Royalty and cruise ships seem to go together like champagne and smoked salmon, strawberries and cream or perhaps sunshine and showers that seem to represent the English weather in June. It was the Royal connection that brought me to Southampton this week, as I was invited to experience the naming ceremony of the new Royal Princess cruise ship by the Duchess of Cambridge. There’s a long tradition of each cruise ship having a godmother to name her; Diana, Princess of Wales was godmother to the first Royal Princess ship and other Princess Cruises godmothers have included Audry Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Margaret Thatcher. Surely every ship needs to have an elegant and notable woman to act as her patron and bless her future voyages.
I arrived in Southampton with my husband Guy, and our exciting evening on board the Royal Princess started with tea and cakes as we relaxed in the Atrium at the centre of the ship, somewhat dazzled by all the glamour and glitz of our first cruise experience. The Atrium had all the Pzazz of a Hollywood musical with polished marble floors, sparkling chandeliers, columns of glass stars and two gilt and glass spiral staircases at one end for making a grand entrance.
We made ourselves at home in our Stateroom, which was tastefully decorated in neutral shades of green and tan with a modern white shower room and large wardrobe area for all the outfits we might need to look our best on longer voyages. There was even a proper balcony with an easy chair to sit outside, although the current view was of the Southampton dockside, so we had to close our eyes and imagine a sea of sparkling turquoise in the Mediterranean.
I hope that you enjoy my video tour of the Royal Princess below
Once we had changed into our evening finery, we descended to the Atrium to circulate with a glass of champagne in hand, before meeting our dining companions at our table for the gala dinner. There are a number of elegant restaurants on board and we were seated in Concerto, which like the others had a musical theme and we were seated in front of a large mural of a classical pianist playing with a backdrop of the spires and domes of Venice. The delicious gala dinner included a tian of crab and lobster followed by a pave of beef tenderloin and a smooth trilogy of chocolate for desert – take a look at what we ate in this little Vine video I made.
After dinner I found my friend Shannon Hurst Lane of Traveling Mamas who had flown all the way from the USA for the Royal Princess inaugural celebrations. As often happens with travel bloggers, we had become friends online and so it was a thrill to finally meet Shannon in person and chat about our blogging and non-blogging lives on opposite sides of the Atlantic. Shannon had gone for drop dead glamour and been dressed for the occasion by Louisiana based couturier, Harold Clarke in a foxy green and black lace gown which made me wonder why I’d left my tiara at home!
The gala entertainment continued around the Atrium as we were entertained by the gorgeous singer, Beverley Knight whose performance I had a bird’s eye view of from the top of the spiral staircase, followed by the Beatle Maniacs who had Shannon and me bopping to Twist and Shout on the dance floor. Check out this video of the dancing and Shannon filming me, filming her, on our smartphones!
After breakfast, my husband Guy had to leave to get back to work, so Shannon and I headed down the gangway with the rest of the guests for the naming ceremony on the quayside. Pausing only for a quick photo in front of the stage to prove we were really there, we headed for the far end of the seating and managed to get seats close to the front opposite the champagne bottle, where we had a fantastic view of the stage where the royal party would sit. Excitement was building as the band of the Royal Marines Portsmouth marched up and down in front of us, followed by the pipers from the 1st Battalion Irish Guards looking very dashing in their kilts.
Finally we could see on the big screens that the Duchess of Cambridge had arrived and was being escorted from her car onto the stage. She looked really blooming with elegant high heels and a black and white Dalmatian spot coat which skimmed over her neat baby bump, as her first baby is due to arrive in only a month. Once the Duchess was seated, we were entertained by singer Natasha Bedingfield who performed her hit, Unwritten (watch my video here), followed by West End star, Kerry Ellis and then some earth harp music from the band Mass Ensemble.
The big moment had arrived as Kate stood up, walked up the few steps up to the podium, and said the words we had all come to hear; “I name this ship the Royal Princess, may God bless her and all who sail in her” (watch my video here). Then she was handed the scissors by Captain Tony Draper and cut the ribbon to release the champagne bottle which smashed with a satisfying explosion of glass and foam on the side of the ship. Kate looked rather pleased and relieved – I think I saw her mentally saying Phew! that the bottle had smashed first time.
As the Duchess of Cambridge left the stage for a tour of the Royal Princess, we and the other guests made our way back onto the ship for a light lunch, this time in the Symphony restaurant. Shannon and I both agreed that our blogs had taken us to the most amazing places and given us experiences like this that money just couldn’t buy – we were both very lucky girls! After lunch we said goodbye and I took the opportunity for a proper look at the upper decks of the Royal Princess, which I hadn’t yet had time to explore.
