The Best of Shanghai and Seoul with Holland America
By Monique Burns
Part 2: Cruising Asia with Holland America
En route to Shanghai, on our 14-day Holland America cruise through China, South Korea and Japan, we leave the great Chinese port of Hong Kong and spend the next two days sailing northeast through the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. Aboard the ms Volendam, I join fellow passengers for a hands-on culinary class at America’s Test Kitchen, bid for contemporary paintings at a Park West Gallery Art Auction and brush up on computer skills at Microsoft’s Digital Workshops. There’s chess and Scrabble in the Explorer’s Café, and blackjack and roulette in the Casino. We sunbathe on deck, then swim in the indoor or open-air pool. We practice morning Tai Chi and play afternoon tennis, basketball and shuffleboard. At night, there are cocktail parties and gourmet dinners. From Dungeness crab Benedict to bacon burgers with Gouda cheese, from seafood linguine to Indonesian rijsttafel with chicken sate and banana fritters, it’s a seagoing banquet.
Cruising into Shanghai in the early morning of our fourth day at sea, the Volendam’s engines slowly grind to a halt. Around seven o’clock, when the ship becomes almost motionless, I awaken. Expecting to see the usual portside warehouses and stacks of steel containers, I pull back the curtains on my stateroom windows. What I see, instead, astounds me.
We’re moored in the heart of Shanghai, on the Huangpu River, and looming right outside my window, big as day, are the city’s futuristic skyscrapers. There’s the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower with two giant spheres encircling tall columns. The Shanghai International Convention Center with a huge globe at each end. The 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center, the “bottle opener,” with a big trapezoidal hole near the top. Twisting as it rises, there’s the sensuously beautiful Shanghai Tower boasting the world’s highest observation tower. Completing the first cluster ever of three mega-tall skyscrapers is 88-story Jin Mao Tower, housing the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.
On the river’s West Bank, I see the classic skyline of The Bund. Asia’s financial center from the early 1900s until the Communist takeover in 1949, The Bund is an architectural treasury of nearly 60 buildings in Art Deco, Beaux Arts, Neoclassical, Romanesque Revival and other styles. Among them: the 50-story Bund Center topped by a crown that glows, at night, like a golden beacon.
For what seems like forever, I stare at the spellbinding tableau, watching the steady stream of barge traffic up and downriver, and marveling at the architecture, old and new. Then, moving from 0 to 60 in seconds, I’m dressed and on my way to breakfast.
Over the next two days, most passengers will explore Shanghai. Many will visit the city on their own, armed with advice from our Location Guides and the detailed Holland America brochure, “Your Far East Explorer.” The ship is also running complimentary shuttle buses to nearby Huangpu Garden.
Of Holland America’s nine Shanghai shore excursions—ranging from 3 to 12 hours and priced at $54.95-$249.95—I’ve chosen the 8 ½-hour “Best of Shanghai” tour. Heading to our first stop, our motor coach passes through the former International District, its graceful streets lined with pollarded trees. The former “Paris of the East,” Shanghai is China’s most European city. In the 1840s, after the First Opium War, British traders founded the International Settlement, which Americans later joined. The nearby French Concession became one of the city’s most fashionable districts.
World War I brought other nationalities. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, “White Russians” arrived from Belorussia. By the 1930s, there were Dutch, Germans, Italians and Scandinavians as well as Australians, Canadians, Japanese, South Africans and South Americans. Jewish refugees poured into the city in the 1930s and ‘40s, escaping the Nazi Holocaust. These groups all left their mark on Shanghai, whose eclectic architecture includes historic Russian Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues.
Shaped like a Chinese cooking pot, or ding, the Shanghai Museum is renowned for its large collection of Chinese art, including early Buddha statues, bronze, porcelain and jade artifacts, and calligraphy and landscape paintings on long scrolls. The nearby City God Temple, where locals pray over open fires, is dedicated to three prominent Shanghai citizens, notably General Chen Huacheng, who died defending the city during the First Opium War. Steps away is 16th-century Yuyuan Garden with five acres of hills, rocks and lakes, plus pagodas, pavilions, and gray-tiled walls adorned with dragon heads. In the adjacent Yuyuan Tourist Mart, scores of shops sell jade jewelry, antiques, souvenirs, and arts and crafts.
We’re back aboard ship for late-afternoon Happy Hour at the Ocean Bar and the Crow’s Nest as well as a Martini & Cocktail Sampling at MIX. Since it’s Friday evening, some of our Jewish friends head to an Oneg Shabbat, a celebratory service with food and music. The rest of us plan to dine at the casual Lido Market or elegant Rotterdam. Dinner at The Pinnacle Grill, the ship’s premium steak-and-seafood restaurant, or Canaletto, the superb Italian restaurant, is also available for a small surcharge.
When I open my curtains the next morning, we’re still moored on Shanghai’s Huangpu River and the famous Lujiazui skyline of Pudong New District is still staring back at me. Grinning with delight, I join my second Shanghai shore excursion. At Long Yang Lu station, to the east, we board the Maglev Train. The world’s only magnetic levitation train, it glides on an electromagnetic cushion inches above the track. The train leaves the station slowly, then gathers speed. LED monitors in the cars register the rising speed: 200…240…300…416. Finally, we’re hurtling along at 431 kph—or 267 mph. Slowing once more, we pull into the Shanghai Pudong International Airport station. Then we’re off again. By the time we’re back at Long Yang Lu Station, we’ve covered 20 miles in 8 minutes!
