MY family is like many around Australia we look forward to our annual holiday and always try and do something special with it.
Having done Asia and the Pacific on numerous occasions we wanted this time to try something different.
We certainly discovered that when we finally settled on a seven day Mediterranean cruise as the goal.
Choosing which cruise to take was settled when we happened to find a “children cruise free” as well as a special offer with MSC aboard their latest luxury liner the MSC Magnifica.
So was our $3,000-plus spend worth every cent?
I'll let you be the judge.
The Magnifica is the latest cruise ship to be built by the MSC group. It is literally a floating six-star hotel.
It is luxury from top to bottom and is an outstanding ship which cost MSC more than $450 million to build
Before we left I did some research on the web and discovered a few far from complimentary critiques about the ship.
But I noted all revolved around the fact that you had to pay for water, $3 a large bottle, and that you couldn't take your own alcohol on board.
There is also a 20 Euro a day charge per room that doesn't please many.
My call is that if you add this into what you expect to pay it won't cause you too much angst.
We boarded the Magnifica in Venice and despite the trip from the railway station to the dock being a difficult assignment the whole process was relatively painless.
The first night you set sail for Bari in Italy arriving early in the morning. Bari proved a real surprise for us as we toured the quaint backstreets with a local guide.
You can book tours for every stop the ship makes, but by walking to the end of each wharf you can save yourself more than 50 per cent of the cost. This is the best money saving tip I can give you about the cruise.
The second best tip I can give you revolves around your evening meal time. There are two sittings on the ship, one at 7pm and one at 9pm.
The 9pm late sitting allows you to go to the early show in the theatre, but means you won't finish eating until around 10pm. That's okay if you intend going to the casino or dancing until the wee hours, but for us the 7pm early sitting proved the ideal time.
After dinner you can then go to the second show which starts at 9.30pm and after that decide if you just want to go back to the cabin or join the party.
Katakolon (Olympia), Greece
The next stop after Bari is Katakolon in Greece. This small city mightn't ring a bell with many, but it is located just a 40 minute bus trip from Olympia.
Once again you have around six hours to explore and a walk through the ruins where the Olympic Games were first held is an amazing experience.
I raced my daughter on the Olympic track where thousands gathered so long ago to watch the best athletes in all of Greece compete.
She might tell you different, but I let her win.
The next day we were off to Izmir in Turkey where we journeyed through the streets in a horse drawn carriage for five hours at a cost of $100.
The markets were amongst the best we found throughout our European travels. The street merchants were far from pushy and this was a great place to visit.
Back on board we headed towards Istanbul. My wife and daughter were looking forward to the Spice Markets and Grand Bazaar and both were brilliant to visit. A taxi driver who wanted to take us to all his relatives' shops was the only negative, along with the fact that we didn't spend long enough in this city.
The cruise back from Istanbul to Dubrovnik takes almost a day and a half and this was actually a good thing. You didn't feel as though you had to get up from your seat and out of the bus for a change.
Dubrovnik was a surprise in that it was much smaller and quieter than we thought it would be.
After the mad scramble of Istanbul five hours around the streets of this city which has a population of fewer than 50,000 was a nice change.
In saying that it is not on my must return ports of call.
Then our trip of a lifetime was all over as we steamed into port once again at Venice.
My ratings for the cruise were 5/5 for luxury, 5/5 for service, 3/5 for food, 3/5 for entertainment and 4/5 for value.
It's not a cheap holiday, but we all need to spoil ourselves once in a while.
Oh by the way my daughter thought the teenage club was just awesome.
I wasn't as thrilled about it as her after having to make a few late night trips down to the disco to get her to come back to the cabin. Teenage girls!
The bare essentials
Seven day Mediterranean cruise on MSC Magnifica goes to Venice, Bari, Katakolon, Izmir, Istanbul, Dubrovnik.
Adult fares: $1300 to $1800. Children: Port charges only $200.
MSC often put up specials for their cruises close to sailing days. Also be prepared to pay an extra $200 for cabin service charge.