Pics from the cruise

We loved the Blu restaurant, with it’s two massive sculptured rose walls, it’s chandeliers, it’s modern port hole multi coloured wall, and its small menu (changed nightly). We also loved the flexibility of this restaurant with no need to pre-book. Some nights we ate early and went to the late show, other nights we went to the early show and dined afterwards depending on our mood on the night.

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Amazing sculptured rose.

Big sparkley chandelier

The small menu changed each night. The food was superb, as was the service.

An example of one night’s offerings.

Some days we ordered breakfast in our room (a free service). Eating it on the balcony, how good was that! Other days we had breakfast in our Blu restaurant.

Breakfast on the balcony

First port of call after two days at sea was the Isle of Pines. We’d heard nightmare stories of people on other ships queuing for hours to get a place on the tenders to be taken to shore. I must say the Celebrity Solstice provided an impressively efficient service. I don’t think anyone would have waited longer than 15 minutes – we certainly didn’t.

Tenders crossing two and fro ferrying passengers throughout the day.

One side of the Island had a bit of a reef system ideal for snorkelling. We had forgotten our own snorkelling gear so had to hire some on the island. It was worth a look.

Snorkellers exploring the coral reef near the caves.

Then back to the main swimming beach, with it’s pleasantly warm water on the ship side of the Island.

Main swimming beach with the ship anchored close by

Next days port of call was Mystery Island where we booked a guided snorkelling tour. It was deemed to be ‘extreme’, and only for experienced snorkelers. It’s always a bit of a worry when you book something that’s listed as being for ‘experienced’, as one never knows what the benchmark is that delineates the difference between a novice and someone with experience.  As it turned out it did involve a lot of swimming to keep up with our guide, but we managed easily enough. The only hard part was climbing back into the boat – never easy climbing a flimsy boat ladder from out of deep water. None of us found that easy, but with much pulling and pushing we all managed.

Snorkelling at Mystery Island

There was loads of brightly coloured fish, and coral. Deep below us we saw a couple of rather large reef sharks that may have given cause for concern had our guides not warned us they prefer to keep a comfortable distance, and will swim away if we get to close.

Pretty coral

Next stop was Loyalty Island, another lovely swimming beach. Apparently there was another lovely snorkelling spot there, but we opted for a short swim this time, then lay under the coconut palms for a while before returning to the boat.

The crew provided a welcome treat for all the returning passengers after each beach stop, a lovely drink of iced water, and a cool wet face cloth for a cool, refreshing wipe down. What a pleasure!

Iced water, and cool iced wash clothes – most welcome after a few hours in the water.

Our last stop was Noumea, the capital of New Caledonia. It lived up to it’s reputation of having nothing much there worth photographing or writing about. Some passengers did an Island tour and I believe they found it to be quite amazing. Perhaps we should have done the same, but we felt we’d had our share of swimming and snorkelling. Maybe next time…..

Then our return to Sydney.

The last two sea days on the cruise left some people on board, including some of the crew a little under the weather as we sailed back towards Sydney in the wake of Cyclone Debbie. The seas were rough with the high swells tossing the big ship around as if it was a small boat. The top decks and pools were closed I believe. I never went up to look myself – it wasn’t a place one would have wanted to be in such rough conditions.

On the second to last night sleep was a bit elusive for most on board, including us, as the ship crashed and rocked towards home. We berthed on time to a wet and rainy Sydney. Then our flight back to WA in time to drive home for a night in our own bed. As with any trip away, it’s always nice to come home again.

Will we cruise again – maybe? We enjoyed a lot of it, some of it was disappointing. It was certainly relaxing. We have friends that love cruising. Perhaps one day we’ll do a cruise with them if we can find one that appeals at the right price. That’s if I haven’t proved myself to be too much of a party pooper for them to want to cruise with.

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Bingo on Celebrity Solstice

On sea days the ship has A Bingo session. There’s a considerable sized jackpot for the last of four games, That will only be won should anyone get a full card within 45 calls.

