Royal Caribbean's 7 Night Eastern Mediterranean Cruise: How, What, Why From Home to the Cruise Port
Which Cruise Line?
There's lots of information on which cruise line to choose: Royal Caribbean, Cunard, Disney, Princess, Celebrity and the others. I read for twenty minutes and became completely overwhelmed. I realized that the decision of which cruise line to use boiled down to two things for my family: 1) which one goes where we want to go and 2) which one can we afford. A note on "which one we can afford": this was our first cruise and our 25th wedding anniversary, so we booked a junior suite. (And it was fantastic, by the way!)
For us, going to Rome was a must. So I looked for cruises leaving Rome's cruise port. Our second criteria was going to Athens. Put those two together and you'll have a short list of cruise lines. At that point, it's a simple task to go to the cruise lines' web sites and enter the information needed to get a price.
Could you make it more complicated? Oh yes, you could. Which cruise ship has a climbing wall, or the newest ships, etc. Just add those items to your decision making list. Beware of adding items such as "the cruise line with the best food" or other subjective items, as you'll find yourself reading hundreds of conflicting opinions and reviews!
We chose Royal Caribbean, because it met our criteria of leaving from Rome's cruise port and visiting Athens, and it was in our price range.
How and What to Purchase
I checked a travel agency, the Royal Caribbean website, USAirways cruises and Costco for best prices. Costco beat them all and gave us cruise bucks. Assuming you've never cruised before (we hadn't), you'll want to know that everything you purchase on the ship is placed on an account which you settle at the end of the cruise. Not items in the stores, but everything else. For example, you might want to eat in one of the restaurants that is not included in the cruise price, or horrors, you might want to let your children have a card that they can swipe in the video arcade. The cruise bucks that I received offset those costs. Costco had them put on my ship account automatically; I didn't have to do anything.
You will have to choose whether you want to dine whenever you want to, or to have a specified time to eat each evening. Also, you might want to buy the trip insurance. I did. It's too much money not to!
When to Purchase
Now! As soon as possible. You want to be able to choose the best cabin while it's still available. You want to be above the waterline so you can see the beautiful coastlines and if you are prone to seasickness, get a cabin in the middle of the ship. We didn't have any trouble with noise from other cabins or the elevators, but I wouldn't get a cabin extremely close to the elevators, just in case.
What to Pack
I packed for myself, my husband and two kids. My son was 13 and my daughter was 10. I packed one nice dress for dinner, a gray sleeveless silk dress, and nice shoes. I wore it the first and last evenings. We went to the dining room each night because the kids were thrilled with dressing up to eat a fancy dinner. Did we mention the chandeliers? And the staircases? You'd think you were on Titanic. Wait, erase that. Anyway, dinner was fantastic and the wait staff made every evening special for my children, who they knew by name the second night. Now the other nights, I wore a sun dress but with a shawl to dress it up. My husband wore the same pair of dress pants and the same dress shirt each night for dinner. You know, so my clothes could fit in the suitcase; he had to make some concessions!
So mostly my daughter and I wore sundresses, sun hats and sandals. The guys wore shorts and casual shirts and sandals. Now when I say sandals, I mean good walking sandals. You're going to be doing some major walking. And the Parthenon is surrounded by extremely gorgeous but slippery marble. Your shoes are a major decision.
You can have your clothes laundered on the cruise ship. And since, we were going on to spend a week in Rome after the cruise, we did use the laundry service. Yes, it was expensive and they cheerfully added it to that ship account I mentioned before.
Hats. We are fair skinned and would've baked without a hat. Sunscreen, goes without saying. Make a copy of your passports before you leave. Make a couple. Pack the copies in different suitcases. Claritin if you need it, Advil.
Travel journal. If you are taking kids, sit out on your balcony in the evening and everyone write in their journal for 15 minutes. If your children sketch, there's nothing better than watching your child sketch the coastline from the Acropolis or a scene from the Sistine Chapel. Slow down, you've got time for that! Take a picture of them doing it and frame their drawing with the picture.
And now to money. To exchange currency here, or there? Here, definitely. The exchange rate fluctuates during the year and blah blah, but I couldn't figure all that out, so I exchanged half of the money I wanted to take when I made my reservation. I exchanged the other half a month before my reservation. I figured I'd cut my losses that way if the exchange rate was terribly high at the either time. But it was within a few cents. I got all Euros except 40 Turkish lira, because I read that the Ephesus ruin admission fee must be in Turkish lira.
Bring chapstick! Because you can't go anywhere without chapstick. And don't pack tons of activities for the kids for the flight if you fly Lufthansa - everyone on our flight had their own movie screen and we never even opened our carefully prepared carry on bags.
Getting to the Cruise Ship
There are two new locations to be familiar with, as Rome is not on the sea nor does it have an international airport. Civitavecchia is the cruise port that you will use for this cruise. You'll fly into Fuimicino (Rome) Airport. We just caught a taxi at the airport to a hotel.
We stayed overnight at Fuimicino, because although you could theoretically work it all out so that you get off the plane and catch transportation to Civitavecchia with no hitches - what if you had a problem? And MISSED your cruise? I couldn't take that chance. So, we spent the night at Comfort Hotel Roma Airport in Fuimicino. It's a Comfort Inn, $100 a night. Not in a beautiful part of town, but you're just staying the night, right? If you stay there and have kids, ask for the two-level rooms. The kids can have the upstairs (two twins) and there's a queen size on the the first level. Here's the best part - there's a balcony on the second floor that looks out over the city and in the evening, the famous cats of Rome (well, okay, of Fuimicino) will come out on the roof tops.
If you aren't currently a member of Choice Privileges, you might want to join before you make your reservations if you decide to stay at Comfort Hotel Roma Airport.
We walked to the waterfront and found a seafood restaurant. Okay, now this is not for the faint of heart. Prepare for barnacles, eyeballs, the whole nine yards! Very fishy smelling pasta. BUT you don't want to miss it! Though my daughter didn't eat a bite, she will never forget it. The next morning, we slept in and left the hotel at 1pm. We'd prearranged through the Internet with Bob's Limousine's and Tours.
At Civitavecchia Cruise Port
Your driver will take you as close as he can to the Royal Caribbean ship, but you'll have to wait for a transport bus to get you there. Don't worry, you'll be dropped right where the bus will pick you up and there'll be tons of other families there as well. It's just part of the process of crowd control.
When the bus drops you off, you'll be at a large building and after showing your cruise ticket, you'll step into the building and your heart will drop. You'll hyperventilate as you gaze upon the HUNDREDS of people in line before you. Unless, you happily realize, as I did, that if you purchased a junior suite, you're royalty! Skip the lines and proceed directly to the short, special line and feel like you are the smartest person in the room! It's a great way to start off the cruise. You'll be swimming and relaxing as that line inches forward. Did I mention it was very hot and stuffy in that line?
Now, oddly, you have to give your passports to the cruise personnel to keep for you until your cruise is over. Yeah, really! You're going to be going on day trips to Greece, Sicily, Crete and Turkey, without your passport. That didn't feel good at all. But you have no choice whatsoever in the matter.
First Night Aboard
Okay, count your kids, do you have your purse? You made it. Can you believe how clean your Navigator of the Seas cabin is, and have you seen that bathroom? If it's your anniversary or birthday during the cruise, tell your steward! They will do something special one day while you're out daytripping.
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