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How environmentally friendly is cruising?

I have enjoyed cruising all over the world for the last twenty years or so and, although I occasionally hear an ill informed comment about it being a snobbish and elitist holiday choice, most people seem quite interested in cruise and cruise ships – even if its not a holiday choice for them, they can understand why it appeals to others.

Well this feels very environmentally friendly….

So I was completely blindsided by a conversation with an acquaintance the other day, the highlights of which were:

‘Cruise ships?!

What a terrible choice to make….

      Completely irresponsible….

          Awful pollution……..

            Huge carbon footprint …

               No wonder everyone hate cruisers!’

WOW!

Now I’d already been thinking about the protests against cruise ships that we’ve been seeing – in Barcelona and Venice for example – and I’d been thinking about the phrase Concious Cruising and how we should consider changes to our behaviour ashore to make us more in tune with local people and the local economy ( please read https://portexplore806233846.blog/2019/07/31/meet-nate-my-cruising-epiphany/ ). However I really had assumed that cruising was better for the environment that flying, I was certain that it must have a smaller carbon footprint – it but turns out that I was completely wrong!

The figures actually that show that on a Transatlantic crossing the QM2, for example, gets about 45 passenger miles per gallon when running at its most efficient whereas an Airbus A321, in comparison, gets just over 107!  This is because traditionally ships burn a much worse fuel than planes – in fact its the heavy, sulphurous sludge oil that’s left once aircraft and other higher-value fuels are refined. Even while docked, cruise ships usually keep running their engines – burning fuel to provide electrical power for its passengers and crew.

Southampton, UK is one port that has had enough – Christopher Hammond, leader of Southampton City Council is quoted as saying “Communities find it difficult to see the benefits of these big cruise ships, it’s a very visible thing: a big funnel chucking out black soot and smoke. People think, I’m breathing all that in.” His suggestion is that cruise ships plug into on on shore electricity and turn off their engines while docked to avoid the problems but what else can be done? And is anybody doing it?

Celebrity Constellation alongside in Catania. She is the worlds second most environmentally aware ships according to Friends of the Earth https://foe.org/cruise-report-card/

Over the last few years many ships have installed ‘scrubbers’ which reduce smoke emissions but whilst they reduce air pollution they work by contaminating and discharging waste water- which is just swopping one pollution problem for another! Battery power isn’t an answer, except for some smaller ships, as batteries couldn’t last for several days at sea. Other options are cheaper, less polluting fuel options such as Liquified Natural Gas, Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) systems, even trials of wind powered generators! (Sails anyone?!) 

well its one option!

Wastewater and pollution from onboard sewage brings another huge set of problems so as the Green Movement grows there is obviously a huge need to Cruise Companies to address this before cruisers become the pariahs of the tourism industry! Alaska already has a series of environmental targets for cruise ships in the area and now Europe is being advised to do the same – “With friendly words you will not get any changes,” said German environmental group NABU CEO Leif Miller “so port cities and coastal communities are now asked to ban dirty ships – like Norway is doing for some of their fjords – to protect the people and the environment.” 

Early morning fjords breakfast view
Breakfast on the balcony, watching the view heading into Bergen

Happily it does appear that these messages are getting through…

CLIA announced today that 44 percent of new cruise ships are planning to use LNG fuel for propulsion and the industry is taking its responsibilities towards safeguarding the environment seriously by investing more than 22 billion dollars into new technologies such as exhaust gas cleaning systems, LNG fuel and shore-side power. Obviously new ships can be designed to take advantage of new technology but what about older ships? Well things are looking hopeful there too… Earlier this week MSC Cruises, the world’s largest privately-owned cruise line, announced that their ship MSC Magnifica is having a major refurbishment for its 2021 season when out will be based in Southampton,  with itineraries in the Mediterranean, Northern Europe, the Baltic and the Norwegian Fjords. Environmental improvements include ….

“two new major and important onboard environmental advances to complement a wide range of existing leading-edge environmental technologies across the company’s entire fleet: a state-of-the-art Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR) system and next-generation Advanced Wastewater Treatment (AWT) system. SCR technology helps reducing nitrogen oxide into pure nitrogen and water through advanced active emissions control technology. MSC Cruises also took the opportunity to install a state-of-the-art advanced wastewater treatment system on board that meets the highest standards and that purifies used wastewater to near tap-water quality… state-of-the-art environmental technology, including hybrid exhaust gas cleaning system (ECGS), as part of MSC Cruises’ longstanding commitment to minimize and continuously reduce its impact on the environment.”   

 – oh and they will be fitting Magnifica so that she can plug into the shore supply in Southampton!   So well done to MSC – lets hope other cruise lines really start to take their environmental responsibilities seriously too!

‘Win a Cruise’ – a roundup of competitions for you to enter before the end of 2019

We had so many lovely messages about our cruise competition round up last month and I set out to do another list for you but I think we’ve hit a bit of a low patch!!! Cruise Competitions seem in very short in supply this month – I’ve added some that finish in December and suspect that our next roundup will be in January – prime holiday booking time, so we will probably be inundated then!! 

PS. Tiny little reality check… most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!

