Cruising 101: Getting the Most Out to Your Cruise Vacation

If you haven’t read my last blog post (or listened to my podcast episode) on planning your perfect cruise, I give some tips and insights on booking and selecting which cruise is best for you. In today’s blog, now that you’re all booked, I’m going to go through getting ready for your upcoming cruise, travelling on your cruise and some of my personal tips and tricks for getting the most out of your cruise vacation.

Checking in for your cruise

Usually once final payment is made you can do your cruise check in approximately 60-90 days prior to departure depending on the cruise line. If you work with a travel agent, this is a service that we can help our clients with, and what I typically do for my clients on their behalf. Check in is completed through the cruise line’s website. The information that needs to be provided to the cruise line is; your emergency contact details of someone not travelling with you or your party, credit card details to setup your onboard account (however you can sometimes setup a cash account when arriving to the port or on-board the ship), and full passport details of each traveller (you’ll also sometimes need visa information for countries you will be visiting depending on the cruise and cruise line).

If you have a cabin assignment, you’ll be able to print all your boarding passes and luggage tags right away, if you booked a guarantee cabin, usually you will have to log onto your account about a week prior to departure and check to see if they’ve given you your cabin assignment at that time.

**Pro Tip: Don’t attach your cruise luggage tag until you leave for the port. I attach my luggage tags to my luggage at the hotel right before I leave for the port, the front desk at your hotel can normally let you borrow a stapler or tape as you check out. I also print an extra tag for my carry on. This way I can see my cabin number easily on my handle of my carry on instead of fishing through papers.

Packing for your cruise

When packing for your cruise there are always a few things to keep in mind. Does your ship have a dress code for the dining rooms at night? Are there “gala nights” onboard, if so, how many? Do you know what your “wine allowance” is per guest or stateroom? What type of electrical outlets are in the staterooms? These are questions that a travel agent who is a cruise specialist can help answer for you. Most ships have somewhat of a dress code at night for the dining rooms or the specialty dining restaurants. This can range from “country club casual” to shirt and blazer for men, to no jeans or shorts. For women, again no jeans or shorts, however pants or skirts with a top and cocktail attire is acceptable on most. For shoes, on most cruise lines, flip flops are a no-no at night, some cruise lines even frown upon runners and require proper dress shoes, etc. This also comes to making sure you are booking the right cruise line for you. If you want something more casual, there are options out there for you. I regards to “gala nights” most cruise ships have two formal nights on a seven day cruise. Whilst it is becoming less popular, it’s not a requirement to wear formal wear on most ships on these nights. It is a time where most people get photos done, especially with the Captain. If you have status with a cruise line, normally if they throw a cocktail party with the Captain and Senior Officers, it’s usually on a “gala night”.

Wine allowances, so most cruise ships do allow you to bring wine onboard, however some do charge a “corkage fee” to bring your own bottles onboard. You can then consume your own wine either in your stateroom or in any of the restaurants. Some cruise lines allow you to bring one or two bottles or more per stateroom or per guest at no charge to enjoy in your stateroom, but they will charge a corkage fee if you bring your own bottle to the restaurants. If this is something that is important to you, your travel agent will be able to advise what your wine allowances are for the cruise you booked.

Electrical outlets, so most ocean cruise ships have a mix of North American and European style outlets in each stateroom. Some cabins now also have USB plugs near the beds to charge phones or I use those to plug in my Saje Aroma Roam travel diffuser.

There are some things that are a no-no to pack, if they scan your luggage and find these items in your bags, you will most likely have to go down to the “naughty room” and collect your bags without the confiscated items. Some of the most popular items that are not allowed onboard are irons (for clothes, hair straightens are okay), alcohol (wine or champagne needs to be in your carry on when you board the ship), weapons of any kind, drones (some cruise lines are okay with them or if you have special permission, again double check this as it depending on the cruise line), food products (no meats, fruits or vegetables; if you need a certain milk for your coffee, etc, it’s always better if we put in a special services request to have this available onboard or carry this on in your carry on it a sealed unopened original container), bottles of water or pop (yes some cruise lines do not allow this), candles/incense (or anything else that creates an open flame), baby monitors, radios, extension cords (those can cause fires onboard ships, also don’t leave anything plugged in when you leave your stateroom, if anything is left plugged in, expect that your room steward will unplug items if they see it), illegal drugs and CBD oils (yes I got asked this question once by a client, the answer is no) and scissors (travel size or a small pair are ok, just not a full size pair of scissors). Your travel specialist will be able to provide you with this list based on the cruise line you’ve booked with if you need this information.

Cruise Apps

Most cruise lines have their own apps nowadays. I am personally starting to really like the apps that they have. You can usually open them on the ship, connect to the ship’s wifi, it’s free to use (only using the app will work, if you want to use social media or internet you do still have to buy an internet package onboard). I like the apps because I can keep on top of my onboard account, manage my specialty dining reservations, see all the daily activities and even manage spa or entertainment reservations, again all depending on the cruise line. By managing your onboard account this way you’re not going to experience and “sticker shock” at the end of your cruise when you receive you bill, this will also give you time to dispute any charges as there is limited amount open on the day of disembarkation.

Arriving to your cruise

I’m going to be honest, I’ve been in this industry long enough to see a fair share of people not take my advice and fly in the day of their cruise just to be delayed and miss their ship. I always recommend to my clients to fly in the day before. Was even flying in the day before my Pacific Coastal cruise, even through it was a short flight from Vancouver to San Diego. I don’t trust that if the plane goes mechanical or any other delays including weather, I want to feel safe knowing that I will get there in time. Just another reason why it’s also a very good idea to have travel insurance.

One of the most asked questions I get is “what time should I arrive to the port to board my ship?”. That’s really down to personal choice. I like to arrive to the port as early as I can, usually by 10:00am. Most ships open check in counters by 10:30am and you can normally start boarding the ship by 11:00am to 11:30am. If you have status with the cruise line you sail with, there are sometimes “lounges” you can take advantage of and enjoy your wait. When you arrive at the port, there will be a place to drop your larger luggage, then walk inside to wait for the check in counters. Have your boarding pass and ID (passport, etc) ready as sometimes there will be a security check before you get to the check in counters. At the check in desks (this does depend on the cruise line, this is more for larger cruise lines, some of the smaller ships and on some river cruise ships you actually will check in onboard) you’ll be asked for your boarding pass, ID (passport, etc) and your credit card that you registered for your onboard account. They will either take a photo of you, or scan your passport and use that photo. You will be given your cruise card at this time.

Your cruise card is everything. This is your credit card, ID and cabin door key all in one. Be sure to keep your card safe, if you do lose it, go to guest services immediately and report it missing. Also get guest services to print your onboard account to make sure no one used your key card to make unauthorized purchases. Some people do use lanyards to wear their cruise card around their neck, make sure guest services punches the card for you, or buy a lanyard that you can insert the card into so it doesn’t become damaged.

Once onboard

I usually head to the guest services desk first and pick up a “daily”. What is a “daily” you ask? This is the daily schedule of all the activities onboard. Once I’ve grabbed on of those I head to the dining room that is open for lunch.

**Pro Tip: Most cruises will have a sit down dining option open for lunch. It’s usually much quieter than trying to fight for space up in the buffet.

Once I’ve ordered lunch, I then plan my “strategy” for the rest of the day using the “daily” I picked up.

**Pro Tip: You might have your carry on for a couple hours before you have access to your room, also, you might not get your checked luggage until after sail away. I usually keep a swim suit and a few other items in my carry on just in case it’s a beautiful day and I want to go for a swim. After lunch, I normally drop my carry on and bag into my cabin. They will make an announcement once rooms are ready, this can be right when you board or usually sometime by 2:00pm.

Once I’ve checked into my cabin and sanitized it, I put my passport into the safe along with any of my valuables that can fit in it (MacBook, jewelry, wallet (again your cruise card is your currency onboard, so you don’t need to walk around with it), etc). Then it’s off to explore.

I normally explore a ship from the bottom decks to the top. Make sure to wear comfortable shoes, it’s amazing how many steps you’ll walk exploring a ship. When exploring, this is when I’m going to refer back to my personal strategy I’ve highlighted in my “daily”, there are usually some great “taster” events happening onboard during the time of boarding to Muster Drill and into the early evening. Again this is going to depend on what is important to you and what types of activities you might be interested in. If you’re a family cruising together, this is a great time to check out the kid’s clubs onboard, fill out any necessary forms and sign them up for activities. I myself check out the spa and thermal suites onboard if I haven’t purchased a spa pass ahead of time and attend the “spa raffle”. I’ve won gift certificates for free treatments and products before, like the saying goes, you have to be in it, to win it, so I usually attend that event onboard.

