Island Escape -- July 24th to August 7th 2012 (2 adults, 2 children aged 15 and 7)
Back-to-back cruises on the Island Escape (Escape to the Med, followed by Souks and Sangria). Last time we were on the Island Escape I was pregnant with daughter and son was 7 we had a great time then and couldn't wait to get back. Again we chose an outside cabin on Diamond deck and I had pre-selected it by working out which was the most central cabin and prebooking it. We knew the cabins were small but with four of us in it (son is well over 6 foot) it was a squash. Not really enough clothes storage space for four of us or places for our luggage but we worked around that. Shower room small, compact and did the business. TV in room with BBC world news, Eurosport (in German) and two film channels (plus various ships channels). We took a kettle for early morning drinks and be warned one of the two main sockets near the mirror is a 110V socket so if you plug a kettle in there it will take ages to boil. Cabin satisfactory but could do with a spruce up. Cabin steward very good and we did get a few towel animals but not that many.
We had two days at sea, one in each week, then different ports of call with a day at Palma (where we embarked) in the middle. Was very impressed with speed and efficiency of embarkation process much better than our last cruise on Ocean Village) in fact everything about the travel to there from Exeter was fine (except Thompson had moved our flight from a reasonable 9am to a rather early 6:50am!).
First port of call was Olbia in Sardinia. Was not impressed. We went for a walk through the town, bought some bottled water for excursions (â‚¬1.50 for six bottles as opposed to Â£2 a bottle on board), tried to buy some drinks in a cafe but the service was so appalling we moved to another one and got some ice creams. Then got shuttle bus back to ship. In retrospect we should either have done a ship's excursion or taken a taxi (we were quoted â‚¬25 one way) to the beach. Sardinia looked lovely when we were leaving but I really couldn't recommend Olbia as a port.
Next stop was Naples. We had visited there last time on our Island Escape cruise when we had done a Pompeii excursion, so this time we went to Herculaneum. A very interesting trip, daughter who had done Romans at school found it very interesting and even taciturn 15 year old son seemed to enjoy it. It was very hot and near the end had to take daughter into the shade. Note there was no cafe at the site just a vending machine so take some coins. Some tourist stalls were set up outside in the car park and there was a stall selling drinks and ice cream. The best thing about the organised excursions are the tour guides, they are so well informed and expert in their field that it makes the trip really worthwhile and interesting.
Next stop was Civitavecchia for Rome. Another excursion, this time an early start for Rome and the Colosseum (the only organised tour which takes you into the Colosseum). Again guide was excellent, Colosseum tour was very good. Roman forum trip interesting but so hot (35 deg plus) children and I just moved from shadow to shadow. After this taken on a coach tour ending at the Trevi fountain where we were left for free time. Went to a local restaurant for a meal (very good) then did some shopping before being walked over to Spanish Steps . More free time then arranged to meet at the Piazza de Popolo -- be warned we went to a cafe there and each had a can of coke and it came to â‚¬24!! One of our tour party did not arrive at the pre-arranged meeting point and the guide had to retrace our steps and found him waiting at the last meeting point. This was a very expensive tour (especially for four of us) but we did cover a lot of Rome and saw all the major sites (apart from the Pantheon).
Fourth stop on this cruise was Propriano in Corsica. I'd done my homework here and knew there was a beach near the port so we had a beach day. Lovely weather, sea gets deep quickly so be warned and sand quite coarse but a really great time. Don't forget your suncream -- I burned dreadfully - remembered to cream the children and forgot myself! Very pretty port and a lovely stop.
Final port of call on this stage, Mahon in Menorca. We'd done a family holiday in Menorca many years ago and had visited Mahon before. We went up the steep steps to the town, had an ice cream and visited the shops then, after lunch on board, we did a glass-bottomed boat trip around the harbour. At â‚¬11 per adult and â‚¬5 for daughter it was good fun.
End of the first cruise so back to Palma. I really liked the look of the excursion to Soller, so whilst other people were leaving or arriving on board we went to Soller by coach with a brilliant guide, who was very interesting. Free time in Soller then back on the electric train to Palma. Island Escape had a private carriage so we weren't cramped and it was the end one so we stood out the back for a lot of the trip. Going through the tunnels was exhilarating especially the two mile long one! We all enjoyed this trip -- son says it was his favourite of the cruise.
