Tag: Stansted

London’s fourth airport, Stansted is nowhere near London. It’s also (usually) a hell hole. These posts document our experiences and tips.

Stansted shocker

Departure airport: London Stansted
Destination airport: Václav Havel, Prague
Airline: Ryanair

There is something seriously wrong at Stansted. Security is actually working quickly and effectively and we both clear the scanners in under 15 minutes – even after Lin forgot to remove her toiletries from her bag and had to undergo the usual ‘enhanced’ check.

Ryanair’s advice to arrive three hours before flight time turns out to be utter nonsense. Departures is busy, but nowhere as bad as our previous visit. We have no problem finding a bench to sit on this time, and munch a £4.99 WH Smith meal deal for breakfast.

The gate experience is the usual Ryanair farce. The “priority” queue is longer than the regular queue – and that’s before you count the non-priority travellers taking the piss. Fortunately the process is relatively smooth and we leave just a few minutes late (airport incompetence rather than Ryanair’s).

Arriving at Prague Airport, the post-Brexit passport queue is quick and efficient – absolutely no different to the pre-Brexit process (I know – I have always queued because I have always collected passport stamps). The immigration officer even sends me away from the desk to call other passengers forward while he processes my passport.

Top tip: The Airport Express bus (route AE) leaves from directly outside the terminal and costs 100CZK (£3.45) per adult – buy your ticket from the driver. It takes you directly to the main railway (Praha hlavní nádraží) station in the city and the journey takes about 40 minutes.

When visiting Prague we have established something of a ritual – we stop at the Café Trinity at the bottom of St Wenceslas Square for a beer to break up the walk to our hotel. But after sitting on the terrace for five minutes and being unable to get service (or find out if they even sell beer any more), we decamp to the Jan Becher bar/restaurant instead.

Beer drunk, we continue our walk down to Hotel U Zlatého Stromu which will be our base for the next four nights. As we approach, I have two major concerns. First, the hotel is located on the main route between Prague’s famous astronomical clock and the Charles Bridge, meaning there are thousands of tourists passing our front door all day and all night. Second, there is a big sign advertising a nightclub inside our building – and it’s far bigger than the one for the hotel.

Check-in is quick and we are allowed into our room a little early. The room is decorated in a similar style to the other Bauer Hotels in the city, which is nice (more about them tomorrow). I’m pleased to see that our room is at the back of the hotel, away from the noise of the street – but it is also directly above the nightclub which I can see out the window.

Feeling quite hungry we head out for some food, eventually arriving at a place on Melantrichova that specialises in “Prague ham”. Linda and I both opt for the ham and mashed potato – and the waiter immediately forgets our order (he admits as much after the first 30 minutes of waiting). Eventually the food arrives and it is actually pretty decent, but the poor service detracts from our experience.

Afterwards, we head off for our first escape game of the trip – Moriarty’s Phantom Trap, operated by Questerland. Rated 10/10 difficulty, this is a hard room, particularly when there are only two of you. The first hour passes quickly and we expect to be ejected at any moment. However, we struggle on with the tasks, making very slow progress.

Eventually after 109 minutes, the games master helps us solve the final puzzle and we are free. We feel slightly embarrassed, but the young man running the room tells us that larger groups often take well over two hours before giving up entirely. (Prices from 1290 CZK / £44 GBP – not bad value if you’re allowed to keep going as we were).

A short tram ride and walk back to the hotel and it’s time to call it a night.

Bonus tips:

  • The Hotel U Zlatého Stromu is not air conditioned – all you get is a fan which is hidden in the wardrobe.
  • There is no lift at the hotel and your room will be on the second floor or higher (reception is on the first).
  • The reception desk is not staffed after 7pm in the evening.
  • You will be given two keys at check-in – one for your room and a second for the iron gate used to keep nightclub revellers out of the hotel after 7pm.
  • There are never enough plug sockets at Bauer Hotels properties – you will probably need to unplug a lamp or the TV. I strongly recommend packing a socket doubler or 4-gang power strip as well as your travel adapter.
  • The WiFi is rubbish. If you want to stream a movie, it has to be done during the day because there simply isn’t enough bandwidth to support all the guests at night.
  • Taxis from Prague airport cost £20/€27+ if you really can’t bring yourself to travel on the bus.

Outstanding International Tourism Day Offer

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a massive fan of Ryanair. If it wasn’t for their bus fare pricing, Linda and I would never have seen as much of the world as we have.

And for ‘one day only’, Ryanair is offering 15% off flights. My top pick is a long weekend in Gdansk for just £24.79 return (November 10th-14th). Obviously the cost will increase if you add seat selection and luggage, but this is still a great price for one of our favourite cities in the world.

Check out the Ryanair sale.

We are unapologetic fans of the Irish budget carrier

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 Booking.com, 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.

National Express(ish)

Departure port: Southampton
Destinations: Ponta Delgada, Antigua, St Maartens, Grand Turk, Fort Lauderdale
Cruise Line: Princess Cruises

Check out the complete guide to travelling by coach to Southampton Cruise Terminal.

Today’s journey to Southampton will be different – we’re using National Express coaches to get from Braintree to the South Coast because we won’t be coming back to the port. Instead, we will be flying back from Miami to Heathrow, which means we can’t just leave our car in Southampton like we normally would.

Annoyingly, there are no direct National Express coach links, so it’s a two leg trip. First, Braintree to London Victoria via Stansted Airport and Stratford. The second goes from Victoria to Southampton city centre with a stop in Basingstoke.

