Help Planning our vacation PLEASE!

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Italy Ports
Capri, Florence, Genoa, Naples, Palermo, portofino, Rome, Sardinia, Sorrento, Taormina, Venice
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#1
Michigan
1 Posts
Joined Jan 2017
HELP! I have been trying to research Western Mediterranean cruising and trying to plan this myself.. I am overwhelmed. We are in our 50s and new empty nesters - this time is for us! Questions and factors: ..1. Price- needs to be reasonable -(hitting the right dates to go - thinking May 2019. I would like to give this to my husband this year as a christmas gift -2. We are not on a time schedule although 3 weeks would be ideal to fit in everything? 3. I would like to see Italy - venice- on a boat etc - Greece - Spain etc.. - In other words- a Eastern and Western Med experience. I have heard where we should fly to Rome and stay a week - whilst there taking trains to see other parts of the country which sounds wonderful to me and leaving the cruise a day early from another port and catching another cruise... I would love 3 days in Greece to enjoy the food - and surroundings - We meet so many people on cruises who have done land stays also - I would appreciate someone helping me plan this amazing adventure who is experienced in making the most of 3 weeks stay for a reasonable price . Thank you in advance
#2
New Cumberland,PA, USA
28,156 Posts
Joined May 2000
Yeah, it is overwhelming as you are talking about an entire continent . So where to start...as a cruise oriented traveler? We can suggest a few options (for starters). Consider a one-way cruise that starts in one good port and ends in another. An example might be Barcelona to Civitavecchia. Or,...perhaps Civitavecchia to Venice. Find your cruise and then plan on spending as much time as possible, both pre and both cruise on land.

The other option is to do a repositioning cruise from the US to Europe and then spend as much time as possible (considering budget and time) in Europe. Both are good travel strategies (we have done both many times). While cruising around Europe is wonderful, there are many advantages to spending time on land. DW and I spent many years doing combinations of land and sea...and now...over thirty years later we still like this kind of trip (we think its the best of both worlds).

Going in late May through early June is a near perfect time in terms of weather and crowds. Where you choose to go is a very personal thing and you have to prioritize your own wants and consider your budget.

You mention 3 days in Greece...but consider that Greece is a country (not just a city or port) so you would have to decide where in Greece. Do you want ot spend a few days in Athens? Or how about a few days (or a week) just island hopping. or you can do something like our DD. One year they flew to Crete, spent a week on that large island..and then took a ferry to Santorini where they spend another week. Then finally they took a ferry over to the mainland..spent a few days and flew home from Athens.

And there are other options. One year we flew to Paris, spent a few days...rented a car...and spent 2 weeks just driving south to Rome. Once in Rome we dropped the car at FCO, flew over to Brindisi, took an overnight ferry to Corfu....and spent a week on a small boat (20 passenger) cruising the Ionian Islands...before making our way back to Athens to fly home. I mention this trip to get you thinking in a bigger way in terms of itinerary.

Here is another idea in terms of combining cruising and land. Four years ago we took a repositioning cruise on the Ruby Princess from Florida to England. But we jumped off the cruise 1 day early in Le Havre (with permission from the cruise line) and took a train to Paris where we spent a week in a furnished apartment (easy to find online). We then picked up a rental car and drove down to Avignon where we spent another week in a rented apartment (this was amazing) so we could have time in our favorite part of France. After Avignon we drove up the Eastern side of France through parts of the French Alps and explored the Alsace-Lorraine area (think...Strasbourg).. Finally, we drove over to Paris and CDG where we dropped the car and flew home. It was a fabulous vacation combining a great cruise with some terrific land time.

Hank
P.S. I will reiterate that my post is not meant to boast....but simply to stimulate out of the box thinking.
#3
Petaluma, Ca. 94954
29,686 Posts
Joined Jul 2000
Hank has offered some excellent ideas. You have a hefty wish list. 3 weeks would be a challenge, so I would do as Hank suggests. There are some 10-14 day cruises that hit a bit of your list, commonly sailing one way, either Barcelona to Rome or Venice, or the reverse.

To get more coverage, you might sail a back-back (B2B for short), which now will be 20 to 24 days, but gets you a much larger sample of things.

As to certain hard requirements (3 days in Greece, week in Rome), while I endorse those wonderful goals, they complicate things. If your cruise starts or ends in Rome, you can stay extra time there. By the way, while a week in Rome is a great idea, I would suggest 3 or 4 nights for a first timer.

