Cruise Europe with Rick's Latest Book
Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports is designed to give cruisers more information, confidence and independence.
This book focuses on the top European destinations on a Mediterranean cruise: in Spain (Barcelona); France (Provence, the Riviera); Italy (Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice); Croatia (Split, Dubrovnik); Greece (Athens, Mykonos, Santorini, and many more); and Turkey (Istanbul, Ephesus).
For each destination, we've whittled our sightseeing tips down to the ideal one-day plan — but we haven't skimped on content, including the full text of our self-guided neighborhood walks and museum tours.
Here's a handy excerpt from the book, laying out which day trip excursions are the best — and worst — to do on your own.
Make the most of Europe's Mediterranean cruise ports
By Rick Steves
Cruising is a $30 billion-a-year business. Approximately one out of every five Americans has taken a cruise — about 12 million each year. And yet, I've long been less than enthusiastic about cruises. Years ago, cruising seemed like a rich person's hobby — more hedonism than travel. (I used to joke that for many American cruisers, the goal was not travel but hedonism: See if you can eat five meals a day and still snorkel when you get into port.) As a champion of independent budget travel, it seemed like my travel philosophy was a completely different animal from the cruise-ship crowd's. I figured that there were "Rick Steves travelers," and then there were cruise passengers — two mutually exclusive categories.
But then a funny thing happened: Cruising went mainstream. Cruise lines shed their "newlyweds and nearly-deads" stereotype, began building bigger and bigger megaships, and lowered their fares to a price that just about anybody could afford. A few years ago, when visiting popular ports of call like Venice, Dubrovnik, and Istanbul, I began to notice that my fans would constantly come up to me on the street, eagerly show me their dog-eared copy of my guidebook, and proudly tell me that they were on a cruise...and having the time of their lives. "Ricknicks" had discovered cruising.
One thing all of these cruise passengers had in common was a desire to be independent during their time on shore. They clutched my guidebook like a lifejacket, knowing that it was the best tool available that could empower them to do it on their own — and the ship's crew, with an incentive to sell them guided excursions, surely wasn't going to advise them. I surveyed the cruising guidebooks on the market, and discovered that — while many books provide excellent overviews of cruise lines and the onboard amenities of various ships — they tended to really skimp on destination information. Meanwhile, I was sitting on a pile of content that could be modified to fill a desperately needed niche.
And so I produced what I believe is the first and only cruising guidebook written by someone with a healthy skepticism about cruises: Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports. I've left the cruise-ship rundowns to the real experts, and focused my book on the main attraction: some of the grandest cities in Europe. Even if you have just eight hours in port, you can still ramble the colorful Ramblas of Barcelona, kick the pebbles that stuck in Julius Caesar's sandals at the Roman Forum, hike to the top of Athens' Acropolis, and hear the Muslim call to prayer warble across the rooftops from an Istanbul minaret. Yes, you could spend a lifetime in Florence. But you've got a few hours...and I have a plan for you. Each of the book's destination chapters is designed as a mini-vacation of its own, with advice about what to do and detailed sightseeing information for each port.
I also realized that, for cruise passengers, the important thing isn't just what to do in town. It's also how to affordably and efficiently get from the cruise port — often in a dreary industrial wasteland on the outskirts — into the city center. Last fall I sent Cameron Hewitt, the co-author of several of my guidebooks, to take a variety of European cruises. He actually arrived by cruise ship in each port, and had to figure out the various ways into town. He came back with detailed, step-by-step, hand-holding instructions outlining all of the options for reaching exactly what you came so far to see.
So what am I? Suddenly "pro-cruising"? Well, I'm pro-smart cruising. Just as someone trying to learn a language will do better by immersing themselves in that culture than by sitting in a classroom for a few hours, I still believe that travelers in search of engaging, broadening experiences should eat, sleep, and live Europe. Good or bad, cruising insulates you from Europe. If the carpet merchants of Kuşadası are getting a little too pushy, you can simply retreat to the comfort of 24-hour room service, tall glasses of ice water, American sports on the TV, and a roomful of people who speak English as a first language (except, perhaps, your crew). It's fun — but is it Europe?
For many, it's "Europe enough." For travelers who prefer to tiptoe into Europe — rather than dive right in — this bite-sized approach can be a good way to get your feet wet. Cruising works well as an enticing sampler for Europe, to help you decide where you'd like to return and really get to know. And I haven't found a more affordable way to see certain parts of Europe than cruising (short of sleeping on a park bench). For a weeklong Mediterranean cruise that includes room, board, transportation, tips, and port fees, a couple can pay less than $100 per night — that's as much as a budget hotel room in many cities. The per-day base cost for mainstream cruises beats independent travel by a mile. And there's no denying the efficiency of sleeping while you travel to your next destination — touring six dynamically different destinations in a single week without wasting valuable daylight hours packing, hauling your bags to the station, and sitting on a train.
So my challenge is to accept the reality that people are cruising, and help them make the most of that experience. Understanding how the cruise industry works can help you take advantage of your cruise experience...and not the other way around. Equipped with knowledge, you can be the smart consumer who has a fantastic time on board and in port without paying a premium. That's what my new book is all about.
Planning to cruise soon? Pick up a copy of Ricks newest book, Rick Steves' Mediterranean Cruise Ports.