Med cruising: Sail or Return?

When Garry Richardson took his theme park-loving children on a two-week Mediterranean cruise, he was worried they would be bored senseless. Not a chance, says broadcaster

My heart sinks. A first glance around the cruise terminal at Southampton suggests that I have mistakenly brought my family to a convention for cast members from Last of the Summer Wine.

We are with our three children Nine, Twelve and Fifteen - also known as Daniella, David and Gabrielle. The prospect of a fortnight's cruise aboard Legend of the Seas seems momentarily terrifying. But all of a sudden children do start to appear, and by sailing time there are 400 on board, accounting for one in five of the passengers. To look after us all, there are 700 crew.

We make our way to our cabins. These are given the grand title of staterooms. It turns out to be an appropriate title for the children's cabin because, despite lots of nagging and the hard work of our steward, it is in a state for much of the time.

The Legend has a tough act to follow: the previous year, we had been to Orlando. Thanks to the non-stop entertainment at the theme parks, the kids say that was their best holiday ever. On this voyage we will visit Rome, Barcelona, Cannes and five other ports. But will there be enough for the children to do? Will they get bored? Will they be able to make friends?

The ship is due to sail at 5pm, but 45 minutes before then there is a compulsory lifeboat drill. Everyone on board has to report to a mustering point, wearing a life jacket. Making our way up to deck four, Daniella points out that it's a bit like being in Titanic and suggests that this is probably where Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio) would have been handcuffed to the banister.

On returning to our stateroom, we have been left Cruise Compass, the daily ship's newspaper that details all the activities for the next 24 hours. In this issue there are 65 activities including a "Goodbye cellulite" seminar, ballroom-dancing lessons and napkin folding for beginners. No surprise that Nine, Twelve and Fifteen announce that they will not be attending.

Further down the list, though, there's plenty for the children, with supervised activities for all ages from six months to 17 years old. The stern of the ship even has a 30m-high rock-climbing wall. Anyone from six years of age can climb, with guidance, safety harnesses and helmets provided. We made our first ascent before dinner.

Eating on board is a big event: you can do it 24 hours a day, and it seems some people try to. You've heard of people being built like Greek gods? Well, one or two here were built like Greek restaurants.

As with most cruise ships, there are two sittings for dinner. We signed up for the first; dinner starts at 6.15pm, although you can arrive up until seven. There is a ridiculous amount of choice: a dozen starters and 10 main courses, and an entirely separate menu for children.

My big criticism of the dining room was our table position. We weren't near a window so my back was to the sea and all I could see for 14 nights was the other guests, which soon began to pall. It would be a good idea to swap tables after a week so that we could have had the benefit of the sea views.

The food though, was excellent, as was the service. Our head waiter, Yogit, was from India. He had been on the ship for seven years. His assistant, Christian, was from Chile. Together, they were a brilliant double-act who could not do enough for us. What amazed me with all the staff was how keen they were to please; never unhelpful, never apparently unhappy to be at work. Most of the staff seemed to spend six months on board at a time before having a couple of months' leave. Personally, I can't imagine going to work every day with not a single day off and always having to smile and be pleasant. But the crew told me it was a good ship and they were well looked after. Apparently the most frequent daft question they get asked is: "Do the crew sleep on board?"

On our first full day at sea, Daniella went along to one of the children's clubs. After that, we really didn't see her again except at meal times. David teamed up with some boys of his age and wandered off for hours at a time. At 15, Gabrielle was happy to sit and read the new Harry Potter book, sunbathe and listen to her iPod. In a way, they had a degree of freedom they do not have at home - or at Walt Disney World.

So what about the grown-ups' entertainment? There were two nightly shows in the ship's theatre featuring acts geared to a family audience. A very funny juggler named Pete Matthews caught the eye, while comedian Jeff Stevenson talked about his cabin being so low that every time he came up on deck he got the bends. The Beatlemaniacs and the American Drifters got ovations.

Our first port of call was Praia Da Rocha on the Algarve coast of Portugal. After two days of relaxation, suddenly we were confronted with a timetable: the ship arrived at 7am and departed at 6pm. Several tours were offered (at a price), but we opted for the beach. It seemed a bonus to have a bit of a beach holiday as part of a cruise.

The other seven stops added a lot of variety: more days on the beach, then a day of sightseeing, with the cruise holding everything together. The oddest stop was at Gibraltar, where we opted out of the organised tour and simply walked from the quayside to the foot of the Rock. We took a cable car to the top, but the graffiti-daubed walls and unwelcoming apes made it rather unpleasant. If I go to Gibraltar again by ship, I won't bother to get off.

Rome, in contrast, was a great success. We docked in Civitavecchia, the closest port, and took the 90-minute bus ride into the capital. There, we jumped on another bus, the open-top sightseeing tour, which was great fun. The highlight for the children was the Colosseum, where we took the official tour - it saved a great deal of time that would have been consumed in queues, and on a cruise day-trip you are always conscious of the clock.

After two weeks, there was a consensus in the Richardson family. My wife and I really enjoyed the trip (although we could have done with more space on the sun decks - our sailing was very full). As for the children, Daniella described it as fantastic and would love to go again. The other two also gave it the thumbs-up.

We're ready now to try the three-and-a-half month world cruise. Watch this space...

Garry Richardson is sports broadcaster for Radio 4's 'Today' programme and 'Sportsweek' on Five Live

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The writer travelled with Glenfield Travel (0116 287 1608; www.glenfield travel.co.uk). A 14-night "Classic Mediterranean Cruise" aboard Royal Caribbean Cruises's (0845 165 8414; www.royalcaribbean.co.uk) "Legend of the Seas" starts at £1,199 per person, full board.

Cruises depart on 27 May, 24 June, 22 July and 9 September next year from Southampton, calling at Praia Da Rocha (Portugal), Gibraltar, Civitavecchia (for Rome), Villefranche (for Nice), Ajaccio (Corsica), Barcelona, Lisbon and Vigo (Spain).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Portugal tourist office (0845 355 1212; www.visitportugal.com).

Gibraltar Tourism (020-7836 0777; www.gibraltar.gov.uk).

Italian State Tourist Board (020-7408 1254; www.enit.it).

French Government Tourist Office (09068 244123, calls 60p/min; www.franceguide.com).

Spanish Tourist Office (08459 400180; www.tourspain.co.uk).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: International Project Coordinator / Account Coordinator

    Circa £26,500 DOE: Guru Careers: An International Project Coordinator / Accoun...

    Guru Careers: Plumber / Maintenance Operator

    £25k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Plumber / Mainten...

    Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

    £14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

    Recruitment Genius: Network Executive - Adrenalin Sports - OTE £21,000

    £19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for an exciting...

    Day In a Page

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks