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Sail the Three Seas Marella Cruises Itinerary – REVIEW

 

 

If you follow me on social media you’ll know that I recently went on my first ever cruise with 12 of my crazy family members to celebrate my mums 50th and my granddad’s 80th birthdays this year! I had no idea what to expect from my first cruise but was completely blown away and honestly loved every single minute of it! I am now a total cruise convert and am already looking to book my next one. We weren’t sure which cruise liner to go with when looking at booking our holiday, but some online research and some helpful pointers from family and friends told us that TUI’s Marella Cruises were a safe bet for newbie cruisers. We looked at the fleet of ships on offer with Marella and decided that we loved the look of their Celebration vessel, and their Sail the Three Seas itinerary definitely caught our eye. We were so taken with the itinerary, and the destinations that were on offer, that we booked almost immediately in the travel agents and were so excited to have made our final decision! Here’s what I got up to on board the Marella Celebration’s Sail the Three Seas itinerary during my 7 day cruise in August, and what you can expect from it too…

 

Day 1: Embarkation at Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

 

On our first day we flew from Manchester to Dubrovnik on the 5am flight out and arrived in the Croatian city just before 9am local time. Our flight onboard the new TUI Dreamliner was as smooth as you like with triple rows, TV screens on every chair and comfortable seating with decent leg room space. After arriving at the airport and going through security, we were taken straight to the coaches where we made the short 40 min journey from the airport to the cruise ship. By the way, as soon as you check your bags on to your flight back at your UK airport, you don’t see your luggage again until you arrive at your cabin onboard the ship which is something I LOVED! After reaching the ship and checking in at reception, we were allowed to access the on-board restaurants and were treated to a fantastic buffet lunch which was sooo needed. Our cases arrived shortly after, at around 1pm, and we then spent a little down time in our cabins before changing and heading out to explore Dubrovnik. By the time we got a taxi into Dubrovnik centre (it was a short distance and only 13EUR per car of 4) we had just a few hours to explore the city so spent time wandering around the tiny streets, admiring the beautiful harbour and gazing up at the city walls. We wanted to walk the walls but didn’t have time as it takes a good couple of hours, and I also wanted to do the cable car at the top of the hill  as the sights are meant to be stunning, but again we ran out of time. I have already earmarked Dubrovnik as somewhere to return to though, and this post has more details of what I would do if I went back and had more time there. We set sail at 10pm that evening so had to be back on board the ship by 9pm (we actually came back at 6 so we could shower and have dinner) but the sail-away that night was incredible and as we left the glowing skyline of Dubrovnik behind I had already fallen in love with the idea of cruising despite having only stepped foot on the ship less than 12 hours ago! Our first night was spent listening to fantastic live music and having a dance out on the Lido deck whilst enjoying one too many all-inclusive cocktails!

 

Day 2: A day in Kotor, Montenegro

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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Kotor was the city I was most looking forward to visiting out of all the destinations on our itinerary, and mainly because Montenegro has been high up on my bucket-list since forever! I woke up at around 5am to get up on the deck and watch the sail in at 6am and it was hands down one of the most incredible travel experiences I’ve had to date. My parents and I got a great spot right on the top deck and we watched the sun rise over the mountains with the wind in our hair and the sea surrounding us everywhere we looked. As we entered the fjord we were treated to the most incredible views of the Bay of Kotor with a mountainous backdrop and as the sun started to warm our faces I had to stop and just take in the moment, put my phone away and just appreciate how awesome this place truly was – I fell in love with Kotor at that very moment, and all I had to do to experience that was wake up early! After we docked we had breakfast on board the ship before heading into the city and exploring everything that Kotor had to offer. We walked along the glamorous waterfront, which was lined with luxury yachts and other cruise ships, before meandering our way round the cobbled streets and ancient archways. The old town square is super cute and is filled with shops, bars, cafés and restaurants offering traditional Montenegrin cuisine at cheap prices. The city is home to tonnes of churches and we visited lots of these during our time there before climbing the fortress and part of the city walls – again we didn’t get the chance to do this fully as, like with Dubrovnik, it took a few hours to complete and we just didn’t have time. We had an early sail away (4pm) that day, and gliding away from Kotor was just as magical as sailing in to it, with even more incredible views of the picturesque landscape. if you have time to spare in Kotor, here’s what I recommend you do there during your visit. We spent our second evening having dinner in the a la carte restaurant before exploring some of other bars on board, including the Liberties, which hosted live music and entertainment, and the Hemingway bar which was a little more chilled with just the sound of the resident pianist for company.

 

Day 3: A day in Igoumenitsa, Greece

 

 

This day was super chilled and mainly consisted of sunbathing, swimming and more sunbathing as the tiny Greek port of Igoumenitsa was literally just a short stop and a chance for some beach action. We docked mid-morning and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and some free time at the Lido deck before hopping on the shuttle buses that were running from the port to the nearby Drepanos beach. The buses were only 7 EUR return for a 20 min bus ride each way (bookable at reception) and the gorgeous stretch of sandy beach and sparkling blue ocean that was waiting for us was welcomed with open arms. Our beach day gave us some time to catch some rays on the golden sand, as well as go swimming in the sea – despite being on a cruise there aren’t many swimming stops on most Med itineraries, unless you go to places where there are beach resorts! The on-site beach café served hot and cold drinks and food, at super cheap prices, plus when you bought an item from the café you got your sunbeds and parasols for free – bargain! We spent a few hours on the beach before catching the shuttle bus back and making our way on board the Celebration again. There really wasn’t anything to do in the town of Igoumenitsa, we just saw a handful of shops and bars but nothing more, and getting the bus back was the best option as we didn’t fancy the long walk in 33 degree heat! Later that afternoon we had some down time on the ship and joined in with the entertainment team’s bingo and trivia before having dinner and then drinks from the Liberty’s bar whilst sitting outside under the stars to end another wonderful night.

