First time on a cruise? What you need to know?

If you’ve booked to go on your first cruise or are currently browsing options to have a cruise as your next holiday then you may be wondering what things you need to know before you travel on a cruise ship for the first time.

I recently travelled with Princess Cruises from Southampton on my first ever cruise so I’ve put together a handy guide that answers all the questions I had as well as some things I found out on the way.

What do I need to pack?
Obviously this will vary from cruise to cruise but below is a list of general items you will need to pack. Just like a hotel then often you will be provided with a toiletry set in your cabin, equally there will be an on board shop where you can purchase any items that you may have forgotten. Don’t panic if you do forget something as at the port days you’ll also be able to go shopping.

  • Comfortable shoes for hiking/walking on port days
  • Swimwear for the pool
  • Suncream
  • Smart clothing for any formal nights on board (see ‘Formal night’ section.)
  • Travel adapters
  • Camera (obviously) although there will often be on board photographers
  • Gym kit; many cruise ships will have gym facilities that you may wish to use

What is the formal night like?
Many cruise ships have at least one formal night, and whilst it’s not always compulsory that you get involved, it is a fun evening and an excuse to dress a little fancy. Formal nights will be announced in advance so you’ll have time to plan. On my cruise is Princess Cruises on board the Sapphire Princess then many people opted for tuxedos and evening gowns, with a few choosing a more simple shirt and tie.

Our formal night started with a champagne waterfall in the main atrium which was a fun activity where you could volunteer to pour the bottles and was a great photo opportunity.

Can you get laundry done on board?
Just like at a hotel it will more than likely be possible to get your clothes washing done on board. The system will probably include ticking a box to say what needs washing and leaving it for housekeeping to collect.

What about phone signal?
When you’re near a port or of course docked then of course you will be able to get signal on your phone and the normal roaming charges from your network supply will apply. However once you’re out at sea then if your phone joins a maritime network then you’re likely to come back with some pretty hefty charges. Best advice would be to switch the roaming off your phone shortly after you leave a port to avoid any extra costs.

Can I drink the water on board?
Unlike on a plane, there’s no need to worry about the quality of the water on board. It will all have been through rigorous testing to ensure it’s top quality for your to drink straight from the tap.

What kind of activities are on board?
There will be two separate options for your time on the ship.
1. Every ship will of course have the options available every day; for example the swimming pools, perhaps a casino, gym, running track or shuffleboard.
2. There will be daily activities announced on the ship, these will vary but may include shows and live performances, bingo, quiz sessions, art auctions and movie nights (on the Sapphire Princess they had the popular ‘Movies under the stars.’
For the daily activities you will be able to plan your day as you’ll have access to a schedule to see’what’s on’.

What happens on port days?
Of course the ports of call are an exciting part of any cruise. You’ll be informed as to the time of arrival and if the ship is docking right by the port then you’ll be able to disembark when you wish. If you have a tour booked of course you’ll have to ensure you’re off in good time to meet your group/guide. Equally be mindful of the time you need to back on the ship and leave plenty of time to board.

What is a tender?
A ship’s tender or just ‘tender’ is a boat used to transport the passengers to the port when the ship is unable to dock directly by the land. It’s a safe and quick way to get to shore. Sometimes this will involve travelling in lifeboats for example or just smaller boats to reach the ship.
If tenders are being used on a port day you will be informed in advance and sometimes may be given a specific time or group to travel with. Before the ship leaves in the evening you will be informed of the time of the last tender.

What is a muster station?
You’ll be allocated a muster station when you get on board. Put simply, this is the location you need to meet at should there be an emergency. If the emergency alert were to go off then you should make your way to the assigned location (clearly marked) and await further instructions from the crew.

Will I need an adapter for the plug sockets?
This will vary from ship to ship. On board the Sapphire Princess as it was an American ship then the plug sockets were 3 pin US so many people required an adapter, however these were available in the shop to purchase.

Will I feel sea sick?
Generally it’s not common to feel sick on cruise ships, as the larger the ship the less noticeable it will be that you’re slightly swaying. Some people actually find the movement of the ship fairly relaxing as they are going to sleep.

