Category Archives: Events

Flavia Gray cruise blogger of Ships and Champagne standing by the Swarovski Staircase onboard MSC Bellissima

The Naming Ceremony of MSC Bellissima

MSC Bellissima’s Christening Ceremony Highlights

MSC Cruises have been on my list of favourite cruise lines for a few years now, but during the Christening of MSC Bellissima in Southampton I fell in love with them all over again.

Firstly, the ship itself, as her name suggests, is beautiful. The elegance and style that this family owned cruise line is known for, oozes from every detail of the ship. We were given a warm welcome as we embarked the ship the day before the Christening. This allowed everyone the opportunity to explore the ship and experience it for themselves.

The stunning LED screen that changes to suit the mood.

Familiar Faces

The Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) held an event onboard for its members, which allowed MSC Cruises to show off their new ship to the other cruise lines. Having worked in the cruise trade before becoming a writer and influencer, I caught up with many people I have come to know over the years. Here are just a few of them. 

I met up with some of the bloggers for a mandatory welcome drink.

Feeling peckish and a bit chilly, we all headed to the buffet for a lovely lunch. Whilst everyone tucked into the freshly made Italian pizza, I tried to put a keto lunch plate together. I think I did a pretty good job here.

After lunch everyone had their own plans, so we each did our own thing and arranged to meet up before dinner. I explored some of the upper decks of the ship, making the most of the sunshine despite the chilly breeze.

The indoor pool area means there is always a place to enjoy a swim or relax in the hot tub, regardless of the weather.

The Sky Lounge on deck 18 gives incredible panoramic views whilst relaxing with a refreshment and some live music.

A Beautiful Gift

Soon it was time for me to head back to my stateroom to unpack and prepare for the evening events. The room was very spacious and well set out, and a lovely surprise was waiting for me.

My brand new bed looked so comfortable. But I would have to wait until a lot later to try it out.

A Wonderful Evening

Dinner in the main dining room was amazing. I was far too busy having fun and chatting with my fellow bloggers to make a note of the menu but the food was the best I have ever had on an MSC ship.

I chose a delicious pate starter.

My sea bass main course was equally delicious.

I couldn’t resist the dessert.

After dinner we went up to the Sky Lounge. It had a lovely relaxing atmosphere, with a great singer and band performing jazz favourites.

Around 11.30pm a big party kicked off in the Sportsplex. The DJ played until the early hours and the dance floor was packed.

At 2am, I knew I had to drag myself away and get some sleep. As I walked to my stateroom I passed the pool which looked stunning under the night sky.

The Big Day

The day of the ceremony had arrived and a huge buzz of excitement filled the air. I went to get a better look at the facilities on board, starting with the Arizona Aquapark on deck 19. This is an amazing place for adults and kids to enjoy waterslides and try the exhilarating high ropes course.

Taking the stairs up to deck 20, the shiny new funnels were so quiet and clean. MSC Bellissima runs with significantly increased energy efficiency and has advanced technology for cleaner ship emissions.

Ultimate Luxury

Spanning three decks, MSC Yacht Club is a ship within a ship experience for those looking for the ultimate luxury retreat. I always feel it inappropriate to walk around the VIP lounge taking photos, but here is a photo of Deluxe Suite #16013.

The MSC Aurea Spa on deck 7 is a massive 1,100 square metre authentic Balinese spa. It’s 20 treatment rooms offer 160 treatments in addition to the hair salon, barber shop, nail treatments and medispa.

The thermal area offers a range of saunas, steam rooms, mediterranean baths, a salt room, ice room, blower pool, emotional showers and water benches.

MSC Bellissima boasts 18 bars and lounges. Despite not being a fan of the onboard pubs on other cruiselines, Masters of the Sea really appealed to me. It became the meeting point for our group throughout the event, and it was here I arranged to meet up with cruise ship photographer and friend, Andrew Sassoli-Walker.

Andrew had some free time between events, so we took a quick tour of the speciality restaurants onboard and sampled some of the food.

A sample of the steak served in Butcher’s Cut, the steakhouse parlour. It was mouthwateringly tender. The desserts looked delicious, but I resisted on this occasion.

Press Conference

At 3pm, a press conference was held in the London Theatre. MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, who has led MSC Cruises to over 800% growth, took to the stage and talked about how the family led business is different from other cruise lines. Without having to pay shareholder dividends, they are able to reinvest more of the profit into the ships, which are already the youngest fleet at sea.

He also spoke about their restoration project. Once an industrial island, Ocean Cay is now a marine reserve and private island of the cruise line.

MSC for Unicef

“The contribution of MSC around the world has changed the lives of tens of millions of children.” Mike Penrose, Executive Director Unicef UK.

MSC Cruises are celebrating a 10 year partnership with the Unicef, which has raised nearly ten million euros for the charity. Executive Director of Unicef UK, Mike Penrose came on stage and addressing the Aponte Family, Mr Vago, MSC Cruises and guests, he said “It’s not an understatement to say that the work you’ve done, the contribution of MSC around the world has changed the lives of tens of millions of children.” This was news to me. I had no idea the cruise line had made such a difference. I am sure I wasn’t the person in the room to well up with emotion after hearing this statement.

Mr Penrose was there to introduce the legendary ex-BBC reporter Martin Bell OBE. “I spent 22 years myself working on the front line of humanitarian aid, I’ve worked all around the world and we used to have a joke wherever I worked in conflict, that only three things were guaranteed to get through to the front line, those were beer, cigarettes and Mr Martin Bell” said Penrose.

Image source: twitter @raymond_blanc

First Hand Experiences

Mr Bell took the stage and thanked everyone in MSC for what they had done to “change the fortunes of children all around the world, rescuing children and rescuing childhoods.” Speaking of his 18 years as a Unicef Ambassador, Mr Bell recalled “looking in the eye of an 6 year old girl who was too late at the nutritional feeding station. One of the most heartbreaking experiences was just watching the life ebb away, but certainly other children got there in time. I held the hand of a nine year old girl in Yemen who had been bombed out of her home. The difference between PTSD in a child is that it lasts longer. I’m extraordinarily grateful to what MSC has done. Nearly ten million euros  over the years. May you go on doing it.”

Very Touching

It was a moving moment for everyone in the theatre and as MSC Cruises CEO Gianni Onorato took to the stage, he echoed the feelings of the entire room and said that Mr Bell’s words were “very touching” and acknowledged “how important it is for us to really stop and think how we can improve the life of human beings around the world.”

Creating Luxury That Is Responsible

The press conference continued and Mr Onorato talked about the relationship between MSC Cruises and their work with Celebrity Chefs, saying that “dining is at the heart of the cruise experience”. I think we can agree with him on that one.  Ramon Freixa, Jean-Philippe Maury and Harald Wohlfahrt took turns in coming onto the stage and thanking MSC Cruises for the partnership with their onboard restaurants.

