We had plenty of discussion time over the long new year holiday weekend, and have revised our Perth itinerary quite substantially. The first version of the proposed 11D10N trip would have seen us driving a fair bit as soon as we land – about 4 hrs and 281KM. Since there was a good chance we’d be having a red-eye flight, Ling was worried that we’d be too zonked out as soon we’d land – especially if Peter decides to keep us awake by not sleeping on the plane! The other consideration was that the itinerary required us to be perpetually on the road most days, requiring changes of our stays almost every night. Moreover, as we were reluctant to drive in the evening, our foray north of Perth also did not seem that worth while after all. We’d only have just two days left in our stay, and can only travel as far as Cervantes – about 200KM north of Perth, and the more interesting bits of Western Australia seemed to be well beyond that.

So, we reworked out Perth itinerary to:

Stay in Perth for the first evening and only drive out after a good night’s sleep

Reduce the number of times we’ll have to change our accommodations

Increase the duration of our Farmstay

The itinerary is now much slower-paced and spread-out, and here’s what it looks like (itinerary below is clickable to a larger version).

This updated Perth itinerary looks pretty much set – if we do decide to go with this region come June! As an alternate, here’s the Sydney equivalent that I’ve started scratching out:

Day 1: Sydney to Katoomba (Blue Mountains).

Days 2 to 3: Katoomba

Day 4: Katoomba to Farmstay

Days 5 to 6: Farmstay

Day 7: Farmstay to Sydney

Days 8 to 11: Sydney

The above outlay is rather unusual, since most visitors to Sydney typically just do a day trip to the Blue Mountains to see the sights there rather than plan to spend 4 days. We figured we’d really just take our time in the area to soak in the sights, enjoy the mountain air, and just chill.:)

There’s a popular quip among some Singaporeans here that there’s only one reason why we toil at work: and it is to pay for our twice a year vacations in June and December. And our planning for a new holiday spot begins as soon as we’re done withe the last one! So – my last post of 2016 centers on possibilities for our travel spot in June 2017.

The planning for our Melbourne trip in June this year took just over a week to nail down most bookings and itinerary items – and it wasn’t a particularly complex trip to plan for, since we stuck to the city for half the time, and all outbound trips were taken care of by day tours. Since we’ve started planning much earlier for the June 2017 trip, we figured we’d reduce as far as possible our day tours (and save a lot of money) and get to as many places as possible on our own, and with two young kids in tow too.

The first itinerary we’ve written up is for a 11D10N day trip to Western Australia, self-drive and will see three main segments: Perth itself, down south to Margaret River/Permberton/Walpole, and finally up north of Perth to Lancelin, and the total driving distance should be a pretty manageable 1,600KM in all. Ling has been to Perth twice now – both times to visit me during our dating days haha – while I also visited the Margaret River region with family 13 years ago too. But as these things go and for this period of years, family vacations are really more for the kids than for the parents. The map is embedded below, with pins to indicate the places we’re looking at:

And a brief summary of what this 11 day itinerary looks like at the moment:

Day 1: Perth to Busselton (Busselton Jetty and Observatory). Busselton to Margaret River

Day 2: Margaret River to Augusta (Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Whale Watching, Boranup Karri Forest, Jewel Cave). Augusta to Pemberton

Day 3: Pemberton (Gloucester National Park, The Cascades, Pemberton Tramway, Beedelup National Park). Pemberton to Walpole

Day 4: Walpole (Valley of the Giants, Treetop Walk, Giant Tingle Tree). Walpole back to Margaret River/Pembelton

Day 5: Margaret River/Pemberton Farmstay

Day 6: Margaret River/Pemberton to Busselton (Choc Factory, Cape Naturaliste Lighthouse, Ngilgi Caves). Busselton to Bunbury (Dolphin Discovery Center). Bunbury to Perth

Day 7: Perth to Rockingham (Penguin Island). Rockingham to Fremantle (Fremantle Market). Fremantle to Perth

Day 8: Perth to Yanchep (Caversham Wildlife Park, Yanchep National Park). Yanchep to Cervantes (Pinnacles Desert)

Day 9: Cervantes (Nambung National Park). Cervantes to Lancelin (Lancelin Sand Dunes). Lancelin to Perth.

Days 10-11: Perth

This version of the itinerary will have us staying at six/seven properties:

Margaret River (1 night)

Pemberton (1 night)

Walpole (1 night)

Margaret River/Pemberton Farmstay (2 nights)

Perth (2 nights + 2 nights)

Cervantes (1 night)

The main considerations and parameters for this itinerary were:

That we’d drive and get from point to point only when there’s daylight, short as it will be since it’ll be winter.

The farmstay will be a key highlight for the kids, but there are only about six farmstays in our consideration and they tend to get booked fast. So the itinerary has to plan around that stay.

