Based in Manchester

Catherine Mackey

Looking for help with your business travel? Find out how I can help here

It's Nice To Meet You

I’ve had a passion for travel and exploring different cultures across the world for as long as I can remember. I love inspiring my customers, planning interesting itineraries, and helping them to make the most of their hard-earned holiday time.

My customers will tell you that the reason they book with me is because I care about them and their holiday. I look after all the research, planning, booking, and pre-departure preparation, removing all stress from the process, so they don't need to spend hours getting tied up in knots on the internet or queuing in a shop. All my clients need to do is look forward to putting their out of office on and getting away from it all. Whilst away I'm at the end of my personal mobile phone for anything they need.

As well as Travel Counsellors raft of awards for how look after our clients, and our 5* Trustpilot rating, in 2021 I was delighted to personally be awarded Franchise Business of the Year in Trafford Business and Community Awards, as well as being nominated for overall Business of the Year. I was also nominated for Business Leader in the Community in Trafford International Women's Day Awards.

I take personal pride in making sure every single one of my clients gets the trip they have dreamed of - whether it be relaxing in the sunshine, or an adrenaline fuelled adventure. I specialise in tailor-made itineraries – so you can have the holiday you want, designed around you.

I love everything about cruising and I'm a CLIA Cruise Master- the highest accreditation in the cruise industry, passionate about helping those new to cruise to find the perfect one for them and start them on their cruising journey!

I’ve travelled extensively and have a wide range of experience to draw on to find exactly what is right for you. In 2018 and 2019 I’ve enjoyed mini-breaks in Krakow & Tenerife, enjoyed several cruises in Europe, including a family cruise from Liverpool, a cruise in Arabia, a wildlife safari in Kenya, visited Thailand including a stay at the wonderful Elephant Hills luxury tented jungle camp, camped under the stars in Jordan, and been to South America twice – Brazil & Peru, and enjoyed a family adventure holiday in Morocco. During 2020 I managed to get away six times - family skiing in February half term, a road trip adventure in California, a summer villa holiday in Greece, and short trips to Cyprus, Majorca and Lanzarote too. During 2021 I got away five times, to Portugal, Ibiza, a UK summer cruise, adventured to Iceland, and cruised from Miami to the beautiful Bahamas. Covid will not stop me exploring the world!

If you'd like to get in touch about your own travel plans you can book an initial consultation appointment as a time to suit you here https://bit.ly/BookAnAppointmentWithMe, (day or evening), or if you're local we can meet for a coffee. My service always starts with a conversation so we can have a thorough discussion about exactly what you are looking for, or to chat through initial ideas if you’re unsure, so that I can design something that is perfect for you.

If you'd like to check out my social media accounts you are most welcome www.facebook.com/catherinemackeyTC www.instagram.com/catherinemackeyTC www.linkedin.com/in/catherinemackeyTC and to be added to my email mailing list drop me a message at catherine.mackey@travelcounsellors.com

I hope to chat about your travel plans very soon! Xx

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My Blog

I absolutely live and breathe travel and I love to write about my experiences! Please take a look through my posts - you might find your own holiday inspiration.

Escape to Sunny Cyprus

01 November 2020

In October I was invited by Constantinou Bros hotels to visit Cyprus and spend some time getting to know their hotels better, which of course I jumped at the chance of - very happy to be able to enjoy a late escape and some hot weather and sunshine to end the summer holiday season. This trip was the 5th time I’ve flown from Manchester Airport this year and the 3rd time since March. All flights are departing from Terminal 1 for the time being and it is fully operational. All the security & health & safety measures you would expect are in place (sanitizer, masks, social distancing, spaced out eating & drinking) and 90% of shops, bars & restaurants are open. At the time of travel a negative covid test was required to enter Cyprus, which is an additional hurdle, but totally worth it to go there! I stayed at the Athena Beach Hotel in a Superior Deluxe Sea View room with huge balcony, plenty of room for your own private sunbeds, and a private cabana in the grounds included too. We stayed all-inclusive which was worth the upgrade and is excellent value for money. The food in the á la carte restaurants is divine, and great quality wine is available by the bottle (not by the glass as in many all-inclusive hotels). In the á la carte restaurant the filet steak was cooked to perfection - so good I had it twice! Whilst staying at the hotel we were able to view the Junior Suites with Private Pools with unobstructed views of the sea, which offer an extra element of luxury, although the grassy grounds and pool areas are lovely too with plenty of different spaces to choose from depending on what you prefer – by the pool, by the sea, in a cabana, or close to the beach bars. I also visited sister hotel the 5* Asimina Suite Hotel, a few minutes walk along the sea-side path, where every room is a suite, some with large private infinity pools and the hotel has its own private beach, lined with cabanas. Some of my top selling hotels are on this part of the sea front and it was good to take a walk along the front to check them out. We passed 4* Constantinou Bros Athena Royal (adult only), 5* Olympic Lagoon Resort (great pool & facilities for families), the 5* Amavi (new adult only hotel), 4* Alexander The Great, 5* Almyra, and 5* Annabelle, ending our walk at Paphos harbour for a well-earned refreshing drink. I can definitely recommend spending an afternoon & evening in Paphos Old Town, a taxi ride from the sea front accommodation in Paphos but once there you can walk around and enjoy the feel of the area with its historical buildings and local tavernas. From the cool and trendy Muse Bar you can sip a delicious cocktail and watch the sunset from its viewing point, and then head to one of the local tavernas for traditional food. We had a full meze in Fettas Taverna, which would have fed us 5 times over - delicious and healthy and highly recommended, but a LOT of food! I will definitely be back to explore more of Cyprus soon! X

Greek Villa Bliss

01 September 2020

Villa holidays have been more in demand than ever this year because once there you quickly forget any worries you may have about being in contact with too many other people and really chill out and relax in peace and quiet away from all the troubles in the world. After weeks and weeks of helping my customers navigate their way through the complexities of travel at the moment, as soon as travel to Greece was permitted with no quarantine in either direction, we took advantage of the great prices at the time and got ourselves a villa holiday booked as soon as we could for a break in the sunshine that we all needed more than ever before. It was the second time I’ve flown from Manchester Airport since March & the experience was as relaxed as before. The airport was really quiet & security stress free. Masks need to be worn throughout the airport apart from when eating & drinking when seated in the Lion & Antelope (T3). The bar is taking part in the Eat Out To Help Out scheme which significantly reduced our pre-flight food bill. Greek Passenger Locator Forms and QR codes (for Greek track & trace) were thoroughly checked at the gate before boarding the aircraft. Once out of the airport in Chania we only wore our masks to go to the supermarket. Every shop we went in followed the rules, as did the Greek people, which was reassuring. Every restaurant we ate in we ate outside so no masks needed, although all the waiting staff had them on. Our villa was my dream villa - typically Greek, rustic, breath-taking unobstructed views of the sea, its own little orchard, vines, floral garden, large pool for the kids, and away from the crowds. Unusual for villa it was a short walk to a little beach with a bar, 5 mins from the village and beach of Kalyves, and 15 mins drive to the pretty harbour town of Chania. Tearing ourselves away from our haven of tranquillity, we did a couple of day trips whilst we were there – one to the paradise like Elafonissi Beach, and a day boat trip to enjoy some snorkelling. Elafonissi Beach often in lists of the most beautiful beaches in the world, and rightly so. Yes it’s so photogenic that it’s extremely popular, like many ‘instagram-able’ locations are these days. But yes, you can very easily find spots on the nature reserve where you can find peace & tranquillity with a tiny little extra walk. The beach is white powdery sand with patches of pink, and the sea is like a lagoon, warm, still, shallow (perfect for little ones), turquoise & crystal clear. The beach was an hour and a half drive from our villa, but after setting off early, we easily found a thatch roofed umbrella for shade on the main beach. It was well worth the trip with a lovely late lunch stop off on the way back at one of the many pretty mountain tavernas with a gentle breeze & a view, serving lots of local Cretan delicacies & of course Mythos & post lunch Raki shot for the non-driver (me!) Our boat trip was with Captain Iannis & Kalyves Cruises, departing from the pretty beach & little port of Kalyves to stunning swimming & snorkelling spots – including refreshments, lunch, juicy fruits, and raki cocktails (actually nice tasting!). The perfect holiday boat trip. On our last day our flight home was in the evening so after checking out of our villa we visited the port town of Chania which is Venetian in style with coloured buildings and restaurants, bars and little shops around the harbour and in the shaded traditional back streets. The girls were able to spend their holiday money on a few souvenirs and we had a leisurely lunch by the harbour before heading to the airport. Chania harbour and old town are definitely worth a visit if you are staying near there or have some time to spare before heading to the airport, which is 20 mins drive away. We had a wonderful week away filled with beautiful sunsets, fabulous villa BBQs, lazing round and in our private pool, meanders to our nearby beach, meals out in tavernas, and a couple of great day trips - an all-round great family holiday!

