also very nice and I appreciated their efficiency. There were only 4 of us in the Business Class section (one was an employee). The windows were so dirty though that it was hard to see out. We took off right on time and had a very smooth flight. I had stopped taking photos once we arrived in Atlanta but wished I had a few to commemorate my experience in the airport as well as the flight.

We landed at about 8:30 pm and our luggage appeared about 10 minutes later. I think there were about 11 bags in total from everyone on the plane. Our driver was there to meet us and as it was Christmas Eve, I don't know if he or I were more happier that the flight was on time.  I was thrilled to be home and the boys were happy too!

Finally Home

Looks like someone needs a bath!
Siebren is very happy too!

I will next post a recap of the trip and list some of the high's and low's. I promise to focus more on the high points and not dwell on what was out of our control.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 15 - Hong Kong, China & Macau

Yippee! We get to disembark this morning. We stopped at the Guest Relations desk last night to find out what time we can leave the ship. We did not receive any information in our room on the disembarkation procedure or schedule. Of course we were stuck speaking with Malika (sp?) at the Guest Relations desk who has a surly attitude like nurse Ratchet and would probably have been just as happy if we had jumped overboard. She is the same person who told us to call the ship when we were thinking of flying from Bangkok to Saigon due to the extensive passport delay instead of returning to port. About not returning to ship, she cheerily said "Call and let us know" but did not provide a phone number. I have no idea how we would have called and now we don't have to wonder anymore as we are leaving this dismal mess.

We skipped breakfast and mother made coffee in the room with her French press. We took our last lap past the lounge to exit the ship.

Around 8:15 am we took our bags down in a delightfully empty elevator to the gangway. Seapass card inserted and "bing!" we were now unencumbered from this quagmire of 14 days on and off the Millennium.

We asked one of the port staff if we could bypass the mall with all our luggage and go straight down to the taxi area. We had 2 rollerboards plus 2 smaller bags each. At first we were told "no" but after pleading and a little whining "but we were told we could do this yesterday" (which was true) he and another worker graciously escorted us in the elevator directly down to the area to wait for a taxi. I think it helped when we said this was all the luggage we had. We were very happy we did not have to traipse through the mall again and this time have to maneuver down escalators with our baggage.

The taxi line was very long and consisted of about 8 twisting and turning barricade lanes. We got in line with everyone else who were either going to hotels or to the airport. We spied a man with a large bag from Chinese Arts & Crafts. My mother said, "that is a very nice store". He smiled and said, "where are you from"? Perhaps he was worried we were coming to his home to relieve him of his new merchandise?  He was Chinese and going home to California.

As we approached the front of the line we were entertained by the interesting method of loading the bags into the sedans. Most of the trunks were popped open with the luggage hanging out as the cars drove away. Many people had a lot of luggage! One couple had two taxis, one for them and the other for the luggage. A young family of 5 had the husband go in one taxi with the bags and the mother and the three little kids were in a separate car. Finally it was our turn and we easily fit the rollerboards  in the trunk in addition to our 3 small bags. I kept one of the other bags with me and mother also was holding a small tote. Our destination is the airport where will checkin the hardsided luggage and store the smaller bags for the day while we visit Macau.

On our way to the Hong Kong Airport

Prior to finalizing this plan we debated the possibilities as we researched what to do with the luggage for the day. There were lots of options including a locker at the Macau ferry terminal in Kowloon or Central or even booking a hotel room. The airport made the most sense since we could leave the bags there and not have to make a special stop to pick them up on the return. The fact that there are not a lot of lockers and that they are various sizes made the decision easy. The drive to the airport took about 45 minutes.

Drive to the airport
I called Cathay Pacific before we departed for the cruise to ask if there was a baggage wrapping station at Hong Kong Airport. I was told it did not exist. The online info for the airport and any searches I did also came up short. After we arrived at the airport our first stop was the information desk in Terminal 2.  They said baggage wrapping is located in aisle D. Yeah! It was only about 20 yards from where we were standing..

