When I first got the email asking me if I’d like to review the Norwegian Breakaway for Cruise International Magazine (I know!!), the name Norwegian Cruise Line initially made me think of slipping through icy fjords and gazing at a skyful of Northern Lights. Although that would have been amazing, and is still something I want to do, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Our itinerary was incredible: starting from New York (NEW YORK!!), we would sail to Port Canaveral in Florida, then Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s own private island in the Bahamas, and then to Nassau, before heading back to New York.
I’m a huge Disney Cruise Line fan, as you know. We were on the Disney Magic last year cruising around the Mediterranean and it was just absolutely magical. Of course, the Magic has now had an incredible revamp and is ready, all sparkly and new, to set sail along with the Fantasy and Wonder for new destinations in the summer of 2015.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been having a bit of a moan about mobile data roaming when travelling abroad. Obviously, being online and staying in contact is really important when, like me, it’s your business, but just generally, most people want to be able to stay in touch when they’re abroad (although obviously tweeting when you’re on the beach is generally only the preserve of nutters like me).
So we started January 2013 with a bit of excitement after my Dad’s Christmas Day proposal to his partner (by the way, the Dodgy Centre of Gravity reared its ugly head again after our cheese and wine tasting night when he’d had a few too many and fell over putting his shoes on at the end of the night).
In February, I travelled down to beautiful Blagdon to meet up with my Yeo Valley chums and have a nosey around their wonderful new HQ, and went on the adventure of a lifetime with my five bestest chums when we sailed the Caribbean on the frankly fantastic Liberty of the Seas (we’re Royal Mums, ambassadors for the Royal Caribbean brand and we take our job VERY seriously). As you know, I’m big on spending your time and money enjoying experiences that you can cherish, rather than stuff, and this was right up there, believe me. I came back with aching ribs from all the laughing (the horse riding through the surf in Jamaica might have added to that a bit, but oh, riding through an azure sea is one of my most treasured memories). I also felt incredibly lucky to have shared an incredible experience with such incredible friends. I love you guys.
April saw birthdays galore. Charlie turned 15:
And Sam celebrated his 18th with karting, a party at home and a pretty epic double chocolate curly wurly cake…
Then there was my Disreputable Dad’s wedding…
In May, I headed out to the Cote d’Azur to experience the gorgeous Chateau Saint Martin in Vence:
July was beautifully sunny and we spent a wonderful day aboard the Independence of the Seas. The boys adored the FlowRider and it was lovely to meet up with all my besties and their families:
I also spent a lovely weekend with my friend Erica doing an amazing foodie tour of Edinburgh. Foodinburgh 2014 is already in the early planning stages!
August was MENTAL with nearly three weeks of it spent abroad, in beautiful Brittany…
and then with the boys on the INCREDIBLE Disney Magic – a real trip of a lifetime:
We even managed to squeeze in a day in Barcelona with wonderful friends after desembarking:
In September, Mr English and I squeezed in a quick weekend at Nutfield Priory…
and then in October, we headed off on an immersive wine cruise of Europe on the really quite gorgeous Celebrity Infinity…
and then all that travelling squealed to an abrupt halt. Because this little dude came along…
In November, Glam C and I went to Hogwarts Christmas at the Warner Bros Studio Tour:
and before we knew it, it was freezing, wet December then… bloody January again! (to quote Flanders and Swann). We had a wonderful Christmas lunch at the Chequers Inn at Weston Turville: a seven course Christmas extravaganza with some amazing wine that really was festive, fun and very relaxing. My favourite course was this stonking turbot with a huge crevette:
So here’s to 2014. What’s on the agenda for this year, then? More travel, certainly, more time spent with family and friends, loads of exams for the boys, more eating, more cooking, more relaxing, walking in the woods with our gorgeous new pupster and… who knows? My wishlist still includes Las Vegas (Britney, b*tch!), Australia and Thailand.
Thank you to each and every person who has stopped by to have a read, followed me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, or just blundered here via Google. I’m immensely grateful. Wishing you a very happy and restful New Year. May 2014 bring you peace, happiness and new experiences galore xx
One of my favourite days on the Disney Magic was, unbelievably, the day we got off. We were dreading it as we had to disembark pretty early and our flight from Barcelona back to the UK wasn’t until 7pm. I had no idea what to do or where to go.
Happily, it turned out that our lovely friends Drew and David are huge Barcelona fans and have been to the area loads of times. They offered to show us around for the day, avoiding the tourist traps and it turned out to be such an incredible day, we just can’t wait to go back and spend longer in this amazing city.
