Travel: I’m a Mediterranean cruise convert

Exterior of the Propylaea and the Parthenon 7th century B.C. Athens, Greece

Exterior of the Propylaea and the Parthenon 7th century B.C. Athens, Greece

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A LIFE on the ocean wave could possibly be too much for most landlubbers to take – but a week away is a different matter, writes Dominic Barton.

Cruising is the type of holiday which seems to divide people into two camps, consisting of those who are against the very idea and find it almost impossible to contemplate, and those who have been on one…and are very likely to return.

Luxury: Cruise ship.

Luxury: Cruise ship.

The first group often cite safety concerns, but from my recent experience of a Eastern Mediterranean cruise with Royal Caribbean International, it is as safe as…well…houses. Or hotels. Very big hotels.

Navigator Of The Seas, one of the line’s 22 ships, has just about everything you need for a decent holiday. Activities galore, a wide choice of dining and drinking places and sunshine aplenty. Although the latter can never be totally guaranteed, the others are, so even if you’re extremely unlucky regarding the weather, you’ll never be lost for something to do inside the vessel.

It’s a moving experience as well as you head from country to country at a steady speed of 22 knots – so smoothly that it’s entirely possible to forget you are at sea, although the viewing decks show you the vastness of the ocean outside.

Although Royal Caribbean has three ships leaving from the UK, for this one there was a bit of flying to do first.

We set sail from Civitavecchia near Rome after heading to Italy with Jet2.com from the newly-refurbished Leeds Bradford Airport. Then followed a week of sailing which also took in Turkey and Greece before we headed back to the original port and the plane home.

Beforehand, friends had mentioned to me that another reason they didn’t fancy a cruise was because it could mean being stuck in the vicinity of people you may not like very much and being unable to escape from them, unless you fancy going overboard. However on a boat this size there is lots of space and many activities. If you’re not just into lazing about, there is quite a selection of sports you can take part in, from rock-climbing to miniature golf, and even ice-skating.

But if you’d prefer something that puts a bit less strain on the body, there are plenty of sit-down shows in the Metropolis Theatre, an art gallery and several cafés and bars – some of which have live performances – and even a shopping mall.

And if you have a disability you don’t have to feel left out (even though RCI require that you bring your own equipment) as the ship has a very accessible environment with even floors, plenty of lifts, specially-designed rooms and staff always willing to help if you have difficulties.

But then, from what I saw, the staff are willing to help everyone. And they remember your name too which is always a bonus and quite surprising considering you are one of over 3,000 passengers.

It’s hard to praise the staff highly enough, as they seem to actually enjoy their work and there are unexpected events such as the waiters and others in the main dining rooms joining together for a song and dance routine on the final night.

You’re unlikely to be wanting for company with so many people on board but on the other hand, it is still possible to maintain your privacy, with areas such as the library and computer rooms where keeping quiet is paramount.

Although around 75 per cent of Royal Caribbean’s customers are from North America, on a cruise like this there are a fair number of guests from closer to home, with a wide range of backgrounds.

You’re just as likely to end up talking to an Italian drag act as a clean-cut US citizen.

Ironically, despite the league of nations on board, the first people I made the acquaintance of were from very near to home – the Chesterfield and Worksop areas to be exact.

Florence and Sheena had brought their mum – another Florence – on her first ever cruise as a 70th birthday present and although she admitted being slightly apprehensive beforehand, she was soon enjoying life on the ocean waves. “I thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said afterwards, and the trio are now planning to head for the seas on a future holiday.

Apparently around three quarters of Royal Caribbean customers have been on cruises before and the company has a high rate of returns.

Of course, you’re not on the water all the time and there are several scheduled stops. On this particular cruise there were days in Sicily, Ephesus in Turkey, Athens and Crete.

Although trips are not included in the cost of the cruise, they can be easily booked onboard.

I opted for Athens – included among the sights was the stadium from the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 – and Ephesus, an ancient city with strong links to early Christianity. Just watch out for the very persistent Turkish carpet salesman though. If you’re not careful they’ll lure you into a serious rug addiction.

Just to remind us that we had been on holiday, after a week of sunshine and being surrounded by waves, as soon as the returning plane hit England we could see H20 again – this time in the shape of a torrential downpour which lasted all the way back to Leeds and beyond.

I know where I prefer my water to be.

Despite being a cruise cynic before this trip I am now converted. See you at sea soon.

TRAVELFACTS: A week cruising the Mediterranean

* For more information see www.royalcaribbean.co.uk, call 0844 493 2061 or talk to your travel agent. Request a free Accessible Seas Brochure for details of how the firm can help disabled passengers enjoy their holiday.

* Jet2.com offers low fares, a 22kg hold baggage and 10kg hand baggage allowance, allocated seats and myJet2 loyalty scheme, with points for free flights. The airline’s flights to Rome from Leeds Bradford – four times a week until March 2013 – cost from £21.99 one way including taxes. At Leeds Bradford Airport Jet2.com fly to 43 city, sun and ski destinations.

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