This post was written in AD partnership with Princess Cruises however the article and everything in it of course reflects my opinion and not that of the company.

Visiting Casa del Arbol – Banos

Banos is famous for it’s outdoor activities, swimming in the thermal spas, mountain biking, hiking trails and waterfalls, but probably it’s most famous attraction for backpackers is Casa del Arbol; the treehouse with it’s swing on the edge of the world.


It’s technically only a few km from the centre of Banos but the surrounding terrain is so mountainous that it would make an incredibly tiring uphill slog to walk or cycle. Indeed, many tour operators offer daily cycling excursions to the treehouse, but for the majority of people, that seems like far too much effort.


Taxis are easily available but the most fun, cost effective and probably convenient way is to get the local bus. It leaves from 3 streets to the right of the main bus terminal on the corner of Rocafuerte and Pastaza but if you see the bus coming down the street the driver will be happy to slow down and let you hop on not at an official stop. The bus costs a dollar, which for a long, uphill, winding journey seems very good value. The buses are usually packed and often blast out loud seemingly random music all the way up into the mountains. Banos is already at quite a high elevation so if you suffer from altitude sickness remember to take some tablets before you leave. The bus stops at the car park next to a small cafe and then sits there for usually an hour before heading back down.


Bare in mind that there are a few swings at the top; one more for the thrill seekers and one for ‘that instagram shot’. The closest one to the bus stop is high up a hill, requiring a steep climb using a rope to get to, and is more nerve wrecking. You’re tightly strapped into what looks like an old plane seat, before being enthusiastically pushed off the edge of a cliff sending the chair rocking back and forth. It feels like something your mum would advise you against doing, and isn’t for the faint hearted but is fun nevertheless.


Further along the path is the main attraction, 2 dollars to get in, giving you access to a few zip wires and a range of swings along the edge of the hilltop. The swings don’t actually go very high and are suitable for children and adults, but give the illusion that you’re swinging out into the sky. There’s the famous treehouse too allowing for lovely photos which would make viewers think you’re alone on the cliff edge and not actually in a queue of backpackers & families.

With so many tourist attractions massively overcharging and being a let down, Casa del Arbol is a cheap day out and very much does what it says on the tin. Recommended.

What to do in Derby?

I recently spent a weekend in Derby as I’ve been trying to explore more new places within the UK, and I found it friendly, fun and historic, with so much to offer for all ages. I had an action packed few days including a lot of delicious food, historic buildings, shopping  & beautiful landscapes. Here I’ve put together a few of my highlights to help you plan your visit.

Visit Bluebells Dairy Farm

It’s hard to actually pigeonhole Bluebells Dairy Farm as it has so much to offer. Obviously as the name suggests it’s a Dairy Farm but it’s also a tea rooms, an educational centre, a fun day out for kids (and big kids) and somewhat an interactive petting zoo.

Let’s start with the ice cream! Bluebell has 26 flavours of ice cream and sorbet, I’m proud to say I gave many a try, as you can see below! They have some recognisable flavours as well as individual specialities including my favourite; the lemon curd! The creamy milk for the ice cream comes from the cows grazing the fields at the farm, and Bluebell uses only the finest ingredients to blend into their award winning ice cream. The ice cream is so good, that it’s stocked in other high end retailers/restaurants and has won numerous awards.

When you’re suitably full from all the delicious food and ice cream then there’s so much more to do on the farm itself. The friendly farm workers run sessions where you can interact with the animals, feed lambs, meet Arthur the giant rabbit and generally learn about the animals & how to care for them. It’s educational fun and people of all ages were enjoying it greatly.

There’s even more fun to be had on the giant inflatable pillow, something very unique and family friendly, but I must admit I probably had more than my fair share of a go! There’s also a new go-kart track and play areas with sand pits!


Derby Cathedral

Derby Cathedral and it’s 212 feet tower stands proud in the centre of Derby. Construction finished in around 1532 but it’s had numerous renovations over the years. It’s beautiful inside, with a bright, open entrance and a light & airy feel quite different to other churches of it’s time. Visits are upbeat and lively with welcoming staff and fun stories about the building and those involved in it’s conception.


