Excluding the time I spent a week sailing through the Galapagos Islands, the last time I went on a proper fancy cruise was back when I was a very young child and I remember absolutely nothing from that experience. So tagging along with my family on the Genting Dream cruise over the holiday season was a rather interesting experience for me, and I thought I’d share with you what my cruise experience was like, and some hacks I figured out to make your cruise better (and involve less queuing).
Also – this is not a sponsored post, I wasn’t even planning to write about this trip at all since it’s a family vacation and it’s not my usual style of travel, but I was looking for info on the Genting Dream the day before I departed (wooh for last minute research), and only realised then that this was a pretty new route that launched just a month earlier in late November 2017 and the ship will spend a year with Singapore as its home port. There were pretty mixed reviews from Tripadvisor, so I thought I’d add my voice to the conversation. Also, I’m sure other indie travellers might be in the same boat (hurhur pun) as me and this might help them survive their own vacations a little beter.
I did the 6D5N Island Escapade that followed a route from Singapore to Klang and Penang in Malaysia, and then to Phuket, Thailand before heading back home, my last trip of 2017. Click on the hyperlinks to see my experiences and recommendations travelling in these areas.
Why would an indie traveller even join a cruise?
I’ve established through my travels that I like to travel in a certain way that I describe as Indie Flashpacker, where I figure out my own travel plans and don’t have much of an itinerary, and while I travel pretty cheaply I’m willing to spend on occasion. But taking a cruise is quite the antithesis of being an Indie Flashpacker, my biggest issue is that it sometimes feels like you are trapped in a Marina Bay Sands Twilight Zone that you can’t escape. Sure, this ginormous ship has 19 decks and planned activities, but it does get stifling after a bit.
And the most important thing about travel for me is being able to explore a place on my own terms and time, and that’s quite difficult to do on a cruise schedule, where you are pretty much limited to very short day/half-day trips every time you are in port. You could do it, but you’ll need to do a lot of prep work to squeeze the most out of your limited time on land. To be fair, I love waking up each morning in a new city or country, and the plus points of not having to squeeze on planes or go through tedious airport security is awesome, but if I wanted to properly visit a place, this is not how I want to do it.
You think being on a somewhat inclusive cruise (I’ll get into why I say ‘somewhat’ further down) means being able to turn your brain off for a bit, but frankly I found having to figure out their schedule sometimes a tad stressful, especially because there are quite limited hours for certain activities, so I couldn’t quite laze around as much as I wanted to if I wanted to get stuff done.
The Genting Dream Survival Guide
Enough of my whinging – regardless of how or why, you’re headed on a cruise, and here’s how you can survive the next few days and actually have yourself a decent time. Read on for more details on my Genting Dream cruise experience as well.
Board early if you can
The Genting Dream is HUGE. And I mean GINORMOUS. The ship has 19 levels, accommodates 3,400 pax and easily towers over any other ship in port with it. Correspondingly there are a massive ton of people trying to board the ship, so boarding early means less arduous queues to suffer through, and if you have luggage, it gets sent up to your room much faster then if you come on board later. Hot tip: pack your essentials in a day bag that you can carry with you so you aren’t stuck waiting for your bags to get sent to your room.
The ship set sail at around 6pm, and the final boarding call time was at 430pm, but we decided to head in much earlier and reached the Marina Bay Cruise Centre at around 12pm. It was about 1pm when they called for our group to board, and about 120pm by the time I put my stuff down in my room. I was definitely quite a lot faster than my sister who had to take her kids through the regular counters while I went through the automated check-in for Singaporeans. There are a lot of foreigners who fly into Singapore just to hop on this cruise, mostly Asians – the nationalities I was seeing/hearing a lot of: Singaporean, Malaysian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian.
