Something Old, Something New, Nothing Borrowed, Something Blue

dolphingirl47

In Search of the Tag Fairy
Joined
Dec 25, 2007
Prologue

Before somebody gets the wrong idea: No, we have not added another wedding to our portfolio. Saying "I Do" to the same man three times is enough even for me. I think everybody has realised by now that I mean it. The title for this trip report suddenly popped into my head about a week before we set off and I was working on tying up loose ends for this trip. I realised that this perfectly sums up what this trip was all about and it stuck.


Something Old


This was something that ran all the way through this trip. We revisited some old haunts on this trip including Paris, Barcelona, Rome and Naples. More importantly though, we visited a lot of historical sites including Pompeii, the Acropolis and Petra.


Two key elements of this trip had their origins almost to the day 6 years previously. At that time, we had a Med cruise booked and about a week before we were due to leave, a volcano in Iceland erupted and initially closed the UK airspace and then the airspace over most of Europe. We ended up having to get to Barcelona by train. Although we ended up utterly exhausted, the idea was born to do this again, but this time plan it properly and do it in a more leisurely fashion. So essentially the first part of the trip was a do over. Incidentally, on that first trip I caught a glimpse of something that never quite left me. At that time, France had different railway tracks from Spain and we had to change the engine near the Spanish border. During the process I saw the skyline of the nearby town just as dawn was breaking and it was literally love at first sight for me. The town in question was Narbonne and this ended up playing quite a significant role during this trip. Without giving too much away, my love for the place has deepened during this trip.


We also revived a plan that was born in 2010, too. With the Med cruise going as far east as Malta and us having a transatlantic cruise booked for later that same year, the idea was born that we should try to go once around the world on cruise ships in stages. We made good progress with this in 2011 and 2012 and then the project ground to a hold, chiefly because we had got to the end of what Disney Cruise Line offers. With this cruise, we have now covered everything from Hawaii to Dubai and the next and longest continuous leg on that adventure has now been booked for next year.


Something New


At least for me there were a lot of new things. I visited Greece and Jordan for the first time. This was my first experience of crossing the Suez Canal. One of the highlights for me was our stay in the Languedoc. Even in the places we have visited previously, I got to experience a lot of new things.


The biggest new experience for me was the ship that we cruised on. To start off with, the ship was brand new. It had only been handed over to Royal Caribbean a month and a day before we got on board and we were on the 5th cruise.


It was also something new for us as this was by far the biggest ship we have ever sailed on. I have to say I was more than a little nervous about this. I have never sailed on the Disney Dream and the Disney Fantasy because I was afraid that they are too big for my taste. However, the Ovation of the Seas is bigger still. For me it was love at first sight. Graham took a little longer to warm to her, but warm to her he did. Ironically the fact that we loved the Ovation probably has reduced the likelihood that we ever get to sail on the Disney Dream or the Disney Fantasy even further. We now know what can be done on a larger ship and those two simply do not measure up.


Another new experience for me was having Dreamworks characters on board. I loved meeting them and especially for the early part of the cruise, I pretty much had them to myself. This was a very new experience. We only had 74 people under the age of 18 on board and that may have had something to do with it. Still, I had an absolute ball.


The ship had some very unique features. We managed to go on the North Star twice. The North Star is an observation capsule that is mounted to a robotic arm and gives a very unique perspective. We had a drink at the Bionic Bar where the drinks are mixed by robotic bartenders. I even managed to do something I had wanted to try for ages: an escape room. Our favourite activity on the ship however were the bumper cars. We had so much fun with those.


Something Blue


We had plenty of sea days on this cruise so we were surrounded by something blue for a large part of the cruise. I think this is also the cruise were we sailed through the highest number of different bodies of water: Mediterranean Sea, Ionian Sea, Aegean Sea, Suez Canal, Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Arabian/Persian Gulf. As the first photos of the Ovation materialised, it also turned out that the bottom of the ship is light blue. I took this as a good omen as blue is my favourite colour.