We were dropped off by our coach right by the enormous ‘El Peix’ fish sculpture just at the Port Olimpic, and took a leisurely walk along Barceloneta Beach. It was ridiculously scorchio and although we were dressed in jeans, we rolled them up and had a paddle (well, you just have to). Our bimble along the beach led us to the rather awe inspiring Port Cable Car, or to give it its full title: the Transbordador Aeri del Port, which was slightly intimidating, but took us waaaay up above Barcelona. The views are incredible – we could even see the little tiny Disney Magic docked in the port to our left!
The cable car takes you up to the most beautiful gardens, with dancing fountains and more amazing views of the city. The hotel here is called the Miramar and we’d absolutely love to come back and stay here, it looks stunning. Here we are, standing outside the hotel:
After that, Dave and Drew had promised us a special treat. We took a gentle walk from the Miramar Gardens and couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw this, through a little gap in a fence:
Two perfect squares of shimmering Listerine water, with barely a soul about. You might recognise these pools, officially the Piscines Municipals de Montjuïc, from Kylie’s ‘Slow’ video. They really are stunning and apart from a few locals they were practically empty. We hadn’t brought any swimming stuff but the boys stripped off and swam in their boxers – I have to say, I was mighty jealous as it was really steaming hot. What a beautiful experience, though, even if I could only dip my toes in the water! The pools are only open for a short time during the summer, but at €6 for entry, they’re a total bargain and again have a stunning view over the city. Just gorgeous and one of my favourite memories from the day.
After a couple of hours swimming and lazing, we decided to head back into the city for a well deserved G&T. We walked through the beautiful Joan Maragall Gardens – an absolutely lush oasis – you just wouldn’t believe they were so near a bustling city – they were completely empty too. The Albéniz Palace is in the gardens and there are amazing waterfalls and features dotted all around it:
The meandering walk eventually took us around to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, from which steps (and some escalators) lead right back down to the city centre. The waterfalls on the way down are spectacular:
Following Dave and Drew, we headed into the city to the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and into the huge Arenas shopping centre, which used to be the bullring in the centre of Barcelona. The old facade hides a new, glossy shopping centre, and trying not to look at several floors of shops, we whizzed up in a glass lift right to the top of the building, which is encircled by the most amazing terrace packed full of restaurants, bars and cafés. We ended our day with goldfish bowl sized glasses of gin and tonic, made perfect with the addition of a scoop of lemon sorbet.
Heaven. I can’t wait to go back.
I’ve added this post to the #citytripping link up – click here to discover more incredible cities!
And so we’re back: relaxed, revived and probably half pickled by now. On the bright side, we’ll probably never go mouldy as we’re about 99% alcohol. I’m keeping away from open flames for a few days, just in case.
Ah we had a fabulous time. We sailed from Harwich to Le Havre, La Rochelle and Bilbao in utter luxury and feel that we’ve learned so much about wine. The wine tour was hosted by the lovely Oz Clarke (who, I believe, is actually 100% alcohol) and the equally knowledgeable and fabulous Tom Forrest from the famous Vinopolis in London.
Luckily for you, I took notes during all the wine Masterclasses and I have some incredible wines to introduce you to, as well as some wonderful wine and food matches. Tom and Oz have a marvellous rapport (making it bloody impossible to take notes as they frequently finish each others’ sentences) and their wine masterclasses were hilarious, informative and, as you can imagine, a bit boozy. They weren’t at all snooty or snobby and spent a lot of time talking to us about wine, both during the masterclasses and also rather late into the night in the martini bar!
The Celebrity Infinity is a seriously luxurious Millennium Class ship (although it’s somewhat knocking on in cruise world terms, being the grand old age of 12 and a bit), holding over 2000 guests, with several speciality restaurants, including Qsine (where a cover charge of $45 applies), a quite incredible modern dining experience. At Qsine, you order an array of small plates (although they shouldn’t be called plates as the food arrives on everything but plates!) and then dive in and share, chat and scoff away while the waiters bring more and more delicious food to try. Highlights for me were the lobster escargot and an amazing Moroccan banquet served on a kind of culinary ‘block of flats’ type arrrangement – quite incredible. Plus, having two wine experts choosing wine to match your food choices made it all the more special!
People come back year after year for the Immersive Wine Cruises and we met some truly lovely people on board: Carol and David, Sharon and Bill, and new cruisers, Tony and Carla (who I managed to call ‘Sharon’ for a whole evening by mistake, and who was still nice to me). It was great to share experiences with the group as they were from really diverse backgrounds and varied from seasonal cruisers to cruise ‘virgins’. They all had a love of wine in common and it was a real treat to sample incredible wines, visit vineyards and enjoy food-matching dinners together. Lots of people on these cruises strike up friendships and return to meet up again next time.
Our one gripe (if you can call it a gripe) was with the drinks packages which were a bit confusing. The ‘classic’ package, for example, costs about £35 a day (costs vary) and entitles the cruiser to drinks, including coke, juice, tea, coffee, bottled water, beer, etc, up to $5.75. It also entitles you to wine by the glass, cocktails etc up to $9.25.
