ABOARD THE CARNIVAL FREEDOM – Take your children to visit the ancient ruins of Pompeii, hike a volcano in Sicily, enjoy a gondola ride in Venice.
Climb the medieval forts of Dubrovnik, wander the streets of Shakespeare’s Verona, be amused by strange Gaudi architecture in Barcelona and experience a host of other adventures in just 12 days on a European cruise.
You’ll enhance what they learn in school from teachers and textbooks with something that they can see, smell, taste and touch.
Carnival’s newest ship, the 2,974-passenger Freedom, has begun 12-day Mediterranean and Greek Isles voyages with port calls to six countries – Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Croatia.
One of the cruise line’s goals with this ship is to attract families who are interested in taking their children to Europe’s most popular ports while enjoying modern, Canadian-style conveniences on board, at a cost that is more affordable than European land prices.
It’s all about the destinations with this cruise. There are about 150 shore excursions and Carnival knows how to coat them with fun. Some are only available if you have kids, and some are teens-only excursions guided by Carnival counsellors.
The tours range from two to 10 hours and from $45 to $189 per person. (All prices quoted in U.S. dollars and many tours include lunch).
In Sicily, the Taormina and Mt. Etna excursion begins with a drive through Messina to see the famous astrology clock in the cathedral at the Piazza Duomo. Carry on to medieval Taormina, perched high on Mount Tauro and offering panoramic views of the sea below.
Explore the souvenir shops along the cobblestone streets on your way to the Greek theatre built in 3 BC. It seats about 10,000 people and it’s easy to imagine the gladiators here.
After lunch in the village of Zafferana, drive up to Mt. Etna, Europe’s highest active volcano. You’ll pass through villages with lava stone buildings and eventually pierce the clouds..
It’s an eerie drive. The vegetation starts off with lush palm, orange and olive trees and gradually changes to barren hills of black lava powder and tufts of grass.
The road winds sharply up the volcano until eventually, you reach the three Silvestri craters and can walk beside lava flows from 1989 to 2002.
In Naples, Italy, the Amalfi and Pompeii tour starts with a two-hour drive along the Amalfi coast, Italy’s most famous road trip, with spectacular views of the sea. You only have to concentrate on taking pictures while an experienced driver negotiates the hairpin curves amid sheer white, rocky cliffs.
In the afternoon, visit Pompeii, a village of 20,000 people that was destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Two-thirds of the village has been excavated to reveal areas such as the marketplace and amphitheatre. (Skip the brothel, with its explicit, painted frescoes, if you have children.)
Dubrovnik, Croatia is a highlight for many passengers because it is a relatively new port for cruise ships. This Riviera-style harbour of dramatic cliffs that drop suddenly to the blue Adriatic captures photographers’ hearts.
Gleaming white limestone buildings have vivid red tile roofs. The roads appear swept.
Visit the Sponza Palace, notable for its columned courtyard and elaborate stone carvings, the Church of Saint Blaise, Onofriou`s Fountain and Rectors Palace. Take a short boat trip to the island of Lokrum to see a beautiful 12th century monastery and gardens.
The added benefit of shore excursions is that it’s all planned for you. All you have to do is get on and off the bus and follow the group. And there is always free time built into the tour so you can wander on your own, or enjoy an ice cream or coffee at an outdoor café.
While shore excursions are the highlight, there are still three sea days to relax and enjoy the ship. Carnival knows what kids like and that keeps parents happy. The company takes about 525,000 children a year on its 22 ships, more than any other cruise line.
There is a 390-square-metre children’s centre for 2 to 14 year olds, a 167-square-metre lounge for teens ages 15 to 17, family-style dining in four restaurants, 24-hour pizza and ice cream, cabins with interior connecting doors, four pools and a 65-metre spiral water slide.
Strollers, video game devices and other equipment can be rented and babysitting can be arranged for an extra fee.
There’s plenty to keep adults busy too: 22 bars and lounges, a casino, golf instruction, theatres with Las Vegas-style shows, spa and fitness facilities. Carnival’s first, reservations-only restaurant features fine dining for about 100 passengers (a $30 per person surcharge applies).
A daily newsletter outlines activities for all ages, from karaoke and trivia games, to movies under the stars featured on the poolside, 25-square-metre TV. The ship also has bow-to-stern Internet service ($100 for 250 minutes.)
With so many great excursions, consider getting an inside cabin without a balcony so you have more money for the tours.
Many passengers find they are out exploring so much, or enjoying the ship’s amenities on upper decks such as the pools, that they are rarely in their cabins at all.
The Freedom operates round trip from Rome from March to October, then sails in the Caribbean. Call 1-800-CARNIVAL or visit carnival.com.