Princess Cruises ‘Sky Princess’ Completes Her Sea Trials

Princess Cruises has accomplished another major milestone in preparation for the launch of its newest ship, Sky Princess, by completing the vessel’s sea trials.

The 3,660-guest cruise ship set out to sea from a construction dock at Fincantieri Shipyard in Monfalcone, Italy and was put through its paces with a series of manoeuvres to test the propulsion, steering and navigational equipment.

After a successful six days of trials, Sky Princess is now back in the shipyard where she will undergo further exterior and interior finishing in preparation for her 7-day Mediterranean and Adriatic maiden voyage on October 20, 2019.

The ship will sail a short season in the Mediterranean before heading to the Caribbean.

Sky Princess will be an evolution of sister ships Royal Princess, Regal Princess and Majestic Princess. Her enhancements will also feature on Enchanted Princess, which launches in Southampton in June 2020. They include:

  • Two ‘Sky Suites’, which have the largest balconies at sea and will be centrally located on the top decks. Measuring 1,012 square feet (starboard side Sky Suite) and 947 square feet (port side Sky Suite) the balconies will provide a private vantage of the top deck Movies Under the Stars cinema screen, offer 270-degree panorama views and sleep up to five guests. They will feature two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a dining area with skylight as well as a host of exclusive amenities
  • New entertainment such as the jazz lounge ‘Take Five’, a redesigned Vista Lounge, an enhanced Princess Theatre and the recently announced production show ‘Rock Opera’
  • More than 25 dining venues and bars including the World Fresh Marketplace and speciality restaurants Bistro Sur La Mer (French bistro), Crown Grill Steakhouse and Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria
  • A redesigned Sanctuary area, the spa-inspired top deck retreat reserved for adults. The Sanctuary will feature an enhanced, contemporary design including twice as many private cabanas as its sister ships, as well as new lounge furniture and the option for guests to indulge in a spa treatment
  • Princess MedallionClass experience, featuring the complimentary OceanMedallion wearable device, which is the same size as a 10p piece, delivers an entirely new level of service and creates a holiday that is more simple, effortless and personalised with:

–        Expedited arrival – Guests who arrive at the terminal with travel documents (i.e. passports) uploaded to their profile enjoy a streamlined and expedited check-in process that gets their holiday started even sooner

–        Touchless stateroom entry – No need to touch, swipe or insert cards or devices into the door handle to unlock the stateroom. As a guest approaches their stateroom the door automatically unlocks

–        On-demand services – Using smart devices, guests have the ability to order drinks, food and retail items such as suntan lotion and have them delivered directly anywhere onboard, including to their stateroom

–        Interactive game play – Available on portals throughout the ship, PlayOcean allows guests to take part in digital scavenger hunts, interactive games and create their own avatars, as well as turning their smart device into a game controller for interactive gaming on the Movies Under The Stars top-deck screen

–        Family and friend locator – Accessible on portals throughout the ships and via guests’ smart devices, OceanCompass leverages the OceanMedallion to easily locate and chat with friends and family onboard. OceanCompass guides guests throughout their journey, providing directional information so they can seamlessly navigate to their next point of interest

–        Interactive voyage timeline – Available on ship portals and via guests’ smart devices, JourneyView is an interactive timeline that lets guests scroll through all of the events available on board during their voyage and bookmark activities they’re interested into their own personalised itinerary. Voyage itineraries are available as many as 60 days in advance, allowing guests to start planning before they leave home

The Princess Cruises fleet will continue to expand with the launch of Enchanted Princess and three additional ships arriving in 2021, 2023 and 2025.

Princess Cruises is offering a 7-day Eastern Caribbean voyage on Sky Princess, departing February 22, 2020. Sailing roundtrip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, ports of call are Princess Cays (Bahamas), St Thomas and St Maarten. Special offer currently available with prices from £999 per person for a mini-suite.

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Natural Scandinavia Aboard Spirit Of Discovery

I’ve been at that cruising business, again. Those of you who follow me on social media will be aware that I was back onboard Spirit of Discovery recently for her ‘Natural Scandinavia’ cruise. It was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the ports, met some new friends and bumped into a few old ones. I didn’t do many tours on this cruise, I wanted to take it at a slightly more leisurely pace, so this blog is a laid back look at the not so touristy side of Scandinavia.

We made calls to Skagen, Stockholm, Lulea, Oulu, Pori and Oslo. Originally, we were scheduled to call into Fredrikstad, but strong winds forced Captain Sunderland to cancel that port and sail us to Oslo.

With the exception of Stockholm, most of the ports were much smaller and the emphasis was more on nature and the outdoors. I had 2 tours booked for our call to Fredrikstad, but when it was cancelled, I was down to one. I wanted to spend time in these places simply taking in the local environment and the days at my own pace. Sometimes, I think we overfill our port days and occasionally it is nice to just step back and see what the day brings. In Skagen, I walked through the town and enjoyed the atmosphere before the pouring rain came. I had planned to go to the beach and stand with one foot in the Baltic Sea and one foot in the North Sea, but it was just too windy and wet! The one thing I liked most about Skagen was the railway tracks that went right through the middle of town. I was desperate to see the train, but I either missed it or it never came.

Stockholm’s Old Town (Gamla Stan) always calls my name and that’s where I went when the ship was cleared and we were able to go ashore. I wasn’t out too long, just long enough to familiarise myself with old haunts and find a few new ones. We had an overnight, so I didn’t see the point in cramming everything into one day. On day two, I walked around the opposite side of the marina and into districts I’d never been before. It was very pleasant, and some aspects reminded me of Amsterdam. Because of having no plan and just seeing where I ended up, I now have a new area to visit if I ever find myself back in Stockholm again. I also managed to catch the band as they made their way towards the Royal Palace for the changing of the guard.