This was an absolutely amazing trip to the point that it feels somewhat unreal when I look back on it. Fortunately I have plenty of photographic evidence that this really did happen. Here is a sneak preview of the highlights:



 
  • Pinkocto

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Jul 22, 2011
    I'm here :) I'm so glad you had a fabulous time! Sounds like the bigness of the ship wasn't a problem at all. The pictures are tantalizing!!!
     

    eeyorefanuk

    DIS Veteran
    Joined
    Feb 6, 2009
    Hi :)

    So glad you liked the larger ship :)

    We did anthem last year and harmony a week ago and love all the extra things there are to do

    I think the "ovation" is exactly the same as the "anthem"?

    I loved the fact you still have "characters" on board

    Looking forward to more
     

    tiggrbaby

    <font color=deeppink><marquee>We must work harder
    Joined
    Jun 26, 2004
    I'm in! Looking forward to reading about your adventure!
     
  • dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    Welcome.

    I'm so glad you had a fabulous time!
    It really was amazing.

    Sounds like the bigness of the ship wasn't a problem at all.
    No, it was no issue at all. I loved that ship. Given half a chance, I would only sail on Quantum class ships in future. Unfortunately given their location, this is not going to happen for the time being.

    Will be back to read just securing my place for now.
    Welcome.

    We did anthem last year and harmony a week ago and love all the extra things there are to do
    I think Harmony is really too big for our taste.

    I think the "ovation" is exactly the same as the "anthem"?
    Not quite. There are a few small differences, but they are very similar. The kid's waterpark is different. They have Kung Fu Panda Noodle Shop instead of Johnny Rocket's. There is no swing in the Solarium on Ovation.

    I loved the fact you still have "characters" on board
    I loved this. I was over the moon to get to meet Puss in Boots.

    I'm in! Looking forward to reading about your adventure!
    Welcome. I will stick to the usual Thursday and Sunday schedule or at least I will try to.

    Corinna
     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    I shared how I fell in love with Narbonne both on here and on my pre-trip report. When I got home today, Graham had unearthed a photo from that fateful 2010 trip:



    I had started to wonder if I had dreamed this as I tried to recreate that perspective this year and failed. Graham thinks there may be a new building in the way.

    Corinna
     
  • EJ4Disney

    Just a country girl at heart
    Joined
    Aug 7, 2008
    Corinna,
    I am coming out of lurkdom to join you on this cruise. I have read each of your trip reports and thoroughly love them. I am friends of PIO and Alison, and they can vouch for me that I am ok. HA!!

    I have taken this cruise - almost the same - so I am so excited to read about your view.
     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    I am coming out of lurkdom to join you on this cruise.
    Welcome on board.

    I have read each of your trip reports and thoroughly love them.
    I am glad that you have enjoyed them. I absolutely love writing them. At the moment I have little time to do anything but work, eat and sleep, but working on my trip report is a little ray of sunshine in my daily life. I have typed up the first 5 days and I am currently working on day 6, but I am being held back by how long it takes me to upload the photos to Flickr.

    I am friends of PIO and Alison, and they can vouch for me that I am ok. HA!!
    As far as I am concerned, the more the merrier.

    I have taken this cruise - almost the same - so I am so excited to read about your view.
    Which cruise line/ ship did you go on?

    Corinna
     

    EJ4Disney

    Just a country girl at heart
    Joined
    Aug 7, 2008
    Which cruise line/ ship did you go on?

    Corinna
    We sailed on the Maiden Voyage of the Liberty with Carnival. It was truly a trip of a lifetime. I don't know if you are stopping at Dubrovink Croatia, but it was one of my favorite stops. I am really looking forward to the rest of your trip.
     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    We sailed on the Maiden Voyage of the Liberty with Carnival. It was truly a trip of a lifetime. I don't know if you are stopping at Dubrovink Croatia, but it was one of my favorite stops. I am really looking forward to the rest of your trip.
    No, Dubrovnik is definitely a place I would love to visit though. We stopped at Rome (Civitavecchia), Naples, Athens (Piraeus) and Aquaba.

    Corinna
     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    Day 1

    I had resisted the temptation to pack in the morning and we were therefore able to have a leisurely start. We got up and I checked in online one last time before we switched off all the plugs. I had a quick shower and got ready and then we headed out. We got lucky and managed to stay dry on the short walk to the station. We still had about 45 minutes to spare when we got to Manchester Piccadilly so we went to Starbucks for some breakfast. Graham had Breakfast Butty and an Americano. I had a Triple Cheese Toastie and a Vanilla Bean Macchiato. Once we had finished our breakfast, we headed out to find our train.