Depending if I can take additional days how for this vacation stretch, we might get real ambitious and go beyond Walpole and to Albany, though the sights there are more coastal than of national parks.

Well, that’s one itinerary. Along the way we’ll work out alternate itineraries to different cities/countries, so more to come soon.:)

 

Doing an update to this ongoing series of year-end review posts can be really distressing on account of how the year again just went past and that we’re all a year older again.

Playstation PS4 – Mixed: our first toy-technological purchase of the year, and the number of PS4 games I’ve played on it is still.. one. The device works great as a Netflix, YouTube, media and Blu-Ray player – but is criminally underused as a gaming rig.

Aftershock S17 – Win: the largest notebook I’ve owned with its 17.3″ screen. The S17 is now a permanent fixture in our bedroom, sitting on top a portable laptop desk on the bed. The machine is brisk, the keyboard offers great depth and tactile feel, and I’ve gotten use to the relatively less bright matte screen. Not so good for watching video material, but great for productivity!

Melbourne – Win: our longest family vacation to this point, and one in which nearly everything went along swimmingly: the accommodation we selected, the itinerary, the three day-tours, and the flights both ways. The only mishaps: weather was gloomy for the second half of the stay, and the newly purchased Xiaomi Mi Note 3 kissed concrete.

Fujifilm X70 – Mixed: lovely form factor and takes stunningly beautiful pictures when used outdoors. But indoors focusing is a real hit and miss when your subjects – i.e. our kids – are constantly moving. The 3 year old E-PL6 just got fixed too – and and there’s even less reason now not to sell away the X70 soon.

The X70 vs the E-PL6 – and I’m likely only gonna keep one in 2017. Which one?!

Thule Enroute 2 Blur Backpack – Win: capacity-wise, it’s very slightly larger than the older Enroute it replaced though I still prefer the notebook compartment design of the older backpack.

Huawei Smart Watch – Win: seven months into the watch, and it still looks as pristine and new as it was. The manufacturer provided watch charger dock remains finicky, but cheap third party replacements can be had off eBay that – ironically – secure the watch far easier than the original manufacturer equipment.

Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 – Win: decently spec-ed phone that was picked up for cheap. This phone was purchased specifically for the Melbourne trip and sadly was the only outing it’d ever have. The phone still works, barring the cracked display screen which looks like it can completely shatter anytime and thus dangerous to use. Sigh.

Xiaomi Mi Max – Win: the largest smartphone in my inventory, nicely contrasting display though maximum brightness is a little low, and funnily, as a grey import purchased at an even lower price than the Note 3 above. And the Energizer Bunny battery that runs forever!

Stacy the Syrian – Win: I wonder how many fathers in their mid-40s purchase a Syrian hamster not for their kids LOL. But our Syrian has provided our kids with learning opportunities, though we don’t feel they are yet old enough to provide responsible care and maintenance of the hamster. The only down side? That we’re reminded that Syrians have short lifespans of 2-3 years.

Yamaha U30BL – Win: apart from the Melbourne vacation, our most costly purchase in 2016. I haven’t used the Silent Piano module very much yet, on account that my piano technical skills have, surprisingly, not degraded by that much for me to feel embarrassed of having to practice on the piano. Both Hannah and myself now spend an hour each every night making music. It’s a nosier household sure but also a lot livelier!

Wangz Staycation – Win: small boutique hotel in Outram we stayed at for our 10th Wedding Anniversary. A little light on property amenities, the room was lovingly appointed, clean and modern. Recommended for couples on short vacation stays if you like the off-city location too.

D’Resort @ Downtown East – Mixed: were it not for the bundled admission to Wild Wild Wet – a significant bonus – and that this resort was about the only property to stay in in the immediate vicinity, the resort just wasn’t as cracked up as what we’ve read from social media.

All in, this was a mostly good year for us. We can only hope that 2017 will be just as good!

We’ve got a rule of thumb, and it is to avoid 3D2N holidays as much as possible, even if it means forking extra to stay for a longer period and having to wreck our brains thinking of how to fill up the itinerary! The only 3D2N stay we’ve ever had at this point was at Capella Sentosa 5 years ago. The short duration was largely on account of cost, but that property still remains by far the best we’ve ever stayed at.

While we received admission tickets to Wild Wild Wet for all four days of our stay at D’Resort, we ended up just using passes for one day – as we accidentally dropped our entire ticket stack somewhere in the water park. We did put in a Lost and Found report at the Information Office and the park crew were nice to follow through it, but finally had no such luck finding them back.

I reckon it was just as well, as it forced us to think harder of what to fill up the rest of the days with. And of that:

Disney’s Moana @ Downtown East Cathay: Peter’s first late night cinema experience for a cartoon that hearkens back to the Disney themes from its films starting 25 years ago. This one was a gamble as we wondered how Peter would handle an 8:50PM screening – and we lucked out. It didn’t take beyond the film’s midpoint before he got grouchy (probably from just being tired) and generally annoying the heck out of Ling.