Of course, the Stockholm archipelago was a massive highlight of this cruise and because we were in port for 2 days, we had the pleasure of sailing in during the morning and out late evening, so there was a real contrast of colours and a change in sea traffic. If you ever get the chance to do a cruise that includes Stockholm, please do it, if for nothing other than the experience of sailing through the archipelago.

Lulea and Pori were very small ports, but both equally charming. The towns here were virtually identical and there wasn’t a great deal going on, however, I really enjoyed the drive from the ship to the town, in each. Scandinavia is so incredibly green, and Sweden and Finland proved this beautifully. At times, it was like driving right through the heart of a thick forest. I loved it. The port in Lulea was also quite pleasant. A little industrial on one side, but on the other, you could go for a walk through the woods or enjoy sitting in the small marina.

My favourite port of the cruise was definitely Oulu in Finland. I booked the ‘Finnish Nature at its Finest’ tour and I so enjoyed being at one with the natural Finnish countryside. We drove to Kiiminiki where we spent a few hours walking around the protected reserve at Koitelinkoski. It was overcast during our visit, but it’s one of those places that looks great and always appeals, regardless of the weather. I’d love to see it in the very depths of winter, I bet it’s incredible when covered with snow. We walked around the small islands, listening to the sounds of the water and the noise from the birds, it really was peaceful. There are several small picnic-type areas throughout the park and numerous families were having a BBQ. You can collect wood at the entrance, free of charge. Our lunch was served at the Koiteli Mood House on Sahasa Island. We were given forest mushroom soup and smoked salmon to start, reindeer meat with mashed potatoes and vegetables to follow, and then cream with cranberries to finish. It was different, let’s put it that way. The reindeer meat and potatoes were quite nice, I did enjoy a few mouthfuls of that, but the winner was definitely the dessert. It was super creamy and topped with an edible flower. I always like to try local dishes when I travel and it’s always a bonus when you find something super tasty.

Oslo was our final port and it was my first time there. We docked right in the heart of town and had great views on the starboard side of the fortress and on the port side of the town and small islands – it was postcard perfect. Again, I took the day at my own pace, walking right round the marina before heading into the city centre. I passed birds, statues, colourful flowers, a man selling fish from the bow of his fishing boat, and a protest in the main square that I think had something to do with climate change and the environment – I don’t speak Norwegian. I had a great day and there was no rush. I literally took the time to smell the flowers, to soak in the atmosphere of the protest and to get the perfect shot of the cormorant who was having the world’s longest wash. Oslo ended the Natural Scandinavia cruise perfectly.

In total, Spirit of Discovery sailed 3,549.6 nautical miles on her ‘Natural Scandinavia’ cruise, she also broke three records as she went, being the largest cruise ship to ever dock in Skagen, Oulu and Pori.

For more about Spirit of Discovery, head over to my photo blog.

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Welcome Aboard Spirit Of Discovery: A Photographic Journey

Today, I’m going to take you on a photographic tour through Spirit of Discovery. A lot of people requested more interior images, so I went around the ship a dozen times on my recent ‘Natural Scandinavia’ cruise, gathering as many pictures as physically possible, I even went to the Medical Centre for you! If there’s anything you’d like to know about the ship or something in particular you’d like to see, please let me know as chances are, I have the picture or know the answer to your question.

If you haven’t yet booked your cruise on Spirit of Discovery, then my question to you would be what are you waiting for? She is incredible and her crew are superb. The food was fantastic, entertainment was very good and varied (I really enjoyed the performance from Jools Holland and Ruby Turner) and the cabins are stylish and very comfortable. Her public areas are all spacious and beautifully designed, and I’m still obsessed with the self-service coffee machines in The Grill!

The atrium from above, showing decks 5, 6 and 7, where you’ll find the Library, Craft Room, South Cape Bar and living Room

The gorgeous atrium as seen from Deck 5 – directly in front of the Living Room.

One side of the Living Room. The Living Room bar is open from morning until 11pm. You can also get fresh finger sandwiches, pastries and ice cream here, and tea and coffee.

A section of the library on Deck 6.

The self-service coffee and tea area in the library. There’s no juice machine here, but there are 2 in The Grill.

Another angle of the library, it extends across a large area but is broken into sections so it feels cosy.

The Craft Room Deck 6

The Card Room on Deck 6

South Cape Bar on Deck 6. Est. 2019.

There are several sofas and tables just outside the South Cape Bar, if you’d prefer something more comfortable. I love the vases!

The promenade Deck, Deck 6.

The Promenade Deck aft

Get your laps in!

One angle of the Britannia Lounge on Deck 12. One of my absolute favourite spaces onboard. This is the place for evening dancing and live music.

The Britannia Lounge bar

I love the lighting above the bar in the Britannia Lounge.

Furnishings in the Britannia Lounge

In front of the Britannia Lounge – there’s a door behind the band area.

The Lido Deck. It’s a great place to enjoy day and night, and another of my favourite areas. I love the colours!

A wide-angle shot from the other direction showing the pool and loungers, and 2 hot tubs at the back.

A view point on Deck 13 aft.

You can do laps on Deck 13 and Deck 6

Shuffleboard on Deck 13.

Shuffleboard in the middle and then cosy chairs and sofas for lounging.

The Fairway on Deck 13 port side. You can play golf or a shooting game.

Ping Pong tables on Deck 12.

Don’t worry, the ice cream machine is still there! it’s on the Lido, next to the bar.

The boiled sweets are still there, too. They are on the Lido (just outside The Grill) on the starboard side.

Entrance to The Grill on Deck 12 aft. The Grill is inside and then there is outside seating on the verandah. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Grill is now a buffet dinner option on smart casual evenings. On formal nights, one side is waiter service and the other is buffet.

