Sunday, 28 August 2016

CMV ASTOR 42 nights from Tilbury to Auckland

Way back in Jan 2015 an advert of 2 for the price of 1 caught our eye for a cruise to Australia.  It seems this is a regular offer and for an outside cabin the total cost was £4946 for 2 people 56 nights to Freemantle.  There is an option to disembark in Auckland for New Zealand then Sydney, Adelaide or Perth for Australia.

The ship leaves from Tilbury which is easily accessible by train from central London.  It's the original port from where the £10 poms set sail to Australia.

The ship only holds 600 passengers so the boarding process was quick and efficient.  As an older ship the card system works for on board purchases and boarding and disembarking but for the cabins you have quite a hefty key.  Safe keys are available free of charge at reception.

There are few double cabins with double beds as the single beds cannot be pushed together due to fixed furniture in the middle.  In the basic cabins there is a fridge, TV, dressing table, writing desk and wardrobes but probably not enough hangers.  Lovely fluffy white bath robes were provided.

The bathrooms were a decent size with complimentary soap, multi purpose shower and shampoo gel, sewing kit, shower caps and nail kit.  As well as hand and bath towels there were face cloths.  Extra blankets, pillows and 2 large beach towels were in the wardrobes.

We had cabin 104 on deck 3 towards the front of the ship.  It should have been a family cabin with an additional room containing bunk beds.  It was very quiet in the cabin although we did notice splashing outside when the seas were a bit rough.

Most facilities are on deck 5 making it very easy to find things.  We had lowered our expectations knowing this was a lower grade cruise ship but in most areas we were very impressed.

Food was varied and they had lots of special nights, themed by country or party style out on deck.  Leaving Mexico we had a tropical buffet with all the unusual fruits that had been taken on board.

Needing a gluten free diet my needs were very well catered for in the Waldorf restaurant bur not so well in the Ubersee buffet.  Many people did not understand gluten free and when asked if a product contained gluten they would answer "yes it has milk in".  However it never seemed any trouble to get someone to bring up what I had ordered from the Waldorf menu.

There were some superb shows such as Abba, Phantom of the Opera, Rocky Horror Show spoilt slightly by the fact that the theatre is badly designed with many pillars obstructing views.

Of the many activities things got a bit confusing as times were changed often.  Morning exercise classes were very good when put on but not available every day.

Quizzes were held in the Captains Club which wasn't really big enough for the number of people attending.  Fortunately we were all sympathetic to the entertainment crew reading out the questions with their foreign pronunciation.

The main area where we and the majority of people on board thought things could be improved was down to the cruise director.  He was not keen to listen to comments or constructive criticism and insisted on doing thing the way he always had in spite of this being a little different as a long duration cruise with many sea days.

Overall we would highly recommend this cruise and were surprised how many first time cruisers were on board for the full 56 nights and all thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Cheap mobile phone usage when abroad

If you are touring abroad and need mobile phone contact it can be a real pain changing cards in each country.

Check out Toggle Mobile for a new system enabling you to receive calls for free and make calls from for example Spain to UK land line or mobile for only 3p a minute. SMS are 7p and data 15p per mb.

Similar favourable rates apply almost everywhere and there is a simple call rate chart giving you full information for calls between any of the countries covered.

Start off by ordering your SIM for £25 including that amount of credit and build from there.

AUSTRALIA Great phone rates on ALDI MOBILE

I doubt you could better the pay as you go SIM from ALDI which backs on to the great coverage of Telstra network.

For $5 you get a SIM with $5 credit which lasts 365 days. You can use this in conjunction with their packages.  .

Call rates are very reasonable on the pay as you go package . Within Australia 12c a min and SMS 12c.  International calls can be even cheaper e.g 10c a minute to UK landlines and mobiles.

30 day  value packs with calls SMS and data cost between $15 and $45.

The data packs are $15 and $30 over 30 days or 6GB over 90 days for $50.

