Category: Useful tips (Page 1 of 2)

A collection of our most useful travel tips. Learn how to save money and maximise fun on your next trip.

Top tip – The problem with power on cruises

Problem: I’m on a cruise and there aren’t enough power outlets in my cabin stateroom for all my electrical devices – what can I do?

Solution 1: Check under your bed. There is usually a wall-mounted power socket on the right-hand side. You may need an extension lead to make best use of it though.

Solution 2: Always pack a 4-gang power extender and additional travel adaptors. There are usually two or three sockets available on the desk in your cabin stateroom. We recommend the iBlockCube because it can be used in any socket type and includes four handy USB ports for charging phones, watches, tablets, cameras etc. And the retractable pins means that it is small enough to toss in your carry-on bag too. It even comes with a nifty zippered carry case.

iBlock Cube Travel Adaptor

With fittings for all major international power sockets, 4 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C ports, this power adaptor can be used anywhere. And it’s small enough to chuck in your rucksack or handbag (purse).

Why You MUST Use Airplane Mode On A Cruise Ship

It’s a valid question – can I use my cellphone on a cruise ship? Especially when one of the very first things you are advised to do when stepping onto any cruise ship is to put your smartphone into airplane mode.

But there’s a very good reason why you should: to avoid a massive phone bill when you get home.

Animated gif showing how to enable airplane mode

Here’s the thing. Your mobile phone WILL continue to work on the ship. You can make and receive calls, surf the internet and stream videos using the ship’s onboard cellular network. So no, you don’t have to buy the (usually expensive) WiFi package.

Cool right? But…

Your bundled minutes and data don’t count

The onboard cellular network has its own price list. And it is not included in your roaming bundle or inclusive minutes. You will pay for every call you make and receive. You will also pay for every SMS you send and every webpage you access.

The costs are potentially huge. Expect to pay around £2.50 per minute to make voice calls and £5 per megabyte for data.

What does that actually look like? The animated gif showing how to enable Airplane Mode above is 75KB in size – so it would cost you £3.75 just to see that image. Streaming a 60 second video on YouTube would be even more expensive. A full episode of a show on Netflix could cost hundreds of pounds.

Don’t forget, smartphones do all kinds of clever stuff in the background when they are not being used. Syncing photos over the ship’s mobile network could cost hundreds of pounds/dollars – and you would never even know it is happening until you get your next phone bill.

Can I claim a refund from my mobile provider?

No. It’s your device and your responsibility to make sure you are in control of it. There are no refunds, even if your phone does a whole load of stuff in the background without you knowing.

What about on-shore?

If you have a mobile contract that includes international roaming (we recommend Smarty), feel free to disable Airplane Mode when you get ashore. Just don’t forget to re-enable it when you come back to the ship.

If you don’t have an international roaming contract, you can sometimes find free WiFi in the cruise terminal. You’ll know where it is when you see large clusters of crew members making video calls to their family back home.

Ask for help with Airplane Mode on your cruise ship

Because the call charges are levied by your mobile operator, your cruise line has no interest in ‘tricking’ you into using the cellular network. Princess Cruises openly recommend that their guests enable Airplane Mode – you’ll find guidance printed in the Princess Patter in your cabin stateroom.

If you’re still unsure, pay a visit to the ship’s internet café. The staff will help you check your phone is in Airplane Mode and they’ll also help you get connected to WiFi too.

It’s also worth noting that the Princess Medallion app does not work properly if Airplane Mode is not enabled.

One more tip

This advice is not just for your phone. You must also enable Airplane Mode on every device that has cellular capabilities, including iPads, tablets and laptops that have their own SIM cards.

If you need to get online, seriously consider buying an internet package – it will likely be much cheaper than using your phone’s data connection.

Into the Arctic Circle

Around 5:15 this morning, we crossed the Arctic Circle. The drop in air temperature evidence that we are just 1000 miles(ish) from the North Pole.

A picture of sunrise in the Arctic Circle taken from our balcony on Island Princess
An impressive Arctic sunrise

Today is another sea day so I use it as an opportunity to catch up on some more work. Internet speeds are getting slower, suggesting that satellite coverage in the Arctic Circle is also more patchy. Watching TV on Amazon Prime Video is also getting more laggy, forcing many stops and restarts. At this rate we may have to start watching something provided on the stateroom TV…

This evening is formal night, a great excuse to get dressed up which we both enjoy. We feel that those who choose not to are actually missing out.

