This week we get to cover one of the best parts about cruising in Europe – the shore excursions! Let’s be honest, the ship’s pretty awesome, but you’re really cruising in Europe to see the sights – the Colosseum, London Bridge, Sistine Chapel, La Sagrada Familia, and more.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Early on we told you to ask yourself some questions about what you really wanted out of this trip. Questions – and their answers – are really important to planning this part of your European cruise.
- What do I want to see?
- What am I most looking forward to with this trip?
- What are the top 3 things I want to see in ___________ (insert Port name here)?
- What’s the thing I absolutely, beyond a shadow of a doubt absolutely have to see or do to see in ___________ (insert Port name here)?
- What do the people I’m traveling with want to see?
You might wonder why we put that last question in there. Trust us, it’s important. If you want to see as many sites as possible in Rome and your traveling companion just wants to see the Colosseum and do some shopping, you absolutely have to plan accordingly. Both of you have expectations from your vacation, so you’ll need to know your plan ahead of time. We recommend having everyone answer the questions above; it’s a good jumping off point to make decisions.
When you’re ready to book, keep in mind, booking shore excursions in Europe’s a little different than your typical Caribbean cruise. There are a lot more options, more to see and what seems like not enough time. European ports are a lot harder to do on the fly like you can in the Caribbean. It’s much harder to jump in a taxi and say “take me to the closest beach in Europe.” A little planning goes a long way when booking shore excursions; make sure you do your research (which hopefully is why you’re reading this article).
There are a lot of good resources for booking shore excursions. The cruise lines are a great resource here. When Sarah started planning her excursions, she went through every single excursion offered in every single port by Carnival. Yes, she says, every single one. She says it gave her an idea of what was possible. Then she did research on the places those excursions went to see what appealed to her and her travel party.
When planning, be open to both ship excursions and private tours. Some private tour companies, like Viator.com, even offer to get you to the next port if you miss your ship – always a plus! Excursions are the best way to see Europe.
Message Boards and friends are a great resource too. Cruise lines have message boards as do sites like cruisecritic.com. By looking and asking around, you can get a better idea of options and prices available.
Sites like Zweeno.com, a cruise tour meeting place to set up group tours, can give you tour options with everything from pier shuttles to full blown excursions at a per-person cost. It’s a great way to research options and prices for European excursions.
Sarah shares about her excursion in Naples: I knew we wanted to see some historical stuff there – it’s the home of Pompeii after all – but also the Amalfi Coast. After looking at all the options Carnival offered, I didn’t see one that offered everything we wanted. I started asking some friends who had cruised Europe before. One of my college friends mentioned a local private tour company, AP Tours, and that both they and their in-laws had used them with amazing results. Based solely on that recommendation, I checked them out. They were great, letting us customize our tour and even hooking us up with another couple on our ship to share costs. Instead of hanging with the crowds at Pompeii, we checked out the incredibly historical Herculaneum, stunning Sorrento and breath-taking Positano. It was honestly one of the best tours of our trip – and the BEST meal! I’m so glad I asked around and found this company. I was actually able to please everyone in our travel party of 6 with this tour and made a new friend too!
Research, Research, Research
In addition to researching the excursions, do a little research on the cities you’re visiting. Not full scale history lessons mind you, just a basic background and facts about each place. A good place to do this is actually at your local library. Sarah shares, I adore Samantha Brown. I want her job one day! So, when planning our trip, I checked out all of her Passport to Europe DVDs from the library. It was fun to see the places we were going and find out more about them ahead of time. Because of the videos, I actually booked an excursion to make sure I got to see Eze, France. Rick Steves also has great videos to watch and I bet your library has those, too.
City research helps you in other ways. When researching Rome, I learned that public transportation goes on strike a lot. For no reason. In the middle of the day. At any time. And you could get stuck. So we made sure to book through the cruise line in Rome. Rome’s awesome, but I have a comfy bed waiting for me on the cruise ship.
Still need a few more resources to help you plan? Okay, here’s a pretty cool interview with did with Carnival Senior Cruise Director John Heald on tips for European ports last year.
We can’t wait to hear what you decide to do on your cruise! Feel free to share your plans with us, ask any questions or shoot us some feedback at [email protected].
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