Since I’ve been cruising solo a bit recently, I also make note of any Solo Travellers Meetups onboard as well, usually the first meetup is before dinner hour on the day of embarkation. Sometimes it’s nice to meet other solo travellers for a dinner or a drink, or just to recognize people in the hallways for a quick chat how each other’s vacation has been going.

**Pro Tip: Make sure to look carefully at a map of the ship or check out cruisecritic.com and search the ship you are sailing on for “lesser known” areas of the ship. You would be surprised that there can be out of the way places to relax that most people don’t find because they stick to the main decks. 

Muster Drill

I actually get slightly entertained when it’s someone’s first muster drill, to see the reactions on people’s faces (or the multitude of quick hands over the ears) to experience the emergency alarm is interesting and amusing. I want to reiterate, do not miss the emergency safety drill. It’s mandatory and please pay attention. This is not the time to chat with your group or play on your phone. In the “daily” you will see where to find your muster station. Your muster station is printed on your cruise card. It is also found located on the back door of your stateroom. Some cruise lines require that you bring your lifejackets from your cabin to the drill, others do not require this. Please read the daily for instructions on what you need to bring to your drill.

Once you arrive at your muster station, you need to check in with your cruise card or with your cabin number to the crew member in charge of your station. Make sure to arrive on time to your muster station (5-10 minutes before the drill is set to begin is good). You will hear the emergency alarms of the ship go off. They will then go through the safety requirements and information over the ship’s speaker systems. If you are late or do not check in, you will be required to make up the muster drill at another time. Again, this is a very important emergency drill, please pay attention to the instructions and even if you’ve done numerous drills in the past, please respect that others around you might not have. 

Sail Away

One of my favourite parts of starting my cruise vacation. There are so many options for sail away and depending on which port you are leaving from there might be different advantages. For instance, if you’re sailing out of Vancouver, head to the top deck of the cruise ship on a sunny day for beautiful views of Vancouver, the North Shore mountains and of course sailing under the Lions Gate Bridge. Are you sailing out of Venice? If you have a balcony on the port side (the left side of the ship), you’ll have amazing views of Piazza San Marco whilst cruising out of Venice. There is usually a sail away party somewhere on deck, with live music to get the cruise started right. I make sure I pop a bottle of Champagne or Prosecco and toast to a wonderful and safe adventure ahead! Be sure to check the cruise “daily” for all the sail away events and locations.

Cabins/Staterooms Onboard

Whilst cabins and staterooms onboard are a bit more “compact” than a standard hotel room, the storage nooks and crannies are plentiful. One of the most asked questions I get from clients is “where can I store my luggage?”. There is usually always room to store suitcases under the bed, you can typically store at least two to three medium sized ones here. What is included in your cabin/stateroom also varies depending on cruise ship line, stateroom category and ship. If not having a coffee maker in your room is a deal breaker for you, make sure that you book the correct category or cruise line (some cruise lines only balconies and higher categories have coffee makers in the staterooms, some don’t offer coffee makers in the room but do offer room service included, other cruise lines don’t have coffee makers in any of the rooms).

Most cruise ships also have a small refrigerator in the room. I usually ask my room steward to clear out the mini bar (if it’s not included of course haha) so I have room to refrigerate my own wines, etc. For some people a refrigerator is necessary to keep medications cold, so I do make sure if this is a requirement that there is a fridge in the room, or we can request this through the cruise line’s special services department.

As I mentioned already previously, there are quite a few electrical outlets available typically in your stateroom. I bring a European adapter so I can utilize all the plugs in my cabin, especially if I’m travelling with a friend, that way no one is fighting over an outlet. I do also bring my hair tools, as they have North American style plugs onboard I can make sure my hair is styled without worrying I’m going to blow up my device.

There are tons of other tips and tricks you can find online, some cabin walls are metal, so if you want more storage I know a few avid cruisers who travel with magnetic hooks to have extra hooks in the room, however I’ve never had a problem with storage, even if I end up sharing a stateroom with someone.

You can expect your room to be tidied a couple times per day, once usually mid-morning, the last time for turn down service during dinner hours (delivery of your daily and any important notes for the next day will normally be placed on your bed or on the desk during turn down), it’s a rule of thumb to not have your do not disturb light/sign on unless you are in the room. If they see that you constantly have your do not disturb sign up they will leave a note for you to contact guest services. 

Dining

Once onboard you can head to the dining reservations desk and make any dining reservations you might want to make or need to change. Most cruise lines now do dining reservations ahead of time online, however there are some that you need to make them once onboard or if you need to amend any within seven days prior to your cruise departure. Most cruise lines will not accept dining reservations for the main dining rooms, it is either set time (chosen or assigned when you book certain cruise lines) or “freestyle” (open seating), where you will be seated as you show up for dinner.

Some cruise lines are now using a system similar to restaurants where you check in and are given a buzzer for when your table is ready if there is a wait (doesn’t mean you can walk to the other side of the ship haha).

When it comes to room service, this also depends on the cruise line. Some do not charge and will even serve you your meal course-by-course, some have a set service fee and finally some have a la carte pricing. Your cruise professional can advise you ahead of time what room service fees your cruise has if any. 

Shore Excursions and Leaving the Ship

The reason I wanted to cover this is the expectations of getting on and off the ship for shore excursions depending on the cruise line you’re sailing on. No matter what size of ship you’re sailing on, this time of embarkation and disembarkation I’ve learned to pack my patience. If you’re tendering, which means taking a boat from the ship to the shore, be sure to grab your tender tickets the moment they are available for distribution (some people on larger cruise ships have learned this the hard way). Then be prepared to wait until your number/colour is called (not near the exits either).

That being said, really make sure you have a buffer time for shore excursions you’ve booked on your own or through a third party. Shore excursions booked through the ship will have priority, so make sure you have a good buffer time and be sure to leave the ship with enough time to meet up with your excursions.

Also, when you depart the ship you need to bring your cruise card with you. You will be scanned as you leave and when you return so they know who is missing if you miss the “all aboard” call. “All aboard” is typically 30 minutes before sail away, so make sure you plan accordingly. You don’t want to be one of those people running after the ship at the port (yes, I have seen this) or taking that selfie with the ship sailing away without you in the background.

Most ports will also not allowed any food or beverages off the ship (so don’t try to take that Starbucks latte to go off the ship or you’ll be forced to knock it back or leave it behind). Water is allowed, however please be mindful when refilling your water bottle in the buffet area, use a glass to fill then pour the water into your bottle, don’t refill your bottle directly under the spout.

Also, you don’t need to take your passport off the ship in every country (double check this before you depart the ship for the day), I have my Canadian driver’s license and a photocopy of my passport photo page. If for some reason you miss the ship and do not board on time, a senior officer will check your safe in your stateroom and leave your passport behind with port officials so you can make your own way to catch up to the ship. Some cruises they will actually hold your passport anyways during check in, this is so that if the officials need to see your passport you aren’t called down to the Purser’s Office at 5:30am to present your passport to immigration.

When you return from your day exploring the port, have your cruise card ready. When you arrive back at the cruise terminal you will sometime have to go through a security check point before getting to the ship. Once scanned and onboard, typically there is another security scan done (again, make sure you didn’t buy any prohibited items, or if you purchased alcohol you’ll have to declare it for them to store it for you or pay the corkage fee (if them impose one) to enjoy it onboard). 

Medical Services Onboard

Yes cruise ships do have medical centres onboard. The cost to use these services however are very steep, make sure to use them only in emergency and make sure to give them your travel insurance information. Usually this is added to your onboard account as they rarely direct bill to insurance.

**Pro Tip: If you do find yourself sea sick, guest services do have a supply of sea sickness tablets that they usually provide at no charge.

You can also find some over the counter pharmacy products in the gift shop (ibuprofen, cough medicine, allergy tablets, etc) however the gift shops are set to specific hours and are not open while in port due to laws and restrictions.

Just a bit further on health, especially with Coronavirus (COVID-19) and Norwalk Virus, be sure to wash your hands frequently. There are so many antibacterial hand gel dispensers throughout ships, we wouldn’t have problems is everyone was diligent enough to use them. I also bring hand sanitizer into the dining room and use it after touching menus. In my stateroom, I also wipe down surfaces, door handles, remote controls, telephones, etc with Lysol antibacterial wipes.

