After years of ploughing my way through muddy festivals it was hard to resist the invite to sail away with the Royal Caribbean’s Jewel of the Sea. There was much to be excited about with Anchored, a Unique Cruise’s holiday experience offering top deck luxury, world class DJ’s and champagne filled pool parties.
It was a first of its kind with 2500 revellers hopping on board to experience Anchored’s debut as the world’s first floating festival on sea. The week long itinerary included the cobbled streets of Rome, the crystal blue waters of Santorini and Mykonos and a stop-off at the blissful seaside port of Villefranche.
It has once been said that in order to reach paradise a man must go through inferno and that was certainly the case for me when we landed in a sunny and hot Rome following a transit flight from London.
We caught a regional train from Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport to Roma Trastevere railway station before boarding another local service to Civitavecchia. Italian transport services have good ventilation so luckily the journey didn’t make me feel like a stuffed sardine packed in a tin. I had time to take in the 45 minutes worth of rural sights, fields of greenery and the graffiti murals splattered on the sides of small packed community houses.
With temperatures exceeding 30°C I worked up a sweat as I pulled my two pieces of luggage though the streets of Civitavecchia. My partner and I clearly didn’t get the memo that the station is some distance from the port or that the shuttle service inside the Port of Civitavecchia to the cruise terminal is totally free, but the walk was still very doable.
Before embarking the ship guests had to go through an airport style security. We received our SeaPass cards which were needed to board the ship and pay for all purchases by tapping the card. Once on board relaxation was cut short as we had to take part in a practice fire drill. One by one we were lined up like primary school children on a field trip waiting for our rooms to be called.
The opening white party on deck 12 started at 10pm and provided guests the opportunity to mingle and meet our new sea mates. While it could be described as a dazzling sight of white dressed party goers, I could not help but feel I had signed up for club 18-30. But I shouldn’t have been so quick to judge as I also spotted senior adults, who were in their second or third prime of their life, getting down with the youngsters.
Every day on Anchored was a mighty feast of music with labels including Disturbing London, Ants, Hot Creations and Kaluki musik doing nightly takeovers. The thumping sound of solid dance and house music was the soundtrack of most evenings until the crack of dawn.
The hardcore clubbers could always be seen leaving the dance floor at 5AM and heading straight for the cruise liner’s casual buffet style restaurant, the Windjammer cafe. Opened daily for 24 hours it was a hit with foodies as it served themed menus based on the destination we were travelling to. Guests could also choose from seven other dining options, including three specialty restaurants (for an extra fee).
The journey from Rome to our first stop Santorini took two days which meant we had 48 hours of being bound to the cruise. We were kept occupied by an endless list of options presented on the daily on board newsletter Cruise Compass.
Females were spoilt for choice with special ladies spa days, where they were pampered with a free Collagen Skin treatment, Eye Collagen treatment and a sunglow application I missed all three sessions thanks to my clock’s time zone always being an hour ahead or behind.
Being at sea can really leave your hair in a big poof so it was no surprise the Blow Dry bar was always booming with a revolving door of clients. Meanwhile, for male passengers, a Luke’s barber shop pop-up on Deck 6 stuck to tradition and provided a secret haven for men to sip cocktails while having their hair preened.
Adding to the hedonistic feel of the cruise was having the option to start your day with a Vitality Stretch class and ending it with Sunset yoga.
The Vitality fitness centre contained state of the art training equipment and hosted an array of classes and seminars. Daily promotions were always on offer for luxurious spa treatments such as a full body massage or rejuvenating facials.
Entertainment came in the form of passengers trying their luck at the Casino Royale or heading to the cinemas to watch a film.
The Anchored clubbers paradise wasn’t only restricted to the evenings as there was a pool party everyday between midday and 7pm. A whole new day of pool partying ushered in the dancing of everywhere on deck 12, around the pool, in the pool, in the Jacuzzis, on the sun loungers, on the bar stools, and on each other’s shoulders. Dub, garage, grime and house, it was a dancing ship and there was no denying it.
Ladies could be seen recreating the Marbella beach look by wearing the unified dress code of barely there bathing costumes teamed with killer heels and oversized shades. While the boys paraded around in their numbers showcasing their chiselled abs and fashionable shorts.
Highlight of the week was the Anchored Garage special which featured an attempt to break a world record for the most champagne sprayed while at sea. Never have I witnessed so much Veuve Clicquot and Moët go to a joyful and expensive waste.
Our first stop on our itinerary was Santorini which is also known as the supermodel of the greek islands due to its Mediterranean charm of dazzling panoramas, romantic sunsets and volcanic-sand beaches. It’s hardly surprising this stunner of an island hosts 1.5 million tourists annually.
We sailed into Santorini Port, which is a part of a huge crater of a still-active volcano, on a Tuesday at 1pm. I couldn’t have been any happier as the constant partying had left me craving to be a tourist on land again.
Upon disembarking the ship we were anchored off the coast of santorini using small tender boats shuttling guests from ship to shore within 10 minutes. It was each to their own after that, as we had the option of climbing the 600 steps to the centre of the town of Fira by foot or by a mule’s back (7 Euro). Be warned if you decide to go by foot the smell of manure will plague you and you’re bound to cross paths with a stack of Donkey’s during your journey.
We opted for taking the cable car up (5 Euro one way) to its cliff-top station which is further from the centre at the top of the stairs. The swift journey gave us our first anticipated glimpse of Santorini’s stunning caldera.
Once off, we were welcomed by the streets which were abuzz with traffic and the sound of the numerous ATV motors purring away. Santorini’s shops will tempt any fashionista, especially those in Fira. The first to catch your eye are the jewellery shops that you will find along Ypapanti’s Street or Gold Street. It is considered to be one of the biggest gold markets in Greece. Here you will find the most modern jewels designed by the most famous jewellers from both Greece and abroad.
