September 25, 2023   7:52pm

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Our travel adviser Susan points out that it’s not just the ship — it’s also the itinerary. Here are the big questions you need to be asking …

Itineraries are sensibly divided by geographic region by cruise lines whether you research online or by catalog. But you need to dig deeper than just a port list to see if the sailing makes sense for you. Here are some pointers to get you started:

Ports: The best sailings are those where most of the ports “are” the sights, involving no more that a short walk or fast ride into the town itself. Be on the lookout for a sailing in which most excursions are long driving distances from each port (typical examples: Livorno for Florence means a 2 hour drive each way, Cittiavecchia for Rome means a 1-1/2 hour drive each way). You can get a sense of the situation by looking at the excursions offered by the cruise line for each port online as they describe tour duration and driving times.

Excursions From The Ship: All cruise lines offer excursions at each port. Some are worth it, others not. Read between the lines and decide if they make sense for you. If there is only a short distance from the port to the town, the ship usually offers a free shuttle bus to and from – you do not need to take the guided tour to get to town (often you can also take a taxi). However, sometimes guided tours do make sense, so don’t necessarily shrug them all off. TIP: If there is distance between the port and the sights to see we often use the ship’s excursion as a “transfer service” to the place we want to go, and simply meet up with the rest of the group at departure time, rather than taking the guided tour. Also NOTE: you do not have to take the ship’s excursions – even where distances are involved — you can arrange private touring as well, either via the ship or in advance through your travel agent.

Time at each port: The cruise line’s website will not only list the itinerary, but the length of time at each port. Some ships, notably SeaDream, pride themselves on long stays at each port, often into the PM hours allowing you time to have dinner at the port before sailing onward.

Number of days at sea: Some people love days at sea, others want more ports with sights to see. Check out the number of days at sea vs. number of days at ports to see if you are comfortable with this. On sailings of over a week at least one day at sea is typical, moving upwards to two days at sea on sailings of 10 days or more. Although we like itineraries with lots of ports of call, we have come to appreciate a day or two of “downtime” at sea – great for reading, using the gym, or the spa, etc.

Know before you go: Cruise lines allow you to pre-book shore excursions and sometimes spa appointments online before you sail, along with other services. This is advisable as things can “sell out” and it will make your boarding process more relaxed. Most ships allow you to cancel anything pre-booked 24 hours in advance once you are on board, without penalty.

If all of this is making you think about a cruise, talk to your travel agent and/or visit some of the cruise line websites to research itineraries. Finally, my last post in this “Cruising” series will focus on “Life on Board.”

Bon Voyage,


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