It is without doubt the most relaxing holiday you can ever have – cruising the Mediterranean lapping up the sunshine and visiting some of the most beautiful places on the planet.
We headed off for a week last autumn after a mad frantic working summer.
I only took my first cruise two years previously across the western Med and loved every second of it.
This time we went east exploring Italy, the Greek islands and the wonder of Croatia.
My wife Karen and I were joined by two friends Mick and Noleen Doyle who had never been on a ship in their lives.
They were a little bit nervous, worried they might get bored out of their tree in the confined space of a ship – but they had nothing to worry about.
In fact there was so much to do there wasn’t enough hours in the day.
Our hosts MSC have built up a reputation giving value for money cruises in various parts of the world.And boy do they deliver.First we flew to Venice, a city none of us had ever been to before.
The Tourist starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie is one of my favourite movies and was filmed there so I was hooked before we landed.
We caught a boat from the airport which took us right across the harbour and smack bang into the famous Grand Canal.
We got to see Rialto Bridge, St Mark’s Square, the Opera House, the wonderful array of Venetian churches and then explored the shopping along its amazing narrow streets.
There is culture and history everywhere you look and then you have to keep pinching yourself and ask how in God’s earth did people build this city on water, a true wonder of the world.
It is also an extremely romantic place so now I know why the world’s greatest heartthrob George Clooney decided to get married there! We boarded the MSC Fantasia, which is one of the flagships of the MSC fleet.
It carries 3,500 passengers, is fitted out with excellent restaurants and bars and has one of the biggest and most modern theatres of any vessel on the high seas.
In fact, no matter what you do make sure you go to their live shows every night because the entertainment is
The music and dancing is as good as anything you would see in the West End of London.
We left Venice at 5pm under a glorious blue sky and one of my lasting memories is cruising out through the canals to the open sea. Right throughout the whole city thousands of people were out to wave us off. Up on the top deck you get a bird’s eye view of Venice and we savoured every second of it.
The next day we landed in Bari, a city of 300,000 people right down on the heel of Italy.
We went on a walking tour of its narrow winding streets and met women making their own unique spaghetti in the shape of an ear before visiting the church where St Nicholas is buried in an underground tomb.
The girls decided not to go ashore and spent the day sunbathing by the pool.
That’s the great thing about cruising, it has got something for everyone.
The last time I was on the Greek islands was on honeymoon over 23 years ago so I couldn’t wait to go back.But first we stopped at Katakolon, where you can go and see the original home of the first Olympic Games, and then we were off to another wonder of the world – the breathtaking volcanic island of Santorini.
The view at dawn sailing into the deep water harbour and looking up at the 400-metre high cliffs from the windows of our beautiful cabin was fantastic.
You go ashore by boat and then you can climb on the back of a donkey right up the steep slope to the main town.
Santorini is extremely pretty and definitely worth seeing.
Next stop was Piraeus, the port for Athens where you can do a two-hour whistle stop tour of the Greek capital for €10 and see all the famous sites.
Half the population of Greece – about five million – live in Athens so it is a bit hectic but definitely worth a visit if you have never been. The last time Mick and and I were there was for a Champions League Final when our beloved Liverpool were beaten by AC Milan! Bad memories but hey, we got over it eventually.
That evening we headed to Corfu, another place I really enjoyed.
We didn’t go on an official tour but instead hired our own taxi driver for the day and got him to show us all the sights.
He cost us €80 but he was worth every penny. He was an excellent tour guide and truly entertaining with a great sense of humour.
The old town of Corfu is genuinely very beautiful. You can wander around for hours admiring the history and the architecture.
I was so impressed I vowed I would definitely go back there again.
That evening like all the passengers we had cocktails with the captain and he was as happy as Larry being photographed with every one of his MSC clients.
But there is truth in the saying that you save the best until last and the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia is definitely a modern-day jewel.
The break-up of the old Yugoslavia and the subsequent civil war is still very raw to the people of Croatia.
But I have to say we all fell in love with Dubrovnik. If you have never been, put it on your bucket list. It really is a remarkable place and the old town with its fortified walls, narrow streets, and centuries of history is picture postcard stuff.
My only complaint was we didn’t have enough time there.
We did a whole walking tour and enjoyed every second of it.
The food aboard the Fantasia was 10 out of 10. You can eat as much as you like, when you like.
The staff were all extremely kind, friendly and helpful and I can see why MSC is one of the fastest growing cruise companies in the world.
If you have never been cruising, trust me – just try it.
It is a great way to see places in a short space of time that you might otherwise never see in your life.
But more importantly it is also extremely relaxing and refreshing. The batteries were well charged by the time we got back to Dublin.
And as for my friends, they are now committed cruisers for life!