Did you know that you don’t have to pay for under 18’s at the races?
And did you also know that there is a lot more to do at the races than just watch the horse racing?
Well if you didn’t then read on.
As a parent myself, and a single one at that, it can be a challenge to find something fun and affordable to do with the family. You really want a good day out don’t you?
So Great British Racing have launched a series of short films with David Walliams and Billy Jenkins, to show the public what they are missing. Joshua and I were thrilled to be invited to the screening at Sandown Park Racecourse last week, to learn more about it.
Child actor Billy Jenkins, better known for his role as ‘Young Charles” in The Crown, plays the part of David’s son. The short films are very amusing, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at the part in episode three where David reads out the names of the horses, only to discover its actually the food menu.
I have to admit, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to take Joshua to the races until we went to the event at Sandown Race Course. It was only once we arrived that I remembered the days that I used to go to Sandown as a child with my family. I’ve always loved horses, so I enjoyed going purely to see these gorgeous animals. The great thing about kids is that they love the competition of picking their horse without having to place a bet. You can introduce your own game. Bring a bag of sweets or other treats with you and whoever picks the winner gets a treat.
Races are very close together, so once it all starts there is no long waiting around for the next piece of action. My suggestion would be to bring a picnic blanket and some food. Sit down a good couple of hours before the race to enjoy something to eat. Pick your horses and take the kids for a bathroom break before everything starts. If you do want to place bets, again I would do this in advance, rather than in between races.
Before the first race, you can all head down to the pre-parade ring so that the children can actually see their horses. At Sandown, it is set out very easily so that we could see the horses in the ring, then walk down to the winning post and enjoy the race from there.
Here is a glimpse of Frankie Dettori riding Without Parole who went on to win his race.
Each event offers different things for the family. For example Windsormania is a family fun day held at Royal Windsor Racecourse on Sunday 1st July and includes a free all day fun fair for the children and after race music with tribute acts including Katy Perry, One Direction and Pink.
A family of 6 can go for £28 and for just £2 more they include 4 ice cream vouchers and a race card.
If you don’t want to take your own food, there is plenty on offer. With restaurants, bars, food trucks and mobile gin, champagne and Pimms bars, they have everything covered.
Royal Princess Cruise Ship Celebrates Her Fifth Anniversary
It was five years ago today that the 3,560 guest Royal Princess cruise ship, was christened by the expectant HRH, The Duchess of Cambridge in Southampton.
Since then, Royal Princess has sailed over 600,000 miles. That is the equivalent of travelling 25 times around the world. 730,000 guests have had the pleasure of cruising onboard this magnificent ship, during which time she has clocked up an impressive 79 ports and 23 countries. Guests have enjoyed18,000,000 onboard meals, 10,000 ‘Royal afternoon teas, more than 10,000,000 slices of complimentary top-deck pizza and 310,000 glasses of champagne.
Royal Princess is currently based in Southampton for the summer season, travelling around the British Isles.
The ship was the first to include signature Princess Cruises’ features such as the SeaWalk, a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway that extends 28 feet over the edge of the ship, and Princess Live, a television studio with onboard programming throughout the day.
Royal Princess has also become a star of the small screen, as for the past two years she has been the setting for three series of primetime ITV documentary ‘The Cruise’. Set in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, the series offered viewers an insight into life onboard a Princess ship for both guests and crew, and attracted a combined average audience of around 4m per episode.
Tony Roberts, Princess Cruises’ Vice President UK and Europe, said: “Royal Princess’ special ties with the UK mean she is always thought of particularly fondly over here. It’s therefore especially fitting that the ship is spending her fifth year anniversary sailing a season around the British Isles.”
“We wish all the crew onboard a happy birthday and hope guests who have enjoyed spending time on Royal Princess previously, or are booked to travel on her in future, will raise a glass to her next five years setting sail across the world.”
Royal Princess’ sister ship, Regal Princess, was launched in May 2014, followed by another sister ship, Majestic Princess, in March 2017. Three further sister ships will launch in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
Award winning Hapag-Lloyd Cruises’ are official sponsors of Polo In The Park this year. It’s the perfect fit with their reputation as one of the World’s leading luxury and expedition cruise lines.
A Hapag-Lloyd Cruises lounge marquee area will be located next to the Polo pitch where visitors will be able to find out more about Europa 2 (rated as World’s Best Cruise Ship) and their new state of the art ultra luxury expedition ship Hanseatic Inspiration. Thoughtfully, there will be a phone/tablet charger in the marquee for people to use free of charge.
The leading cruise guide book, Stern’s Guide to the Cruise Vacation once again awarded Hapag Lloyd Cruises’ Europa 2 the highest distinction rating of 6-stars plus. “Having cruised on almost a thousand ships, I can honestly say the Europa 2 is one of the most beautiful ships I have ever seen. From the top notch service, to the luxury accommodations, to the superb gourmet food, the Europa 2 is in a class of her own,” said Steve Stern.
They also won Best Adventure / Expedition Cruise Line category in the 2018 Wave Awards. These are just two of a long list of awards recognising the outstanding level of luxury, service and attention to detail the cruise line are renowned for.
As well as stunning itineraries, details of which will be available at the marquee, there are two unique cruises for lovers of fashion and art.
fashion2sea is an entire cruise dedicated to fashion onboard Europa 2. Travelling from Lisbon to Hamburg, visiting cities with true style in mind. The format for the cruise includes exclusive collaborations with renowned designers, glamorous fashion shows, new collections, a pop-up store, a beauty lounge, make-up workshops, and a fashion dinner.
In partnership with the renowned art magazine Weltkunst the art2sea cruise sails from Monte Carlo to Civitavecchia and focuses on old masters and modern art. There will be guided visits to galleries, exhibitions and museums such as the world-famous Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Back on board and guests can enjoy lectures and discussions with knowledgeable experts.
New Expedition Class
The 230 passenger Hanseatic Inspiration, sets a new standard for the expedition experience, including retractable glass balconies on the sun deck. These have been designed to give guests the feeling of hovering directly above the water.
The onboard experiences match the incredible design. To find out more, get your Polo In The Park tickets using SHIPSPOLO discount code to save £5 per ticket book now
MSC CRUISES TAKES DELIVERY OF MSC SEAVIEW THE BIGGEST SHIP EVER BUILT IN ITALY
Monfalcone, Italy, 4 June 2018 – Today at the Fincantieri shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy, MSC Cruises officially took delivery of another mega ship to add to their growing fleet.
The flag ceremony in which delivery took place for MSC Seaview was held in the presence of the shipowner as well as Founder and Executive Chairman of MSC Group, Gianluigi Aponte.
Also present were Pierfrancesco Vago, Executive Chairman of MSC Cruises, other members of the Aponte and Aponte-Vago families, Giuseppe Bono, CEO of Fincantieri, and other authorities and dignitaries.
During the ceremony, an important maritime tradition, Roberto Olivari, Fincantieri’s shipyard director, handed an ampoule over to Pier Paolo Scala, Master of MSC Seaview. It contains the first water that touched the hull when MSC Seaview was floated out last year.
MSC Seaview has an iconic design, with generous outdoor spaces and will be a game changer for guests who want to make the most of the sun and outdoors. Her inaugural summer season will be spent sailing the Mediterranean from her homeport of Genoa, Italy, repositioning to South America for the winter season. MSC are already the leading cruise line in both destinations, and the addition of MSC Seaview will only strengthen that.
MSC Cruises Seaside Class ships are pushing the boundaries of pioneering ship building and design when it comes to the environmental technology. MSC Seaview will not only comply with the highest international standards, but she will also receive RINA’s Green Star 3 which specifically recognises that MSC Seaview reaches the greatest levels of eco-compatibility due to various innovative measures put in place which help reduce the environmental footprint during operations. These include, the exhaust gas cleaning system, the advanced waste water treatment, systems for the prevention of oil discharge from machinery spaces, the ballast water treatment system, and the ship’s Environmental Management Plan.
MSC Seaview will be officially christened in Genoa on Saturday 9th June in a glittering ceremony which will feature ship’s Godmother Sophia Loren.
I am flying out to Genoa on Thursday ahead of the event, reporting for the Daily Mirror, so please follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for live updates.
Polo In The Park is celebrating it’s 10th successful year at Hurlingham Park in London next weekend. It’s a fantastic event to enjoy with friends or family on 8 – 10 June. What’s more, when you buy tickets to the event and enter my unique code SHIPSPOLO at checkout, you get a £5 discount.
