Quantum of the Seas Pt 1. – The First Night

The only cruise I’ve experienced was something called the Loboc River Cruise in Bohol. It would last only an hour. It was a chill cruise: a bamboo raft on a river.

As you already know, cruise lines are adapting to this pandemic by creating these “cruise to nowhere” packages. They sail out of port and then return to the same port after a few days. My flatmates and I wanted to experience Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas which is currently assigned to Singapore this year.

What we signed up for? A three-night ‘cruise to nowhere’ out of Singapore, in a junior stateroom with balcony.

Getting the PCR test

We sailed in mid-October this year. Prevailing restrictions at the time meant that we needed to get a negative test result from a PCR test first. This needed to be done within 48 hours of departure.

We registered for our PCR tests to be done (for free, included in the cruise package) with Fullerton Health at Raffles City. The entire process took less than five minutes when we arrived. I think they’ve removed the PCR test for cruises after October. It might just be a pre-boarding antigen rapid test (ART). We got the results via email within 24 hours.

Boarding for the cruise at the Marina Bay Cruise Centre

The departure time of Quantum of the Seas was 8:00 PM. Our assigned slot to begin the boarding procedures was at 4:30 PM. We arrived by taxi an hour early to see if we could get in earlier. It was useless since we were directed into the 4:30pm queue.

Tip! If you have bulky luggage, you can drop it off at the luggage counter and they will bring it straight to your stateroom.

Apart from getting a negative PCR test result within 48 hours of boarding the cruise, we also needed to complete an additional antigen rapid test (ART) prior to boarding on the day itself. We were led into a testing area with a view of the ship.

This entire process took about an hour. The testing area was organised and there were plenty of testing booths. They can test up to ten at a time I think? They also give out some water. The signages had the instructions and ushers were around to assist passengers.

This was also my first time inside the Marina Bay Cruise Centre. It looked exactly the way it would like in a pandemic… empty. The terminal hall is massive. It reminds me of Changi Airport. I imagine how lively it would be during peak travel season.

After clearing immigration to exit Singapore, it was time to board the ship. Finally!

You could imagine how excited I was to finally set foot outside of Singapore for the first time. Although the ship will follow Singapore’s time and regulations (like groups of max two people), it finally felt like a holiday of sorts. I’m holding my passport, my “hand carry” backpack, and I’m being greeting by many friendly faces of Royal Caribbean. Many of which are Filipino too!

As soon as we got onboard, the first thing we needed to do was complete a briefing by the crew. We headed to our assigned briefing station and it only took two minutes to be informed about some basic information about our trip and our on-boarding process.

So cool to be on a cruise ship! I noticed people were starting to stream into the ship as well. I wanted to check out the room so we headed upstairs to the ninth level.

Getting our junior stateroom with balcony

Finally, our room! We didn’t bid for any upgrades. I’m really happy with it! I think this is one of the standard rooms (with balcony). While stepping into it, I couldn’t help but think about the SMDC one-bedroom flat I recently invested in. *Cries in Filipino* It’s alright. Cute!

No really, the room was absolutely fine. I was already excited to go out and explore the ship while it was still docked in Singapore. The bathroom was small but functional and very clean. We were also provided with a modest pandemic hygiene kit in the form of two masks and the cutest Purell sachets.

Wasting no time, we headed out to grab some of the free pizza at Sorrento’s. Yes, free pizza! You can pop by a place called Sorrento’s on deck 4 and be served as much pizza as you can safely consume. It’s also connected to Cafe Promenade which serves coffee, tea, and light snacks.

Here’s a view of deck 4:

I think the happiest feeling was having that unli-pizza just available for you. The pizza wasn’t even lousy. It’s a New York-style pizza, with thin crust, just how I like it. They also serve some sides like salad and cheese. PJ was happy with his pizzas and even took a second plate.

We could either go back to the room and relax after what felt like a day of packing our luggage, queueing, and getting tested. Or we can go up to the roof deck to enjoy the sunset with a city view.

