I imagine anyone who has experienced for the first time the temporary lifestyle of a cruise on the high seas (actually in this case, the Mediterranean), has numerous reflections. Like with almost any vacation, ideally, the high points resonate stronger than the inevitable issues one encounters.
One clear advantage going on a trip involving a cruise is that one has in place a pretty good plan of action, at least insofar as destinations and time available to be spent at each. After all, some people make these arrangements up to a year, or longer, in advance. So, one can take time to prioritize what to see and do; one takes on faith that those service groups upon whom planning depends hold up their end. The latter includes such aspects as organized shore excursions, and local transportation such as the popular ‘hop-on/hop-off’ buses.
On our recent journey, here are a couple of examples of passengers having to adapt on the fly, so to speak, to evolving circumstances.
From its distant nearest port, we traveled to Rome via a pre-booked extension of a hop-on/hop-off bus pass, which included pick-up from and to the port’s transit oval. After emerging from the ships’ shuttle bus, we were given a map by a representative of the bus company providing the pass, showing its two routes with drop off points in the city, with one route recommended. When we arrived in Rome, and ventured to the nearest pass stop, we found out that the suggested route had been replaced a week earlier by a newly coded route; plus, we discovered we would be better off to follow the alternative route anyway. To top it off, Rome has a plethora of ‘hop-on, hop-off’ bus companies, which feature confusingly similar signs for their stops at concurrent locations.
Our day in Montenegro featured a cruise sponsored shore excursion. Due to the prevalence of narrow, two-lane roads, travel was painfully slow to the inland initial destination, with an excessive amount of time spent there (notwithstanding some impressive scenery), leaving limited time to see the main port town of Kotor before returning to the ship. Unbeknownst, it seemed, to virtually all passengers aboard, there was an interim stop on the way back, where we were intended to have a nearly hour long diversion, featuring a trade-off between receiving refreshments and listening to a sales pitch mainly about Croatian leather products. In an attempt to curry favour with our disgruntled bunch, the trip co-ordinator arranged for a more colourful (read: through the mountains) way back, at one point giving us a spectacular view coming down towards the harbour.
In short, whatever kind of fork in the road is followed on shore excursions, there’s good opportunity for surprises which add to memories of a given experience, if not necessarily enjoyment.
It’s an interesting side-bar to this kind of trip, to consider the trade-offs involving time allotted versus cost versus destination appeal, vis-à-vis the different versions of shore excursions to a particular port of call.
Based on my experience, here are some cruise excursion options and comments, with varying degrees of applicability:
- Excursion operators providing earphones to passengers, for ongoing commentaries, should check these function properly
- Exercise due preparedness when visiting locations which only accept their own currency
- When providing buses from ports to distant towns, excursion companies should look for alternative routes to time-consuming, traffic-clogged, two-lane roads to and from destinations
- Having hand wipes or cleaners is the best way to cope with varying standards of cleanliness in destination washrooms, notwithstanding paying to use them
- In high temperature ports of call water is perhaps the single most important and cost-effective item one can carry
- Greater focus on clarity can be exercised by travel providers with respect to helping passengers identify buses on which to embark
- Souvenir price competition increases as one gets further from the most popular tourist spots in a destination city
- Those planning itineraries for shore excursions should arrange to maximize time available by minimizing side trips featuring upsells and promotions
- Given their own years of experience, cruise lines could provide more information and details about ports of call beyond their own costly shore excursions
- Taking a break in many tourist hot spots means having to cope with mobile locals coaxing you to buy something
- As the day wears on, prices in many gift shops become increasingly malleable
- Be aware that some ports of call have more flexibility in returning to the ship on time than others
Part 2 – options on board ship