The award winning London property specialists, Chestertons are the headline sponsor for Polo In The Park for the fifth year running. I met a few of the guys from Chestertons at the team draw recently and what a great bunch they were. It was interesting to hear about the various events they get involved in with the local community. Central Sales Area Director, Corey Askew told me how he had the idea for Chestertons to organise a coat drive. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it is when the employees and community donate coats which are collected and given to those in need.
As well as the London area, Chestertons also have properties for sale and rent all over the world. Even if you are not in the market to buy, sell or rent property right now, I can strongly recommend checking out their website even if it’s just to drool over the beachfront properties in the Cayman Islands. A good place to start for inspiration for your vision board is Chestertons website
This beautiful park in Fulham is also the home of the Hammersmith and Fulham Rugby Football Club. It is thought that Fulham Football Club played here when they were still a church side boys team. The Park is located next to the famous Hurlingham Club, a private members sports and social club, which was responsible for introducing Polo to England in 1869.
Champagne Lanson Garden
Overlooking the playing field will be Lanson’s largest outdoor Champagne Garden. The perfect place to enjoy the match and a selection their finest Champagnes. From legendary full flavour Black Label and delicate Rosé, to the iconic dry White Label designed to work well with a little flavour, such as a slice of strawberry, a sprig of fresh mint or zest of orange or lemon, there is something to suit every palate. I’d certainly be willing to compare a few combinations. Some of you may remember I spent most of the day at the Cruise Show with Lanson.
If you would like to increase your knowledge of Champagne, Lanson have put together a Little Black Book of Champagne secrets, facts and anecdotes. You can order your free copy (UK residents only) here.
Polo In The Park have a fantastic Kids Club on Sunday 10 June open exclusively from 10.30 am – 1.30 pm. In fact it’s worth going just for that. They have a pitch invasion, family olympics, giant slides, tug of war, bouncy castles, obstacle courses, soft play, games, face painting and much more. Top Children’s Entertainers Eddie Catz and Sharky & George will be on hand to ensure everyone has a fantastic day. Ham Polo Club will be giving kids the opportunity to have a go at polo on their wooden horse. In addition Chelsea FC Foundation will be hosting a football skills session and giving away prizes.
In between games, you can visit the Shopping Village featuring brands such as Boadicea The Victorious, Robusto Cigars, Olivia and Pearl, Vintage Collectable Clothing, Parkers Cufflinks and many more.
The Grazing Paddock is an eclectic mix of London’s best restaurants and street food, so you are sure to find something to get your teeth into.
Six teams, Buenos Aires, Cape Town, Zurich, London, Dubai and Kissimmee will compete over three days. There will be three matches per day and the teams will be playing under new City Polo Series Rules.
This unique format gives the game a fast and furious approach with a smaller playing field, so spectators can enjoy an exhilarating and up close experience of this incredible sport.
Full details of the game, event and timetable can be found here
The team draws were made at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park on 9 May. The hotel is also one of the proud sponsors of the event. This is how the playing looks for day one.
It was a great night and if you have never been to the Mandarin Oriental at Hyde Park, here’s a little look inside it’s magnificent interior.
£5 Discount Code
To save money on your Polo In The Park tickets, enter my unique code SHIPSPOLO at checkout and get a £5 discount of each ticket.
Meet Me There
I will be there on Sunday 10 June, I hope to see you there. Come and find me, I am sure to be in the Champagne Lanson Garden, or simply tweet me @flaviagray Book your tickets here
It’s what all cruise lines are trying to do but will Virgin Voyages lead the way in persuading people to take their first voyage on a cruise ship? I’ve compiled the renderings in this short video, to try and capture the essence of the first Lady Ship.
In true Virgin style, the company has approached the creation of a cruise ship in a very different and risky way. No surprises there! The decision for the first ship’s experience to be “Adult By Design” (minimum sailing age is 18), was made after feedback received from future sailors and travel professionals who are looking for a more premium experience with some Virgin style surprises thrown in.
Tom McAlpin, CEO and President of Virgin Voyages announced at the latest ship design reveal in New York, “Adult by Design, means we are designing a modern, cutting edge 18 and over sanctuary at sea”. Virgin Voyages also promises to be one of the cleanest fleets at sea.
The design team, otherwise known as the Creative Collective, are respected visionaries known for their forward thinking designs. Tom McAlpin credited them by saying “Our Creative Collective have contributed tremendously towards ensuring that we will become the most irresistible, alluring and recognisable vessel anywhere on earth”.
More Than A Cruise
McAlpin continued “At Virgin Voyages we pride ourselves on being more than just another cruise line, which is why in everything we do and every decision we make, we are always working to redefine how the world views sea travel.”
“It’s why we named the company Virgin Voyages, because we see this as more than a cruise. This is a journey. It’s why we designed our ships to be smaller than most, to provide a more personal and intimate experience for our sailors. and its why with each step we take we are working to change the way this kind of vacation not only looks, feels but most importantly how it is experienced.”
Virgin Voyages SVP Product Design, Dee Cooper, who was responsible for leading the design and experience work at Virgin Atlantic, had never been on a cruise ship before this project. Talking about her approach to this project in New York, she said “We wanted to give our Sailors lots of choice, and if you think about this amazing city that we are in at the moment, you choose to go uptown and glam it up and be refined and glamorous, and you chose to go downtown to the West Village and be a bit more relaxed. And we wanted to give our Sailors diversity across the ship.”
It’s Very Risky To Do What Virgin Voyages Have Done
Tom Dixon of the Design Research Studio in London, responsible for Richard’s Rooftop and the upscale Mexican restaurant, Pink Agave said, “It’s very risky to do what Virgin Voyages have done here. To get a load of people that have never been on a ship before. But there’s a logic to that madness. Which is if you are going to encourage people to go on cruises of a new demographic, then why not use designers that have not been on a cruise and say ‘what would it be to entice you to go on a cruise?’ maybe.”
Tom says he has been influenced by the glamorous age and romance of cruising “which has partially vanished and been replaced by synthetic glamour in a lot of cases. Somewhere between the glamour of the 20’s and 30’s and the glamour of the future, which is something that doesn’t seem to happen anymore.” According to Dee Cooper, Tom fondly refers to this approach as Retrofuturism.
Designers Thrive On Restrictions
Pink Agave – Upscale Mexican Restaurant
When asked what was different about working in a cruise ship environment, Tom replied “The idea of diversity in a controlled environment was interesting and unique. The challenges included technical, low ceilings, steel construction, vast amounts of restrictions in terms of materials the flammability and wear and tear, but restrictions are what designers thrive on. Battling but being inspired by them equally.”
Virgin Always Challenge the Cliché
Rob Wagemans – Concrete Founder Creative Director, responsible for The Test Kitchen and The Athletic Club said “Virgin is Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll.” Rob is from Amsterdam with offices in the Red Light District and says that teaming up with Virgin Voyages “Could not be a better match. Virgin always challenge the cliche and they look at the world in a different way than the majority of the world does and they see that the modern society has a different behaviour than the past.”
“They really know how to treat me well on an airplane and no other airline can do it like Virgin does. So if they come to me and say – What I’ve done with the air industry I want to do again on the sea, can you help me? – I say Hell Yes! As long as I don’t have to go on a Disney Cruise.”
Don’t Let A Cruise Line Dictate Your Lifestyle
Rob continued “What I like is that the ship is full of contrast. There are a lot of places that are calm and a lot of places that are extremely crazy, and luckily we have a lot of crazy spaces. So we really used this philosophy of being disruptive and trying to really change the perspective of what the audience wants. Do they want to have a 7 day calm experience that is different everyday? Or do they want to have fifteen different experiences throughout the day or throughout half a day? And I think the last thing is what people really like. They zap from one world to the other world and from sophistication into casual and that could happen in an hour and this ship will provide all these different worlds by different designers and they are all in contrast and you can live the lifestyle you like and not the lifestyle that the brand of the ship dictates.”
The Test Kitchen – A Restaurant and A Laboratory
You can visit The Test Kitchen many times and have a completely different experience. Concrete Amsterdam’s Head of Interior Design, Lisa Hassanzadeh explains “In the first place its not only a restaurant, its a laboratory and that’s very distinguishable from other restaurants we have done before. So it has a double function you can of course have dinner there, but during the day it’s a cooking school, but not only that it’s also a laboratory for being the best barista or becoming an expert in beer and wine. So you can get really your hands dirty there as well . But there is a great dining and drinking experience there in the evening.”