Which would you pick?

Mine was the roof deck at sunset:

We also walked around to see what else they had like the NorthStar observation capsule, jogging paths, and swimming pools.

I loved the view and the ambiance that we ended up staying until after the sun had set. We found ourselves at NorthStar Bar where we ordered some drinks and took in the view.

I read that one of the best things to do onboard the first day is to start booking your activities using the Royal Caribbean app. We started making reservations for live shows. But I liked “doing nothing” actually. I loved being on the roof deck and looking out at the views.

The first meal of our voyage would be the dinner on the first night. All meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) are included in our cruise package. For the first day, it would only the dinner service.

You can choose to have dinner at several of the complimentary locations across the ship. For our first night, we ended up at MyTime dining which is the main dining hall. We were led to an alternate seating area since the main area was full already.

Here’s the view from the deck 3 dining area:

It was more formal in this area so good thing we were wearing pants. I also opted to wear long sleeves here. For a less formal meal, passengers can head over to WindJammer on one of the higher floors. They serve buffet style meals there.

At the MyTime dining area, they provide a menu and you can choose options for your course.

It didn’t help that the staff was Filipino. When they learned we were Filipino, they made recommendations for us to try other menu items. They also shared what their favorites were. This included sampling two types of desserts:

After dinner, we headed over to the Royal Theatre at the aft (back) of the ship on deck 4 to catch the Sequins and Feathers show. The colourful show was opened by the cruise director. The venue requires pre-booking and the seating was arranged with social distancing in mind.

Before heading back to the room, we ran into our two other flatmates who suggested we check out a live band performing at the Music Hall. This was a great way to cap our first night.

The band that was playing comprised of Filipino singers and musicians. They performed plenty of pop hits and I really liked their version of Bruno Mars “Leave The Door Open”.

Guess what we did before going to bed?

Grab more pizza from Sorrento’s and take them back to the room!

Stay tuned for my post about the next day! 😀

Doing the KL Standard Chartered Marathon 10km Virtual Run from Singapore

Last weekend I took part in a 10km virtual run as part of Kuala Lumpur Standard Chartered Marathon 2021. I haven’t been able to run much in recent months. Joining the virtual run helped push me to go outside and start running again.

The original virtual route I planned was from East Coast Park to Gardens by the Bay. But due to the monsoon weather and thunderstorms as of late, I changed the route to something local. It was a simple Pasir Ris to Punggol via Lorong Halus Bridge. I hadn’t done this route before and I’ve always wanted to reach Punggol from Pasir Ris by foot. These are two different towns in the eastern part of Singapore.

Everything was fine until the 7km mark when it started to drizzle a bit while I was returning from Punggol. A lightning warning was in place and I had to pause Strava while taking shelter at the Lorong Halus Wetlands. When I noticed some cyclists continuing towards Pasir Ris (which at my pace during the time would’ve been a 10-15 minute run), I thought I could make it to the other side of the park connector. Mind you, this park connector is beautiful but also there weren’t too many buildings to seek shelter incase of more lightning.

Halfway to Pasir Ris and I spotted a lightning bolt which I later researched was less than a kilometre from where I was running. While I think the risk was low, it was still there. I sought shelter at a nearby fish farm along the route and eventually made the decision to call for a Grab taxi so I can get home safely.

I was pretty much rattled by that point. I paused my Strava and would resume my run in the evening. It makes more sense to priortise your safety.

PJ presented me with the medal that I ordered together with the official race t-shirt I was wearing. This is my first completed race during this pandemic and my 2nd time to join the KL edition of the Standard Chartered Marathon. Registration for the virtual race is free. You can pay for the t-shirt and medal.

I’m thinking about joining the Singapore edition virtual run. I’ll attempt the same route during safer weather.

Space.

Since I started paying for a future micro-apartment (that’s what I’m calling it now – I might change it again later), I’ve doubled down on watching home renovation videos. I’m particularly obsessed with these videos by ‘Never Too Small’ which features tiny living spaces that are maximised for use.