Travel now...what to expect

29 July 2020

I have a duty of care to my clients as their trusted advisor, to provide honest, accurate, and up to date guidance across all stages of the planning, booking and travel experience. This includes everything from the latest advice from governments around the world, changes in travel insurance requirements, new entry procedures, airport and in-flight protocols, information about accommodation health and safety policies, booking with as much flexibility as possible should plans need to change, and protecting every penny of my clients money. At the moment there are broadly three types of attitudes to travel, depending on personal circumstances – those who are definitely not wanting to travel anywhere soon, those that would love to travel but are holding off because they are unsure what it will be like, and those desperate to be on the first plane out of here (me!). On 9th July I travelled on one of the first flights out of the UK, returning on 11th July, without the need for a 14 day quarantine on return, to see for myself what the experience was like first hand to enable me to provide the best possible service to my customers. MANCHESTER AIRPORT On arrival at Terminal 3 it felt a bit like a ‘ghost airport’, eerily quiet. Once inside you need to wear a face covering in most areas. Around the airport there are spacing signs on the floor at regular intervals and hand sanitisers everywhere. Going though airport security was a dream - in less than 5 minutes we were through. Manchester Airport are trialling free pre-booked 15 minute security time slots, which we had booked but did not need as it was so quiet. The pre-booked time slots might come in useful though as more flights resume operation over the summer. Once through security, the essential retail units were open - WHSmiths, Boots, Duty Free, and the Lion & Antelope Bar – so everything you really need! There were no queues and a lovely buzz in the air of travellers excited to get away. IN FLIGHT On the flight masks are mandatory except when eating & drinking. There was a hot and cold food & and cold drink service on the flight (no hot drinks, or ice for my G&T ?). It’s not compulsory for younger children to wear masks on the flight but it is of course better for them and for everyone else if they will wear some kind of face covering (age guidelines are different for each airline, under 12s exempt on Ryanair, under 6s on Jet2, and under 14s on BA). Wearing a mask for any length of time isn’t the most pleasant experience but the safest way to go, and combined with the way air is filtered on flights, as safe as it can be. Queuing for the toilets in-flight is a bit tricky as without an ‘actual stand up queue’ it’s difficult to know when it’s your turn. TOP TIP if you need to go when you need to go pre-book seats up front! Everyone on board our flight was in good spirits and looking forward to their days, or weeks, ahead in sunny Majorca. ENTRY REQUIREMENTS Many countries are now asking for additional information for track & trace purposes. For Spain you are required to register your details online 48 hours in advance of your arrival. You are issued with a unique QR code which must be presented upon arrival at immigration. Entry requirements can change at any time and I am constantly monitoring the destinations that my clients are travelling to so that they are fully informed of what they need to do. The most accurate source of up to date information is always the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. HOTEL EXPERIENCE In our hotel, as with all the all the major hotel chains, there was socially distanced queuing at check-in & hand sanitiser dispensers are everywhere, especially by the lifts, and only people staying together are allowed in the lift at one time. The main area where everyone gathers, the restaurant, is well managed and does take a bit longer to enter as you have to wait in a socially distanced queue to be seated. Then there was a spaced out queue for the buffet, which is served to minimise contact with the serving utensils. All the usual food is available, salads & desserts pre-prepared in little individual pots, cooking stations, tapas and fresh locally caught fish. Masks have to be worn at all times around the restaurant apart from when seated at your table, whilst all other areas of the hotel mask wearing is recommended but it is your choice. Everyone complies and it’s easy to get used to. After the first time in the restaurant the procedure just feels normal and, dare I say it, even a more pleasant experience to enjoy your meal, once seated with mask off, with all the tables well spaced out. In the outdoor areas around the pools the experience is no different from normal, no special rules above general distancing guidelines. Everyone happy, chilled and respecting personal space. Our hotel was operating at their now “full capacity” which was around 70% of what they can normally accommodate and there was plenty of space for all to enjoy the facilities as normal. PALMA CITY & PLAYA DE PALMA We spent a morning visiting the beautiful city of Palma, a short taxi ride from Playa de Palma where we were staying by the beach. The taxis have clear plastic screens to protect the drivers and mask wearing is advised. Palma City is great for shopping (masks on in shops), pavement cafes serving delicious sangria, yachts in the harbour, tapas for lunch alfresco and the stunning Cathedral of Santa Maria. Our afternoon on the beach near our hotel in Playa de Palma was lovely. The long sandy beach is really clean with plenty of space for all, and a dip in the warm blue Mediterranean Sea perfect to cool off from the 30 degree heat. The locals and bar owners we spoke to agreed that everything was much quitter than usual for July, but busy enough to still have a relaxed holiday resort atmosphere. Perfect. Another change is that rather than having menus, most bars and restaurants have QR codes so you are not having to pick something up that has been used previously and it downloads the menus straight to your phone. Waiter service was offered pretty much everywhere, and we witnessed regular cleaning in the resort establishments. I hope this report from my trip to Majorca is useful and provides some re-assurance to those that need it - as always I'm always here to answer any questions anyone has.

Best UK Beaches

15 May 2020

Lockdown may have you dreaming of distant sandy shores, but the UK has some spectacular beaches of its own. Here are my seven ideas for a sandy staycation in our own beautiful country... Mwnt, Wales Perfectly cut-out from the Ceredigion cliffs, the secluded cove of Mwnt is owned by the National Trust. The sheltered bay is a favourite for dolphins and seals, which are often spotted playing in the turquoise waters. The surrounding hilly cliffs create a natural wind-break for beach-bums while more active types can enjoy picturesque walks along the coastline, passing the charming 14th century Church of the Holy Cross. Luskentyre, Scotland Visit on a rare clear day and you could be forgiven for confusing Luskentyre for a beach in the Caribbean. Found on the Isle of Harris, off the west coast of Scotland, the bright white sand, emerald water and a natural backdrop of hilly terrain has resulted in Luskentyre being named one of the UK’s best beaches in the TripAdvisor Traveller Awards. Visit during the spring months to see the grassy slopes ablaze with seasonal blooms. Port Isaac, Cornwall Eagle-eyed fans may recognise this quaint fishing village in North Cornwall as the setting of TV series Doc Martin. The pretty village remains true to its humble Cornish roots with sea-battered fishing boats bobbing in the harbour and narrow streets lined with cosy and characterful cottages. Although a popular tourist spot during peak season, the crowded, pedestrian-only streets are still charming and every Friday during summer the Fisherman’s Friends male singing group put on a free gig on the beach – best watched with fish and chips in hand. Studland Bay, Dorset It’s no wonder this four-mile stretch of pale, fine sand is so loved by locals. Backed by soft, rolling dunes and natural heathland, it’s located in Dorset’s Purbeck region, with its northern tip at the entrance to Poole Harbour looking across to one of the UK’s post exclusive postcodes – Sandbanks. Sandy Studland has its own slice of luxury though – The Pig on the Beach. This shabby-chic-styled hotel is one of a chain of unique properties – all famous for their locally-sourced food. Holkham, Norfolk Reached by a walk through fragrant pine forest, this vast expanse of golden sand is backed by dunes and visited by capricious tides. Behind the shoreline lies a basin, which at high tides fills to form a spectacular shallow lagoon. It’s been featured in many films, including the closing scene of Shakespeare in Love, where Gwyneth Paltrow is shipwrecked on its shore. Nearby is Holkham Hall, an 18th century Palladian house home to the Earl of Leicester and surrounded by a 25,000 acre estate of rolling parkland. Bamburgh, Northumberland Overlooked by the romantic turrets of Bamburgh Castle, this length of wild sandy coast is backed by waving dunes and rolling green fields. It looks over to Lindisfarne and the Farne Islands – once a haven for monks and still one for puffins and other rare sea birds. A windswept walk along the beach takes in rock pools and a small lighthouse - the most northerly of its kind in mainland England. A castle is known to have stood above the beach since the 6th century and the oldest part of the present structure was built in the 12th century. Whiterocks, Portrush Whiterocks Beach, is famous for its white chalk cliffs and is a very popular location for surfing and surf kayaking owing to the presence of large strong powerful waves throughout much of the year. It is also a very popular beach for walkers, dog walkers and horse riders, and is within walking distance of the seaside town of Portrush. Also one of the most beautiful places for a Saturday morning Parkrun on the sand (I've done it!) Please get in touch if you are looking for some staycation inspiration! I can arrange everything from log cabins, tucked away cottages, large houses sleeping 20+ people, quirky properties as well as those on larger seaside parks. I can also arrange boating holidays if you are dreaming of taking to the waters!

MAY 2020 UPDATE

03 May 2020

I hope this finds you well. The past two months have without question been a challenging time for all of us at home and at work, and I wanted to take this opportunity to get in touch to let you know what’s been going on in my office during this time. By the end of February the impact of Coronavirus was starting to affect travel on a global scale. As March progressed more and more countries closed their borders, and FCO travel advice was changing hourly, leaving many people's current and imminent travel plans placed in jeopardy. My immediate concern and focus were my clients who were overseas and becoming being rapidly impacted. I worked alongside my wonderful Travel Counsellors 24/7 duty office, working to find a way to get them all home with the minimum amount of stress (to them, not me!). Calling customers who are in their ‘holiday bubble’ and advising them that they need to return home as soon as possible is not something I ever want to have to do, but I did breathe a huge sigh of relief when my last customers returned home, safe and well, from destinations including long-haul clients in California, Las Vegas, Mexico, and India. My attention then turned to those due to depart later in March and into April. I spent many hours speaking to my customers, advising them of all the different possible scenarios as well as continuing to provide up to date and accurate travel advice. This advice was, and still is, constantly evolving as the world's countries and respective travel industries do their best to navigate their way through this unprecedented situation in the best way they can for their employees and customers. With official guidance and supplier policies changing frequently, I haven’t always had the answers right away, or been able to give the answers people are wanting, but I have always been accessible and always at the end of the phone, message or email - which is something that many parts of the travel industry have certainly struggled with. In my office I have been monitoring every single supplier policy every single day for every single one of my future bookings, providing advice not only to my own customers but also those that have not booked with me struggling to get answers elsewhere. I take pride in the fact that I am always available to speak to you and I am still happy to provide any advice to anyone who is having a hard time contacting their providers and help as much as I can. For me, my working day has not changed dramatically (apart from now having my husband and three daughters under my feet all day!) as I work from home anyway and am able to continue to be available to my customers as usual. I’ve been working tirelessly to keep my clients informed with clear, honest, fact-based advice, and be as caring as I possibly can, understanding that people's work and financial situations are also impacted, not just their holiday. Where possible I’ve moved final payment dates to help buy time, reacted quickly to arrange re-booking and refunds, trying to be as proactive as I can. I’ve re-scheduled, family holidays, honeymoons, school trips, cruises, and more. Where moving to new dates has been possible I’m so happy for my clients that their travel dreams are still there to look forward to. For my customers who have bookings in place over the next few weeks, I am working closely with them, exploring the different potential scenarios, and doing everything I can to get the best outcome for them. I also continue to work with those whose travel plans have been cancelled to arrange refunds, or a financially protected credit note if they prefer. Cash refunds are frustratingly taking much longer than everyone would like, but this is simply down to the physical strain that the industry is under, and not an underhand tactic as some people assume. It is fair to say that nothing has impacted the travel industry like this has but thankfully there are positives! After the initial shock of no one booking anything at all for the first month or so, in the last couple of weeks enquiries have started to come in again, and new bookings are beginning to happen. I'm getting an increasing number of enquires for milestone holidays such as Big Birthdays, Anniversaries, Weddings/Honeymoons etc. Many are keen to book sooner rather than later, to ensure their dream trip is booked before the predicted price increases happen. Having an amazing trip ready and waiting to look forward to is one sure way to get through these tough times! And I will be here to help everyone through enjoyment of planning your adventures as I always have been. If ever a time has highlighted the benefits of my service, it has been the last two months and I can’t wait to get back to doing what I love and do best. I’d like to thank you all for your continued support and for everyone’s patience and understanding in these most difficult of times, but most importantly, I hope you and your family stay safe and well and I hope to speak to you in the very near future. We will fly and sail again! Catherine Xx

