What better way to see Europe than a cruise? After just getting back from our first European cruise, I wanted to drop by with a few pointers I wish I had known before cruising. Let me first start by saying that this was a great way to see multiple places on a time crunch with a set budget. I was set on seeing Greece before our time here is up and I happened to find the perfect cruise through MSC cruise line. Knowing they are an Italian cruise line and not American, which I am familiar with, I knew I would have to go into this with an open mind. For all your American cruise line people, I’m here to tell you MSC was not that much different from Carnival or Royal Caribbean. A few obvious differences, like everything announced in 3-4 languages and a slight difference on the food (European style cuisine), all in all, it was a great experience for us! Now let’s get to the details!
How to book?
The first and most important part is how to book. Here is a list of many different ways to book.
- Military Cruise Deals– This is who we booked our cruise through. The gentleman who works in the office is named Mitch, and is widely known in the military community. Mitch is quick and efficient with responses and there to help with any and all questions you may have regarding your trip. The site is easy to navigate as well. Don’t forget about the ‘All last minute cruises’ button, listing great prices on last minute cruises around Europe. Great for those last minute days off! You can book directly online or you can call Mitch’s desk directly (number listed on their website) and see what offers they may have on your particular cruise, such as on board credit or drink packages included.
- USAA-(if you are a member)- USAA.com offers great rates for all different types of vacations. At the bottom of their home page, click “travel deals”, then “cruises”.
- SATO– (if military) A great site to get the best deals on any vacation you’d like.
- Vacations to Go-Consistently great deals. Once you’re registered, on the left hand side of their site you will find all different discount options, including military. This is where you will find some of the best deals for cruises. Even last minute cruises for a steal!
- Seascanner.com– If you are familiar with Skyscanner.com, meet the sea version of it! Tells you the cheapest cruise in your selected time frame!
A big decision when cruising. First and foremost, take your time when deciding. You do not have to buy when you book or even before you set sail. You can buy a drink package at any point. We sat for an hour in the cruise terminal deciding which package was right for us. I cannot speak for other European cruise lines, but MSC has many drink package options available. From all-inclusive options to beer and wine and even water and coffee packages, find the one that best suits you. I can tell you from experience, buying the all-inclusive drink package was the right option for us. Not only could we have an adult beverage whenever we pleased, but the amount of water and coffee we drank throughout our week long cruise, paid for itself over and over again. It also took the stress out of the equation for us. Knowing we could order whatever, whenever, for one set price, helped us to relax even more! For MSC cruises, find the drink package listing here. All other cruises, check your ships website.
Your cruise ship will offer plenty of different shore excursions. You can book beforehand through the ships website or your travel agent. If you would rather wait and talk with a crew member on what’s best for you and your party, you can wait and book an excursion for each place once aboard the ship.
Shore excursions from the cruise itself are a little on the expensive side. Not that they aren’t a great option, but for me, I would rather save the money where I can. Luckily for us we had been on other cruises before and didn’t book anything prior to sailing. My recommendation would be to thoroughly research each port your cruise will be stopping at. From there I would make a list of “must sees” for each place. Once you arrive at the port, find a taxi (there are always plenty of taxi’s waiting outside each port) and negotiate a price with them for the day or just to your place of interest. This way, your entire party can pay one price instead of each of you paying individually for an excursion. Another perk, it’s all on your time. When YOU want to leave the ship and when YOU want to be back! A money and time saver?! It’s the way to go!
Tips and tricks
Below is a list of items I wish someone had shared with me prior to setting sail!
*Tip- Ziplock baggies- a European buffet means sandwich meat and bread for breakfast. We made sandwiches for our lunch and took them off the ship with us so we didn’t have to spend money on lunches out in town!
*Trick- Show up early to the cruise terminal the day you depart. Our cruise didn’t set sail until 5 p.m. and our confirmation e-mail told us to be at the check in counter by 1 p.m. We showed up at 11 a.m. and we were on the ship enjoying ourselves by 1 p.m. This also helps beat the crowds of people.
*Tip- Bring all your euro change if possible. Wondering when you will ever use all that change you have piled up? The casino on board will give you euros back for all your change and you don’t even have to use the euros in the casino! This was a great way for me to make my purse a little lighter.
*Trick- Take bottles of water with you off the ship. Grab a few bottles for your day at the port. Another perk of buying the all-inclusive drink package!
*Tip- Don’t forget to pre-check in. Here you will get your boarding and baggage tickets.