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 15

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Hong Kong Day 1

The weather in Hong Kong is perfect – 24 C and sunny!  We have been to Hong Kong several times and so we just wanted to chill out, go to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market, eat some food and enjoy the vibrant street scene.  We took the complimentary shuttle to one of the metro stations (Holland America does a great job of arranging shuttles wherever possible) which was under quite a large mall.  Unfortunately, the mall wasn’t open yet but one the passengers we had met before recommended visiting the Nan Lian Garden, just across the street.  Never heard of them but what the heck.  What an amazing find for us!

Established in 1934, the Chi Lin Nunnery is part of the garden complex and is literally in the middle of the concrete jungle of Hong Kong.  As you can see from the pictures below, it is absolutely stunning!

From the gardens, we caught the metro to Tsim Sha Tsui, quick and easy with only one transfer.  Our goal was to walk up Nathan road to the market, stopping at shops and sights along the way.

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Nathan Road is named after Hong Kong’s only Jewish governor, Matthew Nathan, Kowloon’s main drag is a bit of a traffic- and pedestrian-choked crowd of malls, jewellery stores, and fashion boutiques. It’s nonetheless an iconic Hong Kong scene where guesthouses rub shoulders with luxury hotels.

 

So, we walked and walked until hunger got the best of us and we stopped for Dim Sum at a great little restaurant.  We were pretty sure that the food was good even though it was directly on Nathan Road, as it was crowded with Chinese and we were the only obvious tourists there.  As it turned out, the food was delicious. Dumpling soup filled with pork and vegetables, fried scallion pancakes and crab filled dumplings.

 

We finally made it to the Ladies Market!  Chock a block full of clothing, trinkets, electronics, bags, scarves and the like, it attracts huge crowds looking for and getting bargains.  You have to be very careful about the quality, but it is a great place to soak up the local atmosphere.  It is quite large and runs for several blocks.  Did I mention it attracts huge crowds down a narrow walkway where you squeeze through and get jostled all the way?

 

After our fill of bargain hunting, we walked back to the Temple Street Night Market.  When night falls and neon buzzes, Hong Kong’s liveliest market rattles into life. It covers multiple city blocks.  In the 1920s, vendors gathered there to serve temple-goers; a century on, the crowds descend nightly for cheap clothes and watches, street food, trinkets and tea ware. Marked prices are mere suggestions – this is a place to bargain.

Tourist trap? Absolutely, but that didn’t stop us. It remains Hong Kong’s most thrillingly underdeveloped district, where, if you veer away from the bare-bulb stalls you might encounter Canton singing houses, fortune tellers, herbalists, street eats, sex shops and prostitutes lurking in the shadows.

They say the market is at its bustling best from 7pm to 10pm.

 

Back to the ship in time for the nightly show which was a series of Chinese performed by a local cultural dance group.  Hard to get good pictures.

 


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Hong Kong Day 2

The shuttle today was able to drop us off very close to the Star Ferry Terminal.  You can’t say you’ve ‘done’ Hong Kong until you’ve taken a ride on a Star Ferry, with its’ fleet of electric-diesel vessels with names like Morning Star, Celestial Star and Twinkling Star.

At any time of the day, the journey, with its riveting views of skyscrapers and jungle-clad hills, must be one of the world’s best-value cruises. At the end of the 10-minute journey, a hemp rope is cast from the back of the boat and caught with a billhook, the way it was in 1888 when the first boat docked.

The cheapest fares are only available on the lower deck, but the views are a little better and there are less fumes on the top deck. You get tickets at the pier through an easy to use self-serve terminal.

 

The only hopeful destination today was the Man Mo Temple but we just wanted to wander around the SOHO (South of Hollywood Road) area of Central district on Hong Kong Island.  It is an entertainment/shopping/restaurant area that has a very vibrant feel to it.  We had no agenda in walking around, except to find a decent place for lunch which we accomplished at a fusion Chinese restaurant called Chifa Dumpling House.  Nothing too exotic today…a pork stir fry, crab filled wontons and New York style Cheesecake for dessert!  It was delicious!

Perhaps you are noticing a trend in our travels…food and wine.  They go together like a kiss and a hug!

One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and a declared monument, atmospheric Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the gods of literature (‘Man’), holding a writing brush, and of war (‘Mo’), wielding a sword. Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was, besides a place of worship, a court of arbitration for local disputes when trust was thin between the Chinese and the colonialists.

Oaths taken at this Taoist temple (often accompanied by the ritual beheading of a rooster) were accepted by the colonial government.  Outside the main entrance are four gilt plaques on poles that used to be carried around at processions. Two describe the gods being worshipped inside, one requests silence and a show of respect within the temple’s grounds, and the last warns menstruating women to keep out of the main hall.

Lending the temple its beguiling and smoky air are rows of large earth-coloured spirals suspended from the roof, like overgrown fungi in an upside-down garden. These are incense coils burned as offerings by worshippers.

 

Off to the side is Lit Shing Kung, the ‘saints’ palace’, a place of worship for other Buddhist and Taoist deities. Another hall, Kung Sor (‘public meeting place’), used to serve as a court of justice to settle disputes among the Chinese community before the modern judicial system was introduced. A couplet at the entrance urges those entering to leave their selfish interests and prejudices outside. Fortune tellers beckon from inside.

 

Back on the Star Ferry crossing over to Kowloon, we rush to catch our shuttle bus to be back on the ship in time for a mandatory life boat drill since we have new passengers getting aboard here in Hong Kong.  We made the bus by 1 minute!

 

Next stop…Vietnam!

