Covid -19 Postcard #1 – 2020: A Year Like No Other

I decided to write this post because I felt an urge to record what has happened this year and at the same time just make at least one contribution to the blog in 2020.

The very last thing I wrote on this blog was on the 12 November 2019, little did I know how the world was about to be turned upside down in the months that followed by a global coronavirus pandemic that was given the name of Covid-19. These were the words at the end of my last post……………….

We now have nothing booked so I have no idea when the next instalment will be or even what it will be, fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long.

By the end of 2019, all we had managed to book was a cruise that wasn’t sailing until 2022 (some 3 years ahead), with nothing else for the preceding two years.  All I can say for certain is its very unusual for us not to have at least one cruise in the pipeline that isn’t too far away and you could almost say it was like we had some sort of subconscious premonition that something was about to happen?

When 2020 arrived, all we had in the calendar for the year ahead was a land based holiday to see family in South Africa and a long weekend in Budapest but because of the coronavirus situation neither have happened. Foreign travel simply has not been an option for us in 2020 so we have just knuckled down and got on with our strange existence, fortunate to still have a jobs and able to work while also having the small saving grace of being able to put some money aside for future experiences when this all blows over or a vaccine is found.

Being in lockdown and working from home has given me the opportunity to spend a little time on the blog, lots of sorting out of photos and not that many of you will have spotted but I have also changed the WordPress theme as the old one was a little dated. I have hopefully managed to keep everything looking as close to the original as possible and it shouldn’t need updating now for a long time.

So, what next? Well currently I cannot even bring myself to consider looking at cruises, with most of the cruise lines at the moment abandoning any of their itinerary’s until the end of November and some even until the beginning of next year, it would be foolish to even look at anything until a vaccine is widely available.

This will only be the second year that we have not taken a cruise since we started in 2006, the previous time was in 2008 but at least back then we actually managed to set foot on a ship with a visit on HAL’s Eurodam. The nearest we have been to ship this year is when we went for a walk from Sandbanks to Old Harry Rocks and spotted 3 ships (Aurora, Arcadia and Queen Victoria) anchored off the coast of Bournemouth.

Its not been the easiest of times but at least we are all fit and healthy here, and I hope that this post finds you safe and well too. No doubt, you will be just like us, waiting for the green light to pick up where we left off.

Fingers crossed we won’t have to wait too long.

MSC Grandiosa Postcard #4 – Southampton & Disembarking

We sailed into The Solent and Southampton before the sun had risen so no great fanfares for the new ship this morning. We were alongside a little after 7:00 by which time we were sat in the buffet enjoying our last meal onboard.
We had to vacate our cabin by 8:30 and be off the ship by 10:00 so once we had filled our belly’s we took one last look around the ship before we grabbed our luggage and walked off to get a taxi to the airport to pick up the car. No queues or any obstacles at all.

We now have nothing booked so I have no idea when the next instalment will be or even what it will be, fingers crossed we don’t have to wait too long.

MSC Grandiosa Postcard #3 – A Sea Day

After the muster we met up with some of our forum friends for a quick drink before dinner in The Master of the Seas pub on deck 7.  If it wasn’t for the payment method and the uniforms of the staff you could be in any pub in the UK. However our dining experience left a lot to be desired, it was painfully slow which you could sort of write off because it was the first proper sitting on the ship but you could argue that all the staff should know exactly what they are doing because most have been selected from other ships in this class to open this ship. Also Nicole was very disappointed that the menu only contained one solitary vegan option. MSC seem to be miles behind some of the other cruise lines in this respect. The consequence of this is we may eat in the buffet tonight instead.
After dinner we once again met up with our friends and proceeded to try and find a bar where we could all sit together, this turned out to be a bit of a task, firstly as weren’t able to find enough seats in any of the bar’s we first selected, then we came up against the obstacle of not being able to use the basic drink package in some of the others. The result being we ended up back in The Master of the Seas for the remainder of the evening.
I have no idea what time I retired to bed but I can confirm that I slept like a rock.

The clocks changed this morning and we had an extra hour in bed. For breakfast we decided to brave the buffet and although it was busy there were plenty of seats and it also meant Nicole could pick and choose things she could eat more effectively.

At 9:30 we had to go to the Sportplex for face to face control with the British Immigration Authorities. We were in and out within minutes and then set off to explore the ship some more.

Starting from the top we worked our way down deck by deck, most of the public areas are above deck 15 and between 7 and 5.

At 12:10 we made our way to the Purple Crab dining room for a spot of lunch, again a lengthy process, however it was made much enjoyable by being able to share a table with friends who just happened to arrive at exactly the same time as us.

