My experience aboard the Norwegian Jade from Dubai to Singapore
For several years, I had been promising myself that I would go to the Maldives the year I turned 30. However, when it came time to plan, I thought twice.
You see, I’ve never really taken the time to really look at the cost of such a trip. I knew it would be more expensive than my usual trips – I’m a big fan of backpacking adventures in Asia – but I had no idea we were talking about a trip in the 5 figures!
I was VERY disappointed. So, when I stumbled upon the description of the itinerary of a cruise that was spending a day in the Maldives, I jumped at the chance. I called my mother, presented her with the idea of a trip for her 60th birthday and my 30th birthday, and voilà! We booked a 17-day cruise from Dubai to Singapore.
I admit, I was afraid I wouldn’t like cruises. I, who am used to little luxury, youth hostels, bus journeys and low cost airplanes from Europe: would I really enjoy such a trip on a liner, prisoner of a fixed, unchangeable itinerary?
I’ve got to be honest: I loved it. So in this account of my experience, I’ll try to share with you a little bit of the magic of cruises (even when you’re 30 years old!) and to undo some of the prejudices that people have (including myself) about them.
What’s the plan?
Dubai (UAE) – Abu Dhabi (UAE) – Khasab (Oman) – Goa (India) – Malé (Maldives) – Colombo (Sri Lanka) – Phuket (Thailand) – Penang (Malaysia) – Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) – Singapore
A word from the expert: points for cruises
In Canada, we do not have access to cruise line credit cards, as may be the case in the United States.
To save money on this type of trip, there are solutions. For example, AIR MILES offers the possibility of using miles for cruises.
With the travel points programs, you will be able to use your credit card points for cruises. Here are some programs that allow it:
Finally, don’t forget the hotel nights or Airbnb before or after a cruise! This allows you to enjoy your trip more.
For this, hotel points such as Best Western Rewards or Marriott Bonvoy will be used. Or travel points for Airbnb.
General cruise information
When booking, we had several choices regarding the type of room and possible “bonus” benefits.
We took advantage of the offer that gave us the following benefits:
- Free Wifi (250 minutes)
- Credit of $50 per port of call for an excursion booked through NCL
- Unlimited alcoholic beverages
It is important to note that all meals are included on the boat. A buffet is offered three times a day, and in the evening, it is possible to eat at one of the restaurants “à la carte” of our choice. Specialty restaurants are also available, but you must pay (or purchase the appropriate package).
The boat arrives in the morning at the ports of call (we can disembark around 8:00 am, normally) and we had to return there before 4:00 pm (two hours before the scheduled departure). Depending on the port, these times vary a little, but we usually have at least 8 hours on site.
Day 1 - Departure - Dubai
After a flight with Emirates (very comfortable in Economy class), we arrived in Dubai the morning of the boat’s departure.
As we were already leaving for 17 days at sea, plus the travel time to and from Dubai, my mother and I had decided not to spend any time in Dubai before the cruise. It wasn’t an easy decision, but on the spot it was the best one. So I only saw the taxi ride from the airport to the port.
I don’t recommend doing what we did, for two reasons:
- If the flight is late, the boat won’t wait for you…
- It’s good to arrive in good shape for the departure (I suggest arriving a day or two before the boat leaves)
Once on the boat, we took possession of our room. We had a mini-suite, which consists of a double bed, a sofa bed, a balcony and a bathroom.
It’s obviously smaller than a hotel room, but it was very comfortable and pleasant, all in all. A curtain separates the “bedroom” section from the “living room” section which contains the sofa bed.
Day 2 - Abu Dhabi
My mother and I decided to book a double-decker bus tour to see as much of the city as possible. We took advantage of the credit of $50 per port of call to book with NCL. So we were able to leave directly from the port to visit the main tourist attractions of Abu Dhabi. The advantage with the “Hop on, Hop off” buses is that you can (as the name suggests) get on and off as you please throughout the day. We focused our visit at the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Yas Mall and the Emirates Palace.
Once back on the boat, we decided on our routine for the next two weeks: watching the beautiful sunset while sipping a cool drink, trying the food at the buffet, and relaxing.
Day 3 - At sea
Cruises that cover such a long distance involve spending several days “at sea”. That is to say, the boat is moving and all the passengers therefore remain on board. My mother was happy to spend time on our balcony reading, while I enjoyed the warm weather and the pool! I also took the opportunity to go to the gym – because yes, there is one! Very well equipped, by the way.
Day 4 - Khasab, Oman
I had taken the time to look at the excursions offered by Norwegian Cruise, but nothing tempted me. It was too expensive. So I looked at Viator and I found a dhow boat trip to see the fjords and the dolphins, hopefully.
For a fraction of the price, we had a great day. In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the dolphins were there!
I took the opportunity to do my first snorkeling trip. The water was warm and I could see several species of fish. We ended the day with a quick visit to the village of Khasab before returning to the ship.
