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Who's for a cruise? Let's rock and roll; HIT THE DECKS WITH HIP CROWD.

Byline: By CLIVE TULLY

HAVE you ever had one of those moments when you get the overwhelming feeling that a place or situation feels completely right?

It happened to me on the new cruise ship Ocean Village Two while I was looking for the lounge on Deck 11.

I walked past the open door to the captain's suite and from within came the raucous, pulsating music of Aussie rockers AC/DC. Yup, I thought, if the master of the ship is into heavy rock, you just know you're in good hands.

About 1.25 million happy sailors took a cruise last year and this year that number is predicted to grow by 100,000.

Much of this rise in popularity is down to the changing nature of cruise holidays, tossing the formality overboard for something a bit more rock 'n' roll.

Yes, you can still seek out the posh cruises with their strict dress codes, set dining times and other bewildering forms of etiquette. But now there are cruises catering for a new breed of passenger - younger, more active and more relaxed.

Ocean Village has been at the forefront of this change, with cruise virgins making up six out of 10 of their passengers. Aimed at 30- to 50-somethings, life on board is casual and informal with no dress codes, buffet dining with no set times and lots of things to do on land. They even have a fleet of mountain bikes so you can work off all the food you'll tuck into on board.

I joined the OV2 in Palma, Majorca, to set out on a cruise of the Med. Everything on the ship was still gleaming and sparkling from its refit, completed just six weeks previously. The first full day was spent at sea, which eases you into your holiday and gives you time to find your way about the ship.

For many of the passengers, it's an opportunity to work on the tans, so the upper decks are pretty much jammed with loungers and basking oiled bodies. But if soaking up the rays doesn't appeal, there's plenty more going on.

The ship's circus performers - yes, really - hold workshops on juggling and how to get into the swing of things on the trapeze. I took another option, learning the basics of salsa. There's plenty to keep the kids amused too. The Base Camp children's centre puts on lots of activities for kids and a chill-out area for teens. But kids of all ages seemed to be driving around at high speed and shooting up the aliens in the Sega Village entertainment arcade.

And the spa has to be seen to be believed. On most ships of this class, the spa would be a fairly modest affair with a couple of treatment rooms.

Relative to the size of the ship, OV2's Karma Spa is the largest of its kind. It's spread over two decks, and includes a sauna with floor to ceiling windows, steam room and a funky relaxation room with 60s-style meditation hanging pod chairs. Almost all the treatment rooms have a panoramic view over the ship's bow. I tried the 90-minute Oxyjet facial - a favourite of Madonna and Jennifer Aniston.

The purpose of this treatment is to get special cosmetic antiwrinkle formulations deep into your skin by puffing it in using pure oxygen. I'm told the full effects are apparent after three days, but immediately I looked 10 years younger. Honest.

The shore excursions, which make up an important part of any cruise, are arranged with military precision to ensure several hundred passengers all get on to the right coaches.

But if you are feeling really energetic, you can join the biking tours. The most popular on my cruise was the Tunisian tour, freewheeling around ancient Carthage and the pretty little town of Sidi Bou Said, while the tour of Rome comes a close second, visiting 10 famous landmarks in under 10 miles.

After the rigours of Rome, I opt for the gentler approach in Tunisia, heading off on a bus tour to Sidi Bou Said. While taking a walk down towards the beach, I spotted young couples sitting on a nearby wall embracing.

Such displays of affection between members of the opposite sex are still frowned upon in public in Tunisia, so I was in Sidi's equivalent of Lovers' Lane. In other ports I chose to explore under my own steam. As well as saving on the cost of a shore excursion, it's great fun.

On the boat, you have a choice of restaurants, and with one buf fet restaurant open 24 hours a day you can pick and choose when you want to eat.

There's no dressing up required, either. On the odd occasions where I spotted diners who had trouble with even the basic pr inciples of "appropriate dress", the staff seemed pretty relaxed. Two restaurants provide a good selection of buffet food but, for a treat, check out the a la carte menus in La Luna, or celebrity chef James Martin's The Bistro.

Both of these offer mouth-watering fare, although I was a trifle mystified by the giant plasma screen in The Bistro showing live kitchen action.

Food in the main restaurants is included in the cruise price - a small cover charge is payable in the speciality restaurants. There are plenty of bars, and prices are on a par with what you'd pay at home.

Entertainment on board covers most tastes. The staple is the theatre shows, while musicians and singers also perform in the lounges.

There are also guest entertainers, and while I was aboard stand-up comic Jeff Stevenson had the audience crying with laughter.

On one night, the circus performers put on a stunning show on a specially-constructed frame built on the pool deck. It was the high-wire highlight of the cruise.

What's the deal?

OCEAN Village Two's Mediterranean season runs until November this year. Prices for a seven-night Med cruise start from pounds 599, and includes flights, transfers and onboard dining (excluding La Luna and James Martin's Bistro for which there is a supplement). Call Ocean Village on 0845 4567 888, visit www.oceanvillageholidays.co.uk or contact your ABTA travel agent.

CAPTION(S):

Ocean Village reaches out to the young... and even has a fleet of mountain bikes on board; Pictures: TRAVEL LIBRARY/OCEAN VILLAGE/WORLD PICTURE/PICTURES COLOUR LIBRARY/ALAMY; Bistro special... celeb chef James Martin; The modern Ocean Village Two is fresh from a complete refit; St Peter's Basilica on the Tiber in Rome... one of 10 landmarks visited
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 2, 2007
Words:1092
Previous Article:DAYS OUT IN THE UK.
Next Article:DEALS OF THE WEEK.


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