We’re off on another adventure! Yes, we are cruising again, but we will also be doing a train trip at the end of our back-to-back cruises. Our first stop is London and then on to Southampton to catch a 15-day cruise to Norway and Iceland which then loops back to Scotland and England. We then start an 8-day cruise to Oslo, Copenhagen, Hamburg and Rotterdam. We will disembark in Southampton and begin our train journey around England and Scotland.
Our flight on British Airways was completely uneventful; just the way we like it! We were both able to sleep for a few hours on the 9 hour flight. We landed at 12:30 pm GMT, which is 8 hours off of our normal PST. In other words, 4:30 am, Seattle time. We have found that the best way to adapt to a new time zone is to just “gut it out” and immediately adopt the new time schedule.
We had decided to stay near London Heathrow rather than staying in Southampton or staying in London. Why? We have been to London before and will be visiting it again later in our journey, so no reason to pay London prices for a hotel when in all likelihood, we would be too exhausted to do much sightseeing anyhow. We debated whether or not to spend the night in Southampton but decided not to. We will be spending a day in Southampton between the two cruises and so can do our sightseeing then. The bottom line was that we knew we would be tired when we got to London Heathrow and so it was easiest to just stay near the airport and find our way to the port after (hopefully) getting a good night’s sleep!
Going through immigration was a bit of a wait. They have separate sections for EU and non-EU passport holders. Most of their staff was assigned to the EU section so the rest of us had a long wait because there were only 3 agents. Eventually, the EU line went down and some of the staff was shifted to the non-EU side. After that, the line started to move and we were able to move on to customs. There are separate areas for those with items to declare and those that don’t. I guess the English are very trusting; the non-declare section was completely unstaffed!
Our next adventure was getting from the airport to the hotel. According to www.LondonToolkit.com, hotels are not allowed to run airport shuttles. So, there are several options to choose from to get to your hotel. Of course, you can always take a taxi. Though the hotel is literally across the street from the airport, it would cost about $20 to take a cab. I am cheap by nature, so taking a cab was our backup rather than our first choice. National Express runs a Hotel Hoppa bus for 5 £ per person, which is pretty economical. Most economical of all though are the city buses which are free from the airport to any of the surrounding airport hotels. Cool! Guess which option we chose?
Heathrow signage is excellent so we were quickly able to find where the buses were located and found which bus stop to wait at (there are over 30…). The bus we needed was already at the bus stop so we had no wait. The bus dropped us off about a block from our hotel. If you have read my previous blog posts, you know that my husband and I travel light – a carry-on sized bag and backpack each is all we bring, no matter how long the trip. This really pays off when you use public transportation. If we had brought full-sized suitcases, we would definitely have needed to take a cab. We stayed at the Radisson Blu Heathrow and would recommend it wholeheartedly. We were upgraded to a nicer room by the front desk agent, which was a nice added bonus. There are not many restaurants near the hotel but there was a McDonalds so we headed there for lunch. What can you say about a McDonald’s lunch? At least you know what you will be getting, although we have found that the menu can vary depending on which part of the world you are. The U.K. McDonalds still have McWraps; the Mickey D’s at home do not, so I treated myself to a Garlic-Mayo Wrap and a Toffee Latte. Clayton had his usual basic hamburgers and coffee. We really needed the caffeine!
Though the plan was to stay up until our usual bedtime, Clayton only made it until 6 pm; I made it until 7. Exhaustion caught up to us both; I slept in until after 6 am! We had a full English breakfast at the hotel and then caught the hotel hoppa bus back to Heathrow. We had debated on whether to take the train to the port, or take a bus. In order to take the train we would’ve had to take the tube (or train) in to Central London and then transfer to another train to get to Southampton. Instead, we chose to take the National Express bus. The hoppa bus to Heathrow was part of the ticket cost, or we would’ve just taken public transportation back to the airport to catch the bus to the port.
We found our bus stop and had about an hour to wait. When it arrived, the bus was quite full. As a matter of fact, three poor souls were not allowed to board because there were no seats for them. I believe they were also going to take a cruise because they had cruise tags on their suitcases. I profoundly hope that they made their ship! I am not sure what the problem was with the ticketing system that allowed them to sell more tickets than there were seats on the bus. Anyhow, it turns out that it a train may have been a better option. There were 5 ships in port and there was also a football (aka soccer) game. The local team was playing and many a Londoner apparently decided to head to Southampton for the match. The traffic was absolutely horrendous. I kept myself entertained by looking at the signage along the road. It’s funny how our languages are so different. I was curious what a pollution control valve was. You turn the valve and pollution diminishes? When you passed the sign that said, “End of highway regulations”, could you just drive however you wanted? I personally wanted to take advantage of, “Free Recovery, Await Rescue”. And, I was very curious what the brightly painted “Gentleman’s Jolly” car was for!
We ended up getting to the coach station over a half-hour late. It really wasn’t that awful, but it was lunch time and Heather was hungry! A hungry Heather is a crabby Heather. We walked through the bus station and found the taxi queue. Another advantage to traveling light – while the rest of the people on the bus were slowly lugging their luggage through the bus station, we had quickly found a taxi while there were some available. Our cab driver was a friendly bloke and quickly delivered us to the QEII port where we got our first glimpse of the lovely JCL Jade.
Check-in was amazingly efficient, which made my hungry tummy very happy. After check-in we headed into the waiting area for the terminal. Passengers are boarded in groups, based on their arrival time. We were given passes for boarding group 21, but since we have cruised extensively with NCL in the past, were given priority (immediate) boarding. Hungry Heather even happier! We were the only people in the security check area so had no wait there. We got to the ship and headed immediately to the main dining room. The happy, perky employees that greet you on the ship always will try to herd you to the buffet, but we have learned through experience that it is a much more peaceful, relaxing start to a cruise to eat in the MDR (main dining room). We just bring our carry-ons with us rather than checking them in at the port. That way we don’t have to wait for our luggage to be delivered later in the day; we can unpack as soon as we get to our cabin.
After lunch we headed to our cabin to unpack and relax.
We booked a mini-suite for this cruise. It is basically like a regular balcony cabin; just a big bigger and has a bathtub rather than just a shower. The NCL Jade was just refurbished last spring and it is a beautiful ship. The décor is quite muted (especially by NCL standards!). Much of the ship is done in shades of green (jade, right?) and taupe. The balcony seems larger than those on the other ships we have sailed on recently. We do like to spend time on the balcony, so it is nice to have the extra space.
We spent some time exploring the ship, getting our bearings. The layout is quite similar to the NCL Star which we spent 53 days on last year, so it didn’t take long to get things figured out. We like the atrium of this ship much better than the NCL Sun, which we were on in May. Our fellow passengers definitely are skewed older this time. I expected more families because it is still summer. There are some, but not many younger people. There is a huge group from China (possibly 1/4 of the passengers onboard?), but most are from the U.K. Americans and Canadians seem to be few and far between!
We intended to go to the welcome aboard show but it wasn’t until 9 pm, and jetlag got the better of us. When we returned to our room after dinner, we found a notice to set our clocks ahead an hour, so when we went to bed at 9 pm, it was really 10 pm! I guess I needed to get caught up on our sleep because my husband woke me up at 8:30 the next morning. Fortunately, it is a sea day so we are not missing out by sleeping in.
The seas have been pretty rocky so there are barf bags strategically placed around the ship. We attended the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet and I attended a photography class. Other than that, we are relaxing.
Tomorrow? Bergen, Norway!