The Athletic Club
Rob refers to this as “A contrast within spaces. Its a huge space on the top. We were inspired by the downtown Athletic Club in New York not just about sporting but the social life that happens in the dressing rooms where the muscled men would socialise and eat oysters. In the end, sports is about two things, being active, being sweaty, creating a better shape for your body and the second part is that you look at them, you look at the bodies, look at the winners, so we decided to combine these two spaces.”
“We have huge sunbathing beds where you can look at people jogging on the jogging track. The bar below with trophies dressed in gold as you are a winner. There is a boxing ring, basketball court, outdoor and indoor gym, cabana for a nap and privacy, brain training games, all kinds of things, interesting food to feed your body with healthiness, so everything is in harmony. We challenge every aspect of the concept. Total harmony within spaces.”
Located at the aft (back) of the ship on deck 7, The Dock has been designed by Roman and Williams. Co-Founders, Stephen Alesch and Robin Standefer wanted to capture the essence of what they love about the sea.
When looking for inspiration, Robin Standefer says they “were thinking about a dock with an incredible restaurant, Morocco very salty, chilled.”
Robin Standefer explains the vision for The Dock. “The design is understated, its beautiful but its more about the food and the people in the space.”
Roman and Williams are well known for their incredible designs is New York’s top nightclubs The Boom Boom Room and The Guilded Lily. You can clearly see their design style in the elaborate and beautiful lighting throughout the venue.
Robin Standefer says “We wanted to create a myth. Together we really helped to create a certain drama with the lighting. It’s got a Mezzanine and balcony and amazing lights, like mirrored ball, chandeliers that almost breathe like a jellyfish, as they curl up and down. We want to melt their inhibitions and then allow them to have a powerful and memorable experience.”
When talking about the nightclub, Dee Cooper declared “If Virgin can’t do the best nightclub at sea, no-one can. It’s in our DNA!”
“We needed to do more on this ship.” said Dee Cooper, “We needed to think about the lifestyles all of us lead in these amazing cities we live in around the world. Whether it’s New York or London, or it’s holiday destinations like Ibiza or Miami, we know that we all have amazing vacation and holiday experiences and our sailors expect the same, and these guys (Creative Collective) really created quintessential holiday romance for everybody.”
But is the design of a cruise ship enough to encourage people to try out their sea legs? I talked to someone who has vowed cruising is not for her, to see if these renderings would give her second thoughts.
“It love the renderings, it looks absolutely stunning, the deck looks wonderful. It’s a good idea for Virgin to do something like this. However moving it to a completely different target audience, for example people who don’t like cruising, or people who wouldn’t normally go cruising, young adults or something, I think a nice deck and a beautiful ship isn’t enough.”
“There are already nice decks and beautiful ships and presidential suits on other boats. There are lovely areas that already exist. So it’s not enough to get the people who are stereotypically and unfairly biased against it.”
“You would really have to change the people. So having more young adults in the same industry, maybe young influencers, getting people blogging from a certain age interested in it.”
“Also, changing up the food, because the food is already really good quality, but just modernising it, and onboard entertainment.”
“So really the whole experience would have to change, apart from the destinations because going to multiple destinations is already beautiful.”
“You’re stuck on this boat, and if you’re stuck with people who might not be your type of people, or with food that’s absolutely gorgeous, but maybe not something that you would search out if you were on land. If they get all of that sorted out then I actually would book a trip I think and we (the family) all would.”
How A Cruise Ship Is Made
Although everyone was excited to hear about and see the renderings of the cruise lines first ship, Tom McAlpin gave an interesting summary as to the ship building process. He said “It starts with one year of designing followed by another full year of engineering before any construction even begins. Then they start construction by cutting a load of steel followed by the laying of the keel which is the first section of the ship. This is a big block and they place it into the dry dock. They include a lucky keel coin which is a maritime tradition for blessing the vessel for good fortune.” You can read more about this in my post Getting Laid In Genoa with Boy George.
Here is the video I took in Genoa of Richard Branson welding the lucky coin into the keel.
Virgin Voyages first Ladyship will be constructed of 108 blocks in total. 48 blocks weighing up to 6,000 tons each have been built so far and they are up to deck 16. The ship is being built in three different shipyards. Romania, Palermo and Genoa and will all come together in Genoa in July for the ‘Hook Up’ Event. She will sail 7 night Caribbean itineraries from Miami, Florida.
One of the handy things that Princess Cruises offer, is the ability to view the daily planner on your phone. There is no charge for this. I found it automatically brought up this page when I opened my safari app. One of the really cool functions on this, is the ability to message other people on the cruise. I didn’t set mine up, but I thought it was an excellent idea.
You can also check your stateroom account to see how much you have spent, and keep a schedule of the activities you want to do. That way you don’t miss anything, and don’t have to keep looking at the daily guide to remind yourself what is going on.
I needed to take some dollars out of the cash machine, which is located in the casino. Most of you probably already know this, but for those of you who don’t, children are not allowed in the casino and they are only able to open when at sea. As this was a sea day, the casino was open early. I dropped Joshua off at the kids club and went to get my money.
If you are wondering what I needed dollars for, it was because I chose to pay my onboard account in cash. I had registered a credit card, but didn’t want it charged. Also, I like to tip my stateroom attendant and restaurant staff in cash. So I remove the gratuities and pay them directly.
With a fistful of dollars in my hand, it was hard to resist the temptation of a quick flutter. I decided to put $20 into a machine and just leave it at that. The casino was very quiet at the time, I think it was about 9.30am. I played away and then had a little win. The only problem was the machine lit up like Blackpool Illuminations, and played lots of bells and seemed to go on forever. Very embarrassing.
I finally escaped the casino, with a bit of extra cash in my hand, and paid my room bill. Then it was time for a massage. This is the one I opted for. It was amazing.
Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow with Massage 50 minutes An exotic exfoliation ritual that will invigorate and revitalize your body. Warm oil is dripped luxuriously over your body before our Lime and Ginger Salt Glow is applied. We then apply our Elemis Exotic Island Flower Body Lotion, leaving skin replenished and vibrant. After rinsing away the salts, you will receive a Deep Tissue Muscle Massage
I picked Joshua up and we went off for lunch, quickly passing these gorgeous desserts.
The buffet is great, especially with kids, as you can see here Josh was tucking into pasta, roast potatoes and eating watermelon. This was after demolishing a bit bowl of egg fried rice.
I had to get Joshua back to kids club quickly as I had plans to do some filming for my video of the cruise. So we shall have to fast forward to the evening which was a formal night.
The group met in Crooners Bar. I love seeing everyone dressed up on formal night, I think it’s a lovely tradition. It doesn’t have to be black tie and ballgowns. In fact no-one was THAT dressed up. The Captain came over and spoke to our group, but I didn’t dare get my camera out after all the snaps we took on the Bridge.
The atrium looked lovely and colourful, ready for the balloon drop. I have never experienced this before and was excited for Josh and I to see it.
For dinner we were booked into Sabatini’s, the speciality restaurant. I even put a shirt on Joshua and brought him along.
Once again, the food was delicious.
After a wonderful meal, we had half an hour before the balloon drop. So Josh and I went to the theatre to see some of the show.
Then it was all ready for the big balloon drop. It is a popular event with people of all ages. A DJ played music in the atrium and there was lots of people dancing waiting for the countdown.
At the end of a longer than usual day for Josh and I, we went back to our stateroom and flopped into our comfy bed.
Day Five – Le Havre
Despite a late night, I still woke up early to watch us sail into Le Havre. I just love watching the sun rise or setting from my balcony, with the sea stretching out all around us.
I enjoyed breakfast on the balcony, with a reminder in the Princess Patter that it would soon be time to say goodbye.
For our last day, I made the most of the sunshine.
The majority of our passengers were from Australia and the United States, so it was no surprise they all wanted to take the trip to Paris. This gave me the opportunity to kick back and relax for one last time, having the ship virtually all to myself.
The Love Boat
As I mentioned earlier, I had spent some time filming for my cruise review video. So to try and bring to life the experience of being onboard the Sapphire Princess, here is a video which includes many of the ships’ features, and a few special guests.
Day 6 – Southampton
Before we disembarked, there was just enough time for one last delicious Princess Cruises chocolate chip muffin.
To sum up our time onboard Sapphire Princess, it was absolutely wonderful. Princess Cruises are really a cruise line for everyone, every age, new cruisers or those who have been doing it for years.
