Historical Highlights: 5 Ancient Ruins to See On a Mediterranean Cruise

Mediterranean ruins – The Library of Celsus, Ephesus

Caption: The Library of Celsus, one of the most beautiful structures in the ancient city of Ephesus, Turkey.

From long lazy days on the beach to late lunches and afternoon siestas, the Mediterranean has plenty to tempt travellers. With its principal countries including Italy, Spain and Greece, it conjures up images of fresh bread and olives on the patio, swimming in sparkling blue waters and wandering the streets of characterful local villages.

However, there’s more to the region than sun, sea and good food (although that may already be enough to have you hopping on the next ship). As the birthplace of Western civilisation and home to cities such as Athens and Rome, the Mediterranean has a fascinating history and has witnessed everything from natural disasters to clashes between ancient empires.

If you want to experience this history first-hand, a Mediterranean cruise can take you on a journey through the region’s past. From the haunted streets of Pompeii to Athens’ Acropolis, here are five ancient ruins not to be missed.

Mediterranean ruins – The Acropolis, Athens

Caption: The ancient columns of Athens’ Parthenon temple, one of the Acropolis’ most famous sights. This photo was taken by Imagine Cruising’s Becca Dunn.

The Acropolis

Closest port: Athens (Piraeus).

If you visit Athens, you’ll be greeted by a sight that has welcomed travellers for thousands of years – the Acropolis towering over the city. In Greek, the term ‘acropolis’ literally means ‘the highest point in the town’, and the rocky outcrop was first fortified by Mycenaean Kings (the first advanced civilisation of mainland Greece), who built towering walls, temples and palaces there.

Since then, the Acropolis has had a turbulent history. In 480 BC, many of its structures were destroyed by the rampaging Persians. After this assault, the architect and sculptor Phidias created much of what you can see today, including the famous Parthenon temple, which contained a much fabled colossal statue of the goddess Athena.

Today, the Acropolis is the most visited of Athens’ ruins. If you make your way up the hill from the Plaka and Monastiraki, you’ll find the entrance, which was built around 432 BC by a colleague of Phidias. From here you can explore artefacts, including a small temple to Athena, before heading over to the Parthenon and other famous structures. These include two theatres, Herod Atticus and the Theatre of Dionysus, and the Erechtheion temple, the location of the ‘Sacred Tokens’, believed to be the marks made by Poseidon’s trident.

The south porch of the Erechtheion is also famously supported by six female statues known as the Caryatids, who, it’s theorised, stand over the tomb of the legendary King Kekrops. It’s worth bearing in mind that these statues are replicas – five of the originals can be seen at the Acropolis Museum and the sixth at the British Museum.

*There’s free entry to the Acropolis on Sundays from November – March

Mediterranean ruins – Pompeii, Italy

Caption: The ancient Roman city of Pompeii in the ominous shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

Pompeii

Closest port: Naples

On the morning of 24th August AD 79, Italy’s Mount Vesuvius erupted, catching the population of nearby Roman towns, including Pompeii and Herculaneum, completely unawares. As ash from the mountain rained down, thousands of people headed indoors for shelter, believing that they would be able to weather the disaster and emerge when it had passed.

Sadly, they didn’t know what we know now: that the force of the eruption had caused a pyroclastic collapse (a fast-moving current of hot gas and rock) that, when it hit, would instantly kill anyone in its path.

The terrible disaster buried Pompeii in ash, seemingly wiping the city off the face of the Earth. However, when the site was finally excavated in AD 1748, the world was astonished to discover a near-perfectly preserved ancient Roman city, with even the frescos on the walls of the townhouses surviving.

If you wander the streets of Pompeii, you’ll be transported back in time, to the days before this bustling city met its tragic end. The most haunting aspect of any visit are the body casts of the victims, which were preserved in the ash that shrouded them.

Most tours will also take you to Herculaneum, which is just a half-hour journey away, and equally well preserved.

Mediterranean ruins – The Arab Baths, Palma

Caption: These 10th century baths in Palma, Mallorca, are a tantalising glimpse of life in the ancient Arab city of Medina Mayurqa (the Moorish name for the city of Palma).

The Arab Baths

Closest port: Palma

The popular holiday resort of Palma, on the Spanish island of Mallorca, has a hidden Islamic past. Following the conquest of Andalusia by the Moors in AD 711, Spain was under Muslim rule for around 781 years – and for those who look for it, subtle reminders of this legacy can be found throughout Palma, from its Moorish gardens to the Arab Quarter.

Some of the most fascinating relics of the city’s history are the 10th century AD Arabic Baths, which can be found in the Medieval Quarter. The baths were likely part of a nobleman’s house and are reached via a walled garden – a little oasis in the middle of the frenetic city – which leads you into a domed space, supported by 12 columns.

It was here that people would gather to wash and discuss the issues of the day, before cooling off in the garden after a hot bath. It’s worth noting that each supporting column is different – a fact that has led to the belief that they were likely salvaged from the ruins of Roman buildings.

Mediterranean ruins – The Roman Forum

Caption: The sprawling ruins of the Roman Forum, once the political and social centre of the Roman Empire.

The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill

Closest port: Civitavecchia

One of the most popular things to see in Rome, the Forum is a sprawling area of complex ruins, located along the Via dei Fori Imperiali, in between the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia. However, travel back a few thousand years, and this was the social and political centre of the Roman Empire and jam-packed with temples, squares and public buildings.

The oldest ruins here date back to fifth century BC and the first Kings of Rome. Following the defeat of Anthony and Cleopatra in AD 410, Emperor Augustus set about building a capital worthy of the Roman Empire. He’s responsible for many of the buildings in the Roman Forum, including the Temples of Saturn, Concord, Castor and Pollux, Divine Julius, the Basilicas of Julia and Aemilia, the Curia and Rostra. Indeed, he modestly boasted that he had, “found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.”

As with nearly all centres of Empires, the Roman Forum underwent numerous attacks. Notably, in AD 1410, Rome was sacked by Alaric the Visigoth, and you can still see green stains on the floor of the Basilica Aemilia, where bronze coins melted in the fires.

