Last year I took you on a tour of the stops we made while cruising the Mediterranean. Now I thought it was time to address the cruise itself.
For many years my husband and I toyed with the idea of booking a cruise. But when it came to making a decision we always opted for a different type of holiday, firm in the belief that cruising wasn’t quite our thing.
My own reservations were threefold. Firstly, I thought having so little time to spend at the port stops would be frustrating and disappointing. Secondly, there was the thought of eating on the ship every evening instead of wandering around scoping out restaurants (which is my favourite part of a holiday). Lastly, I felt that the cruising holiday would be too organised and regimented. I like holidays to be fluid and surprising, to leave room for improvisation and impulse.
So what changed our minds?
Some friends, who themselves are regular cruisers, were booking a 10-night cruise of the Mediterranean and invited us to join them. We thought it would be a good opportunity to finally see if it was the type of holiday we would enjoy.
As it happened, our friends had to cancel due to work commitments. We toyed with the idea of cancelling also but it was my husband who thought we should stick with our booking and give the whole cruising thing a go.
As the ship was departing from Civitavecchia (Rome’s nearest port) we decided to spend a few days in Italy first. Considering Italy is my favourite place on the planet this was no hardship.
On the day of sailing we were still in Sorrento, which made things interesting – and not necessarily in a good way. We booked a car to drive us up to Naples station where we caught a train to Rome. We then had to change and catch another train from Rome to Civitavecchia. On arriving at the station we thought the port and ship would be within walking distance but alas we had to then get a taxi. By the time we finally arrived at embarkation we were exhausted and fed up and not in the mood for the queues that awaited us at check-in.
So here’s my first tip. On the day you sail make sure you’re already in the city you need to be. Try to avoid flying, driving, training, etc on the day. Stay overnight at the very least to make your journey to the ship easy and straightforward.
The first order of business after we sailed late afternoon was to take care of our nightly dinner reservation. A card had been left in our cabin informing us we had been booked for the “early” sitting that begins at 6.00pm. No, that wouldn’t do. Far too early in our opinion. Especially if you’ve had the day out and want time when you return to relax and shower. Fortunately we were sailing Concierge Class, which entitled us to certain benefits, one of them being our choice of the early or late dinner sitting. First problem easily fixed.
What we discovered on our first evening was that the dinner menu changes nightly. I found this went some way in making up for the fact that your surroundings don’t change. It also helped that the food was excellent. And our waiter was such a gem – his name was Annil and he was from India. Every evening when we arrived at our table he’d give me his cheeky grin and say, “Good evening, Miss Tracey.”
Of course, if you do want a change from the main dining room there are often several specialty restaurants on the ship offering various cuisines. I’d had grand ideas that we would try one of these restaurants every other night to keep things interesting. The thing is they’re actually quite expensive. I’d heard there was a cover charge per person and had imagined this would be a nominal fee. But at US$35.00 per person we decided that perhaps one night at a specialty restaurant would suffice. We chose the Italian (no surprises there) and did have a fabulous meal.
That put us in the main dining room on most evenings. Considering this was perhaps my biggest reservation about cruising I was pleasantly surprised to find that it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. Obviously I still prefer the fun and surprises that eating out on a normal holiday offers and by the time our last night rolled around we did decide we’d had enough of the main dining room. Instead we nipped up to the top deck buffet because we couldn’t be bothered dressing for dinner (and anyone who knows me and knows how much I loathe and detest buffets will understand what a feat it was for my husband to get me there).
But let’s move on from food.
The port stops. If you’ve been following my last few posts you’ll have an idea of our itinerary. I adore Europe so a Mediterranean cruise was always going to be right in my wheelhouse. That’s the first thing to nail down when booking a cruise. It’s much more exciting when you can’t wait to get off the ship and explore. Of course, many people are just as excited by what the ship has to offer but with most cruises including one or two days at sea there is plenty of time to enjoy the ship itself.
In fact, if you recall my most recent cruising post I talked about our excellent day in Athens. It was the last in a long line of big days out and the day following Athens we were at sea. I was looking forward to it and actually grateful for it. A recharge of the batteries is never a bad idea when you’re on holiday with a busy line up.
Talking of the days at sea, I’d like to backtrack briefly and talk about our first day at sea, which was at the beginning of the cruise. It took thirty-six hours for our ship to sail from the bottom of Italy to Mykonos, the first of our Greek Island stops. The night before this first sea day we had the most fabulous evening on the ship. The party was rocking and I guessed this was due to the fact that no one had to be up in the morning for an early excursion. My husband and I went to bed that night having danced our feet off and ordered breakfast in our cabin the next morning. The “Do Not Disturb” signs were everywhere.