Following another day at sea next port of call was Tangiers. Started with coach tour through city and out to the Cave of Hercules, not the most impressive cave I've been in! Be warned do not use the toilets here, daughter wanted to do so was directed to a hole in the ground and given a bottle of water....... Next sop is the lighthouse at the point where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet and there is a cafe where you are given either a soft drink or a cup of mint tea and there are proper toilets. Following this back into Tangiers to the Kasbah and then a walk through the Medina and the markets. A brief stop to see a snake charmer before free time. You are approached all the time by people trying to sell you things, they are very persistent and don't like no. It was hot, smelly but the culture so different a real experience.
From Tangiers across the Straits of Gibraltar to Gibraltar. My favourite stop, we had a brilliant day here. Started off walking through the town to the cable car station via the Main Street -- really strange to see BHS and Marks and Spencers. Duty free alcohol and tobacco a bargain here. Walked by Trafalgar cemetery to the cable car (Â£34 for all of us on return tickets) and up to the top. Plenty of Barbary Apes and photo opportunities up there, also some military ruins. We stayed up there for a good hour before heading down and having a picnic in the Alameda Botanical Gardens. Husband then went off to the WWII tunnels. Children and I met up with a friend whose husband had been stationed there this March and she took us out to Europa Point before taking us back to ship and we got on with two minutes to spare!
After Gibraltar we went on to Malaga. I have always wanted to go to Nerja and have often thought about a holiday there so we took the opportunity to do the excursion to the Nerja Caves. The day was very overcast and visibility was not great which was a shame as the Balcony of Europe in Nerja was a very scenic spot. We were given 45 minutes free time in Nerja and my criticism of this tour was that it wasn't long enough, I think you really needed at least 90 minutes here. Went from the town to the caves. These were much more impressive than in Tangiers -- can't believe that there is another cave three times larger not yet open to the public! Well worth a visit.
Cartagena was our penultimate stop. It was a Sunday and there wasn't much to do so we took the beach transfer option over to La Manga. It was a 30 minute drive so we guessed that the cost of the ship's tour was not too dissimilar to a taxi. La Manga is a thin strip of land where one side is the Mar Menor a lagoon of shallow warm water, ideal for children and the other side the Mediterranean. Daughter loved both, son was not too impressed with the lagoon and ended up going for a kebab roll instead which he really enjoyed!
Final stop was Valencia. Bit disappointed at first as the city was 6km from the port and didn't look that interesting for the children. Went to tourist information in the port and got directions to the beach -- a 20 minute walk. Absolutely brilliant beach, which all the family loved, masses of flat, golden sand, warm sea and big breakers. We had a fantastic time there then went for a meal at a restaurant along the promenade. Ended up getting a taxi back to the port for â‚¬4. For children I'd really recommend the beach option.
That's it for a review of the ports now on to more specifics about the ship:
Dining: We ate either in the Island Restaurant or Beachcomber. There is the Oasis restaurant at a cover charge of Â£14.99 and waiter service but we like the informality of buffets and the chance to try some unusual combinations. At first we felt the food was a little luke warm but this improved during the two weeks. Especially liked theme nights and husband is still raving about the Wasabi during oriental night. Kids meals are good but if you order one it takes a long time to arrive.
Drinks: We were lucky to have the free all-inclusive upgrade and really made the most of it. We all enjoyed the non-alcoholic cocktails -- Caribbean Delight and Roy Rogers being favourites. We did pay for a couple of frozen cocktails which were not included and one special coffee from Cafe Brasil. I worked out we must have saved about Â£300 by not having to buy drinks.
Childrens club: Palmy's for 3-7 years, daughter loved it and was in tears when we had to leave. They run around three sessions a day at different times (but usually 4-6 and 8-10) and do things like making scrapbooks, chocolate challenge and spooky house. They also run a breakfast club three days a week where they pick your child up from the cabin and take them to breakfast. At the end of the week is the Kid's talent show which is hilarious and fun. It isn't a contest just a chance for them to sing, dance, do animal impressions.... My daughter loved the club.
Teens Club: son was not so impressed. Went to a couple of things in the first week (card games and cocktail making) but was disorganised, not well attended and he didn't bother going the second week. He would not recommend it.
Entertainment: Showteam lead by Ross Roberts excellent especially the two singers Ben and Macey. Went to three of their shows and thought they were brilliant. Ocean Theatre did fill up quickly so you had to be quick to get a seat. Also did some quizzes in the Bounty Lounge and Sundowner, all good fun.
Staff -- all excellent, friendly, helpful and welcoming. Really make the cruise so special. Went to the returning passenger's cocktail party and can see why so many people keep coming back -- the winners had done 18 cruises on Island ships!
Summary -- a brilliant holiday, would go again and will look out for some new and exciting itineraries.