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I experienced my first ever river cruise earlier this year (see here) and I really fell in love with this way of seeing the world.

I’m so excited to say that very shortly I’ll be heading off on my second river adventure.

I’ll be heading to Lyon to experience the Rhône River on board Avalon Waterways.  I’ve spent a short amount of time on board an Avalon ship last November in Paris, but I’m really excited to be able to experience everything that makes them different.  They are suite only ships, with uniquely designed cabins to exploit your connection with the river.

Our Active and Discovery cruise on board Avalon’s Poetry II will begin in Lyon.  We will wind our way through the Rhône Valley, via Avignon and Viviers towards the Mediterranean. I’ve wanted to visit this part of the world for a long time, so I’m so excited to be able to go and explore.

This Active & Discovery cruise looks to provide a more enriching experience than a traditional cruise. With an array of different excursions, including more active ones such as cycling, canoeing and hiking, together with other’s design to dig deeper in learning about a destination.

Make sure you follow me on social media – Instagram, Twitter and Facebook – where I will be posting my experiences and trip live.

This is a gifted trip by Avalon Waterways.

The post A Rhône adventure with Avalon Waterways appeared first on Sparkx.

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Sparkx by Marcusadams - 3w ago

Always fancied going on a mini-cruise?  Here’s my guide of pros and cons to trying your first.

It’s a great way to get a taste of cruising

A lot of people are hesitant to book a cruise but a mini-cruise is an ideal way to dip your toe and see if you’ll like it.  Or perhaps, you just want to try out a new cruise line or ship?

However, they aren’t necessarily like a classic cruise

As they’re so short, I find that there can be less time to relax than on a normal cruise so you’ll find people rushing about a lot more.  Depending on time of year and where you’re sailing from you can also get cruises with more of a party atmosphere, which in turn doesn’t necessarily give you an authentic cruise experience.

They are however perfect if you’re staying somewhere and want to add on a cheeky few nights extra to your holiday.  Why not go to Florida to experience all the attractions in Orlando and finish off your holiday with a 3- or 4-night cruise to the Bahamas. Perfect!

Easier than other breaks

Some people love city breaks, and others less so.  I sit in the second category, so for me a mini-cruise is the perfect compromise.  It’s great being able to visit somewhere for a day (or even better, overnight) before moving on.

So, for that reason they’re great for a weekend away.  In fact, many take place just over the weekend, so you needn’t worry about it eating into your annual leave.  It’s a great way to just get away from it all.

Limited destinations

Because they are so short, you can sometimes be a little limited on destinations you can go to depending on where you sail from.  Sailing from the UK (particularly Southampton), typical ports can include Le Havre in France, Bruges in Blegium, Hamburg in Germany and Guernsey.

Christmas wrapped up

A Christmas Markets’ cruise is a great way to kick-start the festive season.  Ships will be decked-out for Christmas and you’ll be able to visit some of the most iconic Christmas markets in Northern Europe.  Last year I did just that on-board P&O’s Ventura when we went to Bruges – take a look here.

Can be expensive for what they are

Per-night a mini-cruise can be much more expensive than typical cruises. If you have the time, it’s usually much better value for money to look at something longer.  But if you are set on a mini-cruise, there’s ways to get better value.  One such way is the cabin you book.  Why not book a guarantee inside cabin? chances are you won’t be spending that much time inside anyway and you still have a chance to be upgraded (depending on the line you choose).

A social experience

I always find cruises to be social, but mini-cruises tend to take this even further.  You tend to find a lot more groups than normal, whether that be groups of friends, multi-generation families or celebrations (such as birthdays, stag and hen parties).  This tends to give the cruise a party atmosphere, which I appreciate may not be for everyone, but can be a lot of fun.  My advice is to go with the flow!

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I’m a big fan of quirky, boutique hotels. Whenever I stay somewhere I’m always on the lookout for something fun and unique.  Z Hotels are no exception to this.

I recently stayed as a guest of Z Hotels to experience all they have to offer, as well as their pretty amazing locations.

Where can you find them?

We stayed at the Z Hotel Tottenham Court Road.  Though to be honest, this is nearer to Oxford Circus and Soho on Poland Street.  It’s a great place to base yourself for a weekend in the West End.

Z have a number of other hotels across London and the UK, including Soho, Covent Garden, Bath, Glasgow and Liverpool.

Look and Feel

Z Hotel’s have a real contemporary feel and vibe.  With clever uses of dark and light woods, glass and metal the hotel feels crisp and modern, but still comfortable and welcoming.

Tottenham Court Road can be split into three areas.  The open reception area, the Z Café and then accommodation (consisting of 120 rooms across 8 floors).

While the hotels are well designed, what makes the experience are the friendly and helpful staff.  There didn’t seem to be a problem too big or too small whether it was helping people at reception or providing amazing service at breakfast.

Accommodation

Z Hotel’s describe themselves as compact luxury.  Rooms cleverly use space to give you everything you need, within a small package.  They offer a number of types of rooms, from interior rooms, doubles and queens.