So now to address my second reservation about cruising – is it frustrating and disappointing to have so little time at the port stops? Yes and no. In my previous blogs I’ve mentioned particular instances when I definitely would have liked more time. On other occasions it felt okay to have the day.
This is how I decided to see it – cruising doesn’t need to be the only sort of holiday you have. So treat it as an overview, a way to whet your appetite and provide some insight as to the places you really do want to see. Let it help you create holiday opportunities for the future.
And now to address my final reservation – are cruises too organised, too regimented? Once again, I was happy to discover that this needn’t be the case. I found there was plenty of scope for my husband and I to plan the days as we wanted. For instance, you don’t have to book tours or planned excursions. You can simply disembark and do your own thing. Or indeed don’t get off the ship at all if you really don’t fancy it. Laze by the pool, lunch al fresco on the top deck, lounge around and read a book. Your cruise, your choice.
Likewise, you can be involved as much or as little as you wish when it comes to the activities the ship has to offer. I’ve spoken in length regarding the whole dinner thing but I should mention that my husband and I got into the lovely habit of having pre-dinner drinks before heading to the restaurant and there are plenty of bars to choose from. One of our favourites was the Sunset Bar on the top deck.
The one thing I struggled with was the volume of people. With three thousand souls on board it was a busy place to be. It seemed every time you stepped into an elevator you ended up being shuffled towards the back to make way for the onslaught. The first time my husband and I found ourselves in an elevator alone, my husband remarked, “look, no humans.”
This presented frustrations in other areas. There was a café on board where I enjoyed going for coffee and cake but it was always so busy and difficult to get a table. On our first day at sea they advertised a tour of the galleys, which I thought would be extremely interesting. But when I turned up and saw the queue and then watched the staff begin herding passengers into groups I gave up the idea.
I’ve heard a few people say that smaller cruise ships with less numbers are more enjoyable and I can now see their point.
The other thing to be wary of is the cost of things on board. Obviously your meals are all included but it’s those little extras that can add up. You should be able to view your account on the television in your cabin and do keep a close eye on it. Another tip, which I consider to be the most important, is to order a beverage package as part of your booking. Drinks are not cheap and without it you’ll end up spending a small fortune. Even if you’re not a big drinker I would still say it’s worth it – everything from your cappuccino to your tomato juice will put a small dent in your wallet.
But enough of the negatives. Let me share with you the things I loved about cruising.
Opening your curtains every morning to a different view. This was perhaps my favourite thing and in some part made up for the small amount of time we had at each port.
You only have to unpack once. Don’t underestimate what a huge advantage this is. Holidays spent skipping from place to place sound fun and exciting – and they are – but they’re also exhausting. Packing, unpacking, train stations, airports, rental cars. The cruise took away the logistics and stresses of travelling.
You really are taken care of. The staff are incredibly friendly and helpful. Your cabin is serviced twice a day. Everything is right there, on tap. It’s like a small floating city where they try to offer everything you could possibly want. Need a haircut? No problem. Want to do a spot of shopping? The shopping streets on our ship were incredible. There was a cinema, theatres, a casino, a gym, a library, not to mention a very impressive spa offering every treatment you can imagine. There was even a lawn on the top deck!
And lastly, simply being on the water. I said earlier that my husband and I got into the habit of going up to the Sunset Bar for pre-dinner drinks. To watch the ship purr through the ocean as we sipped drinks and looked around us at the vastness of the Mediterranean really was something quite special.
On the evening we sailed from Kusadasi, Turkey, it was a little later than usual and we were up on deck as the ship pulled out of port.
I suppose after saying all of that I should tell you the cruise company we chose to sail with (or that our friends chose for us). Celebrity Cruises. We were on Celebrity Reflection. They were excellent and we’d definitely choose them again if we were to book another cruise.
So, would we? Book another cruise? My friend told me that when she is booking a cruise (and she’s been on 17 of them) she always chooses the ship first and then the route. I’d be inclined to do it the other way around. I wouldn’t book a cruise just for the sake of going on a cruise. I’d have to be interested in the places we’d be stopping at. I would like to do another cruise and my choice of route would be Northern Europe. I’ve always wanted to see the Nordic cities. And perhaps the Norwegian fjords.
I’ll finish this post by sharing with you my favourite photographs of the amazing places we visited. This is what I love about travelling – unlike so many things in life, the memories last forever.
Published by Tracey O'Brien