 

Day 4: A day in Argostoli, Greece

 

 

A short overnight journey saw us sail in to Argostoli at around 7am the following day, and we all had an early start as we needed to disembark the ship before 8am to head out on our pre-booked excursion. Half our group decided to wander round Argostoli itself, checking out the shops and bars and stopping off at the small cove for a swim – they saw turtles which I was sooo jealous of! – but there wasn’t much else to do in Argostoli itself. The other half of our group (myself included) opted for the pre booked excursion to some nearby caves and I was so glad to have taken this trip! Our coach took us to the Drogarati Caves, a natural rock formation which is over 150 million years old! These caves were seriously impressive, spookily dark and incredibly carved. The caves were discovered only 300  years ago, when an earthquake caused part of the rock to fall into itself and create an opening which lead to the caves – imagine the surprise on the local’s faces when they discovered those caves! In the early 1960s the caves were opened to the public as a tourist attraction and the big hall, decorated with stalactites and stalagmites, is even used as a venue for music concerts because of its exceptional base for acoustic sounds! After visiting Drogarati we hopped back on the coach towards our second stop, Melissani Lake. This place was gorgeous and one of the highlights of my entire cruise! After being excavated in 1963, archaeological artefacts including plates, figurines and lamps were found on site, all depicting the God of Pan. Legend has it that a Nymph named Melissanthe fell in love with Pan and then drowned in the Lake when he rejected her. I LOVE Greek mythology so this place was a real treat for me. We descended into the small caves in single file before jumping on a gondola (like the ones in Venice) and were then able to ride around the circular lake, taking in the impressive cave surrounding the lake, as well as the stunning turquoise waters. The lake is made up of a mixture of sea water and sweet water, creating the most amazing blue and green colours which glisten as the sun shines. Our third and final stop was a quick photo shoot at the pretty Myrtos Beach, one of the most popular on the island with spectacular views of the Ionian Sea. Lying at the foot of two mountains, the beach is shaped in a semi-circle and is surrounded by a dramatic rocky landscape topped with lush green terrain. I can imagine this place would be gorgeous to visit at any time of day, but particularly at sunset with incredible views of the horizon! We were at shore for approx. 4-5 hours on this excursion and I really enjoyed it. We spent the rest of the day on board the ship eating and drinking (you can tell this kind of holiday has a routine, doesn’t it ;)) before watching a fantastic theatre show from the entertainment team at the Broadway Lounge later that evening.

 

Day 5: A day in Messina, Italy

 

 

After a relaxing couple of beach days in Greece, it was time to head over to our fourth country of the trip so far, beautiful Italia. I’ve been to Italy twice but have never ticked Sicily off my list, so I was really excited about stopping off at Messina for the day and couldn’t wait to get off the boat once we had docked! Our sail in was nice and early, and cruising past the ancient monuments and harbour walls that lined Messina Port was a cultural experience to say the least. Once we had docked we headed towards the town centre (approx. 10 min walk) and found the Piazza Duomo (old town square) complete with the stunning Cathedral of Messina and it’s world famous clock tower. We wandered inside the impressive Cathedral and then hopped on a tourist bus for an hour long tour of the highlights of the old town. The bus was small enough to take a small group of 10-12 guests which was nice as I often find tourist buses ridiculously busy! Rather than hopping on and off we just stayed on the bus the whole time and admired the sights, including the Municipal Building, the Teatro Vittorio Emanuele and the Strait of Messina, all from our window. Our bus got back to the Piazza Duomo shortly before 12 noon, just in time for the daily showing of the carousel of the bell tower. Every day at 12 noon, the clock strikes and chimes to the soothing sounds of Ave Maria whilst each of the golden statues adorning the tower (lion, rooster, moon & planetarium) rotate in unison. The bell tower contains the biggest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world and was first opened to the public in 1933. The daily spectacle lasts 12 minutes and is a real sight to behold, where it remains the city’s main attraction. Unfortunately it starting thundering and lightning during our time in Messina, and started raining heavily during the show, so we missed the end of it as we darted into a nearby café to shelter from the storm, but I was really glad we got to see more than half of it. The main reason for stopping at Messina is to take an excursion to Mount Etna, but we opted not to do this as a) it was super expensive and b) the weather was terrible! Messina isn’t somewhere I would return to as it is super small and we saw pretty much all of it in the few hours we were ashore, but it was nice to see some of Sicily and both the sail in and sail out were pretty special. Later on that afternoon the weather brightened up and we enjoyed some sunbathing on the top deck of the ship and I swam in the pool whilst the rest of my family decided to take part in the afternoon entertainment. During the evening we enjoyed a buffet dinner on the Lido deck and then went to another show in the Broadway theatre lounge, this time to see comedian/musician Paul Daniels who was absolutely brilliant and had us in stitches!

 

Day 6: A day in Valletta, Malta

 

 

The last stop on our cruise was marvellous Malta, my first visit there and another new country to tick off – it just so happened to be my 25th country so it was a real milestone for me! We docked early in Valletta and had the whole day to explore in 30 degree heat, which to be honest was absolutely EXHAUSTING! We started walking along the Grand Harbour front before taking the Barrakka Lift, a 58m high glass elevator installed in 2012, which connects the Grand Harbour to the pretty Upper Barrakka Gardens. We wandered around the both the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens, which are home to flowers, fountains, monuments and memorials of famous British governors including Sir Winston Churchill. The gardens are the highest point of the city walls and it’s terrace offers stunning panoramic views over the 2000 year old Grand Harbour below. We then walked along the walls and through the ancient archways to discover other parts of the Gardens before moving on to the Parliament Square (we even saw the Maltese President who was in town during our visit!) We then made our way towards the fabulous Triton Fountain, which is a real landmark, and then headed towards some other nearby gardens and churches. We spent the afternoon heading back towards the city centre and into the new town, which was verrrrry British and was filled with shops, café’s and bars. A stroll past the Courts of Justice, Grandmasters Palace and St John’s Cathedral made for great sight-seeing stops, and we then ended up at Fort Saint Elmo which is an old waterfront fortress now home to the National War Museum. I really enjoyed Valletta and will shortly be putting together a full travel guide to the city – I already want to return to Malta as it was seriously stunning! We couldn’t cope with the Maltese heat and the many kilometres of walking much past 4pm so headed back to the ship late afternoon to unwind and enjoy some pool and ship time before changing into our evening clothes ready for another fun filled night of eating and drinking – and we tried out the casino and some new bars too! This was our last stop off before a full day at sea for our last day and I was sad not to have any more new destinations but definitely ready for a day of relaxation on board!

