Monday, August 30, 2021

Royal Caribbean Cruise to Nowhere (Quantum of the Seas): Tips and tricks

If you had asked me two years ago whether I would pay good money to go on a ship that went around Singapore waters for 3 days, did not dock anywhere, and then came back to Singapore, I would have told you not a chance in hell. 

Oh well, Covid-19 happened and I ate my words. After one full year of house arrest, I decided enough was enough and my poor passport deserved to come out of the closet too. So RC's Quantum of the Seas was booked and like all my holidays, I researched the hell out of it. Thank god I did, because if you don't know these tips and tricks, you can possibly end up having a very blah experience. So, if you are thinking of, or have booked a cruise on this ship, here's my list of tips to help make it WOW for you.

Choosing a Room 

So many options, what to choose? Here's the lowdown. They say that the lower decks are more stable and have lesser motion when the ship is moving but honestly, Singapore waters are so docile that it just doesn't matter. Pick between decks 8-10 and you're all set. The only time I felt the ship move was when I was in the Solarium, which is on the edge of the ship on the top deck, never in my room. The balcony rooms are lovely and the balcony is ideal for having wine while watching the sea. Though the sofa-beds open up to accommodate children, book two connecting balcony rooms if you can afford it. It's a blessing to have children near enough but in their own space. You can always lock their balcony if that's a cause of concern. Between mid-ship, forward and aft, choose a room mid-ship. Lesser walking that way, and there's a LOT of walking during your cruise. See deck maps before booking to make sure that there isn't an adventure area or recreation area above your room - that can make it noisy. Choose a room which has rooms below and above it.   

Boarding 

The first thing you need to do after booking is check-in. This is so that you get the earliest boarding time of 2pm, which allows you two things - 1) To enjoy an extra day on the ship 2) To book all the facilities and shows, which can only be booked when you board the ship and get on it's WiFi. I know people who did not know this, or did not bother, and ended up with no shows, bumper cars or anything bookable to show for it. 

Test

I was quite apprehensive about the PCR test but it was fine. Make sure you book your PCR test and get there on time. It's a 1-minute process, not pleasurable but definitely not too bad. Make sure you don't tense up, and breathe through your mouth the whole time. It will be over before you know it. 

Extra Packages

Before you board, make sure you mark the mails from RC as 'safe' so they don't end up in your junk folder. You will receive some discounts and offers and it is a good idea to avail these as the pricing on-board the ship is higher. I took WiFi (surf only, not stream) and it worked just fine. I skipped the drinks package as we are not big drinkers, plus the ship allows you to carry certain beverages (see point below). The bars are decently priced, well in comparison to Singapore, with cocktails at USD 12 and beer less than that. 

Beverages

You are allowed to carry 2 bottles of wine (only wine and champagne) per stateroom, plus 6 cans/bottles/Tetra Paks of non-alcoholic drinks (not many people know this). Use the latter wisely, as this can include water too. The tap water on the ship is drinkable, and though some people complain of it being too chlorinated, I thought it was just fine. There is a mini-bar in the room to keep your drinks cool, and wine glasses can be requested via housekeeping. 

Food

Should you book the extra restaurants or is the free food good enough? If you have booked a suite, you will have access to The Coastal Kitchen for all your meals, in addition to the other restaurants. If not, then you can pre-book a speciality restaurant before you board. In my opinion, the free options are pretty decent and you can skip the paid ones. The buffet at Windjammer is excellent and you will find yourself gravitating there for breakfast and lunches. The main dining room is a hit and a miss but the menu changes daily and you can order whatever you want, as much as you want. I found some decent dishes there, including incredible Indian options. Pizzas are available for free morning until late night at Sorrento's and Dog House does yum hot dogs (check timings when you board on Day 1). There are bars everywhere for a cocktail or two, and room service too. Not many people know but the room service menu is free to order from. You only need to pay a service charge for delivery (waived off for breakfast) and can order as many dishes as you wish. 

Activities


What made the cruise all the more exciting for us were the numerous activities we could partake in. I personally loved the Harry Potter trivia, the general knowledge trivia, the line dancing session, bumper cars, Flowrider and sky diving (iFly). All except the last one are free. The only ones you need to book are bumper cars and sky diving, everything else is a walk-in or queue-up. If you board early on Day 1, make sure you do Flowrider around 4pm before everyone else comes in...there won't be any queues then. If you wish to do it again, the first thing in the morning is a great idea, just when it opens - just line up 15 mins before it opens. iFly is paid but one of the most exciting 60 seconds of your life. Do it. And yes, my 10-year old daughter loved it too!