NOTE you cannot combine a data pack with a value pack.

ALDI to ALDI calls are all free.

Read on for full prices...

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

INDIA VISA application for a UK PASSPORT holder visiting AUSTRALIA updated 2016

We have just had to repeat the process of buying a visa for India whilst in Australia and a few things have changed since we last did it and I blogged in 2011

All applications are processed by VFS Global 

On the website


Click on the type of visa you require for more info to decide which variant you may want.  We found out that anything less than a 1 year multi entry is still the base price so you might as well go for that as a minimum which was a whopping $303.70 (yes that is the absolute minimum assuming you pay cash, take the forms to the office and collect it from there) 

You can get the correct 2" x 2" photos on line for just the cost of a regular photograph (65c) and this gives you 4 pics.  Free passport photos


Print the
Tourist Visa Checklist
Form D
Others that apply to you
PLUS You must take a copy of any appointment that you make
and a copy of your entry to Australia visa grant

Now's proceed and submit your on line visa application.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Outstanding CAR PARKING webiste and app

Recently stumbled on Parkopedia website and app.

This is a fantastic search showing car parks in cities and towns worldwide.

The results show up on a map giving basic prices and then you can click on each car park for further info.  Full pricing details are shown (including where disabled parking is free), address, directions, street view and even reviews.

You can also click on an icon for "places nearby" and have restaurants, hotels and many other local attractions displayed on the map with the same type of info as for car parking.

Brilliant, well done Parkopedia 

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Fabulous private villa rental in CALIS BEACH TURKEY

Just returned from a fabulous holiday in Turkey.  We stayed at friends 3 bedroom villa in Calis Beach with a private pool.  It turned out to be a superb location, No more than 10 minutes walk to the beach with wonderful promenade, main street with tourist shops and restaurants, local cheap shared taxi's all around and a supermarket at the end of the street.

Aly & Martin have set it up for their family to use so it has everything you may need and more and is extremely comfortable.  They offer great rates for friends of friends which is why I am blogging it because if you are reading this you must be my friend right ???

Check out the info on their villa rental website but mention this blog for a great discount.

Villa Rental webiste

Thursday, 2 July 2015

THOMPSON SPIRIT cruise ship review


We have recently done a 7 day Eastern Encounters cruise on the Thomson Spirit.  We booked about 5 weeks ahead of departure with Cruise UK and got a deck 1/2 outside cabin with flights from Norwich for £480pp. 

Thomson staff met us at Dalaman airport and directed us to the bus that took us to Marmaris Port.  As the first flight to arrive check in for the ship went very smoothly and but friends arriving on later flights were left waiting on their coach as the check in hall was so busy.

Unlike the newer ships with one card Thomsons give you a card for on board purchases and checking on and off the ship but a different one for accessing your cabin.  We were in 862 on Deck 1 an ample sized cabin initially set up with twin beds.  All the lower cabins just have one small port hole and on this deck you frequently got waves splashing on to the glass.  Our beds were turned into a queen but this caused problems as there was little room to get around on the one side and on both sides it was difficult to walk down the side of the bed due to bunk beds folded into the side walls.  It was nice to find a kettle in the room with a good choice of coffee and teas.  An additional charge was made if you wanted to use the safe.   By way of toiletries there were shower caps provided, hand cleanser at the sink and body wash and shampoo in the shower all in dispensers.  There were sockets for 2 round pin and 2 flat pin but due to the positioning of lights on the dressing table it was impossible to put an adaptor in then a plug.  Eventually I found a clear socket on the floor just before the bathroom and used that. 

We fund the ship seemed very basic compared to the newer liners and certainly in need of refurbishment.  Many seat cushions had been cleaned but were badly stained.  There were no wow factors at all and most areas felt quite cramped.  Due to bad design you had to walk through the show lounge then through the buffet in order to get to the swimming pool on the lido deck. 