The island has an excellent bus system that connects all the villages through the bus hub in Fira. To experience the charm of Oia, the island’s northernmost town, we hopped on a scenic coach ride for only 1.80 Euro.
After winding our way through the hidden corners and side roads of Oia, we discovered a vision of whitewashed cliff-top villages with azure waters. The beauty spot has become the most photographed in the Greek islands and attracts tourists from all over the world to get a piece of this Instagram worthy picture action.
Despite a curfew of 4pm looming, we managed to squeeze in a quick 20 minute coach journey to Kamari. The cosmopolitan beach resort is on the south east of Santorini and lies under the impressive mountain of Mesa Vouno.
The water is perfect for a quick swim, the sand is black and there is a lifeguard on duty. The beach offered shade with free sun beds to lounge on under hut like umbrellas. A stone-paved promenade for strolling runs parallel to the beach and offers a wealth of cafes, bars, authentic Greek restaurants, shops and supermarkets.
Back on deck there was a reshuffle as pre-advertised headliner Tinie Tempah was replaced by Giggs, who ensured fans still had a good time into the early hours of the morning. By 8am the next day we reached the shores of Mykonos, the smallest island in the Cyclades. Upon docking the ship at Mykonos harbour we got on a sea bus which took us to the town centre for two Euros.
Like Santorini, Mykonos is whitewashed picture-perfect with narrow and twisting cobblestone alleyways, fine shops, cafes, and domed churches. The island is notorious for being an expensive party island for tourists so instead of racking up a hefty clubbing bill I opted to go exploring.
We walked to the Fabrica bus station (at the top of the centre) and caught a bus to Paradise Beach, the most famous party beach in Mykonos. The buses from Fabrica to Paradise beach and back ran every 30 minutes and were €3,60 return per person.
Paradise beach is not called “paradise” for nothing as it has a beautiful sandy beach with warm and clear water. Large rocks can be hiked on and are the perfect chill spot to watch sunset. The clove of bars live up to the Mykonos’ hype of great Grecian party energy, DJ’s spinning club anthems and people dancing on the tables with a tropical cocktail in hand.
The beach is quite a way away from everything so if you are planning to eat or spend the day there you need to be prepared to spend some serious money.
Club Tropicana is a good choice for food and offers relaxing moments with coffee, juices and cocktails in comfortable wooden deck chairs and umbrellas. Meanwhile, the Tropicana Restaurant serves up delicious delicacies from their Italian and Greek cuisine. If you’re on a budget there’s a little store next to the bus stop that sells snacks and drinks.
Mykonos feels just as magical in the evening as it does during day. The quaint alleyways ooze with life from Mykonian sellers selling souvenirs, handmade jewellery and lots of different Greek and locally made products. One of the finest local arts and craft areas is a street near Little Venice called Agiou Efthimiou. During the summer months most of the shops and markets are open until well after midnight.
My favourite store I stumbled across is Handmade with Love m.g.k which features the best quality and handmade products made from a great artist. Maria, the shop’s owner has made beautiful hats for adventures by hand painting unique and vibrant designs onto the stylish range of headwear.
You can also find other rare gems in the store including hand woven pillows, handmade sandals and wooden bow ties. A visit to Mykonos wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the iconic windmills (Kato Milli) which is located above the town in the area known as the Chora.
The seven windmills, can be seen from almost every corner of the island and provides a bird’s eye view of the bustling Sea Satin Market restaurant below. My boyfriend and I headed to the Windmills at night in order to avoid the flock of tourists. It was the perfect settings for star gazing on a rock.
After three days of Greek island hopping it was time to sail west to the idyllic seaside port of Villefranche-sur-Mer. It is considered one of the most charming and authentic medieval coastal towns in the heart of the Cote d’Azur.
We were gobsmacked as we approached the glittering bay as there’s no denying that it is one of the world’s most majestic sights. Just like with Santorini and Mykonos, there was an air of tranquillity to Villefranche’s streets and fascinating architecture. Many of the houses in Villefranche-sur-Mer are painted in bright orange and red pastel colours creating a very attractive ensemble.
As a location, Villefranche is well positioned to everything along the French Riviera, which has long been a posh destination for celebrities and socialites. Monaco is situated on one side while a glamorous Cannes is just a train ride away.
We decided to make the 13 minute train journey to Monte Carlo, the municipality of Monaco and the fabled playground of the rich and famous.
With such limited time we decided to explore by foot and whizzed past hot spots such as the Les Pavillions and the Monte Carlo casino, which was buzzing with pre festival hype for the 57th annual Monte-Carlo Television Festival. A 10 minute stroll lead to Larvatto Beach, the perfect place to get sunburnt on glitzy stretches of sand.
Back on deck, it seemed a storm had brewed as lots of guests were unaware of the hidden Jewel of the Seas Gratuity. Royal Caribbean passengers are charged $13.50 per person, per day ($16.50 for suite guests) while an 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar tabs.
The accommodation, staff and food at the event were top notch but having to explain to a new generation of cruise goers that it was compulsory to fork out an additional $94.50 to cover hospitality services left a bitter taste in people’ mouth.
Despite the sour note, the Anchored show went out with a bang for its closing party. For many, including myself, it was a holiday of a lifetime of cruising with nothing to lose. The social media lovers on the trip have ensured the #Anchored memories will live on forever.
Next year’s trip will travel from Barcelona, through to Sete, Ibiza, Palma and back to Barcelona.
Book Anchored by Unique Cruises 2018 here https://unique-cruise.com/