We were not alone in looking forward to getting into a port after nine consecutive days. So as we approached Singapore, but long before we docked, people were queuing to leave the ship. One couple – who live their life at high volume, particularly when she is berating him, which she does frequently – seemed in near panic as we approached the mooring. And then, in a gloriously misjudged attempt to discourage the premature queuing, the Hotel Manager broadcast a message asking everyone to stay in their cabins or in the public rooms “and not join the long departure queue which has already formed in the Grand Lobby.” That was that and at that point, virtually all of us who wanted to get off, joined the line, which snaked from the lobby, past the central lift area, along a passageway, up and down some stairs and to the very front of the ship.
Those queuing early were not altogether rash because there was an anxiety about how long it might take to leave the ship. We were told just a couple of days ago that Singapore required all of us to go through full, face to face, immigration, in the arrival terminal of the Cruise Centre. Predictably, that took a great deal of time and on we queued for more than an hour to get through immigration and then, on our return to the ship, queued again for another fifty minutes.
If other Ports were to do this it would be the death of cruising which only works because the typical six to eight hours in port on a day visit are not eaten into by immigration or customs procedures. Other jurisdictions have either sent immigration officers on board (Australia for example) or allowed Cunard to provide directly all the information needed to allow us to enter and leave the country (New Zealand).
By the time we were through Singaporean Immigration, it was after 8pm and we abandoned our intention to travel on the MTR subway to China Town for dinner, believing that many of the shops would be shut down. Helpfully, Cunard had once again provided a vast number of shuttle buses – albeit to only one destination -and we took one to the Marina Sands Shopping Mall and Casino. Well, it was vile. It was Orchard Road – but without any of the occasional redeeming factors in and near Orchard Rd – in a Mall. If you wanted to buy something at Versace, Juicy Couture, Cartier or any other designer shop this was the place to be, although there was little evidence of anyone buying anything with very few people in the place and certainly no ordinary Singaporeans.
Eventually, after a long trek we found a surprisingly unsophisticated food court and had a pleasant meal of Malay Chicken Fried Rice for the princely sum of about £3.50 each before wandering outside to look at the impressive but anonymous city skyline:
We returned to the ship before 11, queued again with a group of passengers all uniformly disgruntled, and had a drink on the balcony and wondered whether tomorrow would involve similar delays.
We sought to leave the ship early the next morning, leaving the cabin at about 8am and once again joining one of two huge queues for Immigration. But this time there were rather more staff and although we had a wait we completed the procedures within about 45 minutes. We found our way to the MTR – about a ten-minute walk away – bought our tickets (about 75 pence a journey) and travelled to Little India. It was great.
At about only 9.30 it was still waking up so we found a friendly little cafe where the staff were busy frying the most delicious looking and smelling samosas and had some coffee, elaborately and kindly served to us in cups and saucers, by an elderly lady who we think was probably the mother of the proprietor. We then wandered through the streets and a couple of markets. Many of the shops were selling tourist tat, but it was nice tat, and as the morning proceeded and things got busier there was a great atmosphere, helped by the excitement of a number of impeccably behaved Singaporean school parties. Jan bought some cotton in one of the many fabric shops and we bought some toothpaste and other necessities including the local paper, The Straits Times. But we resisted the temptation to buy a Cashmere rug.
As lunchtime approached we got on the easy to use MTR and travelled to China Town where we had an excellent and inexpensive lunch with hot and spicy chicken and beef dishes, served on a sizzling steel plate and with lots of fresh chillies (and lots of cold beer). It was brilliant. The proprietor assumed we wanted to sit in the air-conditioned interior but we preferred to sit on the tiny terrace, looking at some of the restored Shop Houses, and watching the world go by. This was our view:
Later we bought lots of bits and pieces, most notably, an old, used, but beautiful opium pipe. Jan bought some silk to make herself a jacket and then just before we left we found a present, which we had wanted for some time for our younger grandson, little expecting to find it in Singapore. But we were delighted nonetheless.
It was a great day, if very hot, and we arrived back at the ship earlier than necessary at about 3pm, in part because we hoped to have a shorter wait at Immigration and we did. We were on the balcony at 3.30 and we were still there when the QM2 slipped through the insanely crowded bay at 7.