A Saga mini-cruise around the Mediterranean has Karen Pasquali Jones partying from Ibiza to Rome

One of Rome’s iconic landmarks is the Trevi Fountain © iStock
One of Rome’s iconic landmarks is the Trevi Fountain © iStock

As the sun set, we danced al fresco in the world’s party capital, Ibiza. It was hot – still in the mid 20s – and the music was so loud that it drowned out my laughter as I was spun around and around.

But the man making all the moves wasn’t a raver in a nightclub on the Balearic island. He was a 63-year-old father of three who had come on a Saga cruise with his entire family to celebrate his dad’s 97th birthday.

By 11.30pm the soirée on deck was in full swing. “Come on,” my new dance partner said, grabbing my hand for the conga. I could hardly keep up as we danced, in a line, up and down the stairs, round the salt-water swimming pool, and back again.

Exhausted, I collapsed in a chair afterwards, desperate for a cold drink and my bed. “They may be older than me, but I just can’t keep up,” I said to my friend before sneaking off to my stateroom.

Ibiza’s picturesque Old Town © iStock
Ibiza’s picturesque Old Town © iStock

We had flown into Ibiza earlier that day to join Saga Pearl II for a Med sailing, with ports of call including Civitavecchia for Rome; Livorno, Tuscany, for Florence and Pisa; and Barcelona.

With a maximum capacity of 449 guests on board, served by 252 crew members, this is a yacht-style ship. But while it may be small by cruise standards, it packs a lot into its seven decks. There’s the Dining Room for formal lunches and dinner, the Verandah for eating al fresco, Shackleton’s Bar with a pianist and the Sundowner Bar for the best cocktails and views on board. You can also find a library, card room, cinema, spa, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a hair and beauty salon, shop, gym and sauna.

Our stateroom was nautical and very nice with blue and white décor, a large bathroom complete with tub, and full-size Distant Shores products.

We were on an all-inclusive package, so we headed to the Sundowner Bar (one of two on board), for a pre-dinner mojito and cosmopolitan. We chose to sit outside at the Verandah for dinner. The menu was a foodie’s dream; everything was delicious, and neither of us could resist the cheese board, so it was surprising that we could even move when the deck party had begun.

An indulgent welcome on board Saga Pearl II
An indulgent welcome on board Saga Pearl II

Our sea day was spent relaxing in the Mediterranean sun, chatting to the other (very friendly) passengers and cooling off in the swimming pool. The day sped past until it was time to join Captain Kees Spekman for pre-dinner drinks at his cocktail party.

Impossibly tall, and very funny, the captain amused us with stories of his time at sea. After dinner (another extravaganza) we headed to the Discovery Lounge to watch the evening’s entertainment, Swing That Thing, a tribute to the Rat Pack. It was brilliant, and we ended up going to bed late again even though we had to be up early to explore Rome.

We had opted for the Ancient Rome on Foot excursion and were soon mesmerised by the sights of the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon, and Piazza Navona. I threw my three coins in the Trevi Fountain – and salivated over handbags and shoes in Prada, Gucci and every designer that matters down the most expensive street in Rome, Via Condotti.

Enjoying sunset © Shutterstock
Enjoying sunset © Shutterstock

My husband is Roman (his mother was from Trastevere, by the Tiber River and the area where the “true Romans come from”) so I know a few secrets – how you can see St Peter’s Basilica with its dome in the Vatican City perfectly framed through a keyhole of a door opposite on top of a hill, or that there’s a road on the outskirts of the city where gravity makes cars go up the hill rather than down.

But I also learned plenty on this fascinating tour; mostly history, which I love, but also that the Saga guests had unstoppable energy.

The trip was 10 hours of glorious sightseeing so I was tired when we arrived back at Civitavecchia. But I couldn’t relax. There was just time for a shower before dinner, and a date with The Celtic Tenors live in concert. The Irish trio stunned us all with their rendition of Danny Boy along with original songs from their platinum best-selling albums.

Afterwards, in Shackleton’s Bar, magician Marc Oberon dazzled us with close-up feats that defied logic – making cards we had chosen fly out of the pack, and levitating signed euro bills scrunched into balls.

The sun sets over Barceloneta Beach and the Mediterranean Sea © Shutterstock

It was another late night, followed by a day I’d been excited about for weeks – visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I’ve been all over Italy, but never stopped at this pretty town before. When we saw the world-famous cathedral bell tower, I gasped. It was beyond white, much smaller than I imagined – and wasn’t leaning. “It’s straight,” I mumbled, thinking this was another of magician Marc’s tricks. But our guide was laughing as we all stood, confused, staring at the very straight tower.

“We are to the south of the tower,” he said, “And the tower leans to the south, so it looks straight from here.”

He led us a few steps away, where we had a different angle, and we saw the tower leaning. He explained that the 55.86-metre tall tower’s lean began during construction because the ground was too soft on one side to support the structure’s weight. It has now been stabilised and you can climb up the 296 steps to the top.

Pinching the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
Pinching the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy

Afterwards we ate gelato and perused all the stalls. It was a brilliant afternoon, and we headed back to the ship giggling like schoolgirls. Barcelona was our final port of call, and we set out to explore the Ramblas, the city’s famous bustling promenade. We strolled the city to admire modernist architect Antonio Gaudí’s amazing buildings, including his magnum opus, the incomplete Sagrada Família, which is the most visited monument in Spain. Gaudí combined Gothic and Art Nouveau to create the futuristic and curved basilica, which looks like something out of a Ridley Scott movie, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and a fitting finale to one of the best cruises I’ve ever been on. Lively, upbeat, and boasting superb food, wine and cultural excursions, as well as an elegant and comfortable ship, our Saga adventure had been the dolce vita from start to finish.

GETTING THERE: A 22-night Christmas in the Mediterranean cruise on board Saga Pearl II departing Southampton on 17 December 2017 starts from £4,245pp. Price includes all meals on board, 24-hour room service and a welcome cocktail party (0800 068 5053; saga.co.uk/cruise).