Waking up to the view of Zebrugge (meaning Bruges on the sea) is always a wondrous perspective for me. I have been lucky enough to visit this port and Bruges on a handful of occasions in the past, always whilst cruising and always with my husband. Stephanie on the other was not only a cruise virgin, she was also a Bruges virgin. Not any more, that hussy loves both (only messing Steph). ♥
I had woken way before Stephanie. You see, I have this thing I do when cruising, if not always then often. I am obsessed with sailing into port and away from port. The ocean is most definitely my potion and my favorite vitamin? You guessed it – Vitamin Sea. Going completely off track, this is where my Instagram and Twitter name comes from -firstinitialsea, you may already know that my name is Claire – a complete lover of all things ocean…
Anyhow, I’m waffling, so I shall get right back to the matter in hand. I had managed to make myself a cup of coffee without waking Stephanie and proceed to our balcony, where I sat with my quilt wrapped around me relaxing to the rhythm of the ocean as land slowly came into view. The first thing you can see on approach to the port is the huge, white wind turbines that surround Zebrugge. I didn’t move an inch, until we were firmly anchored. I woke Stephanie with an excited “morning” squeal. I think she initially thought I had seen either dolphins or whales, because my morning call was a rather shocking awakening. It should be said that for those of you thinking, dolphins, whales, Zebrugge? No way! I have indeed seen these magnificent mammals almost every time I have cruised but more recently I spotted them from land, just off the Jurassic Coast line (Portland, England). You can view this footage on my instagram page – firstinitialsea. Stephanie woke from her slumber and joined me on our balcony, just before getting ready for our day ahead in Bruges.
After a delightful mix of melon, fruit and yogurt, along with coffee, lots of coffee, we headed to deck 4 where the gangway was situated. A gangway is the deck of the ship in which gigantic stairs are placed in order for all ship mates to disembark for their shore/port day. The gangway can change throughout the day, depending on the tide. Sometimes it is necessary to take a Tender, some ships are simply too huge for all ports. A Tender is bound to come up in another blog post later. I personally find them incredibly fun – just to attempt to board a lifeboat from a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean is a little surreal, but most definitely a fantastic experience.
P&O had put on many excursions for the ship mates, which you can book prior to your cruise, so you don’t miss the boat, excuse the pun, which isn’t actually a pun because it is not a boat. It is a ship! Something all passionate, die-hard cruisers will constantly point out to you should you refer to the ship as a boat. Or perhaps that is just my parents? Having visited Bruges before, we were confident enough to take the free shuttle bus, (thank you P&O) to Blackenberge train station, where it couldn’t be easier to catch the €5 train into Bruges. You can tell when you are getting close to Bruges by the reoccurring cathedrals and buildings standing tall and proud, each one intricately designed.
The walk from Bruges train station into Bruges itself is stunning. The scenes that greet you are warm and welcoming, from endless rows of emerald trees and canals, the sapphire skies and angelic white swans are all in perfect contrast – a photographers dream.
Steph and I, being the non-conformers that we are made the executive decision to just go with the flow, no map reading (again) required. Yep, we got wonderfully lost; a good thing, I saw parts of the city I had never seen before. More cobbled streets, endless canals, rows upon rows of chocolate and lace shops, adult only shops and more current shops like Zara, Mango and H&M. We ate alfresco, ordering a delicious lunch from Ellis Gourmet Burger, this isn’t your average burger place, that becomes apparent from the decor, the first class service and being asked “how would you like your burger cooked?” Although, I did have a giggle when one of the gorgeous girls serving wore a hoody with the slogan – Who the f*ck is Ellis? A quirky, first class restaurant, despite the staff dress code. I did ask her who Ellis is, I mean come on, it’s me. The saying curiosity killed the cat, has my name all over it.
After consuming a monster burger, along with the most delicious cup of chips, we carried on with our explorations of beautiful Bruges. We did not keep an eye on the time because we were busy enjoying and savoring every memory we were making. Now, when you’re on a Cruise Ship, you absolutely, most definitely must be back on board by the time stated, otherwise you will miss the ship! I repeat, you will miss the ship! This is always the case when you decide to explore a destination on your own and not with a paid excursion. That is very different, if you have paid for an excursion through the cruise line then the ship has to wait for you before setting sail off into the horizon.
The journey back to the ship was fun, we were starting to get a little techy about the time – the trains from Bruges back to Blankenberge are only once every hour. We had literally just missed the bloody train by 2 minutes! We were also fully aware that the last shuttle bus from Blankenberge to the ship was at 5pm. As always Stephanie and I were pushing the boundaries to their limits; Nothing changes there, I can assure you it has been the same since we were 11 years old and just so you know, she is the bad influence, no matter how much she protests that statement to anyone who will listen. Yes indeed, I’m the louder one out of the two of us, but what’s that saying? Oh yes – watch out for the quiet ones…
On approach to the platform, we immediately recognized some fellow ship mates, me being me, I approached them to see what their plan of action was for getting back on board Azura in time. Great minds think alike. We all hopped on the train to Zebrugge instead!