In conclusion these are just a few tips and tricks of how to get the most of your cruise and scenarios you might encounter. When you book a cruise through myself, I do offer a service to go over any questions my clients have one on one and give tips based on the ship/cruise line they are sailing on, especially if it’s a ship I’ve sailed on myself. I also do have reviews of my cruises on my blog and will continue to write these ship reviews going forward. 

As I am a travel agent who specializes in cruising, I’d love to help you plan your next cruise vacation. Please contact me for a free cruise vacation consultation via my website or by sending me a direct message on Instagram.

Until next time, safe travels and happy cruising!

Ariane

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Cruising 101: Planning the Perfect Cruise

As a travel advisor who specializes in cruises I get asked so many questions in regards to planning for and booking the perfect cruise for my clients. So I thought I would chat about some of what I go through with my clients to help best pick a cruise that fits them and what preparing for a cruise looks like. Whether you are looking at an ocean or river cruise, to planning which destination and cruise line is best for you and your budget, I’m going to cover it all, including some of my tips and tricks when it comes to planning your cruise.

Why I love to cruise

Cruising is honestly one of my personal favourite ways to travel. It makes travel so stress free and relaxing. I get to arrive onto a ship (or floating hotel), unpack once and wake up in a new destination pretty well everyday. Cruising also offers a great way to “test” out destinations, to see where you would love to travel back to and spend more time. It can also give you the opportunity to visit places that you might not have thought to otherwise (example: St. Petersburg, Russia can be harder to visit due to visas to Russia, etc, cruising can make visiting places like Russia easier). Sea days are a nice relaxing break, sometimes the ships can be destinations on their own with plenty to do and see onboard.

Planning your cruise

First step is to contact someone who is a specialist when it comes to cruises. Certain travel advisors have access to offers or onboard extras that you might not as a consumer. Myself, I hold specialist certifications with all the major cruise lines, I’m a travel advisor member of Virtuoso, an exclusive membership for travel advisors and have personal relationships with many within the cruise industry. I offer my clients exclusive benefits when they book their cruise with me, so if you’d like to have a chat about your own cruise, please contact me. I’d love to personally have a chat about cruising and help you find the perfect cruise for you.

Picking a cruise

There are many factors to think of when it comes to picking which cruise would be best for you. Here are some of the topics I bring up with my clients when helping them select a cruise:

Destination/Itinerary – This is actually one of the main things I personally consider when planning a cruise. Cruises are now available to all seven continents, so there is an itinerary for everyone. Things to consider with destinations are what time of year is best to visit, if there is a shoulder season, and the length of time you’re in each port (some cruise lines offer overnights in certain ports, or even longer days to spend time to visit nearby cities). What is the weather like? For instance, cruising the Mediterranean in the Winter months, if that’s when you have vacation time is not really an option, however cruises to South America, Tahiti, Australia, Caribbean, etc are in season during that time. Other things I look for is unique destinations when cruising. We are seeing the return of Turkey to cruise itineraries and new and unique cruises such as the Black Sea, cruises from Africa to Australia and more options to Antartica. 

Choosing which cruise line is best for you – There is definitely a cruise line for everyone. I have my personal favourites based on my personal experiences with certain companies in the past. It really depends on what you are looking for and what your budget is. There are also other factors to select a cruise line such as if an “adults only” cruise is important to you, if so you might want to look at Viking Cruises or Virgin Voyages. Is food your thing? You might want to try Oceania, Crystal, Windstar or Seabourn. Are you looking for something family friendly? Norwegian Cruise Line or Royal Caribbean might be good options for you. Are you looking for a cruise line that has a solid reputation for certain itineraries? Holland America is amazing for Alaska, Azamara has unique AzAmazing events, Paul Gauguin does amazing itineraries of Tahiti and the South Pacific and Silversea offers weekends with special access to the Monaco Grand Prix. Are you wanting a small ship experience? Windstar, Regent Seven Seas, Crystal, Silversea, Oceania, Seabourn, Paul Gauguin and Ponant might be great options. Many of these brands have great onboard amenities, but it truly is based on what is important to you and what you’re looking to get out of your cruise. 

Here is my breakdown of cruise lines with my own star rating. These ratings are my own opinion and is based on my own personal experiences in regards to food, customer service, inclusions, value for money, etc:

Three Stars and Under:

  • Carnival (Ocean)
  • Costa (Ocean)
  • P & O Cruises (Ocean)
  • Royal Caribbean (Ocean)
  • Princess Cruises (Ocean)
  • Celestyal Cruises (Ocean)
  • MSC Cruises (Ocean)
  • Viking (River)

Four Stars:

  • Norwegian Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Holland America (Ocean)
  • Celebrity (Ocean)
  • Disney Cruise Line (Ocean)
  • Cunard (Ocean)
  • Virgin Voyages (Ocean)
  • Emerald Waterways (River)
  • Avalon Waterways (River)
  • AMAWaterways (River)

Five Stars:

  • Azamara (Ocean)
  • Viking (Ocean)
  • Oceania Cruises (Ocean)
  • Windstar Cruises (Ocean)
  • Paul Gauguin (Ocean)
  • Silversea (Ocean)
  • Crystal Cruises (Ocean, Yacht and River)
  • Seabourn (Ocean)
  • Ponant (Ocean)
  • Regent Seven Seas (Ocean)
  • Scenic (River and Yacht)
  • UniWorld (River)

Expedition:

  • Hurtigruten
  • Quark Expeditions
  • G Adventures
  • Intrepid Travel

Selecting the right cabin type – Yes, interior cabins are the cheapest, but there are some things to consider when looking at selecting the right cabin type for you. I personally love cruising in a Balcony. I can open the window and enjoy fresh air, while interior and ocean view cabins rely on circulated air. Yes, if you’re hardly in the room an interior room can be a good economical option if you’re looking to just use your room to sleep, change and shower. I have cruised in an inside cabin before, and relied on my “Aroma Roam” from Saje (a travel diffuser), to make sure that I had fresh air with the Immune oil. If you’re looking for more room a suite can offer extra perks and more space. I would suggest picking your cabin based on your itinerary. For example, a balcony whilst cruising the Mediterranean, Tahiti or Alaska is amazing to have as you do get quite a bit of use out of it, it’s nice to have that private viewing space. When working with your travel agent, make sure any of your needs are covered such as if you’re a family getting a proper family room, if you have accessibility needs, making sure you’re in a correct accessible cabin, etc. Is your cabin below the gym or a kitchen? Are you aware of what a “guarantee” is? These are some of the things I go through with my clients to make sure we are selecting the best cabin for them and that there are no surprises. On river cruise ships, are you okay with “Swan View”, or the lower level on the ship. Some people don’t like the idea of sleeping below the waterline. Using a travel professional to help you select the best cabin style for you is key to your enjoyment of your cruise.

Loyalty to a cruise line – If you are loyal to a brand, you are typically rewarded with offers and gifts as you increase in loyalty levels. Things to keep in mind is that sometimes it is worth moving up and graduating to a new cruise line as “free laundry” and “bottled water” can already be an inclusion on another cruise line and not just a loyalty perk. If you’re a cruise away from your free one, then by all means, but really look at what your cruise loyalty gets you.

Shore Excursions – When it comes to shore excursions, really do your research on the ports you are visiting before selecting which tours you are going to do, if any. Depending on the cruise line you booked with, ocean cruise shore excursions might already be included (another reason that sometimes booking a more all inclusive style cruise can be a better option). Typically with river cruises most of you basic excursions are already included, you just have to pay for additional or upgraded experiences. Keep in mind, for most main line ocean cruise lines shore excursions are not included. So back to selecting shore excursions, going through the ship can be easy options for many people, they offer a guarantee that the ship will wait for you or the cruise line is responsible for you. They usually offer a money back guarantee as well to make sure you do enjoy yourself. However the downside is that most of the time you will be on a tour with 40-60 people. In all my cruises, I’ve done a grand total of one tour through any of the main stream cruise lines. I typically explore some ports I visit on my own, again this is where a bit of research comes in, or help and recommendations from your travel agent. For example, for my upcoming Baltic Cruise in July, I’m planning to visit Berlin, St.Petersburg, and Helsinki and Porvoo with tours, and see Tallin, Stockholm and Copenhagen on my own. I usually personally use a third party company that specializes in shore excursions worldwide and has the same guarantees that a cruise line has, money back guarantee and will get you back to the ship on time or they pay to catch you up. I love the tours I’ve done through them and have had many happy clients with these excursions as well. Usually the groups are a lot smaller, about 8-30 people per tour, depending on the tour and the cost is quite a bit less than the cruise lines. Chat with a travel agent who specializes in cruises for extra tips and tricks depending on your itinerary and cruise company. I typically give my clients tips for shopping, sights and restaurants for ports I’ve personally visited in the past. We also know the ins and outs of visa requirements in regards to the countries you will be visiting on your cruise, which can impact you boarding the ship or being able to get off the ship. An example is Russia, for a Canadian, getting a Russian visa can be expensive, however if you book your excursions through the ship or the third party company I use for myself and my clients, they take care of your Russian visa for you. It’s certain things like these that a travel professional can help you get the most out of your cruise. 

