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Mediterranean cruise tips and information

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As the European cruise session starts I thought to write some tips and information based on our past experiences. Before I start just short disclaimer , most of our European cruise were going out from Barcelona and Venice , still we haven’t cruise from the UK so it will be less focused on this area.

First subject will be around transportation , after all for most of the readers here we need to take at least 8 hours flight over the pond to get there.

The key of finding  a good flight is to be flexible and search for nearby airports plus try to be flexible with  the dates. For example , we have planned a cruise out of Venice , for some reason, this year flights to Venice were quite expensive so we looked for alternatives. After quick search we found flights to Milan are much cheaper , train from Milan to Venice (the Venice train station is in a walking distance from the cruise port) is only  2 hours and the cost  around 30 $ PP. So we will enjoy some time in Milan , we will take an hotel near the train station (Airport train to the Milan Central 15 $) and save around 350 on air fare. Another example , two weeks ago we wanted to visit Paris during the long weekend we had , tickets to  Paris were quite expensive (I guess we were not the only one who thought about it) but then we found tickets to another city in France (near the Atlantic) , Nantes,  that were way more cheaper so we took the flight to Nantes , visit it for few hours and jump on a 1:45 hours train to Paris that cost  us 18 $ each …
Same can be done in many places in Europe which have a very good rail system (the TGV train in France goes faster than 200 Mph)  and distance are not that bad. Train tickets can be booked online very easy , most of the sites are supports  English, just be sure to take extra time for your travel as in some counties which I will not write their name , train time are  a suggestion , mainly if the country  known for their  Pasta and Pizza . Another option will be to rent a car and use this time to visit some other place, while travel by car from Milan to Venice for example ,  you can visit Verona for a selfie ay  Romeo & Juliet terrace.
The key is to travel few days before , just think when is the next time you will visit Europe and there are so many nice things to see and do before or after the cruise.
Even if your cruise port is far from the cheap flights/train  option there is always a possibility to check some of the low cost flights inside Europe, a flight between London and Rome can sometime be low as 10 $ …  Just keep in mind , low cost flight fare dose not include checked luggage which can cost between 25- 35 $ per suitcase if order online.
Car rentals  – Its easy to drive in most European countries  as long as you are not trying to get into the city center. If you rent a car I would try to find an hotel outside the center near good public transportation option. Please note , most of the cars  you will be offered in Europe are with manual transmissions , to get a car with automatic transmission you need to ask specifically and most of the times the automatic option will cost much higher . Another thing to take into consideration are the car size , cars are usually smaller than what you expect in the US, midsize car in Europe can be something you consider as a very small car, so check what you are ordering.
Another aspect to remember in Europe is the car insurance , even if you book online and ask for all the insurance you might find out in the renting station that you are under covered for things like window protection and self-deductible that can be up to 2000 $ , you will be offer this extra insurance on site , check before what you are covered in your own insurance , including credit cards . If you refuse to the local insurance take some extra time while returning the car as its  going to be inspected thoroughly.

City transportation  - Most of the big city in Europe has a very efficient public transportation system including subways , tramways and buses. Tickets mostly should be purchase  ahead of time at the stations , some will allow you to pay in the buss but will require exact changes. Most of the cities will offer some kind of discount for buying 10 tickets at once (Paris , Barcelona and some places in Italy) , some will offer a daily or weekly tickets. Most of the tickets are good both for buses and subways, at some countries all you need to do is to wave your CC (as long as it has the chip) against the machine and you are done  (if the conductor ask to see your ticket you give him the CC). Take into consideration that many buses dose not have air condition  which can be a problem during July/August in Italy and Spain  . You can save allot of money by taken hotels which are located near a subway while not located in the middle of the city.

Many cities will also have one or two HOHO options , I also find it the best way to start a visit at a new city as it gives me a view of the important places to check , how far they are from each other and best time to visit. You can buy tickets online or at one of the stations.

Uber – well a very sensitive question in Europe , many places had Uber and banned it (like Barcelona) other places have it but without Uber X just the expensive Uber black (Rome , Milan) do not be surprise if you will order Uber black in Milan and get a Jaguar or even a Ferrari.
There are many other Taxi applications , most common is My Taxi which allow you to use CC or cache  , you will get a regular Taxi and pay the Taxi rate   (but many time you find coupons to be used which will reduce  the cost. Please note , in Italy while using any application you will pay from the location the driver answered your call , so if you see the estimate time of the taxi arrival is more than 5 minutes , just cancel it , unless it is very late and not many cars around. There are  other options , in Rome you can hail a scooter which will arrive to pick you with an extra helmet, not really useful for a family  but another experience 😊.
Bicycles are also a good option to tour , many cities will have a share bicycles system , using apps or fixed docking stations that can be rent for a rather cheap fee. As always I found the best way to travel is by foot , you will see much more doing that  and you will  have less guilt for all the food you consumed 😊 not like in man city of the US (Once  tried to walk 0.7 miles from the office I was visiting in NJ  to a nearby mall , the sidewalk suddenly gone and I was ended up stopped by the police telling me I should not to that, now I know better , car for any distance more than 50 yard 😊 )   , it is very easy to travel by foot in Europe , sidewalks are everywhere and most places are safe.

