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9 Night Mediterranean Cruise - Excursions vs. Doing on your own

We booked a 9-Nt Royal Caribbean cruise that departs from Civitavecchia and ports in Sicily, Mykonos, Ephesus, Santorini, Athens, and Naples. Has anyone else done this cruise? We would love any advice or recommendations on must see's/do's in any of these locations. This is our first time cruising in the Mediterranean. We have done the research on each of these places, and there is a ton to see, but we are unsure if it is better to pay for the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean, or do our own thing. The excursions aren't cheap, but include transportation and often meals as well. We are specifically wondering about Naples. We really want to see Capri, Pompeii and Sorrento if we can. Athens and Ephesus will also require some traveling to get to many sites. Also, is Rick Steve's book on the Mediterranean Port cities a must?

Thanks in advance for your help.

-Jeff

Posted by
8636 posts

jeffe no input on your questions but note that cruisecritic.com is a good place to get some very specific reviews on ports and excursions. A bit hard to navigate but the reviews are very helpful.

Posted by
32265 posts

Jeff,

I'd suggest having a look at the Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports guidebook that you mentioned, as it provides information on touring independently while on cruises. You should be able to find a copy at your local Library or larger bookstores.

In planning excursions from the ship be sure to provide a "safety margin" to allow for transportation difficulties, which can happen in Italy. It won't be a nice feeling if you get back to the dock just in time to see your ship disappearing over the horizon. That aspect is one benefit of the tours organized by the cruise line, as they always make sure that passengers are back in time.

Posted by
7209 posts

It's also a nice scare tactic by the cruise excursions to convince you that you might be left behind if you do it on your own. First - I would never choose to see the wonderful European Destinations from a cruise ship. Meals included with cruise excursion? Humbug! Choose to eat when and where you want...not the overpriced low quality restaurants where they may funnel you.

So in Sorrento just take a taxi to the Circumvesuviana station. Buy a ticket and get on the train to Pompei Scavi stop. You'll get off the train there and be deposited at the entrance to the ruins. Just pay attention to the train schedule and know what time to catch the return train. There will be taxis waiting there and you jump in one and ask them to take you back to the cruise port.

So they're going to have you believe that if they take you on the train to Pompeii they can guarantee the train will get you back in time whereas if YOU take the train they can't guarantee you'll be back? Sounds pretty laughable. Or they may pack you into vans and/or buses and take you like sardines and drop you at the entrance (sounds like even a BETTER reason to do it on your own).

Now to get to Capri from Sorrento you'll have to take a boat from SOrrento to Capri. Believe me, it's too much to see Sorrento and Pompei AND Capri in the same small timeframe that a cruise ship allots to you - there's another reason not to cruise.

Posted by
1259 posts

Jeff
Arranging your own shore excursion will save you money over buying the ones offered by the cruise ship.

Cruisecritic is a good place to research. You need to research the individual ports and the attractions you want to see. Some ports are as easy as just walking off the boat and walking to the sights. Some like Naples require that you take a train or arrange for a driver or tour guide to see the major sites,

Check out the "roll calls" for your ship and cruise date on cruisecritic.com. You will literally find other cruisers in the same boat as you. You can get together a group of 6-8 people to hire a large tour van and save a ton of money over buyng the cruise tour which are usually a large tour bus.

Posted by
5055 posts

We took a cruise with a very similar itinerary (as well as many other cruises) on one of Royal Caribbean's other lines (Celebrity) and it was great!! It is very doubtful you will be able to see Capri and Pompeii and Sorrento all on this one cruise, but you might be able to pull it off. Rick Steve's book on the Mediterranean Port cities might not be a must, but it is a very, very good resource for your trip.

In Athens one of the often overlooked places to go is the ancient Agora which is within walking distance of the Parthenon. Ephesus is well worth the time and effort. If you have a full day in Naples you can do Pompeii in the morning and Herculaneum in the afternoon. Or you could do tour of the Amalfi Coast. In Mykonos a short boat trip out to the island of Delos is well worth doing.

You are correct when you say that the excursions offered by Royal Caribbean aren't cheap. However, we consider them well worth the money because (1) we don't have to worry about the logistics of arranging the transportation from Point A to Point B, (2) we don't have to worry about having the right type and amount of local currency, and (3) we don't have to worry about literally missing the boat. Excursions can (and are) done by many people on their own. And if we plan to just get off the ship and walk about the port we do it on our own. But when it comes to traveling any distance from the ship, we just prefer to leave the cares and worries to someone else so we can just enjoy the excursion.

The problem of being left behind is not just "...a nice scare tactic by the cruise excursions to convince you that you might be left behind...". We have seen folks literally left running down the pier on at least three different occasions. And they did not all happen on the same cruise. Every time we have been in Naples and Athens there have been traffic conditions that prevented us from getting back to the ship on time but the ship did wait. Others were not so fortunate.

