I was thrilled when my VIP invitation to the Luxury Travel Fair popped through the letterbox. This gave me the perfect excuse to take Joshua on his first train journey. The event was held at Kensington Olympia which has a dedicated station. It was easy from Weybridge with one change at Clapham Junction we were there in no time.
The Luxury Travel Fair
The Luxury Travel Fair was in full swing when we arrived around 11.30. I was raring to go and meet suppliers of luxury tours and travel. Joshua was in his pushchair and during the short walk from the station to the venue, he had fallen asleep.
Saint Lucia Tourist Board had a great stand and were running a competition to win a holiday. As if that wasn’t good enough, once you had entered the competition you were given a free cocktail token. It seemed rude not to indulge, and after all it is all part of my research as a luxury travel agent. I took one sip and decided I should take my time with it. It was strong!
Wandering off, rum cocktail in hand, I spotted Head of UK Sales for Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Paul Beale. The stand was very busy, but Paul kindly made time to say hello to me and we had a brief chat.
Then I saw the lovely Louise Craddock, Regional Sales Manager for Oceania Cruises on their stand. She was busy chatting away to visitors who were eagerly clutching a brochures, so I didn’t stop.
The Champagne Bar, I couldn’t resist a cheeky glass of bubbles. Just as the bartender popped the cork, Joshua decided to wake up.
Prepared with the distractions of a fruit shoot and a packet of mini cheddars, I knew I had little time to enjoy my Louis Roederer.
I wanted to compare my last cruise on Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, to something smaller. Jewel of the Seas is one of Royal Caribbean’s Radiance Class ship. Due to their outward facing glass lifts they provide stunning views and are fondly referred to as ‘ships of light’.
One benefit of a smaller cruise ship like Jewel of the Seas, is getting access to more ports of call. You will find more detail regarding the onboard experience, at the end of this article.
The Hop On Hop Off sightseeing bus tour was probably the best option for us, due to travelling with a child and an elderly man.
The traffic is slow as you would expect in a city and the bus stops very often and as a result seems like quite a while at each stop. It is a great value for money option at 17 Euros per person (Joshua was free). Driving around the city in the sunshine for an hour gives you a sense of the local culture.
My tip would be to fill your bag with essentials such as water and snacks, and make the most of the free wifi onboard.
After our bus tour, we took the long way back to the Jewel of the Seas via horse and cart. For just 20 Euros for 3 of us, it was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.
I have always wanted to visit Santorini. The mode of transport was a choice between donkey, cable car or a hike up the mountain, so in this instance I decided against it. The majority of people disembarked the ship, as a result I was able to relax by the pool.
Mykonos is stunning, romantic, friendly, quaint and more. It was a short ferry ride from where we docked to the town.
The bus will take you to one of the stunning beaches. After the ferry ride, we took the option of wandering around the town, taking a dip in the sea and relaxing in a local taverna. The waterfront restaurant we went to was called Kavos. We ordered a bottle of local wine and the most delicious calamari I have ever tasted. It even beats my favourite seafood restaurant at home, Loch Fyne where I told you about the Best Oysters Ever. So we followed that with another bottle of wine and more calamari.
Athens and Kusadasi
While I love travelling and experiencing new things, cruising became attractive for me because in addition to offering value for money, it is a safe and convenient option when you are looking for to holiday in the sun with children. Athens and Kusadasi have amazing sights, but I will return to see them when Joshua is a bit older.
This was a great place to stroll off the ship and into the local village. The street is lined with shops selling souvenirs, jewellery, hats, handbags, clothes and various forms of art. There are restaurants, bars and coffee shops on the waters edge, for you to sample the local cuisine. The locals are friendly and the goods are very reasonably priced. This is a great place to stock up on all your presents for people back at home. Top Tip – this was the cheapest place for duty free goods compared to everywhere else on our trip. The shop is right outside the ship as you disembark.
Onboard Jewel of the Seas
The currency used on all Royal Caribbean ships is the US Dollar. For a great tip on how to make your money go further read my post Free Onboard Spend
Things to do
At the centre of the ship is the atrium which is 9 decks high. When you visit the loyalty desk on deck 12, just outside the Adventure Ocean kids club, you can stand on a glass platform and see the decks below.
I attended my first art auction purely due to the fact that free champagne was on offer, however, I really enjoyed it. You get to see a huge collection of amazing artwork. On entry you are given a complimentary print to keep and some raffle tickets for prizes drawn throughout the auction. So sit back and relax for an hour with your glass of bubbly and whatever you do, DON’T raise your hand!