This can be confusing as, for example, if you fancy a glass of wine that costs $10 you can’t have it unless you pay the whole $10 for it. You can’t just pay the difference and add on £0.75 to your bill. It can be embarrassing if you order something over your package price by mistake (or on purpose if you’re prepared to pay the extra) and have the waiter say ‘I’m sorry, madam, that’s not on your package so you’ll be billed for that’, and it’s a pain to trawl through a wine list finding things you can ‘afford’.
Still, you don’t have to buy a package (my maths isn’t up to whether it’s better value than just buying your drinks as you go along – depends how much you drink, presumably), and we were incredibly lucky on the Immersive Wine Cruise to be treated to all sorts of fabulous wines from all around the globe, and had the added thrill of being guided through the tastings by Oz and Tom.
Being on a cruise brings a whole new meaning to the words ‘all inclusive’ though. Most nights we ate in the Trellis restaurant, where the food was superb. Highlights included a delicious slow-roasted dish of short ribs that just fell apart, a deliciously delicate sea bass, and a surf and turf dish with a steak so enormous that it beat even Mr English. Desserts were another highlight, and we felt it was lovely to dine at the table with proper waiter service. It made the experience seem really special. If you’d rather just eat buffet style, though, there’s the Ocean View Café up on deck ten where we ate breakfast (everything and anything you could possibly imagine, including eggs benedict made to order – yum).
We rather fell in love with a little place called ‘Bistro on 5’ ($5 cover charge) where they did lovely crepes, soups, salads and paninis. we popped in most days and got to know the staff who led us straight to our favourite corner. The decor is gorgeous, with muted gold leather sofas and dark wood. We also spent rather a lot of time at the Martini Bar where the bar is made of real ice and the bar staff make amazing drinks and entertain with all sorts of theatrical shenanigans, including pouring several martinis at once.
Away from the food and drink, there is a beautiful pool area with lots of different pools, whirlpools, etc, plus an indoor thalassotherapy pool which is gorgeously warm, even when the weather’s not up to much. There’s a wonderful AquaSpa, where I had my favourite Elemis tri-enzyme facial, but you can have anything from Keratin hair straightening to teeth whitening and botox if you so desire! Mr English chose to pound the treadmill in the gym a few times. I preferred a gentle walk around the deck or a coffee and a slice of cake in Café Al Bacio. Each to their own, I say!
Next up, then, it’s wine, wine and more wine. Brace yourself!
Join Celebrity Cruises’ (www.celebritycruises.co.uk; 0845 456 0523) Celebrity Infinityon a 12-night France and Iberian Discovery cruise-only from £736 per person (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).
Price includes a 12-night cruise departing from Harwich (England) and calling at Paris (Le Havre, France), Bordeaux (La Rochelle, France), Bilbao (Spain), Vigo (Spain) and Porto (Leixoes, Portugal) before returning to Harwich; meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Price based on 19 September 2014 departure.
For more information or to book call 0845 456 0523 or visitwww.celebritycruises.co.uk
So as you know, I’m a huge Disney fan. I adore Minnie Mouse, regularly weep over my ancient Beauty and the Beast DVD and could walk you around Walt Disney World blindfolded telling you all about my favourite rides. I love the films, the characters, the parks, the food (Disney dining is second to none, but cupcakes are my speciality – ask me anything). The boys have grown up with Hercules, Toy Story, Stitch and Pirates of the Caribbean, and Disney has been a part of all our lives for as long as we can all remember.
This summer we were ridiculously excited to be invited for an amazing trip aboard the Disney Magic as it cruised around the Mediterranean for one of the last times before heading to dry dock for a spectacular new makeover and with an 18 year old and a 15 year old in tow, I was interested to see how we’d get on.
Let’s be clear: there are as many different types of teens as there are holidays. You’ve got your adventurous ones, your quiet ones, your sociable ones, your ‘not talk to anyone at all’ ones… So what’s the best way to choose a holiday that will suit your teenagers AND the rest of you?
1. Involve them in the choice of holiday
As I write about travel, we tend to go on holiday a lot. My teenagers have been on all sorts of trips but the ones that are the best received are always the ones where they’ve had some choice in the matter. Make it a treat: head out for a burger (this is our standard meeting place as it guarantees at least a few minutes of silence where I can get my point across) and flump a big pile of brochures on the table (obviously you can tip the odds in your favour by adding in your favourites). Arguing will no doubt ensue, but you’ll also be able to gather who wants what from a holiday.
