Sunday, May 24, 2015

Europe's Best (and Worst) Cruise Ports

Essential  information 
When planning  a European cruise most first timers  book several excursions offered by the cruise line to be assured they will see all those wonderful places on the itinerary and not have to  worry about being left behind.

 Regular cruisers often  organize a group with a local guide or  driver and some  prefer to just  walk off the ship and explore independently.
Independent excursions offer advantages but take lots of pre-cruise planning, time, and computer know-how.  The first advantage is  substantial savings: instead of $70-100  for a 4 hour group  excursion, the same sights can be explored for a few euro on your own using  public transport with  a good map and guidebook. Knowing the language of the port helps too. 

sail away  from Istanbul  aboard Azamara Quest 
 The independent travelers leave and return from the excursion when they want,  without rising early nor being herded  in a group trailing behind a guide.

Over the years spent as an enrichment speaker on cruise ships and especially after my  latest-and longest- cruise with a ship full  of Australians  visiting 19 ports in the  Mediterranean, Ionic, Aegean and Adriatic seas, I have noted  improvements, novelties and  discovered many new places. 

 Here is an eyewitness, up to date and  personal view of  Europe’s  best and worst ports for the independent cruiser.    

Istanbul , Turkey–Ships dock right in the heart of the city,  allowing  you to independently walk out of the port area and take advantage of the city’s  excellent  public transport system. You will need Turkish lire coins to utilize the metro  and for  museum entrance fees. Check the Time Out Istanbul magazine for happenings and Eyewitness Guidebook to Istanbul for itineraries. Taxi from airport to cruise dock costs about 25 euro.

see how people live in Piraeus
Piraeus-Athens, Greece –Ships dock at the huge Cruise Terminal in Piraeus where stray dogs wander and the  wi fi connection can often be used by those aboard the ships. Thankfully  the infamous taxi drivers have  now been organized and are no longer aggressive and rude.  Several  hop on/ hop off buses and  a mini train (5 euro)  are parked just outside the terminal. The little train gives a good view of the  city of Piraeus chugging through the residential areas,  the Marina Mikrolimano and back to the cruise terminal.
walking along the seaside of Kushadasi 

Epheseus, the Odeon theatre 
Kushadasi (Epheseus) Turkey-Ships dock  in the center of town making it easy to walk off and explore the lively Bazaar, catch a mini bus to the nearby beaches or share a taxi  (60 euro)  for the short drive to the magnificent  archeological site of Epheseus.  Take a leisurely walk  along the beach front to the new Hilton Double Tree hotel  and visit the new  arts and crafts center built in an historic tannery.
Arts Center at the old Tannery 

Corfu, Greece- The Cruise  Terminal is located a few kilometers from the center of Old Corfu town and taxis  (a fleet of shiny new black Mercedes) now charge a flat rate of 10 euro for the drive in/out of town. From the Esplanade park local  buses  bring to further parts of the island. Catch the  bus to  Mon Repos  or Achilleon palaces for a visit to these  lovely  historic house museums.

Mon Repos villa and park, Corfu, Kanoni 

Kotor, Montenegro –Only smaller ships arrive to this fascinating city at the end of a long fiord and they dock right in the center of the walled medieval city which can be  explored on foot in a morning. There is now a hop on/ hop off bus(full day 20 euro) with an excellent audio presentation that takes visitors along the fiord to the town of Perast and to see Roman mosaics then a walking tour of the town. One of the favorite past times for crew members and others suffering from cabin fever is the hike up  to the Fortress high above the city.
islands  near Perast and Kotor 

Civitavecchia-Even though this is my home port and I live nearby I am ashamed to say that it has become  probably  the worst  port for cruisers who do not have an excursion booked ahead of time with their cruise line or a private driver and/or guide.  If you want the name of a highly recommended local multi-lingual guide, feel free to contact me.  

Civitavecchia,checking out  the market 
Cruise passengers and crew are no longer able to walk out of the port  at Michelangelo’s Fortress and make the 10 minute walk to  catch a train to Rome.  Now a port mobility bus “captures” cruisers  and transports them  to an enclosed  area several kilometers to the  north. Here without any signage or audio instructions, confusion reigns and eventually  cruisers discover they have two choices: either walk the long way back, or take a city bus (.80  euro) through the center of Civitavecchia and then finally, arrive to the railway station. 
How long does it take to arrive to Rome's  Capitoline Museum?
I asked Alexandra who runs a tour company in Civitavecchia to explain more about the changes happening at the port, which is the gateway to Rome and central Italy, here is what  she told me:
"Before May 2014 all passengers were required to take a free shuttle from their ship to the south Port Exit (Michelangelo's Fortress). From there it was an easy 4 blocks walk to the train station or 1-2 blocks to the downtown and market area.

