Sunday, 18 August 2013

Epic Post: Cruising & Post Baby Holiday Thoughts!

Me on our balcony on the Indy

One of my absolute favourite things to do in life is of course, when I noticed Travel Supermarkets Holiday Postcards Competition HERE I had to join in!

By "travel" - I mean visit new places, explore them, sight see, experience the REAL culture of the place rather than just the tourist side - try the local delicacies, meet and talk to locals, etc. 

I have never understood the appeal of "beach & booze holidays" - the idea of going to a resort somewhere that tons of Brits flock to during the summer, laying on a beach for two weeks, getting plastered on cheap booze of a night, and basically doing nothing else could NOT be further from interesting to me.

I prefer to visit places that interest me, and spend my time sightseeing and going to places - sure a bit of laying on the beach and sunbathing is fine - but I would never want to go away to do NOTHING but that. I'd be bored out of my mind within about half an hour.

One thing I don't love about travelling is the actual "Travelling" part itself - I am TERRIFIED of flying.

I didn't actually get onto a plane until I was 20, my first flight was a 10 hour long one to Margarita Island in Venezuela - I didn't enjoy it then, and every flight I have taken since has been progressively worse for me.

I have since flown an 8 hour flight to the USA (visited Illinois & Missouri), a 3 hour flight to Majorca, and a 1 hour flight to Amsterdam - in that order.

The WORST flight of all was the one to Amsterdam - I cried for the whole journey, and so did at least 3 other people I could see on the plane which did nothing to make me feel better!!!

I promised myself during that flight that I would never ever get back on a plane again (well, apart from to come home from Amsterdam obviously!) - that was around 4 years ago, and I haven't stepped on a plane since.

But as much as I don't want to put myself through the trauma of flying again - I equally don't want to deny myself the joy of travelling.

So a few years ago, I decided to try sailing - I went on an overnight ferry from Plymouth to Santander in Spain.

I personally don't enjoy Spain at all (have been to various parts 3 times now, and have never enjoyed it) but I did LOVE the ferry part of the holiday!

I think that's when I was bitten by the cruising bug...I got it into my head that cruising was the answer to all of my travelling problems, and I was DYING to have the chance to try it!

And lucky me!!! For my 30th Birthday last year, my Mum & Dad paid for me to go on an 11 night Canary Isles cruise!

Ready to go - can you believe I found a dress that actually said "Bon Voyage"?! lol

We went with Royal Caribbean on the Independence Of The Seas -nicknamed the Indy -  which is one of the largest and most luxurious cruise ships in the world.

Jon & I ready to board

Everything about the holiday was AMAZING.

Because we sailed directly from Southampton, the holiday began straight away - there was no travelling time other than the short car journey from Devon to Southampton - the minute you step into the cruise terminal, the holiday feeling begins!

There are staff there with photo props to photograph you boarding, etc - the process of getting through passport checks is a million times faster and more efficient than in any airport!

And that's it - you step on board and you are on holiday!!

The Beautiful Indy

Our stateroom was fabulous - we had a balcony suite, with a deck chair each to sit out on which was lovely - the bed was massive and there was a little sitting area, and our bathroom which was a perfect size.

Our stateroom

After our cases were delivered to our room (there's no carrying your own luggage!), we went off to explore the ship - I could not BELIEVE how huge it was! There was SO much to see and do!

Over the course of the next 11 nights, we tried hard to explore the ship as much as possible - we saw most of it but it was SO huge that even with 11 full nights on board, it just wasn't possible to fit everything in! (This is why it frustrates me when people say cruising must be boring - if you are capable of being bored on a ship like that, you have to be an extremely boring person who simply isn't trying!!!)

My Titanic impression!

Among the MANY highlights of the ships features were:

The inside of the theatre

*The beautiful Alhambra theatre - with a different show on every night, some nights there were comedians and singers - other nights there were full on musical productions which were spectacular with amazing sets!