2. Teenagers need freedom
Cruises are perfect for families. Think about it: there’s buckets of fun for the little ones, plus the teenagers can’t really wander off and there are a gazillion activities for them to do. You can stay by the pool, head to the beach or sightsee on shore days, watch the latest Disney films (either on the amazing ‘Tunnel Vision’, an outdoor screen, or in a proper cinema), catch a show (the shows are INCREDIBLE – I always cry), play a game of basketball or table tennis… a Disney cruise is like 10 holidays in one and their kids’ clubs are amazing.
3. Which brings me to a word about kids’ clubs
Teen Clubs are really hard to get right. It helps if the age groups are well thought out (young teens and old teens is the best split: no 17 year old wants their style cramped by a 13 year old) and the leadership needs to be friendly and non-patronising. ‘Teen disco’ tends to strike fear into the heart of any teenager, but generally by day four or five they’ll be there, hanging about looking like they don’t really want to be there, but actually enjoying themselves. By day seven, they’ll be cruising around in a huge pack, annoying everyone. Teen clubs also allow them more access to the facilities: Charlie wanted to go into the gym, but it’s over 18s only. Turns out the teen club organise group visits to the gym. Result: happy Charlie.
4. Think outside the box
Our Disney Magic cruise took us to Spain, Italy and France, but maybe you fancy going further afield, or you’ve ‘done’ Rome already? No problem. Disney Cruises go to the most amazing places: cruise the Caribbean, or swoosh along the California coastline. Next on my list? Alaska!
5. Compromise compromise and compromise a bit more
Want to schlep around Pompeii on your shore day but have kids who want to lie by the pool plugged in to their iPhones? It’s all about the compromise. There are some absolutely amazing shore excursions – you don’t have to spend hours in a coach or traipsing round cathedrals. Let them choose what they want to do – I wanted to see Monaco, so we chose a trip with a visit to the Top Car Museum in Monte Carlo, which suited all of us. Also, maybe consider splitting up. We find this works well: I might head off on a trip with one, leaving Dad slobbing on the deck with the other.
6. City breaks can be really cool
We weren’t looking forward to our last day in Barcelona. We were disembarking at 9am and had all day to kill before our evening flight. We were lucky to team up with friends we’d made who knew it inside out and showed us around some really cool places. It turned out to be one of our favourite days.
7. Disney is part of everyone’s past
Some of our favourite moments were really unexpected. We bumped into Stitch – a huge favourite from their childhood, and one evening we sat and watched Hercules up on the deck, singing along to our favourite songs from the film and reminiscing about when it was their favourite film (‘nice catch, jerkules!’). Lovely moments to share.
8. Consider doubling up
Know another family with kids a similar age? Think about holidaying together. Not only is it fun to have a Disney adventure with friends, but it’s a lot easier walking into that kids’ club on the first day if they’re doing it with someone they know. It also means that you have more adults to mingle with too!
9. Everybody loves the pirate party
Trust me: nobody is ever too old for pirate night. Everyone on the ship dresses up as pirates (whole families bring their costumes with them), there are pirate themed dinners and then a massive party on the deck afterwards, with the best firework display ever and then a DJ until the early hours. There is nothing better than dancing to amazing tunes out on the deck at ridiculous o’clock in the morning under the biggest sky full of stars you ever saw.
10. Disney’s for everyone
Think Disney’s just for young ones? Think again. One of my happiest moments after we came back from the cruise was overhearing Sam talking to a friend describing the cruise: ‘I’m going every year if I can, mate, you can’t beat Disney’. Nothing makes me happier than to know I’ve passed my love of everything Disney onto my children.
7-night Disney Magic Mediterranean Cruise from £949 per adult and £699 per child. Virgin Holidays Cruises offers seven nights onboard Disney Magic from Barcelona, calling at Villefranche (for Nice, France), Pisa, Rome and Naples, including flights from London Gatwick and transfers. Prices are per person based on two adults and two children travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis. Based on a departure on 30 August 2014. Offer is subject to availability and includes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of our stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
So as you know, August was a busy one for me. First of all we whizzed around Brittany for two weeks in our lovely (borrowed) Honda CR-V, and then, with the most ridiculous timing known to man, we got home on the Friday night at 11pm and had to be at Heathrow at 5am the next morning to grab a flight to Barcelona to meet up with the Disney Magic, Disney’s wonderful cruise ship.
One of my favourite moments aboard the Disney Magic was when I had the amazing opportunity for a one to one masterclass with the Executive Chef of the fine dining restaurant, Palo. Here I am (below, with lovely Jamie the cameraman – he works on the X Factor you know) doing my piece to camera VERY BADLY.
As you probably know, I’m a ‘Royal Mum’ – (a Royal Caribbean International Official Family Ambassador, to give me my full title, don’t you know), and last week saw us whooshing down to Southampton on a very sweaty, packed commuter train (‘there was some unwanted bodily contact’, as Charlie put it). Still, when we’d finished playing sardines, we arrived at a hotel in the port just in time to catch up with all my fellow Royal Mums, Tara, Erica, Laura and Karin: the same group, if you’ll remember, that earlier this year took a divine trip on the Liberty of the Seas around the Caribbean. This time we were here with our families, and we brought along a few other families that we know, to enjoy a tour of Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas while she was in dock in Southampton for the day before heading out on another Mediterranean cruise.