Didn’t take long before he wriggled out of his Eskimo outfit.

Orchid Bowl @ Downtown East E!Hub: you know you suck at something when your 7 year old daughter hands you your butt:

You know you suck at it when even your 7 year old daughter is handing you your butt.

Then again, this is how she got there:

Ball, meet foot.

Longkang Fishing @ Mainland Tropical Fish Farm: with ‘longkang’ literally meaning ‘drain’ for our Ang Mo bud.:) Our parents’ generation will quip that this was one of their leisure past times before Gen Y and Z’s iPads, video games and smartphones. But Ling and I just a few years ago climbed down into a large drain opposite Hougang Mall to catch fishes to supplement our freshwater aquarium – and we caught several Corydoras even!

The Farm was just a few minutes drive from Downtown East, and we spent an hour there in a small tidily landscaped and man-made drain of about 18 meters long catching critters. There’s a token fee of $4 per child for every 30 minutes, but the very nice and super laid-back auntie there gave our two kids 45 minutes of catching time.

Some bloggers have remarked how difficult it was for kids to catch these critters given how fast they swim. Funnily, we had no such difficulties. We caught 15 with most going between Hannah and Ling. I was taking pictures, but in the space of a minute also caught three too. The fishes do detect movement – I assume from the mid-morning shadows we cast onto the water – and typically scatter free quickly. So, the trick is simply to use the tiny nets provided in the opposing direction and where clusters of fishes are. We were able to scoop 1-2 critters this way a time.

Safe for kids, though Peter didn’t catch anything!

Hannah camping where the drain outlets were, since large groups of fishes were gathering there.

Our catch for the morning.

Peter looking as though he’s prepared to eat the fish – raw.

We returned all we caught back to the farm though, since our home aquarium is already densely populated with tetras and snails. But the kids enjoyed this one – and the activity gets a solid recommendation from us.

Pasir Ris Public Library @ White Sands Shopping Centre: the E!Hub @ Downtown East is a little rundown, while White Sands has just recently undergone refurbishment. Its offering of stores and restaurants remain pretty much standard fare for Singapore shopping malls, but the also recently renovated public library is very nicely done-up. We stayed and left with about a dozen loaned books.

We again feel terrifically fortunate that Hannah prefers reading instead of electronic gadgets.

And Peter just treats every thing as toys to smother his body parts with.

eXplorer Kids @ Downtown East E!Hub: we’d gone by this indoor playground earlier this year. The area was also just recently refurbished, and it looks slightly brighter now, with a few new play areas that we didn’t previously see in our last visit. More importantly is that there’s a current promotion for NTUC Members: each card holder can get free membership for up to two kids. More details here. The offer was good enough for us to drive back home to pick up our kids’ birth certificates for registration.

This was about as high as he could manage, even with assists from Mommy.

Starbucks @ Downtown East: half of the indoor seating in the store were squatted by young adults pretending to study, but we managed to put together two separate tables to chill over brewed coffee, Hazel Nut Lattes, and Signature Hot Chocolate for the kids.

Listening to pieces from the accompanying CD in the Suzuki Method book.

Signature Hot Chocolate – yummy.

His latest thing: stick his tongue out whenever a picture is taken.

After all the trauma you routinely cause mommy, you better invent some world changing technology to benefit all mankind, bud!

There was also a small Tayo & Friends demonstration area beside Starbucks. One of Ling’s ex-students was temping in the area, and he kept our two kids jolly entertained around this children road circuit.

Hannah quips that this was our best vacation ever. Putting aside the bleh stay at D’Resort, it was certainly enjoyable also for us parents. We’re start planning for our mid-year vacation spot for June 2017, so more to come on that soon enough!

The one significant good thing of our D’Resort staycation was the complimentary admission to Wild Wild Wet park. The price of the stay itself was $481, and the dollar value for daily admission over the four days would had been $236 already. The short version of our experience at this park is that it’s larger, newer and better equipped than Legoland Malaysia’s Water Park, but still plenty of areas for improvement.

And our comments:

The park’s operating hours during school holidays is 10:00AM to 7PM, and we got to the park 10 minutes after opening hour. Check-in was easy, and though we already had our tickets, there were also no queues to speak of. A PDF map is available here too.

We stayed for about 2 hours, and possibly because it was a weekday albeit also a school holiday, the park didn’t feel crowded.

There were plenty of crew on station to keep an eye on things.

We tried out just a couple of rides and areas, since our two kids aren’t exactly thrill seekers yet, and we had to accompany them every where. And:

The 335m long Shiok River was fairly gentle and safe for three year olds in tubes. And if that wasn’t reassuring enough, every 15-20 meters or so stood a park crew equipped with life buoys.

