Karen’s Great China Adventure – Shanghai Disneyland

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Enchanted Storybook Castle

From the moment I started planning my China trip I knew a Disney trip was also in order. There’s no way I would pass up a Disney Day!  I thought you might want to know my thoughts and tips for this park.

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Toy Story Hotel

Tip number one

Stay on property.  There are two Hotels on property and they give you early access to the parks among other benefits.

Tip number two

Contrary to how it works in North America, you should buy your park passes at the hotel. If you do this you will receive an extra fast pass that they will book for you on the spot for whatever time you want.

Tip number three

Getting there early is key and you will need your passport to enter the parks.

Tip number four

Still do your research of where the rides are and which ones are the toughest to get on. This park can get crazy.  You can find the map to the park here .

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Treasure Cove

The first bus left the hotel at 710 and I was of course on it. By the time we queued, got through the lines and security we were at in at 740. A whole hour and twenty minutes before everyone else was let in. In that amount of time I was able to get on all of the rides that tend to have big line ups. I was then able to take advantage of the single rider lines.

Once it was time to stop and eat it was starting to get busy. This can only mean one thing in the parks. It time for shows and a character meet and greets where the lines are not long.

Even though the shows were not in English for me I thoroughly enjoyed them. The acrobats and technology incorporated with the shows are second to none.

There is a lack of restaurants in the park and all of the food carts close super early. This is easily rectified by the fact that the park is right next door to Disney Town. For me I wasn’t willing to give up my park time to leave and eat.

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TRON Lightcycle Power Run

After I saw two of the shows the lines were small again to get back on the rides. The longest I waited was 20 minutes in line and that was only once.

I was really impressed with all of the rides. This is a new park so even the old favorites had something different about them. I will not spoil this for you but it does make it worthwhile to go on every ride.

I spent a full 13 hour day here and it was well worth the sore and tired feet.

If you have any questions about Shanghai Disneyland or any other aspect of my trip to China I would love to chat with you and help organize your trip!  Call me at 306-934-3400 or email karen@uniglobevacation.com.

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Karen’s Great China Adventure – Getting Around Beijing & Shanghai

The key to a great holiday in both Beijing and Shanghai is the location of your hotel. You want to choose a location where you are within walking distance to at least one main attraction as well as a subway stop. The subway here is super easy to use. Now you might think that it is easy for me as I travel a lot. Yes, I do travel a lot, but anyone who knows me knows that I don’t usually take public transportation. One big tip before coming is to have a map of the stations either in print or on your phone. Figure out which stop is by your hotel and which stops are at the places you want to see. When purchasing tickets they have the language barrier solved. There are automatic ticket stations which you can change to English. You then pick which stop you want to go to and it will then tell you how much. I never paid more than a dollar to get anywhere and it was quick and efficient.

Cabs can also be a great option. I chose cabs when I had my luggage in tow. The biggest hint for cabs is that the drivers do not speak or read English. You must have your destination address translated for them. When you arrive at your first hotel they are more than happy to help with this. Cabs are also inexpensive. A 45 minute cab ride only cost me about 20 dollars. Now be careful when trying to catch a cab outside of the designated taxi stations or from your hotel. There are still a lot of unregistered cabs. Look for their credentials on the dash and look to make sure they have a meter.

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Now, I’m off to catch the subway and do more exploring here in Shanghai!   Check out our Instagram page for more photos from my adventure as well as others from our team.

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Karen’s Great China Adventure – Solo Travel Doesn’t Have To Be Lonely

In my last blog I spoke of how important a travel agent is when it comes to your vacation planning and problem solving. I am now going to talk about another person who I find just as important, a tour guide. Solo travel has become a very popular, and for good reason – it’s a great way to get to know yourself.

 

This is my very first big solo trip and I still made sure to book a day in with a tour guide. This time I used Urban Adventures with Intrepid. They provide local tour guides to give you a better experience. I booked a tour to the Great Wall of China. Now I know that everything I read says you do not need a tour guide for this but I felt like I did. Being here in a place where no one speaks English can be a little lonely and instead of walking around blindly I wanted an expert to tell me more. It was approximately an hour drive to where we wanted to get to and in that hour I learned so many things I did not know from my pre-trip research. To me this is priceless. I also learned some of the legends surrounding the history of the wall. You can’t get this from a book. While we were joking I learned more things like about their school system and traditions.

