Our Hawaiian Cruise (and visit to Los Angeles) on board the Golden Princess Cruise November-December 2011.
During this trip we visited the Hawaiian Islands and spent a few nights in Los Angeles on the way back.
OK, it’s taken me over a year to finish writing this up – keep not finding time to do it! I will add some photos in the next few days.
Getting There (and back)
We flew with Virgin Atlantic from Heathrow to LA – check-in was uneventful as was parking at Heathrow long-stay on-site car park.
On both flights as they were not full, we took advantage of this and moved to different seats so we could enjoy more room – however the seats & space of the Virgin Atlantic flight was perfectly OK.
Outbound food could have been more substantial – it was three snacks really, but was decent (for in-flight food!). Return flight from LA was a bit better portion-wise.
Outbound service with respect to friendliness and drinks/refreshments service was substantially better than our return. On the return, trolley service comprised one service with the hot meal and rest of the time it was a trip to the back – the return crew just looked like they couldn’t be bothered!
In-flight entertainment was pretty good with a decent selection of recent movies, some of which I think were even still doing the rounds in the cinema, the selection of music, TV programs and games were also pretty decent.
The Ship & Hawaiian Cruise
We cruised to Hawaii aboard the Golden Princess and all-in-all had a fabulous time and met lots of nice folk especially our dinner guests (Allison & Jim from Dundee and Diane & Ray from Cornwall).
One of the problems with cruising is also something that’s good about it – the loyalty schemes (such as the Captains Circle on Princess). It’s two-fold really, we all like variety but we all like getting wee perks and benefits that others may not have but would also like to try out other cruise lines again!
The Hawaiian cruise was a little different to the cruises we have done in the past, mainly due to the number of sea days. Going out/coming back to Hawaii from Los Angeles totaled eight sea days. The most you will get on a Caribbean cruise is two – maybe three – days, so after four (probably about 5 if you include the embarkation day) it did feel like a lot and we were definitely ready for land – both getting to Hawaii and on the return! Saying that, having done it now, I suspect doing similar (or longer!) in the future would be fine as we’ll know what to expect.
As usual the dining options were very good. We enjoyed all of our evening meals and due to meeting such nice people at the table we only missed out a couple of meals to eat either in one of the other restaurants, the buffet or off-ship.
One of our favorite things to do – after the show was to go to the International Café for a quick ‘snack’ – anything from savory bites such as croque monsieur/Croissants/quiche, Soup and some really nice cakes.
There was a total of 8 sea days on this cruise – 4 days each way from LA to Hawaii and back. Those who have been on a cruise will know that they organise many things to keep us as busy as you’d want to be (especially on those sea days!).
Something unexpected happened on this cruise too, while browsing through the activities for the cruise I happened to spot classes for Ukulele. It so happens that my mother-in-law had taken up Ukulele that summer – but as she’s left-handed was finding it slower to learn than the rest, so I thought it’s be a laugh to do this on the cruise – every morning for all the sea days. I am still playing and learning almost 2 years on and enjoy playing it. Dave (and his wife) were responsible for organising all things Hawaiian for the cruise from music (he was an excellent one-man-band) through to Hula dancing and lei-making. I coaxed Laura into doing the Hula classes which she really enjoyed. At the end of the last 4 sea days there was a ship talent show… the closing act just happened to be the Ukulele class playing with the Hula class dancing! [Photo] It was very good and we did enjoy it!
The Big Island (Hawai’i) – Hilo
In keeping with tradition, we decided to do our own trips (unless you know there is limited time or choice, always get off the ship as early as you can and either get a private taxi to take you a drive or do a trip via one of the kiosks for something more organised).
We opted for the private trip to the Volcanos National Park and spread the cost with a German couple and another British couple from the ship, including entry to the park and other entry fees for the other stops it was about $80. We had organised a helicopter trip here before we left home, but Princess cancelled it en-route to Hilo due to the crash a few weeks before.
Our driver was very good a native local Hawaiian who knew his home very well. Our first stop was the Rainbow Falls [photo], which was a very nice stop great water fal and as the name suggests there is a (mostly) permanent rainbow.
Next we drove an hour or so to a garden/zoo (I think it was the Panaewa Rainforest Zoo and Gardens), it wasn’t the best zoo we’ve seen but still it had an interesting collection of monkeys, birds and reptiles. There were also some very big and colorful peacocks roaming around. It was nice to have a walk around the lovely gardens with lots of colorful and unusual/rare flowers and plants, and wasn’t busy at all.
