Many, many moons ago, back when my children occasionally did anything I asked and I was a fully fledged ‘mummy blogger’, I was really proud to be asked by Royal Caribbean Cruises to be an Official Family Ambassador or ‘Royal Mum’. It was a fab time and I really enjoyed my role: as part of my ambassadorship, I wrote about family cruising on the Royal Caribbean blog as well as in newspapers like The Times, and was lucky enough, along with my lovely fellow Royal Mums, to experience wonderful trips like a Caribbean cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas, and a family cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Another wonderful memory was when we all got together at Southampton for a sunny day on board Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas. I’ve always been hugely proud of my long-running association with Royal Caribbean: I love the quality of the brand, the wonderful people who have a genuine love and enthusiasm for creating incredible experiences, and all their beautiful, innovative ships, so when Mr E and I were invited along to experience the shakedown cruise following Independence of the Seas’ multi-million dollar makeover, we were all over it. Here’s how we got on.
Last September, we were on the first Virgin Atlantic flight out to Orlando following the airport’s reopening after Hurricane Irma. We met people from the Florida Keys and Miami who had left their homes and belongings behind and been evacuated north to the resort hotels of Orlando. The next morning we walked the empty streets of Universal Orlando Resort, and stepped onto rides with no queues. I remember chatting to our Uber driver, a Puerto Rican who, at the time, was worried about his friends and family at home as the second hurricane, Maria, powered towards the island. It was a sobering time. Fast forward six months, and I’m boarding a flight from Miami to Puerto Rico to join Viking Cruises’ Viking Sea in San Juan for the first leg of Viking’s West Indies Explorer itinerary, sailing from San Juan on a roughly south easterly track that will take us down to our final port, Barbados. I’m curious to know how cruising the Caribbean after Irma and Maria will be, and wondering if, frankly, we’ll be unwelcome guests, strutting around demanding drinks and ice creams while people rebuild their homes and businesses.
October is a super exciting month in the cruise industry. It’s when everyone who loves to cruise comes together to celebrate Plan a Cruise Month: a whole month devoted to everything to do with cruising and the perfect time of year for you to plan your own cruise – especially as there are loads of fantastic offers and incentives available throughout the whole month. This year, the theme of Plan a Cruise Month is ‘destinations’, and I thought I’d tell you about Grand Cayman, one of my very favourite cruise destinations, by having a reminisce of my own lovely trip there, on assignment for Cruise International with Charlie.
I joined the beautiful Royal Princess in Rome recently to try cruising a different way. With most cruise passengers choosing the cruise line’s own shore excursions, we struck out to find some personalised, hands on shore adventures with a difference! But first, though, a little about the ship… Read more
So I’ve had an absolutely MAD bout of travelling and can’t wait to update you on all the exciting things we’ve been up to. Firstly, we’ve just returned from a lovely two week family cruise on Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Cruises’ beautiful Solstice class cruise ship, where we sailed from Southampton and visited Gibraltar, France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. It was our first time as a family on a Celebrity Cruise (Mr E and I did a wine cruise on Celebrity Infinity a while ago) and we did wonder what it would be like to spend two weeks in a relatively small stateroom as a family (as it turned out, we were treated to extra room, which was fab). Here’s how we got on:
So, you’re about to set off on your first proper adventure at sea? Exciting! Cruising can seem like a strange and foreign world, and many first-time cruisers will be wondering all sorts of things: how they’ll spend all that time on board/whether they’ll get bored/lost//fat/feel sick/spend loads of money/whatever. Rest assured that cruise ships today are better equipped than ever before, with exciting activities, delicious food and top notch tipples right at your fingertips. In order to give you more of an insight into what you can expect from your time at sea, here’s my slightly tongue in cheek rundown of what to expect on your first cruise, particularly your first 48 hours at sea.
In the last part of our P & O Britannia foodie cruise diary (see part one and part two here), it’s all about the gorgeous Eric Lanlard. Erica and I specifically chose the cruise because Eric was due to be on board. All the Food Heroes spend some time on the ship on various cruises, and it’s a chance for guests to book different masterclasses and hosted dinners with them.
So, catching up with part one of our foodie cruise on board P & O Britannia, then, having eaten ourselves silly, discovered La Rochelle and L’Il de Ré, done a bit more eating, a bit of dancing and had a busy day in Bilbao, we decided to have a chilled out evening in The Glass House, the brainchild of Food Hero and frankly adorable wine expert, Olly Smith.
So last week I was lucky enough to be invited to the gala celebrations on board P & O Cruises’ gorgeous new flagship, the £500 million super-liner, Britannia. The ship is breathtaking. From the Union Flag on her bow, to the stunning three floor atrium featuring the most incredible chandelier you’ve ever seen, she’s a modern miracle.
So last night, I was invited to join the great and the good of the cruise industry at Ham Yard Hotel for the CLIA UK & Ireland Cruise Journalism Awards. The CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) is the main hub of the cruise industry in the UK and Ireland, bringing together cruise lines and travel agents, and basically promoting cruising to the wider population.
So last time I told you all about Quantum’s incredible technology. It really has transformed nearly every aspect of the guest experience, from super speedy check in and luggage tracing, right down to the dining. Guests can reserve at iQ stations, by the new app, by phone or in person and with 18 restaurants and 14 bars to choose from, there’s something for everyone. Table staff take orders on a tablet, keeping them where customers need them most, in the restaurant, and this technology will track you no matter where you eat, so if you love a glass of champagne while you order, or if you have any specific dietary requirements, this will all be logged and the information will be available to each restaurant when you arrive.
Our cruise aboard the beautiful Allure of the Seas took us around the Eastern Caribbean. Starting from Fort Lauderdale , where we stayed one night at the Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina – a gorgeous hotel with the most beautiful views of the marina (the clue’s in the name)…
So if you’re a boy, second on your list of important things on the ship after being first in line for the FlowRider is sorting out where you’re going to stuff your face. Happily, on the Allure of the Seas (in fact, ANY Royal Caribbean cruise ship) you can pretty much eat 24 hours a day, with loads of choice too.
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.
- Visiting Walt Disney World with toddlers June 19, 2018
- Come shopping with me: swim and beachwear from M&S June 16, 2018
- Coconut chilli prawn noodles June 14, 2018
- Marvel Summer of Super Heroes at Disneyland Paris June 12, 2018
- Haddock and cheddar tart: pescatarian perfection June 9, 2018