A good test of a ship is is ability to keep people occupied when the weather isn’t brilliant.  During lunch there was an announcement over the PA informing us the the open areas of the ship were being closed off due to the extremely high winds.

Not wishing to part with any more money than really necessary we decided to head back to the cabin for 40 winks. That should answer you about how this ship is when you can’t get outside. As much as I would like, I can’t eat and drink solidly for 24 hours a day.

I am struggling to find the correct way to describe the ship without being too negative, Grandiosa is a very big ship and also very similar in many ways to the Royal Caribbean set up with a central promenade which takes up two decks. This area houses many of the speciality restaurants along with the shops and boutiques. Until you reach the atrium there is nowhere that you can actually see outside through a window, I do find that a very disappointing design feature on a modern ship which is one reason why we would probably never book a cruise on this class of ship. For us the Seaside class is a much more favourable option should we ever decide to book MSC again.

Most of area’s on the two classes are very similar in detail but the actual layout couldn’t be more different. However, the buffet footprint is practically identical and we found it very easy to navigate due to its similarly to the one on Seaview. Also, what has become very evident is the amount of time it takes to get from one end of the ship to the other, especially for us with our cabin right at one end of the ship.

At 6:00 we once again met up for pre dinner drinks but this time in the Sky Lounge. We had also decided to eat in the buffet this evening so Nicole could pick and choose things to eat rather than be subjected to a single course.

I am starting to feel the pace of the last few days tonight and may well turn in early but not before a couple of nightcaps….

MSC Grandiosa Postcard #2 – Hamburg & Embarking

After a good night’s sleep we awoke feeling refreshed and ready to go again. We skipped breakfast at the hotel as it was incredibly busy so opted to go out instead with the hope of finding something. Our walk took us to a few of sites we failed to visit yesterday on our self guided tour.

Heading back towards the harbour we passed two ships, Cap San Diego and the Rickmer Rickmers. It was then on to the St. Paul Landing Bridges followed by a trip through the Old Elbe Tunnel which is the longest river tunnel in the world. It was built in 1911 and is 24 metres under the River Elbe.

From there we headed back to the hotel to wait for some forum friends with whom we are sharing a lift to the ship with.
With our taxi booked for 1:00 we actually inadvertently managed to get one 20 minutes earlier. By 1:10 we onboard by making full use of the Diamond Card priorities and headed straight for the buffet.
It’s a very busy ship and the buffet although busy was still very comfortable to use, by that I mean no queues and argy bargy.
Around 2:30 we set off to find our cabin, first impressions were very good as we have found many comparisons with Celebrity’s Solstice class. It’s quite compact but very functional and would be ideal for a couple.

Muster at 5:15 and we are meeting with fellow forum members straight after.

MSC Grandiosa Postcard #1 – Heathrow to Hamburg

We spent last night at The Sofitel at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 in preparation for our early flight this morning to Hamburg. After dropping the car at Southampton airport the next stage which was a train to Woking didn’t go exactly to plan, with lots of disruption, reroutes and delays we eventually arrived at Heathrow not at 7:10 but at 8:30 and because of our early start it was then pretty much straight to bed.
The transit through Heathrow went very swiftly and we were soon on our way to Hamburg taking off just 10 minutes after our scheduled time.
On arrival at Hamburg we were again swiftly through the arrival procedures and on our way to our hotel. The route was via the S1 railway to Hamburg Central Station where we then changed to the U4 underground to HafenCity Universität pictured below.

From there we had just a 5 minute walk to the Holiday Inn HafenCity where we had booked a room using previously earned points. Unfortunately at 11:00 in the morning our room wasn’t ready so after dropping the cases off we set off to explore Hamburg. As a guide we downloaded a self guided walking tour which started at the Central Station so being as we had public transport costs covered with a Hamburg Card we retraced our steps using the subway.

First four sites were Central Station, Hamburg Kunsthalle (Art Gallery), Binnenalster (artificial lake) & Alster Arcades.

Next were Jungfernstieg ( one of Hamburg’s oldest streets), Bleichenfleet (one of the many canals in the city), Hamburg Stock Exchange then the Town Hall (Rathaus).

Moving on we found the Bucerius Art Forum, St. Peters Church, Kontorhausviertel office block and the 10 storey Chilehaus which is arguably the most famous office building in Hamburg due to its angular end.

Poggenmuhlen Bridge & Speicherstadt then St. Michael’s Church where we were able to go up the tower for arguably some of the best views of the city and port.

