Travel/Lifestyle

A Guide To Cruising For First Timers

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It’s that time of year when everyone seems to be planning their summer holiday, panicking that they haven’t booked yet or¬†suffering from holiday blues if like me you had your summer holiday a bit earlier than everyone else. My boyfriend, Jon and I hadn’t had a proper holiday for a little while until we went on our cruise. This was mainly due to my health (for full details read my post here). So after an eventful few years we decided to book a holiday together as we knew we needed it & deserved it. We wanted a holiday that would be interesting enough to keep us entertained and I really liked the idea of seeing lots of different places so a cruise sounded perfect for us. Going on a cruise was a fantastic experience for us both but there were certain things¬†we wish we’d known before we went, so that’s why I decided to write a post about cruises for anyone who¬†hasn’t been on one before.

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Once we decided we definitely wanted to go on a cruise we started¬†searching online for the best deals & once we found some that we were happy with we decided to go to a travel agent to get some advice. If you haven’t cruised before then I thoroughly recommend doing this. Our travel agent was really helpful as she’d been on several different cruises before &¬†could not only¬†tell us a lot about what to expect but could also price match the cruise we wanted. Flicking through travel brochures can often be a lot easier & more pleasant than trawling through loads of¬†different websites too. To begin our search we used¬†the Planet Cruise website as we could compare lots of different cruises all in one place. Planet cruise is a great place to start so that you can get an idea of what to expect for your money.

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We decided to go on a P&O cruise around the Mediterranean for 14 days and our ship was called Ventura. Our destinations were: Alicante, Barcelona, Marsaille (was supposed to be Cannes), Florence, Rome, Cartagena and Gibraltar.¬†We choose P&O because we’d heard good things about them plus we didn’t need to get on any flights. Instead we could just board the ship in Southampton & set sail from there. Some of you may prefer to fly in order to miss out on some of the sea days. Sea days are when¬†the ship is traveling to your next port & you are out at sea so you can’t get off the ship. Sea days are good for relaxing & exploring the ship but personally I wouldn’t want too many of them. On sea days the ship is obviously much busier than when you’re¬†in a port so meal times can get quite busy, as can pools & other public areas.

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Before you set sail you’ll be given details for your cruise personaliser, which is a website all about your cruise. It will give you information about packing, maximum weights for your¬†luggage, your itinerary, how to book excursions and more. It’s worth knowing that if you¬†choose to set sail from Southampton you’ll be allowed a much more generous luggage allowance than if you choose to¬†fly. With P&O you can also take drink on board with you, including alcohol & soft drinks.

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Getting to Southampton was pretty easy for us as we’re only a couple of hours away but if you live further afield then you can choose to take a coach rather than driving. We had parking included in the price of our cruise but this is something to consider if you do decide to drive.

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You will be given a time to arrive at the terminal¬†by your cruise operator and generally you do have to stick to this time but we arrived just over an hour early & they did let us through. So it’s worth trying if you are a little early.

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Once you’re on board the ship will seem overwhelming at first but you will get used to it after a few days. There are maps located all over the ship to help you if you do get lost & you can also ask a member of the crew for help.

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Every day on our cruise we received a newspaper called horizon & this publication tells you about all the events & entertainment happening on board that day. For example it will tell you what shows are on in the theatre that evening as well as handy information such as restaurant opening times. This newspaper is delivered to your cabin each evening ready for the next day.

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When our ship arrived in a new port it docked quite early & people were generally allowed to disembark from around 8am so it’s worth being up early to make the most of your day. Our ship left the ports between 4-6pm each day with the exception of the last port (Gibralter) when the ship left at 1pm. Before you set sail you will have the option to book excursions around each of your destinations. As we hadn’t cruised before we booked excursions for most places but found that we didn’t really need to unless the port¬†was a long distance away from the place¬†we wanted to visit. For example we needed to book an excursion to Florence because the ship docked in Livorno and it was an hour & a half coach journey from the port to Florence. That journey would have been far too expensive by taxi. So if the port is close to the town/city then you don’t need an excursion as you can do the same activities that the excursions offer yourself.