Then came a big surprise. Mr Onorato announced a new partnership with none other than world renowned chef, Raymond Blanc. Mr Blanc, who has trained 38 michelin starred chefs, said he was particularly touched to hear Mr Vago talk so well about Unicef and creating a luxury that is responsible. He said it was exciting to be part of that vision and to deliver an excellent experience for the guests and went on to inform the audience that he would be cooking the evening meal for the 170 celebrity guests onboard.

Image source: twitter @raymond_blanc – Harald Wohlfahrt (left), Raymond Blanc (centre) and Ramon Freixa (right)

So with the press conference over with, it was time to get ready for the evening.

The Naming Ceremony of MSC Bellissima

After a few glasses of bubbly on the ship, everyone made their way down to the huge marquee located on the quayside.

MSC Cruises had constructed a beautiful walkway with blue carpet that led us to the marquee keeping us guarded from the elements.

Our host for the evening Holly Willoughby looked stunning as she welcomed everybody to the ceremony.

Andrea and Matteo Bocelli gave an incredible performance of their duet.

The newest cadets currently being trained by MSC Cruises, paraded down the aisles to take the stage.

A video of the incredible charity work MSC Cruises is involved in was shown.

Following this MSC Cruises UK & Ireland Managing Director, Antonio Paradiso took to the stage and invited Nicola Graham founder of Ruben’s Retreat to join him. Nicola told of the tragic loss of her son Ruben and the work they are doing to help families. Antonio announced a partnership with the charity.

The wind outside had picked up and a decision was made to continue the ceremony on board the ship.

Back On Board

Once we were all settled back onboard, Sophia Loren appeared in the galleria with the officers.

After a few words from the legendary award winning actress, the hull of Bellissima was projected onto the LED ceiling. There was a loud 3-2-1 and the bottle of champagne could be seen smashing against the hull of Bellissima.

There was a huge cheer from the crowd and a sea of champagne glasses in the air. Our media group enjoyed a delicious dinner in the main dining room.

Image source: Instagram @fran_in_france

A delicious main course of applewood smoked duck breast salad, orange confit and asparagus pomegranate cherry dressing.

Leee John Performs with Chic

I miss my younger days of going out at the weekends and having a good dance. THIS for me was the highlight. I was ready for dancing!

Leee John performed a non stop high energy 2 hour set with back to back hits. It was totally incredible and I did not stop dancing. For videos of the show please visit my Instagram page @ships.and.champagne and click on the highlight #mscbellissima

Chic singer Folami and bass player Jerry Barnes joined Leee John on stage to perform their hit “Good Times”. Not only was this one of Nile Rogers biggest hit records, but it has appeared as a sample on 192 songs.

Folami, Leee John and Jerry Barnes.

You can read my interview with Leee John or listen and order the latest release from Leee John click here.

Well done MSC UK team for pulling off an absolutely incredible event, that people will always remember.

Cruise with Flavia onboard MSC Bellissima

Who fancies joining me on a cruise onboard MSC Bellissima? I am hosting a group on a 7 night Mediterranean cruise onboard MSC Bellissima. This cruise is suitable for first time cruisers, families with children, or solo travellers who would benefit from travelling within a larger group. The date is 25th October 2019 sailing from Barcelona. The group is being handled by Cruise Specialist Jane Cowley at Travel Counsellors, who’s contact details can be found here.

Taste Of Edge – Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises have always been known for producing incredible onboard cuisine. The cruise line gave Londoners a preview of what can be expected in some of the 29 dining venues onboard their new ship, Celebrity Edge.

Michelin stared Chef, Cornelius Gallagher hosted the exclusive tastings at the foodies favourite Taste of London Festival in Regents Park last week. Dishes were perfectly paired with wines selected by Amelia Singer from the Wine Show.

I tried dishes from the Cosmopolitan Restaurant which is American inspired new cuisine. The starter of Grilled Carrot and Mozzarella Salad with smoked trout, fresh herbs and a delicious carrot vinaigrette was paired with Hugel Pinot Blanc from the Alsace region. It was a mouthwatering combination and the smoked trout gave a lively kick to the dish.

For main course it was the popular Grilled New York Strip Steak, served with roasted baby vegetables, parsnip puree, caramelised onions. The perfect pairing came with a Sonoma County Decoy, Cabernet Sauvignon.

Celebrity Cruises really have gone beyond borders with the dining offerings on their new class of ship. Check out the video below for more information.

Celebrity Edge will be larger than the Solstice Class ships at a size of 129,500 Gross Tonnes. At 1,004 feet long, 128 feet wide a draught of 27 feet, a cruising speed of 22 knots and a total of 4,694 horsepower, Celebrity Edge will have the capacity to carry a total of  3,373 guests.

Celebrity Edge will spend her inaugural season sailing alternating seven-night eastern and western Caribbean itineraries before transporting guests to the stunning vistas of the Mediterranean with a range of seven- to 11-night sailings from iconic cities like Barcelona and Rome in 2019.

Homeporting in Fort Lauderdale, FL., Celebrity Edge will be making her first sailing November 21, 2018, and will be joined by three sister ships in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Hapag Lloyd Cruises At Polo In The Park

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.

Image Credit: Hapag Lloyd Cruises – Europa 2 sailing past the New York skyline

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.

Image credit: Hapag Lloyd Cruises – Pool Bar onboard Europa 2

EUROPA 2

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.

Image credit: Hapag Lloyd Cruises – Europa 2

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

Discounted Tickets for Polo In The Park 8 – 10 June

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

Hurlingham Park

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.

Kids

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.

Full details of the Family Day can be found here

Shopping and Food

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.

The Game

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 Teams

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.

Lanson provided a refreshing glass of Champagne to start the proceedings.

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

 

Six Star Cruises Event with Azamara Club Cruises

The sun made a surprise appearance last week, which was well timed with the Six Star Cruises event at Burhill Golf Club in Surrey. The stunning mansion house was the perfect place to talk about luxury cruising.

I was excited to find out more about Azamara Club Cruises, their newest ship Azamara Pursuit and their exclusive golf cruises in partnership with Perry Golf . Beth, from Six Star Cruises had told me that Richard Twynam was going to do a presentation, so I knew we were in for some great insight into the cruise line.

My friend Donna, and I  were welcomed with a glass of prosecco and a lovely goodie bag. Beth gave us an insight into Six Star Cruises and told us about the amazing Concierge service they provide to their customers. She said they had one guest who was so comfortable with her agent at Six Star, that when she was on her cruise ship, she called her agent to ask directions to another part of the ship! Now THAT’S service!

Azamara Pursuit

“It’s the first time in maritime history that the Carnival Corporation has sold one of their ships to the Royal Caribbean Corporation. It’s never happened so it’s quite historic” – Richard Twynam

The first thing everyone wanted to know, was about their new cruise ship, Azamara Pursuit. The addition of a third ship to their fleet will increase the cruise lines’ capacity by 50%. Azamara Pursuit will introduce a total of 61 more destinations. These will include 41 late nights and 26 overnights in port, allowing guests to truly experience their destinations. Bookings are open for sailings up until 2019.

