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About DavidH

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    Travel, sport, music, theatre, wine, dancing.

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  1. Hi Andrew, Appreciate your comprehensive review. Having just about recovered from our overnight flight back from Montego Bay, I thought I'd weigh in with my own views and those of our group of four on our back to back Cuban Fusion and Exotic Explorer (Belize City, Guatemala and two calls in Honduras) cruises on Marella Discovery 2. It was good to meet you on board in week 1 and we all send our regards. Our review:- Our flights from Birmingham did not arrive until late afternoon but transfer to ship went well. We were greatful for our Premier Fast Track experience when boarding as we avoided the, by then, sizeable queues. For around the price of a Deluxe Balcony Cabin on, say, Azura we had chosen Grand Suite Cabins on Marella and were rewarded with really generous accommodation. The brochure and online information did not do these cabins justice and the large, double width balconies had 2 very comfortable wicker sunbeds as well as an armchair and stool/coffee table. Overall, it is fair to say we were delighted with our accommodation and with our Room Steward (Francisbel) and her team. Fran was a native of Honduras and was obviously excited that the ship was to have two calls in her native land in week two. She quickly responded to our request for 2 single duvets rather than one double (though I think we actually ended up with two doubles) and my wife's need for additional coat hangers (on which her dresses might have a chance of remaining rather than slipping straight off). The Suite package also included access to the Concierge Lounge 24hrs a day which offered complimentary WIFI (a massive bonus), a comfortable place to sit quietly whilst enjoying drinks from the bean to cup coffee machine, or a variety of teas and juices as well as croissant and pastries in a morning and cookies at other times of day. The Suite Guest Cocktail Party also took place here and gave us the opportunity to meet the Captain and several other Senior Officers, as well being entertained by the amazing Max and Brandi of Braxi Music (of whom more anon). We found Marella Discovery 2 to be a lovely ship overall. As someone who likes his Captain to sound well educated, my first aural impression was not good ("Good evenin' ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speakin'.") but the man himself quickly despatched my prejudice when we met. An extremely competent and professional officer who gave generously of his time, was seen routinely around the ship and oozed a confidence that always adds to a cruising experience. Our first dining experience also gave a poor and, fortunately, false impression. The main dining room, known as "47", is accessed from Deck 4 but has some additional tables on the level above, on the starboard side of the Italian Restaurant option "Gallery 47". Due to our relatively late arrival, followed by a security drill and then unpacking of suitcases, we did not get to the Dining Room until around 21.00hrs and were allocated a table for 4 near one of the waiter stations in the upstairs section. Our waiter did not look best pleased to see us at that time and his demeanour remained the same throughout our meal. Other staff who assisted in the area hinted of better things to come and so it proved. We found the menu choice very limited but came to realise that, when added to that available in the Italian Gallery 47 and the included part of the menu (tapas and pizza) in The Glass House (cooking on hot stone was a payable option here), there was actually a good range of food choice in waiter served areas included in the package, as well as the always available buffet option. Generally, the waiting staff were very pleasant indeed. The experience in Gallery 47 was particularly to our liking. We also tried the two payable venues. Kora La, the Asian fusion option, provided excellent and attentive service. The "Amuse-Bouche" and starters were fantastic but my wife and I chose the wrong option for our main course in selecting "Shaking Beef" as it proved to be too well done for our taste in meat. On the other hand, our friend's cooked to order mild to medium chicken curry was delicious (we all had a taste). For my wife's birthday, we ate in Surf & Turf. The service was good but not as attentive as Kora La. The combination of steak and lobster on my plate was delicious. We chose the payable option to cook our own food on hot stones in The Glass House, only to find that the stones were delivered with the meat already on the stones and, to our taste, verging on over cooked. As my wife and I both like our meat rare, we mentioned this to the Maitre D and he immediately invited us to visit again, free of charge, when our meat would be delivered separately and uncooked. We took him up on this option in week 2 and enjoyed the experience more, though service was particularly slow that night. We found the Islands