Probably the only time we ever see champagne bowls anymore

There’s a champagne waterfall in the plaza and a free glass of sparkling wine to start the evening, which is always welcome.

Top tip: Don’t want to buy a drinks package? Check out our complete guide How To Get Free Drinks On A Princess Cruise

After dinner I go out on deck to check if the Northern Lights are visible tonight – and they are!

There were some stunning colours visible tonight

I rush back to the cabin and Linda and I spend a few minutes in the Arctic cold admiring the natural light show before bed.

Holding the camera still during a long exposure isn’t as easy as it looks

Tomorrow we arrive in Tromso for a 14 hour(!) port stop.

Cheap Christmas Market Trip 2023

We love Christmas markets – and cheap trips. Usually combining the two to arrange a cheap Christmas market trip is as easy as finding a unicorn.

So how about a three night break in mid-December for less than £275?

Right now you can book return flights on Ryanair from London Stansted to Gdansk between 12th and 15th December for just £56.30.

A screenshot of some Ryanair flights to Gdansk where they have a cheap Christmas market
Super cheap flights to a super cheap Christmas market

Using, It is possible to find a very decent apartment in the old town for around £115, bringing the total cost to £271.30*.

Which is a bargain by anyone’s standards.

I know we keep banging on about Gdansk, but it’s a really pretty, interesting city. And the Christmas market is routinely rated as the best in Poland – and one of the best in Europe.

Move quick though – flight prices will rise as more people book this deal.

UPDATE: All of the tickets at this ridiculous price have now sold out. There are still a few bargains, but you will need to travel at the end of November to take advantage of them (which is not particularly Christmassy in my opinion).

* As always, flight prices will increase when you add things like luggage, seat selection, priority boarding etc etc etc. To achieve the cheapest Christmas market trip, try travelling with nothing more than a Ryanair approved carry-on bag.

Ultimate guide: How to get free drinks on a Princess Cruise

Are you too cheap to buy a drinks package? Maybe cruising on a shoestring budget? Then you will be pleased to discover it is still possible to get a few free alcoholic drinks on a Princess Cruise.

Captain’s Champagne Waterfall

The first formal night of every Princess Cruise features the Captain’s Champagne Waterfall. Taking place in the piazza area, one of the senior officers will begin festivities by pouring a bottle of ‘champagne’ into the top of the waterfall. Guests are then invited to do the same whilst posing for photographs. Meanwhile, stewards circulate among the crowd dispensing free ‘champagne’, mimosas or alcohol-free punches.

Liquor Tasting Events

The Shops of Princess run at least one liquor promotion per voyage. These events will typically involve complimentary liquor tasting too. If you can resist the hard sell, you can sample a few drinks in the Shops of Princess for free. Check your Princess Patter or the Journey View Timeline in the Medallion Class app for details.

Achieve Elite Status

If you achieve Captain’s Circle platinum status or above, you will be invited to an elite loyalty party. There is a limited selection of free wines, beers and cocktails for attendees. And don’t forget to take your invitation along – you’ll be entered into the raffle to win a bottle of ‘champagne’.

To reach Captain’s Circle Platinum status you will need to complete at least 5 cruises or spend 50 days at sea.

Win A Quiz

Princess ships offer at least two trivia quizzes each day – and the prize is often a bottle of ‘champagne’. Some of the nightly game shows also give a bottle champagne to contestants whether they win or not.

Win Champagne Ring Toss

Throw a hoop over a bottle of fizzy wine to win. Simple. The champagne ring toss event takes place once each cruise in the Piazza.

Attend An Art Auction

Register for, and attend, one of the art auctions. You don’t have to buy anything, but you will get at least one glass of free ‘champagne’ if you can sit through the session. You also get to see people throwing thousands of dollars at some truly questionable artworks.

Go Shopping

Get up early for one of the Mimosa sessions in the onboard shops (usually at Effy jewellers) which take place around 9:30 am. Expect to face a hard sell though!

Check the daily Princess Patter newsletter for other drinks-led shopping promotions. There is typically one each sea day.

Lose A Lot Of Money

This one is really easy – lose a lot of money in the casino. Doing so may earn you an invitation to join the Gaming Circle. Members of the circle are often invited to attend a free cocktail party at the beginning of the cruise.

