Best of the Med

Family-friendly short cruises on Royal Caribbean

By: Maryann Hammers

Can a mass-market megaship renowned for rock-climbing walls and ice-skating rinks cut it in the sophisticated Mediterranean, celebrated for museums and monuments? Royal Caribbean believes the answer is “yes.”

In May 2006, the line introduced its 3,838-passenger Voyager of the Seas to the Western Mediterranean, and passengers responded so positively that the ship returns next year with more sailings and itineraries.

Unlike Royal Caribbean’s longer Med cruises on Legend of the Seas and Brilliance of the Seas, the new Voyager sailings are on the brief side from three to seven nights. The compressed schedules appeal to passengers who don’t want to spend the time or money involved in a longer cruise, as well as to first-time visitors who’d like to sample the Med’s main highlights.

I had sailed the Med a few times before, both on luxury liners (Crystal’s Serenity and Silversea’s Silver Cloud) and on Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas. Eager to see what a Med cruise would be like on a family-friendly megaship, I signed up for the Voyager’s seven-night Barcelona-to-Barcelona itinerary, with stops in Provence (Marseilles), Villefranche (Nice), Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Civitavecchia (Rome) and Naples.

In addition to the brevity of the sailing, the main thing that set this cruise apart was the passengers’ age range. A quick scan of the morning buffet line revealed that this group was decades younger than those I’ve noted on longer or more luxurious sailings. The ship was packed with families, as well as plenty of couples and groups in their 20s and 30s. Royal Caribbean declined to release specific demographics but did state that about 15 percent of the passengers were children, and all other ages were “evenly distributed.”

That makes perfect sense, given the ship’s offerings. Passengers can amuse themselves with onboard mini-golf, Johnny Rockets and Ben & Jerry’s, full-size basketball courts, three pools, a large gym, multiple lounges, nightclubs, pubs and extensive children’s and teens’ programs as well as that famous rock-climbing wall and ice-skating rink. The entire journey had a casual, carefree and energetic vibe but without the rambunctious pool-party flavor of say, a Caribbean cruise.

The itinerary was so ambitious, however, that most of us weren’t really able to enjoy everything the ship had to offer. Except for our one sea day at the end of the voyage, I never had the opportunity to sleep in, relax by the pool, stay out late or go ice skating. In order to see all those great cities, my morning routine consisted of an early wake-up call, rushed breakfast and then a scramble to disembark by 8 a.m. at the latest. It would have been nice to enjoy a sea day or two between ports to catch my breath and climb a rock wall. But people who believe the whole point of flying all the way to Europe is to, well, see Europe, may appreciate the port-packed schedule.

With fares that start at $399 for three nights, passengers can expect efficient, but not sumptuous, staterooms and service. For example, bath towels were thin, well worn and smallish, but our housekeeper cheerfully provided extras when we asked. And the twin beds in my cabin were more like camping cots. Staterooms have since been outfitted with new, sturdier beds with thick, pillow-top mattresses and duvets. They even promise to be “gap-free” when pushed together. (Every ship in the Royal Caribbean fleet will have the new beds by May 2007.)

The bottom line for the new Voyager sailings: They’re ideal for non-finicky, hearty travelers who’d like a quick taste of the best of the Med on a budget. For those who can handle the rigorous schedule and don’t want to waste a single minute, this is just the ticket.


Voyager of the Seas sails the Western Mediterranean, roundtrip from Barcelona, May through November. Itineraries range from three nights/one port; four-nights/two ports; six nights/four ports; or seven nights/six ports.

In 2007, Navigator of the Seas, a Voyager-class ship, will also cruise the Mediterranean on 7- and 14-night sailings. Brilliance of the Seas and Legend of Seas will continue to cruise the Eastern and Western Mediterranean on longer sailings of 9 to 13 nights.