CLOSING THIS MONTH…

November 6th. The awesome Floating Festivals, is offering a chance to win a balcony cabin for two on next years special seven-day voyage, aboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020, you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself! https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise

November 14th. Complete a survey and Vote in the ‘Crafts Beautiful – Best of Craft – Awards 2019’ to win a ‘Crafting’ Fjords trip for two with Cruise & Maritime Voyages https://www.crafts-beautiful.com/awards/prizes

CLOSING in DECEMBER and beyond…

December 8th. ClassicFM and Saga Holidays have a lovely two week river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest Saga Holidays’ on a full-board Saga river cruise calling at Nuremberg, Vienna and Budapest. Answer is Germany https://campaign.classicfm.com/saga-holidays-classicfm-octdec19

December 9th. If you are a member of MySaga …. they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes of a balcony cabin on a four-night fully inclusive mini-cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery from Dover to Sandringham, Norfolk and Amsterdam https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/apr/escape-to-the-continent-spirit-of-discovery

December 13th. The prize offered is a seven-night sailing for two guests on board Star Clipper on an itinerary departing from Phuket in Thailand  on 7, 14 or 21 March 2020. It includes all meals on board but excludes flights and transfers. Answer Is Penang https://www.cruise-international.com/win-a-star-clippers-thailand-cruise/

December 31st  Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. hhttps://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/

January 3rd. If you are a member of MySaga they are running a couple of good competitions … ( there are age restrictions obviously and you also need to have previously cruised with them or bought another of their products such as insurance) you can enter to win one of five prizes for two people sharing a standard balcony twin/double cabin, on the Norway’s Ancient Fjords cruise aboard Spirit of Discovery for seven nights, from Dover on 26 May 2020. https://www.saga.co.uk/membership/ballots/2020/may/cruise-norway-ancient-fjords

Good Luck  with these though and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, I’m always ready to help out!!

xx

December in the Med – cruising out of season

Sunset over Vesuvius

Have you noticed how many last minute cruises there seem to be this year? It’s funny how cruisers start off split into two groups – maybe you’re in  the ‘book it as soon as the brochures come out’ brigade and perhaps the ‘gosh that’s cheap – let’s do it” gang? We definitely used to be the plan ahead types – we still are in terms of our ‘big’ cruises – but over the last couple of years that we seem to be tempted by more and more last minute bargains too – I blame Facebook! My feed lately has been choked with a lot of last minute deals in the Mediterranean for late November and December. So is cruising out of season a good idea?

Our first landfall on a bright sunny morning in Cadiz… with a chilly breeze

We’ve taken a few November/ December cruises in the Med and found them to be very enjoyable. On one we cruised from Southampton and, although we expected a couple of rough days enroute, we were lucky  and they never materialised (obviously don’t rely on that!). We went armed with Stugeron and wrist bands for seasickness but never needed either. Another time we flew to Civittavecchia and, whilst our flight was on time, we watched flights to Barcelona and the south of France were being badly disrupted. I think it is more reliable to cruise rather than fly, as flight schedules can get badly disrupted by bad weather, either in the UK or elsewhere. If you do choose to fly then definitely go out the previous day so that you don’t risk missing the cruise altogether! I think on balance if your holiday is under a week then fly as you get to the nice weather sooner but if you can take a fortnight then definitely cruise out and back. 

Calm seas and sunsets in the Med

The first thing you notice is that the days are shorter but there was still lots of sunshine and sunny corners to sit in on deck, I even went swimming a few times in the outside pools! I found the shorter days made for a gentler, more relaxed cruise. The darker mornings and evenings seemed to promote a less frenetic feel to a day spent ashore with everyone generally safely back on board in time for tea. The shorter days made for some spectacular sunsets too, often as we were leaving port – a lovely end to the day! 

Leaving Cadiz

We might have been lucky but we had pretty good weather every day – from Cadiz where we had bright blue skies but a chilly wind to Cagliari where we actually managed to get a little sunburnt over an alfresco lunch! We carried rain jackets and umbrellas everywhere but didn’t need them anywhere but Gibraltar! We did notice though that its very easy to make yourself a bit silly ( as well as becoming a bit of a target for pick pockets and the like) by wearing summer clothes!  Just because its sunny and almost as warm as a summers day in the UK doesn’t mean you should go ashore in shorts and T shirts – its a bit of a giveaway when all the locals are in jeans, boots and winter jackets – if you want to blend in then wear similar!

The best table in a deserted bar in Cagliari!

One of the real advantages was that everywhere was so quiet – an unexpected bonus! Our midweek stops felt as if they were a different era with very few tourists around – in Cagliari we seemed to be the only tourists in town as we wandered the high town and its cobbled streets. As its low season it is worth double checking the opening times of anything you specifically want to see, especially mid week, but most attractions seemed to be open. We stayed in town in Naples but friends who visited Pompeii said it was an empty as it had been in the 1970’s! The weekend was noticeably busier but we enjoyed Gibraltar and Barcelona without any of the usual crowds and with shopkeepers who seemed genuinely pleased to see us! Most tourist shops were open when we were in port and anything related to the cruise ships, such as HOHO and shuttle buses, seemed to be running as usual. 

Not your usual Monte Carlo shot!

Christmas played its part in our early December trip too – we found Christmas Markets in various places, notably a very surreal experience with fake snow in Monte Carlo, which was a nice surprise and made for a very different cruise vibe!  We were lucky enough to be in Naples for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception – a public holiday that marks the start of Advent and the Christmas shopping season.

