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.
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.
Setting sail on April 14th, Ovation of the Seas, the third in Royal Caribbean’s ground-breaking Quantum Class fleet, will bring Royal Caribbean’s typical sense of fun and adventure to the shores of Europe before she heads to Asia. Along with bionic bartenders, the fabulous FlowRider and the incredible North Star observation capsule, which soars over 300ft in the air and over the side of the ship, guests can do everything from skydiving in the spectactular RipCord by iFLY simulator to driving bumper cars and high wire circus training at SeaPlex, the largest entertainment complex at sea.
It’s been a mad week here at English Towers. The Sainsbury’s #loveyourfreezer campaign has gone live and it’s been really lovely receiving tweets, texts and Facebook messages (and AWFUL screenshots – thanks guys haha) saying ‘ooh, I’ve just seen you on the telly!’. I’m SO proud of this campaign – Sainsbury’s have been amazingly lovely to work with, and there are loads more exciting things coming up.
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
- 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
- Balayage at The Hair Secret, Berkhamsted and new Oway organic hair products June 7, 2018