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Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports
By Rick Steves
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- ebook $18.99 $24.99 CAD
- Trade Paperback $27.99 $34.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 29, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Rick's expert advice on making the most of your time on a cruise and experiencing each city, with thorough coverage of 23 ports of call
- Practical travel strategies including how to choose and book your cruise, adjusting to life onboard, and saving money
- Self-guided walks and tours of each port city so you can hit the best sights, sample local cuisine, and get to know the culture, even with a short amount of time
- Essential logistics including step-by-step instructions for arriving at each terminal, getting into town, and finding necessary services like ATMs and pharmacies
- Rick's reliable tips and candid advice on how to beat the crowds, skip lines, and avoid tourist traps
- Helpful reference photos throughout and full-color maps of each city
- Useful tools like mini-phrasebooks, detailed instructions for any visa requirements, hotel and airport recommendations for cruise access cities, and what to do if you miss your ship
- Full list of coverage: Provence, Marseille, Toulon and the Port of La Seyne-sur-Mer, Cassis, Aix-en-Provence, Nice, Villefrance-sur-Mer, Cap Ferrat, Monaco, Cannes, Antibes, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, the Port of Livorno, Rome, the Port of Civitaveccia, Naples, Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, Herculaneum, the Amalfi Coast, Venice, Dubrovnik, Athens, the Port of Piraeus, Mykonos, Santorini, Corfu, Olympia and the Port of Katakolo, Crete and the Port of Heraklion, and Rhodes
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught thousands of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
For each major destination, this book offers a balanced, comfortable mix of the predictable biggies and a healthy dose of intimacy. Along with marveling at masterpieces in the Uffizi Gallery, Vatican Museums, and Acropolis Museum, you can sip an aperitif in a trendy Riviera café and elbow your way into a tapas bar in Barcelona.
I advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of my money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Europe to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback I receive from readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—with the finesse of an independent, experienced traveler.
Bon voyage and happy travels!
ABOUT THIS BOOK
IS A EUROPEAN CRUISE RIGHT FOR YOU?
Map: Top Destinations
UNDERSTANDING THE CRUISE INDUSTRY
Imagine yourself lazing on the deck of a floating city as you glide past the rooftops of Monaco, Venice, or Mykonos. Each day, stepping off the gangway, you’re immersed in the vivid life of a different European city. Tour some of the world’s top museums, explore the ruins of an ancient metropolis, nurse a caffè latte while you people-watch from a prime sidewalk café, or take a dip in the Aegean at a pebbly beach. After a busy day in port, you can head back to the same cozy bedroom each night, without ever having to pack a suitcase or catch a train. As the sun sets and the ship pulls out of port, you have your choice of dining options—from a tuxedo-and-evening-gown affair to a poolside burger—followed by a world of nightlife. Plying the calm Mediterranean waters through the night, you wake up refreshed in a whole new city—ready to do it all again.
Cruising in Europe is more popular today than ever before. And for good reason. Taking a cruise can be a fun, affordable way to experience Europe—if you choose the right cruise, keep your extra expenses to a minimum...and use this book to make the absolute most of your time in port.
Unlike most cruising guidebooks, which dote on details about this ship’s restaurants or that ship’s staterooms, Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports focuses on the main attraction: some of the grandest cities in Europe. Even if you have just eight hours in port, you can still ramble the colorful Ramblas of Barcelona, kick the pebbles that stuck in Julius Caesar’s sandals at the Roman Forum, and hike to the top of Athens’ Acropolis.
Yes, you could spend a lifetime in any of these places. But you’ve got a few hours...and I have a plan for you. Each of this book’s destination chapters is designed as a minivacation of its own, with advice about what to do and detailed sightseeing information for each port. And, to enable you to do it all on your own, I’ve included detailed instructions for getting into town from the cruise terminal.
