herald

Sunday 19 August 2018

Med cruising has it all

A family holiday with entertainment and activities easily at hand? A mediterranean cruise has it all

Still haven't decided where to holiday this year? Want somewhere sunny, reasonably upmarket, good food, entertainment, nightlife and lots to see and do for you and the children?

I've the answer and it doesn't have to be that expensive.

The answer -- go on a cruise. It ticks all the boxes and, once you are onboard, you will ask why you never thought of it before. You'll also realise why more and more Irish are raving about the experience.

A decade ago, few Irish holidaymakers took a cruise and the market was still depicted as something for the rich and elderly. But at the turn of the millennium the tide was turning. Royal Caribbean launched its first megaship, Voyager of the Seas, attracting a new and younger market to the high seas.

I've travelled on Voyager in the Caribbean, and jumped at the chance to try out its sister ship, Navigator of the Seas, in the Mediterranean.

Such is the pace of change in the market, she's already been overtaken in size by the company's Freedom and Oasis class ships -- five vessels in all.

Luxury

Not that Navigator is small — it can take 3,114 passengers (plus crew), served in total luxury.

The centrepiece of the ship is the Royal Promenade, a sort of Main Street USA, that's more than 350-feet long and filled with bars, eateries, shopping and entertainment options.

It's home to the first-ever wine bar at sea, Vintages, and you and your partner can enjoy a romantic dance and cocktail in the trendy Boleros lounge.

If you fancy taking in a show, no bother. The Metropolis Theatre puts on Broadway-style shows and can hold 1,350 in the audience, while you can be the star of the show yourself on the karaoke stage, and the Dungeon nightclub is the hottest place for late-night partying.

Needing to sweat away the previous night's over-indulgence, I headed for the Tuscany-themed and adults-only Solarium. Featuring a pool, two hot tubs, a bar and plenty of comfy Jacuzzis, andchaises-longues facing the sea, it's one of the quietest, and best, chill out spots onboard.

If you're more the outdoors type, there's a jogging track, and there's nothing more exhilarating than jogging past the south of France or the coast of Italy, while team sports include basketball and mini-golf. And, no kidding, you can go rock-climbing on the 200-foot wall, or even try ice-skating (even in the sunny Med) in Studio B.

While this might sound like a lot of adult-only fun, that's not the case. Children are well taken care of in the Ocean Adventure club, which is broken up into different age groups, from toddlers to teens. The youngest try fun science experiments or arts and crafts, while discos are laid on for hard-to-please teenagers, which is a great way of making them mingle.

Sunsets

The basic staterooms are interior ones (with very keen prices), but if you can afford it, opt for a balcony room, complete with table and chairs, for watching the sunsets on the seas.

You could happily spend a week onboard, without ever leaving a port, but there's a world to discover with Royal Caribbean.

Tastes vary, but it's hard to beat southern Europe for variety and culture. I set off from the major sea port of Civitavecchia, a non-descript sort of place that has one major thing going for it: it's the gateway to Rome.

If you have the time, a day or two in the Eternal City will pay dividends, but there's something blissful about leaving behind the occasional madness and frenzy of the Italian

Cagliari, in Sardinia, was a pleasant surprise, as I still think of it as the place where we played England in Italia 90. But the Roman amphitheatre -- where concerts are still held -- and the medieval castle are must-sees, while shoes and leather goods are worth buying in the Castello district.

If culture's not your thing, hit the beach. The local Poetto beach is one of the longest in Italy and draws in crowds each summer.

Palma is pricey, but it's a world away from its neighbouring bucket and spade resort in Majorca. The cathedral is one of the Gothic wonders of the world, and a handy respite from the fierce summer heat.

A centre for leather goods, Palma’s a shopper’s paradise, but watch the wallet — it can be pricier than you’d reckon. But there’s a lot to be said for just sitting down with a cafe con leche in the tiny medieval quarter and living life at a slower pace.

Gaudi

Barcelona, anything but slow, is another port of call. The ship is only a halfhour stroll from the heart of the Ramblas and the beautiful Barri Gotic.

Venture to the top of the street and you reach Placa de Catalunya, from where you can catch tours around the city and witness the architectural gems of Gaudi’s unfinished cathedral or the modern cathedral that is the Camp Nou stadium.

Seeing so many Mediterranean cities in a year, let alone a week, would cost an arm and a leg. So, if you want a smorgasboard of delights, and a new adventure each day, cruising might just be for you.

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