Emperors & Empires Cruise on the Oceania Nautica
3/10/15 to 3/26/15
Due to the length of the review, it is in seven parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top and bottom of each page.
Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Beijing
Page 2 - Pre-Cruise continued; Embarkation and Ship
Page 3 - Ship Continued; Ports of Call: Tianjin, China; Dalian, China
Page 4 - Ports of Call: Seoul, South Korea; Shanghai, China
Page 5 - Ports of Call: Shanghai, China continued; Ishigaki, Japan; Okinawa, Japan; Kyoto (Kobe), Japan
Page 6 - Ports of Call: Osaka (Kobe), Japan; Nagoya, Japan
Page 7 - Ports of Call: Tokyo, Japan
I have always wanted to visit China and Japan; but just didn’t have the time to be able to do it properly while I was still working. Carol had enjoyed her visit to Southeast Asia in 2010, but was apprehensive about visiting China. She finally agreed that we should go, after I found a nice cruise that would visit my three required ports of Beijing, Shanghai and Tokyo. There were very few cruises that visited all three of these ports, so in June 2013 while on our Baltic cruise, we booked a 14 day Celebrity cruise set for April 2015 on the Century. It would be almost a two year wait for the cruise. Five months later, Celebrity announced that the Century was being sold and my cruise was changed to one that went through the Suez Canal on Century’s last cruise before being sold to the new cruise line. We were never given an option to move to a different Celebrity cruise in Northern Asia, so we had to find a different cruise line.
In December 2013, we found an even better 16 day itinerary on the Oceania Nautica. At that time, we had never cruised with Oceania; but had read that it had great service and food. It was more expensive, but since they were the only line offering my three required ports during the time we wanted to go, we booked it. To see if we liked Oceania, we ended up booking two other cruises with them before actually taking this cruise. Oceania is now our preferred cruise line, with Celebrity in second place.
Pre-Cruise in Beijing, China
With the cruise starting in Tianjin, which is the closest ocean cruise port to Beijing, it provided us with the opportunity to stay in Beijing for four nights before the cruise and have three full days of touring before boarding the Nautica. Oceania includes the air flights in their pricing; but we did need to pay for deviated air since we were arriving days early. Oceania had originally found a flight that went through Chicago; but there was only an hour layover between flights. I was concerned about bad weather in Chicago in March, so instead we had them do a flight through Newark. Little did we know that Newark would be hit with a huge snow storm the day of our flight. Many flights to and from Newark were cancelled the night before, so we didn’t know what would happen. With a 5:50 AM flight, we awoke at 2:30 AM for the one hour drive to Miami. Since we hadn’t received a cancellation alert, we drove on down. We were thrilled to see that the flight was scheduled to leave on time, even though on the terminal TV, the news was showing the snow falling in New York City with schools and flights being cancelled.
As we landed in Newark, we saw lots of snow on the ground. Now that we had completed the first leg of the trip to Beijing, we had to worry if our plane to Beijing had been able to land in Newark, and if it would be able to take off.
We had arrived at 9:00 AM and had a 3 hour layover and didn’t know how much more snow would cover the ground before we could leave. We were quite thrilled to see that our plane was already at the gate; but it was covered with snow and more was falling.
Living in south Florida, we don’t get to see snow falling at home and have no experience with flight delays due to snow. It was interesting to see; but this was not when we wanted to see it. We kept watching the flight board to see if the flight was cancelled or delayed. There was a slight delay; but we were able board on time at 11:50 for the 14 hour flight over the North Pole. We were excited to be on our way.
Then the delays started. There were some mechanical issues with the tires that needed to be dealt with which took almost an hour. However, the biggest problem was that the snow was too deep and there was ice near the gate. The tug vehicle that pushes the plane back couldn’t do it. After trying several progressively larger tugs, they finally brought in the biggest one at the airport. We had originally started the pushback at 12:50. It was successful at 2:40. We were quite relieved to say the least. We then had to go through the deicing process. Since I had never experienced this, it was quite fascinating to watch the strange vehicles floating around spraying the plane.