    We had decided to treat ourselves to a weekend first class upgrade. This turned out to be a good decision. Even though this was an 11 coach train, it was very busy. Even first class turned out to be pretty busy. At least there everybody got a seat. We just had found our seat when we experienced an absolute downpour. We were both glad that we had not been caught out in this. The journey down to London was very smooth. We spent some time chatting and for the most part, I played with the free Wi-Fi on my iPad. We were served a snack about halfway through the journey. Graham had a coffee, an Egg Mayonnaise Roll and some Cheddar Biscuits. I was not hungry so I gave Graham my roll and just had some sparkling water and some Cadbury Mini Fingers.



    When we got to London Euston, I checked our Oyster cards. One of them had stopped working, but the other two had enough credit to get us to Watford. I also got some tissues and then we went to get our train. The Oyster card reader on the platform did not work so we ended up having to get tickets on the train. The train journey did not take long. Just as we were pulling into Watford, it started to absolutely pour it down. Fortunately by the time we got outside, it had stopped again.

    We could actually see our hotel from the station. Even with luggage, it was only a couple of minutes’ walk away. We walked over there, got checked in and dropped our luggage off. We had made good time, but decided we may as well head off. We walked over to the bus station to catch he shuttle bus to the Harry Potter Studio Tour. We had a bit of a wait and getting on proved to be a long process. The driver had to check all the booking confirmations before he could let people on the bus. Some people also were not happy about having to pay £2.50 return for the bus and got off again. Eventually we got going.











    We still arrived at the studios way ahead of our tour time. There were some Wizarding Chess pieces outside and we took some photos of those before we headed through security. Security was a quick process and every bit as ineffective as it used to be at the Disney parks. We picked up our audio guides and were told that it was really quiet and we could go in if we wanted although it was still some time until our tour time. We decided to get something to drink from Starbucks first. I had a Caramel Frappuccino and Graham had a Strawberry and Cream Frappuccino. He ended up getting his for free. Somebody had ordered it, but then left before it was ready. So the Barista asked if somebody wanted it.














    Once we had finished our drinks, we got in the line. Near the start of the line, we saw our first set: the cupboard underneath the stairs. We then ended up in a room that is essentially a holding pen. There was some video footage about how the films came into being and then we went next door into a cinema. There we watched a brief film about the making of the Harry Potter movies. Then came the first highlight. The screen opened revealing the door to Hogwarts. Then came the first highlight. We stepped into the Great Hall. This was absolutely amazing. There was some life commentary on what we were seeing. At the moment they have the sorting head in there, which is not normally on display. We had a fair amount of time to walk around, take it all in and take photos. We were then asked to move to the next part as the next group was about to enter.



































     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    We then walked into the first soundstage. From then the audio guide kicked in. The first part was quite technical showing how certain special effects were created and then it was on to some more sets like Professor Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, The Burrows, the potions classroom and Hagrid’s hut. There were also a number of props in this area and then there was another special effects area that showed how the door in the Chamber of Secrets worked and how they shot the Quidditch scenes. This was rather fascinating. Then it was time to become part of the action. The tour routed through a photo studio where they took photos of us sitting in the flying car and flying a broomstick. You then had to opportunity to buy the photos and also a video of flying on a broomstick. Unfortunately the result was not that great and the prices were quite high, so we passed.























































     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    After this there were another area with different sets like the Ministry of Magic, Knockturn Alley, the dining room from the Malfoys’ house and Professor Umbridge’s office. It was great to see all those sets. After this we came to another one of the highlights: Kings Cross Station. This area was huge. They had a number of photo opportunities with trolleys that looked like you are entering platform 9 ¾. Although they were set up for professional photos, I did not see any photographers. I should just have asked Graham to take a photo, but I really did not think of this at the time. I suppose I was distracted by the real highlight in the area: the Hogwarts Express. There was quite a long line to get in and Graham decided to sit this out. He went to find somewhere quiet to sit down and wait for me. Fortunately the line moved reasonably quickly and it was well worth the wait. Part of the reason why there was a line was that there really was not much space inside the carriages. There was only a very narrow corridor that was just wide enough for one person. Because of this, I also did not manage to take any photos. It is a real shame that I was not able to. They had set up each compartment like it appeared in one of the films. Once I was through, I went to find Graham. At the end of the train they had a viewing area from which you can see the snack trolley.






























