Agent Diary: A bit of planning goes a long way when it comes to booking your own cruise

Thompson Travel’s Sharon Thompson spent seven nights with family on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas

The direct flight from Belfast City to Bologna was a huge bonus, and complimentary brunch and drinks on board added a nice touch after an early start.

I hadn’t planned much regarding excursions, dining or activities before departure. My thoughts were instead to just get on board, go with the flow, destress and enjoy the ports of call – most of which I had never visited.

The first day at sea can often feel like a bit of an endurance challenge for me, if I’m honest, but delicious food and some peanut butter whiskey cocktails certainly helped. I’m not usually a whisky fan, but I think that might be my new go-to cocktail!

We had four fantastic ports of call on our journey: Santorini, Athens, Mykonos and Kefalonia. We docked in Santorini first. The weather was hot and three other cruise ships joined the queue to tender. Not ideal in a tiny port.

Crowded out

We were put in group 16 for disembarking. This is the point where I wished I’d made plans. Happy travellers disembarked early and joined their tenders to less-crowded areas of the island. Meanwhile, we waited for two hours to take the cable car before giving up and returning to the ship, with our views of Santorini limited to those from the ocean. On the plus side, we were able to enjoy the ship’s facilities when they were less busy in the sunshine.

Day two took us to Athens and, true to the recent reports of the closure of the Acropolis, the heat was difficult. At 36C and with queues as far as the ticket office, we had to abort that mission too.

Sonny, our fantastic waiter, had advised us to go online and book express passes but, foolishly, we didn’t take his advice.

The hop-on, hop-off bus available from the port at €20 per person at least allowed us to see the city in the high temperatures, to some extent.

We docked in Mykonos at 7.30am, with the captain getting top marks for avoiding the tenders. Skipping breakfast, we disembarked early and enjoyed the quaint whitewashed paths through the town. A little organisation went a long way. Mykonos was beautiful but the most expensive island we visited. A frappé coffee was €11, although the views justified the price.

Turtle surprise

Our last port was Argostoli in Kefalonia, where a five-minute walk took us to the edge of town. As we watched yachts dock alongside the ship, we also had the unexpected pleasure of spotting a sea turtle.

I have cruised many times over the years, but not for several years with family or away from ship visits. I was reminded on this cruise that demand is high among everyone on board to enjoy the ship’s features, as well as the offboard excursions.

It might sound obvious, but when you book your next cruise, remember to plan ahead.

As travel agents, I think we can get complacent when it comes to booking our own holidays. While we all enjoyed the cruise, in hindsight, it would have been even more enjoyable had I put more thought into the excursions.

Thanks for the royal treatment

I must say a massive thank you to Royal Caribbean, whose standards simply never drop – in fact, they seem only to get better, as demonstrated on this holiday. The food was perfect, the staff were brilliant and the shows were very well done. Top marks for the service you provided on board. Thank you to Jennifer Callister, account manager for Ireland, for the attention you gave to our booking, and to Ben Bouldin for the special treats provided on board. We have been selling Royal Caribbean for 30 years and hope to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I wish Ben and his family all the best for their exciting new chapter in China.

Sharon with partner Mark

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