Travel in style on a Mediterranean Island Cruise

Posted on: 11 March 2010 by Mark O'haire

Stop off in France, Italy, Greece and Turkey on a Mediterranean Island Cruise.

After stopping via ports in France, Italy, Greece and Turkey, catching glimpses of must-see cities such as Rome, Nice and Naples, and seeing the Pope in St Peter's Square, we often wondered what might happen next on our Mediterranean cruise.

Sailing from Barcelona to the Greek islands on the Brilliance of The Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean International, we passengers were in for more surprises and beautiful sights.

Though the sun occasionally gave way to high winds in the Aegean, with cloud and a little rain, two weeks at sea took us to our farthest landing at Kusadasi in Turkey, gateway to Ephesus - once the second largest city of the Roman Empire and now rising again as one of the world's great city ruins.

The port town itself was a pleasant place, happy people, happy shopkeepers and samples of Turkish Delight, magnificent carpets, leather goods, gold and diamonds.

Naples, of course, was the gateway to the historic gems of Pompeii and Herculaneum, buried by erupting Vesuvius in AD 79. You could also tour Sorrento and the Amalfi coast on that day, or simply settle for lunch on the Isle of Capri.

There were occasional warnings about crime in big cities like Rome and Naples, with one urging us to watch for a woman who might throw her baby at us.

Apparently, it takes a strong nerve not to catch it, like Andrew Strauss in the England slips. Then, the catcher is swamped by the mother and several others, all probing for a wallet, a phone and valuables while your hands are occupied elsewhere.

The advice is to beware situations which create a risk, like quiet streets, or heaving crowds where wandering hands go unnoticed.

You pay extra for the trips (in US dollars on RCCL ships) and some are expensive. There are shorter, cheaper trips but if you have flown from the US or Australia to join the cruise, the equivalent of £135 for a day in Rome with a 10-hour guided tour might seem too good to miss.

After a two-hour coach drive, we tackled the Eternal City on a shorter £60 package, with half a day to explore on our own.

We toured the Colosseum, the Forum, St Peter's Basilica and chucked a hopeful Euro or two into the Trevi Fountain.

Overall, it is quite comforting knowing that after a hard day's sightseeing you will be back to the safety of the ship, where food, and more food awaits.

We carried 2,100 passengers from 47 countries, around two thirds of them were Americans, entranced by both the old and the new on this side of the Atlantic. There were around 250 Canadians, with Brits as the third largest group (120).

In Barcelona, the transfer from airport to ship was slick and easy, and the Brilliance of the Seas offered all we could expect, and more. Some passengers treated themselves to a short break in Barcelona before we sailed.

On board, meal times are as flexible as they can make them. Either fixed-time dining in two sittings in the swish Minstrel Restaurant, where you mostly share a table for ten, or you could opt for anytime dining by arrangement.

It didn't end there. There was also a serve yourself eating area - the Windjammer - which was adequate, if a bit like a canteen at times.

In the two speciality restaurants, the Chops Grill boasted 'the best steak on the high seas' while the Portofino served Italian food. Both charged about £12 extra per person.

Other snack stations such as the Solarium Cafe and Seaview Cafe littered the relaxing areas on the ship and, perhaps with Americans in mind, a 24-hour coffee station bubbled away.

Some ships get rather formal at night but not this one. The dining dress guidance split down to three different types of attire: Casual nights of sundresses, slacks and blouses for women, polo shirts and trousers for men; smart casual of dresses and jackets and formal nights with suits, ties; and 'monkey suits' suggested for men, cocktail dresses for women.

On our formal nights, dinner jackets were rare, with most opting for suits or jackets. Some took no notice at all.

Some love to wheel out the finery at sea for a picture with the captain, but it is no problem if you prefer the half-way house, and the only attire banned from the dining room at night are shorts, vests and football shirts.

All cabins - or staterooms as cruise lines call them these days - have a TV and a hairdryer, and I couldn't fault the space or the cabin service. The laundry does daily washing or dry cleaning for a small charge.

Although ship-to-shore calls from the cabin cost about £5 a minute, throughout the cruise you can make and receive calls and text message on mobiles.

Food and entertainment - superb shows at two sittings every night in their Pacific Theatre and various bar combos around the ship - are included in the price, though wine, alcoholic drinks and speciality restaurants cost extra.

We saw something of so many places in 12 days that would have cost much more by going independently, and a cocoon of cruise ship comfort and safety was a good way of doing it.

Tossing my Euro in the Trevi Fountain donation, I spotted the romantic legend: "Whoever tosses in a coin will one day return to Rome".

Let's hope the Brilliance of the Seas takes me there again one day.

By David Mastin

Key facts

  • Best for: Reaching parts that others don't.
  • Time to go: Summer months.
  • Don't miss: Ruins of Ephesus in Turkey.
  • Need to know: Pickpockets abound in big cities.
  • Don't forget: Sun cream - you easily burn on deck at sea.

Travel facts

David Mastin was a guest of Royal Caribbean International (RCCL) which offers 12 nights on Brilliance of the Seas in summer 2010 from £1,372, incl flights ex-Heathrow to Barcelona and transfers. Ex-Manchester from £1,307, ex-Glasgow from £1,422. Prices based on early May departures.

August prices are £1,398, Manchester £1,398, Glasgow £1,488. Package is available until November.

RCCL reservations: 0844 493 2061 and www.royalcaribbean.co.uk

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