Happy Easter from the Giant Rabbit

No real prizes for guessing where this one was taken. ūüėČ

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A Swiss Easter Bunny Prowls The Streets of Ghent

We were waiting for a tram back to the hotel when this delightful creature appeared in the street, causing me to fumble around with my camera and clip his ears rather painfully in the one picture I can now find.  Fortunately I was unable to check whether he was really made of chocolate,  as I might have insisted he come back home with us.

So whether or not you are celebrating Easter, have happy holidays.  And may the Giant Easter Chocolate Rabbit be with you!

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Cruise Cuisine: Dining On Oceania’s Marina

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The legendary miso glazed seabass…

This menu is from June 2012.  And it was truly delicious.

Warm Crushed Baby Potato with Caviar

Echire Butter and Fresh Chives

*****

Risotto all’Aragosta

Arboria Rice with Roasted Lobster Medallions in Lobster Broth Reduction

*****

Den Miso Glazed Seabass

Wrapped and Cooked in a Banana Leaf

*****

Seventy two hours Slow Cooking Short Rib “Perigourdine”

Semolina Gnocchi, Vegetable Casserole and Crispy Parmesan

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Due of Green and White Asparagus with Potato Waffle and Spinach

Soft Truffle Cream and Fondant Tomato

*****

“Gold Bullion” of Valrhona Jivara Chocolate Mousse

Praline, Exotic Fruit and Amarena Cherries

*****

Petits Fours and Macaroons

Cruise Quirks: Captain’s Party

If you have been on more than one cruise with the same cruise line, you will undoubtedly have been invited to the Captain’s Party. ¬†Designed as one of the loyalty rewards for repeat cruisers, the party normally falls at lunchtime on a sea day, and gives you the opportunity to eat, drink and make the acquaintance of the crew.

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Don’t worry – it wasn’t that quiet a party! ¬†For some reason, we seemed to slip in a back door before many other people had arrived. ¬†The party was hosted in a big lounge high on the ship, and it was pretty full. ¬†Drinks on offer included a variety of cocktails and wine (I had sangria filled with some very finely chopped fruit…a bit odd between the teeth!) and there were a number of food stations set up including hand carved beef, sushi, and crepes suzettes.

There was some live music from the a capella group and the band, the Captain said a few words and presented a gift to the most-travelled cruiser on board, and there was much chatting with fellow passengers and crew.

Other “frequent flyer” rewards for cruise passengers include: free on board laundry, pressing and dry cleaning, free internet access, free speciality coffees and drinks, a separate lounge for breakfast, souvenir gifts, priority tendering and reservations at on board restaurants and special experiences such as backstage tours, tastings and the like.

Tune in next week, and I’ll tell you what it’s like to dine at the captain’s table.

One is Fun: Cruising Solo

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Having been asked for advice about cruising solo, I thought I would take this opportunity to bring my thoughts together and post them here for you. ¬†I¬†have been solo on a cruise ship – P&O’s Azura in January 2013 when my OH wasn’t able to join me ¬†– so I have some personal experience to reflect on here, plus tales from table companions and other friends made on board.

Things to consider about cruising solo

Firstly, you won’t be alone. ¬†According to Douglas Ward, the author of the industry’s most used Berlitz¬†Complete Guide to Cruising and Cruise Ships 2012, over 25% of all passengers are solo travellers. ¬†Many ships have single cabins and add on rates for solo occupancy of double cabins. ¬†Much like hotels, cruise ships base their rates on double occupancy, so you will find it more challenging to find deals. ¬†Single cabins also sell fast, so be prepared to plan well in advance.

Strangely, you’ll be more likely to find a single cabin on an older or newer ship. ¬†Fred Olsen’s older and smaller vessels are well geared to singles with a number of single cabins on each ship. ¬†The newer and much larger Norwegian Epic has recognised the gap in the market, and has a particularly tailored set up (which I’ll tell you more about in a moment) for singles. ¬†Similarly, P&O’s relatively recent-build Azura has a number of single cabins.

As is the case with all cruises, the first thing to consider is the kind of holiday you want. ¬†Do you like to chill and watch the world go by, or are you constantly on the move and wanting to try new things? ¬† Are you a culture vulture, a sun lover, or see no reason why you can’t be both? ¬†Talk to your agent about what you really enjoy, and they’ll do their best to match you with the right ship for you.

