It’s taken me nearly a year to write this blog post about ‘The Best Cruise Of My Life’ because the experience was so mind-blowing that I just couldn’t find a way to put it into words. Being a traditional type of cruiser, I am always in awe of the ships’ Captain and Godmother. Call me old fashioned, but I love that side of things. So when Elizabeth Hill, Godmother of Independence of the Seas, commented on my Facebook page, I was thrilled. Elizabeth is such a lovely lady and she agreed to a telephone interview for my blog. We soon became friends and I helped Elizabeth create a blog of her own.
We had talked about doing a cruise together. Then I received a message from Elizabeth to say she had confirmed the date she would be cruising and would love for us to join her. I was absolutely beyond excited! To be cruising on a ship with the Godmother was the most amazing experience I could imagine. And that’s exactly what it was, but better than I could have imagined.
There were nine of us in total and we all enjoyed dinner together in the main dining room.
Our cruise itinerary was the Norwegian Fjords. We sailed from Southampton and stopped at Bergen Geiranger, Alesund, Skjolden, and Stavanger.
Joshua and I took a tour of the ship while we were docked in Gerainger
One of the benefits we enjoyed onboard was access to the Concierge Lounge. This is a dedicated area for top tier loyalty members and VIPs. Elizabeth was kind enough to extend the invitation to the entire group so we enjoyed a complimentary pre-dinner drink and appetizers, with stunning views.
Joshua enjoyed his Independence on the seas and would help himself to a chilled glass of water.
We were invited to a special ice show presentation.
We arrived at our first port of call, Bergen and joined a walking tour led by Cruise Director Craig Freeman. They were a little too fast on their feet for our group, so we dropped back and found our way to the lovely little fish market. The gentlemen of the group were struggling a bit with the walking (not that they would admit it), so we headed back to the ship.
Joshua entertains Elizabeth with some of his magic.
Day 3 saw our arrival into the Norwegian Fjords. I set my alarm for 4 am and made my way to the helipad, as I wanted to experience every minute of it. Anyone contemplating on doing the same, please note that I didn’t see a thing for the first hour, including other passengers.
As the light came up, the towering Fjords appeared. It was an unforgettable moment of ultimate beauty and tranquility, despite being battered by the wind.
Around 5 am a few other passengers appeared.
By 6 am we were well into the heart of the fjordland, and so it was time for me to pop back to the cabin.
Joshua enjoying the view from the comfort of his bed. As soon as Adventure Ocean was open, I dropped Josh off and went to explore Gerainger.
I will share more about the ports and the cruise itself on another post, but for now, there is so much to share about cruising with the Godmother!
One afternoon, Elizabeth invited us to her Grand Suite to enjoy a glass of champagne as we sailed off from Alesund.
We enjoyed a lovely send off too.
Here is a photo of “Mother and I”, on a formal night.
Cruise ship royalty, Godmother Elizabeth Hill with her husband Edward, rightly taking to their thrones in the concierge lounge.
There’s nothing like a good old quiz after dinner to get everyone together. Elizabeth and I in the Star Lounge enjoying the fun.
At The Request Of The Captain
We were having the time of our lives which became even better when we received this invitation.
It had never even crossed my mind that we would receive an invitation like this. I wish my Mum could have captured the look of sheer amazement on my face at the time.
Working in Royal Caribbean’s call centre 8 years prior, I could never have dreamed something like this would happen.
The exquisite food and wine in Chops Grille were perfectly complemented by our host and Master. Although Captain Iv was keen to get to know us, we were more interested in hearing his funny and fascinating stories as we quizzed him on his life at sea.
Elizabeth’s daughter, without whom none of us would have been there (Alicia nominated her Mum for a competition to be the ships’ Godmother), is an opera singer. The most spellbinding moment of the evening came at the end of our meal. Alicia stood up and gave an impromptu tableside performance of the famous aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi.
The excitement didn’t end there. Captain Iv had offered us all the opportunity to visit the bridge. When we arrived, the Captain presented Joshua with his very own model Independence of the Seas.
I can’t put into words how grateful I am for such a wonderful opportunity. One that I shared with my son who, I hope, realises what a lucky little lad he is. This truly was the best cruise of my life!