Now you need to allocate approximately 1 hour to go from the ship's pier to the train station (a little less to the market area).
Cruisers still must take the free shuttle bus from the ship pier to the North port exit .
Once there you can either walk to the train station (20-30 min) or take public transportation (frequency is approximately 20 min + 15 minutes transfer time). 
City buses may not have enough capacity to move the large number of people arriving at once. 
Don't forget that the same time needs to be allocated coming back from Rome if traveling by train."

For those who planned on seeing Rome in a day, approximately an hour of precious time (and a huge amount of energy!) is now wasted. Alternatives are to stay in Civitavecchia and check out the market, explore the old center,  go to one of the nearby beaches or catch the local COTRAL bus to Tarquinia to see the UNESCO  Etruscan sites (30 minutes) and then take a taxi back.
  For other articles about the many  interesting sites all around the Civitavecchia area, browse the archives here on 50yearsinItaly (use the Search button at the top of the page)  and  study my website  Elegantetruria, the only one about the area in English.
You will find the article "Exploring around Civitavecchia" of interest to see what arrival at Civitavecchia port was like in 2011. Now it seems that the Port Authority is sending away arriving cruisers instead of helping them! 
acqueduct on the way to Tarquinia
 To order books about this area visit  my award-winning website  

Ashdod, Jerusalem- Most cruisers opt for a 10 hour excursion to Jerusalem, but if you are not up to that you can stay in Ashdod.

 The Terminal is  set amidst a  gigantic industrial port and a  bus shuttle takes cruisers out and to the center of a  barren, modern and not very pleasant city that counts  the shopping mall and bus depot as  its  main attractions. An ultra modern arts and theatre complex with Louvre-style glass pyramid  beckons but the only part open to the public during the day is  a small museum with an entrance fee of  15 euro- but they accept only local currency. After 2 hours wandering under an oppressive sun most cruisers take the bus back to the port, check out the Duty free and then go aboard. 

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  1. Teresa Cutler-Broyles Excellent!

    mafia di Roma/Civitavecchia... tipico... grin emoticon

    Татьяна Пирогова It willbe very interesting to read your article!I 'll do that!

    Mary Jane Cryan
    10 hrs ·
    After traveling for a month, here is the latest, a bit polemical, article... please share . Your comments are valuable to me.
    Like · Comment · Share
    Laurel Barton, Mike Campbell, Frances Hackett and 2 others like this.

    Mery JJ la mafia di Roma/Civitavecchia... tipico... grin emoticon
    Like · Reply · 9 hrs

    Татьяна Пирогова It willbe very interesting to read your article!I 'll do that!
    Like · Reply · 21 mins

    This is the Port Mobility's website with info about transport to/from the port. The hard part I talk about is not mentioned.

  3. Port Mobility wrote: prima di tutto ci scusiamo per il ritardo nella risposta e la ringraziamo per il suo prezioso feedback.

    Ci fa molto piacere che abbia trovato il nostro sito web chiaro ed esaustivo. E’, infatti, nostro obiettivo primario migliorare l’intero asset comunicativo che ruota intorno al Porto di Civitavecchia così da fornire informazioni utili per i passeggeri ed evitare disagi e difficoltà.

    Le garantiamo inoltre che il sito web è solo il primo di tanti tasselli volti al miglioramento della “user experience” all’interno del porto e alla riqualificazione dello stesso.

    Ci stiamo impegnando anche affinché la comunicazione all’interno del porto diventi sempre più chiara ed utile. In tal senso entro luglio rilasceremo un APP (disponibile su Smart Phone Android e IOs) con la quale sarà possibile navigare all’interno del Porto connettendosi tramite una wi-fi area gratuita (altro nostro piccolo successo).

    Ci rendiamo conto che le “aree di miglioramento” che abbiamo di fronte sono molte. Abbiamo già raccolto da tempo questa sfida nel momento in cui abbiamo iniziato a lavorare sul nuovo portale turistico del Porto di Civitavecchia e continueremo a farlo al meglio delle nostre possibilità ed nel minor tempo possibile.

    La invitiamo a tornare l’anno prossimo per provare con mano le novità che stiamo preparando e magari riaggiornare l’articolo che ha recentemente pubblicato.

    Un cordiale saluto dall’area web.