Journal of our Journeys
LONDON - THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
5/13/2019 8:26:40 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment
destination review, dining, london, shopping
London is one of the world’s most-visited cities. It’s a 21st-century city whose history stretches all the way back to Roman times. This sprawling metropolis has so much to offer; including theater, food, history, art, literature, and fashion. It is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world encompassing more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages.
If you’re planning a trip to the UK, here are a few practical things to know before you go:
PASSPORTS & VISAS – While some countries impose minimum passport validity for arriving passengers, the UK has no such requirement. If you’re an American or Canadian tourist, you’ll be able to travel visa-free throughout the UK, as long as you have a valid passport and your reason meets the immigration rules. For more details, visit these websites: ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk and gov.uk.
CLIMATE – The weather in Britain overall is temperate. In spring, from March to June, the climate is rainy and the average temperature is between 59 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. From mid-June to August, the climate is hot and humid with temperatures averaging 79 degrees Fahrenheit. In October the temperatures fall between 59-68 degrees and in December temperatures range from 35-48 degrees Fahrenheit.
MEDICAL TREATMENT – No inoculations are required to visit the UK. It is important to find out if your medical insurance covers you internationally. If not, it is wise to get adequate coverage before you go. If you’re taking prescribed drugs, carry a copy of your prescription, described by the generic name, along with a cover letter from your doctor, in case you need additional supplies.
MOBILE PHONES – The UK network uses the 900 or 1800 GSM system, so visitors from North America (where the system is 800 or 1900 MHz band) will need to get a tri-or quad-band set. Check with your service provider for details. It’s easier and cheaper to purchase a SIM card locally and top it up with credit.
INTERNET – Most cities in the UK offer some form of public access to the Internet. Some hotels include free WI-FI with reservations. Free WI-FI can also be found at libraries, pubs, cafes and museums.
TIME ZONE – There is only one time zone in Britain. In March the clocks change for Daylight Saving and revert back in October.
COMMUNICATION – The international dialing code is +44.
CURRENCY – Britain does not use the Euro, the British currency is the pound sterling (GBP). We prefer to exchange currency before we leave the U.S., but you can also do so at banks when you arrive. Many branches have 24-hour ATM facilities. ATM machines can also be found in some supermarkets, post offices, gas stations, train stations and London Underground stations. If you plan to use credit cards, be sure to notify your bank/credit card company that you will be traveling internationally. This will keep them from placing a temporary block on your credit card if fraud is suspected due to the change in location.
DINING – Along with the ethnic diversity, London offers a variety of dining experiences. There is much more than roast beef and Yorkshire puddings or fish and chips. Chicken tikka masala is also listed as a national dish. There are LOTS of restaurant choices – from Michelin Star restaurants to street eats.
My favorite dish was a bowl of Japanese noodles. Visiting the Food Halls at Harrods is a unique culinary experience – offering delicacies from around the globe. I was literally able to eat my way around the world.
Supermarkets are also a good option. We stayed in the Kensington district near a Waitrose market that sold really delicious hot and cold items.
ELECTRIC EQUIPMENT – The standard voltage is 230 AC, 50Hz. North Americans will need a square, three-pronged plug adapter/converter to use their appliances.
EMERGENCY – If you need police, ambulance or fire service, find a telephone and dial 999, and indicate which service you need.
TIPPING & SERVICE CHARGES – Tipping is not always appropriate. If you get exceptional service and want to show appreciation here’s a guide to customary practice:
Hotels: Most hotel bills include a service charge, usually 12.5%. When a service charge is not included in a hotel restaurant’s bill, it’s customary to tip 10%-15%.
Restaurants: Service charges are often included. If it is not, it is customary to leave a tip of 10%-15%. Some restaurants now include a suggested tip in the bill total.
Pubs and Bars: Tips are not expected, but are always appreciated.
Taxis: 10%-15% of the fare is customary, but it is acceptable to round up to the nearest pound.
Getting the most out of London definitely requires more than one visit. During our visit we did many of the top “touristy” activities; London Eye, Thames River cruise, Tower of London, watching the Changing of the Guard, shopping at Harrods; but felt like we barely experienced on all that there was to see and do. For example, Harrods is the largest department store in Europe occupies 5 acres, has 330 departments and covers 1.1 million square feet. We spent several hours there and didn’t nearly see enough. We look forward to going back to experience more of the diversity and excitement of that vibrant city.
