Travel Log – October 2019

Day 1 Manchester to Southampton

So, after school, work, science club and football, after packing the car and double checking the door was locked – we were off.

The plan was to follow our tried and tested routine, set off, grab fuel, grab a McDonalds treat tea and crack on.

The journey went smoothly, the boys happily ate tea whilst watching a Disney movie in the car and we chatted and munched burgers as we marched the miles.

The drive was easy enough and we only hit traffic once, we arrived pretty much on schedule and checked in to the premier inn at Southampton Airport, After several aborted attempts to get the parking machine to work we got it sorted and having carried the boys up to bed we too crashed out for the night.

We were all excited about the holiday, it was to be an anniversary cruise and so we hoped it would be as good as our last cruise which we had all really enjoyed.

The boys were just excited to be going on holiday on the boat and were looking forward to seeing new places.

Day 2 Southampton to Palma

We were woken in usual fashion by Reuben and one Isaac had woken up we all got dressed and headed to the restaurant for breakfast, the boys had a great time mixing different cereals and trying different juices. We took the view that it could be a long day, so we ate a hearty breakfast and finished it off with herbal teas and croissants!

We picked up the car are double checked we had everything we needed, then, not wanting to get stuck  

Finding the car park, we had booked we set off. And drove about ½ a mile down the same road that the hotel was on to where the carpark was clearly signposted. 5 minutes after leaving the hotel we were parked up and waiting for the shuttle bus to the terminal.

Reuben was excited and the variety of modes of transport that we were employing, car, bus and soon plane then ultimately a ship.

Southampton Airport is only small but is easy to navigate and under normal circumstances would probably be very efficient however the computer system chose this morning to pack in, so everything was back to old school paper and pen.

Boarding passes and labels were painstakingly written out by hand and then we watched out baggage be whisked away with a sense that given the hastily scribbled labels on them we may never see our suitcases again!

The manual check in had delayed our progress through to departures and then once we were on the plane there was a further delay as it was discovered that there was an extra bag in the hold.

Eventually, an hour late the captain fired up the engines of the smallest Jet any of us had been on and set about making up some time. The boys were delighted as our little plane hurtled down the runway and almost immediately climbed almost vertically into a blue sky.

The boys were brilliant on the flight and played puzzles on their kindles as we read books on ours, we had a snacky lunch and then it was pretty much time to land. The boys had been spotting land masses and mountains out of the windows and as Majorca appeared and then got bigger and bigger as we descended the excitement and commentary got every more frantic!

When we landed there was another quick bus ride to the terminal and to Reubs delight it had poles in for the passengers to hold, not if your mummy does pole fit – Reubs was soon threatening to be spinning around and only the lack of space prevented him trying!

The airport in Palma is much bigger than Southampton and so after an indifferent glance at our passports the authorities granted us access to Majorca and we were ready to see if the bags would be joining us. After a suspenseful wait they did and so with all of our bags and chattels gathered, we were ready for the off.

We had no clue where though, we knew there would be a bus, but we had no idea where to find it, eventually after much following of other people and at least one sign we found out transfer bus and very soon were at the cruise terminal.

As with our last cruise there was no fuss just a quick application of bands and stickers and a photo and we were given our boarding cards and welcomed on board.

The Ship felt very familiar as it is the sister ship of Discovery that we cruised on last year. Even our cabin had a familiar feel as it was like last time at the back of the ship with a balcony and two big beds. The boys were delighted as they would be able to have a ‘sleep over’ every night!

We explored the ship a little to re-acquaint ourselves with the layout and then went to get some food. We ate in the buffet restaurant as this was the easiest choice for a quick dinner to fill rumbling tummies.

As we had been a little delayed in arriving, we had missed the safety briefing and so we needed to get to the second one. Having been told what to do in the case of any and every emergency we went up to the top deck to watch the ship depart.

We celebrated getting under way with a cocktail and soon small people were flagging so we headed back to the cabin and rocked gently by the motion of the ship, soon drifted off to sleep.

Day 3- Sea Day

After a good night sleep, we woke up to a breezy but sunny day on the med. We lazily got dressed and set off for breakfast. Again, the boys were delighted by the choices and many cereals were mixed together for a breakfast cocktail.

