Six on Saturday 3rd October

I’ve been a bit remiss with keeping up with my blog. I was away last weekend so that’s my excuse. Anyway, here I am for a Six.

I’m going to start with a couple from our trip away. We went to Edinburgh for a few days for my birthday and we had a really great time (more of that on another post somewhen). I thought I’d come back with loads of planty photos because we’d planned a trip to the Botanic Gardens, but, as luck would have it, the day we’d planned that was the only day we had rain! Typical! We decided to do indoor things instead but we were fully booked every other day so had to take a literal rain check on the gardens. Good excuse to go back!

We came across this house in Prince’s Street gardens and I was taken with how pretty it is set in its lovely garden which was blooming with roses and lots of colour. I googled it to see if I could find out anything about the house and it’s the head gardener’s house but was also used in a BBC children’s programme.

On my birthday we’d booked a trip to Loch Ness which was absolutely brilliant. It was a long day, we met the tour at 8am and arrived back in Edinburgh at 8pm, but it was worth it. We stopped at several picturesque places on the way to Loch Ness and back.

Our tour driver was super knowledgeable about all things Scottish and he told us that there came a point when trees were dangerously low in numbers because there was no legislation in place to ensure replanting of trees after felling and it became a critical issue, so now for every tree that’s felled, another has to be planted. However, when this legislation was introduced, most of the trees that were planted weren’t native to Scotland meaning that now Scotland has more non-native trees than native. They were pretty impressive at this stop on our way back to Edinburgh.

This isn’t the best of photographs because I took it from a moving bus but you get the idea. We saw a few restaurants and shops whose entrances were entirely bedecked with beautiful flowers and plants, but this is the only picture I managed to snap. This is in the New Town part of Edinburgh where the architecture isn’t quite as lovely as it is in the Old Town, but the injection of colour really perks the buildings up.

Back home and the garden is in sore need of some tidying, but given the weather today and the upcoming forecast, it’s going to have to stay messy for a while! I have sunflowers which have flopped, wind battered runner beans and straggly pansies.

My ornamental kale is looking beautiful though.

This is hanging off the catio facing outwards in case furry friends nibble it, so we can’t see it unless we go out, but I’m happy just to know it’s there!

My fuchsias are still providing some much needed colour on these dreary days.

I feel that there hasn’t been enough fuchsia love on my blog this summer and I think it may be because they haven’t been as impressive this year, and I think that’s my fault. I must research fuchsia care so that they thrive next year. I have three and they all flowered, but they didn’t get many leaves and they didn’t get bushy like they were originally. Maybe some timely pruning is needed.

I may be slightly cheating with this last photo as it encompasses six in one! The photos may be multiple, but the point is singular.

And that point is, simply, colour! I took all these photos this morning before the rain started and it did make me happy to see all this colour after a week of dreary weather and the prospect of months of it to come.

That’s my Six for the week. As ever, the link to join in or just to read more Sixes is https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/six-on-saturday-03-10-2020/#respond

Harmony of the Seas Western Caribbean

So, I’m lying in bed with a slight (entirely self-inflicted) headache, waiting for 11am to roll around so I can order an Uber Eats Maccy Ds to neutralise the alcohol consumed last night, and I can hear Storm Ciara kicking up a fuss outside, so I thought it would be the perfect moment to start the post about our cruise which I promised last weekend. As an aside, am I the only person in the world who was annoyed when McDonalds extended their breakfast time to 11am? I’m sure it made perfect Golden Arches business sense, but on a morning like this one, I don’t want rubbery egg, I want a big fat burger and fries with extra grease, and now I have to wait an extra thirty minutes for it. Thank goodness for Uber though – at least I don’t have to venture out into Ciara’s midst to get my fix!

I can start pretty much where I finished the last post, because this time three weeks ago (time difference aside) it was embarkation day and we were making our way to IHOP on International Drive for our decadent brunch (the picture of which I will share again because it was just sooooo good!) …

… before we excitedly headed off down the I4 and the FL-50 E to Port Canaveral to board Harmony of the Seas. We could see the ship from quite far out – she was the only cruise liner docked at Port Canaveral that day, and there’s no mistaking her! She’s huge! She was, until overtaken by her sister, Symphony, the biggest cruise liner in the world and, in case anyone’s interested, she was made using steel plates and sheets produced by the company that I work for, ArcelorMittal. She was completed and delivered to Royal Caribbean in 2016 and that year she was on our calendars at work so I looked at her every day for a year as I changed the date, and I vowed then that one day I’d sail on her.

