Associated British Ports in partnership with MSC Cruises and Norwegian Cruise line Holdings Ltd have today announced the opening of a new cruise terminal at the Port of Southampton.
This is encouraging news as we all wait for cruise operations to resume. Clearly the impact of this years events does not show any signs of slowing down the future demand for cruises.
The fifth dedicated cruise terminal is going to be well equipped to service the next-generation of cruise ships. The main terminal building will use roof mounted solar power and Shore Power connectivity to supply sustainable operations. This will enable cruise ships, with the right onboard technology, to ‘plug in’ while they are alongside.
UK’s Number One Departure Port
Southampton is Europe’s leading cruise turn-around port and the UK’s number one departure port. The £55 million investment will further strengthen the Port of Southampton’s position.
The yet unnamed terminal is due to open in Summer 2021 and will become the home port of MSC Magnifica for part of the season sailing from the UK.
Four Existing Terminals
The Mayflower Terminal is the oldest of the four existing passenger terminals, which opened in 1960. Queen Elizabeth II Terminal followed shortly after in 1966. It wasn’t until 2003 that City Terminal was built and Ocean Terminal 6 years later in 2009.
Construction of the fifth cruise terminal commenced in September 2020 and is schedule to open in Summer 2021. The new Southampton cruise terminal will be the port’s largest to date and will be capable of handling the largest cruise ships in the world.
This is great news as we come to the close of the most difficult year in cruise industry history. We are all so desperate to get back onboard and it appears that there is no shortage of demand.
As well as a glass of bubbly, I am also partial to a pre dinner gin and tonic. Gin has become very fashionable in recent years, with many different types available. My first experience of Bombay Sapphire was about 10 years ago. From that very first sip I fell in love with its creamy almond texture and unique botanical blend.
Little did I know, in 2014 my favourite gin’s new home was just down the road from me. I discovered the Bombay Sapphire Distillery when Princess Cruises invited me to try their signature cocktail there. This is a shore excursion now offered to guests cruising on Sapphire Princess from Southampton in 2019.
Laverstoke Mill, Hampshire
Set in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, Laverstoke Mill consists of 3 Grade II listed buildings formerly used for milling corn and paper.
Laverstoke Mill can be traced back to the Domesday Book. It is now one of the most sustainable distilleries in the world.
These cottages were the homes of on site workers.
The Glasshouse is home to the ten botanicals that make up Bombay Sapphire’s unique blend. One side has a Mediterranean climate, while the other is a Tropical climate.
The Test is the purest chalk-stream in the UK. It runs a water turbine which generates electricity for the distillery.
Inside the Glasshouse you can see, smell and learn about each botanical.
The Dakin Still House
A tour of the Dakin Still House is a must. Evidence of it’s rich history adorns the walls and brings the romance of the ‘old days’ back to life.
The two Carter head stills used for producing Bombay Sapphire are named after Thomas and Mary Dakin, who were connected with the early recipe used for Bombay Gin.
Sample the aromas of 22 bowls containing various aromatics.
As you go around each table, punch a hole on the areas of the card which you like the smell of. At the end of your visit, you can present this at the bar where your perfect cocktail will be made for you to enjoy.
You will also find a fabulous display of the bottle and label designs throughout the ages.
Ever since I first saw the Titanic movie, I have wanted to visit the pub where Jack wins his ticket to sail on the fateful ship. So when I arranged to meet Cruise Miss in Southampton, this seemed like the perfect excuse to find it. Of course, I should have known that Danielle was familiar with the pub and knew the manager! I was pleased to hear Danielle liked the idea of meeting there, so I knew I was going to like it.
The Grapes, Southampton
Southampton’s maritime associations date back to 1838 when the first foundation stone of the dock was laid. In 1840 the railway link to London opened and two years later the first dock was complete. Southampton soon became known as the Gateway to the Empire, and in 1912 The Grapes was a popular haunt with dock and ship workers including the crew of the Titanic.
