Sunday, May 24, 2015

Planning European Cruise

Sometimes planning the cruise and doing all the research is almost as much fun as the actual cruise.  I always say to people "you are spending thousands on this vacation, make sure you know a little bit about where you are going and what you want to do when you get there". 

Now I will admit I am a bit over the top when it comes to planning.  I love it, yeah I get more excited when I can start researching a new place or learn about a new tour, or a book arrives for me to read about a place I will visit.

So as many of you know we will be travelling this October to the Mediterranean to do our first cruise there.  We have both been to Europe before but not any of the countries this cruise will take us to.  

For this voyage we will be visiting:  Rome, Livorno, Cannes, Corsica, Naples, Mykonos, Istanbul, Kusadasi, Athens, Venice (3 days), Dubrovnik, Salerno, Florence, Toulon, Barcelona, and Ponta Delgada.  

At first I felt overwhelmed, where would I start.  Well I have lots of cruise friends who have been to most, if not all these places.  So first thing was a quick email listing the ports and asking for their advice and tour recommendations.  And they did not disappoint.

I took out my binder and added a paper for each port and at the top listed the port name, the date we are there, and the times we are there. Then as I got pertinent information I just wrote it on each page.  Sometimes it is short like hours of a museum we want to go.  Or it is -- buy tickets ahead of time.  Sometimes I have booked a tour and I just add the info for the tour here and print out the confirmation paper and put it in my binder.  I copied all the information that each friend sent me into this binder as well.  Note I normally later create an electronic Notebook for each port with all the detailed information there so I don't have to bring all the paperwork.  But initially I find it easier to just open the book and write down info as it comes in.  Like a restaurant recommendation.

Next was getting some information from the local library.  I got all of Rick Steve's DVD for these countries and watched.  

I then bought the Rick Steve's Mediterranean Cruise Ports Guide .  I read thru each port and highlighted things I thought would be interesting.  My honey then read the book and marked things he thought we should do in each of the ports, and I followed up with my thoughts for each port too. For many of the ports we are going to follow many of Rick's walking tours and use most of his Audio Guides that we have already downloaded to our phones to listen when we get there.  

You can find out more about Rick's Audio Guides here.  

Flights there were reserved quite early when a great deal came by our way so we are flying one way with British Airways from Vancouver with only one short stop in London.  
A friend of ours recommended an apartment (The Green Apartments) to rent for the five days we are in Rome and so we contacted them and were able to reserve the perfect place for a very good rate of 120 E a night.  Most hotels were more and this way we are close to many sights and we can still come back and do some of our own cooking, wash, and enjoy the terrace.  

For Rome we knew we needed to come up with a game plan of what we wanted to accomplish cause we know we can't do it all.  Then we looked at the days we are there and did a rough itinerary of what we will do each day.  We were able to scoop up tickets to see the Tomb of St. Peter and we decided to check out the Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel on their night tour for a different perspective.  We also have a cooking class booked for the last day there.  So other than those set items we are fluid with what we see and when on the other days.  But of course we are planning to see all the regular sites.

After reading Rick's guides and also reading Ron In Rome's webpages we know we can easily take the train to the port. This will save us tons of money that we can use elsewhere. It is also helpful with transportation tips from the airport to the center of Rome.

For all the ports we have only three official tours booked. The first is for Ephesus in Kusadasi and the other is in the Azores - Ponta Delgada.  Both tours are small groups and from guides that came highly recommended.  We also have coordinated private transfers from Livorno to Florence for 8 but we are on our own once we get there.  Once again we will be using Rick's advice and touring around ourselves.

It was key for us that this very port intensive trip would have to be paced out.  We are keenly aware of our tolerance and level of patience when it comes to touring. It is important for us to not have things overly planned but to take time to savour the moments.  

Because of this we purposely have decided to not visit Pompei, not because we don't want to see it, but we know by that day we will be tired and we just won't do it justice. We will tour around Naples and visit the museum that does hold a lot of artifacts though.  And we know there will be more trips to Europe in order to see it then.

Also Athens was a port we originally had a tour booked for but it will be the third port in a row with all very long days of touring so we rationally decided that we would opt to book the hop on hop off bus and do it on our own but not force ourselves to see it all, cause we just can't.  Again we know we will be back.

One reason we booked this trip was the three days, two nights we will have in Venice.  We booked a lovely small group tour the first evening that will take us to different bars to sample wine and tapas. The next day we will check out the Doges Palace Secret Itineraries Tour then again using Rick Steve's Audio Guides we will check out the other sites.  

We recently booked our one way return flights from Fort Lauderdale because the price was right and we were concerned about less availability and prices going up as it is the day before the US Thanksgiving.

I have decided to bring my laptop so I can blog.  Originally I was just going to bring my tablet but typing a whole blog for an entire month is.... well.... a pain in the you know what.  So I will bring the laptop and will try to keep on top of the voyage sharing what and where we are.  

For  us travelling is about experiences, connecting with the locals, experiencing the food/drink. Trying to communicate with the locals.  Taking local transit and walking as much as possible. Choosing to sit on a bench and just watch the people if necessary.  Interacting with the kids and savouring the moments.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a great trip. You sound like our kind of traveler. I love mixing and mingling with the locals.