Happily, we picked the hottest day of the year so far and headed straight to the FlowRider, which was opened especially for us! We were all delighted to meet celebrity Royal Mum and Royal Caribbean Ambassador Sally Gunnell, who was there with her kids (FlowRider experts!) too. What a lovely lady.
After my ungainly few seconds, the boys were determined to do better, but actually it’s pretty tricky to stand up while the water whooshes underneath you! Here’s Charlie having a go:
But of course it’s not just about the FlowRider – we also had a delicious meal in the main restaurant (as always, their steaks are AMAZING). And I’ve actually asked for the recipe of the scrummy, spicy fish terrine that we were served with some crispy toasts. Yum.
Next it was off for cupcake decoration at the Cupcake Cupboard (a BIG favourite with the kids) and then a taster version of Independence’s AMAZING ice show, which we watched while sipping rum punches. Heaven.
It was also nice to chat to the Captain, who told us that he never ceases to be amazed by how the 1000+ kids on board seem to disappear before his very eyes to clubs/pools/activities, leaving parents to enjoy the holiday without worrying about entertaining the smalls (in fact, we know from experience that it’s actually quite difficult to tear them away!).
Last but not least, we headed up to the amazing H2O Zone, where kids of all ages (ahem) enjoyed a little splash about in this incredible water play park:
Honestly, it was the hardest thing ever to disembark that day after having such fun with old friends and new, knowing that the passengers were heading off on a sublime cruise around the Med in the sunshine.
Still, an amazing day and an absolutely wonderful ship. I hope we’ll see the Independence of the Sea again very soon.
Are you searching for a different type of holiday experience for your family without straying too far from home this year? Believe it or not, there are a number of British Isles cruises on offer from some of the top operators, and you and the kids may be surprised to discover just how many different cities and types of landscape you can visit!
Many companies operate 12 or 13 night cruises of the British Isles and Ireland, with a popular first port of call at the beautiful Scottish capital Edinburgh. Ships then continue north to visit the Highlands and Loch Ness plus the islands of Orkney and Skye, which are famed for Bonnie Prince Charlie’s exploits. Children will love Edinburgh’s Camera Obscura, located beside the castle, where a special camera projects an image of the city onto a table (pretty cool) and there are several floors of great interactive illusions. Look out for the singing cats, before visiting Nessie in the Highlands and learning about local island life. The beauty of a cruise means that it’s easy to visit remote places without driving for miles or worrying about public transport.
Moving on you can visit the capitals of Ireland and Northern Ireland – historic Dublin and Belfast – and the scenic Welsh island of Anglesey, where it’s possible to glimpse a rich and ancient history. Belfast has a famed shipping heritage but if you’ve had enough messing about in boats you should go to the Giant’s Causeway, an awe-inspiring site that will have your kids fascinated with geology and big rock formations! Fresh Irish air and the beautiful countryside will soon have you feeling rejuvenated too.
Another popular stop for many cruises is the palm-lined seaside town of Torquay, which can feel almost tropical compared with Scottish shores. Spend some time playing with buckets and spades on the beach to give yourselves a well-earned break. The kids can work off their energy by exploring rock pools, or paddling in the sea, and for something a little different why not discover the network of caves at Kents Cavern?
A number of British Isles cruises incorporate parts of France, either at the beginning or the end, for example the port of Le Havre in Normandy, or beautiful Paris. You could choose to extend your stay with a couple of nights in the city, picking up ice cream from street vendors, walking the winding Parisian streets and visiting the Cites de Enfants – a museum dedicated to children (although buy tickets in advance as it can be busy at peak times).
Taking a cruise is one way of experiencing an action-packed, hassle-free holiday guaranteed to keep the kids entertained since each port of call offers something unique. Cruising the British Isles ensures that you don’t have to travel too far before getting on the boat, you don’t have screaming children in the car for two weeks, and you can learn about the different cultures contained within the countries of the United Kingdom as a family. What’s more, most ships will have on-board entertainment for the evenings! So what’s stopping you? Get searching for 2014 cruises right now!
One of the best things about cruising is the sheer variety of activities offered by this sort of holiday. As well as enjoying all the amenities a massive ship like the Liberty of the Seas has to offer (theatre shows, water-based fun like the FlowRider, ice spectaculars, fine dining, parades, a casino, climbing wall – I could go on), there is the added bonus of stopping off in different places (indeed, countries) along the way.