One of the seating areas in The Grill. On formal evenings you have the choice of buffet or waiter service. On smart casual evenings it is a buffet. This photo shows it set for dinner.

Another view of The Grill. This photo showing it set for lunch.

Ready for Sunday roast carving in The Grill.

Cheese selection as set up buffet-style.

Salad selection in The Grill.

Salad bar and outer grill on The verandah. You can enjoy self-service salad or table service for fish and chips, burgers, hot dogs and more.

The grill on The verandah.

Saga’s famous fish and chips at The Verandah grill.

The Verandah as seen from Deck 13.

The Grand Dining Room on Deck 5. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Another section within The Grand Dining Room.

Looking down into The Grand Dining Room from The Club above on Deck 6.

The Club by Jools Holland Deck 6. Open for dinner until 9pm and then it becomes an evening entertainment venue with live music.

I love The Club. It’s my joint favourite restaurant (with East to West) and the ambience is perfect.

On the port side, you can observe the galley team preparing the food for The Club.

Some of the galley team at The Club.

A filet mignon with thrice cooked chips and creamed spinach – my favourite!

East to West Deck 6 aft port side. Open for dinner only.

The new look East to West is gorgeous. The colours are fresh and vibrant.

King prawn massaman curry with jasmine rice, wilted pak choi and Chinese cabbage – absolutely delicious and not spicy at all.

Coast to Coast restaurant is on Deck 6 aft starboard side. Most dishes are seafood, but they do have a few other options. It’s ALWAYS fully booked, so make sure you get in there early. Open for dinner only.

Two seater tables as you enter Coast to Coast.

Larger tables in Coast to Coast

Lobster thermidor at Coast to Coast.

The Secret Garden Deck 6 aft outside East to West and Coast to Coast.

Her gorgeous tiered stern. Each deck has an aft access door on either side and a set of stairs either side. You’ll also find some sort of seating area on each.

And from above in the sunshine.

The gym is located on Deck 13 forward – above the Britannia Lounge. it can be accessed via the Deck 13 port side forward staircase (where the S500 cabins are) or via Deck 12 on the starboard side. Just before you enter the Britannia Lounge (starboard side), you’ll see a staircase on your left, that leads you to the gym.

The hydrotherapy pool within the spa on Deck 5. The spa is open 8am to 8pm.

Hot stone beds opposite the hydrotherapy pool.

The infra-red sauna

One of the treatment rooms

The Playhouse Theatre during a performance from Jools Holland and Ruby Turner. This space is used for theatre-style shows, lectures and live music.

The launderette on Deck 8. There’s also one on Deck 10. Washing powder is still provided.

The Medical Centre on Deck 4. That’s as much as we all need to know about that! 😉

The Shop on Deck 5. There’s also a jewellery shop on the other side of the Living Room.

One of the stairwells showcasing the incredible art onboard. It really is fabulous!

The new interactive TV system in each cabin is very good. They’re still working on additional features, but there’s a great movie collection.

 

If there’s anything else you’d like to see or something you’d like to ask, please do drop a comment and I’ll do my best to find you the picture or get you the answer.

 

 

 

 

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A First Look At Next-Generation River Cruising On The Mekong With Emerald Waterways

Emerald Waterways’ brand-new Star-Ship has set sail! The line’s first self-built Star-Ship outside of Europe is sailing through vibrant Vietnam and Cambodia as she travels along the Mekong River. With the very first set of images released, take a look at life on-board Emerald Harmony.

From the first look, the Star-Ship’s style is chic and modern, fusing authentic Asian style with contemporary design. A journey through Southeast Asia is a sensory experience, with food, scents, and decor, as vibrant as the surrounding architecture along the river.

Sun Deck

You can still join Emerald Waterways on its inaugural season, travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia to witness the community spirit along the riverbank, in comfort. With the launch, Emerald Waterways is celebrating with an offer – guests who book before 20 September 2019 can save up to £2,250 per couple, plus unlimited free drinks on board Emerald Harmony.

Reflections Restaurant

Emerald Harmony caters to just 84 guests in 42 cabins with the Star-Ship providing spacious suites and public areas such as the Sun and Pool decks to relax on, a wellness area with spa, the Horizon Bar & Lounge, and Reflections Restaurant. Exclusive to Emerald Harmony is the Lotus Lounge, an area to relax and watch the endless horizons unfold after a day exploring on shore.

In a move that is set to replicate across the European fleet, the Emerald Harmony becomes the first Star-Ship to remove all single-use plastic. Initiatives include providing all guests with a complementary metal water bottle to refill from water stations on the Star-Ship. Other initiatives are also in place such as glass water bottles in the cabins, using bamboo and paper straws in the Reflections Restaurant & Horizon Bar and cabin toiletry miniatures replaced with refillable dispensers.

Horizon Bar & Lounge

Be among the very first people to enjoy an incredible Vietnam and Cambodia experience on board the regions newest Star-Ship during this season.

There is still availability to book the 19-day Treasures & Temples of Vietnam & Cambodia river cruise with Emerald Harmony, including the 5 October 2019 sailing for £5,195 per person. Guests begin their adventure in Hanoi with the ancient temple architecture, then travel along to Halong Bay, before joining the Mekong River through My Tho, Sa Dec and into Cambodia ending in Siem Reap before the return flight home.

Owners one bedroom balcony

Highlights of this newly launched river cruise include the famous Cu Chi Tunnels, the iconic presidential Reunification Palace and the village of Dat Dua’s coconut candy workshop.

Prices include return flights, transfers, nights on board a Star-Ship and / or hotels as stated, all tipping and gratuities, food and selected *drinks onboard, shore excursions and exclusive onboard events and experiences.