My Peru Adventure

19 June 2019

I was lucky to be invited to be part of one of G Adventures biggest ever educational trips, which involved over 100 travel professionals and G staff from all over the world, coming together to learn more about G Adventures, how they run their trips, and how they work within the areas visited to ensure that tourism is a huge force for good, ethical and sustainable for future generations of travellers and the communities visited, in conjunction with their not for profit partner Planeterra. Peru is a wonderful example as there are many wonderful projects there demonstrating Planeterra's work, which I was privileged to be able to experience first-hand. DAY 1 After a long set of flights we arrived in Lima for a delicious lunch which was the first of many. If you’re a foodie then Peru is definitely for you, everything delicious and healthy, and a super-foodies dream. At today’s lunch we also enjoyed our first Pisco Sour (of many!) DAY 2 Today we started with a walking tour of Barranco, the bohemian district of Lima, by the sea, with beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, vibrant street art, and a little food tasting and local musical serenades along the way! In the afternoon we left Lima for our flight to the high-altitude town of Cusco. DAY 3 We spent today soaking up the stunning scenery of the Sacred Valley, visiting some of the many community projects supported by G-Adventures, including the Ccaccaccollo Women's Weaving Co-op, where the ladies craft beautiful materials using traditional methods, benefitting the community financially and passing down traditions to future generations. Lunch was at the Parwa Community Restaurant with more amazing and delicious traditional food (including the local delicacy guinea pig!) It was a wonderful surprise when the whole community came out to celebrate our visit with an impromptu Peruvian style festival of music, dancing, fun and happiness in the glorious sunshine to top off an already amazing day. DAY 4 After checking in to the most beautiful Aranwa Wellness Hotel in the Sacred Valley, surrounded by huge mountains on all sides, we enjoyed the hotel facilities and grounds, starting the morning with a yoga session in the peaceful spa overlooking the river. Then in an idyllic field in the hotel grounds we took part in a shaman earth worshipping ceremony, which was a very interesting experience, and a beautiful thing. The field was also set up as a sample camp site so we could see first-hand what our customers can expect when doing the Inca Trail trek with G-Adventures. We put up tents, carried giant backpacks, played games and ate delicious food cooked by the talented Inca Trail chefs. DAY 6 Machu Picchu day! We had an early start to catch the glass roofed Explorer Train from the valley through to the edge of the Amazon jungle, then a local bus to the sacred site. Machu Picchu is even more beautiful than I had imagined it would be. The site is surrounded on all sides by the lush jungle covered Andes mountains. I loved the feeling of simply being there taking everything in and imagining what it would have been like for the Incas to live there 500 years ago, brought to life by the stories told by our brilliant G-Adventures local guide. DAY 6 On the last day of our adventure we started with a walking tour of the beautiful city of Cusco, filled with happy locals out doing their Saturday shopping in the busy markets, a delicious alpaca steak for lunch, and then back to our hotel for the Change Maker summit including a keynote presentation from G-Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip. Our day ended with a party to end all parties in G-Adventures Cusco office courtyard, which was a brilliant end to a fun and inspiring week. My week away was action-packed, fun, insightful and full of G Adventures happiness. I was massively inspired by how G Adventures work with their not for profit partner Planeterra to deliver so many life changing projects, as well as falling in love with the people, landscapes, festivities, and food of Peru! You can learn more about the work of Planeterra and their projects, including the ones I visited in Peru here https://planeterra.org/what-we-do/ If you’d like to know more about Peru get in touch. I can help you design the perfect adventure to suit you including visiting Machu Picchu - which can be either challenging by doing the 4-day Inca Trail trek, or more relaxed by getting the glass roofed train, or something in between! Xx

What is Family Cruising and is it for me?

25 May 2019

Absolutely GONE are the days of a cruise being an ‘old’ person’s holiday. If you love a land-based resort holiday packed with loads of activities for the children, kids’ clubs and great entertainment, then you will love a family cruise. Everything is included in your cruise fare, often even your ice creams, very much like an all-inclusive land-based holiday, but way better value for money, as not only are you able to access full on family fun on board, you will also be waking up in a new destination every day waiting to be explored! For families wanting to experience a cruise for the first time, there are several cruise lines to consider, each with different on-board experiences and price brackets. My clients receive a full consultation with me about their holiday likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams before I match them with the right ship and itinerary for them. With first-time cruisers, it’s super important to make sure you pick a combination of the both the perfect itinerary and perfect ship to ensure the best possible introduction to family cruising and keep you coming back time & time again. For most of my families, I’d be recommending either Royal Caribbean, MSC, Norwegian, Disney, Princess, or P&O. A recent research study showed that Leisure Time, Convenience & Safety are the top three priorities for UK travelling families. Cruise can offer the convenience of not even needing to fly – just turn up at Southampton or your local cruise port and unpack once - how many other multi-centre holidays can you say that about? And there are lots of all-inclusive cruise options giving families the ultimate convenience. And with both the on-land excursions and the ever-evolving onboard leisure facilities you will be hard pushed to find a hotel anywhere in the world that can match a modern cruise line for family facilities. Also, with the rise of cruise line technology some ships even offer a wearable bracelet so you can monitor your little ones in real-time and know where they are at any moment. There are no shortage of activities available to families on board the best family ships, including full size water parks, virtual reality experiences, interactive race-car simulators, flight simulators, laser tag arenas, climbing walls, surf simulators, ice rinks, go-cart tracks, escape rooms, football pitches, crazy golf, kids clubs from toddlers to teens, babysitting services, and almost all of this is included in your cruise fare with nothing extra to pay once on board. Watch this space for next year's launch of the first ever rollercoaster at sea! And don’t worry, Wi-Fi is available at sea on all cruise ships! You can read more about the cruise I did with my family last year at https://www.travelcounsellors.co.uk/catherine.mackey/Profile-Blog/OurFamilyCruisefromLiverpool And you can see my children’s kids eye view of cruising in their ship tour video here: https://www.facebook.com/CatherineMackeyTC/videos/2191259741161238/ To find out more and book your first, or next, family cruise with an accredited CLIA Cruise Master, please get in touch on 0161 826 4970 or catherine.mackey@travelcounsellors.com

What is Expedition Cruising and is it for me?

27 April 2019

There is most definitely a cruise out there for everyone. If you are an adventurous traveller who is interested in exploring the world, enjoy nature, embracing new cultures, love expanding your knowledge, and sharing your experiences with like-minded people, then expedition cruising could be for you. Where expedition cruises differ from classic cruises is that they are all about the destination and exploring parts of the world that are sometimes so remote that they are only accessible by sea. The onboard experience is generally more low-key (definitely no Broadway shows or waterslides!). The ships used for expedition voyages are much smaller too, accommodating anything from 20 to 200 passengers, of all nationalities, with a common interest in immersing themselves in the destination. Some ships are more simple yet comfortable (eg. G Adventures), whereas others are 5* luxury (eg. Silversea Expedition), but all are totally destination-led. Expedition cruise destinations include everywhere from the Arctic to the Antarctic, the Far East, Russia, The North West Passage, South America and the Galapagos, Polynesia, Micronesia, the South Pacific and more… All expedition cruises are hosted by expert guides, highly trained in their fields – including geologists, naturalists, photographers, marine biologists, and historians. The expedition team give on-board lectures as well as lead off the beaten track expeditions on land and sea excursions on RIB boats. You’ll spend as much time as possible learning about your destination off the ship, only returning at the end of the day to rest, swap stories with your fellow travellers, compare photos, enjoy delicious food and build up your excitement levels for your next day of adventure. Expedition cruising is perfect for solo travellers - with the ships being small and everyone having a common interest, it is extremely easy to make new likeminded friends, who can often become friends for life and even future expedition cruise buddies! If you are passionate about travelling responsibly then expedition cruise lines lead the way in sustainable travel with many of the destinations being visited being fragile and carefully controlled. For example, Hurtigruten collect plastic pollution left on beaches on every landing in Svalbard which passengers can help with, and single-use plastic is of course banned on board. This year, Hurtigruten are also launching the first ever cruise ship to be powered by hybrid fuel. Expedition cruising is so diverse and suited to those with an adventurous spirit and a love of the natural world. However finding the right cruise company and destination is hugely important, and that’s where I can help. I provide a full consultation with my clients, get to know their travel dreams and their interests, so that I can guide them through all the multitude of options available, based on factors including budget, ship size, region, activities, itinerary, and any special requirements they may have. So if you’ve always yearned to explore the most remote parts of the world get in touch and I will help you plan your adventure of a lifetime at sea! Xx

