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Weekender Travel: Ship the kids off; MIKE SMALL'S CRUISE WAS MED FOR FUN.


THE only trouble with family holidays is that you have to take the kids.

Once they reach that awkward age (about three months?), the last thing they want on holiday is to spend precious time with their parents when they could be having fun.

Your average teen would rather not even be on the same planet as you. Wouldn't it be easier if you could turn up at your destination, hand over the little darlings, and let them get on with destroying the world while you relax?

You can (almost) with Ocean Village, part of Carnival's cruise empire, on its seven and 14-night tours around the Med, starting from Majorca's capital, Palma.

The idea is that when you're in port, the kids are packed off on organised Great Escapes (from about pounds 12 per child): abseiling, white water rafting, jeep safari-ing, scuba diving, mountain biking and other -ing things likely to sap their strength.

The old wrecks left behind are then free to do their own -ing, whether it's lazing around one of the ship's two pools sipping cocktails, taking a trip to some nearby cultural hot-spot, or trying something a little more strenuous like jet skiiing, kayaking or windsurfing

Ocean Village is for cruise virgins between 30 and 50 who don't want to wear a tux for dinner and aren't bothered whether they meet the Captain and get their picture taken with him. On this cruise, the skipper does what he's paid to do - steer the ship.

Dining is also informal. You're not tied to a first or second sitting - you eat when you want to (radical, eh?). You can wander into the two buffet-style restaurants at any time, 24/7, but it's wise to book the two more up-scale establishments.

It's a mainly youthful, laid-back crowd but the OV isn't just packed with youngish trendies, there's a good mix of age groups. We spent a fascinating night with a Second World War veteran, Bill Sage from Caterham, who'd fought his way across North Africa in 1942 and wanted to re-visit Tunis.

The Med trip (the OV meanders through the Caribbean during November to April) is an easy way to do a modern-day Grand Tour. In the 18th Century, wealthy Brits spent months wandering around the Continent hoovering up culture, art and antiquities. Now you can discover the wonders of Carthage (birthplace of Hannibal), Pompeii, Rome and Florence in a week and still enjoy chilled Stella at pounds 2.40 a pint on-board. Lord Byron, eat your heart out.

Food on board is all-inclusive, except for a cover charge at two restaurants, and bottles of wine start from about pounds 10. Organised trips cost from pounds 12-pounds 50pp. Here's a typical week on the OV:


For the kids: Base Camp runs activities for 9-17 year olds from 9am to midnight and is supervised by qualified staff. A cinema and cyber cafe also helps keep them busy. Our 15-year-old twins' only complaint was that there wasn't enough for older teens. They suggested a pool table and free Bacardi Breezers, but then they think they're 25.

For you: Four restaurants, including one run by TV chef James Martin (pounds 12.50pp extra every time you visit but worth it) will pile on the pounds. Fight back in the superbly-equipped gym and health spa or just give in and go for the chips in the casino.

DAY 2: TUNIS (Arrives 7am)

Kids: A half-hour coach trip takes you from the busy port of La Goulette to the beach at Gammarth, where volleyball, football, banana boats, camel rides and quad bikes are available. Keep a baseball bat handy to discourage amorous young locals from your daughters and remember, hotels here may be 4-star but the sanitation sometimes isn't.

You: A 20-minute coach trip through the surprisingly green suburbs of Tunis takes you to Carthage, birthplace of Hannibal - he who rode his elephants over the Alps - and hub of the Phoenician empire for a thousand years. Tour the spectacular ruins then walk round the cliff-top village of Sidi Bou Said, whose whitewashed walls, blue doors and views across the gulf have inspired writers and artists since the 19th Century. Today they inspire hundreds of souvenir sellers to swarm there.

DAY 3: NAPLES (Arrives 8am)

Kids: Bone-idle teens will need some convincing that a hike up Mount Vesuvius is a good idea. Especially when they find out it's erupted 50 times since it wiped out Pompeii in 79AD. The 10-mile trip lets them peer over the top while hoping number 51 isn't due.

You: Leave the bustle of Naples behind as you're driven to the flower-filled streets of Sorrento. Visit the boutiques and cafes perched high on the cliffs, before visiting Pompeii. If that's too strenuous for you, take a five-minute stroll from the ship into Naples - the birthplace of pizza in 1830 allegedly. A cold Peroni beer at a pavement cafe will set you back about 2.70 euros.

DAY 4: FLORENCE & PISA (Arrives at Livorno 8.30am)

Kids: Brief dose of culture in Pisa's Field of Miracles (Leaning Tower, Cathedral and Baptistry) before a 10-mile trip to the coast and the resort of Tirrenia, where they can swim and play volleyball and basketball.

You: A 60-mile coach trip from the port to Florence doesn't sound such a fab idea but hey, it is the birthplace of the Renaissance. The Duomo's one of the largest cathedrals in the world and the Uffizi Gallery has Botticelli, Titian and Da Vinci masterpieces by the bucketful.

DAY 5: MONTE CARLO (Arrives 8am)

Kids: Visit Marineland to see killer whales, sharks and dolphins at the largest aquatic park in Europe or they can put on a wetsuit, helmet and lifejacket and splash down the Loup River - on foot.

You: Monte Carlo is 10 miles from the tres-chic fishing port of Villefranche, where the ship anchors. Best to go by organised trip as it's murder trying to get a cab, bus or train into Grimaldi-shire. Once there, see the Grand Casino, Prince's Palace (changing of the guard at 11.55am each day) or just walk the GP circuit.

DAY 6: CIUDADELA, Menorca (Arrives 8am)

Kids: Discover scuba diving. Practise in a shallow pool before heading out to sea for a guided dive. Or learn to windsurf in the calm waters off the island.

You: This small medieval port was capital of Menorca until the 18th Century. Promenade around the splendid town square, the Placa des Born, take in the 14th- Century cathedral and don't miss the market on Place Libertat for fresh fruit and fish still struggling to come to terms with capture.

DAY 7: PALMA, Majorca (Arrives 6.30am)

Kids: Rock climbing and abseiling at a nature reserve.

You: Far from the beaches and nightlife, Palma town centre is an oasis of calm. Aim for La Seu, the 13th-Century Gothic cathedral that hogs the skyline. Around it are dozens of shady streets full of shops and restaurants. It's Majorca's best-kept secret.

Getting There:

FLY to Palma then OV's 14-night cruise visits Tunis, Rome, Santa Margherita, St. Raphael and Barcelona on the Palaces & Paella itinerary, and Tunis, Naples, Florence and Pisa, Monte Carlo and Menorca on the Piazzas & Pasta itinerary.

The routes for 2005 are the Tapas & Togas fly-cruise option calling at Palma, Tunis, Rome, Cannes, Barcelona and Ibiza, while the Frescoes & Frascati itinerary takes in Tunis, Naples, Florence and Pisa, Monte Carlo and Menorca.

OV's 14-night fly-cruises in the Med start from pounds 879pp. Seven night fly-cruises start from pounds 599pp. Cruises on two itineraries in the Caribbean cost from pounds 799pp.

Visit www.oceanvillage or call 0845 358 5000.


SHORE THING: Keep fit with healthy activities after gorging aboard on the all-inclusive food; TWIN PACK: Mike's girls
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Copyright 2005 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUIT
Date:Feb 5, 2005
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