Of course there are hundreds of different cruises to choose from, but our itinerary was pretty typical of a five day Caribbean cruise:
Day 1: Embark (pm), then at sea
Day 2: At sea
Day 3: Labadee, Haiti
Day 4: Falmouth, Jamaica
Day 5: at sea
Day 6: at sea, then disembark (am)
Cast away on Malfini Beach
I’ll be honest, geography not being my strong point, I’d not heard of Labadee. I had, however, heard of Haiti, in fact, I’d raised money for it three years ago when it was struck by a horrendous earthquake and 1.5 million of its inhabitants were left homeless. Royal Caribbean has done sterling work with the people and infrastructure of Haiti (something it’s too modest to let me talk about), and Labadee is basically RCI’s own private part of Haiti.
There were all sorts of shore excursions: snorkeling, sightseeing, zip lining… but we finally decided on ‘Castaway at Malfini Beach’ costing a bargainous $65 each and lasting three hours.
It was absolutely incredible disembarking and getting our first real look at the mind-boggling size of the ship, without all the bits and bobs it was surrounded by at Port Everglades. We were also struck by just how strong the sun is (us bloggers are a pale bunch – we started sizzling pretty much instantly). After a short walk to a small pier (see what I did there?), we climbed aboard a motorboat and headed out to Malfini, a tiny, privately owned stretch of beautiful white beach, azure water and lush green shady spots. We lazed, swam, drank Malfini Punch out of coconuts, and basically had the most glorious beach day imaginable.
Sadly all too soon we were heading back towards the harbour, where we were treated to possibly the best barbecue ever (the logistics of feeding thousands of passengers at a beach barbecue make my head spin, but as usual the chefs had everything under control and everyone was fed delicious, hot food (with some AMAZING sticky ribs.. mmmm). Of course, you don’t have to join an excursion, and the beach at Labadee is lovely if you just want to swim and sunbathe.
Riding horses in the sea and climbing Dunns River Falls in Jamaica*
I have to say that this was by far my favourite day of our cruise. We disembarked relatively early and headed through a nice shopping area (making a note to come back later and grab some delicious jerk spices) to rendezvous with our guide and driver. Our guide Wilana was wonderful and soon had us all speaking Patois (Erica was best at this as Jamaica is her spiritual home, mon) and en route told us all some of the history of Jamaica. Our first stop, Papillion Cove, was where we saddled up and took an amazing horseback ride through old plantation land. Our guides were great fun and after a break and saddle-change, we rode our charges right out into the amazing Listerine-coloured waters. The best experience I’ve ever had.
After a scrummy jerk chicken lunch we were ready to get back in the minibus and head to Dunns River Falls, a 600′ high range of cascades and waterfalls that flow straight into the Caribbean. Climbing the falls was exhilarating, sometimes scary, but incredibly rewarding! You need shoes with a decent amount of grip (don’t worry, they hire them there if you don’t have any) and you need to be prepared to get VERY wet, but it’s the best fun. We often had to help each other up steep ledges, and there were areas where we dipped under waterfalls or where the guides had us falling backwards into the cool water. Just beautiful.
I scraped my leg, but when we got to the top about an hour later, limbs aching, looking like drowned rats and rinsing pebbles from our shoes, we were all absolutely beaming. It was akin to the best team bonding exercise ever and we drove back in the minibus chatting happily and even singing a few Bob Marley songs with Wilana.
Of course if you’re not into horses, or don’t fancy climbing the falls, there are lots of other things to do in Jamaica too. Some of the best excursions include tours of old plantation estates (including ruins of the great plantation houses), dolphin encounters, foodie adventures and plenty of different beach breaks, most with food included. My Jamaica experience was incredible: a wonderful, wonderful day that I’ll never forget. I’m determined to go back with my family so we can all experience it together. Thank you, Royal Caribbean.
*The Dunns River Falls/Papillion cove horseback ride, including bareback riding in the Caribbean sea costs $139 including Jamaican lunch and lasts approximately 7 hours
If you’re a food lover, eating and drinking are naturally a huge part of deciding where to go on holiday. I, myself was persuaded into staying in a massive half board hotel in Gran Canaria (something I wouldn’t normally do) by my Dad’s stories of epic Torres wine and amazing seafood restaurants along the coast in Maspalomas. I wasn’t disappointed.
On a Royal Caribbean holiday, the food is all-inclusive, meaning that you can eat in quite a few restaurants, including the VERY posh main dining rooms, without forking out (see what I did there?) any extra cash. Obviously if you’re going to order wine you have to pay for it, but RCI provide various wine packages, so you can pre-order wines that are then delivered to you at your table. If you don’t drink all the wines you can have them corked and saved, (which means that you can have a white and a red open at the same time) or take them back to your cabin.