If you have time during your excursion to Rome, you can also take the very short walk to Palatine Hill (the ticket for the Roman Forum also includes Palatine Hill and the Colosseum). It was here, legend has it, that Romulus founded the city after he’d killed his twin Remus, and where many of the Roman emperors lived in unabashed luxury.

Mediterranean ruins – Ephesus’ Grand Theatre

Caption: Built in the first century AD, Ephesus’ Grand Theatre is one of the city’s most impressive monuments. It hosted theatrical plays, musical performances and political and religious events.

Ephesus

Closest port: Kusadasi, Turkey

It’s hard not to be blown away by Ephesus – a city that was ruled by the Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Located on Turkey’s Western coast, the ruins are one of the most complete classical metropolises on the planet, offering an incredible insight into this ancient world.

Thanks to its changing allegiances and position on the coast, which resulted in a constant influx of traders and sailors, Ephesus was a melting pot of Mediterranean culture. Its crowning glory was the temple to the goddess Artemis, which is one of the ‘seven wonders’ of the ancient world and said to have been four times larger than Athens’ Parthenon. Legend has it that Herostratus, a madman, set fire to the temple on the same night that Alexander the Great was born, in order to make his name immortal.

Wander the ancient streets, which, according to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul once trod, and visit the remains of the Temple of Artemis, as well as the three-tiered theatre that once seated 25,000 cheering spectators. Just outside the city, you can also see the Church of Saint John, which was built in the fourth century AD, reputedly over its namesake’s tomb.

 

These are, of course, not the only ancient ruins to see in the Mediterranean. From wandering Corfu’s Venetian fortresses to exploring Greece’s Olympia, the site of the ancient Olympic Games, a cruise of the region is the perfect choice for history fans.

Here at Imagine Cruising, we’re experts in luxury and tailor-made cruises. Interested in visiting one of the above ruins? Browse our range of Mediterranean cruises and see where they could take you.

 

Image of Pompeii by Carlo Mirante

Image of the Arab Baths by bortescristian

Casanova’s Venice: Follow in the Footsteps of History’s Most Legendary Lover

Looking for things to do in Venice? As Valentine’s Day draws near, we highlight some of the most famous Venice attractions connected with Casanova.

Casanova’s Venice – view of the Grand Canal at sunset

Image by Pedro Szekely 

From gliding down the Grand Canal in a gondola to sipping an espresso in Piazza San Marco, you’ll never find yourself short of things to do in Venice. Often referred to as ‘the Queen of the Adriatic’, this floating city (actually a collection of 118 tiny islands) has long attracted travellers from across the globe with its unique architecture, rich cultural history and world-renowned beauty.

However, while modern visitors to Venice tend to appreciate the city’s spirit of elegant decay – Venice is, after all, sinking at a rate of 2mm per year – its appeal was of a different nature in the 18th century. Back then, the rich and powerful flocked to Venice, attracted by its reputation as Europe’s pleasure capital. It was into this Venice – an extravagant city of gambling, courtesans and luxury – that Casanova, one of the world’s most famous Lotharios, was born.

If you want to get a taste of what Venetian life was like in this exciting time, a good place to start is by following in the footsteps of Casanova. Through his social climbing, amorous affairs and scrapes with the law, Casanova experienced all strata of 18th century Venice. So, as Valentine’s Day draws near, we highlight some of the most famous Venetian attractions connected with Casanova, and explain how a modern-day visitor can experience Venice as seen through the eyes of history’s most legendary lover.

San Samuele

Casanova’s Venice – a man admires Venice from a bridge

Caption: It’s easy to get lost in Venice’s narrow, labyrinthine streets. Image from Unsplash

To follow in Casanova’s footsteps, it makes sense to start where it all began: San Samuele, the Venetian neighbourhood where Casanova spent the first nine years of his life, before being sent away to be educated at Padua. Wandering through this small, traditional neighbourhood is a great way for a modern visitor to get a feel for the narrow streets, crumbling grandeur and endless waterways that characterise Venice. Keep an eye out for the plaque marking Casanova’s birthplace on Calle Malipiero.

Make your way towards the Grand Canal and you’ll find San Samuele Church – although now closed to the public, it still presents an impressive façade. This was the spot where Casanova’s parents married and had their young son baptised. Later, when Casanova returned to Venice from Padua as an apprentice priest, this was the site of his first one and a half sermons (the second sermon was brought to an abrupt end when Casanova, realising he was rambling drunkenly after a particularly boozy lunch, faked a fainting fit to escape the awkward situation).

Piazza San Marco

Casanova’s Venice – San Marco Square at sunrise

Caption: Piazza San Marco sits at the heart of the city, and is close to many of the most popular things to do in Venice. Image from Pixabay.

It’s hard for a visitor to avoid Piazza San Marco, crammed as it is with many of Venice’s best-known attractions. As the city’s main gathering place since its construction in the 9th century, this wide open space is surrounded by white marble columns, cafés served by attentive white-suited waiters, and historic sites such as the majestic St Mark’s Basilica and imposing red-brick campanile.

Today, you’re likely to find Piazza San Marco filled with tourists and pigeons. But in Casanova’s Venice, San Marco held an entirely different meaning: it was a gateway to gambling. Just a few streets away, you’ll come face to face with San Moses Church, a beautiful Baroque building that used to sit at the heart of the city’s gambling den district.

Casanova’s casino of choice was Il Ridotto, which was Europe’s first public casino. Nowadays, Il Ridotto is no longer a den of vice, but rather a part of the sumptuous Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal. However, if you want to experience Venetian gambling as Casanova once did, you can always pay a visit to the palatial Venice Casino, which has been running in various states of legality since 1638, making it one of the oldest casinos in the world.

Doge’s Palace

Casanova’s Venice – the Doge’s Palace

Caption: In the heyday of the Republic, the Doge’s Palace made an imposing sight for travellers arriving in Venice by boat. Image from Pixabay.

Next to Piazza San Marco you’ll find the Doge’s Palace, built in the Venetian Gothic style. Nowadays it’s a museum and visitors are free to explore the building’s lavish interior. When Casanova was in Venice, however, the Doge’s Palace wasn’t a tourist attraction, but the seat of government – something that, for a cad like him, made it far more ominous.

