Are We There Yet?: If you're looking for value, it pays to cruise around

I often get emails from irate, ripped-off parents asking me to recommend a family holiday that represents true value for money. Is there really such a thing? We all know that taking a holiday with kids is never going to be low-cost. But there's little doubt that some child-friendly holidays offer far more bang for their buck than others.

And, after years of searching, I have found my ultimate value-for-money family holiday in the unlikeliest of places: aboard a cruise ship on the Med.

Now, before you all start shouting me down, I don't mean it was cheap. Prices start at £1,079 per person for 12 nights on Carnival Cruise's newest vessel, Carnival Magic (0845 3510556; carnivalcruise.co.uk) and when you multiply it by four (or five) this isn't to be sniffed at. But what you get in return is pretty damn good.

So here's the important stuff: the price includes scheduled flights to Barcelona, transfers, an en-suite cabin, all meals and shows (and, by the way, the food and entertainment are simply fantastic). The fact that the ship has been designed specifically for families is the icing on the cake: think water slides, crazy golf, kids' shows, high ropes, open-air film screenings and a teen-only nightclub.

Adults, meanwhile, get a huge spa, and their own dedicated area, the lovely "Serenity" deck, should they need some respite.

Carnival's success at providing a top-quality experience is achieved through its meticulous attention to detail and service. With around 1,500 crew members serving about 3,500 passengers, this brand new ship runs like clockwork, creating a laid-back, happy atmosphere, where nothing is too much trouble.

Let's get things straight: there are lots of ways to spend your money if you feel inclined. From the casino and shopping village to the omnipresent onboard photographers offering family photos, there's no shortage of places to shell out. It's just that we didn't.

Oh, and I nearly forgot. We did some amazing things. We visited Rome, Capri and Pisa. We did it all DIY, choosing not to book the on-board excursions (they're pricey when there are four of you booking). We calculated that we spent around £1,000 between us for tips, ventures on to dry land and, ahem, the odd drink at the bar.

Who'd have thought that for value for money you have to be all at sea?



k.holland@independent.co.uk

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