Jon Ice Skating

*The ice skating rink - we actually went ice skating at sea!! How fab?! And on some nights the rink was used for the professional Ice Dancing Show - which was absolutely amazing!!

The Casino

*The Casino - Huge and very "Las-Vegas"! Lots of various slot machines, and lots of table games going on - I'm not one for poker etc but if you are then you are very well catered for - I did get quite hooked on Roulette though and managed to win myself $100 on the last night!!

The promenade

*The Royal Promenade - a long indoor stretch made to look the inside of a very posh shopping mall, lined with lots of shops, cafes, a pizzeria, etc.

The pool deck (one of the pools)

*The Sun Deck - loads of space filled with sun loungers for bathing, various swimming pools, a water park for kids, help-yourself ice cream stands, and four huge jacuzzis/whirlpools which come out over the water below and offer fantastic views (I spent a lot of time in those!)

Me in the Jacuzzi above the ocean - you could find me here most days!

*The Spa and Gym - both huge! There was even a full size boxing ring in the gym!

*The Library and The Internet Room - a lovely little quiet corner to escape to

*The Cinema - with help-yourself popcorn, and different movies showing every day and night

*Mini Golf - plus a video arcade, Flow Rider surf simulator, rock climbing wall, tennis and basket ball courts and tons more - but mini golf was all I could be bothered with lol!

*Our balcony - one of our absolute favourite things to do on board was to grab a coffee from the Promenade, sit on our balcony and watch as the ship sailed out of whichever port we had been to! It was SO relaxing!

coffee on the balcony for Sail Away

As well as all of this, there are TONS of bars to choose from - glamorous champagne bars, a gothic-themed nightclub, various wine bars, an Irish themed pub, poolside bars, and a lovely jazz-type Martini bar located at the very top of the ship with amazing views!

Outside the Labyrinth nightclub

As for food, the choice is unbelievable!

For breakfast every day, you have a choice of eating in the informal Windjammer cafe or going to one of the formal restaurants - one of which offers traditional help-yourself English breakfasts, and another has an  A La Carte menu (this one was my favourite! the French Toast, American Pancakes and Eggs Benedict were all favourites of ours!)

For lunch, you again have the choice of a formal restaurant serving A La Carte food - but  most days we chose to eat lunch either at the Windjammer (A casual, buffet style restaurant - the food on offer changes daily and the choice is crazy! They have around 40 dishes on offer per day, everything from roast dinners, to Mexican food and everything in between! For dessert we used to fill a plate with as many cakes as possible to share and munch our way through all of them!) or at Johnny Rockets - which is a 50s style American diner, they serve things like burgers and chilli dogs - they keep the fries and onion rings coming until you ask them to stop, their maltshakes are to die for, and every 10 minutes or so the staff jump up on the bar and start dancing to rock n roll music!! It is SO much fun!

Cakes at the Windjammer

50's Style dining at Johnny Rockets

For evening dining, again you have the option of the casual windjammer restaurant but we always ate in the formal dining room - you are allocated a table so your seat is the same every night.
 The menu is very varied so there is always lots to choose from - we were seated with another couple and two older gentlemen, and we LOVED it! We had originally hoped to be seated alone, but we both agreed that getting to know these lovely people and sharing details of our days with them each night was a big part of the holiday and we wouldn't have changed it!

Our table buddies!

And if you're still hungry after dinner, there are so many options open! There is a Pizzeria that is open until 2 am serving various pizzas and cakes etc - and there is Cafe Boulevard which is open 24 hours a day - serving sandwhiches, pastries and cakes! (All of the food options I have mentioned are included in the price - though there is a $5 service charge for Johnny Rockets)

There is also a Ben & Jerrys ice cream parlour, and there are two specialist  restaurants that you can opt to go to for your evening meal for a small cover charge - one was a steak restaurant which we didn't use, the other was Portofinos Italian restaurant which we did try and which was absolutely AMAZING!!!!!

The other dining option is of course - room service!

Room service!