Dining onboard – There are usually many dining choices onboard a cruise ship. Most cruise ships have main dining rooms, a buffet style restaurant, fast snack/pool side options, a cafe and specialty restaurants. If food is important to you, speak with your travel agent to make sure that the cruise you’re looking at is the best option for your needs. Cruises can accommodate most dietary needs and requirements, but again this should be chatted about when you are booking the cruise so your travel agent can notate your file and make sure the cruise line is aware of your requests. Some cruise lines do have an additional charge for specialty restaurants onboard. Wether the cruise line you are sailing with charges or not, you can make some reservations for specialty restaurants usually now online before your cruise to make sure you get to dine where you like. I remember once being on a cruise and meeting a couple who finally showed up for their last meal in the dining room on the last night of the cruise. The wife was so excited that they were finally splurging on a meal and asked where the prices were on the menu of what the charge was, well it was the main dining room we were in which meant there was none, they had apparently been eating at the buffet the entire cruise! She was not impressed at all and had no idea they could have been having sit down service meals the whole week. 

Gratuities – Gratuities can sometimes be included depending on the promotion you book, or it is an additional charge that you can add on before you sail (depending on the cruise line) or it’s paid onboard at the end of your sailing. Gratuities depend on cruise line and stateroom category, suites pay more than an inside, etc. The reason I’m a fan of gratuities is that everyone benefits, yes you can tip you room steward and server, but they aren’t the dishwashers, people doing laundry or the entertainment onboard. It makes it fair so you don’t have to worry about tipping. If you are using a butler or concierge, please do consider tipping them extra for good service as they do typically go above and beyond in my experience. 

Drink Packages – Most cruise lines offer drink packages for purchase or part of a perk when booking. Some cruise lines (especially river cruises) offer wine and beer with lunch and dinner. Speak to your travel agent to find out what type of a drink package is best for you. I typically don’t buy a drink package, sometimes I buy a non-alcohol drink package, so I can have specialty coffees etc. Depending on the cruise line you cruise with you can bring a certain amount of wine onboard per cabin without a corkage fee. What is a corkage fee? So some cruise lines charge this to bring wine onboard, wether you drink it in your stateroom or in any of the dining rooms. I typically go for this option (I prefer to bring my own wine onboard to enjoy in my stateroom). 

Internet on cruise ships – Cruise ships do have wi-fi onboard. Keep in mind that it is satellite internet, so it is much slower and less reliable than what you are probably used to at home. Some cruise lines include internet, some you can choose it as a perk or you can purchase it onboard. 

How do you find the best deal? Use a travel agent who specializes in cruises. Again, I’m a cruise expert myself and a Virtuoso Travel Agent so I do have extra perks I can offer my clients depending on the cruise booked. This could be extra onboard credits or special onboard surprises from me. I also now offer a service that I can track your sailing to make sure you booked at the best price or best promotion. If there is a better deal that comes along, I can work with the cruise line to make sure you get an upgrade, onboard credits or extra perks to get the most of what you paid. I also get notifications on all the latest sales and promotions from each cruise line every week. As I’ve been in the industry for a little while now, I have experience when it comes to knowing the best times of year to book a cruise (best cruise offers are normally in January and February) and the best cruise line for your budget, itinerary, etc.

Deposits and Final Payments – Again the depends on the cruise line and the promotion booked as to what the deposit will be. Sometimes the deposits are refundable, sometimes they aren’t. Again one of the benefits of booking with a travel agent, I’ll make sure that everything is extremely clear so you know what to expect and send you reminders before your final payment is due. Typically final payments are due 90 to 120 days prior to departure date of your cruise.

Cruising Solo – Cruising solo is becoming so popular. Recent statistics from Stats Canada are that 52% of Canadians are Single, Widowed or Divorced. Lonely Planet did a poll in which 67% of respondents in a 2019 survey said their next trip would be solo. 48% of Baby Boomers say they took a solo trip in 2018. It’s so nice to see that many cruise lines have realized the market needs and have started adding solo cabins onboard, some cruise lines even waive the single supplement. Some cruise lines have even implemented Solo Traveller meetups onboard, usually on the first day when you board the ship which can be very well attended. The solo groups onboard usually meet everyday and arrange group dinners and events. My aunt just got back from a 17 day cruise from Dubai to Singapore back in December and had a great time with her solo traveller group on her cruise, there was a pretty large group and she made some great friendships which they keep in contact and have been chatting amongst themselves about other cruises they are booking in the future. You can also join one of my favourite resources, Cruise Critic for free. They have a message board that normally has “Roll Calls” for each cruise departure. It’s a great place to make connections before your cruise and see who else is sailing on your sailing. You can also see if there is a local Solo Travellers Group near you. I actually run two in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland area, you can always send me a message for information if your in the area and want to attend. Solo Travellers Groups are great to meet other solo travellers and see what group opportunities there are. I know in the groups I run some of the ladies have become great friends and travel together, or we have put a cruise group together and travel as a group. Cruising alone shouldn’t put you off of cruising, it can be such a great way to explore this world and because of the ease of travel, much less daunting than a group tour or doing it on your own hopping from city to city.

Groups – Do you have a potential group of 10 passengers or more? Wether you have a corporate group, a retreat group, a family reunion, a group of friends travelling, a special interest group (such as photography, artists, wine, book clubs, etc), retirement party, anniversary celebration or a wedding, groups onboard a cruise can be rewarding for everyone. Again, speak with a travel agent who has experience in booking a cruise group, as they can help you get the best rates and extra perks for your group. 

Sustainability and the Environment – Cruising is quite controversial when it comes to being environmentally friendly or sustainable. There are some cruise lines out there that are doing their best to try to help the environment. Some of the ultra luxury companies have launched clean energy ships, some of the bigger lines are starting to follow suit. Some cruise lines have eliminated single use plastics onboard, others are committing to do so bit by bit (such as eliminating straws onboard, getting rid of towel animals (yes they were cute, but it does add quite a bit of extra laundry) and using boxed water). However, it comes down to you being a sustainable traveller. I bring a reusable water bottle (fill that up with a lemon and water before leaving the ship and even when waling around the ship on a sea day) and travel cup with a straw. I also travel with reusable straws, so if I do order a pina colada I can enjoy it without the paper straw disintegrating. Try to reuse your towels a couple times before requesting new ones and hold on to your beach/pool towel for a few uses as well. I also order “small portions” in the dining rooms so as to not waste any food. I mean come on, I want to try a couple of those amazing appetizers anyways right? *wink wink*

Wheelchairs and Accessibility – Again this is where a cruise specialist comes in. We can suggest itineraries that would better suit someone that has a wheelchair or accessibility needs. For instance, if you are someone with a wheelchair, I would suggest avoiding an itinerary that requires a lot of tenders. Tendering off the ship can be pretty well impossible in some ports and off some ships, so there are very strict guidelines that need to be met. In regards to cabins, there are many different types of accessible cabins and there are forms that need to be filled out to make sure you are allocated a specific cabin type depending on your needs. This can be a cabin for someone who might be deaf, in a wheelchair or blind. There was an instance I saw in a travel forum recently that someone had booked a family getaway on their own and the grandparents unfortunately could not access the balcony or the washroom facilities in the cabin as the wheelchair could not fit through the bathroom door! Once onboard, of course the cruise was sold out and they could not be moved. If they had a travel agent to help them out, this would have never happened and a correct cabin would have been assigned to them. Travel agents can also arrange scooter and wheelchair rentals onboard as well, again this is something that I chat about with my clients in regards to their needs.

Travel Insurance – Things happen. Get insurance. I’ve honestly seen it all. I’ve had a client slip and break her jaw three days before departing for her 14 day river cruise and couldn’t travel. Insurance made sure she got 100% back. I’ve had clients miss flights due to an accident in the tunnel on the way to the airport. I’ve had clients miss the first day of their cruise due to a delay in a flight which caused them to land too late (in this situation, always arrive the day before, I’m even doing this in April for my own cruise out of San Diego). Travel insurance can also help if your baggage gets delayed and you need to go shopping for items at the ship’s shops (this unfortunately happens more than you think). I’ve also had clients needing to seek medical attention onboard a ship before, if you don’t have insurance it’s not cheap. I’ve heard of people needing to be medically evacuated off ships, it’s happened on my ship a couple times over the years. A cruise (or any trip) is an investment. Make sure that if 24 hours prior to departure you need to cancel, you’re protected to get 100% back. Cruise lines do offer their own insurance, however sometimes it’s only just a cruise credit for a future cruise not actually cash back, so make sure you read the fine print. Bottom line, make sure you get insurance.