It did take about 35 minutes to complete. When we finally took off, we had been sitting in the plane for almost 4 hours, with over 13 more hours of flight time to go. We were so glad that we had upgraded to Economy Plus seats. We normally fly standard economy; but thought for this long of a flight it would be worth the extra cost. It turned out to be an outstanding decision. There was so much more room and it made the flight much more pleasant. The pilot was able to make up some time and we arrived about 3.5 hours late.
As we went through immigration our body temperature was checked by a camera type device to make sure we didn’t have a fever. I can’t imagine what would have happened if someone did have a fever; but I was glad we didn’t find out.
This was the first time that Carol had brought her very lightweight portable scooter on an airplane flight. The TravelScoot (www.travelscoot.com) folds up for easy portability; but it is recommended on their website to transport it on the planes unfolded, so that it doesn’t get damaged under a lot of luggage. We were quite happy to see it being delivered to us undamaged. United Airlines took good care of it for us. With most of the tours involving a lot of walking, and Carol having had knee repair surgery just six weeks earlier, the TravelScoot would make it possible for her to enjoy sightseeing in this amazing part of the world.
We had booked all of our transfers and Beijing tours through Beijing Discovery Tours (www.beijingdiscoverytours.com). What a great decision that turned out to be. With Beijing being such a mystery to us, the assistance provided by co-owner Jeff proved so valuable. We were most fortunate to have as our guide for our visit the other co-owner, Andy, who is in charge of managing all of the guides for their tours. Since they knew that our flight was late, they had rearranged the meeting time. Andy was waiting for us when we came out of baggage claim.
We were so glad to see him, since we would have been totally lost without him. He was so helpful and just couldn’t do enough for us. He was just an outstanding guide and turned out to be a good friend during our four days in Beijing.
We had purchased pollution masks to wear during our visit to China, since we knew that it could get bad. We had no idea how bad. Below is the pollution index scale that is used around the world.
As we walked to the van, Carol was frustrated that she had put the masks in the big suitcase and she couldn’t get to them. The pollution was quite bad and she needed one as soon as she walked outside. Since she is a lung cancer survivor and lost half of one lung almost three years ago, she was quite concerned. She breathed through some cloth till we could get to the hotel. She strongly advises that you be sure to put your mask in your carryon. I checked a website that provides the current pollution level, http://aqicn.org/city/beijing/ . This is what it showed.
The air was just terrible. I don’t know how people can live in something as bad as it was. China’s new president has put improving the air quality as a priority. I do hope that he is successful, since it is horrible for people to have to live with that foul air.
We had booked the Park Plaza Beijing Wangfujing hotel, (www.parkplaza.com/beijing-hotel-cn-100005/chnbwan). We had gotten a good price by joining Club Carlson several months before the cruise. Then a couple weeks before our flight, we found out on our www.cruisecritic.com roll call that even better prices were available. We ended up paying about $93 per night for a first class modern western style hotel. It was nicely lit up when we arrived; along with an interesting wall decoration.
Right across from the small plaza in front of the hotel was a building with a Starbucks on the first floor. There were also some lovely light displays there.
I had read that unlike some Beijing hotels, the staff speaks English and they have non-smoking rooms. We found the staff to be very friendly and most helpful, just like the reviews had said they were. We had picked the right hotel for us. I took some daytime photos a couple of days later, when I finally had some time to relax.
The room was nicely appointed and had a firm but quite comfortable bed.
The only complaint that we had with the room was that there wasn’t much counter space in the bathroom for our toiletries; but we found space in the main room for them.
The hotel booking included the very nice breakfast buffet which included American, European and Asian foods.
It was quite good; but we didn’t get to try it until two days later, since the next day we had an early morning flight to Xi’an to see the Terracotta Warriors. Our first night we stayed up as long as we could but crashed by 9:00 PM. It had been a very long day.
Beijing Day 2 – Xi’an
We were to meet Andy at 5:30 AM for our trip to the airport. With our internal clock still on US time, it was easy to wake up before our alarm clock. Scheduling a trip to Xi’an on our first full day worked out very well, since it allowed us to quickly get adjusted to the new time zone. As usual we were in the lobby 15 minutes early. Andy arrived about the same time and said that the van would be there shortly. When we went outside, the air was still polluted; but it had improved to 260, very unhealthy. We then went to a different hotel nearby where we would pick up Cherie and Doug who we would be doing most of our tours with us during this trip.