So, I would select a cruise, and build some things around your cruise. And now that you are empty nesters, I would not absolutely commit to the idea this is the only time you can go to Europe. You (like us) may fall in love with Europe, and be unable to control your desire to go back, thus setting up future trips, to further explore the wonderful and historic areas.
#4
Columbia, MD USA
2,953 Posts
Joined Jun 2003
As always, Hank has some great ideas. May 2019 is not around the corner so you have time to think it out. Two ways to start. One is the library to read some travel books and narrow down where you would like (not like) to go. The second is to get the brochures from the major cruise lines and start looking at what strikes you. The Oceana books are particularly good for planning and they also have longer cruises. Sounds like you might be interested in Venice to Barcelona with a pre or post stay in Rome.
#5
Minnesota
415 Posts
Joined Oct 2007
Traveling is one of the biggest advantages of being empty nesters! We have taken our two sons all over the world with us but it's been nice to have the two of us on some of our adventures.

Years ago we cruised on a "3 Continent" cruise with stops in Cairo, Jerusalem, Istanbul, and several Greek islands. At the end we hopped on a 4 day land tour to get a feel for Olympia and other inland areas before spending 3 days in the Platka area of Athens. It was the perfect way to really see Greece and gave us a taste of the other locales.

I just booked a back 2 back 2 back cruise for September, 2018, flying into Lisbon 4 days early to explore and then boarding the Wind Surf and cruising to Barcelona and then to Rome and then around Sicily ending in Rome. We love the port intensive itineraries of Wind Star cruises and we will have 25 days aboard (a first long cruise for us). I do know that Wind Star also cruises from Rome to Venice hitting some Greek Islands along the way.

I've always been a fan of trying to concentrate on one country or area at a time, do it up right and move on to the next one from there. We spent 17 days in Italy using trains and a rental car to get around between Rome, Pisa, Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Milan. We booked mostly apartments and stayed 3-5 days in most places to really get a feel for our location at the time. My family background is Italian and it was the perfect vacation for me but obvious a land adventure. I throw this one in just to show you the possibilities

Since you're thinking about spring 2019 why not look at different cruise lines for spring of 2018 to get a feel for what is out there now? There are so many wonderful choices. Do you have a family background in one country? Maybe that could be a starting point. Have you cruised longer than a week before? Do you want a port intensive intineary or do you enjoy sea days? Have you cruised on large ships? Small ships?

There is so much to see you really can't experience it all at one time. 3 weeks is a good amount of time but I think I would perhaps concentrate on either the Eastern or the Western Mediterranean to really be able to take advantage of all that is out there. Plus, you'll get the chance to plan another trip!

Best of luck and keep us posted!
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#6
New Cumberland,PA, USA
28,156 Posts
Joined May 2000
We should have added one more suggestion. If you have access to the old movie "It It's Tuesday This Must be Belgium." watch it! It is a 1969 light comedy....but it is my own mantra of what DW and I will never do . if you want to drive around Italy you might also want to read "Under the Tuscan Sun," a real easy read that in entertaining and somewhat enlightening. And for those planning on spending some time in the Provence region of France there are the terrific books of Peter Mayle (who had to flea the masses and now lives on Long Island, NY,

Hank
#7
Sydney Australia
1,026 Posts
Joined Mar 2009
You know, when we first went to Europe in 1977 when we were very young, it was so expensive to get there from Australia that we had to assume that we might never get there again. So we did dash around and race from country to country hoping to fit it all in.
We never thought that it would be so cheap to fly as it is now. We are currently planning to have a month just in the region around Milan. The airfares are about the same as we paid in 1977 when we were earning about literally one tenth of what we would be now at the same career stage,
We did not return to Europe until 1995, with our teenage daughters. We took them on a two weeks highlights tour and it served the purpose. Later they each lived for several years in England and they were able to enjoy leisurely travel. As we did when we would go to visit them.
But I think you have to consider what you really want to see and how you like to travel. Not everyone wants a half day in a museum. In 1977 it was a novelty for us to see Europeans eating outdoors on the footpath. We see that here everywhere now and so we do not want to necessarily dedicate too much time to leisurely lunches. You will have to do a lot of reading and work out what is important to you.
#8
London, England
3,531 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
Hlitner

Your mention of that film, 'If its Tuesday etc ......' made me laugh because it was exactly a European's idea of Americans visiting Europe in those days.

