Guy Harvey is responsible for the artwork on the hull of the Norwegian Escape, so I had to go and check out the Guy Harvey Outpost and the much talked about Rum Fish Grill restaurant.
The restaurant is probably the most interesting looking restaurant on Gulf Boulevard.
A Tradewinds Beach Resort
I arrived early so had plenty of time to look around and take photos. The hotel is located behind the back of the restaurant, leading onto the beach.
Everywhere you look there is more amazing artwork. The hotel rooms from the outside looked very clean, fresh and appealing. I would definitely like to stay here on my next visit.
You can enjoy your Starbucks near the hotel reception while enjoying the beautiful artwork.
Every part of the hotel reflects Guy Harvey’s passion for marine life and conservation. Even hallway to the pool and beach area is beautiful.
You can enjoy a drink or something to eat between cooling off in the pool.
There is a surf simulator for hotel residents and private cabanas for hire, as well as hammocks to relax and unwind in.
We headed back to the Rum Fish Grill as we still hadn’t seen one of the main attractions.
There is a viewing area for the fish tank which is outside of the restaurant.
Rum Fish Grill
When you dine in the Rum Fish Grill, you get an ipad which not only has the menu and games for the children to play, but there is a fish identifier which is really fun and helps you to learn more about the marine life in the process. Please note that the fish in the tank are NOT the fish on the menu.
I can honestly say the fish I had was so tender and tasty, it was the best fish I have ever had.
There is a gift shop by the restaurant which sell all sort of things, such as clothing, artwork, homeware and this gorgeous flip flop plate. I would have bought it, but didn’t think it would make it back in one piece. It has given me the idea to do a transatlantic from Florida to Southampton after a big shopping spree here.
If you are visiting the St Pete Beach area, please go and check out this place. This is a very popular place to eat, therefore you will require a reservation for the restaurant. This can either be done at the hotel or on Open Table.
The latest addition to Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet, Norwegian Escape, towered over the Ocean Terminal building in Southampton as she waited to greet travel agents and press for her pre-inaugural sailing. One of the unique features of a Norwegian cruise ship is the painted hull and the Norwegian Escape was no exception.
Having chosen the well known marine artist, Guy Harvey, Norwegian Cruise Line was sure to get a show-stopping design.
There are so many dining and entertainment features on this ship and with less than 24 hours onboard, I had to choose my favourite venues to see. My video includes highlights of the adult only Spice H2O with an incredible waterfall, the luxury of the exclusive Haven and Courtyard, a suite that looks like something out of a James Bond movie, the teen and kids clubs, and of course the spa. I hope you enjoy it.
A Few More Favourites
One of the bars onboard is called the ‘It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere” Bar. As if the name wasn’t cool enough, I loved the design of the quirky tables they used.
Norwegian Cruise Line give you the freedom to choose to do whatever you want, and offer so many options that there is guaranteed to be something for everyone. Deciding which bars to try when you only have one night is tricky, so we opted for the totally cool Mojito Bar, Sugarcane. Norwegian Cruise Line caters well for indecisive people like me, and I was thrilled to see a Martini Flight option on the menu, allowing me to try a little bit of six varieties.
Unusually, I decided to opt for an evening in the Spa, rather than late night drinking and dancing. This resulted in my premature arrival for breakfast as you can see by the lack of people in the buffet restaurant and the cellophane still on the food.
I like to eat healthily so my breakfast consisted of a selection of fresh exotic fruit…….
…… some fruit loops and a yoghurt…….
….. muesli and fruit compote ……….
……. a couple of pastries (they were only tiny)…….
………. smoked salmon and cream cheese ………
………. bacon, sausage and eggs ……….
……….. finishing up with french toast and maple syrup ………
As they rolled me off the ship, I thanked Norwegian Cruise Line for such a wonderful time onboard and told them that next time my stay would definitely be for longer.
The Magic Kingdom is a 90 minute drive from St Pete Beach, so it is well worth a day visit. I bought my 1 day tickets online in the UK and set up a ‘My Disney Experience‘ account so that I could plan my day beforehand.
Tip – One day ticket options are only available online is if you change the language setting on the website from English (UK) to English (USA). You also get 3 free fast passes when doing so, which really made our day a lot smoother and hardly queued at all.
If you are spending more than one or two days in Disney, I would strongly recommend staying on site and booking when you get free Disney Dining. Not only is the food and drink extremely pricey, the parking is charged at $20 per day. It also gives you the option to get to the park extra early, then go back to the hotel for lunch and a swim before returning later in the afternoon. A full day from 8am to 12 midnite is not for the faint hearted.
Tip – Share an ice cream with your child for two reasons. They are huge and they melt quicker than a child can eat one!
Taking a child on rides like ‘Dumbo’ and ‘It’s A Small World’ for the first time, is such a wonderful experience.
“Saving Mr Banks” is an incredible movie about Walt Disney and the plaque on his statue really sums up his incredible contribution to our world. It reads;
“We believe in our idea – a family park where parents and children could have fun together – Walt Disney”
You may have heard the original White Stripes recording of their huge hit Seven Nation Army, but one of MSC’s cruise ships, Magnifica, surprised onlookers in Hamburg by playing the song on it’s horns. This was as part of the celebrations to mark the 825th anniversary of the Port of Hamburg. Here is the moment when an MSC cruise ship plays Seven Nation Army.
The 95,128-ton MSC Magnifica has the capacity to carry 3,223 passengers and approx 1,038 crew members.
The ships 16 decks include 3 swimming pools, 5 restaurants, theatre, 4D cinema, casino, 9 bars and lounges, fitness centre and spa, 52 suites with private balcony and a massive 779 balcony cabins as well as outside and interior options.
A great advantage to cruising with MSC if you are travelling with children, is that on most sailings kids go free. You still pay for port taxes and gratuities but it’s still a massive saving. They have the same kids facilities as most other major cruise lines, so there is no compromise there.
They live up to their heritage as an Italian cruise line, as I would say they definitely serve the best fresh pizza, gelato and coffee at sea.
The Italian flair can be seen in the opulent furnishing in the public areas. I particularly loved the Tiger Bar with it’s ‘Hollywood Glamour’ style staircase.
Of course it wouldn’t be complete without the opportunity for some designer shopping. Onboard MSC Magnifica you can find all sorts of shops from designer handbags, Ralph Lauren, logo shops, perfume and duty free.
It’s hard not to pop in and have a little look, when you pass a window display like this one.
It’s a great excuse to treat yourself to a little souvenir from your cruise.
MSC are truly a family cruise line, whether travelling alone or in a group, you always get that sense of family.
I woke up at 4am and just could not get back to sleep. I was ridiculously excited to be spending Christmas with the kids onboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Although I was aiming to get to the port early, travelling as a single parent with a toddler, a teenager, four suitcases, a pushchair, a changing bag and a handbag with travel documents and other much needed items in can put the best laid plans to rest. We had to drop the rental car off at Fort Lauderdale airport and get a shuttle to the port. But first there was the small matter of stocking up on nappies, wipes, hairspray, pencil sharpener and other random items, and dealing with a screaming toddler throwing a tantrum in Walgreens because he couldn’t have a pack of toy cars he had seen. We eventually arrived at the car drop off point only to remember I was supposed to have refuelled the car. So off we went again in search of a gas station. Note to self – Bring another adult with me next time I travel!
