As someone who prefers the hustle-bustle of cities to the humdrum of beaches, I’d always avoided cruising. I figured the concept was to pick an island or a group of islands—it didn’t matter which ones, really—then sail, sun, swim, eat, and repeat. Then I was presented with an intriguing idea: Cruise to different Mediterranean cities on a cross-Europe-and-beyond tour, opting for a boat ticket over a Eurail pass. Visit six cities in five different countries while unpacking my bag just once? Sign me up.
We chose the Norweigan Jade’s 10-Day Eastern Mediterranean cruise for its ports of call: Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy; Olympia (Katakolon), Greece; Athens (Piraeus), Greece; Ephesus (Izmir), Turkey; and Cairo (Alexandria), Egypt. (Since we disembarked, unrest in Egypt has caused the ports to change slightly on future cruises, subbing in Istanbul or Naples for Alexandria and Cairo.) This was not a parade of indistinct islands. Instead, if there was a theme to the trip, it was a tour of the world’s most magnificent archeological ruins. We saw the Coliseum in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Pyramids of Giza; our itinerary crossed paths with four sites of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
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If I was worried about being bored, those worries were unfounded. We spent our days sightseeing, trying to cram in as much of the local culture as we could in just one or two days. Sometimes we took advantage of the ship excursions to tour a city’s highlights, and sometimes we went out on our own to try and find more off-the-beaten-path destinations. (That’s how I got to see Izmir from atop a Ferris wheel in a Turkish amusement park.) At the end of the day, tuckered out, we’d return to the ship to swim, eat, drink, or—finally—relax while the boat did the hard work of taking us to our next destination. We didn’t have to worry about train timetables or booking hotels in three different currencies. We’d just fall asleep in Greece and wake up in Turkey, ready to start exploring.
I did find some downsides to cruising. The Norwegian Jade originally cruised in Hawaii, so the décor was incongruously (and maybe even a little offensively—or at the least tackily) Pacific-themed, like a floating tiki bar. And, while we were on the boat, we were a captive market, so we were up-sold on everything from bottled water to diamond jewelry. The rest of it seemed like standard cruise fare: all-you-can-eat buffets or dress-for-dinner dining options, nightly live performances, and a smoky casino for gamblers. In the end, it was all worth it, if only to have just one trip through Passport Control.
Details: Prices start at $539 for an inside stateroom; Norwegian Cruise Line (866) 234-7350; ncl.com.