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C²’s Tips For An Awesome Cruise

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Before we finally put this cruise to bed, we wanted to share with you a few tips we learned from our Mediterranean cruising experience.  This was our first cruise for both couples (except for Chris, who did a cruise to Mexico filming a reality show a few years ago, but that was for work so it doesn’t really count), so I’m not sure we’re entirely qualified to be handing out advice for how to go on a cruise, but we learned a lot on our experience so we’d thought we’d share in case other would-be and first-time cruisers might find it useful! A lot of this stuff I’ve mentioned in previous posts, but I figured it would be a good idea to put it all down in one place. So here we go….

1. If you are going on a sightseeing cruise, make sure you pick an itinerary with lots of days at sea.

We learned that not all cruising experiences are the same. There are Caribbean-style cruises where the focus is on sun, cool drinks, and relaxation and you spend most of your days chillin’ on the beach or pool. Ours was a sightseeing-style cruise. The focus was on seeing as much as you can during days at port rather than pure relaxation. Because we were only in each port for such a short amount of time and there was SO much to see and do, we found ourselves thoroughly dirty, sore, and exhausted by the end of each day. We loved it, but we were SO grateful for the sea days we had in between all the running around (4 days at sea total). So if you are going on a sightseeing cruise, DEFINITELY find an itinerary with plenty of days at sea. They sound boring, but you are going to want/need them! Plus, there’s so much to do on the ship, you won’t be bored :)

2.  Don’t be afraid to go outside of the cruise line when planning tours and excursions.

Even if you have never been to the country you are cruising to, be sure to research excursions outside of the ones provided by the cruise. We were inexperienced and a bit terrified of venturing off on our own in places like Egypt and Israel and Greece, where the languages and street signs weren’t remotely understandable. So we booked the majority of our excursions through the cruise ship. I wouldn’t say it was a big mistake, but we got quite frustrated with the way they were run. It was a lot of sitting around waiting. Waiting for people to check in. Waiting for people who were late. Waiting for the older folks. The groups of 30-40 people so the tours were extremely slow and oftentimes you couldn’t get close enough to the guide to ask questions. The guides got paid commission for certain purchases the tourists made, so they tried to sell you stuff while you were stuck on the bus and would take you to irrelevant shopping centers. Plus, the tours made you feel like an über tourist because you had to wear headphones and stickers and badges that made you stick out like a flashing neon sign.

Now, this style of tour might be great for some people, but we wanted more adventure and more of a local feel. Our excursion in Turkey made us realize there were many other options beyond the excursions offered by the cruise line. Our private tour through Ekol Tours didn’t cost any more than it would have through the ship and we got an extremely personal tour guide, Iksander. We got to ask all the questions we wanted and even got to customize the experience. Our guide was initially going to take us to a leather factory, but when we expressed that we weren’t wanting to buy any leather he routed us elsewhere. He also gave us loads of tips about places the locals go for us to explore during our free time so we could avoid the tourist traps and experience the real Kusadasi. It was fantastic and we really thought we got way more bang for our buck than we did on any of the tours through the ship.

I’m not saying never go with a cruise tour (in the end we decided we were grateful we went with the cruise tour in Egypt), but at least research other options. These places aren’t as scary as you think and doing a little research will give you a great idea of what is available. Don’t forget to read the reviews on Trip Advisor!

3. Be prepared for the insanely inflated prices.

 We knew that going on a cruise was going to be expensive. People told us how high the prices were on the ship, but we weren’t prepared for HOW high. At one point Chris needed some Nyquil and the only one available was a tiny bottle for $16. So take what your expectations are for expenses on board and double them. Which leads to tip #4….

4. Bring your own medicine and first aid. 

Plan for the unexpected. We didn’t think we’d need Nyquil because who plans to get sick on a vacation?? But with the amount of germy people on the ship, you’re bound to need some sort of cold medicine. All 4 of us caught various small bugs during the trip. Neosporin (for the inevitable blisters) would have cost an arm and a leg if we hadn’t brought our own. I would also recommend anti-diarreahals. We ate relatively healthy on the ship, but 3 of the 4 of us still ended up with some runs (TMI?). And if you try to get some pills for anything but seasickness from the first aid office, they will put you in quarantine for a day and cancel your shore excursions, even for a minor cold. So make your life so much simpler and just bring your own. Which leads me to my 5th point…

5. Eat healthy breakfast and lunches.

Splurge all you want on dinner and dessert, but if you eat short stacks with sausage and bacon and nutella covered toast and greasy burgers & fries for every meal every day, your bowels are going to be hating you. Use breakfast and lunch to stock up your system on fruits, veggies and fiber and leave the fatty, sugary, delicious stuff for dinner. Besides, we found the food at dinner to be far superior while most of the breakfasts and lunches weren’t worth the calories.

