Carnival Cruise Lines
I have just returned from a 12 night Mediterranean cruise aboard the Carnival Legend, so here is my review while it is still fresh in my mind. We booked a fully packaged holiday with Carnival, meaning that Carnival booked our flights, arranged our airport to ship transfers and of course supplied the cruise. I'll leave the ... flights for another review as they were provided by KLM, but from leaving the airport at Venice to arriving at the ship was very smooth.
After leaving the airport, luggage was loaded onto a small van while passengers boarded the waiting bus, which soon left for the port. This was the last we saw of our luggage until it was delivered to our cabin about an hour after we had boarded.
The embarkation process was very quick and smooth. We had already underwent the online boarding process a few weeks earlier where we provided passport information and set up our onboard billing account so we were given our Sail & Sign card and allowed to board the ship where a picture was taken for ID purposes.
Your Sail & Sign card has two important functions - it is used in place of cash on board, so any spending on the ship, be it on drinks, spa treatments or shop purchased get billed to your Sail & Sign card, which can be paid by cash or credit card at the end of your cruise. The card also features as your boarding card which is scanned every time you get on or off the ship.
We had pre booked a cabin near the main atrium so that we were in a central position with easy access to all facilities on board, and the location was spot on. The cabin itself was small, although having cruised before, we had expected this. However the cabin was perfectly adequate in terms of storage, with three wardrobes, and five drawers, and a few small cupboards. Luggage could also be stored under the double bed.
In general, the cabin was looked rather tired and could do with getting a refurbishment, but again this seems to be a general criticism of the cruise industry rather than of this shop.
Our balcony had enough space for two reclining chairs and a small table. Although we never got any sun on our balcony it was nice to sit out in the shade with a cocktail and enjoy the fresh sea air.
All food onboard is included in the price of the cruise, with the exception of the Steakhouse which served premium cuts of steak for a $35 dollar per head surcharge.
The main restaurant, Truffles, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, although we only ever used it for dinner. Here, two menus are served every day - the standard menu that is served every day and the daily menu which is different every day. I especially liked the 'Didja' (as in 'did you ever') starter of the day which featured oysters, escargots, frogs legs, sushi, shark, and various other small bites for the more adventurous diners.
Between the two menus I would say there was always something for every taste, and the only problem I ever had choosing was trying to decide between the various dishes!
The food was always of a high quality and the serving staff were very attentive, and were always available without being too 'in your face'.
This restaurant has three options for dining - early seating, late seating and open seating, and you can specify your choice at the time of booking. However if you go for the early or late setting you do have to go at your located time and can't decide one night to eat earlier or later than normal. For this reason we opted for the open seating option.
If you fancied a less formal dinner, the Unicorn cafe was open pretty much 24 hours for snacks, cakes, pizza, meals, whatever whenever. The Unicorn cafe was also where we chose to breakfast in the open air each morning.
For lunch and dinner, one could help themselves to a vast variety of food from Chinese, pizza, salad, hot dogs, burgers, chilli, nachos, and the Chefs Choice which varied every day from British to American, Mexican to Indian, Caribbean to comfort foods.
There was also the sweet treats for afters which normally included at least 3 types of cakes, fruit salads and cookies.
Ps I highly recommend the pizza which was available 24 hours a day. Thin and crispy, perfectly cooked every time and tasted great!
Drinks are not included in the price of your cruise, although freshly brewed coffee, tea, hot chocolate, lemonade, water and iced tea are freely available 24 hours a day at the Unicorn cafe nod around the pools, will various fruit juices are also served with breakfast.
All other drinks are charged to your Sail & Sign card an billed to you at the end of the cruise.
Carnival also offer the choice of various drinks packages, such as Bottomless Bubbles which entitles you o unlimited soft drinks over the cruise, or the Wine Packages where you buy say 5 bottles of wine up front but only pay for 4.
Th option we chose was the Cheers programme, which gives you unlimited soft drinks and up to 15 alcoholic drinks a day (after this the bar manager will assess you to see if more drinks can be served or whether you've had enough, although we never came close to this limit.
We liked this option as it meant we could drink what we wanted without having to think about the cost. With most alcoholic drinks being in the range of $6-$9 dollars, we though this was good value at $42 a day per person.
Disadvantages of this package is that it must be taken by all adults over the age of 21 glaring a cabin (the minimum drinking age onboard is 21) so if one of you is teetotal or a light drinker it may not be cost effective for you.
