Setting Sail with Celebrity Cruises: Venice to Istanbul

Setting Sail with Celebrity Cruises: Venice to Istanbul

Bosphorus Sunrise

Bosphorus Sunrise

Saturday morning I had breakfast on my balcony as dawn broke over the Bosphorus. I gazed, mesmerized, as the waters shifted from grey to gold to cobalt blue as the sun rose and the city of Istanbul started to stir. The lilting sound of the call to prayer wafted across the water instilling a sense of place. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous cruise from Venice to Istanbul. As the sun reflected golden on the water I reflected on my outstanding week with Celebrity Cruises.

Breakfast on my balcony overlooking the Bosphorus

Breakfast on my balcony

I met up with Amy from Celebrity Cruises, Monica from The Travel Hack and Elle from Bird in the Hand to spend a week cruising the Mediterranean. Our ship, Celebrity Equinox, is a floating island, and every morning we’d wake to a new location, a new view and new experiences. I’d leave my curtains open every night so I could see each day’s new dawn from my pillow.

Celebrity Equinox

Celebrity Equinox

Celebrity Equinox Stateroom

My Stateroom

As soon as I woke and saw my new view I was out of bed and ready to explore. And I’m so not a morning person! This was my second cruise with Celebrity and I loved every minute of it. I’d been unsure about my first cruise. Would there be enough to do? I’m a doer, an explorer and find it hard to sit still for long so I didn’t want to be lying on a sun bed for a whole week. Well, there’s loads to do. All the time. In fact you could end up needing a holiday after taking a cruise!

Of course when the ship’s docked there’s exploring to be done on land but on a sea day there’s so much to do too. Spinning classes on deck, a workout in the gym or a Pilates class. There’s a theatre, artworks all over the ship and even a basketball court. I took a fantastic yoga class overlooking the water and came out feeling refreshed and invigorated.

The Equinox Spa

I also visited the ship’s spa and had a deep tissue massage. Susan, who had magic fingers, managed to seek out every little knot and made sure all my stress and tension just melted away. The next day I was walking on air and my back has felt loose and relaxed ever since. In fact I still feel fabulous – even after a week back in the office.

Celebrity Cruise Spa

The Persian Garden

Food on Board Celebrity Cruises

The award-winning food on board Celebrity ships is exceptional and we ate at most of the ship’s speciality restaurants; Blue, Tuscan Grill, Murano and even at the Captain’s Table. We also  chatted to the executive chef and two head chefs who set up a little cooking demonstration for us and took us on a tour of one of the ship’s galleys which was fascinating. Imagine cooking for nearly 3,000 guests three times a day.

Victor, Equinox Chef

Victor, Equinox Chef

 

Avocado, Salmon and Crab Starter

Avocado, Salmon and Crab Starter

Our Celebrity Cruise Route

We took just part of this Mediterranean cruise and began our voyage in beautiful Venice before sailing across the Adriatic to spend a day in Dubrovnik seeking out scenes from Game of Thrones and gorgeous little cliff-side bars.

Bridge of Sighs, Venice

Bridge of Sighs, Venice

 

The Apothecary, Dubrovnik

The Apothecary, Dubrovnik

As you can imagine exploring Venice and Dubrovnik was pretty exhausting but a sea day followed and with a bit of pampering in the Spa we were rejuvenated and ready for a stop at the Greek Island of Mykonos. We explored the blue and white alleyways of Mykonos and Little Venice and climbed the hill overlooking the town to check out the iconic windmills. We also took an excursion to the tiny island of Delos birthplace of Apollo.

Mykonos Windmills

Mykonos Windmills

 

Delos Ruins

Delos Ruins

Our final destination was the fascinating city of Istanbul.

View of Istanbul from the Bosphorus

Istanbul from the Bosphorus

 

Hagia Sofia Mosque, Istanbul

Hagia Sofia Mosque, Istanbul

Of course, between each port-of-call, were some pretty amazing on-board experiences. I’ll be sharing with you some of the highlights in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned for posts on these and the destinations we visited. Find out some surprising facts about what goes on behind the scenes on a Celebrity Cruise ship and check out some views from a cruise; photos of the cities we visited seen from the ship during sail-away and arrival.  Some of the best I’ve ever experienced and from a totally different perspective as we sailed past.