It was here that Casanova was sentenced to five years of imprisonment for ’public outrages’. He was housed in ‘the Leads’, a set of prison cells at the very top of the palace, named for the lead tiles that covered the roof. Fortunately, Casanova succeeded in escaping after 16 months; if we are to believe his account, detailed 30 years later in Story of My Flight, it took him two attempts and a whole lot of daring.

Caffè Florian Venice

Casanova’s Venice – Caffè Florian Venice

Caption: Caffè Florian Venice has attracted artists and Lotharios alike since the 18th century. Image by Awiso.

This sumptuously decorated café first opened its doors in 1720 and – due in large part to it being the only café in the city that would serve women at the time – soon became one of Casanova’s favourite hunting grounds. Since then it has been a popular hangout for everyone from Byron to Stravinsky.

With a terrace that spills out onto Piazza San Marco and an interior that’s lavishly decorated with hand-painted mirrors and frescoes, Caffè Florian Venice is ideal for travellers looking to rest their weary feet and soak up some Venetian luxury. While you’re sipping on your Casanova Hot Chocolate, glance across the piazza and you’ll see Caffè Quadri, where Casanova enjoyed a brief stint as a violinist

Cantina Do Spade Venice

Casanova’s Venice – traditional Venetian seafood

Caption: Cantina Do Spade Venice is next to the Rialto Market, making it a great choice for travellers looking to sample fresh, traditional Venetian food. Image by Nekotank.

Cantina Do Spade is a fantastic destination for travellers in its own right thanks to its divine menu of traditional Venetian cuisine. Its fried seafood, or ‘fritture’, is particularly worth trying – get there early to enjoy fish bought fresh from the nearby Rialto Market.

However, there’s more to this cosy tavern than meets the eye – not only is one of the oldest osteries in Venice, but it was also one of Casanova’s favourite stomping grounds. Indeed, according to one colourful account in Casanova’s memoirs, this was the place where he wined and dined a married conquest during the Carnival of 1745, having first disguised himself as an official in order to lure away her pesky husband. Even today, it’s easy to see why he found Do Spade’s cosy interior so well suited to seduction.

Of course, these are not the only things to do in Venice. From admiring the grand masters in the Gallerie dell’Accademia to browsing shops filled with ornate carnival masks, Venice makes an ideal romantic destination – not just for Valentine’s Day, but all year round.

Here at Imagine Cruising, we’re experts in luxury and tailor-made cruising. Interested in visiting Venice as part of a cruise? Browse our collection of Mediterranean cruises to learn more, or contact us on 0800 840 5800 for expert advice.

 

customer-service

Why book a tailor made holiday with Imagine Cruising?

Have you ever wondered what the benefits of a tailor made holiday are? At Imagine Cruising we work really hard to create holiday packages that take you to all of the places you want to see while also ensuring that you journey in comfort and style.

A tailor made holiday means you waste no time planning, price-checking and organising your stays or journeys from place to place – we’ve sorted out all those logistical difficulties for you. Plus, our dedicated team visits all the accommodation you’ll stay at, ensuring that the quality is of the high standard our customers have come to expect.

Imagine our delight when we received the following letter from a very satisfied customer. Her lovely words didn’t just confirm that our commitment to offering great holidays pays off, it also reinforces all the little extras that a tailor made holiday provides. Great value, minimum fuss and an assurance that you’re treated like the valued customer you are at every point on your journey; all you need to do is enjoy!

Dear Imagine Cruising,

Having returned last month from a tailor made holiday arranged by Imagine Cruising I feel compelled to contact you to express my gratitude for the outstanding service your company provided. I would also appreciate it if you thanked Dan who coordinated the trip. His knowledge, advise, patience and professionalism was second to none and obviously secured our booking.

My husband and myself travel extensively and particularly enjoy cruising but had not used Imagine Cruising before this trip. I contacted Dan initially for information regarding a 17night Barrier Reef cruise I’d seen advertised on your website. The attraction to this particular cruise was that it ended in Singapore, reducing the return flight time. When I was told that the flight out was 25 hours I explained that we didn’t want such a long flight out and would prefer  a  ‘stop over’ en route so I would look into arranging it myself (as I always have done) and then booking a ‘cruise only’.

Dan explained that your company could organise any type of holiday to suit any individual requests and requirements and that it could usually be done much more economically due to the connections Imagine Cruising have with airline companies and hotels worldwide.

He asked me what my ‘dream itinerary’ would be so that he could give me a quote. I did this (with much scepticism) stating specific airlines, private transfers, exact locations for pre-cruise stays in both Dubai and Sydney, cruise cabin type etc. and assured him that that the total cost would far exceed our budget for this particular holiday.

He contacted me the next day with a clearly detailed agenda including all flight times, hotel names and addresses etc. (I checked and priced all of these myself online).

When I asked for the total cost I was totally astounded as it was hundreds of pounds less than I had priced it (very competitively!) and needed to go through the whole itinerary in detail again to ensure that everything was as I had requested. Without hesitation I then went ahead with the booking.

Our holiday was way beyond all expectations and was incredible from beginning to end.

The package containing all travel information, travel advice (visas etc.), vouchers were received well in advance and so clear that we had no need to make further contact.

At all airports there was somebody waiting for us, all transfers from hotels to airports were on time and throughout only ‘top of the range’ vehicles were used.

Our hotels in Dubai and Sydney were outstanding. The staff were so friendly and offered fantastic advice and both had a spectacular location. Our cruise with Holland America was, as usual, fabulous.

I cannot believe that it is only now, after more than thirty cruises that we have discovered such a truly first class company who tailor make cruises to specific requirements. I have in the past used a similar company but was very disappointed with both the service and hotels and vowed not to use such a company again!

Thank- you so much for taking such care in customer service and subcontracting hotels and agencies of such a high standard. In future I will certainly make your company my first ‘port of call’ when booking cruise holidays.

