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Hong Kong (Photo:zhu difeng/Shutterstock)
5.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Cruise Critic Staff

Port of Hong Kong

There's one constant in Hong Kong -- change! If you visited a few years back, you may not recognize the place. So, how did Hong Kong get to where it is today? There are nearly 5,000 years of Chinese history and traditions there, overlaid with 150 years of British colonial influence. Ceded back to China by the British in 1997, the city remains a "free-market zone" within the communist Chinese system. Locals still refer to the "border" of mainland China, and visitors from the West must acquire tourist visas in order to cross -- although visa regulations for China seem to be in constant flux, so be sure to confirm the current situation.

In terms of cultural diversity, architectural innovation, infrastructure and cosmopolitan edginess, it's hard to beat Hong Kong. The city is also one of the most vibrant commercial centers in the world. Hong Kong is the foremost deep-water harbor in Asia, a fact evidenced by the scores of cargo vessels carrying manufactured goods to the rest of the world. Of course, it's also a first-rate shopping destination, much to the delight of cruise passengers who discover that both of the city's two terminals have impressive malls attached.

Hong Kong is comprises three main districts. The Kowloon Peninsula houses the famed Ladies' Market and Temple Street Night Market, the upscale shops on Nathan Road's "Golden Mile," several museums and the busy, tourist-friendly Tsim Sha Tsui area. Connecting Kowloon to mainland China are the scenic New Territories, where you'll find elaborate temples and woodlands. Hong Kong Island, across Victoria Harbour, contains the city's financial district, known as Central, as well as Sheung Wan, a historic Chinese neighborhood where the British originally took control, which is being reborn as a trendy area. Dubbed the "concrete forest," Hong Kong Island offers a stunning juxtaposition of imposing skyscrapers set against the towering slopes of Victoria Peak. But travel to the other side of the Peak, and you'll find beaches, islands, an amusement park and Stanley Harbor -- with yet another renowned market. Plan to add at least a few days if you embark or disembark here.

About Hong Kong


Pro

A high-energy city with soaring skyscrapers, sprawling malls, theme parks and delectable food

Con

Can be overwhelming, crowded, hot and humid

Bottom Line

An efficient transportation system makes it easy to explore this exciting city's wonderful attractions


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Where You're Docked

Cruise ships dock at two cruise terminals in Hong Kong. If your cruise documents don't say which terminal your ship will use, consult the Ocean Terminal schedule (http://www.oceanterminal.com.hk/) and the Kai Tak Terminal schedule (http://www.kaitakcruiseterminal.com.hk/)

Hong Kong's Ocean Terminal is located in Victoria Harbour at the southwestern edge of the Kowloon Peninsula. It's a superb location, within walking distance of world-class shops, restaurants, museums, landmark hotels, markets, parks, the underground transit system and the renowned Star Ferry.

The Kai Tak Cruise Terminal opened on the East Kowloon waterfront in 2013. A refurbished airport, the terminal has two alongside berths, with support facilities to accommodate simultaneous berthing of two mega-cruise vessels (gross tonnage of up to 220,000). There is also a caf?, a gourmet restaurant, a wine bar, an expansive duty free shop and a large rooftop garden.

You'll need to take a taxi or shuttle to reach nearby attractions such as Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon Walled City Park, Chi Lin Nunnery / Nan Lian Garden and Lei Yue Mun Seafood Bazaar. Ten minutes away, Festival Walk shopping complex features many international brands.

Port Facilities

Hong Kong has two cruise terminals: Ocean Terminal and Kai Tak. While both are in the Kowloon section of the city, Ocean Terminal is immediately adjacent to the hotels and activities on the waterfront as well as the Star Ferry. Kai Tak, the refurbishment of an airport, opened in 2013. It requires a shuttle or taxi ride to Hong Kong's main tourist areas.

For those with limited time and unlimited resources, shopping opportunities abound at both ports. Ocean Terminal is home to the gigantic Ocean Center and Harbour City shopping complexes. You'll find three floors of designer boutiques, gourmet specialty stores and department stores with both local and international choices. An entire section of the mall is devoted to shops selling children's items. One of our favorite chocolatiers in the world, Jean Paul Hevin of Paris, has a boutique selling jewel-like candies and macaroons. The City Super has a food court that's good for a quick bite. There's even a Starbucks in the complex.

You'll also find ATM's and free Wi-Fi in the terminal mall complex (though strength of the signal varies). Pacific Coffee has Internet-connected computers, which are free to use with a purchase. (When folks are waiting, there's a 15-minute time limit; if you're waiting, feel free to start the timer found next to the computer.)