We enjoyed watching the street parades featuring the traditional Neopolitan figures, looking at the amazing Christmas decorations and tradition nativity second everywhere and  eating the Christmas specialities of Susamielli, honey and sesame biscuits and Zeppole di Natale – orange doughnuts – awesome! We fell across a local ceremony in Piazza del Gesù where the Mayor of the City brings a garland to the Blessed Virgin Mary which is place on her head by the local firemen who then shower the crowd below with rose petals.  

The fireman reach the top of their ladder carrying the crown of roses and two sacks of petals

Our winter cruises have given us unforgettable experiences, bright sunny days, spectacular dawns and sunsets, uncrowded attractions and a lovely break without any jet lag – so if a last minute cruise is calling to you my advice is DO IT!!!

sea day….
our worst weather….


Our roundup of October Cruise Competitions

We had great responses to our cruise competition round up last month so set out to do another list for you! Cruise competitions are very short in supply this month!!  I’ve only found a few plus a couple of others that might be interesting….  Most of these actually close in November but get entering now!! Good Luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you, Im always ready to help out!!

PS. Tiny little reality check… I think most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see if you can enter!!

Beautiful Budapest

CLOSING THIS MONTH…

October 6th. Classic fm have a competition to win a luxurious eight day Viking river cruise from Budapest on the River Danube. Answer: second longest river in Europe https://campaign.classicfm.com/viking-classicfm-aug19

October 14th Exodus Travels and Classic fm have a chance to win a Northern Lights trip tp Norway. Its flying and four nights in a  cabin but you do get a chance to get out on the water for some whale watching and in a very sparse competition month its worth a try! https://www.classicfm.com/win/trip-for-two-northern-lights-norway/

Competitions closing in November but enter now…

Can you see yourself on a Marella Cruise?

November 1st. Marella’s extremely clever #nauticalsmiles campaign gives you a chance to win 7 nights on Marella Explorer2 by entering a short quiz to see which Marella ship is right for you! https://www.tui.co.uk/cruise/nauticalsmiles#quiz

World of Cruisings Jane McDobald competition is probably the highlight of a very space month!

November 6th. Floating Festivals, the music themed company that runs its on festivals on RCI cruise ships, is offering a chance to win a weeks cruise in balcony cabin for two. This is for next years special seven-day voyage onboard RCI Anthem of the Seas, the Sail Away with Jane McDonald Cruise. The prize is worth £3,000 and takes place in September 2020; you never know you might even have the chance of a cocktail with the Queen of Cruise herself!  https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/win-jane-mcdonald-cruise

Off to the Fjords with Cruise & Maritime?

November 14th. Vote in the ‘Crafts Beautiful – Best of Craft – Awards 2019’ to win a Fjords trip for two with Cruise & Maritime Voyages. https://www.crafts-beautiful.com/awards

December 31st  Vote in the Wave Awards to win a luxury seven-night cruise in the Greek islands with Celestyal Cruises, including flights and transfers, through World of Cruising Magazine, in exchange for your for your email signup to their mailing list. https://www.worldofcruising.co.uk/vote/

Im really sorry not to have found more for you this month!! hopefully next month will be a little more exciting !

Good Luck as always….

Cathy x

Always happy on a cruise!

Volume

Blog Travel with Intent has One Word Sunday Challenge – this weeks word is Volume.

Just a small section of the incredible 8000 pipes being used in the construction of the organ of La Sagrada Familia, in favourite cruise port Barcelona – due for completion by 2026: the centennial of Antonio Gaudí’s death. It will be awesome in the true sense when 8000 pipes fill this unique acoustic space with sound…

MSC Bellissima – #BEAUTYATSEA

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MSC Bellissima – the literal translation from the Italian means Beautiful; so a very confident name for an enormous, great big new ship. We wanted to find out if she deserved such a compliment so were thrilled be able to join Bellissima for a short section of her Inaugural cruise from Southampton to Genoa – embarking in Barcelona for just two nights aboard.

Not the most picturesque view but a good shot of our lovely metal fronted balcony…very old school!
Not the most picturesque view but a good shot of our lovely metal fronted balcony…very old school!

First impressions… ok, yes she is HUGE – from the outside at least! Im not going to write about cabins and amenities as that will be well covered elsewhere although I just want to mention that there is a large overhang above balconies in some higher levels of the ship and other balconies are set well back and will have limited views. Bellissima is definitely a ship that will reward studying your deck plans before booking! Our cabin was right at the bow on Deck 8 – 8002

Our balcony cabin at the bow of MSC Bellissima
Our balcony cabin was right at the bow

So yes Bellissima is large but yet, oddly, I felt that she was a bit like a reverse Tardis! She felt much smaller on the inside than you expected. Thats not a criticism, rather a tribute to the clever way that the designers have used the huge amount of space at their disposal to give you a feeling of spaciousness without making you feel small or insignificant. The cruise was completely full yet pretty much wherever we went and whatever we did we didn’t have to queue or wait for a seat. You really can’t say that about much smaller ships!

