Originally Posted by You
We have less than 90 days until our cruise in the Western Med, can anyone recommend a good port guide book? Something with not only what to see, but distances, local customs and how to best get around?
Most bookstores carry several excellent series of guidebooks to Europe.
That said, if you have never been to your ports of call before, I recommend taking one or another of the ship's excursions in the strongest possible terms for several reasons.
>> 1. Many of the major attractions in European ports of call have very long queues -- often two to three hours -- for general admission. If you attempt to visit the major attractions on your own, you will spend half of your time ashore waiting in the queues to get into them. The shore excursions have pre-reserved times, so they go in through the group entrance with very little wait.
>> 2. The guides who escort shore excursion groups through the attractions are fluent in English. If you go to an attraction on your own, the immediate tours might be in another language.
>> 3. There are significant differences between the social customs of many European countries and our own social customs as Americans. The explanations of social customs by tour guides in various ports of call has spared many cruise ship passengers from getting into situations that could have been very awkward or embarrassing. (By way of example, don't ask for a "napkin" if you are dining in England. In British parliance, a "napkin" is something that a woman wears between her legs at "that time of the month." When dining in England, one wipes one's lips with a "serviette." But tour guides will explain this sort of thing.)
>> 4. Many of the destinations are a considerable distance from the port city. By way of example, Roma is over an hour by highway from the port of Civitavecchia where the cruise ships dock. Taxi fare one way is about ninty dollars, and you'll waste a lot of time if you insist on taking a taxi to the train station so you can take a train instead. The shore excursions include seamless transportation. Also, if you go on your own, you'll need to leave the destination early enough to recover if you encounter a transportation snag -- which will seriously cut into your time at the destination -- whereas the ship will make alternate arrangements for you if you are on an official shore excursion that encounters a snag.
Most of the shore excursions in major European ports of call are full day events that leave the ship between 8:00 and 8:30 and return to the ship between 5:30 and 6:00, with a luncheon featuring local cuisine included. They typically visit two or three major attractions and allow some time on your own for shopping, independent exploration, or "people watching" in the park or a sidewalk cafe.
If you really want to see the destinations that are a distance from the respective ports of call, most cruise lines offer a transportation package as an official shore excursion (look for "Independent Tour of <City>" or "<City> on Your Own" or something similar in the shore excursion brochure). These excursions provide completely seamless round trip transportation between the pier and the heart of the destination. Upon arrival in the destination city, the "guide" gives a brief orientation and instructions as to the time and place to meet to return to the ship, then sets you free to explore the city until the appointed time. These excursions really do give you the maximum time on your own in the respective destination cities.
Have a great cruise!