The main perk of boarding early is that it is the best time to go try out the popular activities that you really do not want to queue up for – everyone else is just getting oriented to the ship, so you have a lot of people wandering around exploring, but no one is really ready to do anything. We had the main pool on Deck 16 mostly to ourselves that first afternoon, and my sis and I hit the water slides multiple times that evening without having to queue or wait as others had to do in the following days, and I saw some people doing the rope course as well.
Other optimum times to hit the facilities with less crowds around are during mealtimes or if you come back from your day trips a little earlier than everyone else – most people aim to return in the last hour or so before the boarding time, so if you put your things down in your room and head straight out, there’s a good chance you’ll get less of a queue.
Of course if you can afford it, the Dream Palace VIP level means no queues wherever you go, but it costs about 2x as much as a regular room, so I’d say only if you can afford it and want to live the lux life.
Know the daily activity schedule
The timings of meals and activities fluctuates every single day, which is a bit of a pain for someone like me who likes having a fairly stable time schedule to remember. There is a daily newsletter with highlights that gets placed outside your room or in the main areas, or download the Dream Cruises app, which has the same info that they have on the e-notice board located around the boat.
There were a ton of families on board with kids of all ages. I think you need to be at least 1.4m in height and about 8-10 years old to fully utilise all the fun facilities like the slides and rope course, otherwise you might end up a tad disappointed like my poor niece.
Some random activity comments:
- Water Slides: There are 2 baby slides, but for the real fun you have to climb up 3 decks to the large water slides. There are 3 levels, my favourite was the Medium level because there is a particularly steep vertical drop right at the start which is like, woah.
- Rope Course: You’re about 2m in the air walking over obstacles and climbing stuff which is pretty fun – stick to the outside of the course where you can look down over the side of the boat, but the best part is the zipline at the end of the course where you zip over the side of the boat. Most thrilling to do on the last day while the boat is on the move!
- Glow Bowling: This can be found at Zouk at Level 17 and is UV lit later in the night, but it usually is a lot less crowded if you go earlier in the evening as it starts getting crowded after dinner and there are only 4 lanes. It also costs $8/game (10 frames) – which means each person pays $8 to bowl 10 frames unless you’re happy to share.
You have to sign up for slots for some of the activities like the night shows in the theatre. Unless you have a really big group and want to guarantee a slot for your entire group, I honestly don’t think you need to bother, especially later in the trip when the theatres seemed more empty. My mum who’s pretty organised about this sorta thing signed us up for 4 shows, I ended up going to only 2 of them:
- The Santa’s Leading Ladies show was a medley of Christmas songs sung by 3 ladies that I personally found very boring and made worse by the amount of typos in the song lyrics flashed on either side of the stage, as well as the poor gif like animations used in the background. I’ve seen more polished school projects, come on.
- The house show Voyage of a Lover’s Dream is a bit of an abstract mishmash of everything and there seems to be a very loose storyline based on an astronaut and a mermaid falling in love (you’ll see the artwork on the side of the boat as well), and it’s entertaining at least. Some of the acrobatics are mindboggling, the trampoline act is like woah.
This is a Genting boat after all, so there are tons of gambling opportunities for you all around as you walk around Levels 6-8 where all the dining and shopping happens. I hardly went to the casinos because I’m just not interested so I can’t tell you very much about that.
Where and when to eat
Genting Dream boasts of over 35 dining concepts within its ship, but here’s a bit of a reality check, only 3 of these are inclusive dining areas like The Lido (International buffet, deck 16), Dream Dining Upper (Chinese food, deck 8) and Dream Dining Lower (Western food, deck 7), which is what you are limited to when you’re on a plebian tier (my words, not theirs). Everything else you pay extra for unless you are in the Dream Palace tier (that’s like the VIP tier).
The meal timings fluctuate, and you would think going to eat early would mean less queuing, but that seems to be what everyone thinks as well, so you are actually better off going at around an hour or so after the opening meal time for that first wave to leave, especially on the first day. My friends on the VIP tier say that the premium restaurants were mostly uncrowded, so if you are tired of queuing, maybe consider forking out the cash for a fancier experience.
