Di and I have seriously tried to travel without flying and, though we have succumbed to flight occasionally, we have still managed an unbroken path around the world without flight. The flights have been on side trips from this ‘path’, though some of these side trips have taken us three or four months to complete.
Our unbroken, round the world, flightless journey is resting in Warsaw at the moment and we will return there in March to push this further. Thus, we exhausted our non-flight options when trying to get from Dubrovnik in Croatia to Genoa, Italy. The plan was to catch a ferry from Dubrovnik to Bari, Italy, then a few trains to Genoa. This complete change of direction and the need for haste was caused by me convincing Diane to take advantage of some heavily discounted last-minute Mediterranean cruise deals advertised on vacationstogo.com.
We ended up purchasing a seven night Mediterranean cruise, visiting five ports, with an inside two berth cabin, for AUD$488 each. So, the way I figured it, we had three large meals a day, plus seven nights accommodation and we went to some ports to sample what they had to offer, all for less than AUD$1000 for the two of us – it did seem like a bargain. The ‘normal’ price for an inside two berth cabin (the cheapest) on the cruise was AUD$1700 each.
So was it a bargain?
Firstly, we had plans to travel from Mostar to Sarajevo in Bosnia and then on to Montenegro – these were postponed and we plan to come back – I certainly hope we do! Secondly, the ferry to Bari from Dubrovnik was very expensive. We would have departed Dubrovnik in the night, 10pm, and arrived early the next morning in Bari (8am) some 10 hours travel time. The walk on price, without accommodation, port fees, and any other small charge that could be applied was only AUD$50 each – we wanted accommodation though – the price skyrocketed to AUD$360 for the two of us. Then we had to pay for a train to Rome and suddenly 24 hour travel was costing near AUD$500. The airfare for a ninety minute flight Dubrovnik to Rome was AUD$52 each – but with checked baggage came to AUD$96 each. We flew to Rome.
We arrived in Rome at 4pm and we caught a local train from the airport to a hotel near the bus station. We stayed in a cheap hotel for AUD$54 per night (plus tourist tax of 3 Euros each per night, paid in cash on arrival). We then caught a bus early the next day to Genoa – the cruise left from Savona, some 45 minutes train trip from Genoa. Even though we chose the cheaper option of flying; getting to Genoa still cost us just over AUD$300 – Sarajevo would have been a lot cheaper let me tell you!
We stayed three nights in Genoa at the lovely Hotel Vittoria and Orlandini and paid AUD$93/night plus city tax. We had some Expedia points up our sleeve so we got the price down to AUD$80/night. This grand old hotel was right next to the main train station in Genoa and was run by a lovely old couple, (yep older than we are) who provided some good old-fashioned courteous service – a delightful place to stay. We were in walking distance to all the main tourist sights and close to public transport for trips out to places like Boccadasse.
Genoa is a port city and the sixth largest city in Italy, it has just so much character and history and is the home of Christopher Columbus.
We had such a whirlwind time exploring the port and the Old Town – we loved it. Genoa, at no time, was in any of our plans to visit, but once there we wanted so much to stay longer.
On the morning of the cruise we caught the train from Genoa to Savona for about a dozen euros each. We then walked the five kilometres to the ferry terminal – exercise and frugalness!!!!! The walk to the ferry terminal was very windy and FREEEZING!!!!!!!!!!!
The cruise ship was called the Costa Diadema, a four star liner from the Costa Cruise company.
The ship does a continual seven day route around the Mediterranean and, unlike most cruise lines, allows passenger to embark the ship for their seven day cruise at any one of the five ports – thus passengers are forever coming on and off and safety drills are everyday (you only attend one though).
We had two great surprises when we embarked, firstly we received a free upgrade to a premium balcony cabin (advertised price AUD$2700 each), so that was a pleasant little surprise. Then we discovered that we had to pay 10 Euros per person per night for gratuities – 140 Euros in gratuities (AUD$210) – so our cruise now cost just over AUD$1200 – still we had the upgrade.
The cabin was very nice and, other than one small issue, was a perfect place to rest for a week. Ooohh, the one small issue was the cabin was directly below the outside deck and every morning at 6am we woke to the sound of the crew sliding the deck chairs out, every #$#@#$#@ morning!!! It was so cold, that the likelihood of someone sitting outside on the deck chairs was very slim and the sun didn’t even rise until 7.30am!
The ship was full, 3600 passengers and I guess 95% plus were from non-English speaking Mediterranean countries like France, Spain and Italy and most appeared to be in large family groups – lots of kids. No problems here as we kind of expected it.
We set sail at 5pm from Savona, it was dark, cold and windy but I made use of the balcony, no matter how cold it was, as we sailed away from port.
That night we went to the a le carte dining room and we were seated with a lovely young American couple from Nashville, Tennessee in the US; Travis and Merilyn. These two were young IT professionals and this trip was during their annual two week allocation of vacation time. Thus for them this was the perfect way to sample a few cities in a short period of time and give them some indication of what to see and expect in Europe. They too were wondering if there were any other English speakers on board. We loved Travis and Merliyn’s company and enjoyed our nightly dinner chats with them.