 

Day 7: Full day and night at sea

 

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Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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I was a little apprehensive of spending a whole day and a whole night at sea as I thought I would get a) bored and b) travel sick, but I actually got NEITHER and it was sooo nice to spend some time on the ship rather than rushing around on our shore days and trying to cram as much in as possible. There is so much to do on-board a cruise ship, particularly on the Marella fleets, and I’ll do a full ship review of the Celebration in a separate post, promise! It was nice to have our sea day as the last day of our cruise so we could really relax before flying home the next day, and actually a day at sea was the perfect way to end our holiday. We had a leisurely lie in rather than waking up at the crack of dawn to watch the sail in, and spent time enjoying breakfast and some sunbathing before taking part in the entertainment throughout the day. There was a morning trivia quiz, afternoon bingo and evening music with plenty of activities going on throughout the day. I treated my mum and I to a spa day for her birthday and we had a treatment each and used the sauna – I had no idea you could even get a spa on a ship and it was lovely to just have some proper relaxation time together. We also had a professional photo shoot booked in as there were 12 of us and we were celebrating a special occasion. The photographer got some amazing shots of us all and we loved them,  but the shoot and the choosing of the photos took around 2-3hrs in total so we felt we spent most of our last night stressing about this rather than actually enjoying our last evening together. Note to self – don’t do this again! We had our last meal in the a la carte restaurant and the social team did a special thankyou to all the kitchen staff including chefs, porters, waiters and waitresses so it was lovely to give a big round of applause and say thank you to everyone who had looked after us so well all week. After dinner we hung out at some of our favourite bars listening to live music, watching the stars one last time out on the deck and enjoying each other’s company before the sad realisation that tomorrow we would all be going home. I really loved our full day and night at sea and would welcome this with open arms next time I do a cruise, and would encourage people not to feel apprehensive of it at all!

As you can probably tell, I had the most incredible week on board my cruise and loved everything about my holiday, from the ship and it’s fantastic food and entertainment facilities, to the variety of different destinations we docked at each day. The Sail the Three Seas itinerary was perfect for first time cruisers like us as it had destinations to suit everyone, no matter what your travel style. I thought I would get fed up with being in one place for the entire week, but the ship was so busy and had so much to do that I didn’t get bored once, even on our full day at sea which I was really apprehensive about. The Marella Celebration is a big ship, but not nearly as big as other cruise ships we saw docked at each port, and I liked that you could make your way around without feeling lost, and that every staff member knew your name and offered such brilliant, personal service that I think you’d struggle to get on larger ships. Probably the only downside to cruising is that you don’t get to enjoy your evenings in each destination as the sail-away is usually between 4pm and 8pm, so you never really see the ports after dark. When I’m on holiday I love wandering into the town or the city centre during the evening as everything looks so pretty lit up at night, but I guess cruising is just a different type of holiday, and you do get used to it very quickly. I would highly recommend the Marella Celebration and their Sail the Three Seas itinerary to those of you who are looking for a fantastic Mediterranean cruise, and particularly for you first timers out there who may be anxious about setting sail for the first time. Have you been on a cruise before? Let me know as I would love to hear what you thought of it – I’ve totally fallen for them hook, line and sinker and am already planning my next one for 2019!

Love Jess x

 

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Kotor Travel Guide – 1 Day in Montenegro’s Fairytale City

 

Last month I returned from my first ever cruise and had the most amazing time exploring new parts of the Mediterranean I had never visited before. I was on board Marella Cruises Celebration ship doing their ‘Sail the Three Seas’ itinerary and after a day in Dubrovnik, our next port of call was charming Kotor, one of Montenegro’s most beautiful cities. A trendy destination for 2018, Kotor is fast becoming THE go-to place for your next European city break, and with its cobbled streets, quaint town square, dramatic mountain backdrop and water front location, it’s not hard to see why. I only spent half a day in Kotor as we had an early sail away on our cruise (the ship departed at 4pm) but we sailed in nice and early so still got to see a good chunk of the city before we had to leave. If, like me, you only have a few hours to spend here, this is what I recommend you should do…

 

Wander round the Old Town

 

 

Walking on foot is always the best way to get around, and what better way to explore a new city than to soak up its charm and culture from its pretty old town? Kotor is a tiny city, and its old town is even smaller, with cute cobbled streets, an abundance of restaurants and shops, and some gorgeous buildings thrown in too. The old town was just a short stroll from the harbour where our cruise ship was docked, and the walk past the waterfront and the ancient archways brought us right in to the heart of Kotor within a matter of minutes. One thing I really loved about the old town was that it was completely pedestrianised, so we could wander around as much as we liked without having to worry about cars or buses driving by loudly and filling the air with petrol fumes!

