Posts Tagged With: Singapore

Crazy (But Not) Rich Tourists in Singapore

As we arrived in Singapore on our cruise ship, the Norwegian Jewel, in March 2019, the morning views were spectacular. Although we felt a little sad about our 19 day cruise ending, our excitement and enthusiasm to explore this city increased with everything we saw. During the taxi ride to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express Singapore Clarke Quay, we peppered our driver with questions. “Is it true chewing gum is illegal in Singapore?” “Yes, so is spitting.” It’s also illegal to litter which accounts for the squeaky clean appearance of the city. ” How’s the traffic?” Not really too bad because the number of cars allowed on the roads is limited by a system of auctioning expensive permits to own a car. Voting is compulsory in Singapore. The population is diverse, comprised predominantly of Chinese in addition to Malays, Indians, and Eurasians. Fortunately for us, one of the four official languages is English. Our driver was very responsive to our curiosity and volunteered a great deal of information about this city-state of 5.7 million inhabitants.

Because it was too early to check in, we deposited our bags in the hotel’s storage and set off to the nearest stop for the Ho Ho (Hop-on Hop-off) Bus. We decided to use the Ho Ho for transportation to some of our “must see” tourist attractions. Our first goal was a morning visit to the Singapore Botanic Gardens before the heat and humidity in this equatorial city completely drained our energy. After a longish wait during which we questioned whether we were in the right place, the bus finally arrived and we were on our way.

Designated the first UNESCO World Heritage site in Singapore in 2015, the Gardens were originally established in 1859 by the Agri-Horticultural Society on an abandoned plantation. Admission to the 60 acres of tropical gardens is free but there is a small charge to visit the National Orchid Garden which is totally worth it to enjoy more than 600 varieties of orchids.

Orchid dedicated to Barack and Michelle Obama
Orchid dedicated to Princess Diana

Back on the HoHo bus, we enjoyed the drive along Orchard Road, the famed shopping district, which boasts the flagship Apple store, flagship H&M, and numerous other high end shops where crazy rich tourists love to shop. We, however, had no interest in shopping. We were intent on finding our number 1 tourist attraction, Marina Bay Sands. If you saw the movie, Crazy Rich Asians, you can’t forget the scenes of the infinity pool on the 57th floor of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

After some confusion and wandering, we finally found the entrance to the hotel and asked where to buy tickets to the Sky Park Observation Deck. A helpful employee told us we could pay $26 to spend an hour at the observation deck or we could go up to the Cé La Vi Skybar for drinks and enjoy the view for free. Well, that was a no-brainer. We headed up to floor 57 in Tower 3.

Rick, Lori, Jim and me with the view from Marina Bay Sands

The bar wasn’t crowded and we felt no pressure to give up our comfy seats so we lingered over our drinks and appetizers while we savored the views of Singapore. I don’t remember exactly what it cost us but a beer was around $15, a glass of wine was around $18-$20, and cocktails around $20. We felt the price was well worth it for such a memorable experience.

Directly outside the Marina Bays Sands Hotel we discovered Gardens by the Bay, home of the 16-story tall Supertrees and the world’s tallest indoor waterfall. We didn’t have enough time to do justice to this 100 hectare park so we contented ourselves with the views below.

Singapore is proud of their environmental responsibility; over 47% of the island is covered by greenery including rooftop gardens and green walls; they recycle over 20% of their waste; and they are one of the 20 most carbon efficient countries in the world. I also recently read Singapore is one of the 10 cleanest cities in the world (clean meaning green.) An impressive record, to be sure. We saw these examples and many more from the HoHo bus.

Singapore has an excellent subway system called Mass Rapid Transit but we preferred to discover the city using the HoHo. For $35 we bought a 24 hour pass which oriented us to the city while we listened to the audio commentary about all the major landmarks. Although we preferred to sit on the open-air upper level, it was nice to have the optional air-con down below when the heat and humidity threatened to overwhelm us. Our hotel is circled in white on the HoHo map below so when we were done seeing the city, we disembarked and had a relatively short walk to our accommodations.

HoHo brochure map

We chose the Holiday Inn Express Clarke Quay for its location, amenities, and price and we were delighted with all three. For 2 nights, we paid $325.79 which included an outstanding breakfast, wifi, rooftop garden with infinity pool, and workout facilities. And, we were close enough to walk to many of the tourist attractions we planned to see the next day.

Singapore has much more to offer. Come back and read what these crazy (but not) rich tourists saw on day 2 in Singapore.

Based on events from March 2019.

Categories: Asia, Singapore, UNESCO | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Planning to Cruise Australia

Our visit to Australia in 2017 was cut short (you can read about it here) and I’ve been watching ever since for a repeat offer of that cruise itinerary.  If you look at cruises of Australia, you’ll notice most itineraries include many ports in New Zealand and very few in Australia. Because Australia is such a large country and I wanted to see more than just one city, I always thought a cruise would be an efficient way to maximize our time and see more. Our 19-day cruise in 2017 began in Auckland, New Zealand with a stop in Bay of Islands before heading to Australia with stops in 6 cities along the eastern and northern coasts, followed by stops in Indonesia and Malaysia and ending in Singapore.