For breakfast, I had a much better experience in Dream Dining Lower than in The Lido – it was much easier to get a seat and much less crowded. There was less food selection of course compared to the buffet spread in The Lido, but the food quality was definitely better, actually warm and better tasting in my opinion. The Dream Dining rooms do set meals, so you get assigned a table and either get to choose from a list of set meals (western), or you get served family style (chinese).
The Lido definitely does lunch and dinner better – I like having variety, but it also gets pretty packed compared to the other 2 dining areas. It’s a U-shaped room with multiple food stations, but it isn’t entirely identical on each side. The starboard (right side when you face the front) of The Lido tends to be less crowded compared to the port side (left side). The bend of the U is an extremely popular Indian food section – this cruise seems to be quite popular with the Indians, which means yay curries and papadum for variety but holy moly it gets crowded when the Indian folk all come into the restaurant at once.
If you have super picky eaters, there’s a bakery on board and some smaller meal options where it’s not crazy expensive that might work for you. Donuts were going at around $3.50 and a Breakfast Set for around $7, not cheap but hey you’re a captive customer, it’s not insane either.
Some food comments:
- I’d recommend: beef (DDL as a set meal and the carved roast up in the Lido), bak kut teh (DDL – it’s Malaysian style with lots of ingredients but the soup quantity itself is quite small), live noodle stations (super spicy tom yam, great prawn noodle soup and lor mee, I liked the fishball noodle soup but the fishball itself was forgettable), fried chicken (can’t go wrong honestly). We had a seafood Chinese dinner that was pretty good on our last night (DDU)
- I’d skip with no regret: juices (these are very much cordial drinks and very sweet at that. Stick to water), dory fish (DDL – it’s kinda soggy and fishy), porridge (especially if it’s not hot like our first breakfast in The Lido)
For Phuket, you’ll need to pick up a ferry transfer ticket to transfer you from the boat to the land, unlike the other 2 where you can walk off the boat directly. Whatever time you pick, hustle down to pickup area (ours was in the Zodiac Theatre) as early as you can, because they board on a first-come-first-serve basis and it can take awhile. We waited at least half an hour for our 945am call time to finally board a ferry. The return is much faster though, possibly because the seas are less choppy in the evening and there are more boats.
The moment you disembark, you will be surrounded by people offering taxi services – do your research beforehand so you know how much to pay and not get ripped off. It’s a bit of a swarm, I let my family work out the details and just tagged along. You definitely could consider walking, catching a cheap public bus or taking a Grab in Penang because of the proximity to George Town, unless you plan to travel further. For Phuket, there is a decent stretch of beach within walking distance of the port if you rather not travel too far. It’s a bit crowded, but you can do your sea sports and the water/sand are nice enough.
The ship also organises day tours, which I honestly thought were pretty pricey, but that’s to be expected. We had actually planned to go on a Phi Phi island tour but the weather wasn’t great so that got cancelled. Instead we ended up heading to some sort of activity centre for ATV rides, and they also offered elephant rides and ziplining.
Looking for ideas on things to do in Penang and Phuket?
- There is so much street art to see and easy to get to in George Town (click here for a detailed guide), or if you are more adventurous and are hiring a driver anyway, why not head to Balik Pulau or take a quick ferry transfer to Butterworth (here’s where to go exactly)
- Of course Penang is a great foodie destination, so make sure to eat, eat, eat!
Most of my Phuket experience has been about their resorts, but there was that one time I ate insects, which was pretty memorable :p
So that’s a bit of my experience on the Genting Dream and cruising, there are good things about cruising and as can be seen from the sheer number of people on board, lots of people love this type of travel but it’s just not for me, so I doubt I’ll be cruising again anytime soon. Drop any questions you might have below and I’ll try and help.
If cruising is not your thing either, I have plenty of stories and travel tips to help you out – Check out my Where I Have Been page for full details or use the menu bar to navigate.