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Spirit Of Discovery: A Great British Adventure Part 3

Spirit of Discovery would next call to Portland and it was a hot and sunny day, perfect for my Jurassic Coastline excursion, or so I thought. Our first stop was at Charmouth to admire the incredible coastline. It looked like something you’d only ever see in a movie, it was spectacular, I’m only sorry that my photograph does it absolutely no justice. This hadn’t been our planned stop, but there was something going on at White Bay that made it impossible for us to visit and our guide said he thought Charmouth was prettier. I was quite happy either way, but I was disappointed that we never went searching for fossils – I’d really been looking forward to that.

We then made our way to Lyme Regis where we had just under 2 hours of free time to enjoy the beach, take a walk through the pretty town or just sit and people watch with an ice cream. This tour was marked as moderate, but I found it quite a trek, especially as it was so hot. I walked from the coach park to the beach, which was all downhill and very steep in places, but still pleasant. It’s a typical seaside town and it was packed with people enjoying the glorious weather. I walked along the front, stopping to look at some of the fossils on the market stalls, and then made my way into the town. I knew the walk back up was going to be almost vertical, so I decided to go via the road instead of back along the seafront, which also meant I was out of the sun. I paced myself through the village before hiking back to the coach park. By the time I got there, I was exhausted. I’d stopped at a shop on the way to buy a cold drink and bar of chocolate, so I sat beneath a tree and enjoyed those while waiting for everyone else to return to the coach.

Spirit of Discovery dropped anchor off St Peter Port in Guernsey before 9am and the tenders were lowered shortly after. It was another gorgeous day and I spent a lot of it enjoying more of the ships space and sadly, starting my packing. I hadn’t booked myself on any tours, I just wanted to take the day as it came. Once most passengers had left, I ventured down to the tender pontoon to catch a ride ashore. It was great fun, there were dozens of other small crafts out on the water. As we tied up in the harbour I realised I hadn’t picked up my purse. I took that as a sign to go back ‘home’ and enjoy being on the ship, so, that’s what I did. I had the tender to myself on the way back, which meant it took approx 0.05 seconds to scan my cruise card and make it back to my cabin. I ordered chicken korma on room service for lunch, put a movie on in the background and started adding more clothes to my case. One thing I can never stop myself from doing on a SAGA ship is eating, everything is so delicious, and I mean everything.

Southampton was our final port of call and I was up early for a drive to Portsmouth to see the Mary Rose and HMS Victory. The Mary Rose was astonishing, she really was. I was gobsmacked by her preservation and the extent of the items that had also been recovered with her. The search for her began in 1965, but it wasn’t until 1971 that divers were sure they’d found her. Excavation began in 1979 and in 1982 they began to raise the hull. King henry VIII’s flagship had sat at the bottom of the Solent for more than 400 years! I don’t want to say too much because there’s an entire exhibition you can enjoy on site and it’s bursting with information, facts and figures. All I will say is that you’ll be truly blown away when you see her.

HMS Victory was also a pretty impressive sight. Did you know she’s the oldest naval ship in the world that’s still in commission? She’s given 241 years of service so far. She’s just as magnificent as the Mary Rose, but for different reasons. First of all, look at her, she’s incredible! If you think of the battles she’s seen since she launched in 1765, it’s hard to comprehend. She was, after all, Lord Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. There’s not a lot left of her interior that’s original, but she’s still worth exploring. Her decks are incredibly low, I walked hunched over for almost all of my time inside, which made me go through at a quicker rate than I would have liked, and the stairs are also very steep, some almost vertical, so please bear this in mind when planning your visit.

Before we knew it, we were back where we had started, Dover. The inaugural cruise had come to an end and it was time to bid farewell to this lovely ship, until the next adventure.

So, all this talk of ports, but what about Spirit of Discovery? Well, I was somewhat apprehensive when I first saw her. When I boarded (before her naming ceremony) I felt quite emotional. She was absolutely stunning, there was no doubt about that, but in some ways, she wasn’t what I’d come to know of SAGA over the years and I couldn’t help but compare her to Saga Sapphire. I think I was somewhat overwhelmed by the difference. I’ve so many wonderful memories from SAGA cruises and the change felt heavy. It also hadn’t helped seeing Saga Sapphire just a few days earlier.

By the time she sailed from Dover on the evening of July 10, things were beginning to change. I’d bumped into many people whom I’d met on previous cruises and I was starting to feel the ships heartbeat. I know that sounds odd, but that’s the only way I can describe it. The trade and media events were finished, and she was now filled with loyal Saganauts (and a few new ones) who were emitting a massive amount of energy and excitement. She was now what I remembered, but in a fancy new form. It was then I realised that had been the key piece of the puzzle I’d been missing, SAGA passengers. Now, I was settling into the ship and beginning to feel that SAGA experience come through in these unfamiliar areas. By the end of the cruise, I had been charmed and would walk around her decks with a permanent smile – everything was pleasing to me. I was sad to leave, but I’m joining her again on Saturday for her ‘Natural Scandinavia’ cruise. Following that sailing, I’m going to share with you EVERY aspect of her, so until then, let me show you some of the spaces that I enjoy the most.

The LIDO Deck, I just love it. It’s a great place to relax in the day and at night, it’s the number one choice for a deck party if the weather is good. It’s nice to finally have that outdoor space on a SAGA ship where everyone can get together and enjoy the atmosphere.

The Britannia Lounge is a stunning space. There’s not too much going on in there during port days, so if you’re having a peaceful day onboard, it’s a great place to take your book. The evening brings a different story, as the room comes alive with various musical performances until the early morning hours. The glass windows, high ceilings and gorgeous décor made this one of my favourite areas onboard as soon as I walked in.

East to West is also another beautiful space and the new menu is very impressive. Don’t worry, I’ll get to the food, but first the decor. It still retains that dark wood and Eastern vibe, but the space is lightened by brightly coloured chairs, huge pieces of art and large picture windows. The menu offers everything from soft shell crab to beef, and you must try it.