It also only included alcoholic drinks up to $10 dollars so there were a few drinks that were excluded although you did get a 25% discount of these drinks. Wine is also only available by the glass, with this package offering no discounts on wine by the bottle. Lastly, energy drinks such as Rockstar are not available on any package.
Of all the cruises I've been on, the entertainment on Carnival Legend was by far the best.
There was the standard cruise ship fare of piano bar, singers and bands, but the highlight of the entertainment was found in the Follies theatre. Here, the onboard show team put on two high quality shows, featuring great singers and dancers. However the real highlights were the special guest performers that come aboard during the day, do their show then leave at the next port. Amount these artists were an illusion act (Justin Allusion) and a vocal impersonator (Katie Setterfield the winner of BBC's The One & Only talent show in 2008).
These two acts were amazing. The illusionist performed illusions that really made me believe in magic, whilst Katie did some amazing impersonations of Dusty Springfield, Cher, Bette Midler and Tina Turner.
The cruise also featured 6 comedians who were only onboard for 2 days before being flown off again. Each act did a family performance and an adults only performance. The best one in my opinion was Anthony Scott, a Scottish comedian, although it is fair to say that a lot of the American passengers onboard didn't quite get all his jokes - whether it was his broad Scottish accent or the subject matter, I couldn't say!
The Cruise Director (John Heald) and his assistant Calvyn made a great double act - honestly if you're onboard with them you must catch their morning TV show in your cabin - words can't describe but they will make you laugh!
One not so good part of the entertainment was the 'Cigars Under the Stars' jazz night. Picture the scene - sailing under the stars at night somewhere off the coast of Italy/ France, a 4 piece jazz band plays - sounds romantic, sounds lovely right? Add in people smoking cigars, mostly in a canopied bar area. The smell was disgusting, and hung around the only covered area in the open deck so much so that we couldn't enjoy the jazz. The smell was still around the next day, and clung to the soft loungers. Even worse, guests were being encouraged to smoke cigars in this NO SMOKING area, I even saw one member of bar staff telling someone to put a cigarette out this night as smoking wasn't allowed despite people smoking cigars all around!
The Ship in General
The ship was in great condition for a 10 year old ship, spotlessly clean and constantly being polished, swept and painted by the army of staff.
I believe that the ship was designed mainly around Roman legends, but the best thing to describe it, particularly the main atrium is as Las Vegas style - full of glitz and completely over the top, however within a few hours it seemed to fit the rest of the surroundings.
Apart from the cabins, the ship is still in great condition, although I believe it is getting a refit in 2014 to make it more 'fun' in line with the Carnival cruises ethos.
On the main deck, there is three pools, each with a jacuzzi, and I believe there was also a children's pool. There was also a water slide, mini football/basketball court and crazy golf course on the open decks, long with giant chess and table tennis. The casino also had snooker tables.
And if all that wasn't enough to tire you out, the nightclub, Medusa's Lair, was open to late every night.
Of course, a cruise holiday isn't just about the ship but the destinations visited.
This itinerary started with an overnight stay board the ship in Venice before departing the following day heading for Dubrovnik, Croatia. From there we sailed to Piraeus in Greece, before a day at sea whilst we sailed towards Izmir in Turkey. After that stop we had another day at sea before we docked in Messina, Sicily. From there we had a short journey to Naples (after circling the Stromboli volcano which was erupting at the time). After Naples, we docked in Civitavecchia for Rome, then onto Livorna for Florence and Pisa. Then we travelled to Marseilles in the south of France then onto Barcelona where we disembarked on started our journey home.
Again this was one of the best organised disembarkations I've experienced on a cruise. As Carnival had organised our transfers to the airport they handled our luggage from the cabin directly to the airport whist we waiting for our transfer to be called. The whole process was smoothly handled and wasn't a crush to leave the ship as I have experienced on other lines.
Overall, I thought this cruise was great. Great food, great destinations, great ship. Is it for everyone? Honestly, no.
I'd say 90% of the passengers were either American, Canadian or Australian, and, forgive this sweeping generalisation, were loud and brash, so if you were looking for a quiet relaxing holiday it may be better to stick to the more British orientated cruise ships.
We paid approx £1300 each for a balcony cabin on deck 8, with flights and transfers included. At the time of our booking (January 2013) Carnival were also doing an offer of up to $500 per person onboard credit, and we got the full $1,000 dollars which largely covered our Cheers drinks package and other small purchases on board.
