I'm posting here b/c advice in this section was instrumental in helping me understand what cruising was and what to expect in the process. Because of all your responses, I enjoyed my vacations much more.
My dilema: We have been on 4 cruises before - all to the Caribbean. We are looking to branch out to a new cruising area and are looking to set our expectations correctly.
To celebrate a 40th birthday, we're looking to go on a Mediteranian cruise. Ideally hitting Barcelona, Italy, Greece and Turkey. In doing my homework, I am finding that most of the stops are very historical in nature and that I should expect to be very busy - as the port calls are lengthy each day. As well, it seems that some of the ports (like Rome) are quite a traveling distance to the actual area. I'm concerned that once I get back from the cruise I'll need another vacation to recuperate!
Is it worthwhile to attempt to cruise the mediteranian vs. taking a land tour?
And, if we enjoy the relaxation of being on a ship, is the Med really the place for us to go? I'm playing around with scraping the Med. for a turn at Hawaii or French Polynesia.
Any comments/suggestions would be helpful in getting closer to deciding on the next cruise. Thanks in advance!
I think this is a great question, and really points up both the plusses and minuses of cruising.
First, I think you're smart to want to get away from the Caribbean. The world is too big to keep going back to the same islands time after time.
Of course you're absolutely right that the ports along the Mediterranean are historically signficant. It's no exaggeration to say that in many ways they are the cradle of civilization. For those whose shore excursions have been limited to beach trips, shopping sprees and rum punch, getting your brain around the idea of exploring the amphitheatre in Ephesus where Paul preached can be a bit daunting.
You're also right that some cities are so far from the port that much of your valuable port time is taken up with pure transportation. Rome, Paris, London and Berlin are examples of these.
So, I think there are two ways to think about the issue:
First way. Take the cruise, but approach the big cities as "special introductory offers." In other words, have the mindset that there's no way you're going to "do" Rome in a few hours. Instead, change the goal to one of seeing enough to let you decide whether this is a place you want to come back and see later on a land tour. The smaller stops, like the Greek Islands, you can probably do in a day and be happy.
Second way: Cruise to Tahiti and plan land trips to Europe and the rest of the world separately. Just be sure you're not kidding yourselves about the land trips. If you're 40-ish and haven't done it yet, well, maybe it's time to make specific plans. If you can't bring yourselves to do that, revert to "first way" above.
For our part, we mostly did it the second way, more by accident than design. We took many trips abroad for both business and pleasure early in our marriage, and until the last few years we took far more land trips than cruises. Even now, we almost always manage to extend our cruises with significant land visits at one or both ends (easier to do now that we're retired). We almost feel cheated if we can't do a substantial pre or post-cruise stay somewhere wonderful.
But when we're on a cruise and hit the occasional new port we revert to the "first way," and enjoy it while deciding if we'll put it on the list for a return visit "sans bateau."
Several thoughts. We did seven days out of Barcelona and I can't imagine having added another week and hit Turkey and Greece. I think one should do the eastern and western on different cruises. For us, cruising was a comfortable way to be introduced to Europe. None of us (family of four) had ever been to Europe before and were somewhat nervous about being in a country where english wasn't the primary language. We'd venture out by day and return to the comfort of a home base with people we knew and spoiling atmosphere of a cruise ship. We did all of the excursions ourselves and used public transportation (taxi's and trains). This did several things for us: 1. cut the cost to a third of what the cruise line wanted 2. gave us the flixibility of doing what we wanted and for how long we wanted - having never been to these places, you can't really know how long you want to tour the Coleseum until you're there 3. gave us a chance to actually "see" the countries - being with the people on the trains rather than couped up in a bus with fifty people you just spent the last four days on the ship with. My last suggestion is, like someone else said, to spend some time after the cruise enjoying a mini-land vacation. We booked three days on Mallorca which is an island off Spain with miles of white sand beaches and a place where the Europeans go to relax - kind of their Florida. It was wonderful to relax after the port intensive cruise and we were all well rested for our return to the States.