The room service menu includes things such as sandwhiches, salads, burgers, and my own personal favourite - Honey Stung Chicken & Sweet Potato fries! YUM!

We quite often chose to have a late lunch on our balcony when we'd been out sight seeing - room service was free between the hours of 5 am and midnight! 

The entertainment on board wasn't just a case of walking around and finding something to do - not at all!!!

There were events going on literally all day and night long!

Every evening there would be a "Cruise Compass" newspaper delivered to our stateroom, with a big list on the back of activities taking place the next day (and listing what tomorrows Cocktail Of The Day would be - always a highlight for me! hehe!)

I used to sit each night before bed and highlight all the activities I wanted to do the next day - such a geek, I know!

Of course there was never enough time to fit them all in as there was always SO much going on - we did lots of things though, we took part in music quizzes, we played bingo (sounds lame but the prizes included free cruises and $17000 cash!...we were SO there! Although the most I won was a t shirt and a free cocktail!) etc....

My Bingo wins!

The most fun events were the themed parties and parades.

Every other night, there would be a staff parade where they would get everybody to line up along the promenade and the staff would put on a show/parade complete with stilt walkers, singing, dancing etc - they were amazing and the costumes were fantastic!
 The themes on our cruise included the Mad Hatters Ball, Olympus Rocks, and my favourite - Rock Brittannia! This was the night we were sailing back to the UK and it was so lovely to see everybody dressed up in Red, White & Blue singing English rock songs and ending with choruses of "We are sailing....home again...across the sea!"...I may have cried a bit lol.

Another great night was the Captains Reception - this was a formal evening (there were Three formal evenings in total, meaning a great excuse to dress up to the 9s in a ball gown!) - the whole promenade looked beautiful, the captain addressed everybody, we all got to meet him and have our photo taken with him if we wanted to, and there was lots of free champagne flowing!!!

The captains reception

Another great night was the Party Under The Stars - the pool deck was transformed into a dance floor under the stars and there was a big disco! It was SO much fun!

One of the things I most enjoyed was the excuse to get dressed up all the time - what other kind of holiday can you go on where you get to wear evening gowns without people giving you funny looks?!

And of course, one thing I haven't mentioned - the actual travelling!!!
The ship is SO amazing that it almost takes over and you forget about the countries and places you visited!

Jon in Madeira

We made sure that we got off and did some exploring in every port - the cruise company offer various tours in all of the ports, but we only did one of theirs which was the Loro Parque excursion - we were taken by shuttle bus from the ship to Loro Parque where I got to watch a dolphin show and a killer whale show - both of which were breathtaking!

Killer Whale show at Loro Parque

The places we visited were:

*Vigo, Spain



*Gran Canaria


*La Coruna, Spain

We did lots of sight seeing, and tried local dishes everywhere - we made sure we really made the most of every stop, and I made sure I got postcards and souvenirs from every single port!!

All in all - this was absolutely the holiday of a LIFETIME and beyond comparison to any other kind of holiday ever.

Jon not wanting to leave!

The only problem is that it has spoiled me - I don't think I will ever be able to go back to other kinds of holidays with the same enthusiasm! 

I find myself browsing cruise websites every single day and planning imaginary holidays in my head! I cannot WAIT to go back on a cruise ship again!!

Of course, now that Bean is on his way - it makes things more difficult. Once he is about 3 then we will definitely take him on cruises with us, as there is lots of entertainment for kiddies on board and I am sure he will love it!
But before then, he'd just be too little and so there's not really any point - this may mean that Nanny & Grandad will need to step in while Mummy & Daddy have some cruise time! ;)

We will still want to have family holidays of course, and this is something I have been thinking about....I suppose things like caravan holidays in places like Wales and Cornwall could be fun, and I am quite excited about finally having an excuse to go to Euro Disney!....but I suppose I'll start thinking more about this next year when he's 1 and old enough to understand.

For now, I'm still dreaming of days spent on the ocean.....*sigh*

My fave of the pics I took on board!

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