The lovely champagne bar
The lovely clean ligns of the glistening Champagne Bar

Some of this has been achieved by very clever use of the ‘dead’ areas of public space… for example the lift lobbies on each floor feature large leather sofas, electronic boards featuring ships guides and event planners, even a model of the ship that the deck is named after! So even while you wait for others at the lift there is plenty to occupy you and stop you feeling stressed. I would say ‘while you wait for the lift’ but we honestly never really did – these must be the fastest ships lifts at sea as even when luggage was being moved and some lifts were out of action we never waited more than a couple of minutes.

The spacious lift lobby - seats are a good idea!
The spacious lift lobby – seats are a good idea!

As you move around the ship you transition from one area to another through an individual entrance hall – this helps thin out crowds obviously but it also adds to the sense of theatre and occasion…I would particularly single out the entrances to the restaurants, the Cirque de Soleil lounge and most notably the casino, where the clever use of glass and mirrors made me feel as if I was spinning into a different world!

The stunning mirrored floor and ceiling in the entrance to the casino makes for a cool shot!
The stunning mirrored floor and ceiling in the entrance to the casino makes for a cool shot!

Outside the restaurants, wine bottles cleverly feature almost as an art installation, which is an innovative, interesting and efficient use of space.

Drink anyone?
Drink anyone?

That brings me to the thing that most impressed me about Bellissima, the use of clever and innovative lighting and illuminated panels. The most obvious of these is the huge illuminated ceiling in the arcade which changes constantly and even features in its own show! The quality of the pictures and animations is literally jaw dropping when you see them in the full size.

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The same technology is also used in some bars and in the theatre for some of the most impressive backdrops I have seen anywhere. I’m not sure the theatre team is making the fullest use of them yet but once they do just watch out, as even now the sudden appearance of a tree surrounded with butterflies or a full height waterfall is spectacular.

This waterfall backdrop was just stunning…
This waterfall backdrop was just stunning…

The lighting designers have done a brilliant job with outside lighting at night too. My pictures show just one evening but apparently the colours and moods can be changed constantly to give a different feel for different events.

MSC Beliissima by night…beautiful indeed!
MSC Beliissima by night…beautiful indeed!

We thoroughly enjoyed our two days on board and can’t wait to go back for a longer voyage. We were particularly impressed by the staff of all departments who went out of they way to tell us how proud they were of their lovely new ship that is Bellissima indeed!

This blog was originally published in March 2019 as a guest blog for Cruise Excitement.

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MSC OPERA – A MOTHER & DAUGHTER MINI-BREAK

This portExplore Blog was originally published in May 2018 as a guest Blog for Cruise Addicts…

My daughter and I were looking for a short break away when we fell across an absolute bargain 5 night section of a repositioning cruise on MSC Opera, the following weekend. After upgrading to an Aurea Suite (of which more later) and upgrading the all inclusive drinks package to Premium it was still cheaper than a pampering weekend for two at a spa in the UK! We added two Easyjet flights ourselves as there were no MSC flights available and we were ready to go!

Lunch at Reids

The landing in Funchal Airport was an experience & all I can say is that if you are a nervous passenger then maybe best not to go there! We had very little time to see anything in Madeira so had booked a very reasonable transfer to Reids Hotel where we had lunch on a sunny terrace overlooking the ship before asking the hotel to get us another cab down to the port. It was the oddest embarkation ever as although the man on the gate appeared to have our names on a list of the four people joining the ship they didn’t appear to actually be expecting us on board. There was a slightly heart stopping moment as various levels of crew were called to decide what to do with us but eventually the Head of Security arrived, scanned our bags and waved us off to Customer Services for instructions. The staff there were great, they went through our paperwork and sorted us out in no time, ten minutes from stepping onboard we were in our cabin!

Our Aurea
Suite before the beds were reconfigured

MSC Opera is a middle sized ship, built in 2004 and extended in 2015 by chopping a piece into the middle, it now has berths for 2142 passengers. As with all the MSC ships it is well maintained and sparking throughout with constant repainting and revarnishing going on. We had an Aurea S3 Suite which although it is as good as it gets on board Opera, there are no Yacht Club or ‘proper’ suites, would only have been classed as a Mini suite on most other ships. Nicely laid out with a separate sitting area and lots of floor to ceiling mirrors, it is not too boxy as the dressing table is set at an angle across the end of the room. The ‘walk in’ wardrobe is on the opposite side of the cabin to the bathroom which was great as on a previous cruise it was quite hazardous to be getting something out of a drawer when your partner left the bathroom! We had asked for twin beds and it took no time for the steward to remake the double as soon as we spoke to the Desk, in fact he was extremely efficient and helpful at all times and always seemed to be around to make sure we were happy. The ship is quite glitzy and flash with lots of mirrors, lights and brightly coloured artwork, only a small atrium area but lifts and stairs sensibly placed with not too many bottle necks (apart from one odd set of lifts thats only served a few floors and didn’t go up onto the upper deck !) Not exactly subtle or understated!

Glitzy lift!

