Hi Steve and Cyndi,
I have not been to Europe YET, but we are also going in Oct this year. I have spent considerable time checking out every travel site I could find with info about cruising and site seeing in Europe. I suggest that you go to the Cruise Critic. com Europe site. There is TONS of info there about taking private excursions and lots of other info about cruising to Europe. Many people have written in with post cruise reports of what they did, how they did it, complete with recommendations for and against . I also signed up on Cruise Critic.com's "roll call" site for my particular cruise where I have been able to chat with other people who will be cruising with me. Have you checked out the Trip Advisor site? There you can find travellers' reviews of hotels in your pre and post cruise ports. I couldn't tell from your post if you did so, but nearly everyone recommends arriving at least a day before your cruise departs in case of unforseen delays.We are arriving 2 days before so we can see a bit of Barcelona. I have read that we can expect English to be spoken and understood in the tourist areas of the ports we will visiting. It is considered polite to at least attempt to speak a few words of the language of the country you are in. You know, "please", "thank you", "hello". Personally I like to know how to say"do you speak English?"."How much?" "where is the bathroom?" Renting a car is not something I would consider ! Nearly every port we are visiting is a big city. I say relax and let someone else worry about traffic, directions, etc. I understand it is very easy to either take a bus or train from Villefranche to Nice and beyond. We also plan to use public transport and walk in Mykonos , Santorinni and Venice, where our cruise ends. All other ports we have a private driver reserved. We made our hotel and excursion choices based on recommendations from the sites I mentioned above. The main thing is that you have to be willing to do tons of searching and checking so you can make the right choices for YOU. It is kind of daunting in the beginning but if you keep at it, one day it will all just "click" and you will have arranged the perfect trip !
Hope I have helped !! Monterey Girl