Next , food and difference in   Mediterranean cruises.
 

 

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17 minutes ago, Allen2 said:

Appreciate a great tutorial.  Would add availability of "City Pass" in much of Europe.

Agree about the city pass , as you said almost every big city in Europe has some kind of city pass , most of them with an option to add travel card to it.
City passes can be bought for 1 to 5 days , some have a minimum of 2 days.

Is it worse it , well as always the answer is depends , first things you should ask yourself is what I would like to see around , create a list of the places, estimate the time you want to dedicate for each attraction and think how many of them you can do while still enjoy in one day. 
When you have this list , check how much each attraction cost and start to check the city pass option asking : 

1. Is the pass contains most of the attractions you wanted to visit (for example , most of Rome passes dose may not contain the Vatican Museum) ?
2. IS the price of the pass cost less than the accumulate price of the attractions you wanted to see.
3. Is the pass contains a skip the line options ?
4. Do you like other attractions in the pass which you you will gladly do (and not just because its free anywhere) ? , remember the most expensive resource while you are on vacation is your time ...
5. Are you with kids ? will they enjoy most of the attractions/museums in the pass ? can they go to more than one attraction per day ? .

After you answer this question you can do your choice, as you can see as @Matt always answer on the "is a drinking package worse it" - depends on you. 

For example , the city pass in Paris contains more than 60 attractions , most are museums , its a good card if you want to fill your check list saying been there and just visit the highlights of each museum, but are your really want to spend only 1 hour in the Louvre just to run across the river to see a picture or two in the Orsay museum and continue to run to get it on time to the Rodin museum ?

We used passes at the past , most of the time we enjoyed them , mainly when we did not try to do all it offers and when we used the skip the lines option 

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We were in Paris long enough that we totally got our money's worth out of the city pass... Though less so when I lost my husband's!  We are debating this in Barcelona...we have 4 days of which the first day is a Barcelona day tour out if the airport.  We know we want to do at least 2 museums so we will get it for the skip the lines at least guaranteed into the museum.  Might not save a ton but like the drink pkg... Convenient!  

   Opinion...we might never get back to Spain.  We have 4 days in Barcelona (but the first will be tour, eat, sleep I think).  Is Madrid with only a 1 day trip?  I know subjective but it is a 6 hour round trip...we'd only have maybe 8 hours there.  I am thinking we are better off relaxing in Barcelona but my teen would love to see Madrid.  I think without museum time it just isn't worth it.  What is your take?  

   @Traveler as usual thank you so much!!  We are only a couple months from our first med/Greece cruise on vision.  You have been such a wealth of knowledge...I might need to put you on my speed dial when I'm lost on Florence lol! Jane

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13 minutes ago, mom2mybugs said:

Is Madrid with only a 1 day trip?  I know subjective but it is a 6 hour round trip...we'd only have maybe 8 hours there.  I am thinking we are better off relaxing in Barcelona but my teen would love to see Madrid.  I think without museum time it just isn't worth it.  What is your take?  

That is a very good question , 6 hours round trip is quite allot for a day trip , I guess it can work if there are  few special things you would like to see there , maybe, if you can still change your ticket you can travel to Barcelona or back from Barcelona with a stopover in Madrid ? if not I would check  the train option. 

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4 minutes ago, Traveler said:

That is a very good question , 6 hours round trip is quite allot for a day trip , I guess it can work if there are  few special things you would like to see there , maybe, if you can still change your ticket you can travel to Barcelona or back from Barcelona with a stopover in Madrid ? if not I would check  the train option. 

