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First Trip To Europe – Do It On A Cruise

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A few weeks ago, I returned from a Western Mediterranean cruise. Though it wasn’t my first trip to Europe, it did remind me why a cruise is an excellent way to visit Europe, particularly for those visiting that region for the first time.

It’s certainly not that many parts of Europe aren’t worth a land trip, which allows for a much deeper immersion into experiencing the sites and culture.

When visiting by cruise ship, there is one big drawback; your time in ports of call is limited.

But beyond that, there are many positives to choosing to travel the region by cruise ship.

It happens that this past week I shared a long conversation with a friend who had just returned from a land trip to Europe. We both spent the same basic amount of time in Europe; he on a 2 week trip by air/train/bus through France and Italy; me on a 12 night cruise (with a one night pre-cruise stay) from Barcelona, Spain to Marseille, France,  Livorno (for Florence – Italy), Rome and Venice, Italy, and Dubrovnik, Croatia (this particular itinerary overnighted in Rome and Venice).

Though each was a different trip we both had two things in common – we both enjoyed our trips, and we both returned exhausted.

Europe is especially interesting because of the history – historic sites, art history, historic culture and societies. It is made even more interesting by the proximity of numerous different countries.  In the same time, and similar distances,  it takes to cross a state  in the United States,, you can find yourself in different countries, where different languages are spoken. Since the inception of the European Union, travel from one country in the Union to another member of Union has become much less restricted, but you do still cross borders.

Since the inception of the European Union, all of the countries in the Union (with the exception of Great Britain) also share a common currency; the Euro. Due to the worsening economic conditions in Europe the value of the Euro (in comparison to the U.S. Dollar) has dropped, but visitors with American currency, still pay a premium when purchasing Euros.

This is important to note, because one will find a cruise vacation through Europe will be considerably less expensive than a land vacation. Visitors from North America pay for their cruises in U.S. Dollars, and included in that cost is your accommodations for the duration of the trip, as well as the vast majority of the food you consume during the trip.

Hotel rates in Europe, for a room comparable to the standards North Americans are used to, are quite expensive, as is dining in a large number of restaurants you might dine in. Even now, with a generally weak European economy, neither my land traveling friend, or I, found many “bargains” on our trips.

Even considering the additional money I paid for my tours in ports during my visits, my friend’s per diem expenses were considerably higher than mine were.

Train transportation in Europe is actually quite inexpensive. But, the other expenses (hotels, and dining) are generally considerably higher; especially in the major cities.  One can save some money when choosing where to have one’s meals, and the standard of those meals. However, if one to were attempt to enjoy the same standard of meals you enjoy on cruise ship, there is no question you’ll be paying much more on food when traveling by land.

Now, that’s not to say, there’s not a drawback to not spending the extra money a land trip demands.  You do miss the opportunity to enjoy the different culinary experiences of the various countries you visit; at least not thoroughly enough to get a complete “taste” of it.

That’s why, in every port of call I’ve ever visited in Europe, I make a point of having at least one meal during the course of my visit.  While I don’t get to experience a complete “taste” of the cuisine, I do get to enjoy the “appetizer”; the initial sample of said cuisine.

“An appetizer” is also the term I like to describe all ports of call visits during a European cruise. On European cruises, though time in each port is limited, you are able to get a sample of many more cities, towns and countries than is possible on a land trip of equal length. I’ve been fortunate to have done a number of European cruises, and when I’m visiting ports I’ve been to before I simply plan my day to see sites I didn’t get a chance to see the last time I visited.

While my friend enjoyed his land trip, after our conversation, he was envious of the variety of countries I was able to visit by ship, and the ease of the way I was able to do it.

He and his family had the advantage of arranging their own itinerary, and decide themselves how much time they would spend where. But along with that, they had to arrange the logistics of transportation and accommodations along the way, and make decisions on meal planning, and of course pay for it all as they went.

