Ever wonder where to take your family full of adults? Is the traditional camping trip or beach house sound a little drab this year? A cruise around the Mediterranean may be just what you need to add a little spice to your holiday. I recently cruised on Norwegian Cruise Lines with my whole family in tow this past summer and we had a blast.
In between touring the Colosseum in Rome and drinking rose in France we experienced a few National Lampoon moments that we are sure to cherish for a lifetime. If you are interested in learning more about planning for a holiday at sea that the whole family will enjoy, look no further.
Picking the right cruise for your crew
One of the biggest lessons I learned while planning for my first cruise is no one cruise liner is alike. It’s important to know your crewmates. Are you a group of party animals or party poopers? Is your crew more interested in exploring each port city or what is on the menu for dinner? There are dozens of cruise liners in the market these days; factors such as time at port, ship amenities, and entertainment come into play when making a decision. If you are looking for more information on what each cruise liner has to offer, I recommend picking up Rick’s Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports.
Ultimately my family chose to sail on the Norwegian Epic. This cruise liner is known for its Las Vegas style glitz, which is right up my family’s alley. The ports of call, cabin accommodations, and promotion for the unlimited drink package were ultimately what sold us.
Before you book
Have a good idea of the itinerary you would like to take and be sure to review the hours docked at each port. Twelve hours may seem like more than enough time to tackle all that Florence has to offer, but trust me, that time flies quickly.
My mom had been dreaming of touring the Sistine Chapel and my brother had never traveled to Rome. The port of Cittavecchia (1.5 hours from the city center) turned out to be our best bet. We wanted the opportunity to take in as many of Rome’s finest historic points such as the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and Vatican City, which simply could not have been done if we were in port for eight hours. Beginning and ending our cruise out of Cittavecchia avoided the stress of getting to and from the main attractions in such a short about of time.
If sleeping accommodations are important to you, consider booking a larger cabin with a balcony. I found a balcony room to be well worth the upgrade, the fresh air went along way in combating seasickness.
Speaking of booking things let me drop some knowledge on you. Plan for your flight to arrive in first port city at least 24 hours before your cruise is set to sail. This allows for flight delays, avoiding the stress of missing the boat! Typically booking the cruise about six months out is recommended, but always keep your eyes peeled for a great deal, especially on Thursdays.
Plan your own excursions
Word to the wise; the bread and butter of cruise liners are excursions. These along with the cost of drinks (including bottled water) are the easiest ways to explode your cruise budget. Putting in a little extra blood, sweat, and tears ahead of time can really pay off when it comes to making the most of your time in port. The blood and tears vary depending on who (cough cough…family cough) you travel with.
Now, you do not have to go to the extremes that I have gone to. My family refers to me as the queen of Google Docs, however no one was complaining when answering the question of ‘What are we doing tomorrow?’ could be answered by simply tapping into an app. Your welcome Harrans. In all seriousness, digital documentation aside, my process for figuring out what to do was as follows:
Review all of the excursions that the cruise has to offer. This is helpful because it gives you a better grasp on what activities and locations are feasible to reach given the amount of time you have in port. Once I had a rough idea of what my family would be interested in doing, I’d get to work researching transportation and entry fees. In many cases booking on our own put hundreds of euros back in our pockets. In some cases paying a few dollars extra to make a reservations at popular tourist attractions can be a smart choice. When we were in Barcelona, my family and I were able to skip the line and have more time to enjoy the vibrant colors inside Sagrada Familia.
The benefit of cruising your way through the Mediterranean is that you can travel from one country to another without the hassle of train schedules, flight delays, or learning the rules of the road. However be sure to keep in mind that the potential downside is that your time spent in each location can be limited, so be sure to plan ahead to make the most of your experience.
When it pays to pay more
There are exceptions to the rule of booking your own excursions. Cruise newbies beware: If you are not back at port at the scheduled time, the ship WILL leave without you. Just see what happened these poor parents while in the Caribbean.
Some of the ports can be up to two hours away from the main attractions. On the day we arrived in Livorno (port of Florence and Pisa), we choose to pay a little more for piece of mind. The excursion itself only included transportation costs to both Pisa and Florence, which allowed us the freedom to explore Florence in a way we saw fit. If you are a member of my family, that means devouring a giant bowl of pasta while washing it down washing down with a fine glass (or two) of local Chianti. Typically if you book an excursion with the cruise liner they guarantee that you will arrive back in port on time.
Don’t forget to take advantage of all the amenities that you cruise liner offers! After a long day of feasting on Mediterranean cuisine and checking out an attraction or two, the easy thing to do is beeline it to your cabin and collapse, but this would be a mistake!
Do as my family would do… take a nap before hitting the town! Yes, at 30 years old I did have my fair share of naps while onboard. We enjoyed a pint while watching bopping along to a groovy Beatles cover band. My favorite night by far was watching Priscilla Queen of the Desert. The best part of the entertainment… it was free on Norwegian. Be sure to book the musicals and concerts ahead to ensure a seat!
Now get on with it and book your cruise! Before you know it you will be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy that drink package!