Craft the Travel, Worldschooling

England: The City of London

For the start and finish of our UK journey, LONDON!

I always forget how much I enjoy a direct, international flight on American Airlines. Crazy!?! No! Board, stow your items, set-up your footrest and complimentary pillow/blanket. Next start scrolling through the many, new release movies they offer and don’t forget your standard-jack headphones or they will offer you a free pair. Next, await your first meal. If you want veg/vegan, you do need to pre-request it by calling. Over an 8-hr flight they serve at least two full meals, plus endless drinks and free beer/wine. Between two full movies, two meals and a good nap, my flight is over! I actually look forward to the flights as they set me up for a little ‘me-time’ before and after the trip. No groceries to buy, no meals to prepare for my family, no one asking for help with anything…just hours of movies and being served! Bliss! My experience was in the main cabin, so fair warning if you book only basic cabin class and some of these features are not offered.

Lightning in a cloud during our flight to Heathrow

After landing with about 3 hours of sleep under my belt (darn movies!), I had been pre-trip administering and for about the next 48 hours a ‘jet-lag’ homeopathy to my family. I think it really helped us bounce back faster. My husband and I managed the adjustment well while my son took an extra day. He also complained of a sore throat, so I grabbed items from my Family Wellness Homeopathy kit and started up with ‘Immune Support’ and ‘Upper Respiratory Support’. 36-hours later he was fine, no more complaints.

While in London we stayed at the Crowne Plaza London – The City which was lovely. Next time I would prefer to stay in Kensington because it’s near Harrod’s and Whole Foods! But the Crowne was a good central location and literally across the street from a Underground station.

Bit of advice when planning to sight-see in London is to purchase a London Pass WITH Travelcard. This is going to get you setup to see all the main tourist destinations, one-day on a hop-on-off bus, river cruise and oyster card to travel around town on the underground tube. They mail this to you ahead of time, so plan accordingly and order at least a month out to allow time for mail. We opted to get the ‘dining book/card’ too, but it was difficult finding places to eat in the book there were where we happen to be when ready to eat. One restaurant didn’t even know about the card and it took a manager’s intervention to honor the discount. So hindsight, more hassle that the discount was worth. The only big tourist item NOT on the pass was the London Eye. Personally, I didn’t feel like we missed anything after taking in the views from St. Paul’s but that’s your decision. More photography of my ‘Views of London‘ from atop St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s Cathedral is free on the London Pass and was very close to our hotel, so one of our first stops. Stunning architecture! You can tour the crypt, the main floor and climb to the The Stone and Golden Galleries to take in London’s views. Be ready to climb all the way to the top is 528 steps, but so, so worth it!

Inside the main floor is everything you would image it to be in an Anglican cathedral. To view more of this beautiful church, visit my photography site and page dedicated to St. Paul’s LoveCameraEarth.com.

Sebastian and I visited The Museum of London and specifically the exhibit, The Beasts of London. It was about the role animals played in London during different periods in time. Very visually entertaining for children and adults! More photography from the Beasts of London.

We had great weather for our Big Bus Tour that took us all around the sights of London. I love to do these types of bus tours anytime I visit a new city. You really get the ‘lay of the land’ this way. Using the map or the app made it easy to switch tours to make sure you covered all your areas of interest. This was free for 24-hours on The London Pass. More photography of ‘the Streets of London‘.

In case you have been under a rock your entire life, visit Harrods!! It is an amazing shopping center with my favorite floor being the food hall! There are rooms of options, so go with a enormous appetite! There are floors of shopping. You have to walk the floors just to see all the interesting clothes, jewelry and people! There was even an area to purchase a luxury yacht by Sunseeker! Just a few more photos of Harrods.

Just one of your many eating options.

No visit to London would be complete without a stop at Buckingham Palace. The royal palace is only open to the public July-September/October, so plan accordingly and buy your timed-entrance tickets ahead of time. These are not included on the London Pass. Sadly, photos are not allowed inside. Enjoy more of my shots of the grounds.

Buckingham Palace in the distance.

With my husband being a history and Churchill fan, The War Rooms was a ‘must see’ for us. While we enjoyed it, it was such a lovely day outside being down in the museum and bunker was a bit dreary so we made it a fairly quick visit. This stop is on your London Pass and we did not pre-book an entrance time. We waited maybe 10-15 minutes at the door, so pre-book for no wait. More of my photography from Churchill’s War Rooms.

One of my favorite afternoons was having Afternoon Tea at the beautiful Milestone Hotel. We did make a reservation in advance and dressed for the afternoon. We enjoyed the MOST exquisite sandwiches, desserts and hot scones PLUS a variety of teas! More of the Milestone Hotel.

Tea in the sun lite lounge.