This was Joshua’s first press trip. So I guess that officially now makes me a Luxury Mummy Blogger. Princess Cruises had invited us to join the Sapphire Princess on the second half of her 10 day cruise from Rome to Southampton. The newly refurbished ship was the first in the Princess fleet to be designed specifically for the Asia market. This makes her slightly different to her sister ships, not only with the multi lingual signage, but with the addition of the tiered pool area at the back of the ship, which was a real favourite with everyone onboard.
You will see the results of the refurbished areas and new features, as I share my experience of our time onboard.
Day One – Gibraltar
I have never been to Gibraltar before. Of course I have heard of The Rock, but didn’t think we would get the opportunity to see it for ourselves due to time restrictions.
Cruises don’t tend to start in Gibraltar, maybe this is why, but here is a photo (source: Wikimedia), that shows a rather short runway surrounded by water and a great big rock. I actually think it’s quite exciting and would do it again and again and again. Any nervous flyers, would have been a little put off as Josh announced with amusement, “We’re going to land in the sea!”
After no more than a ten minute taxi ride, we arrived at the port to board Sapphire Princess.
As soon as we stepped onboard, we went to our room to drop off the bags and get changed into our cruise clothes. As we entered the room I spotted a lovely welcome gift of champagne and rather smartly dressed chocolate strawberries. My impatience got the better of me, so I popped the cork, poured a glass and shared the strawberries with Josh. I stepped out onto the balcony with a glass in my hand, took a deep breath of sea air and smiled. Well, who wouldn’t?
I wasn’t the only one with treats. On the bed was a big teddy bear named Stanley. It didn’t take long for Josh to notice the huge wide screen tv on the wall and soon he was flicking through a choice of free movies including Cars 3, The Greatest Showman and a whole host of other favourite movies.
But there was no time for that. First thing any parent must do when they get onboard a cruise, is get their child registered in the kids club. Most cruise lines will have a welcome table on embarkation to give the kids wristbands, but as we were boarding mid cruise, it was for me to go and say hello. It was handy that I was able to complete a permission form online before our cruise, as it was one less thing for me to do when we arrived.
Part of Sapphire Princess’s refurbishment, included a totally new kids club theme. In partnership with Discovery™ the cruise line has given each centre an engaging theme that helps children to discover new interests and the world around them.
For 3 – 7 year olds the former Pelicans Club has been rebranded The Tree House.
Princess Cruises are very generous with gifts. Joshua came back with three soft toys, a penguin, an eagle and a whale, a pirates hat with treasure, a rucksack and a teeshirt. All the children get these (apart from Stanley the Bear, who cam be purchased onboard).
The session times on sea days are 9am – noon, 1pm – 5pm and 6pm – 10pm. However when in port, they offer extended opening hours including lunch. These are all complimentary unlike other family cruise lines.
When we cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas last year, there was an additional charge for the lunch, which was $14. You also only get 3 x 3 hour sessions per day for free on Royal Caribbean, whereas Princess Cruises offers 1 x 3 hour session and 2 x 4 hour sessions per day for free.
There is an under 3’s area with soft play that parents can enjoy with their toddlers.
8 – 12 year olds have a new space called The Lodge, and teens have The Beach House. They have also introduced the Club 18-20, which is such a great addition. It was only last week my 18 year old daughter said that she was at the worst age for a cruise, as she wasn’t a kid or an adult. Well Princess Cruises have taken care of that.
After registering Joshua at the kids club, we grabbed our swimming gear and headed to the pool.
Staying onboard when you are cruising with kids really has it’s benefits. You practically get the whole ship to yourself. It might seem like a waste of a cruise not to get off, but when you take into account the experience you are having onboard, you are still creating wonderful memories with your family.
Here’s a short video to show you what a lovely time we had, with the pool all to ourselves.
After the swim, we headed back to our room to get ready for the evening. Princess Cruises pride themselves on their incredibly comfortable beds. As someone who never sleeps through the night, I can vouch for these beds being ultra relaxing, as I slept right through every night I was onboard. I even had to wake Joshua up, one morning it was as late as 10.30.
A lovely amenity kit in our bathroom included a calming spray for our pillows and a gel eye mask. I’m not sure if this is standard in every room, but it was certainly a welcome gesture.
Once ready, we there wasn’t much time left until I had to meet my group. I needed something quick. Our room was in a great location at the forward on deck 15. It meant we could just walk out of our room almost straight out to the pool and right by the Pizzeria. Joshua made his way through one of these huge slices of freshly prepared pizza, while I looked on longingly.
I dropped Josh off at the kids club and headed to Vines Bar to meet the group. Here we were greeted by Generoso, our charming and very hard working, Italian maître d. We were treated to some hor d’oeuvres and champagne.
After some very lively and fun conversation, we went into the Savoy Dining Room, which is one of the main dining rooms located on deck 5. The meal was delicious and the service was superb.
A beautiful view to end a beautiful first day onboard Sapphire Princess.
Day Two – Lisbon
Waking up to this view is something I will never get bored with.
After dropping Joshua off at kids club, I went to the International Cafe to enjoy a cappuccino.
As part of their new entertainment programme catering for the British cruisers, Princess Cruises had featured a cool display of iconic outfits worn over the years by The Beatles.
At midday, we were due to arrive in Lisbon. There was a commentary being broadcast out on the decks for the 30 minute cruise into port.
After a quick lunch with Josh, I headed to The Sanctuary for some real Princess Cruises luxury. This is an exclusive over 18’s only area which offers deep cushioned sun loungers, extra fluffy towels, private cabanas where you can enjoy a massage, fruit infused water, complimentary light snacks and attentive service. This would be especially beneficial on a sea day when the main pools are busy. Although I can’t imagine that happens very often with five pools to choose from. Located at the front of the ship, you can enjoy sweeping views in every direction.
The pool deck all ready for Movies Under The Stars. There are usually two showings one around 7pm and the other around 10pm. Some ships serve fresh popcorn, but we didn’t have any on this one. The movie of the evening was the latest Jumanji – Welcome To The Jungle starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Heart.
We returned to the Savoy Dining Room again and had another delicious meal.
Day Three – At Sea
Josh and I couldn’t contain our excitement. We had both been invited to the Ships’ Ultimate Tour. This is a two hour behind the scenes tour of the ships crew areas. For security purposes, these two guards escorted our group at all times. As you can see, someone needed a more hands on approach.
Our first stop was the best one of all. The Bridge. Oh I love Bridge visits. Josh had never experience it before so I was extra excited for this one. I think this is the first time the Captain has actually been there when I have been on a tour. Usually I find it it the First Officer who does it.
We had been asked to keep questions to a minimum, but Joshua was bursting to ask about everything. Thankfully our wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, did I say wonderful? Captain Paolo Ravera was erm wonderful with Josh and I can’t begin to tell you how that made me feel. It was very moving for me. To see your four year old son have a one to one with a Cruise Ship’s Captain is something dreams are made of.
We had an onboard photographer with us to capture the moments between Joshua and Captain Ravera.
After the Bridge tour we visited the laundry facilities and the theatre. Joshua was getting a little restless by now, so we left the group in peace and went to get some lunch in the buffet.
There is always so much to choose from and everything is freshly made.
It’s a great place to enjoy lunch with a view. There is ample seating and once you grab, one of the waiting staff will come and offer to get you a drink.
After lunch I took Joshua to the kids club and wandered around the ship, enjoying the views and talking to people.
That evening we dined at Sterling Steakhouse, a speciality restaurant. There is a small cover charge which is subject to change but usually around $25. The meal was certainly delicious, but I can honestly say that I loved the main dining room and would be more than happy to dine in there every night. You don’t need to go to a speciality restaurant on Princess Cruises, to experience exceptional food and service. However Sterling Steakhouse and other speciality restaurants, just offer something different if you want it.
It was the end of another lovely day onboard the Sapphire Princess. We still had two more days left onboard, but for now it was time for bed.
Watch out for Part Two as Sapphire Princess arrives in Southampton for the first time, where she will homeport for the season.
This pretty little dress is one of my favourite cruise items this year. It’s very flattering, and at first glance doesn’t look like a beach dress. That allows you the flexibility to wear it around the ship during the day, or on shore excursions, without looking too beachy.
It is so cute and so comfy and suited to girls and women of all ages. The black one is my favourite, but I did have all four in my online shopping basket for a while, until I finally settled with one. I’m still tempted with the pink palm print one though!
The last day of a cruise is always a sad one. However when it’s your first time in Barbados, it’s hard to be anything but completely excited.
