Month: June 2017

Independence: JS 1674

So this was a cruise of several firsts for us: 1) first time on a Freedom Class ship 2) first time in a Junior Suite(JS).  Having only ever stayed previously in balcony cabins, the Junior Suite decision was purely driven by a slight uplift in price (actually we were surprised at how small the price difference was) and the fact that a JS earns you double points in the cruise line’s loyalty scheme (where we are close to moving upto the next tier), which has some great benefits.

So we’ll let the photos do the talking…….

Overall we are very pleased with our choice, the only downside being when we more than likely drop back down to balcony cabins on our next cruise.

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Independence Embarkation

So after having had a relatively bad experience boarding a P&O cruise ship back in Southampton in March.  We left the hotel with a slight feeling of trepidation, along with a great deal of excitement.   Having checked the weather forecast the night before, we had decided that we would walk to the cruise terminal and stop by The Mayflower Park, so we could get some photos of our home for the next eight nights.  From the hotel to terminal took us roughly 20 minutes at a slow pace.

Rather than draw it out unnecessarily, our experience at the terminal was exemplary.   Arriving @10:00 we were onboard by 10:45, what a great way to start a holiday.   Keeping things honest, this might have been in part to 1) we are Platinum members of the cruise line’s loyalty scheme (see image below) and 2) we are staying in Junior Suites…………

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And finally, that all important WOW as we boarded……..

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Travel Lodge Southampton

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So after a pretty much uneventful journey, the train finally pulled into Southampton Central station.  The train arrived at platform four, which is absolutely perfect, as the exit you need for the retail park is located on this platform.  To put this in context, we knew that the hotel was not too far away from the retail park.  In fact it was only a 15 minute walk, with google maps leading the way.

Check In was an absolute breeze, with a friendly receptionist giving us some hints & tips as to how to get to the cruise terminal the next day.  Our rooms were on the 2nd floor facing towards the back of the hotel.  The rooms were basic but clean and tidy, and for a one night stay suited our needs.  A TripAdvisor review will follow shortly.

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Having had a light lunch and a few tipples on the train, we decided that it was too early to eat so we decided to visit the Titanic pub we had passed en route to the hotel.  With hindsight, probably not the best watering hole to frequent the day before you set sail on a cruise.  But the bar was pleasant enough and looked to be partway through a refurbishment.

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For dinner, we decided to head back towards the West Quay centre, where we found a good selection of restaurants.  We ended up eating at Bill’s where we all enjoyed our meals.   A quick stop at another pub “The Juniper Berry” on the way back before it was time to get some sleep.

Journey to Southampton

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As with any holiday, the fear of an unexpected delay or mishap always plays on our minds.  Hearing so many stories from unlucky travellers who have missed connections, fallen foul of traffic congestion etc.,  fills us with dread.   Shouldering all that stress and panic is not the best way to start any holiday/vacation.  However good a deal you’ve managed to get, it is lost if you miss the start of your break or even worse, end up spending days, weeks or months seeking compensation from a travel agent, etc. 

With this in mind, having already spent out a considerable sum on a holiday, we feel that paying out a bit more for piece of mind, is a worthwhile investment.  Furthermore, we always like to have a PLAN B up our sleeve, where the key here is to make decisions that allow you to make your PLAN Bs……….such as booking the early train, so the later one is the fall-back………….or booking a hotel near the airport/cruise port, so if you can’t get a taxi you can get yourself there on foot…..

So it’ll come as no surprise that our journey to Southampton started almost 6 months ago, with us booking a room at the Travel Lodge Southampton for the night before we set sail on our cruise holiday.   “Travelodge Hotels Limited is a private company operating in the hotels and hospitality industry throughout the United Kingdom. Branded simply as Travelodge, it is the second largest in the budget hotel sector (behind Premier Inn) and third biggest hotel chain in the UK by number of bedrooms (32,600 at the end of 2010)”.  Based on the hotel’s location, price and reviews we went ahead and made a booking…….the holiday at that point feeling ever so slightly closer.