There are moments in your life that you will NEVER forget. Trying to convey the emotion I felt as I stepped onto the Allure of the Seas Royal Promenade is making me well up. I took the brave step of leaving the comforts of my Royal Caribbean family in 2012 to start my own travel agency specialising in cruising. That coincided with some personal difficulties which left me in an unenviable financial situation. Fast forward three years after the arrival of my son Joshua in 2013, the closure of the Royal Caribbean call centre in the UK and a strong and healthy cruise business, I was able to pat myself on the back for surviving and being able to get myself and my two children onboard the largest cruise ship in the world. Some achievement even if I say so myself, and to top it all off, it was Christmas.
When we arrived in our stateroom, there was a lovely welcome bottle of bubby and a fruit plate from Dominic Paul, SVP Royal Caribbean International. Gestures like this really make you feel special and the staff onboard the Allure of the Seas were so genuinely friendly and caring that I felt totally relaxed and at home.
The Allure of the Seas Vitality Spa is incredible and has a thermal suite with heated loungers, steam room, dry heat room and aromatherapy room.
I had the mammoth task of unpacking whilst Joshua tried taking everything out of the mini bar and kept calling people on our room phone. Once that was done and I’d signed up for the drinks package and the wifi package and changed our dining venue from Silk to the Grande (because I adore the decor in there including the chairs).
Joshua spent a couple of hours in the nursery and I went off to the salon for a manicure and pedicure. After that we were all ready for dinner.
Allure of the Seas still has a main restaurant but the set time dining is on deck 4, The Grand and deck 5, Silk. For people who are after flexible dining, the My Time option takes place on deck 3 in the American Icon Grill. The only difference between the restaurants is the decor, otherwise you are still dining in a three storey dining room as before.
Is it worth paying extra for a balcony? Most definitely, but if you are on a budget, an interior or oceanview stateroom is usually the same size, it just means you have to get yourself out of your room to experience the views, which is not a bad thing. Having said that, if you time it right you can get a balcony for not a lot more and some cruise lines offer free balcony upgrades. Speak to your cruise specialist for details.
I decided that it was more beneficial for us to stay onboard the Allure of the Seas because we only had 7 days to explore the ship and already we were on day two.
First I needed a coffee, but I knew Joshua wouldn’t sit down quietly while I enjoyed my first one of the day. I walked onto the Boardwalk as I knew it was an area that Joshua could safely run around in without me having to keep stopping him from touching things. There is a Donut Shop on Allure of the Seas, where you can help yourself to coffee in ‘to-go’ cups so it was perfect. I found a couple of other parents with their children who were doing the same thing, so I had company while I drank my coffee, and the kids made new friends.
I thought that choosing the Windjammer (self service buffet), would be the best choice for us, with it’s wide range of foods to choose from. However walking with a pushchair and trying to plate up some food is pretty tricky especially without getting in everyone’s way. I tried giving Josh a yoghurt and going off to get more food, but I just couldn’t be sure he would stay put. A staff member came up to us and asked if I wanted any tea or coffee. She brought me a coffee and offered to sit with Joshua while I got myself some breakfast. It was a relief to be able to get something, but I could see that I would have to rethink this for the rest of the cruise.
Lucy and I had booked a seaweed soak treatment which promised to help with all sorts of things including detox, restoring alkaline and helping to remove cellulite. We thought we would give it a try, so I dropped Joshua off at the nursery and we went off to the Spa.
When you go to the Vitality Spa onboard the Allure of the Seas, you step into a completely different zone to the rest of the ship. It is tranquil and the sights, sounds and smells just make you instantly relax. The staff were lovely and showed us to the relaxation lounge.
We waited there for a few minutes until we were shown to the treatment room and told how to change the temperature and water levels if necessary.
After a lovely hour spent catching up on girl talk and hopefully doing some good to our bodies, Lucy and I went to the thermal suite to relax on the heated beds. I needed to get back to the nursery to pick Joshua up, so all too soon our spa visit was over and it was time to be Mummy again.
At the nursery Joshua had really enjoyed himself, and having a giant sized piano to walk over, meant it took longer than planned to leave the Adventure Ocean area.
We went to the Windjammer to grab a bit of lunch, then met Lucy by the pool in the H2O zone. Joshua and I played in the baby splash zone for a little while which is especially for children in swim nappies. There are restrictions on how much chlorine can be used on cruise ships, which is why they do not allow children in swim nappies in the main pools. Many Royal Caribbean ships have a dedicated splash zone for these children which is fantastic for families, otherwise someone would have to sit with the child while everyone else enjoyed the water. Not to mention the problems it causes trying to keep a toddler away from all the family fun. Although Royal Caribbean have introduced these facilities to their newest ships like Allure of the Seas, they are not common on other cruiselines so it is best to check before you book if you are looking for one.
That evening was our first formal night and the Allure of the Seas Captain and Officers introduced themselves from an elevated platform on the Royal Promenade. Complimentary champagne was being handed out and there was a festive atmosphere.
After dinner Lucy went off to meet her new teen friends and Josh and I had a little stroll on the Boardwalk which, at night, looks stunning.
So after my experience of trying to enjoy a lovely breakfast with toddler in the self service restaurant, I thought I would try the main dining room. That way all I had to do was keep an eye on Joshua and the breakfast would be brought to us. It was a bit of a challenge, but the staff were really friendly and helpful and not only made me feel welcome, they interacted with Joshua as well. I was thrilled to see my favourite breakfast of Eggs Benedict was on the menu, so I didn’t hesitate to order it….. everyday for the rest of our cruise!
There is a hot breakfast menu, but you can also get pastries, cereal, fruit, juice, tea and coffee.
First thing on the agenda for the day was a welcome back party for Royal Caribbean’s guests who are members of the Crown and Anchor Society. This was held on the Boardwalk and we were greeted by a selection of cocktails, champagne and mimosas.
Then it was a quick visit to the nursery to drop Joshua off before attending another little reception in one of the many music venues onboard Allure of the Seas, Jazz on 4. Aptly named due to the fact they play Jazz and it’s located on deck 4. I met the lovely Marina Baklarova, Hotel Administrative Assistant who made me feel extremely welcome and told me I could contact her if I needed anything. When you are travelling as the only adult, it is very reassuring to know you have someone like Marina to call on if you need any help with anything.
After collecting Joshua from the nursery, who seemed to be having the time of his life there, we went for lunch and after which I pushed him around the vast areas of the ship until he fell asleep. This gave me the opportunity to upload some videos and photos and update my Allure of the Seas blog. The wifi technology on this ship is amazing and the connection was so instant it was just like being at home. For a cruise ship, that is hard to achieve in port, let alone on a day at sea.
There is a daily cruise compass which is like a daily paper, placed in your room. This tells you all the activities that are going on during the day and evening onboard, as well as locations and opening times of various restaurants and sports facilities. I had seen there was a family disco in Dazzles from 7 – 8, which fitted in perfectly with our dinner sitting of 8.30. My plan was to wear Joshua out at the disco so that he would sit quietly in the restaurant. On the way to the disco we walked along the Royal Promenade and a gorgeous Gingerbread village had appeared. I couldn’t linger as Joshua was trying to grab at it, so I took a quick blurry photo and rushed off to Dazzles.
There was a great atmosphere in the family disco and they were playing various games. I enjoyed a pre-dinner gin and tonic at the bar, while Joshua danced his socks off with the other children. You may wonder why there are no other children in the vicinity of Joshua , but I have taken care in all my photos not to include other people’s kids, so I had to wait for those opportunities to arise.
Joshua worked up an appetite after all that dancing and tucked into a lovely chicken dinner.
Breakfast, plan C was to get room service so that I could have a coffee and get ready, while Joshua picked his way through the fruit, cereal and pastries. It worked well, but I felt bad for Janelle, our stateroom attendant, so we didn’t repeat the experience.