In each port, you’ll get all the specifics and opinions necessary to wring the maximum value out of your limited time and money. The best options in each port are, of course, only my opinion. But after spending much of my life researching Europe, I’ve developed a sixth sense for what travelers enjoy.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
The book is divided into three parts: First, I’ll suggest strategies for choosing which cruise to take, including a rundown of the major cruise lines, and explain the procedure for booking a cruise. Next, I’ll give you a “Cruising 101”-type travel-skills briefing, with advice about what you should know before you go, and strategies for making the most of your time both on and off the ship. And finally, the majority of this book is dedicated to the European ports you’ll visit, with complete plans for packing each day full of unforgettable experiences.
I haven’t skimped on my coverage of the sights in this book—which is why it’s a bricklike tome. To get the most out of the book, please don’t hesitate to tear out just the pages you need for each day in port (see sidebar).
IS A EUROPEAN CRUISE RIGHT FOR YOU?
I’m not going to try to convince you to cruise or not to cruise. If you’re holding this book, I assume you’ve already made that decision. But if you’re a cruise skeptic—or even a cruise cynic—and you’re trying to decide whether cruising suits your approach to experiencing Europe, I’ll let you in on my own process for weighing the pros and cons of cruising.
I believe this is the first and only cruising guidebook written by someone with a healthy skepticism about cruises. When I was growing up, cruising was a rich person’s hobby. I used to joke that for many American cruisers, the goal was not travel but hedonism. (How many meals can you eat in a day and still snorkel when you get into port?)
But now I understand that cruising can be both an efficient and cost-effective way to travel—if done smartly. After many years of exploring and writing about Europe, I haven’t found a more affordable way to see certain parts of the continent than cruising (short of sleeping on a park bench).
For a weeklong European cruise that includes room, board, transportation, tips, and port fees, a couple can pay as little as $100/person per night. To link all the places on an exciting one-week European cruise on your own, the hotels, rail passes, boat tickets, taxi transfers, restaurants, and so on would add up fast. The per-day base cost for mainstream cruises beats independent travel by a mile. And there’s no denying the convenience and efficiency of sleeping while you travel to your next destination—touring six dynamically different destinations in a single week without wasting valuable daylight hours packing, hauling your bags to the station, and sitting on a train.
And yet, I still have reservations. Just as someone trying to learn a language will do better by immersing themselves in that culture than by sitting in a classroom for a few hours, I believe that travelers in search of engaging, broadening experiences should eat, sleep, and live Europe. Good or bad, cruising insulates you from Europe. If the glass merchants of Venice are a little too pushy, you can simply retreat to the comfort of 24-hour room service, tall glasses of ice water, American sports on TV, and a boatload of people who speak English as a first language (except, perhaps, your crew). It’s fun—but is it Europe?
For many, it’s “Europe enough.” For travelers who prefer to tiptoe into Europe—rather than dive right in—this approach can be a good way to get your feet wet. Cruising works well as an enticing sampler for Europe, helping you decide where you’d like to return and explore deeper.
People take cruises for different reasons. Some travelers cruise as a means to an end: experiencing the ports of call. They appreciate the convenience of traveling while they sleep, waking up in an interesting new destination each morning, and making the most of every second they’re in port. This is the “first off, last on” crowd that attacks each port like a footrace. You can practically hear their mental starter’s pistol go off when the gangway opens.
Other cruisers are there to enjoy the cruise experience itself. They enjoy lying by the pool, taking advantage of onboard activities, dropping some cash at the casino, ringing up a huge bar tab, napping, reading, and watching ESPN on their stateroom TVs. If the Mona Lisa floated past, they might crane their necks, but wouldn’t strain to get out of their deck chairs.
With all due respect to the latter group, I’ve written this book primarily for the former. But if you really want to be on vacation, aim for somewhere in the middle: Be sure to experience the ports that really tickle your wanderlust, but give yourself a “day off” every now and again in the less-enticing ports to sleep in or hit the beach.