MSC SEASIDE - SHIP REVIEW
5/6/2019 11:26:43 PM Link 0 comments | Add comment
cruise, family travel, msc, ship review
Recently we took a western Caribbean cruise on the MSC Seaside. Although we had taken 25 cruises, we’d never been on MSC so we were eager to experience the brand. As always we did considerable research so that we’d have an idea of what to expect. What we found was nothing short of amazing. It was one of the most beautiful ships we’d ever cruised on. MSC is an Italian-owned company that has mostly focused on other areas of the globe, but it’s new to the Caribbean. They plan to move 4 ships to the North American market in the next few years, with a focus on Caribbean itineraries. So the newest ships have been designed with that focus in mind.
MSC Seaside is one of their newest mega smart ships, and it is truly a sun-lover’s paradise, with a revolutionary industry-first elegant Miami Beach condo design; specifically designed for warmer climates. She is the first of a new class of ships, designed to bring guests closer to the sea and can carry more than 5000 passengers. The ship has a very open feel and is the first ship we’ve sailed on that has an outdoor seafront promenade. It circles the entire ship on Deck 8. We were amazed at all of the things to do on that deck; places to eat, drink, shop, swim and sunbathe.
From the moment we got onboard we were captivated by the beauty of the immense double deck Atrium that is the center of onboard activity, and the heart of the ship. It stretches over two decks, creating an atmospheric venue for live entertainment with spectacular ocean views.
It is also an impromptu, multi-media, multi-level stage that features a variety of entertainment including, dancers, acrobats, flash mobs, light shows, live entertainment and one of the best DJs at sea. The crowning glory of the Atrium is the staircase where the surface is lit up as if inlaid with sparkling gems.
The interior design of the ship rivaled that of a 5 star luxury hotel. The colors, light and design elements were well balanced. Many of the sitting/lounge areas had great views of the ocean and all were extremely comfortable. Although there were more than 5000 passengers onboard, we never felt cramped or crowded. The entire ship was designed for comfortable navigation on the walking surfaces and even the many staircases were easy to climb – not too steep.
The elevators were smaller than those on some of the other new mega ships and were often crowded. So at times it was easier just to take the steps; great way to burn off extra calories.
ENTERTAINMENT - The entertainment was top level some of the best we’ve seen at sea. With 115 different nationalities onboard they did an excellent job of providing entertainment that everyone could enjoy.
There was a different show in the Metropolitan Theater every night, typically a high-h energy production, covering a variety of musical styles, dancing and acrobatics, and only 30 minutes long. There were 3 performances per night. Shows are free but guests are encouraged to make reservations. Our favorite was Starwalker, a tribute to Michael Jackson where the talent was amazing!
The cruise director and his staff did an excellent job of facilitating the activities and kept a high level of energy. They hosted games shows, and theme nights; Gatsby, 70s night and a white party that began in the Atrium then moved to an outdoor deck where we partied ALL night long.
BARS - There are 20 large bars in various locations throughout the ship; each with a great staff of bartenders and service was great. Robert and I managed to visit them all but we each had our favorites. His was the Sports Bar, and mine was the Venchi Chocolate Bar where they served not only chocolate but also gelato and crepes. We both were pleased with the quality of the wines, beers and liquors.
DINING - We had heard mixed reviews about the dining on MSC ships so we definitely wanted to do our own review. There are 11 dining venues onboard including the main dining room, 2 buffets and specialty restaurants. We only ate in the buffets and main dining room. The food in the main dining room was not as good as food that we’ve eaten on other cruise lines; there were fewer menu choices and the food was somewhat bland. We chose to eat most of our meals at the buffets, where there were more choices. The quality of the food overall was very high – fresh and well prepared without the additives, preservatives and GMO ingredients that are prevalent on many cruise lines. The desserts were exceptional and so was the pizza (to be expected since MSC is an Italian cruise line).
