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Our Amazing European Adventure! Navigator of the Seas & Norwegian Epic Review w/pics

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LOVE this review! What a wonderful adventure for you and your family! After reading this, I hope I can do a similar trip with my children in a few years.

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Oh I can't wait for the Florence day! We're stopping there on our October cruise AND I'm currently reading Dan Browns new book "Inferno" and its set in Florence. As I read it I google all of the landmarks and art, etc the author mentions!

 

Both my mom and I were reading Inferno while we were in Florence, and we finished it after our trip! It was really neat to be reading about the places we had just seen, or we knew we were going to!

 

Also, one of the things we did before the trip with the kids was an "International Movie Night" every month or so either both kids or just Megan and I would watch a movie set somewhere we'd be going to get familiar with some of the places we'd be seeing. One of our favorites was of course was Angels and Demons!

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Also, one of the things we did before the trip with the kids was an "International Movie Night" every month or so either both kids or just Megan and I would watch a movie set somewhere we'd be going to get familiar with some of the places we'd be seeing. One of our favorites was of course was Angels and Demons!

 

Oh yes I love this idea!! I know Sherri (Middle Aged Drama Queen) posted a list of movies they watched leading up to their trip - I'll have to refer back to that. Please feel free to share which ones you watched! I loved Angels & Demons! I want to read the book Pompeii by Robert Harris as one of our stops is Salerno and we'll be visiting Pompeii!

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Oh yes I love this idea!! I know Sherri (Middle Aged Drama Queen) posted a list of movies they watched leading up to their trip - I'll have to refer back to that. Please feel free to share which ones you watched! I loved Angels & Demons! I want to read the book Pompeii by Robert Harris as one of our stops is Salerno and we'll be visiting Pompeii!

 

Yup! That's where I got the idea, from Sherri :D I will definitely post a list of what we watched. It was great for the kids, but also for me as well! Not that I needed help getting in the mood, but it was fun to see the places we'd go and then when we were there, we could say - "hey, this was in x movie" or whichever! My parents watched a few with us too. I'll go back and try to come up with a list.

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Thank you everyone for still hanging in there for the ride through Europe! And for the compliments!

 

Before I go onto our next day, Florence...I want to go into a bit of what I call..."The Plan"! It's at this point in the trip where some of you, and myself at times may be wondering just why the heck we took a train from Civitavecchia all the way to Venice for just under two days, and now are apparently taking a train to Florence for just under 24 hours before apparently heading BACK to Civitavecchia for yet another cruise??? Why didn't we spend another night in Venice? Why go to Venice at all? Why not just stay closer to Civitavecchia or plan different cruises - say one that began or ended in Venice?

 

Well, in the beginning we really had no intentions of going to Venice. We were going to do one long Mediterranean cruise, but as I mentioned we couldn't fine one that really fit everyone's needs. Then the more we discussed the ports my parents wanted to see, Greece (Athens in particular) kept popping up as a must see. That's how the semi-back to back cruise came about. Also, it seemed important to me to have a ship that was kid friendly. To have kid activities, not necessarily the kid or teen clubs, because in the past my kids have not really been big participants in those, but to have things for them to do. Like the slides on the Epic, the rock walls, the ice rink - things like that. We'd be doing some HEAVY sightseeing that no matter how much it seems interesting and great at the planning stage, when you do it day in and day out, it's hard on adults, let alone kids. They needed to be able to have some time to be kids. To get away from the standing and listening all day. And then, somehow Venice was thrown into the mixture and when we found out we had three days between cruises we became quite adventurous! Sure - we can fit that in, why not? This is a trip of a lifetime, let's go for it...all!

 

Our original plan was to rent a car after the first cruise and DRIVE from Civitavecchia to Venice, stopping along the way in Fallo, which is in the Abruzzo region - to find my mother's family's homeland! Sure - this was a great idea! Drive through the mountains, in some of the most non-English speaking areas, and just wander into a town and say "hi!" But that was our plan. I had mapped out the route, planned some stops on the way for breaks. And we'd spend the night on the Adriatic coast. Then get up early, head to Venice and have our two days there. I knew the drive to Venice would be long, so I even included a stop in Verona to break up the drive.

 

We were going to do a one way van rental and take the train back to the port on the day our cruise left. But in the planning, someone here, or maybe another site, cautioned that maybe we should reverse the planning and train to Venice first and drive back, making our distance from the ship closest - we should not be in Venice the morning the ship left in case of a rail strike or train issues on our end. Who knows what could happen! I agreed.