MSC Bellissima - Beauty At Sea

07 March 2019

The brand new MSC cruise ship Bellissima has just set sail on her maiden voyage from the UK. To celebrate the launch, I was invited on board to explore the ship’s wide range of wonderful facilities. This ship is big, accommodating over 5.5 thousand passengers – the advantage of this being the amount of space on board creatively designed to keep every single passenger happy on their cruise. From quiet spaces, to kid's spaces, an adult only spa, 12 dining venues serving food from all over the world, 20 bars and cafes, a choice of outdoor and indoor pools and breath-taking evening shows, including the specially created Cirque du Soleil at Sea. The ship itself is beautifully designed, with stylish contemporary colours and the Swarovski crystal staircases throughout are simply stunning - an incentive to take the stairs instead of using the lift if ever I had one! I was allocated a balcony cabin which was spacious and fitted out with great attention to detail, including a choice of pillow types (and more available on request from the pillow menu!). I had a corner balcony which gave a little more outside space than other balcony cabins, so I will always try to get these for my clients. There are lots of different cabin types available for those who want a little more space and luxury. There are even cabins that will sleep up to 10 people - great for families of 5+ who often struggle to find suitable accommodation on other ships. One modern innovation in my cabin was my own Personal Assistant called Zoe (like an Alexa) who I could ask anything at all about the ship without having to read through lots of paperwork – a useful and fun addition to the cabins – and free in every cabin type for all guests. For those who want to upgrade their whole on-board experience I would definingly recommend booking the Yacht Club, which is the most exclusive area on Bellissima, with beautiful suite accommodation, complimentary 24-hour butler service and minibar, a private fine dining restaurant and bar, a secluded pool and deck area, and complimentary access to the fabulous Aurea Spa and its full thermal suite. The Yacht Club is a ‘ship within a ship’ experience, like sailing on a private yacht, but still having access to the entire ship. For families with children the ship is heaven – with kid’s clubs from tiny babies through to older teens – so parents can enjoy their own adult time for a while before getting together again and having fun in the multi-storey Grand Canyon themed aquapark, full size bowling lanes and virtual reality F1 simulator rides, and then maybe a delicious Italian ice cream at the Gelato Bar! Bellissima is based in the Mediterranean this summer and in Arabia in the winter followed by some Grand Voyages through the Indian Ocean to the Far East next spring. There are some great prices available now for sailings up to 2020 which include complimentary premium drinks packages. Get in touch if you’d like more information and to book your own voyage on Bellissima - very appropriately nicknamed #BeautyAtSea.

My Year in Travel 2018

02 January 2019

In 2018 I’ve created some wonderful trips – including tailor-made adventures, cruises, safaris, road trips, luxury beach getaways, city breaks, honeymoons, school trips, business travel, and ending the year with lots of families enjoying the magic of Lapland. I’ve also been lucky to visit some exciting destinations - seven of these being places I’ve never been to before and one new continent – South America! January Travel Counsellors are at the forefront of making travel accessible for all. In January I completed specialist training and now have the tools at my fingertips to plan travel for anyone with simple or complex access requirements. I’m proud to be able to offer this highly personal service, enabling EVERYONE to enjoy wonderful travel experiences all over the world. February Karl and I took a trip to Krakow, a vibrant city steeped in over a thousand years of history. We enjoyed a food tour of the local restaurants and bars, visited the labyrinthine Wieliczka Salt Mine with its spectacular underground cathedral, and spent a sobering day visiting Auschwitz. In half term Travel Counsellors held a TC Kids event where we learnt from real-life NASA astronaut, Nicole Stott, and came home with bags of NASA space ice cream! If we visit Florida in the future, we will definitely be including a visit to the Kennedy Space Centre. April I travelled to Italy for a CLIA Conference on board Carnival Horizon. I spent the day before embarkation in Naples, taking the funicular railway to Castel Sant’Elmo for panoramic views over the city, the sea and Mount Vesuvius. We stayed in the Spanish Quarter with its network of back alleys, where laundry hangs from balconies and mopeds zip around at breakneck speed over the cobbles – just like in the movies! Our cruise also visited Rome and Pisa, where we took the train to Florence for lunch al fresco before returning home. The Carnival Horizon is great for fun loving families with its Dr Seuss themed water park! May A busy month for ship visits including the beautiful Viking Sun, Cunard’s classic Queen Victoria and food lovers Oceania Nautica. I also went on a mini-cruise on the re-launch of one of the UK’s favourite cruise ships, Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, after her multi-million-pound makeover. This ship is perfect for active families and groups of friends with its rock-climbing wall, waterslides, laser tag, escape room, bungee trampoline, surf simulator and ice-skating rink. In May I did my first ever slot on Trafford Sound radio. I must have said all the right things as I’ve been invited back every month since for a regular spot! Follow my Facebook page to find out when I’m on next! June I went on a wildlife safari in Kenya with one of my favourite suppliers of adventure travel, Intrepid. It was an amazing experience, shared with an international group of travel agents. We explored rural Kenya, were welcomed by singing villagers, camped out under the stars with Maasai Warriors and saw the Big 5 in the Maasai Mara. In June I was proud to be part of the Urmston in Bloom project. I volunteered to adopt a couple of planters in Urmston town centre, watering my floral displays over the summer. Thankfully my daughters were on hand to help with the watering and tidying to make Urmston look blooming lovely! July In July I visited Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth in Liverpool – completing the full set of all three Cunard ships! This year our family holiday was also a cruise. We set off on Ms Magellan from our local port of Liverpool calling at Dublin, La Coruna, Cadiz, Gibraltar, Lisbon, Porto & La Rochelle. It was a wonderful family holiday. We were blessed with amazing weather, and the children loved visiting lots of different countries in one holiday and floating about in the pools and Jacuzzis on board the ship. August In August I visited Fred Olsen’s Black Watch, a wonderful ship providing a home from home whilst exploring the oceans. At the end of August, we set off on our annual trip to our favourite music festival, Solfest, in Cumbria, for a long weekend of no Wi-Fi, letting our hair down, dressing as we please, late night dancing and enjoying great music. It's our favourite weekend of the year! September September ship visits included MSC Magnifica in Newcastle and Seabourn Ovation in Liverpool. I also visited Arabia with Fred Olsen, on board Ms Boudicca, starting in Oman, visiting Qatar, and ending in Abu Dhabi. I would highly recommend a cruise in this part of the world. There is so much to see, and you can return to the ship to cool down in the pool, sip ice-cold cocktails and beautiful sunset sail-aways. Highlights were an excursion on a traditional Dhow in the Omani fjords with dolphins swimming right alongside and visiting the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi at sunset. In September I was very proud to complete my training to become a CLIA Cruise Master, the highest level of accreditation in the cruise industry, reached with the completion of many hours of training, lots of ship visits, blogs (and cruises!) October In October I travelled to Brazil, visiting Rio de Janeiro and Salvador - two equally vibrant but completely different cities by the sea. Brazil is a diverse destination and I’d love to go back and explore more of the country, especially the Amazon. Rio highlights included standing at the foot of Christ The Redeemer watching it appear from behind the mist and visiting the Carnival Factory with a top-secret insight into next year's Carnival floats. Salvador is a colourful, vibrant and musical city where locals genuinely do spontaneously samba in the streets! November November is Travel Counsellors annual conference - a weekend filled with learning and motivational speakers including Olympian Sir Chris Hoy. Evening entertainment included Craig David, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers and Marti Pellow! It was also great to catch up in person with my TC friends from across the world. December I spent lots of time at Manchester Airport visiting aircraft and learning about the service on board Qatar Airways A350 with its World’s Best Business Class, Emirates mega A380 with its on board cocktail bar, and I took part in a fly-around short flight with Ethiopian Airways to launch their new route from Manchester to Addis Ababa and a new gateway to Africa. Wishing you happy travels in 2019 Xx

My Year in Travel 2017

01 January 2019

Here’s a brief run-down of what I’ve been up to in 2017. I’ve had a brilliant year in my first year as a Travel Counsellor getting to know some lovely new customers and I’ve had amazing opportunities to myself too – visiting 10 new countries - the most in one year since my back-packing days! January I was excited to start my Travel Counsellors journey with intensive induction training and loved learning about the amazing technology about to be at my fingertips to enable me to create tailormade itineraries for my clients. February I’ll never forget my launch day on 3rd Feb – it was exciting and scary as I never thought I’d see the day where I was running my own business and being my own boss! March I joined my friends on a little mini-break to Chester for a well overdue catch up, which was lots of fun and I was proud to have been able to have booked everything for us - just a small booking but significant as it was the very first one which I did on my launch day! I also had my best-ever booking month of the year in March, including a large tailormade group booking for a group of teachers visiting a school and going on safari in Kenya. May In May I attended the CLIA Cruise Conference in Southampton. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to experience a taste of life on the stunning Cunard Queen Mary II and Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas. June We took our family holiday to Cape Verde, 2 hours flight further south than the Canary Islands and a constant temperature of 25 degrees+ all year round. Recommended by us for a relaxing ‘fly & flop’ holiday any time of year. The beaches are incredibly beautiful and unspoilt, and Cape Verde is often quoted as “the Caribbean of Africa”. The kids loved their first experience of all-inclusive with some very random food combinations being brought back from the buffet! July At the end of the month I took my 10-year-old to Berlin as a birthday present as she’s had an obsession with Germany ever since she did a project in school a couple of years earlier. With a mum as a Travel Counsellor it was an obvious birthday gift! We had an amazing time and packed everything in – ticking off everything on her “to do” list and more in the short time we were there. August This month I visited some lovely cruise ships whilst docked in Liverpool – Holland & America Ms Zuiderdam, Celebrity Eclipse and Crystal Symphony. I got to take my mum with me on the Crystal Symphony and I think she’s now saving up for her first cruise! Karl and I also went on our first ever river cruise, spending a week in luxury with AMA Waterways travelling on the lower River Danube starting in beautiful Budapest and visiting Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria on our way to Romania and its capital Bucharest. I could not let August pass without mentioning that I got to meet my teenage idols Matt and Luke Goss before the Bros reunion concert at the O2 – it was such a special weekend away with my friend and fellow “Brosette” Marie! At the end of August, Team Mackey packed the car to the rafters and set off for our annual trip to our favourite music festival, Solfest, in Cumbria, for a long weekend of no Wi-Fi, letting our hair down, dressing as we please, late night dancing and enjoying great music. It's without doubt our favourite weekend of the year! September In September I was invited to join a Travel Counsellors trip to Amsterdam. We toured the city and enjoyed a fabulous fine dining evening cruise along the canals, and a tour of Holland America’s ship Ms Zuiderdam. I was cruising again this month on a mini-cruise with Fred. Olsen on Boudicca, where I flew out to Spain and joined the ship mid cruise. We called at Santander, Bilbao (the Guggenheim Museum being a major highlight) and back to Liverpool. October In October I attended the ATAS conference in Birmingham. ATAS is the Association of Touring and Adventure Suppliers, which promotes this sector of the travel industry. Alongside cruising, river cruising is a rapidly expanding area in the travel market. It was great to network with so many of my favourite suppliers there. I was also lucky to be invited to visit Agadir courtesy of the Moroccan Tourist Board, visiting lots of different types of hotels in the area - suitable for both luxury and value for money beach holidays - and great weather all year round. I loved bargaining in the souk and coming back with a new pair of new (very cheap) Adidas Superstars! With the collapse of Monarch in October I knew I had made the right decision to join Travel Counsellors. Thankfully I didn’t have any customers affected, but for those that did our support team at Head Office worked through the night to ensure that everyone who was, was sorted and re-booked before they even woke up to the news that day. This is why Travel Counsellors consistently wins industry awards for customer service and has one of the highest customer satisfaction ratings, not just in the travel industry, but across all companies in the UK. November November is when Travel Counsellors hold their annual conference in Manchester – packed full of learning and motivational speakers including the icing on the cake, Joanna Lumley! We had entertainment in the evenings from Vernon Kay, Rick Astley and Olly Murs. The best part of the conference though was getting to spend time with other Travel Counsellors, as working from home we don’t often get together face to face and let our hair down! At the end of November, I was back in Amsterdam for the CLIA River Cruise Conference, networking with suppliers and visiting Amadeus Silver III, Riviera Travel Emily Bronte, Scenic Jasper and spending a fabulous night aboard CrosiEurope Symphonie. The conference was followed by a trip on A-Rosa’s river cruise ship Flora, one of the few river cruise companies that encourages families to come on board. We spent 4 nights on the Rhine visiting Antwerp, Duisberg and ending in Cologne. December My last trip of the year was a trip to Mexico with AM Resorts, experiencing the “unlimited luxury” in their resorts, including Secrets The Vine, Breathless Riviera Cancun, Secrets Maroma Beach, Now Sapphire Riviera Cancun, Dreams Puerto Aventuras, Dreams Sands Cancun, Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita, Dreams Playa Mujeres, Secrets Playa Mujeres. On this trip I had a chance to swim with dolphins which was a major highlight, as well as a crazy pirate boat night in Cancun, tequila tasting and going to the Rock of Ages musical!