Another advantage of cruising is that it can accommodate a family or group of people with vastly different travel philosophies. It’s possible for Mom to go to the museum, Dad to lie by the pool, Sally to go for a bike ride, Bobby to go shopping, Grandma and Grandpa to take in a show...and then they can all have dinner together and swap stories about their perfect days. (Or, if they’re really getting on each other’s nerves, there’s plenty of room on a big ship to spread out.)
Cruising is especially popular among retirees, particularly those with limited mobility. Cruising rescues you from packing up your bags and huffing to the train station every other day. Once on land, accessibility for wheelchairs and walkers can vary dramatically—though some cruise lines offer excursions specifically designed for those with mobility issues. A cruise aficionado who had done the math once told me that, if you know how to find the deals, it’s theoretically cheaper to cruise indefinitely than to pay for a retirement home.
On the other hand, the independent, free-spirited traveler may not appreciate the constraints of cruising. For some, seven or eight hours in port is a tantalizing tease of a place where they’d love to linger for the evening—and the obligation to return to the ship every night is frustrating. Cruisers visiting Rome will never experience the Eternal City after dark. If you’re antsy, energetic, and want to stroll the cobbles of Europe at all hours, cruising may not be for you. However, even some seasoned globetrotters find that cruising is a good way to travel in Europe on a shoestring budget, yet still in comfort.
One cruise-activities coordinator told me that cruisers can be divided into two groups: Those who stay in their rooms, refuse to try the dozens of activities offered to them each day, and complain about everything; and those who get out and try to get to know their fellow passengers, make the most of being at sea, and have the time of their lives. Guess which type (according to him) enjoys the experience more?
Let’s face it: Americans get the least paid vacation in the rich world. Some people choose to dedicate their valuable time off to an all-inclusive, resort-style vacation in Florida, Hawaii, or Mexico: swimming pools, song-and-dance shows, shopping, and all-you-can-eat buffets. Cruising gives you much the same hedonistic experience, all while you learn a lot about Europe—provided you use your time on shore constructively. It can be the best of both worlds.
UNDERSTANDING THE CRUISE INDUSTRY
Cruising is a $46 billion-a-year business. Approximately one out of every five Americans has taken a cruise, and each year about 26 million people take one. In adjusted dollars, cruise prices haven’t risen in decades. This, partly, has sparked a huge growth in the cruise industry in recent years. The aging baby boomer population has also boosted sales, as older travelers discover that a cruise is an easy way to see the world. While the biggest growth has come from the North American market, cruise lines have also started marketing more internationally.
The industry has changed dramatically over the last generation. For decades, cruise lines catered exclusively to the upper crust—people who expected top-tier luxury. But with the popularity of The Love Boat television series in the 1970s and 1980s, then the one-upmanship of increasingly bigger megaships in the early 1990s, cruising went mainstream. Somebody had to fill all the berths on those gargantuan vessels, and cruise lines lowered their prices to attract middle-class customers. The “newlyweds and nearly deads” stereotype about cruise clientele is now outmoded. The industry has made bold efforts to appeal to an ever-broader customer base, representing a wide spectrum of ages, interests, and income levels.
In order to compete for passengers and fill megaships, cruise lines offer fares that can be astonishingly low. In fact, they make little or no money on ticket sales—and some “loss-leader” sailings actually lose money on the initial fare. Instead, the cruise lines’ main income comes from three sources: alcohol sales, gambling (onboard casinos), and sightseeing excursions. So while cruise lines are in the business of creating an unforgettable vacation for you, they’re also in the business of separating you from your money (once on the ship) to make up for their underpriced fares.
Just as airlines have bolstered their bottom lines by unbundling their fares and charging “pay as you go” fees for checking a bag or extra legroom, cruise lines now charge for things they used to include, such as specialty restaurants. The cruise industry is constantly experimenting with the balance between all-inclusive luxury and nickel-and-dime, à la carte, mass-market travel. (For tips on maximizing your experience while minimizing your expenses, see the sidebar on here.)
