Three generations on one holiday has a lot of boxes to tick, but an Eastern Mediterranean cruise proved to be just the ticket
The kids are splashing about in the pool, shrieking with delight as grandpa pretends to be a shark, while lazing at the water’s edge my mum and I are nibbling on hand-delivered skewers of fresh fruit and contemplating the possibility of summoning mimosas to our sun loungers.
Elsewhere, my husband has taken full advantage of childcare being well and truly in hand and disappeared off to the gym, or it might have been to get a massage? I was too chilled out to listen to him properly.
Just a few hours earlier we were dipping our toes in the Sea of Galilee, wandering the cool cloisters of the church built on the site where Jesus is said to have conducted his Sermon on the Mount and rubbing shoulders with an ancient looking carpenter (named Joseph, of course) in a beautiful open-air museum created to look like Nazareth in the first century.
There are a lot of stereotypes around cruising, and chief among these seem to be that a) it’s only for old people and b)everything is heavily timetabled – breakfast at 7am, onshore for tours at 8am, back for bingo by 5pm, salsa dancing at 7pm...
However, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. If anything, it’s the freedom to set your own schedule that is perhaps the biggest appeal, particularly when travelling as three generations of the one family.
This was proved perfectly when my family – my parents, husband and two children, ages ranging from four to 72 – went on a seven-night cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean on-board Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jade.
From what time we ate to where we wanted to go, we were able to set the pace. Dinner for the kids at 6pm while the oldies would rather eat at 8pm? No problem, we could juggle childcare or simply divide up when we had our starters/mains and puddings, perhaps a nibble at the poolside grill then a sit-down meal later.
Every possible food option was within walking distance, and if it turned out there was nothing on the menu to suit, no worries, there was always the buffet. As Tom (8) tucked into sushi, helped by staff to hone his chop-stick skills, Finn (4) was able to munch away on his fussy-eater favourites of pizza and chips.
The Splash Academy (the kids club catering for children aged from six months to 12-years-old) quickly became a firm favourite with Tom, who regularly asked to be signed in so he could join in Circus School, make badges and hats or play Super Mario games with children his own age.
There’s no babysitting service, but thanks to having Granny and Grandpa with us, my husband and I got to indulge in several child-free date nights. Juicy steaks and full-bodied Malbecs held our full attention in Cagneys Steakhouse and Moderno Churrascaria (loosely translated as barbecue heaven) safe in the knowledge that no little sticky fingers needed to be watched.
Despite several years of cruises under my belt, I’m still yet to attend a formal show, but the grandparents raved about the musical performances and, in the informal surroundings of the cocktail bar, it emerged that our four-year-old was quite the jazz aficionado.
We had total control and continuity of our surroundings, but our location was ever-changing. In Santorini we splashed over waves in the small tender boat to take a cable car up to the whitewashed walls and blue domes of Fira. There we shared a decadent chocolate pudding overlooking the caldera, while the grandparents took the short bus trip to Oia and stayed on to enjoy the sunset over a glass of Retsina and olives.
Our trips to Jerusalem and Nazareth provided the most standout moments. With our youngest, Finn, having additional needs, we were apprehensive about the ship’s set tours, many of which were lengthy and would involve travelling in a large group.
Instead, through Tourist Israel (touristisrael.com), we secured private tours for a similar price per person, but with the priceless bonus of being completely tailored to our needs.
In Jerusalem, Dotan (Discoveries with Dotan) could not have been more helpful, knowledgeable or understanding. With regular stops and snacks, he led us on a fascinating walk from the panoramic views at the top of the Mount of Olives, down past the ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane and under the arch of St Stephen’s Gate into the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.
Snaking through the old bazaar, where smells of spices, pomegranates and incense hung in the air, Dotan led us confidently up stone steps to the calm of the city’s rooftops where the sound of the call to prayer swept over the city.
It was a tour unlike anything else any of us had ever experienced and all of us were captivated. The history was remarkable, but brilliantly balanced with an understanding of when we had reached saturation level.
When we suggested lunchtime, Dotan was quick to secure us space in the calm of the Austrian Hospice, its shady garden a welcome surprise in the hustle and bustle of the Via Dolorosa.
After sailing north overnight, we met with our second guide, Sandro (of HET; hetours.net), and driver in the Port of Haifa for another incredible day.
We had agreed an itinerary in advance but Sandro was happily open to alterations in the programme. He gladly incorporated an impromptu stop on the shores of the Sea of Galilee for a quick paddle and swapped out the planned tour of modern Nazareth in favour of a trip to the unforgettable open-air living museum, Nazareth Village.
On Sandro’s assertion that Nazareth serves the best shawarma (flatbreads stuffed with warm spiced lamb, pickles and tahini) we were more than happy to stop and sample.
The only slight blip was when it came to getting in and out of the Israeli ports. Specific visas are needed for vehicles and not every tour operator is privy to them, but it was resolved by using the free shuttle bus and meeting our guides at a point outside the dock perimeter. Otherwise everything was smooth sailing.
At night the kids crawled contently into their bunk beds, quickly soothed to sleep by the gentle movement of the ship. The rest of us sat on balconies, savouring the starry skies and silence on the sea, with all of us united in one thought: excitement to see where we would wake up tomorrow and what fun would lie in store.
When Angelyn Burk, a recently retired accountant, decided to crunch some numbers one evening last year, she made a stunning discovery: It would be cheaper for her and her husband to spend their retirement perpetually aboard cruise ships than to continue living on land.