Cruising Customs You May Have Never Known Existed!

There are some things about cruising that you may not be aware of, so I thought I’d share some of them with you in my blog. I’m sure my fellow cruise-a-holics will be aware of them all, but I hope you still enjoy the read!

1: Crossing the Line Ceremony

The crossing of the line ceremony takes place on ships that sail across the zero-degree latitude line. Originally a ceremony held on board Navy vessels, almost every cruise ship that crosses the zero-degree latitude line now celebrates the event. Usually, the Trusty Shellbacks (those who have previously made the crossing) are organised into the “Court of Neptune” to induct the Slimy Pollywogs (those who have never made the crossing) into the mysteries of the deep – as you can imagine, initiation incurs various tasks being carried out and often ends with several people in the pool, but the event is a lot of fun and it is often a big highlight of the voyage. I’ve not personally had the pleasure of experiencing this yet, but it’s on my list!

2: Friends of Dorothy

Judy Garland, the original gay icon, is immortalised at sea as Dorothy (Wizard of Oz) via meet and mingle groups for gay, lesbian and transgender passengers. These friendly meetings are a fun and informal way for less confident passengers from the gay and lesbian community to meet new people. They are also a wonderful option for gay or lesbian passengers that are cruising on their own. Many of the big cruise lines offer Friends of Dorothy get-togethers, including Cunard Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line and Carnival Cruise Lines. Don’t forget to give MeetMeOnboard.com a look before your next cruise!

3: Baked Alaska

The Baked Alaska, something long-term cruisers either love or loathe. It is said that the tradition of the Baked Alaska first started back in the early 20th century, when ships first acquired refrigeration. It was such a huge event and ultimately, it stuck. Baked Alaska is kept frozen until the evening of the parade – which usually happens on the last formal night of a cruise – it is then flambéed to brown the meringue. Sometimes, small sparklers are added just before the dining room parade begins. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Baked Alaska or the parade that goes with it, but for many, it’s a nice treat.

4: Godmothers

A new ship is not complete without a Godmother – or in the case of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Escape, a Godfather. The roots of the Godmother tradition go back a long way, about 4000 years to be exact! The role, historically, sees the Godmother entrusted with the safe guidance of the ship and her passengers by way of a blessing – in modern times, the breaking of a bottle of champagne against the vessels hull. It’s also used as nowadays as a publicity opportunity for cruise lines. If the Queen was blessing your ship, I’m sure everyone would be talking about it. Again, this is something that is on my list – I’d like to be a Godmother one day! 😉

5: The Crew Show

The Crew Show is not a feature on all cruise ships, but those that do offer it undoubtedly have the best crews at sea! Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and Saga Cruises both give their crew members the chance to showcase their talents by way of the end of cruise “Crew Show”. There are singers, dancers, magicians, musicians, cocktail making kings and even comedians – it is quite often the best show of the cruise and if it is offered on your next voyage then you must go along and support your hard-working crew members. It can be a little risqué – you have been warned!

6: Unlucky Number 13 (17 if you’re Italian!)

The number 13 has been viewed as unlucky for many years and no one is entirely sure why. Theories include that it is because there were 13 people at the last supper and traditionally there were 13 steps leading up to the gallows. Whatever the reason, that superstition is evident on many cruise ships, especially British ones upon which you will rarely find a Deck 13. For the Italians, the unlucky number is 17 and you’re not likely to come across a Deck 17 on any MSC Cruises ship. This is because the Roman numeral XVII is changed anagrammatically to VIXI, which translates to “I have lived” – implying that your life is already over.

7: Sailaway

The sailaway is still a big party for many cruise lines and its popularity hails back to the days when a ship departing port was a rather huge event. Ladies would wear their best dresses and bonnets, while the men would not be seen without their best caps, it was something exciting to look forward to for those on board and ashore. Today, the sailaway for P&O Cruises ships is marked by a brass band playing dockside, but the best comes from Star Clippers – as their ships leave port they sail to the sound of Vangelis’s “1492: Conquest of Paradise.”

Posted in General Cruise Articles

Cabin Bills That We Would Like To Forget!

I started cruising in 2007, and since then I have had a few cabin bills that I’d like to forget – sometimes we over indulge just a little too much, but I suppose some would argue and say that’s what cruising for some people is all about, enjoying themselves. With that said, I wanted to share some stories with you, stories that are 100% true!

I’ll start by getting on my mother’s bad side and telling you about something she did. My family went on a cruise last summer aboard Thomson Spirit, it was their second time aboard the ship, but they were visiting all new ports of call in the Mediterranean. When they returned home, they told me all about their adventure and how good everything had been onboard, but that maybe next time they would cut out flying and sail with a cruise line that offers no-fly options from the UK. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, until I came across a bulging folder that was placed on the table in the dining room. Curiosity got the better of me and I opened it to find that the folder was full of pictures from their cruise, pictures that had been taken by the onboard photographer and there were NINETY-SIX of them! I didn’t know what to say, but surprisingly words just kept spewing from my mouth. I literally couldn’t help myself. I cringe at the thought of buying 1 photograph onboard because they are so over-priced, but NINETY-SIX!! I’ve never seen them since. I don’t know where they were “safely stored”, but I’m assuming they are still in the house, somewhere!

I met a gentleman on Britannia in 2015 who managed to blow £3,500 in the casino in one night. Needless to say, we didn’t see him for the following few days (his wife literally put him on cabin arrest), but when he finally did emerge, he was on his best behaviour – for about 5 minutes. There were several of us that became friends during the cruise and as we sailed away from our final port, we all bought him a drink, which in hindsight was probably not a good idea because a few drinks later and there he was, at the bar, buying a round for all of us. He was a nice man, but he always pushed the boundaries and I expect he got on his wife’s bad side more than once during the cruise!