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P&O like guests to be quite smartly dressed¬†and have dress codes in¬†most of the restaurants. The dress code each night was either evening casual or black tie but you could avoid dressing smartly if you wanted to by just eating in the buffet restaurants.¬†For evening casual my boyfriend wore¬†a polo top & chinos with smart shoes & I either¬†wore a dress, skirt and a smart¬†top or trousers and a¬†smart top. For black tie my boyfriend wore a tux and I wore a cocktail dress or¬†smart evening dress. There were 4 black tie nights over the course of our 14 night cruise. Personally¬†I really enjoyed getting dressed up for dinner & hogging the mirror for an hour to do my hair &¬†makeup (Haha, sorry¬†Jon!) If you can’t¬†look & feel your best on holiday then when can you?

IMG_20170518_103000_437It’s also worth knowing that the large majority of passengers on board a cruise ship are (how do I put this?) over a certain age. The vast majority are in their 50s/60s/70s and beyond. I’m only pointing this out because I know that this would seriously bother some people. It didn’t bother us too much but it would’ve been nice to talk to some other couples our own age. However we did talk to some really lovely older couples. If you’re after a young party atmosphere then this might not be your cup of tea!

All meals are included in the price of your cruise with P&O but you have to pay for all drinks (excluding water & fruit juice at breakfast) on board. This can get quite pricey over two weeks so I recommend stocking up on your tipple of choice from a shop in one of the ports or bringing some with you. The prices of drinks on board are about the same as most bars. For example cocktails are roughly £5 each, mocktails are £2.65 each and soft fizzy drinks are about £2.50 each.

IMG_20170527_111808_395Our cruise had a great variety of entertainment on board in the evenings including singers, comedians, dancers and west end theatre style shows. I would advise that you arrive within plenty of time for these shows as the venues do fill up very quickly! I highly recommend that you do see the theatre shows on board as they are amazing & will really add something special to your holiday. One of the shows we watched was all about musicals & featured music and dance routines from many different productions.

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I think that’s about it for now but if I think of anything else I’ll add it in later. If you have any questions then please feel free to leave a comment or tweet me @KateIsCoveting. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

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Our Mini-Break Escape to Cornwall

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Some times too much is happening all at once and you decide you could really do with a little break and that’s exactly what my boyfriend, Jon & I did. I’ve been having bad mobility & health problems for a long while now & they still don’t seem to be getting better despite having surgery & hydrotherapy. So as you can imagine this is very irritating and hard for both of us. Plus Jon had a few months of doing really intense overtime (12 hours a day for 13 days. He only had one day off every two weeks!) My diary was full but not because of a hectic & happy social life, it was full of hospital appointments, hydrotherapy sessions, visits to the doctor etc. Basically neither of us had anything to look forward to & both felt exhausted so we thought it would be a great time to book a mini break, especially as spring was on the horizon we were hoping we might get some good weather!

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After trawling through websites & brochures we decided on Cornwall as we’d never been there together but had both been there once with our parents when we were younger. With a mix of luscious countryside & beautiful coastline, Cornwall seemed like an obvious choice. We stayed at the John Fowler St Ives Holiday Village in a gold standard chalet. If you’re in need of a break too then I suggest looking at the John Fowler website as they often have deals/promotions available. We got Gold accommodation for the price of the Bronze, so the frugal part of me was very satisfied indeed. I’ve included some pics of our accommodation below. We were very happy with it & it’s the best we’ve stayed in at a holiday camp/park like this.

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I only had a couple of little niggles with the park itself & the first one was the path. We were supposed to be in the disabled friendly area but the path was so uneven that it proved to be a real nightmare trying to get a wheelchair over it. Even if you weren’t in a wheelchair I thought this could prove to be dangerous as it was so easy to trip up on the slabs. Secondly we were unable to use the swimming pool at all during our three night stay (Friday, Saturday & Sunday) because there was maintenance taking place. I know that these things have to happen sometimes but it was just really unfortunate that it took place while we were there. We were offered the chance to use the pool at their sister camp but that was a fair way away & it’s not quite the same when you have to get wheelchairs & crutches organised in the car before you can even set off. We were looking forward to having the convenience of a swimming pool being really close without having to drive anywhere but unfortunately that didn’t happen.

