cruise-tipsMy husband and I recently took a cruise of the Mediterranean (Italy, Greece and Turkey). It was my first cruise and only his second, so we didn’t really know the ropes when we climbed aboard. But after 11 days, we had picked up quite a few tips. Here are a few of the things we learned:

Fall cruising
We found fall to be a particularly great time to cruise the Med because of the temps (80s rather than 90s and above in the summer). Fall also means fewer passengers (kids are back in school) and often thinner crowds at ports. Best of all, many repositioning cruises, or ships crossing one way from one region of the world to another — usually from a cold-weather city to one with warmer weather — offer longer itineraries as well as reduced rates. (Ours was not a repositioning cruise.)

Stateroom amenities
We found out the next to last day of our cruise that we could’ve had room service deliver coffee to us every morning. Instead we got dressed and rushed down to the buffet. Make sure you know which amenities are included before you hop aboard so you can take full advantage of them!

When in port, there was either a lunch included with our shore excursion, or if we were seeing the city on our own, we tended to eat in cafes near the harbor. As a result, we ate a lot of “tourist” food, not a lot of food authentic to the area. We heard stories of other passengers splitting cars with fellow travellers and enjoying extraordinary meals off the beaten path … probably paying a lot less than we did too!

Just like the food, the merchants near the harbor took full advantage of the cruise ships coming into port by selling typical junky souvenirs at a premium price or very high-end designer merchandise. We even heard that cruise lines have arrangements with the stores where their affiliated excursions stop. Sometimes you need to venture further away from port to find those gems to take back home.

We booked quite a few of the excursions the cruise line offered; however, in one port, we stumbled upon an unrelated service advertising a tour of the next city in which we were docking. This tour was half the price of the one we had already booked through the cruise line. We took a chance on this unaffiliated tour (it was endorsed by travel writer Rick Steves) and we were glad we did. The only thing you need to remember is you are now completely responsible for getting back to the boat before it leaves port. Tours arranged by the cruise line are obligated to get you back in time but unrelated tour companies don’t have to provide any guarantees (they often have passengers from several boats on the tour).