With all that said, there’s nothing wrong with land trips to Europe. I’ve visited Europe on a land trip as well. It is certainly a more “involved” experience than doing so by cruise ship. While you’re more involved in the logistical planning, there’s no question you also get the benefit of being able to get a more full feel for the cultural experience of the places you visit.

While I now prefer visiting Europe by cruise now, because of the ease of travel which it allows, I do appreciate the more immersed nature of land visits.

The one manner of European trips I don’t get are the organized bus tours, which surprisingly many people choose. I understand those who do so enjoy the logistical planning being done by the organizing companies, and the luggage handling, and often much of the meal planning. Yet, in my view, having to basically live out of your suitcase, and putting your luggage out for pick up each day you’re moving on, and seeing much of the countryside through the window of a bus as you travel, is much more work than reward.

If you are choosing to visit by land, rather than by cruise ship, I highly recommend designing your own tours; whether that means by air, train, bus or renting vehicles.  Admittedly a more difficult plan, but with a much higher reward for the work you do.

Family travel through Europe, with younger children, or even teens, has it own unique challenges. And, in my mind, the easiest way to minimize those challenges is to cruise.

As a family a cruise takes much of the stress of travel out of the equation for the parents, and for the children. While it allows the family to experience some of the adventure and education of travel, it also offers the security of familiar surroundings to return to each day, and back on board, when traveling from one location to the next, family friendly activities are provided for everyone to enjoy, rather than time spent in train stations and airports, getting from one point to the next. On a cruise ship, parents will never hear that dreaded phrase… are we there yet?

For those with younger children, it also offers the flexibility to choose to leave children in supervised programs on the ship, if they happen to need a break from the rigors of  daily touring.

By the end of our conversation my friend was convinced. He decided then and there their next visit to Europe would be on a cruise. While he understood he would be giving up a more immersed experience, the ease of the trip, built into the cruise experience was very attractive to him.

And a cruise allows you to enjoy a European appetizer of multiple locations. If you fall in love with one of the areas you visit, you can always choose to return for an extended visit to that specific locale.

– A View From The Kuki  Side of Cruising –










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Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time August 1, 2012 at 5:36 am

There is one very good reason to take the cruise in Europe vis a vis the bus trip, timing.

Lets say you have a full day in Barcelona, during a bus trip, or, as the more expensive ones like, “Escorted Coach Vacation”, or some other haughty title. You get up, do your bath routine, hopefully, eat the breakfast provided – can be as varied as bread and cheese, a more extensive continental, or full, depending on the “bus” tour booked, wait for evereyone to load onto the bus, ride in the bus to Barcelona, say, from Madrid, get to Barcelona, check in at the hotel, sightsee the city, return to hotel, have dinner, go to your room, pass out exhausted, and do the same thing the next day on you way to another city. Tiring? Exhausting? Cramped and smelly in the bus? (oh, the aroma of the toilet in any bus is …) And the dining! Dining not indicative of the region you are visiting? Skimpy tourista menu?

You know what the cruise offers, and the “deal” regardlesss of ship or cruise line can not be beat.

On the cruise you get assorted meals as you travel, night life and shows, casino, and longer land time to explore, either on your own, by shore excursion, either purchased on your ship, or at the dock.

Of course an independent land tour lets you do, go, and come as you please, and the experience can be awesome in the countries chosen.

However, the cruise delivers so much often for less and can sail out of bad weather or into it, and you have the comfort of the ship as your hotel and dining spot.

Comment from Heather
Time August 6, 2012 at 3:56 pm

We’re thinking of doing a cruise in Europe for many of the reasons you listed. There are plenty of port towns we haven’t seen yet.
Re: bus tours of Europe – when we were younger and stationed in Europe (my husband is in the Army) we took many of these bus tours. They were wonderful if you had limited time and money for travel, and we were limited in both. lol. You could sleep on the bus while the driver took you to your destination and wake up and hit the ground running. Often they would include a hotel night or two. The bus tour companies had deals worked out with many of the restaurants and museums etc. so we really saved money that way. To each his own. I wouldn’t do it now though. Those buses are fairly uncomfortable and we’re too old for that.

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