Booking the Cruise
There are any number of sites online which offer deals on cruises. I reviewed them to find the cruise which best suited us (dates, itinerary) and then booked by phone with the cruise line directly. I chose a cruise by Norwegian. The booking process was easy and the customer service agent on the phone was very helpful. In all the ensuing communications, she responded promptly either by phone or by email.
I was told to choose a mid-ship stateroom as being most stable (least movement) and ease of access to all parts of the ship. This suggestion was a good one and I was pleased with the position of the stateroom. I chose a stateroom with a balcony because I thought I would enjoy sitting and reading there. In reality, I did not much use this as there were plenty of public areas with live music and drinks on hand. I did enjoy the view when sailing into Venice.
Booking Shore Excursions
I did not pre-book any shore excursions but did review what was available. I suggest the same for you. There was a good presentation of the ports of call and available shore excursions on the very first day. This helped me make up my mind as to what I wanted. I also strongly recommend Rick Steves’ Mediterranean Cruise Ports. He gives excellent tips for cruising in general and ways and means of exploring ports by yourself. I took his advice and am quite glad I did.
Booking Speciality Restaurants
We did not eat in any speciality restaurants. As a vegetarian my choices were few in these restaurants; I was happier with the main dining rooms. I noted however that except for the Teppanyaki restaurant, there was enough room in most places. You can decide within the first couple of days on board and book then.
Car Park – Venice Port
For those intending to drive like us, head towards Venezia, take the first right turn at the end of bridge which connects the main land to Venice and you will be there. It is clearly marked, practically impossible to get lost. 20,000 cruisers arrive each week and they have made it as tourist-friendly as possible. I pre-booked a spot on the internet. At the entry to the port, we were told which parking lot to go to. We dropped off the luggage first to avoid dragging heavy suitcases, At the parking spot, our plates are recognized by the gate and we got a ticket with our plate number on it. When we disembarked, it was a long 20 minute walk to the car park and very tiring in the heat. I believe there was a shuttle but unfortunately we underestimated the walk. The payment machine understands only Italian but it is easy enough to work out.
Cruise packing is harder than packing for normal holidays. Consider everyday tourism clothing & shoes including rainwear, semi-formal/formal attire for the evening, swimwear/pool side wear and gym clothes & shoes – most of this will be needed. I found some short-cuts. For example, I took just one pair of formal pants and a number of wraps & stoles to ‘dress up’ normal leisure wear. But I did see some very well dressed women and felt a bit jaded in comparison. There were laundry facilities (expensive) but we did not use them.
There is shampoo and soap provided but I preferred to pack my own. Books/kindle, guidebooks, chargers, cameras, phones, mp3 players, laptop, hats, medication – the list is long! The place under the bed was big enough to store our large suitcases and cupboard space, though cramped, was manageable.
June can be unpredictable in Europe. We were lucky to have very good weather, still would be quite warm whether it rains or not. July and August are more dependable but as it is high season, everything would be even more crowded I reckon. September is possibly the best time.
The best times – June to September – are also the most expensive times, obviously. My experience is limited and I do not know how to get the best prices – whether it is better to wait for a last minute deal and then pay too much for the airfare, or pay a higher price for the cruise but get some cheap airfare by being early. For first time cruisers, be aware that shore excursions, drinks and speciality restaurants as well as the mandatory service charge will add up to a fairly chunky sum at the end. Be prepared.