I was really impressed by the wines on board. At various parts of our journey, we tried the following (excuse some of the pics – it can be dark in restaurants):
There are also several different dining options should you wish to pay a tiny bit extra. The lovely burger joint, Johnny Rockets where the waiters danced and sang, is definitely worth a trip – order the chocolate malt and burgers as big as your head! There’s no booking, so you might have a wait in the queue, but it’s only an extra $3.95 to eat here and it’s well worth it.
The Italian themed Portofino was our favourite restaurant by far. In fact, we loved it so much we went back again on the last night. The waiter was great fun and a real wine buff (although some of his recommendations were slightly out of our league!). We joked that we ate so much beef we were going to walk off the ship mooing, but it was just soooo good. The filet mignon was out of this world tender, and we also had massive fish skewers with salmon, prawns, lobster and scallops. Delicious ($20 extra charge per person).
Chops Grille is another high end restaurant where you pay $25 per head to dine. The surroundings again are really sumptuous – on a par with a really nice London restaurant, and the food again was excellent. We went for the beef again (I know, I know), but there were all sorts of other options too, honestly. This is where we had the amazing Belle Glos (two bottles in fact) and where I couldn’t remember that I’d had a dessert until, thumbing through my pictures from the night before, I came across a flaming crème brûlée!
We also had a chance to meet Executive Chef Garry Thomas and visit the ship’s galley (a rather insignificant term for the cavernous kitchen!). Garry and his chefs serve more than 18000 meals a day and we got the impression that Garry literally runs a tight ship. We loved that occasionally in the main dining room, the chefs were introduced by a Master of Ceremonies and came out into the dining room to rapturous applause. Well deserved, in my opinion.
I’ve also heard rumour that Royal Caribbean do wine cruises. That’ll be me next, then..
For a similar cruise aboard Liberty of the Seas (sailing out of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA) prices start from £288 per person for a 4-night Western Caribbean cruise, calling at Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Fort Lauderdale. Departs 12 December 2013 and includes meals and entertainment on board and all relevant cruise taxes/fees. Obviously this doesn’t include flights. We flew British Airways to Miami.
As we got near Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale (in a massive coach which was laid on for all – wait for it – seven of us), we caught our first glimpses of the ship, rising up between cranes and tall buildings. It’s MASSIVE. We couldn’t quite believe we were going to be on there. And there were all sorts of worries too: will we be seasick… will we get enough peace and quiet.. will it be all old men in dinner jackets and old ladies smelling of mothballs…? You know the sort of thing. (Disclaimer: not that I’m saying that all old ladies smell of mothballs. I’m sure some of them smell of gin, or parma violets, or whatever).
The Nerdy Bit
The Liberty of the Seas is a ‘Freedom class’ vessel, registered in Nassau, Bahamas, built in Finland in 2007 and renovated in 2011. She (all ships are ‘she’ – apparently because a Portugese Prince once said that “like a woman, they take much powder and paint to keep them looking good”) has 15 decks, is 185′ wide (that’s wider than the White House is long) and is taller (if upended, duh) than the Eiffel Tower. The ship carries 3634 guests, plus 1360 crew and there can be as many as 58 different nationalities on board.
The Exciting Bit
The ship is packed to the gunnels (see what I did there?) with amazingly cool stuff. If you have kids there are amazing (indeed, award winning) kids’ clubs called Adventure Ocean (more of this later) from babies right up to teenagers. It also has (wait for it):
- a rock-climbing wall (look at the man in the purple shirt to get some perspective as to how tall it is)
- a nine hole miniature golf course
- a jogging path running around the whole of one deck
- a karaoke room
- a video games room
- an ice skating rink
The Wet Bit
If you fancy a bit of water action, there are loads of places to swim, bob, laze or whoosh. Check out me whooshing on the FlowRider Surf Simulator right here (thanks to Erica, our Videographer in Chief for this vid). I’ll have you know that it’s very hard to stand upright and both Karin, my FlowRider buddy, and I did very well. Although yes, it does rather look like I face planted after four seconds (that water is whooshing at 34 gallons per minute, by the way):
If you fancy getting wet in different ways, there are also:
- three pools
- six whirlpools
- a pool bar
- an adults only pool
- adults only jacuzzis
The Leisurely Bit
Don’t fancy lazing by the pool? No problem. The Liberty of the Seas boasts a wonderful spa and fitness centre (where I had an amazing Elemis anti-aging facial and Laura was blow-dried to look like Crystal Carrington, but that’s another story). There is a fabulous promenade boasting boutiques, shops, a pub and a cupcake shop (where we had a cupcake decorating lesson and made cupcake burgers), there’s also a library, an internet centre, an art and photo gallery (which has regular art auctions and seminars), a 1320 seat theatre (complete with circle) where we saw a fabulous performance of Saturday Night Fever and a wonderful modern dance/aerial ballet show, a florist, a massive casino, an ice rink (the shows are spectacular), a conference centre, and even a wedding chapel (yes, you can get married on board).