 

But then, I stumbled upon a guide who would actually TAKE us to Fallo! This was huge! We wouldn't have to just drive into a town you likely couldn't even drive into anyway! A translator as well! We booked them, and everything changed! How would that guide work out? Well, that's day 20 of the trip!

 

But, now we had 2 days booked in Venice and a "free" day for on the way back to Civitavecchia. As I mentioned, we wanted to be a bit closer to the port than Venice, so where to spend it? Well, it seemed the obvious choice would be Florence! Even though we'd have a port day of Livorno on the next cruise, the Epic - we decided to spend one day and one night, basically 24 hours in Florence. This was more than we'd get in the port day, especially once you take out travel time from the ship! And then our port day? Well, of course a wine tour in the Chianti Region! This was our way of having our cake and eating it too, so to speak! The only thing I felt like we would be missing was Pisa....would we get there?

 

Well, we did have to travel to the ship....could we do it?

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Tuesday, June 18th, Florence

We were up early to meet our water taxi at the water entrance of our hotel. Our pick up time was 7:00 am! We had done our official paperwork to check out of the hotel last night. Apparently there is no one there to handle the money transactions this early in the morning. The taxi showed up right on time.

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We were at the train station by 7:15 for our 7:55 am train to Florence.

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This time we were taking the new Italo train. Since we didn’t have breakfast before leaving the hotel, we were able to find something at the train station, and again they had a really nice café. For those of us who are into the whole European pastry for breakfast thing, this worked out well! I had a chocolate filled brioche, which was super fresh tasting and served nice and warm and cappuccino. I just can not get over the quality of train station food here! Megan ordered a latte, not listening to my warning that she wouldn’t like it and was quite disappointed to get a cup of just hot milk and not a “Starbucks” type latte! Live and learn!

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After the latte experience she got some frozen cappuccino type drink instead. That wasn't quite breakfast, but it worked!

 

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For those asking about luggage and packing, this is pretty much it. The red suitcase is my moms. Keith and I each had those green rolling duffle type suitcases. They are light and fit A LOT! Guess who had the zebra suitcase? That would be Megan of course! But everything we had was right there. Luggage and carry on's for the six of us.

 

 

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Our train was easy to find and quite nice! The ride was very smooth and this time all six of us were on the same car and seated near one another. I took the time on board to catch up on my journal writing! I was a couple days behind! And I also took a much needed nap. I knew our day in Florence was going to be a busy one.

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We arrived at the Firenze S.M. station right on time. I feel like we’re becoming seasoned travelers now! First order of business was to find breakfast for Alex. I wasn’t sure when we’d have a chance to eat again and he’s not one who’s into the pastry type breakfast! He found McDonalds and was good to go. We left the train station and found the taxi area. We’d have to get two taxi’s to fit all 6 of us and our luggage. We told the driver’s the name of our hotel, the Hotel Monna Lisa, and off we went – the kids and I in one, and Keith and my parents in another.

 

When I’ve told people we’re going to Florence, unlike when I’ve told people we’re going to Rome or Venice, I always get comments like “oh, you’ll LOVE Florence” or “Florence was my favorite city” “I can’t wait to go back to Florence” As I mentioned with Rome, I got a lot of “Rome was dirty, Rome was crowded, Rome was too much like a big city” and with Venice I heard a lot of “Venice was ok, but it smelled, or Venice was overpriced, it was ok but I wouldn’t want to go back”. So I was intrigued about Florence. What was it about Florence that made so many people love it? And I absolutely loved Venice and even though at this point I had only spent one afternoon and night in Rome, I thought it was a pretty amazing place! So – let’s check out this place called Florence!

 

My first impression just from the taxi ride, on a Tuesday morning was good grief it’s crowded here! It wasn’t at all what I expected. I expected a small town as compared to Rome. It felt big and like a city and it was busy! But we’ll see!

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We got to our hotel, which was off what felt like a smaller side street, behind one of those GIANT doors that opened up into a haven! I think it’s amazing how you’re in a city and you open up a giant door and suddenly you are in a garden!

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We checked into our hotel, and our guide, Christina was right there waiting for us! This was our plan. Since our rooms wouldn’t be ready and we only had this one day – we’d leave our luggage locked up and head out for a tour of Florence with Christina, from Tours by Locals! It was about 10:15 am and we were ready to go!