 

Climb St John’s Fortress and it’s city walls

 

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*NEW BLOG POST* ((link in bio)) A Travel Guide to #Kotor City walls ✅ Red roofs ✅ Waterfront location ✅ Mountainous backdrop ✅ The pretty city of #Kotor makes the perfect place for a quick European weekend getaway ✈️ Kotor was the second stop on my recent #cruise with @tuiuk and I think it may have just been my favourite destination of our entire itinerary 🌍 We walked along the cobbled streets and marvelled at the many churches before meandering through the ancient archways and taking a walk along the glamorous waterfront where we found luxury yachts, enormous cruise liners and posh boats a plenty 🚢 If you're planning a trip to the prettiest city in #Montenegro, come and read my #travel guide which has just gone live on the blog on today's #wanderlustwednesday! 💻 journeyswithjessica.net #marella #marellacruises #marellacelebration #cruiselife

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I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the height of summer as Kotor gets very hot, but during the cooler months, a hike from the old town up to St John’s fortress is an absolute MUST. Starting at the North Gate, wander through the old town and then climb up alongside the city walls to discover more of Kotor than you can see from the ground. The construction of the walls started way back in the 9th century, but it wasn’t until the 15th century that the walls joined together to form a loop up into the hillside, stretching for a full 4.5 kilometres. Your hike will take you 260m above sea level and you’ll climb over 1350 steps, up steep slopes and winding stone staircases, until you reach the top of St John’s Fortress (or San Giovanni as it is also known) where you’ll be treated to the most amazing views over the bay of Kotor below. What an absolute TREAT this sounds like! I was gutted I didn’t to do this during my visit as a) it was ridiculously hot at 35 degrees, and b) the hike takes approx. 2-3hrs to complete and we just didn’t have enough time to fit it in to our short stay. It’s at the top of my bucket list for my return visit though!

 

Walk down to the water front

 

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Don't mind me, just posing in front of expensive boats like it's the most normal thing in the world 🙋 I'm currently writing up my #travel guide to #Kotor and can't wait to share it with you all! This pretty city is fast becoming the new go-to place for a European break in 2018, and with cute cobbled streets, an ancient old town and a glamorous waterfront like this, it's not hard to see why! 😍 I LOVED my time in #Montenegro when I visited as part of my recent #cruise and am already planning a return trip to explore more of this gorgeous country 🌍 Have you ever been to Kotor before? On this miserable windy day in England, I know where I'd rather be rn ✈️ #TBT #VisitKotor #VisitMontenegro #MarellaCruises #GoMontenegro #Insta_Montenegro #MontenegroWildBeauty #KotorMontenegro #KotorBay #CruiseLife #Europe #TravelGuide #TUI #ThrowbackThursday

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This was easy for us as we HAD to walk past the water front to get into Kotor itself, but if you’re not visiting on a cruise I would definitely recommend taking the 5-10 min walk from the city centre down to the waterfront. The walk alone is worth it just to look at the line-up of magnificent yachts, cruise ships and fancy boats all docked in the harbour whilst their owners descend on the city. It can get extremely busy in the city centre when cruise ships are in town, and as Kotor is so tiny, it can feel a little overwhelming and very overpopulated in a short space of time. That’s why I think spending some time down on the water front allows you to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy streets and gives you a little breathing space, plus the views of the harbour with the magnificent mountains in the background are seriously stunning!

 

Visit one of the many Churches

 

 

I absolutely adore churches and try to see at least 1 or 2 in every city that I visit when I’m travelling, so I hit the jackpot with Kotor which is home to a number of religious buildings and each one tells their own story. All of the churches are either Catholic or Orthodox, with the majority being Orthodox, and they are dotted all across the city, with some perched high up in the mountains too. We went inside the miniature St Luke’s Church which was ornate and delicate with a stunning altar and small confessional room to the rear. We also visited the stunning St Tryphon’s Cathedral, the most famous in the city, which was built in 1166 and houses the relics of St Tryphon, the Patron Saint and Protector of Kotor. If you’re feeling energetic, hike up to the hills where you’ll discover St George’s Church, a 1000 year old ancient building perched at the back of St John’s hill which can be reached when climbing the city walls. These are just a few of the many Churches that can be found in Kotor, I just wish I had time to see them all!

 

Take a boat trip round the Bay of Kotor

 

 

We didn’t really fancy the idea of getting off one boat and on to another one so we didn’t actually take a boat trip around the Bay of Kotor, but if I hadn’t been visiting whilst on a cruise I definitely would have done! We saw tonnes of sales people up and down the waterfront trying to lure passing customers to one of their pretty boats, with yachts, small boats and even speedboats offering fantastic rides around the bay. As we had already seen the bay whilst sailing in to Kotor, I didn’t feel it was necessary for us to do a different boat trip here, and knew the sail away later that evening would be just as spectacular as the sail in that morning, with incredible views around the fijord each time. I would however have loved to do a speedboat or small boat tour around the Blue Caves of Kotor as this place looked amazing! The waters are gorgeously clear (and blue, obvs) and offer fantastic snorkelling spots. On most of the tours we were offered you can combine the Blue Caves with a stop off at Our Lady of the Rocks, an ancient church and museum which is one of Montenegro’s most popular attractions situated on its own island just in front of Perast, a UNESCO World Heritage Town. I’d definitely do one of these tours next time I return to Kotor and would recommend it to anyone who has time to do a 3hour tour whilst they are in the city.

 

These are the main things I would recommend to do if you’re short on time, but if you’ve got a few days to spare I would also squeeze in a visit to the nearby town of Budva, which looks stunning and I’ve heard amazing things about it! There’s also a tiny beach in Kotor, tucked around the corner away from the old town but I could see it from my cruise ship and it didn’t look like it was too far to walk to at all, so if you want a little beach time then you can do that too. Oh and if you’re visiting whilst on a cruise, make sure you wake up bright and early for the sail in – it was INCREDIBLE! My favourite sail in of the entire trip – gliding into the fijords was breath-taking and honestly one of the most magical travel experiences of my life. Montenegro is truly gorgeous and I can’t wait to return one day! Have you been to Kotor, or other parts of Montenegro before? I’d love to know what you thought of it!

