I’ve known my friend Erica since we met on our first ever Disney trip together back in 2009. We’ve always stayed in contact and, along with most of the original members of the Disney 7 (our group of mummy bloggers from way back who met on our very first Disney trip), chat pretty regularly. Erica lives in Edinburgh (where she runs the hugely successful Edinburgh food blog, Foodinburgh), so we don’t get to see each other that much. Every so often the opportunity comes up for us to take a trip together, and this time as we were both so busy, we wanted to choose a holiday where we could kick back and relax. We wanted lovely, chic surroundings for a few days of quiet contemplation and catching up, with a bit of light exploration thrown in. As you probably know, I’m a bit in love with cruising: I love the glamour, the gorgeous surroundings, the delicious food, cocktails on the deck and waking up in a new port with all the fresh possibilities of exploring a new destination, so we chose a Greek islands trip from Malta on board P&O Oceana – a beautiful not-too-big, not-too-small ship, with a bit of old-world glamour thrown in. And although you might not immediately think of taking a cruise with friends as a grown up holiday option, we absolutely loved it. Here’s why we think cruising with friends is fabulous:
In part one of my little love letter to the beautiful Viking Sea, I wrote about how much I loved the beautiful design details and wonderful service that make the ship so special. as well as telling you about the first stop on Viking’s West Indies Explorer itinerary, San Juan. From there, we sailed on, following a roughly south easterly track that would eventually take us to our final port, Barbados. Here’s the final part of my onboard diary, in which we discover even more of the Caribbean on board Viking Sea.
There’s no denying it, cruising is big business. CLIA, the Cruise Lines International Association predicts that 27.2 million passengers will take a cruise in 2018, and with so much demand, the cruise lines are busy commissioning more and more new ships. This year sees Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas, Carnival Horizon, Celebrity Edge, Norwegian Bliss, and many more take to the seas. With so much choice, and so many cruise lines, what’s the best way to choose, and is it possible to get a good deal? Well, if you’re thinking of setting sail on your very own cruise adventure this year, here are my top tips for booking a cruise.
One of the elements that impressed us most during our wonderful family cruise on Celebrity Eclipse was the quality of the dining. From the great fast food options to the main dining to the speciality restaurants, we really couldn’t fault any of the dining on board Celebrity Eclipse. Most evenings are smart casual, but there are a couple of evenings that are listed in the ‘Celebrity Today’ leaflet left in your stateroom as ‘cruise chic’. There’s never any pressure to dress in any particular way but it’s always tremendous fun to dress up a bit and step out in style. I really enjoyed a bit of people watching – there was everything from ladies in ballgowns and men in white dinner jackets to a few people in full military costume!
This weekend, Royal Caribbean’s new mega-ship, Harmony of the Seas came to Southampton. Sadly, I missed it as I was away on Carnival Vista, but lots of press, bloggers, vloggers and other folk were invited to sample life on board the largest cruise ship in the world on a weekend mini sailing.
The next few days are going to be busy for me. I’m going to be talking at World Travel Market in the WTM & Travel Perspective session about working with brands in a digital world, all about my experience of working on the Sainsbury’s advert, and also about the Samsung ‘People of Note’ campaign.
A little while ago I was lucky enough to be sent on assignment by Cruise International to take a cruise on what’s been billed as the ‘best cruise ship in the world’, Hapag Lloyd’s Europa 2.
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.
Every parent of teenagers knows that feeling when you start to wonder exactly how long your children will keep wanting to come on holiday with you. As they grow up, they naturally develop their own tastes, likes and dislikes (and even more naturally, these will tend to be the exact opposite to yours), so agreeing on a holiday destination (and indeed, persuading them to dump their mates and come on holiday with you) is never easy.
Enter, the Caribbean cruise. Here’s why:
I’ve always written about travel. But over the last few years I’ve been writing more and more about cruising. I adore cruise holidays and have become almost evangelical in my attempt to get the word out to everyone just what a FABULOUS holiday you can have aboard a cruise ship. Last month, as part of my job as an ambassador for Royal Caribbean (follow us on Twitter and Instagram – our hashtag is #RoyalMums) we travelled to the Caribbean on the largest cruise ship in the world, the Allure of the Seas…
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, I’m pretty sure that you’ve noticed we’ve been cruising on the Allure of the Seas around the Caribbean.
Royal Caribbean challenged the boys to have a really active high-adrenaline cruise and I think we managed it, what with zip-lining, surfing on the Flow-Rider, snorkelling, power rafting and much more. And while the boys were doing all this, it left us lots of lovely free time for lazing, eating out, sunbathing and a few cocktails too! Here’s how we got on:
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!
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!
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