Looking for a great European holiday idea? When you live in the southern hemisphere, the seductive cities of Europe are always a long-haul flight away. Little wonder then that antipodeans want to see and do as much as possible when they set foot on European soil. Tanya Joslin discovers that cruising through Europe is a convenient, stress-free way to see the most of this incredible continent.
Cruising is experiencing a boom with everybody from newly-weds to empty nesters and retirees to families enjoying the myriad choices on offer. From mega ships to boutique boats and canal cruises to clipper cruises, there is now a cruising holiday to suit everybody and anybody. When it comes to planning a European cruise honeymoon or holiday, your biggest challenge will be deciding where you want to go, what you want to see, and for how long you want to cruise. For us, the decision was easy; we had sampled a short cruise on Royal Caribbean and knew what they offered suited us for a longer holiday.
The trick then was deciding on an itinerary that kept us both happy. Armed with a list of places each of us wanted to see, we went through Royal Caribbean’s comprehensive website, finally settling on the 12 Night Mediterranean Venice Cruise. Here we share some of our favourite spots, along with information about life on board.
The Catalan capital remains an absolute highlight of our trip. In fact, the ship leaving from Barcelona was a contributing factor to the itinerary we chose and allowed us to plan a bonus five nights in the city before the cruise.We literally spent days just wandering the streets of the Gothic Quarter and EL Born, marvelling at the old buildings and watching everyday life of the locals, much of which centres around cafes and bars in neighbourhood squares.
Early evening we would walk down Las Ramblas to watch the street entertainers or visit Boqueria Markets for a bite to eat. Said to date back all the way to 1217 when tables were installed near the old city door to sell meat (although the official opening of the markets in their current incarnation was 1840) no trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit. Barcelona is a city for everybody, full of amazing and unique architecture, after all, it was the home of Gaudi and his infl uence and buildings are a characteristic part of the city.
The Catalan food attracts gourmands from around the world and art lovers have myriad museums to keep them happy, including the Matisse Museum, the Museum of Modern Art and Barcelona’s City Museum (the Dali museum is an hour or so away in Figures‚ an easy day trip), and being on the Mediterranean coast Barcelona offers a great beach lifestyle too!
VILLEFRANCHE, FRENCH RIVIERA (MONTE CARLO)
We woke for our first morning on the ship to dock at the French Riviera sea-side town of Villefranche, a snug port town situated between Nice and Monte Carlo. While most passengers use this port of call only as an access point to exclusive jet-setting destinations that are close-by (including Cannes), Villefranche deserves its own time and offers an easygoing slice of small-town Mediterranean life, complete with cobblestone streets. This is one port where independent travel is easy with regular trains running in both directions, Cannes one way, Monaco, where we ventured off to, the other. The view of the sheltered harbour in Monaco is truly beautiful, and the buildings, cars and streets seem to just say ‘money’– as such, time spent simply wandering the city is a delight in itself. We headed to the famous Monte Carlo Casino for the obligatory photos, before enjoying a pricey but memorable lunch at a restaurant there. A drive through the small but scenic city in one of the local taxis, a brand spanking new BMW at that! – was a great way to finish our day in Monaco.
Our first day in Italy and the tough decision of what to see and do from Livorno (the port) with the city of Florence one option and The Leaning Tower of Pisa another. We chose the gorgeous
Renaissance city of Florence, the capital of Tuscany and home to some of the most beautiful churches and best museums in Italy … not to mention Ferragamo and Gucci! Donatello, Michelangelo, Giotto, Botticelli and of course Da Vinci have left their mark on Florence‚ and you can see their work in the famous Galleria degli Uffi zi, a museum that holds the world’s most important collection of Renaissance art (good idea to buy tickets ahead to avoid long ticket lines). Other sights include a copy of Michelangelo’s David, the famous Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vellichio and The Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s first bridge, built in 1345 and the only surviving bridge from Florence’s medieval days (others were destroyed in World War II). There is no doubt Florence is a city that deserves more time, the beauty of cruising is just this, you get to taste a range of destinations, some you will never return to, others whet your appetite for more. We both know we’ll return to Florence, and in fact to the greater region of Tuscany.
In all honesty, Rome in August (when we travelled) is tough. It is crowded. It is hot. But even with the people and the heat, Rome is amazing, the monuments, the glorious history, the astonishing architecture. There are many good reasons why Rome is busy and if you can’t beat them, then you must join them. From the port of Civitavecchia, where cruise ships dock, it is a good hour’s train ride to the city of Rome. Once there you can do many of the sights by foot, or do as we did and buy a ticket to the open-air red buses where you can jump on and off.
