Friday, 26 December 2014

It pays to shop around.

I have just booked my annual summer holiday - and yes it is back to the Maritim in Calella for me.

I always shop around, although I do have a core list of online agents which tend to be my first port of call.  I tend to shy away from booking directly with hotels as they always seem to be more expensive than through an agent.

This year, however, I received an email from GHT Hotels, the company who own the Maritim, offering a discount.

I had been quoted €377 for a week's accommodation in a single room with breakfast, Alpharooms were slightly cheaper than this, but as I now refuse to book with them I passed onto the next price.

Booking directly with GHT, I have a twin room for sole use, which automatically means a larger room than I would have had, and half board meals, all for the price of €399.

I have also taken advantage of some add-ons; I have prebooked the safe in the room (the safe is always there, what you are actually hiring is the key and lock), this is normally €3 per night, or €21 for the week, I have paid €18.

I have booked a mini fridge, this is normally €30 when you pay at the hotel, I have paid €24.50.

Finally I have prebooked my drinks for my evening meal, normally I spend about €6 per night, for the 7 nights of my holiday I have paid €17.50.

The savings from paying for these additions up front has more than covered the additional €22 for the larger room and the evening meals.

Now to try and do so well on the flight!

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Holidays for singles v holidays by yourself.

I've been travelling by myself since I was 18, admittedly I stick to the well known, and sensibly priced, areas - Spain, Germany and the UK - and once budget airlines were readily available I started booking accommodation and flights separately.

And saved a lot of money, generally a couple of hundred pounds per trip.

Booking directly with a hotel, or at least not using the High Street travel agents, mostly removes the single supplement.

Nowadays, however, more and more companies are advertising singles holidays, but are they worth the high prices?

One particular solo traveller company is offering a week in Calella, Costa Brava, in June next year (2015) for just over £1200 per person

It includes return flights with BA from Gatwick to Barcelona, and 7 nights of unspecified board at the Hotel Garbi.

Now if you book this yourself, the BA flights cost £251 for Business Class or you could do it for about £100 Economy.

The Hotel Garbi can be booked for £41 per night Half Board, this is £287 for 7 nights.

I've not stopped at the Hotel Garbi, but I do pass it on a daily basis when I stay in Calella as it is opposite the beach, and it looks clean and well kept.

So booking separately, this is a total of £538 per person, flying Business Class.  So what is the additional £700 for?

Has anyone ever booked a singles holiday?  Are they worth the additional cost?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Novotel Birmingham Centre, Broad Street, Birmingham.

The Novotel is a 4 star hotel situated right on Broad Street in Birmingham city centre.  It is a short walk from both the ICC and the NIA as well as all the bars on Broad Street itself.

The foyer is light and airy, there is plenty of seating available, a play area (this seems to be compulsory these days wherever you go), and the reception staff are friendly and efficient.  Check in was dealt with very quickly, you have the option of 1 or 2 keycards for your room which is a very good idea.

The corridors are clean and brightly lit, there is a shoe shine machine on each floor.

I had booked and paid for a single room, but was given a room with a double bed, the double sofa bed had also been made up meaning that as well as not being able to use the sofa, the space in the room was reduced.

The bathroom was bright, however the sink drained very slowly due to the strange shape, I prefer proper bowl shaped sinks but that is just personal preference.  The shower screen was a bit narrow which allowed some of the spray to escape onto the floor.  However, there was plenty of hot water and the shower was easy to use compared to some places I have stayed.

The toilet was separate and did not look like it had been updated since the 70s, but it was clean and fit for purpose, there was also an energy saving light in there which didn't really reach full brightness until you were just about to switch it off.

There were the usual tea and coffee making facilities along with the added benefit of a mini fridge, which I imagine was originally the mini bar.  Unusually for a UK hotel, there was also a safe.

The television was fantastic, better than my home set, there was the option to plug your ipod/iphone into the set if you wanted to listen to your music.

My main concern was the interconnecting door with the neighbouring room with what seemed like quite a flimsy lock, it was opposite the bathroom.  I am not an easily scared person, but there is something about interconnecting doors in a hotel which I do not like.

Breakfast was served from 7am which is fantastic for early risers.  There was a central island with all variety of cereal, fruit and fruit juice.

On a counter along the side of the room, were various cold cuts of meat and cheese, there was also buffet style hot items if you prefer a Full English breakfast.  Unfortunately, these items were lukewarm at best.

Coffee or tea was made on request and brought directly to your table.

Overall, it was a well appointed, clean and friendly hotel.  Would I stay there again?  Yes, but only if the price was right and I would eat breakfast elsewhere.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Banham Zoo, Norwich, Norfolk.

