Christmas In Florida

Spending our first Christmas In Florida

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.

Farewell Blighty

Tip – First of all, when travelling long haul to somewhere like Florida, use an airport lounge. A No.1 Lounge pass is £25pp or free if you have a Barclays Travel Plus Pack

Airport Lounges

Arriving in Florida

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.

Click here to see the fabulous photos from our day in the Magic Kingdom

Shopping Tips

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.

Florida Disney Cruise
Joshua enjoyed playing in the soft golden sand of St Pete Beach

The hotel next door to us is the Guy Harvey Outpost, named after and designed by the artists who painted the hull of Norwegian Cruise Lines‘ newest ship Norwegian Escape.

Florida Disney Cruise
Guy Harvey is a well known for painting the hull’s of the newest Norwegian Cruise Line ships.

Carolling on Sunset Beach

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.

Part Two – The Cruise

St Pete Beach Florida

Useful Links

No.1 Lounges

Barclays Travel Plus Pack

Bats Taxi

Beachcomber Beach Resort

St Pete Beach Fire Department

Royal Caribbean International

Nassau, Bahamas

Caribbean Princess VIP Day

The Cruise Ship

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.

Caribbean Princess Ship Review Flavia Gray Cruise Expert Princess Cruises
Caribbean Princess Atrium

Caribbean Princess

On the day, Victoria Sneglar Princess Cruises Sales Communications and Events Executive, met us at the cruise terminal.  She was the perfect hostess and took us onboard.  We entered the stunning atrium on the Caribbean Princess.  The atriums on Princess cruise  ships have a sense of opulence and beauty with a very relaxed atmosphere. Delicious pastries, paninis, salads, cakes and desserts can be found at the  International Cafe, which is also located there. At a white grand piano is a pianist playing beautiful songs. The marble floors, glass lifts and sweeping staircases give the air of being in a fairytale.

Bruno the Guide Dog Flavia Gray GoCruise Cruise Expert Princess Cruises
Bruno the Guide Dog

Bottoms Up

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.

Princess Cruises Flavia Gray Ship Review Cruise Expert GoCruise
Enjoying a 24K Gold Margarita prior to my spa treatment
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Aerial view of the atrium

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.

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Canyon Ranch Spa Treatment Room

After our treamtments, we met the Cruise Director who showed us around a few of the staterooms.

Caribbean Princess Window Suite F303 Flavia Gray GoCruise Princess Cruises Cruise Expert
A category S7 window suite located on deck 6 319 sq ft but no balcony Room F303
Flavia Gray Cruise Expert Caribbean Princess Ship Review Princess Cruises GoCruise
Window Suite category S7

A Galley Tour

We were then treated to a very special tour of the Caribbean Princess 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 $25 cover charge, but looking at the quality of the food, it is certainly great value for money.

Flavia Gray Cruise Expert Princess Cruises Ship Review
Mediterranean-Style Spiny Lobster Cake, Tarragon Foam, Cured Olives, Grilled Asparagus
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The Grill Salad – Grape Balsamic Dressing, Mesclun Greens, Roasted Bell Peppers, Hass Avocado
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Chilean Sea Bass and Brioche Breaded King Prawns, Leeks and Mushroom Ragout, Champagne Mousseline
Flavia Gray Princess Cruises Ship Review GoCruise Cruise Expert
The Crown Dependence – The Executive Pastry Chef’s Sampling of their Featured Desserts
Bruno the Guide Dog Flavia Gray Cruise Expert GoCruise Disabled Blind
Bruno is such a good boy, and sits under the table at his Dad’s feet during lunch.

A Journey with a Difference

After eating ourselves silly, washed down with a couple 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.

Chocolate Journeys Princess Cruises Flavia Gray Cruise Expert GoCruise
Sampling some of the Chocolate Journeys range of sweets
Chocolate Journeys Princess Cruises Flavia Gray Cruise Expert GoCruise
and delicious drinks

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.

It is a day I will never forget.  Thank you Princess Cruises.























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
Royal Caribbean Staff Christmas Party 2012 at Sandown, Esher
Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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.

Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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.

Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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

Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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, I thought I was still being punished for something I had done in a former life, but anyway I went with it and the bookings started coming in.

A lot of travel agents thought my success down to bring 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.  You can see further proof of this on my testimonials page.

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.

Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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.

Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
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.

Travel Agent of the Year - Independent Flavia Gray Cruise Agent of the Year Flavia Gray

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”


Ships & Champagne Flavia Gray Cruise Expert TTG Awards
Lucy, Josh and I at Polo in the Park 2014 courtesy of Celebrity Cruises


LGBTQ Awareness – Update

LGBTQ Industries

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.

