Tempers flare when the Temperature Soars!

IMG_4084[1]Temperatures hit 32⁰C in Marseille today. Okay, this is positively cool compared to the 44⁰C some parts of Europe have experienced this summer, and it is not as hot as Italy was yesterday, but today we have had to WALK in the SUN, and this does not make for good family relations.

It’s Royal Caribbean’s fault. They wanted to charge €60 for a shuttle for a family of 4 to the old dock. We refused to pay such an outrageous price, so instead we discovered on Facebook a free shuttle bus five minutes’ walk away. Upon leaving the terminal building you follow a thick green line until it reaches an air conditioned bus. But there is no shade and we had 5 minutes of moaning from both children.

IMG_E4049[1]We did make it and were dropped at the port entrance building. From here it was another trek to the old harbour. We followed the sea and ended up at the top end by a ‘Minecraft’ like building. No problem, at least there was air conditioning inside and we were able to get up onto the roof and cross a bridge to a fort. But this fort had little shade. We escaped down into the harbour and ducked along the parade of restaurants lining the front. This is where it all kicked off. The kids were hot and tired. My husband was hot and thirsty and I was hot and feeling really really stressed as the. It was not a good combination. I t felt as if we would never reach end of the harbour. Luckily, after much bickering we found an ice cream shop and gained enough sugar to find the boat to the Chateau D’if. For any fans of Alexandre Dumas (he wrote the Three Musketeers) this Château was a prison and the setting of Dumas’ ‘Count of Monte Cristo.’ This prison is only accessible by boat and for a short time we were united as we ran from prison cell to prison cell, looking for secret passages and holes. But then we had to go back out in the sun!

IMG_4082[1]On both the boat journey to and from the prison the kids argued the entire time about who was holding the giant packet of Doritos and who was eating more than the other. Then they both complained it was too hot to walk and they needed a drink, but not water, or the juice they had asked us to buy which they had decided they didn’t like. We tried to give them a chocolate bar each as a reward for having to walk back to the cruise port (we found a street by a Carrefour near the boat drop off that lead straight back to the Cruise Port Entrance), but they argued that one bar was bigger than the other and tasted better, even though they were both identical. Then my son said he needed the toilet, so we found one, only for him to say he had never said he needed the toilet! And this was all before we had to brave the five minute walk in the sun back to the cruise ship.

Boy was it wonderful to get back on board the cruise ship. We all collapsed in our windowless air conditioned cabin. We didn’t even notice how small and cramped it is. We were just all so glad to be away from the sun and the temper tantrum causing heat.

When in Civitavecchia…….rent a car

IMG_E3888[1]There are numerous ways to exit Civitavecchia – coach, train, bus, taxi. We opted for a hire car.

Our choice will not appeal to everyone. Its day 7 of our cruise and we don’t want to take travel 4 hours with twin 7 year olds to see Rome – image the arguing! It turned out to be the right choice, as apparently it rained very hard that day.

Last time we did this cruise, my husband and I visited Tarquinia, which lies about 18km to the North. We caught the train, only to discover the train station is some distance from the town. Luckily a bus arrived and drove us to the other side of Tarquinia. From here it was only a short walk to the Etruscan Cemetery (a UNESCO site). Once we had explored the beautifully decorated tombs we walked back into town and visited the museum, then got the train back to the ship.

We didn’t think the kids would want another day of walking, so instead we decided to visit two sites just outside Civitavecchia. We had read bad things about the unreliable public buses needed to reach these places, so instead we decided to visit a car hire company. The port provides free shuttle buses to take you from the ship to a bus park near the center. Behind this bus park is the Eurocar rental company we used (Hertz is also a short distance away). The prices online were about €10 cheaper then what we ended up paying on the day. To keep costs down, we didn’t take out the insurance. But the hire car did give us the freedom, and the challenge, of getting ourselves to our chosen destinations.

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The first was the ‘Terme Taurine’ – the Roman Baths. We had great fun exploring the ruins and finding secret holes and tunnels. The children also competed to find the largest pine cone and the scraggiest looking cat. It wasn’t the easiest place to find as it wasn’t signposted, and we did drive past it the first time around. But the car park was empty and it was lovely to feel like we had discovered the place ourselves.