During my cruise on Viking Sea I had met many lovely people. On my second day in Puerto Rico, we were gathered in the terminal to depart for our horse riding adventure, and Julia bowled up to our group to join us. Looking the part in her cowboy boots, I immediately took to Julia and her bubbly personality. We chatted non-stop on the drive to the stables. It turned out that Julia was working onboard Viking Sea as HR Manager. When I told her I was looking to get some amazing beach photos, she kindly offered to help and arranged the whole thing!
I met Cassie Wilcox, Senior Writer for Viking Cruises UK, in the check in queue at Heathrow. After a few days on the cruise, Cassie told me she was desperate to get that soft white sand between her toes asked if she could join us.
If you’ve never been to Barbados on a cruise, it is worth knowing that as you emerge from the terminal building you are greeted by hundreds of taxis. There seems to be one person managing the operation. They will ask you where you want to go and find the driver for you. They seem to prefer lots of passengers on shorter journeys, so for three of us looking for a two hour trip we were not getting any takers.
Thankfully Julia sorted it all out and a lovely retired gentleman name Marson said he would be our driver. I needed to be back to the ship by midday as we were flying home, so we didn’t have a lot of time and I wanted to see as much as possible.
Marson was a real charmer and told us some great stories of his ballroom dancing. The first beach he took us to was Brownes Beach just 15 minutes from the cruise terminal.
It certainly ticks all the boxes for that dreamy Caribbean beach. We arrived around 9.30am so we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. Apparently it can get extremely busy so my advice is get there super early and head back to the ship when it gets too busy. All of the beaches we visited had sun-loungers and umbrellas for hire.
Julia and Cassie were really good fun to hang out with.
From there, Marson drove 5 minutes south to Needhams Point. We stopped at the Hilton Barbados Resort to take in the views and have a quick wander around the grounds.
The hotel has several gorgeous pool areas, it’s right on the beach and offers stunning views.
If you fancy staying there, you can check pricing and availability for the Hilton Barbados Resort here.
There is a great restaurant and bar on the beach called Coast. We met the owner, Anna who bought the bar 4 years ago when she moved over from her home town of Milan, Italy. If you are visiting Barbados, make sure this is on your list of places to visit.
As you can see, I was far from ready to leave. What a gorgeous place. Barbados! I’ll be back!
The clothes in this post are my own and purchased by me. I have not been paid or gifted to endorse any of the products listed below. These affiliate links mean I will earn a small amount of commission on any purchases made via these links, at no extra cost to you.
It looked like we were in for another gorgeous day in the Caribbean as I enjoyed breakfast on my balcony. I woke up early again, partly due to jetlag, but also because of my excitement for the day ahead.
I visited St Lucia with my family back in 2009. We had such an amazing time there and we still talk about it now.
For those of you who regularly read my blog posts, you will already know how much I love being in, on or by the water. When I saw the option for whale and dolphin watching in St Lucia, I didn’t hesitate to book it. Although it is worth mentioning at this point, that the excursion was full and had it not been for the gorgeous Becky Wiggins (English Mum) letting me take her place on the trip, I would be looking at her photos instead of mine. So a HUGE thank you Becky for giving me this amazing opportunity.
Like most cruises, shore excursion groups meet in the theatre at the time specified on the ticket. Once everyone has arrived, they are escorted off the ship to meet their tour guide. The great thing about this trip is that the boat is a five minute walk from the cruise ship. So before we knew it, we were all aboard and sailing out to sea.
We sailed three miles off the coast while the two crew members made us feel welcome. There was plenty of room on the boat for people to move around and a choice of seating downstairs in the open or covered, and upstairs in the open or under cover. The crew frequently offered us refreshments which included Rum Punch and the most incredible bananas. I know you would expect St Lucia to offer great tasting bananas, but they were so delicious I turned to my neighbour and said “you don’t get these in Tesco’s do you?”
There was a fair bit of movement in the boat, so it is not for those of you prone to motion sickness and your safety is really down to your own common sense. This is a trip for the semi adventurous. It’s not exactly mountain climbing (Michael English), but if you are someone who always thinks the worst is going to happen, I’d suggest giving this one a miss.
The Time Of My Life!
I told one of the crew members that I would be videoing the experience for my blog and could he give me an idea of the best place to stand. Well be careful what you ask for, because no sooner had I said that, I was following him along the side of the boat to the front. I sat up on the ledge for a while and took in the breathtaking view. This was an experience that I will never forget. It was one of those moments when you just can’t believe it is really happening. One where you feel truly alive and you want to try and share it with the world.
The trip lasted four hours in total. I moved to the upper deck after a while where I felt better positioned to enjoy a rum punch. During the trip we saw dolphins, pilot whales and a rare spotting of false killer whales. Here is a short video which condenses the sightings and hopefully gives you an idea of the incredible experience it really was.
If you are visiting St Lucia without a cruise, you can book this excursion directly with Captain Mike’s.
Last Day Onboard
Back onboard for what was to be our last afternoon on the Viking Sea. I grabbed some more of the delicious food at the Pool Grill for a late lunch and met with the rest of our group by the pool. A steel band came onboard to entertain the guests. They were very good and did a great rendition of Take On Me by Aha.
I love the fact that the pool area is used in many different ways. All the seats were turned towards the band, similar to the set up for when they have a movie night.
Final Sunset and Sea View
It was that time that we all dread, that last day of the cruise, but inevitably it had arrived. I took one last wander around the decks while the sun was setting. Desperately trying to capture the feeling of that moment in a photograph, which is impossible. You know what I’m talking about don’t you? All cruisers do.
With bags packed, it was time for dinner. We had chosen to try another alternative dining venue. This time it was Chef’s Table, a five course wine pairing menu.
Having tried a variety of dining options during our Viking Sea cruise, I have to say that my two favourites were the main dining room and the seafood and sushi buffet. However, there is no additional charge to eat in alternative restaurants, so you can choose whichever you feel suits your palette.
Woah – It’s Not Over Yet
So the last day had finally come to an end and it was time for bed, but with one consolation – Barbados tomorrow!
I must say I am not a fan of linen at all. Whenever I have bought linen clothes in the past I have regretted it. But when I was scrolling through the Marks and Spencer website, this coral linen tunic dress dress stole my heart.
The M&S Collection is a good value, great product range that suits a variety of age groups. This dress comes in nine different colours and patterns including navy, aqua, beige, striped, black, blue and some gorgeous prints.
Because of the linen mix, it does not crease up like pure linen, but it’s still going to need a bit more care in packing and handling than your polyester. If like Viking, Princess and P & O Cruises, your cruise ship has a laundry room, you will have no problem quickly running an iron over it, before putting it on.
It’s really versatile too. I wore mine to the beach with a pair of fit flops, but I think you could dress it up or down however you see fit.
On the final day of my Viking Cruise, our lovely driver for the morning, Marson, recommended that we visited this beach. This was my first time in Barbados (read the post here) and it was the picture perfect Caribbean beach. We arrived around nine o’clock in the morning and the beach was virtually deserted. However, it is very popular with cruise passengers, so if you do want to spend the day there, get there first thing in the morning to enjoy the tranquility.
The water is very shallow so it is a great location to take children.
Recommendations and Affiliates
This is a product that I have purchased myself. The Brand have not endorsed or paid me to review this product. The product links on this page are affiliate links. This means, should you wish to purchase the dress, I will get a small commission from the brand at no extra cost to you.
I am pleased to announce today that I have bought a cruise ship of my own, to bring a unique experience to cruising.
Cruisers have been asking for changes to be made for years, but the cruise lines just aren’t listening. I wanted to provide a solution to the topics that arise time and time again.
For guests who do not wish to pay gratuities at all, there will be a self catering option. You will be able to order your food online through your regular supermarket before your cruise. Instead of requesting a home delivery, you will be able to request a ship delivery. (Please note this is only available for UK departures and must be ordered no later than 7 days prior to departure)
All areas with service staff will have key entry facilities. Cruise cards for passengers with the Gratuity Free Package, will be restricted to self serve areas of the ship only.
There will be a dedicated room on each deck, where you can collect clean bed linen and cleaning products for use in your room.
The three main restaurants, ‘Top Hat and Tails’, ‘Flip Flops’ and ‘Never Happy’ have been created to help people choose the style that suits them.
KIDS ONLY CRUISES
With the recent rise in Adult Cruises, kids have been feeling very hurt and left out. My new cruise ship will offer kid only cruises in the half term holidays, which will give them a break from their parents.
Please let me know what you think of my brand new cruise ship in the comments below. Happy 1st April to you all.
Despite the forecast of rain, it was still warm and balmy as I stepped out onto my balcony onboard Viking Sea, to take a look at St Kitts.