There is a high speed 3 hr train...I haven’t even check price.  We are flying direct to and from Barcelona from Chicago with tours on arrival and departure days so that’s not doable.  Such decisions lol...   jane

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Great info from Traveler. My two or three cents: With the cost and time needed to fly to Europe we always try to maximize our sights. Have a cruise coming up in 2020 that leaves out of Barcelona. Originally we were going to fly to Paris  for a few days then take the speed train to Barcelona for a few precruise days there. Saw that the price to fly to London from Pittsburgh was direct and was cheaper by $250/person so...now we are off to London for 3 nights with hotel close to the Tube, train to Paris for 3 nights then onto Barcelona for 3 nights. Now, must say that internet travel info is my hobby so please read travel forums and TripAdvisor for hotels, tours and other recommendations. Always travel with a good city map and at least learn a few key words in the native language as it goes a long way. Final thought, don't be afraid to use the Metro systems. Lots of info online esp. YouTube that will walk you through it. Just give yourself plenty of time as you travel. Another final thought(really), pre-purchase all your tickets to sights, will save you lots of line time!!

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Tip questions...which I think I’ve asked before and can’t find the posts:

1.   Do you tip bus drivers and guides in Europe...specifically Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta?  How much?

2.  In Barcelona, do you tip the baggage porters at embarkation and disembarkation?  Is it pretty standard 1-2 euros per bag?  

3.  Is the don’t tip, just round up true in all the above countries at restaurants and bars?   

Thanks!!!!!! Jane 

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10 hours ago, mom2mybugs said:

Tip questions...which I think I’ve asked before and can’t find the posts:

1.   Do you tip bus drivers and guides in Europe...specifically Spain, Italy, Greece and Malta?  How much?

2.  In Barcelona, do you tip the baggage porters at embarkation and disembarkation?  Is it pretty standard 1-2 euros per bag?  

3.  Is the don’t tip, just round up true in all the above countries at restaurants and bars?   

Thanks!!!!!! Jane 

Hi,

I'm from Spain. I'll try to answer all your questions:

Tips are not mandatory but welcome.

1.- Guides: about 5€ per party (can be more or even less).

Bus driver: It's not usual to do it, but you can if you think he/she deserves it. Maybe 1€ or 2€ máx per person.

2.- Same as bus driver.
In this case, if he/she had been specially nice with you, or you have any matter that makes his/her job harder, so it's common to give some €.

3.- There is not a % settled, but if the service was good, you should tip at restaurants and bars. 

10% would be a good number

 

Excuse my english.

 

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6 hours ago, videjuca said:

Hi,

I'm from Spain. I'll try to answer all your questions:

Tips are not mandatory but welcome.

1.- Guides: about 5€ per party (can be more or even less).

Bus driver: It's not usual to do it, but you can if you think he/she deserves it. Maybe 1€ or 2€ máx per person.

2.- Same as bus driver.
In this case, if he/she had been specially nice with you, or you have any matter that makes his/her job harder, so it's common to give some €.

3.- There is not a % settled, but if the service was good, you should tip at restaurants and bars. 

10% would be a good number

 

Excuse my english.

 

Your English is better than mine! 😉

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10 hours ago, videjuca said:

Hi,

I'm from Spain. I'll try to answer all your questions:

Tips are not mandatory but welcome.

1.- Guides: about 5€ per party (can be more or even less).

Bus driver: It's not usual to do it, but you can if you think he/she deserves it. Maybe 1€ or 2€ máx per person.

2.- Same as bus driver.
In this case, if he/she had been specially nice with you, or you have any matter that makes his/her job harder, so it's common to give some €.

3.- There is not a % settled, but if the service was good, you should tip at restaurants and bars. 

10% would be a good number

 

Excuse my english.

 

Thank you so much!!  I don’t want to insult anyone by offering or not offering tips appropriately!!!   Jane

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Food :

Wow this is a tuff one , first every person has his own taste and  there are so many options.

Each country (and sometime cites) got that something you must taste at least once, the problem like any tourist places you can fall into a tourist trap. Lately I started to use an application named  “the fork” this is something very similar to Open table with two main difference : first , it’s much more popular in Europe , second , it offer you discounts at some restaurants from time to time (real one). The application is  very easy to use , you can try and book a restaurant you want , or you can find a restaurant that has availability near you. I tried it two weeks ago in Paris for three nights , one was good , one was very good and one was perfect ,two of them were with discount (30%) the third one was without discount but the restaurant owner decided to give it anyway . Last week I tried the same in Milan and the restaurant I got was also very good. As always it will be a good advice to read some more information on the restaurants on other places.
 

Street food – in general , street food in Europe is safe but just use your best judgment, don’t be the first one to east in a food stand (if it’s a crepe or hotdog), try to eat were many other eats so you know food was not left unconsumed for  long hours , try to avoid delicate food if it is a very warm outside. Try to locate some food festivals were you will find many quality food stands which will allow you to test the local food.

