Cruising the South China Sea
Carolynne Dear enjoys a family weekend on a cruise to nowhere.
I packed for a polar expedition. Jeans, fleeces, boots, socks; all the thermals made it into my overnight bag.
But thankfully, and in what was admittedly a bit of an afterthought, I also packed a swimsuit. Because we weren’t actually off to the Arctic, we were cruising from Hong Kong out into the South China Sea, where the weather was sunny and bright and temperatures were still hovering in the high 20s.
To be honest, I think my ill-informed packing choices can be blamed on childhood holiday memories. My last encounter with a large boat was back in Europe in the ‘90s when we used to set sail across the English Channel on our annual family holiday. Hoodies were the order of the day as we stood in a stiff breeze watching the white cliffs of Dover disappear into the distance. A particularly rocky crossing to Holland one year had bitter winds howling and seas roiling as we plunged our way across the North Sea.
And so it was that I couldn’t quite ditch the long-sleeves before boarding our mini-cruise this autumn.
Myself, my husband and my ten-year-old son, Harry, were booked onto a Dream Cruises trip on board World Dream, departing from Hong Kong’s Kai Tak cruise terminal on Friday evening and returning on Sunday morning. It was a cruise on a road, quite literally, to nowhere, slowly meandering its way around the South China Sea while we enjoyed great food, fun entertainment and plenty of Christmas cheer.
The World Dream Christmas theme this year is Alice in Wonderland, with themed-afternoon teas, installations and kids’ activities.
As a cruise novice I was initially reticent about the whole thing – what if it was all a bit, you know, *cruise*? Would I need cruisewear (rather than thermals)? What if we got bored on board? Would we be crammed into a tiny, windowless cabin? What if I got seasick?
I’d acquiesced to the trip because my son has had ‘cruising’ firmly at the top of his bucket list for the last three or four years. He was absolutely delighted to finally get his wish.
Of course, all my fears were completely unfounded. After a slick boarding process (top tip, if you upgrade to Palace class you receive priority boarding), we were shown to our roomy cabin by our private butler, Yuri, who would be taking care of us during our trip.
He immediately busied himself showing us around our accommodation (large double bed – tick; large bathroom with bath and roomy shower cubicle – tick; double sofa-bed fully made up with pull-around privacy curtain for Harry – tick; outdoor balcony and furniture – tick; Nespresso machine – tick).
He then got on the phone to organise our restaurant bookings. There are six dining venues on board, covering Chinese, Japanese, Korean BBQ and hot pot, plus Prime Steakhouse and Seafood Grill.
We opted for seafood on the first night, Teppanyaki for Saturday lunch, a decadent afternoon tea and then Prime Steakhouse for our final evening, carefully squeezing it in before the Christmas show at 9pm.
Having unpacked and tucked away a delicious lobster bisque in the seafood restaurant, we sat out on the Boardwalk and enjoyed a sublime Friday evening. Sipping a chilled glass of wine on a comfy couch as we slid through a sparkling Victoria Harbour was perhaps one of the highlights of the trip.
After a comfortable night’s sleep it was blissful to fling open the balcony doors the next morning and see nothing but blue – gentle ocean waves merging almost seamlessly with the brilliant cerulean sky.
As Palace guests, we were accommodated towards the bow of the boat with slightly more upmarket dining facilities and our own pool. Breakfast was delicious. The buffet included an egg station, plenty of western and Asian choices and waiters on-hand to whip up one more cup of latte, or deliver one more glass of OJ.
On a day as sunny as this, the obvious post-brekkie option was to hit the pool. World Dream boasts two swimming areas, one is open to all, the other is tucked away at the bow of the boat and reserved for Palace guests. The main pool area is more of a water park and features a large swimming pool, hot tubs, an astro-turf play area with plenty of children’s games laid out (think giant Jenga, boules and so forth), a smaller waterpark with slides and fountains and climbing ropes, a couple of gentle waterslides and a whole host of wilder shutes. Towards the stern there was also a climbing wall, golf putting area and a basketball and soccer pitch.
As the main pool deck on the boat, this area can get quite busy, so it was nice to be able to slip through the Palace door and back to our quieter pool. During our cruise this pool was practically empty and we spent most of Saturday lounging in the hot tubs on the bow of the ship, swimming lazy laps and relaxing on the loungers and daybeds. It felt rather decadent to be able to escape a busy Hong Kong weekend of kids’ sports fixtures and the general manic Christmas lead-up.
Our lunch at the Teppanyaki restaurant was a great hit. The friendly Philippine chef had all the tricks up his sleeves, and was soon merrily throwing eggs around, creating maps of Hong Kong out of the fried rice and perfectly grilling Wagyu steak, salmon, scallops and other treats. He kept us entertained for a fun hour.
After lunch I sneaked off to the Crystal Life Spa while my husband took Harry for a kick-around on the soccer pitch. Dream Cruises recently won Best Spa Contributor of the Year and the Grand Jury Award at the 2019 SpaChina Awards. It also took out Best TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) Treatment of the Year for its Tourmaline Thermal Heal, which I was intrigued to try out for myself.
The treatment marries tourmaline, a semi-precious gemstone, with far-infrared rays and heat therapy for a deep relaxation massage. The warmth of the treatment and the gentle rock-and-roll of the boat soon had me drifting off.
Soon it was time to head out for our steak dinner and then on to the Verry Christmas show. This turned out to be a highly enjoyable, energetic and sparkling live performance in the ship’s Zodiac Theatre. We were mesmerised by the acrobatics, daring aerial acts and the LED light show.
On the last morning, we had been warned by Yuri that the ship docked promptly at half-past eight. I awoke to see the Po Tois drifting past our balcony, which spurred us to quickly pack our case and head off for breakfast.
Our eggs and bacon arrived just as we entered Victoria Harbour on a brilliantly sunny morning. And by the time we sailed past Junk Bay, we were tucking into croissants and coffee. At Kai Tak, we were ready with our cases in the priority disembarkation line.
A quick taxi journey home and we were back to reality and Under 10s Sunday morning rugby training.
What we liked
Mum – the (very) competitively-priced spa.
Harry – playing soccer on a cruise ship.
Dad – Teppanyaki Saturday lunch with free-flow beer.
Dream Cruises operates weekly sailings from Kai Tak Cruise Terminal.
Boarding is from 6.30pm on Friday, disembarkation is at 8.30am on Sunday.
The Palace package includes complimentary breakfast, all-inclusive dining, complimentary beverage package, complimentary Little Dreamers Academy at Sea for children aged two to 12 years, butler concierge service, access to Genting Club, Palace Pool, Palace Spa and Palace gym, priority check-in, check-out, embarkation and disembarkation, complimentary WiFi and priority seating for Zodiac Theatre Production shows.
Dream Cruises presents Alice’s Christmas Wonderland until January 16, 2020.