Original ornate sign of The Grapes, Southampton
As you approach the building, you can see the original ornate sign from 1912. The inside of the pub is huge and refreshingly traditional. There are no airs and graces here, but the management, staff and locals are so friendly and the gin menu would put any ‘swanky bar’ to shame.
As a long shot, I asked one of the bar staff if they would be able to make a ‘Sapphire Princess’ cocktail, which they did.
The ‘Sapphire Princess’ cocktail
The walls inside are adorned with incredible Titanic memorabilia. The star of the show has to be a framed blueprint of the ship.
Story of the Slade Brothers
The story that made The Grapes most famous for it’s connection with RMS Titanic, is the lucky escape of the Slade Brothers. This plaque outside the pub tells the story.
Here is just some of the Titanic memorabilia that can be found at The Grapes pub.
Southampton Shore Excursions
If you are visiting Southampton as a port of call, the cruise line probably wont tell you about The Grapes. For obvious reasons they don’t like to mention Titanic, which is a shame because most cruisers have a place in their heart for the ship. We can imagine how the people on board would have been feeling about being on such an incredible vessel for her inaugural transatlantic. We know that feeling of excitement as you embark your cruise ship and the anticipation of making memories.
The Grapes is located in Oxford Street, which is a short stroll from Dock Gate 4 (Princess, P & O and Cunard) and about 15 minutes from Dock Gate 10 (Royal Caribbean, MSC, Celebrity Cruises). There are always taxis available at the port and in the UK you get a standard rate, so no need to haggle like you do in some other countries.
The much anticipated launch of MSC Bellissima in Southampton is just hours away. The cruise line’s latest reveal, is that World-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli will sing during the traditional Officers’ Parade. This is an emotional and traditional moment that pays homage to the crew from the ship, recognising their service and dedication. During the ceremony, alongside his son Matteo Bocelli, the pair will perform their best-selling duet Fall on Me from Andrea’s new album Sì.
The Bocelli family have a long standing relationship with MSC Cruises. Andrea Bocelli performed at the christening of MSC Poesia in Dover in 2008 and the Naming Ceremony of MSC Seaside in Miami in 2017. Matteo Bocelli’s performed My Way last year during the Officers’ Parade in Trieste at the launch of MSC Seaview, which I was fortunate to witness myself.
Matteo Bocelli at the launch of MSC Seaview.
Andrea Bocelli Foundation
MSC Cruises supports the Andrea Bocelli Foundation through guest donations on board MSC Seaside. The funds raised support their valuable work in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world facing exceptional challenges. ABF’s Mobile Clinic project delivers free health care assistance and a prevention programme.
It benefits 8,000 people per year in the 5 poorest and most remote areas of the country. The medical staff provide extensive services. These include medical care, immunization for children, monitoring for malnutrition and screening for the most common systemic diseases, health education and family consultations.
MSC Cruises will host a star studded extravaganza. Hosted by ITV’s Holly Willoughby, there will be some incredible performances including Cirque du Soleil at Sea and Nile Rodgers and his band Chic. Ship’s Godmother, Sophia Loren will officially name MSC Bellissima, followed by the traditional ribbon-cutting.
MSC Bellissima Joins The Family
MSC Cruises took delivery of MSC Bellissima yesterday at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, France. The second Meraviglia Class ship, MSC Bellissima is designed for all seasons, offering plenty of outdoor and indoor public spaces. With a length of just 315 metres, she has been designed to be able to access most of the world’s cruise ports.
Cutting Edge Technology
MSC Bellissima pushes the boundaries of ship building and design, with some of the latest environmental technologies available. These include
a cutting-edge exhaust gas cleaning system
an advanced wastewater treatment plant
systems for the prevention of oil discharge from machinery spaces
a ballast water treatment system
various energy-saving improvements – from heat recovery systems to LED lighting
She is also fitted with cutting edge guest technology, and is the first MSC Cruises ship to feature ZOE, the world’s first virtual personal cruise assistant, which has been added to MSC for Me. Every cabin will feature the voice-enabled virtual personal assistant, who can answer hundreds of questions about the cruise.