Step outside the terminal, and you're in a shopper's paradise. A custom-tailored suit in one of the city's renowned tailors' shops is just minutes (and a few hundred dollars) away. The best-known of these shops belongs to Sam of Sam's Tailor Shop, at 92 Nathan Road in the Burlington Arcade. Sam has measured the inseams of such notables as Margaret Thatcher and Prince Charles. Exquisite silks, jade and gold jewelry, arts and crafts, textiles, and antiques can all be found at China Cultural Arts, a high-end shop located on Salisbury Road, also within minutes of the Terminal.

Definitely take a stroll along the Kowloon waterfront, just to the right of the terminal. It's an amazing vantage point for admiring the cityscape of Hong Kong Island. See if your hands fit into any of the impressions left by Hong Kong movie celebrities on Avenue of Stars -- the city's equivalent of Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

The Star Ferry pier is to the right as you exit, with boats buzzing back and forth to Hong Kong Island. Its building also houses the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau. The mass transit system's Tsim Sha Tsui and East Tsim Sha Tsui underground station entrances are a five-minute walk east of the cruise terminal on Middle and Nathan Roads.

The situation at Kai Tak is a little less convenient. While the refurbishment of the airport is a marvel -- the design retains airport elements, such as the control tower -- it's not a destination unto itself, although Hong Kong seems to be trying to bill it as such. If you arrive early before embarkation, you'll find an expansive duty-free shop with plenty of luxury brands, a cafe, a wine and Champagne bar and a gourmet restaurant. Take time to go up to the rooftop garden for wide views of the Hong Kong waterfront.

Good to Know

Along Nathan Road, you'll likely be hustled by men selling "designer" watches and handbags. Buyer beware.

Hong Kong's bustle reaches a peak during rush hour, so be prepared for crowds on mass transit, particularly the MTR. Anytime of the day, though, the city's crowds and heat can be a bit overwhelming. Be sure to take a break now and then -- afternoon tea is the perfect opportunity to get off the streets and relax.

Smog is a fact of life in Hong Kong, and it can often blot out some of the legendary views. Locals blame the smelly haze on mainland China.

Getting Around

Hong Kong is compact, with abundant taxis and excellent public transportation, making local travel quick and convenient.

On Foot: Many of Kowloon's tourist attractions are within a 20-minute walk of Ocean Terminal.

By Star Ferry: These beloved historic boats are a great way to get to Hong Kong Island for a pittance.

By Tram: Double-decker trams offer some of the best city views and run from early morning hours.

By Bus: There are also buses, which run throughout the city. They're ideal if you want to get to Stanley Market.

By Underground: The Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is slick, clean and efficient. Its lines run throughout Kowloon and under the harbor to Hong Kong Island.

By Taxi: Hong Kong taxis are plentiful and fairly inexpensive. To get to Kai Tak from Tsim Sha Tsui will cost around $100 Hong Kong ($13 US).

By Airport Train: Special airport trains run from Kowloon station and Central station on Hong Kong Island. The system also provides free, frequent shuttles to the stations from major hotels. Once at the train station, you'll be able to check your luggage in for your flight, which is a great convenience.

By Escalator: Hong Kong Island has a series of free escalators, called the mid-levels, created to transport commuters up and down the middle section of Victoria Peak. Aside from morning commute time, when they run downhill, they travel uphill and have spawned small restaurants and bars along their hilly path

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

ATM's are widely available -- as nearby as the cruise terminal -- and dispense Hong Kong dollars. It's best to check with your bank prior to departure for information about surcharges. For current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. Don't be shocked by price tags; there are several Hong Kong dollars to one U.S. dollar.

Since commerce is king, most major credit cards and traveler's checks are accepted throughout the city. When using your credit card, you may be asked if you'd like to charge in your home currency. For the best exchange rate, we recommend you always request that the charge be made in local currency. On the same note, check with your credit card company to see if they tack on any fees for overseas charges. (A 3 percent fee isn't uncommon.) Several credit card companies now offer no-fee foreign transactions.

Language

Cantonese and English are the official languages. Most shopkeepers, hotel personnel, restaurant and service workers speak some English. Cantonese is the most widely spoken Chinese language in Hong Kong, though use of Mandarin is growing. All major signage is in English or is bilingual, as are many locals. It's entertaining to eavesdrop on pedestrian conversations as they veer between English, Chinese and even Indian dialects.