Shows

I can't tell you much about shows because when we sailed, only suites were allowed show access. However, one show of Beatles Mania was open to us, which we missed as it was full when we went to queue up 15 mins before showtime. Make sure you queue up 45 mins before, and you should be able to catch that one. There are some lovely performances you can just walk into and enjoy, every day. Piano, violin, etc. My daughter loved those and we would sit for 15-20 minutes and quietly walk out, no need to sit through the one-hour performance. 

Plan Your Mornings Well

If you have children, it's a great idea to put them into the play area 'Adventure Cove' for an hour or two each morning after breakfast. They can meet other kids there, and you can meanwhile enjoy Solarium, the adults-only pool area which has indulgent hot tubs. I would suggest planning your morning thus - wake up early and go for a walk on Deck 15. Head to breakfast then. Go to your room, change and go do rock climbing and then Flowrider. Kids change their clothes and head to Adventure Cove and you go to Solarium to find the hot tubs free.     

MOST IMP 

What will make or break your cruise is what you do the moment you board. As soon as you board, log into the ship's WiFi and start booking on the app. Take bumper car slots for each day, and then iFly if you plan to do it. If you have access to the shows, this is when you book those too. Once you've done that, you can simply add items into your calendar that don't need booking and you'll get a reminder whenever something is coming up. Also, walk up to Adventure Cove and book slots for each day for your kids to spend there. You get a total number of hours, so plan your time in Solarium well, to coincide with these. Also, make sure you buy and carry one lanyard each per person, so that you can put your key card in it. You need to swipe it everywhere you go, including payments. Put your token in it too, and that will save you the trouble of looking for these two things 40 times a day. 

I hope this helps you and that you have a fabulous Cruise to Nowhere. If you have a question, feel free to write it in the comments and I will be sure to answer. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Of happiness and self care

A few days ago, I was asked why I was so down. Until that moment, I was actually just fine. I was sitting in my balcony, watching the sunset sky. I wasn't sad, I was just lost in thought. But the difference between the two is often misunderstood. I was told I always look at the glass half empty. What is the one thing missing right now that if you got would make you happy, I was asked. 

Pushed into a corner, my only instinct is to put up walls. So, while I would have happily shared what flitted through my mind on and off if asked casually, put on the spot like this I retreated.

I won't deny, this year has been a difficult one for me. I'm sure there are many people out there who would relate, and plenty others who wouldn't. Last year was okay...there was a certain newness to the pandemic that kept things interesting. You thought it was going to last a few weeks or at best a few months. And then it dragged on and on. 

But this year has been tough. I missed the weddings of two of my closest people - my own sister and my best friend. Only because of border closures. Two events for which I would have flown from the farthest corners of the world. And I attended them from a screen small enough to fit into my palm. 

Work has been difficult this year. My industries - travel, food and publishing - have been hit so badly that it will take years to repair the damage. There is no commissioned work to go around, some of my long-standing work sources and popular magazines declared bankruptcy and shut down. And even my own workplace is not a shadow of what it used to be. There used to be a warmth to the place, a sense of belonging. It doesn't take much to build work culture, you start with empathy, add a dose of appreciation, and take it from there. But like all things, cultures evolve.

So yes, in a nutshell, this year has not been easy. The fact that I haven't been able to meet my people for two years doesn't help either. If I had been asked what was on my mind, I may have mentioned these things, amongst others. 

But I'm in a better place now than I was a week ago when this discussion happened. I dived into self care and realised that no one else can pull me up except my own self. I took aromatherapy baths, long trips to the library, and started writing again. 

I asked myself, what is the one thing that would make me happy. And I realised it was travel. If I added my parents and sister into that mix, nothing like it. So, I started planning. It was magical, the change in me. Just the process of planning a trip gives me such a high. This is what I was made to do. Plan, research, book, travel, experience. This is who I am. This is me. No wonder these 1.5 years have been tough.

Here I am, planning a completely hypothetical trip at the end of this year, which may or may not happen due to border rules. But it gives me something to look forward to. A purpose, hope. And what is life without either of these two, don't you think?  

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Between the greys


It's been almost four years since I wrote here. And boy, has the world changed or what? It feels like a sci-fi movie. Or perhaps a bad dream that has you thrashing around in the night but you just don't seem to wake up from. 

Talking about how you feel should be normalised. Over time I have realised that people, even those closest to you, want you to talk to them about your life, as long as its all rosy. People can't deal with thorns or bumps for an elongated period of time. It bores them. 

But that's the very core of living, isn't it? The smooth stretches interspersed with bumps along the way. Your favourite music playing in the car with you singing along, the wind in your hair, gorgeous countryside to drive through; even if it means going over a few bumps. 

I guess that is why I find myself restarting this blog. Because life is not black and white. You can't smile all the time, nor can you drown yourself in tears. It's not like a dramatic film, racy background music et all. 

