Last night, comedian Paul Merton's new travel series kicked off in style with a Caribbean cruise onboard the Allure of the Seas.
The comedian, better known for Have I Got News For You, was on his first ever cruise holiday and on arriving onboard declared that he was expecting to be playing shuffleboard with the Captain. Little did he know what was in store for him on the world's largest cruise ship!
Allure of the Seas is, as mentioned, the largest cruise ship in the world and is only matched by her sister ship Oasis of the Seas. The 362 metre long, 5,400 passenger, 222,000 tonne ship, is approximately five times bigger than the Titanic and carries almost 2,500 crew to keep everything running, from the engines to the coffee machines.
On arrival Merton looked shocked with the sheer size and magnitude of Allure, entering the Boardwalk he likened it to a huge shopping mall on a boat [sic], before asking the camera "we [surely] can't be in a warehouse, can we?" As Merton continued on his embarkation he seemed a little disorientated by the size of the ship while trying to find his cabin, acting surprised to find that his suitcase had made it to his stateroom before him. Though he appeared happy with his accommodation, he was less impressed with the towel animal, a usual cruise ship favourite, that greeted him on his bed — Royal Caribbean had kindly left him one in the shape of a pig.
While onboard, Merton visited the ship's ice-rink, the slightly mad zip-line and the belly flop competition taking part in the Aqautheatre pool. During his wondering around the ship you really do get a feel for how large the ship is, and even though I've been onboard Independence of the Seas, I really couldn't imagine how huge Allure was until I saw the footage. Visiting the mini-golf he joked about feeling sea-sick while playing golf. While wandering around he commented that he thought "cruises used to be for the over-fed, newly-wed and nearly dead" before going on to say how wrong his pre-conception was.
During the voyage's main formal night, the Captain's Dinner, Merton sat at the Captain's table, which is usually reserved for the ship's most important customers and was surprised to find that one of the guests has been on over 70 cruises. He also interviewed a few Brits onboard, though not to stereotype, but they were in the ship's Irish pub at the time. It became clear that the people onboard loved the size of Allure of the Seas, the magnificent choice of pretty much everything and the attentive service.
During the show, Merton undertook a variety of excursions, though tended to do his own thing as opposed to the cruise line's own trips. One of the interesting places he visited was a school in Labadee that had been set-up by Royal Caribbean, in order to help the local community. It's always interesting to see what the cruise lines put into the local communities they visit, apart from the obvious tourist income.
One of his more random trips was to visit the Jamaican dog-sled team, and while I expected something along the lines of Cool Runnings after watching the dogs pulling what looked like a glorified tricycle, I was pleasantly surprised to find out about the team's success. As this was a TV show, he also visited a once famous cafe in Mexico, where the owner is now looking after a variety of tigers, leopards and panthers that had been mistreated by previous owners or were in need of a home.
Though the excursions had little to do with the ship, they highlighted how there is more to the Caribbean than sandy, white beaches, vibrant, but friendly locals and duty-free shopping.
By the end of the program you get the feeling that the sheer size of the ship, the facilities, activities and entertainment onboard, were far beyond what the comedian had expected. Though the ship has been visited by members of the Iglu team, it had always seemed too big for me, especially as I'm used to the Sun class Princess ships, but having seen this through a first time cruiser's eyes, I am now surprisingly intrigued by it.
The great thing about Iglu is we have fans of every type of cruising, we have staff who regularly cruise with Royal Caribbean, others who prefer small ships and even some who will only cruise with Cunard given the choice. In summary, last night's episode of Paul Merton's Adventures has gotten us all talking about this amazing ship.
If you missed the program you can watch the episode online and if this has inspired you to check out the world's largest cruise ship, here is our current Allure of the Seas top offer.
As another year of cruising comes to an end, we thought we'd take a look back at 2009 and the most popular cruises and destinations. Unsurprisingly, our number one cruise destination is the Mediterranean - with a huge range of cruise lines and itineraries featured in this diverse and fascinating region. With many Med cruises departing from UK ports, there's often no need to fly and this certainly keeps the cost down. Royal Caribbean's, Independence of the Seas sailings from Southampton reflected this trend, and made her our most popular ship of 2009. Packed with stunning leisure and entertainment options, the Independence delighted cruisers on voyages to the Med and the 5th most popular destination, the Canary Islands.
