HI! I'm a mom with 2 teens invited on family cruise to 4 countries, which is great, but I have a tiny budget off the ship and want to make the most of my boys' first trip to Europe! We're up for anything: beaches, food, walking...and if we have to spend most of our $ on a once-in-a-lifetime experience in one of the ports we will, here's what we have for time/destinations: Salerno-8 hours, Santorini 8 hours, Ephesus 8 hours, Crete 7 hours, Athens 13 hours, Nafplion 5 hours, Argostoli, Cephalonia 5 hours, Corfu 7 hours, Kotor, Montenegro 4 hours, and Rijeka, Croatia 5 hours. Thank you THANK YOU for any/all advice!!
Hi. How exciting for your family.
I will admit that I haven't been in this region for many years. What would be the best choice for your spending is really going to depend on what you and teens want.
May I suggest Rick Stdves 'Ports of the Mediterranean' guidebook? I get mine out of the library, so free. Also, check out what the ship is offering as excursions and see what interests you as a family. You may get a better deal with an onshore agent or sharing with others. Are you a member of CruiseCritic? It is the sister of TripAdvisor but focused on cruising. Every cruise line and date has a 'roll call' where people on your trip say hi, make plans or can make recommendations.
Even as a teen my interest was historical, but your boys may want to soend the money on paragliding or something. That's why your question may be a little challenging for strangers to answer. I would really suggest Rick's book as it will help with plannjng for the budget ports, too.
Some years ago we did a cruise that hit some of your stops. We had never cruised before, but didn't really jell with the cruise lines
prices and itineraries for the stops. The 3 stops that we did that are the same as your cruise were Santorini, Ephesus and Athens.
I followed the Cruise Critic site and watched and corresponded with some of the other travelers on that specific tour date. It really helped. One couple had been to Ephesus and Athens before and were getting a group of 8 together to take a private tour. We agreed to join them. She had already traveled with the tour guides and recommended them and had worked out a deal. We were picked up by the guide and driver in a large van and that made the most use of our time. We didn't pay until the end of the tour and paid in cash and it was well worth it. Actually, we tipped, especially the guide that took us to Ephesus. And the cost ended up about the same as if we had gone on the cruise ship tour, but we got a lot more time there because we were a small group and traveled quicker. The guide that took us to Ephesus was excellent, he went to school in the States and spoke wonderful English and had a degree in history. He had Before and After sketches in a notebook that he carried throughout the site to show us how the original city looked.
The Athens guide was okay, we covered more than the cruise ships so to us that was a good deal.
In Santorini we toured on our own. Rode up to the top the island from the ship and rented an ATV with helmets. We rode around the island and saw everything that we wanted to see. The towns, the views were great! Stopped at a vineyard or two for wine tasting and had a great time. We actually passed the Cruise ship big buses a couple of times and were glad we weren't on them.
But I'm sure the cruise ship buses give everyone a great view of the island, also.
Sorry to make this so long, but I suggest you go onto cruise critic.com and check out your exact cruise and see what other people are thinking. I don't know if our original guide in Ephesus is still working, but I could probably find his card.
I hope you all have a Great Trip! and would love to read a trip report!
That sounds like a great itinerary! I would like to second the advice to get Rick's Mediterranean port guide book. Many of your ports are covered in that book. Also, definitely check out the "Ports of Call" boards on Cruise Critic. There are some very experienced people who have been on a lot of cruises and can give you good advice on all of those ports. There is a search function on that board and I usually start there when researching a particular port.
I have cruised to Salerno, Ephesus, and Athens so I can tell you what we did...
- From Salerno, we took the train to Pompeii. This brings you into the back entrance of the site. We used Rick's app and his audio guide to DIY the site - worked out really well. We had a late lunch near the site and then took the train back. We had a little bit of time to walk around Salerno and got back to the ship in plenty of time.
- In Ephesus, we booked a private tour. It was cheaper than what the ship was offering and it was just the two of us with a guide and a driver. I'd have to look to see what company we used. It was helpful to have the guide to explain what we were looking at especially at the ancient city. We also stopped at the House of the Virgin Mary, the Temple of Artemis (not much left), and the Basilica of St. John. We also stopped for lunch. We did stop at a carpet factory place and a leather place but we didn't have to. It was interesting to see how they are made and our guide was good at getting us away from the sales pitches. Like the others said, if you check your "Roll Call" on Cruise Critic, you can sometimes join up with a group booking a tour.
- In Athens, we took the X80 bus from the port into Athens (and back). We made good use of Rick's book and audio guides here. We went straight to the Acropolis before it got crazy busy. We had the combination ticket so we toured most of the other sites that were nearby and accessible with that ticket. We had a super lunch somewhere in the Plaka area. This was one of our favorite stops and are going back on a cruise this fall.
Have the kids help do the research and figure out what they most want to see. One thing that my husband and I do when planning what to do on a port day is to not try to do everything. You can't see it all and time is very limited so you have to make some decisions. Have a fabulous time!!
What a great itinerary! We planned our Med stops with the previously mentioned Rick Steves Med ports guide book and "Mediterranean by Cruise Ship" by Anne Vipond - you should be able to find one or both at a public library. Used book stores are also great for finding guide books that someone maybe used once, lol.
Of the destinations you listed, we stopped at the following:
Salerno - Pompeii definitely (about 45 minutes travel time, as I recall). Check a guide book for details.
Corfu - some nice beaches
Kotor- my favourite stop - charming "old town" easy and fun to explore on your own by foot. Sailing the fjord into Kotor is beautiful so if you're arriving in the morning, be sure to be on deck early to enjoy the views! This is one small place where the arrival by cruise ship is such an advantage.
One extra caveat. The cruise ship will be at the dock for that many hours, but you will probably not be able to leave the ship for at least half an hour, and you must be back on board a half-hour before sailing. So you should shave off one hour for each of these port times at minimum. If you are tendering into port, that takes even longer. Also, if you want to save $$$, do NOT book the cruise ship excursions. Do it one your own, buy a guidebook, or use Cruise Critic to join other passengers on a private group tour.
...a tiny budget off the ship...
For Santorini you'll be tendered. Keeping the finances in mind (depending on what they are), I'd just do a walk around the town. Same for Kotor. Would prioritize available funds for Ephesus, Athens, and Corfu. Just one opinion. Can't speak to other locations.
Where will you land in Crete? If at Chania, the port is at Souda just outside the city itself. Take a bus into the city and enjoy walking around one of the most delightful towns in Crete, lovely Venetian harbour, narrow streets, good and reasonably priced restaurants. Visit the Naval Museum with models tracing the history of the harbour and boats from early times. Also covers the German Invasion of Crete and the resistance, be aware there are some rather graphic photos from this period.
If Heraklion you can get a bus right outside the cruise terminal to Knossos, takes about half an hour to get there.
I agree that your first step should be looking at the Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports book. This will detail what's involved in seeing each port on your own. You can then decide which ports you want to spend money on shore excursions, and which you can do on your own.
The Cruise Critic website has a lot of information but is hard to navigate. Here's their Greece Ports forum: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/463-greece-ports/ and their Other Mediterranean Ports forum: https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/149-other-mediterranean-ports/
And here are their Roll Calls: https://www.cruisecritic.com/rollcalls/. You can join the one for your specific sailing, and in this way join up on private tours with others, thus getting the best of both worlds - smaller and more customized (and often cheaper) than the ship's tours, and cheaper than hiring a guide just for your own group.
I strongly second suggestion to go on the cruise critics forums - it really is the best forum for cruising !!! Very specific advise by many cruisers - you can even look up your exact cruise line and itinerary and get advice for those have done it