One way to look at cruise vacations is to consider the ship as simply a mode of transportation. Like travel by air or land, travel by sea is another way to go. Viewed that way, the ship or cruise line chosen is less important than where either sails to.
Another way to look at cruise vacations focuses on what the ship has to offer as a destination itself. Considering what a given cruise line or particular ship has to offer in the way of their onboard experience then becomes of primary importance.
Like many of you reading this, we have been to the Caribbean an number of times and pretty much know the lay of the land at most ports of call. On-board programming then, becomes more important. We could (and do) simply walk off the ship at most Caribbean ports with no pre-planned activities and have a nice experience. As more facilities dedicated to cruise passengers evolve, that becomes even more the case. The Falmouth cruise terminal in Jamaica, the Mahogany Bay Cruise Center in Honduras or the Grand Turk Cruise Center in the Turks and Calicos Islands are good examples. These facilities are custom-built to be safe, interesting destinations for cruise ship passengers that make travel easy.
In the Mediterranean, visiting a variety of ports in Spain, France and Italy, more is at stake. Odds are that we will return to the close-by and less expensive Caribbean more frequently over the years to come. Getting to Barcelona, Spain to begin this sailing of Carnival Breeze takes more time and effort so what we do off the ship needs to be more carefully considered.
In Europe, the custom-built cruise centers of the Caribbean are replaced by ancient ruins, famous landmarks and more historically significant attractions. Throwing in different currencies, languages and cultures makes for a vacation experience that naturally calls for some learning as well.
As luck would have it, there is no lack of help on cruise line websites for shore excursion options and Carnival is no exception. Even without booking, travelers considering a sailing to any of the destinations the line visits in Europe can explore shore excursion opportunities well in advance. What travelers will do ashore, commonly left to consider until after booking on a Caribbean sailing, is much more important in the Mediterranean, demanding our attention in advance.
Still, considering all the options, a trusted voice to weigh in on the decision-making is helpful. If a friend told us to go a certain place and do something specific, we probably would or would at least give that recommendation high consideration. If we have been someplace before and had a good experience, we might tend to want to repeat that and stick with a winner. At the end of the day, it all boils down to quality information, well received and carefully considered.
So who to turn to for quality information?
- Someone who has been there– A travel professional that we have a good, working relationship with and trust is a great place to start. We talk a lot here about developing an ongoing business relationship with a good travel agent. Here is where that pays off. These days, its all about specialization in the travel business and travel agents are no exception. Your trusted agent will not hesitate to point you in the right direction for information beyond the scope of their expertise. Doing so is the mark of a true pro.
- A cruise expert- Even within the area of cruise vacations, there are those that specialize on certain types of cruise vacations. We’re here for first-time cruise experiences, be that the first ever cruise of any kind or first time to a destination. Others have a keen focus on families, singles or other niches. A great example is Ralph Grizzle’s Avid Cruiser website that just happens to be featuring a video on Venice right now (see below) that provides enough information in a few minutes to plan a day with. Easy. Trusted. Done.
- A destination expert– Someone or some company that specializes in where we want to go is a good choice. This might very well be where social media actually has some practical value to travelers. I can tell you exactly what to do in Dubrovnik, Croatia from our visit last year but I am far from an expert on the topic. In preparation for our return, I began following Dubrovnik-related people on Facebook and Twitter, becoming far more familiar with the city.
- Travel guidebooks, thought to be going away thanks to the Internet, travel bloggers and other information sources, long-time experts like Frommers, Lonely Planet and Fodors have a lot to offer and are a great place to start. AAA has some great destination guides too.
- Focused media like Porthole Cruise magazine offer in-depth coverage of interesting cruise-related topics. Doug Parker’s Cruise Radio is another, offering weekly Internet radio broadcasts, current cruise news and more including an iPhone app that makes keeping up on cruise-related topics easy, even on the go.
- Passionate travelers, those who write words that jump off the page as being authentic, real, believable and trustworthy are number one for me. Matt Long at Landlopers is a good choice. Our friends Dave and Deb, Canada’s adventure couple from ThePlanetD are some others.
Any single one of these sources can have a huge impact on the quality of our cruise vacations. Selecting a few of them that resonate with us to base decisions upon can bring a sometimes dizzying number of choices into clear focus. That’s the ticket to getting the most out of a sailing to the Mediterranean or just about any other unfamiliar destination.
- Coming up on Carnival Breeze: 6 and 8-day sailings from Miami (chriscruises.net)
- Cruise Vacation Shore Excursions: A Better Value With New Service (chriscruises.net)
- Longer sailings, exotic ports trending for Caribbean cruises (chriscruises.net)
- Coming Up On Carnival Breeze: A new look for staterooms (chriscruises.net)
- River cruising a viable option for the right traveler, expertly advised (chriscruises.net)