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On our first day when we arrived we decided to go and explore St Ives. I must say it’s a really beautiful place but not the best for disabled people. Jon really struggled pushing my wheelchair around due to all the uneven slabs & cobbles plus the large majority of shops/cafes had stairs up to the entrance. But aside from that we really enjoyed watching the harbour especially as it got darker & all the lights from the shops reflected on the calming sea. The fish & chips we had for our tea gave Jon the energy he needed to push me back up the hill to the car park! St Ives boosts a really beautiful beach which is popular with dogwalkers, couples & families alike. The town caters for young & old with a variety of local & branded shops (Cath Kidston, Joules, Crew & FatFace to name a few plus a LifeBoats shop), cafes, restaurants, fish & chip shops, pubs & bars. On a hot sunny day if you find yourself yearning for a cool sweet treat then I recommend Willy Waller’s Ice cream parlour for a good wide selection of different flavours of both ice cream and milkshakes, toppings & sauces. We both opted for the Toffee Honeycomb; it was creamy & sweet with a great full flavour & pieces of toffee fudge.

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On Saturday morning we woke up early and decided to take a trip down to Land’s End. The online reviews of the place weren’t all that great and most of them said it was tacky but nevertheless we decided to give it a go for ourselves to see what we thought. When we arrived it was pleasingly quiet for a weekend. The brisk sea air whistled around us and the sun glistened down. It was a beautiful day & we were pleased to be by the coast.

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Land’s End has good disabled toilets, ample disabled parking & paths are good enough for wheelchairs plus with baby changing facilities & attractions for children it makes an ideal day out for families and people of all ages. There are a few little shops on site selling west country favourites like fudge & cider plus clothing & souvenirs but I wouldn’t say these or the children’s attractions make the place look tacky at all as the buildings look like small cottages. We purchased some delicious clotted cream fudge as a souvenir and because we both have a massive sweet tooth especially for fudge, toffee or caramel. We toured around the site stopping to take a look through the exhibition detailing those who have made the gruelling journey from John O’Groats (Most northerly point in the UK) to Land’s End (Most southerly point in the UK). From one to the other it’s approximately 874 miles depending on the route and most people take on this challenge to raise money for charity.

The most famous attraction of Land’s End is the sign. You can pay to have your picture taken next to the Land’s End sign & they post it to you but we just decided to get a few snaps & selfies of it on our phones.

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When we started getting hungry we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Land’s End hotel which was onsite. We both went for paninis (great minds think alike!) & they were both thoroughly delicious. To drink Jon had a pot of tea & I had a non alcoholic cocktail which was absolutely amazing & didn’t last long at all! ¬†The food & drink was made even better due to the great view we had from our table. I love watching the sea as it feels so calming & relaxing plus it’s so beautiful.

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I didn’t see any of the rooms but the bar & restaurant area was decorated so beautifully. It was classy but very modern I only wish I’d got more photos but I didn’t want to spend too much time on my phone plus moving around isn’t that easy for me at the moment.

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We got back to the chalet just in time to see the Rugby Six Nations match between England and Wales (I’m English & Jon is Welsh). Things were only tense between us for the last few minutes of the game but when England won I was rather chuffed! England went on to win the Six Nations 2016 and they got the Grand Slam! We spend the rest of the evening playing cards together & cuddled up on the sofa watching tv.

We spent the morning and afternoon of Sunday exploring the region via train. We got on at St Erth station and went to Penzance as well as St Ives. We both enjoy travelling by train as we’re country bumpkins and don’t do it that often. Taking a stroll along the coastal path in Penzance was lovely especially as we had such lush weather. In fact it was so sunny that I caught the sun a bit on my face (that’s what I get on the first day I don’t apply my SPF containing BB cream! I’m very fair so can’t afford to not wear SPF on my face unlike Jon who almost has Italian colouring). Penzance was nice but didn’t appeal to us as much as St Ives or other places did & I think this was because it was much bigger & didn’t have as much charm or character.

Monday was our last day & the day we went to The Cornish Seal Sanctuary in Gweek. The sanctuary rescues sea life animals such as seals, sea lions, penguins & otters that are in need of medical attention. They provide excellent care for these animals & nurse them back to full health if they can in the hope that the animals can one day be released back into the wild.