Buffet perfectly satisfactory for breakfast, with an efficient egg station preparing omelettes to order, plus a daily special. Yes, the breakfast sausage was nothing to write home about but nor was it unpalatable, to my taste. On days when we had an early start, the grab and go concept at The Snack Shack offered really handy breakfast options on the same deck (9) with chill cabinets containing pots of fruit and a cereal and yoghurt combination and quick and tasty bacon and egg or sausage and egg rolls. Islands also offered some tasty lunchtime options, particularly when pies were available. On sea days, we also grabbed a light bite of lunch in The Glass House on occasion. All in all, we felt the food was very acceptable. In fact, both my wife and the other lady in our group felt that the breads and pastry on board were the finest they have experienced so far at sea (and that includes our beloved Azamara, as well as Silversea, Celebrity, Cunard and P&O). Once we had become familiar with the ship, we avoided the gaudy and raucous Live Room, choosing to meet for a pre-dinner drink in Bar 11 or The Atrium Bar. The Broadway Show Lounge (deck 4) is comfortable and elegant and we generally enjoyed the ship's company's shows (with the exception of the weird first offering). On our final night they premiered a new offering created with the help and incorporating video footage of, Anton du Beke. A terrific show. The Geordie comedian in week 1 was excellent in both his shows. Week 2's comedian was poor, with very dated material so we gave his second show a miss. Braxi Music, however, were outstanding. From the first notes we heard them sing at the Cocktail Party in The Concierge Lounge, we were smitten. I am a singer myself and can be very critical but these two are the best crossover act I have come across. They are a husband and wife pairing - he is Dutch, she is American. She is an immense performer with an adaptable voice, moving easily from pop to opera and back. He is a light baritone, with fabulous control and the most amazing falsetto. I have never before heard a male/female duo sing The Flower Song from Lakme by Delibes and I doubt there are any others out there who would even attempt it. Sung in the original key and without microphones, it was a stunning and flawless introduction to their substantial contribution to our 2 weeks at sea. Later in week 2, to hear the same guy sing the Largo Al Factotum from Rossini's Barber of Saville just emphasised the range of this amazing musical act. The ship has another show lounge, The Venue, situated immediately above the Broadway Show Lounge on deck 5. What a waste of a lovely space in only housing quizzes and such like. I guess the Pool Area did get crowded on sunny sea days but that's why I always have a balcony. My wife and our friends, who like the direct sun exposure, always managed to find a space somewhere but I found the covered pool area in The Glass House to my liking for a swim and our huge balcony for a relaxing time in the warmth with minimal direct exposure to those harmful rays. If this review seems a little disjointed, I apologise. Put it down to the last of the jet lag. Would we consider Marella again? Based on our Grand Suite experience and what we felt was very much value for money, then, most certainly. In fact, we are considering another exceptional itinerary they are offering in 2019 on the sister ship Discovery which takes in Petra, Jordan (on my wife's bucket list) and transits the Suez to visit The Holy Land. Meanwhile, it's back to Azamara for us in September. DavidH
  2. So, the four of us spent our turn round day at Doctor's Cave Beach on Tuesday, 30 January. We didn't book the ship's tour but simply walked off the ship into the Cruise Terminal, found a local taxi (18 seater, I think) which was filling seats to go there. The driver was a guy named Shirley (not a boy named Sue) and his young lady guide asked us what time we wanted to be picked up for the return. A time of 16.00hrs was agreed and we all paid US$14 for the round trip. At the Beach, entry was US$7pp. We each purchased sun beds ($7) and a sunshade ($7) per couple which were hauled into position by a gnarled old Jamaican. A bucket of beers on the beach was relatively expensive but, so what - life's too short. When we were hungry, we sauntered to the back of the beach to have lunch in the shade of the on site restaurant. Shirley met us shortly after the appointed time for the return but we were slightly delayed as the guide disappeared back inside the resort to try and find a small family group from the Aida cruise ship berthed next to us that she remembered as having been on the outward journey but who were not at the meeting point. When we realised who she was trying to find, we were able to tell her that we'd seen them jump in another taxi for the ride back (that's German impatience for you) and we got under way. Re-assuring that she was meticulous enough to have made a mental note of her clients. All in all, a really good day and at no stage did we feel out of our comfort zone.
