Having lived in South Woodford for the last 52 years, we have used Abbotts for many years. It is a highly respected travel agent with a great reputation and Julian and his staff are always friendly, helpful, and willing to go the extra mile to help make a holiday special.
We have been cruising on and off since 1991, when we sailed with Royal Caribbean on Majesty of the Seas and had been due to voyage from Copenhagen to St Petersburg with them when travel restrictions were brought into place due to the onset of the pandemic.
We are Royal Caribbean fans so opted for credit as opposed to a refund and when UK sailings were offered, it seemed like a great idea to visit parts of the country we hadn’t done previously in the comfort of our favourite cruise line. We discussed the cabin options with Julie and went for it.
The pre-departure test presented a conundrum as we were unable to get to Heathrow to take it prior to travel but Julie, as usual, was wonderful and gave advice on organising a postal one with a drop box at Liverpool Street Station.
The cost of this was very reasonable considering some of the stories we had heard. Having taken the test, registered and dropped it off, we received good communication from the company (Randox) regarding the progress and received results quickly and in time for travel.
Departure was from Southampton and, apart from the heavy rain on the day, the drive down was smooth and directions to the terminal straightforward. Luggage is collected from your car and taken onboard so we only had to take carry on.
Our route was to take us anticlockwise around the UK stopping at the Orkney Islands, Liverpool, Glasgow and Belfast.
The boarding process ran as smoothly as usual, and we were through the terminal and on board in just 20 minutes. The process of allocated embarkation times seemed to be running well, although several people were waiting for their children to have LFTs in a different area of the terminal.
Our documentation was ready, and we had completed the Set Sail Pass on the Royal Caribbean app, so as they say it was smooth sailing!
It’s always exciting to see the size of the ships as you approach the terminal and though this was not our first cruise on Anthem of the Seas, we were enraptured, nonetheless. All staff and passengers had to wear masks unless eating or in cabins and the safety protocols were evident as soon as we boarded.
The experience was certainly different to any previous expedition. In our cabin were complimentary masks and a travel size hand sanitiser; and there were less people on board - a waiter suggested it was only at quarter capacity and some staff were still on furlough - but the atmosphere was still one of excitement.
The cabin was up to Royal Caribbean's usual standard of cleanliness. All activities, shows and restaurants were available, but protocols meant there were some slight differences, with the Windjammer restaurant only open for breakfast and lunch and additional shows put on due to the necessary reducing of capacity.
The only downside to a UK cruise is obviously the weather but it is what it is, and our Captain did his best to avoid the showers.
Staff were very friendly and helpful. The recommended app was useful for the activity schedule although we still received the Cruise Compass each day, outlining the followings day's programme.
We knew there would be some restrictions with excursions but frustratingly didn’t realise that we would not be permitted to wander around ports on our own and that we had to be on a ship-organised trip to disembark.
Nonetheless, we decided to take two excursions.
The first was a coach trip in the Orkney Islands. Unfortunately, sorting paperwork delayed our departure by an hour but it was straight onto the coach (where we still had to wear masks) for a very interesting visit to some iconic landmarks on the first day following the ending of some of Scotland’s restrictions.
Our second was a fascinating coach tour of Belfast, including seeing the famous Harland and Wolff shipyard and a visit to Titanic Belfast, where the knowledgeable and entertaining guide answered all our ‘bubble group’s’ questions.
The whole week was memorable, and we made a great decision to go. The food on board, in the main dining room and the speciality restaurants, was first class and the shows were well thought out considering the pandemic.
I hope that Royal Caribbean will consider keeping one of their smaller ships in the UK to continue with domestic sailings as we would certainly consider doing it again. It is good to encourage tourism in the UK and help our economy in this way.
A smaller vessel would be easier to find ports to berth in and mix up the locations visited.
We would like to return to international cruising again next year, Covid dependent of course, as I know that all countries need to agree for these big ships to stop at their ports. St Petersburg is still very much on my bucket list.
As always, the knowledgeable staff at Abbotts were available to assist with questions of all sorts and I have heard of several instances this year where people have had problems with holidays booked elsewhere and Abbotts have stepped in to assist.
Let’s hope they have learned their lesson!