Lapland Packing & Travel Tips

26 November 2018

I’ve got lots of families booked and getting excited for their Lapland adventures this year – and early bookings in for 2019 too! A trip to Lapland is a magical experience and not a trip that families do over and over again, unlike holidays to sunshine destinations, so I’m asked a lot about what to pack. Here are my top tips to ensure that your trip goes smoothly… • It’s essential that you have adequate insurance place so that you are fully covered from the time of booking should anything happen to prevent you from travelling. It's important that you make sure that you are covered for husky sledding and snowmobiling. If you need insurance, you can click the link here to obtain a quote from Travel Counsellors insurance partner https://www.rushportal.co.uk/travelcounsellors/direct/?user=catherine.mackey@travelcounsellors.com • The flight time to Lapland is approximately 3.5 hours so take items to keep children entertained whilst travelling. I would also recommend taking energy boosting snacks with you to keep you going if your children will need to eat outside of the set meal times during your trip • First time visitors to Lapland can often underestimate how cold it will be, with average daytime temperatures of -6°C and -9°C in the evenings, but it can get much colder than this so do check the weather forecast before you go so that you are properly prepared, especially if you are travelling with very young children • Thermal suits and boots are provided by most suppliers on arrival in Lapland however you will still need to wrap up warm underneath this. Check with your supplier the size range of the thermal gear to ensure that it will be available in your size. If anyone is outside the range of this sizing, they will need to provide their own. If you take your own thermal gear, make sure it is good quality and suitable for Arctic conditions • I would recommend thermal base layers, woolly hats, scarves, waterproof gloves (and spares), warm woollen socks, fleeces/jumpers/hoodies • Disposable hand warmers are a great idea. Only take reusable ones if you know you are going to have access to facilities to be able to re-activate them • It will be dusky or dark most of the time you are there so torches/headtorches will come in handy • If you’re on a short break you’ll need to take European plug adaptors. If your family have lots of devices and appliances that will need plugging in take an extension lead as often hotel rooms don’t have enough sockets to operate everything at the same time! • Cameras and phones - extreme cold can adversely affect electronic devices, causing the batteries to discharge very quickly in the cold, so bring plenty of spare camera batteries and keep your phones warm in your pocket when you are not using them. Also, with the dusky light and darkness you may need a flash to get the best pictures. • Lastly don’t forget your passports and travel insurance documents! If you are getting ready for your trip to Lapland I hope you have a wonderful time and come back with amazing memories. If you are still to plan your family’s trip, get in touch if you are looking for late availability for 2018, or if you want to get organised for 2019, have your pick of the dates and pay with a low deposit!

Our Family Cruise from Liverpool

21 August 2018

I’ve just returned from a family cruise with Cruise & Maritime Voyages where we spent 12 nights sailing the ocean waves down to Gibraltar with plenty of food, drink, pool action, beach fun, jacuzzis, ice creams, family card games, entertainment and sightseeing to keep every member of the family happy. Getting to our ship was really easy as we just hopped on the train to Liverpool. Urmston, where we live, is on the direct train line to the port and it wasn’t long before we were all unpacked and settled into our home for the next 12 nights. Our outside cabins were much lighter and more spacious than we were expecting, with big windows and lots of room and storage space for all 5 of us, and tea & coffee making facilities too (which you don’t often get on cruise ships). We had the choice of a 5-course meal every night in the formal restaurant or buffet style in the lido restaurant depending on how dressed up we felt like getting each evening and the food in both was good with lots of options to please everyone. As we got to know our waiters better each night the children were ordering their favourite dishes ‘off menu’ which was no trouble at all for our friendly waiters. Cruise and Maritime Voyages most of the time are adult only cruises, but in the school holidays there are a few multi-generational itineraries available like this one. This made the crew on board miss their own children more than usual and be extra attentive to ours, which was lovely for the kids and crew alike. We disembarked at every port of call and had a different experience in each: - In Dublin we visited National Leprechaun Museum and fully leprechauned ourselves! - In La Coruna we spent a hot day on the beach and wave jumping - In Cadiz our youngest daughter enjoyed her "best birthday ever” – starting with breakfast in bed, a birthday mention in the cruise newsletter, a birthday card from comedian Jimmy Cricket, who was on our cruise, more fun on the beach, birthday ice creams - twice, our waiters delivering a candle topped cake and the whole restaurant singing happy birthday to her, and finished off with a screening of her favourite movie The Greatest Showman in the show lounge. Thankfully the next day was a sea day so we could all have a lie in! - In Gibraltar we took the cable car to the top of the rock and met the friendly (and some not so friendly) wild Barbary Apes - In Lisbon it was the hottest day of the year, with record temperatures reaching 42 degrees Celsius so all we could manage was the hop on hop off sightseeing bus, but even that was like sitting in the blast of a hairdryer on the top deck & after that we couldn’t wait to get back to the pools and cocktails on the ship to cool us down! - My favourite port of call was definitely Porto. Porto is very hilly so thankfully the temperatures were a little cooler the day we were there. We walked both sides of the city - Porto, the historical centre, and on the other side of the River Douro - Vila Novia de Gaia, where the port wine cellars are located. Both sides of the river were buzzing with activity, street stalls, entertainers and pavement restaurants, all overlooked by the colourful buildings and the Dom Luis I bridge. There’s so much going on in Porto and I’d love to explore this city more (minus kids) and it’s now firmly on my city break and/or river cruise to do list - Our last port of call was La Rochelle, which is a really pretty harbour town, filled with sailing boats and yachts. We took a leisurely stroll around the town, but you can also easily hire bikes here as it’s very flat. Other passengers on our cruise also recommended visiting the Aquarium, which we will have to save for next time. From our ship pool deck we had fabulous views over the Île de Ré and beaches of the Vendée and now we’re feeling a French camping holiday coming on so watch this space! As this ship doesn’t usually have children on board there are no booming sound systems, waterparks or kids’ clubs, but I felt that this made for a more relaxing family holiday for us as the ship was not overrun with too many children. Having said that there were plenty of activities on board for both children and adults that you could dip in an out of as you wished, but our children were more than happy to spend hours on end in the pools and Jacuzzis whilst we worked our way through the cocktail menu! We booked the Premium Package which included all drinks and gratuities so that we didn’t have to worry about unexpected costs at the end of the cruise, but even if we hadn’t most of the cocktails were only £3.50 each, and the girls enjoyed the non-alcoholic cocktails very much also! If you’d like to know more about our cruise or any other aspect of cruising, please get in touch. I’m a CLIA Cruise Ambassador so I’m always happy to talk cruising!

