Several years ago, after more security measures were added to international travel, we decided to get our passports because we assumed it was only going to get more complicated to apply. When our freshly printed passports (with our horrible pictures) came in the mail, we were very excited. It was almost like an invitation for international travel.
One afternoon I got a call from RCI Vacations. I must have been daydreaming about vacations (there’s a surprise), so when the salesman starting talking about cruises, I actually listened to what he had to say instead of saying “I’m not interested at this time” which would have been my usual response. He talked me into a package which included one or two cruises for two (depending on the length(s) we chose), plus a weeks’ stay at an RCI resort of our choice with no exchange fee. We could have given the resort stay to someone else if we didn’t want to use it ourselves, but being the travel hogs we are, we used it for a great week in Williamsburg, VA at the King’s Creek Plantation in a HUGE 2BR condo in October. Anyway, that’s another blog in itself. Back to the cruise.
When I purchased the package, I was going to pitch the idea to Jim as an Alaskan cruise maybe with our travel friends, so the initial cost would have been half. After talking with our travel friends and finding out there were some sea-sickness issues and they would pass, our thoughts went another way. To get the most cruise for our bucks, we chose a 12-day Mediterranean Cruise aboard the Carnival Sunshine, which was getting a total refurbishment before setting sail on its maiden voyage out of Barcelona several weeks before our cruise in 2013. We hadn’t heard anything negative about Carnival and the itinerary sounded wonderful, so we signed on the dotted line. Our reasonable cruise turned more expensive when we upgraded to an extended balcony at the aft of the ship because Jim loves to get up earlier in the morning and read outside when we travel. Besides, the thought of a 12-day cruise with no private access to outside views brought thoughts of claustrophobia. There are options for being outside on the deck when entering and leaving ports and I’m sure it doesn’t pose a problem for lots of folks, especially if traveling with friends, but Jim and I enjoy our peace and quiet and there was nothing quite like having a cup of coffee on our own balcony as we arrive or set sail, to see a port from a different perspective.
Jim became quite an expert on the mooring and unmooring process of the ship and we both got a kick out of the “pilot boat” that would travel beside us and help with the safe boarding of the pilot from the moving boat to our moving ship or vice versa. The pilot is a harbor captain, experienced with the nuances of that harbor and hired by the cruise line (via port fees) to safely maneuver the ship into or out of the waters of the port and back into the open sea where our ship’s captain takes over again.
All in all the Carnival Sunshine was a nice ship, with lots of free dining options and several “small surcharge” dining options which were about $25 per person. We had a marvelous dinner at one special dinner, which included a decadent piece of cheesecake a mile high. I could hardly take a bite because I was so full from the rest of the fabulous meal and it would have been nice to enjoy it later, but we didn’t have a fridge. There was no lacking in calories while sailing, so it was probably better that I didn’t have that too! My favorite was a soft-serve ice cream machine which called my name most every night.
We also opted for lots of excursions to help get the most from each port and to help with the language barrier. I see cruising as a great way to get a feel for an overall area and maybe pick and choose a couple of spots to come back to and visit in more detail.
We chose to drive two hours to Chicago for a cheaper, more direct flight to Venice, Italy where we would catch our ship. We opted for an extra night in a hotel in Venice. The second night we were checked into the ship, but stayed in port. We had part of the third day before heading out about 2pm.
We picked a flight that would get us into Venice mid-morning to give us most of an extra day for exploration before setting sail. Looking back I wish we would have stayed two extra nights, since once we landed and took a bus to the water bus to our hotel we were like zombies wandering around in a foreign country. Not a good idea.
Since the Grand Canal is the primary route, a water bus is the best way to get around. We purchased a three-day pass so we could come and go as we pleased. The route was very easy to understand and most places had multi-language signs so we pretty-much always knew what we were doing.
We left with a credit card that didn’t charge international fees and before we left we exchanged US$ for Euros to have some cash when we arrived. Although we took our cell phones, we had the cellular data off. If we desperately needed them we would have them and would have had to pay the price. I guess there are phones or SIM cards you can buy that will work there for cheaper but we were only going to be on our own for a couple days so we opted to just shut them off.
A couple weeks before we were to leave Carnival had a string of problems with several of their ships and we started to get a little nervous. We figured this one was newly refurbished, so hopefully they checked the engine, right? We only had one hitch when we lost propulsion just as we were leaving the port of Monaco. We kept our great view of that beautiful city for an extra 1/2 hour or so and then we were on our way. Had we been out in the middle of nowhere it definitely would not have been so enjoyable.
These are the ports we visited:
Messina (Sicily), Italy
Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy
Palma De Mallorca, Spain
Due to the huge number of pictures we took and all the wonderful things to see at some of the ports, some ports will get more than one blog. I can’t wait to get started!
First up: Venice, Italy!
A Mediterranean Cruise – Unforgettable.