Royal Caribbean offer great facilities for children and their Adventure Ocean program is fantastic. There are three session per day which are free of charge for children between the ages of 3 and 17. Almost all of the larger ships offer a drop off nursery for 6 months – 3 year olds. While this was not available on Jewel of the Seas, they did have a play area where parents could come in with their children. The toys were changed daily in addition to the free toy loan service as well.
I love formal night. Royal Caribbean don’t enforce a strict dress code, so you have the option to dress up or not. Personally I enjoy it, and although I am not one for souvenirs, I was pleased to add Jewel of the Seas to my collection of photos with the Captain.
In conclusion, Jewel of the Seas is a lovely ship. With great staff and facilities and most of all fantastic ports of call with great weather. Seems like bigger is not always better because it depends on what you are looking to get from each cruise that matters.
Questions and Comments
Have you been on this ship or to any of these destinations? I’d love you to share your experiences in the comments below.
If you would like to ask me any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments box and I will reply to them all personally.
The majority of large cruise ships have casinos onboard, which is great if you enjoy a bit of gambling. There are hundreds of different slot games to play and tables for those of you who enjoy roulette, black jack, poker and other favourites.
The features and facilities can vary enormously from ship to ship. To make sure you get everything you are looking for, I have put together a useful guide to give you a safe bet in finding which one suits you.
This video was taken onboard Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world.
If the casinos are an important part of your holiday, it is worth checking with the cruise line or a cruise specialist which currency is used onboard. The majority of major cruise lines work with US dollars. P & O, Fred Olsen and Cruise & Maritime use British Pounds and MSC work in Euros. For more information see Your Cruise Onboard Currency Guide
The photos I have included here, give an idea of how much casinos vary in size from ship to ship. Generally speaking a smaller ship will have a smaller casino. However Disney Cruise Line is the exception to the rule as they do not have casinos onboard their cruise ships.
Due to gambling laws, the casinos will only open once the ship has set sail. If you have one or more consecutive sea days, then the casino will remain open 24 hours a day.
Most casino’s allow smoking and will have one half of the casino allocated to smoking and the other half non-smoking. Usually this means the casino bar is the only indoor bar area where people can smoke, making it a popular place when the weather is not so good.
A ship casino does not provide complimentary drinks whilst playing poker, black jack, roulette, slots or any other casino game. However, if you are planning on spending a great deal of time gambling and enjoy quite a few drinks, I would advise you to find a cruise line who offers a beverage package. You will find these available on most of the cruise lines with the larger cruise ships such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line, MSC and Princess Cruises. With the ultra luxury cruise lines such as Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises your drinks are all complimentary, so there is no extra cost.
Free Bets and Bingo
Keep an eye on your cruise planner, which is delivered to your room daily. There you may find some free spins or special deals or bingo bonus cards. If you are a regular traveller, some cruise lines offer loyalty guests free bets on slot games. Bingo is not usually held in the casino and event details and locations will be printed in the cruise planner.
Most cruise ship also offer free gaming lessons for beginners or people wanting to improve the skills they already have. Whichever skill level you are, it is a great way to meet likeminded people and have a bit of fun at the same time.
If you are planning a cruise with Royal Caribbean, you may also like to read my guide on how to get Free Onboard Spend
If you are new to cruising, this guide will help you understand how the onboard payment systems work. Cruise ship currency varies from one cruise line to another. In some cases it can even change depending where the ship is sailing.
Here is a review of the main cruise lines and which onboard currency they use. Of course you are not required to use cash onboard, but it helps to know in advance so you can get the best rate of exchange.
P & O
Fred Olsen Cruise Lines
Cruise & Maritime
Azamara Club Cruises
Costa – in non European countries
Disney Cruise Lines
MSC – in non European countries
Norwegian Cruise Line
Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Costa – in Europe
MSC – in Europe
With the fluctuation in currency conversion rates, sometimes it is better to pre-purchase your on board spending money as you will see in my post on How To Get Free Onboard Spend. Check with your cruise line to see what they are offering at the time.
With a location of 4 – 10 degrees south of the equator, The Seychelles, unlike the other Indian Ocean islands, are outside the cyclone belt. The average daily temperature reaches around 95 degrees. The hottest and most humid times are March, April, October and November. With calm waters, these are the ideal months for divers and snorkelers to visit. Between May and September the islands experience briskier cooler winds. These make it a perfect time for visitors keen on watersports and sailing. There is increased rainfall during December to March although temperatures remain around 85 – 90 degrees.
There is so much to see and do in The Seychelles that you will not want to leave. 95 of the 115 granite and coral islands in The Seychelles archipelago, are uninhabited but you can have the holiday of your dreams on those that are. The main islands are Mahé, Praslin and La Digue.
