A Taste of Tuscania, Italy (not to be confused with Tuscany)

During our Mediterranean cruise with P&O Cruises, one of our stops was Civitavecchia, Rome. Originally we had booked an excursion to tour Rome for the day but once we found out about the “Taste of Tuscania” excursion, we changed our mind. I had been to Rome before and convinced Amit we would go another time and so we decided to visit this lesser known Italian town and I am so glad we did. We also got to go with new friends Karen and Amanda, who are also bloggers, and it was such a great day out.

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Not only were there less tourists, it had so much history as well as included a visit to an agri-tourism farm, which was a memorable experience. Agri tourism is an agricultural based activity, in this case farming, where tourists are able to visit and see the operations of the place or try the produce, for instance. These are quite popular in Italy with some places even offering farm stays so you can fully immerse yourself.

Tuscania is often confused with Tuscany and although it has lovely green rolling fields, it is actually located in Lazio.

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We started our day touring the town of Tuscania. It was so pretty with rustic charm, amazing food ( we nipped into a shop to try some savouries), and just had perfect instagram worthy spots everywhere you looked! I love Italy and I especially love the Italian way of life.

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Tuscania is located about an hour’s drive from Rome and is like the other end of the spectrum as its so tranquil, laid back and idyllic. It is such a romantic town and I loved walking the cobbled streets and marvelling at the pastel coloured walls with pretty flowers adorning them. We would find the occasional chair with Lavender on it or colourful bikes stood against walls, and it was the perfect photographers dream.

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If it hadn’t been for the cruise, I would probably not even have known about Tuscania so I am so glad it opened my eyes to a part of Italy off the beaten track which I may have overlooked normally. In fact, we fell so in love with Italy that we have vowed to visit more of the lesser known parts over the next couple of years.

After strolling around we headed to the farm, where we were going to try the produce, try some wine and enjoy an Italian anti pasti spread. I was in heaven with the cheese, olive oil tapenade, home made bread, cold meats and omelettes. It was all so delicious. The wine was gorgeous too and I preferred the red wine.

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The farm is particularly proud of its olive oil production and they were selling these in these gorgeous tins. We got to try some with the bread and it is astonishing how different it tastes to shop bought mass produced olive oil. Sometimes it is worth spending that little bit extra.

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The grounds of the farm were just how I imagined an Italian farm to look like with produce growing, pretty fields and that clean crisp air which makes you wish you owned a cottage in the countryside.

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After a wonderful meal and wander around the farm, we headed back towards the port. Karen, Amanda and I asked to be dropped off half way towards the port so we could explore a little bit before heading back to the ship.

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We also couldn’t resist a cheeky gelato. When in Italy! It was lush 🙂

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We had a wonderful day and I am so pleased we decided to try something new rather than visiting the usual spots in Rome.

Have you been on a cruise and chosen an excursion you wouldn’t normally have done? Would love to know in the comments below.

To read more about my cruise click here.

Binny xx

 

Living the dream of being a pizzaiola for the day in Naples

Whenever I thought about Naples as a destination, the first thing that would pop in my mind would be pizzas. I absolutely love Pizzas and when the opportunity arose to visit Naples as part of our P&O cruise, I ensured that Pizzas would somehow be involved in our plans.

Neapolitan Pizza  is taken so seriously that there is actually an Associazone Verace Pizza Napoletana that actually award authenticity certificates to pizzerias around the world who meet the stringent criteria of what constitutes a true Neapolitan pizza.

We visited a restaurant, where I actually learned how to make my own pizza and I achieved a dream of being a pizzaiola for the day! A pizzaiola, in case you are wondering, is a female pizza maker. The male version is a Pizzaiolo.

First things first we were told about was the oven in which the pizzas were made. These have to be the traditional dome shaped, wood-fueled ovens. They are usually made with brick or stone and are sealed. In terms of size, they must be 45 to 40cm high. The door must be 22 to 25cm. Yup it is mega strict!

