Monday, September 15, 2014

Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

We arrived in Halifax under clear blue skies and enjoyed a day of great weather. We started out by following the boardwalk to a playground. The playground was shaped like a submarine and Stevie and Hannah enjoyed it. Next to the playground was a large wave that the kids attempted to climb. A nice perk was a free wifi from the information center next to the playground. We got to check e-mail and Stevie played Clash of Clans for a little bit as well.

We ate lunch in a restaurant near the playground called The Waterfront Warehouse. The menu was actually quite limited and lacked gluten free options (our usual fall back is hamburger but we were informed that they put flour in their hamburgers). The only thing that Stevie could eat was lobster. Steve ordered one and split it with the kids. I had a club sandwich and I ordered pasta for Hannah from the kid’s menu. The lunch cost $70 and the kids did not eat much.

After lunch we walked up the hill to the Citadel. We paid for tickets and walked through the fort on our own. After the Citadel visit we walked back to the playground and the kids got to enjoy the sun and fresh air a little more before returning to the ship.

Overall it was a pleasant day. The city was very nice and clean and people were nice.


Friday, June 6 – Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Steve is feeling better and we are starting to enjoy the ship. All pools on board are heated but the weather is cold and windy and we are swimming in the indoor pool on deck 12. The water temperature is very pleasant. There are two hot tubs and the water is hot so they are very nice to use.

Overall, we liked the Eurodam better than Queen Mary 2. The food on Eurodam was better and the whole atmosphere was not as stuffy. Out of the 8 nights on the ship, four are designated as formal. And the only difference between informal and formal nights is that men do not have to wear a tie. However, jacket is still required. Unfortunately, the requirements for formal nights are much more stringent here and if you do not wish to dress up, you are only allowed on Deck 7 in Kings Court. The Kings Court is the open dining buffet. In the evenings, only a small area is opened. The Chef’s Galley adjacent to the Kings Court is also open and we eat there most nights. The Chef’s Galley offers burgers, hot dogs and sandwiches during lunch and pasta and pizza at night. It is the only place where we can get gluten and dairy free options for Stevie. All other areas of the ship are off limits if you do not dress up in formal wear.

We ate in the main dining room one time on an informal night. The only plus was that they had gluten free bread for Stevie (the only slice of gluten free bread we have been able to get the whole time) and dairy free sorbet. Again, this was the only opportunity for Stevie to enjoy a treat. The only gluten & dairy free desert available outside of the main dining room (room service included) is jello. Yes, artificially flavored and colored nasty jello.

In other words, if you do not want to dress up in a tuxedo and fancy dress to eat, you are truly delegated to a second class citizen on this ship.

On the plus side, the children’s program (The Play Zone) is awesome. It is well staffed (there are usually 3 or 4 ladies) at all times to play. They are on the floor with the kids playing. The ladies also tailor the activities to the kids’ interest. If a child does not want to do crafts, they will do something else. The kids are engaged and having a great time. We are very pleased with the program.

One afternoon they did a treasure hunt. The kids and caregivers dressed up as pirates and went all over the ship following clues. The kids even got to go on the bridge. I am grateful that such a great program is made available for the kids. 

Sail Away!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

This is the day we get on the ship to go back home. We are SO ready. It is not that it is not nice here, but we have just had enough of travelling and we miss our house, our beds, making our own food … just being home.

We purchased vouchers for breakfast in one of the fast food places in the rest area because we were down to last 20 pounds and we had to have cash for a cab to the port. We ate breakfast, packed up and left the hotel around 11:30 AM. Our ticket said that we should board at 2:30 PM but we did not want to take a chance being late.

I was tossing and turning last night and had a bunch of dreams about missing the ship.
Steve drove us safely back to the rental car place and we asked them to call a cab for us. The lady from the car rental company came out to check the vehicle. When she saw Hannah and Stevie hanging out on the sidewalk with the suitcases, she made sure to tell us that American kids are not polite like British kids. I thought that the insinuations she made about our kids behavior were rather impolite as well. Time to go home!

The cab showed up soon and drove us to the port. The fare was 6 pounds but the driver did not have change for a 20 – the only bill I had. I pulled out all of the coins we had and came up with about 5.70 pounds. He said he would take that instead.

The port was busy with quite a few passengers arriving. We took the escalator upstairs where they were assigning letters that corresponded to a check in time. When they saw we had kids, they sent us to the desk for people with mobility handicap. That was nice as we got to check in right away and did not have to wait in line.

Steve’s back was hurting really bad and we needed to get in our room so that he could lay down. We got in the line for security check and waited our turn. Then, out of the blue Steve started wheezing like he was choking. I was so scared! (I am sure he was pretty scared too.) I was wondering if I needed to do the Heimlich on him but he signaled for a drink (unable to talk). I had a little bit of Sprite left in the backpack. He drank it and was able to start breathing again. Steve was chewing on an aspirin and a larger chunk went down his throat. He is not sure if it was an allergic reaction to the aspirin or if it was a physical reaction because he was dehydrated and his throat was dry. Either way it was a very scary moment. He was also in a lot of pain from his arthritis and all I wanted was to get him in the room so that he rest and get better.

The line through security moved slowly but we managed to get through and were walking on the gangway to the ship. We were stopped again because a man in front of us got into an argument with a port or cruise employee. They requested a wheelchair for his wife and it was not ready for her. The man was upset that his wife was in pain. The situation was escalating and it seemed for a moment that the men would start a fight. What a start to our cruise! But alas we made it to the room and Steve could relax. I prayed the whole day for him to get better so that he can enjoy the cruise. And all I really wanted was to go home.

One of our suitcases was already waiting for us and the other was delivered shortly after. We stayed in the room and rested. The Play Zone was opened in the afternoon for registration so I took the kids to get them registered. They were both excited to go play and were said that they could not stay yet. The Zone would open at 6 PM that night. 


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

We have two missions for today – give Stevie and Hannah more time to play and do laundry. We drove into Southampton and after going in circles a couple of times due to road closures, we managed to park in front of the Play Shack – an indoor playground. We paid for parking for 2 hours and the kids ran out to play.

The Play Shack had a large maze out of ropes and nets and inside the maze were slides and other play equipment. The kids had a blast and Steve and I relaxed on the couch sipping hot chocolate.

After play time, we found the street with the Laundromat (or launderette as they call it here) and parked right in front of it. One load of laundry was 6.50 pounds! That is 11 or 12 dollars. Luckily, the washers were large and everything fit into a single load. While the laundry was washing, we walked down the street to find a place to have lunch. We came across an Indian restaurant. It was not the cleanest place on the planet but the food was alright. It was also the least expensive meal we have had in the UK - $40 for a lunch in a little hole in the wall type of place.

I walked back to the Laundromat to move the laundry into the dryer while Steve, Stevie and Hannah waited in the restaurant. When we returned to get our laundry, we only had a few minutes left on the dry cycle. The dryer cost 50 pence (about a dollar) for 4 minutes.

Once the dryer stopped, we put all of the little stuff in a bag laid the shirts flat. Some of the items were a little damp but we were ready to head back.

We rested in the hotel, the kids played and we Skyped with everyone before we get on the ship tomorrow.

Winchester Science Centre

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

We browsed through different pamphlets in the lobby and online for activities for kids in the area. We did not want to do much driving and we also wanted the kids to have time to play. Both days were rainy although it did clear up some in the afternoon. We decided to drive to the Winchester science center that was about 20 minutes away from the hotel. The bad news was that it was off our map but we got directions from their website.

The center itself was a bit out of town. The kids enjoyed the play time. It was a lot like the science center they have been to in Orlando. We spent about an hour and a half. After the visit, we decided to drive towards town to see if we can find a place to eat. We had no map for this area and got lucky as there was a nice restaurant on the road that lead back to town.

The weather cleared up by the time we finished eating and we asked if there were any playgrounds nearby. We were directed to one just around the corner from the restaurant. Stevie and Hannah enjoyed playing outside. They have not had much of it in the last couple of days and they were getting cabin fever.

We noticed that the local city buses going past the playground had a sign that said that they went to Tesco. We got back in the car and drove around in an attempt to find Tesco to get some groceries. We did not find it without asking, but by the time we asked someone, we were very close to it.

We stocked up on fruits and veggies and groceries to make sandwiches for dinner. We also got ice cream and sorbet for a treat. It also turned out that one of the exits on the roundabout in front of Tesco lead to motorway M3 that we had to get on to go back to the hotel. So even though we did not have a map for the area, we got back without any trouble.

We made sandwiches for dinner and left some ham for sandwiches for breakfast the next day. 

Swansea, Wales to Southampton, England

Monday, June 2, 2014

After breakfast at the hotel, we packed up and took a taxi to the train station. We got there early enough to buy a couple of soda bottles and chips for the train ride. Our train was in the station but not ready to board yet. We went to scout out the seat situation and it seemed that nearly every seat was reserved. But once we asked, we were told that the last car does not have any reserved seats and we found four seats facing each other so that we could sit together.

The train ride from Swansea to Cardiff took about 55 minutes. When we got there, we only had 5 minutes to get on the next train. Luckily there was a railroad employee on the platform to help travelers. She helped us find the car that had no reserved seats (we had the same situation on this train with only two reserved seats). We put the kids in the train and loaded the luggage as fast as we could, as soon as Steve stepped into the train (he was loading the luggage from the platform and I was at the top of the stairs with the kids), the train started moving. We were happy that we managed to get us and our luggage all on the train on time.

The ride from Cardiff to Southampton took about 2 hours and 20 minutes and we were glad that this is our last train ride before we board the ship. We are all done travelling and ready to head home. We found a cab outside of the train station and had him take us to the car rental place.

We basically had no choice but to rent a car as the hotel I booked was in a rest area on the motorway (or what we would call an interstate). The car we got was a Hyundai – some type of a small SUV. We did not want to pay 14 pounds (25-28 dollars) a day for a GPS and asked for a map. Of course, they did not have any but directed us to a gas station about 2 miles from the office to buy a map.

Steve drove – his job was to drive on the correct side of the road while using a manual gear shift (it is not only on the other side than what we are used to, but the speeds are in different positions and reverse is in the front). We bought the map and I asked the clerk to mark on the map where we were. I located our hotel but the trick was that we would be coming on the opposite side of the motorway and had no way to get to it.

Studying the map closely, I found a little road that looked like a back road to the rest area (I thought maybe this was for the hotel guests so that they could get in and out without getting on the motorway). When we got there, the little road was marked “service vehicles only”. We decided to go ahead and go. One illegal drive through a gate and hooray! We were at the rest area. However, we could not see the hotel at all. We pulled into the gas station and the attendant said that the hotel was back there behind the trees. He also pointed out a small road that connected the parking lot we were in with the main parking lot. We pulled in through the tiny narrow road only to realize that we were /in the rest area parking lot that was not connected to the hotel parking lot.

We were tired of travelling, unpacked and walked over the grass and down the sidewalk to get to the hotel. We asked at the reception how to get in there parking lot. The hotel is situated between junctions (exits) 3 and 4.  We were told that we needed to go to junction 2, get off, get on the motorway to go the other direction all the way to junction 5, get off, turn around and get back on the direction we originally started on and get off at the rest area exit.

We rested for a moment and then loaded back to up move the car to the hotel parking lot. We had to move the car in less than 2 hours as after that one was required to pay for the parking via a cell phone which we did not have. Steve wanted to drive 50 feet against traffic and be done with it. I was against this thinking it was unsafe. It turned out that driving miles on the motorway, navigating roundabouts at two different exists and spending 30 minutes in traffic put us at higher odds for getting into a crash than driving 50 feet against traffic. But what was done was done and in the end we were safely back in the hotel about 50 feet from where we started earlier. 

We ate dinner at the McDonald’s in the rest area and stayed put for the night. The hotel had no air conditioning. It was doable with an open window in this weather but we were happy we were not staying here during the summer. At least the internet access was free and had decent speed. 

Rosslare, Ireland to Swansea, Wales

Sunday, June 1, 2014

We got up early at 6:30 AM. Kay prepared breakfast for us at 7 AM and we planned to leave no later than 7:45 AM to drive to the harbor. We were scheduled to take the 8:45 AM Irish Ferries ship from Rosslare to Pembroke Dock, Wales.

We left the rental car in the port and waited with the other foot passengers to get on the ship. We were unpleasantly surprised when we had to take two long flights of stairs down to the bus. It was quite challenging to get the kids and all of our luggage downstairs. Ugh.

We got on the bus and other passengers confirmed that the bus stays on the ferry. Therefore we did not have to carry our luggage all the way up on the deck. We just took our valuables and food.
We found a place to sit with an electric outlet so that Stevie could play his game. Hannah went a couple of times to the kids play area but did not have a good time. A little girl (3 ½ years old) appeared friendly at first and took Hannah by the hand. But it soon was apparent that she just wanted to drag Hannah around and would not let go of Hannah’s hand. I helped Hannah get away (in most polite way I could) and we stayed away from the play area after that.

The ferry arrived in Pembroke Dock on time. We thought we would get British Pounds at an ATM or an exchange office at the port, but we did not realize that Pembroke Dock is basically the middle of nowhere. Somehow we got lucky and a cab came up as we exited the building. He would not accept Euros but he would drive us to an ATM near the train station so that we could pay him.

The train station was also pretty small – truly the end of the line. We got there around 1:30 PM and our train (one of about 3 trains that ran in there on Sundays) was not leaving until 4:45 PM. There was a little pub opened at the train station until 2:30 PM. We decided to eat there and stay as long as they would let us. The cab driver said this pub was OK but warned us not to go to another pub around the corner. He said it was pretty rough and not safe for kids.

We attempted to buy tickets using the machine (there was no ticket office) but – of course – it did not take our credit or debit cards. The machines only take cards with chips. The waitress in the pub said we would be able to pay for the tickets with cash on the train.

When the pub closed, we went to wait on the platform. The good thing was that we had a bench and spot out of the rain. The bad thing was that the station smelled of urine and feces. You know how they say not to use train toilets while in the station? Well, people do … it was all on the tracks in front of us, toilet paper included.

Our train did arrive and we got on about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to leave for Swansea. We reserved a hotel in Swansea about half mile from the station and we could not wait to get there. We are all tired of travelling and ready to go home.

We arrived in Swansea after about 2 hours on the train. When we got off the train, we bought tickets for the next day to get to Southampton. The only hick up was that since the kids ride free, we only got 2 reserved seats. We figured we would deal with that the next day and took a taxi to the hotel.

The hotel room was nice and clean but the free internet turned out to be free only for the first 30 minutes. We went ahead and paid 3 pounds for 24 hours of internet access but it was annoying that the hotel advertises free internet access. We have been looking for hotels with internet access as we have been planning our future stops as we went. So the internet access has been very important to make future hotel and rental car bookings as well as researching train routes and schedules.