I will forgive you for thinking I was crazy not getting off the ship in St Kitts. However, I really wanted to get to know the Viking Sea a little better and this was the only port I hadn’t booked an excursion for.
As there was no rush to be anywhere, I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in bed.
When I was ready I headed out to explore the ship. Unlike other cruises I have been on, I found myself meeting and talking to other passengers. Maybe it was because we had met on the shore excursions, and the fact I didn’t have my son in tow. I think it was partly to do with me wanting to explain to people why I had a GoPro strapped to my head! I was also surprised to meet so many British passengers onboard.
Who Were The Vikings?
In keeping with the authentic experience Viking Cruises pride themselves on, there is a Viking Heritage Museum on deck two.
The impressive display of antiquities feeds the imagination of times gone by.
The people we now call “Vikings” were not a unified group or culture. Rather, they were the Norse peoples of Scandinavia – modern-day Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Principally they existed as farmers, but they also were settlers, traders, crafters, explorers and raiders.
Making my way outside, I walked through the Aquavit Terrace, which feels fresh with it’s nordic chic decor.
This leads you out to Viking’s signature infinity pool at the aft of the ship. I wasn’t the only one wanting to enjoy the onboard luxury. There were a few people in the pool and the hot tub.
Making my way upstairs to wander around the top deck, the view of the St Kitts mountains was stunning.
Lunch by the pool
Having missed lunch the last two days while off exploring, I didn’t want to miss it today. I had heard great reports about the Pool Grill which serves food until 2.30. It was getting close to that time already so I went to the main pool to get a closer look.
There was a lovely salad bar which included a gluten free Artesian Salad with Potato and Eggplant, a Marinated Fennel and Tomato and Prawns which was also gluten free. Although the food selection changes daily, I could have eaten the Eggplant salad every day. Burgers, hot dogs and fish are cooked to order at the grill and are served with coleslaw, red onion jam and a selection of toppings.
After lunch I found a great spot to top up my tan and relax for a while.
Athough I was still full from lunch, my travelling companions were meeting in the Wintergarden for afternoon tea at 4.00pm. I popped by as I knew I would be off the ship the following afternoon.
It was a good job they had saved me a seat. Afternoon tea is hugely popular with the guests and I can see why. A classical trio created the perfect quintessential atmosphere for enjoying the delicate sandwiches and cakes. Fresh scones were served by hand and complimented by an extensive drinks menu including a wide range of teas. I opted for the mango tea, which was very refreshing.
A Perfect Moment
As we departed St Kitts, I jumped into the infinity pool to enjoy the view. I remember when I first saw an image of the Viking Cruise ships, and thought how much I would love to be in that infinity pool. I never imagined it would actually come true.
The Beauty of Cruising
From one stunning view to another. I returned to my room to get changed and enjoyed the sunset from my balcony. It never ceases to amaze me the constant beauty you experience when you look out over the ocean from a cruise ship.
Feeling all tanned and refreshed, I took a walk to the atrium to see what was going on. A very handsome guitarist sat playing classical guitar. The sound was beautiful and he smiled at me. (Ok I was pointing a camera at him, but just let me have this).
The World Cafe
I had been advised not to miss the seafood and sushi in the buffet restaurant, so went to take a look. I wasn’t disappointed.
I started with the seafood and a nice chilled glass of chardonnay. Wine and beer is complimentary with lunch and dinner, although I had the silver spirits beverage package which allows you drinks throughout the day for an additional $19.95 per guest per night.
This was the best sushi I have ever had.
After dinner, I took another stroll around the ship. As the Viking Sea was now sailing, the shops were open. There are not many shops onboard Viking Cruise ships, but the ones they do have are worth a visit. If you are looking for a jumper for extreme cold, this is the place to get one.
As you can imagine, everything is Nordic themed including the jewellery, ornaments, books and these cute but slightly scary viking head stuffed toys.
Movie Under The Stars
The main pool on the Viking Sea has a retractable roof so people can use the pool in the evenings. They also have a movie screen which is not used during the day, but some evenings they transform the space into a movie theatre.
Before people started to arrive for the movie “A Dog’s Purpose”, I took this short video of the room set up. What a lovely place to relax and enjoy a film, whilst you are sailing to your next destination?
I stayed to watch some of the movie. It was a cute film but it featured a dog and I knew whatever happened in the end, it would have me in tears. So I left early to avoid the inevitable blubbing, and went to bed. St Lucia tomorrow!!
There’s nothing better than having a balcony when you cruise, and on Viking Sea every room has one. Not only did I get a great view of the coastline, I also got a partial view of the Bridge.
It was warm and sunny outside with temperatures forecast for the high 80’s. I had booked a snorkelling excursion and was excited to try it for the first time.
As my body was still on UK time, I felt really hungry as soon as I woke up. I needed to eat something quickly, so I ordered breakfast in my room and enjoyed a delicious feast before getting dressed.
Simple, Beautiful St Croix
I wanted to have a look at Frederiksted before leaving for the Buck Island trip. Thank goodness I did. St Croix is unlike any other Caribbean Islands visited by cruise ships.
There is no big terminal building, you simply walk along the pier into the quaint town of Frederiksted.
As you reach the Customs and Immigration building, there is a small welcome party where you can taste the local rum while the DJ plays Caribbean music.
And if that doesn’t get you in the Caribbean mood, this lady will.
Frederiksted Historic District
There is a lovely area just at the end of the pier with benches facing the sea. The red building is Fort Frederik which was built in the 1750’s to guard the island from pirates. It now houses a museum and art gallery which can be visited for a small entrance fee. A clocktower overlooks Emancipation Park where in 1848, Danish Governor Peter Von Scholten emancipated the slaves.
I thought this was a really pretty place and not busy at all. There are a few tents set up with local sellers offering a range of local products but no big tax free jewellery stores or designer shops, which I find is a refreshing change. It might be different when one of the larger cruise ships visits. If you have any experience of this please let me know in the comments below.
Driving To Christiansted
We were the second trip of the day for our driver Stephen.
Religion is a very important part of Island culture and it wasn’t long before I had a sign from God.
Thankfully it was just the shadow of a window sticker on my leg. Or was it?
The drive to Christiansted, the largest town on the island, took around 20 minutes. En route I was surprised to see an oil production plant on the island, recently sold and renamed Limetree Bay Terminals LLC. More in keeping with the area was the Captain Morgan Rum Distillery, which has a visitor centre if you fancy a look around.
Arriving in Christiansted we gathered on grass area to meet our Caribbean Sea Adventures Crew. I took the opportunity to snap a few photos of the colourful buildings around us.
Once onboard the boat, it became apparent that I was the only person on board that had never snorkelled before. Many people had brought their own equipment.
Buck Island is a protected National Monument. Two thirds of the island is surround by a coral barrier reef. This provides the perfect eco system for a variety of marine plants and animals including endangered species.
I didn’t go too far from the boat for my first snorkel but what I saw and experienced was something I will never forget. It is hard to put into words the peace and tranquility I experienced even just putting my face into the water, but it moved me to tears when I emerged from the water.
Here is a 3 minute video that I have put together to give you an idea of what it was like. Have you tried snorkelling? If so I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. If you like the video please visit my YouTube channel and give it a thumbs up and subscribe to help me get famous :-). I hope you like the song as much as I do.
Back On Board
Back onboard the Viking Sea, you are handed a much needed chilled flannel to refresh yourself, and a warm smiley welcome from the crew who greet you by name.
After our wonderful day trip, I was thirsty and needed to cool off a bit. I ordered myself a Margarita on the rocks, no salt, at the Aquavit Terrace Bar, and headed to the infinity pool.
I watched the beautiful sunset as we sailed away from St Croix.
Then it was time for dinner in Manfredi’s Italian Restaurant.
The meal in Manfredi’s was delicious but I was so exhausted after another action packed day, I could barely stay awake to eat it. So as soon as I finished dinner I headed back to my room and flopped into the incredibly soft, comfy, cosy bed.
Is it me or does there seem to be a new cruise blog every week? It’s still a niche market compared to travel and lifestyle blogs, but as the cruise industry attracts more and more guests each year, so does the appeal to become a cruise blogger.
So how do you know which ones are worth following? Well the answer really depends on what you are looking for. Do you want facts and news updates? Are you looking for cheap tricks and tips? Do you want to know what the onboard experience is like? Are you focusing on a particular cruise line? These are all important factors to consider when researching blogs. What is right for one person, is not necessarily right for others.