Main tourist sights in Rome include: The Vatican, The Colosseum, The Pantheon,Trevi Fountain and St Peter’s Basilica. There is more to see and do in Rome but cruisers with one day in the city should feel very happy if they are able to see all of these main sights! The smart cruisers booked the tours offered by the ship so if you want to be sure to see more of what Rome offers, consider doing this.
NAPLES/SALERNO, THE AMALFI COAST
This port represented one of the most diffi cult decisions we had to make in the 12 days, as there is so much to do and see here. From the famous Amalfi coastal drive, and coastal towns such as Amalfi , Sorrento and Positano, to the hillside town of Ravello, and the incredible sights of Pompeii; how could we fit in everything we wanted to see? Sadly, we came to the realisation that it would be impossible to do it all and while the cruise ship offered some great tours, none of them actually met our criteria. A quick google and search on Tripadvisor saw us dealing directly with Tredy Tours, and so as soon as we docked we were whisked away in our own private car with driver/tour guide. After two incredible hours at Pompeii‚ which is so well preserved that you can visualise life in this ancient city as it once was, we drove on to Ravello to enjoy classic Amalfi coastal views of turquoise waters dotted with luxury boats, lush green foliage of orange and lemon groves, and pink bougainvillea framing it all. Eating in Italy became a (typical!) highlight and here we enjoyed one of the best Italian meals we’ve ever had, homemade gnocchi and pasta made from incredibly fresh seafood straight from the waters that served as the backdrop to our meal.
Next stop‚ Amalfi town, tucked between the mountains and overlooking the Bay of Salerno, this gorgeous town is packed tight with quaint shops and narrow stepped streets. The grand finale to a perfect day was the drive back to the ship along the famed Amalfi coastline, which lived up to all expectations!
Is there another city in the whole of the world as magical as Venice? I’m not sure, but if there is I’m yet to visit. Arriving in Venice on a cruise ship is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that, if not on your radar already, needs to go to the top of your bucket list! We must have sat up on the deck of the highest floor on the ship for probably close to an hour, not wanting to miss a second of this magical entrance. With stunning buildings built entirely on water, this city is mesmerising.
There are the main sights – Doge’s Palace, Piazza San Marco, the Basilica San Marco, and Rialto Bridge‚ but the real magic with Venice lies in getting lost. Just wander the jumble of streets and canals and watch the locals go about everyday life. We stumbled across a little family-run restaurant far from the tourist track. Here we were served yet another incredible Italian meal, washed down with a tasty Italian red. I couldn’t even tell you how to find this restaurant, but don’t worry, go and get lost in Venice and find your own amazing experience!
Cruising into the port of Dubrovnik revealed one of the most stunning coastlines we saw on our European odyssey – crystalline waters, hidden coves, craggy bluffs, and green cypress covered hills inspired Lord Byron to proclaim Dubrovnik the pearl of the Adriatic. There is no doubt that Dubrovnik is beautiful and UNESCO has deemed the ‘Old Town’ worthy enough to join their World Heritage List. All tourists to Dubrovnik must walk the curtain of walls that surround the ‘Old Town’.
We set aside a good hour to stroll the length (approximately two kilometres in total) and enjoyed a bird’s eye view of life and the baroque buildings in the cobbled streets below. On the other side we would come across groups of teenagers that had scrambled down the cliffs to a rocky outcrop where they were diving and swimming in the gin-clear water. Every now and again we’d come across one too nervous to dive into the glorious waters, until tourists high up on the wall would begin their own cheering squad urging them to jump.
Royal Caribbean is one of the world’s largest cruise companies, so they know how to make sure their guests enjoy the holiday of a lifetime. The itinerary we did in 2011 was aboard Brilliance of the Seas. For 2012, Serenade of the Seas will be making the voyage‚ so, you’ll get to enjoy six pools and whirlpools, a whopping 16 bars, clubs and lounges, and more than 850 crew to serve you!
Serenade also boasts a rock climbing wall, minigolf course, jogging track, Vitality Spa and basketball court. Just some of the things we loved about cruising Europe with Royal Caribbean:
- Unpacking once‚ so stress-free and easy!
- The destinations‚ all of the itineraries really do offer the best sights and experiences
- The all-inclusive nature with meals, when comparing value remember that cruising prices generally include all meals, hence the fabulous value!
- The food‚ between the main Windjammer cafe, great for a casual breakfast or lunch, to the elegant dining room (Minstrels) and the up-market restaurants (small fee but worth every cent!) of Chops Grille and Portofino, every meal was enjoyable. The wine lists were comprehensive.
- The shows and entertainment‚ live cabaret, a magic show, Broadway style entertainment. Plus a private movie theatre with regular showings. We even had a bit of a flutter at the casino one night.
- The fitness centre‚ my husband worked out every day, I joined their boot camp!
- Having our stateroom cleaned twice a day
Visit www.royalcaribbean.com to start planning your cruise!