Richard Twynam told us “[we] tried to do the deal three times to buy this ship. We thought the second time it had gone that we’d never be able to get her, and then out of nowhere it popped up and we were able to close the deal very quickly.”

He continued, “For any cruise aficionados, it’s the first time in maritime history that the Carnival Corporation has sold one of their ships to the Royal Caribbean Corporation. It’s never happened so it’s quite historic. She has had a very well known life. Before she was Azamara Pursuit some may have sailed on her as Swan Hellenic Miverva II, she was also Adonia and then she became Fathom, then she went back to the Adonia and then she’s becoming Azamara Pursuit. We get hold of her in Freeport in the Bahamas in the middle of March and we will take her out of the water and the first thing we are going to do, I cant wait, is spray her hull Azamara Blue so she will look pretty, and we will then sail her across with Captain Carl Smith to Belfast.”

Maiden Voyage and Christening

Azamara Pursuit’s maiden voyage will depart from Southampton on the 1st August sailing a 13 day  Norwegian intensive voyage. She will then sail to Iceland for 15 days then returning on the 28th August. Her Christening will take place in Southampton after which she sails off to Bordeaux for a wine cruise on the 30th August.

Suite Accommodation

Club Continent Suite – this is the entry level suite. Since the reimagination of the fleet, they have added a large vanity area with a lit mirror and hairdryer.  Forty percent of the club continent suites have bathtubs, the others have good sized rain shower.

Club Continent Suite #8066 Azamara Journey

Club World Owners and Club Ocean Suites have a huge wraparound living space and balcony. There are many added benefits included in these suites including butler service, welcome champagne and fruit basket, a bottle of the premium spirit of your choice in your suite and $200 on board credit.

Club World Owner’s Suite #8091 Azamara Journey

A new suite has been introduced to the fleet. There are only two Spa Suites on each ship. Each one has an open plan bathroom and living space, and include a hot tub with a panoramic view of the ocean.  As well as the other suite benefits, guests can enjoy spa credit and their very own ‘Night Under The Stars’

Perry Golf Partnership and The Masters

For Golfers who have dreamed of playing private clubs that are closed to the public, Azamara Club Cruises have made it a reality. They are the only cruise line offering a Cruise and Masters option for 2019, and Six Star Cruises are the first partner to do this with Azamara.

The Partnership with Perry Golf means you turn up at the port on the first day of your cruise, Perry Golf will take your golf bag from you where they tranport it by land, while you go by ocean. The next time you see it will be when it’s sitting on the back of a golf buggy on the first tee.  They arrange all after game drinks, groupings, handicaps (doesn’t matter if you dont have a handicap), or if you want to play on your own or as a couple, Perry Golf take care of everything.

Most of the golf cruises are made up of 50% non golfers. For these guests, Azamara can arrange spa days for  or other experiences.

For more information call Six Star Cruises on 0800 107 1279.

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Cruise International Awards 2017 at The Ritz Hotel, London

So as if it wasn’t a shock enough to be shortlisted for Cruise Agent of the Year Award for the second time, it was even more surprising when I received my invitation to the Awards ceremony. I checked the date was ok for my Mum to look after Josh and after agreeing she asked me where it was being held. I hadn’t checked the invite as these things are usually held in a nice hotel in London and I was sure this was no exception. Mum was still standing there waiting for the answer, so I rolled my eyes and checked the email.

I read the email again and grinning, I looked up and Mum and said “It’s at THE RITZ!” Mum’s jaw dropped and we turned into a couple of crazy ladies. It was so exciting. It’s times like this when you think, what other job could a single mum possibly have, that would give her the opportunity to enjoy an afternoon at the most famous and poshest (yes I said poshest), hotel in London?

Getting There

I decided to drive up to town. Mainly because I had experienced a weekday 6pm train journey from London Waterloo to Weybridge. I am sure we achieved a new world record for the amount of passengers on a train that day.  Anyway, I was not prepared to put myself through that again. So for a few extra quid and a bit of traffic, I decided to drive.

Delays

I know the traffic can be heavy in Knightbridge, but it took me 20 minutes of sitting outside Harrods to realise that the only reason the traffic was moving slightly, was due to cars turning away from the queue and trying an alternative route. I like to be early and was on track to arrive at the Ritz at 2.45. The event started at 3pm and the awards ceremony at 3.30pm, so I had plenty of time. In my mind, I had planned on having a sneaky gin and tonic at the bar somewhere before anyone else arrived. However, the sudden road closure put pay to that and it was now 3.15! Queue the brown paper bag.

Trying to stay calm and positive, I did a u-turn and drove around the back of Harrods. hoping the satnav would work things out for me. As I got closer I knew I would have minutes to spare if I was lucky, so my plan was to pull up outside the hotel and jump straight out of the car. Then I pictured the front of the Ritz and couldn’t recall there being anywhere for cars to pull up. I was frantic. How could I be late to such an event. I am shortlisted for a prestigious award at the best hotel in London and I am going to be late.

First Impressions

In desperation, I pulled up outside the front door and looked for a Concierge. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the front of the Ritz Hotel, there is no where to pull over. You simply stop dead in the middle of a busy dual carriageway, surrounded by understandable angry Uber drivers. I guess the black cab drivers are used to it. The concierge was inside the door, on the phone, facing the other way! I had no choice. I bibbed my horn and waited a few seconds. Nothing. The glass on those front doors must be pretty thick. I was so embarrassed, this was the worst thing I could have done, but I couldn’t think of any other way. After a few more beeps the Concierge turned around. I shouldn’t think they are used to guests arriving like this. I pleadingly beckoned him over and he reluctantly walked towards the car. In hindsight, I am surprised I didn’t end up being arrested. I asked him where the valet parking was. He looked at my car and it’s driver and questioned “Do you want the hotel ma’am?” I said “yes” and explained. The Concierge directed me to the hotel entrance.

I’m Late For A Very Important Date

I looked at the dashboard clock, it was 3.25. I had one shot at this otherwise I was going to be embarrassingly late. I sped down the round, turned around, apologised to a few black cab drivers and flew down the turning. It didn’t look right but I followed the instructions. Then I saw it! The entrance of the hotel and two immaculately dressed and well composed doorman in top hat and tails, standing at the top of the steps greeting guests. I quickly pulled in, oversteering and mounting the kerb. So now they had noticed me but were keeping their distance. I beckoned them over whilst bending down changing my shoes. The bravest of them approached the car with caution. I put the window down and said “I need valet parking, I need to be in there at an event and I’m late”. The poor guy, who obviously stayed polite and professional at all times, and called me ma’am, stood by the drivers door as I handed him a rather worn car key card, held together with parcel tape.