One evening I was having dinner with a British friend in a restaurant in Paris and it must have been mid 70s.

On the next table were two American ladies and one said to her friend, 'Gee, I hope my feet hold out to do Florence tomorrow'. My friend and I fell about laughing.

So, the film was quite realistic.


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#9
New Cumberland,PA, USA
28,156 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by LondonTowner
Hlitner

Your mention of that film, 'If its Tuesday etc ......' made me laugh because it was exactly a European's idea of Americans visiting Europe in those days.

One evening I was having dinner with a British friend in a restaurant in Paris and it must have been mid 70s.

On the next table were two American ladies and one said to her friend, 'Gee, I hope my feet hold out to do Florence tomorrow'. My friend and I fell about laughing.

So, the film was quite realistic.


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I am not sure things have changed for many of my fellow Americans. Just reading these boards for many years often make me smile. It was not that long ago that somebody was talking about Florence and said they had been there on a port day and seen it all! (there were looking for other options). The first 2 or 3 times DW and I went to Florence it was on port days...and we were luck warm about the city. It was only when we returned (on a lengthy driving trip) for several days....that we started to fall in love with the city . We have spent many weeks (months) in Paris (DW's favorite city in the world) and still have yet to dent that large city. Yet others think they can rush through Paris in a short port day...and then they know the city (we have seen that posted here in the past).

Part of the problem is folks in our country work, work work....and just do not have enough time to play. And when they finally get some time (which is either late in their careers or at retirement) they have never learned how to slow down and smell the roses. Aussies routinely take 3-6 week vacations. Many Europeans get a month vacation (although this tradition now seems to be waning). But in the USA/Canada many cannot take more than a week off (at a time). Tis a pity.

I have a friend who is a very sad case (for a traveler). She actually does a spreadsheet for her trips and maps out every hour of every day....right down to how many minutes to shower. She takes her entire family on trips and drives everyone nutz because they must stick to that schedule...not matter what! We see similar behavior on cruises where some folks want to see how much they can cram into a day.....and often cannot even remember where they have been (they had no time to look at the signs). Different strokes ........

Hank
#10
London, England
3,531 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
Hank

These days most Europeans get 4-6 weeks holiday. When myself and OH we're still working he got five weeks and I got six weeks holiday. In addition we get our public holidays, so not too bad.

I have read those comments too where people say we have been to say, Rome, twice and want to see somewhere else. I agree Florence is a lovely city and I have been quite a few times for 3 or4 days at a time.

I like Paris too, but it isn't my favourite city. For us it is so easy to visit by Eurostar from London. In fact, at the moment they are offering tickets for £25 one way. My OH is interested in world war history, mainly WWII, so we take our car on Eurotunnel to northern France very frequently.

Have you been to Normandy and DDay beaches? In addition to seeing war museums etc the countryside is also pretty and the Camembert and Armagnac is pretty good too.


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#11
Romsey England
11,634 Posts
Joined Mar 2009
Just a few thoughts for the OP.

One of my rare differences of opinion with Hank - I rate a trans-Atlantic repo cruise as a poor use of time. If you cruise for the ship & the sea, repo cruises are great value. But that's a lot of days at sea - days you could be exploring foreign lands.
I suggest a 10 to12 day one-way cruise.
Since your focus seems to be on Italy, mebbe Rome to Venice or vice-versa. Several mainstream cruise lines offer this. It means you can spend pre-cruise time in Rome (I agree with Bruce that in your circumstances around 3 nights is good for Rome). Several Italian ports, Greek islands and a port or two on the Adriatic coast of Albania / Montenegro / Croatia - a good mix of ports, & a cruise ship is by far the easiest & most economical (money and time) way to visit most of those places.
Or perhaps you want to major on Italy for the land portion of your vacation? So perhaps Barcelona to Rome via a French port or two, then explore Italy by road or rail.