Where do I start with describing her? We boarded on deck 5 which is one of the main entertainment decks, so we entered into hustle and bustle.

These photos were taken on our last day so it’s quieter, but on embarkation day it was buzzing with people boarding and trying to find their way around as well as crew welcoming people and offering directions, and people who’d already learnt the ropes and were taking advantage of the restaurants, bars and cafes.

It was all quite overwhelming so we found a lift (or elevator as 99% of passengers seemed to be American or Canadian) and went to gain our equilibrium in our stateroom.

It didn’t stay that tidy for long! Our luggage was delivered before too long (always a relief when you’ve had to leave it with a random guy on the quayside!) and we actually completely unpacked rather than living out of our suitcases like we normally do (mainly because there wasn’t anywhere convenient to leave the cases with easy access).

The cabin had every modcon necessary. We had aircon that actually worked well, lots of drawers and hanging space in the cupboards, and also a free to use safe that was big enough to take my iPad. There were plenty of plug sockets (most US style and one European) including one next to the bed which was very handy for charging our phones/watch/AirPods overnight. The bathroom was very nice with a decent shower which always had hot water despite the vast number of passengers on board (six thousand six hundred from sixty five nations plus two thousand two hundred crew from seventy five nations apparently). We also had a fridge which was handy for the two bottles of wine that we were allowed to bring on board with us and also leftovers from the breakfast that you could order from room service (this was handy for port days when we had excursions booked and needed to be off the ship early).

I ordered granola, yoghurt, honey and a fruit plate and made myself an almost Slimming World friendly breakfast! You could also have croissants, Danish pastries, toast and preserves, cereal and milk, donuts (American spelling, obviously) or for a charge, a full American breakfast or a breakfast Margharita (is that even a thing?)

As you can see, we had a big porthole which looked out to the starboard side. The ship has staterooms with balconies but we weighed up the pros and cons versus the cost and decided a porthole would be best for us. The sea facing balconies were several hundred pounds more. We could have had an internal facing balcony for a similar price …

… but as you can see from these photos, there’s much less privacy because of the balconies opposite and with the porthole you have the advantage of being able to see where you are on port days. We also enjoyed sitting in the window with a glass of vino watching the sea slip by as we sailed off into the sunset.

It also became a good place to display my new fridge magnets.

In the photo above with the pink slides snaking their way down ten decks from sixteen to six you can see the boardwalk. Here you could find the Doghouse which served various different kinds of hotdog and other speciality restaurants, the Aqua Theatre, various shops including the Royal shop selling Royal Caribbean branded items and the carousel.

In the next photo you can see Central Park. This was an oasis on deck eight. It was always quiet, sometimes with peaceful live piano music. There was one inclusive restaurant in Central Park and a couple that required a supplement.

All the plants and trees are real. As it was open air there were umbrellas at each end just in case there were any showers.

I’d be hard pressed to mention everything that there is to do on the ship, but I’ll give it a go!

There are two rock climbing walls …

… three water slides seen here on the model because I somehow neglected to take a photo …

… one dry slide called the Ultimate Abyss which was AWESOME …

… two flowriders where you could have a go at surfing or body boarding …

… a mini golf course …

… a zip line which sent you zooming over the Boardwalk ten decks below …

… and an ice skating rink.

There were four pools, twelve hot tubs, hundreds of sun loungers (including really cute child sized ones), a casino, art gallery, card room, climbing wall for kids, full size basketball court, two table tennis tables, two arcades, an escape room (we got out with about five minutes to spare), an adults only solarium, a gym and spa, hairdressers and beauty salon and a running track on deck five.

Excuse the horrendous photo of me, but it’s proof that we did it!

You could eat in twenty restaurants. We stuck to the ones included in the price of our cruise. There was Sorrentos serving pizza and anti pasta, Cafe Promenade where you could go for a hot drink and a cake, the Doghouse that I’ve already mentioned and a couple more that we didn’t even manage to fit in, but we had most of our meals in Minibites on the pool deck serving breakfast and lunch (great nachos) and Windjammers which was a massive buffet restaurant with more food than you could possibly eat! In addition to this there were many bars including the Schooner Bar which had live music every night and various quizzes, the Rising Tide Bar which slowly moved between decks five and eight, and my favourite, the Bionic Bar where you ordered your cocktail on an iPad and then a big robot arm made and served your drink.

We went to see three shows (which wasn’t all of the ones available!) We saw Grease in the Royal Theatre on our first night …

… which was really good.