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SS Mary Anne Galapagos Cruise
THE MARY ANNE This was the ship we sailed the Eastern Galapagos Islands on. She is a beautiful three mast tall ship built in Germany with full allocation of ails used at different times depending on the winds at the time. This could be a long one as there is so much to say but I will not go into what we did on the different ... islands; this will just be about the ship and our experience on there.
We were met by the Naturalist guide from the ship at Baltra airport and taken on a bus to the zodiac boats. Our main luggage was left at the airport with the ship's staff and brought over to the ship by them and delivered to our cabins. We took our personal hand baggage onto the zodiacs and to the Mary Anne ourselves. Our guide was called Carolina and for ease I will refer to her by her name.
Before we got on the zodiacs which were large rubber dinghies she explained that we should put on the lifejackets and then before we got onto the zodiac or panga as they are sometimes called we should pass over our backpacks to the boys on the zodiac. She then showed us how to hold onto the ship staff hands as we got on and off. They were excellent and every stage was carefully explained and demonstrated so there were no accidents.
When we arrived on the Mary Anne we were told to head to the stern of the ship where we would always take off our lifejackets for storage. We were also asked to remove our walking shoes and store them in a box at the stern too. Whilst on the ship we could walk around barefoot or put on clean shoes. I loved being barefooted but my husband can't walk around with no shoes and ended up wearing his water shoes on board as I thought him and flip flops would be a lethal combination going up and down the steep steps.
We were then given a bit of a tour of the ship, where the bar, the library and the seating areas were. We were told we could go anywhere except the crew's quarters. We were welcome in the captains' deck but told we should not pres any buttons!!
At this stage we were allocated our cabins and we went down to check them out. The steps down to the cabin area were narrow and steep but had handle bars both sides. Some people went down backwards but I found it fine going down forwards either slightly sideways or with me feet splayed outwards as the steps were so narrow. This was not a trip for anyone wth mobility issues as the steps were step and getting on and off the zodiac a few times a day also required dexterity and good balance.
Our cabin was quite small and had a good sized double bed in it with a single bunk above. I think to get on and off that top bunk required some skill and effort and the only time I did was to had some washing or our undies on the port hole cover to get a little sunshine. My husband never achieved the climb and it was not for the elderly I would say. We used the top bunk for extra storage of things we used daily like our hats, cameras, guide books and bits that we didn't hang on the hooks or put in the cupboards.
We had three pillows, two quite hard spongy ones and one softer down one. The bed was quite hard with a wooden base and foam mattress. Above each side was a reading lamp and a I was on the inner side I put my book and reading glasses in a small nook above our bed under the top bunk as I always read longer than my husband.
Beside the main bed was a shelf unit and under the shelf a closed cupboard and an open hole for storage. Under the top bunk at the end of the main bed was a large cupboard with hanging rail and hangers as well as our two life jackets - large orange ones for if there was a problem with the ship. We stored our bags in there under the life jackets.
My clothes were stored in two drawers under the bed while mu husband stored his in the large shelves in the bathroom beside the shower. There was plenty of storage space but I would suggest soft bags rather than large suitcases are better as they will squash down when empty.
The bathroom had a shower with handles for when it was a bit rough and a shower curtain. We also had a toilet with flush handle like a normal toilet. Upstairs the public toilet had a foot flush which I find a bit more tricky. The basin was in a unit with a large storage cupboard underneath which we didn't use and a good shelf surrounding it. The drinking and teeth cleaning water was topped up daily in a plastic bottle stored in a wooden surround beside two plastic glasses also in wooden surrounds.
Above the sink was a series of shelves either side of a mirror but behind the mirror was the cupboard where we stored all our toiletries. I always made sure everything was in the cupboard in case the sea was choppy then nothing would end up rolling around the bathroom. There was no hair dryer and the small travel one I took ended up catching fire and fusing all the lights in our room. I am not sure if it was the fault of the hair dryer or if the electricity was odd but which ever way I ended up with no hair dryer and it was brand new for this trip! After the first day or so I just got used to having rather strange hair styles.
The ship provided us with bio degradable soap, shower gel and shampoo plus they left two small bottles of biodegradable conditioner which I used quite a lot of during my week as we swam in the sea daily snorkeling near different islands.
I also took biodegradable washing powder so I could wash our socks and undies and a few of my husband's sweaty shirts. The shirts dried quite easily over night and during the next day hanging over the shower then the hanging rail in the bathroom. The undies that were thick and the socks took a while longer. Swim suits and swimming shirts could be hung out side on rails around the top deck so I did put a couple of T shirts there too but I think knickers and socks might not go down well. I suppose it depends on how fussy you are with dirty clothes but I hate smelly clothes being packed with my clean stuff even in plastic bags it still seems to permeate. Silly, I know as I always wash everything when we get back after a holiday too.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD!
