Royal’s fit for a king

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iol travel aug 14 pompeii AP A grape picker carries a crate of grapes on the first day of harvest at the original site of the vineyards of the ancient town of Pompeii.

London - Sitting on an open deck watching the sun set across the clear, still waters of the Mediterranean was just one of the many highlights of what proved to be a truly relaxing holiday on board Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas. I had wanted to take a cruise holiday for a few years having heard only glowing reports from friends and family who had all loved the experience so much that they immediately booked to go again.

My expectations were high when we flew to Barcelona to board Royal Caribbean's Serenade of the Seas for a 12 night trip round the Mediterranean, taking in Cannes, Rome, Pisa/Florence, Kusadasi, Athens, Santorini and Salerno.

I had never visited most of the destinations on our trip and was excited to have the chance to explore some of the world's most historic cities like Rome, Pisa and Pompeii.

Checking in and boarding the boat couldn't have been smoother and in less than half an hour we were being greeted at the gangway by a friendly American crew member who invited us to go straight to the Windjammer restaurant for lunch.

The quality and choice of food served 24 hours a day (and all free) is one of the big attractions of cruising and I couldn't wait to see if it lived up to the hype. We weren't to be disappointed.

The Windjammer is a huge self service dining room with buffet style food which caters for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snacks and dinner.

You can choose to dine here every day or you also have the option of an allocated restaurant with waiter service, where the menu changes daily.

For this you have to choose your slot when booking your holiday with a choice of early dining at 6.30pm or 9.30pm. With a six year old we opted for the early dining slot but discovered once onboard that this was actually too early most days, especially when we had been ashore.

We missed out on the experience of our evening meal in our dining room Reflections and opted instead to eat a little later each night in the Windjammer where a huge buffet feast awaited us.

It was foodie heaven. The choice of food was vast and the chefs miraculously managed to change it nightly so the there was always something different on offer.

Cooking on such a large scale did not mean sacrificing quality with vegetables all having a healthy crunch and perfectly pink beef which literally melted in the mouth. In fact I don't think I have ever eaten roast beef so divinely juicy and tender.

Every meal is a feast and the only downside is you can't resist piling your plate but while it is easy to make a glutton of yourself, there are lots of tasty healthy choices including sugar free deserts as well as a beautiful salad bar.

There are also fine dining rooms on board charging a nominal amount of just 20 dollars (about R160) and 30 dollars a head.

We did think 'why pay when there is so much good free food to choose from' but were so glad that we decided to give it a go and booked the Italian restaurant Portafino for 20 dollars each.

The first class service in here alone would have made it worth the money. The food was divine and on a par with any of our top restaurants where for a similar experience you would be lucky to get change out of £100.

Drinks on board proved very expensive with two glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a Sprite costing, with gratuity and tax, $30.14 US dollars.

Our fellow passengers were mainly retired couples and there were only a handful of families with young children, which suited us fine as the kid's pool was very small with limited lounging space for parents.

My six-year-old soon made friends in the pool and at the excellent Adventure Ocean Club which provided a varied programmes of activities for different age groups every morning, afternoon and evening.

Leaving my son in a kids club was new ground for me and on his first few visits, separation anxiety had me constantly checking he was OK only for him to send me away and make me promise not to come back until closing time.

It allowed me and the other parents to enjoy some quality relaxation time reassured that our kids were safe and having fun. Adults too can enjoy a full programme of daily and evening activities from fun poolside games to yoga, dance classes, craft workshops to nightly theatre productions and quiz shows.

When in port, Royal Caribbean offers a large range of on-shore excursion options which can be quite pricey and which do tend to pack in a lot of sightseeing.

With a small child we felt many of them would have been too much and decided to explore on our own which proved straight forward enough as the company also provides shuttle buses into the nearest town, from where it is easy to arrange transport to the place of your choice.

The one excursion we did decide to book was to the ancient Roman town of Pompeii as we liked the idea of having a tour guide.

Friendly, first class service on board helps make this a special holiday and while we loved every minute, I did feel a little confined during our few days at sea.

I will cruise again but I think being on dry land and having the freedom to roam when you please is more up my street. - The Independent

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