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Norwegian Spirit Western Mediterranean review

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This was our first time on a cruise ship and I decided to write up a travel feature on our adventure for the newspaper I work for. Here's the text, and you can find a link to the story at the bottom, complete with a photo gallery.



Edmonton Sun


David Foster Wallace famously titled an essay about his experience on a cruise ship, A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again.


The tongue-in-cheek piece has done more to damage to the cruise industry than a 1,000 sunken Costa Concordias. Numerous detractors would quote Wallace’s essay when my wife and I announced our intention to visit Europe, trying to shame us away from a cruise ship and into a more yuppie-appropriate travel method.


Having long been sensitive to the cliche “Let’s find ourselves in Europe” trip people in our age range (25-35) are prone to, when we decided to make the overseas journey we chose to buck convention. No backpacking trips (walking West Edmonton Mall gives me jitters ) or endless bus rides with hungover, dishevelled hippies (the type who quote David Foster Wallace). Rather, we settled on a cruise ship tour.


Long lambasted as a vessel for newlyweds and nearly-deads, a cruise was the logical choice to entrust our once-in-a-lifetime vacation to. No living out of suitcases. No delicate balancing acts of train schedules and hotel reservations. No communal bongo drum circles. The 12-day Western Mediterranean tour on board the Norwegian Spirit offered a taste of Europe: Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey. Just the big cities, however, eight to nine hours max at port. The cruise wouldn’t offer much in the way of relaxation, but we would log dozens of visits to world- renown sights. It was perfect for us.




We arrived a day early at our point of disembarkation, Barcelona, Spain, for a bit of sightseeing. Barcelona was a buzzing, beautiful city that boasts clean, pedestrian friendly streets dotted with snug cafes and a laid-back port vibe. We sucked back morning sangria with the locals, gorged on tapas brimming with prawns, and traipsed down La Rambla street. Architect Antoni Gaudi’s perpetually under-construction church, Sagrada Familia, lived up to its hype and is well-worth a visit.


Barcelona’s chilled-out vibe followed us onboard the Norwegian Spirit. Holding 1,996 passengers, it’s considered a small, but animated cruise ship. Everyone in a uniform greeted us with an almost creepy cheerful disposition. Norwegian’s big selling point is its freestyle dining, which allows passengers to eat where and when they wanted, which appealed to our freewheeling, antisocial tendencies.


Our first port of call was Toulon, France. It was a short visit, which was plenty of time to explore the naval town’s quaint Mediterranean structures and abundance of fountains. Nearby Marseille offers more sight-seeing, but we were satisfied by stuffing our faces with Toulon’s croissants.


The next day we took in Florence, Italy. Similar to other ports on the tour, the cruise ship actually docked in Livorno, but only seeing Livorno would be akin to seeing Leduc instead of Edmonton. Florence was over-stuffed with Renaissance art and architecture. While there wasn’t enough time to see Michelangelo’s original David, we scoped out the copy in Palazzo Vecchio. It also wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without the requisite photo in front of Pisa’s Leaning Tower.


Rome was one of the stopovers where eight hours is not enough to take in its splendours. Our quick-paced trip through the Eternal City slammed through the essentials (the Colosseum, Arch of Constantine, Vatican City) and left our heads spinning. In particular, the museums of the Vatican feature more artifacts in a single room than that of the entire Royal Alberta Museum. Our quick peak at the ethereal Sistine Chapel was well-worth the pace.




Naples, compared to other cities in Italy, was a tad dingier. Our time was short in the city, as we took a tour of the ancient city of Pompeii, famously buried by a volcanic eruption. No museum could ever replicate the experience of walking down the preserved streets of a city nearly 2,000 years old.


A day at sea was followed by a quick trip to Mykonos, Greece. Truly a photographer’s paradise, the island boasts beautiful white-washed buildings with bright blue highlights dotted along its tiny, labyrinth streets. Checking out the island’s unique windmills is a must, as well as saying hello to the resident pelican, Petros.


With a population of over 13 million, Turkey’s Istanbul posed the biggest culture shock. It straddles both Europe and Asia, stretched between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. The city features prominent monuments from its Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman period. Instanbul’s narrow, ancient streets, however, makes it a transportation nightmare. Taking a navigated tour is highly recommended to take in major highlights such as the Hagia Sophia, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (a.k.a. the Blue Mosque), the bustling Grand Bazaar and the eerie underground water reservoir, the Basilica Cistern.


Our other stop in Turkey was Izmir to visit Ephesus, an ancient Greek city with ruins scattered for miles. I found myself accidentally kicking around museum-quality chunks of frieze as if they were discarded Tim Hortons cups.


Athens’ sun-baked Acropolis radiated Greek history, especially its awe-inspiring Parthenon. In stark contrast to the temple’s marble elegance, the city core of Athens was smeared in political graffiti spurred by the country’s recent economic hardships. The scenic bus ride to the Temple of Poseidon also provided elegant views of the coastline littered with abandoned condominiums and hotels.




Our cruise ended at Venice, with the giant ship slowly crawling past St. Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace among other highlights. Venice lived up to its romantic reputation as we floated down its canals on a gondola ride night, complete with the unseen, but squeaking rats hiding in dark doorways along the water.


We found ourselves enjoying the cruise the most when we let go of our preconceived notions. We still guffaw whenever we think back to the blue-haired lady who expounded on the aphrodisiac qualities of chocolate to her mortified husband at the dinner table. As well, the sight of a school of dolphins swimming next to the ship, jumping in arches to our amusement, will forever remain a memory. Despite my standoffish temperament, we even became chummy with other passengers.


Unfortunately, on our way to spend the night in London, England, British Airways forgot our luggage in Venice. By the time we dealt with the mountains of airplane paperwork, we only had a few hours to check out London, sans fresh clothes or cosmetics.


It was a minor setback, but we were happy to be headed home. In an airport mirror I caught our reflection and saw two bedraggled, 20-something Canadians in desperate need of a comb. We resembled the very bus-bunking hippies we sought to avoid, just a little more well-travelled, with a taste for gelato and espresso.




- Many people will tell you Europe is a cesspool of pickpockets and marauders. It’s not true. Don’t make yourself an easy target by keeping your wallet in an easy to reach pocket, but don’t obsess over it, either.


- Consider private tours. Check out cruise forums such as http://www.crusiecritic.com and hook up with fellow cruisers to go on a private van excursion. They often feature smaller groups for a cheaper price.


- Bring your own water bottle and fill it up before your excursions to avoid buying a bottle from the cruise ship.


- Use a camera, not an iPad, to take photos. Not even Apple CEO Tim Cook could snap a photo of Rome’s Colosseum with an iPad and not look obnoxious.



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Great review-After reading your review I want to go now!! On my to do list to definitely do a next year!:)

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