My cabin bill from hell isn’t because of over-indulgence (I know, I can sense your shock) as the only time I have had a cabin bill that really did make my stomach turn was when I had the pleasure of an audience with the onboard Doctor. I had to have a piece of grit removed from my inner-eyelid, I tried everything I could to get it out myself, even my friend that worked on reception had tried and soaked me with water in the process, but it was no use and off I went down the stairs to THAT dreaded deck. The nurse filled my eye with fluorescein (that bright orange stuff that hangs around for about a week) and she and the doctor did what they needed to do. By the end of the procedure I had a bright orange, swollen eye. I must have sensed what the doctor was thinking though because just as he was about to speak, I looked at him and said don’t you even think about giving me an eye patch, I’ll NEVER live that one down! He smiled and said OK. My eye was quite swollen for a few days (I had to use drops twice a day for a week) and I couldn’t wear make-up, so I lived in my sunglasses day and night, good job I was in the Caribbean! My Deck 4 visit cost me £300, but I dread to think what some people have had to spend on medical treatment onboard.

Have you had a cabin bill that you’d like to forget?

Posted in General Cruise Articles

Royal Caribbean’s Guide To The Most Amazing Islands In The Caribbean

ST MAARTEN

 BACKGROUND

St Maarten’s half-French, half-Dutch island nations and rich African heritage makes the island the culinary capital of the Caribbean and a paradise for food lovers – with dishes like Codfish Fritters, Beef Patties and Sweet Potato Pudding just a small selection of the delights on offer.

THINGS TO SEE

The island is home to 37 idyllic sandy white beaches framed by calm turquoise waters which are the gateway to over 50 incredible dive locations

St. Maarten itself boasts stunning bays full of old-world charm where you can spend a lazy afternoon watching the world go by whilst sipping a guavaberry cocktail

THINGS TO DO

You could easily while away your time here enjoying the local delicacies and soaking up the sunshine, but if you are looking for a taste of adventure too then why not try out the below:

SNUBA Adventure – £98 per person

St Maarten is as stunning below the water as it is on land, which is why exploring under the sea is a must-see for visitors. For those longing to explore under the sea without a scuba diving certificate, SNUBA offers aquatic fun for adventurers of all ages with the option to explore underwater while breathing through a SNUBA regulator.

Set sail off the picturesque coast of St. Maarten on a 35-foot vessel while relishing calming ocean breezes, stunning island views, and festive music before splashing around amongst colourful coral and fluttering sea life.

Tall Ship Experience – £48 per person

Experience the thrill of sailing on the beautiful tall ship Mercedes, as you watch the sails unfurl and embark on an adventure at sea. This scenic glide around the beautiful island of St. Maarten to Maho Beach offers breath-taking views whilst you have the chance to help set the sails, take the helm and navigate the ship around the island. You’ll then be invited to toast your sailing adventure with a complimentary cocktail in the comfort of a deck chair – bliss.

JAMAICA

BACKGROUND

Music is at the heart of Jamaican culture, and is famously the birthplace of a wealth of rich musical genres from reggae to dance hall. The island is also home to sensational jerk cooking, with spicy seasoning that sets the mouth-watering and the pulse racing.

THINGS TO SEE

Jamaica is brimming with natural wonders, from lush countryside and picturesque beaches to an array of dazzling waterfalls.

THINGS TO DO

Royal Caribbean cruises stop in the historic town of Falmouth which boasts stunning Georgian architecture surrounded by lush sugar cane fields dotted with old plantation houses and mills, and there’s plenty more to explore across the island:

Island Tour & Bamboo Beach Break – £33 per person

Explore the rich and scenic beauty of Jamaica, followed by a relaxing short visit, at Bamboo Beach. Take a scenic drive around St. Ann’s Bay, the site where Christopher Columbus anchored when he first encountered the island in 1494.

Grand Jamaica: A Sensational Day – £81 per person

This full-day combination tour allows you to experience Jamaica’s agricultural roots at Brimmer Hall Estate before savouring Caribbean cuisine and some free time sunbathing, swimming or kayaking along the shore.

ST KITTS

BACKGROUND

St Kitts is famous for its vibrant festive culture which encompasses a heady mix of African and European traditions, with carnivals and celebrations playing an important role in island life. Cricket is an island obsession, with Warner Park the heart of all the best cricketing action

THINGS TO SEE

The cruise terminal in St Kitts is a shoppers paradise, but venture out of the tourist built area and you will find delicious street food, local music and crafts and get a real taste for what life is like on the island.

THINGS TO DO

Royal Caribbean cruises sail to Basseterre, one of the oldest Eastern Caribbean cities perfect for exploring remnants of old plantations and fortresses. Why not delve into the history of St Kitts with a Sugar City-inspired chocolate experience or a visit to a historic plantation house whilst you’re there?

St Kitts Chocolate Experience – £37 per person

Discover the rich history behind St. Kitts’ nickname, Sugar City, on a tour of the island’s first and only chocolate boutique, where you’ll not only sample delicious confectionery, but you’ll also create your own indulgent masterpieces – heaven for chocolate lovers!

Caribbean Plantation and Beach – £48 per person

Explore a unique heritage and tropical gardens at the historic Clay Villa Plantation House, once part of an 18th century estate. Learn about Caribbean traditions, the family owners, their mementos and artefacts, island plants and wildlife rescue efforts, as you tour the house, museum, and impressive property before relaxing at a local beach.

ST THOMAS

BACKGROUND

St Thomas is an idyllic island paradise famous for pristine beaches with jungle-covered cliffs, as well as a fascinating colonial history.