Unfortunately, the English weather was not being kind, so I had to ignore the grey clouds and imagine I was in the Caribbean, treating myself to a soft cone ice cream, cooling off in one of the pools with the palm trees swaying in the breeze or topping up my tan on the sun lounger. For extra peace and relaxation I took a quick tour of the adults only Sanctuary where for an extra charge you can have complete peace away from the crowds, hire a sunbed or cabana and have a picnic basket delivered to you – pure bliss!
Bearing in mind that these days, cruising is a family affair, I was very impressed by the different lounges and deck areas that were available for younger guests. The Princess Pelicans (age 3-7) has play areas and arts and crafts sessions; Shockwaves for age 8-12 has a giant TV, games stations and area for pizza and ice cream parties, while I could imagine my teenagers having fun in Remix (age 13-17) hanging out in the outdoor lounge or mixing music like a professional DJ. The area looked so much like a hyper trendy cafe, that I felt quite jealous that I probably wouldn’t be allowed in.
My final stop on the mini tour was the Seawalk, the new feature of the ship that everyone had been talking about; a glass bottomed walkway that extends out from the ship. As I looked down through the glass I could see the vehicles on the dockside below, but just imagine what it would be like if there were any whales or dolphins in the sea below. Check out my little Vine video of the Seawalk here.
Later that afternoon it was time to leave the Royal Princess, as it was due to sail on a mini cruise the following day to Guernsey. It had been a whirlwind visit, packed full of fun and excitement, with the extra thrill of seeing the Duchess of Cambridge name the ship. Thank you Princess Cruises for making me feel like a Princess for a day. Fortunately, Guy and I will be back for more fun in September when we take a mini cruise from Southampton to Rotterdam and Guernsey on the Crown Princess, and hope to experience some more Princess magic.
Thanks to Princess Cruises for inviting me to share the special gala evening and Royal Princess naming ceremony.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
September 15, 2012 by Heather Cowper
Filed under Blogging, CoolTravelGear, Europe, featured, France, Instagram, Italy, Leisure, Misc, Nature, Photography, Switzerland, Tour de Mont Blanc, Tour de Mont Blanc, Walking
This September I was walking in the Alps on the Tour de Mont Blanc for the third year running with my friend Julia. This mountain trail makes a circuit around the Mont Blanc Massive, taking you through France, Switzerland and Italy and would normally take 12-14 days to complete the whole circular route. However, we decided that it would be too arduous and difficult to fit in so much time off work, if we did the TMB in one go, so we’re walking the trail in stages and hopefully will be back to complete the final stage of our Tour de Mont Blanc next year.
Our first year took us from Les Houches above the Chamonix valley to Lac Blanc and finished at Flegere. The second year we started at Flegere and walked into Switzeland, ending at Champex Lac and this year we started where we left off at Champex Lac to walk as far as Courmayeur in Italy.
Although I was away from any wifi, I was able to capture the journey in photos on my iPhone which I posted through Instagram onto my Twitter and Facebook feeds, as well as e-mailing to my family, to give a live stream of the journey, using the tag #tmbwalk. The pictures below are all my #tmbwalk photos and if you hover over each one you can see the commentary – bear in mind that the photos at the top are from the end of the journey. At the bottom of the photos, I’ve given some information in case you’d like to do the same – it’s certainly an activity I plan to use again on future trips. Follow my travels on Instagram
[instapress tag="tmbwalk" piccount="44" size="185" effect="fancybox" title="1" paging="1"]
More Tales from the Tour de Mont Blanc
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Information about creating the photos above
- I have been using Instagram for my last few trips to take photos on my iPhone – there is an app for both iPhone and Android.
- The Instagram app enables you to take photos on your smartphone, resize them in a square format, add filters with different effects and then post to your Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr feeds, your Flickr account and e-mail them to anyone you wish as well as being visible on Instagram for your Instagram followers to see in their feed.
- Although I used #tags on previous trips such as #loveguernsey #Houston #Texas with my Instagram photos, for this trip I decided to create a unique tag of #tmbwalk that no-one else was using which proved to be a good plan.
- By creating a unique tag I could use the WordPress Plugin Instapress to create the effect above. Instapress enables you to create a photo montage like the one above or to add your Instagram photos in a sidebar widget to your blog. I’m still working out how to customise the widget as so far I haven’t found out how to include only photos with a #tag from my own stream – if others are using the same #tag it picks up their photos too – hence the importance of using a unique #tag
- An alternative to Instapress is Snapwidget which can be used to generate code that you paste onto your blog that will create a similar photo montage to the one above.