Yours sincerely

Rosalind

Peter’s Christmas Blog

An exciting year ahead…

Over Christmas and New Year it’s traditional that our minds start to wander to the year ahead, with where to go on holiday often one of the first things we think of.christmas_decoration

Many thousands of our Imagine customers are able to look forward excitedly to the holidays they have already booked for January when they’ll be travelling as part of a World Cruise and exploring Africa, Australia, South America, North America, Asia and the Middle East. But – as many cruisers do – many will also have an eye on what adventure to book next, either later in 2016 or in early 2017.

We have been fortunate to have grown our business by over 40% in 2015 and it seems that our approach, combining cruises, stays, iconic locations and fabulous experiences at terrific value, is really catching on.

Since leaving my role at Cunard Line I have just completed my first year as Development Director with Imagine Cruising. My colleagues and I are all really enjoying the excitement and challenge of creating our famous ‘Holiday Masterpieces’ which take you to fantastic destinations around the world.

We have also done a lot of listening this year, through both customer questionnaires and a series of events around the UK. At the most recent event we treated 150 of our customers to a special Bon Voyage Black Tie Gala Dinner at Winchester Guildhall. It was a terrific event and we were able to meet many customers who will be departing on their holidays with us in January. One of the things that came across was just how adventurous they are, keen to hear about new destinations and experiences they can try in the future.

So if you need a little inspiration for the year ahead, I have picked out three of our Masterpieces that I think are very special and would love to try myself.  Here are my favourites:

North America Experience & Iconic Transatlantic Voyage

QM2_NYC_NiagaraFalls

Set sail from Southampton on the newly refurbished Queen Mary 2 for a seven night crossing to New York. In itself an incredible experience, you will then arrive in New York fully relaxed and ready to explore. With an included Broadway show of your choice and New York City Pass, this holiday sets you up perfectly to experience the best of the Big Apple.

Your holiday continues with a seven night luxury coach tour taking in New York, Philadelphia, Washington and Niagara Falls, with city and countryside tours along the way.

If you would like to step this voyage up to something truly exceptional, why not upgrade to Cunard Grills and stay at the famous Waldorf Hotel in New York?

The Great Barrier Reef to the Sydney Opera House

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Australia is a beautiful country and if you’re travelling that far away it’s worth packing in as much as you can. We have arranged a 14 night cruise on Royal Caribbean’s Radiance of the Seas that sails from Sydney to the best of New Zealand and back.

I’ve been lucky to sail in and out of Sydney a number of times and it is a fabulous experience. Every bit as good as sailing into Sydney though, is sailing through the Bay of Islands in New Zealand – it’s a bit like the Norwegian Fjords but much, much more spectacular.

During one sailing, just off the coast of Wellington, the captain had the ship’s lights turned off and we were able to gaze out at the New Zealand sky unobstructed. An astronomer on board was utterly fascinated, confessing he was looking up at stars he’d never seen before!

This Masterpiece doesn’t end there though! There’s also two nights in Sydney, a visit to the Blue Mountains, two nights in Cairns, a day long Great Barrier Reef Tour and an overnight stay near Uluru, formerly Ayers Rock. This ‘Masterpiece’ departs on the 9th March 2017 – so you have plenty of time to look forward to it. With prices starting at just £2,999, it’s also, as the Australians would say, ‘bloody good value mate’.

Into the Heart of Africa

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This is our most special and popular Masterpiece. There is so much to include that I will try to keep it brief. Sail from Southampton to Cape Town on the 10th January 2017 and enjoy two nights at the Table Bay Hotel, two nights on the Zambezi River Queen, three nights at Zambia’s Sanctuary Sussi & Chuma Lodge, a trip to Victoria Falls, game drives, a Zambezi River Cruise, a visit Nakatindi Village plus walking safaris and fishing.

For this one I am afraid you will have to book early as this incredible voyage waits for no-one.

So there you go – three ideas for you to mull over during the Christmas and New Year period – but please don’t mull for too long as our cruise experts are keen to talk to you. You may also be thinking about taking a shorter cruise holiday during the year ahead – either from Southampton or to the Mediterranean. We have all the best deals from P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean and we can book and take care of you on any cruise holiday across all cruise lines of your choice.

If you have already booked a holiday with us for the year ahead – thank you so much for choosing to book with us. If you have yet to book, or indeed if you want to book a second and third holiday – then we will keep you updated with all of our holiday ideas and offers and you can always visit us at www.imaginecruising.co.uk or please do speak to one of our cruise experts.

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for 2016!

Best regards,

Peter Shanks

Development Director

Imagine Cruising

  • North America Explorer and Iconic Transatlantic Voyage prices start from £1,799, with Grills packages from £2,999
  • The Great Barrier Reef to the Sydney Opera house is incredibly well priced at £2,999, including flights
  • Into the Heart of Africa sailings start from £4,099
Amsterdam

European river cruise hotspots

River cruising’s one of the best ways to see the world – through panoramic windows you’re witness to a constant changing of scenery and each new day brings the chance to dock right in the centre of the world’s great towns and cities.

With such a dazzling array of destinations to choose from, it’s no wonder so many people choose to pair a hotel stay with their river cruise.

Our selection of European river cruises offers a fantastic variety of city hotel stays to complement your cruise – here’s a taster of where you could be staying.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam

Cosmopolitan, bohemian and eco-friendly – Amsterdam never fails to charm visitors with its distinctive personality. 165 waterways weave their way through the city, dotted with 1,280 bridges and surrounded by some of the world’s finest art museums, grand 17th-century architecture, cosy cafés and chic bars and restaurants.

Things to do in Amsterdam

  • Browse the Museum Quarter where you’ll find the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum
  • Take in the scenery at Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s largest city park
  • Go on a boat trip through the canals
  • Visit the touching House of Anne Frank
  • Rent a bike and ride through the many cycle paths

Which river cruise?

Our Authentic Amsterdam Stay & Relaxing Rhine Cruise combines a stay in this arty city with a Rhine cruise taking in Cologne, Strasbourg and more. Click here for details.

Prague

Prague

With its cobblestone streets, ancient squares, baroque architecture and the historic Prague castle poised regally above the city, Prague is like something out of a fairy tale. There’s a multitude of attractions here, however the best fun comes from simply wandering through the labyrinthine Old Town, happening upon medieval gems and quaint cafés.