Hannah was really looking forward to the white water rafting-styled Ular-Lah ride. And on the way down, she was screaming her head off in terror LOL.

The four floor high Slide Up ride looked pretty scary, judging from the number of screams we heard each time a group went down. We’ll try this one when the kids are – much – older!

The Professor’s Playground is designed for kids, but the large water bucket that was filled and emptied every couple minutes was a big hit for everyone – especially adults.

Our two children spent the most time at Kid’s Zone and Splash Play. They must have gone up and down the children slides at least several dozens of times over the hour they spent in this area alone.

Wild Wild Wet on a hot hot humid day.

Daddy’s job was to take pictures and propel these two at Shiok River.

Water slides @ Professor’s Playground.

One of the five slides @ Kid’s Zone.

The kids went up and down repeatedly and upteemth times!

Even mommy got into the action @ Splash Play.

All in; the park is good for half a day visit. Given the relatively attractive admission pricing for NTUC Members, we just might make visiting this park a frequent activity!

After splurging for a fairly expensive Melbourne vacation in June this year, we decided we wouldn’t travel out of the country for the December school holiday break. I still had a ton of annual leave to finish clearing though, so we chose a staycation and at the relatively new D’Resort @ Downtown East, a leisure and resort hub located at Pasir Ris. We’ve been in the vicinity several times of course now, since both Ling and my workplaces are nearby, though this was our first time staying in the resort itself.

Our staycation was a 4D3N. Our comments below:

Ling had the NTUC Plus! card, so enjoyed a nice member discount on selected room types. We chose a Park View room that could sleep four, and paid $481 for the three nights. With the same member privileges, one can get the same room type for even lower rates than this too during off-peak seasons.

Check-in was from 3PM onwards. We arrived slightly earlier at 2:45PM, and the check-in row had no queue. But as soon as we got our keys and just barely after 3PM, streams of guests all arrived to queue up for their rooms too.

The Park View room floor area itself isn’t large at 33.5 square meters. But it seemed spacious nevertheless, on account that the room was largely absent furnishing amenities you expect from more luxurious properties. Aside from the two queen-sized beds, a shared bedside table, one chair, a TV console that ran the long-side of the room wall, wardrobe and a mid-sized fridge, there weren’t any other significant furniture.

The second floor room has a small balcony that overlooks Pasir Ris Park, and also the ground floor BBQ pits. The balcony itself is too small to do anything much on it, but it was nice to find a laundry hang rack on the short side of the balcony though.

The two beds were large enough for the four of us, but on the hard side, and using linen that felt coarse. Both kids slept soundly, but Ling and I woke up each morning with aching backs. Ling in fact rates the sleep level ‘terrible ‘. There were four pillows, fabric type blankets and no quilts. Persons who require more pillows than that will be disappointed. The sleep quality got so bad that D’Resort is the first Staycation property we’ve stayed where we seriously considered driving home each night to sleep on proper beds. And while we didn’t eventually, we had enough of the resort by the last early morning, and checked out as soon as the kids woke up and got ready

Flooring was a laminate type, which was clean and smooth. We always prefer this type of hard flooring in our stays than rugs or carpets. There were night curtains only in the room though. We didn’t want people to be peering into our second floor room, so the curtains were closed for the entire stay.

The room has a ceiling fan installed coupled also with air-conditioning that works well. Our stay saw relatively humid afternoons, so that the room could be quickly cooled on a hot day was very welcomed relief!

Amenities-wise was a mixed bag. There was a wall-mounted 40″ LCD Smart TV with a large number of channels. We stuck a thumbdrive full of children cartoons inside it – and that kept the kids happy throughout.:) The in-room WIFI connected quickly, was reliable, and reasonably quick – though with the provided speeds, you still won’t be downloading the Internet during your stay. There were a small tray of complimentary beverages that we didn’t touch – Starbucks, Coffee Bean, Ya Kun Toast, and Heavenly Wang were all just a few minutes walk away – but the mid-sized fridge with a freezer section will certainly please guests who need their sodas or beers chilled.

The room toiletries were a disappointment. The Tripadvisor photos showed toiletry bottles, but our room’s shower stall had wall-mounted all-in-one hair/body wash dispensers instead. Or perhaps those toiletries we saw in photos were from a different room type? Water pressure was on the low side too, though the instant water heater worked well enough.

Room was cleaned on alternate days. On the one day we got the service, we received four fresh towels – only to later discover to our horror that they were coated with lint.

The accommodation price included complimentary admission to Wild Wild Wet for all of us, and for all four days. This one’s a real and quite significant bonus. Putting aside that the water park, fun as it is but also not large enough for most people to want to spend more than half a day in it each time, the cost of admission for a family of four would be already $59 this time of the year and just for one day entry.