Huge thanks go to Celebrity Cruises who hosted me on this amazing cruise, however, all views and opinions are entirely my own.

Read all my Celebrity Cruise posts.

Ben Fogle’s Great Adventures

Ben Fogle’s Great Adventures

Back in October I interviewed adventurer and explorer Ben Fogle on his return from his first cruise to find out what he thought about his Celebrity Cruise experience.  I was surprised to learn that for him it’s always been about the journey and how you get there as well as the destination itself.  Last week I was thrilled to meet Ben in person to find out about the exciting and unique new shore excursions that he’s designed for Celebrity Cruises as their ‘Destinations Expert’.

Ben Fogle Interview

Ben Fogle Interview

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Montenegro – A Photo Tour of Budva

Montenegro – A Photo Tour of Budva

The second part of our ‘Grand Montenegro Tour‘ excursion took us to Budva. With a backdrop of dramatic mountains, colourful harbour and a fortified Stari Grad (old town) it’s the prettiest of tiny towns and one of the most popular on Montenegro’s coast.

Budva was one of the last Venetian outposts. Look closely and you’ll discover many clues to the 400 years of Venetian rule within the walls of the Medieval fortress encircling the town. In contrast, the narrow alleyways and squares are filled with modern boutiques, bars and restaurants.  So, what’s to see?  Let me show you Budva in photos…

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

Dancing Girl Statue, Budva

The old town of Budva lies on a little island that was once linked to the mainland by a sandbar which over time turned into a peninsula.  Head out towards Mogren Beach for panoramic views of the town.

There are three churches in Budva and each one is very different. (clockwise)  A tiny single nave church, the Church of Saint Sava, is said to have been built during the 14th century. Saint John the Baptist Church was Seat of the Budva bishopric until 1828. In 1867 the belfry was added to the north side. Church of Holy Trinity is a single nave construction with a dome built in 1804 and modelled on one of two churches of the Podostrog monastery 2k from Budva.

The Stari Grad or Old Town is made up of narrow streets, alleys and small squares.

The old town was heavily fortified and today is still entered from one of five gates in the towering walls. Evidence of different Mediterranean cultures that have influenced the town can be spied in the walls.

 

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Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Dancing Girl Statue Budva

Budva, Montenegro

Budva Walled Town

A photo tour of the pretty walled town of Budva, Montenegro

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Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting our cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

Montenegro – Discovering Kotor, Njegusi and Cetinje

Montenegro – Discovering Kotor, Njegusi and Cetinje

We’re in Montenegro, one of Europe’s newest nations, and the road we’re climbing clings to the steep limestone mountains overlooking the Bay of Kotor. With every bend (or serpentine, as our guide aptly describes them) the views of the bay become increasingly breathtaking.

On the eighth hairpin the coach comes to a grinding halt as a couple of cows and a hefty bull plod up the hill in front of us; but we don’t mind – it gives us time to soak up a bit more of ‘that view’. The bovine roadblock pulls into a convenient passing point and we’re off again – onwards and upwards.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

It’s the ‘Grand Montenegro Tour’ our first excursion on our Celebrity Cruise and when we stop at serpentine number 25, a mighty 850m above sea-level, we can see our ship ‘Silhouette’ sitting centre stage in the beautiful bay. The Gulf of Kotor (Boka Kotorska), despite often being called the southern-most fjord in Europe, is actually a submerged river canyon and from this height we can see the route the river would have once taken. This morning I woke, as the ship edged into Kotor, to see a backdrop of green covered mountains plunge into the bay behind small monastery islands set in the deep, still waters.  Mistakenly I thought that would be the best view of the day.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

We tear ourselves away from the vista and head back to the coach for our next stop, Njegusi, which is even higher up the mountain at 1100m. Njegusi is famous for its local cheese, ’sir’, and ‘prsut’ a smoked dried ham; we sample a generous portion of each with a huge beaker of very drinkable red wine in Kadmi Ethnic Village.  It’s not even midday but, well….! The restaurant is cosy inside and reminds me of a ski chalet with its hide covered benches, gingham curtains and copper fire hoods but today is warm so we head back outside to enjoy the views of Mount Lovćen.