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When we arrived the lady on reception kindly let us drive down into the sanctuary (this was because I’m in a wheelchair and there would’ve been a few steep hills for Jon to push me over). The sanctuary offers this option to all disabled people outside of the summer months when the site train doesn’t operate otherwise in the summer the train will pick you up. We arrived just in time to see the grey seals being fed which was amazing but also rather amusing to see. Feeding time at the seal pool consists of young and old battling it out to get as much fish as they can whilst also trying to stop the seagulls from pinching any. Watching the seal’s feeding is very similar to watching a group of hungry shoppers gathered round a trolley waiting for all the items to finish being reduced, then once the assistant has finished they all pounce! A seal named Ray is fed separately because he has brain damage (see above pic) but apart from that all the seals must work to get their fair share of fish.

Sea lions, otters and penguins were the other animals we saw being fed.

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I’m pleased to report that the staff kept the enclosures clean and well maintained plus the staff were all very knowledgeable about the animals & gave talks about each species at the sanctuary before feeding times. Extra information about the animals is dotted around on boards or you can ask the staff questions or if you buy the souvenir guide it contains more information plus it includes some discount vouchers & activities for children. On site there is a play area to let the children burn off some energy plus a gift shop and cafe. The Cornish Seal Sanctuary was a great day out and I would advise that it’s best to visit when the weather is fairly good as the large majority of attractions are outside plus as with most places it’s also best to visit outside of peak season. Opening hours are 10am – 5pm everyday except Christmas Day and last admission is an hour before closing. The cost of admission plus profits from the gift shop & cafe goes towards the treatment & care of the animals, who all seem to be well looked after.

The seal hospital is well worth a visit especially if you want to see gorgeous seal pups. It’s seal pup season at the moment so you can also see seal pups in the pools right now. As with most animals the babies are definitely the cutest!

As well as sea life creatures the sanctuary is also home to rescued farm animals including horses and goats who happily reside on a grassy hill.

Something children will particularly enjoy is the interactive rock pool where children are invited to ask as many questions as they like plus they also get to touch the animals, which includes a starfish and crab.

The sanctuary also has an exhibit about conservation & the environment which makes it very clear that litter is a huge problem on our coastlines, especially for animals such as seals. Maybe if those people who do drop litter didn’t then sanctuaries like this wouldn’t need to do the charitable & amazing work they do and animals could carry on living their lives unharmed and uninjured.

Overall we had a great day at the sanctuary and we would definitely go back there. For further information visit http://www.visitsealife.com/gweek

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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed my post. Let me know what you thought if you’ve been to Cornwall or The Cornish Seal Sanctuary

Kate x

P.s Happy Easter!

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Travel/Lifestyle

The Frankfurt Birmingham Christmas Market 2015

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Glee and excitement fills the air (this is only partly down to the over consumption of mulled wine) and the Christmasy atmosphere embraces you instantly as you enter the Frankfurt Birmingham Christmas market. As neither of us had been to a Christmas market before we decided to go for the biggest. With over 180 stalls it’s claimed that Birmingham is home to the biggest outdoor Christmas market in Britain. Christmas markets have long been a highlight for many people during the festive period and has this particular one has been running for over a decade we thought it was high time that we popped our Christmas market cherries!

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Friday 4th December 2015 was my first ever proper experience of a Christmas market & I have to say I absolutely loved it! I enjoyed it so much I would definitely go again next year (to be honest I’d go again this year!) In this post I’ll talk you through some of the different aspects of our experience and hopefully it’ll leave you feeling all festive and give you more information about this great event.