Parking isn’t complimentary and at ground level and mostly unsheltered. The cost per day for member parking was $10 – annoying – but at least it included parking at the E!Hub just next door. We didn’t have problems finding free parking lots throughout.

Room soundproofing might also pose a problem for light sleepers. The house rules state that BBQs must end by midnight, but the fellows on the ground floor unit went on for well beyond that on our first night. I don’t think they were trying to cause a din, but that they only needed to speak at normal volume for sound to be carried upwards and into our room meant that we were kept awake for a good part of the late night.

Park View room as advertised; looking at Pasir Ris Park.

Count ’em – just four pillows for four persons.

Pretty minimal furnishing. But the TV worked very well.

The wash basin and shower stall. Nope – no toiletry bottles.

In short, we’re not gushing with praise over D’Resort, and I reckon we can say exactly that because – like everything else here we blog about – our stay was non-sponsored/paid out of our own pocket, and we’re not obligated to heap praises when we don’t think it’s deserving. Our experience 4D3N at the resort was decidedly mixed. The room was functional and clean but not luxurious. Having to pay for parking was annoying, challenges in the sleep quality and sound proofing, and remember to check your room towels for lint.

If you see yourself visiting Wild Wild Wet on more than one day and are visiting as a family with two adults and two kids, I reckon a 2D1N or slightly longer stay at D’Resort is worth it for its complimentary admissions to the water park. And go during off-peak season too if you want to save a bundle of cash. Beyond those reasons – no, we would not be returning to here.

We’ve been married ten years just a few days back, and it was as good an opportunity as any to offload Peter and Hannah at our parents’ Lentor home and for us to have a day and night out without the kids. This would also be the two’s first time away from parents, though both seemed to have not been especially bothered by that!

Our getaway was Wangz Hotel, currently rated #12 off all hotels in Singapore @ Tripadvisor. Admittedly it was a somewhat last minute booking of just a fortnight before the date, and we were lucky to find something that met our preferred wishlist items: free parking, something away from crowds, and at least well-received by guests on the usual review sites.

And our comments after our one-night stay (could only stay this long as I had unskippable meetings at work the following day):

It’s a very small hotel of just six floors of 41 rooms and an additional floor for the restaurant at the top level. There’s perhaps just 6-7 rooms on each floor. Parking is complimentary but subject to availability, and the basement car park has just 8 lots or so. But given the hotel’s size and possible ratio of local guests, finding a free parking lot wasn’t a problem at all. In fact, over just the single day stay, ours was the only guest vehicle parked in the basement.

The hotel is situated in Outram and just a couple turns away after exiting from the Central Expressway. There are late-night eateries and restaurants along the main roads, and several public buses that can bring guests to Great World City. There is also a hotel shuttle bus that takes guests to Outram MRT, Vivocity, and Orchard Road. Though the hotel was situated along major roads, our room was quite well-insulated from sounds both from outside the building and slightly less so from just outside the room. The hotel seemed also bereft of facilities found in large hotels like a swimming pool or children’s play areas, though we’ve don’t always use such in our stays anyway.

We were initially booked in for a Deluxe-type room. We checked in an hour earlier, was advised that our room wasn’t ready yet but there was an alternate Canopy-type room already ready, with this room slightly larger and also with a long bath. The room different was just S$20++ – we went for it.

The room was situated on the fifth floor, very clean with modern fittings and decor, though the on-off switches took some trial and error to figure out what was controlling what. The flooring was especially interesting: it wasn’t carpeted nor parquet, but a sort of heavily textured laminate. It was comfortable to step on, and also seemingly much cleaner than the usually rug-like flooring we see in most hotels. Air-conditioning was managed by a dedicated controller that was responsive to inputs. This shouldn’t be a given as hotels normally use centralized air-cooling and controllers aren’t always responsive.

The room has a complimentary Internet smartphone. Not that we needed it at all, but this is the first time we’ve seen a hotel provide such. In-room WIFI was easy to login, and most importantly – fast and provided stable connections.

The Sealy Posturepedic bed and linen were pretty comfortable and bed sheets satin-like. The frame though oddly sat on rollers, and we kept bumping into the bed and shifting it out of place each time.

The room towels were laundered with a very pleasing almond-like scent.

The mini-bar fridge and hot beverages – mostly Twinings – were all complimentary. Morning newspapers were also delivered to our room.

Amenities included a 37″ Sharp non-HD LCD TV with cable channels. The TV was adequate though wasn’t able to produce particularly vibrant nor sharp video. There was an in-room DVD player as well that we didn’t think of bringing anything from home to watch (though room services probably would have had a library of media to borrow from if we wanted).

