They've had some bad press over the past year but cruise liners are making a big effort to win back customers - of all ages, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER
Fed up coming back from your holidays exhausted? Try hassle-free cruising – one of the best ways to explore the Mediterranean coastline. There are no tolls; no getting lost on the motorways; no language barriers; no fuss; just ease of exploration. Your steed is a ship that transports you from destination to destination, arriving during morning’s so-called ‘golden hour’ and departing at tea time.
A mini-cruise is the perfect way to test the waters. Sailing from Barcelona, Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas offers five- and seven-night excursions that take in some of Europe’s finest ports. We docked at Cannes, Livorno and Rome, an odyssey that is a sea version of the Via Aurelia, the ancient Roman road that connects Barcelona to the eternal city.
Smart seafarers climb aboard early on departure day. Lounge lizards hit the deck – the pool deck. By lunchtime on departure day holidaymakers already line the three pools; the numerous hot tubs stew with life and the 02 Zone water park is alive with kids playing amongst its colourful sculptures, dodging water sprays and jets that stretch across a vast area never more than two inches deep in water. It was described as “awesome” by our five-year old, not yet a swimmer.
This is a cruise where kids are treated like celebrities and even allocated their own hot tubs. No request is too much trouble for the staff. A freestanding ice-cream machine dispensing free cones of ice-cream was a touch adored by adults and kids alike.
Departure from Barcelona is 5pm and there is something really thrilling about being horizontal by the pool as the harbour landmarks glide past. At sea the vista is simply amazing; ringed by the marine blue of the Mediterranean, the ship hugs the Spanish and French coastline as white horses gallop in our wake. You settle in to life at sea as the gentle rocking motion of the boat becomes your body beat.
Day two we sail into Cannes as the morning sun rouges the rocks of the Estérel mountain range captured in paint by Claude Monet. After passing the superyachts of the rich and famous we tender beside another behemoth of a cruise ship; and are ferried ashore in a series of smaller craft.
You can explore Cannes on your own on foot – the beach is just a stone’s throw from the dock. Alternatively, you can sign up to one of the numerous excursions offered by Royal Caribbean at each port. Park your reservations about organised trips and go with the flow. The twin destinations of Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, and St Paul de Vence, a former artists’ colony, doesn’t disappoint. After visiting the Fragonard factory we journey on to St Paul de Vence. Set high in the hills, the medieval village was once the home of painter Marc Chagall. The days glide by and you lose complete track of time. The whole ship is blissfully tech-free. The limited connectivity helps create a complete dislocate from the everyday. When you forget what day it is, a carpeted panel in each of the lifts aboard spells out what day of the week it is.