 

So, how did I book this tour? Most of the research I’d done was for “port” excursions. But we weren’t coming from a ship for the day. I was having a hard time finding a tour of Florence once I was already in the city. The ones I did find didn’t really fit our time frame. We weren’t there at 8:00 am or even 9:00 am. We had plans at 6:30 already scheduled so we couldn't do a tour that started in the afternoon that was a "full day" tour. We wanted to see David at the Accademia, but also see the highlights of Florence. I knew I needed a private tour. I stumbled upon the company Tours by Locals while researching our port day in Palma de Mallorca which would be coming up on the Epic, and found Christina who would soon be booked for our day in Florence. It was a perfect fit! She knew we had just traveled from Venice and was totally flexible with what we could do and wanted to do! She was an absolute joy to spend the day with! Within five minutes I felt like we were old friends.

 

I wish I could remember the details of where we went, the names of the squares (campos) and all of the buildings, but of course I wasn’t taking notes I was just taking it all in. She was a great story teller and I know we saw what we wanted to see.

 

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I always here those commets about Rome and Venice and then how wonderful Florence is. I love Rome and Venice. And though I appreciate Florence I like the other two cities more. I think that Venice is a little too "artsy" for me. Though I do love Santa Maria dei Fiori. I think it is such a beautiful cathedral.

Edited by Ocean Boy

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We stopped in this square and spent some time hearing about the buildings and this horse statue. I honestly don't remember why it was so important now though! :confused:

 

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Of course we went to the Accademia. She had reserved tickets for us, and we went and picked them up, walked right past everyone waiting in line and went right in. I can not understand why people do not pre-reserve tickets! Why would you wait in line if you don’t have to? Anyway, there is security like at the airport where you scan your bags and then you’re in. Christina came in with us and gave us an amazing history of Michelangelo. We started with the Prisoners statues. She really taught us how to see those pieces. It was amazing. Then of course we saw David. She had us stand at different angles. She really gave us an art lesson as we studied the piece. It was breathtaking. By this point in the trip we had seen statues, and now we could compare this piece to many others and you could understand why this one stands out as a masterpiece. The detail, the size, the smoothness of the marble. You can not help stand in awe as you take it all in. Christina explained how the position of his arms and legs cause you to see motion. How your eye moves through the piece. There would have been no better way to see David than to have her narrate it for us. It was amazing.

 

If only you could take pictures....but no, we'd have to settle for pictures of the "fake David" later in the day....;)

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Once outside we moved to the Duomo. Such a building! It’s big, it’s colorful, it’s bright!

 

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But before going inside we took a lunch break. Christine left us for a bit and we split up. Keith and Alex went for pizza and my parents, Megan and I went to a little café. It was nothing special, but it was convenient, and air conditioned! Today was by far the hottest day so far of the trip.

 

After lunch we did go inside the Duomo. We didn’t climb it – we decided we didn’t really have time and no one really had the energy. But going inside was quite impressive.

 

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Then we took some time outside to admire the building, the tower and of course the Baptistery

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I love this picture!

 

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Then we walked through Florence. Christina pointed out some highlights. We eventually got to the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. Of course we took pictures.

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We passed the Uffizi gallery. Had we had another day here, we’d go for sure. We stopped in the Piazza della Signoria and looked at all of the many, many statues.

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The Fake David statue - in the place where the original David stood for many, many years!

 

 

 

We then made our way to the Santa Croce church. The area in front was set up for a huge soccer match. It made it difficult to take a picture.

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The group was pretty tired and no one wanted to go inside – well, except me and I was voted out. Bummer! It costs to go inside. There are many famous people buried here, such as Michelangelo, Galileo, and Machiavelli. By now it was about 4:00 and we decided to walk back to our hotel to rest up a bit. We had a big night planned! We were doing a pizza and gelato making class! We wanted to relax a bit before heading back out. On our way back to the hotel we did see a temperature reading – guess how hot it was, in the shade? 39 degrees Celsius!

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That’s 102.2 Fahrenheit! At 4:00 pm!

 

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We got back to the hotel, which has some lovely courtyards and common areas.

 

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Megan and I hung out in the common areas. The gardens were way too hot. I took advantage of the free wifi and caught up a bit with home. Keith and Alex stayed in the air conditioned room. Oh, we had a loft quad room and my parents had a double room.

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Woohoo, I'm not sure I've seen such a review and pictures like yours on a med cruise, THANK YOU!! I hope to sail on one of these itineraries sometime soon, looks beautiful!

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Woohoo, I'm not sure I've seen such a review and pictures like yours on a med cruise, THANK YOU!! I hope to sail on one of these itineraries sometime soon, looks beautiful!

 

Thank you! I'm so glad you're enjoying the review! I love sharing my pictures, photography is a hobby I really enjoy! Thanks for the positive feedback! :D

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We had our little bit of down time and we were ready to go. So when I said Megan was ready for “fun”, it was time for our Pizza and Gelato making class!