  3. "Don't panic, Mr. Mannering"!!! We too fly to Montego Bay and board our ship on Tuesday. As afcandrew says, the in and out transfer to and from the ship shouldn't be a problem. However, our party of 4 are staying on board for a second week and will therefore have a turn round day in Montego Bay. It will be interesting to hear the advice of the cruise line, once on board. David H
  4. Hi Born Free, Just to say thanks for the post. To me, this is the sort of useful information that members about to visit a place can access for information and suggestions. We had a super trip to Iceland on Celebrity Eclipse in May 2016 which included a day and a half in Reykjavik. On day 1, we chose to go on the cruise line organised "Golden Circle Classic Day Trip" to get a feel for the fascinating geography and geology of the surrounding area. This included the ├×ingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss Waterfall. Highly recommended. And you're right, the soup at Sval is definitely worth the stroll into town!! David H
  5. Thanks, Andrew. Have passed on the info. Not long now!! DavidH
  6. Hi OWT, Just passed the tip re "Crease Release" on to The Boss, thanks. Google will be getting an enquiry. Might be just in time for next week's trip. Cheers, DavidH
  7. Hi Davybe, Thanks for the photos. Brought back good memories from a few years back when our Dance School (Harwood School of Dancing) organised a week's stay at Reid's Palace in Funchal. We flew out just after New year, so missed the fireworks but all the Christmas decorations, lights and stalls were still in full swing. Because of the timing, they got us a great deal with a significant reduction on Reid's normal pricing. It proved such a success, we all went again a couple of years later. You're absolutely right, the Island really does make an effort at this time of year. DavidH
  8. Hi cruise chef, Two cruises scheduled, Caribbean later this month with calls we've not done before (courtesy of Marella), then Croatian Treasures with Azamara to celebrate a (far too big) birthday. Also planning caravan trips - The North Coast 500 in early Spring (hopefully, before the midges emerge) and then Portugal and Northern Spain, probably in May. Plus the usual couple of weeks at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in support of our daughter's shows at The Jazz Bar. Oh and my good lady tells me it's time we re-visited Devon and Cornwall - wonder what it's like there in November/December??? DavidH
  9. Hi Bumble Bee, The most recent long haul flight we took using Avios was Business Class to San Diego in January 2016. Given that we collect Avios merely as a consequence of our routine shopping and fuel buying, it seemed a bargain to me at the time when compared to paying full fare. Can't say as I've worked out the relative cost per point between long and short haul. If we need to fly somewhere, I look to see if we have enough Avios first, then consider other options. Chose not to use them on a recent trip to Denmark as Ryanair were so cheap and even I can cope in their rigidly upright seats for an hour and a half. Wouldn't want to go much further, though. DavidH
  10. Hi Born Free, Have to agree with you re Singapore. It's a great place to visit. My vote for a favourite attraction goes to Spectra - The Light and Water Show which is free to the public and takes place at the Events Plaza, Marina Bay Sands. Mind you, the Night Safari's not bad either. DavidH
  11. Hi Bumble Bee, We have arranged a number of flights via Avios over the years (or Air Miles, as it used to be). Most but not all of these, have been in Business Class. Although Avios can be used for other purchases, I have always found that booking flights offers the best value per point. Our next Avios flight is already booked for next September - in and out of Venice to link up with an Azamara cruise. These days, we only collect through Tesco Clubcard. As for your question - well, every little bit helps!! DavidH
  12. Merry Christmas everyone and a Happy and Healthy 2018. DavidH
  13. Hi afcandrew, Guess you must be doing the Cuban Fusion cruise. My wife and I, together with a couple of friends are also on that trip, back to back with Exotic Explorer. It's a long time since we cruised with Thomson (it was our first ever cruise) but the itineraries attracted us, so we're giving them another go. Here's to a great trip!! DavidH
  14. Hi gasgas and welcome. Loved your comments about your opera experience in Sydney. We enjoyed a tour of The Opera House and a live performance there around 3 years ago during a 4 week land tour of Australia. May I suggest, however, that this country offers the opportunity to experience the thrill of opera without travelling quite so far. Certainly acoustically, both The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden and The London Coliseum (English National Opera Company's base) knock spots off Sydney, though maybe the exteriors are not as dramatic. Being based in the Midlands, we also get to see the splendid Opera North at Nottingham's Royal Centre when they are on tour from their Leeds Grand Theatre home. DavidH
  15. We "debarked" (as they call it) from our second cruise on Azamara Journey in Piraeus on Saturday (28th), having visited several Greek Islands and with 3 days in The Holy Land. Another fabulous experience provided by a line which seems to pitch it exactly right for this size of ship. Certainly as far as my wife and I are concerned. Having cruised through the Kiel Canal on a Baltic Cruise on Adonia a few years ago (at a point where P&O were still worth considering), we are delighted that Azamara will be taking over the ship. Of course, there was much excitement and quite a build up whilst on board to the announcement of the itineraries on the 24th. Special presentations then followed and, if you really want to do the South America cruise over Christmas and New Year, Cruise Chef, or indeed at Carnival time (13 nights from 24 Feb2019), I think you will need to book very soon. Interest on board was massive. DavidH