We begin eating in the Compass restaurant but found the menu quite basic and an extra charge for steaks.  I needed a gluten free diet and they did a good job catering for me by modifying the starters and mains but most of the desserts were a block of bland jelly like stuff.  Up in the Lido buffet restaurant they produced an excellent gluten free fruit crumble on a couple of occasions.  Breakfast and lunch could also be taken in the Compass restaurant although they were self service.  It wasn’t until part way through the cruise that we found out you could order things like eggs Benedict and in fact quite a few other items at no extra charge.

Most of the entertainment was by the ships group and average to quite good.  A comedian Phil Melbourne performed on 2 occasions and was excellent in our opinion.  Other entertainment was quizzes and game shows in the High Spirits lounge.  All the crew were extremely friendly and approachable with the exception of the shore excursion staff.  At the ports of call meeting they gave our almost no info for travellers not wanting to do the ships tours.  Even when approached directly they were evasive and at one point gave totally misleading information saying first it was too far to walk into Beirut from the ship and then that it was very difficult to find your way out of the port.  In reality it was 700 metres to the city centre and a straightforward walk from the port.  They were trying to sell their £5 shuttle bus but could only tell us it went to the Virgin shopping centre but not where that was in relation to the historic centre.  On arrival there was a free duty free shopping bus and it turned out the Virgin shopping centre was the souk adjacent to the historic centre.  We did a couple of very expensive full day tours and reported some problems.  These were acknowledged but the attitude was pretty much tough luck. 

The only place to get free fresh drinking water was in the lido buffet or by the lido pool.  Waiters and bar staff refused to provide water unlike all other ships we have sailed on.  There was an extra charge for any food served to your cabin.

Unusually you are able to take alcohol on board with you at the start and from ports of call and also if you bought anything at the duty free shop you could have it to use on board.

Formal night was not formal at all.  Whilst a minority of guests dressed up with men in dinner suits and women in evening dresses the majority did not and even men without ties or in polo shirts were permitted in to the dining room.   

Organisation was generally poor.  On the last day on board we had letters giving our times for departing the ship and mentioning there would be no announcements.  We walked down early and as there was no queue we got off and walk to the port entrance.  There we found the luggage unattended.  After putting our bags on to the bus with our destination airport name we were surprised to find the coach departed at the time we were supposed to leave the ship.  There was no head count so most likely some people were still onboard. 

Generally speaking this felt more like a package holiday at sea than a cruise.  Many people were repeat customers and loved Thomsons but said the Spirit was the worst of the fleet.  Others cited the value for money as a reason for picking them.  We picked this cruise for the unusual ports of call as we have had better per person per day rates on 5 star liners in a balcony cabin. 

Would we sail with them again – only if they were going to ports of call we wanted to visit and we had no alternative.  

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Magical MALTA without breaking the bank

Just returned from 6 weeks in Malta.  They say it is like Marmite you either love it or hate it.  For a 6 week break we loved it although I am not sure we would want to live there !

We put together a package ourselves starting with cheap Ryanair flights from Leeds Bradford airport, £51 return.

On arrival we were soon on our bargain airport transfer shuttle to the hotel.

Ideally we wanted to have a warm room, self catering, nice view, clean, indoor swimming pool, on the coast.

Booked through Hotels 4 U we paid £107 for a 1 bedroom land view apartment at Sunny Coast Resort and Spa.  We were a bit shocked to find the "land view" actually had no view of land at all but was looking at buildings and above a busy road.  Luckily they were able to offer us a 2 bedroom sea view apartment at no extra charge.  Whilst it was a lovely complex and apartment we found that it was north facing and we got no sunshine at all.  We were even moved to a corner apartment that in addition to the sea view balcony had others over the road getting the sun from early afternoon but found it had too much road noise.  Steve was unwell so we negotiated a second week at Euro 150 whilst checking out alternatives.