The next stop was the main event the Volcanoes National Park. First we went to the observation platform & visitor center to view the caldera – which had recently become more active. Usually you can get down to the rim of the crater – and walk around it, but as it was ‘active’ and there was much gas escaping from it, they had closed both of these which was a bit disappointing. But we made the most of it and enjoyed viewing it and learning more about the volcanoes and activity of Hawaii in the visitor centre. [photo]
After the visitor center we were taken to the Turston Lava Tube. As you drive to the area where this tube is the forest becomes increasingly lush, this is due to the volcanic ground and the indigenous fern trees found only in this area. It’s also home to some of the world’s rarest birds. The section of tube we got to walk through was around half a mile long and took about 15 or 20 minutes. Along the tube there are strategically lit areas highlighting some interesting geological features. Obviously there is hundreds of miles of lava tubes but they are not all inactive and many have poisonous gasses in them stopping them from being walked through.
On the way back to the port we had our final stop the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Farm. [photo]. This is the company’s only factory and you can view what’s going on via a walkway along the side of the factory to see the shelling machine and other processes going on in order to produce their delicious nuts!
The factory shop has a vast selection of nuts. We bought (quite a lot) of them – I think were still eating them! – as the dates were very long. The only thing we worried about at the time was price, they were not expensive but not cheap. However, LOTS of people (mainly Americans) were buying LOTS of them. After having stopping at other ports and various shops in Honolulu, the prices here were indeed very good – around 20% to 50% cheaper.
O’Ahu – Honolulu
When we docked at the Aloah Tower in Honolulu, there were a variety of options for getting around, there is an open-top bus, taxis, trolley and legs.
As we were there for a whole day we decided on legs. We walked just a few blocks behind the port where we found the famous statue of the last king of the Hawaiian Islands – King Kamehameha, and it sits in front of the splendid ‘Iolani Palace (used as a backdrop in the recent re-make of Hawaii Five-0).
We took a stroll through the main downtown area of Honolulu and out towards Waikiki Beach – around 1 1/2 hrs with some stops. One thing that struck us was that even tho we were well off the touristy area was how clean the city is.
We made our way towards Waikiki beach passing over the canal and past the convention center and then across a lovely big park which was home to the National Army Museum (which had some great old tanks at the door!). From here we were at the start of the Waikiki area.
After a short refreshment we then went to Hard Rock Cafe (for another pin – we’re getting quite a collection from our travels now!) which we found was at the top of the main road lined with just about every shop you could want.
After a stroll along and a bit of shopping we tried to find somewhere for lunch. We found a good looking burger joint, but were put off by the birds which were allowed to jump freely around (on top of tables and cutlery ) so we decided to find somewhere else – which sadly was McDonald’s but still a welcome rest from the ship food!
After lunch, we headed to the lovely Waikiki beach and relaxed for a few hours. Even in what is the ‘quiet’ season the beach had plenty of life! The water was nice and clear and clean – but very cold and being out exploring for the day forgot to put swim shorts in the bag, but it was great just relaxing in the sun and dipping the feet. With Hawaii being famous for its surfing the water at Waikiki was remarkably calm.
We decided to wait a little longer on the beach than we planned so that we could watch what was among one of the best sunsets we have seen. We sat watching a great sunset sharing a shave-ice (which was good at the time until we had some proper stuff in Lahaina – Maui). [photo]
After the sun went down and managed to get the sand out of our toes! We had another walk up the lovely road. After the spectacle which was the lighting of the gas torches around the entrance to the beach, and along the full length of the street!
Along the way I got stopped by a couple of guys with fantastic parrots which were promptly stuck on my head and plopped another in my hands! $5 dollars lighter and along with some great pictures we continued our journey and found some festive hula dancing so we struggled through the big crowd that had gathered and watched them play and dance. [photo]
Then we toot a walk through the International Marketplace which was nearby and picked up his-n-hers lei (which are made from the seeds of the Ti plant), then we decided it was time for dinner.
Our initial plan was to go to the Cheesecake Factory we had seen earlier in the day, but when we got there it was almost a 2-hour wait and at 7pm (and the ship due to sail at about 11pm) we decided it was too late. Not deterred to have some good food in Honolulu we went to Dukes which was again almost a 2 hour wait, but they suggested their patio/bar areas – which served a cut-down but excellent menu, we shared some great nachos, quesadillas and fries, all washed down with several cocktails! Will definitely visit again someday – hopefully!