As I said, I’ll be back very soon with a real inside look at Spirit of Discovery from top to bottom, but if you can’t wait for my blog for all the updates, then follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for live posts from the Gulf of Bothnia.

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Spirit Of Discovery: A Great British Adventure Part 1

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of events, including a short preview cruise, a rather splendid naming ceremony and then to top it all off, a maiden voyage around the British Isles. All on SAGA’s newest ship, Spirit of Discovery.

The wait for her arrival in the UK was one filled with excitement and anticipation, it was going to be the cruise event of the year and on July 5th, it was finally time for the big celebration. Her naming ceremony was fantastic and it began with a dockside garden party, where VIP guests could enjoy Balfour wines, finger sandwiches and cakes. The day was blanketed in the kind of atmosphere that only comes with the build-up to a ships naming ceremony.

We took our seats, ready for the big event, and had pre-bottle smashing performances from the Morriston Orpheus Choir and the Band of Her Majesty’s Royal Marines Collingwood – both of which were absolutely wonderful. There’s something quite special about a brass band and I believe this one is probably the finest in the world. Next came short speeches (interrupted several times by a persistent spitfire flying overhead) from Lance Batchelor and Robin Shaw, both of whom were introduced by the master of ceremonies, John Parton. Spirit of Discovery was then blessed by The Right Reverend Trevor Willmott before HRH The Duchess of Cornwall gave her own blessing and ultimately christened the ship. Huge cheers from the crowd ashore rang out, as did those from the hundreds of her crew that had lined her bow. It was a day I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

Before joining Spirit of Discovery on her maiden voyage, I spent several days in Dover and decided I’d give myself at least one day of tourist time, so off I went to explore Dover Castle. I picked a great day for it! The air temperature was lower than it had been (so I wasn’t hyperventilating from the heat by the time I’d made it to the top of the hill) and although it was a Sunday, it wasn’t packed full of people.

I love learning and when it comes to history I’m always fascinated. I mean, look at Dover Castle, to think that hundreds of years ago there were battles there, it survived two wars and who knows what else over the years – if only the walls could talk!

I started my journey with a trip down to the Underground Hospital. The lighting is very low, so you have to watch your footing, but it’s set up exactly as it would have been during the war – complete with original operating tools, tables and chairs, bicycles and more. It was one of the best features of the grounds for me. You follow the journey of an injured WWI pilot as he is rushed through to the operating theatre. Sadly, you can’t take photos in the tunnels, so I can’t show you that, but I can show you images of the grounds.

Leaving the tunnels and giving my eyes a minute to readjust, I started the walk towards the Great Tower. I was excited to get inside and see what it was like. Built by Henry II, it’s one of England’s most important castles and those visiting can explore everything from the lower level kitchens to the king’s bedchamber. One thing you’ll notice throughout are the lack of information panels, this is deliberate to keep each space as authentic as possible. If you do have questions, you can always ask one of the on-site members of staff who are often dressed up and re-enacting daily life within the tower.

I explored the medieval tunnels and more of the grounds before ending my day with Operation Dynamo, a series of tunnels kitted out with state-of-the-art lighting and projection that lets you walk through and experience the drama of the Dunkirk evacuation of May 1940. It was very powerful, especially since that operation took place inside some of the very tunnels I was standing in. Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay masterminded the evacuation and rescue of 338,000 troops, using next to no resources, from his Naval HQ base within the tunnels below Dover Castle.

Spirit of Discovery finally sailed on her maiden voyage at 10pm on Wednesday July 10th and what a special time it was. Fireworks lit up the night sky and I think everyone onboard was out on the top decks enjoying the spectacle. It was nice to be onboard with passengers, I enjoyed observing their reactions and hearing what they thought of the new ship. It was also nice to meet several people who were new to cruising. What a ship to pick for your first ever cruise.

Our itinerary was one around the British Isles and we were blessed with good weather for the majority of it. Our first stop was Port of Tyne, home sweet home for me, but I wasn’t going home for the day, I was booked on an excursion to Alnwick Castle and Gardens.

I visited Alnwick Castle many years ago as a child but couldn’t remember much about it, so I was looking forward to bringing old memories back to life. Before we did anything, though, we had an exclusive meeting with the Duchess of Northumberland and what a remarkable person she is. To get such detailed insight into the creation of the gardens was a huge privilege. She told us many stories about their design and creation, and the obstacles she faced during the process. I listened attentively to everything she said, but what I walked away with was an even greater realisation that if you have a vision for something in life, you need to go for it, and you need to do everything you can to ensure that vision becomes the perfect reality. If people bring you down or don’t show the same level of passion, then you don’t need them the be involved.

The Poison Garden was awesome, basically. To think, there are so many plants we see on an almost daily basis that could in fact kill us. Don’t worry, you would need to be exposed to some of them for long periods of time, but others really aren’t so forgiving. I’d highly recommend a walk-through here if you visit. I’m not a fan of gardens, if I’m being honest, but this was something completely different and very interesting.

The castle itself took me right into a Harry Potter movie and I loved it. There were groups of children (and a few adults) having broomstick flying lessons on one large section of grass within the walls. It was quite funny to watch. I wasn’t tempted to join them, I think my broomstick flying days are way behind me, but what a great idea for the kids! A chance to have some fun and learn about the history of this splendid castle.

The exterior demands your attention, it’s staggering, but the real treat lies within the interior walls. The castle is the current residence of the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, so don’t expect every room to take you back in time – it’s also a family home. I particularly liked the living room, it was filled with incredible furniture and priceless artwork, but there was also a large flat screen TV and several beanbags. I couldn’t help but smile to myself – that was another thing I loved about the castle, I was seeing it as it would have been, blended with how a modern-day family uses the space. My absolute hands-down favourite room was the library. It was just breath-taking, and apparently used in an episode of Downton Abbey. I could have spent hours in there looking at all the books and just generally enjoying the space. Sadly, you can’t take pictures inside the castle, but if you Google the library, you’ll see exactly what I mean. 

