Having finally hung up the chalk after a very long teaching career, my new career is: travelling, blogging and writing from the beautiful northern end of the NSW coast.
You can read about my progress at www.maureendurney.com
Life is Good!
Published July 13th 2017
Before you sail away, book a night and stay
Since 1804, passenger ships, including the Titanic, have been docking in Southampton, UK. While some of the earlier ships may have been lacking in the comforts we've come to expect from cruising, the modern day equivalents are floating luxury resorts and have helped make Southampton the cruise capital of the UK.
The Titanic leaving Southampton in April 1912 Photo by F.G.O. Stuart (1843-1923) Public Domain - Wikipedia Commons
If you are planning a cruise from the UK, chances are you'll be leaving from the busy port of Southampton. But it isn't only Southampton-ites and British residents walking up the gangplank; cruisers from all over the world, including Australia, make their way to Southampton to board the big ships. And that's how I ended up in Southampton in November 2016.
When I have an International flight (or ship) to connect with, I prefer to book accommodation in the city of departure for at least the night before the trip, just to ensure a smooth transfer to the airport or port. Traffic jams, delayed connecting flights and even a flat tyre could mean the difference between making it to the International Terminal on time - or not, and relaxed - or not. Planning a cruise from Southampton UK to Miami USA was no different. Even though the cruise line assured me that transport could be arranged to get me from Heathrow to Southampton, on time, on the day of departure - I wasn't convinced. I booked two nights at the Novotel Southampton:
to give me some down-time before sailing away
to make sure I made it to the dock on time
It worked on both counts and believe me, it took a lot of the stress out of the trip.
The flight from Australia landed in Heathrow not long after the sun had managed to peek over the horizon. And once the formalities of Immigration, Customs and retrieving luggage were out of the way, I found the transit section and booked a seat on the bus headed for Southampton. I could have booked the bus before leaving Australia, but I'm very glad I didn't. Booking it at Heathrow took some of the stress out of the arrival process because I could take my time getting through the formalities on arrival and even have time for a much-needed coffee. Actually, the bus wasn't really a 'bus', it was definitely a coach, with very comfortable seats and a bathroom (toilet). I can't tell you much about the scenery along the way because I slept for most of the two hours, but luckily I was awake to see the beauty of Winchester.
Is there really a Winchester Cathedral - or was it just the song I remember?
I chose the direct coach from London to Southampton, but I could have booked a coach that detoured via Stonehenge, as some bus companies offer a side trip along the way. With its 4,500 year history, Stonehenge is one of the Wonders of the World. I'd like to think that Stonehenge will be on another list, on another adventure, when I take the time to explore the parts of the UK I haven't visited yet. Well, that's the plan anyway.
You could stop at Stonehenge on the way. Photo by Sara khan • CC BY-SA 2.0 - Wikimedia Commons
Luckily, there was a taxi waiting when I arrived at the Bus Depot in Southampton, but if you want some exercise and are not weighed-down with luggage like I was, you could easily walk to the Novotel from the Bus Depot.
Check-in at the Novotel couldn't have been easier, having completed an online preliminary check-in prior to arriving. By the time I got to the front desk, there was little else to do but take the key and find my room. The staff couldn't have been more friendly and helpful, which made the check-in process super easy.
Up on the second floor and in search of my allocated room, I noticed the age of the building, highlighted by walls that looked like they'd been watching the comings and goings of travellers for a very long time. It's what you'd expect in a country as old as England...if only those walls could talk.
I found my room, swiped the key and was very glad to be able to stop moving for a while. My safe haven for the next two nights was very welcoming and I was tired enough to just want to shut the world out and sleep, for at least a few hours. But, I know the best way to avoid jet-lag is to keep moving until it is bedtime in whatever time zone I find myself in, so I resisted the urge to rest.
I managed to resist the overwhelming need for sleep
The room wasn't too different to most hotels, but it did have a separate toilet, small but totally functional, which would be a bonus if you were sharing the room. The power-points were right beside the bed, so having a place to charge my iDevices, without having to rearrange the furniture to find the power point, earned a really high score in my estimation.
The usual hotel necessities were there:
a bathtub (and shower) - a welcome sight after more than twenty-four hours in transit
a comfortable (horizontal) bed - a very welcome change after the previous night's unsuccessful attempt to sleep in the upright position on the plane
But the hotel was more than just the bricks and mortar and a comfortable bed. The staff at the Novotel are what made the difference between it being an average hotel and a great hotel.
In the over-sized, overweight backpack full of technology I had dragged half-way across the world, the very thing I needed - I didn't have. The universal adaptor for charging my laptop was still at home. On the way to the restaurant for a coffee, I stopped by the front desk to ask directions to the nearest store that might sell an adaptor. Yes, there were stores nearby that probably would stock the adaptor and no, I didn't need to rush out to buy one, as there was one right there at the counter that I could use in the short term.
Shopping is an easy walk from the Novotel Hotel Southampton
The real bonus of staying at the Novotel is the people you meet in the restaurant and/or hallways. On the first morning, while I was deciding between healthy or decadent choices from the breakfast buffet, I started chatting to the lady standing next to me. It didn't take long to find out that my new friend:
was an Aussie (from Perth)
was going to be on the same cruise
was travelling alone (just like me), so I instantly had a travel buddy
Having the best part of two days at my disposal before boarding the ship, I had time to rest and explore Southampton. There's plenty of shopping within an easy walk of the hotel but if shopping isn't your idea of fun, you can check out the Titanic Museum.
Titanic Engineers' Memorial - honouring the Engineers who died in the Titanic disaster - April 1912
Or you can simply wander the beautiful old streets of this ancient town and soak up the historic atmosphere. I had to wonder whether my Grandfather had trodden the same path at some time in the distant past? He sailed around the world many times, aboard a sailing ship from his beloved Sweden, before sealing his fate (and mine) by meeting and marrying my Grandmother in Australia.
If you've booked a cabin on one of the many cruises leaving from Southampton, consider booking a night or two at the Novotel before you set sail. You'll arrive at the port relaxed, refreshed, and ready to go. It's the perfect way to start your holiday and you never know who you'll meet along the way.