Land portion.
You need to decide whether you want to major on cities or countryside.
The depth of your wallet comes into it too
Those things will to some extent dictate your transportation - plane or train or car.
If you want to major on cities your best bet will be trains and/or planes. The rail system in Europe is excellent, and there are various ticketing options which significantly reduce the cost of frequent use. A car is a hindrance rather than an asset in a great many European cities, same as in a comparatively few US cities like NYC and Chicago. If you choose to travel by car, for most cities it's simpler & cheaper to lodge somewhere out-of-town with ample parking and good transport links into the city. If you choose a hotel in a city centre, make sure you can book parking with it - though parking might cost almost as much as a room.
By plane, most cities in Europe are within an hour or two of each-other, so even allowing time for travel to/from airport, check-in times etc no journey should cost you more than half-a-day. That way, you can build places like London, Paris, Berlin, Vienna, Madrid etc all into one vacation. Air travel is inexpensive if you book in advance with budget no-frills airlines, and cattle-class is good enough for such short flights. But you will need to travel light - baggage charges on budget airlines are all out-of-proportion. (Perhaps plan your itinerary so that you can stow some luggage at a place you'll be returning to at the end of your vacation).
We're not city-lovers, our preference is for the freedom of the road - to rent a car and to some extent make it up as we go along. For dramatic scenery consider from Venice to the lakes of northern Italy then the old Alpine passes to Switzerland & Austria, mebbe even into the Bavarian or Black Forest quarters of southern Germany. Those old Alpine passes are snow-bound til well into May (so watch your timing) but they're dramatic and traffic-free - trucks and business travellers use the modern motorways & Alpine tunnels. Check Googleimages for example like Furka Pass, Susten Pass, Gottard pass.
Lots of other options too.
Yes, as others have pointed out, the danger of building in too much. That's one reason why we prefer travel by scenic routes - the journey is as enjoyable as the destination, and a leisurely ten-hour back-roads drive is waaay more interesting than a five-hour dash on a fast & boring main road.

Just my thoughts

JB
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Anyone who looks like their passport photo is too ill to travel (Will Kommen)
#12
Pittsburgh, PA
690 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
I can understand your frustration!! While not quite empty nesters, both me and DH are late 30's, we almost are with our kids 19 and 16 soon.

Because of this I am in the process of planning our 20th wedding anniversary. It started as just our cruise, and just yesterday, we are now extending that by a week before hand. This is also on the thought of... we don't know when we will be back!!

While I am still in the early stages of now rearranging all this, it will be a work in progress until I can really look at airfares.

You have till 2019 so you have time. It isn't exactly what you want especially with time frames and it being in 2018.. but look at the MSC Magnifica sailings for November 2018. It's a 12 day kind of Eastern/Western Combined. For getting the most "bang for your buck" I wasn't able to find one I liked anywhere near as much. Can't say they will do them again, but I started looking at this cruise in 2016, new we wanted to go in 2018 but couldn't book and was SOO happy when they came out again! But again this only seems to happen in November so....

How I am keeping sane right now, is by keeping options totally open!! Sure we have some places we would really like to go, Venice like you, and that is what I am planning right now and then train hopping around until our cruise. But.. if the airfares are a significant difference, I am open to going to Paris, Iceland, or Greece before hand.

Instead of staying in Rome though and taking trains to see places that doesn't seem like the best option from what I have seen. Rome to Venice and back on a train is about 8-10 hours round trip. That doesn't leave much time. Since you want to do it on a budget, you would also probably be paying for 2 hotel rooms and such for trips like that.

Our current plan is fly into Venice, stay 2 days, train to Rome and 2 days there, train to Florence and 1 day there, then onto Genoa for our cruise. Though when I get down to it, this could all easily change. I don't know if I am happy or pulling my hair out frustrated at times, but my DH is the type who goes, "Whatever you book and decide honey" so I don't get much out of him other than very specific places he wants to go to, like the Di Vinci museum. So far.. for 3 weeks.. that is all I have gotten from him. But hey, he doesn't get his heart set on something and then logistics mean we have to change something.

Just keep an open mind, spend some of your new empty nest time looking around at things that catch your eye, and go from there!
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#13
New Cumberland,PA, USA
28,156 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by LondonTowner
Hank

These days most Europeans get 4-6 weeks holiday. When myself and OH we're still working he got five weeks and I got six weeks holiday. In addition we get our public holidays, so not too bad.

I have read those comments too where people say we have been to say, Rome, twice and want to see somewhere else. I agree Florence is a lovely city and I have been quite a few times for 3 or4 days at a time.

I like Paris too, but it isn't my favourite city. For us it is so easy to visit by Eurostar from London. In fact, at the moment they are offering tickets for £25 one way. My OH is interested in world war history, mainly WWII, so we take our car on Eurotunnel to northern France very frequently.

Have you been to Normandy and DDay beaches? In addition to seeing war museums etc the countryside is also pretty and the Camembert and Armagnac is pretty good too.


