Naples — Where the Ship Drops You Off at the Front Door

When you dock in Naples, you don’t have to worry about how to take a train or taxi into town to see the sights. A tourist information desk near where you disembark can give you a map, answer your questions, and send you walking on your way to explore this gritty city.

Here in Naples, the ship docks right in the town center. As in every port we visited, there's a non-cruise-sponsored, tourist-information desk there staffed only when the cruise ships arrive. While the cruise companies are a bit conflicted about providing information to enable independent travelers to do their own thing smartly, these city tour desks are generally enthusiastic about providing practical info to help independent travelers figure out what to do and where to go. With the help of a city map and a felt pen for taking notes, you can walk into a city within minutes of disembarking.

Some friends that I made on board were new travelers. They walked 100 yards off the ship, went through the cruise-shop terminal, and peered into the urban jungle of Naples. They decided it was too much, turned around, and spent the day on the ship enjoying the pool. They even had a poolside pizza in honor of the city they were missing. Had they kept on walking for fifteen minutes, they would have found themselves in a classic Neapolitan world like this...without a hint of tourism.

Naples is a delight, even without the traditional sightseeing. Skipping Pompeii, Capri, and Naples' great museums, I spent most of my day simply wandering the streets of perhaps the most gritty and colorful city in Europe. As I found on several occasions, within minutes of disembarking, I was immersed in the wonders of this port town — without a hint of the mass cruise industry. The main downside to cruising: Limited time in each port. Still, you can accomplish a lot in eight hours.