Shortly after booking our 28-day cruise from Vancouver BC, Canada to Shanghai, China on Holland America Westerdam I browsed through the shore excursions offered for the journey to get some sort of an idea about what we’d find in the various ports. While we do occasionally book ship’s excursions, in most ports we just do our own thing. Looking at the excursions they have is a good place to start for information about things available to do there though even if you aren’t planning on booking any so I often look through what the ship has available just to see what’s there.
Port by port I scanned the offerings until I came to Dalian, China. There I found a bus tour called Panoramic Dalian offered for $6.95 per person. Short of just walking around near the ship you can’t do much of anything on shore for that price because even transportation to get somewhere to do something on your own often costs more than that. Not really caring what the tour actually was I booked it, not really expecting the sale to go through since that was obviously an error – but it did. So for the two of us we had a bus tour booked for a total of $13.90. After the booking went through they sent confirmation saying that the sale was complete. When I looked again a couple months later the price for that tour was $69.50. Somebody had obviously put the decimal point in the wrong place on the original posting.
I kind of wondered what would happen once we got on the ship, but the tickets were delivered to our cabin as usual and all was well until I looked at my onboard account and found a charge for that excursion at the full price, which meant I had now paid for the same excursion twice. Once at the original discount and once for the full price. Complaining at the front desk about being charged for an excursion I’d already paid for originally just had the girl there saying she’d send a notice to the head of shore excursions and they’d get back to me. I waited a couple days and never heard from anyone so I went back to the front desk intending to set up an appointment with the head of shore excursions.
The guy there that day was much more helpful, saying that a glitch in the system had caused it to charge people for excursions they had already paid for and that the charges would be removed. I asked him to make sure it was the new charge and not the original one that got removed as I had bought it at a fantastic discount and felt they were obligated to honor that price. After all when you buy something at a store they can’t come along 6 months later and charge your credit card 10 times more in hopes that you don’t notice. He clicked a few computer keys, looked extremely surprised, and whispered across the desk in awe and wonder that I had found it at that price. Apparently he did not want any other passengers to overhear or know I’d paid so little. He did agree that since they sold it to me for $6.95 they had to honor the sale. He said it might take a couple days, but the two charges of $69.50 (one each for my husband and I) would get removed, which they did.
Our tickets said to meet in the theater at 9:15 for a 9:30 departure. We got there at 9:00 and still ended up on the last bus. Somehow no matter how early we arrive for ship’s excursions we nearly always end up on the straggler’s bus. This was our first port in China so we had to go through customs. There were 7 busses for this tour. They called the first one early and ours late according to the scheduled departure time due to the length of time it took to get through customs.
I’m not sure if they intentionally assign the best guides to the early busses, but it sometimes seems that way. On the rare occasions when we’ve got the first bus we’ve usually had decent guides, but on the last bus we’ve had terrible ones more often than not. Our guide this tour was a young girl fresh out of college where she’d been an English major. She was very nice, quite friendly, and knowledgeable about the places we went, but in spite of her major she struggled to find the English words for the things she wanted to say. Still with that being her only negative issue for a last bus guide she was top notch, and definitely better than a lot of guides we’ve had in other places. (Herculaneum, Rome, and Havana -which had only one bus- come to mind for particularly bad guides.)
The tour was called Panoramic Dalian and had the following description:
Cruise ship description – Visit Dalian from the comfort of a motor coach. You’ll begin with a drive around Zhongshan Square as your guide explains a brief history of buildings lining the square. Built in 1899 by the Russians, this is the oldest square in Dalian. Next drive to the Green Hill where the TV tower is located and enjoy a panoramic view of the Green Hill observation deck. Next you’ll drive through the city and its main street, Zhongshan Road past People’s Square for a photo stop en route to Xinghai Square for a brief stop for photos. This large square was built in 1997 to commemorate the return of Hong Kong to China. The square offers a view of the massive Dalian International Convention Center and nearby Yellow Sea. Continue on with an orientation drive along Dalian’s most beautiful coastal road and enjoy the scenery along with a photo stop at Beida Bridge before returning to the ship.