With the time just after 9PM and as much as we were enjoying our time in Honolulu – we decided we better head back to the ship. We found a taxi rank and after checking how much a taxi back to the port would be with a couple of them, I seen a nice extended length Lincoln. So verifying the price was still ‘Around $25’ we took the opportunity to jump in a classic American car. He did get us back but took us a bit of a journey – all the time the meter jumped and jumped it was $36 by time we got back. When questioned ‘What happened to it being “around $25″‘ he simply shrugged his shoulders and then had the cheek to put his hand put for a tip! I’m afraid I responded with “my tip is that you get your meter fixed!”.
After we got back aboard it was time for a quick refreshment and then up to the top deck for a deck party! We had some nice drinks and nibbled on yet more food – was greed really – before getting roped into joining in with some cheesy line dances (timewarp, macarena and so on) culminating in a huge Conga line which went almost round the whole deck!
As the Golden Princess set sail from the port, we had a customary horn battle with the other ship in port, which was a comparatively little Holland-America ship!
We had already researched before we left and it was difficult to find out any good information about what to do here, so it was always ear-marked as one of the ports for not doing much.
Kaui is famous (so we found out) for being one of the rainiest spots on earth – specifically Mount Waialeale!
More so than the other islands, the trips on Kuai were very expensive (especially from the ship). There was a free shuttle bus that takes you about half a mile from the port to a small shopping center.
Had we been able to find out more before we came – or before we left the ship!) – there was a couple of trip kiosks which offered a selection of trips and adventure. All the trips were mainly in opposite sides of the Island so unfortunately by the time we found it there was not enough time to do any of them, as this was a very brief port – only 4 or 6 hours.
The main trip we did fancy here (as it would have included a trip over to the lava flows in Hilo) was a helicopter trip, which due to both the misty weather (see rainiest spot on earth!) most helicopter trips were still grounded due to the accident on Hilo a few weeks before we went.
We seen another Duke’s and decided to have a few of their really nice cocktails before we went back to the ship. In all my years since being a teenager it’s the ONLY time I (in fact both of us) have been asked for proof of age! [photo]
For whatever reason, we both decided that Maui was our favorite island (excluding the bustle and beach of Waikiki area). The port where the ship set anchor was at Lahaina, it was a quick tender from the ship to the town.
We had quite a bit of time on this beautiful island so when we got there we found some trip kiosks – I had it in mind to do the Hana road. However we briefly started to chat to some locals who instead recommended a trip around the North Shore of West Maui. It was still going to be at least a 4 hour trip, the drive to get to the start of the Hana road from Lahaina would on its own have been around 2 hours each way!
We combined with another two couples from the ship who were also deliberating and so we all agreed to give this one a try…
The drive itself is absolutely breathtaking, we were told that many locals prefer it to the Hana Highway (which probably gets too many tourists anyway). From Kapalua to Wailuku you pass some of the most rugged coastline in the world and some very lovely beaches and bays which are not well known or frequented.
I guess the drive could be done in a couple of hours without stops, but to appreciate the views as we did it will take you four but ideally five hours or even the whole day for extended stops at the bays and beaches.
Along the drive one of the many viewpoints we stopped at was Nakalele Point, this is the most northern point Maui. The primary attraction here is the famous Nakalele Blowhole. When we were there the surf was heavy, so we got to see the geyser from the blowhole blow very well and it ‘blew’ many times and very high ! Apparently the geyser can be up to 100ft high when the sea is very rough. You can, if you have or make time, take a walk closer to it and you’ll walk past numerous tide pools along the shore and beautiful lava rock formations. [photo].
We stopped off at Kaukini Gallery for some refreshments and loo stop. The valley behind it leading to the shore was spectacular and just to the side of the gallery was Kahakuloa Head – a 700 ft rock which was the core of an ancient volcano. Apparently in the mid-1700’s Maui’s last independent rule, King Kahekili, the chief rival of Kamehameha I. spent time in this area. Legend says that in the early morning, the King would climb up the hill and “leap” into the ocean below from about the 200 foot height. [photo].