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Next up was actually making the pizza! The Pizzaiolo showed us how to make the dough and stretch it out. He even tossed the dough in the air but I wasn’t that brave.

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Next up was toppings and we were told that simple and fresh is always best! I topped my pizza with Margherita sauce made with Italian San Marzano tomatoes, Mozzarella and fresh basil.

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The pizza then went into the dome shaped oven for between 60-90 seconds and the temperature was approximately 905°F. It immediately started puffing up and you could smell that amazing aroma of freshly baked pizza.

A criteria of true Neapolitan pizza is that it must be thin. The guidelines are that the crust must be 1-2cm. This is absolutely perfect for me as I love my pizzas thin.

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Once the pizza is ready, you can’t just help marvel at its beauty. That beautiful charred smokey and bitter crust and moist, bubbly centre. Mamma mia! It was absolutely delicious.

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I enjoyed my pizza with my favourite wine – Montepulciano and it was a perfect day. What else does one need apart from delicious wine and a beautiful pizza?

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If you don’t want to make the pizza yourself but want to still enjoy Neapolitan pizzas, you can of course order them 😉

There are so many pizzerias in Naples and I really recommend trying out a couple (in the name of research) as you can never have too much pizza in your life. The pizzeria we went to was called La Tama Dell’arte Pizzeria.

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If you are planning to visit Naples, this is seriously a must do! Naples is such a pretty place and we wandered around the streets looking at the architecture and learning about the history on a walking tour, which was also really interesting.

I did leave Naples feeling like a dome shaped wood fired oven is needed in my life so one day when I have a big house that is the plan!

Have you made a pizza in Naples? I would love to know in the comments below.

My Top Ten Travel moments of 2016 and travel plans for 2017

2016 was a year full of such varied travel and I am so grateful for all the experiences that I have been lucky to have. My top ten travel highlights, in no particular order, were as follows:

  1. A BBQ out at sea in Mauritius

Having a BBQ on a Catamaran in the middle of the Indian Ocean in Mauritius was one of those “pinch me, is this real?” moments and was an unforgettable experience. What made it even more special was that we saw some dolphins jumping in and out of the water whilst we were chilling on the Catamaran, soaking up the sunshine. I generally am happiest when on a boat, out at sea, so this was definitely a memory I will cherish forever.

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2. Exploring St Malo, in Brittany 

I had visited St Malo, when I was 15, as part of a school trip to spend a few weeks there, attending a school to learn French. In 2016, I was invited by Brittany Ferries, to experience St Malo again and it was just stunning! I fell in love with it all over again and ate all the salted caramel I could manage. It is such an easy trip from the UK and I highly recommend it.

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3. Making my own pizza in Naples, Italy

As part of our cruise in September 2016, one of our stops was Naples, in Italy and it happened to be during the Pizza Festival. We spent the day exploring Naples by foot, learning about the history and then went to a restaurant where we learned how to make the pizzas Naples is famous for ourselves! It was such a lovely experience and one of the top foodie moments of 2016 for me. The pizza was delicious too!

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4. Visiting Monaco

Monaco had been one of the destinations on my travel wish list for so long so when it was part of the destinations our cruise was going to I was ecstatic! I loved exploring Monaco and taking in the views and aspiring to own a yacht parked in the marina one day!

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5. The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite cities in the world, and this was my third visit to the Catalonian capital and I can never tire of seeing the sights.

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6. Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun, Mexico City 

Climbing the third biggest pyramid in the world in Mexico City was also a top travel moment. I was very unfit and had to stop several times before I made it to the top! However, the view from the top made up for the exhaustion! If you ever visit Mexico City do not miss this out and make sure you climb it!

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7. Visiting my husband’s family’s Kesar Mango Farm in India

This year my husband took me to India to visit his ancestral home outside of Bhuj. They grow the famous Kesar Mangoes at the farmland close to his home and trust me those mangoes, when in season, are the best mangoes you will ever eat!