As an early riser, there was plenty of time for me to take in the breathtaking sights around the ship before we docked in St Thomas.
As I had read about Magens Bay being one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, I felt it was an absolute must for me to get off the ship and see it for myself.
It had come to my attention that I had been on the ship for 4 days and not yet walked through Central Park. I was starting to realise that 7 days simply wasn’t going to be long enough. So off I went to take a walk and some photos and videos.
Another place I realised I hadn’t visited so far, was the Boardwalk Dog House. I love hot dogs, and this place offers a whole range of different types. The thought of having a hot dog and a beer for lunch on Christmas Eve made me smile, so I headed down to the Boardwalk.
After a bite to eat it was time to soak up the sun.
With a nice bit of tanning done, we got ready for our Christmas Evening. It was a big one for the teens as they were having a party. I had booked Joshua into the nursery so that I could relax and enjoy a nice meal.
I took Joshua to the Windjammer for some dinner and enjoyed a glass of Prosecco to start the Christmas Eve celebrations. Trying to keep in the spirit of the things you are least likely to do on Christmas Eve (after the hot dog and beer lunch), we headed to the Boardwalk for a ride on the Carousel. This is when it really hit me what we were doing and how amazing it really was.
Not bad considering I was on a moving vessel, on a revolving carousel, holding a baby and a camera after a glass of Prosecco. Pretty impressive I thought. Once I’d signed Joshua into the nursery I went off to enjoy a three course meal in the main restaurant.
It was the best present I could have given myself. To be waking up on the Allure of the Seas in the Caribbean. What could be the furthest thing from sitting around in our pj’s unwrapping presents through bleary eyes on a cold and dark Christmas morning? Breakfast with the Dreamworks Characters of course!
Alex, King Julien and Gloria came along to join us.
During dinner the restaurant staff paraded around the restaurant singing Jingle Bells. This was my favourite part as our Head Waiter Oscar, and main waitress, Mitzi, walked past us singing and smiling. Oscar is in the front. We loved him.
After dinner I took a walk around the ship, thinking what I should do next and admiring my wonderful surroundings.
I decided the most unusual thing I could do was to go and sit in the hot tub. Most of the guests were travelling with large families and spending time with them, so I had it all to myself. It was heavenly.
The thing is, by day 7 of your cruise, you really do settle in to the way of life and learn how to get the most out of everything. You realise you are not going to be on the ship for another 24 hours and want to get as much in (your stomach) as possible. So Joshua and I started with donuts on the boardwalk. I had mine with a coffee and Joshua with his milk. I had the key lime pie ring donut and Joshua had the chocolate one. They were absolutely heavenly.
Once that had gone down, we headed for American Icon Grill which is where they were serving breakfast. I had my last eggs benedict of the cruise.
The full Allure of the Seas Bridge Tour review can be found here
We couldn’t miss our last chance to see our favourite Dreamworks characters, and luckily for us, Shrek and Princess Fiona stopped right in front of us.
The final sunset from our balcony on the Allure of the Seas and a little rainbow to promise that we will return.
It was something I had always dreamed of doing, but had not managed to do in the past. To be able to spend Christmas in Florida was simply incredible. I cannot recommend it highly enough if you are thinking about escaping the cold at this festive time. Here are just some of the reasons why.
The best part of flying to Florida with a 2 year old boy, was meeting the other desperate parents,. To give nearby passengers a break, they had congregated at the rear galley (sorry crew). Most of all, having cleared around 50 or so laps of both aisles you probably wont get DVT. Our first glimpse of the Florida sun made it all well worth it.
Car Hire Tip
Avoid picking up your hire car from the airport because short queue takes for-ev-errrrrr!!! It’s the last thing you want to do after a long flight if travelling with children. So get a taxi and pick up you pre booked hire car locally the next day. Make sure to include all insurance, local taxes, unlimited mileage, sat nav and child seat at time of booking as this will make a huge saving.
Also, it is best to use a major credit card (one that racks up free airmiles) for holding deposits, otherwise companies will put a hold on funds in your bank account which can take a while to be released back to you. The same applies when on a cruise.
Tampa to St Pete
I took a cab to the Beachcomber Beach Resort on St Pete Beach. It cost $72 dollars but I notice that the local company, Bats Taxi charge $54, as a result it is worth booking directly with them before you leave home. This was the the first time I had seen the hotel decorated for Christmas and it was beautiful.
They recently refurbished the hotel rooms and the bar known as Jimmy B’s Beach Bar giving a plusher feel to the resort.
Good Morning America
Since we woke up at 3am, we were ready for the beach by sunrise!
St Pete is one of the most beautiful beaches in Florida therefore I wasn’t going to miss my first glimpse of it in over four years.
We stayed at the Beachcomber Hotel which is a great value considering the location, facilities and atmosphere.
Not too far from St Pete Beach is Madeira Beach where you will find the beautiful John’s Pass Village. They have an annual Christmas Boat Parade. The boardwalk was beautifully lit up and the parade was amazing. I met my friend Deb of 22 years and as Josh slept through the whole thing, we went for a drink and had a good catch up.
To The Rescue
When I picked up my hire car from Dollar, I discovered that you have to fit the child seat yourself and I’m not a great with diagram instructions. I had heard that Fire and Police Stations often supply and fit child seats, so we made our way to St Pete Beach Fire Station (any excuse!)
The fireman was friendly, helpful and gorgeous! He explained how to adjust the seat straps, as a result I was able to install it myself. Consequently, we had photos with one of the fire trucks, which was decorated with a Christmas bow. Another fireman came out to Josh with a plastic firemans’ hat and a sticker. It made Josh’s day……… and Lucy and I were quite pleased too.
Back at the Hotel
Josh loves the pool. This is where Lucy learned to swim many years ago, so it holds fond memories.
A Day at Walt Disney World
No trip to Florida would be complete without a visit to Disney.
Realising I hadn’t brought the lead to download and charge my GoPro, gave me the perfect excuse for a trip to Target. It’s a great store and stocks Mossimo which I love.
Tip – For most things the first place to try is Walgreens, as they actually had the cable I needed for about $5 instead of the $20 multi charger pack I ended up having to buy at Target. There is one on St Pete Beach and on Treasure Island.
My friend Deb, had invited me to join her on Sunset Beach for some Carolling. We met at 5pm and people had put a lot of effort into dressing their dogs, golf buggies and themselves for the occasion.
Local people and businesses open their doors to the “carol singers” and provide them with a drink and a snack. As a result there were a lot of people taking part.
We had popcorn and a shot of Fireball Whiskey at the first stop. Due to my naivety, I was keenly waiting for the singing to start, but I didn’t hear anything. Deb had warned me that there would be a lot of drinking. A song sheet was handed and some singing did take place.
After a few stops I was ready to call it a day, since I had a 4 hour drive to Fort Lauderdale in the morning.
You probably remember the four part fly-on-the-wall documentary about life onboard the Royal Princess, called ‘The Cruise Ship’ which, aired on ITV. Princess Cruises ran a competition for travel agents which was for the best tweet of the week to win a VIP Day onboard Caribbean Princess. I tweeted like crazy and one of my tweets was picked as a winner.
On the day, Victoria Sneglar Princess Cruises Sales Communications and Events Executive, met us at the cruise terminal. One of the other VIP’s was Bruno the guide dog, which made the day extra special. Victoria was the perfect hostess and took us onboard. We entered the Piazza on the Caribbean Princess. These signature features reflect opulence and beauty combined with a very relaxed atmosphere. This is where you will find the popular International Cafe, serving delicious pastries, paninis, salads, cakes and desserts. Music fills the air as a pianist playing a white grand piano, gives popular songs an elegant twist. The marble floors, glass lifts and sweeping staircases give the air of being in a fairytale.
