So, I have a confession to make, but first let me say this, theTravelsketcher and I have always been independent travelers. Once we decide where we want to go, we read about the area, determine what appeals to us, make our own reservations, and see the things we want to see, on our own. We have been frequent travelers in our 35 years of marriage, and have taken only a few tours in that time. Some of our favorite trips have included hiking in national parks, renting a car in foreign countries to escape the large cities in order to visit little known areas where the crowds are minimal, and traveling in the off season to avoid crowds. We have always traveled light and often relied on public transportation to get around, hauling our own luggage through train and subway stations in various cities around the globe.
Fast forward to the “golden years” which includes arthritic joints and a slower pace, and it’s getting a little more difficult to haul a suitcase up and down multiple flights of stairs in busy, hectic train stations. We realized that we needed to modify our method of travel, and thus, the idea of a cruise began to creep into our thoughts.
Until a few months ago, we were completely against even considering a cruise, and have even been quite disparaging about them. However, we have friends who have taken cruises and found them to be quite accommodating to independent travelers. That is how we found ourselves aboard the Norwegian Epic on October 23rd, leaving Barcelona for an eleven day cruise of the Mediterranean.
When we first saw the ship moored at the port in Barcelona, we seriously began to question our decision; the ship is MASSIVE!! It holds 4,000 quests and 2,000 crew members and has pools, bars, restaurants, shops, a library, barber shop, day spa, bowling alley, casinos, theaters, and of course, the obligatory shuffle board deck. I heard it said that cruising is for “newlyweds, the well fed, and nearly dead”, hmm.
The atmosphere reminded us of Las Vegas, a place that neither of us enjoys, at all. However, there are quiet places on the ship to enjoy, and our stateroom was quiet and tranquil, and we enjoyed sitting on our deck watching the water glide by. One evening, as we left port, we saw dolphins playing in the wake of the ship; that was a highlight!
Our cruise included stops in Cannes, Livorno, Naples, Messina, Malta, Corfu, Athens, Santorini, Mykonos, and Civitavecchia, our disembarkment location. Unfortunately, the weather was too rough to tender to Mykonos, so that port was cancelled. The ship was docked (rather than anchored off shore) in all but two of the ports we visited, making it simple to get off the ship and visit the highlights close by. In Naples, after disembarking, we walked about fifteen minutes and found an interesting section of town, and some delicious pizza.
Similarly, in Messina, on the island of Sicily, it was a quick walk to the Duomo di Messina from the dock. Here we enjoyed a leisurely six hours of wandering, a delicious lunch, and photo and sketching opportunities for me and theTravelsketcher.
Our next stop was Malta. We made the mistake of booking an excursion here. We wish we had simply walked off the ship and explored Valletta on our own. We will probably return someday since we feel like we missed out on some of the best Malta has to offer.
Thankfully, we had not booked an excursion in Corfu, and we were able to explore Old Town on our own.
We thoroughly enjoyed Corfu and are considering visiting again for our anniversary in just a few weeks.
Athens was our next stop. Our excursion here was basically a bus ride to the base of the Acropolis, and then a ride back to the ship. We had six hours to explore on our own; which was enough to see the Acropolis and Plaka, the neighborhood nearby.
It was such a thrill to visit The Acropolis! Even though it was packed with tousists, it was a highlight of the trip for me.
Oia and Fira on Santorini are charming, picturesque villages, but, sadly overrun with tourists. It was difficult to find good locations for photos because it was so crowded.
As I mentioned above, the final stop, Mykonos, was cancelled due to adverse weather conditions, so we had two days at sea to get to Civitavecchia. The crew did a great job of keeping everyone entertained. We enjoyed a blind wine tasting one day which was educational and fun.
There are several things we like about Norwegian, the most important is that they treat their employees well. Every crew member has their own cabin, no roommates. We thanked one woman for her help and commented on how hard everyone works, and she started crying and gave us each big hugs. In addition, we met some lovely people and had some delicious meals.
All in all it was a good experience, and we have booked another cruise for January; on a much smaller ship. We now know what works best for us while in port, and how to enjoy the independent travel that we crave. We won’t become regular cruisers anytime soon, but is a good way to visit a multitude of locations in a short period of time, and then determining which locations appeal the most for future vacations.
As always, I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment if you’re so inclined.
Wishing you grand adventures,