It’s also worth noting that cruise lines are able to remain profitable largely on the backs of their low-paid crew, who mostly hail from the developing world. Working 10 to 14 hours a day, seven days a week—almost entirely for tips—the tireless crew are the gears that keep cruises spinning.
Understanding how the cruise industry works can help you take advantage of your cruise experience...and not the other way around. Equipped with knowledge, you can be the smart consumer who has a fantastic time on board and in port without paying a premium. That’s what this book is all about.
CHOOSING AND BOOKING A CRUISE
CHOOSING A CRUISE
WHEN TO GO
SHIP SIZE AND AMENITIES
DESTINATIONS AND TIME IN PORT
Each cruise line has its own distinct personality, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses. Selecting a cruise that matches your travel style and philosophy can be critical for the enjoyment of your trip. On the other hand, some cruisers care only about the price, go on any line that offers a deal, and have a great time.
Still, the more your idea of “good travel” meshes with your cruise line’s, the more likely you are to enjoy both your trip and your fellow passengers. (For information on booking a cruise, see the next chapter.)
Comparison-shopping can be a fun part of the cruise experience. Read the cruise-line descriptions in this chapter, then browse the websites of the ones that interest you. Ask your friends who’ve cruised, and who share your interests, about the lines they’ve used, and what they thought of each one. Examine cruise lines’ brochures or websites—how the lines market themselves says a lot about what sort of clientele they attract. Photos of staterooms and amenities can be worth a thousand words in getting a sense of the vibe of each vessel.
Once you’ve narrowed down the choices, read some impartial reviews. The most popular cruising website, CruiseCritic.com, has reviews of cruise lines, specific ships, tips for visiting each port, and more. Other well-respected sites are CruiseDiva.com, CruiseMates.com, and AvidCruiser.com. If you feel that cruising is all about the ship, check ShipParade.com, which delves into details about each vessel.
Many travel agencies that sell cruises have surprisingly informative websites. One of the best, VacationsToGo.com, not only sorts different cruise options by price and destination, but also has useful facts, figures, and photos for each ship and port.
Most cruising guidebooks (such as The Unofficial Guide to Cruises) devote more coverage to detailed reviews of specific ships and their amenities than to the destinations—which make them the perfect complement to this book. (For destination-specific guidebooks, see the list on here.)
When selecting a cruise, you have three main factors to consider: price, itinerary (duration, destinations, and time spent in each port), and cruise line (personality and amenities).
In general, European cruises are focused more on destinations than on shipboard amenities (unlike Caribbean cruises, where passengers spend more time on board). When choosing among European cruises, base your decision on the cruising style and destinations that best match what you’re looking for: Big cities or island villages? Ancient ruins or modern museums? Beach time or urban strolling?
This chapter will give you a quick overview of some of the major lines to help you find a good match. Some cruise lines feel like Las Vegas casinos at sea, while others could be christened the S.S. Septuagenarian. Do you want a wide range of dining options on the ship, or do you view mealtime as a pragmatic way to fill the tank? After dinner, do you want to get to bed early, or dance in a disco until dawn?
American vs. European: While most US travelers opt for an American cruise line, doing so definitely Americanizes your travel experience. When you’re on board, it feels almost as if you’d never left the good old U. S. of A.—with American shows on the TV, Heinz ketchup in the buffet line, and fellow Yanks all around you. If you’d rather leave North America behind, going with a European-flavored cruise line can be an interesting cultural experience in itself. While Europeans are likely to be among the passengers on any cruise line, they represent a larger proportion on European-owned or -operated boats. Surrounded by Germans who enthusiastically burp after a good meal, Italians who nudge ahead of you in line, and French people who enjoy sunbathing topless—and listening to every announcement translated into six different languages—you’ll definitely know you’re in Europe. I once cruised the Mediterranean for a week as one of just 13 Americans on a budget ship with more than 2,000 passengers. I never saw another Yank, spent my time on board and in port with working-class Italians and Spaniards from towns no tourist has ever heard of, and had what was quite possibly the most truly “European” experience of my life.