It’s a long day and not hugely exciting, so here’s a few observations:

  • The coaches are not too crowded, which is nice.
  • The seats by the rear emergency exit have extra legroom.
  • London Victoria Coach Station is busy and hectic, but there’s a Sainsbury’s across the road where you can buy sandwiches and drinks.
  • There is a Greggs bakery inside the departures terminal – and the hot sausage rolls are very good.
  • Arrivals and departures take place in different buildings and you will need to cross a road between the two.
  • The journey into and out of London takes in some of the biggest landmarks – Tower Bridge, HMS Belfast, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Olympic Park etc – which is great news for any one who has never seen the city.

Top tip: When travelling with a mobility scooter you must email National Express head office in advance to inform them. You can contact the assisted travel team at addl@nationalexpress.com. Doing so will ensure that the driver knows to expect you – and they will provide additional assistance in loading your luggage and scooter.

Bonus tip: Don’t try to dodge the additional luggage charge. If you are travelling with two suitcases, make sure you pay for the second one. Otherwise you can expect to be embarrassed by the driver charging you extra at the roadside.

Just how important is this advance notice? Extremely. The driver on our London to Southampton leg initially refused to load Linda’s mobility scooter citing concerns about exploding batteries. It was only after I showed him the email from head office that he changed his mind. After that, he couldn’t do enough for us, boarding us early and helping load our suitcases neatly.

The journey from Braintree to Southampton takes 5.5 hours in total. This is just under three hours longer than making the drive ourselves, so it’s not an ‘express’ option. However, Linda says that she thinks the coach is preferable to the equivalent train journey which requires multiple changes and a lot more stairs and walking between connections. It’s also a little cheaper.

Anyway, tonight we’re staying at the Moxy Southampton which we have used a couple of times before. It’s just a few hundred metres walk from Southampton Coach Station. The hotel is comfortable enough and close to the centre of the city, which means we have plenty of places to eat when we’re ready. And as always, it’s full of people waiting to join a cruise tomorrow. Feel free to strike up a conversation in the bar if you want to start making new friends early.

Top tip: Room 505 provides a good view out towards the Ocean Cruise Terminal – which means we’ll be able to see Sky Princess when we get up in the morning!

One other detail of note. Because Linda is unable to pull a suitcase, I am having to manage three. This could have been a nightmare – until I discovered the Wisdompro luggage strap. Easy to fit, the strap allows me to connect the two larger cases and drag them together. Yes it’s heavy, but also surprisingly manoeuvrable – which will be very important for our return journey in a few weeks time.

Wisdom Pro Luggage Strap

The strap is ideal for those situations when you can’t find a luggage trolley because you can link cases by their handles and pull them in a ‘train’.
This pack includes two straps, so you could conceivably attach a third suitcase too if needed.

The Wisdom Pro strap performed brilliantly, making the short walk from Coach Station to hotel much, much easier than expected. A good travel accessory investment in my opinion.

British Airways Brings Business Class Back To Stansted Airport

Stansted Airport has received a boost this week with two big announcements – which is great for those of us who use the Essex airport regularly.

British Airways Makes A Return

First, British Airways has announced they are returning to Stansted Airport in 2024. The short haul subsidiary BA CityFlyer will be offering flights to Florence (Italy), Nice (France) and Ibiza (Spain).

Although these destinations are already well-served, I am hopeful that BA uses this as a launchpad to expand their network from Essex. Given that British Airways fares aren’t that different to Ryanair‘s (once you add on ‘extras’ like luggage and seat selection), it will be good to see some competition back at Stansted. Plus the opportunity to earn some Executive Club tier points from our local airport.

Notably, British Airways is was the only airline offering business class services from Stansted Airport, until…

Royal Jordanian Touches Down At Stansted

In something of a surprise move, Royal Jordanian has announced they will be operating 4x weekly flights between Stansted and Amman (Jordan). How popular this route will be remains to be seen, but if the fares are low enough, it might be tempting to hop on a city break to visit Petra.

Royal Jordanian also offer ‘Crown Class’ on all their aircraft too. Which puts a dent into BA’s claim to be the only business class offering at Stansted.

What About Lounges?

Although BA is pitching their Stansted service at the budget market, their planes will still have a Club Europe section. And one of the perks of business class is lounge access before a flight.

Currently Stansted Airport only has one lounge, The Escape Lounge, which costs (a frankly ridiculous) £31.99 per person for a very basic offering. The lounge will certainly not impress anyone travelling Crown Class on Royal Jordanian – or Club Europe. It doesn’t even impress us when we manage to score free access through a credit card offer or similar.

Top tip: You can get access to the Escape Lounge for £20 per person if you are a member of Priority Pass. If you have an AmEx Gold card or a Revolut Metal plan, you already have free Priority Pass membership (worth $99 USD).

Bonus tip: £20 is probably still over priced for the Escape Lounge at Stansted.

WARNING! The Escape Lounge is quite small and frequently full. The only way to guarantee entry is to pre-book – which means you won’t be able to get a discount rate or use your Priority Pass membership.

Personally, I hope BA sees enough success in their Stansted offering to encourage further investment. A BA/oneworld co-branded lounge would be great – but they would need to significantly expand their flight schedule to justify that outlay.

However, Stansted Airport recently received planning permission to extend the terminal building by 30%. So there is always potential should BA and Royal Jordanian services take off (sorry, awful pun).

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