On our way back to the hotel we passed the Elbphilharmonie and the HafenCity waterside. Stopping only for a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants in the area before finally arriving at the hotel just after 6:00.
Totally cream crackered but having had an amazing but long day.

Time to take it easy for the night, we intend to head off in the morning to explore some more as boarding doesn’t start until 2:30 and we have our room until 2:00 so everything seems to be working out quite nicely timewise.

MSC Grandiosa (Inaugural Cruise) Preamble

Back in 2016 we were very fortunate to be allocated a free cruise on MSC Splendida from forum which was a 2 night cruise from Hamburg back to Southampton. When a similar opportunity arose for a 2 night inaugural cruise on MSC Grandiosa I once again put my name forward in the hope we could enjoy a similar experience. Due to the fact that this time no flights or transfers were included the demand wasn’t as big so we found ourselves once again lucky enough to have been selected. We have managed to keep our expenses down to a minimum by booking pre-fight accommodation along with flights themselves with Avios points and then pre-cruise accommodation in Hamburg as an IHG reward night. The only outlay being the car park at Southampton Airport and then the train fare from Southampton Parkway to Heathrow T5, (the last two bits are  exactly the same as we did in 2016 on Splendida).

MSC Grandiosa is a the latest addition to their fleet and we are really looking forward to comparing the design of the ship with the Seaside class which we enjoyed cruising on last year. Granted we only have 2 nights which basically equates just one full day but we fully intend to make the most of the experience.

We have been allocated cabin 9030 which is not in what we would consider the most ideal location on the ship but being as its only for two nights and it cost nothing we can’t really grumble. As you will see below on the graphic, we are right at the pointy end virtually under the bridge.

Given the short length of the cruise I may not do an instant update on the sea day, the standard Wi-Fi cost being an eye watering £ 32.50 per person for the whole of the two night cruise (with the onboard price being an extra 20% more) and as keen as I am to make a post, I’m not that keen. I’m sure you can wait 24 hours to find out what we did on our sea day…………………………….

La Marguerite Postcard #11 – Siem Reap

This morning was a very relaxed affair, breakfast out by the pool followed by some time actually in it and also sat round it. Just perfect after the last few days activities.
After lunch it was time for the tour that we had come here for, at 1:30 our blue group set off from the hotel to visit the two main temples at the park. A 20 minute drive saw us parked up gazing up at Bayon Temple. Our guide gave us a 45 minute tour pointing out many of the best photo opportunities along the way. It is an amazing place to visit and here are some photos of the visit.

After another 20 minute drive which included a toilet stop, we reached the outer perimeter of the temple of Angkor Wat. It is the largest religious monument in the world and was the one we had waited for. It didn’t disappoint, there was lots of walking involved in the sweltering heat but it was worth every second. It’s a huge complex and our guide told us we were very blessed today as it wasn’t very busy. The tour lasted until 5:15 and again we were advised when the best photo opportunities were coming up. Our tour included climbing a steep staircase to an upper level on one of the corner towers which a bit daunting for Nicole but she did it.

I have loads of photos to choose from today and it was difficult to select which ones to post so please enjoy what I have selected.

Back at the hotel there was just enough time for a shower and change of clothes before we attended the farewell dinner. Prior to eating we were given a Apsara dance performance by some local teenagers.

Most of our travel companions depart tomorrow but we still have 2 more nights to enjoy Siem Reap.
I am tired tonight but feel very blessed to have seen Angkor Wat at last. It’s the end of our tour with APT and we will be doing our own thing for the next 2 days. We still have a days entry for the park so will go back via tuktuk to see some of the temples we have not seen. Some of it will be round the pool just chilling, so I until the next time………..

La Marguerite Postcard #10 – Disembarking & Siem Reap

We put our case’s out before going to breakfast which started at 6:00, once we had consumed sufficient quantities to help see us through the trip and then said our goodbyes to the serving staff it was up to the lounge to wait for our departure.
We left Kampong Cham at 7:40 and drove until 9:20 where we took our first of two toilet stops. 15 minutes was just sufficient to stretch legs and in Nicole’s case grab a coffee.
The coach itself was very comfortable, only 3 seat’s wide (2+1) not the more traditional set up. There was lots of extra elbow and leg room which certainly made the journey more bearable.

Our second stop was at 10:30 and was made because it was the last place where the conditions were favourable before we got to Siem Reap.
In the end I actually really enjoyed the journey, seeing all the Cambodian countryside, different types of house’s and the locals all out doing their own thing made it quite an interesting trip.

