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.
So that’s it, then… my Week of Walt is nearly finished. I couldn’t end, though, without giving you a little whisper of some of the biggest Disney secrets going, snaffled during my week in Florida at the launch of New Fantasyland especially for you!
There are TONS of things in the pipeline at the moment for Disney Parks… with New Fantasyland now open, they’re concentrating on getting the last couple of bits ready (the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train that I mentioned as well as the Princess Fairytale Hall where you can meet all your favourite princesses). There’s also new Limited Time Magic – a new concept which will see exclusive themed surprises for every week of 2013 – whether they be special character meet and greets, exclusive Disney merchandise, or experiences (for example, Valentine’s week will see special romantic dinner menus and photoshoots with famous Disney couples).
Cars Land is now open at Disney California Adventure. The colossal 12 acre site brings good ol’ Radiator Springs to life, and includes the incredible Radiator Springs Racers – a high speed driving attraction where you can race each other through Radiator Springs! There’s also been a lot of refurbishment in Buena Vista Street (California’s answer to Main Street). My cousin Deb visited recently so I’ll be leaning on her hard to give us a review!
Disney’s beautiful Aulani Resort in Hawaii (very high on my bucket list) is also being improved and expanded. Next summer there’ll be a new grotto pool and a brand new splash zone.
Disney’s Cruise Line (do have a look in my travel section for reviews and information from my trip on the Disney Dream) have introduced new routes for 2013 – cruises now depart from Galveston, Texas and there are also a huge choice of Mediterranean cruises with destinations including Croatia’s Dalmation Coast, Venice and the Greek islands.
Adventures by Disney might not be as well known as either the parks or the cruises, but these incredible holidays take guests on amazing adventures, from China to America and from South Africa to Scotland, where you can relive Disney’s Brave by having your own Scottish adventure!
Lastly, but by no means leastly, the most exciting news of all is that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are hard at work with none other than James Cameron in the designing and planning of a whole new land to go into Disney’s Animal Kingdom. There are no fixed dates as yet, but the rumour is that we could see the gates to the new Avatar Land open at about the same time as Avatar 2 hits the box office (2016?). I absolutely can’t wait to hear more news about this Avatar-themed adventure, and rest assured you’ll be the first to know if I hear any news!
Florida is famous for beaches, sunshine and, of course, the theme parks. Children and adults alike will love the chance to be able to explore the world-renowned resorts of Disney, Universal, Epcot, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the others. All the theme parks are great at catering for families, especially those with young children who may be too small to ride on a lot of the rollercoasters.
Each of the Disney parks has several great attractions for young children. Head over to Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom to ride on Dumbo, the Flying Elephant. This gentle ride is a lovely experience and kids will love being able to control how high their Dumbo can fly. Also in the Magic Kingdom is The Barnstormer. This junior rollercoaster is a great ride for any little daredevils in your family as it has a few twists and turns!
If your child loved being able to fly on an elephant, you could try Cinderella’s Golden Carousel, a charming old fashioned merry-go-round where the children can sit on horses, and there is an option of a bench carriage if they prefer. Fans of Nemo can go and visit Epcot and search the seas to find him in a ‘clamobile’ . From there you can visit the seas with Nemo & Friends Pavilion, home to one of the largest man-made ocean environments in the world.
Kids love seeing their favourite characters come to life, so why not head over to Hollywood Studios to see Playhouse Disney, an interactive live performance that combines awesome effects and puppetry and gives your children the chance to sing and dance along with Mickey!
If you want a slightly more relaxing break, there are plenty of beaches in Florida for kids to run around on, making sandcastles and splashing in the waves. Clearwater, Florida is home to some beautiful white beaches and is very family-friendly. Children of all ages will love the chance to be able to jump aboard a pirate ship on Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise. Or visit Destin on the Emerald Coast for a quieter and more relaxing family-orientated beach.
So I keep meaning to tell you about part two of our journey. It seems such a long time ago now. But back then…
After a mahoosive party to celebrate sailing away, we settled into an endless round of eating, drinking and sunbathing (what? It was research). We slept like babies and awoke to a beautiful pink sunrise in Nassau. An hour later we were gliding into the dock:
Our day was spent exploring the beautiful resort of Atlantis, where we wiggled our toes in the sand, and swam in the clear, turquoise water:
If I was to go back, though, I’d spend the day exploring Nassau, which looked amazing (and that’s nothing to do with the fabulous shops we caught a tantalising glimpse of *cough*).