Have you ever wondered how they pick a cruise ship Godmother? Cruise lines generally look for a Celebrity. In 2008 Royal Caribbean introduced Independence of the Seas. At that time the vessel was the World’s largest and most innovative cruise ship. The cruise line decided that the Godmother for their newest ship should be an ordinary woman. Someone who was doing something extraordinary in her community.
1700 entries were narrowed down to just four finalists after a nationwide search. The judging panel, including Sir Steve Redgrave, chose Elizabeth Hill as the special lady to carry the honour.
I met up with Elizabeth recently, while she was visiting relatives in their country farmhouse. It was great to hear all about her experience of becoming Godmother to the UK’s favourite Royal Caribbean ship.
How Did You Become Godmother of Independence of the Seas?
“It was a series of good connections in a way. I actually didn’t know I had been entered into the competition. Sir Steve Redgrave had retired from rowing and set up his own sports foundation which was being sponsored by Royal Caribbean, at the same time Independence of the Seas was being built. Royal Caribbean had already run a search for an “ordinary” Godmother in America and it had been very successful.”
“For the UK competition, they were asking for the public to nominate an ordinary woman who had done extraordinary things for the community. At the time I was running a charity and I guess I was pioneering what I was doing, lots of people do it now but nobody had seriously done what I was doing which is called care farming now. So my daughter who was 12 was poorly and at home one-day watching daytime tv and Sir Steve Redgrave went on This Morning and Loose Women and he put out this call on both shows I think.”
“All I know is that Alicia had seen Loose Women and she got on the computer and sent off this email. She said to me later “Well, I fancied a holiday Mum” However, in the email she told them that the day of the naming ceremony was her 13th Birthday.”
“Well I knew nothing about it so when they actually rang me to tell me they had sifted through thousands of entries and got down to the last six and they were doing a telephone interview, I thought one of the kids had entered me into something like Big Brother. So I said “Oh I am really sorry I don’t do reality television” and they said “No no no don’t put the phone down let me explain what it is” so then they explained and I was gobsmacked because I had no concept of it, I had not seen it, I had no idea about the ship and cruising was not in my experience, I knew nothing about this at all. I explained this to the woman that rang me, and she thought it was hilarious.”
6 out of 1700
“She asked if she could go through some questions as they had got 1700 entries down to six but were trying to narrow it down to four. So she asked me a series of questions and that was it as far as I was concerned.”
“A few days later I got a phone call and they said, “have you got a passport because we’ve narrowed it down to four and we’d like to take you to Finland to see the ship and the handover”.
“I was shocked again. But the funny thing was after I said “yes that would be fantastic”, I went to get my passport and it was out of date! So it was a mad dash to the passport office to get all the stuff within two days.”
“We got down to Stansted and were flown in a private jet to Finland, the four of us and Richard Fain were onboard. That was fabulous because we were in this private jet and he talked to all of us. He tended to talk to me more than the others and I know why because my husband is a farmer but he also loves engines and engineering, so he had asked me all sorts of questions about the ship which I asked Richard Fain. Richard Fain is not just the Chair, he likes to take interest in every little part of it and particularly the engineering side of it. He spent most of the time explaining to me in great detail about the engines, what sort of engines they were, the stabilisers, and all the innovative things that were on this ship. It was absolutely fascinating, he knew everything.”
“When we arrived, Captain Tao met us and we went on board the ship”.
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean
Was this your first time on a cruise ship?
“Absolutely I had never seen anything like it, I’d never even seen one! Yes, It was gobsmacking I absolutely could not believe the size of this ship. It was so fabulous, so beautiful, such a fabulous feat of engineering and I just thought it was absolutely wonderful”.
“I got chatting to Captain Tao and told him I had a daughter. He also has a daughter the same age as Alicia and his family were farmers so we had some things in common. Things just fitted into place”.
“We had a wonderful night onboard and we were at this lovely ball and had a meal to celebrate the handover ceremony from the Shipyard to the Americans. We were all involved in that and had been told to take an evening dress so it was fabulous.”
Sir Steve Redgrave
“Then we came back. We weren’t flown back on the jet but went back to the office in England and were interviewed by the panel with Sir Steve Redgrave. He was really interested in what I did, which was to have kids who had been excluded from school coming up onto the farm and we were doing recognised qualifications with them without them knowing that they were actually doing it. They weren’t in a classroom we were doing literacy, numeracy in all sorts of innovative ways that involved animals, tractors, Land Rovers, woodwork, metalwork and all those sorts of things.”