It’s De-Lovely

Finally I had made it. Many London hotels are plush but the Ritz is that and more. Walking into The Ritz makes you feel like you are royalty and is hard to put into words. For anyone looking for a memorable visit to London, afternoon tea at the Ritz has to be top of the heap.

Everything about the Ritz is legendary and fairytale-like at the same time. The grandeur, the opulence and the Britishness.

This is where afternoon tea is served.

The Music Room

I was directed to the appropriate part of the hotel, and as I entered the room I was greeted by two smiling ladies holding trays of champagne.

The guest speaker was the one and only International Award Winning Wine Writer and Broadcaster, Oz Clarke, also known for his collaboration with Celebrity Cruises. Oz was extremely funny and I thoroughly enjoyed his cruise anecdotes.

 

Whilst sipping champagne and nibbling on finger sandwiches, I couldn’t help notice the beautiful chandelier, the stunning ceiling and huge draped curtains framing the wall to ceiling windows. I had a wonderful afternoon at The Ritz and it was great to meet new people as well as catch up with a few familiar faces.

And The Winners Are…

Best Cruise Line

Princess Cruises – Winner

P&O Cruises – Highly Commended

Best Luxury Cruise Line

Seabourn – Winner

Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Highly Commended

Best River Cruise Line

Viking River Cruises ­– Winner

Riviera Travel – Highly Commended

Best Luxury River Cruise Line

Viking River Cruises – Winner

Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection – Highly Commended

Best for Onboard Activities

Royal Caribbean International – Winner

Norwegian Cruise Line – Highly Commended

Best for Families

Disney Cruise Line – Winner

Royal Caribbean International – Highly Commended

Best for First-Time Cruisers

Princess Cruises – Winner

P & O Cruises – Highly Commended

Best for Adventure

Silversea – Winner

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises – Highly Commended

Best Value for Money

Thomson Cruises – Winner

Saga Cruises – Highly Commended

Best Boutique Cruise Line

Azamara Club Cruises – Winner

Silversea – Highly Commended

Best for Enrichment

Saga Cruises – Winner

Holland America Line – Highly Commended

Best for Wellbeing

Holland America Line – Winner

Oceania Cruises – Highly Commended

Best for Food

Oceania Cruises – Winner

Viking Cruises – Highly Commended

Best for Onboard Entertainment

Norwegian Cruise Line – Winner

Disney Cruise Line – Highly Commended

Best New Ship

Silver Muse – Winner

Seabourn Encore – Highly Commended

Best Product or Service

Ultimate Balcony Dining by Princess Cruises – Winner

VIP Home Departure Service by Titan – Highly Commended

Best Escorted & Specialist Tour Operator

Titan – Winner

Riviera Travel – Highly Commended

Best UK Port

Southampton – Winner

Liverpool – Highly Commended

Best Destination (Europe)

Dubrovnik – Winner

Norway – Highly Commended

Best Destination (World)

New Zealand – Winner

Barbados – Highly Commended

Outstanding Contribution to the Cruise Industry

Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Chairman, Silversea

Cruise Agent Lifetime Achievement Award

Giles Hawke, CEO, Cosmos Tours and Cruises and Avalon Waterways UK ­– Winner

Michael Wilson, Managing Director, Bolsover Cruise Club – Highly Commended

Best Online Cruise Travel Agent

Iglu Cruise – Winner

Bolsover Cruise Club – Highly Commended

Best Cruise Agency

Bolsover Cruise Club – Winner

Iglu Cruise – Highly Commended

Best Cruise Agent

Louise Thompson, Cruise.co.uk – Winner

Jane Chadwick, Go Cruise with Jane – Highly Commended

Best Blogger

Gary Bembridge, Tips for Travellers – Winner

Danielle Fear, Cruise Miss – Highly Commended

Find Inspiration at Destinations

The internet is a great place to research destinations for your next holiday.  You have everything at your fingertips.  Sometimes however, it is nice to just be able to chat to an expert and pick up a few brochures.

At the Destinations Show, held annually in London and Manchester, you can spend a leisurely day walking around the exhibits and getting your questions answered by the experts. This year’s expert speakers included Michael Palin, Simon Reeve and Blowfish, the world’s only heavy metal marine biologist. There are plenty of other things to do such as entertainment, food samplings, experiences, competitions and more.

Don’t forget to enter my competition at the bottom of the page.

Czech Baroque

First stop for me was Czech Tourism. Ok so the lure of cold beer was part of the reason I stopped, but I was also interested to know what the Czech Republic had to offer visitors apart from a city steeped in history and stunning architecture.  Well, there are 12 stunning countryside wine trails to start with, as well as cheap local beer which attracts party groups.  Another popular activity is cosmetic surgery. Apparently the procedures are much cheaper in the Czech Republic, and as they have an amazing selection of luxury spas, it seems you get much more value for money than in the UK.

Un-interesting Fact: In 1994 I was working as a Production Runner on a film called Good King Wenceslas. It was filmed just outside of Prague in a place called Brno. Stephanie Powers was in the movie and needed a costume within 24 hours. The cheapest way to deliver it was in person. So off I went for a couple of days to Brno. I was extremely fortunate in being able to have dinner with Charlotte Chatton (Titanic) and the legendary, late Leo McKern (Rumpole of the Bailey).  It was just the three of us and it is an evening that I will never forget.

Tempting Thailand

Next stop, Amazing Thailand. I attended one of the Thailand Roadshows last year. It was held at an amazing restaurant in Guildford, Surrey called Thai Khun. If you get a chance to eat there, you must.

The fruit carvings at the show were impressive to say the least. They were offering Thai massages on the stand as well as a lady playing traditional Persian music on a Khim.

Nordic But Nice

Now that Viking have made their mark in ocean cruising, I felt it necessary to go and get more of an insight into what they are all about. I know they have three amazing ultra luxury ships, but that was it.  So what did I find out? Firstly, and most importantly, they are all inclusive. I know we have to use that phrase carefully in the cruise industry so I will elaborate.

What’s Included:

  • Return scheduled economy class flights from London and selected local airports
  • A guided tour in each port
  • All on board meals including speciality restaurants
  • House wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner on board
  • Music, art, cooking, dance and history classes
  • Tea and coffee anytime
  • 24-hour room service
  • Free Wi-Fi onboard (restrictions apply)

An Alternative Way to Cruise America

Despite being a lady of luxury, the idea of travelling from town to town in an RV, really appeals to me. I guess it’s my beach bum / hippy alter ego.  It seems I wasn’t the only one finding this type of holiday appealing.  After a bit of lurking and two return visits, I was finally able to talk to the representative. Once in conversation, he explained he was out of brochures and business cards. So clearly this has been a successful event for them. If you are interested in finding out more simply go to their website Cruise America.

