Tag Archives: leisure

Pick the right ship for the trip to fully enjoy your cruise experience

cruise ship Queen VictoriaIF you want to really enjoy your cruise you need to do a little research before embarking on your voyage.

The first and most important thing is to pick the right ship. Everything else – such as paying extra for an outside cabin or balcony – is secondary.

A mum and dad with young kids who pick a Fred Olsen ship may find it disappointing. It is a great, long-established cruising company which has been in the business since the early days

Over the decades it has built up a base of loyal passengers which it sets great store by. Therefore average age is older and it is particularly favoured by the older generation seeking peace and quiet.

Retired people find a cruise is a safe and comfortable way to travel but the age of passengers is getting younger each year with the. average age of first-timers now well under 40.

There are much more exciting options for the young family, for instance Disney Cruise Line ships which are designed to handle both children and adults well with different areas for different age ranges.

Ships with a nursery for ages 6-36 months are Disney Dream, Disney Fantasy, Disney Magic, Disney Wonder and Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.

Much is made of life on board a cruise ship but let’s not forget it’s all about travelling and seeing new places. Inside or outside cabins may be an important question for regulars to cruising but is it so important for people seeking their first cruise experience?

Having a balcony can enhance the cruise but how much time do you want to spend on your own reading a book as opposed to enjoying the sundeck or a bar or restaurant aboard?

Royal Caribbean  is good for families and children. Carnival offers a fun ship all-American cruising experience  which attracts passengers of all ages, mostly between 30 and 55, and is also good for children and teens.

The Norwegian cruise line and Princess Cruises offer a similar friendly US-style experience. Princess Cruises are popular with couples, families with teenagers and young children and older singles who like to mingle.

Costa  Cruises offers an Italian ambience with stylish lifts and atriums and is geared for families with children.

Celebrity Cruises are aimed at sophisticated adult couples and families with older children such as teenagers  who want to travel in style.

Holland America’s  big ships appeal to younger families with children while its small cruise ships are popular with seniors. MSC  Cruises are stylishly geared for adult couples and singles and families with children.

P & O is a  traditional British cruise company popular with British families wanting to sail fom the UK. It has adults-only ships and ballroom dance instructors and does theme cruises.

Cunard  is steeped in maritime history and the grand traditions of ocean liners  and best enjoyed by experienced travellers who enjoy a cosmopolitan sailing experience.

Portimao – a small city big on what matters most

portimao portugal


Portimao offers a quiet unspoilt corner of southern Europe


ONE of the joys of travelling is finding a place that offers everything you could want and which hasn’t been flooded by hordes of other tourists in search of the same thing.

That place for me is Portimao, on the Algarve, Portugal, which I have had the pleasure of getting to know now at all times of the year and have never found disappointing.

Portimao is such a low profile place that tourist guides can’t decide whether it’s a town or a city. I lost count of the number of guides and websites that referred to it as a town when I read about its history.

In fact it was made a city in 1924 by the then President of the Republic, the famous Portuguese writer and politician Manuel Teixeira Gomes, who made a point of honouring the town where he was born during his brief two-year stint as seventh President of Portugal.

With a population of around 50,000, it’s a small city and that is part of its charm. You can wander around its centre and see all its key sites in an hour. It is unspoilt by the omnipresent brand names that plague other cities and has just small shops selling lace, shoes, jewellery, ceramics and wicker goods.

There is still a Moorish charm about the city centre and then there’s the nearby riverfront, where a series of squares – Largo do Dique, Praça Manuel Teixeira Gomes and Praça Visconde de Bivar – are filled with outdoor cafés overlooking the wonderful Arade river and its bridges.

The tourists who flock to this part of the world all year around for its superb climate tend to be farmed Doing so increases the performance of deleted data recovery lookup. out along the coast surrounding the city allowing it to retain its quiet dignity. It’s a wonderful place to stroll around and have a drink or a meal in friendly, relaxed establishments.

The area was once ruled by Romans and then Moors but modern Portimão came into being in the reign of King Afonso V in the fifteenth century.It was ideally placed to enjoy the fruits of the boom in international trade stimulated by the great Portuguese voyages of discovery and prospered as a haven for ships plying the African coast.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. The earthquake of 1755 which decimated Lisbon also destroyed much of Portimao starting its economic decline. Its most historic building, the Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição – Church of Our Lady of Conception –  had to be rebuilt after the earthquake but still boasts a Manueline door from the original fourteenth-century structure

portimao portugal Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição - Church of Our Lady of Conception

Igreja da Nossa Senhora da Conceição – Church of Our Lady of Conception

Things got better towards the end of the 19th century with the return of trade, exports of dried fruit, milling, fishing and the fish-canning industry, activities which would continue into the 20th century.

Now the tourist industry dominates. The old fish canning plant is a museum and once mighty industrial chimneys no longer belch smoke. But they have been conserved to make life easier for the huge storks who take them over once dormant – and now provide photo opportunities galore for tourists.

portimao portugal riverside

Portimao riverside

portimao portugal museum

Portimao museum

Sapporo and Hokkaido, a very different part of Japan


JAPAN’S most northern island of Hokkaido is a snow lover’s paradise which is attracting more skiers and snowboarders from the West with every season.

The remote region offers smaller mountains blanketed in deep snow all winter which give perfect soft powder descents. This can be followed by bathing in the bath temperature natural pools found in this volcanic land. One mountain – the 2,291 metre high Mount Asahidake – has the added hazards of searing steam vents and a boiling-water stream.