One of the most iconic sites in London, Tower Bridge which is next door to the Tower of London are both excellent stops in a great walk-around area. We toured both and they were on the London Pass. Excellent history, Crown Jewels, views, architecture and more! This stop must be on your list. More photography of the Tower Bridge and inside the Tower of London.

Conveniently located near the entrance to the Tower of London is the river terminal for boarding the Thames River Cruise included on your London pass. We enjoyed the tour operator very much. His accent, narration and comedy were on point! Don’t pass up this chance to sit and relax for a bit while they drive up and down the Thames. The boat trip takes you down to Greenwich and back. Where you can see the GMT clock! We see GMT (time) all the time, but it was so interesting to see the clock that started it all! Just a few more photos of our trip down the Thames.

For more of our UK road trip. Visit: Scotland: The Lochs, Moray Coast & Edinburgh and England: Castles to Manors to Ruins.

Craft the Travel

Cruise to Cuba. The Final Day.

Our bunco group (dice game) starting planning our get-away in August of 2018 and finally set sail June 3rd of 2019. Little did we know due to US policy change with Cuba, we would literally be the last cruise ship in the Havana Port!

The Norwegian Sky in the port of Havana, Cuba on June 4th, 2019 for the last time.

Our trip started in South Beach, Miami, Florida at the Cadillac Hotel and Beach Club found at Collins and 39th. I have stayed at many hotels in South Beach and the Cadillac was one of my best stays in Miami. The service was excellent and they accommodated my many special requests. I enjoyed their room service, beach side service and pool side dining. Their room rates include two beach chairs and access is easy and convenient to use.

Balcony view from an ‘Ocean View’ room on floor 5.

I arrived on the 1st anticipating the rest of the group to begin arriving early on the 2nd. Sadly thanks to weather and/or American Airlines, all the Sunday flights were delayed and the rest of our group didn’t get in until 7p, 8p and 9p o’clock, Sunday night. When your travel agent recommends arriving (at least) a day early for your cruise, listen!

Me, patiently waiting for the other ladies in our group.

We were still able to slip in a late dinner at Nikki Beach and enjoy friends and food!

The next morning, Monday, we left the Cadillac for the port of Miami for a 12/12:30p check-in. We had a great Uber driver the evening before that we used again for the Hotel-to-Port run in a big Suburban. He was able to fit all our ladies and luggage! What a champ!

We turned our luggage over to the porter, made our way through security and Norwegian check-in to the ship. The process was simple and easy. We stepped on board and started exploring the ship. I made my way straight to guest services to book our dinner reservations for the three nights we would be dining on the ship. I highly recommend this for anyone wanting to eat in the specialty restaurants especially with a large party. We were aboard the Norwegian Sky, which was refurbished and completed in early 2019. Overall I think everyone felt that the ship was lovely with plenty of entertainment for the period of time we were aboard. I would recommend this ship for any short cruises with Norwegian.

On board the Norwegian Sky

We received access to our rooms later in the afternoon and luggage was delivered shortly after. We were all in row on level 9, balcony cabins 9016 to 9019 on the port side of the ship. It was a quiet, convenient, near bow location with good proximity to the stairs and elevators. The next level up was floor 10 which was also directly below most of the action, so I’m not sure I would book myself or clients on anything higher than floor 9. We settled into our rooms and dressed for dinner. Some of us that were ready early stopped in at bingo before dinner at Le Bistro.

Amy, Keely, Martha and I ready to B-I-N-G-O!

As part of our cruise package we had complimentary 3-course dinners at each of the 3 specialty restaurants on-board the Sky. Our first night was at Le Bistro, French Cuisine. I enjoyed mussels, the sea bass and a bite of several lovely desserts.

Our first dinner on the Sky at Le Bistro.

The next morning we pulled into Cuba and I was up bright and early at 6:30am to get our group ‘disembarkation’ tickets AND had the privilege to enjoy SUNRISE in CUBA! When you don’t have an excursion booked through the cruise line, you need these tickets to leave the ship.

Our reservations with the car tour company, Old Cars Havana, were for 10am, so we had breakfast and left the ship just before 9am. We were off the ship, through security and customs in no time. We also exchanged our money. We took Euros for a better exchange rate than Dollars and each had about 200-300 cucs. We had a little time to walk the streets before meeting our tour guides.

Special mention and thanks to Martha and Somer for booking this reservation from the referral of a friend. Our English-speaking guide, Katherine was quite knowledgeable and interested in making sure we were happy. Our drivers and cars were excellent too. Don’t be afraid to book outside of the cruise line. It was far less expensive, private and easy!

To say Cuba is the land of the ‘classic American car’ is an understatement. They were EVERYWHERE and FABULOUS to look at. Everyone was very friendly about letting us gawk, ooh-n-aww, and photograph their cars.

Tons and tons of mint condition classic American cars.

