Monday, February 07, 2011

Extending Your European Cruise

Cruising the waters surrounding Europe is a great way to see the ancient ports of the Mediterranean as well as the cosmopolitan cities of Northern and Western Europe. A seven, ten, or twelve night European cruise is an amazing vacation as is, but I have a couple of suggestions that can make it even better! 

London, Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul… glamorous cities that are a destination in and of itself!  So why not add on a couple of days in any of these European embarkation ports to take your vacation to the next level!  Arriving several days, or even a week before sailing allows you to slow down and soak up all the city has to offer.

London is a city with a split personality.  There’s the side of London that’s steeped in tradition: the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace with expressionless soldiers in fuzzy tall hats, high tea at the Ritz, and Christopher Wren’s masterpiece, St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Then there’s that other side that consists of the hottest new shows playing in the theaters of the West End, marvelous multi-cultural restaurants, and trendy fashion boutiques.  Stopping over for a few days before a cruise is a great way to experience both sides of London!

 While a day in Istanbul can certainly be the highlight of any Eastern Mediterranean vacation, spending a few days in this exotic city leads to a better understanding and appreciation of the cultural differences. Described as “the crossroads of Europe and Asia”, and the center of two great empires, Ottoman and Byzantine, Istanbul is steeped in a weighty heritage. But if that means nothing to you, you will still need more than one day to shop the colorful Grand Bazaar with its 2,600 shops!

Another great add-on to a European cruise is what the cruise lines call a “cruisetour”.  Think of it as a multi day shore excursion pre or post cruise!  Superior hotels, select tours, transportation between cities (if applicable) and several meals are included. However the best aspect of a cruisetour is that some cruise lines (such as Royal Caribbean) include a  guide that is an expert on the area you are traveling to, and he or she stays with the group throughout the tour. They can help you with recommendations and coordination of the activities you want to pursue in your free time, give you the names of the best restaurants or lead you to the best shopping districts!

Say you booked a 7 or 12- night Royal Caribbean  cruise leaving from Barcelona, Spain.  You can add a 4-night Madrid and Barcelona cruisetour to your trip that would give you two days to explore Madrid, the capital city of Spain.  Among the many stops on the included city tour is the Palacio Real the largest and certainly one of the most impressive palaces in Europe. It has more than 2000 luxuriously decorated rooms, 50 of which can be visited. You’ll also have plenty of time on your own to check out the renowned Prado Museum. This highly-acclaimed art museum is one of the most-visited attractions in Madrid. The Prado boasts the world’s finest collection of Spanish art, with extensive examples of works by El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, and Murillo.

This same cruisetour includes a half-day tour of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It received this distinction for its extensive cultural heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and as a  place of coexistence of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures.  One of your stops will be the magnificent Catedral de Toledo which built between 1226–1493. The stained glass windows date back to the fourteenth century!

Then it’s on to Barcelona, one of the most exciting cities in entire world! Take some time to roam the city and study the quirky, yet brilliant architecture of Antoni Gaudi! The half- day included tour makes a stop at La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, which is remarkable both inside and out. Or for someone appreciative of the work of Pablo Picasso, the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is a key reference for understanding the artist’s formative years. You’ll be glad to have extra time to study the genius of the young artist as revealed through the more than 3,800 works that make up the permanent collection. Enjoy sitting at a tapas bar for an early evening snack before strolling Las Ramblas, a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard packed with living statues, mimes, musicians and salespeople selling everything from kitschy souvenirs to fine jewelry.

So take your pick. Fly into your European embarkation port a few days early or book a cruisetour. Either option gives you the time to spend doing and seeing what’s important to you.  Stroll through beautiful plazas, enjoy the cafes, and scout out the best restaurants.  Then board your cruise ship to continue your wonderful European adventure. 

Let a European cruise specialist at Direct Line Cruises help you select the perfect itinerary."

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