Life exists between the greys. In the various hues between black and white is where you will find the good stuff. The fears and the turmoil. The small joys and the spontaneous laughter. The disappointments, the realisations, the acceptance. It is in the greys that you will find the reality. The truth about everyone's life. Yours, and mine. 

Welcome back to The Thought Express. And so it begins again. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Goodbye

I started this blog 11 years ago. In 2007, blogs were still uncommon and when I stumbled upon this novel platform on which I could write and publish my thoughts, it filled a certain space in my life that I did not know needed filling until then. This blog helped me discover my love for writing. When I scroll back and read some of my earliest work, they seem amateurish. But to the 24 year old who typed those words out, they were a balm. Something that I enjoyed so much that I decided to make words my professional calling as well.

Cut to 2017, or rather 2018, should I say. Blogs are one a plenty. And I am not that girl anymore. The Thought Express has been my alter ego for a long time but like all good things, it's important to know when to let go. And so, at 1am on 1st January 2018, I bid adieu to a blog that I held very close to my heart.

I hope you enjoyed reading it. It was but a glimpse into my very soul.

Happy New Year.   

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The marble cliffs of Bhedaghat


The lovely white cliffs, River Narmada snaking around them, dinosaur eggs and a gorgeous waterfall... Bhedaghat offers all this and more! 

My latest article on HT Mint. Read it by clicking HERE.  

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

My latest on HT Mint - Hidden caves with paintings from the Stone Age


I never believed articles when I read that hidden in the heart of Madhya Pradesh, lay caves which had paintings from the stone age. The oldest monuments I have ever visited are the Pyramids of Giza. As awe-inspiring as they are, they happen to be 4000-5000 years old. The caves I am talking about? 100,000 years old. Yes, you read that right.

So I decided to make a trip and see for myself. Read my story on HT Mint to find out what I discovered. Click here for the story

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The day the phone stopped ringing

My father was at the peak of his career when he walked out of the corporate world. Literally. At the age of 51, and having helmed the marketing teams of the top consumer durable companies of his time, my father one day decided that he did not want to work for somebody else and walked out. My sister was 24 and getting married that year. Or maybe it was after she got married. The details are hazy as even though I was 20, I was too young to be told.

But after 30 odd years of being in the industry, he had had enough. And that is a sobering thought to those of us who feel the same after a decade or so. The timing wasn't great, to say the least. And the next couple of years were the worst my parents have ever seen.

Let me put things in perspective here. He worked for the best companies in the country, from Videocon to LG Electronics and reached the level of Vice President in an era where the designation did not exist. In fact, it was the Korean companies like LG and Samsung that brought the title...till then General Manager was the highest you could go. He had people fawning over him at every step, dictated how dollars were spent and was spoken about with reverence in the industry.

And then he quit. I never realised how hard that must have been for him until I walked down my own career path. A non-linear path to say the least, I switched from marketing to being an unknown writer just when I was showing promise. I was handling million dollar budgets, felt all-so important and so decided to chase my dreams. Which I did.

It wasn't easy. But I crawled my way through. After a couple of years, it paid off and I eventually started getting published in great places. And then I decided, against my gut, to go back full time and took up the job of Editor at NDTV Food. I'm glad I did. Those years were memorable and I grew tremendously in my profession.

But what it also gave me was a break from anonymity. The industry recognized my position and thus me. And my name became recognizable. And then I quit.

The one advice, or rather warning, my father always gave me, was that people recognize your chair, not you. The biggest difference, when you quit your job is that the phone stops ringing. It is a startling thing, and not one that you think you would miss. But miss it you do. Because that silence of the phone marks the demise of your importance to the people who otherwise treated you as gold.

The beauty is that life is not linear, much like my chosen career graph. Since I have moved to Singapore, I have done cover stories for magazines that I did not even dream of before. And now, more than ever, I know that I will constantly be plotting my next step forward. But what this breather allows me is to sift the wheat from the chaff. I now understand people better. The people who did not reply to an email or those who didn't bother making time in their schedule for a meeting whereas a year back they would have asked me for one. And I see the people who still look at me for advice. My former team, some people in the industry, a handful but a precious few.

This entire saga has been told to share something that I believe in very strongly. It is a lesson in humility. When you are riding high, do not overlook others. Never leave mails unanswered, phone calls unreturned. Life is long and as I said before, the same people you walked past on the ladder up will probably overtake you at some point. Ambition is a fine thing, but do not pursue it forsaking compassion. And do not fall in love with the chair you sit on at work. It will go one day, and the phone will stop ringing. It is your actions today and for the days to come, that will define who stands next to you when that day arrives. Invest wisely. Answer that email. Make time.

It is the respect you give someone when you don't need anything from them that defines the person you are. Choose who you want to be, wisely. 

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