Our latest Star Clipper adventure started on Friday evening when we met the first twelve passengers in our group at the Sofitel at Gatwick airport, where we were all overnighting before our flight to Barbados. The Sofitel is the perfect choice for an overnight stay, with an attractive atrium, a choice of three restaurants, and a smart bar. However, as England were playing we decided to take taxis to a local pub where we enjoyed a lovely meal and, surprisingly, an easy England victory!
Up at 3.00 am to catch a flight from Newcastle down to Heathrow. Sat in terminal 5 waiting for my second flight I already started to feel tired, today is going to be a long day! I'm sure some of you reading this will be thinking 'that's fine, you can just sleep on the plane', unfortunately I am a nervous flier so no sleeping for me!
Upon arrival in Athens I met Emma Moody (Sales Support Executive), Sarah Garnham (Marketing & Design Executive), and David, my companions for the next few days. We exchanged introductions and then made our way out of the airport, where our transfer was waiting to take us to Piraeus.
When we arrived at the port I was hot (it was 28 degrees and I am more accustomed to the cool Newcastle climate) and tired but seeing the Royal Clipper for the first time made it all worthwhile!
We boarded the Royal Clipper and got ourselves all checked in. After a quick tour of the ship we grabbed our life jackets and headed to our muster stations to partake in the compulsory safety drills. The other three are all muster station A and I'm B so if there is an emergency I'm on my own!
After a wonderful welcome dinner we made our way up to the sun deck for the first sail away. It's hard to explain the feelings this evokes but anyone who has experienced it themselves will know how magical this first night truly is!
When I had first received my invite in April to attend this amazing trip, it seemed so far away and now the day had finally arrived!
As I wasn't meeting the group until 5pm I decided to fly down to Heathrow. I figured it would be easier to change terminals rather than get the train and have to carry my suitcase across London!
I met the group (escorted by Fay McCormack, General Manager and Danielle Dudley, UK Sales Manager) at the Etihad check-in desk. We were all excited to be visiting Thailand and especially spending time onboard Star Clipper as she returned to Thailand after a 6 year absence . After the introductions we checked in and were delighted to be told that we had been upgraded to business class for the first leg of our flight (at this point I just had to ring Tony and Sam and tell them the good news, they were both very jealous!!). We made our way to the lounge where we celebrated with Champagne and got to know each other better. It was then time to board the flight and our journey began.
The flight from Heathrow to Abu Dhabi went very quick, more champagne then dinner with wine, a chance to sample the flat beds Amazing!! Then before we knew it we had arrived at Abu Dhabi where we were to connect with our onward flight to Phuket. Transit went smoothly and we were on our way again. The flight from Abu Dhabi to Phuket was slightly shorter than our first flight and even in economy we did manage to get some sleep. We filled in our tourist entry cards ready for arrival.
On arrival at Phuket, immigration was very slow, however by the time we got to the baggage carousel our cases were all there ready to collect. We were then escorted to the Anantara Mai Khao Phuket Villas where we were to stay for the first two nights.
We received such a fabulous welcome, we were given flowers, juice and warm towels before being escorted to our own private villas. The villas were amazing, I was so tempted to jump straight into my huge pool but decided to wait until the next morning. After all, we had arranged to freshen up and then meet for dinner. Dinner was a buffet with a wide choice of curries, rice and salad. Mindful of the 7 hour time difference and our long flights we decided to call it a night after dinner and all retired back to our own villas.
After an early flight from Newcastle via Heathrow we arrived with 3 others from our group at Nice airport where our private transfer was waiting to take us to our hotel, 25 minutes later we were checking in to the lovely hotel Barriere le Gray D’Albion. This hotel is ideally located in the centre of Cannes, only 100 metres from the seafront where it has its own private beach.
After a stroll in the sunshine we enjoyed a drink overlooking the harbour before returning to our hotel to meet another 6 members of our group who had travelled to Cannes by rail, stopping for 2 days in Paris on the way.
