While on a Mediterranean cruise, one of the port stops will be Marseille. We imagined a coastal French city to be romantically nautical, and it was exactly as we pictured: sailboats and ships, gorgeous waterfront views, and to-die-for seafood.
When traveling by cruise, you may feel like the cruise ship has everything under the sun to keep you entertained and show you the world. While that may be true on the ship, it’s when you get on land that they lack the same oomph. Excursions are run by local guides and work on a partnership level with cruise lines. You can trust they have been reviewed and they will get you back to the ship on time, but they don’t give you a chance to explore and discover a new port stop as you would if you were to arrive by plane or train.
Just because you are a passenger on a cruise ship does not mean you have to follow the hordes of passengers who disembark to embark on a cruise excursion. Families have the freedom to do exactly what they want in every port – including staying on the ship, should you so choose. Personally, after taking numerous cruises, we learned quickly we would rather do our own thing in port. (In fact, we even have an article on the 6 Reasons to NOT Take a Cruise Excursion.) To us, visiting a place and trying local foods, meeting local people and seeing local neighborhoods enriches a trip and makes any planning worth it. We have a few simple tips to keep in mind when setting off on your own – trust us, we learned the hard way!
Of all the places we visited on our 9-month journey around the world, both of us feel Santorini deserves to be on our top 10 list. You’ve seen the iconic pictures — awe-inspiring how they built the city into the mountain — and it’s everything you have ever imagined. Actually, even more so for Natasha – she ranked Santorini as her top experience during our world sabbatical.
The moment your ship arrives in Mykonos, you’ll notice white buildings everywhere with the blue roofs that provide the backdrop you were expecting about the Greek islands. It’s amazing to experience the island – even the streets are white to help keep the buildings cool and reflect the sun. Plus, there are no cars on the narrow streets, making it great for young kids, who can run around as you explore.
Entering the port of Katakolon, you’ll have the option to travel 4 hours to Athens or an hour to Olympia. Both options are exceptional, as they ooze history at every turn. When traveling with a younger child, however, we recommend the closer Olympia, which is home to the original Olympic Games. Ancient Olympia is an archeological site with more than 70 structures from ancient Greece, dating back to 4,000 years AD. It’s truly impressive, and there are tons of open spaces for your child to run and play safely.
We didn’t have any expectations of Kotor; in fact, it wasn’t even on our radar. Our original cruise stop was supposed to be Istanbul, but we were rerouted due to security issues. Natasha didn’t even know it existed and was wondering where we were going and if it would be any good after Mykonos and Santorini. But boy, were we blown away! It’s stunning; old school medieval times – with cats (read on). Just pulling into port while on the Adriatic Sea, we were able to take in the most incredible scenery of the medieval city that is still surrounded by its original fortification walls as it was generations ago. The city only truly began seeing tourism in the 2000s, so its relatively undiscovered. Pictures don’t even do it justice.
Why The 2 Idiots recommend exploring the Amalfi Coast?
Every picture you have ever seen of the Amalfi Coast on Instagram is THAT– the coast looks just like the photos you have seen. It is so stunning and, for Natasha, the highlight of our tour of Southern Italy. For me, Pompeii blew me away – the archaeological site is the most preserved of any site I’ve ever seen and it feels like you are transported back in time and able to visualized what Italy was like centuries ago. When we visited Naples, it was through a Mediterranean cruise – the last stop of one of our favorite cruises we took with our son. Taking a tour that incorporates stops in Sorrento, Pompeii and a drive along windy cliff roads overlooking the sea will be a long day, but for us, a definite you should do when in port in Naples.
Why The 2 Idiots Recommend exploring Livorno and Pisa
When we visited Pisa, it was through a Mediterranean cruise – the best of the three cruises we took when we went around the world with our son. Having wanted to see the Tower of Pisa since she was a child, Natasha was especially excited about the visit, but we discovered the port is actually in the city of Livorno and that you’ll need to travel inland to find Pisa. It’s a place everyone should see and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but we were surprised to discover Pisa isn’t much a city to visit; it’s truly just a square for tourists. However, we still enjoyed our day in Pisa, with some extra time to wander in Livorno, a very pretty town. Where Pisa is touristy, Livorno is not. Just as we like it!