Fish and Ships*; NEIL MCLEMAN Finds Stingrays, Camels, Constellations and Plenty of Family Fun in Sharm El-Sheikh AMAZING EGYPT'S NOT JUST DESERTS

Article excerpt

Byline: NEIL MCLEMAN

Less than five hours' flying time from our shores, there is another world beneath the sea. Snorkelling off Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt reveals a brilliant kaleidoscope of colours as exotic fish playfully weave in and out of the ancient coral.

During three dives in the Red Sea we got acquainted with orange clownfish, red and white lionfish, plenty of purple and green parrot fish and a stingray.

Even before we had entered the water, the whole group got warmed up for the adventure by spotting a pair of rare leatherback turtles circling. The paid-for excursion was the highlight of a fantastic week spent at the 4Sun Holiday Village Red Sea.

But you could happily spend the whole trip at First Choice's all-inclusive resort, whose tireless entertainment team offer activities for everyone all day.

From zooming down a zip wire over the resort to the evening shows, there was never a dull moment for the kids - and lots of time off for mum and dad.

You can even get a taste of the Holiday Village Family Cruise (PS39 for adults, PS20 for children) by crossing the sandy beach to a long jetty and spotting jellyfish in the shallow waters below.

The day out on the boat was made more memorable by Rich, a Holiday Village team member on the trip who kept us all amused with a quiz and pirate face-painting. With life jackets provided, our 10-year-old, Georgie, jumped straight in the water, though Gabrielle, six, hung on to the buoy pulled around the boat by the crew members.

A word of caution, mind. Apply lots of suncream to avoid the burning that I suffered to my back while I had my head blissfully underwater.

Moving on to dry land, we took the Sinai by Starlight camel excursion into the desert.

This started with the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life as I was thrown back and forth on a rock-hard "saddle" with wooden posts front and back to stop me getting thrown off my "ship of the desert".

Next stop was a Bedouin camp to help bake bread on the open fire before a gorgeous sunset teased out the stars.

It was a sight worthy of the late Sir Patrick Moore, as the North Star and the Plough shone brightly above us.

Powerful telescopes gave us views of Saturn's rings and our nearest neighbour looked so close you felt you were walking on the Moon.

Gabrielle was a big fan of the excursions, while Georgie preferred the action of the Holiday Village.

And there was plenty of action.

Both of them took on the aerial adventure course and had swimming classes in the learner's pool (PS35 for five lessons). The always-smiling Kids' Club staff felt like their friends at the end of the week. There was also a football academy every morning, while for competitive dads - and mums - there's a daily football match at 11.30am and beach volleyball at 3pm if you fancy a break from one of the six pools and two water slides.

As well as all the sport, there was also evidence of the great British custom of beer drinking in the midday sun. But we are also adopting the unwelcome Teutonic tradition of hijacking sunloungers, with stories of people getting up at 5am to secure prime locations. This is just not cricket, although there were always enough beds whenever we turned up. …