Marseilles in France was our first port of call. We docked a long way from the city centre, about 10 kilometres. We had several options: to walk, but the road was an unknown variant, there was a free city bus at the entrance to the port put on by the local council, but its schedule was erratic and there was only the one bus, catch public transport at the port entrance, or walk off the ship and pay Costa 12 Euros each to take us into town and back – for simplicity sake we paid the 24 Euros.
Marseilles was a wonderful city. Again, I had never thought of going there and I simply loved the place. The port is bustling with so many pleasure boats it is unbelievable. The harbour foreshore was lined with bars, restaurants and shops – the Christmas Markets were operating; it was wonderful. The history is magnificent with the Fort Saint-Jean, Cathedral de la Major and the majestic Brasilique Notre Dame de la Garde towering over the city. We had an exhausting seven hours walking the streets of Marseilles and my ‘map my walk’ app told us we covered 22 kilometres.
The next day, after waking at 6am to the sound of deck chairs sliding (think fingernails down a blackboard, if you do not know what a blackboard is then ask Mum or Dad), it was another country as we docked in Barcelona, Spain – we had been cruising for just over 36 hours and, counting Italy, this was our third country!!! Again, we could walk to town, but this cruise line docked a long way from the port entrance – we paid Costa 10 Euros each for return transport. Di and I had both been to Barcelona before so we knew exactly what we wanted to do; see how much renovations had occurred at The Basilica of the Segrada Famillia, walk up to Park Guell, shop at Decathlon and have a large beer on La Rambla – we achieved all this and walked again over 20 kilometres.
Day 4 we docked at Mallorca (Majorca) which is located on the Spanish Island of Palma. We docked close to the city and it was a lovely 25 minute walk into town from the ship. Mallorca is wonderful and I want to come back. All roads lead to the magnificent Cathedral de Mallorca, but the town is so lovely and quaint. Di wandered for a while but her feet were playing up so she returned to the ship and I did the 20 kilometres walking on my own.
The alcohol on board the ship is expensive and, to be ‘long term travel’ conscious, I had yet to pay any of the outrageous prices. In Mallorca though when I started the promenade walk back to the ship, I purchased three cans of beer for three euros and slowly took in the view and the moment as I consumed each – little pleasures go a long way!!
In Mallorca we were docked next to the MSC Seaside, that had just started her maiden voyage. This ship, with its 4500 passengers, dwarfed our ship, but it certainly looked special.
The next morning was a day at sea, no sleep in though, damn deck chairs!!!
Then we docked at Palermo, Sicily for day 6. It was an easy walk into town from the dock. Palermo was okay. The port area is poor. The Old Town has lots of history and some great churches but I preferred the other ports. Palermo was run down in places and did not seem as clean as the other ports.
Our final port of the cruise was Civitavecchia, the port for Rome. Rome though is about 50 kilometres away so if you want to go to Rome you have to book a tour. I would guess 95% of passengers went on a tour to Rome. I wandered Civitavecchia on my own.
There are some Roman ruins to see. There is a small promenade to follow. There is a small fort and a cathedral but nothing like the other ports. I enjoyed my quiet wander around town and rewarded myself at the end with a couple of one Euro cans of beer to consume on the promenade.
I really enjoyed the dining on the ship. The morning buffet breakfast had plenty of the Mediterranean breakfast food, salami, hams, cheeses, breads, olives, pastries, etc – NO EGGS, not a fried egg in sight!!!! I think I ate more bread-based products on the cruise than I had eaten in my previous twelve months.
The evening dining room food was fantastic. It was fine dining with the six course process taking a couple of hours – we learnt to sit back and enjoy it. One night we strayed from the dining room and went to the buffet – bad decision, it was full of kids, it was noisy and crowded and the food was all pretty basic and mass-produced – the dining room was so much better.
The next morning we arrived back at Savona. We did not meet many people on the cruise, Travis and Merlyn were the main people and we loved their company. We loved our cabin – except for the morning deckchair screeches of agonising pain. The five ports were a whirlwind, but I loved the ports. The ship itself is a bit tacky, lots of sparkle and bling. There were spas outside operating and many people used them, being winter it was a bit too cold for us. I think a summer cruise would be completely different to a winter cruise.
Was the cruise worth it? Yes.
The cruise gave me glimpses of places I would not have normally gone to. It was pretty busy with ports nearly each day so it never dragged – seven days was just right. I would have hated to pay full fare. To be honest I would not have paid full fare. There are many little additional costs on board and you pay for everything. I guess you have to expect this but I thought drinking water should have been more available without us having to pay for it. The only time water was free was with meals.
The vacationstogo.com website was a good website. The service provided by them was excellent, they always replied efficiently to any questions we had by way of email. I felt, considering we had booked the cheapest possible cruise with them, we may have been low priority, but this was NOT the case. Vacationstogo have a 90 day ticker (90 days from when the ship sails) where cruises are reduced significantly and if you are into cruising it may be a useful tool in finding a cruise.
We were glad we did the cruise but were glad to move on after a week. From the dock in Savona we walked to the train station and then we were off by train to Verona – still in need of a holiday!!!!!
The adventure continues…………………….