6. You won’t need as many clothes and shoes as you think you do.

Seriously…don’t bring 6 pairs of shoes. You’ll need flip flops, walking shoes, and dressy shoes TOPS. Pick outfits that will be multipurpose (mix and match with layers) that match your three pairs of shoes and you’ll be good to go. Learn from our mistake ;)

7. Pack some extra hangers. 

We read that tip on another blog (I wish I could remember which one to cite it!) and it proved extremely useful. The cruise closets have some, but definitely not enough.

8. When picking a cabin, go for the cheap interior on a sightseeing cruise. Save the windows and balconies for relaxation cruises.

We were cheapskates and got the smallest interior rooms we could. Our intention was to spend the money we saved on the room on better excursions and we were really happy we did!  We spent relatively little time in our room and we were glad we didn’t splurge for a sea view or balcony. I definitely think if were doing a Caribbean or Mexican cruise we would go balcony all the way, but for a Mediterranean sightseeing cruise we were glad we put our pennies to better use.

 

Well there you have it. C²’s guide to an awesome cruise. It’s not much, but from one beginner to another hopefully you will find it useful someday! If any of you veteran cruisers out there reading this have any other tips to share, please share them in the comments below!

Cruising for us was a great way to see a lot of countries that we normally would have been a too wary of traveling to on our own and opened up a whole new view for us. I don’t know if we will ever become “cruisers,” but I definitely see a few more in our future!

Cruise: Naples, Italy

“Naples?” you say. “Naples? Haven’t you already been to Naples?” Yes, yes we have. Two Novembers ago, in fact, when Chris went to Naples for work and I tagged along. So instead of doing another tour, we decided to venture off completely on our own. We already had a list of things we wanted to do:

  1. Go to Pompeii (since I couldn’t stop talking about it last time and Chris wanted to see what all the chatter was about).
  2. Get pizza at Da Michele (initiate mouth-water sequence).
  3. Get gelato.

Nice and easy :) Besides, the cruise tour to Pompeii would have given us less time and cost over $100 a piece. Getting there on our own gave us all the time we wanted, and between the train and the entrance ticket only cost us something like 18 euros each. Awesome :)

So while Josh and Kolie boarded a cruise tour to Capri and Sorrento to see a bit of the Amalfi coast….

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…. we hopped on the Circumvesuviana train to explore Pompeii!

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C² and Vesuvius

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Gladiator Style

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Pompeii the second time around was just as good as it was the first! You can seriously spend hours exploring and not see everything. We got to see a lot of the places I missed before AND they updated their maps! We didn’t get lost this time!

The next MUST-DO on our list was eat pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. We tried it on a friend’s recommendation before and we have been thinking about it ever since (I’m not even joking…it comes up every other time we eat pizza). In case you missed the previous post about it… it’s a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that only makes two kinds of pizza: margherita and marinara (ie with cheese and without). And really… two pizzas are all you need. Fresh, brick-oven baked, covered in balls of squeaky buffalo mozzarella cheese….::drool:: You really can’t beat it! We consider ourselves extremely blessed that we got to return to Naples and try it a second time. Although… after too much longer eating Norwegian “Grandiosa” frozen pizzas we probably would have snapped and bought a plane ticket back to Naples anyway just to eat some real pizza again!

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And of course, what visit to Italy would be complete without gelato?

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Well… that’s it for our cruise folks! We left Naples and docked back in Civitavecchia where we began our journey homeward. I’m sure you’re thinking, “It’s about time! We’ve been hearing about this cruise for weeks now! Let’s move on.”
Yes… let’s :)
Cruise: Athens, Greece

GREECE!

We docked in Pireus early in the morning and excitedly jumped on the tour bus to the Acropolis! We were going to see us some Parthenon baby!

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Fast forward…..

We finally pulled up to the base of the Acropolis after listening to our female Ben Stein tour guide for TWO hours driving aimlessly around downtown Athens (“We are now passing the temple of Zeus from the other side. The columns are examples of… Anyone? Anyone?… Corinthian columns, which were poplar…Anyone? Anyone?… Classical Period? Hellenistic Period? Which, anyone? Marked birth or death? …..Death of Alexander the Great. Bueller? Bueller?”)