Gamelea Farm – The Care Farm that Elizabeth and her husband ran to help young people learn through farming.
“They were mainly boys all of whom had been in trouble with the police. Most of them had got tags on. We were just being very successful because they didn’t want to be in a classroom, they hated being in a classroom and it wasn’t meeting their needs and we ended up giving them skills to go and get jobs which a lot of them did. So a lot of them just needed somebody to find what they were interested in and tap into that.”
“Throughout the whole experience we were treated so wonderfully well and the other three were lovely, lovely women. So that would have been enough for me because I’d had this exciting few days, it was fabulous.”
The Phone Call
“They said they would let us know the outcome the following day. At about 8 am the next morning I had a telephone call to tell me I had won but it didn’t enter my head that I had actually won. I thought someone else had won. I said oh that’s absolutely fabulous, I had such a lovely time oh please send her my congratulations. She said no Its YOU. I said me? Oh! She said yes we have rung you early because when we release it, we think you might be inundated. We have spoken to the local television crew, we’ve spoken to the local radio we’ve spoken to the local newspaper, we think you are going to be inundated... and yes we were.”
“The television crew were there around about 9 o’clock and local radio station arrived shortly after. Talk about fifteen minutes of fame, well I certainly had it. It literally was madness, being thrown into this world that I had no experience of whatsoever.”
“Then it was only a few days until the naming ceremony. They said put your list together of guests you would like to bring. So I said obviously I would like to bring my husband and my daughter. It’s our second marriage so we’ve got children from other marriages. So we ended up bringing our own parents, who were alive then, and our extended family and their partners. I can’t remember how many of us there were but possibly at least 15 of us.
Edward (my husband) and I, my Mum and sister, Edward’s parents and Alicia and her friend, were all put in the Presidential Suite and all the rest of the family were in nice suites not far away. They all used our suite. It was one big party for my family because literally as one bottle of champagne was emptied they had another one. I don’t drink so it was wasted on me, but I didn’t get to be part of the party because once I got onboard I just had time to do my things in my cabin and then I had to go through the rehearsal. Sir Steve Redgrave was held up so we didn’t have time to go through the whole rehearsal. I actually pressed the red button on stage and broke the champagne in the rehearsal, so I did it twice!”
Photo Credit: Royal Caribbean
“They do it from the stage electronically so you see the champagne smashing on the hull of the ship from a big screen. It’s a spectacular thing to be part of its total razzmatazz. What they had forgotten to do is tell me I had to say something and I hadn’t even got a speech or anything.
So Richard Fain actually called Alicia up onto the stage because it was her birthday and got everyone to sing her happy birthday to her and he gave her a little pendant with a heart and a diamond in it and then he gave me a diamond brooch and I just said thank you and went and sat down.
Then Captain Tao said to me it’s your turn to say something now. Anyway I don’t know how my legs carried me back to the front of the stage. I have absolutely no idea and apparently, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house, so I didn’t say very much but what I said was very emotional for people.
They always have celebrities like footballers and television people that you see on a regular basis, Coronation Street people, there were quite a few faces that I recognised and I signed my autograph for them. My family was getting people’s autographs and they were getting mine which was funny.”
“After that, we went to a cocktail party, and the owner of the shipyard was there and they presented me with a gold and diamond necklace, and there was a little plaque in the box saying who I am and what I did and that was a real surprise that was wonderful. Then we went off and had the dinner and Richard Fain sat one side of me and Sir Steve Redgrave sat the other.”
“I’ve always been treated extremely well and when I speak to some of the seasoned people their ambition has always been to work for Royal Caribbean because they always say its best.”
What are you doing now?
“I take my job as Godmother seriously. I do get some perks so I try to give back wherever I can, by answering things on blogs or giving talks to ladies groups, I feel then that I’m not getting something for nothing.”
“I still get involved in Voluntary work. I am involved with our local church, I’m the president of our WI, I run and organise an older peoples group and I volunteer for home start. I may be retired but I still want to do things so I do something for the local community and its good because I meet new friends.”