Things to do in Prague

  • Walk over Charles Bridge at sunset for phenomenal views of the city
  • Tour Prague Castle, the largest castle complex in the world
  • Sample some of Prague’s famous beers
  • Watch the astronomical clock’s hourly show – at over 600 years old, it’s the oldest working astronomical clock in the world!
  • Meander the Museum of Communism for a reminder of Prague’s more recent history

 Which river cruise?

To enjoy a magical 3-night stay in Prague coupled with a cruise of the Danube, sailing through the picturesque Wachau Valley and calling at the likes of Budapest and Vienna, opt for our Prague Stay & Delights of the Danube. Find out more by clicking here.

Budapest

Budapest

Budapest straddles the Danube, Buda on one side, Pest on the other. They joined up in 1873 to form one city, although they’ve got distinct personalities – the past is alive in Buda where you’ll find the antique Castle District, and Pest is where all the entertainment and nightlife happens, from classic operas to chic bars.

Things to do in Budapest

  • Visit the Royal Palace which dates back to the 13th Century
  • Explore the Castle District where you’ll find the Budapest History Museum, Hungarian National Gallery and Buda Castle Labyrinth
  • Go for a soak in a traditional thermal bath house
  • Browse the world-class Museum of Fine Arts
  • Go walking in the hills and forests that surround the city

Which river cruise?

Why not opt for our Enchanting Budapest & Classical Danube Cruise – not only will you enjoy a 3-night stay in Budapest, but you’ll also journey through Germany and Austria. Click here to find out more.

Paris

Paris

The romance and beauty of Paris is legendary – you could visit this magical city again and again and never get bored. From the cobbled lanes of artistic Montmartre to the busy boulevards of the Latin Quarter, each new arrondissement offers something new to discover whether you’re a culture connoisseur or gourmand.

Things to do in Paris

  • Browse the galleries of the famous Louvre museum
  • Catch a show at the Moulin Rouge
  • Take the lift to the top of the Eiffel Tower – if you’ve got a head for heights!
  • Visit Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sacre Coeur
  • Go shopping in the chic stores of Champs-Élysées

Which river cruise?

The Magical Paris Stay & Scenic Seine Cruise gives you the chance to discover the historic cities of Rouen and Vernon, as well as quaint French towns and villages, paired with a 3-night stay in Paris. Click here for more information.


Is your dream European river cruise destination featured here? If not, and for more dates and prices, visit our website to see the rest of our River Cruise Collection, including the rivers of Europe, Africa and Asia.

Victoria Falls

An African Masterpiece: Part 2 – The Royal Livingstone

Last week I blogged about our time on the Zambezi Queen with our customers and this week I’m going to tell you about what followed – two nights at the beautiful Royal Livingstone Hotel.

The Royal Livingstone is located just minutes away from Victoria Falls in Zambia. When driving into the grounds of the Royal Livingstone, the first thing I noticed were the animals. I knew there were wild animals living on the grounds, but I didn’t expect them to be so close to everything. As soon as we drove in we saw a small group of zebra, including a foal, casually grazing on the roundabout! The driver paused for us to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ but we saw them all the time after that – on one trip back to my room in the dark I practically stood on one as I hopped off a golf buggy – but more on the golf buggies later.

Zebra on roundabout

The Royal Livingstone is decorated in colonial style with traditional African touches here and there; it’s very elegant and very tranquil, the perfect place to spend a few days relaxing, plus the views from the restaurants the rooms, the terrace, the pool… the views from everywhere are incredible. As an example, while eating breakfast on our last day we could see a rainbow on the mist from Victoria Falls in the distance – it’s difficult to do it justice in a photo:Rainbow over Victoria Falls

Rainbow over the falls

The guest rooms are spread out over the grounds and run along next to the Zambezi River. You could spend a day just walking through the grounds, it’s so beautiful.

Views at Royal Livingstone

As the rooms are spread out, you’re whizzed off to yours on a golf buggy and can phone up for golf buggy ‘pick ups’ when you want to go to the main building. I must admit, we were taken in by the novelty of the golf buggies and got them all the time when our room was really only a three-minute walk from the main building!

Every room has a balcony, some open, some covered and with glass sliding doors. A couple of our customers were eating breakfast on their balcony one morning and were joined by a baboon! They said it was more startled by them than they were by it!

Royal Livingstone rooms

Each room is assigned a butler who looks after you during your stay. Beatrice, our butler, was so friendly and polite, always checking how we were and if we needed anything.

Beatrice the butler

The Royal Livingstone is located next to the Zambezi Sun and you can move between the two whenever you want via an electric shuttle bus. You can choose to dine at the Royal Livingstone or the Zambezi Sun so a lot of people move between the two for lunch or in the evening for a change of scene.

The atmosphere in the Zambezi Sun was completely different to the Royal Livingstone – while the Royal Livingstone was elegant and refined, I’d say the Zambezi Sun was lively and colourful with bright mosaicked décor, animal sculptures dotted around the grounds and even some traditionally-dressed tribal people standing out the front to pose for photos with people.

Zambezi Sun swimming pool
The crocodile isn’t real!

Zambezi Sun restaurant

While the views at the Royal Livingstone are to die for, the location of the Zambezi Sun can’t be beaten. You walk through the grounds – passing plenty of zebra, antelope and baboons as you go – and walk straight out into the Victoria Falls Heritage Site. You’re just footsteps away from Victoria Falls and can walk to them whenever you want, accessing them free of charge as a guest of one of the two hotels.

Sign post at Zambezi Sun

Royal Livingstone Express

So, on our first evening at the Royal Livingstone we were picked up by coach and taken to the Royal Livingstone Express, a vintage steam train. It’s a great opportunity to glam up as you’re greeted with a red carpet and a crystal glass of wine and made to feel very special.

Royal Livingstone Express red carpet

As we socialised in the bar car, the train took us through rural villages and local children ran along next to the train, waving at us as we went past.