Although driving to Southampton is possible for us, we had made the decision to take the train a while ago, mostly owing to the fact that it worked out to be a more convenient option.  The other factor being that we would be travelling on weekdays (outbound & return), as travelling at the weekends by train is just not worth the hassle due to the continued maintenance works and reduced services that are run.  So with 4 months to go the ability to advance purchase train tickets became available.  After having trawled through various train ticket sites, we ended up booking with South West Trains directly @£26 return.  As seat reservation is not available, we made sure we got to Waterloo with plenty of time to get an early train.

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We collected our tickets from the self-service machine, which couldn’t have been easier, as long as you remember to insert the card you made the purchase with……..😜

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As we were early,  we decided to pick up some food and drink for the journey.  There is a small M&S on the main concourse, so we went for a selection of various snacks and goodies.  To our surprise we came across wine being sold in individual plastic glasses, which we hadn’t seen before.  Well we thought, the holiday starts now…

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Then all that was left was for us to board the train……….😀

Christmas & New Year in Florida

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It’s not every year that we’re both able to take time off work over the holiday period.  So when the opportunity arises, we absolutely go for it.   As much as we feel a sense of duty or even a desire to spend time with family and friends at this time of year, sometimes escaping from it all can be an absolute thrill.  Speaking from experience, the twangs of guilt you feel as you call/FaceTime/Skype…. your nearest and dearest on Christmas day, disappears as soon as you head off to the pool, beach bar, theme park 😋

So this year we have opted for a “Florida Christmas” and have decided to go theme park crazy, as we are approaching an age where some of the more extreme rides may be soon out of our reach/comfort zone.  So having looked into various Fly/Drive, multi-stay options, we have opted to stay on-site at Universal before transferring to Disney for another on-site stay.  Like we mentioned before, as the chance to get away at Christmas is so rare, we have pushed the boat out.

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So our first stop will be at the Loews Portofino Bay hotel, chosen purely as we have previously stayed at the other two on-site hotels that give you “complimentary” Fastpass tickets, as well as early entry into the Universal Theme parks(the quotes denote that these perks are undoubtedly factored into the room rates).  Another aspect we enjoy of being on-site, is that we like to enjoy the nightlife at City Walk, and being able to walk(stagger) back to our hotel each night, without mucking around with taxis or one of us having to be tee-total is a real plus.

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As for our second stop, this was a much harder decision.  As part of our “push the boat out” policy we had already decided to go for a Disney Deluxe Resort hotel, but we really had to consider location, price and ratings.  So from a location perspective, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge was getting some poor feedback on trip-advisor, which we feel was reflected in the lower pricing.  Conversely, the Magic Kingdom hotels (Contemporary, Grand Floridian & Polynesian) which have a great location, were insanely expensive (not surprising based on the time of year), so again they were quickly ruled out.  Cutting a long story short,  we narrowed it down to the Epcot hotels, again quickly ruling out the Boardwalk Inn based on price.  We were pretty much set to book the Disney Swan & Dolphin Resort (opting for Dolphin), until we realised that it was not a true Disney Resort, so we’d be giving up the Extra Magic Hours (early park entry etc.) and Magicband perks……Nah!.  So we landed on the Disney Beach & Yacht Club Resort, which apparently has the largest pool space of all of the Disney hotels (apparently), and because of an ongoing refurbishment programme had slightly reduced pricing.  Again scouring the reviews on Trip Advisor, we opted for the Beach Club wing option, upgrading to a pool view room to minimise the chance of us being disrupted by any of the refurbishment activity………

More to follow soon……….

Let the Countdown begin….

IMG_0292The excitement is building as we prepare for our next cruise.   On the 29th June 2017 we set sail on the Independence of the Seas for an eight night Norwegian Escapes Cruise.  The itinerary looks stunning:

29-Jun – Southampton, England

30-Jun – Cruising

01-Jul –  Stavanger, Norway

02-Jul – Kristiansand, Norway

03-Jul – Oslo, Norway

04-Jul – Copenhagen, Denmark

05-Jul – Skagen, Denmark

06-Jul – Cruising

07-Jul – Southampton, England