We’ve played twice despite the high cost. I don’t really know why – I guess it’s because it’s one of the few organised activities on board that reassembles a board or card game, and I love a good board or card game.

It cost $39 US dollars for one board with three game squares, $49 for two, and for $59 you get an additional paper set of three to play on the fourth and final game.

Yesterday the first game everyone was playing for a line. There was one winner who won $147 US. The second game was played for the outside corners. This time there were two winners who shared $177. The third game was for the four inside corners, three winners shared $206. The fourth game for the full square had two winners who shared $235. The full card was won only well after the 45 calls required for the jackpot. You’d have to be really, really lucky to win the jackpot, possibly more chance of winning lotto.

Today there’s a bigger prize for the fourth square, around $1000. One fellow cruiser said that’s at least $6000 on other ships for every session, and bigger again on the final day. The attendance has dropped each day I believe. Probably today, being the last day will see the numbers jump up again though, especially as the weathers grim, and the sea rough, not a good day for outdoor activities.

I’m undecided if I’ll consider playing again today. My sense of sensibility says, ‘don’t do it’. Sometimes I’m not that sensible though, so most likely I’ll play for one final time. ‘Stupid is as stupid does’, comes to mind!

The cruising party poopers!

We’re nearing the end of our nine day cruise. After our last port of call today (Noumea) we have two sea days left. We’ve taken lots of photos but won’t be able to post them until we arrive home and can download to our laptop.

So – what are our thoughts?

Mixed feelings. The first two days we were both alternating between thinking, ‘this is the life’, and, ‘is this the life for us’? The next two days we were thinking, ‘Mmmm, could get used to this’, and now – well, sort of back to the original feelings of the first two days.

We are very spoilt in living where we do, and in travelling in our caravan. We can arguably be on one of the best beaches in Australia (and possibly in the world) within a couple of minutes from our home in the summer (and for free). Taking our caravan north to Broome in the winter months brings more of the same. So, the South Pacific islands, although gorgeous, don’t have the same impact on us as they do on people who are starved of turquoise waters and white sand vistas.

Saying that though, we did enjoy our swims on our three Island visits. Noumea, today’s port of call, not so much. It’s a bit grungy and frightfully expensive. We were among the many passengers who did a courtesy couple of laps on the hop on, hop off bus before heading back to the ship for lunch, where we remained for the rest of the day.

On board there is lots to like, but also a counter balance of things not so impressive. Our cabin is lovely, the bed comfortable, and the balcony roomy. The meals are superb, as is the service. We’re not so impressed with some of the on board entertainment. There’s a night time show which lasts about 40 minutes – some have  been good, others rate a bare OK. There’s afternoon quiz sessions which we enjoy, so does everyone else. People end up sitting on the floor because it gets so crowded. There’s movies, we went to our first today. There’s music and dance bands scattered randomly around the ship. Each singer or band usually only plays for around 45 minutes.

So, that’s the entertainment we like, which doesn’t account for many hours in a day. After that, there’s pool games, bandeokie (kareoke done to a live band), silent discos and a few other things that we have no interest in. By far though the vast majority of the entertainment on board is presentations followed by upselling – other cruises, diamonds, watches, handbags, art auctions….. all sorts of things that they call entertainment, but in reality it’s just gimmicky marketing. The casino is also clearly a big money maker, its hugely promoted, and is very well frequented.

We’ve ended up getting some playing cards and a crib board and are playing crib in the evenings after dinner and the show. Guess we’re just party poopers!

Waiting to cast off.

We’ve been on board Celebrity Solstice since just after 11am. Whilst Internet is still available I thought I’d add a little post of first impressions along with some photos. However, I’m wishing I’d packed our laptop. Apologies if the format is a little different and the photos smaller. The IPad is proving a little difficult.

Firstly, our stateroom. We’re on the 11th floor, and whilst in port have a lovely view over the harbour and the Opera House from our balcony.

View from our balcony

Our room is spacious and the bed king size. I had expected the room to be a lot smaller than the on line photographs had shown it to be. What a pleasant surprise, it’s exactly how was shown in the promotion photographs, and feels quite oppulent compared to my expectations.

