My TV crew and I are on a Mediterranean cruise, filming a special that will air on public television in January 2019. One of my main goals for the show is to help independent travelers make the most of the cruising experience. Here’s one big tip: Consider your shore excursions carefully.
While easygoing cruisers may choose to book an excursion from the cruise line for $100 (or more) a crack, there are many other legitimate options that open up to passengers once they step off the ship. Some travelers may opt to find a small company with a box office in the terminal — and have essentially the same experience for about half the price. Meanwhile, others will book a private guide with a car or minibus in advance (using sites such as Cruise Critic to team up with other cruisers and share the expense). And others will simply hop on a public bus or hike to the train station (guidebook in hand) and do their own thing. For the most reliable information, I recommend skipping the onboard shore excursion information desks. Instead, head to the tourist information kiosks that are set up to greet ships in each port.
As the cruising industry grows, more and more cities are investing in terminals that can accommodate these massive ships (and their payload of tourists). In this clip, I’ll take you for a quick walk through the terminal at La Spezia, Italy. From here, you can get to Florence (a couple of hours away by bus), Pisa, Lucca, and the Cinque Terre.
(Note, however, that I don’t recommend that cruise ship travelers try to see the Cinque Terre. It is not designed to handle masses of quickie half-day visits by cruisers. Locals don’t appreciate “looky-loos” from cruise ships, notorious for arriving all at once at peak time and congesting the villages and trails, without staying for dinner or spending the night. The crowds can be frustrating for all involved.)