POST­CARDS from the Med

What bet­ter way to see the best of the Mediter­ranean than on a fam­ily cruise with the char­ac­ters from DreamWorks? Fri­day edi­tor Karen Pasquali Jones sails the sea with Shrek, Puss in Boots and the cast of Mada­gas­car

Friday - - Leisure -

Hola y bien­venido a bordo.” The voice was pure An­to­nio Ban­deras – a husky Span­ish drawl where he rolled ev­ery word around on his tongue be­fore spit­ting it out like a fur­ball. His out­fit was some­thing straight out of a dress­ing-up box – knee-high leather boots and a floppy hat com­plete with feather. Next to him stood his best friend – a gi­ant green ogre. “Why are they dressed like that?” my five-year-old daugh­ter de­manded. “Is it a fancy dress party – why didn’t you let me come as a princess?”

I’d spent weeks pre­par­ing for this mo­ment, pack­ing jack­ets in case it be­came chilly, sun­dresses for when it was warm, pretty gowns for din­ing in style, and enough out­fits to dress a fam­ily of 10 rather than just me and my lit­tle girl.

But, to be hon­est, I didn’t have a clue what to wear for a pre-sail party with Puss in Boots, Shrek and the other DreamWorks char­ac­ters on the top deck of a cruise ship in Barcelona, Spain. Luck­ily a blast from the Lib­erty of the Sea’s fun­nel stopped my daugh­ter dwelling on her need for a cos­tume, and along to Mada­gas­car’s

I like to move it, move it, we headed out of dock for the start of our five-day Western Mediter­ranean cruise on board Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional’s lux­ury liner.

We’d left my hus­band and son be­hind in Dubai to come away on a girls-only break, tak­ing in Spain’s sec­ond-big­gest city; France’s Cannes, and Italy’s La Spezia and Rome. We’d never been on a va­ca­tion à deux be­fore, but it was time for some mother-daugh­ter bond­ing, and what bet­ter way to start than by danc­ing along with some of Anaïs’s favourite movie char­ac­ters? “Look there’s Alex the Lion,” she gasped, rush­ing to hold his hand, as he moved it, moved it.

With Barcelona dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind us, it was time to get ac­quainted with our new home. First stop, our state­room, which had a port­hole, dou­ble bed and all the mod cons. “It’s so cute,” Anaïs smiled.

Next, we headed to the kids’ club. There is an en­tire Ad­ven­ture Ocean for chil­dren aged three and above and be­cause she’s five, my lit­tle girl could have dou­ble the fun play­ing with the aqua­nauts (ages three to five) as well as the ex­plor­ers (ages six to eight).

The ship is com­pletely geared up for fam­i­lies – there are clubs for tod­dlers through to tweens and teens – and the kids’ clubs are open from 7am un­til 2pm, so you can ex­plore the ship with­out wor­ry­ing about the lit­tle ones. Af­ter reg­is­ter­ing her, we went for a stroll, watch­ing the sun set over the hori­zon, while the ship glided through the calm wa­ters of the Mediter­ranean. All the fresh, salty air helped us work up an ap­petite, and so we headed to din­ner.

Along with the usual buf­fet­style cafés, there are fine-din­ing restau­rants on board along with spe­cial­ity eater­ies (for a small ex­tra charge) – Chops Grille, a steak­house, the Ital­ian Portofino and Amer­i­can diner Johnny Rock­ets. Of course, Anaïs wanted to go to the diner, so we downed de­li­cious veg­gie burg­ers and chips in the 1950s-set­ting, com­plete with booths and a juke­box, and slurped cola floats. “I love this

fizzy pud­ding,” my lit­tle girl laughed, suck­ing ev­ery last bit.

Then it was off to The Royal Prom­e­nade – a huge shop­ping av­enue with bou­tiques, shops and cup­cake stores – for pho­tos with Mada­gas­car’s Alex, King Julien and Glo­ria the Hippo. There was no sign of Shrek or Puss in Boots. “They’re prob­a­bly tired from all their danc­ing at the party,” Anaïs said as, win­dow-shop­ping over, I whisked her off to our state­room.