After breakfast we decided to play it by ear and see what the day had in store. We had a whole day to do whatever we wanted, so we did! We went for a swim, we played the push the disk game and played mini golf, we made bracelets with the kids’ club hosts and we had many snacks and drinks.

We decided that we should make sure that the cocktails on this ship (discovery 2) were as good as the ones on the Discovery and so we started at the top and worked our way down! The boys were delighted as the bar staff were able to mix kids cocktails with different juices and all had ice and were served in tall glasses and made the boys feel very special.

In the afternoon before heading for showers and dinner we went to the climbing all as Isaac had patiently waited all day for a climb. When we got the wall there was an added bonus for the boys, the climbing instructor was the very friendly Nathan from our last cruise who the boys recognised instantly and to their delight he recognised them too! Glad to be reunited with his climbing mentor Isaac was soon harnessed up and showing how much he had improved since last year.

As Isaac took his harness off Gareth laughed and said he would no doubt see Isaac tomorrow – that we figured was a certainty!

In the evening it was dress to impress night and so everyone on the ship was dressed up to varying degrees, there were those in black tie, those in white tie and the rest of us in our regular smarts. The boys looked fantastic and so we took the opportunity of having a few shots taken by the on-board photographer.

We decided to eat dinner in the rather nice 46 restaurant. Isaac and Reuben both behaved impeccably and ate well, the food was amazing, and we even had time for a pudding! Feeling very full and content we strolled to the show room where the nights entertainment was ‘medley from the musicals’ This was brilliant and even though Reubs was flagging a little he really enjoyed the show and was clapping enthusiastically at the end of every number. Isaac got so much into the show he was dancing along!

Another highlight of the show was the fact that the waitress somehow got our drinks order wrong and then brought us another round – yey double cocktails!

After the show it was time for bed, the next day was our first day of adventuring and we would need some rest.

Day 4 Naples

After a good night sleep, we woke to find we were berthed in such a way that our balcony looked out onto the palace, not a bad view to wake up to!

We had decided to have a day exploring on our own and so we would get into the town, explore and then head back for late afternoon swim and possibly even a climb for Isaac.

As we watched the chaos of the morning traffic from our balcony, we decided that there may be a better strategy for the day. We decided over a snacky breakfast that the better option would be to do a hop on hop off bus tour. These had served us well previously and normally take in the sights while giving a bit of a potted history of the city. We decided we would get the bus tour and then hop off at a point that allowed us a nice walk and explore back to the ship.

Plans made and fortified by our breakfast we grabbed our bags and headed out, the authorities were too busy smoking chatting or just looking cool and Italian to trouble us for our cards and so we wandered ashore and made for the bus.

The weather was sunny and warm even at 10.00 in the morning and as we strolled along the quayside, we all soon dispended with the hoodies and donned caps and sunglasses. The City rose up above us on the hill, towering up over the noise of the beeping horns of crazy local motorists and crazier vespa riders.

We checked out the bus routes and found that we could do two routes for the same rice and then second would afford us the opportunity to hop off and stroll back along the shore front, perfect.

Naples is pretty but not in a conventional way, it is graffiti grubby smell in parts and quite unkempt, there is litter everywhere and bins are left overflowing. Wherever there is a space at the side of the road it is filled within seconds by two small hatchbacks or 8000 motorbikes. The buildings seem to grow out of the street level grime, they get cleaner the higher up they reach, the alleyways in between appear dark and forbidding but often seem to open into courtyards full of light.

The town has grown organically and in a way that defies any logic, it appears to cling to contours, then to follow roads, then to take advantage of a space not yet occupied and then simply to be.

For all of that is seems to be an exciting place to explore or at least from the safety of the second deck of the bus! I have no doubt that it is a safe town, the number of carabinieri wandering around mean that criminals would have to be very ballsy to try anything, but it has to be said that if being a motorist here takes guts then being a pedestrian takes more.

We couldn’t quite stop ourselves from being amazed by the chaotic ballet played out on the roads of Naples, cars simply try to squeeze through every gap and to wherever they need to be, road markings are seen as decorations, sides of the road are timeshares, lights and signs are very pretty but to be ignored. Large vehicles pull out slowly and deliberately, this gives time for the smaller cars to nip through until there is less than a cars width, then it is over to the motorbikes and then the pedestrians. It is the pedestrians that make for the most wincing by the inexperienced viewer, locals will simply not speed up crossing the road and motorists will not slow down, they will weave, often onto the wrong side of the road into the path of something else or indeed into the space occupied by something else but they will not slow down. Oddly it seems to work, yes there is much beeping of horns, much waving of hands and much invoking the wrath of whichever saint springs to mind but everyone seems to get to where they are going.