Food and Drink

If you're a foodie, you've come to the right spot! Hong Kong's food-lovers will match you bite for bite. From dim sum (little plates or steamer-baskets of tasty morsels served morning through afternoon) and Peking duck to exotic (and questionably ethical) items like bird's nest soup or shark fin soup, the entire city is one big banquet. But it doesn't stop there. Creative chefs are also playing with traditional foods and creating innovative new menus.

Food appears in every possible setting -- from elegant hotel and romantic alfresco dining to the basic "come-as-you-are" food stalls, called dai pai dong. Of course, the most popular type of cooking is Cantonese-style. But you'll find restaurants that specialize in cuisine from every region of China. You'll also find an abundance of Western dining options, including the usual fast food suspects. For a true taste of Hong Kong, look for a food tour that exposes you to some of the city's more unique bites.

Texture has a major role in Chinese cuisine, with items like pig ears and chicken feet playing to sensibilities very different from Western tastes. Behind many ingredients, though, is the Chinese belief that food is like medicine. It can improve your complexion, your virility or your luck.

Hong Kong is home to the world's cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan (Shop 9-11 Fuk Wing Street, Mongkok, Kowloon). This out of-the-way dim sum hole-in-the-wall turns out spectacular items made to order. A line starts forming at least a half hour before the doors open at 10 a.m. If you're not lucky enough to get a table at the first seating, the genial owner will put your name on the list and give you the approximate waiting time, easily passed by investigating the nearby street market and surrounding food shops. Trust us, the wait is worth it -- items like the pork buns or steamed shrimp and spinach dumplings redefined dim sum for us. Tim Ho Wan has a second outlet in the IFC Mall in Central on Hong Kong Island, as well as others around town. At all, you check off the items you'd like to order on a paper listing. Closing times are variable, since they stop serving when they run out of food, usually later for the island outlet.

Want your dim sum close by? A five-minute walk from Ocean Terminal, Jade Garden (up the escalator at Star House, Salisbury Road; +852-2730-6888) serves classic lunchtime dim sum in a vast room. (Dinners are regular Cantonese fare.) There are no carts; just check off your choices on a paper list, with help from photos on the menu. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 11:30 p.m.; Sunday and holidays, 10 a.m. - 11:30 p.m. If you're on Nathan Road, check out the soup dumplings at Dim Tai Fung in the Miramar Mall. (Open 11:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m. - 10:30 p.m. Monday through Friday; 11:30 a.m. - 10:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday).

For a memorable splurge, head to Michelin three-starred Bo Innovation (60 Johnston Road, Hong Kong Island, +852- 2850 8371) for lunch or dinner. Alvin Leung, known as the "Demon Chef" applies modern culinary techniques to create captivating twists on traditional Chinese dishes (or, as he calls it, X-treme Chinese Cuisine). His radical take on soup dumplings is one of the world's great bites, and dishes like oysters served with a vapor that evokes the aroma of Hong Kong's harbor make dining a multisensory experience. Reserve in advance, and if you're able to book the "chef's table" (actually a bar overlooking the kitchen), it's likely the Demon himself will serve you while describing the origin of each dish. But even if you're seated at a regular table, the superb staff enhance the meal with explanations and revelations about what you're eating.

Just more than a mile from the Ocean Terminal (best to take a cab) in the Kowloon district of Hung Hom is the 45,000-square-foot "concept" dining plaza, Whampoa Gourmet Place. More than 300,000 diners flock each month to the complex's myriad establishments, which serve traditional cuisine in settings reminiscent of Hong Kong dining establishments of the 1940's and 50's. Service is friendly, the prices are extremely reasonable, and it's another good place to sample dim sum.

Shopping

Jade holds great symbolism in Chinese culture, and either faux (like most of the stuff on display at the Jade Market (bargain hard) or the real thing (be sure to buy from a reputable dealer, like Chinese Arts & Crafts: 3 Salisbury Road, +852-2735-4061; be prepared for sticker shock) makes a good souvenir. Look for necklaces, pendants and other jewelry. On the kitschier side, look for weird and wonderful iPhone covers, or snap up a few "Bruce Lee is my homeboy" t-shirts at the markets.

Best Cocktail

In this financial capital, where money flows like water, what could be more appropriate than a cocktail flecked with gold leaf? Aqua (29/F, One Peking, 1 Peking Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, 3427-2288) shakes up the Aquatini, HK$118, with Grey Goose vodka, Chambord, a splash of lychee liqueur and real (edible) gold leaf. AquaSpirit is one of the city's favorite watering holes, with views that match the showy cocktails.


Hong Kong Awards

Cruisers’ Choice Destination Awards

2018 Top-Rated Asia Destinations
2017 Top-Rated Asia & South Pacific Destinations