 

Before our trip, we had looked for something hands on for the kids. In the past our vacations have always been more of the “fun” type – you know, beach type, active type. Sure this is active, but in a walking, listening, educational, history type of vacation. They were looking for something to actually DO with their hands. So to speak. That’s what was so nice about the cruise – there was always something to come back to on the ship – the rock wall, pools or ice skating. Some may knock seeing Europe this way, but for a family I really think it has it’s benefits! You tour during the day and everyone gets to do their own thing during the evenings. Anyway….back to Pizza! We found a cooking class in Florence where we’d get to make our own pizza’s and there would be some homemade Gelato as well! This sounded great! Hands on and dinner too!

 

We had about a 20 minute walk to our meeting place so we set out, map in hand and hoped we could find our way back to where Christina had pointed out the general area earlier in the day. Feeling pretty confident, I led the way and what do you know, we turned the corner and whoo hoo – there was the offices of Florencetown Tours! We made it! Right on time too! We waited for the whole class to show up and then found out we had another 15 minute walk to “the school”! Oh boy – what a day of walking! I’m not sure why we couldn’t have just met at the cooking location, but I guess we got to see a bit more of Florence this way!

 

When we arrived at the cooking school location, we each got an apron and picked a spot at the huge table. The class was pretty big, maybe 20 people? There were couples, families, adults and kids. It was definitely a mixed group and you could tell right away it was going to be FUN! Perfect! There were two Chef’s. They did a great job with instructions, that were both educational and humorous at the same time.

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We learned the correct way to make dough for the pizza – first by a demonstration and then we each had our own pile of ingredients and we got to make our individual dough balls. It was a lot of fun.

 

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While the dough was rising, the chef made the gelato with help from some of the people in the class. He explained the process as he went along. The whole thing seemed really simple!

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By the time the gelato was in the maker, it was time to roll out our dough.

We were shown how to roll out a perfect circle, making it the right thickness and we topped them. We had all kinds of fresh toppings. Mozzarella, pepperoni (which they call spicy salami), fresh basil, parmesan cheese, crushed red peppers, olive oil. We had to make our pizza unique somehow so we could identify it once it came out of the oven!

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Hmm - can you tell he's actually a chef? He seems to have a bit of an edge!

 

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My masterpiece!

 

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Alex's finished product - ready to eat!

 

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Homemade Pizza and Wine - this was how to live!

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After pizza, we got to eat the gelato that was made. There was vanilla and chocolate.

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And they handed out certificates and recipe books to everyone. The chefs had great personalities. It was a really great evening and such a great way to relax after our super intense day of travel and touring! We all really loved it!

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Alex giving his acceptance speech! He's a nut!

 

 

We walked back to the hotel after our pizza tour. And as we were walking back, knowing that we’d be leaving Florence I was thinking about how so many people had told me how much they loved Florence. I didn’t really get that feeling here. Maybe it was because we weren’t here for long? We were here longer than had we just come for a stop on a cruise day, but maybe not long enough to really appreciate what Florence has to offer. Maybe the heat had something to do with it. I definitely appreciate the amazing art that Florence has to offer! Florence definitely has been put on my list of cities to return to though. I feel that we’ve only touched the surface here and there is much more to see. I feel like we got a great overview and we had a wonderful day with a terrific guide. But now it was time to begin the next part of our adventures!

 

We went back to our hotel and packed up. Tomorrow we travel again!

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Awesome review. You have the perfect amount of pictures. Some of the local scenery and attractions, and some with your family. I love seeing pictures of families enjoying themselves (mostly), since it gives me a better connection to them and your wonderful commentary. However slight that is.

 

I'm hoping to do a land tour of Italy in the future, going to exact places that you went to. You were gone a long time with 6 people to pay for. I have a question about money, if you don't mind answering it. Did you pay for most of your scheduled tours before you went ? Did you bring along a lot of cash (dollars or Euros) and/or traveler's checks. Do they even take travelers checks, anymore ? Were you able to use your credit card for most transactions ? Did you replenish at ATMs along the way ? Sorry for all the questions, but it is better to be prepared ahead of time than have to worry about money issues while on the trip. I know the old adage, "bring half the clothes and twice the money" is probablty apropo.

 

Thanks for any advice you can give.

 

Eric

Edited by big_schots

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Awesome review. You have the perfect amount of pictures. Some of the local scenery and attractions, and some with your family. I love seeing pictures of families enjoying themselves (mostly), since it gives me a better connection to them and your wonderful commentary.