MSC Bellissima is currently making her way towards Southampton, UK for her Naming Ceremony this weekend. Her maiden voyage departs 4 March to Genoa, Italy to spend her inaugural season, offering Western Mediterranean cruises. In November 2019, she will reposition to the Gulf, providing weekly sailings out of Dubai. In spring 2020 she will be deployed to Asia.
One of the handy things that Princess Cruises offer, is the ability to view the daily planner on your phone. There is no charge for this. I found it automatically brought up this page when I opened my safari app. One of the really cool functions on this, is the ability to message other people on the cruise. I didn’t set mine up, but I thought it was an excellent idea.
You can also check your stateroom account to see how much you have spent, and keep a schedule of the activities you want to do. That way you don’t miss anything, and don’t have to keep looking at the daily guide to remind yourself what is going on.
I needed to take some dollars out of the cash machine, which is located in the casino. Most of you probably already know this, but for those of you who don’t, children are not allowed in the casino and they are only able to open when at sea. As this was a sea day, the casino was open early. I dropped Joshua off at the kids club and went to get my money.
If you are wondering what I needed dollars for, it was because I chose to pay my onboard account in cash. I had registered a credit card, but didn’t want it charged. Also, I like to tip my stateroom attendant and restaurant staff in cash. So I remove the gratuities and pay them directly.
With a fistful of dollars in my hand, it was hard to resist the temptation of a quick flutter. I decided to put $20 into a machine and just leave it at that. The casino was very quiet at the time, I think it was about 9.30am. I played away and then had a little win. The only problem was the machine lit up like Blackpool Illuminations, and played lots of bells and seemed to go on forever. Very embarrassing.
I finally escaped the casino, with a bit of extra cash in my hand, and paid my room bill. Then it was time for a massage. This is the one I opted for. It was amazing.
Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow with Massage 50 minutes An exotic exfoliation ritual that will invigorate and revitalize your body. Warm oil is dripped luxuriously over your body before our Lime and Ginger Salt Glow is applied. We then apply our Elemis Exotic Island Flower Body Lotion, leaving skin replenished and vibrant. After rinsing away the salts, you will receive a Deep Tissue Muscle Massage
I picked Joshua up and we went off for lunch, quickly passing these gorgeous desserts.
The buffet is great, especially with kids, as you can see here Josh was tucking into pasta, roast potatoes and eating watermelon. This was after demolishing a bit bowl of egg fried rice.
I had to get Joshua back to kids club quickly as I had plans to do some filming for my video of the cruise. So we shall have to fast forward to the evening which was a formal night.
The group met in Crooners Bar. I love seeing everyone dressed up on formal night, I think it’s a lovely tradition. It doesn’t have to be black tie and ballgowns. In fact no-one was THAT dressed up. The Captain came over and spoke to our group, but I didn’t dare get my camera out after all the snaps we took on the Bridge.
The atrium looked lovely and colourful, ready for the balloon drop. I have never experienced this before and was excited for Josh and I to see it.
For dinner we were booked into Sabatini’s, the speciality restaurant. I even put a shirt on Joshua and brought him along.
Even in Sabatini’s he still had his milk.
Ben from Honest Cruising gives Josh a little practice at filming.
Once again, the food was delicious.
After a wonderful meal, we had half an hour before the balloon drop. So Josh and I went to the theatre to see some of the show.
Then it was all ready for the big balloon drop. It is a popular event with people of all ages. A DJ played music in the atrium and there was lots of people dancing waiting for the countdown.
At the end of a longer than usual day for Josh and I, we went back to our stateroom and flopped into our comfy bed.
Day Five – Le Havre
Despite a late night, I still woke up early to watch us sail into Le Havre. I just love watching the sun rise or setting from my balcony, with the sea stretching out all around us.
I enjoyed breakfast on the balcony, with a reminder in the Princess Patter that it would soon be time to say goodbye.
For our last day, I made the most of the sunshine.
The majority of our passengers were from Australia and the United States, so it was no surprise they all wanted to take the trip to Paris. This gave me the opportunity to kick back and relax for one last time, having the ship virtually all to myself.