THINGS TO SEE

For the best views, venturing off-shore is a must to see the island in all its glory and the tranquil turquoise waters are full to the brim with tropical fish and other sea-life.

 THINGS TO DO

Royal Caribbean cruises stop at Charlotte Amelie, the capital city characterised by Danish architecture which boasts fascinating history along with world-renowned bargains. Once you’ve shopped till you’ve dropped, why not head to  blue seas on the following excursions:

St Thomas Off-Shore Fishing – £106 per person

Journey with an experienced captain and crew who will provide you with state-of-the-art equipment and the opportunity to catch some of St. Thomas’s prized fish. Anglers will delight in this journey out to sea aboard our 65-foot Gulf Craft fishing vessel, where you can try your hand at catching some of the most prized fish the Virgin Island’s waters have on offer.

Caribbean Sail to Christmas & Honeymoon Coves – £85

Climb aboard a schooner for a fun day of sailing, snorkelling, swimming and beach time. Discover sea turtles, tropical fish, and coral while anchored offshore in the waters of Christmas Cove. Sail to Water Island, where you can relax on the sands of Honeymoon Beach, swim, and do more snorkelling before sitting down to a freshly prepared Caribbean BBQ.

Still want more Caribbean island inspiration? Then head over to The Crazy Tourist for a look at their 25 Best Islands To Visit In The Caribbean.

Posted in Destinations, Royal Caribbean International

MeetMeOnboard: Connecting, Informing, And Engaging LGBTQ Cruise Travellers

 

I’ve met many people from the LGBTQ community while at sea and as I know of a great online site that is specifically for LGBTQ cruisers, I thought now would be a great time to introduce it to you and the brains behind it…

We’re Mark and Dale and we pilot the site MeetMeOnBoard.com, the only online community dedicated to LGBTQ cruise travel enthusiasts. The site is growing and currently has 15,000 members worldwide.

First of all, Yes, we know that the letters LGBTQ are confusing to some, and they do seem to keep changing! All that comes from our striving to be inclusive. But the operative word in the phrase “LGBTQ community” is indeed “community.

Our people have labored long and hard to gain some of the rights that others enjoy, and that has brought us together. For that reason, our ‘tribe’ always likes to connect with other gay “family members” when we travel.

We began cruising about 30 years ago, when many didn’t feel fully safe being fully “out” onboard. We knew other gay people were on board, but couldn’t always find them! Yes, some cruise lines began having what are now called LGBT cocktail hours, but often they were at inconvenient hours, or we’d get there to find the bar closed, in a terrible location, or surly service from staff.

We gradually began sailing more often and were fortunate enough to build up a wonderful memory bank of travel memories through the years.

Fast forward to 2008 when we found ourselves eagerly anticipating our first Baltic Cruise. We were tired of cruising for a week only to meet a wonderful gay couple at dinner on the very last night of the cruise! Where were those guys all week? We’d have a great evening, neglect to exchange contact information and never see them again.

Furthermore, we thought about getting one or two more gay couples together to hire a vehicle and private guide in St. Petersburg, wanting to maximize our experience and tailor it to our own needs.  Mark searched online, thinking that surely there was a way to contact the other gay people sailing with us. In fact, there was nothing at all. This led to the formation of MeetMeOnBoard.

Our site is an online community of LGBTQ cruise travel enthusiasts, free to our members. We facilitate ways in which our members can connect and make friends before the cruise. Members who register with us and list the cruise they are taking are automatically linked with other members of the same sailing. Lasting friendships have developed from our site and many members make plans not only to meet on board, but to vacation together on subsequent cruises.

One interesting story will illustrate what the site is all about. Our friends Chris and Bill from the neighborhood here in Phoenix, Arizona had booked a European river cruise. Through MeetMeOnBoard.com They were connected with another couple, Darren and Stefan, who happened to live in Phoenix as well. They became online friends and had plans to meet onboard. As it turns out, Bill was taken to the hospital due to an emergency.  Chris had sent out that information, and it turns out that Darren and Stefan were Bill’s first visitors in the hospital.

Luckily, most MeetMeOnBoard friendship are sealed over a cocktail in the ship’s bar rather than a hospital room.

We’ve cruised on ships large and small. We’ve sailed aboard beautifully designed ships and others that didn’t live up to our queer expectations.  We’ve seen the sights, enjoyed amazing meals and had great times singing show tunes at the martini bar. Of all our cruise travel memories, what we value most are the friends made on board.

Posted in LGBT Cruise Info

Norwegian Cruise Line To Add Lifeguards To Fleet

Norwegian Cruise Line today announced that the line will begin employing certified lifeguards at all of the family pools across their fleet. The first responders will be trained and certified by the American Red Cross in lifesaving rescue measures and will monitor the family pools during scheduled pool hours. The lifeguards will begin service this summer on the line’s four largest ships – Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Getaway, Norwegian Breakaway and Norwegian Epic – and on the remainder of the fleet by early 2018.

“Norwegian has stationed pool monitors on our largest ships since 2015 and we are now taking further steps to ensure the safety of our youngest guests with the addition of certified lifeguards across our fleet,” said Andy Stuart, president and chief executive officer of Norwegian Cruise Line. “While parents are always the first line of supervision when it comes to water safety, we felt it was important to provide this added measure across our fleet.”

In addition to uniformed lifeguards, Norwegian will also begin offering complimentary swim vests for both adults and children on the line’s four largest ships. Parents can obtain the safety vests at the towel station on the ship’s pool deck during daytime hours.

Norwegian Cruise Line is the leading innovator in cruise travel with a 50-year history of breaking the boundaries of traditional cruising. Most notably, Norwegian revolutionised the cruise industry by offering guests the freedom and flexibility to design their ideal cruise holiday on their schedule. Today, Norwegian invites guests to “Feel Free” to explore the world on one of 14 purpose-built ships, providing guests the opportunity to enjoy a relaxed, resort style cruise holiday on some of the newest and most contemporary ships at sea.