More than enough room

We were welcomed on board with a glass of champagne, and shortly afterwards were offered an upgrade on our existing drinks package. Offer accepted, and promptly taken advantage of with a G & T each with our lunch, and later whilst on the sundeck, a Peroni for Paul, and Piña Colada for me.

Shortly we will be attending the safety demonstration, but in the meantime our bags have just been delivered, so I’d better go and help Paul unpack.

Must say – from first impressions I think perhaps I’m going to enjoy this!

A Night in the Rocks, Sydney

I’m sitting up in bed at the Holiday Inn in the Rocks. Our room is spacious, the bed comfortable, and the bed linen crisp and white. We’re almost across the road from where we’ll be boarding our ship in a few hours time.

All hotels in the Rocks are currently at a premium with cruise season reflected in their prices. Our room is $400 a night. We’re on the second floor with a view over a back lane. I’m sure on higher floors on the other side of the hotel you can most likely see our ship docked, nice I’m sure, but not for us this time.

As always, a night in The Rocks was fabulous. We arrived here around 2pm yesterday. A quick freshen up, then out and about walking around the Rocks and Circular Quay. Later in the afternoon Paul ticked The Lord Nelson off his bucket list. The Lord Nelson is a lovely old pub established in the backstreets in the Rocks in 1841. With some very nice craft beers on tap, it’s a must try must for beer connoisseurs, so worth leaving the main tourist drag to hunt out. The brews are good, and the decor authentically old. We had a drink for ourselves, and then another for Cousin in law, Geoff. It’s a pub we’re sure Geoff would enjoy. We didn’t take our camera with us, but Paul has taken some photos of the pub on his phone, which I’ll post later. (We have to work out first how to get them from his phone to my IPad – not easy for these two technically challenged oldies).

Last time we were here (almost two years ago) we tried a lovely little Italian restaurant, Zia Piña. It was so good we just had to go back again. Their quality home style pasta and pizza dishes are reflected in the queues that happily wait outside for a table to become available. They don’t take bookings. You don’t usually have to wait long, and truly – the food is worth the wait.

Another walk around the Quay after dinner soaking up the atmosphere of Sydney Harbour before retiring for some much needed sleep. And today – our cruise begins….. Exciting.

Puerto De La Cruz – Tenerife

We arrived back from a wonderful week of sunshine and blue skies in Tenerife last week. All we knew about Tenerife prior to booking our break there was that its a popular destination for Brits seeking summer sun during their bleak winter.

After booking we started doing some research, and fortunately, more by good luck than good management, we had managed to book at Puerto De La Cruz, which is towards the northern end of the Island. We absolutely loved it.

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Our apartment

The pool in the middle of the complex.

Our self catering apartment at Casablanca was spotlessly clean, comfortable and more than adequate. The weather, which was our reason for going there, didn’t disappoint. The nights were mild allowing for a good nights sleep, but were still warm enough to justify leaving the ceiling fan on low. By 10.30am it had warmed enough that the sun lounges around the pool were beginning to fill up, and yes, we spent some time lazing around there soaking up the sun. Although not a first for us, it isn’t something we would usually do. We’re spoilt for sun in Australia and it’s something we tend to take for granted. After several months of living under the grey skies of England I now understand the Brits desire to lie out in the sun soaking up every bit of it. The evenings were warm and mildly balmy. Short sleeves were definitely the order of both the day and the night.

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An interesting coastline.

We were about 20 minutes walk from the sea front and the main shopping area, and walking in the other direction, about 20 minutes from their beautiful botanical gardens. The area is hilly, so with at least two walks each day in one direction or the other we managed to get our daily exercise in.

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Bougainvillea – so reminiscent of by beloved Australia

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Amazing trees (these were in the Botanical gardens)

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My favourite – Elephants Ears.

The flora on the Island was beautiful and almost made me homesick for Australia. Colourful bougainvillea, orange trumpet vine, oleanders, hibiscus, gorgeous ferns, palms and by favourite – elephants ears. The beaches near us were mostly volcanic, so black sand, not inviting for beach walks but still with a beauty of their own, and rock pools and waves provided for an enjoyable beach vista.

