Monday, March 30, 2009

7107 Island Cruises cruise

On Friday we took the Sun Cruises ferry to Manila, then a taxi to the north harbor, and boarded the “7107 Islands Cruise” cruise ship. We eagerly anticipated a weekend tour that would include Friday night sailing Manila Bay, then take us to Subic Bay to spend Saturday, then Sunday to Corregidor and back to Manila. Marcia, who’s had vestibular problems in the past, has always shied away from cruises. We decided to try the short version, and see if we enjoy ourselves and avoid seasickness. We’d like do a longer cruise with them in the future to Boracay and Palawan, two of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines.

The ship was docked at Pier 6 in the Tondo section of Manila. Tondo is one of the most densely-populated areas in the world, and has had problems with gangs in the past. Our taxi driver said that the mayor has made a good effort at cleaning up the city, and indeed, what we saw did not look as bad as we had expected. The boarding area was decent enough, and we assume that the cruise line has no choice in docking areas. The only obvious sign of poverty was children paddling on large Styrofoam rafts in the dirty water, yelling “give us your money” whenever anyone stuck his head over the bay side of the ship.

Our room was small, but certainly adequate, and not the matchbox size that we have heard on some cruise lines. We decided to stay on the middle deck, so there are smaller and larger rooms for less and more money, of course. The bathroom was significantly larger than one in a 747 in coach class, and had a decent shower. Marcia thinks it was larger than the bathroom in our first apartment.

The toilet provided the first laughs of the trip. It looked pretty much like a conventional one, complete with water in the bowl, but acted more like an airplane toilet. When you flushed, which required pulling up a knob on the back of the bowl, at first the water would run out fairly normally, then all of a sudden there was an strange, high-pitched whooshing sound that lasted for about half a second, at which time the contents of the bowl were magically transported to an alternate universe, or so it seemed. Beam me up, Scotty.

The second laugh, if you can call it that, occurred when we heard Kenny G’s “My Heart Will Go On and On” playing on the ship’s sound system. Note to all cruise lines: Don’t play that song. It might remind the passengers of a sailing disaster where over 1500 people die. Worse yet, it will remind them of a movie where Leonardo di Caprio dies.

The first night included dinner and a dance, so Marcia packed a couple of mildly fancy dresses for herself, along with two nicer shirts and a pair of pants for Steve. We forgot a belt, and since Steve has lost 35 pounds and four inches off his waist, that presented a minor challenge. After some thought, we conjured up a faux belt using a fabric and elastic money belt. Philippine dress code does not require tucked in shirttails.

The dinner buffet was quite tasty. An exceptionally good band called “Music Venture” played mostly 60s-80s music. The lady who sang “To Sir with Love” may as well have been Lulu. The band was able to sound like Santana and many other popular bands of the past. All around great guitar, trumpet, keyboards, percussion, and vocals. In the meantime the ship was cruising Manila Bay.

We got word that former First Lady Imelda Marcos was on board for the evening, with her entourage eating in a separate dining room. It’s kind of funny that after living 55 years in the United States we were never knowingly near a First Lady, and here we were on the same ship with one. Later she came into the dining room, which also acts as stage and dance floor. Comedian Jimmy Guerero impersonated past Philippine presidents for Imelda. Then Jun Polistico and Anthony Castelo, two Filipino singers who perform in Las Vegas, provided the entertainment, sometimes singing duets, other times alternating their acts. When Polistico opened his mouth you would have sworn Frank Sinatra had come back to life. He later showed us how easy it is to imitate Tom Jones, Englebert, Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, and Elvis. Yeah, right!

It was getting close to midnight so we headed back to our room. The singing went on until about 1:30, by which time the ship had redocked. Imelda and the entertainers departed and it finally got quiet. We slept in two twin beds pushed together. At some point the ship left the dock but since the engines have been running since we boarded – to provide power – we never felt it actually begin to move.

In the morning Steve got up and took some beautiful sunrise pictures. The ship had just passed Corregidor when he stepped on deck, and he was able to capture the sun as it rose between Mariveles and Corregidor. The ship then began heading north toward Subic Bay, and we went inside and ate from a very good breakfast buffet. Then we went back on deck to watch the docking process.

Late in the morning we took a bus to Ocean Adventure, about a half hour ride from the ship. We saw two shows, the first starring two sea lions, the second starring a half dozen dolphins. We followed up with a delicious lunch, and then visited their 10-tank educational aquarium, where we had our own private guide. The park also offers such things as having your picture taken with or even swimming with the dolphins.

As we were about to leave we ran into one of the co-owners, Scott Sharp, who had given us a tour of Subic Bay a year ago. Scott told us that this is the only dolphin show in the world that occurs in the ocean. He trained the dolphin for “Flipper” and the killer whale for “Free Willy.” Recently about 250 melon head whales (actually dolphins) got stranded just off the beach on the other side of Bataan. Scott is now nursing back to health the female that was beached and needed to be rescued, and she will eventually appear in his show: without his help she would have died.

On the way back to the ship we spotted thousands of fruit bats hanging in trees near the shore. These bats are large, with wingspans reaching several feet. We have seen a few of these on Corregidor but have yet to see them hanging in the trees there. Our driver was able to pull off the road so passengers could get photos.

We had another nice dinner buffet, followed by entertainment from the band “Millennium,” another band capable of performing a wide variety of music. Again there were talented singers and musicians playing horns along with guitars. Then Marco Sison, a well known balladeer here in the Philippines, sang popular tunes including several that he himself had made famous. We went to bed before Millennium returned, but we could hear them for a while before we finally fell asleep. All in all the entertainment was top notch; management did not scrimp there.

Sunday morning we awoke as we were pulling into our new home, Corregidor. We ate breakfast from the buffet table, and again were pleased. Then Steve led a tour around The Rock while Marcia went to the house to swap out clothing and straighten up the house before we return to Manila. As usual the group was very pleased with Steve’s enthusiasm and knowledge, despite the fact that they were all Filipinos. We know of one Danish man who sailed with us to Subic, but other than that, we were the only two non-Filipinos on the Cruise.

We returned to the ship for the lunch buffet, and noticed that this was the first meal with chicken, the most common meat of buffets because it is the cheapest. Most meals had included beef, which is much more expensive. Overall the meals were quite varied – something rare for buffets here – and consisted of quality food. The service was also very good, with wait staff always ready to remove empty plates and refill drinks.

The trip back to Manila was uneventful and peaceful, and we arrived at pier 6 around 4:00 in the afternoon in plenty of time to get to our friends’ apartment, where we will be staying for a day or two.

We found out that the ship is a little over 40 years old, and that it has been refitted a number of times. It weighs 5100 tons, is 600 feet long, and has 130 cabins. We have to compliment the owners on doing their best to turn it into a decent cruise ship. We know that it cannot come close to the modern cruise ships of the Caribbean, but it doesn’t need to, in our opinion, to provide get-away vacations here in the Philippines.

Marcia did not experience any seasickness or dizziness, which pleased us, so now we have the assurance that we can spend time on a cruise ship and enjoy ourselves. We received first class service, and we hope to take a five to seven-day cruise with them in the next year or two.

You can see our pictures of the cruise at:

You can see our pictures Ocean Adventure at:

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