Barcelona – In Barcelona I guess there are few things you do not want to miss 😐
1. Try the Paella – the famous rice dish which cocked with sea food or meat – this  can be a very filling dish but be careful , there are many tourist traps that try to sell you Paella with not so quality ingredients, you can easily recognize them by the big pictures of Paella dish and very obvious English menu. So a restaurant which not published the Paella as the main dish it serve has a good chance to have a decent one.

2. Tapas  - The small dishes that started as something to eat while standing drinking a post work drink in one of the local bars , it can be sea food , vegetable, Hamon (dry pork meet), cheese and olives , meat and many other , each place as its own version. Many tapas bar will have the daily dishes present on a board. My recommendation to order some tapas to share , not too many  to start with , if you feel you want more , just go and order more later , they arrive very fast.
I was eating tapas at Tapas 25 (which become very touristic but still has some good tapas and easy to understand the menu  , also was eating in the tapas chain (Tapa Tapa) which are dissent. Last place I tried was in Boqueria market which has many small places that sell some small plates.

 

Greece – Musakka  , best to describe it will be maybe a Greek Lasagna .
                   Greek salad – fresh vegetables with olive oil and feta cheese.
                   Dolma – grape leave filled with rice or/with meet.
                   Gyro – grilled chicken kabab  
                 Kalmata olives
                 Tzatziki – Yogurt with cucumbers and garlic -   perfect in a warm day as light appetizer. (anyway you should try the Greek Yogurt.
                 Baklava – many kinds of sweet pastries done with layer of dough covered with sweet sugar water/honey and nuts/pistachio – very very sweet , do not try to eat too many 😊  , usually will come near the Greek coffee which is very strong,

                  Tips – up to 10 %

Italy – I am sure  many other can give better recommendation than me for Italian food but you need to remember several things :

1.       Pizza – usually will be with less cheese than you have on US pizza , most of the time with Mozzarella cheese.

2.       Pasta – might be less cooked than you used to.

3.       Coperto – this is cover charge that will be added to your meal in most of the restaurants , if this line was added you can avoid adding tip to the final bill (or just add few Euros) .



 

 

 

 

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19 minutes ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

Be careful with pizza in Italy. To them, pepperoni is peppers

Correct , if you want something like pepperoni it will be salumi , but for me all a good pizza in Italy should have is fresh tomato sauce  , good mozzarella cheese and fresh basil  

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Food in Italy is very regional just like you will find in the states.  IE Boston it is really all about lobster.  In AK it salmon and king Crab.  In MD it is blue crab. In FLA it is stone crabs.  

Our family did not care for food in Rome compared to Venice. It might have just been the restaurants that we went to, but it really felt very heavy food.. More pastas in cream sauces.  Milan and Turin were probably tied in the middle.  Food there was more proteins, and risotto.  Turin is also known for their chocolates. Venice was a lot of seafood and not so much on the pasta, or at least that is what we kept ordering... I want to say my kids ate Mussels in a broth every single day. .  .  My husband and I also liked all of the food in Sicily.

The one thing that I would say Rome was the best for was the deli's they  have there.  They are all over the place with the classic breads and meats, plus of course gelato.  One night we decided to get an assortment, a bottle of wine and go back to our hotel room (it had a balcony overlooking the city).  That was our best meal in Rome.  In Venice it is really more about sitting down for a meal.  You will be able to find little street food around San Marco square and the Rialto, but not many.  

OH and everywhere you go you will always be able to find a panini.  The joke in Italy is they always know Americans because cappuccinos after the a.m. is a no-no.  I could not care.  I drank them morning noon and night.

 

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6 minutes ago, Pima1988 said:

plus of course gelato

How could i forget about the gelato , this is a must , my favorite is the pistachio.

Venice as good food but also allot of tourist traps , every week there is an article on tourist that order few dishes and got a huge bill. I guess the secrete is to get as far as you can from San Marco , there is few street with restaurants for locals , I will try to remember the names. 

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33 minutes ago, Pima1988 said:

The joke in Italy is they always know Americans because cappuccinos after the a.m. is a no-no.  I could not care.  I drank them morning noon and night.

 

This is particularly offensive for men.  I guess it’s somehow effeminate to drink cappuccinos after 10 AM. I am also a frequent violator of this norm.  I also don’t care if they brand me a tourist. So be it.

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Pistachio is my favorite too.  We never eat in San Marco square except to get Gelato.  We do eat on the Rialto, we love the view from any restaurant.  We always stay at the Splendid Suisse hotel which is a perfect location...approx. a 10 min walk one way to San Marco and 10 mins to the Rialto.  They have an amazing roof top garden bar.  

