Monday, May 16, 2011

Planning a European Cruise aboard Navigator of the Seas

Do you remember the Royal Caribbean commercial that featured a group of women on a Mediterranean cruise?  It showed snippets of their experiences…shopping for shoes, admiring Michelangelo’s David, taking corny pictures of holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and dancing the night away in a ship club. I loved that commercial and always thought that it would be so much fun to get away with the girls on a European jaunt!  And while I’ve been fortunate enough to take several amazing European cruises with my husband and son, none included the aspects best shared amongst girlfriends.  You know, spending time in the little shops on the Via Veneto, commiserating together over the extra hours in the gym it will ultimately cost if you indulge in yet another gelato or pastry, and chitchatting on the pool deck with a strawberry colada in hand!  Well, that is all about to change because next week, I along with five co-workers board a plane bound for Rome and a cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Navigator of the Seas.  I invite you to join me for the week, (pending a decent internet connection) as we tour Rome, Athens, Messina, Crete, Ephesus, and of course, check out all that the Navigator has to offer!

 Pre-Cruise Planning:

 When it comes to selecting a European cruise, I always look at the itinerary before the actual ship.  For this particular cruise I’m very happy with both.  Ephesus and Messina were high on my “places I want to visit” list and the Navigator of the Seas is a Voyager class ship, which has an abundance of the amenities I love. My advice for anyone doing their own planning is select a region or a country you want to explore and check your cruise line of choice for ships that go there. I have done all my European cruises with Royal Caribbean because their ships have everything I look for in a cruise vacation; great service, delicious food, flexible dining options (love “My Time”), and great nightly entertainment. This ship features the Royal Promenade and it will be great to know when we come back from touring we can make a we quick detour into the Café for a slice a pizza or coffee and a cookie!

 After the ship and itinerary is locked in its time to start planning out what to do in port. Your starting point is a good guidebook. Most public libraries have a nice selection but I prefer to purchase my books so I can I highlight what’s important to me and make notes in the margins. Once I have a good idea of what I want to see I have several options of how to go about it.  Cruise line sponsored shore excursions are always a safe bet, as they know where the majority of passengers want to go and what they want to see.  They provide transportation, knowledgeable guides and guarantee you’ll never miss the ship if there’s a traffic jam in the city center! Private shore excursions are another option, but if you go this way, choose a company that’s been recommended. The advantage to this is that you can tailor the tour to your personal specifications. Of course, one can venture out on their own with a good map and maybe a bus or train schedule. For this trip, I’m doing a combination.

 A couple of weeks before the cruise date I started figuring out how many dollars I wanted to exchange to Euros at my local bank. Most banks don’t charge a service fee if you have an account. I like to always go with a small amount in my pocket knowing that there are ATM’s all over Europe where I can easily get money when I need it. One thing about the European ATM’s is that you need a 4-digit pin code as opposed to a 6-digit and you may want to check with your bank regarding fees. My bank also noted my account with my travel plans so ATM withdrawals aren’t mistaken for fraud. You can even exchange money onboard many ships, but I’m unsure about fees and the difference in the exchange rate (though I’ll let you know once I’m there). I don’t think anyone uses traveler’s checks these days. I’m planning to shop using a credit card.  Once again I alerted the bank to my plans.  Some banks tag on a foreign transaction fee to credit card purchases, which can add up, but fortunately my card does not. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Europe; American Express not as much.

  We’re on an overnight direct flight into Rome, arriving just before lunch.  Unfortunately we are only able to spend one night in the city pre-cruise but I’ve been to Rome twice before (and once I throw my coin in the Trevi Fountain, I know I’ll go back again) so I’ve already seen the highlights. That being said, if you have the time, I recommend staying a few days in the city of embarkation.  It’s nice to adjust to the time, get rid of jet lag, and have extra time to explore the city.

 So, with all the basics out of the way I’m ready to go!  Hope to see you next weekend in Rome!"

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