Cruising: Star treatment

From Grease to Greece, Richard Hercock finds Hollywood comes to Europe when cruising the Med.

The Ruby Princess

Ever since I watched the film Grease as a kid in the Seventies, I have always had a fixation of going on a date to a drive-in movie.

Thirty-odd years later I am married with a young family, and never did drive that big American convertible up to the outdoor screen. But I think I found the next best thing, on board the Ruby Princess as we sailed around the Greek islands.

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Now, cruise liners are well known for their Broadway-style musicals, on-board casinos and numerous bars to drink away an evening. And I have been on several ships which boast massive outdoor screens by the swimming pools. But I have never tried a movie under the stars. Until now.

Picture the scene. Sipping hot chocolate, wrapped up in a warm blanket, and watching the latest Star Trek film as we sailed under a clear Mediterranean sky. This was one special movie date, less of a back-row fumble, more a front row seat to a Hollywood blockbuster yet with all the comfort of a onesie.

My wife Jen and I were on board the Ruby Princess, a 12-night sailing from Rome to Venice, as we cruised the Greek Islands and everywhere in between. So rewind to the opening credits, here we are, both old enough to just about remember date nights but, with a young family, they are fading memories.

Our usual film outing is a trip to the local multiplex on a rainy morning, so this is a little different.

On board the 19-deck floating hotel, one of the Ruby’s several pools is converted into Movie Under The Stars, a 300-sq ft, 69,000 watt poolside theatre. Sun loungers suddenly become movie chairs, reclined to the max, and instead of the irritating sound of sweet wrappers, all you can hear alongside the movie soundtrack is the swish of the water in the pool as it gently rolls side to side.

There’s no ice cream interval, but the on-board waiters more than make up for that, serving hot drinks, cookies and milk, and even tubes of popcorn if you want to go old-school.

Curled up under a blanket to keep the evening chill away, it proved the perfect ending to a glorious day, and one we repeated more than just the once on our holiday.

A different blockbuster film is shown each evening, while during the day there are sports events and concerts screened to keep you entertained.

Although with an on-board art gallery, library, spa, fitness centre, internet cafe, duty-free shops and The Sanctuary salon, you can never be accused of having nothing to occupy your days.

And with food and drink available from the moment you wake-up, until your head hits the pillow, you are only a short time from your next meal.

Every night you have the option of formal dining, a menu service, or you relax with a buffet-style option. Failing that, why not a pizza or burger, or just be plain indulgent and opt for room service. That’s the joy of cruising, the choice is always yours. The Ruby Princess is now five years old, but had a refurbishment in 2011 and is a stunning ship. It boasts three main dining rooms, plus an array of speciality eating places.

My favourite has to be the Crown Grill. It’s here where I tasted one of the most succulent steaks I have ever experienced. My tastebuds are drooling just thinking about it.

Our accommodation was a balcony stateroom – one of 682 such rooms on the Ruby – out of a total of 1,542 cabins. That also includes 26 suites if you really want to splash out. Inside our stateroom was everything you want from a room, en-suite shower room and toilet, TV, fridge, vanity area and a great balcony where I spent many afternoons, just relaxing with a book. There’s something totally relaxing about reading on a cruise.

There are a few distractions, and when you lift your head from the pages of a spy thriller, you gaze out at a skyline which just engulfs your senses.

This year, the newly-launched Regal Princess will be offering Grand Mediterranean sailings for fly-Med cruises. A sister ship to Royal Princess (launched by the Duchess of Cambridge in Southampton last summer), it will offer its 3,560 passengers a variety of enticing features.

These include a soaring atrium, the social hub of the ship; a dramatic over-water SeaWalk, a top-deck glass-bottomed walkway extending more than 28 feet beyond the edge of the vessel; plush private poolside cabanas; the PrincessLive! television studio; dedicated pastry shop; a special Chef’s Table Lumiere, a private dining experience that surrounds diners in a curtain of light. All outside staterooms will feature balconies too.

We flew out to join the Ruby Princess a short drive to the coast from Rome, and enjoyed several ports of call in Greece, including the stunning Santorini and beaches of Mykonos, Corfu, Katakolon and ancient Athens. Along the way, we also spent a day in Naples, shopped the markets of Kusadasi in Turkey, while also finding time to squeeze in Dubrovnik, in Croatia.

Eventually, we waved farewell to the Ruby Princess in Venice, but something tells me this won’t be our last chance of sampling a Movie Under The Stars night.

• Regal Princess 12-night Grand Mediterranean cruise, sailing between Venice and Barcelona.

Itinerary: Venice (overnight), Dubrovnik, Athens (Piraeus), Kusadasi (for Ephesus), Mykonos, Naples (for Capri & Pompeii), Rome (Civitavecchia), Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Toulon (for Provence), Barcelona.

Prices from £1,349 per person (based on two adults sharing an inside stateroom). Fare includes all accommodation, all main meals and on board entertainment, excludes flights. All offers are subject to availability. 0843 373 0333,