We stayed in an 8th floor superior double room.  The highlight of this had to be the spectacular views out over the city.  It was really something to wake up to.

Like the rest of the hotel, the rooms use a mixture of materials to give it a luxury feeling, with plenty of storage in the form of lots of hanging space (though note there isn’t wardrobe per-se) and storage and a glass-enclosed bathroom/shower.

Some particular highlights for me include:

  • Complimentary Wi-Fi across the hotel
  • USB chargers – Such a must when staying anywhere these days.
  • Really comfortable beds – What’s even better is that the linen is locally sourced and organic.
  • A very nice shower with plush towels and toiletries
  • The large HD TV with access to Sky TV
  • A proper hairdryer – All too often I find rooms have really bad hairdryers
  • Oh, and did I mention those views
The Z Café

Located on the first floor, the Z Café is a welcomed part of the hotel.  It serves a daily breakfast buffet (for £12.50 on the day or £9.50 the day before) and at lunch time offers a selection of freshly prepared sandwiches, wraps, flatbreads or salads.

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Sparkx by Marcusadams - 2M ago

I recently travelled as a guest of Viking Cruises on my first river cruise long the Danube River.Our adventure took us from Passau, Germany, through Austria and Slovakia and finished in Budapest, Hungary.  For me, it is the classic river cruise and something I’ve always wanted to do.

This blog series will explore the Viking approach to river cruising, their unique longships and the beautiful scenery and culture of the Danube.  Click the icons below to follow me on my journey.

Want to see more? Then follow, watch and read about this adventure from other bloggers who I shared this trip with.

Disclaimer: I was a guest of Viking Cruises for this trip. All views and opinions are my own and I retain editorial control.  I was not paid to attend this trip.

The post A Danube Waltz with Viking Cruises appeared first on Sparkx.

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Sparkx by Marcusadams - 3M ago

I’m so excited to be heading on my first river cruise as a guest of Viking Cruises.

We will be sailing on board the Viking Cruises Vihjalm Longship from Passau along the River Danube and finishing in Budapest.  It’s such an iconic itinerary and something I’ve always wanted to do, ever since I was little, so in many ways this is a childhood dream come true.

It’s not often I say this, but I truly do not know what to expect – and that is so exciting.  I’ve cruised for over 25 years, but this my first proper time immersing myself in the river cruise environment.

While I’ve experienced the Viking ocean brand before (take a look here and here), this will be a truly intimate experience, with only 190 guests on board the Vihjalm.  It will be interesting to see how it translates to such an intimate scale.  But like their larger cousins, the river ships embody the same style, design and principles, with included excursions, wi-fi, drinks and food.

Make sure you follow me on social media – including Twitter and Instagram – where I will be posting my live experiences of this amazing trip.

The post A Danube Waltz with Viking Cruises appeared first on Sparkx.

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Continuing our adventure on board MSC Bellissima, this next blog talks about subjects close to my heart; food, drink, wellness and the service/feel on board.

The beauty of food

There are four main dining rooms on board, the Lighthouse, Posidonia, Il Ciliegio and Le Cerisier.  All these venues have a distinctly Mediterranean and European look and feel – as with the rest of the ship.  Generally speaking, MSC have two set times for dining for most guests in the evenings. My overall impression of the food was very positive.  On the second night, following the naming celebration, we were treated to a gala dinner created by world-renowned chef Raymond Blanc (who is partnering with MSC) featuring tender lobster, fresh pasta, gorgeous steak and the most delicate looking, and tasting chocolate dessert.  Fans of bread will also not be disappointed with focaccia and other offerings being served alongside delicious extra virgin olive oil. Yum!

On top of this there is the Marketplace Buffet, with a variety of choices of food.  What really wowed me about this space was being able to watch chefs create mozzarella right in front of your eyes – amazing!

On top of this, there are a number of exciting speciality restaurants on board, including some new offerings for the line.  These include:

  • Hola! Tapas Bar – A brand new offering for MSC by Michelin star chef Ramon Freixa. This fun and social space features a selection of traditional and contemporary tapas dishes.  I can just imagine planting myself here one afternoon with some delicious wine and sangria, enjoying gorgeous tapas while watching the world go by.
  • L’Atelier Bistrot – Another new concept for the line, this bistro is a celebration of French cuisine, set in the style of a Parisian style restaurant.
  • Butcher’s Cut – A staple speciality restaurant on MSC, guests can enjoy this American-style steakhouse serving a selection of prime cuts from around the world, accompanied by bold wines.
  • Kaito Teppanyaki and Sushi Bar – A spacious restaurant offering east-west cooking style of Japanese cuisine with four Teppanyaki grills, where chefs entertain guests in preparing mouth-watering food. Fan of sushi?  Head next door where you can enjoy a range of the freshest sushi overlooking the bustling Galleria Bellissima.
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Having seen MSC Bellissima up close and personal under construction I was so excited to be able to compare the bare bones I saw in June against the finished product, and she really did not disappoint.  MSC Bellissima is the second in the Meraviglia Class of ships for MSC.  I was also fortunate to spend a day on board Meraviglia last year (see here), so I had an idea of what Bellissima could be like, but she is all this and more.