There was so much food you could out on a stone even with two hikes a snorkel and another activity. Breakfast was usually quite early, varying from 6.30am to 7.30 am. On the table was a huge array of food. We always had tea, coffee and a different fruit juice each day and there was always some kind of fresh fruit sliced up. Two cereal pots one had corn flakes and the other granola/muesli which was very popular but I didn't see anyone going for the cornflakes. You could use milk or yoghurt for the cereal or just have yoghurt or have it anyway you chose. There was always a plate of mixed cheese and a plate of cold meat and then the hot menu varied from scrambled eggs with various things in it such as spinach or mushrooms. The choice was endless and varied from corn patties to fried eggs and so on but as I don't eat a hot breakfast I forget all the variations, suffice to say that there was no shortage of food.
Lunch was a three course meal with soup always to start with except on Sunday when we had cebice to start with. The main course varied from chicken done in various ways to different fish all served with a variety of vegetables and all very tasty. One day we had pasta with a choice of four sauces so you could have all of them or a combination of which you fancied and they were all good so I had a little of each, an alfredo cheesy one, a tomato one, a veggie one and a pesto one and fresh grated parmesan to go with it. Deserts were usually a bowl of jelly or a small piece of cake or a chocolate pudding and every day was something different.
The evening meal could either be three or two courses. One evening we had steak and other evenings it varied from chicken to fish but obviously it was different to the lunch menu. A couple of days I asked for the chicken to be removed from my plate as I didn't want a big meal and was happy with the vegetables alone. They brought me an omlette instead which was sweet but as I don't eat egg I slipped it onto my husband's plate. A few days later it was chicken again and instead of chicken I was brought my meal with two pieces of fish and I didn't even ask for no chicken, they had remembered . My husband was actually going to have my chicken so was a bit disappointed but enjoyed the second piece of fish just as much!
One of the other passengers did not eat any seafood and so they always brought him a special meal. When another passenger was feeling a bit ill they made him special soup for his meals. Nothing was too much trouble and all the staff were lovely, friendly and helpful. They didn't speak a lot of English but we got by with Spanglish and hand signs and smiles.
As well as all this food after we came back from a hike there was always cold water and squash on the table at the stern with bowls of fresh whole fruit, corn chips and honey coated peanuts. In the evening after the hike there was always a plate of something snack like, mini kebabs, olives, peanuts, pizza slice and so on.
IN THE MAIN PUBLIC AREA
There was a book shelf full of reference guides you could refer to in order to find out which birds you had seen or which fish and so one. The other shelf was a bit more like a boo exchange so I added two books to the shelf and took one as I was running low. There were plenty of couches and two circled low coffee type tables which is where we tended to gather for our evening drinks and two were around higher tables which is where we found people making notes, uploading photos and things like that.
There was a also a large TV and you could use the various dvds but I didn't see anyone doing that. We gathered there for our short lectures and briefings about our daily activities usually with our evening drinks before dinner.
The bar area also had a water filter machine with hot or cold water constantly available as well as various tea, coffee , Milo, hot chocolate and more. Also beside the bar were a few bowls of snacks, boiled sweet chocolate and biscuits in packs which if after the three meals you were still hungry you could help yourself to.
At the stern of the ship were tables and sets which you could use to relax there but we also sometimes ate our meal there. Every breakfast was there and most lunches but some evenings if it was very windy or very choppy we ate inside near the bar area.
If you felt the need for more sunshine there were top decks that you could take a deck chair and sit on but to be truthful I felt I had as much sun as I needed with the hikes and snorkels so I stayed in the shaded areas when not being active.
OTHER BITS THAT MAY BE HANDY TO KNOW
This is a sailing ship and if the weather was good and the wind in the right direction they did put up the sails. Passengers who wished could help the crew hoist the sails or you could just watch and enjoy the beauty of the sails. Once they were up the ship did list a bit so you did have to be aware of where you pout things so that they didn't slide to meet you.
Snorkels and masks are provided so you don't need to bring them and you can hire wetsuits from the ship too but I am not sure of the cost as I didn't use them as it really wasn't necessary. Initially the sea was a bit cold but you got used to it and if you wanted to get out you only had to raise your hand and the zodiac would come and pick you up. As you got back into the zodiac there were dry, clean towels handed to you. These towels were then collected and dried ready for next time.