The first square we circled around in the bus was actually a circle in the middle of a roundabout in the road.
After driving for a bit we stopped at a viewpoint where we could see some sort of cablecar ride going up a hill with a tower on top. The viewpoint had flowers and shrubs and other greenery and a view overlooking the city. It also had a pathway with stairs leading down into a wooded area, but there was no time to walk down the path to see where it went.
According to the excursion description this would be Green Hill and the tower with the cablecar ride must be the TV tower.
Next we stopped at a large square somewhere in the city. It had green space, many flowers in pots grouped together behind a little white fence so they looked like a garden, trees that must have had some sort of issue because they all seemed to have poles holding them up, large spaces that looked like fountains with no water coming out of them at that time, and a very tall flagpole with a Chinese flag. There were locals there with small children feeding pigeons. By the excursion description this would be People’s Square.
Our longest stop brought us to what according to the excursion description is Xinghai Square. Our guide called it open book square and said it was the opening of a new chapter in China’s history. We took a walk through a parklike area with grass and bushes throughout the square and sculptures along the edges. From there we could see a building that looked like a castle, which our guide said was the most expensive hotel in town now at $200 a night, but it had originally been built by the Russians for their own use when they ruled the area. White sculptures along the edges of the expansive field included windsurfers, hurdlers and a sailboat as well as other things.
From there we crossed a street to a giant cement monument next to the sea, which must be what she referred to as the open book. It looked like a place people would love to go skateboarding, but nobody was. It’s probably not allowed.
Not far from the giant cement book a long ground level horizontal sculpture had a row of footprints down the center. The guide mentioned that it was a monument of footprints commemorating the return of Hong Kong to China after 100 years of British rule. The youngest person’s print came from a 1-year-old and the oldest from a 100-year-old.
Xinghai Square is the largest city square in the world at 1.1 million square meters, which is 4 times the size of Tiananmen Square in Beijng. The area was formerly a landfill with reconstruction starting in 1993 and finishing in 1998.
There was a view of a giant bridge and some boats along the shore. Xinghai Park alongside this square has an amusement park with rides next to the walkway by the open book monument, and beyond that the Shell Museum, out front of which people could rent peddle cars to ride around the square. The Shell Museum is all about shellfish research and exhibition. It has over 50,000 shells and fossils on display in 4 stories of exhibits.
This area would be a great place to go if you had some time to spend there. The park has a lot of other tourist attractions including Sun Asia Ocean World which has sea, coral, and polar environments, dinosaur fossil displays and the world’s longest “submarine channel,” which is an underwater tunnel with fish swimming around it that people walk through, not a channel for submarine navigation. The park also has offshore boats, sea bungee jumping, a water park and a beach. We didn’t get to see any of that other than a glimpse of the amusement park and the outside of the shell museum as we walked from the monuments to the bus.
Next the bus took a scenic drive along the coast. One thing we did not see was much litter alongside the road. It’s not that Chinese are so much cleaner than most of the rest of the world, just that they have someone to pick it all up – which we saw in the little old guy pushing a cart along the edge of the street cleaning up anything he found.
When we got to Beida Bridge the bus stopped to let everyone out for a walk across the bridge, though a few people chose to stay on the bus. The bridge offered great views of the sea and a windmill. About halfway across there was a peek-a-boo view of the city and on the far side a castle-like house clung to the side of a cliff. From the parking lot on the far side there was a distant view of a lighthouse on a cliff above a beach with some buildings between cliffs.
This tour allowed us to see a lot of the town that we would not have gotten to on our own and to know that Dalian would be a nice place to visit with more time to spend there. Probably the best $13.90 I ever spent, especially considering the transportation alone would cost more than that if we explored the port on our own on anything other than our own feet. Our guide also had some interesting things to say. One of them was how thrilled her parents were that their one child was a girl rather than a boy. Apparently it’s tradition for the parents to buy a house for their sons, but since her parents had a daughter they could afford to do some traveling while their friends with sons had no money for that sort of thing.