Tuesday, April 29

Royal Caribbean's Genesis - an artists impression

Last week Royal Caribbean unveiled a sneak preview of its plans for the latest evolution in cruise ship design, Project Genesis. They released details on how they will bring the best of the land to the ocean with an area on the ship called Central Park, a revolutionary design in which the ship's centre is open air and features a lush, tropical park spanning the length of a football field.

The images reveal an amazing feature - an open air 'central park' in the center of the ship, with a piazza, tropical plants, flower gardens and lawns, which will be kept alive with special irrigation and drainage systems. Having the cental atrium open to the sky will allow far more cabins to have balconies - of those approx 250 cabins will have balconies over the park.
At 220,000 tons, Genesis comfortably trumps the biggest ships going: the 160,000-tonne Freedom and Independence of the Seas, also owned by Royal Caribbean. It is also close to five times the size of the Titanic, and more than 10 times the size of the HMS Ark Royal, the Navy's biggest ship.

Face of Travel Results

I guess I should say right now that I didn't win the Face of Travel. Instead the female's crown went to Karen Eason from Sunshine Travel and the men's went to Ryan Inman from Cruise Thomas Cook. It's impossible to be a bad loser in this scenario as both really deserved to win.
Coincidentally, both winners used a superhero theme in their presentations, Karen unveiled a 'Travel Girl' outfit and Ryan pretended to be Clark Kent reporting back to Lois Lane from the ship.

The final was held onboard Royal Caribbean's newest mega-liner, the Independence of the Seas while she was docked at Southampton for her launch celebrations. I was one of the 16 finalists and we were all as nervous as each other - which in itself brought great relief!

Each of us had to face an X-Factor-style showdown during which we tried our best to persuade the panel of judges from TTG and Royal Caribbean why we should be the Face of Travel for 2008. After the presentations we had to wait a painful 6 hours for the result of the judges deliberations. In that time we fitted in a tour of the ship, an ice show, a concert by Scouting for Girls and quite a few glasses of champagne. In fact later that night we had the opportunity to meet Roy from the band who turned out to be a jolly nice chap - Hi Roy (he reads my blog all the time - lol!).

The competition was a great experience for me, I don't regret entering for one moment. I met some fabulous people and enjoyed my time on board the ship. I'm looking forward to reuniting with all the finalists on the Celebrity Solstice launch and of course, reading TTG to catch up with the latest antics from Karen & Ryan.

Just for a recap, the finalists were:

From the Boys Under 35 category:
Alastair Baker, Gill's Cruise Centre
Ryan Inman, Cruise Thomas Cook
Aaron McMordie-Ives, Bookable Holidays Ltd
James Revis, The Co-operative Travel

From the Girls Under 35 category:
Karen Eason, Sunshine Travel
Amie Fuller, First Choice
Emily Plunkett, Scotland’s Cruise Centre
Carla Prosser, Ideal Cruising

From the Boys 36 & Over category:
Ian Calvert, Have A Nice Stay Travel
Phil Dargan, Choose and Cruise
Nick McKay, Travel Designers
Mehmet Tepeli, Packyourbags Travel Store

From the Girls 36 & Over category:
Janette Bell, Future Travel
Deanne Gatfield, First Choice
Emma Sanger, Future Travel
Janet Whittingham, St Andrews Travel

CONGRATULATIONS we were all winners in our own way!

Tuesday, April 15

Inside Cruise launches Facebook Page

Inside Cruise - the community for cruise lovers - has now launched a group on Facebook.

You can find it on http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=6558599798 - remember you need to be registered and logged in to view or join!

Ventura Welcome Party Cruise

I was lucky enough to get a cabin on the Ventura Welcome Party Cruise, especially considering that the entire ship sold out within an hour of going on sale. With that kind of popularity, the Ventura immediately had a lot to live up to. And to be honest, she delivered pretty well.
The 2-day itinerary set sail on Friday 11th April from the port of Southampton and cruised to Zebrugge (Bruges) and back. This was a cute itinerary that gave just enough time to explore the ship and enjoy a break away from it all. For those onboard that were new to cruising, this particular choice would have been perfect as a taster.

From the outside the Ventura looked huge. Although I knew she would be 115,000 tonnes, I just wasn’t prepared for her breathtaking size and stature in the dock. The strangest thing was that once onboard, she actually seemed quite small. It was very easy to find your way around and walking from one end of the ship to the other wasn’t the hard slog it would first appear to be. It didn’t take long to get our bearings and learn where the main rooms were.

We were most pleased that our cabins were ready within ten minutes of boarding. We had booked a junior suite with a balcony, CC grade on D deck (deck 9) which was positioned mid-ship. The cabin was tastefully decorated and spacious although deceptively narrow. It was a nice to touch to be greeted by a bottle of champagne on ice and Belgian chocolates which, I can assure you, didn’t last very long!

Whilst touring the ship it was clear that the designer Nick Munro had done a fine job. The interior decoration was elegant throughout; I particularly liked the Moroccan feel of the Tamarind Club, the contemporary Asian style of the East restaurant and the cool colour changing LEDs in the Havana Club.