Vikki took us to Crooners Bar for a cocktail to start the day in style. Bruno the Guide Dog was with us for the day and attracted a lot of attention from embarking passengers. First of all, we sipped our wonderful cocktails. I ordered a margarita on the rocks, no salt which is my holiday drink. Victoria told us, while enjoying our cocktails, that we would shortly be taken to the Canyon Ranch Spa for a treatment.
I thought a neck and shoulder massage or a mini manicure was what we would get, but on arrival we were told we would be having a full body exfoliation and moisturising treatment, followed by a full body massage and a hot stone treatment. Each room has it’s own shower cubicle, so I was able to wash off after the exfoliation before starting the body massage. All the products are Elemis and smell and feel divine.
After our treatments, we met the Cruise Director who showed us around a few of the staterooms.
A Galley Tour
We were given a lovely tour of the Galley. I took this video and if you watch to the end, you will get a little glimpse of the crew mess.
For lunch and we were treated to the Crown Grill menu in the main dining room. This is a speciality restaurant and there is usually a cover charge, but looking at the quality of the food, it is certainly great value for money.
A Journey with a Difference
After eating ourselves silly, washed down with a glass of chilled chardonnay, Vikki told us they had a Chocolate Journeys experience lined up for us. Ok, I thought, I can handle a couple of little chocolates, but this was more than that. Created by Norman Love, one of the top master chocolatiers in the world, Chocolate Journeys is an experience of chocolates, sweets and cocktails.
Caribbean Princess crew spoilt us rotten and the day, which far exceeded my expectations. As we disembarked, crossing paths of boarding guests, I was still trying to take in what an incredible day it had been, but most of all, how kind and generous Princess Cruises had been to organise this for us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”
Having worked as a singer, flight attendant and travel agent I have been fortunate to work with many very attractive young men. A spot of luck you would think as a single mum looking for her perfect partner but as always there is a catch. Although statistics are not official, in my experience I would say 90% of the men I have been lucky enough to work with have been gay. The women however, have been mainly heterosexual and I have always grilled them for the secret of finding the love of their life. I am still waiting to discover what it is. “You will meet him when you least expect it”, “when you stop looking you will find him”, all of the cliché responses people give me to reassure that my singledom is part of a masterplan for my ultimate happiness.
So in order to fill the void of loving a partner I have chosen to concentrate my love on cruise ships. I must say I am yet to find a man who makes me as happy as a cruise does, so it looks like I’m on to a winner. I’m also a fan of reality. Not the Big Brother type stuff, but the stories and journeys people have gone through, to become the overnight success that we know them for. It is so true that in order to succeed you must fail many times and once you embrace this concept you are on the road to success.
My First Love
My first love at the age of twelve was George Michael and for years I stood adamantly behind his insistence of being heterosexual. My mum thought Rock Hudson was the ultimate male hunk. Then there was Michael French (David Wicks), Ricky Martin and John Barrowman (Captain Jack) all stole my heart, so this was never going to end well.
When I accidentally stumbled upon Royal Caribbean, which opened my eyes to the incredible world of cruising, it was hard to find likeminded colleagues who were equally as passionate about cruise holidays . That was until I experienced my first audience with Jo Rzymowska. It was like ET and Elliot, Jo spoke and my heart glowed. A woman who finally believed the same things that I did, the only problem being was that there was a ladder and she was at the top and I was right at the bottom.
When I heard Jo speak about the company I saw this passionate driven intelligent articulate woman who felt a passion for her business with every fibre of her being. It didn’t occur to me to think about or question her sexuality. At some point after that I realized that Jo had a partner but it didn’t change the way I looked up to her and wanted to emulate her and to hang on every word she said.
When I left RCCL to start my own travel business, I met sales staff from other cruise lines many of whom were gay males. They too were passionate about the cruise industry and the enthusiasm was infectious.
I did manage to attend an event at Kew Gardens where we heard from the lovely Casey Stoney and her difficult journey to becoming a professional footballer as well as her struggle to deal with her sexuality.
As I pulled up to the LGBTQ event at Kew, I wondered if I ought to really be going, I’m not gay am I? I might be bisexual, I’ve never tried it, I don’t know, People are going to wonder why I am there they are going to look at me and whisper. Then I thought to myself isn’t this exactly what the LGBTQ group experience every day of their lives. Why do you have to be a part of a group to support it?
In fact after the evening finished I realized that minority groups actually need people of the majority to be part of it in order to help them become part of everyday acceptance.
Mark Anderson, Managing Director Virgin spoke briefly about how he backs travel equality for travellers and employees. He then went on to introduce our main speaker.
Casey Stoney , Professional footballer for Arsenal Ladies and England Women National Football Team, came from a poverty stricken family and was blessed by people around her who identified the extreme talent and passion Casey had for the game and chose to invest their time and money.
Listening to Casey’s rise to fame you hear how many times she came so close to this incredible opportunity being taken away from her. Thankfully it didn’t come to that and Casey appears to be extremely happy with her life now. She is doing what she loves and has a loving partner and they have two beautiful children, although Casey still experiences a lot of negative comments and press regarding her personal life.
I thought an LGBTQ event was going to be a small scale London Pride, but it was very low key and intimate.
As far as media images are concerned, it didn’t occur to me that the support for the LGBTQ market was so little. Realizing that all it takes is to put a few same sex couple images in your advertising I felt quite disgusted with our industry for these exclusions. It seems to me that travel agencies are frightened to show these images for fear of alienating existing customers. If it takes balls to stand up and say my cruises are for sale to everyone of all sexualities and races then in the words of Kelly Hoppen “If I was a man, I’d have three balls”. Of course there are always going to be ignorant homophobes who think of no one but themselves, but then who wants them in their lives anyway because their friendship to you is conditional. So I urge my fellow friends, colleagues and customers in the travel industry to step up and support your local LGBTQ community and show them that you do not have to be LGBTQ to go to these events and to advertise using these images. Be bold and do it for humanity and not for your pocket.
Since writing this article in 2015, the industry, particularly Celebrity Cruises, has made positive moves to promote their diversity.
Walking around the decks of Oceania’s 684 passenger ship Nautica, I could feel a warm, friendly but opulent atmosphere and realised that the only person missing from this ship was The Great Gatsby himself. There was a feeling so hard to explain, but an excerpt from the novel seemed to sum it up completely.
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life.
It faced–or seemed to face–the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
Words don’t seem to describe this ultra luxury small ship and the feeling you experience once onboard. I can only liken it to how it must feel to fall in slow motion onto a big bed of white feathers with the smell of baby powder. The crew and passengers are friendly, furnishings are luxurious with attention to detail, art and decor is beautifully traditional with a touch of chic.
With Bob Binder’s passion for superb wine, Frank Del Rio’s artistic eye and Jacques Pepin’s world class cuisine, Oceania certainly have all the elements to deliver an exceptional onboard experience.
Oceania proudly declare that they have the best cuisine at sea. They attribute this to two things. Firstly, Oceania claim to spend more money per head on ingredients than any other cruise line and secondly, the man behind the culinary creations onboard is Jacques Pepin who turned down a request to cook for John F. Kennedy many years ago. It only seems fitting to serve food fit for Presidents, at tables set with Versace plates with a price tag of 250 Euros a piece! Some cruise lines offer a cruise close to that price!