Next week I’m going to be chatting about preparing and getting the most out of your cruise whilst onboard.

To listen to this episode of the Wanderlust Journey Travel Podcast or past episodes, visit one of these links (click on which platform you use to listen):

Thanks again for listening and reading, as always if you’d like to get in touch to work with me as a client, be a guest on my podcast or to give an idea on an upcoming episode topic, please contact me.

PS – Did you enjoy reading this blog post? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

Coming Soon – Cruise Port Guides

I was going to write and post a few reviews of my past couple cruises (cruised Alaska in September and just recently returned from another Mediterranean cruise in October), instead I want to write something different.

The one thing that I found a bit of trouble with in doing my own research was finding updated information on cruise port information, what to do and see without taking a tour off the ship. Experience local living as much as possible and see things on my own.

So I’ll be putting together some cruise port guides over the next few weeks of some of the port cities and towns I’ve visited and information I found helpful in getting the most out of my visit.

Stay tuned!

Norwegian Bliss Christening Celebration Cruise ~ May 30th to June 2nd, 2018

I was very grateful to have been personally invited by Norwegian Cruise Lines to take part in the brand new Norwegian Bliss’ christening and four day celebration cruise on May 30th, 2018 out of Seattle, Washington.

Honestly, it was an amazing experience. I had watched the Bliss from her steel cutting ceremony, through her entire build. So being onboard, especially for her christening was a proud moment for me.

The Norwegian Bliss was my first mega ship, all other ships I have ever sailed on had a maximum capacity of 3200 guest, the Bliss has an almost 5000 passenger maximum. She broke the record for the largest passenger ship to ever sail through the Panama Canal and now to sail to Alaska.

Day 1

I arrived at Pier 66 in Seattle quite early, at about 9:30am. I used www.cruiseseattleparking.com (Republic Parking Northwest) to park conveniently right across the street from the pier. The lot also has a skybridge attached to the pier for easy access.

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Once there I lined up to check in, as there were quite a few VIP guests and events, boarding was delayed a bit, but I was onboard by 11:30am.

I headed up to my room, cabin 14116. It was a beautiful balcony cabin (thanks NCL!). It was really well designed and loved the colour palette.

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Once settled in, I headed to Taste for lunch with a celebratory glass of wine. The food onboard was really good. Then it was time to start exploring the ship.

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I can’t believe the feel of this ship. With over 3100 onboard, she feels half empty, or like a small ship even. She’s designed so well that I never noticed any crazy crowds! After muster, I headed straight upstairs to the Observation Lounge where I was to be for the christening events. It was a great experience and had a lot of fun and bumped into several other travel industry friends. It was great to celebrate all together and toast to the Bliss and wishing everyone who sails on her health and happiness.

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After the christening it was time to relax for a bit back in the cabin and get ready for a special dinner I was invited to by my Norwegian Cruise Line Business Development Manager. I ate dinner in the beautiful Manhattan Room, one of the main dining rooms on the Norwegian Bliss.

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Everything food wise was AMAZING! After dinner, it was time to check out the sail away party that was moved to the Atrium instead of the pool deck. I partied the night away until about 11:30pm, then headed back to my room, where I found my daily for tomorrow, an invite to a cocktail reception tomorrow evening and a mouse in my coffee cup…

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Day 2

If you’ve read my other cruise blog posts, you know I’m an early riser. This gave me an amazing advantage on this ship during this preview. I was able to see and get some great photos of places without anyone…

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First stop… Starbucks… Yes, it is a proper Starbucks and you can use your Starbucks Card here to collect Stars, however you cannot redeem rewards onboard.

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This is the main Atrium, where guest services is located, Starbucks and a great sitting area. Upstairs you see The Local, a great bar with a bowling alley (yes, a bowling alley).

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Next up, the heart of 678 Ocean Place…

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After my walk, it was time to relax for a bit, so I did that in the gorgeous Observation Lounge…

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As I was relaxing, I noticed a few spouts of water in the air, we were following two humpback whales!

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The Observations Lounge is one of my favourite places on the ship by far! Checked out more of the ship, had breakfast at Savor (eggs benny), then toured the pool decks and the Haven Suites.

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After, I headed down to the Bliss Theatre for the Partners First Executive Presentation, where the President and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines spoke to us about the Bliss and the future of Norwegian Cruise Lines.

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It was the Seafood Extravaganza up at Garden Cafe, so I had to take part in some Alaska King Crab and Lobster…

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I went back to the Atrium as Wyland (who painted the hull of the Norwegian Bliss) was signing posters. I’m a geek like that, so I did get one lol…

It was time for energy in the form of sugar… So I tried Coco’s…

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I tried the Tiramisu Coupe, and it was as good as it looked…

We then heard an announcement that the rumours were true… Pitbull was onboard and he was going to do a motivational talk with us… Back to the Bliss Theatre…

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He’s honestly a great speaker. But it was time to get ready for a cocktail party I was invited to in the Observation Lounge, followed by dinner at Taste.

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Tonight was Jersey Boys, it was such a great show! It does have a bit of swearing (quite a few f-bombs), but it’s such a great show and the cast was amazing. The entire last song was a standing ovation. By the time the show ended, I was beat…

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Such a great day exploring the ship, followed by a perfect sunset with a glass of prosecco on my balcony…

Day 3

5:15am I was wide awake…

Had an amazing sunset, well this morning’s sunrise was just as beautiful…

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Grabbed a Starbucks then watched us sail into Victoria from the Garden Cafe.

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After breakfast and once we were docked at Victoria, it was time to try out the go carts onboard. They. were. awesome! Totally worth it!!!

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After my carting session, I wanted to grab a few photos of the ship as it was really hard to get any in Seattle… On my walk along the breakwater I had a friend show up…

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I didn’t spend much time off the ship as I can see Victoria whenever I want as I live so close, I didn’t want to waste any precious time so I headed back onboard.

Once onboard I wanted to try a couple of the specialty dining restaurants as most weren’t open to us due to all the special events onboard. So I was able to try “Q” for lunch.

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I ordered the platter, but was so hungry I dug in before taking a photo… Oops…

On to dessert… A macaron, Grand Marnier Cupcake and a cup of Gelato later… Relaxed on the Waterfront for a little while, then again went to walk it all off (or waddle, not sure, but needed to move)…

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Teppanyaki…

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Skyline Bar near the Casino…

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Sugarcane… Home of my FAV mojitos onboard, seriously try the Raspberry Guava and the Pineapple Coconut, even a classic mojito from here is HEAVEN!

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Eventually my feet got tired again, I hit my daily walking target by noon everyday on this cruise haha! So I relaxed in the Atrium while Wyland was painting, it was so amazing watching him paint. I think I actually picked up some tips for our next sip and paint that I may want to try out. It was so nice just listening to the jazz music and enjoying an artist at work.

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It was then time to hit another cocktail party, then enjoy my last dinner in the Manhattan Room…

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Again, sorry, no food photos.. I was hungry…

After dinner it was time to try out the other production show called “Havana!”. It was good, costumes and dancing was great, but the Jersey Boys was better.

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After Havana! it was time for bed… It was an amazing cruise preview. Upon arriving back to my room I had a few extra goodies waiting for me so I did a “swag” photo of all the moments I collected this cruise…

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Day 4

A very sad day… Disembarkation day is never a happy day for an avid cruiser… I loved this ship, I can’t say enough about the staff and how beautiful the Bliss is. I was off the ship by 9:30am and sadly scanned my cruise card for the last time and dragged my luggage down the gangway…

Until next time Bliss, until next time…

A huge “thank you” again to Norwegian Cruise Line for the personal invitation to be apart of this special cruise. It’s something I’ll never forget and beyond grateful for being onboard for all the celebrations. I can’t wait to be back onboard on September 8th when I cruise to Alaska for the third time.

xoxo

WanderlustJourney

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 11

Day 11 – Naples, Italy

Today I celebrated my birthday in one of the most beautiful places on this planet… The Amalfi Coast.