Local village children

The train and railway line have a long and interesting history behind them and the train manager ran us through this as we got going. The train pauses for about fifteen minutes as it moves the engine from one end to the other and it’s a great opportunity to get off and take pictures of the train.

Royal Livingstone Express

Shortly after we started moving again, we were called into the dinner car.

Royal Livingstone Express dining car

It was like something out of the ’20s, all fine linens, crystal and silverware. We started with a blue cheese salad, then had salmon followed by roast beef or seabass, and finished with apple tarte tatin and coffee with truffles. Stuffed isn’t the word but it was absolutely delicious and such a lovely experience to be dashing through the bushveld as we ate.

One of the courses on the Royal Livingstone Express

Victoria Falls Tour

As our Victoria Falls tour was in the afternoon, I must admit we couldn’t resist walking down for a peek at the falls ourselves in the morning. You’re less than five minutes’ walk away from one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, it’s hard not to peek!

The first thing I saw was a wall of mist – just pure white. That in itself was amazing because it obscured absolutely everything in sight and I wasn’t really expecting it which is always nice after seeing something in pictures so many times.

The mist of Victoria Falls

Apart from that, before you see it you hear it, it’s a constant thundering roar. The area around it smells fresh, like the air after a big rainstorm – there’s a constant rainstorm here as everything’s drenched from the mist. We didn’t go far though as we wanted to take full advantage of the guided tour in the afternoon so, after snapping a few photos from the viewing points, we went back to the Zambezi Sun for some lunch. There was a band playing and lots of people in the swimming pool and bar so a good holiday vibe going on as we shared a pizza in the al fresco restaurant.

Zambezi Sun al fresco restaurant

Our guide picked us up from the Royal Livingstone that afternoon and drove us to the falls. We walked through the national park, stopping at viewpoints for photos and to hear stories and facts about the falls and area.

Victoria Falls tour

As we got closer and closer to the falls we put our umbrellas up (luckily, our guide had provided us with big umbrellas and ponchos) and we genuinely thought it was raining. The closer you got to the viewing balconies the wetter you got. Mist is completely the wrong word – it looks like mist from afar but when you get closer it feels more like torrential rain! Every gust of the wind sprays you with more water.

Victoria Falls bridge
The famous Victoria Falls Bridge – there was someone bungee jumping off it as we walked by!

The best part was walking over the small footbridge – what an experience! It was the most exhilarating part of the entire trip. The bridge cuts right through the mist and our guide told us that on some days, you can’t even see the person in front of you, the mist is that thick. Although the mist wasn’t thick enough that day to obscure everything, we did get drenched and the falls were so loud we had to shout at each other to be heard!

Up close to Victoria Falls

We had to walk over the bridge again on the way back and we decided not to use our umbrellas that time to get the full experience! It felt like cheating to use umbrellas, especially as we saw some people walk past us in little tops and shorts laughing at us wrapped up in our ponchos and umbrellas!

Victoria Falls

African Queen

That evening, after drying off, we went on a sunset cruise on the African Queen river boat. The boat’s a triple-decker catamaran and was really comfortable with tables and plush chairs spread out over the deck making you feel more like you were in a restaurant than on a boat.

African Queen

As you cruise, you’re served drinks and cooked snacks by a waiter or waitress in a nautical uniform.

African Queen waitress

The boat paused to look at hippos and other wildlife as we cruised along the Zambezi and, at sunset, paused for us to take pictures.

Sunset

Aside from the tours we took, there are bags of other things to do at Victoria Falls. Some of our customers decided to go on a thrilling micro-light flight over the falls! Other things to do include helicopter rides, overland safaris, different varieties of boat tours, hang-gliding, visits to Livingstone Island, visits to Livingstone town, as many different water sports as you can think of, including kayaking and canoeing, and bungee jumping – I’d rather just stand and watch the bungee jumping, personally! You can book everything at the hotel, but if you do want to go on the Royal Livingstone Express, you’d usually need to book in advance as it’s quite popular. From the adventurous to the more sedate, there are plenty of things to do for everyone.

If you want to just relax and have some ‘me’ time, you can pamper yourself at the Royal Livingstone’s spa, relax by the pool, or have some quiet time in the lounge or terrace area with a good book and a cup of coffee or glass of wine. There’s also a wide selection of movie and TV channels in the rooms for those times you fancy watching a film and having an early night.

Our final morning at the Royal Livingstone was something to remember – as the golf buggy drove us to the reception area for our transfer from the hotel to the airport, we heard singing and as we got closer realised there was an African choir singing and waving goodbye to us! Aside from that, a few of our customers that we’d travelled with since the beginning had gathered to say goodbye to us and so it was a perfect end to our trip with such a lovely send off.

Royal Livingstone send off

The whole experience in the Peermont, on the Zambezi Queen and at the Royal Livingstone was absolutely incredible and I’m so glad we were able to join our customers and share their experience. After we’d gone home the customers we’d travelled with stayed on at the Royal Livingstone for a few more days before flying to Cape Town. They travelled home on the Queen Mary 2 so the whole experience for them must have been even more amazing – I hope they had a fantastic time.

If you like the sound of a cruise on the Zambezi Queen and a visit to Victoria Falls, a holiday filled with wildlife, luxury and authentic experiences, then keep an eye on our Masterpiece Collection where you’ll find plenty of African adventures worthy of the ‘holiday of a lifetime’ accolade.

Amy

Zambezi Queen sunset

An African Masterpiece: Part 1 – The Zambezi Queen

After an overnight flight to Johannesburg, we landed to sunny skies and met our Imagine representative, along with a few of our customers, in arrivals for our transfer to the Peermont D’Oreale Grande.

The Peermont is as grand as its name suggests. When you drive up you’re greeted with views of fountains and ornamental statues and the interior is just as impressive with neo-Renaissance-style décor and replicated works from the old Italian masters, including the likes of Botticelli, hanging from the high walls.

Peermont D'Oreale Grande

The hotel is part of the Emperor’s Palace resort. There’s a lot to take in so you could never do it all in the one day and night we had but we tried. In the main hotel there’s a spa and a swimming pool and then you can walk straight through to the rest of the resort where there’s a huge Las Vegas-style casino and an indoor area packed with restaurants and made to feel as though you’re outdoors with the ceiling painted as the sky and the ‘buildings’ all representing the different architectural style of the country of the restaurants housed in them. It was very Disney – but in a good way!