There is a wealth of bars, restaurants and spacious meeting areas. For those not wanting formal club dining the choice is endless.We ate in the Saffron restaurant on the first night, taking the earliest sitting at 6.30pm, the 8.45pm sitting being just that bit too late for us. The meal was good and the service was excellent. It can’t be easy to pull off that level of service when all the guests arrive at the same time but the staff sailed through it.After dinner we opted to see the comedians Sean Meo and Mark Maier in the Tamarind lounge. If I’m completely honest they were a letdown. Both had a really hard time squeezing laughs out of the crowd, but then that’s what happens if your jokes aren’t funny. It was a shame that we missed the Chronicles show in the Arena theatre which by all accounts was excellent.

On the second day, naturally, passengers were encouraged to pay for an excursion to Bruges for the grand sum of £38 each, with many passengers taking it up. However P&O Cruises did actually provide a FREE shuttle bus at the quay side to take us to the local town of Blankenberge where a train could be caught to Bruges for around 6 Euros return and a journey time of 12 minutes.

Following our pleasant trip into Bruges, we donned our formal wear and ate in The White Room. This ‘Select Dining’ restaurant had a cover charge of £30 which may seem high but once you’ve tasted the food you’ll understand why it was worth every penny. (On longer duration cruises I am told that the cover charge decreases according to the number of nights onboard)The meal was truly amazing and of an incredibly high standard as you would expect. The asparagus risotto was to die for and I could’ve eaten another portion of the prune and amaretto ice cream quite easily!No sooner than finishing our desserts, Marco Pierre White made an appearance. We had the opportunity to meet him and get photos taken which we took full advantage of. He was a very charming man, well spoken, polite and showed a great interest in his fans. Meeting him was definitely the highlight of the evening and possibly even the cruise.

After dinner we managed to catch tail end of the Legends tribute show in the Havana club. The Elton John act was top class and sounded uncannily like the man himself, it was just a shame we missed Kylie and Freddy Mercury. We then went on to flutter and lose in the well equipped casino before heading onto the Saturday Night Fever show. Having seen the movie more times than I can remember, I was convinced that it wasn’t possible to mess up such a classic. How wrong could I be? It was a ‘tragedy’ if ever there was one!

In the first few bars of the opening song, it was already clear that the guy playing the lead, Tony Manero, was singing slightly out of tune. This was a real problem because the main plot of the film isn’t about the acting but the singing and dancing, taking one of those elements away kind of ruins the point of it all. It didn’t get much better for Tony when his mike stopped working halfway through. I’m not sure if there was an electrical fault or someone just switched him off to save our ears. Whichever it was, that was the final straw, we upped and left the theatre along with quite a few other audience members.

I can’t say that Tony Manero tainted my perception of Ventura at all even though I feel we may have been ‘guinea pigs’ to iron out any teething problems. The ship itself is an innovation at sea and all her new features and experiences will definitely appeal to all ages. I think she’s an impressive addition to the P&O Cruises fleet.

Thursday, April 10

Cute Cruise Gifts

Whenever I come back from my holidays I like to be reminded of the great time I've had. That's what keeps me going until my next holiday comes round. I try to buy souveniers while I'm away and take as many photos as I can. Then I use them to conjure up happy memories.

Usually this involves putting my photos into an album, placing the holiday fridge magnet in its rightful place or wearing the perfume I bought from the airport. But there isn't usually alot you can buy to remind you of cruising unless its branded by the cruise line itself and you purchase it from the expensive onboard boutique.

Thats why I was so tickled to find this cute little online store dedicated to cruise gifts. The Cruise Gift Store is run by real cruise lovers and packed full of nautical themed gifts to please any cruise addict.

I particularly like the Life Jacket Bottle Chiller priced at a very reasonable £8.95. It would make an excellent stocking filler at Christmas. I know all my cruise loving friends are going to get one this year! (i hope they're not reading this)

Visit the store at http://www.cruisegiftstore.com/

Thursday, April 3

Held to ransom in Madeira!

When I heard the news this morning I couldn't believe my ears! Over 450 passengers have spent a second night stranded in Madeira onboard their cruise ship, caught up in a cash row surrounding their travel company.
The Van Gogh has been held by port authorities since Tuesday in the port of Funchal due to a row over the alleged debts of former operator Travelscope, which went bust last December.

The stranded holidaymakers, who were due to arrive back in Falmouth, Cornwall, on Saturday, are said to have believed this was a April fools prank, but soon realised the severity of the situation. The managing director of Van Gogh Cruise Line issued a statement published in the Gloucestershire Echo that suggested lawyers were arguing for the release of the vessel.
It seems that Travelscope's administrators are behind the detention of the ship, making "alleged claims" relating to previous charter agreements, and refusing to allow the ship to continue on journey.

Lawyers are currently liaising with the authorities in an effort to prevent further delay by requesting this matter to be handled on return to Falmouth, to minimise further distress to the passengers.
It seems the mood of the passengers is mixed, with some feeling it is very unfair that they are being held up in this dispute. Others have held a more positive outlook suggesting there is no better place to be held ransom.