The Love Boat
As I mentioned earlier, I had spent some time filming for my cruise review video. So to try and bring to life the experience of being onboard the Sapphire Princess, here is a video which includes many of the ships’ features, and a few special guests.
Day 6 – Southampton
Before we disembarked, there was just enough time for one last delicious Princess Cruises chocolate chip muffin.
Someone looks happy
To sum up our time onboard Sapphire Princess, it was absolutely wonderful. Princess Cruises are really a cruise line for everyone, every age, new cruisers or those who have been doing it for years.
This was Joshua’s first press trip. So I guess that officially now makes me a Cruise Mummy Blogger. Princess Cruises invited us on board the Sapphire Princess for the second leg of her 10 day cruise from Rome to Southampton. The newly refurbished ship was the first in the Princess fleet to be designed specifically for the Asia market. This makes her slightly different to her sister ships, not only with the multi lingual signage, but with the addition of the tiered pool area at the back of the ship, which was a real favourite with everyone onboard.
You will see the results of the refurbished areas and new features, as I share my experience of our time onboard.
Day One – Gibraltar
I have never been to Gibraltar before. Of course I have heard of The Rock, but didn’t think we would get the opportunity to see it for ourselves due to time restrictions.
Cruises don’t tend to start in Gibraltar, maybe this is why, but here is a photo (source: Wikimedia), that shows a rather short runway surrounded by water and a great big rock. I actually think it’s quite exciting and would do it again and again and again. Any nervous flyers, would have been a little put off as Josh announced with amusement, “We’re going to land in the sea!”
After no more than a ten minute taxi ride, we arrived at the port to board Sapphire Princess.
As soon as we stepped onboard, we went to our room to drop off the bags and get changed into our cruise clothes. As we entered the room I spotted a lovely welcome gift of champagne and rather smartly dressed chocolate strawberries. My impatience got the better of me, so I popped the cork, poured a glass and shared the strawberries with Josh. I stepped out onto the balcony with a glass in my hand, took a deep breath of sea air and smiled. Well, who wouldn’t?
I wasn’t the only one with treats. On the bed was a big teddy bear named Stanley. It didn’t take long for Josh to notice the huge widescreen tv on the wall and soon he was flicking through a choice of free movies including Cars 3, The Greatest Showman and a whole host of other favourite movies.
But there was no time for that. The first thing any parent must do when they get on board a cruise is to get their child registered in the kids club. Most cruise lines will have a welcome table on embarkation to give the kids wristbands, but as we were boarding mid-cruise, it was for me to go and say hello. It was handy that I was able to complete a permission form online before our cruise, as it was one less thing for me to do when we arrived.
Part of Sapphire Princess’s refurbishment included a totally new kids club theme. In partnership with Discovery, the cruise line has given each centre an engaging theme that helps children to discover new interests and the world around them.
For 3 – 7-year-olds the former Pelicans Club has been rebranded The Tree House.
Princess Cruises are very generous with gifts. Joshua came back with three soft toys, a penguin, an eagle and a whale, a pirates hat with treasure, a rucksack and a teeshirt. All the children get these (apart from Stanley the Bear, who can be purchased onboard).
Princess Cruises Kids Club Session Times
The session times on sea days are 9am-noon, 1pm – 5pm and 6pm – 10pm. However when in port, they offer extended opening hours including lunch. These are all complimentary, unlike other family cruise lines.
When we cruised on Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas last year, there was an additional charge for the lunch, which was $14. You also only get 3 x 3-hour sessions per day for free on Royal Caribbean, whereas Princess Cruises offers 1 x 3-hour session and 2 x 4-hour sessions per day for free.
There is an under 3’s area with a soft play that parents can enjoy with their toddlers.
8 – 12-year-olds have a new space called The Lodge, and teens have The Beach House. They have also introduced the Club 18-20, which is such a great addition. It was only last week my 18-year-old daughter said that she was at the worst age for a cruise, as she wasn’t a kid or an adult. Princess Cruises have taken care of that.