We arrived at Siem Reap at 12:45 and our first stop was to pick up our 3 day tickets to enter Angkor Wat park. You have to be there in person to get your ticket as they take your photo which is then printed on the ticket itself. There were no queues and the whole process was over within 10 minutes so it was then on to the hotel to check in and get some lunch.
The hotel is really lovely, but as has been the norm the last week or so, you get so little time at some stages to appreciate things, that is a bit criticism of this itinerary. A hour and half for lunch and to check in all became a little bit hectic.

The first stop on our afternoon tour was to one of the eight ODA centres in the area where we meet some of the children living there. ODA stands for Opportunities of Development thru Art and was set up to educate and provide homes for orphaned or disadvantaged children. After a brief talk by the founder (Leng Touch) the children gave a short Apsara dance performance, we were then shown around the centre by a young 14 year old boy. One of the aims of the centre is to teach the children English in order to give the kids a kickstart to better job opportunities. Our little man spoke very good English and was able to explain what his daily life was like.
The centre also encourages them to do art and we bought one of his pictures with the proceeds going to help fund the project. A percentage of the sale goes into a special pot to help send them to university when they are older. Before I finish on this subject, just to mention Leng Touch came from a similar background having at the age of 9 witnessed his own father being killed by the Khmer Rouge.

It was then on to our first temple, and today we started with the Ta Prohm made famous by the Tomb raider film. It is quite an incredible experience and a lot more intimate than I was expecting. Our guide was well versed in letting us know the best photo opportunities so I will just let some of my pictures tell you the story.

From there it was back to the hotel for a shower and change of clothes before we took a Tuktuk ride to Pub Street to get our evening meal. A very busy and popular area with loads of bars, restaurants and only a $2 ride from the hotel.

A great day and more to come tomorrow.

La Marguerite Postcard #9 – Peam Chi Kang & Kampong Cham

Much fun was had last night while watching La Marguerite’s got talent, which was the crew show, even though they must do it every week they all seemed to be really enjoying performing it. It was basically a talent show with 3 judges made up from a passenger from each of the coloured groups.
The acts were all team affairs made up from different areas of the ship such as, bar staff, waiting staff, stewards and finally last night’s winner’s the cooks.

This morning it was back to normal for us with another village tour, this time a walking tour of Peam Chi Kang. The boat tied up just before 8:15 and we were off not long after. Fortunately our walk only lasted for about 1¼ hours. On a circular tour, we viewed some of the older timber houses which are typical of this region but now slowly disappearing being replaced by newer concrete versions. The locals were very friendly and appeared happy to see us and more than happy for us to take photos of them. Also a quick look at the market to see what the traders were selling before heading back to the boat.

At 10:00 we set off to our next and final stop Kampong Cham which took us just under 5 hours. This was the last time we would be cruising as we get off the ship tomorrow morning. As far as scenery goes, this last section was probably the most scenic with more people on the side of the river.

We were pretty much straight off the boat after arriving and this process was a little unique for this cruise as we were tied up alongside Amadara and had to pass through her to get to the bank.

The tour was was a Tuktuk ride around Kampong Cham and then out to the island of Koh Pen to visit another house. I actually enjoyed this trip more than I thought I would and the breeze from the speed of the tuktuk was also very welcome.

Back to the ship for our last dinner onboard and the Captain’s Cocktail Party and crew presentation. It’s remarkable how few of them there are when you see them all together.

We have a early start and a long drive ahead of us tomorrow, I’m not really looking forward to sitting on a bus for 5 hours but it’s a case of needs must.

La Marguerite Postcard #8 – Oknhatay & Peam Chi Kang

Early this morning the boat moved a short distance further up river to a place known as Silk Island, on the agenda was a tour to a village and silk factory. However, on this occasion we decided to stay onboard with a dozen or so others, we felt like the last 3 or 4 days has been wall to wall tours and we didn’t feel any great desire to see another village or silk factory. It has felt like there has been one thing rolling into another from the moment you wake until you go to bed.
The weather was overcast but it was lovely and warm and we even spent some time in the pool, it felt great to kick back a bit.

With the tour groups back on board at 11:30am we set off for our next destination which according to the daily program is Peam Chi Kang which if my suspicions are correct is a substitute for Angkor Ban.

The only interruption being a break for lunch where I was treated to an amazing Cambodia Red Curry. Very nice indeed.
The afternoon was just spent up on the Sundeck watching Cambodia as we passed through. Lots of fisherman and plenty of small children always smiling and waving at us. Very heart-warming after the morning we had a couple of days ago.

At 5:00pm we were treated to a fruit tasting on the Sundeck, 10 different types of fruit all native to Cambodia.

It’s just a short post today as there really hasn’t been much else going on to share.