Tight Fit Flavia Gray
It’s a Tight Fit standing in for Denise Waterman of the 80s band
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Getting our wings for bmi cabin crew

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.

Flavia Gray Royal Caribbean Quantum of the Seas
Sea, sun and a margarita….. extremely satisfying

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.

Image courtsey of TTG Media

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.

Image courtsey of TTG Media

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.

Image courtsey of TTG Media

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.

Image courtsey of TTG Media

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.

Oceania Nautica

A Quality of Eternal Reassurance

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.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

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Step back in time
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Ornate Ceilings

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Private Spa Terrace

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.

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From prints to Picasso’s

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!

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Versace dinner plates

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.

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Waves Grill and pool area

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.

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Verandah Stateroom

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.

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State of the art gym equipment

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.

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Lockers and changing room for the Private Spa Terrace

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.

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The perfect place to unwind

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.

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The Lounge

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.

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The Grand Dining Room
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Sturgeon Caviar for starters

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.

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One of my favourite pieces of art onboard


Bob Binder – Silver Trident Winery

Jacques Pepin – Chef

Frank Del Rio

The Great Gatsby

Canyon Ranch Spa Club

Kinesis Exercise Wall


Disney Magic Cruise Ship Review

To say the handful of staff and franchisees that were lucky to have been selected to visit the Disney Magic were excited, was a gross understatement.

Ship front

Cruising can be many things to many people, but put the name Disney in front of it and it changes the expectations completely.

Disney Magic Sign

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.

Bronze Mickey

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.

Pool Movies

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 impressed to see pool vests available for children taking that extra step in safety as Disney is well known for.

Life Vests

Beautiful art can be seen throughout the ship which takes on many forms from sketches to oil paintings.

Art Wall

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 was expecting.


Needless to say there has been no skimping on facilities for kids clubs. Disney has huge areas for all age groups.

Kids Club 2

Kids Club

Animation Palate

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.

Walt Disney Mural

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.

Anna and Elsa

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.


Disney Cruise Search

Port of Dover

Disney Magic

Disney Cruise Line


Cruising with a Baby

Josh with Captain Charlie Carr on Ventura

Tips for cruising with a baby

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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
The twin beds are the same size although the one on the left looks really skinny, it’s not.

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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
Steriliser, bottle warmer, tea and coffee making facilities and UK plug sockets.

The steriliser and the bottle warmer, together with tea and coffee making facilities and a fridge.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
A lovely and unusual touch to welcome young cruisers.

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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
Plenty of hanging space for clothes

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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
The playroom for under 3’s is open all 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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
Sunrise while docking in Dubrovnik, Croatia

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.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
Friendly ship staff

The staff were really friendly and loved Joshua.

Flavia Gray Cruising with a Baby Cruise Holiday Expert GoCruise
Milk, yoghurts and fruit to start the day

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
I can’t resist a cooked breakfast on a cruise
Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Captain Charlie Carr is more than happy to pose for a photo with Joshua.

If you’ve seen the P and O adverts with Rob Brydon, you will recognise Captain Charlie Carr who is one of the cruise lines most loved Captains.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family

The public areas on deck have plenty of space to move around, and there is a large covered bar and seating area.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family

A big hit with the kids is the poolside grill that serves pizza, burgers, hot dogs and ice cream.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Larger balconies, but not so private.

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Award winning restaurant The Glasshouse

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Learning about wines and food pairing in The Glasshouse

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
If only this would catch on back home

I had to take a quick photo before they handed him back to me.  The staff were lovely.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Lost? This should help.

If you are worried about getting lost, you will find one of these deck plans by the lifts and stairs on each deck.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Light lunch

Feeling indecisive about what to have from the lunchtime buffet, I decided to try a little bit of everything!

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Bon Voyage Croatia

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Marco Pierre White provides the Gala dinner menu

Formal night menu included a menu by Marco Pierre White.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids FamilyFlavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids FamilyFlavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids FamilyFlavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family


Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Don’t forget your Towelwizz

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
The baby splash pool (far left) with surrounded with perspective glass for extra safety.

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Cruising into Venice along the Grand Canal

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.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Stunning views of Venice

Cruising along the Grand Canal while relaxing on a sunlounger or having a dip in the pool, is pretty hard to beat.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Marco Pierre White’s onboard restaurant The White Room

Mum and I spent our last night with a meal in Marco Pierre White’s onboard restaurant, while the sun set over Venice.

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family

Flavia Gray Holiday Cruise Expert P and O Ventura Children Babies Kids Family
Quality mother and daughter time.