Despite being remote Hokkaido is also blessed with a fabulous capital city in Sapporo which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1972. Right now the locals are enjoying  one of their annual highlights  –  the Sapporo Snow Festival which this year is staged from February 5 to 11. It started off small but grew into an international ice statue competition and a celebration of the snow that attracts nearly 2 million visitors every year.

The hop from Tokyo to Hokkaido’s capital city is more than 500 miles but well worth it. There are plenty of budget flights to Sapporo but beware transfer costs between airports as most international flights arrive at Narita while flights to Sapporo are usually from Haneda airport (see footnote}.

Sapporo  is uniquely different from the rest of Japan’s cities. First of all, you have to be an idiot to get lost in it as it was designed by American town planners working on their familiar grid system. A town map is all you need to walk the grids.

Secondly, Sapporo is a city with an outdoors feeling. Surrounded by mountains and peppered with parks, gardens and tree-lined avenues, it has none of the jostling of Tokyo’s pavements. It provides comfortable breathing space with ease despite being Japan’s fifth largest city.

Because of its longer winter, Hokkaido is the last of Japan’s five main islands to celebrate the sakura – cherry tree blossoming – which usually begins around March in sub-tropical Okinawa, the southernmost island, and works its way up through Kyushu, Shikoku, and Honshu arriving in Hokkaido last, usually in May.

This is a traditional time for open air picnics and enjoying a drink under the trees. People bring home-cooked meals, do BBQ, or buy take-out food to celebrate the blossoms and the coming of the summer.

Sapporo is a great place to visit winter or summer. The beer gardens of the Sapporo Brewery are well worth a visit and you have to try its famous miso ramen noodles in a local noodle bar. Soup curry is another favourite local dish and the popular Genghis Khan style restaurants offer a unique dining experience where raw meat is brought to your table for you to cook on a hotplate.

The number one attraction in Sapporo city centre is  the Tokeidai clock tower built in 1878. The clock came from Boston and the building smacks of the USA colonial mid-west. It houses a museum with displays about the building”s history and Sapporo.

Near to Sapporo, Hakodate and Otaru are also worth visiting. The old port town of Otaru has a pretty canal area online casino spiele which stages its own snow festival in winter and some atmospheric sushi and sashimi restaurants. Hakodate boasts a star-shaped fort and wonderful night views.

From June to September Hokkaido is invaded by hikers, cyclists and campers who come to enjoy its great outdoors. It has fabulous national parks and near to Sapporo is the picture postcard perfect Lake Toya and Mount Usu, an active volcano.

Tokyo-Sapporo is one of the world”s busiest air routes with dozens of flights per day. The distance from Narita airport to Haneda airport is around  50 miles and often poses a headache for travellers from the west. Some of the taxi services can be expensive and add hundreds of pounds to the cost of travel for a couple or family. Using the train service is cheap but time taking and needs to be planned in advance.

*The cheapest way to make the transfer between Narita and Haneda airports is to use the Keisei electric railway access express. It takes and hour and a half and costs 1,740 yen but it doesn”t run all day. Look up times on the web.

Japan National Tourism Organisation recommended two other routes costing a little over 3,000 yen. One is from Narita station and taking the Keisei Skyliner to Nippori station then the JR Yamanote line (outer loop) to Hamamatsucho station and then the Tokyo rapid monorail (90 minutes). The other is to take the Narita Express 18 train to Tokyo arival line 1 and the JR Keihin-Tohoku/Negishi rapid line to Hamamatsucho station and the rapid monorail. (two hours). There”s also a limousin bus service at 3,000 yen.


Clube Praia da Oura resort, Allbufeira, Portugal

We spent a week in November at the Clube Praia da Oura resort at Albufeira. The resort is positioned on the beach with historic Albufeira town a scenic two mile walk away.

It consists of 561 self-catering apartments, all with views 0f the Atlantic or the hotel”s gardens and pools.It has two swimming pools, sauna, bowling green, bars, disco, restaurant and barbecue terrace.

There are walkways down to a small beach and the landscaping of the hotel gives it a pleasant tropical ambience.

Some of the units in the Clube Praia da Oura are a bit outdated but rooms are spacious and comfortable with good catering facilities. It is worth finding out exactly where your room is as some undoubtedly have better balcony views than others.


Sister Act

There is a sister resort just over the road – the Oura-View Beach Club – and then there is a 4-star hotel nearby, the Oura Praia Hotel. All are owned by Petchey Leisure and in November were all offering rooms for between 20 and 30 euros a night on booking.com.

There is a good mix of restaurants between the three complexes and it is certainly worth noting the times of happy hours and taurus horoscope love usually has many love affairs. special evening promotions. The hotel”s two-for-one steak night offers good eating at good value.

The famous Albufeira strip is just a short walk away and in the winter this is a blessing as a lot of bars and restaurants are still open at a quiet time of year.

It’s not guaranteed sunbathing weather although we did get a couple of days on the beach.  It is pretty much guaranteed to be mostly mild weather and hordes of German and Dutch visitors drive and fly down to the Algarve at this time of year to beat the winter blues.

The Algarve offers fascinating coastal walks which abound in vibrant colours and there are also hill walks to be enjoyed. You can see what the coast and the weather was like in my separate report on Albufeira.

For a budget break from the cold at this time of year it is hard to beat the Algarve coast of Portugal. There are great connections from the UK to its gateway airport of Faro.

Airport transfers are cheap if you shop around meaning you can spread your net for hotels which are as much as an hour”s drive away. Check out www.cheapesttaxis.com/

It”s not hard to find good family accommodation for around 25 euros a night.