The itinerary now offered by Norwegian Cruise Line has changed somewhat. The cruise no longer begins in New Zealand which we visited during our 2017 cruise so that was fine with us. Malaysia is replaced by Semarang, Indonesia, on the itinerary which was a disappointment to me (and an even bigger disappointment when we saw Semarang but more on that in a future post.) This was the itinerary:

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I booked the cruise on April 27, 2018, when the price was $6352.80 for an ocean view cabin for my husband and me. In 2017, we paid just under $5000 so the price seemed a little high but I knew if the price came down, I could rebook. I checked periodically and finally in August, the price went down to $5834.36. Then September 1, the price went down to $5134.36 and finally toward the end of September it hit $4187.20. Each time I rebooked at the new price keeping the same cabin and our original amenities which included free internet minutes and a $50 credit per person for a shore excursion at each port. If you haven’t done this before, you call the cruise line and say, “I see the price for my cruise has gone down. Can you help me rebook at the new price?” Simple but we saved a lot of $$$.

Fortunately, we saved on our cruise fare because I was sure an open jaw airfare to Sydney and back from Singapore would be expensive. I decided to check on a multi-city fare with a 3 day stop in Tokyo to visit our friend, Tomo. (More on Tomo later, too.) I could hardly believe my good fortune when I found this itinerary on Delta for the rock bottom price of $1246.43 each. Tip: When you see a good price, don’t hesitate; book it because it probably won’t be there long!

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With cruise and airfare booked, it was time to work on accommodations in Sydney, Singapore, and Tokyo.

Sidenote: Many people have asked me whether I use a travel agent for my trips. I research and book everything myself. I enjoy the planning part of my travels nearly as much as the travel and I have a vested interest in finding the best deals.

My brother and his wife visited Sydney in 2018 so I asked them whether they would recommend their Airbnb accommodations. They heartily endorsed the three-bedroom condo located in Miller’s Point in the heart of “The Rocks” but cautioned us there wasn’t aircon. They were there in April in the middle of a heatwave but we thought a heatwave in February was unlikely and the location just couldn’t be beaten. It was pricey but we were traveling with friends and hoped a third couple would join us to share the cost. In the end, it was just the two couples but we were all glad we stayed there in spite of temperatures in the 90s, no screens on the windows with resulting mosquito bites, and a cost of $442 per night.



Jim, Rick, and Lori outside our Airbnb in Sydney

Next, I looked at hotels in Singapore. In 2017 I reserved a room at the Holiday Inn Express but had to cancel it when our trip ended at Sydney. I couldn’t find a better price including breakfast in a better location so, against my better judgment, I booked it again. I usually avoid staying at American chains when traveling abroad, preferring to experience local culture and accommodations instead. This hotel was gorgeous and you’ll see more of it in future posts.


Interior of Holiday Inn Express, Singapore

Finally, I researched Tokyo lodging. Tomo was staying with us in the US at the time so I had his guidance in selecting a hotel. In spite of that, when he looked at the hotel I booked he said the hotel I selected was in the area where Japanese mafia or yakuza could be found. Sure enough, I read reviews indicating the red light district was nearby! He directed me to another area where we enjoyed the Mitsui Garden Hotel immensely.


Mitsui Garden Hotel in Tokyo

In between searches for lodging, Lori and I looked at cruise excursions and quickly decided several were not to be missed–snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef, a visit to Komodo Island to see the dragons, and the opportunity to hold a koala. We also scheduled a tour to the Blue Mountains from Sydney. We decided we would schedule any other tours or excursions as we went.

Last but not least, I attacked the challenge of packing for a month in a carry-on suitcase. Fortunately, we had laundry facilities at our condo in Sydney and our platinum status with NCL provided us with laundry service onboard but careful selection was important, nevertheless. When I mentioned my packing issues to Lori, she said, “You did a packing post before this cruise two years ago. Why don’t you just look at that?” You can see that post here. When I looked at it, I discovered I had selected almost the same clothes this time around! But this time, I decided a month-long journey required more than 3 ounces of shampoo, conditioner, hairspray, and sunscreen so I decided to buy those items in Sydney.

We were ready. But of course, any time you plan to travel in Iowa in February, you have weather issues and this trip was no exception. Two days before our departure, we received an email warning us of impending weather issues that could affect our flights. I spent some time researching options and in the end, we decided to travel to Des Moines a day early and let the chips fall where they may. After a nightmarish drive through ice and snow to Des Moines, our flights the following day were unaffected.

Come back next time for our arrival in Sydney.


Based on events in February 2019.







Categories: Australia, cruise, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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