Sadly the group wouldn’t let me have time (probably wouldn’t have had time anyway!), but there is a short trail leading to the top of Kahakuloa Head, but it did look very narrow.
We had an emergency stop!!! As we were driving along a very narrow section of road down the side of a very steep valley, a rainbow – probably the brightest I have ever seen – started to form in front of us due to the mist in the valley floating up, so we had to stop and watch this amazing event.
On the way back to Lahaina we passed the spectacular golf course of Kaanapali Golf Course where the PGA’s Mercedes-Benz Championship is played.
We had a bonus stop at the start of this drive, the guide took us a drive into the ‘ear’ of the Maui man. The drive too us into a lush rainforest at the foot of the extinct volcano and it boasted great views back down and over the the southern half of the island. We took the quick trek up some steep stairs to some of the viewing platforms for some photos, and there was a re-created Hawaiian village which was pretty nice to see. [photo]
When we got back to Lahaina we had an hour and a half before we had to re-board the ship. So we had a look around some of the unusual shops and bought a couple of tee-shirts from Crazy Shirts, and then had a Hawaiian delicacy of ‘shave ice’ from Uluani’s Hawaiian Shave Ice – which many say is the best shave ice in Hawaii and I think I agree (we did have some at Waikiki but it was nowhere near as good as this one!). It was so good, we needed to have another between us for the walk back to the ship and it was our last time to walk on Hawaiian ground – for now.
OK. I will be blunt, and hopefully it is not a fair representation of Ensenada (or indeed Mexico), but it is what we experienced. Basically, it was a dump.
When we visit new places we’re always eager to get out exploring and soaking up even a little bit of the culture of wherever we are, but unfortunately, Ensenada had little to give. We hold little hope that it was due to the fact that we arrived at 4PM.
From the moment we left the confines of the pier complex, we encountered loads of beggars all trying to sell crap watches and bracelets and so on, and it was like this the whole walk into town.
We reached the town center (a few minutes walk – rather than the $3.50 shuttle for the 700 meter journey!). Probably due to time of day a lot of it was closed and the shops that were open might as well have stayed closed, of the dozens of little shops that were open, every single one of them were full of the same crap (sombreros, tacky copies of bags/clothing) and cheap and poorly made souvenirs.
While walking around there were one or two ‘authentic’ Mexican bands playing some music – that would probably have been pretty nice to stand and listen/watch were it not for all the garbage in the streets, and the beggars and suspicious people around.
This is definitely a port where you do NOT wear jewellery, take a minimum of cash, and guard your purse/wallet with your life.
However, the pier was pretty nice. If ever passing through again we’d will just stay there. There is a small selection of shops/stalls with a fine representation of what you might find in town, even if you’re looking for cheap prescription medications without the prescription! (I guess this is not to be highly recommended either!), or some magic blue pills (ahem)!
All-in-all, I would like to have said nice things about Ensenada – but can’t!
I did look Ensenada up in a dictionary and found this:
Ensenada – En-se-na-da [en-suh-nah-duh] (noun)
Lots of nothing. En-se (Lot’s of) na-da (nothing).
Our time in LA
We stayed at The Wilshire on Wilshire Blvd which was ‘in the middle’ of Los Angeles on the fringe of Koreatown & Downtown, conveniently just outside are the Metro and Bus stops.
We were undecided on whether to hire a car or not for our time in LA. In the end we didn’t and made use of the Bus and Metro services and an odd Taxi, the bus service turned out to be reasonably reliable and was very cheap – a couple of dollars would get the two of us pretty much anywhere.
We arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon after leaving the ship.
Before leaving the UK I found the House of Blues on Sunset Strip and as it happens they were due to have some live music on that evening, a modern Country & Western band called Pistol Annies, so I thought it’d be an interesting ‘American’ thing to do – unfortunately their website didn’t allow me to buy tickets.
We decided we’d head out there anyway, and after joining the queue we quickly learnt that there were no tickets. So instead we decided to get something to eat. If you’re ever in LA I do recommend it the food we had was great, typically Tex-Mex/American but very good.
During the meal the General Manager floated round the tables as they usually do. He came to us asked if everything was OK , I said not really and then explained about the tickets and did say the food was very good! A short time later he came back to the table with two complimentary tickets.
We finished dinner just about as it was time to start.
I’ll not write a review of the concert – even though I could! But it was a great night and included a surprise appearance by John Foggarty from Credence Clearwater Revival.
