Updated: May 20, 2019
While onboard the Independence of the Seas recently we had the absolute pleasure to meet a travel journalist, Aileen O'Reilly, on her very first cruise. Naturally we love to see the reactions of a first time cruiser from the moment the ship begins to reveal itself in the distance to the moment they have to dragged kicking and screaming from the ship (admittedly thats a little embarrassing!!) Knowing Aileen was going to put down her thoughts for Travel Extra, Irelands leading source of travel information, we hounded her until she agreed to share them with us and now you....we love this article and a huge thanks to Aileen for agreeing to share....ENJOY!
'INDY DEEPLY' - First time cruiser Aileen O'Reilly on Independence of the Seas
The whole idea of cruising conjured up images of Kate and Leo on the prow of the Titanic, impossibly large chandeliers, long stretches of carved wooden bannisters and silver service dining, Negroni cocktails and ebony cigarette holders wafting their fragrant smoke under the stars...
Therefore finally being given the opportunity to set sail on a cruiser with a $100 million refurbishment price tag (a massive overhaul for her 10th birthday) sent me scurrying for my best black tie gown and costume jewellery - despite the fact that i can get travel sick from leaning on the bonnet of a car...I quickly put all fears of imminent heaving nausea firmly to the "aft" of my mind as I grabbed my passport.
I need not have worries on that score - after we mustered at 4pm on Deck 4 and completed our safety drills (mandatory, NO excuses) I had to be informed that we were now moving. By this stage I must admit, sitting on the Royal Promenade having a rather wonderful cocktail , staring longingly in the window of the Michael Kors boutique to my left, I had completely forgotten I was at sea and not just inside a 5 star luxury hotel. Truth be told I was more concerned with the possibility of taking the vintage blue Morgan for a spin which was parked outside the Ale & Anchor bar just across the street from me...
My well appointed stateroom didn't even allude to the fact that we were on a ship - until I ventured onto the balcony and looked out at calm deep blue seas as far as the eye could see and a cloudless sky where the sun blazed a glittering pathway as it melted on the horizon. Yes we were definitely clipping along but so smoothly I still felt nothing. Jokes from my friends about icebergs were coming in thick and fast on my phone (we had surprisingly good Wifi, but had to relog in every hour) - but at this stage I was able to loftily reply "Iceberg? Is that a cocktail? I'm sure I'll be having one later"
An invite to the Olive or Twist cocktail lounger (affording panoramic views of the sea and the stars) lay on my ridiculously large bed and this, I must admit, did make me come over all Mia Farrow as I fretted that I may have forgotten to pack my one long string of pearls (as the possibility of solving a murder now seemed excitingly likely). Despite all the talk of endless buffets on a cruise ("bring your stretchy pants, they're 24/7 on every deck" I was cautioned, "you'll pile on 7lbs at least!") there isn't the sense of being surrounded by food and drink ALL the time. The simple fact is there are far too many other things to do on board which would make one think twice about over indulging beforehand. Swimming, surfing on the Flow-Rider surf simulator, virtual bungee jumping on Skypad, Laser-tag, basketball, golf, the theatre, a fully equipped vitality spa, 4 swimming pools and no less than 7 jacuzzis...none of which are conducive to a full belly.
There's even an ice skating rink...(I must admit I did start pinching myself on a rather regular basis at this point). In actual fact, the captain of one of the cruisers sailing nearby radioed over to ask what on earth the contraption on the top deck was - once informed he asked if he could boat over a sizeable number of his passengers to try out the SkyPad for themselves.
Surprisingly, one very simple way to actually keep fit doesn't involve endless deck jogging but rather eschewing the lift for the stairs just a few times a day - with several thousand people on our ship it was far speedier than endlessly waiting on an elevator which was going in the right direction...even if there were 14 of them to choose from. As a novice, one seemingly innocuous feature which amazed me was the sheer volume of thick carpeting on board which absorbed all noise on the stairs, in the corridors and hallways, in the restaurants and bars, even the elevators...easy to forget one was on a ship at all.
Our arrival in the impressive ship width dining room for dinner crystalised ALL my cruising fantasies - impossibly large glinting cut glass chandelier, check, sweeping split staircases, check (no Leo waiting for me at the top of it unfortunately) classical music, cream brocade chairs around large circular linen draped tables and helpful staff standing nearby throughout. The following evening we were invited to the newly added Izumi teppanyaki restaurant which boasts the largest Hibachi of Royal Caribbeans entire fleet and is just one of the 7 speciality dining experience onboard (several elevator rides would have to be foregone at this stage...)
Cruise ships on the scale of Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas (I was flabbergasted to learn that we were only a "mid sized ship") are essentially mobile resorts which afford passengers every amenity before depositing them at a new port regularly where they can go exploring new sights and experience new cultures before stepping back onboard and moving on to the next location. From Southampton, "Indy" as she is affectionately known to crew and cruisers alike, stops at Vigo, Lisbon, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, La Palma, Madeira and La Coruna.And while the gossip magazines were fretting over why Michelle Keegan had to turn up at a black tie event in the States without Mark Wright....we had him in the Royal Theatre at the Royal Caribbean Awards ceremony and very appreciative we were of that fact too....
After finally experiencing my first cruise (admittedly a high end one with no end of activities to keep me fit and entertained I would say that tailor making your cruise package to your specific needs is of prime importance - as is choosing the type of stateroom you will be most at home in. For some passengers the room is purely for showering and sleeping, for others a haven to relax in and while away some time on the balcony with a drink and ones thoughts. Booking a midsize ship for your first cruise is advisable as anything larger can be totally overwhelming and take from the experience as opposed to adding to it. Also it's far easier to make full use of all the amenities the ship affords if it's smaller as there's simply less queueing for everything.
On a parting, regarding that age old cruising adage, Port Out Starboard Home - dear Coco would be very pleased to hear that you get the most wonderful tan whether you're aft or forward. Even by the time we hit the middle of the English Channel it was already an impressive 28 degrees.
Stowing away, I must admit, was a serious consideration!
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