The World Stages

The Destinations Show has four world stages split into Africa, Europe, The Americas and Asia.  With experiences ranging from rum tasting, Eccles cakes sampling to pan pipes and traditional Chinese dancing, you could really get a sense of the destinations.

Feeling A-Mused

When my two favourite things go hand in hand, I know I am in the right place. Silversea most definitely tick the ships and champagne box.  It was great to finally see a familiar face, as I heard Silversea’s Luke Clarke call my name.

Although I have not stepped onboard a Silversea cruise ship, I couldn’t have acquired CLIA Master status, without being aware of these ultra luxurious cruise ships.  In April this year, Silversea will be welcoming their new ship Silver Muse to the fleet. Spending her first summer in the Mediterranean, some of the incredible ports appearing in her itineraries include Portofino, Venice, Monte Carlo, Saint Tropez and Bordeaux. Silversea have created a ground-breaking 360˚ virtual tour for you to Discover Silver Muse for yourself here.

The Best of the Rest

Other exhibits I visited on the day were Hurtigruten, WWF, Beaches and Sandals, Palm Springs – California, Rocky Mountaineer and Via Rail.

The Destinations Show really does offer something for everyone.  Even if you are not looking to book a holiday, it is certainly a great day out.

Competition

If you found the picture at the top of this page interesting, I have some coffee table Baroque themed magazines to give away. Simply make a comment below and I will contact the lucky winners. I will let you know when the competition is closed.

There’s A Cruise For Everyone

The London Cruise Show 2017, is promising its biggest and most exciting luxury cruise show ever.  If you don’t think cruising is for you, I challenge you to go to the show and see what’s available. I am sure you will be pleasantly surprised.

Star Clippers

There are expedition cruises, adventure cruises, luxury cruises, river cruises, family cruises, informal relaxed cruises.  You can choose your itinerary too. So if you want to have lots of days relaxing at sea, or experience a quick overview of many places, or if you prefer to take your time and immerse yourself in the local culture with a few days at the same port, it’s up to you.

If you can’t or don’t want to fly, you can cruise from the UK, choosing to take adult only cruises or family cruises. There are short breaks for a taster to see if you like it, or just a fun weekend away with your mates.

With so many cruise styles and so many destinations around the world, I will eat my hat if you can’t find something that tickles your fancy at this show.

My London Cruise Show 2017 top picks are:

  • Avalon Waterways
  • Celebrity Cruises
  • Princess Cruises
  • Regent Seven Seas Cruises
  • Silversea
  • Star Clippers

READER’S TICKET OFFER

I am able to offer my readers reduced price advance tickets to the show with a 2 for 1 offer of just £6. Get your tickets for only £3 each (that’s a saving of £7 off the door price!!) by quoting
‘S&C’ when booking tickets online at www.cruisingshow.com or when calling 
0871 620 4024. (Calls cost 13p per minute plus network extras).

Opening Times and Getting There

 

My Lucky Day

I couldn’t believe my luck when I received an email from Anna at Cosmos Tours inviting me to be a guest at their table at the Globe Travel Awards.  I have never been to the Globe Travel Awards before, and have drooled enviously whilst reading Facebook posts and tweets of others over the years.

This year the awards were being held in the Great Room at London’s prestigious Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane.  What better way to brush off the January blues than with a black tie travel industry event and an opportunity to catch up with some of my favourite industry peeps.

The Great Room was the perfect venue for “The most prestigious accolades in the travel industry, as voted for by readers of Travel Weekly and Mail Newspapers”

This was just one half of the room!

Be Prepared

To make sure we had a great time and no excuse to let our hair down, Cosmos Tours had kindly provided us with a Morning After Pack.  Goodies in the glittery gift bag included a selection of sugar boosts, gum for that ‘morning after’ breath, lip balm, eye drops, pro plus, paracetamol and for ultimate protection, a condom. Needless to say the last item raised a few eyebrows and comments (although nothing else amongst a table of women only).  Janet was insistent that it was Giles’ idea, and when the guilty party visited the table, he pointed the finger at Janet. So we shall never know the truth, but I invite you to speculate in the comments below!

Outstanding Contribution

Now I don’t know about you guys, but I am one of those people who read into things and when something that means a lot to me happens, I thing that is a sign that it was meant to be.  For those who read my post on LGBT, you will know how much I love and respect Jo Rzymowska.  So when Jo received the Outstanding Contribution Award I was thrilled to have been there and to be part of it.

Two of our lovely Cosmos hosts, Janet and Anna along with the lovely. Claire Brighton who we all know and love from Advantage Travel.

Celebrity Host

The best kept secret for the awards each year is the name of the Celebrity host.  The wait was finally over and Lucy Huxley took to the stage and introduced the one and only David Walliams.  It’s a shame he didn’t come on as Melody, his check-in girl character from the hit tv series Come Fly With Me.

I spoke to Michael English, Celebrity Cruises Head of Sales – Business Development UK & Ireland, after winning Best Premium Cruise Company.  He said “We are delighted to get the endorsement from our the travel industry that they have voted Celebrity Cruises the Best Premium Cruise Line. We are committed to working with our travel partners and delivering our guest an amazing cruise experience. With FREE Drinks savings of up to £500 per stateroom and flights from £99 we deliver exceptional value for money.”  Certainly sounds like a good deal to me!

MSC had their own VIP lounge and took the opportunity to put their name in lights.

Wendy Wu gave an element of eastern promise with their elaborate decorations. They didn’t go home empty handed.  Wendy Wu’s Global Sales Manager in the UK, John Warr, told me they were “So proud to receive the Best Specialist tour operator to SEAsia. We strive to achieve excellence, and although 97% of our customers say we are good or excellent pre and post departure we will continue to work on building once in a life time memories.”

Award Winners

Innovation in Travel Award, sponsored by Travelport: Black Tomato
The Penny Akam Unsung Hero Award, sponsored by Affordable Car: Hire Caroline Brown
Outstanding Achievement Award, sponsored by Avis: Jo Rzymowska, Celebrity Cruises

Consumer awards, sponsored by Mail Brands UK

Favourite Airline: British Airways
Favourite Escorted Tours Operator: Kuoni
Favourite Ocean Cruise: P&O Cruises
Favourite UK Operator: Center Parcs
Favourite Ferry Company: P&O Ferries
Favourite Hotel Chain: Hilton Hotels
Favourite Long Haul-Operator: BA Holidays
Favourite River Cruise Company: Viking River Cruises
Favourite Online Booking Website: Booking.com
Favourite Short-Haul Operator: Thomson

On the Water, sponsored by Zolv

Best Ferry Company: P&O Ferries
Best Mainstream Cruise Company: Royal Caribbean International
Best Premium Cruise Company: Celebrity Cruises
Best River Cruise Company: Uniworld
Best Specialist Cruise Company: Azamara Club Cruises
Best Luxury Cruise Company: Silversea Cruises

