THE A THEME
Universal Studios and Caribbean cruise deliver perfect getaway
Remember all those compare and contrast English essays we were obliged to write in school? For an altogether more pleasurable version of the ‘C C’ theme it would be difficult to better a holiday which combines a whistle stop visit to the Universal Orlando Resort followed by a Caribbean cruise. How about this for a fascinating contrast: 48 hours after being hurtled around the Incredible Hulk Coaster at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour you’re catching the rays on an idyllic private beach in Haiti!
The Universal complex in Orlando now incorporates two theme parks, the original Universal Studios and the Islands of Adventure, a sizable chunk of which is devoted to the Harry Potter theme — including a full sized Hogwarts Castle, where the not-to-be-be missed Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride is located. There are two other Harry Potter themed rollercoaster rides, the Flight of the Hippogriff and the Dragon Challenge.
But if you don’t feel up to high speed intertwined loops across the sky, you can sample a pint of butter beer while listening to the Frog Choir or visit the magical Ollivanders wand shop. Queues are an issue, particularly during school holidays – but it is worth remembering that guests who stay at one of the on-site Universal hotels such as the Lowes Royal Pacific can get access to the theme parks an hour before they open to the general public. Other attractions worth sampling include The Simpsons Ride, Men in Black Alien Attack, ET Adventure, Revenge of the Mummy – which is an indoor roller coaster – Jurassic Park Adventure and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges, a white-water rapids raft ride during which you are virtually guaranteed to get soaked.
Next day we’re on the road to Cape Canaveral, from where The Freedom of the Seas cruise ship embarks for a seven day trek around the Western Caribbean. A year back in service following a €53m upgrade, the ship can cater for over than 4,300 guests and a crew of over 1,300. For readers with reservations about the idea of a holiday at sea, rest assured: I too was sceptical, not helped by the fact that my abiding memory of a journey at sea was an awful trip between Cork and Le Havre many moons ago. You quickly forget the fact that you’re cruising at 21 knots. It’s akin to holidaying in a small resort as opposed to cruising in the Atlantic Ocean.
Prior to the ship’s departure there is a mandatory safety drill; then the party begins on the open deck area which overlooks the ship’s three swimming pools. After cocktails its time for a rest in one of the staterooms, which contain a queen size bed configuration and have private bath, flat-panel television and phone, mini-bar, hair dryer and individually controlled air-conditioning.
The age profile of the guests is surprising too, toddlers and teenagers mingle with couples and singles in their 30s through to their 80s. One passenger looks resplendent in her wedding gown and other guests were celebrating birthdays or special anniversaries. The friendliness and helpfulness of the ship’s staff is particularly noticeable as is their ability to remember passengers’ names. The ship’s facilities include a skylight wedding chapel, a casino, spa and fitness centre – including a boxing ring – ice skating rink, art gallery, boutiques, solarium, conference centre and library, together with a host of restaurants and bars. It is simply impossible to get bored.
Then there’s the food! During our three night stay we sampled their specialist steak and Italian restaurants for dinner as well as the main dining room where the captain joins the guests – the standard of food was exceptional as was the fare on offer at the breakfast buffet. Alternatively guests can have their breakfast served in their stateroom. All food is included in the overall price of the cruise, though there is a service charge when you dine in any of the specialist restaurants.
After all that eating and drinking it was time to burn off some calories on the jogging track and scale the rock climbing wall.We give the line dance class a miss and weren’t brave (or foolish) enough to try the FlowRider, a spectacular surf-simulator. Instead we settled for a game of mini golf in the sweltering midday temperatures followed by an aroma stone massage.
First port of call was Labadee, a privately constructed Haitian resort which caters only for passengers on Royal Caribbean cruises.There are a myriad of activities passengers can sample during the one day stop. We opted for a cultural tour (€50) and a breathtaking zip wire ride (€65) which at 2,600 feet long is reputed to be the longest in the world over water. Sadly we said our goodbyes at the next port, Falmouth – home town of Jamaican sprint super star Usain Bolt. During the remainder of the cruise, Freedom of the Seas docked in Georgetown on the Cayman Islands and Cozumel in Mexico before its return to Cape Canaveral.
Overall a truly memorable holiday, even for land lovers!
Freedom of the Seas, Universal Fly/Stay/Cruise
ROYAL CARIBBEAN International has conjured up a spell-binding holiday treat for Hogwarts fans and sunshine seekers alike with a Universal Orlando Fly/Stay/Caribbean Cruise. The thrilling holiday includes flights to Orlando, a pre-cruise stay at Universal – complete with Harry Potter attractions – ahead of a seven night Caribbean cruise onboard Freedom of the Seas from €1,815 per person (based on 2 people sharing at the hotel and an inside stateroom on the ship).
Price includes return flights from Dublin to Orlando, three nights stay at Four Points, Universal Orlando and a seven-night Western Caribbean Cruise departing from Port Canaveral, Florida and calling at Labadee, Haiti; Falmouth, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman and Cozumel, Mexico before returning to Port Canaveral; meals and entertainment.
Price based on September 2, 2012 Departure. Alternative departure dates available.
For more information or to book see www.royalcaribbean.ie, call 1800 932 619 or talk to your travel agent.
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