LISA SALMON finds her sea legs as she scoops up her nearest and dearest and whisks them away on a family friendly cruise in the beautiful Mediterranean Sea
A SHOOTING star arced across the Mediterranean night sky as I relaxed on the cruise ship balcony.
“This is the life,” I thought, as I watched it disappear into the darkness over the sea.
The magical sight lasted only a few seconds, but will remain in my memory for the rest of my life – as will many of the impressive, albeit rather less ethereal, experiences I enjoyed on a week-long Mediterranean Renaissance cruise aboard Thomson Destiny.
The star faced some stiff competition in the following days, from the majestic sights of Rome’s Colosseum and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to the ornate beauty of the Trevi Fountain, and simply the memory of playing in the waves of Corsica’s crystal clear sea with my children.
And, while neither ethereal nor majestic, our dinner waiters’ guitar playing, singing and magic tricks also had to be seen to be believed. They captured the essential charm of the Destiny, which despite being slightly less grand than some of the bigger cruise ships, has a relaxed, fun atmosphere, appreciated by any age group.
If you enjoy a more informal approach to cruising, while retaining traditional cruise formalities like the Captain’s cocktail party and dinner sittings, this ocean escape could indeed be your destiny.
Casual cruisers, meanwhile, can opt for the ship’s 24-hour buffet restaurant.
Having two young children, we initially thought we’d go for the more flexible dining option, but after trying a first sitting meal – supposedly as a one-off – we were hooked.
In traditional cruise style, you choose a restaurant sitting and always have the same table and waiters. This can mean sharing with the same passengers, although we happened to have a table to ourselves.
The five course meal was consistently good – and as I’m vegetarian that’s high praise indeed. My husband enjoyed his meals just as much, while the kids relished the burgers, pizza and chicken nuggets from the children’s menu.
The fact that the kids enjoyed dinner so much made life a lot easier for us, as did the ship’s Kidzone, which offered one or two supervised play or activity sessions a day, giving us some very welcome child-free time. One morning, the kids were even collected by staff for breakfast, giving us a rare lie-in.
While we didn’t see much of the evening entertainment, as it started after the children’s bedtime, there was plenty on during the day, ranging from live bands by the pool, to madcap It’s A Knockout-style games.
But despite there always being something going on, I was able to sneak away for a few hours to enjoy a pampering session at Destiny’s Oceans Spa.
A facial, plus a super-relaxing scalp and back massage, was followed by a hair wash and blow-dry. I briefly felt like one of the glam French Riviera ladies – until about 15 minutes later, when I plunged into the swimming pool with the boys. The cruise started in Palma, Majorca, but our first port of call was Villefranche, a rather glitzy spot on the glamorous French Riviera.
It’s a lovely little town, with an equally lovely beach next to the port that the kids thoroughly enjoyed. We could have chosen to visit the glitz and glamour of Nice or the millionaire’s paradise of Monte Carlo, but thought the little ones would appreciate the beach a lot more than rows of casinos and expensive yachts.
After the Riviera it was off to Livorno, Italy, where we jumped into a taxi to take us to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
We opted for a taxi thinking the tour would be too long for the boys. We had forgotten, however, that Italian taxi drivers rattle up bills faster than British plumbers and the ride ended up costing an astronomical 120 Euros (£110)!
Pisa was worth seeing, mainly for the tower, of course, which was the subject of much debate with my eldest son. He wasn’t at all convinced that it was leaning.
The next day of our whistlestop European trip took us to Rome, where we joined a tour of all the historic landmarks; the awe-inspiring Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.
The Eternal City stunned us with its mix of ancient and modern – but keeping an eye on the kids meant we didn’t have enough time to dwell on facts, such as standing beside the very spot where Julius Caesar was cremated.
After such a long, history-packed tour, lazing on a beach beside a crystal clear sea in Corsica, within sight of the ship, was just what the doctor ordered the next day.
Last stop before returning to Palma was Palamos, a small Spanish fishing village with a gorgeous beach. No prizes for guessing what we headed for..
The cruise gave us a good mix of sightseeing and relaxation, and was the perfect holiday to get a flavour of several different countries.
If only I’d wished on that shooting star that we could do it all again next year.
l BEST FOR: Over 35s who want a bit of fun, and to see Europe quickly.
l TIME TO GO: Autumn, when it’s slightly cooler and crowds are smaller.
l DON’T MISS: The restaurant waiters’ entertaining antics.
l NEED TO KNOW: Many beaches and pretty towns are within walking distance of ports.
l DON’T FORGET: Cash to exchange money on the ship – they won’t take cards to buy currency.
l Lisa Salmon was a guest of Thomson Cruises which offers a seven night Mediterranean Renaissance cruise on Thomson Destiny in summer 2011 from £2,136 for a family of four, including return flights ex-Gatwick in May and ship transfers.
l Regional departures include Manchester (£2,316); Glasgow (£2,296); Birmingham (£2,336); Bournemouth (£2,136) and Doncaster Sheffield (£2,336). Thomson Cruises reservations: 0871 231 3253 and www.thomson.co.uk/cruise.