Emperor's Palace

We were up early for our flight to Botswana the next morning and after a delicious breakfast buffet we boarded a coach with our customers. That day my passport received more stamps than it ever has, and ever will again, in just one day.

After landing in Botswana and receiving the first stamp, we were transferred to a beautiful lodge on the edge of the Chobe River for snacks and drinks before the Zambezi Queen staff picked us up and sped us up the river with their tender boat towards our next immigration stop… and the next… and the next. Stamp after stamp was given in three tiny immigration offices along the river. The Chobe River runs through an area where Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe meet, hence all the stamps and confusion over where we actually were in the world.

Lodge at the Chobe

Finally, we were well on our way, formalities taken care of and passports looking extremely cultured.

“We don’t know where she is but we’re gonna find her.” Our guide said as he sped up the river on the lookout for the Zambezi Queen. We soon saw her, drifting along waiting for us. As soon as we got close we could hear an African choir singing – it was actually the staff welcoming us on board with a song – an amazing introduction to the Zambezi Queen experience.

Zambezi Queen

The first thing I noticed about the Zambezi Queen was the sense of openness everywhere you looked. As we walked up the stairs to the seating, bar and dining area, I could immediately see incredible views of the surrounding savannah through  panoramic windows which were all wide open.

Fruit cocktails and snacks were had before we went to our rooms to glam up for the evening. Except I couldn’t tear myself away from our balcony – we were drifting past elephants, hippo and antelope, it was just too exciting. Every moment away from the window was a wildlife-spotting moment lost!

Hippos at the bank

Like the public deck, the private rooms were really light and airy with big panoramic sliding glass doors leading to a balcony directly opposite the bed.

Zambezi Queen room

One of the best things about being on the Zambezi Queen was the tranquillity of the whole experience. There really is nothing more relaxing than lying on your bed with the doors of your balcony wide open, watching the world drift by.

Zambezi Queen balcony

Even sipping coffee in the restaurant area or sitting on the terrace deck with a constant panorama of savannah and wildlife in the background was just so relaxing.

Zambezi Queen terrace

That evening we listened to a presentation on the geography of the area, which was useful after all those passport stamps, and sat together for a delicious 3-course meal prepared by the local staff. Most of the lights on the Zambezi Queen go out at 10 as the generators are turned off – there are still starlights sparkling above the bar area and along the hallways as well as small lights in our rooms so it wasn’t as final as I thought it would be – I imagined being tucked up in bed by 10pm on the dot but you don’t have to get to bed that early if you don’t want to!

Zambezi Queen at night

The next morning we ate breakfast while drifting along the Chobe. There’s a continental buffet and then you can ask the cook for whatever you want – I was a bit confused at first with the lack of menu but I soon realised they’d do their best to put together anything you ask for, so there’s no need for menus.

Zambezi Queen tender boat

We left at 10am to visit a local village but it was actually the journey to the village I enjoyed most. It was really a river safari rather than a transfer to the village and it was so refreshing to be speeding along in an open-air tender boat in the sun. I’d been to Africa six years before and spent a month at a game reserve so was eager for my first up-close encounter with wildlife after so long. It was a pod of hippos we spotted first and our guide got us as close as possible while they huffed and puffed, gazing at us from their watery home. It was incredible to be so close and slightly nerve-wracking with the reputation hippos have but they seemed to tolerate us well!

Pod of hippos

Along the way, we also stopped to view crocodiles, vervet monkeys, impala, buffalo and wildebeest, the guide pausing to make sure we all got photos and answering all our questions.

Vervet monkeysAntelope

Eventually we moored along a sandy bank and walked along a short, dusty road, incredible views of the savannah all around us, to reach the village. It was mostly made of mud huts with wicker straw dividers and there were chickens pecking about here and there. No electricity, no televisions, no laptops, no washing machines or power showers, just the bare minimum. It was strange and slightly humbling to see a life lived so differently to the one we’re living.

Village

Small children followed us around, wanting to hold our hands and see the pictures on our cameras, which was sweet. Once we’d finished the village tour, the local women did a song and dance performance and encouraged everyone to join in!

Local villageDancing at the villageDancing at the village

A delicious buffet lunch was waiting for us when we arrived back at the Zambezi Queen – food was definitely a major highlight of the cruise! We had some time to relax after lunch which we mostly spent taking photos of the elephants that were hanging out on the banks.

We went on a safari on a double-decker boat stocked with snacks and drinks that afternoon and the guide got us very close to some elephants. Having been on lots of adrenaline-inducing safaris on foot, I found it bizarre to be sitting there watching elephants just a few feet away from me while casually sipping a drink and eating vegetable samosas.

Spotting elephants

It was a safari done the laid-back way and perfect for those that don’t want to ‘rough it’ on safari, getting up at dawn and heading into the bush to search for wildlife. You can have the best of both worlds – a luxurious experience and the rawness of the wild all in one.

elephants

That evening was definitely one of the biggest highlights of the whole trip. After another amazing dinner, the Zambezi Queen staff put on a show for us of traditional singing and dancing and pulled everyone up to dance – even the men got up and boogied in grass skirts!

Singing and dancing

It was a great finale to the Zambezi Queen experience and we were sad to leave the next day but excited for what lay ahead – two nights at the famous Royal Livingstone Hotel at Victoria Falls – blog on that experience to follow!

If you like the sound of this incredible adventure, then keep an eye on our Masterpiece Collection where you’re sure to find your holiday of a lifetime.

Amy

Queen Mary 2 at Cape Town

Imagine combining Cape Town with a cruise….

Cape Town is not the most obvious place to start or finish a cruise – but I will try to convince you by the end of this blog that it’s a perfect combination.

I spent three days in Cape Town at the end of last week. Imagine Cruising have a growing presence in South Africa with 45 staff in our Cape Town office. I flew down to spend time with our team and to host 60 of our South African customers on a visit to Queen Mary 2 which was in town as part of her World Cruise. To give you a sense of the scale of Imagine Cruising – when Queen Mary 2 sailed from Cape Town on Saturday, she did so with over 700 Imagine customers on board – that’s 700 who have discovered the secret of combining a cruise with Cape Town.