I think a cruise in the Med in many ways is better than a land vacation. No question you don't have the time or ability to see as much in each port... but in many ways it's easier than a land vacation.
On a 12 or 14 day land vacation in Europe it would be very difficult and strenuous to get to as many different areas. The time necessary getting from the ports to the "cities of interest" would also be eaten up by the time necessary to pack/unpack and get from place to place.
And a BIG factor... Europe is much less expensive by cruise ship than it is by land, when you factor in hotels, meals, etc.
As AR suggested you view a Med cruise as an taste test, and note the areas you'd like to go back and spend more time in. One could easily spend 2 weeks to a month in Italy, and still not see everything.
There's also no question a cruise on Med itineraries is BUSY, and tiring. Days are long, and often you don't return to the ship before 8 or 9 PM.
If you're looking for relaxing, these itineraries are really not right.
The exception is something like the transatlantic cruise we're doing in Oct. Rome to Ft Lauderdale. We start off with a fairly relaxing 7 days in the Med, then 5 sea days coming to the Caribbean, a Carib port, and then another couple of sea days.
I think Kuki's points are excellent and right on the money.
My only quibble is that I wouldn't even try to do as many places on a 10-14 day land tour as a Mediterranean cruise of equivalent length does. I'd pick maybe three places and do four or five days in each. Because Kuki's right that if you tried to do as much "geography" on a land tour as a ship typically does, you'd be a babbling idiot by the time you got home.
I think instead that the comparison is whether you want a more in depth look at some of the important places, or a once-over-lightly look at a lot of places. I'm not saying that one is right and one is wrong, just that I think that's the real choice.
Other things to consider, of course, are how brave a traveler you are. If you're truly concerned, for example, about how you'd cope in a country where the language is other than English, maybe the cruise is for you. If, on the other hand, you're generally comfortable with various kinds of travel and know how to roll with the punches, you'll be greatly rewarded by more leisurely looks at some of the European/Mediterranean centers of interest.
Some of my most memorable times in Europe over 35 years of going there are the times I've spent on leisurely walks, at fine restaurants and sidewalk cafes, at great museums and off-the-beaten-path hideaways, and having the time to meet people. As Mark Twain said, people who travel to each others' lands never hate each other.
There was an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal last week pointing out that the more upscale cruise lines are doing more and more itineraries with extended port calls at significant places, often multi-day. Naturally, they see more revenue in more elaborate shore excursions, but I think they may also be realizing that discerning customers don't just want to be driven through a world capital then be herded back on the ship.
We are doing a Trans-Atlantic in October and the largest disappointment is Rome where most attractions will be closed. What we have decided to do is to get together with other cruisers and go to Tuscany, visit a vineyard, have lunch, a historic cathederal somewhere else.. To think that it is 1 1/2 hours from the port to Rome and then the same back and not see much...although how culd anybody be disappointed in Rome.. We feel tht this side trip to Tuscany wlll be much more enjoyable (Private tour).. Everyplace else we will do our own tours or hire a guide.. only by researching the ports ahead of time and seeing what you want to do.. There are many cruise that are really port intensive...and we prefer days at sea..and hopefully we have found the perfect one.
I do so much reading and research before making a decision that two things happen: 1) I second-guess myself and 2) I forget my motivations for the act in the first place.
Your comments were insightful. Thanks for taking the time to reply to my post. We're going to do the Med. and instead of Rome go to Tuscany and at the end, stop in Barcelona where we'll "really" see the place (we both only speak Spanish, so we'll try to do something more intensive there).
Good for you. You've made an excellent choice in Barcelona for your in-depth exploration. It is a really wonderful place.
--The hop-on hop-off busses run in two routes and are very good. Hint: they sell two-day tickets good on both routes. We took both loops completely around the first day, then went back and hopped off at places we wanted to see more on the second.
--Eat lunch at the 4 Cats restaurant. ("Quatros Gatos" I guess).
--Really explore the old city inside the Roman walls. Quite something.
--It's OK to laugh at the Gaudi church (still being built and probably always will be). It's very funny. (This is your architect. This is your architect on drugs.)