The ensuite bathroom was also very clean with good water area control and therefore always dry, with a separate rain showerhead and long bath area. The shower area though has a full length window that looks out to the main road, so you’d want to pull the blinds down lest you provide free shows to vehicles driving past the hotel LOL. On the flip-side, water pressure from both the showerhead and rainshower was somewhat low.

Breakfast was at the roof-top restaurant, and very brightly and pleasantly lit on the early weekend morning, with the sun shining into it. The spread wasn’t especially wide given the very small number of rooms and guests staying, but the item were mostly all well-prepared, and wait service was very prompt and polite.

Pictures next:

The Canopy Room - modern, clean and stylish.

The Canopy Room – modern, clean and stylish.

Beside tables on either side with private reading lamps too.

Beside tables on either side with private reading lamps too.

Gadgets galore in the room.

Gadgets galore in the room.

Private reading LEDs.

Private reading LEDs.

The room's smartphone for complimentary use.

The room’s smartphone for complimentary use.

Beverage corner.

Beverage corner.

Ensuite bathroom.

Ensuite bathroom.

Gilchrist & Soames toiletries - nice!

Gilchrist & Soames toiletries – nice!

Breakfast @ Roof restaurant.

Breakfast @ Roof restaurant.

Christmas decorations on the restaurant tables already.

Christmas decorations on the restaurant tables already.

Ling is getting new ideas on how to decorate our home for Christmas now.

Ling is getting new ideas on how to decorate our home for Christmas now.

All in, this was largely an issue-free and also very pleasant and quiet stay, and the things that didn’t work as well were all very minor. Considering the price we paid – which was quite well-below typical rooms of similar size and in-room amenities – we reckon our stay @ Wangz a great deal. Recommend for guests who don’t want to stay in hotels along in the usual main city area.

Whoops. Spoke too soon about the last post on our Melbourne trip being the third and last of the retrospective posts. This one is about things that worked especially well equipment wise, and things that broke and just didn’t work. All for our collective memory so that we don’t do them again.

Before we had kids, we routinely brought along for vacations an entire bag full of camera bodies, filters to do different things, wireless triggers, heavy lenses and even that full-sized Manfrotto carbon fiber tripod/ballhead in the ThinkTank Bazooka case. Things are different now though, since our backpacks now have to hold stuff we need for our kids – diapers, wet wipes, children water bottles, meal bibs, emergency medication, and spare clothing. I brought along far less camera equipment this time round for the Melbourne trip; just the E-M1, the two Olympus Pro f2.8 lenses, Fujifilm X70, and the Panasonic TM700 camcorder. And summarily:

The E-M1 performed superbly again in its second overseas outing.

The 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8 lenses and especially the latter worked well beyond my expectations. The close-ups of Lemurs @ Melbourne Zoo were tack sharp center-wise, and the lens was able to resolve very fine detail – right down to strands of Lemur fur at 100% crops.

I’d ordered from Amazon UK a couple of third party E-M1 batteries (‘MaximalPower‘ brand) and brought them alongside the OEM ones as batteries in cold weather routinely don’t hold their charge as well. But I ended up not having to swap batteries at all. Even though a typical day of activities saw about 400-450 pictures on the E-M1 – and there was still power to spare at the end of each day.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing.

Batteries for the E-M1; the third party replacement (MaximalPower) compared with the OEM from Olympus. The replacement has worked quite well in its first extensive outing. As to whether they will bloat like the DSTN ones did – time will tell.

The JobyPro camera strap worked great, and the strap length was easily adjustable depending on what I was carrying on my back.

The X70 was mixed. It was convenient as a small camera that fitted into my jacket pocket, responsive in starting up and general usage – but just slow in AF when indoors. The lack of optical stabilization, especially important in low-light shots, was a real clunker, and I obtained far more picture keepers using the E-M1 with the 12-40mm taking wide-angles in low-light than with the X70.

Our old Panasonic TM700 was also carted along  with an extra battery and its dedicated charger in our luggage case, and never got taken out. In its place, the Samsung Galaxy Note 5 took pleasing video.. for the most part as there were still that jello effect when panning around and also frequent focusing issues. Still, looks like it’s time to retire the TM700 – it’s served us very well in the last 6 years now.

Ditto also for the little Nissin i40 flash. That got brought along but never left the luggage case.

The iPad Air 2 was great for reading when sitting down on a bed or in a seat at the cafe, but terrifically unwieldy when on the move. When my mobile broadband contact ends in a few months, I’m going to seriously consider getting the iPad Mini 4 when I renew for the contract bundle.

The Google Nexus 7 – which we stored all the children cartoons – were used only on selected evenings when the kids wanted something other than the ABC Kids‘ Channel. But then Peter got extremely restless on the flight home and significantly stressed Mommy out, and he only calmed down after we remembered we had the Nexus 7 in our carry-on luggage, and turned it on for Tom and Jerry cartoons.