Love Jess x

 

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Top 10 Tips for First Time Cruisers In Their Twenties

Doing the Titanic pose all by myself cos this Rose doesn't need a Jack in her life 😎 I've been home for just 24 hours and I'm already missing being at sea 🌊 Words can't describe the amazing experience I had on my first ever cruise 🚢 I was so nervous before going as I suffer so much with travel sickness (ironic as I'm a travel blogger) but luckily I was absolutely fine and kept well the entire time! It's only now that I'm home I'm suffering with motion sickness despite being back on land! What is THAT all about?! 😩I think it means I need to book another cruise asap, I'm a total convert now and loved waking up in a new place each day, but my favourite thing was spending hours looking out at the blue waters, with nothing but the ocean staring back at me 🐬 Can I go be a mermaid again please? #cruiselife #titanicpose #takemeback #marellacruises

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If you’ve been reading this blog for the past few months you’ll know that I booked the holiday of a lifetime a year ago, way back in August 2017, and have been banging on about it ever since! My mum’s 50th and my grandad’s 80th birthday’s had to be pretty special, right? So when 12 of us decided we wanted a mega family holiday to celebrate these two milestones, a cruise was right at the top of our list, although it may not be the obvious holiday choice for me as a young 25 year old! I made no secret of the fact that I’d never been on a cruise before, and that I suffer with horrendous travel/motion sickness everywhere I go, so volunteering for a cruise may have seemed plain stupid, and I was very nervous prior to travel. My nerves were short lived though as my first cruise experience was absolutely INCREDIBLE! I travelled with TUI on their Marella Celebration ship and loved everything about being at sea, from waking up in a new destination each day, to watching glorious sunsets every evening from the top deck, feeling the wind in my hair and gazing into the blue waters below. It really opened my eyes to a new way of travelling, and completely dispelled the myth that cruising is ‘only for old people (!)’. If, like me, you’re in your twenties and are a little nervous about taking your first cruise, hopefully this blog post will help to put your mind at rest as I talk you through what to expect from your first experience at sea, and share some top tips to help you prepare for your holiday.

 

Dress for all occasions

Whatever the weather, and whatever the time of year, you’ll still need to take plenty of clothes for your cruise holiday, especially if (like me) you change outfits three times a day when you’re away! I packed as if I was going on a beach holiday as it was mid-end August and 30-33 degrees in most places we visited, so took tonnes of tops, shorts, skirts, playsuits, swimwear, sandals etc etc. You can generally wear whatever you like during the day, but I know dress codes vary in the evening depending on which cruise liner you’re travelling on. Marella Cruises are very laid back with their dress code, so I just took party clothes and all the ladies I saw wore dresses each evening out, whilst the men were in trousers/jeans and a top/shirt, but I saw lots of men wearing tailored shorts in the evening too. We had one ‘formal night’ which wasn’t that posh and, although lots of women wore long dresses (not ball gowns) and the men wore suits, not everyone did and you certainly didn’t have to. It can get a little chilly up on the deck when you’re sailing at night, so take a light cardi with you if you’re planning on heading out on top, otherwise the climate depends on where you go but I found the Med in August to be super warm even at midnight!

 

Plan your time in each port

I wish I’d done more of this so I could have maximised the time I had in each stop, but looking back I just kinda went with the flow and enjoyed not being super organised during my first cruise. I am SUCH a planner so I really should have thought this through more, but I actually didn’t know what I wanted to do in each destination until I stepped off the boat after docking. Before you travel you’ll get sent a detailed itinerary of your route, and suggested excursions/things to do in each port. I didn’t pay much attention to this until I was actually on board, which was a mistake as often with the excursions you needed to book up to 48hrs in advance, so by the time I thought about booking a trip it was often too late. I did however come across lots of local tour companies that can be found ashore and their trips are often cheaper than if you were booking through the cruise ship directly, so you can save some pennies but just make sure you’re back in time before the ship departs for the next stop! I was travelling in a group of 12 and not all of us wanted to spend loads of time in the ports, so we tended to get up early to watch the sail in (a must if you love sunrises!) and then had breakfast on the deck before getting off the ship around 10, exploring the port for a few hours and then heading back to the ship for a late lunch and an afternoon of sunbathing. I would have been more adventurous and spent more time in each port if I’d have planned my time properly, but it was quite nice to get a taster of each destination and then spend the rest of the afternoon relaxing and enjoying the best of what the boat had to offer –  it was a holiday and not a sightseeing trip after all!

 

 

Look up the entertainment on board

Obviously each ship/cruise liner varies, but Marella Cruises offer a fantastic selection of on-board entertainment both in the daytime and in the evening. We loved the relaxed and friendly atmosphere round the pool areas, which was created by the musical trivia, pub quizzes, bingo and various other games that were played throughout the day. If you decide not to get off a the port and just spend time on the ship instead you’ll find you’re never short of something to do. On our day at sea I was worried I was going to get cabin fever and would be bored but it was actually really nice to spend some time sunbathing, exploring parts of the ship we hadn’t seen yet, and swimming in the pool. I even booked a spa day for my mum and I which was soooo needed! Other liners will undoubtedly have plenty of things to see and do whilst on board, and the evening entertainment is usually fantastic, with Broadway theatre shows, duty free shopping, live music and casinos aplenty. Most cruise liners offer top notch entertainment, with high quality dancers, singers and actors etc so you needn’t worry about planning your evenings whilst on board.

 

Take limited cash

I wish I had known this before I travelled, but every day is a learning day! I took 300 euros with me for my trip and only ended up spending 200, which is pretty good going but I stupidly thought you could only pay in local currency, and didn’t realise that you set up your account when you first arrive on board as everything is operated using a cashless system. This is great if you’re not wanting to take large amounts of cash abroad with you, and I know most cruise liners operate in this way. Your account is open from the minute you dock to the moment you disembark the ship at the end of the holiday, and can be used to buy drinks at the bar, items in the shops and photos in the lab. I loved this idea, but as everything I bought was in pounds, I didn’t realise that when I wanted to settle my account at the end of the trip in cash, paying euros meant that I lost out on the exchange rate and ended up paying more than I needed to. You can pay in pounds in cash or by using your debit/credit card, and in hindsight I kinda wish I had done that as my bill came to £167, but I wanted to get rid of my euros and ended up spending €216 which is a huge difference when you compare the two currencies side by side. Either way I knew I wanted to get rid of my cash euros, but next time I will just take small amounts of cash and use it for spending in the ports, rather than using it to pay my bill, and will pay that off using pounds instead. Hopefully this tip will help you guys to avoid the mistake that I made!