The Greedy/boozy Bit
The ship boasts a main dining room which seats over 2000 people and is utterly beautiful. It reminded me a bit of the Titanic (oh. Can I say that?): the menu was very ‘fine dining’ with immaculate, service and a pretty incredible wine list.
There are also other, smaller, dining rooms, but if you didn’t fancy that, there was also Sorrento’s – a pizza place, a proper American burger joint called Johnny Rockets (where the waiters suddenly break out into a song and dance routine to 60s music), a self-service buffet called the Windjammer Café, and two amazing fine dining restaurants, Portofino and Chops Grille (you need to pay a small extra charge for these – I think it’s about $30 a head). More of all of this later. There are also loads of other bars, cafés, a Starbucks, a wine bar called Vintages, a champagne bar, a cigar bar… a piano bar… a nightclub… I stopped counting in the end.
So that’s it, you’re fully acquainted with the beautiful Liberty of the Seas. I’ve probably missed loads of bits out, but I think it’s a good indication of what’s available (basically EVERYTHING except pavement). Oh, you do get lost a lot in the first day or so and find yourself at totally the wrong end of the ship occasionally (ahem), but the staff are amazingly friendly (we never saw one grumpy face. Not one. The entire week), and it’s amazing how quickly you find your way around.
Next: dining, things to do for teens, shore leave (oh yes, there is horse riding in the sea) and much more, including when I fell over climbing Dunns River Falls and tried unsuccessfully to style it out.
All this, and not a whiff of mothballs.
If you want to see blog posts, tweets and photos from the rest of the Royal Mums, check out our hashtag, #royalmums on Twitter.
As I sit here at my desk, slightly groggy with jetlag and with cankles the size of tree trunks, I can hardly believe that this time last week I was joining the cruise ship Liberty of the Seas with five friends to start the adventure of a lifetime.
I have so much to tell you! I surfed the Flow Rider, sunbathed on a private white sand beach in Haiti, rode horses in the sea and climbed Dunns River Falls In Jamaica. I saw incredible shows, including an ice skating spectacular (yes, there was an ice rink on the ship), a gasp-inducing modern dance production and bellowed along to Saturday Night Fever in a massive theatre. I got pampered in the spa, drank cocktails, sipped fine wines and dined out in restaurants that would give the Titanic’s chandeliers a run for their money. I even shook my booty in a nightclub!
I also stood alone on the top deck of a ship containing 3000 people and felt like I was the only person in the middle of a glittering turquoise ocean.
I cried tears of laughter (and some of sheer emotion) and came to realise that holidays aren’t just holidays. If you choose wisely, they allow you to really relax – I mean, deep down, fall-asleep-with-your-mouth-open – type relax, discover new things about yourself, discover the world (and bookmark a couple of places to come back to) and return full of enthusiasm and a new-found appreciation for everything around you.
Now until my head stops moving to the rhythm of the ocean (yes, even though I’m in Buckinghamshire), and these ankles return to their normal size, I’ll leave you with a few snapshots. Enjoy!
This week, I travelled into London to meet up with a few of my blogging buddies and the lovely chaps at Royal Caribbean cruises. We were there to hear more about the fabulous facilities that Royal Caribbean can offer families on board their fleet of cruise ships.
First, though, there was the matter of a rather delicious afternoon tea, complete with champers! There were plenty of ‘ooh, posh!’ type exclamations as the terribly polite (and spookily stealthy) waiters appeared with stacks of dainty finger sandwiches, savoury choux pastries, pretty macaroons and teeny tiny mini cupcakes. After that there were fresh scones with home made jam and Cornish clotted cream.
While we were scoffing, we heard more about the Royal Caribbean fleet, including the fact that one of the ships, the ridiculously huge Allure of the Seas can carry over 6000 people (6000!) and has a ‘central park’ area with over 12,000 live plants and trees. plus two ‘FlowRiders’, which are basically on-board wave-machines where you can body board and even surf! Oh, and did I mention the zipwire? Yup, really.
The ships travel around the Caribbean (the clue’s in the name), but we found out you can also travel to Canada, Alaska, Asia and even Australia and New Zealand. For families, Royal Caribbean have teamed up with DreamWorks so you can see plenty of Shrek (on a huge screen, in 3D) and Kung Fu Panda, with plenty of opportunities to meet the characters while on board too.
I’m really looking forward to learning more about Royal Caribbean (we’re launching a new #RoyalMums ambassador programme soon) and hopefully I’ll be heading out to sea shortly too (well, I need to know EXACTLY what it’s like so I can report back to you. Right?
If you want to follow us on our journey as Royal Caribbean ambassadors, check out #royalmums and @myroyalUK on Twitter.
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