Recently, the line was named “Europe’s Leading Cruise Line” for the ninth consecutive year, as well as “Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Line” for the fourth time and “World’s Leading Large Ship Cruise Line” for the fifth straight year by the World Travel Awards as well as the World’s Leading Cruise Line for the first time.

The Company took delivery of its most innovative ship to date, the 4.200-passenger Norwegian Escape in October 2015 and has three further 4.200-passenger vessels on order at Meyer Werft with delivery in the spring of 2017, 2018 and autumn of 2019. In addition, the cruise line reached an agreement with Fincantieri S.p.A. for the delivery of four ships of a new generation with delivery in 2022, 2023, 2024 and 2025 and hold an option for two additional ships in the future.

Posted in Cruise News, Norwegian Cruise Line

Finding The Perfect Theme Cruise

MSC Divina is partnering with Weight Watchers International Inc. to host a 7-night themed Caribbean Cruise in early May. The 4300-passenger ship will sail from Miami and take passengers on a wellness-focused cruise. Although it seems an unlikely partnership, particularly since some cruise lines aren’t renowned for their commitment to health and well-being, it’s all part of a strategic plan by Weight Watchers to transform into a complete health and wellness company.

Ryan Nathan, the Vice President of Products, Licensing and E-commerce for Weight Watchers, has explained that according to market research the company’s member base in the US is a typical cruise ship passenger: female, 40 to 60 years old and with an income just above the U.S average. This cruise is not intended to be a “slim-down camp” and won’t be following the usual Weight Watchers’ formula of losing and maintaining weight. Instead the focus will be on all-round health and well-being, incorporating the facilities onboard MSC Divina as well “real-time guidance and support”, customized fitness programmes and seminars from wellness experts.

According to MSC North America chairman Rick Sasso, this partnership is  “just an enhancement” since the line’s cruises “already have this wellness aspect.” It’s certainly one that has worked in their favour as the Weight Watchers’ 500-cabin bloc on the Divina has sold out, despite prices starting at $945. The week has been so popular that a second 2017 Weight Watchers cruise for November is in the planning stages and future sailings are likely.

The larger cruise companies including MSC, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line have worked hard to transform the public’s perception of cruising from the gluttony-focused sails of the 80’s to the exciting and energetic holidays that we know it to be. Themed cruises are part of an industry-wide tactic to appeal to different demographics, and with an estimated 25.3 million people cruising this year (increasing from 15.8 million in 2007), it’s safe to say things are working.  There is a proliferation of themed cruises on offer across the globe, ranging from Star Trek getaways to Holland America’s Alaska cruise in partnership with Oprah Winfrey’s monthly lifestyle magazine O. In 2004, a cruise ship that glided through the Gulf of Mexico was transformed into a floating casino. PokerStars held its first tournament in the Caribbean on a cruise ship, before opting for dry land to host its ‘Caribbean Adventure’ poker tournaments.

One look at the Theme Cruise Finder website will reveal over 500 different cruises set to sail in 2017. These trips are defined as private (cruises developed by an organisation and administered with a travel agents), charter (where an organisation charters the full ship for an occasion) and cruise line (themed cruises developed in-house by a cruise line). Trips are as diverse as Ponant Cruises’ Astronomy week taking in Canada and Greenland, Cunard Line’s Festival of Flowers and a range of Smithsonian Collection charters to Greece, Italy and Western Europe.

Although more traditional than a sci-fi cruise, cruises featuring celebrity entertainers are still run by many leading cruise lines. Baywatch star David Hasslehoff is partnering with GEO Reisen in November to sail a 9-day Official World Fan Cruise’ aboard the luxurious Costa Favolosa. In February, the successful Walking Dead themed ‘Walker Stalker’ cruise aboard NCL’s Norwegian Pearl returned for its second outing. Whilst a Weight Watchers cruise may make the headlines in the wider press, it’s simply the next step forward in the world of themed cruises.

Posted in General Cruise Articles

Norwegian Jade Is Ready For Southampton

Norwegian Jade sailed into her seasonal homeport of Tampa as an essentially new vessel yesterday morning, following a three-week dry dock where she received enhancements to every part of the on board experience, from two brand new restaurants and two new bars and lounges, updated design and décor in many public spaces, and a refurbishment of all staterooms. Norwegian Jade’s extensive renovation is a part of The Norwegian Edge™, an investment programme that sets a high standard of excellence encompassing the entire guest experience across Norwegian’s fleet. Norwegian Jade’s extensive enhancements come just in time for her highly anticipated summer season, the brand’s first ever complete season sailing from Southampton in to the Norwegian Fjords, with embarkation also available from Hamburg, Germany.

Every stateroom on the ship was enhanced during the renovation, while guests sailing in The Haven®, Norwegian’s ship-within-a-ship luxury suite concept, will now enjoy a more modern chic atmosphere in all suites and villas. Luxury has been taken to the next level aboard Norwegian Jade with a complete refurbishment of the ship’s Haven Courtyard. Guests of the ship’s top villas and suites can soak up the sun in style one of the Haven’s four new plush cabanas nestled at the top of the ship or take a dip in the newly refinished pool surrounded by modern furnishings and new artwork.

Norwegian Jade guests can now also enjoy two new restaurants, O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill and The Pit Stop, as well as redesigned spaces in many of the ship’s existing restaurants. The Pit Stop, a newly installed concept for Norwegian Jade, will serve up poolside fun and fare in a 1950s-style American diner atmosphere.