When we arrived at the airport, Andy came in with us to assist us in getting our boarding passes and taking us to where our gate was located. We were so glad he did, since it would have been a challenge for us without his help. When we arrived at the gate our plane was there; but we could see that the smog was also.
After we boarded the plane, the flight crew provided a very interesting preflight information experience. The female attendants were in traditional Chinese outfits. All the attendants bowed and did a very entertaining type presentation. Quite different from what we are used to. As the plane took off, we could barely see the terminals for the pollution and the sun’s color was tainted and almost blocked by it.
We hoped that the pollution would be less in Xi’an. As we flew over the mountains, the pollution almost covered the view of them except for their very peaks. It was quite disturbing and made us glad that we have made great strides in controlling pollution in our own country.
Upon landing in Xi’an, once again we could barely see the terminals for the pollution. After entering the terminal we met our guide for the day, Iris. She was a gem. She spoke excellent English and was a real historian. She knew so much about what we would be seeing.
Since Carol was not allowed to bring her scooter on the plane due to lithium ion battery restrictions on flights taking off in China, Lisa had arranged for both Carol and Doug to have wheelchairs for the day. Doug originally hadn’t planned on needing a wheelchair for this trip; but found out after arriving at the Beijing airport, that he would need one. Whereas handicap accessibility had never been an issue for us; it was quite important for this vacation.
While driving from the airport, I told Lisa that I was surprised that the pollution was so bad in Xi’an. She told us that there were 8 million people living in Xi’an, which I had not expected. I had also thought that the pollution would be lower in the winter. She said that part of the reason for the pollution being high in the winter is that the people burn coal for heating. That made a lot of sense and something I had not even thought about. Our first stop was at a terracotta and furniture factory. The factory produces various size terracotta warriors. Some of the full size ones were displayed outside. Carol and I both stood behind one of the warriors for photos. Both of us looked like Beetlejuice with the small heads and large bodies. Carol with the pollution mask looked really silly.
Before we went into the plant/display area, we walked over to the kiln where the terracotta pieces are fired. The production methods are very similar to how the original warriors were manufactured, and they make them in many different sizes.
Inside there were many partially completed statues along with various different heads. You can order any head you would like for a statue. They will even make your own if you want one. They have several celebrity heads on display, like Elvis, Obama and Putin.
In addition to the warriors, the large display floor had some beautiful lacquer furniture and various types of souvenirs. It was quite a big operation. The prices were very reasonable and we were quite tempted to purchase a large piece; but came to our senses when we realized there was no place in our home for it.
After leaving the shop and on our way to the main destination, the Terracotta Army Museum, we passed by a beautiful statue. It is a shame that the mountains can barely be seen in the distance due to the smog.
When we arrived at the large entrance area to the museum, we met a wheelchair pusher for Doug. It only cost 100 yuan for the day or about $16. Since the area was pretty flat, I figured that it would be easy enough for me to push Carol around.
Just inside the entrance, we boarded small vehicles that would drive us closer to the museum. It wasn’t that far of a walk, but since it was slightly uphill, I was glad we did.
The museum itself is composed of several large buildings.
The largest being Vault One, which is the one that we had previously seen in photos and on TV. It is believed to contain over 6,000 soldiers; but less than 2,000 are on display. The soldiers were made over 2,200 years ago under the orders of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.
Upon entering Vault One, the magnitude of the actual size of the army is unbelievable. It is amazing that each figure has different facial features, expressions, gestures, hairstyles, clothes and at one time weapons. You just have to walk around and stare at the amazing sight.
While looking into the pit, a young girl asked if she could take a selfie with Carol. We all got a kick out of it. The teenager was giggling and showing her friend the picture of her with an American.
At the back of the building is the hospital, where they are putting together pieces of soldiers and/or repairing others. It is quite impressive how they have brought these amazing creations back to life.
After leaving vault one, it was time for lunch, so we headed to a restaurant on site. We passed by an area of some lovely yellow flowers.
I got a kick out of the soldier heads on the outside of Vault One. It was a nice way to decorate the building.