A Cruise Ship All To Ourselves
After registering Joshua at the kids club, we grabbed our swimming gear and headed to the pool.
Staying on board when you are cruising with kids really has its benefits. You practically get the whole ship to yourself. It might seem like a waste of a cruise not to get off, but when you take into account the experience you are having on board, you are still creating wonderful memories with your family.
Here’s a short video to show you what a lovely time we had, with the pool all to ourselves.
After the swim, we headed back to our room to get ready for the evening.
The Best Nights’ Sleep At Sea
Princess Cruises pride themselves on their incredibly comfortable beds. As someone who never sleeps through the night, I can vouch for these beds being ultra-relaxing. I slept right through every night I was on board. I even had to wake Joshua up, one morning it was as late as 10.30.
In our bathroom, there was a lovely amenity kit which included a calming spray for our pillows and a gel eye mask. I’m not sure if this is standard in every room, but it was certainly a welcome gesture.
Once ready, there wasn’t much time left until I had to meet my group. I needed something quick. Our room was in a great location at the forward on deck 15. It meant we could just walk out of our room almost straight out to the pool and right by the Pizzeria. Joshua made his way through one of these huge slices of freshly prepared pizza, while I looked on longingly.
I dropped Josh off at the kids club and headed to Vines Bar to meet the group.
A Delightful Evening
Here we were greeted by Generoso, our charming and very hard working, Italian maître d. We were treated to some hor d’oeuvres and champagne.
After some very lively and fun conversation, we went into the Savoy Dining Room, which is one of the main dining rooms located on deck 5. The meal was delicious and the service was superb.
Prosciutto with Melon
Pan-seared scallops and shrimp
Who likes Limoncello? Yuk! Love the little glasses though.
A beautiful view to end a beautiful first day onboard Sapphire Princess.
Day Two – Lisbon
Waking up to this view is something I will never get bored with.
After dropping Joshua off at kids club, I went to the International Cafe to enjoy a cappuccino.
As part of their new entertainment programme catering for the British cruisers, Princess Cruises had featured a cool display of iconic outfits worn over the years by The Beatles.
At midday, we were due to arrive in Lisbon. There was a commentary being broadcast out on the decks for the 30-minute cruise into port.
After a quick lunch with Josh, I headed to The Sanctuary for some real Princess Cruises luxury. This is an exclusive over 18’s only area which offers deep cushioned sun loungers, extra fluffy towels, private cabanas where you can enjoy a massage, fruit infused water, complimentary light snacks and attentive service. This would be especially beneficial on a sea day when the main pools are busy. Although I can’t imagine that happens very often with five pools to choose from. Located at the front of the ship, you can enjoy sweeping views in every direction.
The pool deck all ready for Movies Under The Stars. There are usually two showings one around 7pm and the other around 10 pm. Some ships serve fresh popcorn, but we didn’t have any on this one. The movie of the evening was the latest Jumanji – Welcome To The Jungle starring Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black and Kevin Hart.
We returned to the Savoy Dining Room again and had another delicious meal.
Avocado and prawns for starters.
Fish (possibly Seabass) with a delicious creamy leek sauce.
Black Forest Gateaux? How can I resist these desserts?
Day Three – At Sea
Josh and I couldn’t contain our excitement. We had both been invited to the Ships’ Ultimate Tour. This is a two hour behind the scenes tour of the ships crew areas. For security purposes, these two guards escorted our group at all times. As you can see, someone needed a more hands on approach.
Meeting The Captain
Our first stop was the best one of all. The Bridge. I love Bridge visits. Josh had never experienced it before so I was extra excited for this one. I think this is the first time the Captain has actually been there when I have been on a tour. Usually, I find it is the First Officer who does it.
We had been asked to keep questions to a minimum, but Joshua was bursting to ask about everything. Thankfully our wonderful, wonderful, wonderful, did I say wonderful? Captain Paolo Ravera was erm wonderful with Josh and I can’t begin to tell you how that made me feel. It was very moving for me. To see your four-year-old son have a one to one with a Cruise Ship’s Captain is something dreams are made of.