If it was a dry landing from the zodiac you put on your walking shoes. You certainly need closed in decent trainers for most of the islands as they were rocky and uneven. Some people wore solid closed in toed sandals but to be honest the trainers I think were the most comfortable. If it was a wet landing then you needed to make sure you shorts were shirt enough or could roll up then carry your walking shoes. Once on land you then had to dry your feet off and get the sand off them with a small towel provided by the guide and put your shoes on before heading off on the walks. You were always asked to rinse the bottom of your shoes off in the sea so that there was no cross contamination between islands. Also once back on the ship the hose was running on deck to rinse of your feet or shoes if it had been a dry landing.
ESSENTIAL THINGS TO BRING
Good walking shoes or trainers with grips and solid soles.
At least one swim suit and if you really want a wet suit for snorkeling and have one then it might be handy but you can hire them.
If you struggle walking around in bare feet them bring some shoes for the ship that you can walk up and down steep steps in.
Plenty of sunscreen and high factor water resistant stuff.
Insect repellent and bit relief stuff as many islands have sandflies and we did come across mosquitoes too and we were bitten despite having the repellent.
Binoculars as many of the birds are some distance away. Cameras and if you have decent telephoto lenses then the photos are much better we found. We also bought an underwater camera and that was quite fun for when snorkeling. Interestingly quite a few had the same Lumix waterproof camera as we did for that purpose.
T shirts with caped or short sleeves to keep your shoulders from getting burned and shorts for the hikes or those you can roll up or down.
Good sunglasses as it is very bright and a hat with a brim or a back flap to stop your neck getting burned as sometimes you are out for three or four hours in the sun. If you want a T shirt for snorkeling might be handy but we didn't bother just used lots of sun screen then wrapped a towel around us on the boat once we were out of the sea.
I would suggest that a soft bag is better than a suit case and you don't need posh clothes for the evening. It can be a bit cooler in the evening so a long sleeved top and trousers might be handy but you could wear the same one for a few days.
There are plenty of flat two pin power points in the cabin and in the lounge area so batteries can be charged and laptops etc. I would suggest large capacity SD cards for you camera as there is so much to photograph and our cards quickly got full and we deleted daily any rubbish. We also had a separate card for our under water use so that if some disaster happened underwater we would not also lose our other photos. We swapped them over once the camera was rinsed in fresh water and dry.
Well that is a silly question. It is a fabulous destination and this is a fabulous ship with all mod cons, great food and lovely staff.
If you get the opportunity then the Galapagos islands are a treat for wildlife enthusiasts and this was a lovely way of getting from island to island.
This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
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Booking We needed to get to Paris for my partner to run the Paris Half Marathon so we looked at various options, with cost being the main criteria. I had seen Eurostar's £69 offer advertised but expected, like airlines, that going to try and find them would be either a challenge, or impossible. I was wrong, there were numerous £69 ... returns available on our dates (going Friday, coming back Monday) which were almost 3 months ahead. The cheaper ones were early or late times, but this suited us, wanting to get there as early as possible and make the most of the fourth day too. Consequently, this worked out significantly cheaper, and a better choice of times than flights, even factoring in the cost of getting to London. I liked the idea of not needing to arrive hours beforehand, airport car parks, waiting to board, waiting to get off the plane, luggage claim, and transfer to Paris centre. So I booked on line, which was effortless, and tickets and information was emailed immediatel so that I could print the boarding cards for both journeys ahead of the trip. There are no luggage restrictions so there's no stress about how much your luggage weighs, what size a bag measures, or whether this bag will fit inside that bag etc! It seems to be - if you can carry it, you can take it!
Arrival / Check in
The Eurostar departures area is clearly signed at St. Pancras rail station and the literature / ticket clearly states that check-in opens 45 minutes prior to departure. True to this, check-in was not possible any earlier, but the problem here is that there's literally NO seating in the area beside the check in desks, just open space. I don't know if this is poor design, or to deter people from arriving early but it seemed odd, and is something to bear in mind. It wasn't through choice we were early, it was simply down to our connecting train, so in my opinion this was a bit of a nuisance. There are clear screens all around, however, showing when your particular train check-in will open.
When the time came, check in couldn't have been more straightforward. You simply place the barcode against the waist-high scanner on the gate to activate the opening. There were also staff around should you have had any problems, and I did see a few people having problems with the scanners, so it's obviously not entirely without fault.