The Anker 5-port USB charger I’d ordered from Amazon a year ago was worth its weight in gold. 40W through 8 amps – yummy – and wrapped in scratch-resistant material.

The Anker – and last multi-port USB charger you will ever need.

The Mi 16000mAh Power Bank never got used. The devices it was intended to sustain beyond their typical battery lives – the iPad Air 2, our two smartphones, the Google Nexus 7 – all had enough juice to last for the day’s activities.

The Thule EnRoute Blur 2 Backpack could hold a huge bunch of stuff: two tablets, the Surface Pro 3, the Mi 16000mAh Power Bbank, medicine, lightning and micro USB cables, a small umbrella, a water bottle, the Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi, all our AA/AAA/TM700/E-M1/X70 spare batteries (could not be sent as checked-in luggage at the airport), the E-M1/12-40mm/40-150mm in protective padding, the X70, all our passports, an A4 folder of our key itineraries and map printouts – all still with plenty of space to spare. Shoulder straps were comfortable and helped a lot in distributing the weight. And the backpack could also fit comfortably underneath the airline seat too.

The Aztech MWR647 4G Mi-Fi usage was mixed The Optus Prepaid data SIMs were so affordable that we got enough for all our mobile devices. The Hotel WIFI connections were occasionally unstable, so I tried using one of our spare Optus data SIMs in it, but oddly, connection continued to be flaky. I couldn’t say for certain if the Mi-Fi router was wonky, or 3G/LTE network coverage inside the hotel itself was bad as well.

The shiny new Mi Note 3 – bought specifically for this trip – kissed hard concrete on the very first day of our vacation. It had been left display face-down in Ling’s backpack (made of fairly thin canvas), and the backpack accidentally hit a hard surface. The tempered glass layer shattered, and when removed, the top third of the Mi’s display screen was similarly damaged. The phone is still functional – just dangerous to use as there are tiny bits of glass loose in the screen now. Heart-breaking.:(

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

Glass met concrete = heart pain.

So in summary for our next vacation:

Bring only the two Olympus Pro lenses for the Olympus E-M1.

Rethink on keeping the Fujifilm X70.

One spare battery is enough for the E-M1.

Ditch the filters… unless we’re traveling without kids.

Ditch the Panasonic TM700.

Ditch the Mi 16000mAh Power Bank. Bring along the smaller Mi 5000mAh one – just to be safe, y’know.

Ditch the Nissin i40. Alongside the 4 Eneloop batteries and its charger.

Ditch the Mi-Fi router if data SIM cards are cheap and easily available.

 

While reading up for our Melbourne trip early on and doing general searches for itinerary planing for a family with kids, I was startled to find that the majority of local blogs seemed to be by ‘social media influencers‘ or sponsored content writers. Non-sponsored and non-influencer agency affiliated bloggers who write about life experiences like us seem to be uncommon nowadays. We used to have at least three friends in our church small group who also independently blog about life experiences, family and kids 7-8 years ago – but none of them do anymore.

I reckon it’s a larger trend that you see in digital spaces now. Social media networks are a lot easier to write for, with access controls to boot. And for those who still write for the web, fewer today want to volunteer information for (totally) free anymore. We first started seeing it in digital newspapers, then technological and hobbyist sites and beyond now. Revenue or incentives in the form of adclicks, complimentary or sponsored services to sample etc. can be indeed hard to pass up especially once your site is past a certain following, and possibly even mandatory to pay the bills for a high-traffic web site.

So, we’re blessed we have no such need or desire to be sponsored. Our corner here on the Internet doesn’t receive quite the same traffic as influencers, so we have no pressures.:) While our about 17 year old blog has a stub tagline (“Reflections of parents of young kids”), we don’t have a consistent focus on what we write. We don’t desire to be affiliated with any social media companies, are completely self-funded and independent and do not derive any income from this site, and do not have any embedded code snippets to track your browsing behavior (unless they are built-in by my domain host provider without my knowledge!). And when we talk about a particular experience with a place, product or service, it’s exactly as it is – and not because someone asked/paid/encouraged us by giving complimentary stuff and we’re thus obliged to say nice things, claims of honesty or not.

I guess I’m an unconvinced skeptic on the real authenticity of evaluations on sponsored content – more so after our experience of Club Med Bintan turned out to be vastly different from the slice of heaven some lifestyle bloggers had made sound like.

But that musing aside – we’ve written 20 blog posts – including this one – of our Melbourne trip. That’s a lot less than the whopping 60 posts about the Boston trip in 2010 – our Ang Mo bud will relate particularly memorable experiences we had at a Indian restaurant, watching people vomit while whale-watching, and also of a visit to gay town LOL – or the nearly as many 58 posts about our Japan trip that same year. We’ve already covered our overall comments for each of the key places we visited. Here’s our summary and notes if you’re planning for a similar family vacation to the city.

