by Paul Wojnicki

WE initially chose MSC for one reason - price.

It’s hard to believe that in the school holidays a six day/five night cruise for a family of four could cost just £630, or around £100 per day for four people, but that’s exactly what we paid for our sea view cabin. Children sail in the same cabin as their parents for a fraction of the adult cost.

What I hadn’t realised when I booked is that MSC have something of a reputation as being extremely child friendly and this first becomes evident when we board in Genoa. We have spent the day exploring MSC’s hub city and are tired and eager to board when we arrive at the port. We eye the long queue of passengers wearily and I anticipate a long wait before we get to our cabin. Not so. We’re only in the reception area a minute or two before we’re approached by a representative who informs us that families with young children are entitled to priority boarding and whisks us through a separate entrance straight onto the ship.

So far so good.

Our room is surprisingly spacious, with a large double bed, two fold-down single beds, wardrobes bathroom and bar area. Our children, Harrison and Ella, are in heaven - aside from some minor histrionics revolving around the mini-bar and an expensive looking bottle of mango juice.

At 15-years-old, The MSC Armonia is an older vessel, though a $200 million dollar refurbishment gives the ship a more modern feel. It’s not the biggest ship on the seas either, with a mid-range capacity of around 2,000 passengers, but to Harrison and Ella it’s the biggest ship they’ve ever seen and it feels pretty large to us as well.

We find an under-threes’ club that Ella loves, despite the lack of batteries in around 70per cent of the toys. We find a club for three-six-year-olds that Harrison fiercely resists entering, so I couldn’t possibly comment on, and a Lego club for youngsters over seven where both our children are welcomed by the animation team, despite them being aged two and five.

There is also a teenagers’ club which feels like an amusement arcade/chillout room for adolescents wanting to get away from their boring old parents.

Once the children have experimented with every last brick in the Lego club we decide to explore the pool areas on the 11th deck. The air temperature is a temperate 17 degrees but the water in the pools is 24 centigrade; warm enough for our kids, who take great delight in splashing each other while bemused Italians, who presumably prefer to bathe at a balmier time of year, watch on from the poolside bar.

Having the pools to ourselves is great but once we’re out of the water we feel the chill in our wet swimwear and we insist the kids wait until the following day to try out the Spray Park. Harrison is particularly disappointed, as the wet play area looks like so much fun with its water cannons, giant water buckets and wet slides. Still, there are five more days ahead of us and the weather report for later in the week is excellent.

Leaving the pools behind, we explore the dining facilities in the buffet restaurant, which is perfect for families with younger children. Harrison and Ella’s table manners are hit and miss at the best of times, so it’s nice to just let them pick what they like from the buffet and eat it in a relaxed atmosphere. The food is pretty good quality too, with Italian cuisine being understandably prominent. I’m certain the silver service restaurants would have been great but we’re not ready to inflict our toddlers on other passengers for a few years yet.

It almost feels like a shame to leave the ship when we dock in rainy Marseille, but the kids have a great time taking the tourist train up to Notre-Dame de la Garde at the highest natural point in the city and looking down at our ship in the docks to the west.

We enjoy even better views of the Armonia from the hills of sunny Cagliari two days later, and from the medieval streets of Valletta a day later. Unfortunately high winds prohibit us from docking in Menorca but we end the cruise on a high, literally and metaphorically, when we disembark in Sicily and visit Mount Etna and the Greek theatre of Taormina with stupendous views of the volcano and of the Mediterranean.

MSC offer flexible embarkation and disembarkation ports which meant we could end our cruise in Sicily and spend a few days here rather than spend another two days sailing back to Genoa. It would also have been possible to board the ship in Marseille instead of Genoa.

* The MSC cruise for four people (this cruise took place in the Easter holidays this year) cost £650.

* Genoa can be reached by train from Milan (1.5hrs) Pisa (2hrs) or Nice (3 hrs), all of which are easily accessed from Leeds Bradford or Manchester airports.

* The cruise can be booked direct at or