Information for walking the Tour de Mont Blanc from Champex Lac to Courmayeur
- We flew to Geneva and took the train/bus to Champex Lac. There is a station in Geneva Airport and you can buy tickets at either the machines or at the ticket booth. The combined ticket took us from Geneva Airport/Martigny, Martigny/Orsieres (Changing briefly at Sembrancher) Orsieres to Champex Lac by bus. The trains ran from Geneva about every 30 minutes and the whole journey took around 3 hours. The cost one way was about 59 CHF (€48 £39 $63) If Courmayeur is your starting point you could also look at flights to and from Turin which has good public transport connections to get to Courmayeur.
- We stayed at at Champex Lac at Gite Bon Abri; Ferret at Hotel Col de Fenetre; Rifugio Elena; Rifugio Bonatti, at Courmayeur at Hotel Bouton d’Or. We reserved rooms by e-mail in advance for all of these but Rifugio Elena who did not answer our e-mails (we later found that their office is in the valley rather than at the Refuge) so we phoned to make a reservation when we arrived. Check for the best hotel prices in Switzerland and book here.
- At the end of our walk we caught the SAT bus from Courmayeur to Chamonix through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The bus runs around 3-4 times a day and the journey takes around 45 minutes and costs €13 one way, €20 return. The bus leaves Courmayeur in front of the Tourism Office where you can buy tickets at the bus office and drops off at Chamonix station where there is also a booth to buy tickets.
- Finally we took the efficient and reliable minibus transfer with ChamExpress from Chamonix to Geneva Airport for our flight home – the cost is €29 one way + tax
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey
The easyJet Holidays Inspiration Initiative was all about inspiring travel experiences and bloggers sharing their ‘Who, What, Where and When’ that inspired them to travel – and now the competition’s over, it’s time to announce the winner.
After writing about their own travel experiences each blogger nominated five more to take part so that the number of inspiring travel tales grew bigger and bigger. I was one of the judges of the competition along with Melvin from Traveldudes and Matt from Travel with a Mate and with so many fascinating entries it was truly a tough task to choose the winner.
However, there had to be one person to enjoy the prize of an 5 star, 7 night holiday for 2 with easyJet Holidays and that winner is …. (drumroll please)
Kat from Travel with Kat
“In 1927, at the age of 23, my grandmother boarded a boat to China, following the man she loved to Shanghai”
Well, I love a bit of romance and who couldn’t be captivated by Kat’s opening for her inspiring travel experiences? Kat goes on to describe how her grandmother’s stories and carved Chinese furniture fascinated her and gave her a longing for far-off, exotic places. In India she soaked up the vivid colours and patterns of Kerala and her visits to Gambia have led her to found a choir to raise money for local Gambian schools. From a ferry trip to France alone with her sister aged 10 to a train ride through the mountains and gorges of Corsica, I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Kat’s travel inspirations.
Here’s a round up the other brilliant entries courtesy of easyJet Holidays.
Beyond Blighty – Arianwen was inspired to volunteer at a school in Tanzania.
Kids Travel Cam – Kirstie’s fond memories of a school trip to Amsterdam and enthusiastic son helped convince her to seek out any opportunity to enjoy the sun and the sea.
Emily Luxton – The RAF stories of Emily’s grandfather brought out her adventurous side and she started it all off with a backpacking trip to Malaysia.
Mum’s Gone to – A travelling Dad, a holiday romance in Tenerife and a Room with a View in Florence are travel inspirations for Trish
Emma’s Travel Tales – A lifelong fascination with traveling abroad and experiencing different cultures led Emma to an extensive tour round Europe.
Suitcases & sippy cups – Jessica is inspired by the thrill of adventure and the support of her children and family.
Spanka Demus – took inspiration from Ewan McGregor’s and Charley Boorman’s motorcycling excursions inevitably leading to a trip to Europe.
On the Luce – A passion for Thai culture and the label on a bottle of wine convinced Lucy to follow in the footsteps of her favourite travel bloggers.
The Lady in London – was inspired by her free-spirit mother to take in the big cities of Europe – and has never looked back.
Nomads on the Road – Mike knew from an early age that he was destined to travel the world, taking his inspiration from every person he meets.
Ad-lib Traveller - An unusual combination of parents, Jamaica and Eddie Murphy prompted the Adlib Traveller to venture abroad.
Bluenosegirl - won a trip to Brazil and then used a fascination with Russian culture to keep her desire for travelling strong.
Vicky Flipflop Travels – Books and blogs inspire Vicky to travel, and photos of destinations help even more.
Michael Palin’s Fault - Like the title of the blog says: it’s all Michael Palin’s fault. The legendary comedy performer and travel documentary-maker serves as a primary inspiration.
Briana Palma – Both Briana’s parents have a hand in inspired her to travel and studying abroad in Europe only added fuel to the travelling fire.
Wanderings and wonderings – Family played a big role in Ruth’s travel desires, from impressive holidays with her parents to her brother’s trip to Zambia.