Josh in the driving seat.
We had an onboard photographer with us to capture the moments between Joshua and Captain Ravera.
After the Bridge tour, we visited the laundry facilities and the theatre. Joshua was getting a little restless by now, so we left the group in peace and went to get some lunch at the buffet.
Cruise Ship Buffets
There is always so much to choose from and everything is freshly made.
It’s a great place to enjoy lunch with a view. There is ample seating and once you grab, one of the waiting staff will come and offer to get you a drink.
After lunch I took Joshua to the kids club and wandered around the ship, enjoying the views and talking to people.
That evening we dined at Sterling Steakhouse, a speciality restaurant. There is a small cover charge which is subject to change but usually around $25. The meal was certainly delicious, but I can honestly say that I loved the main dining room and would be more than happy to dine in there every night. You don’t need to go to a speciality restaurant on Princess Cruises, to experience exceptional food and service. However Sterling Steakhouse and other speciality restaurants, just offer something different if you want it.
Scallops again for me. I love them.
A little glance at the other choices of starter.
The steak was delicious with creamed spinach, and asparagus. The meal was lovely.
It was the end of another lovely day onboard the Sapphire Princess. It was time for bed, but we still had two more days left on board.
Unlike some cruise lines, Princess Cruises still put those little chocolates on your bed as part of the turndown service.
Read Part Two which includes my video of The Love Boat with some special guests.
It wasn’t so long ago that having an iPad on a cruise ship was innovative, but the latest thing to have now is a SkyPad. If anyone was going to do find a way to take you to the moon on a cruise ship, it was Royal Caribbean.
This incredible new feature is going to appear first on the UK’s favourite ship, Independence of the Seas which will shortly be undergoing a major multi-million pound refit. She will arrive in Southampton in May with new staterooms, waterslides, laser tag, a fish and chip shop, sports bar and much more.
Independence of the Seas will be fitted with the SkyPad virtual reality bungee trampoline
How Does It Work?
The SkyPad combines a bungee trampoline park with a virtual reality experience. Guests can choose to walk across moon craters and enjoy the feeling of zero gravity. They can compete in inter-galactic games or simply enjoy a top deck view of the ocean without wearing the headset.
There will be no charge to use the SkyPad initially, but this could change depending on popularity. Royal Caribbean have already started charging guests to use the North Star which is featured on the Quantum Class ships, which was complimentary at first.
Join Us Onboard
Why not try this for yourself on the 3 night sailing on 17th May calling at Cherbourg. Josh and I will be onboard and would love you to join us.
The current price for an OCEANVIEW cabin is just £359pp (it has increased by £10pp in the last few days and is likely to go up or sell out). Here is a link to the cruise on the Royal Caribbean International website BOOK NOW
Having knowledge of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis Class ships I couldn’t imagine how they could top that. The largest passenger cruise ships in the world had become cities at sea, so where could they go to top this?
When Royal Caribbean first announced innovations for Quantum of the Seas we heard about the North Star. A glass pod which takes people 300ft above sea level for the stunning ocean and port views. With the installation of iFly by Ripcord you would be able to experience skydiving while looking out at the ocean. Bumper cars, roller skating, circus school and basketball court were introduced into an indoor space call the SeaPlex. This was incredible and you could see that Royal Caribbean really had taken the next step in onboard activities for its guests.
The First Smart Ship
However, as the ship neared its completion Royal Caribbean announced that Quantum of the Seas would be the first ‘Smart Ship’ in the World. Not satisfied with being able to skydive or be lifted 300ft in the air, they wanted to ‘give the guest the first day of their vacation back‘ by being able to pre-book everything. They wanted to eliminate lines at check-in and guest services. How have they done this? By giving every crew member their very own tablet, taking away the desks and having staff standing around ready to assist the guest. Next-generation check-in or “no check-in, check-in” as Richard Fain refers to it, is designed to enable the guest to get from the sidewalk to ship in 10 minutes, and it works!
