One of my goals on my Forty Things to do before Forty was to go on an “extended family” holiday. We invited my parents and brother and sister to a cruise on the Mediterranean Sea. It would be our first full family holiday and our first cruise ever. The cruise was with Royal Carribean and was their nine day “Greek Isles” cruise on the Jewel of the Seas starting in Rome, and visiting Sicily, Mykonos, Rhodes, Santorini, Athens, Naples (Amalfi Coast) and back to Rome.
I am no cruise expert but here are my top ten tips I learnt along the way:
1 – Our first day in Rome had us landing at the airport (along with spotting Air Force one on the tarmac!) and heading straight to the port – no time for sightseeing as everyone must be on board around 3pm. I had initially read that the boat leaves at 5pm but had to change our flights to make sure we were there on time.
2 – Pre-book your transfers between the airport and the ports of call. We had just caught a taxi between the airport and the port, but as we were 8 passengers, we ended up taking two. But if you pre-book a mini van you will most likely save at least a third of the price.
3 – Print everything. I had spent hours the weeks before capturing all our details online for our cruise check-in and then figured a simple reference would have us checked-in in no time. Not the case. So I suggest printing everything and have it with you as we ended up having to capture everything again. (plus: I even had our clerk saying that I could not board as Switzerland is not in the Schengen?!?).
4 – Our tour was on the Mediterrenean Sea and we left on the 24 May and arrived back the 2 June. It was a great time to visit, everything was open for the summer but not yet crazy with all the crowds that come in July and August. My recommendation would be to plan to visit in Late May to June and then avoid July and August and opt for September then.
5 – Budget for an on-board internet package. There is no free wi-fi on the boat and only some of the ports have cafés with free wi-fi and you will want to be able to research your next destination, book trips/tours etc. OR and this is for the very brave folks – go off the grid for ten days!
6 – Speaking of tours, fortunately Liam’s parents are cruisers and had warned us that the Shore Excursions are crazy expensive and it is better and easier to organise your own. After a bit of research I booked tours in Rhodes, Santorini and the Amalfi Coast through Trip Advisor/Viator. I was right not to book in Sicily and Mykonos as everything was in walking distance and for Athens their Hop On on Hop Off buses went the exact route as the RCC Shore Excursion (TOP TIP: buy your ticket at the door of the bus, not on the boat). Naturally, it depends on what you want to do, but I would definitely recommend booking a driver AND a tour guide for Pompeii and the driver for the Amalfi Coast. And If I had to do it again, I would just book a driver for Rhodes and head straight for the beach at Lindos and hang out there all day swimming. For Santorini, I would also just book a driver to Oia and then on to the Black Beach. We were able to see all the must-see destinations at these two locations with our tour guides but it was just a little bit of everything, next time I would be keen to explore more of one place or spend some long lazy hours at the beach.
7 – I am so glad we planned to spend a night in a hotel at our last destination. It gave us the opportunity to see so much of the city of Rome and at a slower pace. But I had initially planned a train trip from Rome to Florence, Pisa and Venice but cancelled it half way through the cruise. Everyone is different, but I realised that 10 days is my holiday threshold when it comes to visiting lots of destinations in a short space of time.
8 – Budget for tips. Liam’s parents had mentioned that one must check their bill as you will see everyday each passenger is automatically charged 15USD for tips (which you can have cancelled if you like), and then every slip you sign also has a built in service charge and then space for an “Additional Tip”. You will want to work out what works best for you in terms of tipping: either automatically, per slip or in cash? Especially as even on the last day another envelope arrives for you to put in other tips.
9 – There is lots to do on the boat: from tanning and swimming to watching movies and playing putt putt. Plus, there are shows and dances each night. We didn’t do that much on the evenings where we had been off the boat all day but on cruising days we signed up for a few activities and our favourites included a Sushi Making Class and a lesson in Towel Folding Art. Most of the activities are easy to do on the spur of the moment, so no need to stress about planning and scheduling these.
10 – We were automatically given the second seating for dinner at 20h30 and it worked really well for us. Most days we had eaten a late lunch and were back on the boat at 4pm. This then gave everyone the opprtunity to shower/swim and relax/sleep and have renewed energy for dinner and evening activities. I think if it had been earlier most of us would have skipped dinner one or two nights to just take it easy. This way we were able to make the most of each day!
All in all, we loved the cruise and whilst at this stage of life we enjoy travelling by car, bus, train and plane and the odd boat – I think as we get older we will want to travel more and more on a cruise ship. The idea of having your same room every night, no luggage to worry about and everything in a five minute walking distance after a hard day of touring is very appealing. But for now, I enjoy the freedom that comes with having more than just one day at each port.