Madeira seemed quite warm and sunny to us but the ship was coming home from a season in Cuba and most people on board had been in the Caribbean for at least week or so before beginning their Transatlantic crossing so they were starting to feel that it was quite chilly – it is quite surreal watching waiters in thermal jackets and hats serving people in bikinis around the pool! All the decks are named after operas & all Aurea Suites are on Deck 12 La Boheme which is above the spa and the pool deck and below the designated private Area sundeck. This was quite a nice perk, there staff to look after you, sun beds, cold towels, complementary sunscreen and a bar (also 2 cabana type beds that oddly had an extra charge and so were never occupied!), so they are really pleasantly quite with no noise from above or below and no smells form cooking or engines. A few of the cabins on the starboard side (12031 to 12023)  are above the kids club so probably best avoided! Aurea privileges also included a separate dining room and spa access, so free use of the spa, sauna and steam room, as well as one included massage  each and discounts on other treatments. We booked in for our free massage and were given the usual upsell but it was pretty half hearted which was quite a refreshing change! I think this was many because the 21 night repositioning cruise was nearly over and everyone had settled into a routine and everything seemed pretty chilled. 

The Area private sun deck

After spending sail away in the peace of the relaxation area of the spa we settled in to our room, unpacked (which didn’t take long as we had travelled hand baggage only – really!) and went off for supper. The Aurea dining room is  L’Approdo which is at the stern, our table had a lovely view through panoramic windows of Madeira as it disappeared over the horizon. The tables were set out for 2 and obviously everyone had had the same table every night, the tables were close enough together to talk to people around you and we practised our French (me) and German (my daughter) and smilingly nodded at our Italian neighbours – in fact the only people who seemed a bit unfriendly were British which was odd! Our main waiter was Cuban ( as were many of the staff on board) and he was obviously thrilled to have new faces aboard and we had excellent service. Wine was by the glass on our package but our waiter brought us a glass of sparkling wine to welcome us every evening and then a very nice Sauvignon Blanc which we continued with for the rest of our trip even though he was keen to find us something else! The food was a bit hit and miss, the first nights menu was Portuguese themed for Madeira and contained salt cod in three different disguises which was a bit weird, we were both tired so opted for a nice simple risotto which was extremely bland but quite nice once we’d tipped a load of parmesan into it and lots of seasoning! The food on the next two nights was ok but on our last night there was a Gala (formalish) evening and the food was extremely good. This restaurant was supposed to be a much higher standard than the main restaurant La Caravella but I really hope that isn’t true as it would be pretty bad! I suspect that the food is much the same but the level of customer service is higher. The food was generally not great, the pizza and pasta from Ill Patio was good & we never tried the hamburgers but the food in the buffet was really quite weird in places, I did wonder if they were running out of things as it seemed quite hard to find something simple to eat. I really don’t do roast meals or casseroles for lunch but a simple roll with some ham and salad or something seemed impossible to source. The ice creams were great and included in our package and we also enjoyed the two Nutella filled crepes which we are ashamed to have bought on our last afternoon (extremely scrummy though!).

Cuban dance class

The Entertainment Crew were fun and worked very hard, we joined in some games on deck on our first day and also a dance class. We never got around to the mini golf of the shuffle board because we just found too much else to do! An extremely macho dance troupe from Cuba were running a Salsa class which was very popular and well attended, although we were two weeks behind & slightly out of our depth we thoroughly enjoyed it. We weren’t huge fans of the shows in the theatre but enjoyed the Karaoke which was multilingual, hugely supportive and great fun. We took part in MasterChef at sea which was great and the crew had a lot of fun with all the different languages that had to be used on board, managing to make light of what can be a very irritating part of a multi national ship as every small announcement seems to go on for ever! It was only on our first morning that I realised that we hadn’t done a Drill when we came on board, which was quite a relief as I imagine would be extremely wearing in five languages, so we located our muster station and checked our lifejackets like good passengers and carried on having fun. There was a lot to do on board, none of it exactly intellectual because of the language barrier. There was a lot of live music but mainly very amplified and we did find it odd that although there were pianos in many of the bars you really only ever heard people playing keyboards! There were the usual shops, offers and photographers which we largely kept away from although apparently the Aurea package also gave us one free portrait so we were happy to accept that!

Masterchef props looking a little tired!

The passage from Funchal to Cadiz wasn’t exactly rough but the transatlantic swell rolling underneath us was quite noticeable and I noticed that a few people were quite uncomfortable with it. The pool was drained and the hot tubs closed because of the ships motion, I’m not sure if its always a feature of that part of the world or if we were particularly unlucky but it was a relief to turn towards Spain and put the swell beneath rather than across us. We docked at Cadiz and had a lovely sunny but windy day ashore in the town, getting back onboard a little early for our massages. These were slightly disappointing, not unpleasant in any way but just a bit perfunctory, maybe because we hadn’t booked any other treatments or maybe just because of the end of season feeling that was becoming a bit noticeable. The Cuban dancers had a big good bye party, various things were being tidied up and put away, bars were running out of bits and pieces….the crew continued in very good humour and I suppose its always the same at the end of a cruise but it was more noticeable because we still felt new! That was one of the funniest things on board, every time we did something or met someone they wanted to know why they’d missed us for the previous fortnight, and then were even more confused when we said we had only just got on! It was quite nice to be a novelty on board for once, everyone wanted to talk to us because we were new. People found it even more confusing when they realised we were getting off at Barcelona rather than finishing the cruise in Genoa with everyone else! The other couple who had joined at Funchal said that they had experienced the same, they told us that they get sent very very special offers because they spend so much in the casino, they reckoned that what they gambled on one cruise basically paid for their next one! I’m not sure thats a budgeting tool I want to try – they were lovely though!