Destination Sector, sponsored by Travelzoo

Best Tourist Board: Dubai Tourism
Best All-Inclusive ResortOperator : Sandals
Best Hotel Chain (worldwide): Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts
Best Attraction (worldwide): Walt Disney World Resort

On The Move Awards, sponsored by P&O Ferries

Best Rail Company: Rocky Mountaineer
Best Mainstream Touring Company: Titan Travel
Best Premium Touring Service: Insight Vacations
Best Car Rental Company: Affordable Car Hire

Flying Sector Awards, sponsored by The Holiday Team

Best Short-Haul Airline: Jet2.com
Best Long-Haul Airline: Emirates
Best UK Airport: Manchester
Best Premium Airline Service: Emirates

Long-haul Awards, sponsored by Air Travel Guide

Best Long-Haul Operator (multi-destination): Gold Medal
Best Long-Haul Specialist Operator: Wendy Wu Tours
Best Luxury Operator: Kuoni
Best Consolidator: Gold Medal

Short-haul Awards, sponsored by Hurtigruten

Best Short-Haul Operator: Jet2holidays
Best Activity and Adventure Operator: Inghams
Best Accomodation-Only Provider: Bedsonline

Serving the Industry Awards, sponsored by Liverpool John Lennon Airport

Best Add-Ons Provider: Attraction World
Best Technology Provider: Travelport
Best Insurance Provider: Holiday Extras
Best Trade Sales Team: Attraction World
Best Trade-Friendly Brand: Gold Medal & Travel 2

At Home Awards,  sponsored by Visit Britain

Best UK Hotel Chain: Hilton Hotels & Resorts
Best UK Attraction: Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour London
Best Operator UK Holidays: SuperBreak

Losing George Michael – My First Love

You Have Been Loved

A beautiful man, a talented singer songwriter, George Michael was the superstar who showed his humanity to the world.

Initially we fell in love with George because he was sexy and fun and had a rebellious side to his music.  Then with the release of Careless Whisper we fell in love with his vulnerability and his incredible voice.

George went from having “Soul on the Dole”, to the sophistication of Careless Whisper which incorporated sweeping views of Miami, five star hotels. private jets, sports cars, luxury yachts and glamorous women (no offence Pepsi and Shirley).

Everyone loved him and everyone wanted him. From those of us girls and women who emphatically denied any notion that George Michael was gay, to the entire gay community who ‘told us so’ when he came out in a way in which only George could.

Waiting For The Day

My obsession with George Michael began when I was 11.  I ripped a picture of George out of my Smash Hits magazine and placed it sideways on the wall next to my bed.  When I woke up in the morning I would be looking at him as if he was lying next to me.

I had read that his Mum lived in Coldharbour Lane, Bushey in Hertfordshire. I used to beg my relatives to drive me there so that I could wait and see if George Michael turned up.  I found out the local dialling code for Bushey and would spend hours in the phone box with my friend just trying different combinations of numbers in the hope that we would get lucky enough to get George’s Mum’s house. When the phone was answered I would ask “Is George there please?”. We were convinced we would get lucky one day. We didn’t.

Another time, Wham were playing a few dates at Wembley Arena.  I rang the box office and asked to speak to George. I said I was his sister and I needed to speak to him.  They politely told me they were not able to put me through but would pass on the message.

Then when videos first came out, I saved up my pocket money for weeks to buy the Make It Big video.  I was so proud to own it, despite not having a video player to watch it on.

Heal The Pain

I wanted to write this post about George Michael because I needed to pay my tribute to him. I know there are millions of others that are feeling the same way today.  Those of us who have been lifelong fans of his are probably agree that we wished we could have let George know how much he meant to us individually. I wished he had known that he has been with me through the most important years of my life. Puberty, adolescence, finding love, making love and breaking up. Days when you need uplifting and you dance in your room to Outside or Flawless. When you are at a club or a party and you’ve been playing it cool and acting sophisticated all evening, then you hear “da da da Jitterbug…”. You grab the nearest poor unsuspecting guest to you and head to the dancefloor mowing down anyone who dares get in your way. Or when you hear Wham Rap and you and your brainwashed teenage daughter proudly recite the rap word for word.

It ain’t no joy for an uptown boy whose teacher has told him……

Goodbye

What can really be said to make this tragic loss any less painful? Nothing. But we can share our love for George and unite as a community. He was our brother, he was there for us throughout our darkest and happiest moments. I hope he knows what a massive contribution he made to our lives and those around us. George you have been loved, you will always be loved and you will always be in our hearts and an integral part of our lives. You live on in us. xxxx

WE WILL LOVE YOU ‘TILL THE END OF TIME………

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The Spirit of Christmas Fair – London 2016

Eat, Drink and Be Merry

So on entering the Spirit of Christmas Fair, the first place we came to was the food hall. Healthy chocolate, fine wine, quince gin and toffee vodka were just some of the delightful samples on offer.

Each stall offered generous tasting of their products and I took advantage of this.  Joshua had the sweets and I had the wine, gin and cheese.

Typically British

One particular product that really stood out to me in the drink department, was the Gun Dog Gin.  The bottles were tall and slim which led me to enquire the recommended way to consume it.

The lovely gentleman enlightened me and recommended to add to champagne.  That certainly caught my attention. I asked which one he thought I should try?  “All of them” he replied. So off I went on a little Gun Dog Gin taster session trying a sip of each one (without the champagne I might add).

They were all very sweet which is why you would only add a dash to a glass of your favourite champagne or prosecco.  My favourite by far was the Quince. I love the British element of the product as well with the union jack incorporated into the label.  As well as a great way to add something special to your christmas drinks. these would make great gifts.  You can buy their products at their online store.

Healthy Chocolate

Yes, you read it right. This chocolate has “good stuff” in it. You know like Yakult, only it’s chocolate. Now I don’t really need an excuse to indulge in some chocolate, but now I have a reason to eat it everyday.

I didn’t buy any at the show, but I took a leaflet and bought mine later using their online shop.  Their packs of 14 are great value for money.  They are great stocking fillers, so I ordered a big box of these.

Be A Naked Angel

The Spirit of Christmas was certainly flowing thanks to Naked Wines.  After trying a fair few varieties of wine, I ordered a case for myself.  The wines are reasonably priced and are made by independent winemakers who are able to produce their wines thanks to the Naked Wines funding scheme.  Although you don’t have to join the scheme to purchase a wine at the show, you do get the opportunity to become an ‘Angel’.  Since when did drinking wine make me an angel? Just about the same time that chocolate became good for you. Are you starting to see why I love this show?

My favourite was this Australian Chardonnay ‘The Butterfly Effect’ by winemaker Sam Plunkett.  For more information on the scheme visit Naked Wines

Main Hall

We spent so much time enjoying the food hall.  I met one couple who had just spent £1000 on wine. Clearly veterans of the show, they gave me a tip.  In order to get the most from the show, the couple recommended focusing on a couple of items that you need and bypassing the rest.  For example, they said they had come to get wine, cheese and a Douro River Cruise.