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ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 12

October 28/29, 2018 – Shanghai, China

Few cities in the world evoke so much history, glamour, mystique and exotic promise in the name alone.  Shanghai did not disappoint.  Our ship was docked right in the middle of town and the views from the ship were stunning.

We were on a tour this day and we started out to visit the Yuyuan Gardens, but on the way, we were treated to a fabulous lion dance.

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A short walk and we are engulfed into the crowd of the Old Bazaar, just before the Yuyuan Gardens.  There are many, many shops selling all kinds of wares and a variety of restaurants but it is a Sunday and the streets are jam packed with people.

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Crossing the zig zag bridge, we finally enter the serenity of the gardens.

With its shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, pavilions and pines sprouting wistfully from rockeries, the Yùyuán Gardens is one of Shànghǎi’s premier sights.  Trees include the luohan pine, bristling with thick needles, willows, gingkos, cherry trees and magnificent dawn redwoods.

The Pan family, rich Ming dynasty officials, founded these gardens, which took 18 years (1559–77) to be nurtured into existence before bombardment during the Opium War in 1842. The gardens took another trashing during French reprisals for attacks on their nearby concession during the Taiping Rebellion. Restored, they are a fine example of Ming garden design.  With its ancient maze of grottoes, bridges, lotus ponds and pavilions, it’s now a peaceful oasis in the heart of bustling Shanghai and a national monument.

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After a great lunch at a local restaurant, we drove to the former French Concession founded in 1849 as a result of the Treaty of Nanking.  It’s a lovely mix of gorgeous tree-lined streets, old villas and European architecture where much of Shanghai’s past beauty and charm remains.

The foreign diplomatic quarter, top hotels, high end shopping and international bars and restaurants in the art deco buildings make this a stylish area and one of Shanghai’s most vibrant districts.

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Back to the ship for a very quick supper as tonight we are going to a live show – Chinese Acrobats!  This was an incredible display of strength, agility and flexibility.  Couldn’t take a lot of pictures but here are a few…

There were so many different acts in the show, it was truly amazing!  So glad we went.  Back on the ship in time to see the light show in Shanghai (they turn off the lights at 22:00).  Again, pictures don’t do it justice as they are changing all the time.  It was spectacular!

I don’t have a lot to report on our second day in Shanghai.  It was basically a shopping day.  First we took the shuttle bus to an area called The Bund, which is a famous waterfront and regarded as the symbol of Shanghai. The most famous and attractive sights which are at the west side of the Bund are the 26 various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance.

We walked along the boardwalk for a bit and it is a lovely area but we were focused on heading to the Asia Pacific Shopping area which we were told was a mecca for good deals on just about everything.  We hopped into a cab and after some negotiating and misinterpretation (no English, but a translator app), we finally arrived at this underground shopping mall.  It was massive with shop after shop after shop…a bit overwhelming.

The trick is not to make eye contact with the vendors because if you do, they virtually want to drag you into their shops.  If you are interested in something, be prepared to buy it if you can negotiate the price you want.  We ended up paying about 20% of their starting prices (inflated of course) but you cannot be bullied into buying something.  On several occasions, we walked away from a purchase only to be followed along with the price steadily going down.  This is not for the light hearted and you need to be prepared for them to be upset if you don’t get your price.

This is all in good faith though.  Although in one shop, I stopped to look at a belt.  The shop owner literally grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.  I had to pry her hand off in order for me to leave the shop!

I quite enjoy an adventure like that although it can be stressful to have to make buying decisions rather quickly.  We ended buying several things.

Back to the ship for a lovely sail away down the Huangpu River.  Next stop, back to Japan to visit Naha, Okinawa!  Thanks for reading along!

ED’S 82 DAY GRAND ASIA & PACIFIC SAILING WITH HOLLAND AMERICA – PART 11

October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

PART 2

The Great Wall!  “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” – Mao Zedong.  I am now a true man!

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China’s greatest engineering triumph is not one continuous entity but in reality, it exists in chunks interspersed with natural defenses (such as precipitous mountains) that need no additional fortifications.

We were very lucky that there were not as many people on the Great Wall as can be however, it was very smoggy that day and so pictures are not as clear as I had hoped they would be.

We had 1½ hours at the Great Wall and so I was determined to climb as far as I can.  As you can see from the picture above, there are no people in the photo but compare it to the photos below and you can see that I got above the “people” line.  Climbing all the stairs on the ship was good training for the hike up the wall.

There were some incredible views from the wall and being fall time, the colours were stunning, albeit muted by the smog.

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Our final stop in the Beijing area was the Ming Tombs.  This is the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors.  The Ming Tombs follow a standard imperial layout.  In each tomb the plan consists of a main gate, leading to the first of a series of courtyards and the main hall.  Beyond this lie gates or archways leading to the Soul Tower, behind which rises the burial mound.  Three tombs have been opened to the public and we only saw one…Chang Ling.

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Our final stop before heading back to the ship was lunch at a jade factory.  While I was not initially impressed with the obligatory factory setting, it was much better than expected.  Firstly, the meal was excellent, again in a traditional Chinese family style setting where they just continue to bring out food, one dish at a time.

After the lunch, we had time to stroll around and look at the jade and yes, a salesperson followed you around happy to show you anything you were interested in.  It was all very expensive but what made it more interesting were all the larger piece costing thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.  In fact, it was as much a museum to me as a sales opportunity for them and I enjoyed the artistry and precision that went into these pieces.

That’s it for Beijing!  It was an incredible 2 days in port with so much to see and do.  Next stop…Shanghai!  Stay tuned for more wonderful pictures!

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