For lunch, we decided to return to our ship – Navigator of the Seas. We were able to drive the hire car past the first checkpoint, but not the second. They made us park up and flagged down one of the free shuttle buses to take us back. After a good meal we then got the shuttle bus to return us to our car and drove to our second site – the Aquafelix water park, which is next door to the roman baths.

Unfortunately it is not easy to combine the two in one go – the roman baths close at 1pm and the water park drops its prices after 2pm, which is why we went back to the ship in between.

The aqua park was great fun and we could have spent longer than three hours there. There is a large ‘beach’ style pool with periodic waves and a very noisy disco. Then there are two smaller ‘kids pools’ one with small slides and the other with bubbles and a waterfall. On the hill above are five ‘water slides’ – twin dark tunnels you go down on rubber rings, a blue slide with four lanes, perfect for family races, a double white slide that goes very fast, a pair of white slides that are a bit more gentle, and a lazy river where you sit on rubber rings and drift around (this was our kids favourite). During our visit there was also an area where a foam cannon was switched on, much to my kids delight, although it was bizarre to be knee deep in foam and still feel the pathway beneath burning your feet! The ideal age range is 6-12 years (and over 120cm), although younger children may enjoy it too.

We left in good time to reach the ship for 6pm. The roads were quiet and the other drivers respectful. The hire company was only 8 minutes from the water park. There was a petrol station on the same street and we managed to squeeze the car into a spot nearby. The keys were dropped through a ‘key collection’ hole in the door (all the hire car company’s close at lunchtime on a Saturday) and there was a shuttle bus waiting to take us back to our ship. It was all so easy I can only highly recommend it.

Trip Info:-

  • IMG_3882[1]It cost us €46 to hire a Ford Ka for the day (plus a refundable €300 deposit). Make sure you photo the car before and after just in case the hire car company try to blame you for damage you did not cause. Eurocar told us they were not worried about the odd scratch.
  • The Roman Baths cost €5 per adult to visit. Children were free.
  • Aquafelix Water Park costs €20.00 per person, but this drops after 2pm to €13. Children over 120cm are charged the same as adults, but they are tall enough to go on all the slides. Lockers cost €6. Car parking is free in the first car park (on rough ground). The second car park on hard standing near the park entrance costs €5. Don’t be afraid to lift up the string blocking the ends of each row so you can drive the car under.

When Your Daughter and the Weather Compete to be the Most Temperamental Thing That Day

IMG_2171[1]We knew it was going to be one of those days when Lily asked for the water bottle, pulled a face and said “that’s disgusting. You got this water from a jug. I bet they used the jug to clean the toilet with first!”

Yes, our daughter had awaken on the 6th day of our cruise bright and sunny. On no wait, it was the weather that was bright and sunny, not our daughter. She complained it was too hot, too sunny and too, well, too everything really.

Today we disembarked at Alicante. From the sea it really isn’t great to look at, but once on land it was a certain charm of its own. The port provide buses to the terminal entrance and the staff were very efficient at getting people onboard. From the port entrance it was only a short walk round the corner to the beach.

Lily was straight off across the burning sand – nothing could stop her – and straight in the water. I followed as quickly behind as I could, leaving Daddy to fight for a piece of sand to call our own. The waves can be quite large for a small 7 year old, and the twins were knocked down a few times.

After an hour and a bit we were tired, hungry and Lily’s now sunny disposition was being to cloud over. So we headed back to the ship for a spot of lunch during the twins argued over who had managed to consume the most spaghetti and storm clouds rolled in over the city. By the time we disembarked for a second time there was torrential rain, lightening up above and a big queue to Brits waiting to get back on the ship.

The rain didn’t last long and had stopped by the time reached the strange metal tunnel leading into the hillside opposite the now empty beach. A quick elevator ride straight up deposited us inside the Moorish fortress that sits high above the town on a rocky outcrop.