If I’d have known this before, I would probably have had time to visit the main hall properly.  However, as we had already spent alot of time at the Luxury Travel Fair and then in the food hall at the Spirit of Christmas Fair, we were both flagging.

Buy Tickets

Don’t miss the next Spirit of Christmas Fair. Whether you are looking for a serious advantage on your Christmas shopping, or just fancy a day out you can get your tickets here

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An Invitation To The Luxury Travel Fair

First Train Ride Ever

I was thrilled when my VIP invitation to the Luxury Travel Fair popped through the letterbox. This gave me the perfect excuse to take Joshua on his first train journey. The event was held at Kensington Olympia which has a dedicated station.  It was easy from Weybridge with one change at Clapham Junction we were there in no time.

Joshua was fascinated by the train ride, asking questions throughout the journey.

The Luxury Travel Fair

The Luxury Travel Fair was in full swing when we arrived around 11.30.  I was raring to go and meet suppliers of luxury tours and travel.  Joshua was in his pushchair and during the short walk from the station to the venue, he had fallen asleep.

Celebrity Cruises branding for the Luxury Travel Fair, but no sign of the cruise line at the show.

Saint Lucia Tourist Board had a great stand and were running a competition to win a holiday.  As if that wasn’t good enough, once you had entered the competition you were given a free cocktail token.  It seemed rude not to indulge, and after all it is all part of my research as a luxury travel agent.  I took one sip and decided I should take my time with it.  It was strong!

Wandering off, rum cocktail in hand, I spotted Head of UK Sales for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Paul Beale. The stand was very busy, but Paul kindly made time to say hello to me and we had a brief chat.

Then I saw the lovely Louise Craddock, Regional Sales Manager for Oceania Cruises on their stand. She was busy chatting away to visitors who were eagerly clutching a brochures, so I didn’t stop.

The Champagne Bar, I couldn’t resist a cheeky glass of bubbles.  Just as the bartender popped the cork, Joshua decided to wake up.

Prepared with the distractions of a fruit shoot and a packet of mini cheddars, I knew I had little time to enjoy my Louis Roederer.

As expected Joshua wanted to explore, so it was time to go next door to check out the Spirit of Christmas Fair.

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The TTG Awards 2015 – A Finalist

My Journey to the TTG Awards

I remember the times that our management team would attend the TTG Awards and come back celebrating. They would get pizza delivered to the staff in the office to celebrate.

A Royal Departure

People thought I was crazy when I said I was going to leave the security of my job at the Royal Caribbean call centre in Weybridge to start my own business.   I had been there for 2 years and was one of the top achievers. I never wanted to go into ‘sales’ and still it makes me shudder at the sound of the word, but my title as a Personal Cruise Specialist, kept me focusing on my passion rather than the sales targets.

Royal Caribbean Staff Christmas Party 2012 at Sandown, Esher

Sitting at my desk in the Royal Caribbean call centre, with a little help from our friends.

I loved my job, at least talking about cruising and helping people plan their next holiday was great. As I managed 5 cruises during my time there in addition to becoming part of a promotions team showing people around the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruise ships when they were in Southampton and Harwich, I certainly had plenty to talk about.

My first cruise on Grandeur of the Seas had me hooked.

Being in a call centre environment was very tough for me. The restrictions that were placed on us with our call monitoring really frustrated me. I felt that given a free reign to do and say what I wanted and take as long as I like to do so, would really help improve the rapport between myself and the guest and I was convinced if I was allowed to do this, people would not want to book elsewhere ever again.

Cruise Franchisee

I was so excited about being the owner of a travel franchise. I got my business cards, headed paper, website and all the access to training and booking every cruise line imaginable. At first, when my phone would ring, I just froze. At Royal Caribbean we had a tick list of things we had to say, so although it wasn’t scripted, you had a guide to follow. I was scared of what people would ask me about as I only knew three brands.

At the helm of my own business, I introduced myself to the world at the Black Cherry Fair in Chertsey.

I used my newly found love and soon to be fiancé as a distraction for the first few months. He was helping financially and looking after him was a full time job with his forgetfulness, clumsiness and type one diabetes. We decided to start a family. Well, I had my 13 year old daughter but my partner didn’t have children and with me fast approaching 41, I felt we needed to make this a priority. It worked! 6 weeks into the pregnancy the cracks started to show in the relationship and it ended shortly after.

Sinking Ship

This left me in a position where I had no job, no income, no savings, a teenage daughter and I was pregnant at 40. I think it was inevitable that depression followed shortly after.  The next 7 months were a blur and most days I just couldn’t face talking to anyone. I hate to think how many bookings I let go in that time, but I just spent days and days on the sofa watching tv and longing for the day my baby would be here. I was hoping that once the baby was born I would be in the right frame of mind to get stuck into the business. I can only thank from the bottom of my heart, those customers/friends who stuck with me during that time.

Set Sail Again

Joshua at one week old almost to the hour, we made our first booking together.

When Joshua was 1 week old we made our first booking. It was almost like my customers pushed me into working. They were having none of this “I’m tired” stuff, they wanted to book a cruise and that was that. They could have gone anywhere else, but they wanted to book with me. I didn’t understand why, but anyway I went with it and the bookings started coming in.

A lot of travel agents thought my success was down to bringing my Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises customers with me, but this was not the case. I think about three of my original customers found me through various ways online via social media and another had become a good friend of mine before I left, so naturally stuck with me. I have had a few customers come to me through the GoCruise website and a few web leads but the majority of my business, in fact 98% of my business is referrals. I have never placed an ad anywhere as it’s not been necessary.

Being A Cruise Expert

I love my job and being a cruise expert means I have to spend as much time getting to know the differences between the different cruise lines and which ones suit who. It’s not just as straightforward as which cruise line, that is just the first factor. You then have to think about destination, time of year and price. All of these things will have an impact as to the type of people that will be found onboard and if you don’t match the right person with the right cruise, it will be there worst nightmare.

Joshua at the age of 8 months on his second educational cruise. This one was Ruby Princess.

Cruises can cost a significant amount of money and in some cases people take one in a lifetime or at least every couple of years.   People work so hard for their money and sometimes spend months if not years planning the cruise, so you don’t want them to feel disappointed in any way with their chosen cruise. I have and will continue to talk someone out of a cruise if I think they will not enjoy it. Sometimes a cheap price can really pull people into booking a cruise, but if you know your customer is very frail and cant stand the cold, you cannot let him go to the arctic in winter. No amount of profit is worth that. What is the point in going on a cruise that you cannot enjoy the destinations?

