It was a hot sunny day in Sri Lanka, towards the end of our 3 weeks trip on the tea island. Sitting by the pool, enjoying the tropical vibes, feeling refreshed by ginger ale, my mind was working in the background dreaming about the next vacation. What else could I have been thinking of?
One thing led to another, and on a very poor internet connection, I somehow managed to come across a site offering all sorts of cruise ship combinations. Thus, we’ve started to discuss the possibility of spending such a vacation in the Caribbean.
But somehow, before going all the way to the other side of the globe and risking to hate being on a huge cruise ship, we chose an experience somewhere closer to home: the Mediterranean Sea.
So what should you know about a first cruise experience?
I must admit the amount of information I had when we decided to book a cruise was close to 0. And unlike other times, I did not really do much research before actually booking the trip.
But you should not do it like me and that’s why I’m here, to help you!
- When looking at the price of a cruise, take into account the additional service charges you will have to pay for each day on the cruise ship. These for us were 10 EUR/night/person, summing up to 140 EUR for 2 persons. Also, whenever looking at buying something on the cruise (drinks, coffee, meals at different restaurants not included in the package) you will have to expect service charges.
- What cabin to choose? We went for an interior cabin because we thought the price difference was not worth it. But as things turned out, we somehow received an upgrade and were moved to a balcony cabin. So what I would choose for the next cruise experience? Yes, it is great to wake up early in the morning and be surprised by the amazing sunset on the sea, but it is totally not worth it since you can see it also from the deck without paying up to 600 EUR only for this. I would maybe go for a window cabin.
- Are there only old people on the ship? I need to admit this was my expectation and I was surprised to see people of all ages, from people with small kids to very old passengers. But the most important thing I’ve seen was that everyone was genuinely enjoying every moment of the trip.
- Is it very fancy? I am sure there is also that kind of cruises, but the one we were on ( Costa Diadema) was not one of them. Sure, there was one special night throughout the trip, but if you have one dress in your luggage you are all set.
- What do you do while at sea? Well, there are plenty of activities, from wine tasting, to dance lessons, casinos, bingo and The Voice of the Sea. Of course, kids have a designated playground on the ship and if you want to party till the morning, the cruise ship has also a club. With all these, it is easy to say you won’t be bored while at sea.
What have I seen on my first cruise experience?
As one might expect, there are plenty of cruise options and itineraries out there, thus even if you choose a certain destination, you will have different stops depending on the chosen cruise.
This being said, the stops we had on our trip were the following: Civitavecchia – Savona – Marseilles – Barcelona – Palma de Mallorca – Palermo – Civitavecchia.
As it is recommended to reach the town you will be leaving from one day ahead of the departure (at least), we’ve also taken the chance and spent one night in Rome, thus exploring the Citta’ Eterna (but not quite enough) was a plus for us.
If either way you are leaving from Rome, I would recommend taking some more time on departure or arrival in order to explore the beautiful history-filled capital of Italy and its great trendy neighborhoods.
First stop in my first cruise experience – Savona
Once we on-boarded the ship our first stop was Savona, on the Italian coast of Liguria, very close to Genoa.
So what is there to do in Savona, you ask?
Well, first of all, if you don’t want to pay transportation or an excursion provided by the cruise (you will be required to pay for it, of course), you can spend one day in Savona and explore its old city, the Fortress of Priamar and various churches.
You can also make the trip to Genoa and experience as much as you can fit into one day in the historic town.
From the Ancient Port to the Old Town with its narrow vicoli, to the House of Columbus, Genoa offers so many things that you will want to come back and further explore it. Don’t leave without tasting the amazing pesto Genovese!
Check out my One day in Genoa guide out for more information on Genoa
Turin is another well known Italian city you could take a trip to when stopping in Savona. Take a trip to Turin’s old city and stop by for a few hours at the Palace of Venaria, which will charm you and make you dream with your eyes wide open.
And if, like us, you want to see something special, take the trip to Finalbogo and Noli.
The two small towns are incredibly charming and so very different one from the other, taking you back to the middle ages. Finalborgo won my heart from the first moment, once I stepped through the citadel’s walls and smell the unique fragrance of freshly baked focaccia.
Strolling through the streets of this fortress town, I felt like living the genuine Italian Bella Vita, observing the daily activities of the locals and getting lost on the flower-filled streets, up to the San Giovanni Castle from here I had the best panoramic view over the town.
Moving forward, our next stop was in Noli, the port city that was once one of the big Italian maritime powers, being an independent maritime republic.
I have to admit that I fell hopelessly in love with this place and we even looked at the prices of homes in this small village because the view and feel of Noli were charming enough for me to want to live here.
Strolling on foot in the old city center, I was even offered a ring by a small boy, but refused, missing my chance to live by the sea haha.
The second stop in my first cruise experience – Marseilles
For me this was the second time in France, the first visit being in Paris, but I had learned that the South of France was supposed to be different from what I had experienced.
And it was.
As you might imagine, we chose not to stay in Marseilles (even though you can totally explore the capital of Southern France) and travel further in Provence to two very French towns: Arles and Saint – Remy.