ONBOARD ACTIVITIES - There are so many activities to choose from that we didn’t have time to do all of them. There are 4 pools, 4 waterslides, and several hot tubs. There are also plenty of deck chairs for sunbathing. The zip line is 350 feet – the longest at sea. There are two unique glass-floored catwalks and a 131 ft. high ‘Bridge of Sighs’ where we had a view of the ocean like never before. A waterfront boardwalk, the widest on any ship ever built, wraps around the ship, while panoramic elevators connect everything together. Other activities include trivia, dance classes, Ping-Pong tournaments, scavenger hunts, and art auctions. Extra-fee activities include a self-leveling pool table, an arcade with a Formula One simulator, a 4-D cinema, dual bowling lanes and an air hockey table.
Of course there is a well-equipped casino where we spent quite a bit of time.
The Seaside is designated as non-smoking, except for certain areas, but we never came into contact with any smoke – even in the casino.
The Aurea Spa offers a large menu of services; massages, body treatments, facials, manicures/pedicures, haircuts, color and styling, waxing and men’s grooming. One of the highlights is the thermal suite (available for an extra fee), featuring sensory steam rooms, sauna, aromatherapy, a Thalassotherapy pool and a cold room with real snow. Outside of the spa there is a private sundeck for use exclusively by passengers who have booked spa treatments.
FITNESS - There is a large, well-equipped fitness center with state of the art equipment, heavy bags, free weights, cardio machines and rings. They offer classes like yoga, stretching, spin and Thai boxing as well as personal training (available for an extra fee). There are women’s and men’s locker rooms with showers, changing areas and saunas. Although we work out regularly at home, we didn’t spend much time in the fitness area – but we burned plenty of calories climbing stairs and just walking around that huge ship.
STATEROOMS - We had a mid-ship balcony cabin on Deck 15 and were pleased with the location. The cabin size was good, although there wasn’t much storage/drawer space. However, it did have a bathtub. The linens were high quality and the mattress was particularly comfortable. There were no miniature toiletries, but the soap, shampoo and shower gel dispensers were refilled daily.
Since the Seaside is a smart ship, it offers the latest in onboard technology.
The MSC for Me app is the digital innovation program that uses the latest cutting-edge technology to connect travelers seamlessly with the experiences that matter to them, whether at sea or on land. We downloaded the app onto our smartphones and found that it made it easy to navigate the ship, connect to WI-FI, and book shows. There are several WI-FI packages to choose from, but you’ll get the best pricing by booking online before you sail.
FAMILY FRIENDLY - It is a family-friendly ship and there were lots of children onboard. They were able to enjoy the full-sized bowling alley, a dedicated kids only restaurant, and the most interactive, multi-story water park at sea featuring four different water slides, an AquaPlay™ area designed for tots and an adventure trail. In addition, MSC Seaside boasts colorful kids’ play areas created in partnership with LEGO® and Chicco®. So it’s a great option for a multi-generational vacation.
One of the aspects that we enjoyed most was the international vibe. With 115 different nationalities onboard, there were guests and staff from all over the globe. All of the announcements were given in several languages including Italian, Spanish, English, German, and French. All of the staff that we met was multi-lingual and communicated with guests easily. We were invited to a cocktail party with the captain and his officers and he gave his remarks in 4 different languages. Even passengers who looked like us didn’t necessarily speak English. Some spoke Spanish, others spoke French or Portuguese.
EMBARKATION/DEBARKATION - We found the embarkation process to be smooth and seamless. We decided to arrive at 1:00pm and there were no lines. We got through the process in less than 10 minutes. So we recommend arriving around that time. People who arrived earlier got caught up in the mix of departing and arriving guests. Our staterooms were ready by 2pm and our luggage was delivered before 4pm. The debarkation process was just as smooth.
One of my least- favorite first day activities has always been the safety/muster drill. As a long-time cruiser I have memories of having to don a lifejacket and stand on the deck until the drill was completed. But it was not like that on the Seaside. Our muster station was actually at the Champagne Bar – how good is that? The drill took less than 30 minutes.
CUSTOMER SERVICE - Customer service was excellent; from our cabin steward, to the dining staff, guest relation’s staff - everyone we met was pleasant and efficient.
Other lines that we’ve cruised on connect your credit card to your reservation during the online check-in or embarkation process. However on the Seaside it’s different; there are ATM machines located in various locations throughout the ship where you do it yourself. So if you plan to pay your onboard expenses with a credit card, be sure to do that as soon as you board. It was easy.
In summary, we would definitely sail MSC again, but only on one of their newer ships. As an overall grade, we would give our Seaside experience a B+.
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