Instead of the saran wrap style of Siba in Europe, in Hong Kong they put a thick plastic bag over the carryon and then fasten it with heavy straps.

My bag getting wrapped

The finished product is very secure and nicely done.

Very impressed with the service
The fee to wrap was very reasonable and they did a great job! I was very impressed. Once the bags were wrapped we went to Cathay Pacific to drop off the luggage. We had checked in online the other day. The Business class counter only had a few people at this hour and we did not have to wait long.

Although we already checked in we received new boarding passes. Each bag was weighed and the service was great.

Our next destination was to walk to Terminal 1 to store our other bags at the Left Luggage counter. It was a bit of walk but I had a cart (with wheels that seemed to be stuck in the opposite direction) for the 4 smaller bags. This area was very busy and we noticed other Millennium passengers including some of our bus mates from the Hoi An tour in Vietnam. They tagged each bag and gave us a printed receipt with a location number. I decided to hold onto the receipt instead of mother having to forage for it later.. It cost 100 HKD for each bag for 9 hours. You pay when you return to pickup the bags.

Now "bag free" except for a small Tumi tote with the iPad and some maps we were on our way. We walked back toward Terminal 2 to take the Airport Express to Central and then change to the Island Line to get to the ferry for Macau.

We purchased a roundtrip Airport Express ticket as that was less expensive than buying two separate one-ways. The fare was $100 HKD.

Airport Express Ticket

The Airport Express was very nice. Much better than the Maglev in Shanghai in my opinion. The ride is about 26 minutes to go to Hong Kong station.

Airport Express 
You could keep your bags with you at your seat or put them on the racks near the center of the train. There are just a few stops but the overhead diagram was helpful letting us know our progress.

Diagram of stops

We exited the train at Hong Kong Station and then changed to the Island Line to get to the Ferry Terminal. The Macau Ferry departs from Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the airport. However we could not depart from the airport as that is only for people in transit.

We arrived at Shun Tak Centre which is located in Sheung Wan. There were so many people! Looks like going to Macau right before Christmas is not such a good idea. The monitors list the ferry departure times and then you go to the line showing that time lit up in the window. We decided to travel in Super Class as it is nicer than the regular seats and it was also leaving sooner. However, we forgot we need to go through passport control when departing Hong Kong.

Walking to the ferry
We purchased our tickets at the Super Class window for the 12:15 pm ferry. The regular ferry class had very long ticket lines. When we arrived at Passport Control the line seemed to go on forever! It took us 25 minutes to get cleared and by that time we only had 5 minutes before the ferry was scheduled to leave. We arrived at the boarding area and I showed our tickets. They said the boat had left and they would put us on the next one. We were shown to the lounge for Super Class passengers. The lounge was nice but I would rather have not missed the ferry.

Super Class Lounge

We were told the next ferry would leave at 1:30 pm which seemed too long. I went up to look at the monitor and saw another ferry was leaving in 7 minutes. The gate number said #9 which was far from where we were seated. We ran to the gate and they waved us through!

Running to the TurboJet
I was way ahead of mother and waited for her as I gave our tickets to man at the gate and in return received boarding passes with assigned seats. We were in row 2. Mother finally caught up as I kept looking behind me before I walked onto the ferry. Very happy to be onboard and on our way to Macau.

The travel time from Central to Macau is about 55 minutes. The ride was very smooth. They served a snack shortly after departing. The lunch came covered and when I removed it I was disappointed the meal was not Chinese.

TurboJet Snack
The description was Spanish Beef and Pasta. It was just okay. It was hot and the meat was not too fatty. It actually was much better than what we had on the return trip.

Spanish Beef with Pasta

The seats don't seem that "super" but there is more room in this area and you get a snack.

Lots of people dozing after their meal

They are currently building a bridge between Macau and Hong Kong. It is called the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge. When finished it will consist of a series of tunnels and bridges connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. The longest bridge section will be 14.2 miles. Construction began on December 15, 2009 and is expected to be completed in 2015 with the bridge officially opening in 2016. I think this will make the trip much easier and faster. I read the trip will only take 30 minutes.