If you ever get the chance to take this trip, don’t think twice!
After a short trip by car from Marseilles, our first stop was in the small town of Arles.
With strong ancient Roman influences, this small town is where Vincent van Gogh spent a couple of years and painted some 300 paintings making some of the places here famous.
One thing is sure: French coffee is not Italian coffee.
I took the chance to wander around the cobblestone streets and was amazed at how few people I’ve encountered on my way, a fact somehow understandable since it was a Sunday just before noon.
The road further to Saint Remy was a delight, moving towards the town through a Natural Park that will enchant you with its all French scenery.
Our first stop in Saint Remy was the house of Nostradamus, private home nowadays that cannot be visited, unfortunately, but still being a symbol.
We further moved towards the Hôtel de Sade, the restored house of the de Sade family.
But oh ho romantic and stylish the streets of Saint Remy were! With the white floor tiles and walls, colored doors and windows, it is easy to understand that this city draws more tourists every year and is more expensive than Arles.
What else can you do when stopping in Marseilles?
- Avignon, city of Popes – a UNESCO World Heritage Site which has been the seat of the Papacy from 1309 to 1377
- Cassis – a picturesque fishing village in the Côte d’Azur
- Aix – en – Provence – stroll through its narrow streets, squares and historic buildings, and discovering its colors and aromas with a visit to the local market or an open-air café
- Senaque Abbey and Gordes – the 12th-century convent where monks cultivate lavender and keep bees for honey, and Gordes the city built on a hill
The third stop in my first cruise experience – Barcelona
Barcelona is one city I had seen twice before and that I think I will never get enough of, thus I was happy to spend one day in this cosmopolitan town.
It is true that one day is not enough and you can only see a glimpse of what the capital of Gaudi has to offer, but that is better than nothing right?
We took a tour and got to see the panorama of the city from the Palau Nacional (Museum National of Arta), visited the Poble Espanol learning about different locations in Spain (museum that you should not miss if you have enough time), took a walk on the crowded Las Ramblas and dipped our feet in the sea at the Barceloneta Beach.
Once our walk was done, we stopped by at one of the many terraces close to the sea and delighted our taste buds with a paella and some sangria.
What else can you do in Barcelona?
- PortAventura World Park & Resorts – have a day full of fun
- Gaudi’s masterpieces – take a tour and discover Gaudi’s amazing art, from Sagrada Familia to Park Guell and La Pedrera
- Montserrat Monastery – take a trip in the mountains outside of Barcelona and let yourself seduced by the Benedictine monastery
Fourth stop in my first cruise experience – Palma de Mallorca
Palma de Mallorca was a great surprise for us and maybe also because I wasn’t expecting much from the city, having in mind the fact that an island should be important only for its beaches.
I was surprised to find a charming gem by the Mediterranean Sea, with a lively center and beautiful buildings.
The first thing we did was to visit the Gothic-style Bellver Castle, strategically placed on top of a hill, overlooking the port and the whole city of Palma.
Unfortunately, we did not get the chance to go inside, but the view from above was just breathtaking.
Check this out for more information on the Castle, opening hours and prices.
Our next stop was the Cathedral of Santa Maria, huge, imposing and magnificent.
This enormous Gothic cathedral, larger than Notre-Dame de Paris, took almost 400 years to be finished and you will see here also influences from Gaudi’s art since he was part of its restoration.
But maybe the thing I liked most was the gardens with strong Moorish influences.
Once we finished seeing the city’s main attractions, strolled through the coquette city center, we decided to see also one of the closest beaches to us, but I have to admit I was not very impressed even though I am sure the island has many more impressive beaches.
What else can you do in Palma de Mallorca?
- Spend one full day on the beach at one of the closest beaches, Palmanova
- Valldemossa and the Son Marroig, Archduke Luis Salvador ancient residence – placed on the northern part of the island, in the mountains
- Take a catamaran tour along the coast of Mallorca island
- Dragon’s Caves – take a boat trip into the caves, while listening to a classical music concert
Fifth stop in my first cruise experience – Palermo
Oh, we were somehow back in Italy, the country I love so much. In the past, I’ve been to Sicily but not to Palermo.
Of course, other cruises might offer more stops in Italy, and you can see Sardinia as well. But we figured we would leave it separately and spend someday one week in Sardinia.
And somehow we managed to skip Palermo also this time since we had the option of visiting the smaller, yet more charming seafront town of Cefalu.
I admittedly did not see much of Palermo, but I’ve noticed that the city was way filthier than other parts of the country I’ve previously visited.
One other thing to have in mind if planning a trip on the island is the fact that people drive like crazy, so you will be required to use your driving skills to the maximum if you are thinking about renting a car.
Moving forward, after having spent some hours in Cefalu, I honestly tell you I am planning to come back someday and spending an entire holiday here.
The city is so genuinely Sicilian, with clothing hanging from the balconies, people selling their fruit and vegetable from very small cars on the streets to the locals, feel-good vibes, and amazing views.