 

Opt for an all-inclusive food and drinks package

Packages vary with different cruise liners, but I would 100% recommend booking an all-inclusive food and drinks package for your first cruise. Most packages can be purchased before travel, or you can upgrade during your trip, but Marella Cruises had a reasonable rate for their packages, and ours was actually included within our price as we got a special group deal when booking a year in advance. The best thing about an all-inclusive package is that you don’t have to get your wallet out and pay any money for drinks/additional extras during your holiday. I mean, I know you’ve kinda already paid for it before travel, but soft drinks, cocktails and beers etc all add up, and I loved drinking as much as I wanted each day without feeling like I was spending any money. If you don’t drink a lot then maybe the package isn’t worth it, but drinks on their own were around £5-£8 per drink, so even if you have 2-3 a day the cost soon adds up! I loved the feeling of not spending physical cash when I was on-board, and will definitely opt for the all-inclusive package next time I go cruising.

 

 

Stick to adults only cruising

A no-brainer for us, as we were travelling in a large group of 12, and I was nervous enough about getting close to the edge of ship without worrying about 8 million children running around! I really loved the chilled out vibe of our Marella Cruise, and I think it really helped that there were no children on board. Queues at food stations and the bars were generally not as long, and all entertainment/trips were geared towards adults not kids meaning everything appealed to us. I would advise booking an adults only cruise for your first one just because everything is much more laid back, and I can imagine kids running around the deck is quite annoying! Not to mention the fact that I’d never have got in the pool if there were kids in it! Adults only, for the win.

 

Be aware of the tipping policy

Again, every cruise-liner is different, so check with your travel agent about this before you go, but tipping is either included or not included on-board and it is best to be prepared before you travel so you know what to expect. I think more expensive liners like Princess and Royal Caribbean operate a tipping policy, but on our Marella cruise we were told that all tips are included within your package, so there was no need to pay extra. We did however receive outstanding service from our waiters and cabin cleaners during our trip and, because we were a group of 12, we wanted to give them a little extra to say thank you. This is completely optional though and not compulsory at all given that all tips are included with Marella cruises.

 

Don’t use your phone when you’re at sea

This is probably the single most important piece of advice I can offer. If you’re from the UK and have a phone tariff which allows EU roaming (most of us do) you absolutely MUST turn off your data roaming whilst you’re at sea, otherwise you’ll incur charges for using your data. And the charges are extortionate, trust me! To be honest it is best to just turn the phone off so as not to incur charges from sending/receiving texts and phone calls too. Whilst you’re at sea your phone will run on a maritime tariff which is stupidly expensive! I just used my data when I was at port each day then switched my phone off in the evenings, but if you want to take pictures and use the rest of your phone you can do that just make sure data roaming is OFF! Seriously, my aunty got charged £52 for a 7minute phone call whilst we were at sea. Just don’t risk it guys! There are usually wi-fi packages you can purchase but these can be expensive and often they are low-speed, so I wouldn’t say they are particularly worth the money. Save that Facebook status til later and enjoy a social media detox, that’s what I did!

 

 

Work out which room type is best for you

Inside cabins, outside cabins, balcony cabins, deluxe balcony cabins, suites and luxury suites; the options are endless when cruising, and there are room types to suit all on board! Whether you’re a solo traveller looking for a single room, or a couple needing a double, there are plenty of room types to choose from, and inside and outside cabins differ in size and type too. I really didn’t want a room which felt too confined/claustrophobic as it was my first cruise, so I chose an outside cabin with a porthole. I would have liked to be higher up on the ship, but to be honest being on deck 1 (the lowest) didn’t actually bother me. Having a porthole was nice as it was great to have natural light and have a look when we were sailing, but sometimes I closed the curtain over the window so if it came down to price and there was a significant difference, I actually wouldn’t mind having an inside cabin! Almost everyone in our party had outside cabins (twins/doubles) apart from one who had a balcony at triple the price! I have to say, it was so lovely to see it and my aunty and uncle loved waking up and sitting out on their balcony first thing in the morning, but you’re hardly in your room when you’re cruising so, personally, I really don’t think they are worth the money especially when the decks can be reached in just a few mins and you can be outside in no time! There really are options to suit everyone though, so it’s worth finding out what room types are on offer before you book.

 

Don’t worry if you get sick – you’re in good hands!

I was sooo nervous about my first cruise because I get so sick when I travel, but luckily I was absolutely fine the entire time! Sea-bands work a treat for queasiness by the way, I suffered with that a little but wasn’t actually sick at all during my holiday, I felt worse when I got back on land! If you do get poorly though, fear not because there is a pharmacy and doctors on board, so you’ll be well looked after if you’re in need of some TLC. As bugs and illnesses can spread very quickly on board a cruise there are sanitizing stations at almost every area, both in and out, so please make sure you use these whenever you can to minimise illness and to have a happy, healthy cruise!

 

I could go on forever with the amount of pointers I could share from my first cruise as a twenty something girl, and nothing quite prepares you for your first time at sea, but I hope this post gives you an idea of what to expect as a first time cruiser (whether you’re in your twenties or not), and offers some tips to make the most of your holiday! I absolutely loved my time away and will be posting a full review of the exact itinerary I took with Marella Cruises so you can see where I went and what I got up to. Have you ever been cruising before? Or have you never been but have got one booked? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and do let me know if you have any other questions that I haven’t covered as I would love to try and help!

Love Jess x

 

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A travel guide to Rotterdam, the quirkiest city in the Netherlands

 

Back at the end of May I headed to Rotterdam for a long weekend of fun, adventure and travel blogging as I made my way to my third annual Traverse conference which was being held outside of the UK for the very first time! Anyone who knows me will know how much I LOVE Traverse, and how I think it is still the best travel blogging conference on the planet. After catching the Eurostar from London and spending half a day in Amsterdam, I jumped back on the train and headed towards Rotterdam where I was based for 3 nights and spent lots of time exploring this quirky city. Obviously most of my weekend was dominated by the conference, but I still spent a lot of time wandering around Rotterdam and ticking off the main sights, so I really got a feel for the city and absolutely loved my time there! Here’s what I got up to, and what I would recommend you should see if you’re heading there any time soon…

 

Wander around the Markthal

 

 

This place is amazing and is definitely one of the biggest attractions in Rotterdam! Home to hundreds of food and drink stalls and plenty of arts and crafts stalls too, you’ll find everything you need under one roof! The architecture of the building is incredible too, with its unique shaped structure and it’s mirrored roof, the Markthal is definitely a sight to behold. Opened in 2014 and located right in the middle of the city, just round the corner from the Maritime Museum and the pretty harbour, the Markthal is a great place to while away a few hours and indulge in some bargain hunting. It’s also a good way of tasting some of the local Dutch delicacies that are on offer too!