Bridge linking Hong Kong and Macau
The view out the window was appreciated and we had bright blue skies.

View from the window
I read the TurboJet magazine located in the seat pocket which was somewhat entertaining. I noticed there is a show at the Palace Museum of jade from the Qing dynasty. Hope we have time to see it.

As we approached Macau the water became much browner.

Brown water near Macau

We arrived at the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. The boat was tied up and we quickly disembarked but had to go through Passport control in Macau.

TurboJet arrived in Macau
Arriving in Macau
There were tons of people at the passport area and it looked like it was going to take at least half an hour.

Then we spotted the line for senior citizens and the disabled. This line was much shorter and therefore faster. People with children were also using this line.

Sign in Chinese, Portuguese and English
The wait was short and we were soon past Passport Control. We had finally arrived in Macau and walked through the terminal to find a taxi. In the terminal lobby there was an ATM and I withdrew more funds. You can choose Hong Kong dollars or Macau Patacas which are equal in value. I chose the Hong Kong dollars.

While we were in the lobby I was approached by a woman who was offering a tour of the major sights. She showed me a map and described the itinerary. It sounded expensive so we declined. However once we realized how crowded the main streets were and that my mother was not going to like doing so much walking the tour would have been a good idea.

We jumped in a taxi and departed the Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal for the city center.

Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal
The ferry terminal building is very nice but the water is very brown! The drive to the city center was around 15 minutes. I enjoyed taking photos along the way.


Macau is 37 miles southwest from Hong Kong and 90 miles from Guangzhou, China. The territory comprises a peninsula and two islands, Taipa and Coloane.

Macau is now better known for its glitzy hotels and as a  gambling mecca than a faded historic relic. The Cotai Strip has 17 luxury casino hotels and is the worlds biggest gambling hub. Las Vegas king pins Steve Wynn and Sheldon Adelson have built up very successful businesses in Macau.  In fact Adelson's Sands China has 9.210 hotel rooms in Macau which accounts for 40% of the overall supply. In 2012 Macau total casino revenue climbed 14% to a record $38 billion USD. The profits from Adelson's Macau properties have countered sluggish results from his Las Vegas operations.

While the glittering casinos (and tackiness) attracts the Chinese high rollers, we are more interested in appreciating the historical nature of the area.

This former Portuguese colony has a population of 542,000. The size of the island is only 11.39 square miles. The settlement of the city began in 1535 when the Portuguese won rights to anchor their ships offshore. In 1557 Macau became a Portuguese administered trading post and in 1887 a Portuguese colony. On December 20, 1999 the territory was given back to China and is now a Special Administrative Region (SAR).

We soon arrived in the city center with the European designed buildings.

Macau City Center

Passing the ornate and colorful Lisboa Casino

Macau has an interesting mixture of old and new buildings.

The taxi dropped us near Largo de Senado which is in the heart of the historic area. This location is known as Senate Square and is accented by an assortment of baroque buildings surrounding the beautiful black and white mosaic pavers.

The area more closely resembles Europe than Asia.  It was very festive with the Christmas decorations. It must look very pretty at night.

Senado Square with Leal Senado and Santa Casa da Misericordia

Across the square is the Santa Casa de Misericordia (Holy House of Mercy) or as my mother referred to it, the "house of misery". Her translation was a bit off! This mission was established by the first Bishop in Macau in 1569. It was modeled after one of the oldest and most prominent charitable organizations in Portugal. It is responsible for Macau's first western style medical clinic and several other social welfare organizations still in existence.

One of the original roles of the House of Mercy was to provide support for orphans and widows of sailors who died at sea. The majestic white facade represents a simple elegance and sense of tranquility.

Continuing on our walk we next approached the Igreja de Sao Domingos otherwise known as St. Dominic's Church.