IMG_2168[1]There are few buildings to explore inside this fortress, but it does cover quite a large space and the ramparts afford fantastic views over Alicante, the sea and the surrounding mountains. The oppressive heat of this morning was gone and in its place the air was crisp and cool, though thunder could still be heard in the distance. But no storm is enough to clear Lily’s mood. “It’s boring” she wailed. “Why can’t you leave me at the pool on the ship. I know where the room is.” Apparently she spoke to a 10 year old boy last night who is allowed to visit the pool on his own and thinks therefore that she should be afforded the same luxury!

IMG_2166[1].JPGOnce we had progressed down the various terraces, heart in our mouths as our son leap on most of the small walls to better see the view, totally oblivious to the sheer drop beneath him, we exited the castle through a car park, two drawbridges (which the cars have to cross) and the outer gates. From here a path winds down the hill back to the town and its port. This was the moment the rain chose to return, but being British we ignored it and carried on as if it weren’t there, in much the same way as were doing with the mutterings of our daughter at having to walk when there was a perfectly fine elevator we could use instead. Thank goodness we were at least able to escape the weather!

 

Note: Tickets for the elevator costs €2.70 per person from a small machine in the wall near the entrance. The castle was free.

 

Dodging Apes and Minibuses – Surviving a Day in Gibraltar with Kids

IMG_3763[1].JPGIt’s Day 4 of our cruise and our first port of call – Gibraltar. Being cheap skates we didn’t book an excursion (far too pricey) and we decided against the taxi tours (much cheaper but their tour only lasts 1.5-2 hours). Instead we decided risk the cable car and explore at our own pace.

We were already in port when we went for breakfast, and Royal Caribbean allowed disembarkation at 10am prompt. From there it was a short walk out of the port. At the first roundabout we turned right and waited at the bus stop for the number 3 bus. There was a bit of confusion since the no 3 was missing from the sign on the bus stop (we think the taxi drivers nicked it to get more business!) and the fact that the cars drive on the wrong side of the road, even though they are British! After a short wait our bus arrived. Costing only £6.40 it was a bargain for four and it dropped us by a car park right next to the cable car station. We had purchased tickets online the night before after much arguing over whether to risk the queues or not. I am glad we did. Even though there was only a short queue at 10.40am, the prepaid was a third of the size of the queue to buy tickets. The queue moves very slowly because there are only two smallish cable cars and only one gets used for the queue – the other takes paid tours. We were on a cable car within 20 minutes of arriving, by which time there was a very sizable queue outside!

IMG_3713[1].JPGThe view from the top was worth the wait and was much quieter then I had anticipated. The few Barbary apes present did a good job of making our fellow tourists jump, to my children’s infinite delight whilst we enjoyed our first ice cream of the day. Then we set off into the park to explore the nature reserve.

The road down is far more nerve racking then the apes due to its narrowness and the impatience of the tax drivers trying to drive up it. To progress, I took to just walking at the minibuses and hoping I didn’t get hit. A similar thing works with the apes. Ignore them and just work past and they leave you alone. We have no tales to tell of being accosted. The same cannot be said for others we saw.

About ½ of the way down the road is an ‘ape den’ – an area where food is left out for the Barbary apes and closeby lie the sleeping huts where the apes are locked in at night. Here we did witness the apes leaping on humans. Quite often it was a tour guide who would then hand the ape to his group so they could photograph themselves holding one. Otherwise it was stupid tourists trying to feed the apes.img_20941.jpg

A little further on was the newish skywalk – glass panels that take you a little way over the edge. Its most redeeming feature is that you can escape the taxicabs for a bit. From here steps also led up to a battery. We skipped the chance to climb higher up the rock steps and continued down the road to St Michael’s Cave. Here at least the taxis were not a nuisance since they were all at a standstill. Outside was busy, yet inside was so quiet we felt as though we were practically on our own. The kids loved exploring and after another ice cream were ready to continue.

