Travel

Thursday 31 July 2014

Take a voyage to ancient worlds

This luxury cruise adventure had three generations on the crest of a wave, writes Mark Evans

Mark Evans

Published 01/02/2014|02:30

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Voyaging with Celebrity Cruises on its new fleet of ships is akin to being afloat in an upmarket boutique hotel.
Voyaging with Celebrity Cruises on its new fleet of ships is akin to being afloat in an upmarket boutique hotel.
Kusadasi  harbour, Turkey
Kusadasi harbour, Turkey
On board the ship

Voyaging with Celebrity Cruises on its new fleet of ships is akin to being afloat in an upmarket boutique hotel.

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We sailed out of Civitavecchia, near Rome, last summer on a cruise that allowed us to experience the glories of three major ancient civilisations – the Romans, the Greeks and the Minoans.

And all the time enjoying the sunshine onboard a ship that has the class of an upscale party in New York's Hamptons. It was the perfect holiday for our group of five. My wife and I and our 11-year-old daughter shared one Concierge Cabin. And next door our 14-year-old daughter shared with her grandmother.

The fact that they haven't stopped raving about the cruise 10 months on proves it cut the mustard. Plus, they made some great friends. They have been Facebooking pals in the US in the meantime.

Some of the homes of their US pals show the clientele attracted to Celebrity Cruises in the US – I've seen Miami beachfront villas with Lamborghinis in the driveway. No pressure there, dad.

Our ship, Celebrity Silhouette, is a floating palace typical of the fleet. Fellow passengers were mid-thirties upwards. There was a mix of nationalities, but the majority were American.

The Lawn Club is pure Hamptons – a half-acre grass area on the stern's sun deck. It's home to the Lawn Club Grill, where you can eat or learn to cook. I had great fun learning to barbecue at the grill atop the ship – unfortunately, my efforts were filmed, including me tossing a pizza base almost overboard.

The Porch has private cabanas which you can hire for the ultimate in relaxation while a waiter serves you cool towels, cold drinks and snacks.

Silhouette has a dazzling choice of venues and hangouts at night, including more than a dozen restaurants and lounges.

My favourite was the ice-topped Martini Bar, where James Bond would feel at home.

Particularly popular with the ladies is the Molecular Bar, where expert bartenders produce incredible cocktails. Twenty-four hour bars are a rarity on the ocean waves, but not here.

If you're a wine connoisseur, CellarMasters has an amazing selection of vintages, dispensed via self-service machines.

If you're still on your feet into the early hours, the futuristic Quasar nightclub is for you. But by my reckoning, the young couples and families onboard were far more interested in fine dining and shopping, and most were in bed by midnight.

Upmarket it may be, but beer-lovers are catered for too, with the piano bar offering more than 500 bottled beers from around the world, all enjoyed while listening to the resident guitarist.

Rooms are boutique hotel cool, no matter what your budget. If you're splurging, the Penthouse Suites are just short of 1,300 square feet, with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, master bedroom, separate living room, bar and piano.

My considerably less expensive balcony room was a delight too, with interactive flatscreen TV with which you can make shore excursion or dining reservations, watch movies or catch up with the news; sitting area, desk and en suite bathroom.

Before our evening departure from Civitavecchia, we had enough time to take in the key sights of Rome. It's hard to do justice to such an ancient city, but even a day affords you time to take in the Pantheon, the Trevi fountain, Colosseum and the intoxicating street life.

The first night onboard is always a treat. Your bags are delivered to your room and, after a bit of exploring, it's time for dinner. The banquet hall, named the Grand Cuvee Dining Room, is stunning.

You'll be amazed by the metallic wine tower of 1,800 bottles. There's an early and later dining option, or you can reserve open dining between 6pm and 9.30pm for more flexibility. Expect herb-crusted fish, prime rib, soups, salads, Cornish game hen and a good vegetarian option too.

Take my advice and head to bed after dinner so you'll be up for the early start the next morning in fascinating Naples. You have almost 12 hours in the port, giving you plenty of time for an organised excursion or some 'me time'.

Pompeii is a must-see. Witness the ancient bathing areas and lupanars (brothels) in an unexpectedly large town, preserved forever by volcanic ash.

It's also worth taking the gentle trek up to the top of the source of that disaster – Vesuvius, with its fantastic vistas.

Incredibly, you'll be in a completely different country and culture the following day as you arrive in La Valletta, Malta. This was a standout highlight for us. It's like a film set, full of history and grandeur.

For a city that was bombed relentlessly during World War II, it's brimming with history and has been lovingly restored.

Conquered over history by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Order of the Knights of St John, it's a Unesco World Heritage site, with 320 monuments.

The next stop, Piraeus, brings us into the eastern part of the Med, and it offers a full day at sea from Malta. Sea days are a welcome break from cities and sightseeing as the ship becomes a destination in its own right. If you're bringing children, you'll find it hard to tempt them away from the pool areas, the children's or teenagers' clubs and the magnetic appeal of iLounge, a computer area stuffed with Macs and iPads where you can send emails, check Facebook or just play games and learn about, or take home, some high-tech gadgetry.

The spa and gym are to women what iLife is to kids – an irresistible draw. The enormous gym offers all manner of classes. The spa's beautiful Persian Garden includes a sauna and steam room, tropical rain shower and heated ocean-view relaxation chairs, all available at an additional charge or free for passengers staying in AquaClass staterooms.

The eye-catching glass and steel covered Solarium has an adults-only pool, two hot tubs, loungers and a small cafe. It's a blissful area away from the excitement of the main outdoor pool area, with its child-friendly rubber-decked Wet Zone with water jets as well as hot tubs.

If you're not too exhausted or too chilled to disembark, consider exploring Piraeus. Granted, Athens' answer to Holyhead is a bit of a slow-burner at first, but appearances are deceiving. Plus, it's only a short metro train ride from the heart of Athens.

To really learn about Athenian culture, an organised excursion is a must, but if you don't mind walking to the local train station there's a direct train into the centre of the city where you can catch all the local sights or just go window shopping and have a leisurely glass or two of ouzo.

A day later brings you to the Greek island Mykonos. If you've been before, take the opportunity to have the ship to yourself as fellow passengers go ashore, as an even prettier island, Santorini, is on your itinerary too.

The stunning island of Rhodes is just too big and interesting to miss, and don't even think about staying on board at Kusadasi. This modern port is a great starting point for one of the jewels of the Med: Ephesus.

And make sure to take a tour from the port of Chania in Crete. It's a pretty place in its own right, but the Minoan city of Knossos is a real gem.

Then there's the more modern but equally beautiful Venice in Italy. Have that camera ready as you glide past the stunning St Mark's Square.

This was a holiday that all the family enjoyed, and we're busy saving for another high seas adventure.

 

Join Celebrity Cruises

Join the Celebrity Silhouette on a 12-night Eastern Mediterranean and Greek Isles fly/cruise from €1,862pp (based on two people sharing an interior stateroom).

Price includes: Return flights from Dublin, transfers and a 12-night cruise departing from Rome (Civitavecchia, Italy) and calling at Naples (Italy), Valletta (Malta), Mykonos (Greece), Kusadasi (Ephesus, Turkey), Athens (Piraeus, Greece), Santorini (Greece) and Chania (Souda, Crete, Greece) before returning to Venice for the flight home; meals and entertainment onboard and all relevant cruise taxes/fees.

Price based on September 12, 2014 departure.

For more information or to book call 1800 932 611 or log on to celebritycruises.ie

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