Mediterranean Preview: 9 Cities and 3 Countries in 1.5 Weeks

by Gray Cargill on May 4, 2012

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I am just about on the eve of my next trip to Europe. If you’ll recall, I’ve booked myself a Studio Stateroom aboard the Norwegian Epic to explore several ports in three countries. I’ll also be flying in and out of Rome, so I’ll finally have a chance to see the Eternal City. Without a doubt, this trip is the most expensive I’ve ever been on. It is also the most complicated.

Don’t let anyone tell you that cruise travel is easy. Normally, I only have to plan for one city. This time out, I have to plan for the time I’m spending in Rome, the time spent aboard ship, and the time spent in five ports and nearby cities along the way. Not to mention transportation to and from the airport and the cruise ship. As a type A planner, it pains me to say this, but the planning for this trip nearly overwhelmed me.

I know. You’re thinking “Cry me a freaking river. You’re going to EUROPE!!” Which is a fair response.

Here’s the thing about traveling on a cruise ship: As a solo traveler, the notion of being surrounded by other people all day, every day freaks me out a little. I do want to meet people and have time to socialize, but I also know I need some time to myself. There’s got to be a balance, right? So I’ve decided to mix my travel style up this time around. Here’s how:

Casa Mila, Barcelona

Casa Mila, Barcelona

Independent Travel

I’ll be doing my usual independent solo traveler thing in Rome, Cannes, and Barcelona. No excursions or tours in any of those places. Cannes and Barcelona are two of the port cities, making them easier to explore on my own. I’ve done most everything I want to do in Barcelona, so that should be a somewhat fun and relaxing day for me. At the very least, though, I’d like to take a tour of Casa Mila, since I didn’t last time. Cannes is a pure photography day for me. I’ll be wandering around taking photos of this picturesque city on the Mediterranean, and that’s about it.

In Rome, the ancient city and architecture are my two focus areas: The Colosseum, the Forum, Palatine Hill, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, and the Spanish Steps, along with the Borghese Gardens, possibly the Castel Sant’Angelo, and lots of wandering around the city. There are plenty of other things I could do in Rome, but I’m not going to. I have no desire to see the Vatican, or museums or art galleries. Since I desperately need some relaxation and down time during this “vacation,” I’m trying to rein in my usual “commando style” of travel. My mantra will be “Slow down.”

Tour Travel

In Marseilles, I’m taking Norwegian’s “Marseilles City Highlights and Avignon Tour”. In Naples, I’ve signed onto a shared excursion set up by another passenger with a driver and guide to explore Pompeii, Sorrento and Positano. (All in one day—yikes!) In both cases, I get to sit back and let someone else do all the work for a while. Right now, that sounds pretty damn good, even if it curtails my freedom a little bit. (We’ll see what it’s like in reality.)

Hybrid Travel

In Florence, I’m doing Norwegian’s “Florence on your own” tour, which means I’m hitching a bus* ride with them from the Port of Livorno to and from Florence while exploring the city on my own. It’s kind of a cross between tour travel and independent travel. And no, shockingly, I probably won’t do any museums here, either, since I’ll only have a few hours. I don’t want to squander what little time I have in a museum. I do, however, want to see Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the Campanile, and the rest of the gorgeous architecture of Florence. I may check out some of the basilicas.

*I could have taken the train to and from Florence, but I’m deeply paranoid about something going wrong and not being able to get back to the ship in time. If you miss the ship’s departure, you’re responsible for getting yourself to the next port of call. I can’t afford that extra expense or the stress that accompanies it. If you’re on one of their excursions, the ship will wait for you.

Courtyard pool

A little R&R sounds pretty good right about now…

And when exactly is my vacation?

My job has me exhausted. I really need some rest. This is my only vacation from work for a few months. Yet, there’s really not a lot of downtime in this schedule, is there? When I return to the ship from port at night, there is dinner to be had, shows to be seen, bars to be visited, journal entries to be written, photos to be downloaded onto my laptop, and various and sundry other socializing opportunities. I’ll be lucky if I make it to bed by 11pm every night. I’d love to say that my day at sea will be my day to rest and relax, but with all the fun activities that are available aboard the Epic, I doubt I’ll be able to resist jumping in with both feet. Then again, maybe my “rest” will come in the form of:

My Forced Digital Detox

For the first time in awhile, I am being forced to take a digital detox for the majority of the trip. I can’t use my cell phone in Europe; the roaming charges would kill me. I’ll have Internet access in Rome, but once I’m aboard ship, the cost of Internet is too high. And I’m not going to waste what little time I have in port looking for and using an Internet cafe. So don’t be surprised if you don’t see as much of me online in the next couple of weeks.