It was nice to have a (forced) social media detox and not be able to check emails and just immerse myself in the laid back culture and breath that fresh air every day.

PS: I know I look like a Kesar Mango myself in this bright yellow outfit LOL

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8. Seeing the Gateway of India in Mumbai

Another landmark, top of my list to see, was the Gateway of India, and in 2016 I ticked this off the list. It had always interested me, especially after reading about the Mumbai Terror Attacks, and the major plus point was it was right opposite the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which we stayed at and also ticked off our hotel wish list.

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9. Going to the top of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai

Although I have visited Dubai several times, we have never actually gone to the top of the Burj Khalifa until 2016 on a family trip there. It was dark when we got to the top at our scheduled time so we saw all the pretty lights making the city sparkle. I would love to go again during the day time on my next visit to Dubai.

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10. Attending The Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards

The final highlight of many, was attending the Latin America Top 50 Restaurant Awards in a very glitzy ceremony in Mexico City, as part of a press trip. This trip was especially confidence boosting for me as I had never travelled so far by myself before and with a lack of knowledge of much Spanish I did struggle a little. However, it has also led to one of my new year’s resolution being to learn Spanish as I would love to visit other parts of Latin America.

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So far in 2017 I have plans to visit Athens in January, Paris in February and a long trip back to Kenya in March to attend my youngest brother’s wedding as well as spend lots of time with family and friends.

We have yet to plan a trip for our seven (gasp) year wedding anniversary as well as a big trip for when I end my career at some point this year (tbc).

I would love to see more of Asia, Latin America, North America as well as some more city breaks in Europe.

Keep an eye out on my Instagram to find out as and when I make some more travel plans.

What is on your travel wish list this year? I would love to know in the c0mments section below 🙂

Highlights of 2016 for Binny’s Kitchen & Travel Diaries

2016 has been a whirlwind year where plenty of Mojitos were consumed, lots of new friendships were made, several destinations were visited, both in the UK and abroad, and lots of dining out occurred at various new and classic restaurants!

Best Mojito of 2016

First things first! My favourite Mojito was at the Langham hotel. Trust me I have had a lot of Mojitos in the name of research to come to this conclusion 😉

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Now we can carry on to the rest of the year. Here is my round up of my year with lots of photos.

January

The year started quietly as we had just returned from a trip back home in Kenya which had been pretty hectic with a wedding to attend and some family time split between Mombasa and Nairobi. The highlight of January however, was getting to meet Jason Atherton and getting a signed cook book. I somehow managed to win an Instagram competition on Jason’s feed and had won a meal for 2 at his restaurant Social Wine and Tapas, which was brilliant. I didn’t take my camera though and didn’t blog about it. A lesson I learned from and didn’t repeat for the rest of the year. That camera is permanently in my handbag!

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February

The shortest month of the year and we had our first staycation of the year in Nottingham. It was fun exploring the city and visiting the castle. The highlight of the staycation was visiting the Kitty Café because if you know me you know I am a super crazy cat lady!

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In London we also visited the Magic lantern festival and that was quite spectacular! I hope that there is something similar to see next year!

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March

March was the only month where I seem to have stayed in and cooked more than I went out for some bizarre reason. I did however go to Hoppers London for some Egg Hoppers, which has definitely been a very fabulous experience.

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I also had Bao, and fell in love with the Horlicks Bao. It is heavenly!

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April

April was a month of celebrations with my Blog having its first year anniversary as well as it being our sixth wedding anniversary! We celebrated both and went for meals to Bob Bob Ricard, famous for its “Press for Champagne” button/switch as well as one of my favourites, and evidently a favourite of Michel Roux Jr too, Michelin starred Gymkhana.

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With spring settling in we also visited the Cotswolds for a weekend trip and stayed at The Falcon, in the very cute and quaint town of Painswick.