Cadiz

Leaving Cadiz and passing through the Straits of Gibraltar was a special moment, everyone gathered on deck to watch. The next day was the final sea day of the cruise with a Gala night. The dress code on ship generally was ‘European smart’ which is glitzier than UK smart and most of the men were in jackets or very smart shirts even on the non gala nights. We were invited to the Captains Cocktail party and that was pretty glitzy but cocktail dress and heels rather than long frock, no bow ties. Excellent entertainment in the bars that night with a lot of people dancing late into the night. We were off in the morning but continued to be an object of curiosity, even as we waited for our nightcap hot chocolate to take to bed on our last night we were questioned about where we’d been hiding for a fortnight! 

Early morning in Barcelona

Next day a bright sunny morning saw us arriving in Barcelona with two other MSC ships so there was a lot of waving and cheering as each one came in, a really family atmosphere.  There are a lot of things I really liked about MSC- the crew in particular, the ship, the atmosphere, the layout of the room and the main dining room. Others not so much…the food, the buffet area and the multi national announcements mainly. Joining for such a short section of the repositioning cruise wasn’t a problem at all and we would definitely do it again. 

September Cruise Competitions – Quick, get entering!

Quick - get entering!!
Regal Princess in Trieste

We had some lovely response to our cruise competition round up last month so have done another list for you! Mixed bag of competitions this month, sea cruises are a little thin on the ground this month but there are lots of river cruises and couple of other interesting ideas too! Good Luck and please do let me know if you win a cruise – especially if you need someone to come with you!!

PS: Tiny little reality check… most of these are UK only competitions but if you are from elsewhere you can always check and see!!

COMPETITIONS CLOSING THIS MONTH…

Galleria Umberto, Naples
Galleria Umberto, Naples

September 12th

Win an Adriatic cruise for two in June 2020, on the ‘Gold’ Cruise aboard Marella Discovery 2. The fly cruise itinerary from Naples includes Venice, Split, Dubrovnic, Ancona and Messina, as well as Gold fm themed parties in the evenings. Signup to website required. https://campaign.mygoldmusic.co.uk/marella-gold-cruise-tui-sept19

YES! it really is a ferry!!
Yes, ok its a ferry! But its a nice ferry….

September 13th

ALMOST a cruise from Capital radio and DFDS Seaways – a trip to Amsterdam with  an outside cabin on a DFDS mini cruise to Amsterdam from Newcastle. Includes a hotel stay, in Amsterdam, meals onboard the ship and spending money.

https://campaign.capitalfm.com/dfds-capitalfm-sept19-b1

Kotor, Montenegro in the early morning mist - from Regal Princess.
Heading for Kotor in the morning mist – Regal Princess

September 20th

Holiday hypermarket have a competition to win an all inclusive Mediterranean cruise, including flights for two, on the Marella Celebration. The cruise starts at  Dubrovnik before visiting Malta, Sicily, Italy and Montenegro. Everyone who enters will receive a £50 discount code applicable to ANY Marella cruise sailing from 1st October 2019 right through to 30th April 2020. Sign up required. https://www.holidayhypermarket.co.uk/hype/win-a-cruise/

River boats on the Seine
The Seine in Paris

September 27th

Win a seven night Seine cruise, from Paris, with Europe’s largest river cruise operator, CroisiEurope. Two overnight stops for sightseeing and visits to Honfleur, Giverny and Rouen on the either MS Botticelli or MS Seine Princess.  Answer: Giverny https://www.cruise-international.com/win-a-croisieurope-seine-cruise/

September 29th

River cruising is BIG this month! this from Riviera Travel
Lots of river cruises this month, this one from Riviera Travel

Australian Company Cruiseco and Riviera river cruises are running a competition to win your choice of cruise from their selection. Answer: Cruiseco collections. There does not seem to be a location based restriction on entry. https://giveawayalley.com/win-the-cruise-you-choose

September  30th

Shakespeares Cliff, Dover
Shakespeares Cliff, Dover

The Telegraph have joined forces with Saga for a competition to win an all inclusive, four night, mini-cruise for two, on board Spirit of Discovery. Leaving Dover for Great Yarmouth, then visiting Amsterdam. The prize includes a balcony cabin and chauffeur transfers. Watch a video and answer a question: Japan. Sign up required. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/cruises/unique-experiences/win-a-four-night-cruise/?WT.mc_id=tmgspk_pzf_2624_As8fcq03FFwl&utm_source=tmgspk&utm_medium=pzf&utm_content=2624&utm_campaign=tmgspk_pzf_2624_As8fcq03FFwl

September  30th

The Wonderful Cruise addicts magazine and our Confident portExplorer join forces
Our lovely friends at Cruise Addicts Magazine are always so generous with their support!