In the skyscraper-filled Pudong New District by afternoon, we visit 88-story Jin Mao Tower, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the Chicago firm that built Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. A 45-second elevator ride rockets us to the 88th-floor Skywalk observation deck for fabulous views. Curving through the ultramodern cityscape is the Huangpu River, a 70-mile-long waterway created between the 3rd and 6th centuries B.C.
That evening, we bid farewell to Shanghai with a Bon Voyage Sailaway at the Sea View Bar and an Asian buffet dinner in the Lido Market. Tonight and the next day, we cruise 431 nautical miles northeast, across the Yellow Sea, to Seoul, our second port of call.
The next morning, there are exercise classes, Mass and an Interdenominational Service, and a Rapid Fire Art Auction. Then there’s a fascinating Behind the Scenes Kitchen Tour, including the hot and cold kitchens, the butcher shop, and the pastry and bakery area, where a 67-person staff prepares innovative, award-winning cuisine for as many as 1,400 passengers and 600 crew members daily.
Evening brings an Officers’ Reception in MIX, a chance to socialize with the ship’s Dutch master, Captain Jeroen Baijens, Serbian-born Hotel Director Boban Žćivković and other officers. For our second Gala Night dinner, I choose the Pinnacle Grill, the ship’s premium dining room with plush banquettes, gilt-framed paintings and colorful Venetian glass chandeliers. Along with world-class scotches, wines and cognacs, the menu features Alaskan king salmon, cedar-planked halibut with shrimp scampi, Japanese-style, double-cut Kurobuta pork chops, and steaks from Washington State’s Double R Ranch, including the President’s Cut, a huge 36-ounce bone-in rib eye. A concert by the award-winning Glasgow-born flutist Stephen Clark follows in the Frans Hals Show Lounge.
On a sunny morning in the mid-40s, we arrive in the South Korean port of Incheon, where U.S. Marines landed in 1950 during the Korean War. Seoul is an 80-minute drive from Incheon, so most passengers have signed up for one of Holland America’s seven shore excursions. Among them is a tour of high-tech sites like Yongsan Electronics Market, where state-of-the-art Korean products are priced at 50% off. Complimentary shuttle buses also are running to Incheon’s Sinpo International Market, selling everything from seafood and meats to flowers and baked goods.
On “The Best of Seoul,” a 7 ½-hour excursion, we head, by motor coach, to Gyeongbokgung Palace, in the shadow of 1,122-foot-high Mt. Bugaksan and not far from the “Blue House,” the Presidential Palace known for its pretty blue-tiled roofs. The largest of the Five Grand Palaces built by the Joseon Dynasty, which ruled Korea for five centuries, 14th-century Gyeongbokgung houses the National Folk Museum of Korea.
We watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony, held daily, every hour from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m., by sword-carrying soldiers in colorful traditional costumes. Among the most intriguing buildings is the Imperial Throne Hall adorned with painted rafters and surrounded by a stone balustrade with carvings of real and imaginary animals. Another is the handsome Royal Banquet Hall on its own island in a manmade lake surrounded by blossoming cherry trees. Everywhere, it seems, young South Koreans are posing for photographs in hanbok, the national costume with billowing skirts for women and baggy pants and tall black hats for men.
Strolling along busy Insa-dong Street that afternoon, we browse shores selling handmade paper and greeting cards as well as art galleries, antique shops and one-of-a-kind clothing boutiques. Alleys off the main drag are lined with small inns and quaint restaurants. At Insadong Chon, we enjoy traditional Korean barbecued fish and meats, with spicy kimchi, at rough-hewn wooden tables. After lunch, we visit 600-year-old Namdaemun Market, with vendors selling everything from Korean toothpaste and T-shirts to souvenirs and street food, including hotteok, a delectable pancake filled with brown sugar, honey, peanuts and cinnamon.
After a whirlwind 10 hours in Seoul, we’re back aboard the Volendam, trading stories about our adventures over dinner. Some enjoy late-night dancing in the Crow’s Nest or hear English crooner Paul Emmanuel sing Nat King Cole standards in the Frans Hals Show Lounge. The truly intrepid stay up for the 11 o’clock song-and-dance extravaganza featuring the ship’s Filipino crew.
Inspired by the day’s excursions, everyone is bent on having a good time. Tomorrow, we’ll relax aboard ship while cruising to our next port of call—Beijing, capital of the People’s Republic of China.
Continue to the final chapter of Holland America in Asia
IF YOU GO
Log on to www.hollandamerica.com or call 877-932-4259.
Monique Burns is a longtime travel writer and editor, and a European Correspondent for Jax Fax Magazine, a travel magazine for U.S. travel agents. A former Travel & Leisure Senior Editor, she travels frequently to Europe, but can sometimes be found in far-flung locales like India and Asia. After more than 30 years in the travel business, she still appreciates the world’s many cultural differences and can honestly say that she’s never met a place she didn’t like.