Verdict: I want to go back to that country. I now have a crush on Oman, its people, its landscapes…
Days 5 and 6 - At sea
More sun, more sunscreen. What to do during those days on the boat? There is always a host of activities on offer: bingo, pool contests, conferences on other destinations, quizzes, art auctions, casino… there is no shortage of choices! Moreover, the casino can only open when we are at sea, for legislative reasons. I guarantee you that time flies by very quickly.
Day 7 - Mormugao, India
I was especially glad the cruise made a stop in India. It’s not a country I would have dared to visit alone before the cruise. Of course, I could only see one city, but I didn’t feel uncomfortable there – quite the opposite!
I walked all day to explore in my own way, as I would have done if I had been on an adventure with my backpack. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, so I’ll let you find out what I saw.
I took the opportunity to taste the local beer, the Kingfisher, in a small bar in Vasco de Gama. By the way, Mormugao is in the state of Goa, which was colonized by the Portuguese.
Day 8 - At sea
Day 9 - Malé, Maldives
Finally, the moment I had been dreaming about for years: I was in the Maldives.
I woke up at dawn to be among the first to disembark that morning. My mother couldn’t stand the oppressive humidity; she stayed on the boat while I explored the translucent waters full of fish. I had booked a snorkeling trip with a local company, thus avoiding the exorbitant prices NCL imposed.
I’ve been diving in several places around the world, but I’ve NEVER seen as many fish as there. It was magic! I must have seen hundreds of different and incredibly colourful species!
One day, if I can afford it (or if I earn enough points with my credit cards), I will return to the Maldives and sleep in a private room on stilts.
Day 10 - At sea
Day 11 - Colombo, Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka was on my list of countries to visit one day. I took advantage of that day in Colombo to take the pulse of this country, of its people. I booked a private tour for my mother and myself with a guide (with the WithLocals site).
We walked a good part of the time and visited the attractions of Colombo, following Naushad’s good advice.
Temples, historical monuments, typical meals, banana market: I loved that day!
It gave me a small glimpse of the atmosphere of Sri Lanka, and I established a friendly relationship with my guide, who will be happy to show me around the Sri Lankan mountains when I return.
Day 12 and 13 - At sea
Days 14 and 15 - Phuket, Thailand
The cruise itinerary included a night on site in Phuket, Thailand. This means that you can decide not to come back to sleep on the boat and book your own room if you wish. That’s what I had decided to do, since I had booked an excursion that would leave very early the next day to visit the Phi Phi islands.
The first day, I spent my time exploring Phuket and trying as many dishes as possible. I love Thai food! I wasn’t disappointed!
And the next day, at 4:00 a.m., I left to spend a memorable day on a boat. I’m adding a few snapshots of my adventure to give you a glimpse. I was able to snorkel again, this time with baby sharks!
I’d never been to Thailand before, and these two days only made me want to go back. As soon as the world situation permits, that’s where I’ll go.
Days 15 and 16 - Penang and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
In Penang, my mother and I decided to explore the city on foot. We didn’t have any plans, apart from eating well and doing a little shopping.
We tried to identify as many “graffiti” style works as possible by a local artist. He left them all over town, much to the delight of visitors!
Regarding Kuala Lumpur, I had once again booked the services of a guide to be able to see as much of this destination as possible.
I wanted to visit the Batu Caves, where you can find the famous multicoloured staircase! Even if you don’t have much time in Kuala Lumpur, I highly recommend you to go. That was impressive, and that makes for great cardio. ?
Day 17 - Singapore
The end of our journey! Our return flight was that evening at 10:00 p.m. That gave us enough time to visit Singapore, which I had been dreaming about for a while.
Mother Nature had other plans – it was the only rainy day of the 17-day trip!
So once again we booked a “Hop on, Hop off” bus tour, as we were unable to walk freely.
It was raining hard, but we got a nice view of the city. Enough for my mother to complain about having to leave and make me swear we’d go back one day! I think the multitude of luxury stores and their promise of dozens of hours of window-shopping convinced her… To each his own!
For many, cruises can seem too expensive, too boring, too… too much.
I was apprehensive about booking, but I don’t regret doing it for one second. This 18-day trip (with the airfare) cost me $3,600 – this includes flights, the cruise itself (obviously), excursions and meals (off the boat).
I find that for such a trip, which allowed me to visit destinations I dreamed of (Maldives, Thailand, Singapore) and which made me discover new ones (Oman, Sri Lanka, India), it is very correct.
Cruises, are not just for lazy or older travelers. It’s an extraordinary way to get a glimpse of unusual destinations, which you wouldn’t think of systematically, and to experience them in your own way.
If you have any questions about the cruises, or the destinations mentioned in my article, don’t hesitate! I’ll be happy to answer.