Our great friends at the lovely Cruise Addicts Magazine are running a competition to win one of three copies of The Confident portExplorer – a great book for anyone who loves cruising! https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cruiseaddictsmag.com%2Fblog%2Fwin-1-of-3-copies-of-the-confident-portexplorer-by-cathy-rogers%2F%3Ffbclid%3DIwAR3vhvAR-bPLxQUvuU1yYFweKuI0zk1usf4a4maYjtjpPoREV1T9tmfZpgE&h=AT1CIH31h4QfmMAnuJFTtuNasWzchzv4BrwVg9x-BLMXubCdxL_UtOlOVooGCC-v0z60jmqfwDaJW2TtFGchbQdOmVqgUkiok5OdDWHVwAM_UAZKhDDGQG2xjTvpkFshC8mkdtFh

September  30th

A wonderful peaceful day on the ffjords
A lovely peaceful morning on the fjords

Win a cruise for two on Celebrity Silhouette on 9th May 2020 or 27th June 2020 in Southampton. The prize is a 7-night Norwegian Fjords cruise to Bergen, Geiranger, Flam, and Stavanger and the competition involves registering with Hays Cruise. https://www.hayscruise.co.uk/win-a-cruise.phtml

LOOKING AHEAD…..

The Norwegian Encore is still being fitted out...
Norwegian Encore under construction

October  1st

Sign up & Register with cruise.co.uk to enter a draw for a cabin on the brand new ship Norwegian Encore. https://www.cruise.co.uk/guides/current-competition-main/?affref=googleppc5&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIw4Ln7pjE5AIVxtTtCh1rZgcYEAEYASAAEgLnH_D_BwE  

October 6th

The Danube at Budapest
Chain Bridge over the Danube, Budapest

 Classic fm have a competition to win a luxurious eight day Viking river cruise from Budapest on the River Danube. Answer: second longest river in Europe https://campaign.classicfm.com/viking-classicfm-aug19

November 14th

Heading for Bergen, Norway
Heading for Bergen, Norway

Vote in the ‘Crafts Beautiful – Best of Craft – Awards 2019’ to win a Fjords trip for two with Cruise & Maritime Voyages https://www.crafts-beautiful.com/awards

So get entering – GOOD LUCK, don’t forget to tell us if you win !!

PS Hope the lucky Cruise Addicts enjoy their books! If you’re unlucky don’t forget The Confident portExplorer and The Cruise Planner are both available from Amazon or our website http://www.portexplore.me

Hidden Gems of the UK – DOVER our guest blog for the HIDDEN GEMS series

The White Cliffs from the Western Docks, Dover

DOVER… The majority of visitors to Dover arrive through the frankly uninspiring Ferry Port on the Eastern side of Dover Harbour, drive off the ferry and get out of Dover as fast as they can Others arrive at the Western Docks by cruise ship and are herded onto a coach trip to see the sights of London!  So while most of these arriving passengers will have spotted the famous white cliffs from the sea and some may even have noticed the famous Dover Castle perched high above the port they are missing out on some real hidden gems. There is a lot more to Britains oldest port than white cliffs so make time on your visit for a little portExplore.…

the harbour wall is through the door at the end… photo: portExplore

1. Old Dover Maritime train station … at the western edge of the harbour is a large brick built doorway with a steep flight of stairs. red these lead to a long glazed walkway. Every passenger travelling from London to Calais would have used this passage from its construction in the 1920s  until the late 1960s – a very evocative space. At the very end of the passage you can see down into the old ticket hall and past that is the entrance to the harbour wall. Although is owned by the Dover Sea Angling Association they are normally happy to let visitors walk it. This is a really good camera op and makes for some wonderful pictures of the port, cruise ships, the White Cliffs and Dover Castle. 

Shakespeare Beach photo: portExplore

2. Shakespeare Beach & Cliffs… Walk back through the station walkway and at the bottom of the stairs turn left, follow the road round past the fishermen’s huts onto the shingle of Shakespeare Beach.  Although not a good place to swim because of the serious undertow this is a good beach for a nice crunchy, bracing walk. Go right to the far end and you will find Shakespeare’s Cliff – it is called that because it is mentioned in the play King Lear. Shakespeare wrote a description of the Samphirepickers who scrambled down from the cliff top, clinging to a rope and clutching a basket to pick the green samphire – a local delicacy which you can still see growing on the cliff.  Don’t attempt to climb around the headland or onto the cliff though as it is quite unstable, with frequent rock falls 

Shakespeares Cliff … a lot of the green is the samphire he mentioned…

3. Samphire Hoe… further to the west, on the other side of Shakespeare Cliff, but only accessible from the top of the cliffs, is an award winning nature reserve.To find it follow the footpath out of Dover, marked as The North Downs Way, it will take you to the tunnel entrance and down through the cliffs to Samphire Hoe.  A stunning location and outstanding scenery with peace and quiet, walks, wildflowers, birds and wildlife. The site becomes wilder the further you get from the visitor centre but most of the Hoe is accessible for wheelchair users and the mobility impaired who can follow a route marked on the map displayed by the Cafe. If you turn and look up the cliff you will be able to see remnants of the old footpath which used to be the only access but is now defunct and extremely unsafe. The 30 hectare site with amazing biodiversity, a peaceful place to see plants, butterflies, sheep, dragonflies and birds. The location of the Hoe, just across the Channel from mainland Europe, means it is an important area for migrant birds. 