Environmental Impact: Most forms of travel come with a toll on the environment. And cruise ships are no exception—they gulp fuel as they ply scenic seas, struggling to find waste-disposal methods that are as convenient as possible while still being legal. Some cruise lines are more conscientious about these issues than others. If environmental impact is a major concern, you can compare the records for all the major cruise lines at www.foe.org/cruise-report-card.
WHEN TO GO
Most Mediterranean cruises take place between April and October, when the weather is warm. While July and August are popular times to cruise—with kids (and their teachers) on summer vacation—they are the most crowded months, and oppressive heat can make exploring the ports miserable. Shoulder season (May-June and Sept-Oct) usually has fewer crowds and more comfortable weather. Popular cruise ports are never really uncrowded, but they may be a little less jammed in shoulder season. And the weather, while potentially a bit chilly in May or October, is usually quite pleasant at the Mediterranean’s southern latitudes. For a month-by-month climate chart that includes various ports, see the appendix in this book.
European cruises can range from a few days to a few weeks. The typical cruiser sails for 7 days, but some travelers enjoy taking a 10-, 12-, or 14-day cruise, then adding a few days on land at either end to stretch out their trip. A cruise of seven days or shorter tends to focus on one “zone” of the Mediterranean (Spain, Italy and France, Greek Isles); a longer cruise is more likely to provide a sampler of the whole area.
Cruise pricing, ranging from mass market to ultra-luxury categories, can run from $100 to $700+ per person per day. (For more on cruise pricing, see the next chapter).
While going with the cheapest option is tempting, it may be worth paying a little extra for an experience that better matches your idea of a dream cruise. If you’re hoping for glitzy public spaces and sparkling nightly revues, you’ll kick yourself later if you saved $40 a day—but ended up on a musty ship with stale shows. If you want to maximize time exploring European destinations, it can be worth paying an extra $20 a day for an itinerary with two more hours at each port—that translates to just 10 bucks an hour, a veritable steal considering the extra experiences it’ll allow you to cram in. Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish in this regard.
On the other hand, I’ve noticed that sometimes, the more people pay for a cruise, the higher their expectations—and, therefore, the more prone they are to disappointment. I’ve cruised on lines ranging from bargain-basement to top-end, and I’ve noticed an almost perfect correlation between how much someone pays and how much they enjoy complaining. In my experience, folks who pay less are simply more fun to cruise with. When considering the people I’ll wind up dining and going on shore excursions with, price tag aside, I’d rather go with a midrange cruise line than a top-end one.
When evaluating prices and making a budget, take into account all of the “extras” you might wind up buying from the cruise line: alcoholic drinks, meals at specialty restaurants, the semimandatory “auto-tip,” shore excursions, and your gambling tab from the casino, just to name a few. (For details on economizing on these extra costs, see here.)
SHIP SIZE AND AMENITIES
When it comes to cruise ships, bigger is not necessarily better...although it can be, depending on your interests.
The biggest ships offer a wide variety of restaurants, activities, entertainment, and other amenities (such as resources for kids). The main disadvantage of a big ship is being herded along with thousands of other passengers—3,000 tourists piling off a ship into a small port town definitely changes the character of the place.
Smaller ships enjoy fewer crowds, access to out-of-the-way ports, and less hassle when disembarking. If you’re focusing your time and energy on the destinations anyway, a smaller ship can be more relaxing to “come home” to. On the other hand, for all of the above reasons, cruises on the smallest ships are typically much more expensive. Small ships also physically can’t offer the wide range of eateries and activities as the big vessels; intimate, yacht-like vessels have no room for a climbing wall or an ice rink. And on a small ship, you may feel the motion of the sea more than on a big ship.
Weigh which amenities are important to you, and find a cruise line that offers those things. Considerations include:
Food, both quality and variety (generally speaking, the bigger the ship, the more dining options you’ll have);
- On Sale
- Oct 29, 2019
- Page Count
- 1191 pages
- Rick Steves