On all of the cruise excursions we've taken that included meals the food and ambiance were very good. Nothing mediocre about them at all.

Land touring in Europe and cruising to European ports are two totally different things. Each has its' own pros and cons and it is very difficult (if not impossible) to make direct comparisons. We've done both and thoroughly enjoyed both.

Enjoy your trip.

Posted by
15480 posts

Europe is the last place I would tour in a cruise, most places to visit are not even on the coast, and the cruise companies charge you exorbitant prices for their day excursions (and they don't give you enough time onshore anyway).

But since you have booked already, you might try to do some excursions on your own if the price with the cruise company is not right.

From Naples you can easily do Pompeii and Sorrento on your own. Just go to the Circumvesuviana train Garibaldi station and take the train to Sorrento. From Naples to Sorrento it's just over one hour by train and it costs about 4 euro one way. Pompeii is half way along that same train line. I don't know how much time you have but both can be done in a day. Capri will have to be on a separate day. Even in that case you can do it on your own. There are plenty of high speed hydrofoils that go from the Beverello pier to Capri and back (50 minutes for €20 each way).

Athens is connected to the Piraeus port by the metro (subway) - green line. It takes about 20 min and it costs less than one euro.

Don't know about Ephesus.

Posted by
3997 posts

We were on a Celebrity Cruise this past summer around the British Isles. We hired private tour guides through Toursbylocals.com. You can input the city - list of available tour guides and the tours they offer with times, amounts, etc. will pop up with profiles for each guide. You can email the guide to make changes to the itinerary to suit your needs. We used a guide in Dublin, Edinburgh and in Amsterdam to go to Brugges. We will use this agency again in the future. Good cruising!

Posted by
2765 posts

Did not do this cruise, but did do a similar cruise several years ago. Using Rick's guide we did every port on our own.

That said, you have just one night in Naples? Pick one or two you can't do Capri, Pompeii and Sorrento unless you hire a driver and just wave at them!

For Pompeii and Ephesus I would try to hire a guide. If you get a group together it's probably cheaper then the cruise line excursion and wlll skip the required "rug sale" pitch in Ephesus and whatever they find to sell in Pompeii. As mentioned above Curisecritic.com has a Roll Call forum where you can hook up with others from your cruise to book a private tour. On our Baltic Cruise this year lots of people banded together to book an 8 person minivan tour of St. Petersburg for example. Cheaper then the cruise line AND you saw a lot more then the inside of a bus while you waited on the 10 people who can't leave the gift shop timely LOL!

I have never even come close to missing a ship so the "you will get left behind" just makes me laugh. Pay attention to time, don't take the "last possible train" back for example and enjoy yourself!! If you go with one of the good private companies in places like Naples they are going to get you there because they don't want the publicity.

Posted by
11294 posts

Yes, Rick's Mediterranean Cruise Ports is very helpful, because he gives step-by-step directions on exactly what you have to do to see ports on your own. You can then decide if you want to do this, or go with a tour.

Remember that there are three ways to see a port, not two. You can do it on your own, you can do it with the ship's tour, or you can do it with a private tour. And a private tour need not be insanely expensive, if you get others to join you and split the cost. This way, you get more personalized attention than on the ships big group tours, at a roughly comparable price (of course, how comparable the price is depends on how many others join your private group). The Roll Calls section of Cruise Critic is specifically designed for you to meet others on your sailing to arrange tours: http://tinyurl.com/ap7h55m

I agree that Cruise Critic is a bit hard to navigate. Here is their Mediterranean Ports Forum: http://boards.cruisecritic.com/forumdisplay.php?s=1a2e53ab6b3dbcc9dd8090fdb11d0daa&f=603

And here are their Port summaries (scroll down, then click Ports, somewhat hidden below "Best Eastern Mediterranean Shore Excursions"): http://www.cruisecritic.com/ports/area.cfm?area=15

Posted by
311 posts

WE cruised the Med. about 8 years ago. We did what one person suggested. If you can get off the boat and walk to see things, do it. We did that on Santorini and Corfu. Chose to take the group tour to Dubrovnik. If you go with a group tour you know the boat will wait. We did see a family that had to pay for a chase boat to catch up with the boat as it left the harbor. Pick your poison and have fun!

Posted by
3 posts

Hi, since the time at your disposal is not that long and doing that on your own would require long time, I would hire a car with driver. In this way you would save "precious time" and they know where to take you to see everything in a small time frame. I can suggest companies we experienced during one of our Med cruise: "Tour Azur" for French Riviera (http://www.tourazur.com/en)
"Italy Cruises Private Tours" for Italy (http://www.italycruisesprivatetours.com),
"Private Greece Tours" for Greece (http://www.privategreecetours.com)

Enjoy your cruise!

Posted by
7209 posts

Simple fact is, if you really want to see Europe then avoid cruises.