Moderno Churrascaria has received an upgrade and a new home on deck 13 allowing for stunning panoramic views of the ocean enhanced by new flooring, wall coverings and upgraded furniture. Popular Cagney’s Steakhouse, La Cucina, Norwegian’s signature Italian specialty restaurant, and Teppanyaki – Norwegian’s Japanese hibachi grill restaurant – have also been modernised and upgraded as well as the complimentary favourites Jasmine Garden and the Garden Café.

Those looking to dance the night away aboard Norwegian Jade can now do so in the chic new Bliss Ultra Lounge on deck seven, which has the feel of an upscale Miami nightclub. Guests who wish to indulge in an exotic cocktail can enjoy their favourite mojito, or opt for a flight and try them all, at the new Sugarcane Mojito Bar on deck 13 adjacent to Moderno Churrascaria, a Norwegian fan favourite since the concept debuted on Norwegian Getaway in 2014.  Norwegian Jade’s Spinnaker Lounge also received a complete redesign.

The Atrium, the heart of the action on Norwegian Jade, has been enhanced with a refreshed look and décor brought to life with an eye-catching, custom-designed marquee chandelier, as well as new modern so guests can relax in a contemporary lounge atmosphere while enjoying all the ship’s excitement. Norwegian Jade will also now offer guests easier ways to view and purchase mementos of their cruise holiday with an upgraded Photo Gallery featuring new individual digital monitors and larger photo display panels. The ship’s main pool deck was also touched by this extensive refurbishment, with the addition of glistening new lighting fixtures as well as new flooring and tiling around the pool and whirlpools.

Norwegian Jade now offers fitness enthusiasts the opportunity to work up a sweat with all-new TechnoGym fitness equipment and new rubber flooring, ideal for weightlifting and plyometric workouts. Junior cruisers aboard Norwegian Jade can now enjoy playtime with new floorings in Splash Academy that include new noise reducing mats so kids are free to play into the evening hours.

Norwegian Jade is currently sailing the final part of her winter season, cruising from Tampa to the Western Caribbean. On April 30, she will journey across the Atlantic to her summer homeports of Southampton and Hamburg, where she’ll sail the Norwegian Fjords as well as Norway & North Cape itineraries.

Posted in Cruise News, Norwegian Cruise Line

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines Central America And The Mardi Gras Part 6

Bermuda was very picturesque, but it was far colder than we had expected it to be. My eyes were telling me I was looking at the Caribbean, but my skin was telling me that I was already back in England! It was a shock to the system.

Shortly after Balmoral was given clearance by the local authorities, we left the ship and began our ‘Quintessential Bermuda’ tour. Neither my friend nor I had been to the island before, so we thought it would be the ideal way to introduce ourselves to Bermuda. We drove from Hamilton to Georgetown and then across to the Dockyard on the other side of the island. We had arrived on a Sunday, so virtually everything in Georgetown was closed – which turned out to be good given the prices of some things! Bermuda is certainly not a cheap place to shop.

During the drive, we passed some wonderful beaches and small harbours. We even drove right through the middle of a golf course at one point – can’t say I’d ever done that before. The tour was good, I’d recommend it as an option if you prefer less walking on your days ashore, and although nothing really stopped me in my tracks, it gave me some ideas on where to go during my next visit to the island. I would have liked more time at the Dockyard as it was too big to explore in only 30-minutes, which is how much time we were given. We arrived back at the ship an hour later than expected but still 2 hours before our back onboard time, so we decided to have a walk around the port area. It was very pleasant and we managed to find a few shops that were open and selling souvenirs that we could afford!

Five sea days followed Bermuda and surprisingly, the weather was quite nice. It wasn’t hot, as such, but the sun was certainly warm enough to allow us to remain outside during the day, instead of retreating indoors with a book and a jumper. We would have lunch at around noon every day and by the time we were finished, the sun would be blessing a small corner on Deck 8 that allowed the wind to blow around us instead of right through us – perfect!  We just had to make sure we got there first! 😉

Ponta Delgada was our final port of call and as we only had a few hours to spend there, we decided to get a taxi to the local mall, with our adopted grandma, and do a bit of shopping. I always find the Azores bittersweet. They mark the end of a fabulous western adventure and I never really want to go ashore there. I’d like to do a cruise one day that stops at the Azores at the beginning and then maybe I’d be a bit more enthusiastic about being on the island. I sound like such a grump, but I bet a few people can relate.

We were supposed to sail from Ponta Delgada at 14:00 but the winch for lifeboat 1 failed, which meant the boat couldn’t be brought back onboard using Balmoral’s machinery. In order to get our little yellow friend back where she belonged (sort of), we had to move across to a berth on the other side of the harbour, so that a dockside crane could lift it onto the bow – she sat there keeping look out all the way back to Southampton.

Balmoral’s ‘Central America and Mardi Gras’ cruise was a sailing that I will certainly never forget. I’ve never missed so many ports in 1 cruise, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip, the destinations we did visit and the hospitality of Balmoral’s wonderful crew. This was my longest cruise to date, but I could have happily stayed onboard for another 46-nights. I’m never quite ready to get off – there’s just no pleasing some people. 😉

I’d sailed on Balmoral just 4 months prior to this cruise and 5 months prior to that, so I knew what to expect. Nothing had really changed during that time, it felt like I had gone back home and I felt incredibly comfortable and safe. I know her layout like the back of my hand and almost every crew member’s face is familiar.