The cathedral is still very much keeping the spirit of community alive, holding movie nights and other events. It’s also famous for being the nesting place for 15 consecutive years of nesting Peregrine Falcons. 41 hatchlings have been born here, and the nest is streamed online all over the world, with thousands tuning it to see the amazing birds.


On the first Saturday of every month it’s possible to take a tower tour. The top of the tower commands some fantastic views over the city, it’s a steep climb so not for those who tire easily, but for anyone who loves a good view, well worth the effort. It’s breezy at the top and I had the fortune to arrive there just as the flag was being changed so I was able to assist (read; make the while process a lot slower.) but nobody seemed to mind.

Kedleston Hall

Kedleston Hall is a magnificent 18th century mansion which may be familiar to some as it was as a key location for the film ‘The Duchess’, starring Keira Knightley. It’s grand beyond belief, designed for lavish entertaining, complete with golds and turquoises and impressive painting collections.


Since the 12th century the Curzon family have lived here and Lord Curzon’s Eastern Museum contains a collection of items from his travels in Asia while Viceroy of India (1899 to 1905). This includes the famous peacock dress, complete with the wings of green beetles adorning it to give the appearance of emeralds.

The grounds are just as lovely as inside the buildings, and as it was such a lovely day I spent quite a while walking around the grounds and relaxing in the sun to enjoy the views. Look how incredibly green the landscape is!



Dine & drink

I’ve actually written an entire article about the food in Derby; (see below) as there was so much choice. Derby has a great range of eateries from the traditional Pyclet (a flat crumpet) sold at the Pyclet Parlour in the market hall, to fine dining at Masa in The Old Wesleyan Chapel.

There’s also a whole host of trendy bars around town including the cool Rowley’s Gin Bar & Wine Cellar and The Brooklyn Social with it’s fun cocktail list and quirky interior.


Derby is 1hr 36 mins on the train from London.

Top 5 places to visit in Peru

5. Arequipa central market – Arequipa is often only glanced over by tourists visiting the surrounding hiking trails and volcanoes, but in the city itself are a number of fascinating places to visit.

My favourite thing about the city was the colourful and bustling market occupying the large central square. It’s not massively highlighted in local guides but that just means that it’s mainly visited by locals and seemingly only the odd tourist.

Highlights here are the food areas with numerous stands selling crispy pork with local corn and potato. If you’re not comfortable in Spanish then a smile and some low key pointing will usually end in a generous portion of the day’s speciality for only a few dollars.

Finish off your meal with some local fudge.


       4. Huanchaco – It’s not quite so beach picture perfect as Brazil or Panama but Huanchaco is laid back surfer cool.

Plenty of beach space with endless surf schools to help you practice your skills, plus a good enough wave to keep the experts happy, Huanchaco has something for everyone on the backpacker circuit.

Equally it’s not quite the full on party scene of Mancora further north but it has cool hostels with a relaxed drinking vibe and handful of bars to party into the night.


      3. Ollantaytambo – Ollantaytambo is usually just a pass through point for people getting the train before the final Machu Picchu descent but it is beautiful in it’s own right.

Full of Inca ruins and surrounded by cloud laden mountains it’s particularly spectacular. Also, after mid morning when all the minibuses have rushed past, you’re likely to get the whole place virtually to yourself.



      2. Huacachina – Desert oasis Huacachina is hidden amongst the dunes near Ica. Known for it’s parties  there’s endless activities to do like sand boarding, dune buggies and boating on the lake.

Huacachina has some pretty cool hostels too, with happy hour offers all round before you head to the top of dunes to watch the sunset.


  1. Machu Picchu – Magnificent Machu Picchu is possibly the most awe inspiring place I’ve ever visited. The photos I’d seen before visiting didn’t even begin to prepare me for sitting there and looking out across the Inca city in the clouds.

