Mediterranean Cruise: A Voyage For All The Family?
It took us a few days to find our sea legs on our first family cruise. The 'Eureka!' moment came on the second evening of our sailing on P&O Cruises’ Ventura. The first of the voyage’s two black-tie nights was in full swing and we had booked ourselves and our three-year-old twin daughters into The White Room, bad-boy chef Marco Pierre White’s superlative on-board restaurant.
We arrived in our finery: me in a suit and bow tie, my wife, Laura, in a figure-hugging dress and Martha and Gracie in their best party frocks. You could hear a pin drop as diners chatted in hushed surrounds. Within seconds calamity ensued.
Gracie spilt the balsamic vinegar. Laura knocked over a baby bellini while trying to clean it up and the waiter spilt water trying to fill up Martha’s glass — which had become a moving target. The tablecloth was sopping. "Right," said Laura. "One course and it’s up to the kids’ club for these two."
We had embarked on one of P&O’s fly-cruises, an anticlockwise sailing around Italy, starting in Genoa and with stops in Livorno (for Florence) and Naples, then on to Dubrovnik in Croatia before finishing in Venice. As novice cruisers with small children, we felt the seven-night duration would suit us.
Getting on board was easier than anticipated (try doing anything with a double buggy). Our bags were checked on to our Thomson flight in Manchester and we didn’t see them again until our steward, the excellent Bosco, who had a habit of appearing just when we needed him most, ushered us into our queen cabin, with sofa-bed and balcony, on arrival in Genoa.
There was a frisson of excitement as Ventura set sail with a merry sounding of the horn. Its 12 restaurants, a 700-seat theatre, a spa, show lounges and, yes, the children’s club promised to keep us all happy and we looked forward to spending time together as a family. But after days at sea exploring the ship’s pools and play areas, or ashore on sightseeing excursions, our little ones were tired out by 7pm and the last thing they wanted was a sit-down meal with Mum and Dad.
And so to bed
So, on our third night, Martha and Gracie said “ciao” to Marco and headed off to Splashers, the club for two- to four-year-olds. We were comforted by the club’s incredibly enthusiastic staff, and Martha and Gracie relished the chance to put on pyjamas and take advantage of a lights-down movie where they could cuddle up with new pals on giant beanbags and drift off if they pleased. We were offered a buzzer in case we were needed, and told that if they were asleep at the club’s 11pm closing time we could move them to a special sleeping area with cots until 2am if we wished.
Thus, life settled into a welcome routine of time spent together as a family during the day, feeding the girls at the children’s buffet tea, along with characters such as Noddy and Miss Tickle, between 5pm and 6pm, then settling them into the kids’ club before Laura and I had dinner ourselves and took advantage of our free time to see a show or visit one of the lounges or the casino.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, of course. Some of the food in the non-signature restaurants erred on bland, and a demon barber in the Salon gave me such a bad haircut that it had to be saved by a senior stylist, who could only offer an apology and a consolatory: “At least it is so short that it will grow back quickly.”
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Ports of call
Our ports of call and shore excursions were well organised, even if we weren’t. Used to flashing our cruise cards for charges on board, I forgot to take a wallet to Florence. Luckily, our tour guide stepped up with a life-saving €50 ($A70) loan so we could buy lunch.
And we really shouldn’t have taken the double buggy to Pompeii. Its jumbo wheels and incredible suspension are more suited to country jogs than jaunts around ancient ruins, as the ship’s crew had tried to point out.
In Dubrovnik we finally mastered it. Venturing off the ship for the first time under our own steam, we enjoyed a pleasant three-kilometre walk into the walled Old Town before settling down to a hearty meal in a small restaurant as the sky filled with late-April showers.
On board, memorable moments included meeting Captain Charlie Carr on a second black-tie night and relaxing at the Retreat, the adults-only open-air terrace. Entertainment by singer Clem Curtis, former lead singer of the Foundations, was a particular highlight. And who could forget cruising into Venice while sipping Champagne on our balcony?
All in all, the holiday was a resounding success for us grown-ups. And, although we didn’t get quite as much quality time with them as we had (perhaps naively) hoped, it received a big thumbs up from our girls, too.
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This article was written by James Ellis from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.