This risky move turned out to be a wise one, well that is if you look at the positives of walking 3.2 miles back to the bloody ship in hoards, burning off the 2000 calorie burger eaten earlier. Actually despite having tired legs from walking 6 hours on cobbles all day and a further 3.2 miles, I enjoyed this experience very much. Meeting new people is always top of my list on an exploration, the people you meet always form part of those precious memories that last a lifetime…
Stephanie was buzzing from our day in Bruges, I was too, despite this, I was completely shattered. We had mutually decided that a 40 minute power nap was in order before getting ready for Formal night. Stephanie swore blind she wouldn’t sleep and I would’ve sworn I would be out like a light. Role reversal – Stephanie was catching flies 5 minutes later, and I was so restless because I knew we were about to leave port and just had to get out on the balcony to witness sail away.
Anticipation was building within our stateroom, we popped some music on Spotify, danced and sang ourselves ready for the evening that lay ahead (insert monkey covering his eyes emoji). I managed to tame my frizzy mop with a dutch braid and side bun, I also helped to glam up Stephanie’s hair with a half up, half down braided bun. We didn’t scrub up too badly to be honest. Stephanie looked and felt a million dollars in her gown. I felt, as I often do in a dress, awkward! I’m such a ripped jeans and converse kind of girl (who loves makeup). I knew how much Stephanie wanted to experience Formal night, and seeing as this was her birthday gift from me, it had to be done. I can say now that I’m 100% glad we did it. We had the most fabulous evening.
We couldn’t quite manage the 5 courses available in the restaurant, I recall we managed 2.5 – starters, mains and half of our deserts. We both thoroughly enjoyed the 5* food and 1st class service we were given, we felt like what we imagined Royalty to feel like. I think, in fact I know why we couldn’t manage anymore food, lets just say tight dresses and pre-drinks!
We made our way to the various bars and entertainment venues throughout the evening, sampling cocktails and different types of vodka mixes, chatting away to all the super friendly and attentive members of staff. I literally felt like my stomach was being devoured by my waistband. However, The atmosphere and vibe on board ship was categorically buzzing. Everyone feeling positive and grateful, taking in every single moment to bank and save in their collection of memories. All on board chatting away to strangers one minute, cruise companions the next. I find it’s often the way on cruises, and one of the reasons I’m completely hooked.
I think, and no, I cannot be sure, not because of the alcohol – entirely, because on a cruise there is absolutely no need for a watch (unless a port day – off ship) that it was around midnight when I was desperate to get changed into something far less glam, but far more comfortable and pop on some dancing shoes rather than the stilts I was wearing. We both headed back to the cabin for 5 minutes to change.
Manhattan was the place to be (not in the literal sense) The DJ was playing some amazing tunes, the place was alive with people, some still in their formal wear and others who had the same idea as Stephanie and I. Everyone was up on the dance floor mingling and showing off their best moves, us included. There was one little problem, no drinks were allowed on the dance floor. Pretty much everyone was drinking and pretty much everyone wanted to dance. The DJ would call out over the microphone and shame the person drinking on the dance floor in a joking manner. The friendly and efficient security team were over to the shamed in a flash, like real life super heroes. I think Stephanie and I forgot the no drinks on the dance floor rule a handful of times. Eeek!
We danced the night away, chatting to many different cruisers, some new to cruising some experienced cruisers. It was such a good evening. It must have been around 02:30 when we thought about heading back to the stateroom, knowing that we had to get up earlier than usual for breakfast, in order to finish the last of our packing and dreadfully disembark. That is the only part I despise about cruising – disembarkation day!
We took the rest of our drinks and water back to our stateroom, retiring for the evening – or not…
Before we knew it, the sun was coming up. We had spent the rest of our time catching up and reminiscing, listening and giggling about the wild noises coming from the “hen’s” stateroom either side of us. They had asked us earlier if we wanted to join them, now usually I’m a “can’t beat them, join them kind of girl.” On this occasion however it was more fun to guess what they were all up to than actually see. Besides, I was enjoying every single rare moment spent with Stephanie. I have absolutely no doubt that during our weekend we managed to collect those kind of memories that will last a lifetime. For me this makes me more rich than I could ever imagine being in my wildest dreams.
Thank you all for taking the time to read my post. I hope you enjoyed it. I’m forever grateful.
Keep dreaming dreamers…
Love Claire x