POMPEII, ITALY—Two seconds after accidentally walking into the brothel in Pompeii with my teenage son Matthew, I knew I should have booked one of the 25 new family-focused shore excursions created by Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL).
He looked at the wall paintings featuring couples having sex and said, “I bet the archeologists had fun uncovering this ruin.” I fumbled for some sort of educational comment about prostitution in 79 A.D. while wishing we had a tour guide.
Despite the fresco fiasco, seeing Europe on a cruise is an easy way to show your kids many different countries in a short period of time. Booking family-oriented shore excursions is the best way to maximize the experience and minimize the time spent standing in lineups.
European cruises are expected to be so popular with families this year that RCCL is increasing the number of ships assigned there from about eight to 11. Diana Block, vice president of deployment at RCCL says, “Europe offers many enriching experiences and cruising in the region offers great vacation value.” Prices have dropped to about $509 per person for a seven-night cruise (excluding airfare).
Patrick Schneider, director of shore excursions says, “We’ve seen great interest in Europe for families. Its popularity is back. You can visit many countries while only unpacking once, so it makes travelling with kids easy. We offer about 1,000 shore excursions in Europe and added 25 family-specific tours this year.”
The Sorrento with Pizza Making for Families tour has kids exploring this charming town that overlooks Naples Bay. The first stop is at a marquetry studio where kids are shown the art of inlaid woodworking. Like jigsaw puzzles, they are fascinated by the jewellery boxes with secret drawers.
For lunch, families head to a pizzeria where a chef teaches them how to make pizza. They also learn that Naples claims to be where pizza was invented. In 1889 baker Raffaele Esposito is said to have made it for King Umberto I and Queen Margherita.
The Save Venice tour is a treasure hunt. A booklet helps kids use their powers of observation when visiting monuments. There are word puzzles to make exploring fun.
The Cinque Terre tour features charming fishing villages that make up this UNESCO heritage site. The tour begins by walking along the Pathway of Love — a street along the cliffs with stone walls that are covered in graffiti. But unlike the graffiti kids see at home, these feature words of love and romantic poetry. The boat ride to each of the villages is fun for kids, along with the having a gelato on the beach.
Schneider says, “We created tours for kids who may have short attention spans when it comes to sightseeing. So many excursions also feature beaches and waterparks. Children also like the aquarium tour in Genoa and zoo tour in Barcelona.”
Disney Cruises, after a long hiatus, sent their Magic ship back to Europe last summer. Some of their port adventures include childcare counsellors to help look after the kids.
In St. Petersburg, the Catherine Palace provides the setting for an elaborate Royal Ball hosted by Cinderella, Snow White and Belle. Arriving by horse-drawn carriages, they entertain guests in the gilded Grand Ballroom. Musicians and royal courtiers in period costumes entertain guests with song and dance.
During a tour of Florence, children spend time honing their skills as the next Michelangelo by creating their own Italian fresco painting while parents explore the impressive Palazzo Vecchio.
Tour prices on RCCL and Disney range from about $30 to $150 per person. Schneider suggests booking online at home before your cruise. “When you get on the ship you are hit with so many things to do onboard, it’s difficult to focus on which tours to choose. Even if you book months ahead, you can always cancel the tour 48 hours prior if your kids are tired,” he says.
Pre-booking also helps control the family budget.
Just the facts
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line (RCCL) is sending 10 ships to Europe to sail the Baltic and Mediterranean seas. They will offer 109 itineraries, ranging from three to 15 nights and visiting 27 countries and 78 ports. Liberty of the Seas will sail her maiden Europe season from Barcelona and the Grandeur will be RCCL’s first ship to homeport at Palma de Mallorca, Spain. The Independence will continue its year-round service from Southampton, U.K. and with Liberty, have two Freedom-class ships sailing Europe. The Navigator, Voyager, Adventure, Brilliance and Splendour will sail a variety of Mediterranean itineraries, while the Jewel and Vision will ply the Baltic and North seas.
Vacationers also can choose a European Cruisetour that combines a Europe cruise with a three-night Italian Lakes and Venice land stay, four-night Paris and London, four-night Madrid and Barcelona, five-night Venice, Florence and Rome, or a four-night Istanbul and Cappadocia land tour.
Call (866) 562-7625 or visit royalcaribbean.com.
Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) has three ships sailing in the region in 2011 from destinations such as Rome (Civitavecchia) and Venice, Italy; Barcelona; and Copenhagen. NCL was named “Europe’s Leading Cruise Line” three years in a row (2008 to 2010) by the World Travel Awards.
The line’s newest ship, the Epic, will sail in Europe cruising seven-day western Mediterranean itineraries departing from Barcelona from mid-May through October.
Norwegian Sun makes her debut sailing from Copenhagen, offering nine-day Baltic Capitals voyages and an overnight stay in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Norwegian Jade, cruising year-round in Europe, offers seven-day Greek Isles and Adriatic itineraries from Venice, Italy through early October and 10- and 11-day eastern Mediterranean and Holy Land itineraries from mid-October through April 2012 from Rome (Civitavecchia).
Call (866) 234-7350 or visit ncl.com.
Disney Cruises features the Disney Magic’s return to Europe in 2011 with seven-, 10- and 11-night cruises sailing out of Barcelona starting in May. The ship will visit Italy, France, Spain and Malta.
Call (888) DCL-2500 or visit http://www.disneycruise.com
Carnival Cruise Lines will have one ship in Europe, the new 4,000-passenger Carnival Magic, which debuted on May 1 with a nine-day cruise from Venice to Barcelona. It will operate a series of seven-, nine- and 12-day Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona until October 16. A 16-day transatlantic voyage departing Barcelona Oct. 28 will arrive in the U.S. on Nov. 13.