By Mel Fernandez
The call of the sea becomes irresistible each time you think about that dream holiday of a lifetime you plan to take. For although air travel is comfortable and convenient, it is just too fast to be enjoyable.
So while others dash off to airports and hotels for their dream holidays, you might prefer cruising along from port to port on your ‘floating hotel’, enjoying your holiday in a more relaxed manner.
A fellow passenger on a passenger/general cargo ship I once travelled on summed up the case for cruising succinctly: “There is no place to rush to in the middle of the ocean. And you can’t be reached because you are cut of from the telephone. So you are forced to slow down a bit and relax …”
If you are planning your first cruise, it is best to take a short trip, to see if this type of holiday is really for you.
My first sea holiday was on the relatively unknown eight-day roundtrip to Brunei on board the Singapore registered vessel the Raja Brooke.
Unlike the new breed of cruise ships which have been specifically designed at great cost for luxury cruising, the Rajah Brooke is a vessel fashioned in the style of a bygone era.
In the first place, it was originally a cargo-ship, and it was fitted with cabins for 30 passengers, and it lacks the slick and organised sophistication of the big cruise-ships but makes up for it with a more intimate atmosphere.
The normal duration of this trip is three days enroute to Muara in Brunei, two nights in port and another three days to get back to Singapore.
Round trip fares varied from S$269 to S$299, all inclusive (this was a long time ago). You need only pay for drinks, cigarettes and sightseeing.
The sailing schedule said that we were to start at 9:30am sharp, but we sailed more than an hour later, because of some difficulty with loading some important cargo – the Sultan of Brunei’s new sports car.
Finally the ship pulled slowly away from the port and the shore line began to recede and like a giant waking up the ship picked up speed and soon we were out on the ocean blue.
The three days that followed as we travelled to Brunei were absolute bliss. I was prepared for something less luxurious on a cargo ship, but it was surprisingly comfortable.
Being a one-class vessel, the entire ship was ours to roam and explore. The dining room that we soon discovered was a cheerful crescent shape one situated in the stern.
The food served here was good and came in large amounts – five course breakfasts, six course lunches and seven course dinners.
Together with western cuisine, we were also treated to a surprise offering each day – seafood, kway teow, sambal ikan or hot mutton curry.
We were pampered during meals and not many of us could take advantage of the chief steward’s suggestion that we try every item on the menu.
“Of course all of this will never do my figure any good,” quipped one lady passenger. “But for once I have to let myself go. I need this break … no cooking, no washing, no drying. It’s quite a change to be served at meal times.”
Dusk is the cue for everyone to abandon their cabins and stroll along the deck and chat.
Drinks on board were tax free. And you could get a beer or whiskey with water for just 60 cents.
During the day there were many things to keep us occupied. But if you preferred to have some time to yourself you could laze on the deck chairs and catch up on some reading.
For the energetic there were deck games as well as darts, poker, chess or maybe the jackpot machine.
The three days at sea passed very quickly and early on the morning of the fourth day we sailed into Maura harbour.
After a short wait a small craft came alongside bringing aboard the smartly uniformed Brunei customs officials.
We were all glad to get back on land again. On the first morning in Brunei we went on the city tour, covering Bandar Seri Begawan – conducted by Borneo Discovery Tours, one of Brunei’s leading tour operators.
The highlight of the cruise, however, came the next day, when we finally left for the long anticipated longhouse tour (the longhouse tour is featured on this website titled: Once were headhunters.)
To get to Limbang longhouse we had to take a thrilling boat ride into the interior and then travelled by road to the longhouse about 80km (50 miles) inland.
The longhouse tour contributed greatly towards making the cruise memorable, because we were truly fascinated by all that we saw.
All good things come to an end and all too soon we were sailing back home to Singapore.
What was so different about this holiday was that I came home rested and relaxed and for once I was quite prepared to get back into the swing of things again.
Mel Fernandez was a guest on board the Raja Brooke when he was the lead Travel Writer for the weekly ‘Time Off’ column in the Sunday Times, Singapore.