Thursday, June 10, 2010
We’ve been talking about going to Europe for at least a year now and finally about three weeks ago we made our plans, booked the tickets, and made it a reality. I searched many travel options including traveling around the continent on our own by plane or train, going on a guided tour with a group, or taking a cruise. We ultimately decided that for this trip a cruise would be the best option. Neither of us have ever been on a cruise and this would allow us to enjoy the travel time between countries rather than facing the task of deciphering a European travel system in an unfamiliar area where we don’t speak the language. There are lots of European cruise options: Scandinavia, Northern Europe, Western Mediterranean, Eastern Mediterranean, Greek Isles, etc. Our first choice was a Western Mediterranean cruise, but Greece was also at the top of my list of countries that I wanted to visit. I created a spreadsheet of European cruises that traveled during the month of June (I know, you’re all shocked at the spreadsheet). I was researching 12-15 night cruises and still hadn’t found the perfect one. I noticed there were lots of options for 7 night cruises and began to think maybe we could do two separate cruises instead of trying to find one that went everywhere we wanted. That led to spreadsheet number two, which was a list of all of the 7 night cruises, dates, prices, and details. Only a few combinations of cruises during our timeframe could actually be paired together because of their departure or arrival dates. I had to make sure I allowed enough travel time in between countries to get to the next destination for the second cruise departure. I took the few double cruise combinations, plus our top picks for the longer cruises and created a third spreadsheet. With this I looked up flights and added this to the prices of the cruises to come up with the overall cost for each trip. The results pointed to a clear cut winner so I booked the cruises then I booked the flights. The final choice is to fly to Venice, Italy and take a Greek Isles & Turkey cruise, fly to Barcelona, Spain, then take a Western Mediterranean cruise. Upon return to Barcelona, we’ll fly back to Venice and home from there. From the time we booked our trip we had two and a half weeks until departure. We informed our workplaces of our vacation dates and travel plans and both were very supportive. I don’t think I slept too much between this time and the date of our departure. I spent any spare time that I could searching online to plan our travel and activities. We have the option to book excursions at each port city through the cruise ship, but those get pretty expensive by the time you plan for about 11 cities. Instead, I decided to see what we could plan on our own. This is definitely the more challenging and time consuming method, but in the end worth the cost savings. I found a great website that had information on a lot of the cities that we will be visiting and had detailed information on how to plan your own excursions. The website had pictures and lots of details on transportation methods, city highlights, travel tips, and much more. I began compiling a folder of information on each city. For the cities that this website didn’t cover, I found other port reviews that would suffice. Monte Carlo, Monaco is our first stop on cruise #2. This country is very small, about the size of New York City’s Central Park (according to my chiropractor). It had a great website and they sent me maps and tourist information in the mail. I was impressed to see that Monaco even has its own special iPhone app, perfect for tourists. Over the next two weeks I continued to add information to my port city folders until I had enough information on each destination. I added weather forecasts, transportation details, and maps when available. The final step was to book our hotels. I used Priceline.com to start bidding on hotels a few days before our departure. I finally booked the last one about 4 hours before leaving for the airport Thursday morning. It was a crazy two weeks as we planned everything for our trip and we both wrapped up things at work. It culminated in an all-nighter Wednesday before our early Thursday morning departure. The Harrisons were kind enough to come to Avon Wednesday night and Louise got up early to take us to the airport at 5:30 AM. I had checked-in online and when we arrived at the airport the baggage clerk said our luggage only showed that it was going as far as Boston, not all the way to Venice. He ran to the check-in counter and got it corrected for us quickly so we wouldn’t miss our flight.