All in all, we figured it was safer to stay on the bus until we found a nice wide traffic free promenade to walk back to the boat down.

The boys loved it and we all strolled in the sun looking at the fish swimming in the shallows and looking over to the silhouette of Mount Vesuvius across the bay. Heading back to the cruise terminal we saw a very different view of the town and it was, it has to be said much prettier. The centre is gritty and busy but the suburbs, whilst not a great deal cleaner, were airier and seemed more inviting. The architecture of the town was more evident when viewed from further away and followed the classical pattern of 4-5 storey blocks with small balconies and many have gardens on the roof.

Tunnies needed filling and so we decided to have a pizza on the seafront looking over to Vesuvius. It was delicious, we shared two pizzas between the four of us and it was perfect, enough to fill us but not too doughy or stodgy.

Back at the terminal we grabbed a few souvenirs and then headed back on board. We were all quite hot and needed a dip to cool off. The outdoor pool was perfect, and we sipped cocktails and splashed in the deliciously cold pool. We even had some of the fantastic cheesecake lollipops that we remembered from the last cruise!!

Suitably cooled and relaxed we got back to the cabin to change for dinner, or at least to freshen up. Whilst Reubs got himself into the shower Isaac dashed up to the climbing wall for a quick climb. Gareth greeted us with his usual smile and got Isaac into a harness and then set him up the climbs with some encouragement and a bit of chalk!

After heading back and getting changed we decided that a quick dinner was the best option and so buffet it was, then we had a quick view of the photos from yesterday and decided we quite liked them, we will decide later in the week if we will buy them but there were some very nice photos.

Having had a busy day we were all tired, but not too tired to grab a last cocktail to take back to the room when the boys were asleep!

Day 5 – Pisa

This was the only stop on the Cruise where we had already decided what we wanted to do, The leaning Tower of Pisa was an essential stop for us all! we looked at the various excursions on the ship but in the end decided to do what we do best and make it up as we go along.

We were up and dressed early and tucked into a big breakfast, Isaac was really getting into the swing of the buffet breakfast and we figured we would need the energy for a day’s exploring.

we got off the boat in glorious sunshine and paid a small fare for the shuttle into town, we then needed to find some way of getting from our port to the little town of Pisa which we had been told was about an hour away by bus. We quickly found a tourist info office and they told us that rather than an excursion we could just get a return ticket on a shuttle bus operated by the local tourist board – this would take us to Pisa allow us two hours to explore and then bring us back, it also had the advantage of being 1/4 of the price of the excursions that had been offered on the ship.

With our tickets bought we had some free time to explore the town and we found the old fortress and to the boys delight this contained a small playground, some energy was used up and many giggles were had before we explored some more. The one thing that our explorations did not find was a functioning public convenience and knowing that we had an hour on a bus ahead of us we needed to make sure that the boys ‘went before we set off’.

There are many negatives to McDonalds, but they do have toilets and so after a quick trip to the golden arches we were ready for our bus.

The trip to Pisa was pleasant and everyone was excited as we got close to try and catch the first glimpse of the tower.

It can be seen on the drive in but from a distance and at odd angles the lean isn’t obvious, and Isaac and Reuben were worried that the Go Jetters had fixed it!!

The bus dropped us off on the outskirts of the town and we started our stroll to find the tower.

this was made easy as the route is well signposted and, in any event, there are many many people heading in the same direction. as we got to the walls of the square, we braced ourselves for the throng of tourists but as it happened it was pretty quiet. There were lots of people but not so many that it was crowded and certainly not enough to block the views of the tower.

As we entered the square, we all stopped and collectively gasped, even though we knew it was a leaning tower – we hadn’t quite expected it to be THAT leaning! it is very wonky.