Our next port was Newhaven for various tours to Edinburgh and I was booked to visit the Real Mary King’s Close. If you’re ever in Edinburgh, you MUST go along and experience this, it was fascinating. The streets are very well preserved – including Edinburgh’s only preserved 17th century street – and although not exactly how they once were in ancient times, you can really get a feel for what life must have been like and how people lived. We learned about the plague, how the poor lived in comparison to those with a little extra money and heard the story about a small girl who supposedly haunts a room in one of the houses.  Our guide, Sam, was excellent! I must take a second to acknowledge him as he’d only been in the job one week but you’d have thought he’d been there for years – he was full of information and very entertaining.

Part 2 of my Great British Adventure aboard Spirit of Discovery will be here very soon, but until then, let me leave you with a few photos from The Club by Jools Holland, where the food is phenomenal! This is the shrimp cocktail followed by a 8oz filet mignon, served with thrice-cooked chips and the most delicious creamed spinach I’ve ever tasted! Sorry, I didn’t mean to give you food envy, but I was always told to share! 😉

 

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Posted in Saga Cruises

Spirit Of Discovery: A Great British Adventure Part 2

Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands was our next stop and we arrived on a blustery and rather wet morning, but to the wonderful sound of bagpipes. I hadn’t planned much for our visit here, but I ended up at the local Kirkjuvagr (pronounced kirk-u-vaar) gin distillery for an impromptu tour and gin tasting session. I’m not a huge fan of gin, but my goodness, they had some incredible flavours! I sampled one that almost blew my head off, to say the alcohol content was potent is an understatement. I don’t know how, but I managed the walk back to the shuttle bus, and in a straight line.

As we sailed for Belfast, we enjoyed some scenic cruising in the Inner Hebrides and that came with some spectacular shows from several pods of dolphins. In all my 61 cruises, I’d never been afforded as many photo opportunities as I was that day. All they wanted to do was play and all I wanted to do was capture them on camera. The open decks were filled with people enjoying the scenery and lunch al fresco was a real treat. It was a practically perfect day at sea.

Soggy, windy and a little on the chilly side, that was our morning in Belfast, but it was OK. I hopped on the shuttle and took myself off for an easy walk around the city. I like Belfast, very much, and always find something to do during my time there. Had the weather been better, I would have stayed in town much longer than I did, but the wind was pushing the rain sideways and no matter how I tried, I was getting soaked. I decided to return to the ship and see what was on offer for lunch. Much to my delight, there was curry, so I filled my plate. I also spent more time (as you do at 35 years of age) playing with the self serve drink machines in The Grill. I’m slightly obsessed with those and have decided I quite like a decaf cappuccino.

Our next port was Liverpool and I was booked on the ‘Plas Newydd and Llangollen Steam Railway’ which took us to Wales for the day. Honestly, I’d only booked the tour for the railway, but as things would turn out, it was Plas Newydd that I ultimately found more interesting. Llangollen has been synonymous with two women, known as “The Ladies of Llangollen”, since the 18th century. The stories of Lady Eleanor Charlotte Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby were well known in the area and they ultimately settled in Pen-Y-Mas cottage, known now as Plas Newydd. As younger women, they’d ran away together several times, their families hot on their heels to bring them back and keep them away from one another, but eventually, they settled together and spent the rest of their lives at Plas Newydd. I didn’t know any of what I’ve just told you before getting there. I’d had no time to do any real research on the area and i’d only very lightly scanned the tour information, so to see this lovely house and grounds and then hear the story behind it was a real treat on arrival.

The place is incredible. I loved the carvings that covered the exterior and interior of the property, and there were some gorgeous stained-glass windows in the rooms. It felt smaller inside than it looked on the outside, but it must have been a wonderful place to live. I believe the two ladies nurtured the gardens over many years. There wasn’t much more than a dusty field when they arrived and what you now see today is largely down to their efforts over the decades that they lived there. It’s definitely a place you should visit.

The Llangollen Steam Railway was fun, but the steam train was in hospital, so we had a diesel engine instead. I enjoyed the ride through the countryside, watching the lambs playing in the fields and admiring the little creeks we towered above. We went from Llangollen (which is a very pretty little town) to Corwen, where we boarded our coach for the journey back to Liverpool. As we sailed, we had some incredible fireworks to enjoy.

I stayed onboard in Dublin to enjoy the delights of Spirit of Discovery and believe it or not, I had a spa appointment. I’m not big on spa or salon visits, but a friend of mine had been telling me for months to get a keratin hair treatment, so I did. Irena looked after me and explained everything from beginning to end. She started by trimming 2 cm off the ends of my hair and then washing it with a special sulphate free shampoo that is designed to deep clean the hair before applying the keratin treatment. Next, she worked the treatment through my hair in small sections – like you would if you were having your hair coloured – before drying it and then using special (and very expensive) keratin straighteners to finish it all off. I hadn’t known what to expect and didn’t realise it was applied and then left on the hair. Only thing I will note is that although the treatment she used is completely free of chemicals (it’s all natural) it still irritated my eyes a little when I straightened the forward sections of my hair the following morning. I’d recommend you keep the eye closed on the side your straightening. Would I have it done again? Definitely! I immediately noticed a difference. There was far less frizz, my hair was smoother and it’s been much easier to dry and straighten since.