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We arrived into Naples quite early, just after 6:30am. Had coffee on the balcony, taking in what today meant to me, I was grateful. Grateful that I was spending my 32nd birthday here. Grateful that I had the chance to re-start my life the way I was able to on my terms. Today was exciting and both sad. Excited that I would be seeing the Amalfi Coast, but sad this was the last full day of my cruise. After coffee, I had breakfast down at Cagney’s. After, I headed downstairs to depart the ship and meet up with my tour. I booked “Explore the Amalfi Coast” tour though Shore Excursions Group. There was about 20 of us all together, I lined up first and grabbed a window seat on the right side of the bus when looking out the from window (when getting on the bus, sit to your left), this is the best view of the Amalfi Coast as it’s on the right side as you travel.

Driving towards the Amalfi Coast, we passed by Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius while listening to Marco our guide give us a history of the area. We then entered some crazy long tunnels to eventually arrive at Sorrento. We did a stop at a limoncello factory, did some tastings and I bought a small “Sorrento” ceramic mug. I was more interested in the view of Sorrento and taking in it’s beauty.

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We then continued on and arrived to the Amalfi Coast. The drive is incredible. It’s stunning. The roadway winds along the mountain, as the cliffs go straight down to the water, many hundreds of metres in some spots below. We continued on to Positano, where as we arrived, the entire bus sang “Happy Birthday” to me. This was honestly the best birthday ever. Positano was beautiful. I’ve wanted to come here for years and it took my breath away. I honestly can’t wait to come back here.

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The ceramics from this area were also equally as stunning. I was on the hunt for an olive oil pourer and I knew I would be able to find one today. We stopped for lunch just on the other side of Positano, at a restaurant over looking the water, perched on the cliffside. Lunch was included and consisted of bread, salad and a bowl of fresh made pasta (the pasta was a specialty to the Amalfi area). We sampled some of the olive oils with lunch and fell in love with a lemon infused olive oil (we are in the land of lemons), little did I know this was going to change my kitchen decor once I got home lol. I purchased the lemon olive oil as it was just so good.

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We continued on to the town of Amalfi, this is where we had the most free time. Some opted to go out on a boat tour, I just wanted to wander. I headed into the main square where I found a limoncello maker on the corner, right beside the Cathedral. I walked in and was immediately welcomed. I spent quite a bit of time here learning about limoncello and speaking to the son of the family run business. They not only sell limoncello but some beautiful ceramics which I found my olive oil pourer! I bought some Crema di Limoncello (please try this limoncello, if you don’t, you’re missing out!) and a few bottles of regular limoncello for gifts for friends.

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Heading down to the water, I stopped for some gelato at Savoia, which apparently has the most amazing cakes as well. Tip: Wear a swimsuit under your clothes! I waded in the water for a bit, it was so inviting and warm, it was really the only time I actually swam in the Mediterranean! So many said they would have loved to have gone in, but they didn’t have their swimsuit. Dried off  just in time to meet the bus to continue on to Ravello.

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This entire area is gorgeous. I can’t wait to come back and actually spend a week or longer here. The Amalfi Coast is where my great-grandmother is from before she moved to Scotland to marry my great-grandfather. It was so nice to have that deeper connection to this area. Unfortunately there were quite a few forest fires in the area, it did hinder slightly the blue skies, but it was still beautiful weather nonetheless.

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Instead of back tracking, we found out that tour buses (even the smaller ones) are only allowed to travel eastbound on the Amalfi Coast highway. It’s so narrow in places that it would be too dangerous. So we went over the mountains to head back to Naples. It was such a great trip. I totally recommend it! I am actually doing another Mediterranean Cruise in May 2019 and will be doing a similar tour again, this time spending more time in Positano and Sorrento.

Once back onboard the ship, I entered my room to it completely decorated for my birthday. It was such a nice surprise! I had another two bottles of prosecco, one from the Captain another from the Hotel Director and a huge cake! My towel animal was also a turtle (this one and the elephant towel animal was my favourite).

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I caught the “Farewell Show” tonight and it was great to see the final goodbye from the staff. Upon leaving the theatre, it was nice that the Hotel Director and other officers greeted me by name and wished me a “Happy Birthday”, honestly I can’t say enough how great the service was on the Spirit!

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I then had my last dinner at Windows with friends, again staff singing Happy Birthday and shared my cake with everyone who wanted a piece (it was huge). We all sadly said our goodbyes, I headed back to my room and regrettably packed. I tagged my luggage with my “priority” tags and placed my bag outside my cabin door.

The next morning, I had my last breakfast at Cagney’s and said my goodbye’s to all the staff. I picked up my luggage from the Priority area off the ship and boarded the shuttle to the port entrance. I took another shuttle to the train station and bought a €5 ticket back to Rome. This was almost the same train that I paid €16 for on the way here, just made two or three more stops. Once back at Rome, I checked into my hotel (Hotel De Petris) and headed out for my Vatican tour.

This cruise was amazing, the itinerary was incredible. Yes the ship is older, but I still would sail on the Norwegian Spirit again in a heartbeat. I loved the staff and the size of the ship. You could easily make friends and bump into people again and again. Nothing felt too busy. Food was very good, didn’t really have a bad meal anywhere.

I can’t wait to travel with Norwegian Cruise Lines again in the future!

Happy Travels!

Ariane

PS – Did you enjoy reading this travel series? Please consider joining my Wanderlust Journey Community as a Patron supporter. For less than the cost of a cup of coffee per month (my community membership tiers start at $2 per month), you can help support me create more content! Click here for more details.

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 10

Day 10 – Messina, Sicily

Today is my last day of year 31. It’s been a heavy year, but it’s ending on an extreme high. I couldn’t be more grateful for spending my birthday away and experiencing such an amazing cruise. We arrived into Messina just after 7:15am and ate breakfast at Raffles. After, it was time to head down at catch my shore excursion, Exclusive Taormina and Messina from Shore Excursions Group. Once we were all on our bus (about 10 of us), we left the port and got a bit of history on Messina before we got onto the motorway which consisted of over 68 bridges and 39 tunnels to get to Taormina. As we arrived, Mt Etna came into view, still erupting and smoking in the distance.

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We had a walking tour of Taormina, then had a bit of free time wander and enjoy the local foods, Cannolis and Arancini. Taormina was beautiful. I really enjoyed walking around this village, you can really sense you were in the land of the “Godfather”.

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Walking back to the meeting point, I noticed that Mt Etna had really got quite active since we arrived earlier.

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I ended my visit in Taormina on a high note with more gelato, then enjoyed the relaxing drive back to Messina. Once back in Messina, we did a driving tour of the town, then ended at the church near the cruise port. I thought the bell tower was really interesting. It had a full astrological chart on the side with the moon phases and what chart we were in. It was really neat!

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After, I decided I was going to head back to the ship and enjoy the pool for the last time. There was only one more full day left of my cruise! It was so nice to relax and cool down after a few busy days. With only one sea day on this itinerary, I take the relaxation where I can…

I had saved a bottle of wine for today, so I opened it on my balcony for sail away out of Messina. It was nice to just sit on my balcony and just enjoy. As we sailed through the Strait of Messina, two dolphins put on a show right beside us. So good!

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I then took in the performance of Tre Amici. It was their second performance onboard this cruise, however I missed it the first time and was told I had missed out. They were AWESOME! Kind of reminded me of an Il Divo performance. Honestly the last two songs brought tears to my eyes, they were amazing.

After the performance I headed to Le Bistro to use some onboard credits. I had the Napoleon de Legumes and a Creme Brûlée for dessert. It was so delicious.

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 10:

Next up… Naples, Italy!

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 9

Day 9 – Valletta, Malta

I woke up early and made myself some coffee, opening the balcony door was like hitting a brick wall, even at 6:45am it was hot and muggy. First time on this trip I felt the heat this early in the morning and the mugginess. I was actually somewhat surprised that it didn’t seem like there was too much humidity with the heat (which was great) on more days of this cruise, it seemed quite dry the air most of the time, except for today.

I ate at Cagney’s this morning, had my french press of Lavazza, followed by Tahitian Vanilla French Toast with Mascarpone and Berries. Soooo good…

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This morning we were also able to pick up our passports, it was recommended that only one person from each cabin go to pick up the passports at Shogun. Once I had my passport, I headed upstairs to the Galaxy of the Stars to attend the Captain and Officer Q & A session. There was an interesting handout on the mechanical and operational facts of the Norwegian Spirit. As the session was wrapping up, you could tell that Malta was a busy port. The captain even mentioned it, there were so many ships anchored and on approach just like us into Malta.