Useful Links

Olly Smith

Marco Pierre White




New Ships for Azamara?

Sister ships get Royal Treatment

Azamara Club Cruises Larry PimentelAzamara 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.”

Tight Lipped

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.

Azamara Club Cruises

“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.”

Azamara Club Cruises

A Runaway Success Story

I asked Richard Twynam, Managing Director UK and Ireland, a few questions about the plans for Azamara Quest and Journey.

Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 20.35.03Q.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.”

Azamara Club Cruises

Guest Feedback

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.”

Dry Dock Schedule

Azamara Journey – Bahamas January 2016

Azamara Quest – Singapore April 2015

Useful Links

Berlitz Cruise Guide 2014

Cruise Guide to Europe and The Mediterranean

Where My Passion for Flying Began

A Flying Start

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.

Junior Jet Club British Airways Kids Flying Club

Junior Jet Club British Airways Kids Flying Club

Junior Jet Club British Airways Kids Flying Club

Junior Jet Club

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.

Flavia Gray Cabin Crew bmi

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.

Flavia Gray

I remember the first time during my training when I actually got to step on a real aircraft, I was so excited!

Flavia Gray

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



What’s A Destination Immersion Cruise?

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.
Nigel Marven's Cruise Ship Adventures Azamara Club Cruises
Image source:
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.
Nigel Marven's Cruise Ship Adventures
Image source:


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.
Kensington Roof Gardens Luxury London

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.

Kensington Roof Gardens Nightclub Conference Venue Restaurant London Luxury

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.

Kensington Roof Gardens Babylon Restaurant London Luxury Flavia Gray

Kensington Roof Gardens Babylon Restaurant London Luxury Flavia Gray
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.

Kensington Roof Gardens London Luxury Nightclub Events Restaurant Flavia Gray
Kensington Roof Gardens London Luxury Nightclub Events Restaurant Flavia Gray
Cocktails and canapés were served in the Spanish Garden, with a talented Caricaturist from 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.
 Kensington Roof Gardens London Luxury Nightclub Events Restaurant Flavia Gray
Kensington Roof Gardens London Luxury Nightclub Events Restaurant Flavia Gray

Anthem of the Seas Review

Royal Caribbean Anthem of the Seas

It’s A Smart Ship

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 P and O’s eight, Royal Caribbean International have 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, cruise ship dining and cruise ship entertainment.  Read my Anthem of the Seas review and feel free to add your comments or questions at the end.


My first impression, as I entered the atrium, was one of class and sophistication.
It’s a grown-up version of Royal Caribbean International in as much as it’s not just about having cool stuff onboard, it’s about having the clever design, clever art, and clever menus.  In Wonderland, you have to paint your menu, which is presented to you in an elaborate picture frame, with a paintbrush and water to reveal the words.  It’s a fun and different concept.
Anthem of the Seas Review Flavia Gray Cruise Holiday Expert
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 with and without children a place to enjoy a swim, a refreshing drink and a place to have fun or relax in all weather conditions”.

Anthem of the Seas Review Flavia Gray Cruise Holiday Expert
Me in Two70 with Dominic Paul, Michael Bayley, Richard Fain and Stuart Leven

The Two70 venue by day is another incredible place to relax indoors in a cosy environment with a cafe and bar where you can enjoy incredible aft view of the ocean through the two and a half deck high windows giving 270-degree views.  At night, this venue transforms into an entertainment venue 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 what this ship has to offer.

From the first at sea of indoor skydiving to dodgems, the North Star (taking you 300ft above the water for breathtaking views) to rollerskating to their signature Flowriders and Rock Walls, Royal Caribbean International have certainly taken the cruise ship holiday experience to a whole new level, but what about the new concept of Dynamic Dining which has received a lot of negative comments?  Well, I love it!  At first, I thought I would miss the Main Dining Room as I always looked forward to that part of my cruise, but the complimentary restaurants onboard are still big restaurants.  The food is incredible and because each restaurant has it’s own style of cuisine you benefit from a much wider range of food to choose from overall. You really can do what you want, when you want.
Anthem of the Seas Review Flavia Gray Cruise Holiday Expert
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.

They also have some incredible new suites and staterooms, one of which is the owners loft suite complete with three balconies and a hanging chair which I loved.

Anthem of the Seas Review Flavia Gray Cruise Holiday Expert
Testing the hanging chair on one of the three balconies in the Owner Loft suite
So having explored the whole ship over the course of two days, we asked Cruise Specialist,  Flavia 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 they do at home, when they are on holiday.  Anyone who has an inquisitive mind, a sense of adventure and likes to have, or enjoys watching others having 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!