I think most of them are almost too good to be true. Okay, they’re REAL. But I bet in practical usage they don’t look as pretty as shown. And they have to be very expensive. Small spaces require customisation. I love that idea for my future micro-apartment but… yeah, I’d need to save.

I love watching these videos. They are therapeutic. Like I don’t have to feel so sorry for myself that out of 15 years in the professional workplace setting and I’m settling for a 25 sqm studio. That’s tiny. The language I use when I try to prop myself up? “My first apartment” — first, of… well… many (I dream).

***

The past year has been a wrestling match between optimism and pessimism. I don’t feel productive. But objectively, this is THE MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR and I’m not being sarcastic. It really has been THE MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR. Studying a new language, starting payments for a micro-apartment, registering to vote in the Philippine elections, doing my best naman at work (I’ve had so met many journalists so far)… PJ and I are pretty steady. He still treats me like he just met me three weeks ago.

Sobrang internal na lang yung struggle. I can’t pinpoint it to imposter syndrome. I can be better off with more $$$$ but I’m able to live comfortably naman right now. My family is doing fine as far as what’s being shared with me. What’s the cause for my dip lately? I’m beginning to think it’s hormones or the stress of getting older (hello, 37, in a few months). I’m trying naman every day and I give myself credit for that. I also choose to live. That’s a consistent decision naman coming from those darkest days of December 2017. Four years na rin has passed. That’s the amount of time most people need to complete a bachelor’s degree. What degree did I get? Survival.

A conversation came up recently with someone. It felt like she held a mirror up to my face and showed me a pretty image of myself that was based on peoples’ impressions of me from back then. Give or take, she probably knows only 2% of me since that was our first conversation. But that was her impression of me which was also based on this image I’ve projected back then. That I’m some ‘accomplisher’.

What I was seeing in my reflection are the memories, thoughts, struggles, traumas, times I cried into my pillow or shark stuffed toy, secrets, anxieties, and so on… mostly hidden from view. And lately I like to keep quiet because I don’t want to stir things up, create drama, or post something that can be taken out of context. There’s also a pandemic running for almost two years… and I don’t want to dampen someone else’s day. Looking into this mirror, I feel like a clown.

What I can say is that the conversation was fun, anyway. She is a bubbly person and maybe that’s what I miss. Conversations with real people. Not through Zoom or FaceTime. Not in tiny screens. But conversations with real, actual people. Maybe I’m so full of myself since I’m working from home, eating every meal at home, getting my entertainment while home, playing games at home, exercising at home… everything from home. I miss conversations with people… hearing their stories instead of drowning in my own.

BTW I’ve also taken steps to stop consuming alcohol. I’m committing to it.

Dami ko sinabi today. But there you have it. Letting it out.

Do I need a drinks package on a cruise? (Saturday Uncut EP20)

Week no. 20! Do I need a drinks package on a cruise? This is a question I asked after we booked our trip on Quantum of the Seas last October. I was also recently asked the question by a friend who was about to embark on the cruise too.

The fastest answer: No, you don’t need a drinks package.

But here’s my unedited video on why I think you don’t need a drinks package:

Do subscribe to my channel on YouTube, thanks!

Cabin fever

Current situation:

From this CNA article.

While technically we’re not in a hard lockdown like the OG circuit breaker of 2020… the mood, at least for me, is somber. I don’t want to go to the malls. I don’t want to go out and do touristy things. I don’t even want to go to East Coast Park yet because I know everyone will be there too. My preference is to go places that are within walking distance.

Current movement in public is limited to two pax per group. (That’s PJ and me, if you think about it). They started allowing dining-in up to five people from the same household. That would enable PJ, myself, and up to three other housemates to dine in together. But I just don’t want to bother. I can imagine getting stares… or having to explain that we’re flatmates to strangers (I don’t think they’d obviously care). We have proof that we’re housemates. But wait… why would we want to dine out with our flatmates when we spend 24/7 with them already.