The site itself is huge and the rolling clouds only add to the mystery and magic of the place. Despite the hoards of tourists heading there every day it still manages to feel like a place that you’ve discovered first. Truly unforgettable.





Havana Travel Guide

Before going – Make sure to sort your visa in advance as they will check at the airport before you fly as well as obviously when you go through customs/immigration.

Book your accommodation before you go unless you’re happy going from Casa to Casa looking for spaces, Havana has lots of options for rooms but if you’re arriving very early or late in the day probably just book ahead.

Make sure you pack any medications and/or important toiletries as you’ll struggle to get most and what you do mind may be very expensive.

Getting around – Unfortunately as prices have risen then taxis are no longer an especially cheap option. When you’re coming from the airport into the old town then you can go to the set price taxi stand so you at least know what price to pay, and perhaps ask other travellers if they are heading to the same place and share the ride.
Luckily Havana itself is fairly walkable so you won’t need to spend a lot on travel once you’re in the old town. Put some comfy shoes on and see the sights on foot.
Currency– Cuba has two currencies at the moment but is looking at potentially combining them. These are the CUC which is kept in line with the US dollar and the
Cuban Peso. If you’re only there for a few days you’ll probably only deal with the CUC but if you’re venturing further afield on local buses etc then it’s helpful to have a handful of pesos too.
Food – Cuba garners mixed reviews when it comes to food but generally I found the meals I ate there too be excellent. As long as you’re not fussy and are open to what you’re being served you’ll generally enjoy eating in Cuba.
Chicken is popular and pineapple is in abundance but despite the relatively low price of some foods they are often scarce simply due to problems sourcing them. For example when on a drive around Havana we saw a queues for eggs. Eggs are cheap and popular but obviously if the Cuban hens aren’t laying then there might not be enough to go around.
Make use of Cuban favourites like any rum based cocktails and if you’re in a small cafe or home stay then ask to eat whatever they are having and you’ll probably be very pleasantly surprised.
Where to stay – I’m a big hostel user but Havana proved quite difficult to book. Most of the hostels available on the standard booking sites were actually home stays come B&Bs called Casa Familiars. They seemed to offer good value for money in some great locations so we booked one just outside the old town. The only problem was, due to the internet being so massively limited (see internet section) our potnetial hosts hadn’t actually received our booking and had accepted a walk in off the street.
However, they were able to suggest a similar residence round the corner and we ended up having a lovely stay including fantastic fresh breakfasts every morning.
My advice, stay at a Casa…but book ahead.

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Renting an old car – One of the highlights of Havana was seeing as old the old American cars driving around, multi coloured and some in fantastic condition. You can hire a car with a driver for an hour up to a full day. Unfortunately this seems to be going up in price virtually monthly. By the time we went the prices on the board were 50 CUC an hour but we haggle and compromised on 90 CUC for 3 hours. We toured the old town and along the Malacon before heading out to the fort. It’s a fantastic experience and makes for great photos.
Entertainment – Havana has a few dance bars/clubs including the famous art and entertainment centre Fabrica, but you don’t need to head to these to feel the flavour of Cuban music. Virtually every doorway has music bursting out of it and most bars have live music including singers and fabulous musicians. We loved the Cafe du Paris and it’s live performances that spread out onto the street, many a Mojito was drunk here.
Safety – At no point did we feel unsafe in Havana. People were incredibly friendly and generally made a big effort to ensure our time their was a positive experience. You might however pick up on a few scams when you wander around, namely the Cuban cigar scam. Don’t be swayed by anyone approaching you talking of a factory cigar sale, the best Cuban cigars are in demand world over and don’t need to push pushed on the street by strangers.
Wi-Fi – Sure it’s nice sometimes to switch off your phone and enjoy yourself but Cuba has very very limited internet. I’m talking…a few hotspots around the city, mainly near 5 star hotels but it’s NEVER free. Expect to pay around 1.50/hour on government issue scratch cards and then you’ll have to hover around the spots in the dark in parks like all the locals. Phone signal for calls however never seemed a problem.