We drove all over to many historical sites like the historic Hotel Nacional de Cuba, the Marecon, The Jesus Christ, and Revolution Square. For all my sightseeing photos, checkout my photography website. We made a short stop for ‘the best pina coladas’, stopped in a rum & cigar shop and ultimately settled for lunch in a ‘backyard’.

Our tour guides said…’Would you like to have lunch in a family’s backyard?’ We thought….ooooh! How fabulous, yes! We will be their honored guests.’ After a long hot morning and early afternoon of touring we were starving and ready to feast. We walked to a house and sure enough, through the fence was a full blown restaurant called Buenaventura with MANY tables and honored guests! Ha! Excellent, authentic, Cuban food in a fun, music-filled atmosphere. After lunch, we made our way back to the cars, shopped for a few quick souvenirs and headed back to the port for a little rest and relaxation.

Hot, tired and sweaty….but FULL of FAB Cuban cuisine.

This is where things got interesting…we were chilling on the ship when the cruise director came on the PA to announce that we MAY not be allowed back off the ship into Cuba. He was waiting for more info from Corporate and would get back to us. About thirty minutes later he announced all was a go and we WOULD be allowed back off. We decided we better hurry up and get back off before they changed their minds again! We had terrace top, dinner reservations at The Cuban Coin,

Alex and Jordan picked us up in their convertibles after dinner and took us to The Tropicana where we had reservations for the show.

Amy, Keely and I in Alex’s Car.

I booked our tickets direct with the Tropicana versus through the cruise line and saved us half the price. We had premium-seat tickets which included rum & coke and peanuts and we were seated directly center stage. The show was amazing! It went on for about an hour and a half and was very entertaining. The opera singers were phenomenal! If you are on facebook and want to see my videos of the show, view here. To see all my photos from the Tropicana, view my photography site, LoveCameraEarth.com. After our evening in Havana, we re-boarded the ship and sought out the dance club. We enjoyed dancing and celebrating Amy’s pre-pre-birthday! 🤣

Cheri did an amazing job and surprised Amy with a ‘Happy Birthday’ door!

If we learned one thing about touring in Havana, Cuba is take TOILET PAPER with you as none is provided in most public restrooms and RUM is plentiful and handed out by the bottle when you order drinks!

Key Havana insights….Rum and Toilet Paper!

The next day, Wednesday, we marveled at our good fortune and how we were the LAST cruise ship in Havana!! How awesome! Everyone had a ‘chill’ day and did their own thing. I booked a hot-stone massage, attended a painting class, napped and dressed for the ‘Captain’s Cocktail Party’ Keely and I attended. We met the group for dinner at the Italian Eatery, La Cucina. This was also ‘white party’ night hence why we are all dressed in white!

Our last full day aboard the Sky was spent at Norwegian’s private island called, Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. We took tender boats over to the island where we had booked a private cabana. Martha, Irina and Somer went to ‘Swim with the Pigs’ while the rest of the group relaxed at the beach. Our cabana was on a lovely out-of-the-way beach on the island. We enjoyed swimming in the ocean and eating at the restaurants on the island. Since the island is owned by Norwegian all the food and drinks are included in your cruise fare. The only downfall is that they close it up early and stop serving food by about 2pm. Amy and I first stopped at the taco bar, then found some nibbles on the main lunch buffet and Cheri helped me find the dessert bar to top it off! Ha! Last day – had to blow it out! ❤

We spent our last evening and Amy’s official birthday dinner at Cagney’s steakhouse. It was a late dinner so we meet up early at our favorite bar on the ship, ‘Sugarcane’, The Mojito Bar for Friends trivia. We played Yahtzee and ate bar snacks until time for dinner. Everyone enjoyed dinner and lots of desserts to celebrate Amy! The thoughtful and amazing, Cheri surprised us all with birthday hats and cups. She really is the best!

Final dinner at the Steakhouse, Cagney’s for Amy’s Birthday!

The next morning everyone had their own departure plans, so some left as soon as they opened the gate at 7:40am, while Martha, Somer and I were the last ones off the ship at just after 9am. We enjoyed breakfast in the main dining room and took our time getting off the ship and getting a car to take us to the airport. No customs issues with our Cuban purchases and no flight issues for anyone getting home. Amy once said ‘Life is about experiences’ and that is a sentiment very close to my heart too. I thank these ladies so much for taking time away from their families to spend with me and as a group. We all refueled our tanks with adventure, excitement and relaxation…something every mom needs!

Bon Voyage, from the Norwegian Sky!

A cruise made it very easy to enjoy each other’s company, but have space and freedom to relax and ‘do our own thing.’ Norwegian never made my experience feel restricted and I would hands down recommend the line for your cruising vacation!

Norwegian Sky in the Port of Havana