We have gone to Harrys Bar one time, and would never do it again, because to us it is a tourist trap.  Harry's is the bar that created the Bellini.  Bellini is peach nectar and champagne.  The 1st time we cruised it was to Italy back in 92.  Back than you really could only get it at Harrys, however, now they even sell it at little stores, so there is really no need to go there. 

We never had an issue with bills at any meals.  

Off topic, but some tidbits.

1. Every building has 2 entrances, a street and a boat entrance. 

2. Gondola rides are not cheap, so prepare for sticker shock

3. Venice is known for their masks, and of course the glass.  Again, they are not cheap, but beautiful.

4. Italy has amazing leather products...feels like butter.  However, it will be expensive.  Think of it this way, you will spend the same amount for crappy leather in the states compared to the nice leather in Italy.  IOWS you are not going to find anything on the cheap leather wise due to the quality.

5. Beware walking at night in Venice....not a pick pocket issue, more of when every person is selling fake LVs, Gucci and Fendi product.  The reason to beware is that the police really try to stop them and you can get caught up in it.  Our friend probably spent a couple hundred+ on fake LV.  The problem they found out was when they went through customs, the agent could see they were all fake and it was confiscated.   Another friend hearing this story decided to do the stupidest thing...decided to mail them home.  He put on the customs form....Louis Vuitton and valued it at what the real items were selling for.  He got hit with a tax bill when he got home. Morale of the story if you buy fakes, than make sure you make them look like you have owned them for a while, and don't go over board and buy 5 purses, 5 wallets, etc.  

 

 

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2 minutes ago, WAAAYTOOO said:

This is particularly offensive for men.  I guess it’s somehow effeminate to drink cappuccinos after 10 AM. I am also a frequent violator of this norm.  I also don’t care if they brand me a tourist. So be it.

The one thing I truly love about Europe and Australia is their coffee.  The closest thing you can come to it in the States is Alaska, but Alaska is more about making coffee drinks, using syrups...which are a nice change, but still not European coffee.  My husband and I are debating buying a Nespresso, but I just can't get over the price point of 300 for the machine.  Hopefully it will eventually take off like the Kuerig and I can get it at a lower price.  Until than I will do old school....French press.

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55 minutes ago, Pima1988 said:

The one thing I truly love about Europe and Australia is their coffee.

In Italy I love the espresso stations (well any way that is how I call it) were people stands and drink the espresso as a way to continue the day . 

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Ports:

Not like in the Caribbean and many of US ports the European ports mainly in Italy can be quite far from the main attractions, sometime even more than two  hours , that’s require different preparations.
 

Civitavecchia:

This is the gate to Rome , its around 1 hour to 1.30 hours drive from Rome  (depends on the traffic). There is a free shuttle that takes you from the ship to the main gate of the port but you can also walk (15 minutes) if you want. At the main gate you can easily walk to the city which has a nice cost line but nothing special, maybe it’s a good place to buy some good balsamic sauce .
Most of the people would like to go to Rome , It can easily done by getting a shore excursion  from RCL or use a 3rd party. You can also find an external vendors that will offer last minute transfer to Rome. If this is your first time I will recommend to take an excursion just make sure if you want to see the Vatican and mainly the Vatican Museum that the excursion includes it and  also  “skip the line option”. If you did not bought excursion and you still want to go to see the museum be careful from people offering skip the line tickets in the Vatican , I would not trust many of them.
The main Area to visit while in Rome will be the Vatican and old Rome its  around 15 – 20 minutes bus drive between them
For the  St. Peter's Basilica, you do not need to pay entrance fee but you will need to wait in a ling line  , there are skip the lines tickets which  get you also an audio guide. Another ticket will allow you to go all the way up to the Basilica roof  for a nice view , mind if you take the stairs , its not that easy and not recommended for people who suffer from claustrophobic.
The Vatican Museum requires tickets, again try to have the skip the line tickets and buy them ahead of time. The museum itself is build like a maze of corridors /room  that contain with many work of arts, most of the rooms does not have air condition (last time I checked , maybe it changed) after walking quite a while you will get at the end to the Sistine Chapel.
The other important site of Rome are in a walking distance from each other although you can take the HOHO bus to cover more sites. The Spanish stairs are near the Trevi fountain which is 15 minutes’ walk from the Pantheon which is another 15 minutes’ walk to the colosseum and the forum .During the summer time it might be very warm to walk so do your math..  For the colosseum its better to buy tickets online and secure the entrance time.
Another way to get to Rome from the port is to take a short bus drive (or walk 20 minutes) to the train station and take the train to Rome (around 17 $ each direction) it will be much cheaper than any other option but just make sure to buy tickets online and to take the train that will bring you at least 2.5 hours before all on board (Italian train might have delays).

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