I leave on vacation in nine days. That means in about eight days, I will start packing. I don’t do much in advance which means I will invariably be tearing the house up looking for something less than ten minutes before I’m being picked up for the airport.
What I have done in advance however is pretty remarkable for me – I’ve got most of the trip planned out pretty well. I’m actually pleased at how much has already been taken care of versus left to pure chance (aka “winging it”).
The center point of this trip is a twelve-night cruise from Singapore to Denpasar on Seabourn although the bookends are not bad either – first class travel to Singapore (via San Francisco and Hong Kong) on Cathay Pacific and first class travel home (via Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and New York City) on Malaysia and Cathay Pacific (although I’m still watching inventory and may tighten up my routings as departure grows closer). I’ll also have ground time in Singapore before embarking and a couple of beach days in Bali after I disembark.
This will be my fourth Seabourn cruise and the longest one I’ve taken yet. In addition to three blissful sea days (my favorite part of cruising), the ship will stop in Tanjung Priok (Jakarta), Semarang (the gateway to Borobudur), Surabaya, Probolinggo (a jumping off point for Bromo), Komodo Island, Celukan Bawang, and Benoa (the main tourist port for Bali).
I’m meeting up with a friend in San Francisco who will be joining me for the adventure. We’ve known each other for over a dozen years, having originally met via FlyerTalk.com, and have traveled together before. It’s nice to have other single friends who want to visit some of the places I want to go I’m comfortable traveling solo, but cruising is much easier with others!
Likewise, I’m very comfortable traveling without lots of set plans. Normally I’d be willing to wing it and figure out the ports along the way. But the unique locations and a relative lack of cruise shore excursions that interested me meant a lot of advance research and booking through third parties
In the end, the game plan looks solid.
Singapore was a no-brainer for “do it yourself”. Both of us have separately traveled there and I have several local friends so I’ve seen almost all the sights on previous visits. My appetite for local cuisine needs to be satiated so I’m picturing a mad dash for chili crabs, curry prawns, roti prata, chicken rice, carrot cake, and other hawker stand delights. I have been known to hit up the markets at 3 am when I’m jetlagged so I expect an orgy of food.
Our first port will be Jakarta after two days at sea (during which I hope to experience the traditional Pollywogs and Shellbacks line crossing ceremony that sailors participate in the first time they cross the Equator by sea). I’ve only been to Jakarta briefly and saw nothing but a shopping mall on that one trip so I’m hoping to see more. We only have from 7 am to 5 pm in port (and realistically need to be back to the boat by 4 pm) so logistical planning was a must. Although the city has Uber and the network of Blue Bird taxis I’m used to from Bali, with reported traffic congestion it made since to have an experienced local so we booked a private five-hour tour to hit some of the city’s tourist highpoints.
We arrive in Semarang on Thanksgiving around noon and depart the next day at 5 pm. The highlight of this port are the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Borobudur and Prambanan. The ship only offered a one-day tour that traveled to Borobudur (but not Prambanan) – leaving at dawn and returning right at departure.
After much reading, I decided I really wanted to see sunrise at Borobudur – there is a guest lodge located on the grounds that allows its guests access up before sunrise (with provided flashlights) so they can watch the sun rise from the top of the temple and then explore before the daily crowds arrive. I researched direct accommodations with the lodge, but my travel agent was able to put together a two day tour through Abercrombie & Kent that covers both temples as well as the Water Castle and other sights closer to Jogjakarta.
Rather than turkey in the ship’s dining room, Thanksgiving will be spent at a temple lodge getting ready for a pre-dawn hike… unless we can find somewhere good to eat in the local village.
After that adventure, Surabaya will be an easier port the next day. My companion and I conferred and decided we’d be up for a more relaxed day since we have busier destinations ahead. So we’ll venture off the ship at our own pace for some exploring and food. Surabaya is the second largest city in Indonesia and there are a couple of districts with a high concentration of food vendors (such as G-Walk) so we are sure to find interesting nooks and crannies although having a daytime-only stop limits some of the food possibilities.
The next day is another active one. We’ll anchor in the harbor at Probolinggo, a fishing port, and tender in to meet our guide for the day where we will travel (by car, then by 4×4 Jeep, then by horse, then by foot up hundreds of steps) until we reach the rim of the Bromo volcano. I’ve visited Batur, but this will be my first time to be at the crater of an active site. On the way back, we’ll visit the Madakaripura Waterfall.
We had the most debate over this port – the ship tour did not visit the waterfall (likely due to the logistics of getting a busload of people through the volcano part). I was not excited about paying a large sum just to see the volcano. My friend found a couple of ways that we could do the port ourselves but I was too nervous to leave something with several variables to chance. In the end, our travel agent finally found something that worked – one of the benefits of working with an agent!
The next day we dock in Celukan Bawang on the northwestern coast of Bali. Now I’ve traveled a lot around Bali – and I’ve ventured far further north than most tourists (who don’t make it past Ubud) but this will be the furthest afield I’ve gone and will mean I’ve now covered all of the perimeter of the island on my travels there.
We received a complimentary shore excursion for this port because my travel agent is part of the Virtuoso network. On some cruises, Virtuoso has an onboard host and this sailing is one of those. All of the guests who booked with Virtuoso agencies will be treated to a private tour and lunch in this port. The destination is otherwise sleepy and others have reported that they plan to snorkel or partake of other beach activities that day.
Our last port before disembarkation follows another sea day. That will be the tender port of Komodo Island. Due to restrictions on the island, we were required to book a tour through the ship if we wanted to go ashore to Komodo.
At first, I wanted to enjoy the most extensive tour that I could. But after reading more about Komodo dragons (and how they not only eat humans but can outrun, outswim, and outjump their prey), I decided that the less time I spent there, the better. My fear has definitely NOT subsided after listening to friends of mine tell me Komodo dragon stories from our local zoo. I want to get on and get back off quickly and safely! I had briefly considered a tour that included snorkeling at a nearby beach until I read about how the dragons have been known to swim to adjacent islands. Now I’m going nowhere near the water in that port!
We wrap up in the southern part of Bali (near Denpasar) where I’ve vacationed well over a dozen times. There is something about arriving in Bali that always feels a bit like coming home. There is a familiar smell in the air and get a general sense of contentment in my days there. I’ve arranged for one of my regular drivers to be on call for us during the duration of our time there.
Bali is not a difficult place to get transport – indeed there are more drivers than passengers it seems. But there are varying degrees of driver type – full guide, driver only private cars, and taxis. Booking via services or hotels tends to double or even triple the going price. I find it easier to just book my own or hail Blue Bird taxis from the street. But for this visit, it will be nice to have a familiar driver available.
Bali is a port I look forward to at the end of the cruise – it’s an easy place to wing it. If we feel like upscale nightlife, we can do upscale. If we are craving cans of Bintang beer and cheap nasi goreng (fried rice) after too many days of rich food on the ship, we can do that. Beachside sunning or touring, we’ll be covered for anything we decide.
I’m still tweaking hotels (and scanning flights, just in case), but I feel like my plans are pretty solid. Now my plans can switch to arranging my house sitting, figuring out how I’m getting to/from the airport, and decorating for Christmas before I go (so that I come home to a seasonally appropriate home). Oh, and maybe I can start packing a bit early!
Have you been to any of these ports? Have I missed one of your favorites?