Topaz Hotel ticked all boxes other than having a pool rather than sea view and being on the coast.
We booked directly with them and were able to negotiate a better deal than on line where the apartments are rarely listed.  Paid Euro 9 pppn in a 2 bedroom apartment.  This was really warm and cosy and we had sunshine on both balconies from first thing until 4pm.  Although the location and indoor pool were not as nice the compromise was well worth it.

In winter Bugibba/Qawra seem to have just the right balance between having enough things open to entertain you but without being too busy.  There is a central bus station with connections to everywhere on the island that buses go.  Euro 1.50 buys you an all day ticket and Euro 6.50 a weekly pass.  Oracle casino has fantastic value meals.  The lunch at Euro 5 includes a main, dessert and drink and on certain days they even give you Euro 2 gambling money as well (don't forget to take photo ID on your first visit to sign up for free membership). For supermarket shopping Trollees and Piscopo's cash and carry are amongst the biggest and cheapest.

Sliema was incredibly busy and adjoins St Juliens and Paceville, These seem to be the places to visit if you want a lot of nightlife.

Melleiha is that the town is up on a hill with the coastal resort below and whenever you want to go anywhere you have a long journey on a bus that is often crowded.

Paradise and Ramla Bay are the western most points on the island and although there are lovely hotels for beach holidays you are very isolated and there are no facilities in the area.

Golden Bay is home to just the Radisson Hotel which is extremely isolated.

For cheap eats look out for the "hole in the wall" bakeries with pea or cheese pasties from 25c each and big squares of pizza from Euro 1.

Highly recommended as a place for a winter break.  Not as warm in the day as many spots on Spain and probably more wind and rain but you don't seem to get the cold nights and with the public transport system you have the whole island to explore.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

AIRPORT TRANSFERS at bargain prices

Normally we use local buses to get from the airport to our destination.  That is until we came across the company Resort Hoppa .

Recently in Malta we booked the speedy shuttle (no more than 4 stops) from the airport to our hotel and using one of their frequent discount codes it only cost £2.75 for the 2 of us.  Compared to Euro 1.30 (£1) each on the local buses it seemed well worth the extra 75p.

The cheapest option is a shared shuttle with a speedy shuttle doing a maximum of 4 stops for about 20% more.

You can also book a private transfer in a car of 1 - 4 people or at the top of the price range private luxury transfer for 1 - 4 people.   .

These are their top destinations but they do cover many other places as well so it is worth checking out.

Top Destinations

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

GREAT CAR HIRE COMPARISON SITE and warning about a hidden extraS in Spain

If you want to do a really good car hire search and also car hire excess insurance then Money Maxim works brilliantly.

Key in the pick up and drop off details and then opt whether to have the results Emailed to you or just see them on screen.

The results are shown based on the most basic car with prices increasing from the left to right.
Click on any of the other car types for results relating to them.
Below is the offer of car hire excess insurance to go with it (it is worth checking out the annual policy if you are likely to hire more than once or for a long duration.)
Other filters are available so you can custom the results even further.

Once you decide which deal suits best click on the car and you will be directed to another website to book.  This leads you to a different search site from which you complete the deal.  This is unlikely to be the actual rental company which will be allocated at a later stage of the booking process.  This is the time to read their small print re fuel policy etc.

WARNING The latest fuel policy on ALL car hire in Spain is that you pick up the car and pay for a tank full of fuel.  You have the option of returning it with fuel at any level and they will refund what is left to the nearest 1/8 tank (in their favour of course).  If you want to return it full be sure to top it up at the nearest fuel station to the airport and hand in the receipt.

So what's the catch?  An administration fee of Euro24 and upwards depending on the car type and company.  This fee is to cover admin and refueling ready for the next client but still has to be paid even if you return the car full.  The only advantage in returning the car full is that you will get a full refund of the price they charged you initially which is probably higher than the price of the fuel you put in yourself.

Having previously felt the pay for a full tank and return empty policy was a con this one is even worse as you would then have been likely to return the car with less than Euro 22 worth of fuel in.