St. Dominic's Church

This 18th century building is said to be one of Macau's best preserved colonial baroque structures.

St. Dominic's Church was founded in 1587 by three Spanish Dominican priests who originally came from Acapulco, Mexico. It was here that the first Portuguese newspaper was printed on Chinese soil, A Abelha da China, the Chinese Bee on September 12, 1822.

Lots of tourists in front of St. Dominic's Church

The Chinese roof tiles, timber and large shuttered windows provide an understated charm. Intricate white plastered ornaments and mouldings on the church facade contrast with the yellow walls.

The interior of the church is impressive with carved stucco and a stone altar. There were services going on during our visit.

We continued our walk down the crowded streets of the Rua de San Antonio. This is a very busy shopping street! It was challenging to walk leisurely together and not get crushed. It was unbelievable!

Very crowded streets

We continued down the street with wall to wall people.

The throng of tourists is walking toward St. Paul's Church.

Macau has no shortage of bakeries selling the yummy Portuguese tarts. This is the Choi Heong Yuen Bakery. I had read about the Lord Stowe Bakery but this one was new to me.

Portuguese Tart Bakery
The tarts were 6 dollars each and came in a little paper bag. These were just okay and were not even a close second to the ones we had at the famous Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon. I thought this one was too "eggy" but my mother who actually does not like eggs thought it was delicious!

Egg Tarts
Another popular treat on this street seemed to be peanut brittle. There were several vendors selling it along the street.

Peanut Brittle
The view of St. Paul's is captivating and we continued down the street.

Ruins of St. Paul's Church

The Ruins of St. Paul include the original church built from 1602 - 1640 and the college next to it.

At Rua de Sao Paulo is the base of Macau's most well known historic monument, the facade of St. Paul's Church. It was destroyed by fire in 1601 and again in 1835. The classical baroque facade was crafted by Japanese Christians from Nagasaki.

Macau's "Acropolis"

Almost there!

The view of the ruins was spectacular. My mother decided to wait at the bottom of the steps and did not venture up. Once at the top I could go to the museum and the Fortaleza de Monte. This fort was constructed in the 17th century and houses the Macau Museum. I had to pass on this as I didn't think she would be that patient if I was gone more than 20 minutes.

Although it is just a facade, it was very impressive.

On the other side is the museum and fortress. You can also see the excavations of the ruins.


More ruins

This is the view of the city facing back down from the church.

This lady on the step was carrying her dog as if it was a baby!

I diverted my attention back to the church. The sculptured motifs of the building include biblical images, mythological representations, Chinese characters. Japanese chrysanthemums, a Portuguese ship, several nautical motifs, Chinese lions, bronze statues with images of the founding Jesuit saints and other influences from Europe, China and other parts or Asia.

It was now time to come back down

Once at the base and reunited with my mother, we were approached by some school girls to answer a short questionnaire about visiting Macau. This was so they could practice their English. The girl on the left asked all the questions and her English was pretty good. They did have the ubiquitous "do you think "Macau" is funny, instead of fun. I crossed out the last three letters and explained what the word should be.

They also took photos of us as documentation that they met us and completed their assignment.

Optically challenged Macanese school girls

My mother refused to go back along the street the way we came with the wall-to-wall tourists so we went in the opposite direction. I had no idea where we were headed or would end up but it was a lot less crowded.

We met this couple and their dog as they came up the stairs. The dog is very cute! I am amazed how many dogs get carried around Asia.

There was some more shopping as we continued down the street. This fish shop is called Tai O Fish Maw Shop. Doesn't make me too hungry! If your thing is dried fish, then you would be in luck!

Tai O Fish Maw Shop

We also passed a pharmacy selling traditional Chinese medicine. I was thinking about going inside and asking what I should take for my cold but was worried I might be given Flying Squirrel Dung or some other weird concoction.

I looked up this medicine later and it is very popular for treating strokes. I also read that it contains arsenic and mercury. Yikes! Good thing I did not buy any.