Back on the ship, exhausted after all that exertion, we came back just in time for cocktails before dinner.
The Disney Dream has some amazing restaurants. The adults-only Palo was, I have to say, my hands down favourite. Our dinner there was spectacular. But first, being girls, obviously we had to check out the bathrooms. We weren’t disappointed – gold sinks!:
The food was as spectacular as the bathrooms (not often you get to write that in a sentence), and we started with a selection of yummy nibbles: olives, little pizzas and charcuterie, before moving on to a delectable starter (I chose a trio of crispy calamari, prawns and portobello mushrooms (apologies for the photos – always the way with restaurant photography):
Moving on, my main course was a delectable tuna steak (it looks really pink in the photo, but it was cooked to perfection):
… and this was all rounded off with possibly the best chocolate soufflé I’ve ever tasted:
To say we were completely full was the understatement of the century and we waddled back to our staterooms before collapsing in a big heap.
The next day, we docked at Disney’s own private island, Castaway Cay. Sadly the weather wasn’t on our side and it was a bit grey and drizzly (but still lovely and warm). Here’s me in front of the ship in dock at Castaway Cay:
Still, we had a wonderful day – we did a bit of snorkelling, fed the stingrays (an amazing experience), indulged in a delicious barbecue (ribs to die for) and bobbed in the balmy bathwater-temperature water, collecting shells and having a good cackle.
That evening it was time for a pirate party. There was a fabulous firework display (check out Liz’s video here) and plenty of silly pirate antics. Arrrrrrrr.
TIP: Make sure you’re up on decks 11 and 12 for the firework display – you can’t watch the show from your cabin for safety reasons (being smashed in the face by a stray firework would be very Disney now would it).
My favourite, favourite thing of all though (if I was absolutely forced to pick one) would be the champagne brunch at Palo. We met Sarah there for a final blowout and my, was it worth it. The brunch is not only a mahoosive buffet of everything you can possibly imagine, sweet and savoury…
…but they also serve fantastic Mimosas and gorgeous eggs benedict. As we sat, replete and burping, feeling a bit like Mr Creosote, the waiter was determined to bring us something else. I actually worried about exploding.
Oh wait, no, my favouritest thing of all was the ‘Pink’ Champagne bar, where the decor is to die for and they serve scrummy pink champagne with a panacotta chaser…
Oh, I can’t decide.
This was actually our final day and we couldn’t believe it had gone so quickly. Saying goodbye was sad, but we had one more surprise to come. We were met at Port Canaveral by our very own VIP guide and town car, to have a private tour of any of the Walt Disney World parks we wanted to go. More of this very soon!
Big huge hugs and thanks go to the amazing team at Disney Destinations. Mwah xxx
11-night Caribbean Stay, Cruise and Stay from £999
Virgin Holidays Cruises offers seven nights at Rosen Inn Orlando on a room only basis, before joining the Disney Dream for four nights from Port Canaveral, Nassau, Castaway Cay and back to Port Canaveral. Prices are per person based on two adults travelling and sharing an inside cabin on a full-board basis and includes Virgin Atlantic flights from London Gatwick and car hire. Based on departure date 15 Jan 2012. Offer is subject to availability andincludes all applicable taxes and fuel surcharges which are subject to change.
Start your holiday before you’ve even taken off in the v-room at Gatwick Airport and Manchester Airport…adults £20, kids £12.
To book: Visit www.virginholidayscruises.co.uk, call 0844 573 4398 or visit one of our 70 stores located in Debenhams and House of Fraser stores nationwide.
If you want to see all the pictures from our trip, check out my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/englishmumdotcom
Where to begin?
Well, after champers in the V Room at London Gatwick and an easy flight into Orlando (I love Virgin Atlantic, I do) and the excitement of being picked up by Disney’s VIP service (woo!), we headed to our hotel for the night, the Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa. The place is absolutely vast – 65 acres to be precise – and has an equestrian theme, based on a real place called Saratoga Springs which was famous in New York in the 1800s. The resort is made up of lots of different self-catering villas all set in lush landscapes around a huge lake. It’s just beautiful:
We headed out to Epcot at Walt Disney World to the Hacienda restaurant based in the Mexico part of the park. The food was amazeballs, as you can imagine. And check out the margaritas! The one on the left was mango, blueberry and basil, and mine was an avocado margarita (yes, really) with Tequila, melon liqueur, fresh avocado, agave nectar and fresh lime. It had an amazing Hibiscus salt rim as well. Yummers:
The next morning, after a really lush breakfast, we headed off to Port Canaveral to board the ship (don’t call it a boat, you just upset the crew!). This was our first glimpse:
It really is a huge beast. And by this time we were so excited there was quite a bit of squeaking coming from Liz and I. Through customs, we were welcomed into the foyer by no other than Minnie Mouse:
About the Disney Dream
- The ship itself takes about 4,500 passengers and weighs 128000 tons.