Kenya Wildlife Safari Adventure

16 July 2018

In June this year I set off on an adventure of a lifetime with my favourite supplier of small group adventure travel, Intrepid, to explore Kenya, meet the people of Kenya, and get up close and personal with the abundant wildlife! It was a wonderful experience in so many ways. On arrival in Nairobi we started off by visiting a village where Intrepid’s charity foundation are funding projects to help the villagers alleviate poverty by helping them set up small pig farms. We were warmly welcomed by traditional singing and dancing from the village ladies, who welcomed us into their homes, shared their life stories and taught us to cook traditional food. Our first night was spent in a hotel in Nairobi where we met our guide for the week, Mambo, who was engaging and knowledgeable and explained everything we needed to know about our week ahead. That evening we went into Nairobi where we tried a local meal in a typical restaurant where local Kenyan families would go to eat followed by a few Tuskers (Kenyan beer) in a local Kenyan pub. The following morning, we were up early to load up our overland truck for our drive north through the Great Rift Valley to Lake Nakuru National Park for our first night of camping. The truck would be our second home for the week where we stored our tents, bags, camp kitchen etc, and was filled with fun and laughter on our long overland drives. The sides of the truck were floor to ceiling glass enabling everyone to have a great view of Kenyan life as we made our way through the country. Each night we put up our own tents, helped with the cooking, washing up and cleaning the overland truck, which quickly created a great spirit and camaraderie amongst our group. There were several different nationalities on this trip, including lots of solo travellers who had never met each other before we arrived in Kenya, so joining in with camp life was a great way for the group to bond quickly. We managed to see three of the Big Five on our very first safari drive (rhino, leopard, buffalo) as well as numerous other wild animals including a hyena on the prowl, baboons, ostriches, zebras, warthogs, flamingos and my favourite – giraffes! A brilliant start to our wildlife adventure. The next day we did a local village walk in the morning learning about the lives of the people there and how they make use of their natural resources to farm and live sustainably. Then after packing up the truck we headed off to our next camp at Lake Naivasha where we did a boat safari and were incredibly close up to hippos yawning in the evening sun, huge pelicans, and eagles swooping down to catch their prey from the water. The following day I chose to take an optional excursion to Hells Gate National Park, which is home to some spectacular scenery and is the real-life movie set for the animated landscape used in the Lion King - including ‘Pride Rock’ and the Hells Gate Gorge, the spectacular canyon where the wildebeest stampede happens in the movie. The part of the trip I was most looking forward to though was at our next campsite where we spent time with the colourfully dressed Maasai people, visiting a local Maasai village, learning Maasai warrior survival skills and enjoying an evening singing and dancing round the campfire with them. This included a no question off limits Q&A which gave a fascinating insight into their culture and traditions. At the end of the evening a few of us slept round the campfire with the Maasai Warriors watching over us – one watching, one sleeping and one patrolling, taking it in turns all night to ensure we were kept safe from the wild animals! For the last couple of days of the trip we travelled deeper into the Maasai Mara Game Reserve and amongst the abundant wildlife we were so happy to see all of the Big Five – including getting very close up to a male sleeping lion (so close I even got a ‘lion selfie’), a female lion on the prowl, a leopard playing with its prey and making a kill, rhinos, elephant families walking in front of our truck, a cheetah, buffalos. We also saw zebras, giraffes, gazelles and so many more it would be impossible to list (even if I could remember all their names!) We reached as far as the border with Tanzania where the Mara becomes the Serengeti and the Mara River is brim full of hippos - and crocodiles! Lots of Kenyans are very poor but all are extremely welcoming, especially in the rural villages, and the wildlife is amazing of course. I would highly recommend a visit to Kenya on guided group tour like this as you are able to meet Kenyan people you would never get to meet otherwise; you have a guide with you to explain everything about the wildlife and the culture of the country from whom I learnt so much; and best of all you get to share the experience with wonderful new friends that you will make on your journey. For this particular trip the accommodation was basic, camping most nights, which I loved, but this same itinerary can be done in more comfort if that is what suits you best, and there are also special departures for families (minimum age 5), where the tour is tweaked to ensure that all ages of the group are catered for. Please contact me if you’d like to know more about the different type of trips you can do in Kenya, from guided group tours like this but also private tours, luxury lodges, beach stays and more!

Top 10 Reasons To Cruise From Liverpool

12 July 2018

Here are my top ten reasons to start your cruise from my local cruise port of Liverpool! 1. You don’t have to spend 5 hours+ on the train, or 7 hours+ on the coach down to Southampton. From anywhere in the North West you can leave home and be sunbathing by the pool (weather permitting of course!) and sipping on your first cocktail in under 2 hours. 2. If you don’t like flying or don’t want to put yourself through the airport hassle it is a stress-free alternative AND the best bit is that there’s no maximum luggage allowance. 3. The cruise ships berth right in the heart of the city, so you can spend the day before or after your cruise enjoying the sights of Liverpool. The city boasts more theatres, museums, galleries and listed buildings than any other UK city outside London - including The Beatles Story, Anglican & Catholic Cathedrals, Liverpool’s National Museums, The British Music Experience, St Georges Hall & Town Hall, the iconic Liver Buildings, and the waterfront dock area which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. 4. You can cruise from Liverpool to many varied destinations including Ireland, Scotland, the sunny Canary Islands, the dramatic Nordic Fjordlands, Iceland, and even cross the Atlantic to Canada. 5. You can cruise on Fred Olsen’s Black Watch from Liverpool – where you will enjoy a traditional cruise experience and experience Fred Olsen’s renowned customer service. It’s small size (800 passengers) means that she can sail where larger ships can’t and dock closer to the heart of destinations. 6. You can also sail on Cruise & Maritime’s Magellan from Liverpool – with its quintessentially British cruise experience and intimate and friendly on-board service 7. If you are new to cruise you can try a short mini-cruise from Liverpool (Fred Olsen do a 5-night round trip taster cruise to Scotland, visiting the Orkney Islands, the Isle of Mull, and Glasgow) 8. Families can cruise on the Magellan on a special multi-generational itinerary in the school summer holidays - visiting Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar or the Canary Islands and Madeira – I’m doing one with my family this summer! 9. Liverpool is a busy cruise port and ideally placed for cruise ship spotting from a bench in the sunshine on the banks of the Mersey. There are 63 different ships being welcomed by the city this year, including Celebrity Eclipse, Disney Magic, and Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth. 10. The number of cruise ships visiting Liverpool is about to increase even further with the 50-million-pound development of Liverpool’s Cruise Liner Terminal. Work is expected to start in October 2018 and will see a new 2 storey terminal built on a new deck mounted on piles further out in to the River Mersey. This will mean that the port will be able to welcome larger cruise ships to Liverpool. The new terminal is hoped to be open for business in 2020!

Sun, Sea & Surfing in Morocco

08 November 2017

With the cold weather starting to bite in the UK I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit Agadir, Morocco, at the end of October - where the weather is still sunny and warm and the beach resort of Agadir perfect for an alternative half term family getaway, some great value 5* luxury, or as a base for a more active holiday. I flew with Air Arabia who have just launched their twice weekly low cost direct route from Manchester to Agadir - increasing competition with other airlines and keeping prices competitive for travellers. The only downside, for me, of flying with Air Arabia is no alcohol allowed on board by law (although it’s only for 3.5 hours), so I didn’t get to have my traditional in-flight G&T! I stayed at the 5* Sofitel Royal Bay Resort, which is on Agadir’s 10k long strip of golden beach. The hotel is designed in a modern Moroccan style, and has its own private area on the beach. All the rooms in the hotel have a sea view, and there are also some villas with their own private pools. The atmosphere in the hotel is very relaxed, with a beautiful pool surrounded by a surplus of sunbeds, hammocks and cabanas even though the hotel was full. The Royal Bay Resort is next door to another 5* Sofitel Hotel, the Thalassa Sea & Spa, which is more contemporary in design, and boasts an award-winning thalassotherapy spa. The Thalassa Sea & Spa hotel has a modern restaurant and beach bar overlooking its own private beach area with laid back music playing while everyone chills out. Guests staying at either Sofitel hotel can walk between them and use the facilities at both. I also visited the 4* Iberostar Founty Beach, which is popular with families as you can choose to stay all-inclusive. The hotel is just about to close for a few months for a major renovation ready to welcome guests back next summer, with fully refurbished accommodation, and would be a great value family holiday option packaged together with low cost flights. A highlight of the trip for me was a delicious fine dining evening meal in the atmospheric and intimate restaurant at Riad Villa Blanche, a luxury boutique hotel, with only 28 rooms. I would recommend a meal here to anyone visiting Agadir – it would be perfect for a special occasion. Another highlight was visiting the 5* Paradis Plage Surf Yoga & Spa Resort, which is a short drive along the coast from Agadir, close to the surfers village of Taghazout. It’s a perfect spot for beginner surfers and the team also take daily guided surf trips to other beaches for the bigger waves. After a delicious lunch I had a surfing lesson – I was ecstatic to manage to actually stand up and catch some waves (even if only for a few seconds!) The surf lesson was followed by an hour of Yin yoga, the ultimate in relaxation yoga, which took place in a pavilion overlooking the beach with the sound of the waves in the background – bliss! I did not want to leave this place and hope to be back soon with my family so we can all learn to surf together – kids would love it! You can do as much or as little as you want here – surf, yoga, spa, fitness, or just relax and re-charge your batteries by the pool or private beach. My final highlight was a visit to the Agadir Sunday souk which was a wonderful experience - full of colourful fresh produce, aromatic spices, locals stocking up on supplies for the week ahead, and of course bargains galore! The souk was enormous and very busy but was clean and organised and felt very safe. If you want to return home with some traditional souvenirs it’s the place to purchase products made from Argan oil and leather goods (or alternatively fake football shirts and fake designer bags!). If you are looking for a new destination for your next beach holiday, Agadir has a long golden sandy beach, sunshine for 300 days of the year, and average temperatures of 35 degrees in July and 20 degrees in the winter, making it an ideal winter sun destination. It’s also in a great location for more active travellers who want to explore the Atlas Mountains. More photos of all the hotels & activities mentioned in this blog are on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/CatherineMackeyTC