I spent a good few hours here and I am not sure that I visited every area, I will have to go back at some point.

The zoo is a little bit out of the way, at least from the direction I was travelling but it is very well sign posted and there is plenty of car parking once you arrive.

There were 2 ticket windows open when I arrived and no queues.  The adult ticket cost £17.95, a child's £12.95 and under 3's are free.  There are concession rates for Senior Citizens and carers, also the winter admission prices are a little cheaper.

There are plenty of toilets, always important when you are visiting somewhere with children, and food outlets too.

The first animals you see on entry are painted camels, they are not real - obviously - but very striking.  These camels were painted by local schools.

Next, there is a petting area with the fattest guinea pig I have ever seen, there are rabbits, goats and llamas too.

If you look closely, you can see that the llama at the back is sticking his tongue out.

From here on, you have several choices of direction to take, with many different animals to see.

All the animals seem very happy, with none of the distressing actions of those in European zoos, although this marmot made a break for freedom.

Marmots are burrowing creatures and they have dug holes under the fence of their enclosure, this cheeky chappie popped up out of a hole, looked around, decided he was better off inside and went back.

One of the lemurs was so bored with all the goings on that he fell asleep on the information sign.

And it was all too much for this meerkat who was also fast asleep.

Banham Zoo is home to 2 of the approximately 150 Suffolk Punch horses left in the UK, they are registered and used for breeding.

The giraffe enclosure is huge, their building has a first floor viewing platform, this can be reached by stairs, a long wooden sloped walkway or a lift.

There are so many animals and so many routes round that it would be impossible to mention them all here.

There are feeding talks and educational talks several times a day, some of the birds of prey are flown in display.  You can book to hold a meerkat or fly a bird of prey, but there are additional charges associated with this activities.

You do have to leave via the gift shop, but where don't you?  If you do need to leave and return to the zoo, you can stamp your hand to gain reentry.

It is definitely worth a visit.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My Holiday Complaint, a final update.

I have accepted £100 from the booking agents, I have been trying to get my money refunded for nearly 4 months now and I have to accept that I have reached stalemate.

ABTA have been no help at all.

I looked into the small claims court, but it is too much to pay out to start proceedings, I am already a couple of hundred pounds down and I can't afford to pay out anymore.

Somewhere2Stay are still refusing to comment on, or even acknowledge, the month it took them to tell me that the Maritim had refused the booking.

As well as the difference in price between the hotels and the cost of eating out even though I had paid for an evening meal, there was the cost of a taxi to the airport from Calella, this cost €120.  I had booked a return transfer and I received confirmation of the time of the return trip and pick up location.

For whatever reason, the time of the pick up was changed, the transfer company contacted all the hotels where pick ups had been arranged so that they could put signs up in the reception area noticeboard to notify the traveller.  Unfortunately, as I had been moved, I did not receive any notification.

After waiting at the pick up point for an hour, I tried ringing the contact number on the booking confirmation, but there was no answer.  I walked down to the train station and took a taxi.

I have calculated what the holiday cost me.

I expected to pay £510

I could have paid £420 had I booked the Santa Monica myself, choosing B&B and eating meals out.

I ended up paying £685.

(I laid all of this out in an excel spreadsheet but I couldn't post it to my blog!)

So lesson learnt, make sure the company you are ultimately booking with is reputable.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

High Lodge, Thetford Forest, Suffolk

High Lodge is a fantastic place to visit, it is set in the beautiful Suffolk countryside, full details can be found here.

The site entrance fee is in the form of an hourly car park charge.  Currently it is £2.10 per hour per car, with a maximum charge of £11, this can be paid on arrival to beat the queues at the end of the day.  As today's cars can comfortably seat up to 7 people, this is very good value.

Minibuses and coaches have a fixed charge.

If you just want to walk around the grounds, or bring your own bikes, this is the only charge.  Dogs are welcome but must be kept under control and cleaned up after.

And there is plenty to walk around.  There are 4 marked walks, 3 starting from the main area and 1 starting within the forest, these are either 1.5km or 5km.  You can also make your own route up.

There are 6 cycle trails too, upto 18km in length.  Bike hire is available, adult hire is £8 for the first hour and £4 per hour after that (upto a maximum of £32 per day), child's hire is £7 for the first hour and £3 for any further hours (a maximum of £24 per day).

You can also hire child seats.

You cannot use disposable barbecues or open fires at High Lodge, but you can hire barbecues.

This year sees the Forestry Commission celebrating 15 years of the Gruffalo with sculpted Gruffalos at several country parks around the country, you can find a list here.  And I found the Gruffalo!

I also found the fox, but don't know what he said.