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We also celebrated our anniversary with a long haul trip to Mauritius where we stayed at the St Regis, which was out of this world.

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May

May was the UK Blog Awards 2016 ceremony for which I was a finalist in both the Food & Drink and Travel categories. My work bff Anne came to stay the night with me to attend the ceremony, along with Mandy, and we went to the ceremony in a chauffeur driven BMW 7 series which had massage seats! Thank you to BMW for that little treat!

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The next day we went on a road trip to Liverpool, and Amit and I explored the city and had a memorable meal at Mowgli Street Food. If you go to Liverpool it is a must try!

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I went on my first ever press trip abroad too and to a destination I had visited when I was 15! It was to St. Malo in Brittany and it was such a lovely trip and I ate all the Salted Caramel I could, as well as some delicious pancakes. I got to go with my blogger friends Sandra, Omo and Eulanda and we had such a fabulous time.

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June

June was the start of good weather and I enjoyed the Taste of London festival, a food festival where you can try dishes from most of the restaurants in London.

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Got to catch up with one of my faves – Chef Vivek Singh too and got a copy of his book.

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I also got to meet one of my food heroes in June and had the opportunity to have a short interview with him – the legendary Antonio Carluccio. He is such a cutie! He did answer a very important question I had for him too. Click on the link on his name above to find out what!

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I also went for a fix of Asma Khan’s delicious food at Druid Street Market, where proceeds of her food went towards charity. Excited to have more of her amazing dishes in 2017.

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June was also the month I worked on my first big campaign with Nescafe! It was such fun to shoot and it is my favourite brand of coffee too so worked out perfectly.

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July

In July we made the most of the gorgeous weather and visited Rye, were we stayed at the marvellous Gallivant hotel. If you are thinking of visiting Rye, it is such a gorgeous hotel!

I also took a day out to volunteer at the charity I wholeheartedly support, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Amit and I make it a point to do this yearly. To find out how you too can help have a read about it here.

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I had my fix of summer ice cream in Suffolk too with a dose of some much needed beach time and some fantastic Indian food at Sea Spice restaurant in Aldeburgh.

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The highlight of the month, however, (and I probably am showing my craziness here), was meeting Grumpy Cat! I stood by myself in a queue for an hour and a half and no I am not ashamed to admit it lol.

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August

August started with a super fun tea-athon with Starwood hotels and I later returned to review my favourite afternoon tea venue at the Sheraton Grand London.

The launch party of the much anticipated Symmetry Breakfast cook book was also in August and could not be happier for Michael Zee. It was an extra special evening as Michael proposed to Mark in the book and at the launch party and a few tears of joy were shared.

Amit’s birthday is in August and this year I treated him to a 3 Michelin star meal at the Waterside inn. We loved our meal and even had the opportunity to meet Chef Alain Roux as well as get a sneak peek into the kitchen.

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September

September was a month of travel for me and we started off with a Mediterranean Cruise with P&O where we sailed to Cadiz, Barcelona, Monaco, Rome and Naples. I also got to meet the lovely Karen from Lavender and Lovage as well as Amanda from Glamourous Glutton on the trip and we all had such a fantastic time!

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As part of the cruise, we had a dinner date with THE James Martin and I am sure everyone is sick of me gushing about him now but I can’t help it. I love the man and especially love his monkey bread and snickers ice cream too.

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I bravely went to Mexico City by myself too to attend the Latin America 50 Best Restaurant awards and this was such a wonderful experience and such a superbly organized press trip. I got to experience the food, culture, arts and main sights in Mexico City.

October

I went to the glitzy Sheraton Grand London relaunch party with my blogger friends Em and Aftab and had a fun filled evening of champagne, good chat and fantastic food.

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I also went to a pasta making masterclass hosted by Theo Randall which was great fun. Most of the month was spent planning our upcoming trip to Dubai and India.

