Med cruise all aboard
As our taxi rounded a corner on the road from Rome to the port of Citivecchia, the massive Independence of the Seas from the Royal Caribbean line loomed into view and we could only gasp. Glinting ivory white against the blue sky, this is what you call a ship. At 160,000 tonnes (more than twice the QE2), measuring over 1100 feet (imagine the tallest building in Canary Wharf and then some!) this is one impressive floating hotel.
Med cruise early birds
The ship sails at dusk and theres something magical about travelling through the night and docking in a new port early next day. (Dont panic about sea legs, on a ship this size you barely feel it moving.) Set your alarm to experience a romantic sunrise at sea just you, him and the occasional early-bird deck jogger. On this trip, however, we also wanted some history with our hand-holding, so first trip ashore was Naples and the iconic Pompeii.
Med cruise – Pompeii
One massive volcanic explosion 2000 years ago and the city of Pompeii was frozen in time. Breathtaking, surreal and with a surprising amount to see, this is history for people who dont normally do history. Our guide may have walked the cobbles a hundred times but he was a master of his subject. Heres the temple of love with its original frescos, he gushed, this was the slave market, there the forum and here, ahem
was the local bordello (still decorated with the graffiti and explicit drawings that once advertised its services to off-duty centurions!).
Med cruise Sorrento
Driving south from Pompeii and Mount Vesuvias, our coach hugged the perilously steep coastline around the Bay of Naples to Sorrento (if youre a bit iffy about steep drops and twisting roads, keep your eyes firmly closed). We kept ours open, though, because theres something dreamlike about the sunbleached houses clinging higgledy-piggledy to the cliffs with their balconies bursting with colourful pots and vines.
Med cruise market time
Its barely springtime but this corner of the world is already jumper-off hot and the mountainside is carpeted with lush olive groves and lemon trees. In fact lemons seem to be the motif in Sorrento, not least in the guise of local speciality limoncello liqueur. Naturally we tried some it would be rude not to and strolled around the shady lanes picking up the sort of amazing sun-dried tomatoes youd never find at the supermarket.
Med cruise fine dining
Menus on board ship are equally impressive (the catering budget runs to millions of dollars a month, according to the executive chef) and meals in the main dining rooms are included in the cruise price. Wine is extra but no more expensive than a restaurant at home. We averaged $17 dollars a bottle. You get three good, varied choices for each course and keep the same table throughout the cruise, although you can ring the changes at the Chops Grille or the Portofino restaurant (pictured) at additional cost if you prefer to eat a deux.
Med cruise Sardinia
Wed joined the ship at Rome to sample a few days of the 18-night Med cruise (it had already docked at Lisbon, Barcelona, Palma and Livorno) and we managed to grab another all-ashore to Sardinia. But while the Roman ruins at Nora were older than Pompeii, they were less evocative. And although an artisan lunch at a vineyard to watch cheese being made was rustic and fun, Cagliari, our next stop, was a disappointment. The islands capital has an impressive history with cathedral and museums galore, but not, alas, on a Sunday when most things are closed.
Med cruise Non-stop entertainment
Cruising has moved on from its bow-tie-and- cocktails image Independence of the Seas is the kind of cruise youll know from the TV ads with skating displays in its own ice rink and the Flowrider ® surfing experience. Theres pretty much something for everyone, and while nightly entertainment in the theatre is clearly pitched at the grey pound, the casino stays open into the small hours if youre more James Bond than James Blunt.
Med cruise time for bed
Space is at a premium so accommodation is compact but comfy and clean (and, frankly, theres not much point in hitting the high seas if you dont book a room with a balcony). The palatial Presidential Suite has four bedrooms and bathrooms, plus a massive terrace with a bar and Jacuzzi. Couples have been known to book it for themselves and their nearest and dearest, spill out at Livorno for a cute church wedding, then pile back on board to party their way home to Southampton. Its a thought
Med cruise kick back and relax
Royal Caribbean packs plenty into the itinerary if you want it quizzes, fitness workouts, trips ashore, pub guitarists but there are no annoying Bluecoat-style reps pressing you into anything you dont want to do. If you prefer to lounge in the deck Jacuzzi that juts out over the ocean, drink in the views and do diddly, thats fine too.
Med cruise the details
18-night Ultimate Mediterranean cruise-only from £1019pp (based on two sharing an inside cabin) departing Southampton and calling at Lisbon, Palma de Mallorca, Barcelona, Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome), Naples/Capri, Cagliari, Gibraltar and Cadiz before returning to Southampton. Meals and entertainment onboard and all taxes/fees included. Price based on 29 November 2011 departure.
Royal Caribbean also run shorter cruises, some just three days long to France, great for a hen weekend. Details at Royal Caribbean or 0844 493 2061.