Croatia; so much more than beaches & bars

Croatia has become a top beach destination over the past 5 years. Cheap flights within Europe, relatively low prices and a large number of world famous music festivals have meant that it’s over taken other previous party destinations in terms of visitors.

Sure, it’s easy to see why. Croatia has some incredible beaches, Zlatni Rat the famous golden horn of sand that moves with the tide is stunning, and Hideout & Garden Festival draw some huge names in music, but right now I’m not here to talk about that. Croatia has a diverse range of things to offer for many tastes.

Museum of Broken Relationships. – Zagreb
This museum dedicated to failed relationships both romantic and family received the Kenneth Hudson Award for Europe’s most innovative museum in 2011.
Starting off with just a few items, the two Zagreb based artists who founded it, have been sent items from people all over the world that represent memories too painful to relive or that remind them of a person they have lost.


Some are incredibly sad, such as the caterpillar toy. The accompanying card explains that a couple in a long distance relationship decided to take off a leg of the toy every time they saw each other. They said that when the legs were all removed they would be together properly. Of course the toy is now in the museum and only semi disfigured as one of the parties left the other for someone else before it was completed.

In lighter news, the museum is close to some of the most popular sights for both religious and civil ceremonies in the city and many of the couples actually come to the museum with their guests after the ceremony for a drink!

Rabska Torta
I’m not going to say that all Croatian food blew me away, but they do have a few specialities that you won’t be able to try anywhere else that are truly delicious. The island of Rab has a traditional cake made from almonds and Maraschino liqueur usually baked in a spiral shape. It was originally made for Pope Alexander III but has continued to be made to this day in the same way.

You can visit the birthplace of this cake and watch it being made or even have a go yourself, beware though, it’s still made by hand and the dough is so thick that it’s surprisingly hard work to handle it!


Plitvice Lakes National Park
This is Croatia’s largest national park and it’s  world-famous for it’s multi-tiered lakes. 16 lakes can be seen in the park and by hiking around the many trails as well as viewing from a variety of heights you can get completely different sights. The park also offers boat rides to more hidden areas.

Plitvice was one of the first natural places to be awarded UNESCO status meaning that they assist in the preservation of it’s beauty.

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Beautiful Ollantaytambo, your must-visit place before Machu Picchu.

The main railway station that serves Cusco and therefore on to Machu Picchu is a small town called Ollantaytambo about 1 hour 45 from the city.
As such, throughout the morning minibuses and taxis rush through the narrow streets towards the station and most tourists don’t give the town a second thought. However, Ollantaytambo is a beautiful place in itself, a site of great importance in the Inca empire and also the location of many hugely impressive ruins, it’s unique in Peru as well as it was built by the Incas over 500 years ago and has been inhabited to date.
We took a collectivo from Puente Grau for 10 soles (3 dollars) at around 4am after getting off the night bus from Puno and headed straight there. The minibuses go straight through the main square so we hopped out and headed to our hostel. Most hostels allow early check is as so many visitors get up super early to head on to Machu Picchu.


You can spend a few hours just wandering around the town and it’s cobbled streets. The main square itself is lovely and lined with little cafés where you can sit and take in the view.
There are 6 or 7 alleyways leading off the square that have retained a very old timey vibe and we came across some quite picturesque scenes.

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Ollantaytambo was originally a pretty effective fortress and in 1536 the Spanish were defeated here when Manco Inca flooded the plains with previously prepared channels. The very well preserved terraces and fortress walls sit high up on hills either side of the town and combined with the clouds sitting on top of the mountains, Ollantaytambo is a magnificent place to spend a day and perhaps an evening on a rooftop as we did, watching the sun go down with a beer.
There’s a few nice eateries in town including a tiny ice cream shop on the street leading down to the station. For 5 soles ($1.50) you can get some great flavours including local chocolate, black corn/maiz & passionfruit.
Obviously if you do want to explore Machu Picchu, which if you’re in Peru then you probably do, then you’re perfectly located ready for an early morning train and you can avoid the rushed collectivo alongside all the other tourists and leisurely stroll from your hostel to the station whilst leaving your bags to collect later in the day.