- It’s all-inclusive on board, apart from booze and some of the adults only fine dining experiences (oh, the food – I’ve got a lot to tell you about the food). There are 6 restaurants, plus 3 food court areas including a pizza restaurant, fast food joint and ice cream parlour open ALL DAY! So basically you can stuff yourself silly all day (which we did, of course).
- It’s home to the Aquaduck, the world’s first on-ship ‘water coaster’: a 765ft water ride, a section of which actually goes out over the side of the ship.
- There are 1,250 staterooms (that’s what you call the cabins, although I managed to show myself up by calling ours a ‘chalet’ on several occasions).
- There are three pools: an adults-only, two children’s pools – one Mickey-shaped one for tiddlers, plus a lovely splash area for tiddlers with little fountains and jets.
- There is an amazing adults-only entertainment area with nightclubs, lounges and bars.
- There are tons of kids clubs, from a nursery for teeny guests (3 months to 3 years), through the Oceaneer Club and Lab (3 to ten years), Edge (for ‘tweens’), right up to the amazing Vibe – an entire area for teenagers 14 – 17, including a club, a great outdoor area with pools, and dedicated entertainment staff. Once registered, teens get a special card which opens the teens-only door – no adults allowed!
- It’s a cash-free ship. Everything is charged to your ‘Key to the World’ room key, and settled up at the end of the cruise by cash or credit card (but watch out, the shops are fabulous).
The staterooms are certainly compact, but you don’t spend any time in them. There’s one of those beds in the ceiling too which is great fun to sleep in and has a starry ceiling!:
‘Sailing Away’ is absolutely phenomenal. There’s a huge party on deck with a show (and lots of characters, naturally) and loads of people line up on the shore to wave goodbye (including a police car with its lights flashing). As the ship glides out of Port Canaveral the ship’s horn parps the first few notes of ‘When you wish upon a star’. It’s just amazing (we were there with a film crew – this is Paddy the Producer’s ear):
So we were off! LOADS more to tell you, but in the meantime, if you want to see more photos from our Disney Dream trip – check out my Facebook page: facebook.com/englishmumdotcom
Okay before I start writing, I want everyone to step away from anything sharp or heavy. If you’re going to throw things, make it soft, mkay?
I’m off on an amazing journey – a real dream trip – on Saturday I’ll be heading to Gatwick with my lovely friend and fellow blogger Liz.
This is quite timely as I’ve just received some really good news – I’ve been appointed one of a new panel of ‘independent experts’ *cough* by Gatwick Airport and I’m mega excited!
The new Gatwick Passenger Panel has been created to help London Gatwick really look at the passenger travel experience, from lots of different perspectives. For example, a business traveller will have different needs and expectations from that of a family travelling together. We’ll be discussing our different views and experiences to give a really honest and unbiased picture of airport life. Hopefully, learning about how different people travel – from getting there, through the airport itself and finally off on their journey, will enable Gatwick – and other UK airports – to tackle any problems and devise suitable solutions to make travelling a better experience for everyone. I’m in some really rather fabulous company too – one of my fellow panel members is the legendary John Carter from Wish You Were Here – I can’t wait to meet him.
I’m so excited to be involved and will obviously keep you up to date with developments.
So onward from Gatwick, then, we’re heading to Orlando and (after a quick stop at Walt Disney World – and those fabulous Illuminations), we’re straight on to Port Canaveral where we’ll be boarding Disney’s newest cruise ship, the Disney Dream for a cruise to the Bahamas, with a stop at Disney’s own island, Castaway Cay. Apparently the food on board is To Die For. Squee!
Obviously I’ll be working, so I won’t be enjoying myself at all… and I’ll see you in a week’s time with, of course, lots of photos.
Until then, be good xx
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