Peter in Cape Town

I want to tell you about what I found so special about Cape Town, and one of my colleagues will be writing a follow-up blog on how, as part of their holiday, our customers also enjoyed Victoria Falls and got close to nature on the Zambezi Queen before sailing home on Queen Mary 2.

Cape Town has a lovely feel to it and Table Mountain provides one of the most famous views in the world. Every hour of every day the view of Table Mountain changes. Sometimes it’s a case of ‘now you see it now you don’t’ and the locals will tell you that Cape Town can experience all the seasons of the year in one day. We were lucky last weekend – it was bathed in sunshine.

The most popular hotel for our customers is Table Bay – a grand hotel located right down on the Waterfront and close walking distance to all the action. Here’s a picture I took from the water with the hotel in front of the mountain.

Table Bay Hotel

There are other great quality hotels in Cape Town including Cape Grace, Mount Nelson and the new One and Only, and they are all beautiful and worth a stay. I took a look around the new One and Only which is doing well now after a slow start when the hotel was referred to locally as the ‘One and Lonely’ for a while. The hotel is set a little further back from the Waterfront and is nice and quiet and of a very high standard.

If you want to go up the mountain you have a number of choices. Most popular is to take the cable car but do check the weather and get there early. For the more adventurous, you can walk, hike or climb the mountain, making the views even more spectacular when you arrive at the top of the table.

Walking around the waterfront is a great way to spend half a day. There’s the hustle and bustle of an impressive shopping centre, lots of local musicians and plenty of bars and restaurants with a view of the bay. Below is my favourite of all the musicians.

Cape Town street band

One tip – if you want to go on the excursion to Robben Island, then book online well before you travel as most days it’s sold out. I had a couple of hours to spare and as I was walking around the harbour I saw a catamaran excursion that was just about to sail. There was only a handful of people on board and for a 2-hour trip out into the bay the cost was 170 Rand – about £10 which seemed too good to be true. I would recommend you try and find the same boat – it was terrific to be out at sea looking back at Cape Town – and an even better view when Queen Mary 2 is nestled below Table Mountain – below is the photo I shot and I could not resist a ‘Selfie’, seen above.

Eating out in Cape Town is great value for money – I was surprised at how much better value than London. There are lots of different restaurants and flavours to try.

I didn’t have time to venture outside the city. I’m sure that many of our customers had, in addition to their time up at Victoria Falls and on safari, spent time along the Garden Route, visiting vineyards or just relaxing on the incredible beaches that surround Cape Town.

Queen Mary 2 at Cape Town

My tour and lunch on Queen Mary 2 with 60 of our South African customers went very well. I had not been back on the ship for a while – she is looking very good and we were treated to an excellent lunch and experienced Cunard’s marvellous White Star Service.

Around the time I was boarding my flight back to the UK, our customers were sailing out of Cape Town on their voyage back to Southampton. That’s when it struck me as to what a great combination cruising and Cape Town are. How better to spend your holiday than spending time seeing the best Africa has to offer and a few days relaxing as hard as you like in Cape Town followed by a wonderful voyage with Cunard back to Southampton.

So why not give it a try.  In 2016 both Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth will be visiting Cape Town so we have twice as many options to combine a cruise with experiences in Africa and in Cape Town. If you have a peek at our website you’ll see all of our Imagine African Masterpieces.

Best Regards,

Peter Shanks

Development Director – Imagine Cruising

Millennium at Hubbard Glacier - AlaskaCelebrity Solstice - Celebrity Cruises

Types of cruises

Whether you’re thinking about booking your first ever cruise holiday or you’re a regular voyager looking for something a little different, it’s worth taking a few moments to consider the variety of cruise options available to you.

Just like the range of different styles of ships and the varying attractions that are special to individual cruise lines, you have a multitude of choices covering how your cruise is organised and what you’ll find waiting for you when you step on board.

The days when cruising was the reserve of the rich or the retired are long gone and, you’ll be able to find a date, an itinerary and a cost that is ideal for you, your family or friends.

Millennium at Hubbard Glacier - Alaska Celebrity Solstice - Celebrity Cruises

There are still companies that offer the ultimate in traditional cruising luxury, where your every wish will be catered for in high-class surroundings and an ambience that oozes sophistication and elegance.

For other cruise holiday passengers, family fun is the requirement and today’s mega-liners certainly push the boat out, if you’ll pardon the pun, when it comes to entertainment, sport and leisure activities and child-friendly facilities supervised by friendly and experienced staff.

There are themed cruises, where you can indulge your passion for art, music or dance – or even rub shoulders with a celebrity or two along the way.

Celebrity Century Sunset Bar

As well as selecting the right cruise line and the right destinations for your cruise holiday of a lifetime, think also about getting to your ship.

If you’ll be embarking from a port not in your own country, you can pair your cruise with a hotel stay for a brilliant cruise and stay holiday. As well as resting up before your holiday, it will give you time for a bit of sightseeing in your ‘hotel’ city.

But you’ll also be able to find plenty of choice in cruise sailings that set out from a port in your own country, more and more are being added every year as the domestic cruise market continues to grow.

Queen Victoria dining

Repositioning cruises are being offered by most companies now while their popular liners are being moved from one part of the world to start a new series of itineraries in another.

These can represent a real bargain as prices tend to be reduced to take account of some limiting of the activities available during the cruise – check the details with your Imagine Cruising adviser before making a firm booking.

For a real once-in-a-lifetime experience, nothing compares to a wonderful World Cruise, often lasting several months and letting you really absorb life on board as you flit between the continents from one amazing destination to the next.

Deck games

Enjoy researching the full spectrum of cruise options and, by taking a little time to carefully assess the different types available, you’ll be sure to select the one that’s best for you.

Of course, you can always give us a call on 0800 840 5801 and talk through some options with a friendly adviser. Visit our website to browse through our excellent range of cruise holidays.

Why imagine? Let's make it a reality…