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As we entered the first part of the market we saw the ice rink & this beautiful ferris wheel. This was a pretty festive sight & just wetted our already eager appetites! The ice rink never seemed to be too packed or crowded which is great for those who aren’t too confident on the ice plus you can have your photo taken whilst skating if you wish. I can’t remember the exact prices but I think they were average for that kind of thing. We (my boyfriend Jon and I) have been ice skating before but unfortunately we weren’t able to skate on this occasion due to my bad health. Jon wheeled me around the market in my wheelchair (more on that later). The ferris wheel was priced at ¬£5 per person but we didn’t go on it as we just really enjoyed watching it go around to be honest (yeah I know that sounds a tad sad) & it looked so beautiful at night when it was all lit up. This year the market is split into two parts due to council work that is taking place in the city. The first part is very small & mainly art & craft stalls but worth a good look around nevertheless plus there’s a chocolate fountain stall that I can say from experience is absolutely delicious and a must try for all my fellow chocoholics! There was a fair few options available: strawberries, marshmallows, fudge etc and you have the option of white or milk chocolate. I had a cup with a mix of strawberries and marshmallows with one piece of fudge topped with mainly milk chocolate and just a smidgen of white chocolate (I’m salivating just thinking about it!). I would have taken a photo but I enjoyed it so much that it disappeared too quickly. The lady that served us on that chocolate fountain stall was very friendly & accommodating too. Another stall worth visiting is the St Basil’s charity stall near the ferris wheel. They sell a range of things including: DVDs, CDs, handmade Christmas gift tags & handmade Christmas decorations among other things. All profits go to helping young homeless people, so you can pick up a bargain and feel good about helping a good cause.

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I loved the fact that all of the stalls are decorated wooden huts. It looks so much nicer & so much more Christmasy than just a table. In the main market (near the Bullring) we were pleased to find a bar that had special disabled tables so that those of us in wheelchairs could actually put our drinks down too. We thought this was a great idea and used this area several times. I’m pleased to report that there was pretty good access for wheelchair users all around the Christmas market. In the main market you’re spoilt for choice, especially when it comes to food & drink! With so much to tempt your tastebuds you’ll find a delicious treat for even the fussiest of eaters. We both particularly enjoyed a Bratwurst hotdog for our tea¬†and mini German crepes for dessert. I had cinnamon on mine & Jon had nutella on his. Both were utterly delicious and I can’t recommend them enough. Yummy!

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The carousel sits in the centre and as with the ferris wheel it’s great to watch & looks so pretty lit up at night. This would be a great treat for kids and adults alike.

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Crafty people and lovers of anything girly or Christmasy will be spoilt for choice at the vast array of decorations, candles, handmade soaps/bath bombs, leather goods, crystals, toys and more on offer. I picked up a Christmas rocking horse decoration, several handmade soaps and two items from the charity stall that I mentioned earlier but I could have bought a LOT more! The handmade soaps I bought were made by a company called Watkins Soap and I’ve got to say I really adored all of their products & I wish I could buy more online. I went a bit mad and purchased four Christmas soaps and one non-seasonal soap because I thought they smelt divine & the Christmas soaps looked great with their festive emblems. They’d make a great stocking filler or a little treat for yourself and at ¬£3 each they’re pretty well priced too! (The sunshine soap was ¬£2.50)

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When I saw this little rocking horse I just had to have it! I always wanted a rocking horse as a child and now I think they’re really adorable. This little guy is now taking pride of place in my bedroom.

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The atmosphere of the Christmas market was so festive and very fun. It really does offer something for everyone. The stall holders that we spoke to were really friendly too. It would be a great place to do some Christmas gift shopping, buy new decorations for your home or simply to enjoy the food & drink.

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I may end up adding to this post a bit later on when I realise that I’ve forgotten something but to be honest there’s so much to see and do there that I could continue writing this post for a very long time! My advice would be to go and experience the wonder and festive cheer of the Christmas market for yourself! Entry is free and the market runs until the 22nd December 10am-9pm. Further details are available at¬†www.birmingham.gov.uk/frankfurtmarket

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For those of you that will need to or want to stay overnight then I recommend The Plough & Harrow hotel. It’s just over a mile away from the market and had very friendly staff too. The staff were also very helpful in regards to me being in a wheelchair and tried to make things as easy for us as possible. The breakfast was also rather enjoyable too offering both cooked & continental. Another added bonus is that this hotel does offer free parking (this means you don’t have to worry about finding parking near the market if you can walk or be wheeled there. It’s also one less thing to pay for!) For more information visit ¬†www.ploughandharrowhotel.co.uk

Thanks for reading Coveters. Please feel free to leave comments. I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and a happy new year! Love Kate x

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