A couple of days later we watched 1887 in Studio B which was the ice rink …

… and the final show we were lucky to see because it had been cancelled the previous couple of nights because the weather wasn’t good enough. It was in the Aqua Theatre and was called the Fine Line.

There was aerial acrobatics, diving from height and lots of water! The stage in the pool raised and lowered depending whether the performers were in, on or under the water.

Phew! With all that at your fingertips you’d wonder if it was worth actually getting off the ship! Of course we did!

First stop was Perfect Day at CocoCay which is an island in the Bahamas which is exclusively for Royal Caribbean cruise passengers.

It has a water park, several beaches and inland pools, a market and, conveniently, a couple of all inclusive restaurants. As with the ship, drinks are extra, but as I’d paid for a freestyle soda cup which I could refill whenever I liked for the whole cruise and on CocoCay, and twenty four bottles of Evian, we didn’t need to fork out for any drinks.

We’d booked a swimming with pigs excursion here so we headed off on a speed boat to a nearby island for this quite early. This was brilliant. There were tiny four week old piglets right up to huge sows, all of whom were very keen to eat the apple on sticks that we were given to feed them. At one point one of the tour guides knocked over a box of apples (I’ve a feeling it might have been accidentally on purpose!) and we found out that pigs can move pretty quickly!

Sorry about the swimwear shot – there might be a couple of these!

We were supposed to be going parasailing in the afternoon but unfortunately this got cancelled because the forecast was for rain. Given the rain that did appear, I’m very pleased we weren’t up in the air! Anyway I’m glad I booked the excursions the way round that I did, because we can parasail anywhere but we can’t swim with pigs anywhere else. We had the money refunded so we were able to book an excursion when we got back to Florida.

The second day was at sea and was actually a bit chilly, but we found a sheltered spot and I settled down with a book, hubby with his music.

On the third day we docked at Costa Maya in Mexico, not far from the Yucatan peninsula. We got off and had a look around the dock. The weather was beautiful this day.

It was a really busy and bustling port and there were four cruise ships in so after we’d had a scout around we decided to head back to the ship for some lunch and sunbathing.

You can see how big our ship is in this photo that I took on the way back.

The ship next door is the Seven Seas Explorer and she has capacity for seven hundred and fifty passengers and five hundred and fifty crew so she’s not exactly a tiny rowing boat but she’s dwarfed by Harmony.

Day four saw us arrive in Roatan which is an island off the coast of Honduras. Here we’d booked a snorkelling tour and time on a private beach. The second biggest reef in the world, the MesoAmerican reef, runs down the coast of Central America so we were excited about snorkelling here. It was actually a little disappointing in terms of the sea life that we saw, but I think this is because we’ve spoiled ourselves for snorkelling by doing it in the Maldives. If you want amazing snorkelling, the Indian Ocean is the place to do it. Anyway, we did see a couple of rays, some sea urchins and best of all, starfish.

Back on the beach it was idyllic. We had sun loungers right on the shore and the weather was beautiful. We were lucky – our tour guide, Jordan, told us that it had rained the day before. There wasn’t a drop in sight for us.

Day five took us back to Mexico, this time Cozumel island.

You wouldn’t believe how long I had to wait for people to get out of the way so I could get this photo without random strangers in it! The port area here was nice. We had a look round all the shops and watched snorkelers swim around. We almost went to eat at Bubba Gumps (one of our favourite restaurants) but decided we would save our money and eat back on board Harmony. We took advantage of the various photo opportunities though.

Day six was at sea again so we made the most of the facilities. We went down the Ultimate Abyss (twice), went ice skating, hubby went on the zip line one more time (it started to drizzle just as I was about to go and they closed it, but I had already been on so no big deal), escaped from Escape the Rubicon, the on board escape room and then set up camp in a huge squishy chair in the solarium to read, listen to music and do some puzzles. Sounds so simple, but it’s just blissful to have the time to do these things without a little voice in the back of you head telling you that you should be cleaning or cooking or tidying or working or any other number of mundane (but unfortunately necessary) tasks. One of the things I love best about holidays is just time!

On our last day we were docked back at Port Canaveral by six am, and we had to be at our meeting point by quarter past seven. Early, but al least we had a good few hours to still enjoy being away. We’d used the refunded money from our cancelled parasailing to book a trip on an airboat.

This was great fun, but boy it was cold! It hadn’t warmed up enough for any alligators to surface unfortunately which was a shame, but we have seen ‘gators before in Florida so not the end of the world.

I’m quite partial to this photo that I took on the way round.

We saw several really big birds and we got to try deep fried alligator (maybe best that we didn’t see one!) I won’t be rushing to eat it again, I’m not a massive fan of meat anyway, and it was quite chewy, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity.