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November

November is always my favourite month as it is my Birthday month! This year I decided to have my birthday meals at Michelin starred Kai in Mayfair, a birthday brunch with my favourite bloggers Angie from Silverspoon London and Aftab from Fresh and Fearless in the Mirror room at Rosewood London and a very special meal with Amit at Vineet Bhatia London.

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We then flew to Dubai, where we stayed at the Sheraton Dubai Creek, and spent a few days on a family holiday.

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We then went onwards to India where we visited Bhuj and my husband’s ancestral home, followed by a luxurious break in Mumbai at the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, which had been high on my list of hotels to visit.

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December

December kicked off with one of my favourite meals of the year at Jamavar. If you haven’t been yet it is a must! I have already been twice and already looking for excuses to go back. If anyone wants to go with me let me know!

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I was also lucky to meet another food hero, Eric Lanlard at his Patisserie ,Cake boy thanks to Meantime Brewing Company. To kick off the festive period we made some Mince Pies with a special ingredient – Cake Boy’s Hazelnut Ale. Utterly scrumptious!

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For the rest of the month I have spent some much needed time relaxing, catching up with family and friends and spending some time getting to know my brand new godson.

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2016 has been a wonderful year and I am so grateful for all the experiences I have been fortunate to have, especially in terms of travel, and for the fantastic friends I have made along the way. I am really looking forward to 2017, which is set to be a year of change for me in terms of career.

As for New Years Resolutions, I want to continually improve on my blog, spend some time improving my photography and getting to use my Canon 760D better and learn Spanish (Geri if you are reading this I am learning Spanish for my return to Mexico one day).

The travel priority is going home to Kenya as I didn’t manage to make it home this year. We have also booked a weekend in Paris so am looking forward to that too.

What have been the highlights of 2016 for you? I would love to know in the comments section below.

Highlights of Barcelona

Barcelona is one of my favourite European cities and something keeps drawing me back again and again. I recently had the opportunity to visit again while on a press trip whereby I did a guided tour as well as ventured off on my own to explore.

Based on my numerous visits, here are my favourite things to do over a weekend or in 24 hours in Barcelona.

La Rambla

Wander along La Rambla where there are various stalls, shops, restaurants and bars, as well as street performances. You can eat tapas, drink Sangria (or Mojitos and Sangria) and people watch as the crowds pass you by.

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Mercat de la Boqueria

During one of my wanders, I enjoyed going into the food market, called Mercat de la Boqueria, where there are so many different stalls selling fresh produce. Ranging from local fruit to fish, and with some offering some meals on counters, it is a vibrant, buzzing and the perfect place for a foodie!

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There are some places to eat inside, which do have queues, but are totally worth it! Once you are seated, it is so much fun to eat, sip on wine, while people watching.

Sagrada Familia

One of Gaudi’s famous architectural masterpieces is still in the process of being completed, so you will see some scaffolding around. However, even in its current unfinished state, it is truly breathtaking to see.

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Park Gueill

See more of Gaudi’s sculptural work in this park, which is really cute, a photographers dream and a great insight into the colourful and genius mind that Gaudi had. Made up of gardens and landscaped features, garnished with colourful mosaic designs, it is lovely to explore.

 

Poble Espanyol – Spanish Village

This park has various replica buildings from different regions of Spain. It is like an open air museum where you can learn about and see what different houses from all regions of spain look like.

It was lovely to wander around, and there are a few shops selling different things. The ice cream is really delicious and so perfect to eat whilst walking around in the sunshine!

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The Beach

Spend some time relaxing and listening to the sound of the ocean while sunbathing on the beaches in Barcelona. There are lots of restaurants, bars and clubs along the beachfront which are lots of fun and you can not get bored.

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Camp Nou for the football fans

A visit to this stadium is a must if you are a football fan! You can take a tour of the stadium and museum, or if you are lucky and have bagged tickets during the season, watch a game.

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A very touristy, but handy option when you have limited time in Barcelona, is to take the hop on hop off tour as it is actually works out more economical than taking cabs between different attractions. It stops at all the major places you would want to see and is a fun way of exploring.

