Silk Road cruise stimulates interest in China
Bonnie Ender is a veteran cruise traveler.
The American from Arizona has been on roughly 30 cruise holidays before, but the trip she took in June was different.
She embarked in Barcelona, Spain, on the brand-new cruise ship Majestic Princess with her husband in late May and would spend 49 days sailing to multiple countries before reaching the final destination, Shanghai, in early July.
The route took her across key ancient Maritime Silk Road points, including Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Thailand and China’s Xiamen.
“My understanding of the Silk Road has deepened during the trip,” she says.
She and her husband even made a point of studying Marco Polo and the Silk Road before climbing aboard.
At the same time, a series of programs featuring traditional Chinese culture, such as tea, painting, calligraphy, opera and sculpture were hosted on the ship.
Those programs were arranged by the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and part of the cooperation between the association and Princess Cruises.
The purpose is to enable Western guests to better understand and savor Chinese culture and traditions, according to Li Xinyu, a senior official with the association.
“I like the emphasis on the Chinese culture,” Ender says.
“And I enjoyed the whole Silk Road presentation, the dancers, the singers, the orchestra, the lectures. It’s been a wonderful thing on the ship”.
She and her husband have been to China 16 times, but Ender says the trip helped her get new insights in China’s culture and history.
Ender is one of roughly 7,000 tourists from more than 40 countries and regions who were on board and got an immersion in the world of China.
Passengers were mainly from Australia, United Sates, United Kingdom and Europe.
They are mostly ages 40-70 and with higher education, and they chose cruising more as a way of life instead of just traveling.
“It’s a safe and comfortable way to travel to multiple countries, without worrying things like transportation, airfare and food,” says Theodore Ribbons, an entertainment host on the ship.
The long trip will allow them to interact with each other and make friends, Ribbons adds.
More than 2,900 new guests joined the leg of the journey from Singapore to Shanghai.
A majority of them will end up in China to enjoy culture, especially after being exposed to those Chinese performances on the ship, says Terri Cybuliak, hotel general manager on the ship.
“Guests on board will also enjoy easy access to in-depth tours in those Chinese cities (Xiamen and Hong Kong) through the ports,” Cybuliak adds.
“Our audience have viewed a lot of the performances,” says Anthony Kaufman, executive vice-president of Princess Cruises, “and we’ve had standing ovations onboard the ship when the performers have given their presentation”.
Passengers have often interacted with performers onstage.
“These kinds of programs with the friendship association are exactly the programs we would love to present our guests in future,” Kaufman says.
The “East Meets West” international offerings along the “Silk Road Sea Route” will largely continue for Chinese guests.
This includes award-winning international cuisine from chefs from Michelin-starred restaurants and Camp Discovery, a youth-enrichment program developed with The Discovery Channel and the California Science Center in Los Ange- les, according to Kaufman.
When Majestic Princess arrives in Shanghai on Sunday, more Chinese cuisine and Chinese staff will be added to complement the international staff on the ship.
“We’ ll officially premiere our allnew production show, Fantastic Journey, the biggest and most advanced Broadway-style musical ever staged at sea,” Kaufman says.
Moreover, a series of programs catering to Chinese tourists will be ready once the ship reaches Shanghai.
“Chinese guests will have opportunities to learn about the stars through our stargazing program, meet with the captain and other senior officers on the bridge tour, participate in English-language classes and many other programs designed to educate and to enrich their lives,” Kaufman says.
During the maiden voyage of Majestic Princess, the Silk Road sea route journey was 100 percent booked.
Hearing that more similar trips are likely to be launched in the future, Ender says she would be excited to come back again.
She was particularly fascinated by the Chinese painting session given by Xu Renlong, a prestigious artist from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in China.
She was amazed by Xu’s mastery of painting and calligraphy.
She herself loves painting very much, which she says helps her to relax during spare time.
“I felt like I’d like to take a calligraphy lesson after the lecture,” she says.