Some of the food offered during this cruise wasn’t quite as good as I’ve had on previous sailings with Fred. Olsen and I got tired of seeing veal and pangasius on the menu, however, I did have some superb dishes during the 46-nights. I can’t list them all, but I wanted to share just a few to wet your appetite. I ordered the Chateaubriand on one formal evening and it was perfection on a plate, both the surf and turf and tournedo of beef black and white I had near the end of the cruise were also very nice, and one thing you can never complain about on a Fred. Olsen cruise is the soup. As always, the soup offerings were excellent and I was never disappointed with what I had ordered. My absolute favourite even made an appearance in The Palms: fried chicken and buttered spaghetti. I know, it really is so simple, but the fried chicken is so incredibly good! Best fried chicken I’ve had at sea.

Another thing that Fred. Olsen do exceptionally well is Indian night. The food is delicious and it is always the busiest of all themed buffet evenings. Our Indian night was near the end of the cruise and we had all been patiently waiting for it, although I have to admit that I had already eaten my fair share of Indian food throughout the cruise. When things like chicken tikka and tarka dhal had been on the menu, I would always be drawn towards them, and when we returned to ship following our day in Miami, there was a chicken biryani on the menu. It was exactly what we needed and it was good, it was really good! I asked for mine without the extra chilli, so the chef gave me extra cashews instead – I wasn’t complaining! OK, back to Indian night – on offer during the themed night was: pork vindaloo, lamb jalfrezi, chicken shahjahani, masala machi and tangdi chicken. These were the hot options and there were at least 10 salad options, too! I couldn’t breathe by the end of my meal. I didn’t go wild, but I was nicely stuffed. As I said, Indian night is the most popular of all the themed evenings in the buffet and it gets VERY busy. I’ve experienced Indian themed food evenings on many ships and Fred. Olsen’s offering is by far the best. You won’t be disappointed.

Our allocated restaurant during the cruise was the Spey, much to my delight! I love to watch the world go by through those giant portholes on Deck 10. It’s a small and intimate option and it will always be my first choice when sailing on Balmoral. We had a table for 2, right at the far end (where the sun is gleaming through the doors in the picture), and we became good friends with those on the tables surrounding us – we said to each other one evening that we should try and make a table of 6, but I think it would have restricted the space too much. Instead, we chatted between tables.

A few days before the end of the cruise we enjoyed Traditional Afternoon Tea in the Observatory Lounge, it has become my end of cruise Fred. Olsen tradition and as always, it was very satisfying. Tasty sandwiches and even tastier cakes! They really do make good cakes on Fred. Olsen. Do you see the chocolate cake right at the front on the below picture? Well, I devoured that in around 6 seconds, it was DELICIOUS!!! I also made short work of an egg mayonnaise sandwich and a prawn sandwich, and my rose tea. Traditional Afternoon Tea is offered across the Fred. Olsen fleet at a cost of £7.95 per person. It is only available on selected sea days, so be sure to make your reservation at reception before it fills up. You can also notify them of any food allergies or restrictions and they will do their best to accommodate you and offer suitable, alternative options.

While I am on the subject of food, I’d like to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to Manny and the crew in The Palms. My friend whom with I was travelling is Muslim and must refrain from eating pork, however, one of her favourite dishes is Paella. It was offered on the dinner menu in The Palms at the beginning of the cruise but was made with chorizo. We asked at lunchtime if it would be possible for her to have a small plate of Paella that had been cooked without pork and were told it would be no problem. When we arrived for dinner that evening there was a plate of pork-free Paella waiting for her – she was absolutely thrilled and it was packed with seafood.

There were issues with missed ports on the cruise and a lot of people were complaining. Yes, it is disappointing, but there’s not a lot anyone can do about the weather – it’s a risk you take when you book a cruise. Had the Captain carried on and something gone wrong, then people would have complained about that too. Sometimes, you just can’t win. I huffed and puffed every time we were told we were missing a destination, but I didn’t let it spoil the overall trip. Regardless of anything else, we were all aboard a wonderful ship and enjoying ourselves, some people will never have that opportunity, so I always try to make the best of what comes my way, even if it is not quite what I had signed up for.

To Balmoral, I love you, and to her wonderful crew, I MISS you! Big thanks to everyone onboard, but especially to Kook Kai, Supoj, Christian, Mr. Wilson, Manny, Chawalphat, Robert, Erwin, Mr. Bobby, Narinder, Conrad, Rupendra, Dante, Jittra, Pam, Polly Ploy, Nahta, Reika, Apple (and the rest of the reception staff), all three girls on the tours desk and the chefs in The Palms. You all enhanced my experience aboard Balmoral in one way or another and I thank you for that!

Before I reach the end, I’d like to introduce you to my lovely friend, Sara – the friend I have been referring too throughout my blogs from this cruise. She is in the process of starting her own travel related blog and would be thrilled if you could drop by her page and give her a like – you can find her under Modern Day Bedouins.

I leave you with this, a very funny poem by a wonderful lady named Shirley. We met Shirley during our cruise on Balmoral and we adopted her as our nanna. She kindly gave me permission to share this with you and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

I thought I’d book a Christmas cruise

the idea seemed quite nice

to get away from England

and escape the snow and ice.

*

I just arrived at Tilbury

with my hope of Christmas charms

when a woman rushed towards me

and thrust a lifebelt in my arms.

*

No, the ship was not in danger

(the thought made me feel ill)

It was, as she explained to me

the pre-sail lifeboat drill.

*

My cabin seemed quite cosy

which stopped me feeling glum.

but little did I know just then

that worse was yet to come.

*

The food was unappealing

(was the reason poor cooks?)

the menus were a riddle

they should have written mystery books.

*

My lucky streak departed

this was a major flaw

Was it all a plot to kill me

for my coq-au vin was raw!

*

I worried some about this cruise

but after all I’ve said

I should have known much better

and booked again with Fred.