Back packs and bunk beds – Neil served as his own inspiration with an excursion to South Africa.
The Travel Hack - A mother who worked in an airport and an inspirational Cambodian tour guide drives Monica’s passion for travel.
Reclaiming my future - The thoughts of home and leaving it behind have inspired Toni to explore the best that the world’s ocean has to offer.
Kids Travel 2 - Early excursions around Europe and Laurie Lee’s novel ‘As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ inspired Julia’s travels.
Backpackerbanter - This blog proves that a passion for surfing can be all you need to inspire you to see the best the world has to offer.
Mallory on Travel - The exploits of Sir David Attenborough and a longing for adventure inspires Mallory on Travel.
Backpacker Becki - Volunteering in Madagascar gave Becki all the inspiration she needs to enjoy other countries and cultures, and the people that live in them.
Life of an Expat Parent – Uninspired by the idea of a repetitive lifestyle, The Foreigner swapped Southwest Ohio for England in search of adventure.
The Travelbunny – The lyrics of her favourite childhood songs inspired Suzanne to start travelling, and the people she met on the way inspired her to keep going.
My Postcard From – The iconic architecture of Sydney and the flavour shock of Asian street food are big motivators for Paul’s travel experience.
Mums do travel – Trips round Europe in a VW camper van as a child gave Gretta all the motivation she needed to keep on going.
Heels and Wheels – Travelling around Australia dispelled a lot of Bobbi’s fears about visiting countries as a solo female.
Landlopers – Matt was fascinated by the idea of visiting foreign cultures from a very young age, but a friendly evening in Israel changed his view of travelling forever.
Jouljet – Learning that she had a Russian name inspired Tash to visit Russia.
Culture Addict/ History Nerd – Early holidays in Florida with her parents developed Nicole’s love of travel, while Gary blames his in-laws.
The Travolution – Unexpected spontaneity and the European lifestyle are the difference-makers for Cristina.
Tales of a Brit abroad – Kate’s adventurous grandparents and teenage holidays to Spain are the unlikely source of her desire to travel.
Andalucia Explorer – The rugged aesthetic of Cornwall and a father fascinated with sampling different cultures (and wines) serve as the inspiration for Rachel.
Walkingon Travels – Mexico and Moldova might not have much in common, but they both managed to inspire Keryn.
Restless Jo – The lure of Portugal, the vibrancy of different world cultures and even the documentaries of Michael Palin are just some of the things that keep Jo travelling.
Inspiring Travellers – Andrea’s parents were a constant source of inspiration to her travelling; they took her to Europe, California and the British Virgin Islands.
Backpacker Illusions - Being robbed and left with virtually nothing on a baking desert road somewhere in the middle of Africa would be enough to put most people off travelling – but not Paz, it motivated him to do it even more.
Albany Kid - Family plays a big role in inspiring Sandra’s travels; from her mother visiting Peru to her parents sending her on a courier mission to Colombia to see the realities of the world.
Bohemian Trails - Being given a fake passport as a child, Megan collected stamps managing to simultaneously quell her desire to visit new places and strength it too.
Mo Travels – Prince Charles takes the credit for Mo’s youthful inspiration to travel, and trips to San Diego and Amsterdam have strengthened it even more.
Sparky Sees the world – A desire for adventure and curiosity for the world around her inspired Emma to travel; her experience with elephants made it worth it.
The World of Deej – Jealous of his grandfather’s adventures to China and Singapore, Deej set out to have some amazing cultural experiences of his own.
Virtual Wayfarer – As a child Alex travelled around Europe with parents, but as he got older this Star Trek fan was inspired to seek out some ‘final frontiers’ of his own.
Don’t call me Gringa - Having travelled all her life Emily as never been much in need of inspiration, but she still finds it everywhere she looks, from her parents to Croatia to her current life in Chile.
Travels of Adam - Travelling with his family was a great starting point for Adam, and then semesters abroad in Sydney and London pushed him ever further.
Cheryl Howard – Her father’s life was a motivation to Cheryl, so much so that when he died she used it as a motivation to pursue her passion to travel.
Our Oyster – An unadventurous childhood translated into a passion for travelling for Jade, but now living in Australia inspires her every day.
Leave your daily hell - A sixth birthday present of a world map led to a childhood of daydreaming about different countries and cultures for Robert.
Gone with the Family – Family plays a big role in inspiring Lisa to travel – coming for a small community in Canada made her want to see the big world.
Caroline in the City – Adventures as varied as Thailand, Croatia and the Australian outback helped cultivate and shape Caroline’s desire to travel.
Well done to all the entrants for their great articles – if I’ve left anyone out, please let me know and I’ll add you to the list.
Photo Credits: All photos are from the articles mentioned above and are credited on the Photo
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey