Is Europe on your travel bucket list? How many cities in Europe? Five? Ten? Thirty?
If you’ve got a travel bucket list a mile long that includes numerous cities in Europe, you may find yourself wondering how on Earth you can visit that many places with the week or two of vacation time you get every year. If you can only afford one trip to Europe per year, it could take you decades to see all the cities you want to see!
Perhaps one day, the light bulb goes off over your head: Why not take a cruise that stops in multiple European ports? You could see several of your dream cities in the course of a week!
Seems like the solution, doesn’t it? But is that the way you want to see Europe?
This was the situation I was faced with last year when I decided to book a Mediterranean cruise. Having now tried the cruise experience after years of being an independent (land-based) traveler, I can honestly say I have mixed feelings about it. If you’re considering a cruise, here are a few things you may want to consider before you hit the “book it” button.
The Pros of Seeing Europe by Cruise Ship
1. You can maximize your limited vacation time. A week-long cruise will stop in 5-6 port cities, often in different countries. You can cover a lot of ground (so to speak).
2. It’s easy. You only have to unpack once. You sleep in the same bed every night. Instead of schlepping your luggage—and yourself–from city to city, your hotel comes with you. You don’t have to puzzle over train schedules to get from city to city; you just wake up and you’re there. I loved that part.
3. Most of your expenses can be paid upfront. This includes your room, food, and any add-ons you’ve chosen (trip insurance—highly recommended—shore excursions, even airfare and ground transportation if you’ve chosen to book that through the cruise line). You can also prepay tips if you’re unsure who to tip, or how much. For the most part, you’ll know what your trip is going to cost you before you leave.
4. Your level of independence is completely up to you. If you don’t want the hassle of planning, you can take the ship’s shore excursions. If you enjoy making your own plans, you can make your own arrangements in port. The choice is yours.
5. If you’re concerned about safety as a solo traveler, a cruise can be among your safest options.
The Cons of Seeing Europe by Cruise Ship
1. It’s a bit of a tease. It can be really frustrating having less than a day to explore a city you’ve been dreaming about forever. I loved that I got to see Sorrento and Positano, Florence, Marseilles, Avignon, and Cannes—but I only had a few hours in each! (Thank God I’d already been to Barcelona.) I would have loved at least a couple of days in each–and a week for Florence.
2. This is the opposite of “slow travel”. If you like to get to know a place in-depth, spend time in neighborhoods where people live, and mingle with the locals, you may find the cruise experience a bit shallow. You won’t have enough time to interact with locals in any depth, and you certainly won’t have enough time to get a feel for what it’s really like to live in a place. You’ll barely scratch the surface.
3. For the solo traveler on a tight budget, cruises can be expensive—even without a single supplement. Especially once you add in trip insurance, shore excursions, Internet access, etc. My Mediterranean cruise was the most expensive vacation I’ve ever taken. When I travel on my own, I have more flexibility when it comes to saving money.
4. You can forget about sleeping late. Ever. Even when I’m traveling, I still like to sleep in occasionally. That was impossible aboard ship. Every single day, the ship’s crew was on the PA system starting around 7am to make announcements about what time people could disembark, what there was to do in port, etc.
5. Be prepared to miss out on the local cuisine. If part of the joy of traveling for you is sampling the local cuisine, you’ll have limited opportunity to do so when you’re in port. You will usually be dining aboard ship, especially for breakfast and dinner (after all, you’ve already paid for it and you do want to get your money’s worth).
Independent travel will always be my first choice. I like having control over each component of my trips, and I prefer having more than a day to explore a city. But shaking up your usual travel style once in awhile isn’t a bad thing. I have no regrets about my cruise. As I was reviewing the past year recently, I was blown away by how much I was able to do and how many places I was able to visit during 2012. This was a great travel year for me. And one of the biggest reasons for this is because I went on that cruise.
Was it expensive? Yes. Do I wish I’d had more time in each port? Yes. Was it exhausting cramming so much into one week? Yes. Would I do it again? If the ship were traveling to several places on my travel bucket list, you bet I would.