Thursday was our shopping day. Due to the ‘limited’ time in LA (we thought 4 days would have been enough!) we focus around The Grove, Beverly Hills Mall and Rodeo Drive.
Our first stop after a short bus ride along Wilshire Blvd we arrived at The Grove and the Farmers Market.
The bus dropped us off not too far from the Farmers Market. If we lived in LA, going by what we seen we would probably do a lot of food shopping here. There were inexpensive fruit & veg stalls, and butchers (they had huge steaks and also cuts of mean unfamiliar to the UK) – everything we seen looked good and all the shops and stalls were very clean and had a great selection.
There were also a number of luxury shops and stalls, and there was a lovely delicatessen which sold just about everything – great breads and cheeses and just about everything, even Haggis! and other items from the UK (but were expensive)!
There were many places to eat and it was mid-morning and we purposefully had no breakfast as we knew we’d get something here. After perusing the various offerings we settled on a French pancake shop (I think it was called Dupars), we both had some great pancakes – I had a savory one and Laura had a fruity one – and was served with a great pot of coffee.
We walked back around and bought a couple of unusual items and then headed into The Grove, it has a great selection of shops and a huge Barnes & Noble (from which Laura surprised me with a book she secretly bought while we were in it – a collection of vintage Japanese Batman comics!). The Grove reminded me of Bay Street in Emeryville (San Francisco). It was decorated for Xmas and so had a huge tree, fake snow and some fake icebergs around – it was really very nicely done! We bought a few items and then made our way to Rodeo Drive.
Rodeo Drive (and surrounding area) was all very glitzy and impressive, was it practical for ‘normal’ shoppers? No.
As you may be aware of Rodeo Drive is famous for it’s moderately expensive shops!
Of course if I really wanted to pay over-the-odds for stuff I can buy in the UK then fine, but we have the same shops here in the UK (mainly in London) which sell the same things for around the same price. In the Rodeo Drive area, the only places which were reasonable (but still pretty expensive) were a couple of really nice restaurants, especially a great looking seafood one.
By now it was early afternoon, so we located a nice coffee shop a couple streets along from Rodeo Drive, we both had soup and a sandwich – I had a really nice pastrami sandwich.
Before leaving the UK, I researched to see what interesting events would be on and it seemed that it was going to be in a quiet couple of weeks just before lots of Xmasy things would be on.
However, I found and got tickets for an ice hockey match to go and watch the LA Kings vs. Minnesota Wild (who won) at the Staples Centre. Having never been to any ice hockey I thought that it would be interesting.
As to be expected being in the USA, it was a big spectacle around it – they had some runner up from the USA X-Factor to sing the anthem and had smoke and lasers and stuff while the LA Kings came on the ice.
During intermission they got some poor unsuspecting victims to put on costumes and race around the ice rink on children’s tricycles, it was very funny!
The Staples Centre and the area surrounding it is the heart of the Downtown area, with the hotel that is home to LA Market (one of Gordon Ramsey’s – the menu did look very nice and exciting, but way overpriced even for LA!). The area around the Staples Centre was really nice and impressive – and after the match it was a fairly easy Metro ride back to Wilshire Blvd (or it was easy after some confusion – mainly caused by myself over the line/train we needed to get on). We had a very good meal before the game at the ESPN bar/restaurant.
In the vicinity of the Staples Centre is the fashion district called Santee Alley. During the cruise we spoke with loads of people who said ‘you must go to Santee Alley’ for bargain shopping.
What people failed to mention was that it was a series of ramshackle alleys with open shop fronts selling all sorts of fashion accessories – shoes, trainers (they probably called them sneakers), jackets, jeans and so on – much/all of it was counterfeit.
We went quite late in the day as we thought it would be ‘proper’ shops and we were not quite in the mood for the hassle of rummaging around loads of junk to find one or two good buys. Had we been in the mood I’m sure it would have been great and in hindsight whenever we return to LA we will probably go but will know what to expect and make better use of it. Laura however did get some really nice unusual original print dresses from one of more ‘upmarket’ outlets so it wasn’t a total waste!
On our last full day in LA, we headed to Santa Monica. Getting there by bus was a bit of an adventure and not quite sure what happened but it was meant to be a direct bus, but we stopped about a mile short and had to walk the rest. When we finally got down into SM (around Colorado Ave/Ocean Ave) we decided to determine the correct bus and approximate timings so that we were not worrying later! With that done we explored.
