For those of you who missed it, we started off in Monaco; hopped over to Livorno where we stopped in and Florence; then ventured to Civitavecchia to see Ancient Rome, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica; cruised to Naples where we visited Pompeii and drove through the Amalfi Coast; climbed through the coastal towns in Messina, Sicily; navigated through Palma De Mallorca; and finally perused Marseilles.
To say that it was the trip of a lifetime would be the understatement of the year. It exceeded every expectation and hope that we had before setting foot on Carnival’s ship.
A huge part of the enjoyment of our trip came from the hard work we put into researching every port and examining every tour option. I think the hundreds of hours of internet searching and book reading really made all the difference. In an attempt to prevent you from wasting all that time researching, I thought I’d share the top five things that will make your Mediterranean cruise amazing.
1. Get Local Currency From ATM
A lot of people are apprehensive about going overseas because of the supposed inconvenience of exchanging money into local currency.
In my opinion, all the complaining and apprehension is based on myths and not reality. The easiest and cheapest way to get local currency in Europe is to simply withdrawal money from the ATM.
Of course this depends on your ATM card and their fees. But with proper research, you can find an ATM card that won’t charge you a fee for withdrawing money in Europe. By getting local currency from an ATM, you won’t be charged any fees and you will receive the fairest exchange rate (it’s based on the current market exchange rate).
If you go to an exchange agency or attempt to trade in your US dollars at the airport, not only will you pay an exorbitant fee but their exchange rate is usually one of the worst around. The same can be said for exchanging money at banks. You really should try to avoid this at all costs.
So bottom line, withdrawal all of the money you will need from an ATM and avoid every exchange agency.
2. Book Your Tickets Online
Many of the attractions you will see in Europe are some of the most visited places in the World. To help avoid the frustration of spending your vacation caught in a never-ending ticket queue, purchase your tickets online before you travel to Europe.
This tip was the key to being able to visit as many attractions as we did in Rome. We were able to visit both the Coliseum and the Vatican because we pre-purchased tickets. Had we waited to purchase our tickets until we got to Rome, I can guarantee that we would have only been able to see one of the attractions and we probably would have wasted half of our day standing in line.
Also make sure that when you print your tickets out at home that the barcode prints properly. You can read about our misadventure with improperly printed tickets for the Coliseum here. We wasted valuable time at the Coliseum trading in our printed out tickets because the barcode hadn’t printed properly.
You can purchase tickets to the Coliseum here and the Vatican here. Other places where tickets are suggested are the Uffizi Gallery, Accademia Gallery, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Note that you will pay an extra processing fee for these online tickets but it will totally be worth it.
3. Dress Properly
Unlike Cathedrals in the United States, many cathedrals in Europe have a “strictly” enforced dress code. I say “strictly” because while I’ve read everywhere about surly Vatican security guards yelling at people for their inappropriate clothing I never saw anyone, much less the scantly clad people, get yelled at.
That being said, there’s no reason to risk your entrance into one of these amazing cathedrals because you didn’t feel like following the rules. The Vatican is probably the strictest of all the cathedrals, requiring that your shoulders and knees be covered (for both men and women).
Other cathedrals in Europe vary. Some stick by the no shoulders no knees rule, others don’t care. From my point of view, I wasn’t willing to research the in’s and out’s of all of the cathedrals’s rules to see what churches would allow knees and what churches wouldn’t. So in ports where we knew we would be visiting a cathedral, we always wore something that fit the Vatican guidelines.
This is, of course, a conservative way to approach it. Girls very well could wear a sleeveless shirt and just cover their shoulders with a sweater when entering the Vatican. I didn’t want to carry around extra clothes.
My go-to outfit for cathedral days was a sleeved dress with leggings. Comfortable and breezy enough for the heat but cathedral approved.
You can, of course, choose to be more rebellious but honestly why chance it?
4. Book Private Tours
I mentioned this tip previously in my top five Caribbean cruise tips but it’s certainly worth reiterating. Avoid booking the cruise sponsored tours at all costs.
Cruise sponsored tours are always more expensive and usually provided a lower quality product than private tours. If you choose to book a cruise sponsored tours expect to be herded into a crappy tour bus with 50 other people and to spend a lot of your day waiting for the group to be corralled.
Private tours offer you more intimacy and a higher quality product for a lot less. Take for example our tour in Rome. We paid 69 Euro per person (roughly $96) for an eight hour tour for 8 people, where we got to explore both the Coliseum and the Vatican. To do the same kind of tour with Carnival, we would have paid $176 per person, over $80 more, and we would have been in a group of about 50 people.
If you are in Europe, I highly recommend using Rome in Limo. They consistently receive outstanding praise on Trip Advisor and Cruise Critic. We used them three times during our cruise and had an excellent experience each time.
5. Don’t Get Caught Up In Picture Taking
When you are visiting these breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime places, it’s easy to get swept up into the “I must run around and take a picture of everything” mindset.
To be honest, taking all those pictures really takes the experience away from you. You get so caught up in framing the perfect picture and elbowing strangers out of your shot that you forget to absorb the beauty around you.
Some of my favorite moments from our honeymoon are when I decided to simply put the camera down.
Take for example, the Sistine Chapel (where you are forced to put down your camera because of their no pictures rule). I got so tired of being elbowed and pushed that I decided to sit down on a bench in the back of the Chapel. From there, I didn’t have to worry about pushing strangers out of my way to get a better look. All I had to do was just sit and breathe in the beauty that surrounded me.
I will never forget those moments sitting in the back of the Vatican holding my brand new husband’s hand staring at quite possibly the most awe-striking display of art ever created. I wouldn’t trade that experience for all the pictures in the world.
I hope these tips help you in planning your Mediterranean cruise. It will be one of the best experiences of your life. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email. I’m always happy to help!