Plus… somehow we ended up on the tour that was full of the oldest folks on the cruise ship. I’m not even exaggerating. Walking from the bus to the base of the Acropolis to get our tickets we had to stop every 50 feet to wait for them to catch up. Not that I mind old people…but we just couldn’t take it anymore so as soon as we got our entrance tickets we handed in our tourist headsets and ventured off on our own.  Best decision we made that whole day! (This is why, if we ever go on a cruise again, we will book all our port excursions through private tours like in Turkey, or just venture off on our own. Cruising lesson learned!)

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I’m surprised the Greek military doesn’t revolt right along with its citizens…

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The view of the Parthenon every tourist dreams about.

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Luckily the back side was a little less scaffolded and a bit more photogenic :)

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C² and TCSE!

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“Does anyone know what order of columns are in the Erechtheon? Anyone? Anyone? Something n-i-c columns. Ionic columns.”

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Dirty feet!

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Awwww!

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Street performers.

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After exploring the Acropolis, we wandered around through downtown Athens until we found a cafe that served the most traditional food we could find and had ourselves a veritable Greek feast! Between the four of us we ordered WAY too much food, but who knew when we’d be in Greece again so we just had to try it all! And it was worth it :)

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Saganaki, spanakopita, dolmadakita, tiganita, souvlaki, gyros, and more!

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Goodbye Greece, until we meet again!

 

NEXT STOP: Naples, Italy!

 

Cruise: Jerusalem, Israel

Our love affair with Israel only grew deeper the next morning, when we headed into Jerusalem for the day.

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Being firm believers in Jesus Christ, going to Jerusalem was a bit of a pilgrimage for us. Interestingly enough, the weekend we were there was also a pilgrimage holiday weekend for Orthodox Jews. Despite the massive crowds, it was a special experience to walk where Christ walked (and Nephi and Lehi, for all you other Mormons out there) and to imagine what it must have been like to walk those same streets two millennia ago. So much history! And Jerusalem was the center of it all for such a long time!  Whenever I visit a historic place like this, I like to sit in one spot for a little while and pretend I can watch time moving in fast forward. A time-lapse of history playing out before my eyes. I really think if I could pick any super power imbued upon me I would pick the power to travel through time. I would go right back to Jerusalem and just watch throughout various points in history. Ahhh…. how amazing would that be?

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The little hill in the background of the photo above is the Mount of Olives. Does anyone else think it’s surprisingly small? With all of the epic stories and prophesies surrounding the Mount of Olives I had expected it to be a bit more, well…mountain-ish. More like Mount Timpanogos. The similar use of ‘mount’ is very deceiving in this case. The old Jerusalem city center within the ancient walls was smaller than expected as well. Not in a disappointing way, just surprising when you think about it being such the center of civilization at the time. The things you learn when you travel :)

As you can see though, the city surrounding the ancient walls is HUGE and stretches on for miles!

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Massive cemetery on the side of the Mount of Olives.

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Dome of the Rock

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One of the most fascinating things I noticed about Jerusalem was the combination of all the different religions. While religion has such a power to unite, is also has a great power to separate. It was very clear in Jerusalem. On one hand, you had multiple different faiths gathered together to worship their God. I thought it was beautiful being amongst the Jews during their holiday as they prayed and worshiped. While Mormons and Jews are different, I still felt a kinship with them in their devotion and faith. On the other hand, there was a tension throughout the old city. Armed guards waiting around almost every corner would block us from from random streets with their machine guns with no explanation as to why and there is a clear divide between the Muslims, Jews and Christians over certain holy sites. It was a very interesting dynamic.

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Camera man

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The huge crowd at the Western Wall for Sukkot.

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The Western Wall of the ancient temple.

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The Church of All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives on our way to search for the Garden of Gethsemane.

