Incredible views, a unique cultural experience, luxury hotels, sun, sea, dancing, dining and diving off a skyscraper — all in one trip? Impossible, surely? Not if you’re one of the agents who won a place on a Royal Caribbean incentive trip to Hong Kong and Macau.
Cruise lines know how effective incentives with fantastic reward prizes are in helping agents to sell their voyages. Royal Caribbean International has a very popular agent incentive programme called Club Royal, where agents are given financial rewards for every booking they make. But that’s not all: they are also offered the opportunity to take part in competitions to win places on once-in-a-lifetime trips that the cruise line runs.
I was lucky enough to join 14 travel agents from the UK and Ireland who had all won places on a five-night incentive trip to Hong Kong and Macau after they took part in a Ride the Wave incentive last year.
Our trip began with two nights at the Harbour Grand Hong Kong Hotel. It’s the most luxurious place I have ever stayed in, with spectacular views of Hong Kong harbour. In fact I couldn’t help thinking as I entered my room: “I want to stay here forever”.
After checking into the Harbour Grand and exploring our rooms, we all headed straight out for dinner at Hutong, an award-winning northern Chinese restaurant (which, incidentally, has a sister restaurant in the Shard in London).
Based in the Kowloon district, the restaurant boasts breathtaking views of the ultra-modern Hong Kong skyline alongside a menu that serves up real Chinese dishes such as spicy pork belly, steamed cod with green peppercorn, and wok-fried chicken with Sichuan dried chilli. Not a crumb of prawn toast in sight.
After dinner we went out to explore the nightlife of Hong Kong, before rounding off our amazing evening at the hotel bar.
Breakfast the following morning was another sumptuous affair. It was served up in the hotel’s very modern restaurant with a stunning view of the emerald-green swimming pool and the harbour in front of us.
We ascended the peak by minibus. However, descending it was a completely different experience as we jumped on the Peak Tram funicular railway, which was built in 1888. The (very steep) journey down the hill takes only five minutes and offers yet another great view over Hong Kong.
Back at harbour level, it was time to enjoy a tour on an open-top bus. I had never been a big fan of such tours in the past, but despite some heavy rainfall while we were on the top of the bus – I lasted 10 minutes before heading down to a dry seat on the lower deck – I had a wonderful time.
Next up on our itinerary was a trip to the Aberdeen fishing village for some sightseeing on a sampan. The village is populated by traditional fishermen, who still live on their boats. Our guide, Albert, said that the current generation will be the last of the boat people, as they are called in Hong Kong. The total population of boat dwellers in Hong Kong was estimated at 150,000 in 1963; today, it is 6,000.
Back on dry land, we discovered the famous Stanley beach — and it didn’t feel like we were in Hong Kong any more. Stanley beach is peaceful, and its charming seaside with cafés and restaurants reminded me of the French Riviera.
On our second night in Hong Kong, the tourist board treated us to a 45-minute cruise across Victoria Harbour on Aqua Luna, one of the last remaining red-sail Chinese junk boats. This was followed by a meal at the tapas restaurant Fofo by el Willy, and a night out in the bars and clubs of the trendy Lan Kwai Fong and Soho districts, which are popular with expats.
The next day started early as we said our goodbyes to Hong Kong and took a one-hour ferry ride to Macau, which, in many ways, is the Las Vegas of the east. It certainly shares the ambitious approach to design of its American counterpart: at one point we found ourselves wandering around St Mark’s Square in Venice with views of the Eiffel Tower. Who knew that travelling the world was that easy?
Our home for the next two nights was the Hard Rock Hotel, where my suite was on the Dolly Parton floor. But staying in a room that looked more like a decent-sized London apartment was not the most extraordinary experience I was to have in Macau. Club Royal had lined up a huge surprise for the adrenaline junkies in our group: the chance to do the world’s highest bungee jump from the 383-metre-high Macau Tower.
Only six of my group accepted the challenge – and I was one of them. The jump only lasts a few seconds – just enough time to enjoy the view – but it’s an experience I will remember for the rest of my life.
On our first night in Macau, we dined at the Beijing Kitchen, the signature restaurant of the Hyatt hotel. The traditional Beijing Style Duck and the hand-pulled noodles were simply delicious.
After dinner, we went to the Wynn Palace to see the mightily impressive fountain show at the hotel before heading to Club Cubic, one of the city’s biggest dance venues. The following day, we relaxed by the hotel pool before our trip to the theatre in the evening to see The House of Dancing Waters, an extraordinary show that rivals anything Cirque du Soleil can offer.
For the final day of our incredible adventure, we returned to Hong Kong to explore Stanley Market. It’s a great place to pick up quality souvenirs. Silk outfits, porcelain chopsticks, jade bracelets – they’re all there.
We may have felt a touch saddened that the trip was nearly over, but Club Royal had organised the perfect final excursion to cheer everyone up: we went to Ocean Park, a big theme park located on the top of a hill and offering a beautiful view over Stanley beach.
It’s the only place in Hong Kong where you can see pandas. Well, most days. The Panda Adventure was closed during our visit — but nobody seemed to mind. After all, thanks to Club Royal, we had had the most extraordinary time. It’s a bit of a cliché to talk about the trip of a lifetime – but if any trip ever deserved that title it was this one.
Club Royal – The Lowdown
What is Club Royal?
It’s an award-winning, agent incentive programme launched by Royal Caribbean two years ago. The club now has 12,000 members.
There are three levels of memberships: blue, gold and platinum, with benefits including between £5 and £7.50 commission on every booking, holiday cashback and access to all Club Royal Benefits such as 15% off Red Letter Day discounts.
Club Royal is currently holding a competition offering members the chance to win one of 10 places to attend this year’s CLIA Cruise Conference. The lucky agents will receive free entry to the three-day CLIA Cruise Conference including the exclusive evening gala dinner, with luxury accommodation at a Southampton hotel. Royal Caribbean-branded kit and food and drink throughout the trip will also be covered, including a welcome dinner on the first evening.
As part of the conference, agents will have the opportunity to visit a number of cruise ships in the port of Southampton, including two from the Royal Caribbean fleet: Independence of the Seas and Navigator of the Seas.