After the tour we were dropped back at the airport with our bags. It was still only morning and we didn’t fly until six thirty, but Orlando airport’s a good one and we looked round the Universal and Disney shops, had some lunch and I caught up on the Crown on Netflix. The iPad and AirPods are just perfect for travelling. I love all my technology!

Wow, that was a long blog! Are you still with me? I really enjoyed reliving our a,axing holiday! Now, how quickly can I save up to go again? We’re not done with you Harmony!

Holiday Catch Up part one

I need to tell you about our holiday, but I really don’t know where to start! We’ve been back for not far off a week now, and I’ve been back at work for three days, but I’m still basking in the distant rays of our time away. It was an absolutely AMAZING holiday! There wasn’t a single bad moment – not even when the weather wasn’t as good as we could’ve hoped for. I can’t call it the holiday of a lifetime, firstly because we’ve been lucky enough to have several ‘holidays of a lifetime’ so far and secondly, because I’m fully intending to repeat it once I’ve saved up again, but that’s the essence of it!

The holiday started before we’d actually left the country. We were flying from Gatwick and my Granny lives only a few miles from there so we headed down there the day before we were due to fly so we could spend some time with her. She’s had some health issues recently so it was great to be able to pop in and see her (and I’m pleased to report that she was in good health – no flies on Granny!)

We’d booked into a hotel just down the road called Hookwood Lodge. It cost me less than forty quid on booking.com and we couldn’t believe how nice it was for that price.

The hotel was set in beautiful grounds, the bed was super comfy and the bathroom had a rain shower head which was lovely. It was also five minutes walk from a homely country pub with a crackling open fire called the Black Horse, and I’d booked us a table for a pre-holiday meal.

I treated myself to a nice glass of vino and ordered fish and chips and hubby had a 0% Heineken (because he was trying to be teetotal (it didn’t last!)) and a big fat burger! Fed and watered, we hot footed it back to the hotel dodging the rain and excitedly tried to sleep before the next stage of our adventure.

We were up and out by half eight the following morning and made our way to Gatwick to drop our bags before we made our way through to departures for our traditional holiday breakfast. The airport was pretty busy with, presumably, like us, people trying to escape dreary January. We were delayed an hour and a half, but we were soon on our way, off to sun, fun and adventure. A couple of G&Ts (this is where hubby’s wagon tipped!) a film and some puzzles later and we touched down at Orlando International Airport where passport control was surprisingly quiet and we were soon heading out of the airport in our hire car.

This is actually when we dropped the car off, you can see the ship that we cruised on in the background (I’ll get to that in due course). Anyway, as we headed out of the airport we got stuck straight away in big traffic jam which turned out to be an accident involving four cars, at least one of which looked like a hire car. So, next time you’re delayed, whether on a flight or behind someone dawdling in the supermarket, just remember, that delay could well be saving you a whole load of stress and aggravation. If our flight hadn’t been delayed, we could have been heading out of the airport as that accident was about to happen. What an awful start to someone’s holiday.

Once we got past the accident, the rest of the journey was uneventful. We headed towards Universal Studios, spotting the volcano in Volcano Bay on the way, and found our hotel easily enough. We’d booked two nights in the Holiday Inn and Suites across from Universal.

The hotel was fine, not up to the standard of Cabana Bay where we normally stop in Orlando, but it had everything we needed, and it was a fifteen minute walk from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure which was our planned destination for the first full day of holiday.

As anyone who regularly reads my blog will know, I’m a huge Harry Potter fan, and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which spans both parks is my happy place. The first time we visited there was a ride in Islands of Adventure called Dragon Challenge which was a double rollercoaster. This closed a couple of years ago and Universal announced that a new Harry Potter ride was being created. The next two times we went to Orlando the ride was being built and it opened as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure a month after we left in June 2019. Naturally I had to add a trip to Universal to the beginning of our holiday to experience the new ride before we headed off to our ship.

I almost (some would say completely) obsessively checked the Universal app before our holiday to suss out the wait times for the ride and when would be the best time of day to join the queue and it seemed the best course of action would be to get there as early as possible so we headed over to Universal as soon as we were ready. Crossing those giant roads in Orlando is an experience, I can tell you! I didn’t count, but I’m sure the roads we crossed were six lanes in each direction and as soon as the green man (or was it a white man?) said it was safe to cross, the crossing starts counting down in red and the pressure to reach the other side starts to build! Your legs almost instinctively want to run and you feel like the cars waiting are starting to rev their engines in anticipation of zooming off the second it goes back to green for them regardless of whether you’re still on the crossing or not! Add to that the fact that cars are allowed to turn right on red in the states and it really doesn’t make for a relaxing stroll across the road!