“Because I am on the speaker circuit for the WI, I do go around and do a talk Five Things I Learned from being Godmother of the Independence.”
“I know that some people have booked cruises as a direct result of my talk. Because my husband has Parkinson’s Disease, I do a talk to the Parkinson’s group. I explain to people that being disabled is brilliant being on a ship. There are plenty of things to do onboard if you don’t want to get off the ship and there is food 24 hours a day.”
“When I am on board the staff are always trying to do nice things for me like get the best table and I say no no no I am going to do my Godmother duty and I am going to sit at shared tables and talk to people every night. If I’m in a really nice suite I will invite people back who aren’t in suites for afternoon tea so they can see what a suite is like and once we were lucky enough to have the Presidential Suite I invited loads of people back. I want Royal Caribbean to think that they have chosen the right person.”
“When I get onboard they always meet me I never have to queue to get on board. I’m always escorted off, so they do treat me in a very special way. And they always say if we are in Southampton that we must come onboard.
So the crew very much want me onboard and there is a huge superstition which is quite interesting because one of the officers saw me and said oh The Godmother, the Godmother, Elizabeth I can say good morning to you in person because I always say good morning to your picture and he said he and his partner do that and it brings us good luck and it’s true because one day I was so busy and I didn’t do it and my day was such a terrible day that I never want to do that again.”
“Because there’s a huge superstition around it. The Godmother is supposed to be keeping the ship safe, she is the mother that keeps the ship safe. That’s how I interpret it. I’ve researched it and that’s the best I can find. If you go back to the days of the Vikings they used to have women carved on the front. Its always a woman and the ship is always female. They really do take it very seriously.”
Have You Kept In Contact With Any of Your Care Farm Children?
“We are still in touch with some of them and they still come and visit us it’s great they’ve got jobs and homes and families and we’re really proud of that and I did it for nearly twenty years and in that time we were employing 20 people so it was pretty big.”
What would you say to someone who is thinking of taking their first cruise?
“Do it because it suits everybody from the youngest to the eldest. People are very surprised what its like, the fact that you get all this wonderful treatment. It’s better than all your top-class hotels. You don’t have to get off the ship if you don’t want to. Your holiday starts as soon as you get on board the ship.”
Cruise Like A Godmother
Elizabeth started a blog. This gives insights into her daily life as well as stories of her role as a Godmother. You can subscribe to Elizabeth’s blog and read articles here
I recently had the opportunity to meet Marc Walker who is currently the Cruise Director onboard Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. I’ve always thought it would be such a great job to do, but after speaking to Marc in person, I think I’ll stick to sipping cocktails by the pool while someone else does all the hardwork.
How long have you been a Cruise Director?
I was promoted to Cruise Director in January 2001 after being with the company for 4 years. This is my 22nd year with Royal Caribbean, 17 of them as Cruise Director.
How did you end up working onboard Royal Caribbean ships?
I was a DJ back in England, and when I worked at Butlin’s I met people who worked for Royal Caribbean. At that time there were only 12 ships in the fleet, and there was no no such thing as the internet. So it was purely word of mouth and sending resumes off. A juggler, who still works for us, told me to apply to Royal Caribbean as a DJ. I had never heard of Royal Caribbean, I said Royal who? This was in England and they weren’t even in England at that point, they were just sailing out of the Caribbean. So I got a job interview in London, I was offered the job as cruise staff which is what you do. You call bingo and you socialise, you start at the bottom. My first ship was the Viking Serenade in 19 July 1996.
1996 Marc’s first contract as cruise staff, with Fernando Castro on Viking Serenade
How long do you spend onboard the cruiseship at a time?
We usually do four months on two months off, but depending on business needs or if you have a holiday request it can be longer or shorter. I am doing four months on here then I am going to take only five days off, then I go to our bigger ship the Harmony of the Seas. At the end of the year I’ll be going to our brand new ship the Symphony of the Seas and will take the ship to Miami for the Inaugural Christening.
Do you get to see your family at all when you are working?
Never when I am working because my wife and two kids live in Florida. But they are going to be cruising at the end of November for a one off cruise. Lily will be in school and she is five, so she can only come a few times a year. But they usually have to wait until I get home, which will be January for five days.
I keep reading on social media that you are Roy ‘Catchphrase’ Walker’s son. Is this true?