Speciality restaurants Toscana and Marco Polo Grill are no extra charge, however items from these menus can also be ordered in the main dining room giving you the freedom to choose your dining venue. Unlimited soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees, teas and juices are also included in the price.
The ship has a lovely pool with two jacuzzi’s, an extensive bar with poolside waiter service, luxurious sun-loungers and double luxury beds. There is ample room for everyone to have a lounger and plenty of space to walk around the deck.
If you’re in the mood for some laid-back alfresco dining, Waves Grill located near the pool area offers Gourmet Burgers which include a Black Angus Sirloin Burger and The Kobe Burger with Wagyu Beef, Black Truffle Sauce and Baby Cress. Sandwiches range from a tapenade-laced freshly baked panini to the surf and turf of grilled lobster medallions and sliced filet mignon. With a choice of hand-dipped milkshakes and freshly made smoothies, there is certain to be something on offer that takes your fancy.
The ultimate luxury stateroom experience starts with the Prestige Tranquility Bed. This 1,000-thread-count-linen is an exclusive to Oceania Cruises. Other amenities include refrigerated mini-bar with free and unlimited soft drinks and bottled water, complimentary 24 hour room service and Bulgari toiletries. On the newer ships, Marina and Riviera you will get a full-size bathtub.
On deck nine you have a state of the art fitness centre with stunning sea views and a variety of classes including indoor cycling, aerobics, yoga or pilates. For those who want to take in the fresh air and ever changing views of your destinations, you may prefer to use the open air fitness track on deck ten. On the larger ships, Marina and Riviera you can find a Kinesis exercise wall.
Oceania have their very own Canyon Ranch Spa Club onboard their ships. You can book in for a signature Canyon Stone Massage, a Thai massage or enjoy the sauna*, steam room and full service beauty salon.
For those of you concerned about piling on those extra pounds during your cruise, The Grand Dining Room and Terrace Cafe serve Canyon Ranch cuisine, to offer those healthier options.
Once you have enjoyed the relaxation room and heated ceramic loungers*, make your way outside to the Private Spa Terrace with thalassotherapy pool or whirlpool tubs, enjoying breathtaking views. There is a charge for these facilities, however if you are booked in a concierge stateroom or above, you can enjoy unlimited complimentary access.
If you like your nightly entertainment, the lounge on deck 5 is the place to find it. Expect a good variety of shows from headline acts and lively jazz ensembles to comedians and magicians.
After our tour of the ship, we were taken into the Grand Dining Room for a delicious six course lunch, consisting of a selection of dishes from each restaurant. The food and wine were exquisite and certainly lived up to its promises.
After our amazing lunch it was time to disembark. I never thought I would say it but I actually wished I was older. Not because you need to be to cruise with Oceania, but as a parent to a toddler, this is not the sort of cruise that would be appropriate for him. So for me, I will have to wait until I take my first cruise with Oceania, but if you are considering taking a cruise with them, I sincerely urge you to do so as you will enjoy every minute of it. I certainly did, albeit only a few hours. I most definitely did not want to get off.
To say the handful of travel agents that were lucky to have been offered the opportunity to visit the Disney Magic were excited, was a gross understatement.
Cruising can be many things to many people, but put the name Disney in front of it and it changes the expectations completely.
Putting in a rare appearance at a UK port, the Disney Magic was docked at the Port of Dover and seemed to turn the port authority staff and travel agent visitors into a bunch of children.
The first thing you do when starting any Disney experience is look out for the well loved characters, and it wasn’t long before I caught my first glimpse of Goofy hanging off the back of the ship as he was adding the finishing touches of paint to it’s aft.
As we embarked the ship we were greeted in the atrium by a bronze statue of Captain Mickey.
The beautifully styled atrium was nothing like I had been expecting. No bright colours or Disney images, just the subtle touches of Disney here and there.
It was a gorgeous sunny August day and we made our way up to the pool deck. For me this is my favourite part of the ship. There was Goofy’s pool, which has a movie screen and the splash area with water slide for thrill seekers. There is also a quiet Cove Pool for the adults only to retreat from the excitement of the younger and older kids.
I was pleased to see pool vests available for children.
Beautiful art can be seen throughout the ship which takes on many forms from sketches to oil paintings.
Every stateroom onboard a Disney ship has a separate bathroom and toilet, which is a godsend when travelling with children. Every bathroom has a bath in it as well regardless of which type of room you go for. The décor has a subtle Disney feel to it and nothing like I had expected.
Needless to say there has been no skimping on facilities for kids clubs. Disney has huge areas for all age groups.
The main dining room, Animation Palate is something else. As you enter the restaurant, you are surrounded by black and white sketch drawings. But during the course of the evening colour explodes from the paintbrushes and colours the entire room.
Of course it would not be Disney without it’s own theatre and the incredible shows they put on the ships. I can’t help but thing of the movie “Saving Mr Banks” everytime I see a picture of Walt Disney.
Of course I couldn’t resist the opportunity to have my photo taken with the lovely Anna and Elsa to end a wonderful day onboard the Disney Magic.
If you are a Disney fan, why not read about the day I took my kids to The Magic Kingdom
Not only was this my first P & O cruise but it was also my first time cruising with a baby, a six month old to be precise. My daughter was 14 so it had also been a very long time since I’d done the baby thing. My mum joined us too so I had an extra pair of helping hands.
Prior to the cruise I discovered that P & O offer more for parents with small babies. You can order a baby bath for your room, which no other cruise line does as far as I’m aware, please correct me if anyone knows any different. A steriliser, bottle warmer, a cot (which is a travelcot) and baby food. All at no extra cost.
We arrived in the room to find a lovely balloon tied to some sweets as a little extra touch for Joshua. The balloon came in very handy when I was trying to distract Joshua long enough to get ready to go out. Surprisingly the travel cot fits easily between the two beds or even at the foot of the farthest bed. Although if you have it there it obstructs the fridge which can be a bit of a pain. I used to move it to the foot of the bed in the mornings when I was getting ready and then have it in the middle, at night. I guess if, like most people, you are travelling with the baby’s father, you will want the beds as a double. In which case you can either have the cot at the end of the bed or around the corner. I’ll show you further down.
The steriliser and the bottle warmer, together with tea and coffee making facilities and a fridge.
My daughter Lucy was booked into a twin room with my Mum so that she didn’t have to pay a single supplement. However, once we got onboard, we asked if Lucy could join Josh and I in our room. The ship staff were great about it and issued us with another key card for Lucy. If you are swapping rooms it is very important to notify the ship staff. This is because, your allocated meeting point in an emergency, depends on where your cabin is on the ship and if you go to a muster station that is not expecting you, there may not be a seat on the lifeboat should you need one. Similarly, if you are required to disembark the ship, it will appear that you are still onboard and someone may risk their life trying to save you unnecessarily.
This is the area outside the bathroom where you can hang your clothes. The travel cot and bedding already in our room for us. You can place the cot in this area if you prefer so the baby almost has a separate bedroom area. It’s whatever you feel most comfortable with really. Speak to your room attendant about your needs because they will put the cot up every evening for you and then fold it away during the day.
Ventura has a playroom which is open all day for parents and their under 3’s, and is complimentary. Joshua was one of only about five babies onboard, so it will depend on when you travel as to how many children are onboard your cruise. At night, the room turns into a night nursery with cot beds and curtain dividers. As long as your child goes to sleep without a problem, you can drop them off from 6pm onwards so that you can go and enjoy a meal and some entertainment with peace of mind. You are given a pager so that you can be contacted at all times. I think the nursery is open until about 1am, however I think the latest I collected Joshua was around 11.30. I was really surprised that he just went straight off to sleep every night. But it allowed me to have some time to relax and switch off.
I like to get up very early in the morning and luckily with Joshua, I don’t need an alarm clock. One of my favourite things to do is get up while most people are still in bed, around 6 am, and walk around the top deck taking in the views and the sunrise.
The staff were really friendly and loved Joshua.
It was a great opportunity to try Joshua with different foods. For baby food and yoghurts you need to ask a member of staff as they are kept in a separate refrigerator for your childs’ health and safety.
The public areas on deck have plenty of space to move around, and there is a large covered bar and seating area.
A big hit with the kids is the poolside grill that serves pizza, burgers, hot dogs and ice cream.
Balcony cabins on decks C and D are larger than most, however bear in mind that you can be overlooked by those looking down from upper decks.
One of my favourite places onboard the Ventura is The Glasshouse. Writer, tv presenter and sommelier Olly Smith who can be seen on Saturday Kitchen and This Morning, has developed a menu of 32 wines which can be paired with specially crafted dishes in this uniquely designed wine bar restaurant.
I was keen to attend the wine pairing seminar, which was held on a sea day at 11.30am. As there is no childcare available during the day for under 3’s, I was concerned about what to do with Joshua. The staff in the Glasshouse reassured me that I could bring him along, and if he became disruptive they would take care of him.
I had to take a quick photo before they handed him back to me. The staff were lovely.
If you are worried about getting lost, you will find one of these deck plans by the lifts and stairs on each deck.
Feeling indecisive about what to have from the lunchtime buffet, I decided to try a little bit of everything!
Ready to sailaway from Dubrovnik with a cheeky margarita.
There is usually a couple of formal nights onboard, however it only compulsory to wear formal clothes if you are dining in one of the restaurants. For those people who prefer to stay in shorts and tee shirts, there is plenty to choose from in the self service buffet.
Formal night menu included a menu by Marco Pierre White.
There is plenty of space around the pool to be able to move the sun loungers around. A must have accessory is a Towelwizz band, which keeps your towel in place and doubles up as a luggage strap.
Babies in nappies are not allowed in the main pools due to strict health and safety procedures that apply to cruise ships. I believe it’s something to do with the chlorine levels allowed on board being lower than those at public pools. Not all ships have splash pools for babies, however Ventura does and it is at the back of the ship next to the kids clubs.
Sailing into Venice is something that is hard to explain, but those who have done it say it is by far the best port to sail in or out of for breathtaking views.
Cruising along the Grand Canal while relaxing on a sunlounger or having a dip in the pool, is pretty hard to beat.
Mum and I spent our last night with a meal in Marco Pierre White’s onboard restaurant, while the sun set over Venice.
Azamara President and CEO Larry Pimentel tells USA TODAY , “By April of next year we will have two ships that essentially are brand new.”
Pimentel says “the new design is the handiwork of the team responsible for new ship building at Azamara’s parent company, Royal Caribbean Cruises who are known for some of the best designs in the cruise business.”
Azamara remain tight-lipped about the details of the enhancements but have released some of the artists drawings. This shows that these major upgrades will certainly add the modern, contemporary and brighter feel the cruise line are aiming for.
“As we continue to evolve our destination immersive offerings, we also want to ensure our onboard experience is modernized to meet guests’ every need,” said Pimentel.
“We can’t wait for our ships to come out of dry dock, as these major upgrades are going to have an instant impact on our guests’ experience. Each corner of the ships will have a new look and feel, setting a brighter, more contemporary ambiance. While the new venues will bring guests fresh experiences. We’re also investing in new onboard innovations and paid close attention to the smallest of details. We really are redefining our onboard experience in every way.”
A Runaway Success Story
I asked Richard Twynam, Managing Director UK and Ireland, a few questions about the plans for Azamara Quest and Journey.
Q.Why have you decided to invest in a major refit for both ships?
A. “Azamara Club Cruises is a runaway success story, and guests love our Destination Immersion concept and informal Club atmosphere on board. This success has justified this investment from the board.”
Q. Are you looking to appeal to a different demographic?
A. “Not necessarily, as we have over a 50% repeat guest rate. But I am confident that many guests who would normally travel on other cruise lines will want to experience Reimagined Azamara.”
Q. What changes will guests see onboard?
A. “Every single part of the ship from aft to the bow will be upgraded, from every state room, to restaurants and the spa, watch this space as we share more and more detail over the coming weeks.”
Mr and Mrs Evans from Cheshire, have recently returned from their Panama Canal cruise on the Azamara Journey. I asked what they thought about the announcement.
“Delighted to hear of the refit plans. We thought the itinerary for our last cruise was excellent and exceeded our expectations. An improvement in the quality of the onboard experience will only add to the appeal. We think Azamara continues to offer excellent value for money.”
When I was a child, my Dad worked as a baggage handler for British Airways. He used to wear a uniform that, to me, looked the same as the one worn by the Captain. Sometimes Mum and I would have to drop him off at the BA building at Heathrow. Seeing the aircraft flying so low and the sound of them, left me awestruck.
My first experience of flying was an 11 hour transatlantic to LAX in a smoke (tobacco) filled British Airways DC10 back in 1976. I was a proud member of the Junior Jet Club and I would usually get the opportunity to go into the cockpit to meet the Captain and First Officer. The Captain would fill in my Junior Jet Club book for me to keep a record of the flights I had done. I still have it all these years later albeit a bit battered and bruised.
Getting My Wings
I didn’t go into the travel industry until 2009 when I worked a 6 month contract flying as cabin crew with bmi. I had always wanted to work onboard an aircraft and after reading this book by Richard Branson;
I took his advice and it worked! This was me a few months later.
I loved the training, although it was always shadowed by the stress of wondering if we would pass the final exams. We had fun and made friends along the way though. Unfortunately this poor guy didn’t make it.
I remember the first time during my training when I actually got to step on a real aircraft, I was so excited!
I still love to fly, especially take off, and have many friends who are still working as crew. If you have always wanted a job in the air, here is a great link to get you started. Cabin Crew Jobs
Destination Immersion does not mean a full immersion baptism in the Sea of Galilee (although don’t mention that to Larry Pimentel, President and CEO of Azamara Club Cruises, or he will add that to the the list of Azamazing Evenings). It means seeing the destination come to life and experiencing the myriad of cultures for yourself, creating memories that last forever.
Wildlife adventurer, tv presenter and film maker, Nigel Marven has recorded a 6 part series for Watch TV which documents his journey to the Caribbean, Scandinavia, Mediterranean, Central America, India and the Antarctic with the crew and passengers onboard Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest.
This is a great opportunity to see another side of cruising and proves that there really is a cruise out there for everyone. Tune into Watch on Sky Channel 109, BT Vision Channel 407 and Virgin Media 124 or 191 for HD.
The first episode airing 5 May, finds Nigel on Richard Branson’s exclusive resort of Necker Island where he find rare iguanas and goes head to head with sperm wales.
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.
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.
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.
Putting together an Anthem of the Seas review is not an easy task, as it would be hard to find anyone who has not heard about the newest addition to the Royal Caribbean International fleet. Her recent arrival into Southampton Docks for her inaugural season seems to have the whole cruise industry in a swirl.
With 24 ships in it’s fleet to date, compared to the 8 that P & O Cruises have, Royal Caribbean International has raised the bar to the point where we wonder what on earth they can do next. But after spending two nights on her pre-inaugural sailing, it is clear that they have found a whole new dimension to cruising, cruise ship art, dining and entertainment.