Plan your own itinerary, and decide exactly how much time you want to spend and what places to visit. The majority of attractions have up to date web sites that you can visit and mine for information and directions. Pay special attention particularly to weekend admissions, as kids are admitted for free in some places on weekends. Check also if your hotel has bundled admissions with discounts too.

Take the SkyBus from the airport to your place of stay in the city center and save yourself a bundle of cash from taking a private car or cab. It’s easy, runs frequently, and shouldn’t take more than an hour to get you from the airport to your stay.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The Skybus @ Southern Cross Station.

The city is stroller and pram friendly. There’s the occasional elevated pavement ledge that you have to roll up onto. But by and large, we had no difficulties navigating Peter’s stroller along the pedestrian pavements and traffic junctions we walked along extensively during our stay. One thing though: cross roads only at designated crossings, and look left and right even then. Cars coast along fairly slow – perhaps 35-40 km/h – in the city center, but trams are quicker. Our Great Sights guide said as much: putting aside the hefty fines involved in breaking traffic rules, getting run over by a pretty fast tram will ruin your vacation – likely permanently.

There are plenty of places to eat, and breakfast places were open as early as 0600hrs. We visited in June and winter season for Australia, so several dining establishments closed early by 1700hrs, though there always remained enough options if you’re willing to explore a little further. If you’re staying in accommodation with a reasonably large fridge and cooking facilities, then it’s also practical to get fresh produce from QVM and cook (keep in mind that you might still need condiments though). Alternatively, if your accommodation has a microwave oven – like ours did – then hot microwaved food from Coles and Woolsworth awaits you.:)

If local fare is your thing, then there’s Chinatown along Little Bourke Street. We also spotted Pepper Lunch, Ajisen Ramen, and even something called Breadtop which offers pastry and bread items very similar to Singapore’s own Breadtalk.

There’s a free tram service in the city center itself, but we ended up not using it at all. We just walked everywhere and often from one end of the city center bounded by the free tram service boundaries (where Pegasus was located) to the other end (Spring Street). There are some gentle inclines uphill here and there, but nothing like the joint-hurting up/down/up hill of San Francisco city. That we walked was just as well, because the myki ticketing system just seemed too much of a hassle for tourists.

If you have no Google Maps or your phone ran out of battery and you are now lost, look for the city’s visitor info guides. They are in unmistakable red jackets, and are strategically located at several key junctions and will readily offer you advice on where/how you need to get to.

Within the city center itself and walking distance are a number of reasonably easy to reach places. You could set aside about 3-4 days to visit the key sites within the center, and perhaps another day just for shopping if that’s your thing.

We walked everywhere. Peter's cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

We walked everywhere. Peter’s cheapo stroller = best ever investment.

Driving is an option, and traffic within the city isn’t intimidating with plenty of road signs and landmarks to spot. What might be less appealing though are the parking charges. The alternative is to rent cars only on selected days to do self-drives to the places outside Melbourne.

The majority of the day tour offerings are centered around these places: the Great Ocean Road, Dandenong Ranges/Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Ballarat, and Philips Island. I reckon you could fill up as many days as you need to by booking a couple of these day tour outings – though keep in mind again that weather can significantly impact the experience you get on the tour. Remember also to inquire if you can get discounts if you book more than one day tour with the company.

If there’s bad weather or your feet are just tired, you can head for the nearest hotel. There are often one or two city’s cabs hanging around at the hotels’ entrances.

If you’re visiting in winter but do not have a lot of winter clothing and hope not to spend a lot of money buying them first in Singapore, then head to Target Center or Queen Victoria Market first thing and get what you need at bargain bin prices.

Mobile Internet is great. Optus My Prepaid Daily Plus is an absolute must with its very low daily Internet costs, and you can get as many data SIM cards as you have smart devices. If there’s a long queue at the Optus shop at the ground floor @ Melbourne International Terminal, don’t sweat it. Just get to the city center first, and then to any one of the many Optus shops there to buy the cards you need. Top-ups are easy too, either by purchasing additional top-up cards at convenience stores and supermarkets, or via Optus’ online payment system. Remember to preload Google Maps for the city, and rely on your smart device’s GPS locator. That can really cut down on your mobile Internet costs. Notwithstanding that, many cafes and restaurants also offer complimentary WIFI.

This wraps our principal posts on our Melbourne trip. All in, I reckon a 8 day stay is pretty good for this city, and anything above 10 days would be stretching it, unless you’re really wanting to take it real slow. Hope all this helps if you’re planning for a Melbourne trip. We might try Sydney next June, since that again was my initial preference for this year’s holiday. More to come at some point.:)