Make friends with a bartender

Very occasionally the bar teams make an order incorrectly or double-up by accident. If you’re sat at the bar (and very lucky!) they may give you the extra drink free. But if you’re not paying to drink, you’re not likely to be sitting at the bar making friends with the bar staff.

Why you should buy a drinks package anyway

Buying a drinks package does significantly increase the cost of a Princess Cruise, but we still reckon it provides good value for money.

  • You get up to 15 alcoholic drinks and unlimited soft drinks and mocktails each day
  • ALL gratuities are included, so no surprise surcharge at the end of your cruise.
  • Internet access for one device is included (and yes, you can switch devices on Princess)
  • No additional charges for room service or in-app food/drink orders

Whether you choose Princess Plus or Princess Premier is up to you. The wines in the Premier package are undoubtedly better and the two meals at the speciality dining restaurants are nice – but we can’t justify that particular uplift.

Flying Fish at the Front of the Ship

This is our first time travelling at the front of the ship and it has been interesting. Since leaving the Azores, Sky Princess has been skirting the edge of a huge low pressure system that stretches from the US Eastern Seaboard all the way across the Atlantic back to Europe.

Ships creak. Who knew?

The storm has created a sizeable swell and Sky Princess rocked and rolled quite violently for two days. Personally, we quite enjoy the rough weather because it’s one of the few times you actually feel like you’re on a ship. Apparently we are in a minority however, judging by the bitching and carping taking place on the Facebook forums. Some people are horrified to discover that ships creak!

Top tip: Pick a point in the distance and walk in a straight line towards it as quickly as you can when the sea is rough – this will reduce swaying and staggering around the deck. You could also try drinking less too.

Although the wind has been strong and the water rough, the air temperature has been increasing steadily. Which means we were able to sit outside for a while this afternoon enjoying the sunshine.

Fun at the front of the ship

Later in the afternoon I take the opportunity to sit on our balcony for a while. And I see some tiny blue flying fish jumping out of our wake and gliding across the waves. It’s the first time we’ve ever seen flying fish which is quite exciting – and I’m sure it is to do with the location of our cabin at the front of the ship.

Top tip: Choosing a cabin at the front of the ship has advantages and disadvantages. You get a better view of the sea which has not been disturbed by the ship’s wake for instance – you would not see flying fish at the rear of the vessel.

However, as the ship cuts through larger waves, the water slams against the hull. This can be quite loud on lower decks.

I tried to take some photos of the flying fish but they were rubbish, so I advise going somewhere to see them in person for yourself. Enjoy a pic of the sunset instead:

Center Parcs discount – RARE!

Have you ever tried to find a Center Parcs discount code? Good luck – they don’t exist. The brand is so successful they rarely (if ever) offer discounts.

In fact, the Center Parcs Black Friday ‘deal’ is particularly lame – free rental for 2 x adult bikes. But only for breaks taken between Monday 8 January 2024 and Monday 5 February 2024.

This Center Parcs discount is worth £84. To claim, you must book today (30th November 2023) and select ‘Free adult cycles x2’ during the checkout process This option only appears when making a booking for a break between the specified dates.

However, American Express Gold card holders can boost their savings using one of their Amex offers. Cardholders are being offered a £75 statement credit when they spend £1000 or more on a Center Parcs holiday.

Note that the Amex Center Parcs discount can be used for any dates next year including school holidays. However, you must make your booking before December 16th 2023. The offer is only available to the first 8,000 account holders to save it to their card*. Obviously you will also need to pay for the holiday using your Amex Gold card – but you will also earn one transferrable reward point for every £1 you spend.

These are not earth-shattering savings, but if you’re planning a new year trip to Center Parcs, the £159 saving may be welcome.

Want to take advantage of this Center Parcs discount but don’t yet hold an American Express Gold card? You can use my Amex referral link to earn a 30,000 rewards points sign-up bonus too.

You should also read our other top money saving tips.

* Check your American Express account for full terms and conditions of this offer.

How to reduce airport stress (when travelling) – 3 top tips

How to reduce stress when travelling? It’s an important question. Travel should be fun, inspiring, exciting and, to some degree, relaxing.

But for many people, including Linda, the airport is an incredibly stressful place.

So it was quite interesting to see Condé Nast Traveller publish a top 10 list of ‘Least Stressful Airports in Europe’. More interesting still is what their choices tell us about choosing less stressful destinations. Here are three factors which could help to reduce airport stress and anxiety:

1. How to reduce stress – Choose your destination

The first observation is choice of destination. Eight out of ten airports listed could be considered ‘regional’; they do not serve a capital city. So if you want a less stressful airport experience, don’t visit a capital.