Anyway, we made it and we headed straight for Hagrid, following the crowds and the directional signs being held by team members and we joined the end of a two hour queue! This, I know from my research, is about average, and given that it was a Saturday, wasn’t too bad. Indeed, as I continued to check the wait time whilst we were in the line (as you do) it went up to three and a half hours, so we made the right call joining when we did.

By the time we made it to the lockers (you’re not allowed bags and sunglasses etc on the ride) we’d been queuing for about an hour, and we were now pretty much into where the line will start once the hype’s died down and the wait time is shorter. We’d come through the entrance to Hogsmeade …

… and gone past the Hogwarts Express …

… and shortly we got our first view of the ride.

As you can see, it’s a rollercoaster and the passengers are in twos, one on Hagrid’s motorbike and the other in the sidecar. You zoom around the Hogwarts grounds on your motorbike and past various magical creatures including an animatronic unicorn and her baby.

The queue gets more interesting from this point on because you can see the people ahead of you zooming around and screaming on the ride, and you shuffle your way past various familiar props and locations from the books and films. Like Hagrid’s hut …

… and his vegetable patch.

Finally you get to what I assume is part of Hogwarts Castle and the excitement mounts because everyone knows once you’re inside, you’ve got to be getting close to the actual ride. Inside there are dragon eggs, lots of magical animal baskets and ancient wall drawings, and you can hear unicorns braying. Next you get to holograms of Hagrid and Arthur Weasley. Hagrid explains that he’s going to take you on a special Care of Magical Creatures lesson but he needs Arthur to magically duplicate the bikes so he can get you to the forbidden forest.

When we got to the actual ride we somehow managed to end up at the front of one of the holding pens which meant we got to go on the front motorbike. Much excitement! As I’m the true Potter fan, hubby said I could have the motorbike and he went in the sidecar. It was sooooooo good! You zoom around and get up quite a bit of speed. At one point you zoom right up to the end of the track and skid to a stop. Just as you’re thinking ‘now what’ you zoom off backwards at speed before skidding to a stop again. Then you drop (apparently seventeen feet) onto the track beneath before zooming off again. All the while the Harry Potter music is playing and Hagrid’s voice is coming through the speakers in each individual motorbike or sidecar. It was well worth the wait!

The rest of the day was really good. We wandered around Hogsmeade for a bit and had a look in the magical shops and popped into the Hogs Head for some Gilly Water and a pint.

The head moves and talks periodically.

Next we caught the Hogwarts Express to Universal Studios. I love love love the Hogwarts Express. In this direction you head out of the magical land and see London come into sight with the Knight Bus squeezing its way through the streets and then you get off at Kings Cross. We had a wonder around Diagon Alley and I may have bought another Potter hoodie!

We went on a few more rides and watched the Horror Make Up Show which was really good, and I got to meet Beetlejuice!

It was a fantastic day, but we learnt two things. One, don’t go to Universal on a Saturday if you can help it. It was super busy and lots of people had express passes which meant the wait times for non express were crazy! Hagrid doesn’t even allow express passes yet so goodness knows what that would’ve been like with! And two, don’t get a mobile ticket. There are some rides that you’re not allowed to take anything on, including your phone, so everything has to go in a locker. That’s fine, but the lockers are rented and reopened by scanning the barcode on your ticket which obviously you can’t do if your ticket’s on your phone and your phone has to go in the locker. It meant that hubby got to go on Rip Ride Rock it while I waited for him, but because it took forty five minutes, I then didn’t want to go and wait again so I didn’t get to ride.

We finished our day at the Hard Rock Cafe at CityWalk. We went here to celebrate my fortieth birthday and they do THE best fajitas in the world so we always have to go back there now.

The next morning we decided to go for breakfast at iHop on International Drive before we headed over to Port Canaveral to board our ship. Love iHop too! We had to wait quite a while – the whole of Orlando seemed to fancy pancakes that morning! No worries though, we did need to be at the Port till mid afternoon.

How many million syns? Don’t care! Eggs over easy with hash browns and bacon AND birthday cake pancakes. Yummmmm! We barely ate for the rest of the day.

Now, I think, I’ll finish because I’ve written a lot just about the first couple of days and I have a whole week on the ship to tell you about yet! And the ship was AMAZING, so I’ve probably got a lot of words waiting to spill over about that too!