I’m not sure about the work from home situation in the next few weeks. I am thinking it will be status quo. At most, it might be 50% in a few weeks or maybe in two months. WFH is super normal now. I can’t imagine having to be in the office 100%. I think companies have to adapt or come up with a plan of some sort where the adjustment will be in healthy phases. Certainly, when applying for new jobs in the future… a factor will be the flexibility to work remotely. This comes with certain tradeoffs like how companies monitor their employees. Tech can track these things.

Yes, a bout of cabin fever. Especially with the election sh*t show happening back home. Today, certain sectors put a mockery on the filing. Substitution is part of the process, fine. But step back for a moment and see all this scheming. If someone is running for the highest position in the Philippines, why can’t that authentically come from the beginning? Why must it come at the very end… obviously there was manoeuvring to get the right formula. It gave some political analysts’ a hard-on. It gave newsrooms a headache.

There are no ‘plans’ to head into downtown the next few weeks. I am tracking the ‘infection’ growth rate and it’s hovering below 1. I feel comfortable resuming most social activities if that infection rate is more consistently below .5 or something… basta, downward arrow please.

Be safe out there.

Marcos is NOT a hero.

What I’m watching: The King’s Affection

After Hometown Cha-cha-cha and Squid Game, our latest Netflix and binge is The King’s Affection. I wanted to fill the gap left by Hometown Cha-cha-cha. I’ve not seen any period dramas from Korea (hmm… wait, Kingdom?). I’m attracted to the plot. A queen gives birth to twins, one boy and one girl. Things being as they are in whatever time period it was… they have to kill the baby girl and ensure the baby boy lives. She is secretly sent away. Later on, her twin brother, somewhat oblivious… gets killed. She happens to be at the palace around the same time as a laundry girl… gets discovered somehow and then styled as her late twin brother to save the succession. With only a handful of people knowing. During all this, the original girl had this whole puppy love thing going on with a boy in the royal court. The laundry girl “vanishes” much to the boy’s confusion… and the boy goes off to some faraway land (Ming Dynasty I think). Enter the present… the boy is now a young man who becomes the Crown Prince’s tutor. And the crown prince is who? The twin girl of course… so it’s a gender-bending love story.

I will NOT be able to explain that to a five year-old. So here’s a trailer instead:

New episodes pop up on Netflix every Monday and Tuesday after they air in Korea. It’s on-going.

What Korean drama do you recommend? Shows like these add colour during these dark days.

What would I do… if I had a little more $$$

It’s 4:17am and I can’t sleep. Again. It’s been like this for a few weeks where my sleeping habit is sht. I can take a 3mg pill of melatonin but it makes me feel sluggish when I wake up. I’ve started journalling but my work table has a pile of clothes and an Amazon microphone that never seems to find its own home. (Do I hide it in the cabinet? Hassle. I need it for my Zoom call.)

So instead, why not I write here.