The moral of Nanna Shirley’s poem: stick to what you know best. She will now only cruise with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines. Lots of love Nanna Shirley, I know you will be reading this at some point! 🙂

So where will my next Fred. Olsen adventure take me? Well, not far, actually, as the next time I step aboard a Fred. Olsen ship, I’ll have to leave before she sets sail! 😉 Where will Fred. take me after that? You’ll have to wait and see, but I can tell you that I can’t wait – I’m having serious Fred. withdrawal!

 

Posted in Fred Olsen Cruise Line

Central America And The Mardi Gras With Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines Part 5

We awoke early the following morning and enjoyed a small breakfast in The Palms before heading ashore in a taxi. We shared a cab with 3 people we had met onboard during the cruise and within 20 minutes we were in the Art Deco capital of Miami. It was very windy, so our visit to the beach lasted around 4 minutes – enough time to be sand blasted and take a few photographs. We walked around South Beach for hours, popping our heads in various little shops, admiring the architecture and even grabbing a few pictures outside of Miami Ink (a famous tattoo studio on Washington Avenue) and the Miami Police Headquarters building, which you will probably have seen in many movies and TV shows, including CSI Miami. We also took pictures outside of the Versace mansion. On my visit to Miami last year, the excursion only included a panoramic tour of South Beach, so it was nice to walk around this time and visit the places that I had spotted from the coach last year.

Before we knew it, it was lunchtime, so we made our way to Wet Willies on Ocean Drive. It wasn’t the most impressive looking bar and restaurant on the strip, but it suited us and it soon filled up. Both the drinks and food at Wet Willies were really good. We each ordered the BBQ Chicken pizza and some shrimp and fries to share. The pizza was the perfect size and absolutely loaded with toppings. BBQ flavours are never my first choice, but something in my mind told me to order it and I’m glad I did because it was GOOD! In fact, I had a similar pizza a day or two later from the California Pizza Kitchen and honestly, the version at Wet Willies was much better. My drink was called Triple Play and it was a mixture of Call a Cab, Attitude Improvement and Sex on the Beach – one of those was enough for me, it was too early in the day to stagger back to the ship! As I said earlier, it was incredibly windy during our visit to Miami, but I think had the weather been better, Wet Willies would have been packed and we could have enjoyed dining al-fresco on the balcony.

We sailed from Miami and made our way overnight to Port Canaveral. There are many tour options available from Port Canaveral, but for me, it had to be a day at KSC (Kennedy Space Center). I visited last year and absolutely loved it. I HAD to go back. I enjoyed my second visit just as much as my first (I’ve turned into a bit of a Space geek), but I left feeling like we didn’t quite get to see everything. When I was at KSC last year, we stopped at the NASA Vehicle Assembly Building for photographs and to see some of the small exhibits there, we also drove around some of the launch pads, but we didn’t do any of that this time. It could be because it’s no longer allowed or maybe it just wasn’t an option on that day, but for me, that was the VIP aspect (our tour was called The Kennedy Space Center VIP Experience), which is not what I had this year. Missed places aside, the visitor complex is awesome, it really is! If you visit Port Canaveral then please consider KSC, even the drive out there is pleasant and as an added bonus you can look for alligators!

Jacksonville in Florida was our next port and we had a shopping day planned at St John’s Mall, which is about a 25-minute taxi ride from the ship. We were picked up by Ed from Ztrip at 08:30 and were soon on the highway. St John’s is an outside mall and it wasn’t exactly what we had expected, but somehow we still managed to leave with empty pockets! There were various designer stores, such as Coach, Tory Burch and Louis Vuitton, but we also managed to find a Target, Dollar Store and a few others. Basically, we looked everywhere!

When it was time to leave, Ed from Ztrip was waiting for us right where he said he would be, outside Target. He helped load our bags into the boot of the car (that would be the trunk for my American readers), made sure the air was the right temperature and that we were comfortable, and then he started the drive back to Jaxport. Ed was lovely and if he happens to be your driver when you’re in Jacksonville, then you hit the Ztrip jackpot!

Ztrip is available on apps for Android and iPhone and it’s a great alternative to a regular taxi. It’s not available in all areas in the U.S., yet, but I’m sure it won’t be long before it is country wide. At present, you can use the service in Jacksonville, Austin, Baltimore, Houston, Kansas City, Orlando, Denver, San Antonio, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Minneapolis. My favourite thing about Ztrip is that you can pre-book your ride, you don’t have to request a car there and then. Ideal, if like me, you are travelling in and out of Wi-Fi zones. The pre-book option means you can have peace of mind knowing that your cab will be waiting for you when you need it. Visit the Ztrip website to read more on how the app works.

Our run of port days ended with a stop in Charleston and we were blessed with warm air temperatures and clear skies. Some of us were also lucky enough to spot some dolphins swimming just a few feet away from the ship as we enjoyed our breakfast. My friend and I wandered around the city and made the obligatory visit to the famous Charleston City Market before I returned to Balmoral to meet in the Neptune Lounge for my trip to the Boone Hall Plantation.

The journey to the plantation didn’t take long and it was surprisingly quite nice. We passed over the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which gave us great views across the city and of Balmoral and USS Yorktown down below. Once we crossed the bridge and were driving through Mount Pleasant, I could see exactly how it got its name, it was typical southern America. Our first stop was at the Boone Hall Plantation farm shop, which sounded ideal, until our guide said we would be there for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Everyone on the tour started huffing and puffing, and finally our guide gave in and said that we would only stay for 20-minutes before making our way to Boone Hall. We arrived at the plantation entrance and the sun was bleating down, casting incredible shadows through the branches of the Oak trees that line the main drive to the Hall – it took 200 years for the trees to grow to the size they are today.