Nice packaging

More Chinese medicine in the window. Wonder if they just sell a normal decongestant?

We came to this interesting alley with this nicely restored pink building. They were also working on the one next door.

Restored building
The alley backs up to St. Paul's Church which you can see behind it.

Interesting Macau Alley
There were just a few more shops before the most interesting part of the street came to an abrupt end.

The interior of the shop was very interesting. The merchandise was displayed along the sides.

We then wandered down the street not knowing at all where we were headed. This building was interesting with all the laundry hanging and apartments above the shops.

This little coffee shop looked intriguing. It was very small but popular.

The next restaurant, the Puffin Cafe was absolutely adorable. We had plans to eat elsewhere in Macau but we should have stayed here instead. The menu was posted outside and had some interesting selections, like pumpkin soup. As far as I could tell, they did not sell Puffin!

Puffin Cafe
This rather elegant shop at the corner caught our eye. A lot of the buildings are rounded instead of straight. Must be a Fung Shui influence. The air conditioners mounted outside seemed unusual.

Eventually we arrived at St. Anthony's Church.

St. Anthony's Church

St. Anthony's was the site of Macau's first chapel and was built in 1558 of bamboo and wood. However, the current structure dates to 1940. The church is a two story building with a simple neo-classical facade.

St. Anthony's Church
This is the plaque in front of the church.

By now we were looking for a taxi and an exit from this residential area. However, we saw absolutely no taxis. Even worse, looking at the map I had no idea where we were or what direction we should walk.

Interesting apartment building

We went inside a pet store and besides seeing the very cute dogs she was grooming, did not make much progress on getting a taxi. The owner told us to walk down the street in the direction we were already headed toward the hospital. We did that but still did not see any.

We went inside this building which is the Firehouse Museum to get assistance. There were two people working inside. They told us that a bus would be a better option and told us #8 should be coming by in 15 minutes.

We stood at the corner looking for the bus but also hoping for a taxi.

Firehouse Museum
It seemed like we were standing here forever but it was probably only 20 minutes. We gave up and started walking down the street. We finally saw a few taxis but they were already occupied. Then bus #8 suddenly whizzed by and I ran after it to the bus stop ahead. When the doors opened I was very disappointed because it was completely packed like a sardine can. Thanks, but no thanks.

We decided to wait for another bus. Just a few moments later I saw a taxi that looked available! I signaled for it and it pulled over and we got in! We were very happy. I asked the driver to take us to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel where we would have something to eat.

On the way, the Wynn hotel car passed by.

Wynn Hotel Car
We were very close to the Wynn Casino as seen below.

Wynn Casino Macau
We soon arrived at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. I had reserved lunch at their main restaurant. However, we were really late and the restaurant closed at 3:00 pm. It was a dim sum lunch which I was looking forward to and I thought it was open all day. We asked where we could get something to eat and they suggested the MGM Grand which was a 5 minute walk.

We also asked about taking the ferry directly from Macau back to the airport. However, the manager explained that this is prohibited for passengers going to the US. We also would not be allowed to leave the secured area to get our bags in the left luggage. Glad he explained it to us.

The manager was so nice and I think he felt sorry for us. He offered to have their hotel car take us back to the ferry terminal so we could return to Hong Kong. It was now past 4:00 pm and that seemed like the sensible thing to do.

I was disappointed I did not get to see some of the other sights in Macau but I wasn't really up for it. There was no charge for the ride to the ferry which was very nice. We drove down Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-Sen and passed some more iconic buildings along the way.

This is the Kun Iam statue in front of the Macau Lan Kwai Fong. The bronze statue combines western and Chinese styles. Kun Iam is the goddess of mercy in Chinese Buddhism. The building behind the statue is the Kun Iam Ecumenical Centre. Inside is literature about Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Kun Iam Statue

Further along the street was this bar and restaurant area.

