Popular guide book author and TV Personality Rick Steves has written his first guide book for cruisers: Mediterranean Cruise Ports. I have long been a fan of Rick Steve’s and his philosophy of independent travel and utilized his guidance when planning my own travel.
Before our 1989 and 1994 independent trips to Germany, Austria, and bordering nations we watched just about all his shows on public television. After watching his series, our family planned our tour at the kitchen table with a map and several picture laden guide books rather than booking a package tour. During both of those trips we rented a car and meandered our way through Germany, Austria, and Italy taking in many planned activities, skipping a few due to time constraints, and squeezing in a couple of surprise stops at places spotted along side the road. We were the epitome of independent travel without even having a single pre-planned accommodation. We simply found a quaint place to stay upon our arrival at our destination. Similarly, we explored Rome in 2001 with an independent spirit. Though we did have one fixed pre-planned hotel, we set out on our own every day to shop, dine and sight-see. We enjoyed seeing the sights at our own pace and dining on incredible Roman Italian food at little out of the way family restaurants. One little place with fantastic food even turned out to be a Steves recommendation and we didn’t even know it.
In 2003, my husband and I rediscovered cruising. Rick Steves has said that he is not particularly fond of cruising as he thinks of it as rather hedonistic with many passengers seeking only to overindulge in more than five meals a day and what ever other excesses the ship has to offer. However, my husband and I found that first return to cruising after a 10 year hiatus to be a vacation of of complete relaxation and enjoyment, not hedonism as we were careful not to overindulge. Even still, we have never taken an exclusively Mediterranean cruise for one main reason: My husband wants to get away from the stress of every day. He doesn’t want to do the kind of vacation that his him on the go full time. Usually, his first choice is taking a cruise to a place where we won’t feel guilty in not getting off the ship or a cruise with lots of sea days. However, I could never forgive myself for staying on the ship during a European Port Intensive cruise with stops in places like Athens, Ephesus, Venice, Dubrovnik, or Barcelona. There are just too many spectacular, wonders- of -the-world type things to do in those ports.
Taking that “Port Intensive Cruise” and the New Guide Book from Steves
For many travelers, a cruise can be a wonderful way to travel from city to city in Europe, allowing them to visit many incredible places in a short period of time. With the cruise providing transportation, room and board, it can be one of the most affordable ways to visit these sights as long as the traveler doesn’t over spend on expensive guided tours, excursions, and extras.
That is where Steves’ new book seeks to help. According to Steves, his new guide book will provide travelers with not just information on what to see and do in town, but “how to affordably and efficiently get from the cruise port — often in a dreary industrial wasteland on the outskirts — into the city center.”
In an article on www.ricksteves.com, Steves says “I produced what I believe is the first and only cruising guidebook written by someone with a healthy skepticism about cruises: Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports. I’ve left the cruise-ship rundowns to the real experts, and focused my book on the main attraction: some of the grandest cities in Europe. Even if you have just eight hours in port, you can still ramble the colorful Ramblas of Barcelona, kick the pebbles that stuck in Julius Caesar’s sandals at the Roman Forum, hike to the top of Athens’ Acropolis, and hear the Muslim call to prayer warble across the rooftops from an Istanbul minaret. Yes, you could spend a lifetime in Florence. But you’ve got a few hours…and I have a plan for you. Each of the book’s destination chapters is designed as a mini-vacation of its own, with advice about what to do and detailed sightseeing information for each port.”
As part of his research for the book Steves sent co-author Cameron Hewitt a head of him on variety of European cruises. “He actually arrived by cruise ship in each port, and had to figure out the various ways into town. He came back with detailed, step-by-step, hand-holding instructions outlining all of the options for reaching exactly what you came so far to see. “This is information that I, as a cruiser, would find very beneficial. On several cruises I actually used Google Earth and a pedometer application to figure out if I could walk from the ship into town. The cruise lines usually charge 10 to 15 per person each way for the use of their shuttle buses. Not exactly inexpensive if you are a family of 4.
This new book provides details on what Steve considers the top ports of the Mediterranean: Barcelona, Provence, the French Riviera, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice, Split, Dubrovnik ,Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, Istanbul, Ephesus and a few more. He even provides a “ship’s tour vs independent tour” cheat sheet that gives recommendations as the most convenient way to see the sights.
In his closing remarks about his new book Steves says “So my challenge is to accept the reality that people are cruising, and help them make the most of that experience. Understanding how the cruise industry works can help you take advantage of your cruise experience…and not the other way around. Equipped with knowledge, you can be the smart consumer who has a fantastic time on board and in port without paying a premium. That’s what my new book is all about.”
It looks like Steves has yet again done a wonderful job of providing travelers with the information that they need to make the most of their Mediterranean cruise experience. We look forward to hearing others opinions about this book and how helpful it is in aiding them with their cruise and touring plans.
p.s. Our family has found a terrific compromise between independent travel, a European port intensive cruise and a Get-away- from- it- all cruise: A three day independent stay in a great European city followed by a Trans-Atlantic cruise. The vacation starts with three days of go-go-go and is then followed with a 14 days of cruising where travelers are free to see as little or as much as we want. The final days of the cruise are during the Atlantic crossing where weather permitting, the tranquility of the ocean and the ambiance of the cruise ship provide for that get-away-from-it all experience. Happy Cruising!