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Norwegian Epic: Studio Cabin

My travel agent tips for cruising solo

  • Think about whether you would prefer a smaller ship, where you are likely to meet the same people regularly going about the ship, or a larger ship where there will be more to do, but it is less easy to meet people twice unless you arrange to do so.
  • Don’t be concerned about dining alone. ¬†You will be seated each evening at a table where the ship will have done its best to link you up with like-minded souls. ¬†I’ve met some lovely people through this arrangement, and have gone on to enjoy time with them outside of meals.
  • If you want to dine with others at lunch or breakfast, then go to the formal restaurant rather than the buffet. ¬†You will automatically be seated with others and will have someone with whom to chat.
  • Check the daily newsletter carefully. ¬†Some cruise lines operate get-together meetings for singles, particularly before port visits, so you can choose to explore together if you wish.
  • There are also plenty of activities on board where you don’t have to be paired up to have fun. ¬†If you have an interest, go and learn to salsa/cook/craft or whatever else is offered. ¬†A lot of couples who don’t share interests will go along as individuals, and it’s a great way to meet others who enjoy what you enjoy.
  • If you want to get to know people a little before you travel, join a cruise message board that offers a “roll call” for your voyage. ¬† This is a great way to arrange to meet on ships, and potentially to do some shore excursions together. ¬†Sometimes the group will have a get-together on board, or even the opportunity to do something special, like a backstage tour of the theatre or a trip to the bridge.

Some ships for solos

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Courtyard on the Norwegian Epic

Norwegian Cruise Line’s¬†Norwegian Epic came into service in 2010, with space for 4,200 passengers. ¬†The cruise line is seen as the originator of contemporary cruising, with a focus on “freestyle”, and sailings from the USA and European ports (no ex-UK sailings). ¬†Dining choices are extensive. ¬†Epic has 128 single cabins, called studios, which have decent sized beds and share a studio lounge where singles can meet for a coffee and arrange further meet-ups via the well-used notice board. ¬†Epic’s entertainment is, well, epic, including major production shows, comedy, cabaret, and even the ability to rent a Gibson to play -via headphones – in your cabin.

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Azura’s Theatre

P&O’s¬†Azura is a family-friendly ship also brought into service in 2010. ¬†She’s a large ship carrying 3096 passengers. ¬†P&O is a traditionally British cruise line with a lot of sailings from the UK. ¬†The cuisine is also traditionally British (with some rather good curries) and chargeable dining in Sindhu, Atol Kotchar’s restaurant at sea or Seventeen. ¬†You’ll find 18 single cabins on Azura. ¬†On board entertainment is offered in the Playhouse Theatre, the Manhattan lounge and Malabar, plus the Blue Bar and the Planet Bar, the latter having a video wall showing destinations. ¬†Just the thing to distract a table of cruise travel agents at night!

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Black Watch – Dining with officers

Fred Olsen’s¬†Black Watch first came into service in 1996 for Fred’s, although she originates from 1972. ¬†She’s a mid-sized ship carrying 868 passengers, and she has 38 single cabins. ¬†Black Watch is comfortable rather than luxurious, and is a very friendly ship. ¬†With the size of the ship, it is easier to meet the same people again whilst on board. Entertainment is focused around the Neptune lounge, with production shows, and there are also a number of cabaret-style venues on board plus comfortable bars.

My final piece of advice: go enjoy!  Find the library or stock your Kindle for those moments of down time, and make the most of everything your holiday has to offer.

Cruise Quirks: Gentleman Hosts

It has to be said that dance is an integral part of cruising. ¬†From deck parties to Zumba for fitness, salsa lessons, demonstrations by professionals, and the night clubs on board or formal tea dances, there’s an opportunity each day to get your groove on. ¬†After all, it’s a way of compensating for all that delicious food…

What you may not realise is that there are gentlemen (and a lady or two) out there working their passage through a role as a dance host.  We found out about this early in our cruising career, when a lovely table mate on the Queen Mary 2 enlightened us.  I had been watching what I considered to be some rather forward men during afternoon tea the day before.  Afternoon tea includes a session or two from the dance orchestra, and an opportunity to take to the floor.  The gentlemen involved were circling the tables and inviting many different women to join them.  I was torn between thinking them very cheeky and offering them a high five, until I found out about the role of the dance host.