2. Reducing travel stress – Choose a “small” country

The two capital cities which do make the ‘least stressful’ list are both situated in relatively small countries – Luxembourg and Lithuania. They boast small populations and geographical footprints – so think small for your next stress-free trip.

3. Stress-free airports – Choose unpopular

None of the ten airports listed serves more than 4.4 million passengers each year. Compare this to Luton Airport, London’s third, which had 13.3 million in 2022…

It seems that those airports which don’t have to handle tens of thousands of passengers every day tend to be more relaxed. Who would have thought it?

Are these three tips guaranteed to help reduce stress? Sadly not. We have visited plenty of smaller, unpopular, regional airports over the years with mixed results. Gdansk and Wrocław (Poland) and Karlsruhe-Baden (Germany) have all been excellent. Tuzla (Bosnia) was chaotic and quaint, queuing out onto the tarmac to go through immigration. Munich (Germany) is a total disaster and should be avoided by even the most laid back travellers.

And if you’re interested, the Top 10 Least Stressful Airports in Europe as identified by and Condé Nast Traveller are:

  1. Billund Airport, Denmark
  2. Luxembourg Airport, Luxembourg
  3. Vilnius International Airport, Lithuania
  4. Menorca Airport, Spain
  5. Hannover Airport, Germany
  6. Newcastle Airport, UK
  7. Corfu International Airport, Greece
  8. Trondheim Airport, Norway
  9. Turin Airport, Italy
  10. Cagliari Elmas Airport, Italy

I should point out that we have visited none of these airports, so cannot personally verify whether they really are stress-free or not. It’s perhaps also worth noting that Ryanair fly to eight of the ten listed, so airline choice may have less to do with airport stress than people think.

Packing cubes – why this travel hack may be a massive mistake

Visit any travel advice website and you will find dozens of articles extolling the virtues of packing cubes. But the reality is that these luggage organising contraptions may be a very expensive mistake.

What are packing cubes?

Packing cubes are a way to organise and compress your clothes so that they fit more neatly into your suitcase. Typically they are a collection of small, zippered bags into which you roll (or neatly fold) clothing.

There are two reasons why packing cubes are useful:

  1. You can arrange your belongings however you like, making them easier to unpack.
  2. They provide additional compression, ensuring your belongings are not scattered all over your suitcase during transit.

Once the packing cubes are filled, they slot neatly into your suitcase. Anything which doesn’t fit, can be nestled between or around cubes, maximising available luggage space.

Packing cubes for suitcases

This is the set of cubes I bought from Amazon. At less than £10 for a complete set of 13 organisers (include some refillable liquid pouches and drawstring bags), it seemed a reasonable price for my travel hack experiment

Did packing cubes change my life?

Yes. I found that packing cubes made it really easy to fit 17 days worth of clothing neatly into a large suitcase.

The cubes also dramatically simplified unpacking – at least for smaller items like t-shirts and underwear. You just take the cube out of your suitcase and place it into a drawer.

Repacking is also much easier. As you take off your dirty clothes, they can be placed straight back into a cube. So when it comes time to disembark, reloading packing cubes takes a matter of seconds.

So what is the problem?

When going on a cruise, my suitcase is generally jam-packed. Using packing organisers dramatically reduced wasted space. In fact, almost a quarter of my case was still empty once my clothes were packed.

Great. But…

That extra space means you can quickly overestimate your luggage allowance. And if your suitcase is too heavy, airlines will not hesitate to charge you an astronomical excess baggage fee (£65 per bag on British Airways).

When I arrived at Miami International, my suitcase weighed more than 30kg – well over the 23kg limit. Thankfully our BA Executive Club Silver status entitles us to 2 x 23kg suitcases each. So I got away with it this time.

I suggest you exercise extreme caution when using cubes. Weigh your suitcases before leaving home to avoid embarrassment at check-in.

Bargain basement packing cube travel hack

There is one way to test out the packing concept for free – plastic shopping bags.

Simply roll/fold your clothing into a plastic carrier bag. Once full, use the handles to tie the neck closed. Boom! You’ve contained and compressed your luggage ready to be fitted neatly into your suitcase.

It’s not as pretty as ‘real’ packing organisers, but it is effective. The same caveats about over-packing still apply.

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