Bars and Restaurants
Soon we were passing Fisherman's Wharf

Fisherman's Wharf
This is also part of Fisherman's Wharf which is a theme park and opened in 2006. There are 150 stores and restaurants built in the styles of different world seaports. Cape Town, Amsterdam and Venice are among them.

We eventually arrived at the Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal.

Macau Ferry Terminal
Once we purchased our tickets we had to again go through passport control. I am glad we left when we did as it was still very crowded. We boarded the ferry except this one was yellow instead of red and we were sitting upstairs in Super class instead of on the same level coming over. This boat also had a bar.

On ferry returning to Hong Kong
This boat was not as nice. They served a meal but it awful. It was a tuna sandwich with a side of saurkraut. Yuck!

I am hungry but not THAT hungry!
The ride back was very rough. We were really being tossed around. I wondered if we would have to turn back. They announced the bar was closing due to the rough seas.

Rough ride on the return to Hong Kong
The trip took a bit longer but we made it! Glad it was still light out. We went through passport control for a final time and were happy to be back in Hong Kong.

We talked about just returning  to the airport or going somewhere to have dinner in Central. Our flight will not depart until after midnight.

Back in Hong Kong

I had read about the Clipper Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and decided we should head there for either tea or a snack. Obviously I was tired and my cold was getting the better of me. I insisted we walk from the MTR station down the street to get to the hotel. I had studied the map before and knew it was directly down Connaught Road. However, the walk was about 20 minutes and it was getting cold.

Mother was not so thrilled but we continued on our way. I asked directions a few times to make sure we were heading in the correct direction. At one point I wondered if we should cross the street and walk in the enclosed walkway but decided to just keep going.

Near the mid level escalators
We soon could see the Mandarin Oriental sign and were about 5 minutes away. It was so nice to be back in Hong Kong with the less crowded streets compared to Macau!

Just adjacent to the Mandarin is the Jardine House office tower which was formerly known as Connaught Centre.  The building is located at 1 Connaught Place. When it was completed in 1972 it was the tallest building in Hong Kong and Asia.

Jardine House
The round windows has earned the building the nickname "The House of a Thousand Arseholes".
Jardine House is situated in front of the General Post Office.

We were rewarded from our walk with the gleaming exterior of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Exterior of Mandarin Oriental Hotel
There are several excellent restaurants inside but we went to the Clipper Lounge which is somewhat of a Hong Kong institution. We headed up the staircase to the enjoy the  timeless elegance. The Clipper Lounge serves breakfast, lunch, a dinner buffet and afternoon tea. I thought we would be having tea but they were now serving dinner.

We were very hungry so asked for a table without even checking out the buffet in advance. We needn't have worried though.

Looking down at the Mandarin Oriental Lobby
Once seated we gave our drink order and then went to up to the buffet. It was absolutely amazing! Every night they have an evening buffet. We were told that due to the Christmas holiday some of the items are special during this time of year.

It was certainly a popular venue! There were lots of tables of not surprisingly young Chinese.

Clipper Lounge
I loved the selections on the buffet. The fish and vegetables were scrumptious! The hot items were also fantastic. They even had a tuna nicoise. The hand towel came in a plastic packet that you used scissors to open.

Wonderful choices on the dinner buffet
I also ordered a pot of tea which was nice and big and had a covered handle.

I went up for a second plate of seafood. I particularly loved the seared salmon which tasted more like eel. Everything was so good!!!

Yummy seafood. The Salmon tasting eel is on the left side of the plate. 
I usually try not to have a big meal before a flight. I tried a lot of items but did not eat too much. Dessert was also fantastic. They had an ice cream and sorbet area plus a nut and chocolate section.

Great desserts
I took just a few photos of the sushi and buffet area.

The sushi looked so fresh and tasted that way too!
Lots of items to choose from!

We both loved the dinner buffet and look forward to coming back again. I would definitely stay at the Mandarin in Central. There is much more to do on Hong Kong Island. Kowloon is okay but we much preferred it over here.

Now satiated we departed the hotel and walked to the station to take the Airport Express to the airport.  The Airport Express station was very close and it was quite convenient.