To help narrow down your search, Feedspot have created a list of top 50 cruise bloggers. Yes that’s right, top 50! This is a completely unbiased list as Feedspot use a variety of metrics which determine the list order, including social media following.
I am thrilled that Ships and Champagne is included in the top 50 cruise blogs and looking at the list, I am honoured to be in the company of the cruise industry’s finest including Cruise Miss and Tips For Travellers.
Feedspot have designed a website that makes it easier for you to follow and read your favourite blogs all in one place. They cover all industries and interests so you don’t have to keep looking up new websites and blogs. You can also create daily alerts, so that you are notified when your favourite blogger publishes a new post.
For more information and to check out the list of Top 50 Cruise Bloggers you can visit their website here.
My Penthouse Veranda stateroom was on the starboard side which gave me the best views of the ocean in Puerto Rico. I sat down on my balcony to enjoy a coffee and the sun rising above San Juan and noticed a cruise ship in the distance. I love watching ships come alongside, so I was thrilled to see three other cruise ships entering the port, all from the comfort of my stateroom.
It was time for breakfast and to see the ship in daylight.
Time For An Adventure
After a quick tour of the ship we headed out for our horse riding trip. There was no queuing to disembark the ship and we were offered chilled bottles of water to take with us as we left.
We took a mini bus to Carabali Rainforest Adventure Park located in Luquillo. Our driver gave us an entertaining guided tour during the 20 minute journey. However I had met a lovely lady named Julia, who works onboard the Viking Sea. We didn’t stop talking for the entire journey, so I missed the commentary, but made a great friend.
Everyone in the group was matched to a horse depending on their experience. Horse riding is second nature to me, so I was matched with Vulcan for the ride.
It was a blazing hot day, so we took it easy and just walked. We stopped to rest and cool off by the river.
It was a fantastic experience and the guys that took us out were great fun and really looked after us. We rode back to the farm, grabbed a beer and returned to the ship.
Thank goodness we were on a Viking Cruises shore excursion as we arrived back dead on 4.30, which was the all aboard time. That was cutting it fine. Had we been delayed though, the ship would have waited for us, unlike if we were doing the trip on our own.
Five o’clock was time for muster drill, so I had just enough time for a much needed shower. Being a 930 passenger ship, the drill took no time at all and we were soon sipping cocktails and watching the sunset.
Our group met in the Explorers Lounge for a pre-dinner drink. Viking’s ocean cruise ships all have an Explorers theme encapsulated in their interior design.
For our first night, we decided to have dinner in the main dining room.
After dinner we headed to the theatre for the Captains Welcome Aboard Speech.
There was not a spare seat in the house as Cruise Director Mark and the Viking Band kicked off proceedings with a wonderful rendition of Hello, Young Lovers.
The Captain was introduced to the stage and from the outset he was very funny. There was a lighthearted approach to introducing the rest of the senior management team as they walked onto the stage to the music of Pirates of the Caribbean.
By this time the travelling, jet lag and horseriding had made me feel extremely tired. So it was time for bed to be ready for more exciting adventures tomorrow.
If you want to visit a different picture perfect Caribbean Island everyday, a cruise from Puerto Rico will deliver this and more. However, there are no direct flights from the UK to San Juan so flying to Puerto Rico puts people off for many reasons. When Viking Cruises invited me to be their guest on Viking Sea, I didn’t think twice about the journey, but I did learn things from it that will help you to get the best experience possible.
Originally we were flying with BA via Philadelphia. However the reports of snow were making it likely that we would not get out of Philly for our connecting flight to San Juan. Luckily for me, Viking Cruises took care of everything and rebooked us on an American Airlines flight via Miami. However, this is a really important thing to consider if you are making your own flight arrangements. Flying via Miami also means your airbourne for a shorter period of time, however the stopover is longer so door to door, it will take longer.
Tip: If I were doing the trip myself, I would stay overnight in Miami and then fly to San Juan on the day of the cruise, or possibly book another overnight in San Juan. Also, book early and you may get a great deal on an upgraded seat and always, always, always have an airport lounge booked. For details on how to get the best deal for lounges read my Christmas In Florida blog post.
Standing Room Only
We weren’t the only passengers that had been re-routed to Miami, and this was clear by the lack of space on our flight. I managed to get my preferred window seat, however this meant I was trapped for 9 hours. When you travel with family, you don’t mind having to move them out of their seats, but as I was sitting next to an elderly couple, I didn’t want to keep disturbing them.
There was only one thing for it. A glass of white wine, sunglasses and music on, and sit back and relax. For those of you who are thinking of flying on an American Airlines aircraft (check to see if you are on a codeshared flight), the wine and beer is complimentary, but spirits are $8 each. Cash is not accepted, so you must have a credit or debit card to hand. It wasn’t long before the wine and beer was gone, leaving no alternative than to abstain or pay up. Which one do you think I chose to do? Leave a comment below.
American Airlines do have wifi onboard, which was great news, however I couldn’t get mine to work. When I asked a crew member about it, she told me I had to have downloaded an app. It does state in the in-flight magazine that you can simply connect onboard, however my new iPhone X was having none of it.
As we began our decent into Miami, I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Fort Lauderdale coastline. To my frustration the clouds covered Port Everglades, so my ship spotting would have to wait for another time. We then passed Miami Beach and I took this picture of the iconic crescent shaped Fontainebleau that was a well known favourite hotel of Frank Sinatra’s.
Feel The Heat
In case you don’t know already, I LOVE Florida! We had four hours to wait for our connecting flight, so I went and sat in the little park area across from the main terminal building. I could feel the heat in the air as soon as I stepped out.
It is a long time to wait in an airport for a connecting flight which is why I recommend adding on a stay in Miami. I mean why wouldn’t you want to? Just jump in a taxi to a beach hotel. Kick off your shoes, grab a sunset cocktail and enjoy the view.
So by the time we were boarding our second flight, everyone was feeling a bit jaded. However the excitement of the cruise and the Caribbean was keeping spirits high.
We touched down in San Juan around 11.30 pm local time and collected our luggage. We were met by Viking Cruises representatives who checked us onto the transfer coach. The process was very quick and easy. The drive to the ship was no more than 20 minutes.
As we stepped onboard, the ship looked beautiful. I headed straight to my stateroom. I had a Penthouse Veranda on deck 5 which was easy to find on a ship that holds just 930 passengers.
The room was a welcome sight. The extra touches that Viking Cruises offers were very appreciated after the long journey.
It felt so good to be onboard. I dumped my bags in the room and had a quick look out on deck.
Although it was nearly 2am, the air was warm. I just couldn’t wait for tomorrow.
But now it was time to get some sleep to be ready for horse riding in the morning.
Sheri Griffiths is the face of Cruise Tips TV. A huge fan of cruising herself, Sheri provides cruisers with answers to all their questions in her YouTube show. She has a great personality and I wanted to know more about her life off camera.
When was your first cruise?
My first cruise was onboard Carnival Ecstasy in 1991. My Mom accompanied me on a Caribbean cruise as a high school graduation present, along with my little brother. I loved the experience, but longed for the time when I’d be able to cruise with my future husband. The best part of the cruise was the resort scuba dive in Grand Cayman. My Mom let me go alone (with a ship sponsored excursion), and it was one of the highlights of my “under 20” life.
Finally, that next cruise happened in 2003 (or so) after my husband I had been married for about 6 years. I was so excited to share the experience with him after scraping and saving for years, but WOW, had cruising changed. Diamond Princess was HUGE, and he was instantly hooked. We’ve never looked back, and cruise as often as we can. We still DO love a good land vacation on occasion as well.
How many cruises have you taken so far?
Somewhere around 28 total to The Caribbean, Mexico, Alaska, Canada & New England. We’ve sailed with Carnival, Princess, Holland America, NCL, and Royal Caribbean.
How long have you been doing Cruise Tips TV?
We’re in our 5th year of production. We have just over 350 videos for cruisers, ranging from packing tips to ship tours, and cruise vlogs.
How did Cruise Tips TV come about?
Our channel was born over a dinner table conversation. As cruise lovers, we would always film our trips, shore excursions and activities and create short movies, to preserve the memories. It occurred to us (one evening over chicken casserole!) that we could also create and share information, tips and even full ship video tours, so we decided to take the plunge and chose YouTube as our platform.
Travel had always been the “prime directive” in our family, so it seemed like a natural step to bust out our film equipment and share our passion with the internet world. We’ve changed our approach, style and content many times over the years, based on subscriber feedback and changes in our lives.
How many shows do you do a week? And how long does it take to prepare for each one?