 

I agree with this. Seeing the families...or the person in the picture puts everything into context and makes it seem more...real. So I am enjoying the review as well!

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I also have a question:

We're there any educational/ historical presentations provided by the ship to inform passengers about the upcoming ports?

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Hi, Eric,

 

Our family travelled in Europe for 5 weeks last summer. We took a "multi-wallet": some cash, some Euros, a Visa cash card which you put cash on and can use at restaurants and shops (they just deduct from the cash card balance and you can wire more money onto the card from your home bank) and made a list of bank branches that worked with our home bank that didn't charge a fee for ATM use. So in other words, we had a variety of sources to get cash electronically so we didn't have to worry about loads of money being stolen. And, of course we had an emergency credit card. We tried to use money rather than credit so we didn't have a huge credit card bill when we arrived back home. Hope this helps.

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Awesome review. You have the perfect amount of pictures. Some of the local scenery and attractions, and some with your family. I love seeing pictures of families enjoying themselves (mostly), since it gives me a better connection to them and your wonderful commentary. However slight that is.

 

I'm hoping to do a land tour of Italy in the future, going to exact places that you went to. You were gone a long time with 6 people to pay for. I have a question about money, if you don't mind answering it. Did you pay for most of your scheduled tours before you went ? Did you bring along a lot of cash (dollars or Euros) and/or traveler's checks. Do they even take travelers checks, anymore ? Were you able to use your credit card for most transactions ? Did you replenish at ATMs along the way ? Sorry for all the questions, but it is better to be prepared ahead of time than have to worry about money issues while on the trip. I know the old adage, "bring half the clothes and twice the money" is probablty apropo.

 

Thanks for any advice you can give.

 

Eric

 

Thanks for the compliments!

 

As far as the money, this was one of our biggest points of confusion before we went. When we'd traveled in the past everyone had always taken USD before, even in Central America. It never was a concern. But this was so different! I read all of the advice and what it came down to was similar to what wahoowa12 recommends.

 

But one thing that we really did do was try to prepay for as many excursions as possible before we went. We had almost a year to plan, so prepaying, by credit card or paypal allowed us to not only not have to worry about paying while we were overseas, but also pay off that portion of the trip way in advance. Well, that was the idea anyway! I would say that about half of our excursions ended up taking credit cards or pay pal and that saved a lot of hassle. They all said that in the event our ship couldn't dock, we'd be able to have the money refunded and we had trip insurance that would cover the cost should we have to cancel for covered reasons.

 

Initially we were going to not bring Euros to start, that seems to be the recommended theory on the travel forums. Get them when you're overseas at ATMs! But with AAA and even some banks, the exchange rate was perfectly fine so I brought a few hundred Euros to get us started and in the event of ATM issues. So did my parents.

 

We used credit cards for hotels and occasionally for meals and the odd souvenir or so. We both have Capital One with no foreign transaction fees.

 

For the tours that only accepted cash Euro on the day of the tour, we'd try to make sure the day or two before to hit ATMs to cover the tours that were upcoming. We did however find that it wasn't so easy to just get the needed cash. Many ATMs didn't have money, or they weren't giving it out to us! Not sure if it was the machine or our cards. We'd see other people in line having the same problems. Who wants to spend their vacation going from machine to machine? Some day's you'd get lucky and get what you need, other days it would take 2 or 3 transactions at different machines. Our bank charged a $3 fee per transaction and a 2% transaction fee, plus don't forget you will have the money deducted in USD out of your bank account in whatever the conversion rate that day was. It adds up when you have to do several smaller transactions.

 

My parents ended up using the ship ATM more often than not because it was most reliable, but it had a $6 fee I believe! It did give Euro though. And they could get the most per transaction.

 

For our group, what we did to keep it simple (ha ha!) was I paid all the prepaid tours by credit card before we went, and then my parents did the cash ones in Europe. I kept a spreadsheet so we worked out the payments so it all worked out that we paid the right amount, but this way I didn't have to deal with all the cash overseas. I think I got the better end of the deal! ;) But I still did need cash for our every day spending.

 

So in my wordy way of responding - my best advice would be, find the least expensive way to get Euros before going. Find out from your bank the cost of getting money from ATMs for the cash only tours and plan at least a day in advance. Don't try to get money the same day for that day's tour. Try to pay in advance when you can. But you still will need cash for tips and sometimes meals. I do know some people brought travelers checks and cashed them on the ship into Euros. That's an option too. There may be a fee though, I'm not sure.

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