We soon arrived back at the airport which was quite striking at night.

Hong Kong International Airport
Our first stop was the left luggage area where we pickup and paid for our stored luggage. It worked out great! We went through security in no time and then up to the Cathay Pacific lounge to see what it was like. We still had several hours before our flight departed.

Part of the huge Cathay Pacific Lounge
We decided to take a walk and check out some of the shopping. We went down one level to look at a tea shop to see if they had the tea set my sister wanted me to purchase for her. She bought one here last year but broke one of the cups.

Fook Ming Tong

Fook Ming Tong is a very nice tea shop that not only sells nice tea sets but have a good selection of loose leaf tea. My sister described her tea set as "blue and white" but gave no other details. I took a few photos hoping that once home, she could order what she wanted from the photos. The company has a website but no photos of their merchandise. Doesn't make any sense to me!

Fook Ming Tong Tea sets
Another tea set
We went back to the Cathay Pacific lounge and took a look around. We did not need any sustenance since we had a fabulous dinner at the Clipper Lounge.

Cathay Pacific dumplings
The lounge is very big and has several separate areas. It is great so you can sit in a quiet area.

We went into a room where there were just about 10 seats and it was very relaxing. There were already a few people there. We soon found out that 4 of them had just completed a cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager to India, Indonesia and East Asia. They were all past Regent cruisers and had a great time. I had to admit that we just completed a cruise on Celebrity which was disappointing. Coming from Regent they didn't seem surprised.

Both couples were "older" and probably in their late 70's to early 80's. One was flying on our flight to San Francisco and the other was on the earlier flight to Los Angeles.

We very much enjoyed our conversation with them and learned a little bit about Regent.

It was not much of a struggle to stay awake until the flight. The couple going to LA departed and soon it was also time for us to head to the gate.

I was the first person in line for the business section. Very impressed they have separate areas for boarding First, Business and Economy classes.

My mother is in seat 17A and I am directly behind her in 18A. I very much like the configuration of the business class seats along the windows. There is lots of privacy and the area is a good size.

Seat 18A

I especially liked the large windows, huge LCD screen and the controls near my seat. I don't think I disliked anything!

The size of the screen is quite impressive

The hand control near the seat also showed the flight duration and how much time had elapsed and the amount of time remaining. It was very useful.

Very comfortable seat and great setup

The large windows were great!

We departed right on time. Our flight time is supposed to be 11.5 hours

Getting ready to depart

The images on the screen were clear and easy to see.

Hong Kong Takeoff

The dinner service was started soon after taking off.

Cheese and fruit were very good and not too big a serving.

I had the grilled shrimp which were good but paled in comparison to our items just a few hours earlier at the Mandarin Oriental.

Grilled shrimp
The seats have lots of privacy. 

We had a strong tail wind and made excellent progress! I watched 3 movies and used the rest room about 8 times! That is a record for me. With all the beverages I am consuming plus my cold I have lots of excess fluids!


Dim Sum snack
Dim Sum
One thing I wish I had taken a photo of was the image from the plane's external camera of Tokyo as we flew over. The plane has an external camera which you can view images on the IFE screen. We flew directly over Japan and Tokyo and the view was fantastic! I was watching a movie at the time but when I went back later to check our flight path confirmed that we had flown directly over Tokyo and a lot of eastern Japan.

The flight went by quickly and we were soon approaching San Francisco.

Approaching San Francisco

We landed an hour early! I loved the flight and cannot wait to fly Cathay Pacific again! We cleared customs quickly, grabbed our bags and went to find transportation to our SFO airport hotel. The SFO airport felt like we had not left China. The information person at the ground transportation desk was "very" Chinese and the person monitoring the taxis was also oriental. Being San Francisco I guess that should not be surprising but in some ways it felt like we were still in Hong Kong.

We took a taxi to the Hilton Bayfront Hotel where we will spend the night. We will depart tomorrow morning for Atlanta and then Florida.