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Only one ship can enter and leave the port at a time, so the queue was starting. After the session finished, I headed up to Deck 13, outside at the very forward of the ship to watch sail in. As NCL also sells to a European market, I found out that Malta is an optional staring and disembarkation point. It was great to chat to a few Maltese families as we were approaching for their tips of the city (they were disembarking here today).

Sailing into the Valletta harbour was stunning.

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There is so much history here, the forts, bastions on both sides and just the way you sail in, you can tell that this was an important port and it was impressive.

Once docked, this was another port that I was wandering on my own (no excursion booked). I walked to the Upper Barrakka Lift, just down the street from where we were docked. It costs €1 per person to ride up, free to ride down. At the top, you are in the public gardens of Valletta and on one of the historic bastions over looking the harbour. I took some more photos from here and stumbled upon an info plaque of some of the movies that were filmed here, very interesting.

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After, I started to head towards the downtown core, as I wanted to catch a historical film about Malta. At the movie theatre complex downtown, there is a film called “Valletta Living History”. There are other films that play around Valletta that are similar, however this one was close to where I was. I thought the film was quite good, gave me a great historical lesson before I really started to wander around.

Valletta is gorgeous. It has an intriguing appeal to it. You can tell that the architecture had changed over the years to make concessions for those who arrived here. The built in balconies for example were added when the Arabs took over as the women were not allowed to be really seen in public, by making the balconies a built extension of the homes, they were able to sit there viewing the outside life without trouble.

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I do try to stay true when it comes to souvenir purchases, and here on Malta, it’s silver filagree and lace. I purchased a beautiful silver filagree ring for a pretty good price of €12 from a jewelry store (don’t trust what they sell on the streets from vendors). There are several local jewelry stores along a street on the way to another of Valletta’s main attractions, the Church of St. Pauls Shipwreck. So according to history and the Bible, Paul was shipwrecked here in Malta on his way to Rome. This church is home to a few of the relics. As this is a church, be sure that if you do enter, you are dressed appropriately and are respectful. They are also very strict on the “no photos” rule. At this church they claim to have the pedestal that John the Baptizer was beheaded on, and a wrist bone of the Apostle Paul.

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I then weaved my way back to the main centre of Valletta, taking many photo stops along the way. Malta’s history ended with the British not too many years ago, signs that the British were here last were scattered in the ways of bright red letter boxes and telephone booths.

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Valletta was beautiful, but it was time to hop a dgħajsa (a traditional boat) for the ride across the harbour to Vittoriosa (Birgu). It costs €2 per person and is quite a fun ride across. Once on the other side, it was clear that it was more residential than touristic. It was beautiful to see how the locals lived, slightly jealous. I found a cute cafe in an alleyway and relaxed with a beer and a water. It was very hot and I had been going since we arrived in Valletta, the movie theatre did provide some air conditioned relief, however it was time to rest the feet too haha.

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I walked around Vittoriosa, taking photos of some of the unique details of some of the homes. It was stunning to see some of the buildings, being over hundreds of years old some of them, in pretty good condition still. I took the dgħajsa back to Valletta, where we had to linger a bit as the Seabourn Encore was coming into the harbour to dock.

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After, I decided it was time to head back to the ship and grab some food. I wanted a change, so I ate in The Garden Room, a midship MDR. I started off with the Lime and Dill Shrimp, followed by the Grilled New York Steak with Potatoes Au Gratin, then Apple Pie for dessert.

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After dinner, I went up to the Bier Garten to watch sail away out of Valletta, taking in the fantastic night views. Sailing out of Valletta was a highlight, it was so beautiful.

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It was another busy day in the sun, so I was off to sleep getting ready for Sicily tomorrow.

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 9 – Valletta, Malta:

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Next… Messina, Sicily…

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 8

Day 8 – Katakolon (Olympia)

I woke up this morning quite early, about 6:30am. I’m a bit strange as I sleep with the curtains wide open in my balcony stateroom, so the natural light wakes me. I also wake up sometimes in the middle of the night to beautiful starry skies and just take it all in. I love travelling and I love cruising. We arrived into Katakolon just after 7:00am, its a very small, quaint (and lush) town, right near where we docked.

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I went up to Raffles and has a light breakfast at the aft of the ship and noticed another ship sailing towards us in the distance. So far we’ve been lucky. We had just us docked in Livorno, us and an MSC ship in Cagliari, just us again in Heraklion, us and 3 ships in Athens (Seabourn, Celestyal and Princess) and just us in Santorini. As I finished my meal, the Royal Princess came into full view. We were able to get off the ship before the Royal was docked and I knew we had the advantage… it was going to get crazy here by this afternoon…

I did book a shore excursion here, I did the Exclusive Ancient Olympia tour though Shore Excursions Group. Our group was about 14 passengers just from the Spirit, so once we were all there, off we went (thankfully ahead of the Royal Princess guests). It was about a 45 minute drive stunning drive through the Greek countryside to Olympia. I actually really like Greece, it’s a beautiful country. It has quite a diverse landscape as well. Very much reminded me of the Okanagan Valley here at home in British Columbia, just with more olive trees 😉

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Once we arrived in Olympia, we parked and were each handed a bottle of ice cold water for our walk. We walked to the gate of the archeological site and were given the opportunity to use the washrooms before we started off (thank goodness as on the way back we found out they were no longer in service as they got back logged once the big excursions arrived), “eww” I know, but it’s reality haha…

Our guide did an amazing job of walking us around the site, stopping under trees for shade whilst explaining the history of the Olympic Games and the sites we were walking though. She had diagrams of what the buildings would have looked like back in the day and how far they needed to excavate to reveal the site we were walking through today.

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I was also thankful our tour was here when it was, we were one of the first tours here, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves for the first hour and a half (which was amazing for photos), then the cruise ship tours arrived just as we were sent on our way for free time.

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The hill in the distance shows how far down they had to excavate to uncover Ancient Olympia

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We also got to see the place where the Olympic Torches are lit before the Summer and Winter games. I was here in August and they would be lighting the torch for the Pyeongchang Winter Games at this very spot in October. Humbling…

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It was so neat to wander and see the different types of architecture and it’s evolution and additions through the years this place was used. The stadium here is actually the very birthplace of the metric system and units of measure as we know it. The measurement of this stadium became the measurements of a “stade” about 600 feet or 180 metres.

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After numerous photos, we had some free time to explore the village of Olympia. So, back to the favourite pastime… shopping. I needed some new shoes badly. A few of my shoes had been tattered from the walking and cobblestones by this point (one pair broke within the first 250m of walking in Rome), so shoe shopping I went. Looking back, I should have bought the store. I found a brand of shoes called Parex. Amazingly comfortable and lightweight. I bought a pair on the shoe sale rack for €25 and am now fully regretting not buying a suitcase full. They are honestly the most comfortable and durable pair of sandals I’ve ever owned. I can’t wait to go back to Greece this October and literally buy the stores out. After shoe shopping, magnet shopping and a gelato later, it was time to board the bus back to Katakolon.

Once back in Katakolon, we were dropped near the port, however I walked to the town to check it out as I wasn’t ready to board just yet. This was our last stop in Greece, so I was still on the hunt for a couple more souvenirs aka Ouzo. I headed into a cute store closest to the pier and bought some Ouzo, along with a “Greece” magnet. I did find more of the Parex sandals and shoes in a couple boutiques here too, but didn’t buy another pair (again, full of regret)… Along the waterfront of Katakolon, there are plenty of restaurants and bars offering fresh seafood to ice cold beers (with free wifi of course), so I grabbed a chair, ordered a Mythos and checked in with home.

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Heading back to the ship, the line was quite long while waiting to board. They had an issue with one of the check in security computers, so it was one line in for about 20 minutes. The staff did try to help by handing out ice cold towels (ice cubes still attached) and cold drinks which helped as we waited in the hot sun. I was actually surprised that the Royal Princess departed before us, even though she arrived a good hour after us.

Once back on board, I changed and headed for the pool and relaxed for awhile. I was in a journalling mood today, so that night I relaxed in Galaxy of the Stars for awhile listening to the live band, sipping a refreshing gin and tonic as we sailed out of Katakolon. For being such a great lounge, I was taken back by how empty it was sometimes. After enjoying a beautiful sunset, I had a light dinner in Raffles and called it a night.

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 8 – Katakolon:

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Next up… Valletta, Malta!

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 7

Day 7 – Santorini, Greece

Visiting Santorini has been a place on my travel bucket list for years. I woke up again before sunrise as we were sailing into Santorini. I was so excited!