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Beautiful, white tigers.

We took a trip one day to Loro Parque, a huge wild life park. It was relatively cheap considering what they have there. Orcas, Dolphins, Sea Lions, and Parakeets – all with regular shows throughout the day. Then there’s the normal (and some not so normal) zoo life – penguins, meerkats, white tigers, ant eaters, flamingos and some amazing birds and parrots. It was a good day out.

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A beach at the south end of the Island.

On our second to last day we hired a car and drove down the more touristy areas at the southern end of the Island. We were so, so pleased we were in Puerto. The southern area seemed so tacky and purpose built compared to where we were staying. Accents in Porta were a mix of Spanish, German, English, (and Australian if you count our own accents), and various other European accents. Down the south of the Island there seemed to be more English accents that anything else. The shopping and eateries around Puerto catered a lot more to the locals than those in the South. In the South everything seemed geared to tourists.

And now onto the driving. Having never driven (or been a passenger) in a left hand drive car, and driving on the right side of the road, it was with great trepidation that we hired the car. People say you get used to it, but in one day, I certainly didn’t. I had thought it would sort of be like driving on the right hand side of a one way street. How wrong I was. Being on the other side of car is weird and I kept thinking we were going to hit the curb. We came close a few times I’m sure. Also, turning into roads takes a lot of concentration to make sure you don’t find yourself driving into oncoming traffic. Then theres the street signs in Spanish to try and decipher. Would we do it again – perhaps in America where theres English signs, but I’m not so sure I’d want to repeat the experience again in a country that’s not English speaking.

It seems very popular here for people to book ‘all exclusive’ holidays abroad. I’m so pleased we stuck with self catering. We found a little local supermarket and bought our yogurt and berries for breakfast, and our salad ingredients for lunches when were home. Most nights we walked into town and meandered down the back, cobbled streets seeking out authentic Canarian restaurants with a local clientele. We found some amazing little places and ate some pretty good food, paying very little for it. One small restaurant that we found there was so, so memorable. The owner who spoke very little English managed to convey to us his recommendations, which we went with. An amazing fresh tuna salad for two, followed by fillet of lamb served on Canarian potatoes, also a dish for two. The lamb…. oh the lamb!! We both agreed it was not only the best lamb we’ve ever tasted, but the best meat dish we’ve eaten – superb.

The restaurant, Bodega Julian, was a very small family run business. Twice throughout the evening the father picked up his guitar and played while his beautiful daughter sang. The song was in Spanish so we didn’t understand a word of it, but her voice was beautiful and we could imagine the words were that of Spanish folk song ballad. We felt so sorry for those tourists that had purchased an all inclusive package deal holiday. They missed out on so much. We felt sorry for them even more on our last day there which was the one and only time we ate at the restaurant in our resort – how very ordinary.

3 days in Prague

Prague – yes, we made it. We’ve arrived home yesterday after having spent five nights away with Paul’s cousin Margaret and her husband Geoff. Two nights were spent at the airport hotel at Gatwick, and the remainder of the time exploring beautiful, old Prague.

Prague absolutely lives up to it’s reputation. We arrived around mid-day, and had three nights, and three and a half days there.

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About 4.30 in the afternoon – already dark, and freezing. First day there and I bought a much needed fur trimmed hat.

Firstly, for anyone who plans on going to Prague and happens to be reading this I’m going to start with the ‘could have, should have, would have’. The most important thing I’d recommend is to make sure your accommodation is district 1. There is an abundance of choices to fit most budgets. We booked through a local travel agency and having done some homework, asked for accommodation close to Old Town Square. Old Town Square is virtually in the central point of all there is to see in Prague. We were offered a couple of options, both of which were in district 2. They looked relatively close on the map. Ha ha – if you haven’t guessed already, the map was very deceiving. We were at least a  half hours fast paced walk from Old Town Square. As I’m not the fastest of walkers, it was closer to an hours walk for me.