While most definitely sharing the MSC DNA, Bellissima is definitely an evolution of the product.  With her own bold colour scheme, new food offerings and entertainment on board she has her own identity and character.  In this review series we will look at all the aspects of Bellissima and what makes her stand out.

The Beauty of Design

I actually love the bold design of MSC ships.  They exude opulence and European flair, and is very different from most lines.  This may not be for all people, but it brings a fun and playfulness to the ship.

Let’s start, as they say, at the beginning.  When you board Bellissima you arrive in the Infinity Atrium.  This is largely the same as you would find on Meraviglia, with guest services and other facilities, together with a stage for live music and a bar.

Encompassing the atrium are the infamous sets of Swarovski stairs.  Did you know each step costs around €8,000?  As with other ships in the fleet, they bring this whole area to life.

Heading upwards you find yourself in the Galleria Bellissima.  This expansive promenade runs from the middle of the ship right to the front. It’s a bustling area and full of energy, with shops, restaurants, bars and activities taking place throughout the day.  The highlight is the roof, the longest LED dome at sea, it’s constantly changing the feel of the Galleria.

As you make your way along the Galleria you will find a number of bars, all with totally different vibes and feels, including:

  • The Edge Bar, which is perfect to grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
  • The Bellissima Bar and Lounge. Perfect for dancing the night away to live music
  • The Champagne bar, an opuelent space to enjoy bubbles on Gala night.
  • The TV Studio and Bar. A multi-functional space where you can expect activities and all sorts taking place all day long
  • Then there is the Master of the Sea pub. I’m not normally one to really enjoy pub concepts on ships, but I actually really love this space on Bellissima.

For chocolate lovers you have to make a beeline..

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Princess Cruises has announced it will introduce French speciality restaurant ‘La Mer’ on to its two newest ships, the 3,660-guest Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess. The restaurant was first opened on Majestic Princess, the most recent addition to the line’s fleet, in 2017.

La Mer is the creation of three Michelin-starred chef, Emmanuel Renaut. Renaut is owner and executive chef of the Flocons de Sel restaurant, located in the French Alps village of Megève. He previously worked in restaurants including Claridge’s, Hotel de Crillon and Auberge de l’Eridan.

La Mer will offer casual, French bistro-style dining and be located in the Sky Princess atrium.  It sounds truly delicious, especially at $35 per person.  Take a look at some of the sample dishes on offer:

  • Beef filet mignon, sweet onions sauté, red wine jus, hand cut chips
  • Red snapper & scallop mousseline, lobster morsels and lemon grass lobster sauce
  • Mont Blanc ‘Marron-Myrtilles’ dessert – sweet chestnut, blueberry gel and vanilla cream bavarois

Sky Princess will launch in October this year. It will sail a short season in the Mediterranean before heading to the Caribbean. Enchanted Princess will launch in Southampton in June 2020. It will similarly sail an inaugural season in the Mediterranean, with further itineraries to be confirmed.

Recently-announced features that will appear on both Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess include:

  • Two ‘sky suites’, the largest private balconies ever offered by a cruise line. Measuring 1,012 square feet and 947 square feet, the balconies are around the size of half a tennis court and provide 270-degree panorama views. The two suites will also offer a private vantage of the ships’ top deck ‘Movie Under the Stars’ screens and have sleeping capacity for five guests
  • Being Princess Medallion-enabled. The Medallion is a complimentary, automated piece of technology, the same size as a 10p piece, given to each guest that enables features such as keyless stateroom access and quicker and easier embarkation and disembarkation
  • Enhanced entertainment including an expanded Princess Theatre
  • More than 25 restaurants and bars onboard including speciality restaurants the Crown Grill Steakhouse and Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria
  • Eight private cabanas in the Sanctuary, an adults-only area on the top deck designed for rest and relaxation
  • A spa with a thermal suite, hydrotherapy pool, heated stone beds, a Turkish bath and dry, steam and aromatherapy chambers

For more information head here

The post ‘La Mer’ to be added to Sky Princess and Enchanted Princess appeared first on Sparkx.

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Sparkx by Marcusadams - 4M ago

I don’t know about you, but there have been times when I just cannot find the right bit of information – whether it be what to pack on a specific cruise, a certain fact about a line or what to do at a destination.  Well, here is the Sea to Z guide, a simple, easy to navigate cruise guide that looks to answer those questions.  Click below to navigate.

The post Sea to Z Guide appeared first on Sparkx.

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Sparkx by Marcusadams - 4M ago

Read my blog series exploring everything about MSC Bellissima.  From my visit to see her under construction in the shipyard in 2018, to her prestigious naming in Southampton, and of course my thoughts on her as a ship.  Over the coming days and weeks new posts will be published here exploring everything she has to offer, including a full ship review. Click below to read all about MSC Bellissima.

I was a guest of MSC Cruises during these events.

To take a look at the MSC Cruises archive head here.

The post Beauty at Sea – MSC Bellissima appeared first on Sparkx.

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