When I arrived a City Cruise Terminal, Southampton with my set sail pass and photo already uploaded (see previous blog), I sheepishly approached a staff member standing with a tablet and asked her where I needed to go. She zapped the barcode on my set sail pass and went through a series of steps on the screen, asked a couple of questions and then pointed me in the direction of security. No sea pass card, no health questionnaire to fill out, nothing. I thought that would be coming later, so carried on through security, again straight through, no queues and into the departure lounge.
As I entered there had been an announcement for people to board so I carried straight through to the ship. No time to check my bag, go to the bathroom, get a coffee, get bored and restless, just straight onto the ship. It felt very strange, I couldn’t figure out how they would let me on board, I didn’t have my sea pass card. I thought there had been a mistake! But sure enough, as I walked through the ship security they scanned the barcode on my set sail pass and let me on.
I stood in what appeared to be an atrium wondering what to do. Do I need to go somewhere now? Is that it? and how do I get into my room? I looked around thinking “this does not feel like a Royal Caribbean ship”. To be honest I didn’t feel like I was on a ship at all! It was light, sophisticated, arty and just downright cool. But with a quick glance around, I saw the familiar sight of Sorrento’s and new I was in the right place. It was just different. The Royal Promenade was no longer and instead, there is a Royal Esplanade.
New Ship Smell
I went to find my room in the hope that I would somehow be able to get into it. On arrival, I was pleased to find an envelope waiting for me with a sea pass card inside. I waved the card in front of the door lock and it opened. There before me was a brand spanking new balcony stateroom and my wow band awaiting me on the bed. I loved the design of the room. The flat-screen television, cool decor and the addition of two USB charger ports gave a modern feel.
New Look Buffet
I went to the Windjammer to get some lunch to find, again, no queues. If you have cruised on Celebrity Solstice-class ships you will be familiar with the Oceanview Cafe layout. This has been adopted on the Quantum class and eliminated queuing.
The lunch was delicious as expected on Royal Caribbean, so once I had finished I set off to explore the ship.
Wandering around it really was a case of wow, wow, wow. Seeing the iFly and the North Star in action was like stepping into the future. I took photos of everything and tried to take it all in.
After a good walk of the decks, it was time for a cocktail. I was greeted by a friendly bartender at the Sky Bar. This was the Royal Caribbean that I know and love. The crew are always happy to see you and make you feel special.
We opted to dine in The Grand. The 1920’s theme and white-glove service gave it a truly ‘Grand’ experience. The twelve complimentary dining restaurants, offer restaurants to suit all palettes.
After a lovely meal, it was time to check out the entertainment. The one of a kind Two70 is an iconic venue that fuses technology with entertainment. The incredibly talented singer and aerialist-cellist gave an enchanting production of Starwater.
For lovers of musicals and fun Mamma Mia is a must. The performance and production equalled that of Broadway and West End standard.
It seemed the the Music Hall was a favourite with most passengers. As the evening turned into the early hours, you could see this really was the ‘place to be’. I wonder if Royal Caribbean have anticipated exactly how popular it will be with guests.
Additions including Wonderland, Bionic Bar, Two70, Music Hall and other unique and quirky features, delivers the WOW factor.
After two nights onboard, I can honestly say Royal Caribbean has once again delivered the WOW. Congratulations to everyone involved as you have changed the face of holidays let alone cruising, for the future.
Step-by-Step Guide to Royal Caribbean’s Smart Check-In Facility
My favourite email is the one that says “It’s time to check-in for your cruise”, but this one is extra special. It’s the pre-inaugural event for Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas. It is known as the first-ever ‘Smart Ship’ for its unrivalled technology, a ‘Game-Changer’ in the field of cruising. So let’s see what it’s all about.
The online smart check-in process now includes the option to add your own security photo and check-in time which is great for me, as I want to get onboard as early as possible.
Having completed my on-line check-in, I can print my set sail pass and luggage tags. Now it’s time to plan the on board experience.