The lunch was pretty good, but the most interesting part of it was watching a cook making noodles. He would beat on the dough and swing it around repeatedly to get it to where it would be first class noodles.
After lunch we went to Vaults Two and Three, which are much smaller and have a lot more excavation to do in them. They were still fascinating.
It is interesting to look in the pits and see what some of the warriors look like before being restored. In one there was the back of a horse.
The museum itself is nicely designed and quite enjoyable to walk through. At least it was when we were there. The normal crowd during season is around 60,000 visitors per day. Since we were there at the end of winter, there were only about 20,000 visitors.
In one section there are individual warriors displayed in glass cases. Very impressive. This was really a great museum and I was so glad we decided to spend the day there.
We then walked over to the Colorful Quin Terracotta Figures Display building. This was in a building that normally contains special displays. This particular display of colorful figures started on September 28, 2014 on the 40th anniversary of the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors. It would only run through March 28, 2015, so we were quite lucky to be able to see it. If we had been three weeks later, we would have missed it. What was interesting was that there were very few people in the building, since everyone was at the main vaults. I guess that since most people weren’t aware of the exhibit the tour guides weren’t bringing them there. I am so glad we got to go. There were numerous warriors on display, some with colors still on them.
There was a display that showed what the colors would have looked like on one half of the warrior that could be seen through a cutout in the wall.
It was quite nice to be able to look at the displays without having to fight any crowds. It allowed us to appreciate them much more.
In another section they had two totally repainted warriors depicting what they would have looked like when they were originally produced. It must have been quite a sight to see 8,000 of these brightly painted soldiers in one place.
The last area we went to had a couple of the chariots with horses on display. It was quite difficult to get photos, since the displays were very dark and the glass enclosures showed a lot of reflection.
It had been a very enjoyable visit to one of the most famous archeological sites in the world. On the way to our next destination, we passed by a large statue. I am not sure what it represented, but it was quite interesting looking.
Our next destination was to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. We parked at a shopping center across the street from it, since we wanted to use an ATM there at the end of the tour.
It was easy to see the pagoda in the distance on the other side of the large wall surrounding the area.
As we would see at many places over the next 3 weeks, there was a richly adorned gate to enter through.
Once through, we could see the full size of the pagoda in the distance. There were some other nice Asian style buildings on the grounds too.
As we got closer, we could see the true beauty of the pagoda.
The carvings on the walls and steps were just gorgeous.
I really liked the large lions. We would see many versions of them in the days ahead.
Inside the first level of the pagoda was a lovely golden Buddha statue.
I really loved the architecture, statuary and building decorations at this site. There was so much to look at.
When I got up to the pagoda itself, I thought it would be most interesting to go inside of it. Iris told us that there was a charge to go inside; and that there isn't much to see.
In one small building was a different Buddha statue with lots of small ones on the wall surrounding the room.
Iris then asked if we wanted to see a calligraphy presentation and some Asian art. Since we were just about done with the tour, we decided to check it out. A woman drew characters and explained what they meant. She also showed us some of the art that was for sale.
It was somewhat interesting; but we were pretty tired from the long day’s tour and were ready to head back to the airport and our hotel. The Big Goose Pagoda had been a much better stop than I had expected.
Our flight back to Beijing was at 9:00 PM. When we had arrived in Xi’an, we had wondered why our return flight was scheduled so late. However, with it being over an hour to get back to the airport, we didn’t have much time to spare, especially with Xi’an’s heavy traffic. It had been a very full enjoyable day and our internal clocks were now set to China time. We were very glad to get back to our Beijing hotel and crash.
Beijing Day 3
This was going to be another very interesting touring day. Andy picked the four of us up at 8:00 AM and we headed for the Forbidden City. It was the Chinese Imperial Palace for almost 500 years after its completion in 1420. We had originally planned to walk through Tiananmen Square, right in front of the Forbidden City; but there was a government meeting going on that day and the square was closed to visitors. Since we were able to drive by and see it, we weren’t that disappointed. We would have plenty of walking without crossing that large area.
The van dropped us off and we walked toward the entrance to the Forbidden City. Once again the pollution was still bad at 260. Not as bad as the first day, but still classified as Very Unhealthy. And it was indeed. It also made it difficult to get nice clean photos; but they do show what this tourist attraction normally looks like for visitors. The 20 foot deep moat around the outside of the 26 foot tall wall, was quite a deterrent to breaking in.