 Njegusi, Montenegro

Our next stop is Cetinje and we head off along the road from Njegusi which winds through a grey, rugged area of Mount Lovcen known as The Stone Sea. The view is stark but softened with splashes of autumn colour.

The Stone Sea, Montenegro

The Stone Sea, Montenegro

Until 1946 Cetinje was the capital of Montenegro, before Podgorica took over the mantle, although the small town still remains the country’s cultural and royal capital. It’s a pretty place with a quiet air about it dotted with small embassies and museums – so much nicer than Podgorica – but then I’m slightly biased as a few years ago my luggage went walkabout in Podgorica…

We visit the State Museum, on King Nicholas’ Square, which is the former residence of Nikola Petrovic I, king of Montenegro. The palace is set out with beautiful period rooms as they would have been when the palace was in use. I loved the Princesses’ bedrooms and it would seem little girls liked pink just as much then as they do now! Displays of uniforms, medals, flags and weaponry fill the building but photography wasn’t allowed. If you’d like to know more check the museum’s official website where you’ll find a virtual tour and photographs.

We leave the peacefulness of Cetinje for the thirty minute drive to the coastal town of Budva where we’ll have lunch and a wander. As the sea comes into view so does Sveti Stefan in the distance, an exclusive holiday hideaway only accessable nowadays to the rich and famous.Budva’s a pretty little fortified town and worthy of its own photo tour so for now I’ll just leave you with a taster…

Budva, Montenegro

Budva, Montenegro

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Bay of Kotor

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting my first cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

 

A Photo Tour of Valletta

A Photo Tour of Valletta

It’s 7:15am and we’re on Silhouette’s bow; keen for our first glimpse of Valletta.  The sea is calm and as the sun creeps higher in the sky, on a surprisingly warm November morning, we edge our way into The Grand Harbour.  The rising sun paints the sixteenth-century bastion walls gold and we can see small cube-like buildings interspersed with honey-coloured domes, spires and arches.  Valletta might be small but it’s steeped in history and it’s incredibly easy on the eye.

The Grand Harbour, Malta

The Grand Harbour, Malta

Valletta covers an area of less than one square kilometre and its grid system makes it easy to get around on foot. It’s a pleasant place to wander so, in the two hours we had, that’s exactly what we did. We disembark and take the five-minute walk to the 20 storey lift which will deposit us at The Upper Barrakka Gardens. At €1 return it’s worth every cent to avoid the knee-crunching hike up the steep 280 steps. The gardens are the perfect spot for enjoying the panoramic views across one of the world’s largest, deepest natural harbours. We watch as cannons are prepared for the midday salute.

Upper Barrakka Gardens, Valletta

Upper Barrakka Gardens

Valletta takes its name from its founder, Grandmaster Jean Parisot de la Valette and owes its existence to the Knights of St John, who planned the fortified city as a refuge for injured soldiers and pilgrims during the 16th century Crusades.

 Auberge de Castille

An Auberge is where the Knights lived. During their first years in Malta, the Knights served once a week in the hospitals – in return they lived in their Auberge for free. Of the original eight Auberges only five remain, the finest being the Auberge de Castille and Leon; severely damaged during WWII the building’s been restored and now houses the office of the Prime Minister.

Auberge de Castille

Auberge de Castille

The Great Siege Monument

Fortitude flanked by faith and hope – this bronze monument commemorates the Great Siege of 1565 when the Ottoman Empire invaded the island. The Knights, helped by 400 Maltese men, women and children and about 2,000 foot-soldiers won the siege against the Turks, one of the most fiercely fought, bloodiest battles in history.