Have you been to Barcelona? What were your highlights? Let me know in the comments section below.

The advantages of Cruising vs Flying

Picture the scene. You are sitting at the boarding gate, waiting to be told when you can board the flight. You’ve already been at the airport a few hours, gone through a lengthy security process in a crowded airport,  browsed some duty free shops and are now literally just waiting. You have already checked out all the passengers all also impatiently waiting.

You finally get the go ahead to board the flight according to your allocated seat and then grumble as you have to make your way through slow moving passengers, who stop and hold up the line of passengers behind them as they try and store their cabin luggage in the storage overhead.

It’s a different world on-board a cruise ship. Sure on a flight you arrive at a destination much faster than on a cruise ship, however, here are some reasons why Cruises have more advantages compared to flying.

Check in

The check in process on the cruise is so much slicker and less stress free than for a flight. We literally attached tags, that we printed off, on to our luggage, dropped off our bags and joined the queue to check in at our allocated time. 5 minutes later we were boarding the ship!

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There was no sitting around at the gate waiting to board, or being strapped into a seat waiting for take off. We were free to walk around the ship, relax by the pool or chill in our room.

What was even better was our bags were delivered to our room! No waiting around at baggage carousels or missing bags!

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Value for money 

The cost of the flight includes a meal or two onboard, depending on the length of the flight as well as drinks. You have a choice from meat, fish or vegetables.

On the cruise you’re accommodation is included and you have a choice of many restaurants, included in the cost of your trip, as well as many with very reasonable supplements. You have also got access to swimming pools, live entertainment and arrivals at multiple destinations rather than one.

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Comfort

On a flight you have an assigned seat, and very limited space to walk around and very little to see. On a cruise, in your room you have a comfortable bed and your own bathroom. You are also free to walk around the ship rather than being stuck in one space for the length of the journey.

Luggage and Packing

For a flight you have to pack and unpack per destination whereas on a cruise you only need to pack and unpack once for multiple destinations as every morning you will either wake up in a new destination or be welcomed with the view of the sea. You literally get dressed and walk off the ship at a new port to explore!

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Dining

There is so much choice on a ship – a foodie’s paradise! From French, Indian to contemporary British cuisine, you just can’t go wrong. You can even treat yourself to in-room dining and enjoy your meal with a sea view. Beats the airplane food!

Entertainment

On a flight you have a small screen on which you can watch movies, TV shows or play games. On a cruise, you can go to the cinema, watch live shows, have cookery classes, singing lessons, yoga, play sports, use the gym or party by the pool.

Shopping

On a flight you can shop either pre-flight at the airport, or choose something from the duty free trolley.

On a cruise you have a choice from the cruise terminal as well as various shops on the ship.

Cabin air vs Fresh Air

Ever come off a flight with fry skin, feeling fatigued? Cruises enable you to get as much fresh air as possible from the deck or even your own balcony, allowing you to feel refreshed and relaxed.

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Pampering

On a flight you may be able to stick a sheet mask on (and frighten your fellow passengers with a kooky halloween look) and wear socks to keep your feet from cramping.

On a cruise there is a spa where you can go have a massage, facial, body scrub, or even get your hair cut and styled! There are hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms to so you can unwind and escape into a relaxed dreamy state.

There is something for everyone

Whether you are a young couple,a family or retired, there is something to cater for everyone on board a cruise ship.In addition, you can choose cruise ships according to size and destination too.

On a flight, apart from segmenting by economy, first and business class, it is a pretty much one size fits all approach.

Prior to going on my first cruise I had stereotypical views of what a cruise was like. I had visions of small cabins with bunk beds, it being boring and suited just for elderly people. I have to say I had to eat my words as it was a truly incredible experience and I had so much fun! If you haven’t experienced a cruise yet, I would definitely recommend giving it a try!

You can read about my cruise here.