We followed the road as it continued down and this was the hardest stretch, as the sun was getting hotter and the road felt like it went on forever. It was much quieter here, but the odd minibus we did see was driven at speed. About halfway along the road forked. The right fork continued to head downhill at a nice gradient whereas the left hand fork was much steeper. The map said it led to the suspension bridge and ape’s den before rejoin the first road. We chose the right hand road with the nicer gradient. We could see the ape’s den from this road, and it looked devoid of apes, and the when the lower road rejoins the upper one there is a bit of hill to get up.

IMG_2112[1].JPGAt the end of the road was an area with flags. To my children’s dismay I lead them up the right hand road, which is quite a steep uphill climb. This is the point where my daughter gave up and only the promise of a happy meal persuaded her to continue to the top. Luckily it isn’t very far, and once again it was a relief to escape the sun. Both kids loved racing though the tunnels to find the guns, although they did find the manikins a bit creepy.

The kids chose to continue back down the road. Round the first bend was the Lewis battery – a surprising find, but once which my son did not like as again the manikins were too creepy. Then round the next bend we came across the WWII tunnels. These looked great and the staff were friendly and clearly loved their job. Unfortunately in the end we were unable to take the tour due to being a bit short on time and not having £24 in cash to pay for the entrance tickets. Instead we made a quick dash up the Moorish castle tower next door (which is included in the nature reserve entrance fee).

Then we were out of the nature reserve! At the bottom of the road we found steps signposted ‘center’, which led through the old quarter onto the main street. There we asked directions to the McDonalds we had spied from the bus this morning. Once the kids were suitably refueled was walked the 15mins back to the cruise terminal and joined the long queue to get back on board, thankful that we were able to skip the queue for the collection alcoholic purchases made during the visit ashore.

Of the 5 hours we spent on shore, about 4 were spent in the nature reserve. For us, we really enjoyed the freedom to explore on our own, at our own pace. It wasn’t a cheap day – there isn’t an option to buy the nature reserve tickets with a single cable car ticket, they make you buy a return which is a bit annoying, but for £83 we felt we got a whole lot of family memories.

Hot Tubs are better then Kid’s Club

 

img_3625.jpgMy daughter has spent 5 hours in the hot tubs today, but only 30 minutes in the kid’s club.

Royal Caribbean have a brilliant kids club. Every night they leave a list in your room detailing all the activities are taking place the next day. Tomorrow they have a wild west morning and a Harry Potter wizarding afternoon! It sounds brilliant. You can turn up when you want and sign your kids into the club (as long as there is space) and you can pick them up any time within the three hour session. It’s ideal. Our son went straight into the club this morning and loved it so much he returned for the afternoon and evening sessions. He now has a bunch of friends on board the ship he can say hello to when he sees them and he cannot wait to go back again tomorrow.

But our daughter is a completely different kettle of fish. As soon as we got onboard the ship she dragged me straight to the hot tubs to see if she would be allowed to use them. Once we had read though all of the instructions and established there was no age limit, she has hardly spent any time out of them. Last night we were one of the few to brave the open air cinema in the drizzle. My son and I huddled up under a towel, whilst Lily spent the entire time either in a hot tub or strutting around from one tub to the next.

To be fair, the pools were closed today because it’s been a bit choppy, so she has had no choice but to use the hot tubs. And she has made a few friends already from amoung the other juvenile frequenters. Last night she even persuaded one boy to let her ‘share’ his snorkel. But I still think she would enjoy the kids club if she just gave it a go. Instead she is determined that she will not. This afternoon we tried to take her along to see if she liked it. After 30 minutes of watching her sulk on the sofa we gave up and took her back to the hot tubs. “See, Kid’s club is boring”, my daughter said. “They make you play games. At least in the hot tub I can chillax.” Well who can I argue with the logic of a 7 year old?