On some cruise lines, including Cunard and Fred Olsen, dance hosts are available to provide opportunities to dance for those ladies who are single or have partners with more than one left foot. ¬†On Fred Olsen’s Black Watch, I believe there is also a lady host for those gentlemen in a similar situation wishing to dance. ¬†We learned lots about their role from our table companion on the Queen Mary 2. ¬†Dance hosts must be good conversationalists, happy to chat away to passengers. ¬†They should not monopolise a single guest, nor should they dance too close (!), and they must be prepared to dance for a significant number of hours each day – perhaps up to 6, which must keep you very fit indeed. ¬†I gained a lot of respect for them; that’s quite some time on your swirling and cha-cha-ing feet. ¬†With the popularity of¬†Strictly¬†Come Dancing and¬†Dancing With The Stars, they must be kept very busy.

And it’s not just the more mature audiences who are loving the dancing on board. ¬†We have seen lots of younger couples hitting the floor and impressing us with what might be dance school knowledge. ¬†You can also learn to dance on the ship, with lessons covering everything from the samba to the foxtrot. ¬†Celebrity Eclipse uses the big spaces on Deck 14 for its dance classes, giving you one of the best views ever while you’re learning.

So if you want to be a dance host, where do you start?  The all-encompassing Job Monkey states that:

Most hosts are retired single men who work for the chance to sail around the world for free, or sometimes for a small salary. Gentlemen hosts must know a variety of different dances, but ballroom, swing, waltz, fox trot, and other more formal dances are preferred. Hosts must be able to dance for several hours almost every night so it makes sense that gentleman hosts are social people with a lot of energy. They must also be good conversationalists and enjoy social engagements as well as some hosts are asked to attend parties and onboard events that do not involve dancing.

Read more: http://www.jobmonkey.com/cruise/html/gentleman_hosts.html#ixzz2NWRWk1Gt

Ann Brenoff at the Huffington Post interviewed one of the gentleman hosts, finding that his role was not short on romantic overtures from female guests.  She writes:

“According to Alan Benedict, 58 and a Gentlemen Host‚ĄĘ for 20 years, the rules of conduct are clear. The men dress “in uniform” — either a tuxedo or a blue blazer at all times (replete with name tags/badges) and no jeans are ever worn, even on shore excursions. They never dance with a woman who is traveling with a male companion/husband without express permission from him. And, says Benedict, they don’t focus on the younger women on board. “We are here for the 50+ women,” he said. Hosts also make sure that all the women understand that their role is to circulate and not pair off with just one.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/17/gentlemen-hosts_n_1260534.html

So if you are a dancing gentleman, why not consider seeing the world, keeping fit, and gathering a rich selection of experiences?

Travelogue: Teignmouth Beach

Welcome to my youth! ¬†Or almost, as I wasn’t yet hatched in 1960.

Teignmouth was our nearest beach when growing up, and for a time I went to school there.  I last returned on my honeymoon (yes, I am a sentimental fool), and found that the pier has the same fortune-telling machine we used as kids.  And I can still thrash everyone at table hockey.

The YouTube clip is brilliant. ¬†It was made by the council as a promotional piece for the area, and has the classic received pronounciation narration of the time. ¬†Aside from there being no cream teas in sight, it is everything I remember and more. ¬†It’s a fascinating insight as to how we Brits holidayed at the time, including my London cousins who came to visit each summer.

Curious Places: Steampunk Museum aka the MAD Museum – Stratford-upon-Avon

The Steampunk Museum, or to be more accurate, the Museum of Mechanical Art and Design, is situated in a quiet little corner of Stratford-upon-Avon. ¬†You’ll know when you’ve found it by the little mechanical clanks and bangs from its outdoor exhibits. ¬†Don’t forget to clap your hands at the front door.

It’s a real Bill Bryson of museums. ¬†That’s to say it’s filled with a strange miscellany of confections that defy description and need a mind of weird and wonderful scope to pull them together.

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There are two stories of interactive exhibits ranging from the simply structured automaton you could imagine having put together with your dad on a rainy afternoon at his shed, to things so wildly complex they are works of art in their own right.

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Everything chatters, calls, clinks and hums, making this an audio as well as a visual feast. ¬†Sadly we didn’t have godchildren in tow, but they would have loved it as much as we did.

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There is complexity even in the simple ideas here.   Allow at least a couple of hours to spend at the museum Рthe building may be of modest size, but the exhibits are fascinating.  You might even get hooked (as I did) on watching a group of men (plus ladder) creating a digital clock time face.  And you might have to go and find your husband, who has become addicted to the mini cinema on the top floor.

As a teaser, don’t forget to let me know if Justin Bieber’s light has fused again…

The MAD Museum is situated at: Sheep Street, Stratford Upon Avon, CV37 6EF

http://themadmuseum.co.uk/