 

Marvel at the Cube Houses

 

 

This was probably my favourite thing in Rotterdam, and definitely the most colourful! The quirky Cube Houses are actually a series of 38 interconnecting flats/apartments which have become a  bit of a tourist attraction in their own right. Residents living on site are often greeted by hoards of tourists wanting to take a selfie with the bright yellow cubes in the background, and one resident has even opened up his doors as a museum allowing visitors to wander around inside during his opening hours.. money making genius I say 😉 Designed by architect Piet Blom, the Cube Houses are fast becoming Rotterdam’s hottest attraction and their outlook on to the stunning marina  below make them even prettier.

 

Party at the Witte de Withstraat

 

 

The busiest street in Rotterdam, and definitely the most lively, the Witte de Withstraat is the party capital of the city and home to hundreds of bars, café’s, shops, restaurants and hotels making this the perfect position for visitors to base themselves at the heart of the action. This place is busy enough during the day, but it really comes alive at night. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the huge array of restaurants to pick from, all serving authentic Dutch dishes at very good prices. I found Rotterdam to be fairly cheap and didn’t spend an awful lot of money during my time there, which is always a bonus when you’re on a budget! This place was definitely the most atmospheric part of the city, and I was glad we were able to base ourselves there for the duration of our stay. The train station was just a 10 minute walk away, as was the big attractions including the Markthal and the Cube Houses, so this street is well worth checking out whilst you’re in Rotterdam.

 

Walk across the Erasmusbrug Bridge

 

 

Designed and completed in 1996, the 802 metre long Erasmusbrug is a combined bascule and cable-stayed bridge which connects the north and south parts of Rotterdam. The second largest bridge in the Netherlands, the Erasmusbrug was named after an important Christian renaissance humanist who was known as the Erasmus of Rotterdam. Crossing the Nieuwe Maas, a distributary of the Rhine River, the bridge can easily be driven over or walked across and is quite an experience. Views of the river below are stunning, and crossing the bridge is a great way to explore both the northern and southern parts of the city in a short amount of time. It took a good 30 minutes or so to walk across the bridge though, so be prepared for a little hike whilst you’re en route!

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

Luckily I won a competition with Traverse so my accommodation was totally gifted to me for the duration of my 3 night stay, but I would whole-heartedly recommend the King Kong Hostel if you’re looking for somewhere fun to stay. It is very budget friendly and in a great location, right in the heart of the Witte de Withstraat and within walking distance to just about everywhere in Rotterdam (10 mins from train station). The hostel has a crazy monkey theme running through it, with cages on the walls, bananas on tap and King Kong himself painted on the outside. The rooms were clean and the beds were comfortable – we stayed in a dorm room for 3 and we had our own toilet, sink and shower room. The only thing I disliked was that the walls were quite thin and it was so hot we just had to open all the windows but it was soo loud outside that I could barely sleep – Rotterdam is a party city and most of the bars opposite and next to us were open until 6am!! Make sure you grab some earplugs from the front desk as this helped me eventually drift off. A really cool place though and I’m so glad I stayed here, but if you want a little luxury check out the Marriott and Hilton hotels near the train station.

 

My 3 nights in Rotterdam were a bit of a whirlwind due to back to back busy days and long nights of partying whilst at Traverse 18, but I really threw myself in to it and had such a great time. The sun was shining for our bank holiday weekend which made it even better, and really showed the city off as everything looked so beautiful in the sunshine. The Eurostar from London was suuuper easy and it was great to be just a short train ride from Amsterdam too – I would definitely recommend visiting both cities whilst you’re in the Netherlands, they are so close so it would be rude not to! Rotterdam was really hip, quirky and offered plenty of things to see and do for all ages. Now that I’ve been I probably wouldn’t return as I would like to concentrate on seeing other areas of Holland, but this place is most definitely worth a visit! Have you been to Rotterdam before? I would love to know what you thought of it!

 

Love Jess x

 

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A Travel guide to Hamburg, Germany’s Second City

Last August I had the pleasure of flying to Germany for the first time when I was invited on a fantastic summer time press trip! I had met the wonderful Jessi Schmidt, the face of the Hamburg Tourism Team, at Traverse 2017 in London and we had a really great meeting where we talked all things travel, she introduced me to her city and I introduced her to my blog. We really hit it off after partying together at the Traverse closing event, but even so I was still pleasantly surprised when I was contacted by Jessi a few months later asking if I wanted to Come to Hamburg with her to explore her home city! It didn’t take too much to convince me and, naturally, I said yes! Despite never really knowing much about Hamburg or having it particularly high up on my bucket list, I have always wanted to visit Germany and so jumped at the chance to attend my third press trip of the year. Jessi had put together a fantastic itinerary for myself and 4 other bloggers over a weekend in August, and here’s what we got up to during our time there, and my top recommendations for Germany’s second city…

 

 

Visit the infamous Reeperbahn

 

 

Perhaps one of Hamburg’s best known areas, the Reeperbahn is a mile long street which is full of life and a must see during your visit. Despite it’s seedy reputation for sex, drugs and for being home to one of the biggest red light districts in Europe, the Reeperbahn looks totally ‘normal’ during the day time and is quite a striking area, but after dark it transforms into a neon jungle and comes alive at night. Located in the St Pauli district, and brimming with bars, cafes, shops and restaurants, the Reeperbahn is just a short metro ride from the city centre and attracts thousands of tourists year after year. We walked along the road after taking a street art tour and then went on to visit other areas in St Pauli. My favourite building on the Reeperbahn was this cleverly designed office block which really reminded me of the famous Dancing House in Prague! Can you see the similarities too?