What would I do… if I had a little more $$$

  • I would like to rent my own place with PJ. For the past 9 years, I’ve lived in shared accomodation in Singapore. This means I have flatmates. About 90% have been great flatmates, no regrets there. But lately I’m jealous of some friends (also: couples) who have rented their own cute apartments. It’s pricey! It’s not in PJ’s budget. It’s not in my budget too. But only if we earned a little more… kahit konting dagdag… we would be able to afford our own place. Preferably one that sits right next to a grocery store. So I can cook. Nakakatamad maglakad from our current condo to FairPrice. It’s at least 10-12 minutes one-way. It’ll be a 20-25 minutes return… carrying groceries in Singapore’s homophobic weather.
  • I would get myself a MacBook Pro 16″, the new ones. I’d like to top-up the specs so I have the best MacBook Pro in its class. This wouldn’t be for vanity reasons, no. I really utilise my Macs. The one I’m using now is from 2013. It can’t render 4K video. Heck, it can’t even render normal video at an acceptable speed today. I’ve produced many videos with my current laptop but I’m due for an upgrade. I want to edit in 4K. I want video editing to be fun and breezy again… not a gargantuan task when it comes to adding layers and rendering. I know my creative side is in video. I’d also use it to start a side job editing videos for clients perhaps. I dunno. Basta… a juiced up MacBook Pro 16″ would be nice.
  • Hire a personal trainer to keep me in check. I need one. I’ve put in effort to exercise. But I want to be accountable to a personal trainer who will push and guide me closer to my fitness goals. I aM nOt gEttiNg aNy yOunGeR. I want a personal trainer to guide me in nutrition as well. Apps can only do so much. Online classes can only do so much.
  • It would be nice to start investing in a small plot of land outside Metro Manila. Perhaps one in Laguna or Cavite. Gaah. What am I talking about right. I think this is part of my growing need to set up my nest. I’ve been watching numerous real estate videos. I’m also watching ones from the States. Houses that cost USD 40 million dollars. I love watching these house tours. I don’t think I’ll ever live in a house that costs USD 40 million dollars. But I do like looking at one… I’m a dreamer.
  • I want to never feel bad that I’m ordering Grab delivery food that costs over SGD 20.00. Decent delivery food can be around SGD 10-15 per meal. And I already feel bad about that. Normally walking into a hawker centre near the office you can get food for SGD 8-10. So ordering food at SGD 10-15 (though it keeps you safe at home) makes me feel uncomfy. I know it’s ridiculous. It’s food. I NEVER want to scrimp on food – we should eat good food. But it comes with a pinch. If I had extra $$$ I would like to never feel bad for ordering food that’s below SGD 30.00 at least. Okay that’s exaggerating. But you know… I want to eat from the ‘gourmet’ ones in Katong or downtown. Why must stick to Hao Lai Ke every week.
  • I’d love to start a mini-bar at home. Alak is expensive in Singapore. We normally get our alcohol from duty-free shopping on the way into Singapore from our travels. But travels are mostly imaginary the last 20 months. If I had more $$$ I’d like to resume a wine subscription. Or ‘invest’ in whiskey. Gusto ko may mini-bar sa bahay. I’d like to be Don Draper even in my pajamas.
  • Send a regular balikbayan box back to the Philippines. I mean… if I had more $$$ I’d like LBC to send me a small balikbayan box each month. And they’d collect it on schedule after 2 weeks. I’d like to fill it with groceries, a care package, masks, chocolates, gifts… and keep sending it back home. Like I don’t have to think twice if I can afford it. I’d like to just tap a few buttons on Lazada and have it delivered home. I’d write my notes and pack it nicely in a box.

I’ve intentionally left out the charities (like WWF), investments, and further studies (master’s degree, short courses on edX). Everything above are some of what’s on my mind. Call me out or add yours. What would you do with extra $$$?

Did going to college help me in my career?

I was invited to give feedback on a revised curriculum from my alma mater. My program was shelved in 2020 due to the low turnout of enrollees. However, the good news is that the faculty is revising the curriculum to make it more attractive to prospective students.

In 2002 I studied at DLSU-D in Cavite. I was part of the 2nd cohort of broadcast journalism students. We were a brand new course offering at our university. Our sister program, AB Communication, was the only media-related course at DLSU-D before that. I remember upperclassmen asking why we were taking journalism when we could “learn more things” in communication.

I was always attracted to studying media. Journalism made sense since I’ve always pictured myself as a storyteller. I’ll say that the four years of college were probably the best and most transformative in my life. I learned how to speak fluently in Tagalog. I experienced so many firsts. I fell in love with another guy (triggering me to discover and fully accept that I was gay). I got elected into a student body. I was an editor for a publication. Aaah. So many things.

The question is – did it ever contribute to my career?

You can learn all the techniques in journalism from school. But I’m a firm believer that it has to be practiced consistently. Most of the applicable soft and hard skills needed in journalism were learned from the orgs I joined. The course provided the fundamental building blocks. Everything else needed to come from the individual.

I share more in this week’s Saturday Uncut video. 🙂