With two nights onboard, there is a lot to fit it, so I need to pick my must do’s. I start with the dining, which has been revamped from the traditional main dining room and renamed Dynamic Dining. Not sure how I feel about this and I have heard mixed views from other people, but I think it will be like that song you hear at first and don’t like, but then it grows on you and ends up being one of your favourites.
One of the things I look forward to most on a cruise is the Main Dining Room Formal Night experience, so I opt for one night in The Grande, where every night is formal night. Not wanting to overdress on the first night, I decided to try Silk, the pan Asian complimentary restaurant.
Having booked my dining I move onto the shows. The Quantum Class is all about entertainment, so it has to be top of the list to experience the production of Starwater in the most innovative theatre in the world, Two70. I know that THIS is going to be an experience I will be talking about for a very long time after.
With dining and entertainment reservations made, on-line check-in complete, set sail pass and luggage tags printed, all that is left to do is pack.
With a 4am wake up call even my son looked a little shocked, but this was the day we would welcome Oasis of the Seas to the port of Southampton and I was not going to miss a moment of it. With nails and umbrella painted in yellow and blue, my camping chair, coffee flask, waterproofs, snacks, cameras, chargers, batteries and baby essentials packed, we set off for Mayflower Park.
We arrived at 7.30 am to find a group of around 20 people already gathered in anticipation. This was to be the first time I would attend a ship’s arrival so I had no idea what to expect. In my head there was a party going on but others appeared more relaxed and ‘in control’.
As I pulled into a parking space I saw my fellow cruise specialist, ship geek, cruise lover Lee Mudkins (who has since abandoned land based work for a life at sea) and his father, which made me feel at ease as I had cruised with them earlier in the year. They helped me with my many bags and we set up by the railings. This was a spot suggested to me by my trusted source Patricia Dempsey, who’s knowledge of Southampton’s best ship spotting locations and knowledge cannot be beaten.
I was prepared for a long and boring, cold and tiring wait. Why I bothered to bring the chair I don’t know because with all the excitement I couldn’t sit down or relax. Everyone was chatting about it and there was a real buzz in the air. Over at the Pier you could see a huge crowd had gathered to get a closer look of Oasis and she passed.
There were a couple of men with walkie talkies listening to the Port of Southampton’s Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for communication between them and the ship’s Captain. Royal Caribbean had generously offered complimentary tea, coffee and bacon rolls for visitors that morning, so Lee kindly went and gathered supplies, which were proving popular with the local workmen as well as the slowly increasing numbers of people turned out to welcome the ship. A tug boat moved out of the harbour starting whispers from people saying that it was ‘going to bring her in’. To my relief some female faces started to fill the gaps in what had been a predominantly male crowd. Like me, they were finding it a challenge to contain their excitement.
Then I saw my first sign, the jet. The spray from the tug boat celebrating the first arrival of Oasis of the Seas into Southampton. I jumped up and down and grinned from ear to ear. “Here she is” I said and the atmosphere grew. Everyone was just staring for their first glimpse of the ship. Then she finally came into view. There she was, the awesome, the incredible, the amazing Oasis of the Seas. A truly phenomenal feat of engineering.
It is impossible to describe or capture on a camera the enormity of the ship. You can’t believe your eyes and you just have to keep looking at the other ships to compare.
Oasis blew her horn and a Saga ship and Azura responded with what seemed to be a squeak in comparison.
We watched her as she passed us, everyone clicking their cameras, eyes wide, lots of WOW’s could be heard along with an awe inspiring quietness.
Passengers lined the top deck and others were taking in all the glory from the comfort of their own balcony staterooms. You could see the huge Aquatheatre, Boardwalk and interior balconies at the aft as she docked.
What an incredible ship, perfect for anyone who thinks cruising is too boring or don’t like the idea of being on a ship. It’s more like a floating resort. I was lucky enough to cruise the Caribbean in 2011 on Oasis of the Seas and it completely changed my view of huge cruise ships.
Feel free to contact me directly for further information on this ship and the cruises available. Alternative ly you can go to www.royalcaribbean.co.uk or contact your local travel agent.
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