We had a nice lunch up around the Main Street shopping area, there’s almost too much choice! Especially if – like us- you like to try new food, all the eateries were equally appealing. If you’re in that area looking for a recommendation from our brief visit we have none as they all looked good.
Afterwards we had a brief stroll down some of the huge beach, it is one of the biggest beaches we’ve seen – and we’ve seen many – however being the start of December it was too cold (even for a Scotsman) to sunbath, but only just, it was like a Spring day in the UK around 15 or 16 degrees, so while pleasant to do lots of exploring, it wasn’t for catching sun.
We meandered along for a little while then headed back to walk along the pier – stopping for an obligatory photo at the Route 66 booth and popped into some of the touristy shops and bought a couple of souvenirs, and trying to identify the spot from Michael Douglas’ Falling Down!
While walking along the pier there was a bit of a commotion behind us, we turned around and an Albatross had narrowly missed landing on us! It seems he must have gotten disorientated and decided to take a nosedive onto the pier! [photo] He was a huge bird, it must be one of the biggest birds I’ve seen. It dozily wandered around a little before some police came and put it in the back of their pick-up and drove it down to the end of the pier where it was released.
At the end of the pier, there was a busker (a very good one) playing his guitar. So we sat on the benches and watched the sun-set, it was the 2nd great sunset we’d seen during our trip.
Later, on the way back from the pier we were looking for a typically American place to have dinner, after some walking around and from chatting to locals through the day we found one of the many recommendations. We were very hungry by time we found Buca di Beppo – a famous chain of Italian restaurants. The menu was extensive but we settled on something, and you then had a choice of Small/Medium/Large. We were advised on a Medium – we were advised that Small would feed 2 as ‘a Side dish’, but Medium would serve ‘3 people as’ while Large would serve ‘5 to 6 people’. To say the portions were big is an understatement, when this bowl came it must easily have had a diameter of 2 foot! We really did struggle to finish it – Laura was beaten long before me, but I was very hungry! [photo]
If we were to go back to LA, we’d choose a hotel in Santa Monica as it was a really nice place and felt safe walking around.
We wanted to visit nearby Venice beach but simply had no time to do so, so at it’s something to do when we next visit!
LA – The Bad Bits
There were two events that occurred in LA that made us uncomfortable. Whilst staying near the airport pre-cruise we went to get some dinner (I introduced Laura to the institution that is Denny’s) and also some ‘refreshments’ to take on-board.
Not far from the hotel was an underpass with the free-way above and a ‘camp’ of homeless people. Passing them was fine, however once we’d passed there was a homeless guy walking the other way who asked for some change – we genuinely didn’t have anything smaller than a $20 note, so I said we had nothing, he wasn’t happy with this and told us to go ‘go and die of cancer’!!! – and stormed off, needless to say that left Laura pretty shaken – and a great introduction to LA!
After the cruise, apart from another homeless person spitting on me at a bus stop (again I had no loose change!) we felt pretty safe as we were exploring LA.
Obviously, with any big city there is always a risk, but not looking or acting like a total tourist minimises getting hassled – even simply walking with your earphones in (but not actually listening to anything) helps detract attention and of course not having the camera permanently hanging round you like a necklace!
Finally, just a quick rant about our travel agent – Co-Op Travel at Boley Park Lichfield. When we booked the cruise, we were told if we found it cheaper they would match it… we did find it cheaper and provided them with the documentation to prove it, but they broke their price match promise at time of booking and did not offer any further discount or other such gesture to compensate for the fact we found same holiday almost £800 cheaper!
They used their in-house cruise company called ‘Spectrum’. The day we picked up our tickets, the transfer bookings were wildly wrong in the timings and had to be rectified several times! And on the day we headed back to LAX for our flight home, the shuttle we had booked said they didn’t have our booking. We needed to be @ LAX for around 2:30PM so were ‘booked’ to pick us up at 1:30PM but they did not turn up and when called the ‘earliest’ they could offer (as our TA hadn’t confirmed the booking) was 3:30PM! So we had to to a taxi transfer costing $60 to get to the airport!
We have used Co-Op Travel in Lichfield before many times, but this was our first (and will definitely be the last) with their Boley Park branch, they must be the most disinterested and most unhelpful bunch of people I have encountered for a long time!