My main reason for booking the tour was to watch the Gullah presentation at the Gullah Theatre, but because we had stopped at the farm shop first, I missed the last showing! To say I wasn’t happy was an understatement and I tripped over my bottom lip at least 5 times. Although I missed the presentation, I certainly wasn’t disappointed with the beauty of the plantation. The grounds were simply stunning and you couldn’t help but fall in love, until I reached what is referred to as ‘Slave Street’. I found everything about this section of the grounds incredibly hard to swallow: a row of several, small brick buildings which were home to the plantations slaves. At one time, Boone Hall was home to almost 300 slaves, it was one of the wealthiest plantations in the south, producing cotton, red bricks and pecans. There were many artefacts throughout the grounds, but the one that stood out to me most was a shopping list in the main house. It read like most shopping lists do, if you glanced at it, but it wasn’t until you looked a little closer and realised what the first and clearly most important ‘item’ on the list was: 1 negro girl. My heart sank. To think that these people were thought of as nothing more than a possession, like a cup or a pair of trousers, it makes my heart ache, terribly.

Our tour inside Boone Hall itself only lasted for 30 minutes, but in that time our guide, Ed, really brought history alive for us – he was full of enthusiasm and clearly enjoyed his role. He told us all about the plantation and that the house we were stood inside wasn’t actually the original plantation house. The original property was demolished in 1936 and replaced with what we now see today. This was because the owners at the time – Thomas Stone and his wife, Alexandra – wanted a grander property. Ed continued to tell us that in the 1850’s, Boone Hall used to produce 4,000,000 red bricks per year, using 85 slaves! I can’t even begin to imagine what that kind of work must have been like.

As our stay in Charleston was until 22:00, my friend and I made the most of the evening and had dinner at Fleet Landing – which is a 2-minute walk from the ship. In fact, it’s almost on the dock! The food at Fleet Landing is superb and it’s also a great place to grab a drink. There’s an outdoor terrace – where we sat that evening and watched dolphins playing in the water as we enjoyed our meal – or if you’d prefer, you can enjoy the atmosphere inside the restaurant, it’s entirely up to you. I ordered the Seared Blackened Shrimp to start (pimento cheese grits & sweet corn cream – my third attempt at finding a style and texture of grits that I liked) and the Low Country Boil as an entrée. WOW! The shrimp and grits were amazing, I was hooked from the first mouthful and Fleet Landing restored my faith in that staple southern dish. When I go back to Fleet Landing (because I will), I’ll be ordering it again. The Low Country Boil was also delicious! It’s filled with shrimp, onion, corn on the cob, smoked sausage and red bliss potatoes all of which are then simmered in a lager broth. This also satisfied my taste buds and my tummy, but I couldn’t finish it, I was so full! Please consider visiting Fleet Landing during your time in Charleston. I’ve yet to visit another restaurant specialising in seafood that does it as well as they do! I promise you will NOT be disappointed. You can even view the menu online.

We ended our evening with a few drinks in a pub called The Griffon, which is just a short walk from Fleet Landing. It turned out to be the perfect place to relax and have a drink. The walls are covered in $1 bills and the place has a really friendly vibe to it. The bar staff were welcoming and the drinks were good. The Griffon turned out to be the ideal end to what had been a great day in South Carolina.

We sailed from Charleston a little later than planned and would have 2 days at sea before arriving in Bermuda….

Posted in Fred Olsen Cruise Line

Cruising Essentials

There are many great things about cruising, but interestingly, one thing not mentioned very often in a cruise brochure is the fact you can usually take as much luggage as you like – if your cruise does not include flights. I’m a big over-packer, I admit it, but when there’s no limit in place, it doesn’t hurt to take an extra pair of shoes…or 5. I would class them as essentials, whether I wear them or not! 😉

So, what else is essential when cruising? Well, let’s have a look…

Swimwear

It’s probably obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people forget to pack a swimsuit – I met 2 people on my last cruise that forgot. Packing fashionable swimwear for your cruise is important. All cruise ships have a pool area, and many of them offer water sports or snorkelling as part of daytrips in regions such as the Caribbean and South Pacific. Therefore, it really is a good idea to pack a swimming costume of some sort. They can easily be poked into a small space in your suitcase, or if you’re travelling with kids, pack their swimwear in your hand luggage – as soon as you board, they can jump in the swimming pool and you can relax with a cocktail.

Travel adapter and extension lead

A lot of people forget this one, but not all ships have the same electrical outlets as what you’re used to at home. I always pack an adaptor, unless I am travelling with P&O Cruises or Saga – they have U.K. outlets in their cabins. You can usually buy them onboard, or rent them, but it’s always best to have your own.

Most cabins still only have one or two power outlets, so it’s also wise to pack a short extension cable – my friend and I always pack one when we travel because we have so many electrical items to charge. This way, we can both charge our phones, iPods or e-readers at the same time.

Medication

All cruise ships have a medical centre onboard, but it is still wise to take the basics with you. The last thing you want is to feel a little under the weather with flu and then spend time and money seeing the onboard doctor for simple things you could have packed, such as paracetamol and decongestants.

Remember to take seasickness pills too. Even if you have never been seasick before, it is still wise to take them. Changes in your body, or bad weather could mean you end up needing to take them. I have been on 47 cruises and been seasick once, but I still always take a packet with me on every cruise.

Sun Cream AND After Sun

Sun cream and after sun are vital. The sun is much stronger at sea, but you often don’t realise it until it is too late and you’re burned to a crisp. Always pack sun cream and a bottle of after sun. I don’t specifically use after sun myself, but I do use an aloe based moisturiser, which works in the same way. Even if you are not visiting a destination that is hot and sunny, you could still pack sun cream as it will also protect your skin in cold weather.

I could go on and on with a wide variety of other essential items, but if you’re a cruise-a-holic like me, you probably already know about them!

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