Tonight we had booked a table for 11 at Meat, an amazing little restaurant with a choice of only 2 main courses - either a porterhouse steak or a tuna steak. Both perfectly cooked with a selection of sides and sauces. We would especially recommend their secret sauce, no idea what goes into it but it tastes amazing.
Strolling back to our hotel, 5 of us decided on a final night cap at a smart pavement bar to soak up the atmosphere of a busy Friday night in Cannes. 59 Euros for a bottle of wine is an expensive soak!
As we had stayed in Rome many times this year we decided to spend 2 nights in Civitavecchia. As many people know, we normally travel from Rome airport to Civitavecchia by train but this year we decided to book a private taxi transfer. Our driver was waiting for us as we walked into the arrivals hall and after a short walk to the car and a pleasant 35 minutes’ drive we were being dropped off at the hotel Traghetto, our home for the next 2 nights.
At 115 Euros, the taxi is obviously much more expensive than the train (13 Euros per person) however if you have heavy cases and want a relaxing and speedy journey after your flight it is well worth considering.
The hotel Traghetto is a small 3* hotel, basic but very clean and with amazingly friendly and helpful staff and is located only 50 metres from the cruise coach shuttle park.
Tip. We stayed in room 402, which is on the top floor and the only room with a view directly over to the cruise terminal. Infact, the balcony is huge and covers the whole width of the hotel, perfect for sipping wine and admiring the cruise ships in port.
Many people simply transfer straight through Civitavecchia but it is perfect for a 1 or 2 night stay before your cruise. The promenade is pretty but touristy however the narrow streets within the old town have a great selection of bars and restaurants, all much cheaper than those on the sea front. For example the hotel recommended a family restaurant (Ristorante La Nuova Torretta), located in the base of a medieval tower where an excellent meal of melon and prosciutto followed by 1 spaghetti vongole and 1 penne washed down with water and a litre of very drinkable house white (all enjoyed on a pretty outside terrace) cost only 20 euros per person.
As with Cuba last year, I made the decision to travel down to London the day before and spend the night at the Hilton at Gatwick Airport. This morning I got myself ready and arranged to meet Danielle Dudley at Jamie Oliver’s coffee shop.
A few of us met at the coffee shop before proceeding to make our way to the check in desks to meet the rest of the group. After checking in we went to a bar where Dani bought everyone prosecco’s and gave us a copy of the itinerary. Seeing the itinerary brought back a lot of memories for me as the first sailing I ever did with Tony (co-owner of The Vacation Company) was a Caribbean sailing!
At the gate we were given the news that we had been upgraded, 4 of us to club and the rest to premium economy, very exciting! As soon as we got on board we were presented with a glass of champagne. There was a 2 hour delay in taking off (due to a problem in the hold) but having a chair that converts into a fully flat bed made the delay bearable!
On arrival in Barbados we were fast tracked through passport control and taken straight to Turtle Beach, an all-inclusive, all-suite resort on the south coast of the island. Dinner this evening was hosted by the general manager of the hotel and took place on the beach, a beautiful way to end the first day.
I was very excited as I met the rest of the group at the Virgin check in desk at Gatwick South Terminal. There was 10 of us in the group and the trip was being led by Fay McCormack, Star Clippers General Manager, Danielle Dudley, UK Sales Manager and Carley Lancaster, Senior Cruise Consultant.
After a smooth check in we were invited into the V Lounge where we enjoyed free food and soft drinks in comfortable surroundings whilst getting to know each other a little better.
On arrival in Havana, after a 10 hour flight (during which the plane was struck by lightning!), we waited to clear customs. This did take quite a while however the staff were friendly and by the time we had been waved through our cases were waiting for us on the carousel.
We were then taken to the Hotel Capri and after a quick change around we headed out for dinner, a Cuban speciality of shredded beef, rice and black beans. Dinner was accompanied by a couple of Mojitos which we enjoyed as we sat outside in one of the four main squares in Havana.