Samphire Hoe reception centre and cafe

4. The Lanes Pub… after all this walking you will be pleased with choice no 4!! The Lanes Micropub in Worthington Street,  Dover, was named at Kent named as Pub of the year 2018 by CAMRA, the real ale society. It is small, friendly and family run and if you’re not a beer fan they also sell Kent wines, Mead, ciders and Perry (cider made form local pears.) They don’t do food but are quite happy for you to buy something from the Deli opposite and bring it back! A refreshing change in these days of Gastropubs – good conversation, board games, no keg beer, lager, or piped music- a proper pub! 

me of the beers on sale at The Lanes Micropub

5. Music Gone By…

If you are interested in Vinyl do not miss this quirky little shop in London Road which is stuffed full of old vinyl records at really good prices!! Otherwise shopping in Dover is a bit meh although you can sometimes find a real bargain in the De-Bradleigh Wharf Outlet stores down by the marina.

Views right across the Channel to France from the Western Heights photo: portExplore

6. Western Heights

Climb up to the Western Heights, a wooded area above the port western docks for amazing views across to France on a clear day. You can follow various trails through the cliffs and discover the remains of a Knights Templar chapel, a roman lighthouse, WW1 dugouts and gun emplacements  as well as the massive defences built to defend against invasion by the French, that never actually happened.You can see these Napoleonic defenses… forts, barracks and a unique triple Helix staircase that run 140 foot down through the cliffs – lots to explore and see, or maybe just sit and look at the view!

I hope you enjoy your time in Dover, let me know below what you think and especially if you want to add any more of your own Hidden Gems!!

https://www.earthtoconnie.com/hidden-gems-of-dover-u-k/

Thanks to Connie for asking me to join this great programme, which is covering Hidden Gems all over the UK. Make sure you look at all the other Hidden Gems posts to see if there is something close to you!

Sitka, Alaska – and why its worth finding a cruise itinerary that includes it!

Sitka, on the Pacific Coast of Barenof Island in Alaska, is one of the more unusual ports to see featured on an Alaskan itinerary. Originally built by Russian traders in the early 1800’s it has a very different feel to the wild west, gold rush mining towns that form most of the other ports of call in the area and is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance!!

Baranof Island is covered mainly covered by the huge Tongrass National Forest -the island is 100 miles long but the the coast road only extends about seven miles on either side of the town! Looming over Sitka from across the sound is Mount Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano and bird sanctuary, which looks eerily like Mount Fuji. Smaller, heavily wooded, islands fill the channel and some of the most popular excursions are out on the water – fishing, whale watching, kayaking or visiting the puffins on Mount Edgecumbe.

Shore based excursions take you out to the edge of the Tongass Forest or to one of the destinations in town – just do a little homework before booking as the town runs free shuttle buses from the port to the town centre, which is flat and compact so almost everywhere is easily accessible on your own. Some ships moor out in Sitka Sound and use tenders to bring people in to the same point – Harrigan Hall on the edge of Crescent Harbor. You might want to tale a look at the Port Profile for Sitka published in our talkExplore group on Facebook for a few ideas of things to do. The ‘Fortress of the bear’ and the Raptor Rescue Centre are both on the edge of town and accessible by bus or taxi.

The town hosts the Internationally renowned annual Sitka Summer Music festival which runs in various locations around the town including the Sheldon Jackson College which itself is the base for the Sitka Fine Arts summer camp. We were lucky enough to fall across an amazing FREE lunchtime concert with two absolutely world class cellists and a local ballet dancer! We reached the hall by shuttle bus, feet and serendipity – we weren’t actually looking for it at all, but fell across it by accident! Afterwards we spoke to some people from the ship who had paid $59 each for the coach trip into town and the concert! It hadn’t cost us a penny….although they did get coffee!

Sitka was originally home to the Tlingit people who fought a huge battle against the Russians from their fort built of sapling Sitka spruce trees – the site is preserved and honoured within the lovely temperate rainforest – Totem National Park which is also home to 18 Tlingit and Haida totem poles collected from all over Alaska – ‘gifted ‘ by the First Nations people to be exhibited at the 1904 Exposition – they were relocated here after the exhibition rather than being returned to their original homes and now look out across Sitka Sound and Indian River – very atmospheric and definitely worth a visit!

If you are travelling with kids a walk around Crescent Harbor will bring you to Sika’s brand new musical play park – full of colourful instruments and drums as well as the more conventional climbing frames and slides, it is definitely somewhere for the kids to run off steam! Further on you will find the Sitka Sound Science Centre, – five aquariums, touch tanks, a killer whale skeleton and a salmon hatchery give kids a real hands on experience!

There are free museums at Harrigan Centennial Hall, where the free shuttle drops you, on the Sheldon Jackson Campus and in the ground floor of Russian Bishop’s House. The upper floor of the House is accessible on a free guided tour but the most evocative building relating to the towns Russian heritage as the city of ‘New Archangel’ is St Michaels Cathedral, an onion domed, icon filled building on Lincoln Street not far from the shuttle drop-off.

Shopping is slightly different to other Alaskan ports, with shops showing a strong Russian influence, but we were very impressed by the efforts that the town was making to interact with cruise passengers, almost every street corner had a pitch set up for a locally made jewellery stall, art exhibition or a hotdog stand- you can read my blog below on young Nate and his entrepreneurial friends to find out more…

We really liked Sitka and ran out of time to see all we wanted to –  go if you get the chance, you are bound to have a great time there too. We were really happy just walking the sites and didn’t wish that we had taken a tour at all!

Whatever you choose to do, we hope you have a great day portExploring!!