    When we left the Kings Cross Set, we came out at the Backlot Cafe. It was definitely time for a break and this is the location where they serve Butter Beer. I could not wait to try this, but there was a possibility that I would hate it. I got in line to get some Butter Beer while Graham went to find somewhere to sit. I loved it, but Graham was not convinced.

     

    dolphingirl47

    In Search of the Tag Fairy
    Joined
    Dec 25, 2007
    Next up was the actual backlot. This was smaller than what I had anticipated. When Graham wanted to leave his jacket at the cloakroom, he was advised that we would be outside for at least half an hour. We needed nowhere near as long. I think we were out there for about half that amount. There was not actually that much out there and you can only view everything from the outside. It was still great to see the Knight Bus, the Dursley’s house, the Potter’s cottage and the covered bridge from Hogwarts. We were there about a month to early as there is actually an inside to the Dursley’s house, but this was only just opened to visitors at the end of May. There were also more Wizard Chess pieces on the backlot as well as the flying car and Hagrid’s motorbike. I did not manage to get a photo of Hagrid’s motorbike as there were always people sitting on it, but I got photos of everything else. We then headed inside the second soundstage.























    This was more based on the technical aspect of making the films, but was still very enjoyable and interesting. The first room featured various models of the characters that were used in the movies. The next room concentrated on creature effects and featured a number of animatronics. This was really interesting although I could have done without the huge spider hanging over my head. Then it was on to an area with various drawings and concept art, which again was very interesting. The only set in this area was Diagon Alley and this blew my mind even more than the Great Hall. It was so great to be able to walk around this area and we spent a fair bit of time there. We then walked through a couple of rooms with small models of various buildings and structures before coming to a stunning model of Hogwarts. We spent a while there exploring this from all angles. Unfortunately the lighting in there was not the best for taking photos.





























    At that stage the tour itself was finished. We came to a wand room, which I think was part of the shop and then the shop itself. We were supposed to pick up our souvenir guidebooks there, but they were huge and I did not fancy lumbering them across Europe so we passed. I had a look around the shop. My plan had been to pick up a small trinket at each stop during this trip and then have a jewellery artist that I have worked with for a number of years turn this into a memory necklace. I failed at the first hurdle. There was nothing that caught my eye that would have fit the bill. I took my audio guide back to the pickup point and then I went to find Graham. Once we were reunited, we headed out. We had just missed a shuttle bus, but it was quite a pleasant evening so I did not mind. The next bus was along soon enough.



    During the bus ride back to Watford, I did some research on possible dinner options and I found a Mexican restaurant that fit the bill and was quite close to our hotel. We decided to give this a try. We did find this without any trouble and saw a rather pretty church on the way. I was a little concerned to find the restaurant empty on a Saturday evening, but we were quite early and it soon enough filled up. Graham had a Brahma Lager and I went with a Margarita. We shared a starter platter consisting of Cajun Chicken and Jack Cheese Quesadilla, Chicken Tex Mex Spring Rolls, Tortilla Chips, Chorizo Strips, Guacamole and Salsa. Graham then had Nachos with Chilli Con Carne for his main course and I had Pulled Pork Chimichanga with Mexican Rice and Black Beans. We both enjoyed the food. The Margarita however was nothing special. It was quite drinkable, but I have had much better.









    After dinner, we took the scenic route back to the hotel to walk off some of the food. When we got back to the hotel, Graham got ready for bed and had an early night. I played a game that I had downloaded on the iPad for a while and then checked my emails and Facebook before getting ready for bed, too.
     

    Ware Bears

    Bring me that horizon
    Moderator
    Joined
    Jan 23, 2003
    Fantastic photos, we went to HP for my birthday last year but I'd love to go again in the winter to see the castle covered in snow.
     



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