We had to be up early the next day to see the uber-glamorous Cannes, in the south of France. I wanted to ex­plore the Côte d’Azur, the home of the fa­mous Fes­ti­val In­ter­na­tional du Film, but first there was just time for a char­ac­ter break­fast in the Rem­brandt Din­ing Room on Deck 3 with, yes you guessed it, Shrek and Puss. “Why don’t we ever see Princess Fiona?” Anaïs asked, and I shrugged, sug­gest­ing maybe she was in the spa ask­ing for a makeover or in the sick­bay be­cause she was feel­ing so green. But my daugh­ter wasn’t lis­ten­ing, she was ea­ger to get off the ship to ex­plore.

We de­cided to do our own thing, tak­ing in the bou­tiques, and strolling in the sun of the French Riviera. At five I fig­ured she was too young to go celebrity-spot­ting or travel too far from the ship, but we could have gone on one of the myr­iad shore ex­cur­sions. Nearby is the prin­ci­pal­ity of Monaco, the sec­ond-small­est in­de­pen­dent state in the world, where you travel along a por­tion of the Grand Prix cir­cuit, or we could have ven­tured a lit­tle fur­ther afield to the 16th-cen­tury Fort Carré, where Napoleon was once im­pris­oned, or to a perfume fac­tory at Grasse. In­stead we bought de­li­cious ice creams and ate them, watch­ing all the glamorous peo­ple go by.

Pizza, Pisa and per­for­mances

Ex­hausted – all this fresh sea air is tir­ing – we ate a fill­ing buffet be­fore tak­ing an early night. We were soon be­ing lulled to sleep by the gen­tle rock­ing of the ship as she sailed along the coast to La Spezia, Italy.

I loved see­ing a dif­fer­ent view out of my port­hole ev­ery morn­ing, and couldn’t wait to get a taste of a new coun­try. The Lib­erty has plenty of kids’ ac­tiv­i­ties even on shore days, so par­ents can ex­plore on land while the chil­dren are safe and happy on board. But I in­sisted Anaïs come with me – my hus­band is Ital­ian, af­ter all, and would never for­give us if we didn’t both ex­plore his na­tive coun­try.

Billed as the Gate­way to Tus­cany and just an hour from Pisa with its fa­mous lean­ing tower, La Spezia was the per­fect venue to try a de­li­cious au­then­tic wood-oven pizza and prac­tise our pi­geon Ital­ian. Other ship­mates ven­tured the two hours’ drive to Florence, to see its iconic Duomo, one of Italy’s largest basil­i­cas, and works cre­ated by Michelangelo be­fore he headed to Rome to paint the Sis­tine Chapel.

Half way be­tween Pisa and Genoa, La Spezia has grown from a fish­ing vil­lage into an in­dus­trial cen­tre over­look­ing the Gulf of Po­ets. The area is so beau­ti­ful, and there was so much to do. There are 16 shore ex­cur­sions – from tour­ing in­side the leg­endary Lean­ing Tower to tour­ing Tus­cany – but we were happy mak­ing our own fun. That’s the best part of a cruise: you can cre­ate your own sched­ule, and move at your own pace.

We soaked up the sun, and the chic Ital­ian am­biance un­til it was time to head back to the Lib­erty and get our­selves ship­shape for din­ner and En­core, an ice show. We’d heard this was a must-see and ar­rived early enough to bag good seats. “What are they go­ing to do?” Anaïs asked as she stared at the ice rink. I tried to ex­plain, but noth­ing pre­pared her for the glitzy and triple-salco spec­tac­u­lar of the in­ter­na­tional cast per­form­ing com­pli­cated ice rou­tines to mu­sic just me­tres away. We oohed and aa­hed

Catch views of colour­ful Ver­nazza in Italy’s La Spezia on board the Royal Caribbean In­ter­na­tional‘s lux­u­ri­ous

Lib­erty of the Seas

Lib­erty of the Seas has some­thing for the whole fam­ily, from shop­ping and

sports to beloved movie char­ac­ters and

spec­tac­u­lar shows

On your stop-off at La Spezia you could ven­ture out to see Fort Carré where Napoleon was once im­pris­oned; the Lean­ing Tower of Pisa (be­low) or the iconic Duomo in Florence (be­low left)

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