Prague is definitely a ‘walk around’ city, and even if we had wanted to use taxis, we never saw any available for hire. With our accommodation so far from the centre it meant it wasn’t viable to go back for a mid afternoon rest and freshen up.  We were leaving our hotel around 9.30am and pavement bashing continuously for 12 – 13 hours. Had we been near Old Town Square all of the sites we visited were no more than 30 – 40 minute walk away. We could have given far more time to actually seeing what there was to see rather than spending time and energy getting to the starting point. And we could have had that all important afternoon ‘time out’ back at our digs.

And now onto Prague and it’s Christmas markets. What a joy. The Christmas markets are set up everywhere, but nowhere better than in Old Town Square. Whilst I’ll post a photo there is no way a photo can do any justice to the experience of actually being there. Firstly the smells….. Legs of hams being rotisseried over wood fires, the heavenly, sweet aroma of their special cinnamon scrolls, sausages (real sausages, more like a salami than what we know as a sausage) also cooked over wood fire pits, and  spicy hot wine and cider everywhere. Yes, we had a few. Then there’s the Christmas lights, and the huge Christmas tree. The Christmas tree is the biggest I’ve ever seen and the lights are synchronised with very powerful orchestral music. Absolutely amazing. And all this is set up with the back drop of glorious Gothic and Baroque architecture that Prague’s so famous for. It was all very magical and almost surreal.

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What a tree. What a church in the background. What a place.

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Cinnamon rolls being cooked over hot coals – taste as delicious as they smell.

On the second day we joined a tour which was mostly walking, but included an hour boat trip, about an hour for lunch, and a short tram ride up to the castle district. The tour provided a great snap shot of the main tourist attractions in Prague.

After day two we were at a bit of a loss, and spent the rest of the time pretty much aimlessly pavement bashing over already well walked territory. We planned to explore the Lessor area more thoroughly but somehow lost our bearings and never quite got there. We forgot we had a map, and had we remembered and taken a look, we were only a street or two away from where we were trying to get to. We didn’t look at the map until after we had returned to Old Town. Grrrr!!!!

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Charles Bridge

So – if we could do it all again, what could we do differently. Of course the main thing is to stay close to Old Town Square, and for preference somewhere between the square and Charles Bridge. The first afternoon I would have spent exactly as we did spend it, just meandering around Old Town Square and Winceslas Square and generally getting our bearings. Then, rather than doing a walking tour that encompasses everything in a snap shot six hour tour, I’d spend the second day doing a tour of just the Castle area and perhaps the Lessor town area only. The castle area isn’t just a castle, it’s almost a village, and the same with the Lessor town area. Both areas are across the river from Old Town with a few available access bridges. The most famous is the Charles Bridge – stunning. On our walking tour we spent no more than two hours perusing these two areas, a full day is needed.

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Surreal Gothic archetecture – Where’s Rapunzel?

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Neo gothic addition to the gothic church in the Castle area. The first part of this church was built in the 13th century. This addition was completed in the early 1900s. More than 500 years to completion. 

Then there’s the Jewish quarter, which we hardly saw at all and I’m sure a half day wouldn’t go astray perusing the buildings and museums there. We only briefly passed it on our tour.

Most days there seems to be a number of classical performances in one of several spectacular venues. We didn’t do any as we only really became aware of them when it was too late. And we didn’t do the Kutna Hora area, which involves a trip out of the city into the surrounding countryside, and includes a visit to the famous bone church. There is a 6 hour bus tour for Kutna Hora, which I mentioned a few times to my fellow travellers, but no-one seemed to be interested, so I put that idea aside. However, late on our last day Paul said that we should have gone there…  again, Grrrrrr!!

So, thats what we did as apposed to what we could have done, should have done, and in hindsight would have done. So hopefully by writing this, someone reading it has a chance to learn from it and won’t end up wasting two days as we did. Staying in district one  would have allowed us to make the most of our time there. I think we could have seen most of what there is to see and done justice to it all in the time we had.

So, I know this sounds like I’m grumbling a bit. I had a fabulous time. I just didn’t make the most of it and it’s unlikely I’ll get a repeat chance.