An early start was on the cards in Cobh and as we sailed into port, a thick and very low fog was making visibility pretty poor. I wouldn’t have been too concerned, but I was booked on the ‘Titanic Trail Walking Tour’ and didn’t really want to get rained on all day. We walked through the city, stopping at various points that were associated with Titanic, including the Titanic Monument, but we also visited St Colman’s Cathedral and stopped for a traditional Irish coffee at Rob Roy’s. it was a very good tour and our guide was excellent. I really can’t rate it highly enough and, as luck would have it, the rain held off!

The tour concluded with a visit to The Titanic Experience, which is located in the heart of town in the original White Star Line Ticket Office. When you arrive, you’re checked-in and are given the boarding pass of someone from Cobh (formerly Queenstown) who boarded the ship during her visit. As you traverse through the cinematic guided experience, you go from check-in until that fateful night in 1912. You’ll see the areas where passengers waited to board the ship, examples of accommodations onboard and at the very end, you can research your passenger and see whether he or she survived the sinking.

My passenger was 29-year-old Nora Healy from Athenry, Co. Galway. She was a third-class passenger and survived the sinking of the Titanic by boarding lifeboat number 16. Little is known about her life after the disaster, but she is recorded as having disembarked Carpathia in New York on April 18th, 1912. Sadly, she died just 7 years later.

So, I left you with food images at the end of part 1, but today I’m going to leave you some photos of a standard balcony cabin. I thought you might appreciate seeing one of the accommodation options that is available onboard. My final blog will be with you very soon…

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Posted in Saga Cruises

Celebrity Cruises Adds Additional Preview Sailing To Celebrity Apex’s Inaugural Mini Season In UK

Celebrity Cruises has announced that the highly anticipated inaugural season of Celebrity Apex has been expanded, as the second revolutionary Edge Series ship will now be completed ahead of schedule and enter service earlier than anticipated in 2020.

Guests can now enjoy a sneak peek of Celebrity Apex on a new Preview Sailing; a four-night itinerary out of Celebrity Apex’s launch port, Southampton (UK). The Preview Sailing will depart on 1 April 2020 and call at the beautiful city of Bruges, followed by an extended port of call in Amsterdam, offering guests the opportunity to explore this one-of-a-kind city by day and night, kicking off a mini-season of five sailings from Southampton.

Hot on the heels of the launch of the award-winning Celebrity Edge in late 2018, Celebrity Apex will feature innovative and breath-taking signature features exclusive to Celebrity Cruises’ Edge Series ships, including the Magic Carpet, an ever-changing cantilevered platform suspended from the side of the ship; open-air plunge pools with 270-degree views; an outdoor Rooftop Garden; a 22,000 ft. spa; 29 unique restaurants and bars and a stunning three-deck dining and immersive entertainment space, Eden.

Guests will be able to take advantage of the signature Edge Series staterooms featuring an Infinite Balcony, the design of which has been carefully developed by renowned London-based designer Kelly Hoppen, MBE. Suite guests will also enjoy two exclusive new sanctuaries, The Retreat Sundeck and The Retreat Lounge.

The additional four-night Celebrity Apex Preview Sailing will be priced from £889 for an Oceanview stateroom, based on two people sharing.

Celebrity Apex will then continue its European mini-season with five cruises to the Mediterranean and Northern Europe in spring 2020, before homeporting in Rome and Barcelona for the rest of the summer.

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Posted in Celebrity Cruises, Cruise News

P&O Cruises IONA To Offer The Ultimate Family Cruise

Exciting global street food experiences, a fun gelateria serving award-winning gelato, a four-screen cinema complex and extraordinary pop-up performances are just some of the new options onboard Iona that will ensure the ultimate holiday for families. 

A new dining concept called The Quays is a lively multi-venue dining piazza offering an impressive line-up of eateries and restaurants. There’s a fun street-food atmosphere with plenty of buzz, theatre and colour adding to the beachfront promenade vibe. With access onto the Promenade Deck, outdoor dining is available too. It’s all about flexible, fun, family-friendly food – the perfect place for a quick snack, light lunch or informal dinner. 

All the family will love The Boardwalk Diner, where American classics meet Southern soul food with an all-day menu including chargrilled burgers, hot dogs, eggs over easy, southern-fried chicken with a side of slaw and so much more. Fusion is a hot spot for lovers of authentic Asian flavours. Offering take-away dishes all day, enjoy an odyssey around South East Asia in a relaxed and casual environment. For seaside hunger cravings at lunch or dinnertime, nothing beats traditional British fish and chips, and you can find just that at Hook Line and Vinegar. Think crispy battered fish, calamari, fish burgers, scampi, crab cakes – all served with chips and mushy peas. With a strong focus on food provenance, The Olive Grove celebrates the flavours of the southern and eastern Mediterranean with authentic dishes and sharing platters. It’s the ideal venue for a celebratory family meal – with options to eat in the restaurant or in the conservatory area.

For more exciting global cuisines all the family will enjoy, there’s Taste 360, a new signature concept offering a street-food-style dining experience on deck so guests can try exciting flavours with a side of dramatic sea views.

Located at the top of the Grand Atrium at the entrance to The Quays, and with access to the Promenade Deck, Ripples is an informal and family-friendly venue serving scoops of luxury Italian-style gelato courtesy of Snowflake. However, there’s far more on offer than stylishly served cones – guests young and old will be tempted by gelato cakes, sundaes, customisable sticks, cookies, the creamiest milkshakes and even a three-tiered gelato afternoon tea. There will also be exclusive flavours created especially for Iona, including a taste experience that takes its inspiration from the ship’s inaugural season cruising the spectacular Norwegian fjords. 

Iona also offers a full programme of entertainment and programmes that appeals to all youngsters, from toddlers to teens. The Reef onboard activity programme keeps children aged six months to 12 years happy and entertained throughout the day and evening; Scene gives teens aged 13 to 17 their own cool place to hang out and test their skills with the latest gaming technology; while the Night Nursery allows parents the chance to enjoy Iona’s extensive array of dining and entertainment options without little ones in tow.