I really liked the decorations on and under the wing tipped roofs. Like in Xi’an, they were ornate and we would see similar designs everywhere in China.
The complex is huge. It covers 180 acres and contains 980 buildings. We stopped to take photos in front of the Forbidden City and then headed through the tunnel like entrance of the Meridian Gate.
It was quite a courtyard. There were several buildings and towers alongside the Gate of Supreme Harmony. I was impressed with the five bridges crossing over the Golden Water.
Since it was late winter, the crowds were much smaller than during season. There were still a lot of people visiting but I can’t imagine what it would be like with a large crowd. Andy showed us where the handicapped ramps were located, and Carol took off across a very rough stone courtyard on her scooter, after I helped push her up over the steep bridge. Andy had to assist Cherie with pushing Doug in some areas where the incline was too steep for her. We were all getting a kick out of how everyone was staring at Carol’s scooter. They just couldn’t take their eyes off of it. Carol felt like a celebrity. We were pleasantly surprised at how handicap accessible the complex was. Carol and Doug couldn’t get up to all the halls; but they were able to move through the complex with little difficulty other than some of the rougher stone paths.
Two large Chinese Lions were in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony.
A central ramp in the center of the steps had dragon carvings on it; but they are difficult to see in the photo.
Exiting the Gate of Supreme Harmony, we entered the largest courtyard, which is in front of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest building in the complex.
There were so many beautiful buildings and roofs around the courtyard.
After looking around the courtyard level of the Hall of Supreme Harmony, I walked up the steps to get a closer look. Quite a lovely building; as was the view looking back down into the courtyard.
Since most people move through the middle of the Forbidden City, we were pretty much by ourselves in the side area where the handicap ramps were located. It allowed for a much more peaceful viewing of the magnificent structures.
The dragon water spouts prevent flooding between the various levels of the Hall of Forbidden Harmony.
I liked the large turtle statue with a dragon’s head. He did look like a happy fellow.
The ceilings and underside of the roofs had such vivid color patterns to them.
Visitors were not allowed to go inside the main halls, so any photos had to be taken from the outside looking into the dark halls. With the many people surrounding the openings to the halls, it was a challenge to get decent photos of the rooms and thrones, but I was able to get some shots. There really isn’t that much inside the halls and what is there appears rather dinghy. The throne in the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the grandest of the thrones; but somehow, I wasn't able to get a photo of it.
The next hall was much smaller. It was the Hall of Central Harmony with the larger Hall of Preserving Harmony behind it.
The Hall of Central Harmony contained a smaller throne. It really needed some renovation work.
The Hall of Preserving Harmony had a very large throne in it.
There were just so many beautiful structures, walls, statues and ceramics all over the complex. It was a real treat to be able to walk through and take in the magnificence of one of the greatest palaces in the world.
After the main halls, we walked into the living quarter areas. Unfortunately the emperor’s rooms were enclosed in dirty thick plastic type windows, which made decent photos impossible; but I am including some just to show what the rooms looked like.
Beyond the living quarters was the Imperial Garden. Now this was an unexpected treat. The paths through the garden were lined with lovely designs.
The first part of the gardens were more rock gardens, which combined with the lovely structures above made for a peaceful setting.
Further in there were unusual looking trees and beautiful buildings. Even with all the people walking around, I could see where the emperors of the past could come to these gardens to meditate and make decisions that would change the course of Chinese history.
Everything about the Forbidden City was so interesting. I could have spent so much more time looking at various museums in some of the buildings; but we had other places to visit during the day. Before we knew it we were leaving through the Gate of Divine Might.
The hill north of the Forbidden City is Jingshan Park. This hill was made from the dirt removed to create the moats around the Forbidden City. Rather impressive, considering it was all done by manual labor using animals to move the dirt.
I just loved the views of the wall and moat, especially the ornate towers on the wall. I wish that we could have visited on a clear sunny day. It would have brought out even more of the beauty of the magnificent complex.
Click Button to Continue to Page 2 of the Review
© 2015 ThePreismans.com • All Rights Reserved