Our 2nd most popular destination is the Baltic, Fjords and Scandinavia. A growing market, the stunning sights and history of the Northern Europe are proving a favourite with cruisers. Almost all cruise lines offer itineraries in this region now, with Fred. Olsen and Cruise and Maritime Voyages offering superb traditional voyages on more intimate sized ships, for an absorbing experience.
The Caribbean is our third most popular destination and there's nothing better than a spot of island hopping under sun-kissed skies. Princess Cruises and Celebrity Cruises, premium quality sailings in have proved extremely popular in this region, as have P&O Cruises British style cruises and Royal Caribbean's action packed adventures. In fourth place we find European short break cruises. These cruises offer a great taster of what a cruise line has to offer, with Ireland, Bruges & Amsterdam amongst the most popular ports of call.
Outside the top 5 we find more specialised cruises like the transatlantic crossing and world cruises. Cunard Line are undoubtedly the leaders in the transatlantic voyage with their decadent Southampton to New York sailings. The world cruise sector offers chance to be a part of an epic journey, to discover Australasia, the Far East or closer to home. 'Once in a lifetime' destinations like the Panama Canal, South America and Alaska also make our top 10 destinations with Dubai - a relatively new and fast growing destination for cruise holidays.
With cruising more popular than ever, what are cruise lines doing to help and contribute towards protecting the ecosystems in top holiday destinations such as the Mediterranean?
Whilst the increased popularity of Caribbean cruises and Mediterranean cruises is great for tourism, there are still issues regarding the ecosystems in these areas. If left unattended, there could be devastating effects which these locations may never recover from.
In order to prevent these beautiful places from diminishing, action is being taken from cruise lines to ensure that the environment is stabilised and prepared for the constant flow of people that visit.
Cruise lines have backed plans to help cruise destination environments in several ways. For example, there's now an alliance between Carnival Cruise Lines and the International SeaKeepers Society, for monitoring water quality in places visited during Carnival Triumph and Carnival Spirit cruises. Equipment is now built into these ships to gather data wherever they are. This is then relayed via satellite to scientists at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Miami where they can keep on top of the water quality levels.
However, this is merely one example of many systems in place for monitoring the environment's health. There are groups all around the world dedicated to tracking the data, including the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research and the Southeast Atlantic Coastal Ocean Observing System.
An example of a programme making people more aware of the dangers is the education system set up by the NorthWest CruiseShip Association (NWCA), who represent the following major cruise lines: • Celebrity Cruises • Carnival Cruise Lines • Crystal Cruises
• Holland America Line • Norwegian Cruise Line • Princess Cruises • Regent Seven Seas Cruises • Royal Caribbean International
In Juneau, the capital of Alaska, the NWCA educates the community with environmental lessons for students from local schools. This also includes touring any ships currently docked to get a proper perspective of how they handle recycling and emissions.
This kind of action is an important start, but perhaps more could be done. After all, if these waters and ports were to degrade in quality, cruise lines would fail to get people interested. Yet, it's not just about the environment, it's also about the life that resides there. As Cunard Line highlight with a system to protect local culture and traditions. Cunard Line who offer cruises to Panama, have formed an alliance with the Embera Indian Village community to help maintain their heritage and standard of living which gives the Panama port a much more homely and friendly feeling.
Sometimes it's these small acts that seem to be making the most difference. Holland America Line, for example, have partnered with the US National Park Service and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to protect whales in the oceans. Together, their programmes educate mariners about recognising when whales are in close proximity and how to avoid them.
Overall, it feels like some cruise lines should be more active in combating negative effects to these ecosystems, as without sustained programmes in all popular cruise destinations, the ecosystems may begin to fail. However, many cruise lines are certainly making an effort to make a difference and they come out looking all the better because of it.
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