It is also very very pretty and in a stunning setting that doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. The square has two large grassed areas, one had people on it picnicking or just sitting and admiring the tower, the other closer to the tower was roped off, presumably to keep views clear to the tower. Seeing the tower was fantastic but people watching was just as good. Nearly everyone was trying to get a funny picture f themselves either appearing to hold up or push over the tower, the temptation to high five the people who were standing in the middle of the square holding their arm out palm up was very strong – however we resisted and the boys found many many ways of getting new fun pictures. We had said that for lunch we would have to get pizza in Pisa and that I just what we did. We found a stall and grabbed some pizza which we then ate on the steps of the fountain at the bottom of the tower looking up at the world’s most iconic wonky building!

After pizza we got an ice cream from the ice cream parlour in the square which turned out to be just about the best ice cream we had ever had – bonus!

We managed to shop for our obligatory shot glass, magnets and postcards and then set off back to the bus. The walk in the sun was lovely and the boys were happily chattering away about the tower and what they were going to do when they got back to the ship, this mainly seemed to involve swimming in the outside pool and then climbing.

The bus left right on time and whisked us back to town where we grabbed the shuttle back to the ship. We arrived back on board and decided that cooling off was a good idea, this involved cocktails and then the long-awaited dip in the pool for the boys. They happily splashed around and jumped in and out of the pool while we sat and chatted and tried a couple of different cocktails. Michelle tried out the poolside jacuzzi and found that she rather liked it.

At the end of the afternoon it was a very relaxed family that left the poolside and went to get cleaned up and ready for dinner, but not until we had been for our daily trip to the climbing wall, as ever Gareth got Isaac harnessed up and while they were climbing he very kindly gave Reubs some climbing gear to play with and Reubs once again quickly found the best way of attaching his brothers shoes into the system, he seemed very pleased with his work.

Once we had climbed, showered, changed and smartened up we went for an explore and a drink, the boys had decided that as we had been snacking during the day they weren’t very hungry and so we skipped dinner and went to watch the dancing and music in the atrium bar then we had decided to go and see the show.

After dinner the show was a time travelling saga which seemed to be based on different Victorian writers kidnapping each other and travelling through time. Whilst the plot was frankly bonkers, the 80s music soundtrack was great fun and we settled in for much singing and surprisingly a few more cocktails.

After the show two sleepy boys were ushered back to the cabin and were soon fast asleep. We revived the tradition from our last cruise of bringing some nice drinks and some late-night food back to the cabin – the late-night snacks tonight were pork curry with rice and chips – yum!

Day 6 – Villefranche

Having been warned yesterday by the captain that we were going to be sailing into some bad weather we had expected that it would have been a rough night, it wasn’t quite as bad as we had expected especially as the Captain had mentioned 70mph winds, he had managed to plan a route which had kept the winds to our stern which had made the trip less lumpy!

We had planned for a beach day today but first we had to get a tender from the Cruise ship to the shore, given that the swell was still between 4-6 feet this was proving a little tricky for the crew.

We spent the first part of the morning playing indoor curling and then in a meditation class while we waited for the ship to be manoeuvred into the right spot, the life boat tenders were lowered and we were allocated our tickets on the boat. Then we waited, and waited, I popped out to see how it was going and frankly, despite the incredibly brave and determined efforts of the crew it was difficult to see how it would be possible to get people safely from a cruise ship into a small lifeboat which was being lifted 6 feet with each wave. On top of this, it started to rain!

Eventually the Captain came over the tannoy to tell us that he was making the decision to not undertake the tendering operation as it frankly wouldn’t be safe, amazingly people immediately began to complain, which part of ‘for your safety’ did they not understand.

The Crewe were fantastic and fixed on their most patient smiles and dealt with everything brilliantly. To cheer everyone up it was decided that the evenings food would be a BBQ on the pool deck, given the drizzle we figured this was perfect and would make the moaners feel like they were back in blighty!

The Captain updated us that we would sail on towards our next port and this would mean he could take it easy and we could avoid the remnants of the bad weather, this meant we had as we got further from France the weather improved and by the late afternoon it was nice enough for the boys to get in the pool and for Michelle to have another hot soak (obviously with a cocktail or two – by now even the boys were asking for the kids cocktails).

After a lazy afternoon we decided to walk a mile on board the ship and so we headed up to the walking track at the very top of the ship and set off to do our four laps that would bring up our mile.