We generally produce two shows per week. Each show takes a minimum of an hour of content prep time. Some episodes can take up to 4 hours of prep time, depending on the amount of research involved. Really, it’s the editing that is time intensive. Mr Cruise Tips TV edits our content full time, and still wishes he had more hours in every day. We try to involve our son in the process when we can. He is learning basic editing skills and helps with ideas. Sometimes, we give him his own camera to vlog with on cruises. He loves the KidCam!
What is an average day in the life for you?
I wake up at 5:15am, hobble to my kitchen for coffee, and head off to my day job. My husband is self employed and works from home, so I’m fortunate to have his help with the day to day. He’s does all the laundry, cleans the house, and makes sure that our son is well cared for during the week.
When I get home from work, I squeeze in dinner with my boys, catch up on social media, take a hot bath, and get ready to do it all again the next day. On the weekend, my primary focus is to spend time with my son, get as much exercise and outdoor time as possible, and go live on YouTube every other Saturday.
Do you have any tips for people thinking about starting their own You Tube channel?
Be true to yourself. Mr. CTTV likes to say “keep your head down”, meaning, don’t look at what other people are doing to develop your content. BE YOURSELF, and don’t compare your ideas and content to others. People want to watch YOU because you offer something unique and individual. At the same time, it’s easy to delay starting a YouTube channel, because it can feel at times like “it’s all been done” already. News Flash – it has! But, you should still go for it!
Consider whether you can be of service to others. The longer we’ve been creating content through our channel, the more we’ve realized the joy in being a resource. Those people then become a great resource for YOU. Our community of cruise enthusiasts bring ideas and tips to us week after week. We also count on them for honest feedback at times.
Be Real. When we started our channel, I wanted to read from a teleprompter every episode, and sought to control every element of production. As time went by, our subscribers asked us to turn the camera around and vlog our cruises. I thought the notion was crazy. Each time the topic came up, my husband and I would look at each other and say “naaah, nobody wants to see that. It’s too real”. Then, in September of 2016, we finally jumped out of our cozy studio, and turned that camera around to capture the day to day of our cruise through vlogs.
As we’ve learned more about what our audience wants since that first cruise, one theme always surfaces. They want authenticity. They want to see when things don’t go as planned, they want to see me without makeup (aaah!). They want to be told when a shore excursion or experience falls short. They want to trust you to deliver the true experience.
Expect to evolve. Listen to your audience (not to the trolls, of course) and consider if their suggestions can work for you. You can’t make everyone happy, but the more you expect to re-invent your content often, while staying true to being yourself, the more you can experiment and land on what works.
What was your last holiday?
My last holiday was a partial transit through the Panama Canal on Caribbean Princess. It was 10 days of heaven!
Have you got your next holiday booked and what/where is it?
Our next cruise is on Carnival Splendor, to the Mexican Riviera.
Being a Mum with 2 jobs must require organisation and focus? What is one thing you do that really helps?
I’m a huge list maker. I use my iPhone to make lists for every area of my life, from packing to my weekly objectives to ideas for our next episode.
What are your hobbies?
I love hiking, Zumba, gardening and cooking.
Name one or more things on your bucket list.
A holiday to Tahiti and her islands. I must see Bora Bora. We’ve been dreaming of this destination since we were married.
What would you say to someone who is thinking about taking their first cruise?
I’d encourage them to research, but not to over plan. Pack comfortable shoes. Choose the right cruise line, and…watch lots of YouTube videos. We have lots of content for newbies!
As you all know I absolutely love cruising. I live for it. Cruising brings me joy like I have never known before. It makes me feel alive, free, excited and adventurous. So to celebrate that, I really wanted a special dress for the cruise show. Thanks to Amazon, I found one.
Be Careful Buying Clothes From Amazon
Now you have to be careful buying clothes from Amazon because some of the stuff on there is nothing like the picture, but this dress by Hell Bunny was an absolute winner for me. Not just because the material and the price were great, but the design is very flattering (I think) for those of us that are going a bit appley. They have 25 different colours to choose from.
As much as I would love to have worn a pair of heels, it wasn’t ideal for walking around the cruise show. I have always struggled to find a nice pair of flat shoes, especially when I spend a day exploring a new ship. I love sandals, but they weren’t really very practical for February. These Melissa shoes were extremely comfortable and they smell so good. Made in Brazil, these plastic shoes designed by Vivienne Westwood, have a unique bubblegum smell to them.
I added a little neck scarf to give that 50’s look. This one was also on Amazon but it is not great quality, however they are fun to have and can be used to brighten up an outfit. I use mine now as a hairband which I think is quite cute.
I felt really comfortable in this outfit and I love the nautical theme dress. If you get the shoes you will fall in love with them I can assure you. I think I will make this my embarkation day outfit from now on. What do you think?
Disclosure: This post contains personal recommendations of items I have purchased and paid for myself. The links to the items are affiliate links, which means you pay the same price, but I may receive a small commission from the seller.
Azamara Club Cruises are passionate about travel. They want to help you see the world in ways that no other cruise line does. How do they do that? “With more port days than any other cruise line and longer in port than any other cruise line, allowing you to experience the destination”, says their UK Managing Director, Richard Twynam. The statistics speak for themselves with 80% of it’s itineraries in port. Out of those port days 47% are late nights and overnight stays.
Big Ship vs Little Ship
If you are looking for zip lines, surf simulators, sky diving and more, Azamara Club Cruises is not for you. These fancy features can be found on the mega ships of their sister brand, Royal Caribbean.
Their recently renovated ships, Azamara Quest, Azamara Journey and new addition Azamara Pursuit, are more akin to boutique hotels than cruise ships. Accommodating just 686 passengers, with a 2 to 1 staff guest ratio, not only is the service impeccable but getting on and off the ship is a much smoother experience. Another small ship benefit is that they are able to dock closer to places they visit. So, when other ships passengers are queuing for a 30 minute coach ride into town, Azamara Club Cruises’ passengers are already there. Venice is a great example of this and, with the new regulations in place, Azamara Pursuit will be the largest cruise ship permitted to sail along the Grand Canal.
The most popular cruise port in Europe is Barcelona and most of the cruise ships dock a few miles away. Azamara Club Cruises on the other hand, dock at the World Trade Centre which is located at the bottom of Las Ramblas.
They can also do river cruising and include itineraries that sail along the Kiel Canal, into the heart of Seville, Bordeaux and Ho Chi Min City. In Hong Kong most cruise ships moor at Kai Tack which is 40 minutes away from the city. Azamara Club Cruises dock at Ocean Terminal with panoramic view of the iconic skyline right from the ship.
Azamara Club Cruises are also offering country intensive voyages which gives guests get more than just one day in each country. These itineraries include Mexico, Cuba, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Italy, Greece, Japan, Israel, France, Croatia and Australia. Speaking at a recent event with Six Star Cruises, Richard Twyman told guests that Sydney is the most congested cruise port on planet Earth, and only has 3 cruise berths which are all full until 2023. He continued to say that Azamara Club Cruises are committed to Sydney and will be there for three years. They have secured the most sought after dock, right in Circular Quay itself. So for example if you take the 15 night New Year’s Eve In Sydney Voyage, you will be able to see the opera house from your balcony (depending which way you are facing).
Lucky guests who are cruising for six days or more have a real treat in store.
Azamara Club Cruises are the only cruise line who offer these complimentary experiences known as Azamazing evenings. This is an event where the cruise line take all 690 guests off the ship, to a special event and bring them back. This in itself is a highly complex thing to do. However the experience they have at an Azamazing evening is something quite incredible, and they offer this in 70 countries all over the world.
The first Azamazing event ever held was in Florence. They took all the guests to a private set of castles that overlooked Florence. They were given a tour by an Historian who explained when they were standing in the grand hall, they were standing in the room where Michaelangelo carved David. As if that wasn’t jaw dropping enough, guests enjoyed a tuscan buffet outside, and as the sun was setting over Florence the Three Tenors from the Florence Opera House came out and gave them a private concert.
Azamara Club Cruises were also the first cruise line ever to do a private performance of the original Riverdance at the Gaiety Theatre in the heart of Dublin. These once in a lifetime experiences are offered all over the world in places such as Rio De Janeiro, Ephesus, St Petersburg and Wellington.
Win a pair of Azamara Gloves
The lovely people at Azamara Club Cruises have given Ships and Champagne readers the chance to win one of five pairs of mobile friendly gloves. Simply answer the question below to be in with a chance to win yourself a pair.
This competition is now closed. Thank you to all of those who entered.