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Sold on Cruising: cruise the Bahamas

Admittedly, going on a cruise wasn’t something I’d seriously considered, but my partner and I had a few spare days during an overseas business/pleasure holiday in Miami and I thought, why not check out what’s available? And that’s exactly how we found ourselves on Royal Caribbean’s Majesty of the Seas for a 4 night cruise through the Bahamas.

Majesty of the Seas

We boarded at the Port of Miami with similar ease to checking into a flight only instead of waiting at the gate or in the airport lounge we found ourselves immediately enjoying lunch on the ship. Rooms were cosy and perfectly fine for two, because really, who books a Bahamas cruise to stay in a cabin?

The ship offers all you’d expect – swimming pools, sun decks, restaurants, shopping outlets, a cabaret theatre for nightly entertainment, children’s activities and more (including a rock climbing wall.) Additionally, the wealth of excursions available can make it tricky to choose just a few and pack them into your time in port.

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The first stop in Nassau allowed us to wander around the port enjoying the area before experiencing a swim with a dolphin on Blue Lagoon Island, a private island with plenty of opportunity to engage with dolphins, sea lions and more. Guests also have the option of visiting the popular Atlantis Resort and experiencing the water park as just one of the resorts several facilities.

Stop two, the private island of CocoCay, owned by Royal Caribbean and set up as your own private paradise. Guests are encouraged to make the most of the sunshine with lounge chairs and hammocks everywhere. A large range of activities including water slides, snorkelling and more are also available for guests.

Nassau

The final port before our return was Key West, Florida where we ventured off to enjoy a bird’s eye view of the island via parasail before wandering the port village and enjoying a slice of the famous key lime pie (delish).

Prior to our journey, we were told by a colleague, “Once you’ve been on a cruise, you’ll never want to travel any other way,” and now it’s easy to see exactly what they meant. Destination, activities and general ‘we’re on holiday’ atmosphere aside, it simply makes sense.

So much time of our holidays is spent in transit, waiting at gates, riding in taxis, queuing up for checking in at hotels, airports, etc. Why wouldn’t you unpack just once and actually enjoy your transit time, stress free and hassle free. Cruising is (for the most part) all-inclusive, making it easier to budget and allowing you to make the most of your holiday experience without any extra surprises. No worrying about who to tip as gratuities are all pre-paid (which can be a huge relief for many travelling to cities in the USA.)

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One tip to note, the demographics or the cruise (as we quickly discovered when we also boarded an Alaskan cruise a few weeks later) can change dramatically based on destinations. For the Bahamas, we found ourselves surrounded by younger singles (23-45) as well as couples, newly-weds, larger groups of friends travelling together and families.

Sold on cruising as our new favourite way to travel, all our ‘wish list’ holiday talks now start with where to sail next.

 

About the author
Gwen O’Toole is an accomplished writer focussing on travel, events management and food and wine. She also published a fiction novel while spending the past eight years as a magazine editor and travelling the globe before launching The Ideas Library, a creative services and event management company. She is regularly featured in a variety of travel and leisure publications and blogs.

 

Have you got a cruise anecdote to share? Drop us a line in the comments below :-)

Diary of a cruise virgin final stop Barcelona

Diary of a cruise virgin final stop Barcelona

It’s where the journey began and ended – Barcelona, Spain – one of our favourite places. It’s the kind of city you visit and think, ‘yep, I’d love to live here’. Architecture, art, food, colour – Barcelona is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a BIG city though, so don’t rush through in only a day.

 

See our video adventures from the very splendid MSC Splendida cruise here YouTube/TheSarahBlinco and peek inside my cruising virgin diaries here (or search MSC).

We also visited Barcelona with Expat Explore in 2011. Tour tips for this beautiful city: TRAVEL BARCELONA

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Diary of a cruise virgin: Day 6 on MSC Splendida excursion into Marseilles France

Diary of a cruise virgin: Day 6 on MSC Splendida excursion into Marseilles France

Time certainly does fly when you’re having fun. Today is our last day, how did that happen? We enjoyed probably one too many Long Island Iced Teas with Barry and Paulo at our new favourite on-board restaurant/bar, Aft, last night. But, being the warriors that we are, we “battled” on to be up bright and early to embark on yet another astoundingly well organised shore excursion, this time, into France.

[More travel videos feature on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]

 

Marseille is a gorgeous port city; the ‘second city’ of France, and capital of the Provence-Costa Azzurra region. The city stretches along 37km of Mediterranean coastline, and the area is renowned for offering over 300 days of sunshine per year. Today was not one of those days. While I’m not one who dislikes the rain – quite the contrary, the only time it puts a ‘dampener’ on my spirits is when I want to photograph beautiful landscapes. Our images are a little light on from today’s adventure as the weather was terrible, but the city is far from awful. We toured around its rather large perimeter; past grand, typically French architecture, through narrow alleys and up steep hills to visit outstanding cathedrals, one namely being the spectacular Cathedral of Notre-Dame de la Garde.

DSCN1703The city comprises of buildings dating from a wide range of time periods, which means a feast for the eyes (and lens), whether you’re viewing from the top of one of Marseilles’ highest vantage point, or within the new marina at the city’s heart.

We hit Marseille’s shores on day 1 of a year-long annual festival celebrating its status as the ‘European Capital of Culture’ for 2013; a title which says something for all that is delightful and on offer here in this elegant French port stop.

 

Do you have a cruising story, or a Mediterranean travel tale to share? Let us know, tweet @sarahblinco or find us on Facebook. You can also read the rest of the stories in this series (more to come in coming days) HERE.

Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: excursion into Genoa Italy

Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: excursion into Genoa Italy

In day 5’s diary of a Europe cruise virgin, we teamed up with our new pals from London, Paulo and Barry, for today’s adventure, where we headed into the gorgeous Italian port city of Genoa. This place is chic, and boasts many medieval buildings and cathedrals in its ‘old town’; but just down the road is its ‘new town’ (circa 1800s). Interesting, in Australia ‘new’ is 2012. In these parts, ‘new’ is 200 years ago. Travel really does provide intriguing perspective and education.

more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel

Genoa attracts many tourists each year due to its busy port. It’s often overshadowed by other Italian locations such as Rome or Venice, even though it’s played a long and critical trade role in the development of the country, due to the city’s proximity on the Mediterranean and to other key ports in the region.

Fun fact: Genoa is the birthplace of famous explorer, Christopher Columbus.

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The city definitely exudes that luscious ‘Italian’ feel. There really is something very romantic about Italy that seeps through every crevice, from the pastel-coloured terracotta-roofed houses to the mosaics and art of the in churches; how the locals navigate expertly across ancient cobblestoned paths through to the unique and delicious local coffee and ice-cream.

It’s easy to get lost wandering Genoa’s many sweet alleyways (narrow streets, or “carruggi”), most not even wide enough to cater for a horse and cart to carry goods through from one side of the city to the other. Genoa boasts grand buildings showcasing various architectural styles including Roman-esque, Gothic and Renaissance, many open to the public who are welcome to explore.

We also liked that it was very obviously a ‘dog city’, with proud owners enthusiastically nodding, “sì sì” (yes yes) when we asked (as we are known to do, on regular occasion) to pat their precious pooches.

DSCN1543 (Copy)Genoa’s front harbour precinct is undergoing constant renovations, so is eye-catching and easy to enjoy at leisure. Summer must be sensational here, with entertainment and concerts playing out in various sections of the huge public square. The city is also home to one of Europe’s largest aquariums, positioned conveniently on the waterfront.

This certainly is a lovely, quintessentially Italian location that I’m happy to have had the pleasure to explore, even if only for a short time.

Do you have a cruising story, or a Mediterranean travel tale to share? Let us know, tweet @sarahblinco or find us on Facebook. You can also read the rest of the stories in this series (more to come in coming days) HERE.

Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: Day 3 excursion into Tunisia

Diary of a Europe cruise virgin: Day 3 excursion into Tunisia

We awoke early today and to our delight discovered lights of the northern tip of Africa in the distance. It’s an amazing day 3 in the diary of a Europe cruise virgin!

We were about to dock in Tunisia! Food scoffed, dressed swiftly, we joined the other excursion groups in the designated area on board the MSC Splendida, as outlined in last night’s information newsletter which had been hand-delivered to our room.

Founded in 814BC – Tunis, the exotic capital of Tunisia, is an interesting stop. Another first; we’ve not stepped foot in Africa so weren’t too sure what to expect. I was excited to gain just a small taste of the continent as my parents travelled extensively here a while ago, and I’ve heard stories aplenty! Tourism is important to this particular region, so the locals look forward to events such as cruise ships docking. We were greeted by traditional performances, camels and all sorts of colourful entertainment at the port. Very cool!

Tunis is a popular resort destination in summer, however it was a bit chilly during our visit (well, for Africa – a mild 20 degrees), so we settled upon wandering through the bright Medina (situated within structures hundreds of years old), shopping at traditional market stalls; witnessing the production of rugs and perfume – various trade techniques alive and well after centuries of practice. The old Medina, in fact, acted as the commercial heart of the medieval town of Tunis, until the French Protectorate (French ‘colonisation’) in 1881. History, culture and shopping delicately entwined: what more can a traveller ask for?

An intriguing, contemporary city; and with the exception of being vaguely hassled to buy goods at the market (which to be fair, I suppose is expected), it all felt safe, hospitable and pleasant enough. Additionally, our guide on this excursion was friendly, informative and funny. Away from the hectic Medina and bustling streets, the city becomes quieter, and beautifully adorned with stunning mosques, mausoleums, Koranic schools, homes and doorways intricately decorated and designed. Around every corner is something unusual and equally beautiful to photograph.

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Evidently there are plenty of terrific shops, markets, restaurants and museums (like the Bardo Museum for example, which boasts the most beautiful collection of Roman mosaics in Africa) to explore in the region. Additionally there are countless other unique destinations (such as the picturesque village of Sidi Bou Said, and the beaches of Gammarth), and experiences on offer; but as we were short on time, we’d chosen an expedition that included a visit to a world heritage listed archaeological site: the ancient Roman ruins of Carthage, overlooking the ocean. Spectacular.

Carthage was the centre of the Carthaginian Empire, and existed for nearly 3,000 years, developing from a Phoenician colony of the 1st millennium BC into the capital of an ancient empire. On this vast site palaces, amphitheatres, thermal baths, temples, water reservoirs, aqueducts and homes once existed; all belonging to one of the most powerful ancient maritime nations of the Mediterranean, the Phoenicians. The Romans all but destroyed Carthage during war in 146BC, but Carthage was eventually re-founded, and became the Roman empire’s fourth most important city of its time, remaining so until the Muslim conquest when it was destroyed again 698. Little is known of the people who lived here, but ruins remain so we may at least have the chance to explore and dream about what it might have been like to exist here in another lifetime.

Take a short tour of Tunis’ streets and Carthage with us:

 [more travel videos on YouTube’s TheSarahBlinco channel]

Do you have a cruising story, or a tale out of Africa to share? Let us know, tweet @sarahblinco or find us on Facebook. You can also read the rest of the stories in this series (more to come in coming days) HERE.