Tips on Surviving the first day of a cruise with kids

IMG_E2043.JPGMy family and I have set sail aboard the Navigator of the Seas with Royal Caribbean, bound towards the Mediterranean. Here are my top tips on how to survive a similar experience:-

  1. Give yourself plenty of time to pack I can pack for a week with my eyes closed, but our holiday is two weeks long! This means that instead of throwing everything in a suitcase last minute, I actually started packing two days beforehand. I got all the clean clothes arranged in piles, then counted through the laundry until I had enough of everything (tops, dresses, socks and knickers) to last the trip. Truth be told, next time I think I will just buy a few packs of socks and underwear from Primark the week before to save me scrabbling around trying to find 15 pairs of socks! That leaves the night before to print off tickets, find passports, tidy the house, sort out the pets etc.
  2. Book a cruise that leaves from a UK destination. This saves an unbelievable amount of stress as you don’t have to waste hours at the airport (why don’t they have soft play there – they could make a fortune!)
  3. Leave early. No matter what time your cruise company ask you to check in at, ignore them and arrive early. Arriving within the first hour of check in opening is a good goal. We sailed from Southampton and the later you leave it, the more risk there is of getting stuck in tiresome traffic from other cruise ships, Sunday shoppers and football fans.
  4. Pack a lots of things for the kids to do. I have quite a collection now of mini card games, puzzles, brain teasers, colouring books etc, as well as mini toys like micro machines and Polly Pockets. These are really handy to slip into your handbag whilst out and about. I also let each child chose one item to take to dinner with them in the evening so they have something to do whilst they are waiting for their food (and it can take ages to arrive!).
  5. Take you own food and drink. Each cabin is allowed two bottles of wine, which is a lot cheaper than buying a glass of wine on board. We also took the kids favourite snacks, a bar of chocolate, some biscuits and some cartons of drink for the kids. Check what your cruise ship allows before you travel.
  6. Don’t rush to book the kids into the kids club. Royal Caribbean require you to ‘register’ your child the first day in order to be able to attend the kid’s club during the rest of your voyage. There is the standard form to complete, with allergy info, a list of adults who can collect the child etc. But there is no kids club on the first day and you cannot book your child into a session until just before the session is about to start. So your first priority upon boarding will probably be to eat/unpack/explore. Don’t frustrate hungry children by dragging them up to the club unnecessarily. Take the forms away to complete at leisure and return them later in the day when it’s quiet.
  7. Don’t rush to and from the muster point. Royal Caribbean make you attend an assembly drill. You will be stuck in this location for a bit, so don’t rush. We went swimming first and waited until we were asked to go to our muster point before we started ambling towards it. One there find a quietish corner to sit down in (we sat on the stage) and keep the children entertained with one of the handbag games. Once the safety info has all been divulged, don’t rush out again. Take your time and finish your games, allowing the crowds to dispel first.

I hope you found these tips useful. Hopefully tomorrow I will have some more funny stories to tell!

 

How to get our children interested in nature, or not was the case may be!

It is a well-known fact that if you try to teach your child something before they have shown any interest, they will not want to know. But if you get them in a group with others then they are much more likely to embrace the new experience.

4. birdwatching .jpgToday I signed my children up to a bird watching session at the local park. I have tried to get them interested in bird watching before at home, but without success. My son did his normal thing of refusing to leave the house on the grounds of being tired, which I was able to counter with the truth that we had no food in and if we did not leave the house we would all starve. My daughter was fine with going out, until we arrived at the park and she realised we weren’t going shopping.

Things got worse once we joined our group. Not only were we 10 minutes late, but my daughter chose that moment to have a huge strop. Whilst the other children were busy identifying the different birds on the lake, my daughter was loudly proclaiming “Bird watching is stupid. Why would anyone want to watch birds? They are so boring!” Her tirade accompanied the group as we progressed around the lake. In the end the only thing that shut her up was when one of the rangers gave her a pair of binoculars to look through “I’m not watching the stupid birds” she clarified “I am spying on people and dogs only”.

Luckily my son was much more amenable. He really got into the spirit of looking through the book to tick off the birds we saw. He visibly improved at naming the species we saw on our walk. He stopped and asked the ranger questions about the plants and birds around him. He didn’t get bored when we stopped at a hid and actually pointed out birds the other children had missed. And best of all, at the end of the walk he thanked the ranger, declared that bird hatching was fun and asked to do it again.

Well one out of two isn’t bad. Is it?

 

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