Thursday, 9 August 2012

Day 13 - Steamy Singapore - August 8th

Another erratic night and we weren’t the only ones who didn’t sleep too well.  Arrival in Singapore was scheduled for 8am and we didn’t bother getting up early to see it.  No apologies for today’s blog which may well appear to be of more interest to future cruisers, but using blogs to pass on information we found invaluable last year and is one of the reasons we do it ourselves, so it isn’t just about keeping up with family and friends.  This blog is public so I don’t really know who reads it – or why!
We naturally enough had a light breakfast and headed off the ship about 9:15.
This is the third time in little over a year that we have arrived or departed Singapore by cruise ship and this is the third dock!
The 2011 WC docked at Sentosa, which is a bit of  a step away from the central hub of Singapore, but well served by public transport options and shops, not to mention Sentosa island, which is where the cable car and Universal Studios are located.
For the 2011 pre Christmas cruise, we joined at Singapore, checked in at the Marina Bay Sands convention centre and we were then transported to the ship on a 25 minute bus ride to a container port, even further away from the hub than Sentosa.
We arrived this time at the brand new cruise terminal at Marina Bay itself.  Oh goody we thought; probably just alongside the fantastic Marina Bay Sands hotel, that features the amazing surfboard structure on the roof and we believe, the world’s highest outdoor swimming pool.
No such luck.  The new cruise terminal is at this stage, somewhat isolated from the Singapore hub and although you can see the hotel and also the Singapore Eye from the ship, close they are not.
Future cruisers please note:  It is not an easy walk from the terminal, but there is a free shuttle bus, but I am getting ahead of myself.  Walking off the ship along very impressive covered walkways, you then have to face immigration.  Bear in mind that one of the joys of cruising is that you are not stuck in airports for hours, immigration procedures for up to 1900 passengers and a fair few of the 900 crew, means that unlike our last two arrivals at Singapore airport, you are not going to be free within a couple of minutes.  You also have the official ship’s tours piling off at that time of the morning and as most shops don’t even open until 10am anyway, maybe getting off later is a better bet.
It wasn’t too bad and along with many others, we thought we may as well take advantage of the free shuttle.  Big mistake.  We were in the queue for ages as there were just too many people and I think they probably only had one bus doing the run anyway.
The bus took us out of the port complex through a network of new roads where there is a lot of construction work going on and dropped us at the nearest MRT (underground) railway station.  We are not sure, but we suspect that much of the building work may well be extending the underground to the terminal, in which case, much of what I am writing maybe obsolete in a year or two.
Bear in mind this is a brand new cruise port and infrastructure, so you would think that the brand new underground station would be geared to dealing with 100’s of foreign passengers descending en masse. Wrong. Just one ticket machine, so an immediate queue as people unused to dealing with these machines (which deal with local currency or I think, credit cards) try to fathom out what they need and how to deal with it.  (Maybe when the line is extended, they won’t need extra machines at this point?)  So we hopped out of the queue to the ticket office and here it got even more farcical. 
The lone operative came out from his office to sort out who had local currency and who didn’t and advised those without, to hop on the train anyway and get currency at the first stop.  We had currency and he kept getting confused as to which group he was addressing!
Meanwhile, no one was having much luck with the ticket machine, probably as it had run out of tickets! (Shades of Melbourne last year.) As he was on his own, he couldn’t leave his office to refill the machine...  He then sent us down one level, where there was another machine.  Note the singular again.  This time, there was another operative who very quickly realised that these foreigners with a rapidly lengthening queue needed sorting out, so she very intelligently I thought, shepherded our group of 4 and another couple with a walker, back up the escalator and told us to catch the train and if we were getting off two stops later as planned, to tell the ticket office there what happened.
We did.  The train was absolutely immaculate (maybe the French railway and French judicial authorities need a fact finding trip to Singapore) and two stops later, we approached the ticket office where a nice young chap eventually managed to take $1.20 off us, print out a paper ticket, then led us about 150 metres where he let us out of the secure area so that we could head for the Eye.  Directions at the station didn’t seem to be too clear. 
The fun continued. We could see the Eye, but getting to it wasn’t as easy, as this area forms part of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix race track, (race to be held next month), so work was in progress erecting catch fences and other areas were blocked off by temporary fencing, so we had to do a little back tracking  before making an (illegal!) dash across the road to the Eye and the HoHo  (Hop On Hop Off) bus terminal.  We wandered around a bit aimlessly, as we wanted a specific route, but hopped on the “original” (there are other companies these days) expecting to pay about $20.  No driver.
He ambled up a few minutes later and surprisingly for Singapore, his English wasn’t too good and we needed to pay.  He didn’t seem to want to relieve us of either cash or credit card.  We gave up and went upstairs anyway.  I think we set off about 11:35, so it took over 2 hours from leaving the ship to getting properly mobile.
As ever the HoHo route is a pleasant way to see Singapore and the Purple route is our first choice.   We left Mal and Meg on the bus and hopped off on Orchard road, telling the driver that our friends upstairs had our tickets, or would pay....  (Just kidding.)
First stop was McCafe for an excellent coffee and goodies from the bakery just behind; a regular stop for us.  When we studied the Gelato prices at the shop above, we realised quite quickly why they didn’t seem to be selling much.  A cone at $6.90 seems a bit steep, especially when the large coffee had only cost $4.10.
We ambled down Orchard Rd and went downstairs into what looks like a market, but when we walked up one level, we found we were in fact in Lucky Plaza. We remembered Arnold’s advice that his favourite money changer was in Lucky Plaza, so we quickly found that at the top of the escalator.  His rate of $522USD for $500AUD seemed a good price so we accepted it.
We are not great shoppers and decided to head back to the ship, but wisely (I think!) opted to return by taxi. We soon found a taxi rank on  side street and the ride back to the cruise terminal door was just $9.70 on the meter and took about 15 minutes.  On the way we passed the bus stop by the MRT and there were many more people waiting than bus seats, so they would have been a bit warm.  Chatting to others who were alighting from the cab in front, they said they had used a Mercedes limo taxi in the morning and for four of them it was $23 (includes a port charge no doubt) and a normal cab return was $13 (they travelled a bit further than us), so our advice?  Forget the free shuttle and the MRT at this stage and use a cab.  It is only a couple of dollars each more and is a whole lot quicker.  As we had somehow managed to get the HoHo without charge, our Singapore stop was extremely cheap.  It would have been more expensive if Paula had found the shop selling dance shoes, that she only found out about when we were talking to Boris and Roma. Roma’s sparkly shoes were much admired.
After a warm soak in the Oasis pool, we headed for the rear of deck 11 for the sailaway.
The dining room menu was Indian and it sounded delicious and so we asked if we could just have a dish of everything to share!   Had we arranged it the previous day, then maybe it could have been arranged.  So we made do with ordering the curried cauliflower soup and two mains!  For me, that was the curried prawns followed by beef jalfraizie.  For Paula, the prawns followed by chicken curry.  Superb!  One of the nicest meals we have had on the ship.
We went to the atrium for Alan’s quiz on “Musicals”.  With Mal & Meg, we were hopeless, but good fun as usual.
A good day overall and not too late to bed.  At sea again tomorrow. 
“What goes in a Singapore Sling?  A Singapore broken arm.” 

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