Scotland on Sunday Travel

Although a little nervous to set sail, first-time seafarer Fiona Webster discovers a holiday on the high seas is still a treat.

The Sky Princess on a seven-port tour of The Mediterranean.

I’ve always been tempted by photos of stunning cruise ships you see in adverts, but as a holiday, I just wasn’t sure if the sheer scale of it was for us.

“Stuck on a ship with thousands of others, really?” asked my husband. But lockdown had got to all of us, and the Sky Princess promised a getaway, with stops at historical cities like Seville, where you can hop off and see the sights, or stay on board and chill. So, it took little persuasion for him to join me on a two-week, seven-port tour of the Med.

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The first thing that hits you is the sheer size of the vessel. The Sky Princess literally has her head in the clouds, and you have to squint as you look up at its 18 decks. It normally carries 4,000 passengers with 1,875 crew – almost one crew member per passenger – but due to Covid, was sailing at 60% passenger capacity for safety reasons.

Passengers must have received their second vaccine dose at least 14 days before cruising and have vaccination proof. Safety measures include mask-wearing in public areas, but not while seated in the restaurants, bars or exercise areas.

Embarking is easy, you can park right next to the ship and leave your car for the duration. No airport queues – you simply drop your luggage with friendly porters and step aboard.

On Princess Cruises, an electronic medallion gives access to your room and tells staff what package you have booked and are entitled to. You download their app for the information you need and staff are on hand to help.

Our all-inclusive Princess Plus package included all meals, snacks and drinks, apart from the speciality restaurants which charge a reasonable $25-$29 (£18.85-£21.86) for a four course meal. We were also entitled to 12 drinks a day each, including wine, cocktails and speciality spirits. How on earth were we going to get through all that?!

Seville's Plaza de España, a must-see for visitors.

First stop was deck five, which had a mezzanine stretching up three floors and looked like the lobby of a five star hotel, with its grand piano and marble staircases.

Cafes and restaurants are in abundance, offering afternoon tea, speciality coffees, Italian ice cream, freshly made sushi, handmade pizza at Alfredo’s Pizzeria, and the Estrella and Cielo’s restaurants, which were included in our package.

There are also restaurants like Sabatini’s Italian Trattoria, Bistro Sur La Mer and the Crown Grill, which offers succulent steaks. If you get peckish the International Cafe on deck 16 is open 24 hours, you can call room service, and there are numerous bars on board.

Our friendly steward showed us to our cabin on deck 15, where first sight was our balcony looking out to sea, so you can sit out as you sail.

The Take Five bar, one of many on Sky Princess.

Waking up next morning to views of the ocean is a treat you don’t forget. For breakfast, we tried the Estrella restaurant, where our attentive waiter offered us a choice of pancakes, crispy bacon, smoked salmon with cream cheese, fresh fruits, croissants or the full English.

You can also order breakfast in your room, or splash out $120 (£90.47) for two for the Balcony breakfast, where staff serve chilled champagne, croissants, pancakes, bacon, smoked salmon, melon, ham, eggs, fresh fruit and jugs of coffee and tea on your balcony; a wonderful way to start the day.

To work off a few of the accumulating pounds, I decided to try one of the several pools and found one where you could watch movies on a huge screen as you swim.

If swimming is not for you, there are countless alternatives. The daily schedule lists around 80 events and activities including an abs class, wine tasting, cocktail making, quizzes, craft-making, games and a singles get-together.

Sun loungers and relaxation areas at The Sanctuary on Sky Princess.

Musical entertainment included a classical pianist, steel band musician, string trio, blues band Excite, jazz trio and West End-style shows in the ship’s theatre.

At the Lotus Spa, friendly experts offer services like hair cutting, massage, aromatherapy and acupuncture. I opted for an intense hair treatment, which was wonderful, and my husband enjoyed 75 minutes of being oiled, pummelled and soothed, courtesy of the Bamboo massage.

The Spa also houses the Retreat, a private area with jacuzzi pool and stone beds that are wonderful for relaxing.

Our day-long port visits included Seville, Barcelona, Marseille, Cartagena, Palma Majorca, Corsica and Gibraltar. Organised excursions range from $50 to $500 (£37.69 to £376.95) or you can visit your own.

We picked an excursion to see Seville, which started with a walking tour, then lunch at a local restaurant of salad, fish, profiteroles and lovely local wine.

A few days later at the Majorcan capital of Palma, we hopped off the ship and on to a little wooden train, which cut its way through the mountains to Soller. This tiny city boasts shops, restaurants and an olive oil company where the family who have run it for centuries showed us how it is made.

The Roman ampitheatre in the Spanish port of Cartagena.

The next day, we docked in the Spanish port of Cartagena, which boasts a Roman amphitheatre. We decided to tour this city on our own and enjoyed strolling along tree lined boulevards, stropping at pavement cafés for coffee.

Back onboard, we headed for our last port, Gibraltar, where we toured its ancient caves and met the famous free-roaming monkeys, who nonchalantly clambered across our bus.

The journey was sadly almost over. Did we enjoy it? Yes. The staff were super friendly and efficient, the food excellent, the ship luxurious, clean and comfortable, and we never felt crowded. Waking up in different parts of the world to explore was wonderful, and it’s certainly less hassle than flying.

If you’re considering cruising, try taster cruises of just a few days, then progress to longer ones if you like it. Is cruising for you? You won’t know until you try…

How to plan your trip

Princess Cruises (princess.com; 0344 338 8663) offer the 14-night Mediterranean Adventurer from Southampton, visiting Spain, Italy and Gibraltar from £1,399pp, or sail on the all-inclusive Princess Plus fare from £1,819pp (includes premier drinks package, unlimited wi-fi and crew incentive). Departs April 30, 2022.

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