My first impression, as I entered the atrium, was one of class and sophistication. It’s a grown-up version of previous Royal Caribbean ships, in as much as it’s not just about having cool stuff onboard, it’s about having thought provoking design, art, and menus. You can experience Wonderland, a unique speciality dining experience which starts when you have to paint your gold framed menu to read it.
I absolutely love the solarium onboard Anthem of the Seas
There is a lot more indoor space to enjoy the outdoor scenery, such as the adult only solarium with stunning views looking across the ocean from the front of the ship, and the pool bar which has a retractable roof. This gives adults a place to enjoy a swim, a drink and relax in all weather conditions without kids, whether it be their own or someone else’s.
In Two70 with Dominic Paul, Michael Bayley, Richard Fain and Stuart Leven
The Two70 venue by day is another incredible place to relax indoors. It’s cosy environment with it’s own cafe and bar, lets you enjoy incredible 270-degree views, spanning two and a half decks of floor to ceiling windows. At night, this venue transforms into an entertainment place with robotic screens and 12K sound system with scenic images projected on the windows behind it. That has never been seen on land before let alone at sea. Watch the short video below and at one point you can hear me saying “how the hell”, which is quite literally what you think when you see the technology capabilities of these robo screens.
Introducing more firsts at sea such as indoor skydiving, rollerskating, dodgems, the North Star (elevates guests 300ft above the water) to compliment their signatures like the Flowrider, rock wall and Royal Promenade, Royal Caribbean International have certainly taken the cruise ship holiday experience to a whole new level.
A friendly waitress offers me a sample of their signature champagne cocktail in The Grande
They have added more in the way of entertainment as well. Not content with having the West End Musical, We Will Rock You in the main theatre and the incredible shows in Two70, there is the Music Hall. This is a two deck high music venue with self-levelling pool tables upstairs and a stage and dancefloor downstairs. During my 2 days onboard the bands I heard playing ranged from the music of Pink Floyd to an 80’s tribute act, Wild Boys.
They also have some incredible new suites and staterooms, one of which is the owners loft suite complete with three balconies. One of which has this fabulous and a hanging chair.
Getting comfortable on one of the balconies in the Owners Loft Suite
Take a look inside the Owners Loft Suite in this short video.
So having explored the whole ship over the course of two days, what sort of person would be best suited to a cruise on Anthem of the Seas? Everyone! At least anyone who doesn’t want to experience the same thing on holiday that they do at home. Anyone who has an inquisitive mind, a sense of adventure and likes to have a good time. There is something for everyone on this ship, as long as you are not grumpy, boring and miserable, you WILL have the BEST time ever on THIS ship! TRY IT!
This was my first cruise with an Italian Cruise Line and the value for money was incredible. I couldn’t have stayed in a Travelodge for £105 for 3 nights, let alone take a cruise. We topped up with the Allegrissimo drinks package which was around £25 per person per day. It included Prosecco and speciality coffee and gelato’s.
After a hellish flight with a wriggly, impatient toddler, a plane full of non-English speaking passengers, an absent A2B transfers driver and a journey to 2 wrong destinations, we FINALLY arrived at right cruise terminal. As we stepped onto the pavement with our cases, pushchair and bags, we were approached by a lovely Italian lady who kindly checked our cases were labelled correctly and showed us where to leave them.
We connected with my friends’ friend and her 5 year old daughter and joined the rather long queue for check in. We were given priority boarding having the pushchair with us and checked in. A handsome young man in a blue blazer greeted us and said “see you onboard”. I was already impressed.
As we boarded the ship, the children were wrist-banded and we headed up to the restaurant. The buffet style restaurant on the MSC Magnifica was by far the largest I have EVER seen. Spread into 2 rooms with fruit and salad stations at each end. By the time I’d seen everything, I’d forgotten what was at the start. Having said that, once I knew how good the freshly made pizza was……….. nothing else mattered. The plates are huge as well so you end up putting a lot more than intended on your plate. I must admit to looking for the ‘catch’. I was expecting to find something that would explain the low cost of this cruise. We went to our rooms to see what they were like. They were lovely, spacious, nicely decorated, nothing wrong with that at all, in fact on a par with the other mainstream cruise lines and better than some. The bed was comfy, pillows lovely and plump, a good amount of hanging space and drawers for your clothes.
I familiarised myself with the baby club and made sure I checked Joshua in for the drop off times. For under 3’s they offer baby drop off onboard MSC Magnifica which is one hour at 1pm and one hour at 6pm. Perfect for parents to indulge in some time in the jacuzzi in the afternoon or a spa treatment, and an hour to get ready for dinner in the evening. There is no charge for this and you can access the baby club all day if you want to let your little one run wild.
This was Joshua’s 3rd cruise and I had taken my daughter 4 times prior to that. As a single parent you can often feel like you are on the outside watching everyone else have fun. I do believe that the best holiday you can have as a single parent is a cruise, but there are still some activities you feel you cannot be part of.
As I was walking through the main lounge known on MSC Magnifica as the Tiger Bar, a member of the entertainment team invited me to join them for the sailaway party. I couldn’t think of anywhere else I needed to be, so I pulled up the pushchair put my bag down, ordered a drink from the waitress standing nearby, took off my jumper and sat down. Joshua took great delight in walking around the lounge, so with Prosecco in hand (mine), I followed him. People were really friendly and by their friendly reaction you would have thought they’d never seen a baby before. One thing I will say about Mediterranean cultures is that they embrace the presence of children which is refreshing.
The entertainment team got up on stage and the music started. People of all ages took to the dance floor, so I picked up Joshua and joined them. He loved it, I loved it. I couldn’t believe it was 6pm and the party was in full swing, what a great bunch of people. My friends came along and we all danced together. My friend and I both looked at each other and agreed that this was fantastic.
So now I was in the holiday frame of mind, and I’d danced off the stresses of the day, it was time to get ready for dinner. We didn’t have long so I figured we would just freshen up, grab dinner and an early night.
We met in the main dining room and did our best to get through 7 courses including steamed mussels, salad, soup, an extensive choice of delicious entrees, cheese and biscuits, dessert and coffee. Joshua was grumpy as it had been a long day and I was exhausted, so we ate what we could and we went back to our room.
One of the many benefits of cruising is that you end the evening when you are ready rather than have to do everything as a group.
I spent the next two days exploring MSC Magnifica, getting plenty of photos, spending quality time with Joshua, eating whatever I wanted, meeting new people and chilling out.
My three favourite areas of the ship were the pool with it’s retractable roof, the Tiger Bar and the nightclub, which didn’t start until 11pm but Josh and I went in during the day and had a good look around. There are plenty of lounges on board and they all have great and varied entertainment to offer.
For me, travelling with a baby, I found I preferred to feed Joshua breakfast in the buffet, then move to the coffee and chocolate bar for a delicious cup of speciality coffee while letting Joshua run about a bit. Then push him around in his pushchair until he fell asleep and go into the main dining room for my favourite dish of eggs benedict. Lunch would be in the buffet and after the first two nights I decided it was easier for us and the sake of other guests, if we had dinner in the buffet as well. The only problem with that is you never stop eating. You keep going back for more. But afterwards I would let Joshua fall asleep in his pushchair and sit in the evening by the undercover pool and read and relax with another glass of prosecco. My friends always seemed to find me and would join me for a while and then they would go off and do their thing.