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I wanted to be one of the first ones off the ship as I knew the gondola up was going to get full very quickly, so I went down to Cagney’s for breakfast at 7:00am, had my french press Lavazza and one eggs benedict. After breakfast, Karin (the concierge) informed myself and another couple that the first tender was ready to accept passengers. We were then escorted downstairs, past everyone that had lined up for the tender (we didn’t even need a priority tender card), and walked onto the first tender in front of the line. Upon arrival to the gondola, I noticed another error in the Greece Lonely Planet guide, it said the gondola was €5 round trip. Its actually €6 each direction, so €12 round trip. It wasn’t a long wait as I was on the first gondola ride up.

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At the top, once in Fira, it was time to rush to get to the public bus stop, I only had an idea where it was, so I did miss the bus by five minutes which was slightly annoying. Here is the map of Fira, the red dot is the top of the Santorini Cable Car, the blue lines are the easiest walking route, yellow dot is where the bus station is located (it’s about a 10 minute walk):

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So I had a bit of time to kill (about 35 minutes), so I walked around that immediate area. As it was so early in the morning (about 8:00am), there wasn’t a whole lot open, so went back to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Oia to arrive. The bus arrived and I’m glad I was early as the crowd had tripled in size waiting for the same bus. I scrambled onboard and grabbed a seat. The ticket agent came onboard and took our €1.80 for a one way ticket to Oia. Not a bad deal. About 20 minutes or so later, we were in Oia.

I can’t describe the complete beauty of this place. It’s absolutely stunning…

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From the bus stop, its a block into one of the main streets, where you can just wander and take in all of Oia’s magnificent views. I was so glad I did Oia this way, I was here ages before most of the crowds from the ship. I think we lucked out anyways as it was only our ship here, with a few day tours from a ferry I believe. I was shocked I was able to get so many photos with NO ONE in them 🙂

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This place is honestly incredible, I knew it was going to be beautiful, but this place took my breath away around every corner. I did buy a few souvenirs here and after a morning of really walking around, I worked up an appetite. I found a really cute cafe with a balcony overlooking Oia with incredible views. It was called Lotza Restaurant. I ordered a bottle of sparkling water (I needed it at this point, it was again a hot day) and Tzatziki, followed by a Greek Salad and a Spinach Pie. The food here is AMAZING, just like the view from the patio! I’ll be going back here this year in October during my next Mediterranean Cruise!

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It was then time to start wandering back to the bus stop to head back to Fira, I was so glad to have just wandered Oia. I really got to relax, take my time and take in the atmosphere here. I would have hated to be ushered around like in some of the ship tours I saw. I found a few cute boutiques on the way back to the bus, and did buy a few knick nacks.

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On the bus, I paid my €1.80 and stared out the window, totally melancholy, taking in the wondrous day I just experienced. Again, so grateful…

Once back at Fira, I walked back to the gondola, however still had a bit of time to kill. I found a bar with a view, this time of the bay with the Norwegian Spirit anchored below and free wifi. I ordered a beer called Volkan, a local beer made here on Santorini. It was really refreshing and great tasting! I’m normally a wine drinker, but this trip seemed to be more beers haha…

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It was then time to head back down to the ship. I boarded the gondola, again reminiscing of the perfect day I had. The tender line wasn’t too bad, I was actually expecting worse, perhaps because it was only us in port today. Once back onboard, I went to my room and changed into my swimsuit and headed to the pool and went swimming. About an hour later the ship sounded it’s horn, probably a 30 minute warning to passengers already not onboard that we were leaving soon. As we raised anchor, I headed back to my stateroom and watched our sail away from my balcony. I opened another bottle of prosecco and “cheered” Oia as we sailed by, thanking the universe for such a great day…

It was then time to get into my white cocktail dress (it was the “White Hot Party” tonight), and head to the Latitudes cocktail party. Again it was nice to connect with the officers and some of the other guests. Had a couple more glasses of prosecco and a glass of white wine to go, where I met up with friends again to watch “Mistika” Magic Show at 7:30pm. I thought it was going to be tacky, however the show was great! I actually really liked it! We then went to the Garden Room (another MDR) and had a late dinner. I had a spring roll to start, followed by a primi of carbonara then my main course of chicken cordon bleu. I had an amazing tiramisu for dessert.

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It was then time to head up for Norwegian Cruise Line’s Signature “White Hot Party”. As soon as I got upstairs, I honestly was beat. It was a long day in the heat again, and the tiredness hit me full on. I stayed for awhile to enjoy the music and a bit of the party. Then it was time to call it a night…

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 7 – Santorini:

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Next up… Katakolon (Olympia)…

 

 

 

Cruise Review – 11 Day Mediterranean Cruise – Norwegian Spirit – Day 6

Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens)

Woke up quite early this morning, just before sunrise and was very thankful I did. As this trip went on, I felt a new theme in a sense for more than just the cruise but in how these places were effecting me personally… Gratitude… It was a beautiful sunrise this morning just as we were docking in Piraeus, the main port area near Athens. I sat on my balcony for quite some time, drinking coffee watching the sun rising and just relaxing, with the ferry traffic coming and going. We docked at about 6:30am, earlier than our 9:00am scheduled arrival.

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I then headed up to Raffles and ate outside aft, again overlooking the port. This is another favourite place for me on the ship by far! After a light breakfast, I headed back to my cabin, grabbed a few items then ventured out to meet up with my tour. The tour I did here in Athens was through Shore Excursions Group called “Exclusive Athens with Free Time in the Plaka”. We met our tour guide just outside the terminal and boarded a bus to Athens. We did a driving tour of the city, making a few photo stops along the way. We drove by the now mostly abandoned 2014 Olympic venues. Some they are renovating and trying to utilize, others are just now in a state where they’ve been abandoned for too long and are in need of more repair than it’s worth.

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One of my favourite photo stops on the tour was of the Ancient Olympic Stadium, I love history. With Peyongchang 2018 on my mind, it’s crazy to see how far the games have come. This is where I also felt the first touches of Greek mythology come to life. Statues dedicated to Athena, Apollo and Zeus abounded throughout the city.

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After our city tour, we were dropped at the Acropolis and most of the group opted to do the guided tour of the Acropolis. I decided to skip it as I knew one day I’d be back. It was getting hot and the Acropolis had quite a bit of scaffolding around it, so I thought I would just wander the streets of the Plaka. I was so happy I did this. We were each given an ice cold water bottle at no charge after departing the bus, which came in handy let me tell you. The Plaka has some very touristy spots, but there are some spots that are very “local”. I was worried about visiting Athens, as most clients and friends tell me it’s not a nice place to visit, dirty and just not pleasant. I actually had quite the opposite experience.

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Walking and wandering the streets of the Plaka was great. Athens does have a bylaw that no buildings in certain areas of the city are over six stories tall, this is so that where ever you are in the city, you can view the Acropolis. I spent the last while at the Temple of Zeus and the Arch of Hadrian. I did do quite a bit of research on historical architecture before I left for Italy and Greece, so it was awe inspiring to see the different types of columns and just imagining how these massive structures were built in that day and age. The Temple of Zeus utilized a Corinthian style of column, whilst the Arch of Hadrian an smaller version of the same style.

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Arch of Hadrian with the view of the Acropolis through it…

Temple of Zeus by WanderlustJourney.ca

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After a day in the heat, I had an hour to kill, so I found a rooftop patio and had a beer overlooking the Plaka and the Acropolis in full view.

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It was then time to say “good bye” to Athens and head back to the ship. Once back onboard, I changed into my swimsuit and took a much needed swim in the pool. I bumped into friends in the pool and had a drink with them in the Bier Garten afterwards. After sail away I headed to my cabin and got ready for dinner, I was eating at Windows again. I was again seated at the very back of the ship at the large windows, which was a great view of leaving Piraeus. I was hungry after all the walking I did today, so I ordered two appetizers tonight, a tortellini caprese starter and an order of shrimp pot stickers, my main course was the beef brisket (they had me at Guinness mustard sauce) and a white chocolate coconut mousse for dessert.

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I then caught the 7:30pm showing of the Spirit production cast in “Soul Rockin’ Nights”. It was pretty good, great singing and dancing. After the show, I changed back into my swimsuit and headed back up to the pool. At this time the pool seems to be empty and you can normally get an entire hot tub to yourself. After, I wrapped up and went a deck up to the Bier Garten and had a gin and tonic under the stars, with fading sunlight in the distance. I noticed at this point we were cruising very slowly, many large ferries leaving us in their wakes, next up was Santorini, so it wasn’t too far away. As this was the case, I headed to bed, I wanted to be well rested for the next day. When I got back to my room, a little bear friend was waiting for me…

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Here are the “Dailies” for Day 6 – Piraeus (Athens):

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Next up… Santorini!