There was no climbing today as the wall was wet and the boat was still rolling about a bit on the remains of the swell so we tried some mini golf which was even more hilarious given the conditions and then we got changed ready for our BBQ dinner. We were also hoping to catch the show which was based on the music of Simon and Garfunkel (well ok it was mainly Dami that wanted to see that!) and before that the boys were booked into the VR game room.

The BBQ was brilliant, there was an amazing range of meats and salads and we loved it, there was even an amazing Carrot cake for pudding!

We found the VR room and the boys were delighted to find that it was Gareth and Jordan (they of the climbing wall) who were running the VR experience. The boys loved this experience and were happily zapping aliens in their own little space invader words. Gareth was teamed with Reubs and we had to laugh as the poor guy kept trying to help a strong willed 4-year-old who now had a laser gun and many baddies to zap.

With the Aliens ousted we headed up to watch the show. As it turned out we all enjoyed it and sang along to the tunes and Reubs was dancing away in his seat.

After the show we headed back to the cabin and the boys were asleep pretty quickly, considering it had been an unscheduled sea day it had been a good fun day!

Day 7 – Olbia – Sardinia

We had decided that we were due a beach day and today was looking like it was perfect for just that.

We got up late and had a snacky breakfast then looked to get off ship and work out how to get to the local beach. This port requires the use of a shuttle bus to get from the quay to the outskirts of the town from where we figured that it would be easy enough to get a bus or taxi to the beach. Sure, enough as soon as we got off the shuttle, we found a sign for a bus that did a tour including a stop at the beach – and Reubs was free – bargain!!

The bus trundled through the outskirts of the port seemingly gong back on itself at least twice and then headed out of town in a more determined fashion.

The suburbs gave way to industrial sites and then to scrub-land and eventually we turned off down a small road which was a classical road to the beach and in common with similar roads across the globe it became smaller and windier until it got to a layby which was only a short walk from the beach.

The boys were uber excited and as the grown us sorted towels to sit on and sun cream and other ‘boring’ stuff the boys hastily tore off their outer garments and headed for the sea (in such haste that Isaac accidentally left him undies on under his swim shorts!!).

After a few squeaks about how cold the water was they were both in and swimming around.

This was the theme for much of the next 4 hours as the boys swam splashed snorkelled and found shells, chased fish and discovered a whole new underwater world. They were amazed by the various fish which were shoaling in the shallows. They were both diving underwater to swim with the fish and to pick up interesting pebbles and shells. They even got brave and swam around with a couple of small jellies staying respectfully clear of them but nevertheless fascinated by the way that they moved and the alien shape and look.

Reubs got cold first and went for a snuggle with mummy wrapped in a nice warm towel, after a picnic lunch and drink it was back in to the sea for more swimming – and this time daddy couldn’t just wade in the shallows pointing out the fish – we all had to get in and swim out to ‘the deep bit’ this proved to be more difficult that we had expected as about 20 m out there was a sand-bar which to the boys delight caused a break so there was much body-surfing and giggling.

Eventually, after a swimming underwater competition and some more bodysurfing even Isaac was cold and so it was time to reluctantly head back to the beach and some warm towels. The weather had been fantastic, if a little breezy, and so we were all soon warm and dry and topped up on snacks and drinks and ready to get the bus back!

There had clearly been a problem with the busses as we ended up waiting around for half an hour (despite the driver telling us the times via the international standard of pointing at a sign!) then true to form , having waited two came along at once – no really!

The bus whisked us back to the pickup for the shuttle bus and we got onboard with the Italian equivalent of the stig at the helm, it took a fraction of the time of the outward trip and arrived back at the boat to the squeal of tortured tyres – Isaac and Reuben were very impressed and we had to agree that public transport in the UK would be better if we imported Italian bus drivers, they may have no sense of humour but they drive everything as if it has a prancing horse on the bonnet!

In the afternoon the boys decided that it was time for another swim and so it was back to the poolside for swimming and cocktails – and this was a lovely relaxing way to end the afternoon.

Dinner was in the buffet restaurant and the boys filled up after a very busy day. The show tonight was a festival themed show with music from the festivals through the years starting with Woodstock and moving right up to date – the boys danced along happily and the grownups sang along with more cocktails in hand to the tuned from our youth and the fun tunes that we sing from the radio with the boys!

Eventually we headed back to the cabin with a final cocktail in hand, another lovely day having fun together in the sun!