 

 

 

Explore the historic shipyards

 

 

The first thing we saw on our first day in Hamburg was the impressive shipyards, which are probably the most famous area of the entire city, and the most historic too. Founded in 1189, the Port of Hamburg is the second busiest port in Europe, and nicknamed Germany’s Gateway to the World. It’s harbour occupies a large chunk of land and is sat on the River Elbe, just over 100km from the North Sea. As central Europe’s main port, the shipyards have played a major part in Germany’s maritime history and it’s strategic location has been a huge factor to its success. We actually walked up a mini hill opposite the port where we could get a good spot overlooking the harbour front, ready to watch the sunset over the shimmering waters below. Our tour guide gave us an insight into some of Hamburg’s maritime history, and the role the port had played over the centuries, and I found it really interesting and loved learning a little more about a city which is largely unknown to me.

 

 

Go stand up paddle boarding

 

 

So I know this isn’t your average city break activity, but when I’m on press trips I like to take part in all aspects of the itinerary and really like to challenge myself. I had never been stand up paddle boarding before and thought that was only done in the sea, so I was a little apprehensive about doing it on a cold river which looked just as uninviting as the Thames in London! It was a relatively warm day though and the sun was starting to break through the clouds, so after arriving at the super cool Supper Club Hamburg, I decided to get my bikini on, grab my oar and get out on the water! After a brief safety lesson the rest of the group and I had made our way out on our boards and onto the Outer Alster Lake, one of the tributaries of the Elbe River. We spent a couple of hours meandering around the lake, going under bridges and passing numerous Hamburg landmarks along the way. I found SUP’ing quite difficult at first, mainly because I was scared of falling in the dirty waters, but once I’d found my balance I soon started to relax and really enjoyed the experience – what a quirky, alternative way to discover a new city!

 

 

Attend a festival

 

 

Summer is always a great time for a city break, but August turned out to be a brilliant time to visit Hamburg as there were a number of different festivals on during the weekend we were there. On our first night we headed to the local fun fair, with tonnes of rides, an enormous ferris wheel, plenty of stalls and bars and home to the biggest portable rollercoaster in Europe! This place actually reminded me a lot of Winter Wonderland in London, just minus the Christmas theme, and the night ended with fireworks which was a great way to finish our first day. Our second night was spent at the famous Vogelball, an annual live music festival with funky stalls, pop up street food and quirky entertainment. Although the music wasn’t really my kinda thing, I embraced it and really enjoyed my time there, plus getting our hair and make up done beforehand was a real treat! Our last day ended with the ice cream festival, and we definitely saved the best til last! I bloody love ice cream and was running around like a big kid trying out as many different flavours as I possibly could, whilst learning all about how different ice cream is made, of course. There are many different festivals on in Hamburg throughout the summer, and I was lucky enough to experience three of them in my two nights there which really added to my trip.

 

 

Wander down by the water front

 

 

This area of Hamburg came as a total surprise to me and I had no idea it existed until our last day! After our itinerary had ended we had a few spare hours before our flight back to London and so a couple of the other bloggers and I took it upon ourselves to do one last bit of exploring before we headed home. We weren’t sure what we were looking for but knew that we wanted to find some good food and do a little sightseeing, so we were in luck when we found the water front with its array of gorgeous restaurants and pretty central square! We wandered over to the water front and sat down for lunch at one of the busy restaurants, admiring the enormous fountain which shot up into the sky, reminding me of the Jet D’Eau in Geneva. After lunch and a little exploring, we stumbled upon the gorgeous St Michael’s Church and the impressive Rathaus Building (City Hall) – I’ve included a photo of this at the bottom of the post as this place really caught my attention, and was one of my favourite things about this area.

 

 

Where to stay

 

 

We actually stayed a little out of the city, in the brand new Prizeotel Hotel which had not long opened. I really loved the style of the hotel, with it’s cutting edge design and futuristic/space theme, and the rooms were compact, cosy and perfect for what we needed. I did think it was quite far out of town though, as we had to get in taxis to get into the centre and couldn’t really walk to any local shops or bars, although there was a metro station about 10 minutes away which was well connected to the rest of the city. I think if I were to visit again I would definitely stay somewhere more central, perhaps towards the old town area where the Rathaus Building and water front was, as this was my favourite area of Hamburg.

 

 

Where to eat/drink

 

 

There are hundreds of places to eat and drink in Hamburg, namely the Reeperbahn and St Pauli districts if you’re looking for somewhere lively. On our first night we ate at a trendy Mexican restaurant in St Pauli but there were loads of places to choose from in the area. We had a little showaround of a few restaurants as part of our street art tour earlier on in the day and got a good feel for the place. Dinner for our second night was at the Vogelball festival and we just grabbed some street food, so I didn’t really try any typical German food during my time in Hamburg but I hope to do this on my return visit one day. The Fishmarket down at the harbour front is a must-see if you’re wanting to taste some of the freshest fish in the city, although this wasn’t really for me as I don’t eat fish, I heard great things about it – especially the live music which kicks off early in the morning!

 

Have you ever been to Hamburg before? What did you think of it? It’s quite a large city and not easy to get around on foot, so we used our Hamburg Cards to make use of the excellent public transport links, including the metro, buses and yellow taxis. I am hoping to return to Germany at some point this year as I have my eye on a Christmas Market break to Berlin in December, but I definitely need to see how my travel plans go for the rest of this year first! Big thanks again to Jessi and the Visit Hamburg Team for putting on a fantastic weekend and for looking after me during my time in the city.

NB. My flights, hotel, transport and activities were all sponsored by the Visit Hamburg Team as part of the Come to Hamburg initiative which invites bloggers, journalists and press members to experience Hamburg for the first time, but all thoughts and opinions are of course my own.