Amazing Abu Dhabi

21 September 2017

I had a great few hours yesterday at Travel Counsellors HQ getting up to date on the latest developments happening in the largest of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi is home to one of the best airlines in the world, Etihad, the national airline of the UAE, who offer direct flights twice daily from Manchester and three times daily from Heathrow – with a brand-new space age airport opening in 2018. The flight time from the UK is around 7 hours. Abu Dhabi offers a diverse range of attractions for visitors, depending on whether you want luxury, family fun, relaxation, or adrenaline fuelled action. What makes it different from its neighbour Dubai is that it has lots more culture and heritage and a much longer coastline with miles and miles of stunning beaches within easy reach. Within Abu Dhabi city there are four main areas that you can chose to base yourself (but all are very close to each other and all are very close to the airport so no long transfers). Each area has amazing hotels packed with luxury facilities and lots great for families. 1. The Corniche - which has 8km of beach lined with waterfront hotels, including the Emirates Palace, one of the most expensive hotels ever built, which everyone should visit while there, even if it's just for afternoon tea! 2. The Grand Canal - home to luxury 4/5* hotels all with a view over the famous Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which is a must see and free to visit, with free guided tours every hour. The mosque has been voted Trip Advisor’s 2nd top landmark in the world (just behind Angkor Wat in Cambodia which would be hard to beat!) 3. Saadiyat Island - "Happiness Island" with its stunning long white sandy beaches, golf courses, and is soon to open an extension to the Paris Louvre, which will be housed in a giant dome surrounded by the sea (in November 2017) 4. Yas Island - the 'theme park' island and home to the famous Yas Marina F1 Circuit where you can book on driving experiences, Yas Waterworld, Ferrari World Theme Park where you can go on the fastest roller coaster in the world, and from June 2018 Warner Bros Studios will be ready to open too. With 3/4* hotels and a free shuttle bus around the whole island, this is the perfect location for family fun. In 2017 the most glamourous Grand Prix in the world takes place on 24-26 November, so there’s still time to book for this year. The event always ends in a huge free concert with performances from the biggest international music stars, which this year include DJ Calvin Harris and pop superstar Pink, with other major headliners still to be announced. The Yas Viceroy is the only 5* hotel on the Yas Island and the only hotel in the world to be located on a F1 race track! From your balcony you can watch all the action – it’s noisy though as rooms directly overlook the track, so maybe not for you if you want peace and quiet! The Yas Viceroy is a state of the art hotel, covered in thousands of LED lights which change colour throughout the night. It has 11 restaurants and lots of family activities, including a fabulous kids club and ‘Camp Viceroy’ where the hotel can set up tents in your room for your children to sleep in (yes, the rooms are that big!). In addition to the four main central areas, for cruise lovers Abu Dhabi has also recently opened a brand-new cruise port which Celebrity and MSC cruises so far are using as their home port, giving cruise passengers a chance to visit the destination, fall in love with it and then return for a longer holiday. Away from the city area Abu Dhabi is also covered in vast desert and sand dunes, which makes it perfect for a twin centre holiday too. You can stay in one of the desert hotels or camps, where you can see the stars perfectly at night away from any light pollution. If you want to know more about this fabulous destination, either for a short stopover for a longer holiday, or the ultimate F1 bucket list trip to experience the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix please get in touch.

A Sunny Day on Holland America’s Ms Zuiderdam

31 August 2017

In August I was invited to Liverpool to visit Holland America’s ship, Ms Zuiderdam, which is one of their Vista Class cruise ships, so called because of the amount of glass used around the ship which means the majority of the staterooms on board have ocean views or balconies. There are four ships in this class which are all named after points of the compass (in Dutch) – the others being Noordam, Oosterdam and Westerdam. The mid-sized Vista Class ships carry around 2,000 passengers. Holland America is an American owned cruise line, so named as it originally operated as a shipping, passenger, cargo and cruise line mainly between the Netherlands and North America. Today they cruise to over 400 ports of call all over the world. On this visit I was able to take along a potential customer with me, so I took my Mum! Once on board we enjoyed a coffee in the Lido Marketplace, which is the casual dining restaurant where breakfast and lunch is served every day, where we sat and planned out our route for our self-guided tour of the ship. Today was a beautifully sunny day for the Zuiderdam to arrive in port, really showing Liverpool off to visitors at its best, so the first thing we did was get out on deck to soak up the sunshine! The deck area was spacious and modern, the open-air pool flanked by two spa pools, and at one end of the ship private cabanas for hire. Then as we explored the inside of the ship there were quirky modern art pieces at every turn – from polar bears in the tranquil Lido Pool (which has a retractable roof), a huge Waterford Crystal seahorse in the atrium, and pieces by famous artists including Andy Warhol. Also inside, the Greenhouse Spa has lots of treatment rooms, some with views out over the ocean while you enjoy your massage or bubble bath – bliss! We weren’t able to look inside any staterooms properly today as the ship was mid-cruise and full, but we did manage to get a quick peek in some as we walked past them being cleaned! We were able to visit the Neptune Lounge though, which is a private lounge on the same deck as the Suites, only available to Suite passengers. The lounge has its own concierge, snacks available all day, comfy sofas, internet stations, newspapers, and a large flat screen TV – definitely worth the upgrade. We stopped off for a little rest in the cinema screening room, which had the most comfortable cinema seats ever – not sure I’d be able to stay awake for a whole movie if I sat in one of them for too long! After our tour we had a three course lunch in the main dining room – we got there early and chose a table by the wide windows for a wonderful view of Liverpool in the sunshine while we sampled the cuisine on board. To start, I had a delicious roasted Roma tomato soup with basil foam, followed by beef tenderloin with fondant potatoes, mushroom confit, port glaze (probably the most tender piece of beef I’ve ever eaten), and chocolate peanut tart with rum raisin ice cream. It's safe to say I was pretty full up after all that – three clean plates it was so delicious! After lunch we attended a short presentation about Holland America and the Ms Zuiderdam – which thankfully was very interesting otherwise we might have struggled to stay awake after our fabulous lunch! We learned about the enrichment programme on board, which is something that Holland America Line pride themselves on, providing lots of opportunities for passengers to learn on board – including a collaboration with BBC Earth, hands-on culinary experiences in “America’s Test Kitchen”, an expert destination programme where you can get a more in-depth knowledge of the destinations you are visiting, through to workshops to enhance your digital skills and make sure your photos taken on the cruise are tip top! Children’s activities too are all based on learning about the destinations they are visiting in conjunction with BBC Earth. I would recommend this cruise to my clients who want a classic luxury but casual experience, who want good food and service, and are really interested in the destinations they are visiting, as the enrichment programme will really help you to get the most out of each destination, and share the experience with like-minded travellers. After our visit the Zuiderdam was off to complete her European summer programme, then she heads over to Canada & New England for the autumn, and the Caribbean for the winter. If you’d like to know anything else about Holland America or any of their ships or itineraries please get in touch. And if you’d like to take a look you can see more photos from my day on Ms Zuiderdam on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/catherinemackeyTC

Fred Olsen Ship Visit - Boudicca

22 August 2017

I recently visited visit Fred Olsen’s ship Boudicca in Liverpool, where she sets off on many of her summer voyages from this handy port - perfect for North West based cruise lovers, or a great place from which to give ocean cruising a try without the hassle of a long flight or drive. Fred Olsen is a family owned cruise company with 4 ships that sail the world – Boudicca, Black Watch, Braemar and Balmoral. One of the main differences between Fred Olsen and other cruise companies is that their fleet is made up of small ships, which has the benefit of them being able to sail straight to the city centre of their ports of call (not having to transfer passengers from outside like the mega ships around today). For example with Fred Olsen you can sail along the Keil Canal as the ships can fit under the bridges, you can sail to the Seven Sisters Waterfall and enjoy scenic cruising in Norway, and you will dock in the centre of key ports of call like St Petersburg, Barcelona, Seville, where on larger ships you would have to get bussed in from outside the city. On today's visit me and my fellow guests were greeted by a tea and biscuits served from silver trays by smiling waiters wearing white gloves, before taking a tour of the ship. We viewed various room types and I would recommend as a minimum to select a Superior Ocean view or upwards to get maximum light into your cabin with the larger windows. The Suites were lovely too - modern and spacious for a special treat. There are also several very spacious wheelchair adapted rooms available which was great to see. As well as the usual cruise ship facilities – bars, spa, salon, pool - the ship also has a bridge room which is very popular with passengers and bridge clubs often join the cruise to make use of this, but everyone can join in. There is also a luxury chocolatier on board where you can choose just one special chocolate (for 65p) to satisfy your sweet tooth, or hand select a whole box! Excursions are provided but optional and passengers are provided with independent guides in their cabins at each destination - so the choice is yours whether to go on a shore excursion or do your own thing, which lots of people prefer to do. Before I disembarked I was delighted to be treated to the afternoon tea that is available to passengers on board for only £7.95 per person. I tried the China Rose Petal Leaf Tea which was delicious and a perfect accompaniment to all the tasty scones and cakes that were served. On Fred Olsen cruises the all-inclusive drinks package is only £15 per person per night, and if you don’t want all-inclusive the drinks prices on board are the same or less than UK pub prices. The ship I visited, Boudicca, currently sails out of Liverpool and she will soon be starting to sail from some more exotic locations. This winter she will be setting off from Liverpool on a cruise to Mauritius and the Indian Ocean – one of the most beautiful places on earth - and she has more exotic itineraries planned for the years ahead! I would recommend Fred Olsen Cruises to travellers who like adventure and want easy access to ports of call, but with a traditional on-board cruise experience combined with the more intimate service levels you can expect from a smaller ship. I loved the fact that you could stand in the middle of the ship and see out of the windows on both sides – not something you can always do on a large ship unless you are on the top deck. Fred Olsen also do lots of cruises to incorporate major worldwide events – have you ever wanted to go to the Monaco Grand Prix or the Rio Carnival? You can sail right into the heart of the action on a Fred Olsen cruise! Groups are also welcome on Fred Olsen – if you’re part of U3A, WI, National Trust, a Choir, or any other social or special interest group, you can get together and share quality time and indulge your passion on a Fred Olsen cruise. And on the flip side there are often great deals for solo passengers too. So do get in touch with me if you’d like more information about Fred Olsen Cruises. More photos of the ship on my Facebook page - www.facebook.com/catherinemackeyTC