The largest island is Mahé. This is where the international airport is situated and 90% of the population of The Seychelles reside. Whether you are looking for a luxury villa with your own private deck and infinity pool, a family friendly hotel with kids clubs and activities, or a stay with a local family and immerse yourself in the local culture, you will find it all in Mahé.
General Gordon thought he had found the original Garden of Eden when he visitied Praslin, the second largest Seychelles island. The worlds largest nut Coco de Mer can be found growing at the Unesco world heritage site of Vallee de Mai. Anse Lazio Beach is often on the list for World’s Most Beautiful Beaches and is perfect for snorkeling and diving. Praslin Features the only 18 hole championship golf course in the Seychelles
Praslin acts as a perfect base for those people looking for an island hopping experience.
La Digue is the fourth largest island where you can find stunning granite rock formations together with picturesque beaches. This is what makes it the most photographed island in The Seychelles.
Giant Tortoises and rare species of terrapins can be found on the island as well as a real treat for bird spotters, who will get the chance to see the Black Paradise Flycatcher .
The culinary offerings in the Seychelles are a Creole fusion of Asian, African and French dishes. The main ingredients are based on fresh seafood and tropical fruit. For a local beverage you can chose from SeyBrew the local beer and the liqueur Coco d’amour.
Time Zone Summer GMT + 3
No special visa for UK Passport holders
The Seychelles became independent in 1976 and they celebrate Independence Day each year on 29 June.
Dominant languages are Creole, English and French with the main religion being Roman Catholic.
When my dear friend David comes to visit me from, it is always a challenge for me to find the right restaurant for us. We enjoy fine dining, however we like to be able to relax, have friendly service and a good old laugh at ourselves in the process. As a lover of seafood, I suggested we try Loch Fyne Egham.
I am a big fan of lobster. I glanced at the other options on the menu but I had made my mind up. David posed the question “are you having a starter?” Then pointed out the Oysters. I wasn’t sure at first, but there was something kind of naughty and indulgent about it and the temptation was too much for me to resist. David and I are both easily led when it comes to spoiling ourselves, so we threw caution to the wind and went for it.
The oysters are served in four different ways; natural, tempura with chilli jam, beetroot & horseradish and tequila & lime (over 18’s only). We decided to have one of each. The tequila comes in a little pipet which you squirt onto the oyster along with a squeeze of fresh lime. Then you simply tip the shell up and sip it all down. If you love tequila, as I do, then this is going to blow your mind! These would be the ultimate party starter.
Of course it was only right that we enjoyed a chilled bottle of fizz with our oysters. We went on to try the beetroot and horseradish oysters which were delicious, as were the natural oysters, but nothing could come close the the tequila and lime ones in my view.
I must say I wasn’t sure what to expect with the tempura oysters. I couldn’t see how this could work, but my goodness, when I took the first bite I was in heaven. One of the most delicious foods I have ever tasted.
Time for main course. Whole baked lobster is usually served with french fries, but we chose not to have them. With a beetroot, pomegranate and chicory, goat’s curd salad on the side, we tucked into the most delicious lobster. Unfortunately for the lobster, it had been hugely upstaged by the oysters, and although I would highly recommend it, next time I will just order 6 – 12 oysters for my entire meal.
Loch Fyne Egham has a friendly and sophisticated ambience. We were served by a lovely man named Mark who made us feel very welcome, relaxed and well looked after. And that is not the prosecco and oysters talking! The incredible food was certainly supported by great service and lovely interior design.
Crystal Cruises offer the small ship ultra luxury all generation holiday you have been looking for. The all-inclusiveness onboard Crystal Symphony, eliminates the hassle of signing checks every time you order a drink. With a small capacity of 940 passengers, the staff to guest ratio of 1 to 1.6 ensures there is always someone only too happy to cater to your every whim.
Boutique Hotel with a Different View Every Day
I was invited onboard for the day to see Crystal Symphony following her recent $15m redesign. Crystal’s largest ship in the fleet has the stylish elegance of a boutique hotel, with the added benefit of waking up somewhere new every day. Each voyage is different to the last, giving you the freedom to choose your favourite destinations.
Crystal Cruises have Something for Everyone
The 19th-century gentleman’s club style piano bar with its leather sofa’s, velvet curtains and mahogany woods, make Avenue Saloon one of the ship’s most popular venues. In contrast, light colours of the Cocoanut Grove style Palm Court is the perfect place for afternoon tea with breathtaking views from the top of the ship.