Happy, Blessed and Thankful

So nearly three years into the business, I am happy, I enjoy my job if you can call it that because I love it so much. Obviously to be an expert it is imperative that I get on as many cruise ships as possible so what is there not to love?   Then you talk to guests about cruises, again an absolute pleasure.

Going full circle, from working with Royal Caribbean to being a guest travel agent onboard the brand new Quantum of the Seas.

To top it all off, I have been absolutely blessed with being nominated for not one, but two of the travel industry’s most prestigious awards Cruise Agent of the Year and Travel Agent of the Year – Independent. The TTG Travel Awards 2015 is organised by the industry’s leading trade magazine, Travel Trade Gazette and boasts a unique awards format, with the main ceremony at the Lyceum Theatre, West End followed by an after-party at The Savoy, London.

The TTG Travel Awards are regarded as the universal benchmark of quality within the travel industry; the rigorous judging process involves over 30,000 agent ratings combined with judging from elite industry experts, making the TTG Awards the most coveted industry accolade.
“The TTG Travel Awards really are the blue riband of the travel industry, celebrating those businesses who are truly on top of the world when it comes to travel and tourism. This year we are building on their success by once again announcing our winners centre stage at iconic West End theatre the Lyceum, home of The Lion King, before a spectacular after-party at The Savoy. I’d personally like to extend my congratulations to [for making it into our hotly-contested shortlist and I am looking forward to finding out the winners on the night!”
Daniel Pearce, Managing Director, TTG Media Ltd

When I heard about it I was stunned.  It is an absolute honour to have been recognised in this way by the industry and I have already noticed a difference in the trust new customers have in me.  If I am one of the lucky winners, I am sure it will have even more of a positive effect on my business.

The awards night is on 28 September at the Lyceum Theatre with an after party at the Savoy. I am not expecting to win as I was totally shocked that I was even nominated once, let alone twice, but I am looking forward to an incredible evening with the industries top names and to find out who the secret celebrity host will be on the night.

“congratulations from all of us at 107.8 Radio Jackie”

Lucy, Josh and I at Polo in the Park 2014 courtesy of Celebrity Cruises

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A London Retreat – Kensington Roof Gardens

Events at Kensington Roof Gardens

I have been to the legendary Kensington Roof Gardens for a night out with family and friends and absolutely loved it.  So, I was interested to know what the venue would be like for a corporate event.

Getting There

Kensington is not in the congestion charge zone, so there is no need to pay for that.  There is a local NCP who were charging £35 for parking.  Then I came across this site which directed me to the The Copthorne Tara Hotel, Kensington. They provide 8 hours secure parking for just £25.  It was easy to find, close to where I wanted to be and the staff were very friendly.  The atmosphere in the hotel seemed nice,  and would be worth considering for somewhere to stay in the future.

The Venue

When you arrive at Kensington Roof Gardens, you need to take the lift to the 7th floor.  This takes you to the entrance of the club and location for corporate events.

The bar is conveniently located to your left on entering and was set up with teas and coffees for the delegates.  Usually the club is one big room, however for events it is divided into two areas.

Once the morning session was over we went had the opportunity to network and stretch our legs.  Outside in the gardens, I found a haven of tranquility amongst the hustle and bustle of London.


After a lovely barbecue lunch outside in the heated Spanish Gardens, the conference continued. The afternoon session was broken up with a break for coffee, scones and mini doughnuts.
Cocktails and canapés were served in the Spanish Garden, with a talented Caricaturist from wickedcaricatures.com on hand, both provided with compliments by eBay.  I certainly enjoyed the day learning so much about online publishing and e-commerce from leading experts, partnered with a stunning venue with first class hospitality. It was a great networking event and good to meet people in non travel related industries.
 

Oasis Of The Seas Visits Southampaton

 

With a 4am wake up call even my son looked a little shocked, but this was the day we would welcome Oasis of the Seas to the port of Southampton and I was not going to miss a moment of it. With nails and umbrella painted in yellow and blue, my camping chair, coffee flask, waterproofs, snacks, cameras, chargers, batteries and baby essentials packed, we set off for Mayflower Park.
We arrived at 7.30 am to find a group of around 20 people already gathered in anticipation.  This was to be the first time I would attend a ship’s arrival so I had no idea what to expect.  In my head there was a party going on but others appeared more relaxed and ‘in control’.
As I pulled into a parking space I saw my fellow cruise specialist, ship geek, cruise lover Lee Mudkins (who has since abandoned land based work for a life at sea) and his father, which made me feel at ease as I had cruised with them earlier in the year.  They helped me with my many bags and we set up by the railings.  This was a spot suggested to me by my trusted source Patricia Dempsey, who’s knowledge of Southampton’s best ship spotting locations and knowledge cannot be beaten.
I was prepared for a long and boring, cold and tiring wait.  Why I bothered to bring the chair I don’t know because with all the excitement I couldn’t sit down or relax.  Everyone was chatting about it and there was a real buzz in the air.  Over at the Pier you could see a huge crowd had gathered to get a closer look of Oasis and she passed.
There were a couple of men with walkie talkies listening to the Port of Southampton’s Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for communication between them and the ship’s Captain.  Royal Caribbean had generously offered complimentary tea, coffee and bacon rolls for visitors that morning, so Lee kindly went and gathered supplies, which were proving popular with the local workmen as well as the slowly increasing numbers of people turned out to welcome the ship.  A tug boat moved out of the harbour starting whispers from people saying that it was ‘going to bring her in’.  To my relief some female faces started to fill the gaps in what had been a predominantly male crowd.  Like me, they were finding it a challenge to contain their excitement.
Then I saw my first sign, the jet.  The spray from the tug boat celebrating the first arrival of Oasis of the Seas into Southampton.  I jumped up and down and grinned from ear to ear. “Here she is” I said and the atmosphere grew.  Everyone was just staring for their first glimpse of the ship.  Then she finally came into view.  There she was, the awesome, the incredible, the amazing Oasis of the Seas.  A truly phenomenal feat of engineering.

It is impossible to describe or capture on a camera the enormity of the ship.  You can’t believe your eyes and you just have to keep looking at the other ships to compare.

Oasis blew her horn and a Saga ship and Azura responded with what seemed to be a squeak in comparison.
We watched her as she passed us, everyone clicking their cameras, eyes wide, lots of WOW’s could be heard along with an awe inspiring quietness.
Passengers lined the top deck and others were taking in all the glory from the comfort of their own balcony staterooms.  You could see the huge Aquatheatre, Boardwalk and interior balconies at the aft as she docked.
What an incredible ship, perfect for anyone who thinks cruising is too boring or don’t like the idea of being on a ship.  It’s more like a floating resort.  I was lucky enough to cruise the Caribbean in 2011 on Oasis of the Seas and it completely changed my view of huge cruise ships.
Feel free to contact me directly for further information on this ship and the cruises available.  Alternative ly you can go to www.royalcaribbean.co.uk or contact your local travel agent.