Cruise & Maritime Ms Magellan Ship Visit

21 July 2017

This week I’ve been lucky to have the opportunity to visit the Ms Magellan ship while she was docked in Liverpool prior to departure on an 11-night voyage to Spain, Portugal, France and Gibraltar. The Ms Magellan and sister ship the Marco Polo often sail from Liverpool to these and various other destinations including Canada, Ireland, Fjordland, Iceland, the Scottish Isles and the British Isles. Liverpool Port is really easy to find and parking is easy too and only a short walk across the road to the cruise terminal. The famous Liver Buildings look down over the terminal and would be a welcoming familiar sight on return to port at the end of your cruise. Boarding the ship and going through security at cruise terminals is a straightforward and simple experience - so much so that you might be so busy looking at the ship you are excited to board that you might not even notice it happening (a world of difference from airport security!). On board the ship we were welcomed into the Captain’s Bar for tea and coffee before beginning a tour of the ship, where we started off on deck 11 where the suites are located. The suites are all finished to a high standard and have a contemporary design. The rooms were being set up ready for embarkation with tasty looking welcome canapés. Each suite has its own lounge area with TV, balcony, TV’s at the end of the bed, tea and coffee making facilities and walk in wardrobe. Lovely spacious accommodation. Next we explored the facilities on board the ship, which included a state of the art gym, spa (very reasonable prices in Thai styled surroundings), small casino, pub, lounge bars, a very popular card and bridge room, internet area with desktop computers and a full sized auditorium for the nightly shows. The various swimming pools, plunge pools ad jacuzzis looked like they would be lovely on the spacious deck area once the ship gets closer to the Med (but not so much today on a cool grey day in Liverpool!) We also had a tour of the standard cabins, inside and outside facing, including some fully accessible larger cabins to accommodate wheelchairs. All simple but comfortable and able to be configured for double, twin or single passengers. Solo passengers only pay 25% single supplement for a twin room. Also there’s a singles programme of events on board for solo passengers who want to meet like-minded travellers and make new friends. The catering on board was what impressed me the most. The lunch was being laid out for passengers boarding the ship, with a delicious salad bar where everything looked crisp, tasty and fresh. The ship is full-board, but who wouldn’t want to take advantage of the £17 a day all-inclusive drinks package! That’s amazing value for money, and even if you didn’t want to upgrade to that drinks on board are less than land prices, which is very unusual for a cruise ship. Prices for cocktails start at only £3.50 – happy days! The 2 main restaurants serve a stunning 5-course menu every evening. I know the food is stunning as we were served the 5-course meal for lunch in the Kensington Restaurant that the passengers were going to be having that evening. The menu was mouthwatering and hard to know what to choose, but after the appetizer and the starter I opted for the Pan-Fried Duck Breast and the Raspberry Crème Brulée, which left me wanting a little nap in one of the suites afterwards, but sadly after lunch we had to disembark to make way for the paying passengers! I would not hesitate to recommend this ship to my customers who are new to cruise who would like to give it a try for an extremely good value first time. It’s small/medium sized ship and would appeal to those who want to relax and take things easy, but there is a programme of activities for those who want to get involved in ship life too. Children are not generally allowed on board apart from special multi-generational sailings where the programme of activities is changed to incorporate children, but there are no specific areas for children on the ship (kids’ clubs etc.) The staff on board are very friendly and helpful and serve with style and a smile. The beauty of this particular cruise also lies in the fact that it sails from Liverpool (and other UK regional ports), so there’s no airport stress, and you can pretty much park up and get on, and no suitcase weight limits either. It would also be great for groups travelling together who want to spend a few days enjoying each other’s company whilst seeing a bit of the world at the same time (special discounts are available for groups). So do get in touch with me if you’d like more information about Cruise & Maritime Voyages. More photos of the ship on my Facebook page - www.facebook.com/catherinemackeyTC

Girls' Night Away in Historic Chester

04 April 2017

It’s hard to organise a group of busy mums for a night away, so this trip has been a long time coming. Finally my friends and I managed to block out a weekend in our diaries for a girls-only night away in Chester. We picked the perfect weekend for it as the weather was lovely for March so we were able to stroll between shops, bars, along the walls, and along the river bank during our short time away from our usually action-packed weekends full of ferrying the kids all over the place. We picked Chester, having been there before for various hen weekends and special birthday celebrations in the past. It’s only an hour on the train from Manchester so easy and cheap for us to get to. The train journey was filled with chatter, excitement and prosecco, and we were certainly not the only group of ladies on the train with the same ideas in mind! We stayed in the Macdonald New Blossoms hotel, where we’ve all stayed before, as it is about as central as you can get to the shops, restaurants and bars. It's perfectly located for a short trip to Chester. Our rooms were spacious, not overly luxurious, but nice enough for what we needed. The hotel itself is not grand from the outside but is on the inside, with a very traditional 4* feel and a wide staircase running through the centre of the hotel up to the rooms (a small lift is also available). Our room rate included bar vouchers so we enjoyed a couple of drinks during happy hour before heading out for the evening. We enjoyed an excellent dinner at Oddfellows, a quirky boutique hotel, where the food and wine went down very well with everyone, especially the rump of lamb which more than one of us would highly recommend. Excellent service and atmosphere too, with a lively bar for post dinner drinks. The dining room in the MacDonald Hotel had been renovated since last time we were there and is very light, spacious, airy and modern but still blends well with the rest of the hotel. The hotel is also very close to the river, so after a great full breakfast (The Full Macdonald!), we were able to check out and go for a lovely Sunday morning stroll in the sunshine to blow away the cobwebs before collecting our bags and heading home. On the train journey home the conversation was mostly about where and when we should go next….so watch this space!

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Catherine is excellent! We have just come back from amazing holiday today that she researched and booked for us. Awesome lady and the holiday couldn't of gone better. Some how Catherine got us a free room upgrade and a free lounge with drinks at the airport, what a welcome surprise! Don't hesitate to call her, stop reviewing trip advisor and let her do it all for you. Thanks Catherine, see you next year.

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Catherine has been lovely with my 83 year old mum and I from our first point of contact. She is friendly, knowledgeable and has been prompt in responding to all our questions and requests. We are looking forward to our holiday in October - the itinerary that Catherine has provided in response to our needs looks absolutely amazing and we can't wait! We have no hesitation in recommending Catherine to our family & friends - or anyone else who wants a first class service.

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We used Catherine to book our summer holiday next year (very organised!) We wanted to include some of Euro Disney and she was very knowledgeable, extremely helpful, polite and prompt (quotes provided when she promised - in fact earlier). I have been recommending her a lot and one of my friends has already contacted her - it’s only been a week!

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Catherine is fantastic at what she does. She is attentive, honest and reliable, she really builds the holiday that you think is only in your dreams. Her customer service skills stand out from all the holiday companies that I have booked holidays with historically. She really does go above and beyond to provide you with what you want. Thank you Catherine

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Catherine has arranged my last three family holidays and all have been great and exactly what I expected. She was very thorough in finding the perfect destinations and hotels for me and her attention to detail sets her apart. Would certainly recommend Catherine to anyone looking for a holiday and wanting someone to take all the hassle out of it.

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At the end of every year it's natural to look back at the highlights and for us one of the biggest highlights was getting the chance to visit Australia. Catherine was fantastic throughout the whole process from start to finish in booking flights, hotels, car hire and even tickets to the Philips Island Penguin Parade! The pleasure of not having to deal with boarding passes, as Catherine (and her colleague Barbara when Catherine was off on another fact-finding trip!) organised those for us as well, meant we could relax and enjoy the holiday to the max. As my wife is in a wheelchair we have quite exacting requirements for accessible rooms and again Catherine came up trumps especially when one of our hotels didn't provide enough information and we asked her to find an alternative the week before we were due to fly! If you are looking for a bespoke, friendly holiday booking service then I would look no further than Catherine.

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Catherine has been great finding our next holiday. Catherine provided alternatives at short notice which was also appreciated very much. Catherine has kept us well informed throughout the process which also helps take the stress out of finding a holiday. Thanks a million.

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Catherine has been fantastic from start to finish. She has made herself available to answer any queries we had and has put together the perfect itinerary for our school trip to Barcelona. I would definitely recommend Catherine to others and I would like to thank her for all of her hard work!

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Thank you for all your help Catherine. We are having a great time and would recommend anyone to use you when planning a holiday. We are looking forward to the cruise you have planned for us next year.

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Catherine has been personable, friendly and extremely helpful throughout the booking process. We can’t wait for our holiday!

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Catherine is very friendly, efficient and patient. Catherine found exactly what I was looking for!

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Catherine is quick and efficient and has delivered every time I have asked her to look for a family holiday. Excellent service.

Sent by Andy King

Excellent service as always from Catherine Mackey

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Catherine is great, I just ring her with what I want and she just sorts it all out for me, so easy really is the best way to get your holidays sorted as I hate sorting through all the internet sites. Catherine even checked us in and filled out our luggage tags! Great service all the way through. Catherine has not just booked abroad holidays she has also sorted a manor house out for family weekend away too, thanks so much I’ll be in touch with my next request soon thanks.

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Above and beyond experience. Thank you for all your help.

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Second time we have booked our holiday with Catherine. Great service and stress-free! Would highly recommend booking with Catherine.

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Excellent service, fast, friendly and efficient. Catherine has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of many destinations and types of holidays & is a true travel expert. Her advice was invaluable and the personal service was excellent. I would definitely book a holiday in the future, in fact she's the only person I would speak to when booking a future holiday.

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Exceptional service - quick and very efficient.

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Catherine has been brilliant. Very patient, flexible and listened very well to our requests. Delighted with the package she has put together. Many thanks.

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Delighted with all of Catherine’s holiday recommendations and the speed with which she turned my vague wish-list into a much better reality! I was really struggling to sort out my Christmas presents in time and Catherine saved the day. Thanks a million.

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Catherine was so lovely, on the ball with everything. I felt like I had known her for ages and she made my job a far easier one, I will definitely be using her again and recommending to my family and friends.

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Catherine did an excellent job searching out the right Lapland trip for us. Very fast and efficient service indeed. Thanks Catherine

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Amazing service answered all questions and found us just what we wanted

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A very attentive and friendly Travel Counsellor who responded very efficiently to all our queries & requests

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Very personal and tailored service - more than I anticipated which is great. Even down to the hand written luggage tag. Perfect! Thanks Catherine.

Sent by Allen Reid

Great service and listens to what you say about your trip

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Catherine worked very hard to find the right holiday for our big family celebration this year. The right location for 10 people ranging from age 12 to 75 was no easy feat. Would happily recommend and use Catherine's services again.

Sent by Struan Malcolm

Excellent service thank you! Excited about the holiday :-)

Sent by Alex Higgins

Great service, quick responses and lots of enthusiasm and information!

Sent by Andy King

Excellent service from Catherine Mackey from start to finish - highly recommended!

Sent by Sarah Wilde

Catherine was fab. She's come up with a real bargain for our girls' weekend away in Newcastle. The booking process was easy too.

Sent by C Watson

Booking my holiday with Catherine was easy. She took care of every little detail such as checking me in for my flights. She was courteous and professional throughout and I will definitely be booking with Catherine again.

Sent by Marie Beckley

A stress free way to book a holiday! I look forward to booking more holidays with Catherine in the future!

Sent by Adeline Bibby

You were very patient, and came up with some great options. Ours wasn't an easy search I know, which is why I've given up doing it myself! Thank you for finding a superb solution. We're so looking forward to our holiday thanks to you!!