Once through the gate there is immediately a security area similar to an airport where you place your luggage, coats, bags, belts etc on the conveyor belt and it's scanned whilst you walk through one of the doorway-style metal detectors. There was no queues here and no problems. Passports were checked and again, no queues, more or less straight through. Our whole check-in process from being in the waiting area before the gate to sitting down waiting for boarding was no more than 5 minutes.
Waiting / Boarding
Once through security, the waiting area is very spacious. There is plenty of seating, including high seating at a bar-type shelf which had power points if you needed them for laptops etc. There was a café and a kiosk as well as toilets and an information point with information about destinations as well as selling tickets for transport, which could be handy if you don't want to be bothered trying to sort that in France. The travel tickets were slightly more expensive, though, but the gentleman on duty was quite open about that, so we decided against it.
Again there are screens all around showing departures, and 20 minutes prior to departure the boarding was announced. Despite it seeming to us like a tight schedule to board in, there was no rush or stampede and it was clearly signed where you needed to join the platform according to what your coach number was. Getting onto the train was easy - two steps, and immediately inside the carriage is a compartment for large luggage. Small bags and trolley cases go in overhead racks, ours went in there no trouble at all.
The travel experience was infinitely better than flying in my experience and opinion. I am comparing to budget airlines, as that was my direct choice for this trip. The seats are much larger and feel roomier and more comfortable than standard airline seats. We had seats at a table, and the front edge of the table folded back, so that if you weren't using the table you had more freedom in front of you.
The toilets on board were spacious and clean. Again, an infinitely better experience to using a toilet on board a budget airline.
Also on board is a shop/café. This was serving hot and cold drinks, including wine/beer and snacks as well as hot pizza. Within this carriage were 'pillars' with shelves around them so you could stand to eat your pizza or have a coffee there, or just stretch your legs. The shop was selling travel tickets for Paris, and you could buy these using either Euros (at the face value in Paris) or Sterling. As it happened, this meant that the exchange rate gave us a good deal by buying in Sterling, so we purchased a couple of carnets and had the added bonus of being 'good to go' on the metro as soon as we arrived.
Overall, the on board experience was an absolute pleasure, no seatbelts or feeling cramped in a seat needing to ask someone to excuse me to leave my seat or anything like that. Announcements about the shop, the train manager etc were regular but not intrusive. It was easy to move around the train and stretch your legs or spend time in the café car.
The only 'problem' I had during the journey was the speed of the train sometimes troubling my ears. Obviously thats a personal thing, and was usually only momentary. The actual 'tunnel' part of the journey again my ears went a bit strange when we entered the tunnel but soon settled down, and you are through the tunnel in 15-20 minutes. That part was particularly amazing to me!
Arrival in Paris
Arrival was simply a matter of gathering your belongings, stepping down off the train and walking off the platform. No formalities or checks, no waiting for luggage or transfers, we were in the heart of Paris and our break could begin. Gare du Nord is naturally pretty hectic but it was still easy enough to locate the Metro and we were soon on board and heading for our hotel.
Check-in at Paris was as straightforward as London in terms of holding the barcode against the scanner to operate the gate. Here they were less strict about what time you could check in, again we were early but this time could go straight through.
Again luggage is scanned and passports were checked twice this side, by British and French. There was a small queue here for the luggage scanner but only a minute or two. Seating in Paris is much more minimalist, and less comfortable that London. Therefore, I'd say early arrival is again not a good idea. There are pitifully few facilities either, only one small set of toilets, a pricey gift shop and not much else at all. Nowhere to get a snack, for instance. Now knowing how easy and organised the check in process is, next time I will spend the extra time outside grabbing a last-minute coffee and arrive to check in a little later.
However, once boarding was called, the process was fairly straightforward. Not quite as smooth as London - more jostling somehow, it just didn't feel quite as organised. There was also a very long walk along the platform (4-5 minutes) to reach our carriage, so bear this in mind depending on your carriage number.
Arriving back in London, again it was simply a matter of gathering your things and heading off. No checks or admin to go through.
I will have no hesitation whatsoever in travelling with Eurostar if I am going back to Paris, rather than booking a flight. Door-to-door (bearing in mind we had to travel 1.5 hours to get to London) I believe that it still worked out quicker than flying. Obviously if you live closer to London then it would beat it time-wise hands down. For comfort and lower stress levels, travelling by Eurostar also wins easily. The price was (as ever!) the decisive factor in this particular decision, but having now travelled with Eurostar I would happily pay a higher price for the ease, comfort and convenience.
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