I’ve actually met Roy, he does a few comedy shows onboard. He is really nice but I am not related despite the same name.
What is the average Day In The Life for you when you are at work?
8 o’clock every morning my day starts, that’s seven days a week and I usually take a couple of hours off in the afternoon. We call it international nap time where crew members have to sleep for a couple of hours in the day. Then my shift starts again at 4pm until midnight or 1 o’clock in the morning. So 8am until about 1 or 2pm is paperwork and meetings, then the evening is shows, socialising, being out there.
Have you met any Celebrities onboard, and if so can you give us some names?
John Travolta came onboard once. We looked after him for 4 days. He is a really nice man. And Donny Osmond in 2004.
What is your favourite meal onboard?
I should eat salads but I don’t. On this ship I like the roasts because you don’t get them in America. So I go to the Windjammer and have my roasts whenever I can. And then when I go Stateside I just have to have the Mongolian stir fry.
What is your favourite port of call?
Do you have any hobbies?
I do flight simulator. I have the joystick, the yoke and the foot pedals and I bring them with me. So I do transatlantic flights when I go to bed at night, and when I wake up I’m landing (laughs). Its very soothing. It sends me off.
Your job is very demanding. Do you have any tips you can share that help you stay energetic, healthy and in shape?
You have to pace yourself especially at my ripe old age of 46. It gets harder the older you get and the ships are getting bigger which is harder to handle, harder to manage. So it’s all in the mind. You can get so stressed out so quickly and it will kill your career. You just have to really take a step back, focus on what the most important things are and then keep everything in a waiting file, don’t do everything at once. But the most important thing is being out there with the guests. If you’ve got that covered then everything else will follow. But we have two jobs, we have administration and we have front of house. There’s no job like it, you have to be good at everything.
If you could do any other job, what would it be?
Television. I actually have a part time job with Home Shopping Network it’s QVC. So when I’m in Florida for a few weeks I tell them I’m coming and they give me a couple of shows. I love it because you are on live television to 97 million people.
After their first cruise on Grandeur of the Seas in 2011, they were hooked.
James Manson is a retired Police Officer and lives with his wife Pamela in South Ayrshire. I was keen to find out what it was that appealed to them about cruising, and what makes them take two or more cruises every year.
What brought you to the decision to book your first cruise?
Our first cruise was booked after lengthy discussions with friends who are to say the least regular cruisers. My wife and i gave it some thought, and we decided to give it a try. I personally thought that in 2011 cruises were like going on a OAP holiday, stripped deck chairs, knotted handkerchiefs and tea dances. However, after several more discussions I was ordered to go to a travel agent and book.
What was your first cruise like?
Our first cruise was on Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas, which departed from Palma. On arrival at the port we were in awe at the sight of this magnificent ship. We had booked an oceanview stateroom which was very comfortable, but couldn’t really see much due to the height of the porthole. We cruised the Spanish Mediterranean and return to Palma. It was a very enjoyable experience.
We could not fault anything regarding the cruise. Every aspect of the cruise was tremendous. On return we called RCCL and booked another for 2012.
Since then, you have cruised many times. What are your favourite destinations to visit and why?
The Cruise we favour most is the Greek Isles and Turkey /Greek Isles and Croatia which now we have done 8 times 14 days at a time. We love the ports of call and the people and excursions in those ports are wonderful.
Can you tell me what it is about cruising that attracts you?
We love the totally relaxed atmosphere that cruises give and being spoiled with the attentive staff on board. We also love the varied choice of food in the many restaurants. It is just wonderful rising from the table and not having dishes to do or house work each day.
How do you decide which cruise you are going to book next?
We always listen to others experiences while on board, and then choose a different itinerary. We have never set out certain destinations, we just peruse the detailed information outside the sales office on board and go from there.
What is the first thing you do when you get onboard?
When we arrive on the ship we always check in detail the ships’ emergency procedures, and encourage others to do so as well. However, I have a pet hate of those people who turn up late, or stand there and yawn when the crucial speech is delivered by the safety officers on board. It should be recognised by everyone, PERSONAL SAFETY is of paramount importance.
Are there any special items that you always take on a cruise?
The only special item we always carry is my wife’s Clarins, as use of this maintains her youthful looks.
