Me with Ben Fogle

It all started with a conference call back at the beginning of the year with our Celebrity Cruise rep, when I found out about an amazing opportunity. As part of the 123go! campaign, Celebrity Cruises were running a competition to join an exclusive excursion with their destination expert, Ben Fogle. To enter, I just had to share somewhere from my bucket list on the Celebrity Travel Agents Facebook page. I got my thinking cap on straight away as I really wanted to win the prize. I love reading Ben Fogle’s books, especially theTeatimeIslands, which is still my favourite book to read.

My ”bucket list” cruise

My bucket list idea was a visit toIcelandwith Celebrity Cruises. I’d go on a small group excursion with a Geology expert to the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano (the one that caused all the ash troubles) followed by a visit to the mid-Atlantic ridge, something that I have always dreamt of standing in. This can only be done in Iceland, unless you are prepared to dive deep into theAtlantic.

I would follow this with a meal with local chefs in an outdoor setting, where they could talk me through all the delicious delicacies we were eating.  To round off my perfect trip, I’d head out to the countryside away from the city lights and drink hot chocolate under the stars.

I thought about the idea so much that I since have gone ahead and booked this cruise! I plan to find that mid-Atlantic ridge and stand in it, followed by stops in the Faroe Islands and Norway. I really can’t wait!

Meeting Ben Fogle

But back to that trip. The big day arrived and I could hardly believe I was one of the lucky chosen agents. I was so excited to go sailing with Celebrity Cruises’ Destination Expert Ben Fogle and the inspirational Godmother of Celebrity Eclipse, Emma Pontin.

On arriving at the Clipper Reception area, we were treated to a breakfast of delicious bacon rolls and hot mugs of tea and coffee.  There was a definite buzz in the room and when Ben arrived, we fell into a small hush. However, the room soon filled with laughter and lots of chatting as Ben came over and introduced himself to us all.

Clipper racing

We had a formal welcome and briefing, before being led out in our two teams for the Clipper racing.  We proceeded out to the magnificent racing machines, which included my Clipper boat, Singapore. It’s a fantastic boat that has sailed in the round the world yacht race, which has inspired me to do this one day too!

Meeting Ben Fogle for the first time

On board we got suited and booted in our wet weather gear and got told about all the important bits to keep us safe and on board!  Ben, our skipper, did go through all the technical terms, but I was just so excited I couldn’t remember them all! We were lucky to have Emma with us all day on our boat and Ben for the first part of the day.

Our skipper got us working hard and even though it was raining I did not care one bit, I was having the time of my life.  When again was I going to be sailing on a beautiful Clipper boat with Ben and Emma?

I had no idea how much work was involved making a boat like this move, but we all got the hang of it.  I had a go at letting out and bringing in ropes (letting fly was one term I do remember!) Steering the ship was fun as it was very responsive, holding the ropes for the rigging was great, but most exciting for me was when I jumped in to help Ben pull up the front sail of the ship. This was hard work and I worked some muscles I never knew I had.  I even broke a few finger nails but I wasn’t caring as I was sailing on the Solent under the power of wind and loving it.

Sailing on the Solent

We dropped the sails and had lunch on the boat, with welcoming mugs of hot tea and tasty treats. Then we spent an afternoon session racing back toGosportmarina.  We let the other team arrive first as it would have been rude to beat the boat with our special guest Ben…!

Spitbank Fort

We boarded our second boat of the day to take us over to the unique Spitbank Fort, which was surreal. We were given the choice to arrive on a rib boat or a regular boat and while I opted for the safe and dry version, the rib boat looked great fun and worth getting splashed for.

We climbed the stairs onto the Fort and were given a very warm champagne welcome.  This was followed by a tour of the fort which was fascinating. Completed in 1878, it is a remarkable feat of engineering considering its age. As we went around the fort, we discovered where we were staying for the night, as each of our names were outside the door and our bags inside our room.

My beautiful room at Spitbank Fort

Each room was sumptuous with great original features from the days when it was actively used to protect our country. My room had a cannon ball feature and a grand view from the window, with a super huge and comfy bed, massive shower room and all the comforts of home I could need. Forget staying for the night, I wanted to stay for an entire week!

After we had settled into our rooms, we had a question and answer session with Ben and Emma, hosted by Celebrity Cruises’ very own Leon Hand.  It was a great time for us to sit down and catch our breath, listening to Ben and Emma as they gave some handy tips to help us sell Celebrity Cruises, as well as answering our questions on travel.

We had a bit of free time afterwards to wash the salt out from our hair and get ready for dinner.  Our rooms had a message in a rum bottle with our itinerary for the evening’s proceedings.  First, we met in the Crow’s Nest, where we each had a turn at opening a bottle of champagne with a sword!  This was hilarious and turned into a contest of who could aim the furthest.

Ben and Me

Dinner at the Fort

After some great chat and selfie taking, we were called down to dinner in the Officer’s Mess.  This was a four course extravaganza and I took the opportunity to sit next to Emma and across from Ben.  The food was scrummy and washed down with great wine and Spit water.  Yes I did say Spit water – they have their own brand of water named Spit! I had a lovely time, as Ben was telling us beautiful stories and Emma is a truly inspirational woman, talking about the amazing challenges that she has conquered. I took along another copy of one of my favourite of Ben’s books and he kindly obliged me by writing a personalised message inside of it.

A wonderful memento from a wonderful day!

Time flew by all too quickly and soon it was time for everyone to leave the fort except for us eight lucky winners!Leonand Jade from Celebrity Cruises to looked after us for the remaining time on the fort.  After dinner was cleared we were invited back to the Crow’s Nest for some cocktail making, Fort style. This was fun, especially whenLeonmade his drink but forgot the rum!  That was soon put right and the night went on with plenty of chatter and laughing so much that my ribs hurt.

I woke up early, still buzzing and excited to be on the fort.  I got myself all packed up and organized before heading up on top of the fort to take some photos of the sun rising above theSolent.  This is a very beautiful place, and is an unexpected slice of off shore luxury, secluded from the rest of the world.  Breakfast was just what we needed, with plenty more laughter before we had to say goodbye to Spitbank Fort.  The departure was just as glamorous as the arrival, as we got onto the hanging boat that was lowered down onto the water and whisked us all back to shore.

Treasured memories

This was truly one of the best experiences of my life so far. We were treated like VIP’s the whole time by Celebrity Cruises, who do Modern Luxury really well.  I will never be able express how grateful I am as words are just not enough.  I have made some great new friends and have some memories that I will treasure. All I want to know now is when is our reunion is, so I can go back out and do it all again!

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