If parents can tear their kids away from the clubs, the whole family will enjoy an outing to Ocean Studios, a four-screen cinema complex offering a warm welcome, comfortable seating and a premium cinema experience. With screenings throughout the day, there’s always an option to see an age-appropriate blockbuster or family classic – complete with popcorn, ice cream and snacks, of course. 

There’s also The Club House where families can play games and enjoy entertainment and game shows; a range of swimming pools, family-friendly shows in the Headliners Theatre and extraordinary pop-up performances, including aerial and circus performances, in the Grand Atrium and SkyDome. 

With so much to see and do on board and on shore, families will be out and about having fun exploring. However, when it’s time for rest and relaxation, Iona offers a great choice of accommodation for families, including two special family suites at the front of the ship. All family-friendly cabins have been carefully designed to maximise space by day and create flexible sleeping arrangements by night.

Iona is currently being built at the Meyer Werft shipyard in Papenburg and will be launched in May 2020. 

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Posted in Cruise News, P&O Cruises

Princess Cruises Announces Longest Ever Season Sailing From The UK And Europe

Princess Cruises has announced that 2021 will see its longest UK and Europe season ever.

The season will include a total of nearly 500 days cruising from Southampton across three ships – Grand Princess, Island Princess and Crown Princess – an increase of 9% on 2020. The 2,600-guest Grand Princess will sail the longest ever period for a UK-based ship, from April to November.

Meanwhile, Princess Cruises’ two newest ships, Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess, will additionally be based in northern and southern Europe respectively. This brings the total European cruise days up to almost 1,000.

Grand Princess will sail for 207 days from Southampton, including six school holiday sailings across the season. The ship will depart for the Mediterranean, northern Europe and Canada & New England, with several new voyages including:

  • A 24-day Canada & New England voyage to Boston, Bar Harbour, Halifax, Sydney (Nova Scotia), Quebec (overnight call), Saguenay, Charlottetown and St. Johns (Newfoundland)
  • A six-day school half term cruise in May to Guernsey (St. Peter Port), La Rochelle (for Cognac) and Bilbao
  • An eight-day Scandinavia voyage to Kristiansand, Aarhus, Copenhagen, Gothenburg and Oslo

The 2,200-guest Island Princess will spend a season sailing out of Southampton from June to October across northern Europe. The ship will similarly take in a range of new sailings such as:

  • A 10-day Oktoberfest European capitals cruise to Hamburg, Gothenburg, Copenhagen, Oslo, Rotterdam and Brussels/Bruges (Zeebrugge)
  • A 24-day Grand European Explorer cruise to Porto (Leixos), Gibraltar, Mallorca (Palma), Sicily (Messina), Naples, Rome (Civitavecchia), Katakolon, Athens, Kusadasi, Jerusalem/Bethlehem (Ashdod) and Galilee/Nazareth (Haifa), Limassol, Rhodes, Mykonos and Malta (Valetta)

The 3,080-guest Crown Princess will sail the British Isles from April to October on 14 Southampton sailings. The ship will travel to destinations including Liverpool, Dublin, Orkney Islands (Kirkwall) and Edinburgh, with select itineraries offering overnight calls in port.

The line’s two newest ships, the 3,660-guest Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess, will both be based in Europe in 2021. Sky Princess will spend April to September sailing Scandinavia and Russia roundtrip from Copenhagen, visiting destinations including Tallinn, Oslo, Helsinki and Berlin (Warnemunde), and will offer overnight calls in St Petersburg.

Enchanted Princess – which will be named in Southampton at the end of June next year – will sail across the Mediterranean from April to October via Rome, Athens and Barcelona, taking in the likes of Mykonos, Santorini, Kotor, Florence and Istanbul.

This means every ship based in Europe during 2021 will feature the multi award-winning OceanMedallion, which has been designed to deliver an entirely new level of service and create a holiday that is more simple, effortless and personalised with:

  • Princess MedallionClass experience, featuring the complimentary OceanMedallion wearable device. The OceanMedallion is the same size as a 10p piece and is used by guests on an individual basis throughout their cruise
  • Expedited arrival – Guests who arrive at the terminal OceanReady with travel documents (i.e. passports) uploaded to their profile enjoy a streamlined and expedited check-in process that gets their holiday started even sooner
  • Touchless stateroom entry – No need to touch, swipe or insert cards or devices into the door handle to unlock the stateroom. As a guest approaches their stateroom the door automatically unlocks
  • On-demand services – Using OceanNow from smart devices, guests have the ability to order drinks, food and retail items such as suntan lotion and have them delivered directly anywhere onboard, including to their stateroom
  • Family and friend locator – Accessible on portals throughout the ships and via guests’ smart devices, OceanCompass leverages the OceanMedallion to easily locate and chat with friends and family onboard. OceanCompass is available on portals throughout the ship and from smart devices and guides guests throughout their journey, providing directional information so they can seamlessly navigate to their next point of interest
  • Interactive voyage timeline – Available on ship portals and via guests’ smart devices, JourneyView is an interactive timeline that lets guests scroll through all of the events available on board during their voyage and bookmark activities they’re interested in to their own personalized itinerary. Voyage itineraries are available as many as 60 days in advance, allowing guests to start planning before they leave home

Princess ships also benefit from MedallionNet, which allows guests to stay connected anywhere on the onboard including staterooms. MedallionNet allows guests to share holiday experiences with friends and family back home; stream TV shows, movies and sports events; and make voice and video calls.

All Europe 2021 voyages go on sale on August 14, 2019. Princess’ Elite guests are able to book from August 13, 2019 at 9am.

A low £1 deposit is available to book any of the UK and Europe 2021 sailings on both August 13 and 14.

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Posted in Cruise News, Princess Cruises
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