Despite how it may sound, I am really looking forward to this trip. It might be exhausting, but I think it’ll also be a lot of fun. I cannot wait to see the ancient sites in Rome and Pompeii, and I’ve heard the Amalfi Coast is just gorgeous. I’m happy to be able to revisit Barcelona. The other locales are frosting on the cake. I’m also looking forward to going on a real cruise aboard the Epic, staying in the Studios and taking advantage of my access to the Studio Lounge to meet some other solo travelers. I’ve already “met” some of my fellow cruisers on CruiseCritic.com roll calls, so it’ll be nice to finally put faces to names and online handles.

Look for me to report back on these and many more things when I return. In the meantime, please don’t burn the house down while I’m gone.

Gray May 19, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Thanks, Roy, it was a great trip, though not without some challenges. I hope yours is even better!

Roy Marvelous May 19, 2012 at 1:11 pm

Have fun! We just completed a Transatlantic and are in Europe now.

Gray May 18, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Thanks, Jeremy! It was an interesting experiment, for sure. I actually wound up having plenty of time to myself, as it turns out.

Gray May 18, 2012 at 2:06 pm

Thanks, Alouise! It was a great trip.

Gray May 18, 2012 at 1:04 pm

Tracy, I know exactly how you feel. I wish I could have slept for 14 hours, but I got in at midnight and didn’t have any food in the house, so I had to get up to go to the grocery store. 🙂

Gray May 18, 2012 at 12:49 pm

JoAnna – Yes, I was. I did not love my digital detox. I’ve been having technical issues with my websites lately, as well as people spamming my websites and Facebook page, and I was so paranoid about something happening along those lines while I couldn’t monitor the situation that I wound up buying an Internet package on the ship just to keep an eye on things and check email every couple of days. Before I started blogging, I loved unplugging during vacation. But now that I have online responsibilities, I just don’t think I’ll ever be able to unplug in a carefree way again.

Tracy Antonioli May 14, 2012 at 10:38 am

I just got back from my own trip (part of which involved an unknown forced digital detox) and I jumped right on here to see if you were back yet (no, you are not–which is awesome for you. I hope you are having a great time!)

I think your multi-faceted touring plan is a GREAT one! Though I do agree that you will be even more exhausted when you come back. But that’s ok–just think of all you will have done and seen! This is my first full day back after a 12 day solo trip, and I slept for 14 hours last night! (though to be fair, I’d been up for over 36 hours when I went to bed last night) and was so excited about not ‘having to’ do anything today (you know…other than draft 16 blog posts and go through almost 3000 photos!)

I can’t wait to hear about your adventures!!! (But please don’t reply to this particular comment–trust me, I imagine how busy you will be when you get back!)

JoAnna May 12, 2012 at 5:07 pm

I *think* you’re on your vacation right now, and it sounds like a good one! I hope you enjoy your digital detox. I love to leave my laptop at home!

Jeremy Branham May 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Hope you enjoy your cruise. I have to admit cruise ships don’t excite me for the reasons you mentioned – lots of people, not a lot of opportunities for independent travel, and not much time for yourself. Completely understand your need to rest and relax and hope you enjoy it. I will be curious how this mix of travel styles works out for you.

Alouise May 9, 2012 at 3:16 pm

I definitely understand the need for balancing time away from others, even on a solo trip. Hope you have a great trip.

Gray May 8, 2012 at 10:59 am

@Mark Hansen – I’m sure it will be, too. It’s always worth trying something once.

Gray May 8, 2012 at 10:58 am

@Suzanne – Great choice! I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

Gray May 8, 2012 at 10:57 am

@Jeff B – LOL, is THAT doctors say? Well, who am I to argue with the professionals? Battlo is better than Mila, eh? It’s also closer, so maybe I will do that one instead. Thanks!

Mark Hansen May 8, 2012 at 4:55 am

Sounds like you will have a great time on your cruise. Taking a cruise is on my to-do list for the future, so I’ll have to check out your next post to see how it went.