In another part of the forest, there is a musical trail.  Scaled up instruments made from wood and metal which you either hit or stand on to make music.  Being alone I had great fun finding out what sounds each made.


There are plenty of things for children to climb on and swing from.

This was a giant seesaw, the signs said that only teamwork could make it work, however, I am ashamed to say that I managed to get it moving all by myself.

The morning I visited it was very misty, the mist and low cloud making a very quiet forest even quieter.  Very Blair Witch in fact, for those of you remember the film, the mysterious and random stacks of logs adding to the atmosphere.

Or maybe Deliverance, with half built platforms.

But I loved every minute of it.

There is a cafe where I had a fantastic breakfast, there is plenty of seating both inside and out.  There was also an eating area called the Pantry but this was closed when I visited as it was still early.

There are plenty of toilets.

Go Ape is available here too, I didn't try this out myself, but did enjoy watching others crossing wires and using death slides.  The shouts and laughter of the Go Apers added to the spookiness of parts of the forest as you could hear them but not see them.

You can also hire Segways from Go Ape, but these are £35 per hour.

I would love to visit again, maybe next time I WILL hire a bike.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

My Holiday Complaint, a further update.

As you will recall I have been trying to have the difference in cost between the hotel I booked and the hotel I was actually accommodated in refunded by the travel company, this is for a holiday booked back in April of this year.

The latest reply from Somewhere2Stay, via Alpharooms, advises that they are not going to increase their existing offer of £50 and if I want more compensation then I should continue with my claim via a third party.  

Very professional.

And is a refund of an overpaid amount really compensation?  I don't think it is.  Yes, I would like compensation, more for the fact that this has dragged on for so long, but primarily I am just trying to collect money owed.

I discovered this week, that Somewhere2Stay is a sister company of Monarch Airlines, and this really surprised me as Monarch have always been completely professional in all the dealings I have had with them, I think that for my next flight I will be returning to EasyJet even though that means a 2 hour journey to the airport instead of 20 minutes up the Birmingham road.

ABTA have been as helpful as the travel company so now I have contacted Watchdog to see if I get any joy there.

The only step I have left is the Small Claims Court.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Presthaven Sands - North Wales

I have just spent a weekend at this Haven site and it is fantastic.  Fantastic to the point I have been looking into how much it would cost to buy a caravan here.

It is located just off the A548 and it is huge.  The main building is a mile and a quarter from the entrance, driving up I did think I had missed a turning somewhere, but then the buildings appeared in the distance.

Check in was easy although the standard of accommodation I had booked meant that I couldn't actually get into my caravan until 4pm, but the more expensive the caravan, the earlier you get access.

In the main building you will find the pub - the Mash and Barrel (WiFi is available in the pub and on the terrace outside), the Carousel Bar and the Live Lounge, where the entertainment takes place.  There is the usual amusement arcade, plus Burger King and Papa John Pizzas.  As it was sunny, sitting on the terrace of the pub was fantastic. 

There are two free to use cash machines in the main building.

Also in the main building, although only accessible from the outside, is the Cooks fish and chip shop.  

Set slightly back from the main building is a large Spar shop.  Refreshingly, having stayed on various holiday parks, the prices in the shop did not appear inflated.  

There is another free to use cash machine at the side of the Spar.

Way back by the entrance, there is a further pub.

There is a leisure complex with an indoor pool, an outdoor pool which was closed as the main season had ended, a jungle gym and an indoor sports court.

Outside there is an aerial play area, think Go Ape but smaller, and a Go-Kart track.  There is also archery, darts, pedal kart hire and bike hire.  There are several play areas too.

Some of these activities are chargeable.

The bars are expensive, but that has been the same at every holiday camp I have visited, but offers are available which can work out better than buying one drink at a time.

I chose a Superior caravan, it was a Rio Mk III, and it was lovely.  It was a 2 bedroom - one double and one twin - the seating in the living area could be converted to a further 2 beds.  There was an en-suite toilet and washbasin in the double bedroom as well as the main shower/toilet room.

The gas hob/oven was twice the size as the one I have at home and there was plenty of seating and storage.

The numbering of the caravans was a little confusing, the park is split into areas which are all named and numbered.  It took me a while to find my van, in the end I just parked the car in one of the many parking areas and walked around to find my van, it turns out that I was driving in circles around it.

Although I was quite a way from the main building, I was very close to a beach access, which was great although when the sea goes out here, it really goes out.


The only drawback was that toilet rolls were not supplied, so it was a quick dash to the Spar to get some!

I was here as part of a club weekend so had special rates, but I will definitely be coming back by myself and paying the full price (I paid per person, however standard rates are per van).