To sum up my overall experience and opinion of my short cruise on MSC Magnifica, I would say it far exceeded my expectations and delivered quality, class and fantastic service. If you are not one of these people who wants to experience the British and their way of life when you go on holiday, then MSC is for you. It really does give you a feeling of the Mediterranean way of life where people are friendly, positive and ready to enjoy themselves. They are not reserved and will talk to you and welcome you like one big family. It’s a place where age means nothing, old people don’t act old, in fact they act younger then the youngsters. They are living life to the full with the people they love and it shows through. What’s more is that under 18’s sail FREE all year round with two paying adults. So if, like me, you are sometimes travelling with two children, you don’t have to pay for their cruise fare. For more information feel free to contact me directly or go to MSC Cruises or your local travel agent.
A question posed by anyone having knowledge of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships was always “How are they going to top this?” The largest passenger cruise ships in the world had become cities at sea, so where could they go to top this? The Sunshine Class as it was known left a lot of speculation and many people were saying these ships would be more ‘indoors’ suitable for colder climates.
When Royal Caribbean first announced the innovations onboard Quantum of the Seas they told us that they would have the North Star taking people 300ft above sea level for stunning ocean and port views. With the installation of iFly by Ripcord you would be able to experience skydiving while looking out at the ocean. Bumper cars, roller skating, circus school and basketball court were introduced into an indoor space call the SeaPlex. This was incredible and you could see that Royal Caribbean really had taken the next step in on board activities for it’s guests.
However, as the ship neared it’s completion Royal Caribbean announced that Quantum of the Seas would be the first ‘Smart Ship’ in the World. Not satisfied with being able to skydive or be lifted 300ft in the air, they wanted to ‘give the guest the first day of their vacation back‘ by being able to pre book everything. They wanted to eliminate lines at check in and guest services. How have they done this? By giving every crew member their very own tablet, taking away the desks and having staff standing around ready to assist the guest. Next generation check-in or “no check-in, check-in” as Richard Fain refers to it, is designed to enable the guest to get from sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes, and it works!
When I arrived a City Cruise Terminal, Southampton with my set sail pass and photo already uploaded (see previous blog), I sheepishly approached a staff member standing with a tablet and asked her where I needed to go. She zapped the barcode on my set sail pass and went through a series of steps on the screen, asked a couple of questions and then pointed me in the direction of security. No sea pass card, no health questionnaire to fill out, nothing. I thought that would be coming later, so carried on through security, again straight through, no queues and into the departure lounge. As I entered there had been an announcement for people to board so I carried straight through to the ship. No time to check my bag, go to the bathroom, get a coffee, get bored and restless, just straight onto the ship. It felt very strange, I couldn’t figure out how they would let me on board, I didn’t have my sea pass card. I thought there had been a mistake! But sure enough, as I walked through the ship security they scanned the barcode on my set sail pass and let me on.
I stood in what appeared to be an atrium wondering what to do. Do I need to go somewhere now? Is that it? and how the hell do I get into my room? I looked around me thinking “this does not feel like a Royal Caribbean ship”. To be honest I didn’t feel like I was on a ship at all! It was light, sophisticated, arty and just downright cool. I must have looked out of place because ‘cool’ places are where other people go, not me. But with a quick glance around, I saw the familiar sight of Sorrento’s and new I was in the right place. It was just different. The Royal Promenade was no longer and instead there is a Royal Esplanade.
So I went to find my room in the hope that I would somehow be able to get into it. On arrival I was please to find an envelope waiting for me with a sea pass card inside. I waved the card in front of the door lock and it opened. There before me was a brand spanking new balcony stateroom and my wow band awaiting me on the bed. I loved the design of the room with a flat screen television, cool decor and the addition of two usb charger ports.
I went to the Windjammer to get some lunch to find, again, no queues. If you have cruised on Celebrity Solstice class ships you will be familiar with the Oceanview Cafe layout. This has been adopted on the Quantum class and eliminated queuing.
The lunch was delicious as expected on Royal Caribbean, so once I had finished I set off to explore the ship.
Wandering round it really was a case of wow, wow, wow. Seeing the iFly and the North Star in action was like stepping into the future. I took photos of everything and tried to take it all in. It was clear by the reaction of other trade and press onboard that I was not the only person stunned into silence by the awesomeness of this ship of the future. The full photo album can be viewed here.
So after a good walk of the decks, it was time for a cocktail. I went to the Sky Bar and was instantly greeted by a friendly bartender. This was the Royal Caribbean that I know and loved. How they do it is beyond me, but the bar staff and waiting staff are always happy to see you and make you feel special. No matter how much Royal Caribbean spend on their hardware, they know that it is all for nothing if the service isn’t there, and I am pleased to say it was.
Having introduced Dynamic Dining I was unsure how I would feel about the absence of the main dining room. The reason for Royal Caribbean moving away from the traditional dining structure of a cruise is to encourage and appeal to the ‘new to cruise’ market. As a big fan of the main dining room and formal night, we opted to dine in The Grand where every night is formal night. The 1920’s theme and white glove service gave it a truly ‘Grand’ experience. Having 12 complimentary dining restaurants options include the American Icon Grill which speaks for itself, a Pan Asian restaurant, Silk, contemporary dining in Chic as well as the Solarium Bistro, Sorrentos, Windjammer and Two70 Cafe there is a restaurant to suit most palettes and preferences.
After a lovely meal it was time to check out the entertainment. The one of a kind Two70 is an iconic venue that fuses technology with entertainment. The production of Starwater was enchanting and edgy, mixed with the incredibly talented singer and a cellist performing on aerial wires.
For lovers of musicals and fun Mamma Mia is a must. Superb acting, singing and dancing that was equalled to that of Broadway and the West End.
It seemed the the Music Hall was a favourite with most passengers. The dance floor was nearly always packed and as the evening turned into the early hours, you could see this really was the ‘place to be’. I wonder if Royal Caribbean have anticipated exactly how popular it will be with guests.
Having amazing additions such as the Bionic Bar, Wonderland, Two70, Music Hall and a fabulous array of unique and quirky art features, this new ‘Smart Ship’ really does offer the WOW that Royal Caribbean have promised. It’s also added a touch of class for the more discerning traveller.
So after two nights on this incredible ship, I can put my hand on my heart and say Royal Caribbean have once again delivered the WOW. Congratulations to everyone involved as you have changed the face of holidays let alone cruising, for the future.
My favourite email is the one that says “It’s time to check in for your cruise”, but this one is extra special. It’s the pre inaugural event for Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. It known as the first ever ‘Smart Ship’ for it’s unrivalled technology, a ‘Game-Changer’ in the field of cruising. So let’s see what it’s all about.
The on-line check in process now includes the option to add your own security photo and check-in time which is great for me, as I want to get onboard as early as possible.
Having completed my on-line check in, I can print my set sail pass and luggage tags. Now it’s time to plan the on board experience.
With two nights onboard, there is a lot to fit it, so I need to pick my must do’s. I start with the dining, which has been revamped from the traditional main dining room and renamed Dynamic Dining. Not sure how I feel about this and I have heard mixed views from other people, but I think it will be like that song you hear at first and don’t like, but then it grows on you and ends up being one of your favourites.
One of the things I look forward to most on a cruise is the Main Dining Room Formal Night experience, so I opt for one night in The Grande, where every night is formal night. Not wanting to overdress on the first night, I decide to try Silk, the pan asian complimentary restaurant.
Having booked my dining I move onto the shows. The Quantum Class is all about entertainment, so it has to be top of the list to experience the production of Starwater in the most innovative theatre in the world, Two70. I know that THIS, is going to be an experience I will be talking about for a very long time after.
With dining and entertainment reservations made, on-line check in complete, set sail pass and luggage tags printed, all that is left to do is pack.
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.