What was your last cruise?
Our last Cruise was 17 June 2017 on the Independence of the Seas, and to our surprise we met Captain Iv, whom we had sailed with 8 times while he was the Captain of the Splendour of the Seas. This is a tremendous cruise with great ports of call.
We have also cruised on the Allure of the Seas on two occasions and the Vision of the Seas.
Do you have another cruise planned?
We have re booked again for June 2018 for 14 night Mediterranean Cities and a 14 night Southern Caribbean.
What would be your ‘dream cruise’?
We have one special cruise that someday we will go on and that is the Panama Canal. It is our lifelong ambition and will take the opportunity when Royal Caribbean have an itinerary. The other is the Far East.
Photo By Stan Shebs
Can you offer any tips when it comes to booking a cruise?
In 2012 we booked a cruise on the Splendour of the Seas. We were about to leave when we had a call to get an upgrade to a Family Junior Suite. The agent sewed the seed as we took up this offer, and now we always have a Junior Suite at the aft of the ship. We now only book when one of the 6 Junior Suites are available.
Again, through our experience we use the same agent as to us loyalty is important. The advantage of booking on board is that the staff in that office have all availability on a screen in front of you.
As we have been loyal to Royal Caribbean we have made many good friends in the staff and some lifelong friend from fellow travellers. We could spend all day naming Crew members who have gone beyond the call of duty to ensure your cruise has been enjoyed.
What advice would you give to people thinking about booking their first cruise?
From a personal point of view, I would encourage any intending cruisers to try a four or five night cruise first, to gain an unforgettable experience and to allay any fears of being crowded and feeling trapped. You will have a different perspective.
I’m So Excited About the Independence of the Seas Refit
Have you heard the news? Are you as excited as I am about the upcoming Independence of the Seas refit? With the Brits favourite Royal Caribbean ship back in the UK after it was greatly missed for one season, we are in for some special treats.
So let’s just recap on some of the incredible things you can already do on Independence of the Seas.
Ice skating and enjoy spectacular ice shows
Surf or boogie board freestyle or take lessons on the Flowrider
Family activies on the full size sports court include basketball and football
Golfing on the 9-hole miniature golf course
Climb the rock wall 200ft above sea level
Workout in the state of the art fitness centre
Stroll along the Royal Promenade or enjoy a parade or street party
A wide selection of dining venues and bars to choose from
Enjoy a show in the Alhambra Theatre
Indule in the spa
Have a flutter in the Vegas style casino
Let your kids loose in the kids club where they will have an amazing time in a safe environment (my number one reason to cruise in my Top 10 Reasons I Choose To Cruise post
Take a dip in one of the 3 onboard pools
Sit back in one of the 6 whirlpools. 2 of which extend 12 feet from the side of the ship
Pretty impressive don’t you think?
Image: Royal Caribbean International
But There’s More …
Aside from these amazing features, Royal Caribbean are going to give our beloved Indy a multi-million dollar makeover. In March 2018, she will enter dry-dock in Freeport, Bahamas. On completion, Royal Caribbean will have added features that have already debuted on newer ships, but Independence of the Seas will be the first cruise ship to have it’s very own Trampoline park. Located on the top deck for extra exhilaration. Trampolining will not be everyones cup of tea, but those brave enough to give it a go will be jumping for joy.
The Escape Room was first introduced on Harmony of the Seas and is now being added to Indy. If you are a fan of mind games then this one’s for you. This is a game where you work as a group to solve clues which lead you to your escape route. It’s great for team work and gives your problem solving skills a workout.
Image: Royal Caribbean International
In the Alhambra theatre you will now have the opportunity to experience the West End version of Grease The Musical which has proved a massive hit with the guests during its first season onboard Harmony of the Seas.
Image: Royal Caribbean International
Even the pool deck is getting some attention in the Independence of the Seas refit as they will be adding Splashaway Bay for the kids to enjoy as well as three different waterslides.
Image: Royal Caribbean International
Image: Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean are great at finding activities that are suitable for kids as well as adults who want to act like kids again. Laser Tag is perfect for this and will no doubt be very popular with all ages.
Image: Royal Caribbean International
The cruise line have proved they are confident this will generate higher demand for this ship as they also plan to add more staterooms.
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