Get involved! Send your photos, video, news & views by texting HL NEWS to 80360 or e-mail us
A grand old time seeing the sights of Europe on the Grand Princess
1:31pm Wednesday 18th July 2012 in NewsXtra
Fed up of hanging around at airports, followed by long tiring flights, and then queuing at the other end to get through security and collect your luggage? Writes Tony Collins.
Well there is a solution that gets rid of virtually all of that while still enabling you to have a fabulous overseas holiday.
So it was that my wife and I set sail from England on a 17-day cruise adventure that took in many of the delights that the Mediterranean and Adriatic have to offer before returning to Southampton at the end of our 6,126 nautical mile voyage.
As one first-time West Midlands passenger put it, just a few days into his virgin cruise, "I'm like a puppy in a field".
We were in excellent hands as the 108,000 ton Grand Princess sailed respectively to the ports of Cadiz in Spain, Valletta in Malta, the canals of Venice in Italy, Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, the Greek island of Corfu, and Gibraltar, providing a little UK outpost in Diamond Jubilee year.
Our ship is one of 16 in the Princess fleet, with the Royal Princess joining in 2013 and a sister vessel the following year.
The idea for Princess Cruises came about because there were not enough hotel rooms in Seattle during the 1962 World's Fair. But things really took off when the old Pacific Princess - one of only three ships in the fleet at the time - was used in the long-running TV series, The Love Boat, which ran for nine years until 1986.
Nowadays, cruising has apparently never been more popular, and especially no-fly sailings from Southampton and other UK ports.
More British passengers than ever chose to begin their cruise holiday from a UK port - up 100,000, or 15 per cent, on the previous year to 753,000. At the same time, figures from the Passenger Shipping Association reveal that UK holidaymakers took a record 1.7 million ocean cruises in 2011 – with nearly 700,000 enjoying their first ever voyage.
Our ship, the Grand Princess, entered service in 1998, but is even grander these days having completed an $80 million refit in 2011. The work included removing a 160-ton chunk which previously housed a nightclub perched high above the stern some 18 decks over the sea. At the same time, workers added a piazza-style atrium, steak house, pizzeria, martini bar, a new internal nightclub and seven new suites.
One of the main highlights for me was undoubtedly sailing into Venice, with our huge, imposing ship sailing through one of this beautiful city's 150 canals within yards of the magnificent splendour of St Mark's Square and the Doge's Palace. And, of course, once we had docked, it was time to enjoy a more leisurely ride on one of the traditional gondolas that have been operating for centuries.
Equally spectacular was the historic walled city of Dubrovnik, happily fully restored following the damage suffered during the bitter civil war in the 1990s that led to an independent Croatia. Although tiring, you have to climb and walk the entire 1.5 mile length of the city walls to fully appreciate this UNESCO world heritage site.
The other ports were just as enjoyable, ranging from Valletta - which is preparing for capital city of Europe status in 2018 - to our final land stop, Gibraltar, which still retains the attractions of its famous apes and siege tunnels, as well as the landmark Rock itself.
But there is no shortage of interesting and entertaining things to do during days at sea, whether taking in a professional show, watching films on a giant screen on deck, having a flutter in the casino, trying your hand at golf, tennis, basketball, or even line dancing, or going for either a pamper in the spa or a workout in the gym.
That, of course, can only build up the appetite for the fabulous array and quality of the food available in the many restaurants on board, all of which is included in the cost of the holiday.
And the final great thing about sailing in and out of Southampton? No jet lag to get over once you're home, just a train journey of a couple of hours to get back to the Midlands.
Factbox. We sailed with Princess Cruises on their 17-day Mediterranean & Adriatic cruise, sailing from Southampton.. For booking information, telephone reservations on 0843 373 0333 or visit www.princess.com