Great Siege Monument, Valletta

The Great Siege Monument

Malta and WWII

Malta has a solid British connection and played a key part in the Mediterranean campaign in WWII.  It was one of the most intensively bombed areas during the war and suffered terribly during during The Siege of Malta where the enemy were determined to either bomb or starve the Maltese into submission.The people were rewarded for their bravery when George VI awarded the entire island the George Cross.

Plaques on the Grand Palace, Malta

Plaques on the Grand Palace, Malta

It was Remembrance Sunday and could hear catches of music from a military band and glimpse them passing by the end of the street.  The flash of a scarlet poppy could be seen on many a lapel and on the iconic British telephone and post boxes which are still used. We felt quite at home!

Valletta with telephone box

Valletta

A walk through the quiet, narrow back streets gives a taste of everyday life and an opportunity to meet some interesting characters.

This is Gerry…

Gerry Fluffy Cat

Gerry

…and these are Gerry’s friends…

Cat watching pigeons

Not so brave Gerry

His owner told us how his furry friend will go after a pigeon if it’s alone – when there’s a few he’s not so brave and just glares!  The old man would have liked us to stay and chat for longer – they’re a friendly bunch, the Maltese.


Read More: Things you should know before visiting Malta


The sun-bleached buildings of Valletta’s streets are adorned with galleriji; the city’s traditional balconies.

Valletta Street with balconies

Valletta Street with balconies

Fort of St Elmo

We pass the fort of St Elmo on the far end of the promontory and walk back along the quiet quay towards the ship.  Some Mods on Lambrettas buzz by and we pass fishermen casting lines for their lunch – there’s a chilled Sunday vibe about the place.

The Grand Harbour, Malta

The Grand Harbour, Malta

Valletta Waterfront

Too soon we’re back at Valletta Waterfront which sits just below the city’s fortifications.  It used to be called Pinto Wharf before being beautifully renovated and is home to some vibrant bars and restaurants – the dining options in Valletta are good and varied.

Valletta Waterfront

Valletta Waterfront

Malta is saturated in history and needs at least a week to delve into its vibrant past and then maybe another week just to relax and enjoy its food, wine and hospitality.  But we’ve had a taster which will do for the time being; now we must board, pack and leave for the airport as this is where our cruise ends; but I shall return one day to explore properly and immerse myself in Malta’s rich history.

Photo Tour of Valletta

Many thanks to Celebrity Cruises UK for hosting me on my first cruise. As always views and opinions; good, bad or otherwise are entirely my own.

Setting Sail with Celebrity Cruises

Setting Sail with Celebrity Cruises

Last month after flying into Dubrovnik I visited Kotor and Budva in Montenegro, Matera in Italy, the island of Corfu and finally Valletta in Malta.  Five destinations in five days without taking another flight.  Clever huh?  Actually it couldn’t have been simpler – I sailed out of Dubrovnik on board Celebrity Silhouette, a luxury cruise ship, and spent an exciting, enlightening few days on my first ever cruise exploring some fascinating cities as well as discovering the ship and life on board which was a whole new experience in itself.

Celebrity Silhouette

Celebrity Silhouette

I’ve always booked my travels independently, figured out the logistics, the best flights and transfers, researched hotels, B&Bs and what sights and experiences to include.  I’d never considered going on a cruise before but the more I thought about it the more it made sense and when Celebrity Cruises invited me to spend time on board one of their newest ships ‘Silhouette’ I didn’t need to be asked twice.  Just think about it – lots of new places to explore but only having to unpack once – tick! No waiting around in airports or haggling with taxi drivers – big tick! Time to enjoy the swimming pools, Jacuzzi, restaurants, entertainment and even some Spa time – tick, tick, tick!  In fact the only stress would be trying to enjoy as much of the ship as possible while it transported me on my journey in complete comfort and luxury.

Of course I’ll be sharing photographs and tales of the destinations I visited but first I’d like to show you around Silhouette herself, after all she is the star of the show…

My Stateroom

Let’s start in my light and airy stateroom, the epitome of a room with a view filled with everything needed for a comfortable stay; en-suite bathroom, toiletries, bathrobes, crisp cotton sheets, white fluffy towels and turn-down service.  But the best bit was my little balcony where I loved to sit awhile just watching the ever-changing scenery and allowing myself to be mesmerised by the vastness of the ocean before me.