One of the must-see places on our list was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ atoned for the sins of the world. So important was this that we opted to forgo all of the official cruise excursions and venture out on our own because not a single one of the tours included a visit to the garden. In fact, that was an interesting theme we noticed throughout Jerusalem. There were signs everywhere pointing to the Via Dolorosa (the street Christ carried his cross down on the way to his death), multiple supposed sites of Golgotha (where Christ died on the cross) and even the site where the Virgin Mary was supposedly baptized. But we had to leave the city and walk a ways down a busy street before we saw our first sign pointing towards Gethsemane. We found the deemphasis interesting and a bit sad. In the LDS church, a much greater significance is given to what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ took upon himself the sins of each and every one of us to satisfy the demands of justice and pave the way for all of us to be forgiven, than what happened when he died on the cross. While still very important, to us his death was the final seal on the atoning sacrifice he began in Gethsemane. With such a beautiful and important thing that happened in the garden, we would have thought it would be much more of a tourist “attraction” but it was not. It seemed the majority of the tourist sites focused on his death and not on what his death actually meant. While the rest of the sites had grand churches and chapels built around them, the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane was an unassuming wooden door in a stone wall.

Nevertheless, we made it a point to find it and find it we did…. 5 minutes too late!

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Apparently, the garden closes for a few hours during the middle of each day (which information wasn’t found on ANY of the research I had done about how to get there, by the way) and wouldn’t reopen until past the time we had to be on the bus to make it back to our ship. So frustrating! I guess it was alright though, because really… historically they can’t know if it was the actual site of the Atonement. The garden used to span much of the base of the Mount of Olives and the only things that makes this particular patch significant historically are the two 2,000 year old olive trees that were around when Christ would have been there and had managed to survive the Roman ransacking. We still got to see a bunch of other olive trees…just not the really old ones. Although, when someone saw how disappointed we were upon finding the locked gate, they mentioned that if we hiked up some stairs a bit we would be able to see down inside the garden. So we hiked up the stairs. And hiked. And hiked. And hiked…. until we reached the very top of the Mount of Olives! We never found a spot where we could actually see down into the garden, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the old city! A nice happy accident :)

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Our consolation prize to Gethsemane was getting to see the Garden Tomb. It was also supposed to be closed, but they luckily stayed open that day because of all the tourists in town for the big holiday. Although this can’t be proven officially as the tomb Christ was buried in (there are a few other sites around Jerusalem also claiming to be the spot), it is a tomb contemporary of the time that matches the description in the Bible and was still really cool to see and imagine.

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Loving the markets!

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If you go to Jerusalem, get the fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice. The stands are everywhere and it’s totally a tourist gimmick…but it’s sooo good! Just avoid the guys dragging on cigarettes while they squeeze your drink…

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We only had a few hours to explore Jerusalem, and we left thirsting for much more. We would have liked to explore more of the city surrounding the historic center and soak up more of the rich culture and heritage, as well as venture off to the Dead Sea, Nazareth and Galilee and other sites where Jesus roamed and history unfolded.  Israel is absolutely fantastic and we are definitely, DEFINITELY coming back for more!

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PS: If you are wondering where TCSE were through all of this, they did their own excursion to the Dead Sea for the day. We meet back up with them for excursions coming up in Turkey!

Cruise: Tel Aviv, Israel

Sigh… I have such high hopes and grand plans for this blog. I really do. I have all sorts of things I want to share with you all, but here I am trying desperately to catch up on a vacation we took back in October. In OCTOBER!  And now we are almost halfway through January already! alkdjreoighdfjkf.

Oh well. Just gotta keep moving along!

The next stop on our cruise after Egypt was Israel. We docked in Ashdod for a day and a half and spent most of our time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Let me tell you… after all the craziness of Egypt we completely fell in love with Israel. We got only a brief taste of what it has to offer, but after our dinner excursion into Tel Aviv on the first night we made a goal to DEFINITELY come back soon to explore the country more thoroughly!

After the ship docked in Ashdod on the first night, Chris and I ventured off to Tel Aviv for an evening out. We LOVED Tel Aviv right off the bus. We spent the first few hours trying to find a restaurant that served traditional Israeli food, but after asking around we realized there was none to be had unless we wanted to take a 45 minute cab ride. Odd. We were starving by that point though so we gave up and picked the first restaurant we happened upon, Allora, which ended up being a charmingly cute Italian place with delicious food! Although, I’m sure anything would have tasted delicious at that point… but you can take a look at the pictures as proof!

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Pasta carbonara and hazelnut gnocchi.

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We ended our evening with a walk along the beach. It was balmy and warm (even in October at 11:00 at night), the lights of Tel Aviv were a beautiful backdrop against the dark Mediterranean Sea, and we just wandered and talked about life, the universe, and everything. It was seriously perfect! (Ugh… listen to me. That sounds so campy. But that’s actually how it was so that’s how I’m going to tell it!)

Did I mention we loved Tel Aviv?