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Once we were done we went for a Chinese meal off the beaten path so not where the tourists are. There, I also learned a few more things about what I was eating which is a must in my world. Even if you travel solo, I encourage you to take one guided tour every trip and see what you can learn!

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Karen’s Great China Adventure – When things go wrong

Here’s another example for why you need a travel agent on your next adventure. So you are excited to go somewhere new and love to plan everything and do the research yourself. Why would you need an agent?

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A big adventure requires a lot of research!

Let me tell you how my recent trip started. I had been counting down the days until I could leave on my China adventure. I did so much research and as always had so much fun doing it. I woke up at 4 am on the morning of my departure only to find out my flight was cancelled. Not always the biggest deal to fix but it was in this case, it was February break and there were storms in both the East and the West shutting down flights everywhere. Still at home I tried to call into the airline but was still on hold when my cab arrived and I arrived at the airport. I figured I might as well speak to someone in person. After figuring out that she could not get me out of Saskatoon that day she asked me to come back in a few hours and she would help me fix my flights. Well I, of course, was not going to wait that long to figure out this trip. I had put so much time and effort into it. So far I was 0 for 2 in receiving any help. This is where the agents started jumping in. Before I could get into the office I had two of them looking at the flight options for me. We have priority lines when calling in to the airlines so the hold times are not so long. Long story short, 2 airline agents later my flights were fixed. Only now I would be flying into Beijing instead of Shanghai. I had hotels, insurance, and train tickets to now fix. What a mess from one cancelled flight.

While doing all of the research is fun, fixing something like this takes a lot of work and it is very hard when you are emotionally involved. My advice to you is to remember a travel agent’s job doesn’t end when we book a trip for you.

A big thank you goes out to my agent friends that all helped me to get going on my adventure, I appreciate you!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 20

November 16, 2018 – Komodo Island, Indonesia

Enter the Dragon’s Lair!  Komodo island, part of the Lesser Sunda chain of Indonesian islands, is the rugged habitat of the 3m-long Komodo dragon monitor lizard. Komodo National Park covers the entire region and is home to more than 4,000 dragons, and is made up of rusty-red volcanic hills, savanna and forests. Its surrounding waters of seagrass beds, mangrove shrublands and coral reefs are famous for diving.

Originally established to protect the giant lizards that share its name, today Komodo National Park preserves all species of vegetation and wildlife found on its 29 islands, where the biodiversity has earned it World Heritage Site status. On the rugged slopes and open savannas of the three largest islands, Komodo dragons live alongside buffalo, deer, monkeys, snakes, and many colorful species of birds. Many of the local islanders still live in traditional stilted dwellings, around which goats and chickens scratch.

We have a short stop on Komodo Island with the only purpose to see the Komodo Dragon.  We anchor off shore and around the ship are several small “boats” manned by small boys who are supposed to be learning to be fishermen but are actually just begging.

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The ship used some of the lifeboats to tender into shore arriving at a rickety, old wooden dock.  Not sure how many people could be on the ramp at any one time, but it held.  From here we met our guides, one of whom carried a long stick with a fork in it (see below).  This was the protection from the Komodo Dragons.  Apparently, they are very sensitive around the head area.

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The weather was extremely hot and very humid, so hydration was key to staying upright.  I had opted for the long trek around the island in search of the elusive lizards.

Known as oras to the roughly 2000 local Muslim Bugis fishermen, this prehistoric monitor lizard pretty much has the lay of the land. Because the locals don’t eat the abundant Timor pigs – the dragons’ main food source (alongside deer and water buffalo) – the reptiles have been left to flourish. It also helps that the Komodo dragon is enshrined in ancient folklore, stemming from an old legend that tells of a man falling in love with a dragon princess, who gives birth to twins: a human boy and a female komodo dragon. The story paints the animals and native humans as kindred spirits, and thus should live in harmony. The fact the Indonesian government banned hunting them in 1915 may have also had something to do with the reptile’s long-term survival

The island itself is very arid, almost desert like and we saw no dragons during the hike until we arrived at the man-made watering hole.

They pipe in water quite away for this.  So, seeing the Komodo Dragons is really a staged event.  However, even so, it was quite impressive to see these prehistoric animals.

Despite all the warnings to stay hydrated, there was one passenger that collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher.  She was fine once she cooled down but it happens quite frequently on this tour.

Back to the rickety old dock, onto a tender and settled back aboard the ship.

That ends the “Asia” section of our cruise.  Next stop is Darwin, Australia and the start of the “Pacific” segment.

