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  • -Hi, I'm Rick Steves.

  • I've spent the last 30 years

  • exploring Europe from every conceivable angle,

  • and now it's time to check it out

  • the way millions of people are.

  • Yep, we're on a cruise ship,

  • and we're sailing the Mediterranean.

  • Welcome aboard.

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  • Cruising is really popular these days.

  • In this special, I'd like to explore the ins and outs

  • and pros and cons of this travel option.

  • Sailing from Barcelona to Athens with stops all along the way,

  • I'll toggle from a floating resort

  • to exciting days on shore,

  • nearly each day in a different country.

  • Massive cruise ships serve as both transportation

  • and a floating hotel.

  • From our ship, we'll visit some of the great ports

  • of the Mediterranean

  • and venture inland to some of Europe's iconic sights.

  • We'll savor romantic island getaways

  • and some lazy time on the beach.

  • We'll learn how to make the most of the cruising experience --

  • avoiding lines, eating quick but local --

  • while exercising independence

  • to get the most out of limited time on shore.

  • Along with the efficiencies of cruising,

  • we'll show the downsides --

  • the inevitable congestion and commercialization

  • that comes with mass tourism.

  • And as we sail from port to port,

  • we'll enjoy our time on board the ship --

  • a virtual playground at sea.

  • The Mediterranean Sea is bounded by North Africa,

  • Europe, and the Middle East.

  • The typical cruise itinerary covers the great European ports.

  • While most cruises focus on either the West or the East,

  • we'll do a little of both.

  • Stopping in Barcelona, Nice for the French Riviera,

  • La Spezia for Florence, Civitavecchia for Rome,

  • Naples, Malta,

  • Athens, Mykonos,

  • and Santorini.

  • I'm not here to promote or put down cruising.

  • For some people, it's a great choice.

  • And for others it's not.

  • Cruising can be economical, with your transportation,

  • room, and meals all included at one price.

  • It can be ideal for those who want everything taken care of

  • for their vacation,

  • and it can also be an efficient platform

  • for independent types who want to shape their own adventures

  • each day.

  • While there may be a lot of things to enjoy on the ship,

  • the reason I cruise the Mediterranean

  • is to experience the Mediterranean.

  • The Mediterranean world is filled with wonder

  • and richly rewards the well-organized traveler.

  • The cultural variety seems endless

  • and it shows itself in traditions, cuisines,

  • and a distinctive love of life.

  • For thousands of years,

  • this was the center of Western Civilization.

  • Exploring the Mediterranean,

  • you'll enjoy the sweep of art history --

  • from ancient treasures to the dazzling accomplishments

  • of the Renaissance to modern wonders.

  • And it's just flat-out beautiful.

  • No wonder the rich and fabulous

  • have built their palaces and villas here

  • since ancient times.

  • The cruiser's challenge is to decide

  • how to best experience all these attractions.

  • Your goal: to get the most out

  • of your vacation time and money,

  • enjoy the best experiences,

  • and have fun.

  • Before we sight-see the greatest hits of the Mediterranean,

  • let's get an overview of cruising in general.

  • Ships can be huge.

  • Ours has about 3,000 passengers with 1,500 crew

  • scrambling to keep everyone well-served, safe, and happy.

  • Is it good travel? That's up to you.

  • The way I see it, of the guests on this ship,

  • a third of them are just looking for

  • a floating alternative to Las Vegas.

  • A third of them are "bucket list" tourists

  • just checking things off their list,

  • and a third of them are independent-minded travelers

  • well-prepared and eager to hit the ground running

  • as soon as that gangway hits the pier.

  • Cruising originated as an activity for the wealthy --

  • it was expensive and formal.

  • The joke was it was for "the newlyweds, over-fed,

  • and nearly dead."

  • But, as ships get bigger and bigger,

  • able to offer comforts unimaginable in decades past,

  • cruising has changed its image.

  • Today, it's younger, more active,

  • and more affordable.

  • Most Mediterranean cruises start and end in Venice, Rome,

  • or Barcelona.

  • Wherever you start, you'll need to be patient.

  • This is your first peek at the necessary efficiency

  • of the cruise industry.

  • It's a big logistical challenge to get several thousand people

  • and their bags into their staterooms on the first day.

  • Pack a little extra patience

  • and leave yourself plenty of time

  • for the red tape and orientation.

  • Once on board, I do one thing right off the bat:

  • move in thoroughly.

  • Staterooms, while thoughtfully designed, are tight,

  • so make things shipshape.

  • If you use all your available storage space

  • and are constantly on guard against clutter,

  • there's plenty of room.

  • I rarely use drawers in hotel rooms,

  • but this is my home for my entire vacation.

  • You just move in once, so do it right away,

  • move in fully, and establish your ship-shape standards.

  • On a cruise, you can get away with packing heavier.

  • I bring more clothes than usual.

  • How dressy you need to be

  • is a matter of which cruise line you choose

  • and your personal style.

  • As cruising has become accessible to the middle class,

  • it's also become more casual.

  • This is as dressy as I get.