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We have twice vacationed in Normandy (on driving trips) and also been there on numerous port days. Having driven all over France we find the Normandy residents to be among the most friendly French towards we Americans. I share your love of history (especially WW2) and we have spent time visiting all the D-Day beaches. I am also a big fan of the Peace Museum in Caen...which we think does a fantastic job explaining how we managed to get from WWI to WWII. Since we have some very good English friends (and have spent time in England) we understand this love affair between the Brits and Armagnac. Personally, I prefer Cognac....but then there is Scotch Whiskey, Irish Whiskey,....etc .

There is much to love about France.. As to Paris, we used to say we loved Paris despite the Parisians...but in recent years we have had many good experiences with Parisians...so we are mellowing.

Hank
P.S. We did not miss John Bull's comment about a rare disagreement with me (how dare he . Not sure that JB and I will ever agree about long cruises with lots of sea days. But we do know he is a fellow brother when it comes to love of history so we forgive his transgression..
#14
London, England
3,531 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
Hank

Have to agree about the friendliness in Normandy. As Brits we have noticed it too, but everywhere you go they still fly the Stars and Stripes, Maple Leaf and Union Jack.

Last year we visited Rheims and the Champagne houses. On our drive back to Calais we went through a town called Peronne where they had a fairly new WWI museum. It was extremely well laid out and informative. It wasn't too far from Albert where they have loads of WWI tunnels under the town which were used by the Resistance in WWII as they were never discovered by the Germans.

We have also visited the Caen Peace Museum, but I very much liked seeing the Bayeux Tapestry as we had learnt all about it at school.

Lots of Europeans complain about rude French, but we must have been lucky as we seem to meet nice people.


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#15
507 Posts
Joined Feb 2011
The OP might want to consider flying to FCO, spending several days in Rome, taking the train to Venice, and then embarking on a cruise ship bound for Athens. One can then spend time there or take one of the many ferries to one of the many islands.

This plan gives you the opportunity to sample some different Italian and Greek regions plus the experience of visiting ports on the Dalmatian coast.

I would set the ship itinerary first and then work backwards from that. You could always do this trip in reverse by flying into ATH first if the ship itinerary works better that way.

Good luck.


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#16
Romsey England
11,634 Posts
Joined Mar 2009
Hank & Londontowner, shame on both of you..........

Cognac?
Armagnac?
When in Normandy ????????
Calvados, dear friends, Calvados.
From a farm, if you're brave enough.

Or Pommeau if you're a wimp.

Yes, Normandy's a favourite of mine too.
OP - it's only a little more than 1,000 miles from Rome

JB
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Anyone who looks like their passport photo is too ill to travel (Will Kommen)
#17
London, England
3,531 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
Ha, ha I must be a wimp I bought some Pommeau.

With regards to the OP I think I would also consider a Adriatic cruise. Although I love Croatia and Montenegro I find everything about Slovenia a bit nicer. Have never been to Albania, but I would like to visit.

I presume the cruise would end in Venice. From there a car could be hired and include visits to Ravenna, Le Marche and down to Puglia. In Puglia you have the unique trulli in Alberobello and in the surrounding areas small whitewashed towns like Ostuni. A visit to Matera with the Sassi cave houses would also be a must see.

I imagine from there you could fly to Greece and do a bit of island hopping.

The OP needs to do some research and decide what they really want to see and visit.


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#18
New Cumberland,PA, USA
28,156 Posts
Joined May 2000
Originally posted by John Bull
Hank & Londontowner, shame on both of you..........

Cognac?
Armagnac?
When in Normandy ????????
Calvados, dear friends, Calvados.
From a farm, if you're brave enough.

Or Pommeau if you're a wimp.

Yes, Normandy's a favourite of mine too.
OP - it's only a little more than 1,000 miles from Rome

JB
Geez, and this advice from a Brit who doesn't even drink Guinness? You have no credibility JB
#19
Romsey England
11,634 Posts
Joined Mar 2009
Originally posted by Hlitner
Geez, and this advice from a Brit who doesn't even drink Guinness? You have no credibility JB

Hank - I enjoy a beer or two, but I draw the line when the stuff has to be eaten with a knife & fork

JB
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Anyone who looks like their passport photo is too ill to travel (Will Kommen)
#20
London, England
3,531 Posts
Joined Jun 2011
Hank

Guinness is Irish, not British.in spite of my Irish roots I don't like the black stuff, but wouldn't say no to a Jameson's if you're buying.


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