I know it’s expensive to go on a cruise and there’s a lot to organise, but I’m sure that it will be well and truly worth it in the end.

Suzanne May 7, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Can wait to hear about it~ I am going on the Epic next February, 12th deck studio room. Arrevaderci! (sp)

Jeff B May 7, 2012 at 7:39 pm

Hey Gray. Hope the trip is going well. If you have not been to Case Batllo in Barcelona I would do that over Casa Mila. It is much more interesting. Also don’t forget about one of Florence’s greatest art forms…gelato. According to Doctors gelato should be eaten 3 times a day in Florence.

Gray May 7, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Thanks, Dave. You can be sure I’ll be blogging about it when I get back!

Gray May 7, 2012 at 1:44 pm

Thanks, Kusum!

Kusum May 7, 2012 at 2:00 am

Have a great time! Italy is really fun! Looking forward to your reports on Cannes, Barcelona and Marselles.

Dave May 6, 2012 at 11:24 am

Have a great time on your (well-deserved) vacation!

I would love to hear what you think of the Studio staterooms on the Epic. I read about them a while ago and find the idea intriguing.

Gray May 5, 2012 at 10:30 am

Yeah, I think I could use at least one more sea day, too. It’s a LOT of ports in a short span of time. Of course, I could always skip a port and just stay aboard the ship, but…yeah, like I’m going to do that. 🙂 To be honest, it IS something of a relief to be forced to go without Internet for awhile. I used to always “unplug” on my vacations, but once I started my blog, I felt like I couldn’t do that any more. I do miss being able to unplug and really “get away from it all”.

Janice May 5, 2012 at 10:03 am

You will have a lot of fun and be able to see so much in such a short amount of time. I love the idea of this cruise, but at the moment I hesitate because of the amount of port days. I absolutely loved having 3 full sea day on the Epic.
As for the digital detox – I can honestly say, I did not miss the internet or my cell phone once on the ship. And I am totally addicted to the internet. That part was actually quite refreshing!
Have an amazing trip and can’t wait to hear all about it later!

Gray May 5, 2012 at 8:50 am

Oh I hope so, Sabina. Thank you.

Sabina May 5, 2012 at 12:16 am

This sounds fantastic, Gray. I would actually like to go on a cruise again. The ship I sailed on for the only cruise I’ve taken so far was so luxurious, I just loved it. I hope you do find a way to give yourself more downtime on this trip. I know you’ll want to see as much as you can of each port of call, but maybe on the ship you can afford to lie by the pool for a while 🙂

Gray May 4, 2012 at 6:14 pm

It’s on my list, JoAnn. 🙂

JoAnn May 4, 2012 at 5:59 pm

When in Rome, I highly recommend a visit to the Piaza Navona if you have time. It’s my favorite.

Gray May 4, 2012 at 5:10 pm

Thanks, Alecia. I’ll try to be as informative as possible about the experience. 🙂

Alecia May 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

Looking forward to your blog post once you return and have had time to tell us about it. I too want to try the new single studio stateroom on this cruise line.

Enjoy yourself and be safe ;-)!

Gray May 4, 2012 at 11:00 am

@Christine – Oh, you’ve been to Avignon? Glad to hear something about it; I know nothing, despite the fact that I signed up for the excursion! (Was glad not to have to do any planning for that one!) About the wifi–same with hotels, right? Sigh.

Gray May 4, 2012 at 10:58 am

Thanks, Rhona! I hope I do it all justice when I write about it after the fact. 🙂

Christine | Grrrl Traveler May 4, 2012 at 6:58 am

I loved Avignon- very cute place. Also, the Italian coast sounds good. Good luck slowing down in this whirlwind. Ha ha.. Have a tornado of fun! Can’t wait for the glamorous stories when you get back.

You’d think with how much cruises cost they could at least give you free wi-fi! Nerve.

Rhona May 4, 2012 at 6:45 am

your trip sounds amazing!!! like you, i feel overwhelmed at the thought of cruise planning. i am dying to use this liner also but i am very apprehensive about the amount of people on a ship! it seems a bit overwhelming to me. well, i am excited to virtual travel with you. although the planning was tough (i understand as I am the same), i am sure you will have a great time.

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