Where do you go if you’re planning a family holiday for five couples of varying ages – plus your darling, 90-year-old Uncle Ted? We had to find something that fitted the bill for the entire clan and, finally, it dawned on us: a cruise.
After all, what other holiday caters to your every want and whim, lets you explore somewhere new and magical almost every day – and ensures you only have to unpack your bags once? Welcome to the wonderful world of cruising. Countless emails and international calls later, the tickets were booked and our bags were packed, ready for an 11-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises, on board the MSC Armonia.
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We set sail from Venice – and what an incredible place to begin the journey. Wandering its labyrinth of streets is akin to being a kid running around an old-world maze. Will you ever find your way out of this magical place? And do you really want to? Let’s face it, it’s not often that you can turn a corner by mistake and end up in somewhere as fantastic as the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square). And, of course, romance is everywhere. It’s embedded in the glorious Venetian architecture, and blooms in the vibrant potted flowers that adorn the buildings in its narrow backstreets.
Romance abounds in the city’s many bistros, bars and meeting places, and twinkles on the water of its canals. Little wonder then, that couples flock from all over the world to experience a gondola ride with their loved one. We were no exception – it had to be done.
Onboard, everyone in our party settled into shipboard life very easily. Being a European cruise, there was a mix of nationalities and from day one we were one big melting pot of people, all out to have a great time. Sailing out of Venice down the Grand Canal was sheer sensory overload. As the ship slipped through the water, magnificent buildings such as the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute and Doge’s Palace faded into the distance as we cruised towards our first port: Ancona. Originally founded by the Greeks, Ancona is the capital of the Marche region of Italy and is a city with a rich history. It has a number of monuments worth checking out, including the imposing white-stone Duomo di San Ciriaco, which sits atop a hill, overlooking the rooftops of the city.
The next day we were “at sea” so there was plenty of time to relax as the ship sailed through calm blue waters, bound for the iconic Greek island of Santorini. One of the most popular islands in the world, Santorini sits like a diamond in the sapphire waters of the Aegean. Known for its spectacular scenery, ancient cities and stunning beaches,this island has wooed lovers for centuries. There are so many facets to this jewel – we found the best way to enjoy Santorini in just one day was to walk its pretty, cobbled, whitewashed streets and visit a winery overlooking the sea, feasting on the surrounding beauty.
Our next stop was Izmir, the third-largest city in Turkey, with a rich history dating back to 3000BC. Close by is Ephesus, one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites. Most passengers opt to visit this ancient city, taking in its famous buildings, such as the Celsus Library and the Ephesus Grand Theatre.
We had been blessed with exceptional weather, but the next day was notably more humid, and you could almost smell the spices in the air as we sailed into stunning Istanbul. A magnificent city, Istanbul straddles two continents, Europe and Asia, across the Bosphorus strait. Marking the end of the famous Silk Road, it has cast a spell over travellers and merchants for eons. No trip to Istanbul is complete without visiting its most photogenic buildings: the Blue Mosque and the brilliant Hagia Sophia. We also had plenty of time for shopping in the enormous and chaotic Grand Bazaar. That evening, we walked to the Galata Bridge, which is a bustling hive of activity. Underneath the bridge is packed with street vendors, cafes and great seafood restaurants. #loveistanbul
Back on board, each night on the ship gave us a wonderful opportunity to come together for a family dinner, chatting about what we’d done that day. One of the most magical things about this holiday was the fact that every day was different.
Our next port, Kefalonia, was spectacular and a complete contrast to the headiness of Istanbul. Kefalonia is the largest Greek island in the Ionian Sea, and a perfect holiday place, thanks to its many pebbled coves and sandy beaches. We happily languished on sun beds, swam in the crystal-clear waters and drank a Mythos beer or two.
As we cruised along the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, the air turned a little crisper and the landscape changed dramatically to rugged cliffs and green hillsides. Our last destination, Split, sparkled against its dramatic backdrop of mountains. We enjoyed wandering around the old Riva (seafront) and the city’s most famous Roman monument, Diocletian’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The onboard entertainment throughout our trip had been great, with brilliant international stage shows and talented bands who played music every night for dancing. Our last night was not without its final piece of magic. Uncle Ted, 90 years young, had danced the cruise away with most of the beautiful ladies on board, and had become the darling of the ship. Nicknamed “Captain Ted” by his fellow passengers, he decided to enter the talent competition, the “MSC X Factor”, and took out the gold medal for his rendition of “The Lady is a Tramp”. Celebrating his win, we all danced the night away in the nightclub until the wee small hours. Magic.
For details and itineraries, phone MSC Cruises on 1300 028 502 (in Australia) or 0508 4278 473 (in New Zealand), or visit the website here.