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 19

November 16, 2018 – Bali, Indonesia

Yes, Bali has beaches, surfing, diving, and resorts, great and small, but it’s the essence of Bali – and the Balinese – that makes it so much more than just a fun-in-the-sun retreat. It is possible to take the cliché of the smiling Balinese too far, but in reality, the inhabitants of this small island are indeed a generous, genuinely warm people. There’s also a fun, sly sense of humour.

This is certainly the case with all the Indonesian staff and in particular our dining room host and waiters.  They are so willing to talk about their homeland and what to see and do and in the end, we hired our waiter’s brother Agus, to tour us around Bali.  He is a tour guide on Bali complete with his own lovely 7 passenger Mazda vehicle and since there were 4 of us on our own private tour, the $150 he charged for the entire day was a good deal!

We gave him a list of a few things we wanted to see on Bali but a must for us was Tanah Lot Temple, one of Bali’s most important landmarks, famed for its unique offshore setting and sunset backdrops.

Really not all that far from Benoa where the ship docked, we were lucky that it only took us an hour to reach the temple.  The traffic was incredible and not as bad as it can be!

An ancient Hindu shrine perched on top of an outcrop amidst constantly crashing waves; Tanah Lot Temple is simply among Bali’s not-to-be-missed icons. The onshore site is dotted with smaller shrines alongside visitors’ leisure facilities that comprise restaurants, shops and a cultural park.

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After centuries of large waves persistently crashing at its rock base, Tanah Lot faced the constant threat of erosion, reaching a significant decline in 1980. The authorities carried out preservation efforts to Tanah Lot and other historical sites island-wide. Fully restored, a third of the present Tanah Lot is actually artificial rock. At high tide, waves flood the causeways making it impossible to cross.  We were lucky that we were there at low tide.

It was at this point when my camera stopped working.  I think it was a combination of both the heat and humidity that took its toll.  I am only hoping that somewhere along the line I can get it repaired!

At low tide, which was the case when we were there, we crossed to view the rock base to the Tirta Pabersihan fountain. This natural spout is the source of holy water for all the temples in the area. Priests at the fountain bless visitors by sprinkling holy water over their heads. You can cup your palms and take a sip to prove it is apparently fresh water.  I didn’t drink from the fountain but was welcomed to wash my face with its holy waters.

I thought perhaps this was something arranged for the tourists but our guide also performed the same ceremony.  Also, because of the low tide, we were able to visit a small cave where a sacred snake was being kept.  For a small “donation”, we were able to touch the sacred snake and be blessed with good fortune…I should have done that before my camera crapped out!  Pictured below is our friend Margaret touching the snake and then, I followed suit.

Onshore temples include the Penyawang, a spiritual proxy to Tanah Lot that hosts pilgrims when the main offshore temple is inaccessible during high tide. Other smaller temples around the site host prayer sessions for various aspects of the villagers’ agrarian life, from good rice harvests to rites of passage.

North of Tanah Lot is Batu Bolong, similarly built on a rock formation with a ‘hollow’ overpass linking to the mainland.

Convenient pathways and well-kept tropical gardens line the grounds from Tanah Lot to Batu Bolong, with resting spots offering shades and good viewpoints to both outcrops.

From Tanah Lot, we had really wanted to go see the Tegallalang Rices Terraces north around Ubud, but given the amount of traffic (now even worse), we opted to stop at some of the roadside rice paddies for a look.

When I think of Bali, I think of beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters.  So, off to the beach at Nusa Dua we went.  It was a lovely beach but honestly, I expected nicer. We have access to nicer beaches in the Caribbean and Hawaii without travelling the distances from Canada.  Having said that, Bali does have much to offer.

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Lunchtime!  We did not want to go to a tourist restaurant but rather an authentic Indonesian restaurant for some local food.  After some time driving, we ended up at Warung Bakas for the traditional Babi Guling (suckling pig) that came with spicy soup, rice and spicy beans.  A large, cold local beer was needed to put out the fire!  We asked for local and got it!

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We are now in search of a Batik shirt that I need for supper in a couple of nights.  While I was not able to find shirt to fit me in two different markets (I didn’t think I was that large), Karen was able to find lots of different things to buy!

Our time is running out, so we do a quick stop at what our guide said was their largest monument for a couple of quick pictures, then one last market to try at Kuta Beach (a very busy tourist beach and market).  Success!  A shirt that fit for a hefty price tag of $10 (lol).  Pictures of new shirt to follow after Komodo Island.

Our final stop in Bali was for a traditional Balinese massage.  We were greeted with cups of cooled green tea before going up to the treatment room where we both had our feet Bali 41cleansed/massaged in aromatic water.  Up onto the table for an exceptional full body massage although it freaked me out when she climbed onto the table to get better leverage.  An hour of bliss and then washed down with a wet towel.  Finally, a cup of ginger tea before heading back to the ship to sail away from Bali.

Thanks again for travelling along with us.  Read about our dragon experience in the next blog!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 18

Located on the north coast of Java right about its center point is the busy port city of Semarang…the city where we are docked. Although not as well known as other cities, Semarang is the Capital of the province of Central Java. We are greeted by beautiful dancers accompanied by traditional local musicians.

 

 

According to history, Semarang was given by the Sultan to the Dutch East India Company, in 1708, from which time this town was built into a Dutch enclave. For this reason, Semarang has an Old Town which was built during Dutch colonial times.

The port city of Semarang is a melting pot of beautiful architecture, rich history, delectable food, and colourful multiculturism. Borobudur, the majestic and world’s largest Buddhist temple, is a 105km scenic car ride away. It’s the only sightseeing we will be doing during our stop.

Located on the island of Java, the magnificent Borobudur temple is an ancient site widely considered to be one of the world’s seven wonders. The temple sits majestically on a hilltop overlooking lush green fields and distant hills. Built in the 9th century during the reign of the Syailendra dynasty, the temple’s design in Gupta architecture reflects India’s influence on the region, yet there are enough indigenous scenes and elements incorporated to make Borobudur uniquely Indonesian.

It covers an enormous area, measuring 123 x 123 meters. The monument is a marvel of design, decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. The architecture and stonework of this temple has no equal. And it was built without using any kind of cement or mortar!

 

 

The temple has remained strong even through ten centuries of neglect. It was rediscovered in 1815, buried under volcanic ash. In the 1970’s the Indonesian Government and UNESCO worked together to restore Borobudur to its former majesty The restoration took eight years to complete and today Borobudur is one of Indonesia and the world’s most valuable treasures. The temple is decorated with stone carvings in bas-relief representing images from the life of Buddha. It is claimed to be the largest and most complete ensemble of Buddhist reliefs in the world, unsurpassed in artistic merit.

 

 

The best way to explore this site is on foot. Our guide was able to walk us around the site and explain the history of the temple, beginning with its construction during the Syailendra dynasty. As we climbed to the top of this magnificent temple we marveled at the intricate detailed stone carvings displayed on the temple’s walls. It is said that Nirvana can be attained at the top of the Temple. I don’t think we experienced Nirvana but we did enjoy the magnificence of this Buddhist Temple and the beautiful surroundings as evidenced with the pictures below.

 

 

Luckily, we finished our tour and were heading down to the restaurant just as the skies opened up. We had both an umbrella and a rain poncho so we didn’t get too wet, but the rain came down in sheets.

The bus ride from port is about 3 hours long each way and it would be a lot worse if it were not for the police escort that our busses were provided for. Police lights on, sirens where necessary and traffic cops at major intersections facilitated an exciting and interesting bus ride each way.

 

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We are currently enjoying a day at sea before reaching Bali tomorrow. Some of you have asked what we do on our days at sea. Frankly, we are way too busy on our sea days by choice. For example, we start our day with a stretch class at 07:00. This is followed by an ABS class at 07:30. From there, a shower and breakfast after which (or before depending on the day), we walk on the deck where I try to get a 5 km brisk walk in before a talk by the ship’s guide on our next port of call (in this case Bali). At 11:00, we go to America’s Test Kitchen for cooking classes. Lunch at Noon. First guest lecturer at 1:00, work on this blog at 2:00, second guest lecturer at 3:00, Free time until 5:00 when it is time to get ready for supper. Supper at 5:30 – 7:30. A brief stop at the Piano Bar to hear a few tunes before the show (tonight are the Amsterdam Singers and Dancers with a tribute to the Rat Pack) at 8:00. At 9:00, we are beat and head back to the cabin to finish the blog and get caught up on emails. That’s a typical, wonderful day at sea…we are so spoiled not having to make our bed, or clean our cabin, or make our meals, or do dishes, or change our towels. The biggest decision of the day was really what to eat! We are very blessed to have this experience and do not take it for granted.

 

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