Crystal Cruises have the Fantasia and Waves programmes for children and teens. They are divided into age groups 3-7, 8-12 and 13-17. A selection of activities offered onboard include, pool games, scavenger hunts, cookie baking, pizza making, fashion shows, karaoke, late night parties, teen discos and much more. They are plenty of children’s books and board games in the library and Sony Playstation and Xbox 360.
Crystal Fine Dining, Casual and Alfresco
When it comes to cuisine Crystal Cruises offers something for every mood. I like the Trident Bar and Grill where you can tuck into favourites such as beef, chicken or veggie burgers, tuna melts, wraps and pizzas. A trip to the ice-cream bar is a must with their selection of Ben and Jerry’s, fresh cookies and non-fat frozen yoghurt.
For something more formal you have the Crystal Dining Room. You can choose from one of their three menus of Modern, Classic or Lighter Fare.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found the invitation for the Allure of the Seas Bridge Tour.
Our concierge Dexter, met us in the forward lobby on deck 12. Security came and checked us for any concealed weapons, and made it clear that under no circumstances were we allowed to take video footage.
The atmosphere on the bridge was very calm and relaxed. The Captain wasn’t there but the First Officer, Fernando, kindly posed for an ‘action’ shot while the Quartermaster, from Philippines looked on in amusement.
The Second Officer was Estevan from Argentina. He gave us a tour of the bridge and talked through the amazing feat of engineering behind the Allure of the Seas. Facts and figures are coming up, so bear with me.
I spent most of my valuable bridge tour time listening intently to Estevan, with the theme tune from “An Officer and A Gentleman” playing over and over in my head.
Who wouldn’t want an office view like that? A great place to sit and relax for the crew during a long shift. After all, with that amount of space, you need to put a bit of furniture in it right?
The “Not-So” Technical Bit
It looks a long way down from deck 12, especially when you are extended over the side of the ship. It is very convenient for the crew when ‘parking’ though.
So, for those of you who don’t know how things are done on the Bridge, this is what I learned in Layman’s terms. There are three sets of controls. You have the main console that faces the front of the ship and two smaller consoles, one on the left of the bridge and one on the right. The main console has the exact same instruments and controls that the two side consoles have and more. The reason for this is so that whoever is manouvering the ship, can have a clear view of the area they are navigating. This add to the views they have on the cameras which you can see in the image below.
I promised you some facts and figures from my Allure of the Seas Bridge Tour didn’t I? Well the lovely First Officer Fernando, was kind enough to give me a Pilot Boarding Card. Probably due to the fact that I was so busy writing notes that I hadn’t realised I was the only guest left on the Bridge, and that this was the only way they could politely point it out.
How Long Is The Allure of the Seas?
Every details about the ship can be found in the pilot boarding card. The best keepsake you could give to a cruise ship enthusiast.
Allure of the Seas – Cruise Review
You can read all about our Christmas cruise on the Allure of the Seas here
Although the cruise was over, we still had one week of sunshine and New Year Celebrations waiting for us in St Pete Beach. We picked up a hire car, drove to St Pete Beach and arrived at the hotel, just in time to watch the sunset.
Dolphin Beach Resort
I chose this hotel because it is located right on the beach and has a heated pool. It’s cheap and convenient.
PJ’s Seafood and Oyster Bar has also been at St Pete Beach for decades and serves incredible Oysters Rockafella, Clam Chowder and Lobster. They also have the best coleslaw I have ever tasted.
New Year’s Eve
We had a beach day on New Year’s Eve.
I watched the sun setting on the year which was a wonderful way to say goodbye, reflect and give thanks for another year on this incredible planet, and to prepare yourself for the new goals you have set yourself for the year ahead.
New Year’s Day
I was keen to check out the Guy Harvey Outpost due to his connection to the cruise ship Norwegian Escape.
The Guy Harvey Outpost is a Tradewinds Hotel that has been designed by the incredible marine artist and conservationist. I have so much to say about this amazing place, so I have given it a blog of it’s own. However here is a little video I have put together to give you a feel of the place.
You can see photos and read about it in my blog here
On January 2nd the weather changed, just as predicted. It wasn’t cold, just overcast and with a bit of a chill in the wind, getting out of a heated pool was a bit uncomfortable. It was a good opportunity to go and check out the other activities available on St Pete Beach.
Lido Park is a lovely play area just a short walk from the Dolphin Beach Resort. It also has is a picnic area and outdoor gym.
After the park, we popped into Chick-fil-A.
They have a great indoor kids play area. Joshua didn’t want to leave, but we had packing to do.
Time To Say Goodbye
So the time had finally come when we had to say goodbye to our lovely beach, friends and Florida. But hopefully it won’t be so long until we are back again.
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”