  • Most people pack three kinds of outfits:

  • smart casual for evenings,

  • leisure wear for poolside and relaxing on the ship,

  • and practical travel clothing for time on shore.

  • Okay, I've moved in and we're on our way.

  • We'll be in the French Riviera in the morning.

  • We're settling into the rhythm of a Mediterranean cruise --

  • sail at night and explore a different port each day.

  • By the way, have some fun with the key nautical terms.

  • I'm standing near the front -- that's the bow.

  • The back? It's the stern.

  • Left: port, and right is starboard.

  • And remember, it's not a "boat,"

  • it's a "ship."

  • For me, just "being at sea" is a travel destination.

  • After our first departure, or "sail-away,"

  • I find myself thinking of the Mediterranean

  • as a sight in itself.

  • Make a point on departure day

  • to get to know your floating home.

  • Take advantage of the signage to understand the layout.

  • Modern ships are smartly designed.

  • This ship has 1,500 staterooms on 12 decks

  • gathered around a central atrium

  • where you'll find places to shop, hang out, eat, and drink.

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  • Explore the ship on a good orientation walk.

  • The library is generally quiet and empty.

  • The gym comes with amazing views.

  • You'll discover places -- like tucked-away lounges --

  • that others may miss.

  • In this floating resort,

  • the top deck -- with its swimming pool --

  • is the equivalent of the beach.

  • When it comes to fun-in-the-sun,

  • poolside seems to be the center of the universe.

  • But if you crave the tranquility of a park,

  • this ship has actual grass.

  • I don't know what happened to shuffleboard,

  • but a little bocce ball will do just fine.

  • Each morning, the deck is busy with walkers --

  • eight laps and it's a mile.

  • Being confined on a ship, it's important to stay active.

  • I make a pact: anticipating lots of eating,

  • I shall avoid the elevators and use the stairs instead.

  • They say the average cruise passenger gains a pound a day,

  • but not me.

  • Cruising can work well for families

  • and for groups traveling together.

  • Each person can pick and choose how much to see and do

  • both on land and at sea,

  • and still get together for dinner every evening.

  • And cruising also works for people who can't walk well

  • or who are less active --

  • the entire ship is as accessible as any modern resort.

  • Along with the advantages, cruising has its downsides.

  • Many would say it can insulate you from the "real Europe."

  • You're going to the most famous places

  • and seeing them at the same time

  • with thousands of other tourists.

  • That's just the nature of cruising.

  • Those who don't make a concerted effort at minimizing the crowds

  • may come home with memories of congestion

  • and lots of wasted time.

  • Cruise ships drop large numbers of people in the same place

  • at the same time.

  • Small ports can be overwhelmed by crowds

  • when the ship's in port,

  • even worse when several ships are there on the same day.

  • And then, when the ships sail away,

  • the port suddenly becomes less crowded and more romantic --

  • something cruisers won't experience

  • because they're back on the ship heading to the next port.

  • Many cruisers are not very energetic sightseers.

  • If you are, get out early as possible

  • and come back late as you can.

  • Doing this, you'll enjoy fewer crowds

  • and more unforgettable moments.

  • With each port, you've got sightseeing options:

  • You can take the organized bus tour

  • and be on their time table,

  • or you can hire a private guide.

  • You can use a guidebook and be your own guide,

  • or you can just hang out and be thoroughly on vacation.

  • There's no right or wrong --

  • it depends on your mood and your style.

  • Many cruise travelers

  • invest in the cruise line's shore excursions.

  • Excursions can be active or easy,

  • fully guided,

  • or just providing transportation and free time.

  • While pricey,

  • they can also be a time- and cost-effective way

  • to cover those must-see sights and experiences.

  • And there's usually a bus tour option

  • designed for people with limited mobility.

  • But as these tours target the touristy clichés

  • and many buses hit the same sites at the same time,

  • you'll often be right in the thick of the crowds.

  • If you're not purchasing the cruise ship sightseeing package,

  • you've got an array of fine alternatives.

  • Mediterranean ports seem to be designed

  • as springboards for independent travelers.

  • In most port terminals, you'll find reputable local companies

  • offering essentially the same tours as the cruise lines

  • for a fraction of the cost.

  • Another option: book a private guide in advance.

  • It's a comfort to be met at the port

  • with a warm, personal welcome.

  • Legions of private guides earn their living

  • serving cruisers directly.

  • You can book a guide and share the cost --

  • four people hiring a guide with a car

  • costs about the same

  • as four people taking the cruise excursion.

  • And with a guide, you get your own private teacher,

  • you're sure to know the way to the summit,

  • and you enjoy the freedom to go at your own pace.

  • And you can simply be your own guide.

  • You'll find helpful tourist offices.

  • And, most ports are well-served by public transit.

  • Independent types and those on a tight budget

  • can use a guidebook.

  • There are handy guidebooks

  • designed to help you get the most out of your time in port.

  • And, taking advantage of apps

  • featuring self-guided walks on your smartphone

  • empowers the independent traveler

  • with plenty of good touring information.

  • In many big cities,

  • hop-on, hop-off