Celebrity Silhouette Stateroom

Celebrity Silhouette Stateroom

I’m not usually a morning person but the excitement of waking up to a new view and sailing into a different city each day got me up and out on my balcony shortly after sunrise every morning.  I’d even leave the curtains open so I could sneak the first glimpse from my pillow!

View of Bay of Kotor

Bay of Kotor from my Stateroom

What to do on a cruise ship?

There’s so much to do when you’re not out on a shore excursion you’re are truly spoilt for choice.  Maybe start with a bit of shopping in the designer shops or an art exhibition.  There are trivia contests, cooking and dance classes, a gym, fitness sessions and a craft area for painting and drawing.  Join in pool volleyball, basketball or Zumba on the deck is just as entertaining to watch as it is to take part.

Aqua Spa and relaxation

If all of that sounds like too much hard work then head to Aqua Spa and instantly unwind on one of the heated beds whilst gazing out into the vast expanse of ocean.  On our day at sea I booked myself in for a bit of pampering and chose a blissful Elemis facial from a long list of indulgent treatments.  I walked on air all the way back to my state-room afterwards – I haven’t been that relaxed in months!

Aqua Spa on Silhouette

Aqua Spa on Silhouette

Of course there are countless other ways to relax.  There’s an outdoor pool lined with Jacuzzis,  loungers for sunny days and the same amenities in the solarium area for not-so-sunny days – and because there are full-length windows you won’t miss out on the views.

Celebrity Silhouette's Pool

Celebrity Silhouette’s Pool

The Lawn Club was a favourite place to spend time and feel the grass between my toes or have a game of croquet or bowls.  There are hammocks and cabana-style alcoves – perfect little havens.

The Lawn Club, Celebrity Silhouette

The Lawn Club

Did I mention that Celebrity Silhouette is a huge ship?  I mean really huge….!

Tiny Travelbunny!

Tiny Travelbunny!

There are havens and hidey-holes all over the ship – I loved this area with quirky little pod chairs. There’s even a library and card room.

Pods on board Celebrity Silhouette

Pods on board Celebrity Silhouette

Entertainment

The theatre is the venue for evening entertainment and hosts some excellent shows – we saw Steve Hewlitt a very funny ventriloquist from the UK, a mentalist who somehow managed to infiltrate my mind and plant the word ‘juxtaposition’ (I know!) and a fantastic acrobatic troupe who performed a Cirque-style show.  There’s also a casino, slot machines, dancing and live music.

Dining on Silhouette

You’re probably wondering why I haven’t mentioned the food yet? The food on Silhouette was exceptional.  With six speciality restaurants, the main Grand Cuveé dining room, Ocean View Café and Sunset Bar among others.

Glazed Strawberry

Outstanding Celebrity Service

From the time I was greeted at the gangway, totally over-awed by this huge ship looming above me, to the time I was waved off I was amazed at the outstanding service.  The staff were more than happy to help with any request, they were interested, attentive, friendly and provided some of the best service I’ve experienced – and I’ve stayed in some top-notch hotels.

Think cruise holidays aren’t for you? Think again.

In the past I’ve been sceptical about cruises, despite never having experienced one(!) and thought it would be full of elderly people, overly formal and maybe even a teensy bit boring.  How wrong was I!  There was a complete range of ages aboard including some children, it wasn’t formal at all except for Saturday nights when you could dress up a bit more – I spotted some long gowns and the odd tux or two – but there were more casual dressers as well and it’s a case what you feel comfortable with.  As for being boring – NO CHANCE!    Having been on my first cruise I’d recommend Celebrity Cruises without hesitation.  Taking a cruise is the ideal way to satisfy the wanderlust whilst enjoying exceptional cuisine, superb accommodation and sparkling entertainment – the perfect combination of exploration, recreation and relaxation.

Huge thanks to Celebrity Cruises who kindly hosted me and Mr Jones for five nightsAs always views and opinions – good, bad or otherwise – are entirely my own.

A photo tour of Silhouette